Letters From Exile

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

Sat, Apr 29 2006

The Tourists Are Still Lost

It was another outstanding dry season day today, with warm, sunny, dry weather all day, and hardly a cloud in the sky. Maybe we will get some dry season this year after all. It was even a bit warm last night, never dropping below 72, and this afternoon, it made it all the way to 85 - highest I have seen so far this season.

I'm getting along fairly well with my recuperation, and managed to get some laundry done today. That was one of the bigger hurdles I had feared. I was a bit slow about it, but it worked out just fine, and I wasn't excessively tired when I was done, so I think I am going to be able to manage without having to hire a maid, which is something I am really loathe to do.

Well, I think the word that I am more or less laid up has made it around town. People are getting a bit brazen about fishing in my pond without permission, and late this afternoon, I chased a whole family out. I think they figured that I wouldn't notice, or that I am too incapacitated to go chase them out. Fortunately, when I chased them off, they had only caught one small tilapia, and I could care less about them, so I didn't say anything about it. But if they come back, I'm calling the cops. I have got to let the town know that I am not going to allow my property rights to be trampled upon, laid up or not.

A couple of weeks ago, the municipality put up some signs to indicate to the tourists the directions to Tilaran, the volcanoes, La Fortuna, and some of the various tourist traps such as the volcano observatory and the Eco-Lodge Resort. Well, I would have figured that with all the signs up - and they're big ones that are pretty hard to miss - that the tourists would not be still having trouble finding their way. But oh, no. They're still getting lost and still driving past my place looking for the road to Tilaran. I really don't understand it. They must be near friggin' blind to miss those signs - and there are three of them, so you can't miss them regardless of your approach to town. So I am still keeping my maps of the area handy for passing out to them. The "human sign" - the homeless lady that was offering information and maps in exchange for a small donation - hasn't been at the crossing for quite some time. So I think she has either found work (I hope so) or has decided that the new signs make her work obsolete. In any event, she hasn't been seen around town for awhile, so maybe she has moved on. I'll miss her smile and wave every time I go through the main intersection.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The Pentagon is engaged in a psychological PR propaganda campaign to exaggerate the role of Musab Al-Zarqawi in Iraq and link the war in Iraq to 9/11. How do we know? Because their own leaked documents admit it. How else can we therefore quantify yesterday's 'surprise' release of the Al-Zarqawi video tape as anything other than a cynical ploy on the part of the Pentagon to hoodwink the American public into believing that George W. Bush is leading US troops in a brave turf war against global terrorists? An April 10th Washington Post article brazenly stated, "The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program. The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks." The Post even described how the Pentagon had concocted fake Al-Zarqawi letters boasting about suicide attacks and leaked them to Dexter Filkins of the New York Times, who splashed it on the front page the next day. Despite the fact that Filkins had severe doubts about the authenticity of the letter, the Times got down on their knees, licked boots, and published it anyway. And the military leadership has the nerve to claims its propaganda doesn't target US citizens and only appears in 'liberated' Iraqi newspapers.

The House debated an intelligence bill Wednesday that dramatically would boost the money available to the new spy chief and require the Bush administration to consider blocking the pensions of government leakers. The legislation, sponsored by House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., provides budgeting guidelines for 16 U.S. spy agencies and the office of National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. The bill's total cost is classified, but intelligence agencies' spending is believed to top $40 billion a year. Under the bill, Negroponte's office would get nearly $1 billion. Democrats expressed outrage that the Republican-led House Rules Committee would not allow any of their five proposed amendments to be considered by the full House. Those amendments included measures to expand congressional oversight of the warrantless surveillance program and the intelligence on Iran.

The GOP House leadership rejected calls Wednesday to preserve the Internet's open and democratic nature in the United States. Phone and cable industry lobbyists breathed a sigh of relief as the House Energy and Commerce Committee defeated, 34 to 22, an amendment to a broadband communications bill (known as the Barton-Rush Act) that would require "network neutrality." Under the proposal, developed by Massacusetts Democrat Ed Markey and others, phone and cable companies would have been prohibited from transforming the Internet into a private, pay-as-you-post toll road. Over the past week, there has been a remarkable outpouring of public and corporate support for network neutrality. SavetheInternet.com, organized by Free Press and representing dozens of nonprofit groups and leading Internet experts, helped generate 250,000 signatures in less than a week for an online petition calling on Congress to protect the Internet and pass the Markey bill. This new group, a collection of unusual bedfellows that runs the political gamut from Common Cause, the Gun Owners of America and the Parents TV Council to Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, also spurred many bloggers to take a strong stand (ranging from the liberal Daily Kos to the libertarian Instapundit).

Smirkey has approved Dubai's $1.24 billion takeover of Doncasters, a British engineering company with U.S. plants that supply the Pentagon, the White House said on Friday. The decision, announced by White House spokesman Scott McClellan, followed a congressional uproar over security fears that scuttled another Dubai state-owned company's plan to acquire operations at major U.S. ports. The interagency Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States sent its confidential recommendation on the Dubai takeover of Doncasters to Bush on April 13. "The president this morning accepted the committee's recommendation," McClellan said. "The committee recommended approval of the transaction after closely scrutinizing it and concluding that it would not compromise our national security."

The US state department acknowledged yesterday that there is a risk of Iraq becoming a safe haven for terrorists three years after the invasion of the country. The warning is contained in the state department's annual country reports on terrorism. The report, which suggests an increase in terrorist attacks worldwide, appears to undermine repeated claims by President George Bush that the US is winning the "war on terrorism". The report says: "Iraq is not currently a terrorist safe haven, but terrorists including Sunni groups like al-Qaida in Iraq, Ansar al-Islam and Ansar al-Sunna, as well as Shia extremists and other groups, view Iraq as a potential safe haven and are attempting to make it a reality."

Meanwhile, the US administration, beating the war drums ever louder, branded Iran public enemy number one, calling it one of the world's most active sponsors of terrorism, as the UN nuclear inspectors revealed that Tehran has successfully enriched uranium and is racing ahead with its nuclear program. The US state department's annual report on terrorism worldwide described Iran as the most active state sponsor of terrorism. It said the Revolutionary Guards and the ministry of intelligence and security were directly involved in the planning and support of terrorist acts in Iraq and elsewhere and supported militant groups in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. Iran threatened to end cooperation with the nuclear inspectors if the security council decided to react to the Iranian challenge. It also played for time by promising a timetable for negotiations with the IAEA within three weeks.

As the United States prepares a team of 30 to defend its record on torture before a U.N. committee, Amnesty International has made public a report blasting the United States for failing to take appropriate steps to eradicate use of torture at U.S. detention sites around the world. U.S. compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment will be the topic of May 5 and 8 U.N. hearings in Geneva. The United States last appeared before the Committee Against Torture in May, 2000. Amnesty claims that practices criticized by the Committee six years ago -- such as the use of electro-shock weapons and excessively harsh conditions in "super-maximum" security prisons -- have been used and exported by U.S. forces abroad. The Amnesty report (Beyond Abu Ghraib: detention and torture in Iraq) reviews several cases where U.S. detainees held in Afghanistan and Iraq have died as a result of torture. The group also lambasts U.S. use of electro-shock weapons, inhuman and degrading conditions of isolation in "super-max" security prisons and abuses against women in the prison system -- including sexual abuse by male guards, shackling while pregnant and even in labor.

Lawmakers are walking a tightrope. With gasoline prices soaring they want to appear tough on oil companies. But apparently not too tough. While congressional Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate promised to roll back billions of dollars in tax breaks for major oil companies, the House in a largely symbolic vote Thursday seemed to move in the other direction. House Republicans refused to go along with a proposal that called on House members to accept a Senate-passed repeal of $5 billion worth of oil industry tax breaks. They are the subject of intense negotiations between the House and Senate on a broad tax bill. A resolution urging House negotiators to accept the Senate tax proposals failed 232-190, with only two Republicans voting for it. Meanwhile, in the Senate, GOP leaders unveiled a 10-point plan aimed at soothing the growing election-year public anger over high gasoline prices. It included a $100 fuel-cost rebate for millions of taxpayers and proposals to rescind oil industry tax breaks enacted only eight months ago, and other measures, to be financed at taxpayer expense - into one pocket and out the other.

A full 10 seconds of silence passed after a reporter asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld what the intense secrecy and security surrounding their visit to Iraq signified about the stability of the country three years after the U.S.-led invasion. Rice turned to Rumsfeld to provide the answer. Rumsfeld glared at the reporter. "I guess I don't think it says anything about it," he snapped. He went on to say that President Bush had directed him and Rice to go to Iraq to "meet with the new leadership, and it happens that they are located here," a reference to the heavily fortified Green Zone where U.S. officials - and many Iraqi leaders - live and work. Rice broke in, calming the tension. "The security situation will continue to take our attention and the attention of the Iraqis," she said, adding, "The terrorists are ultimately going to be defeated by a political process here."

Senate Republicans tried on Thursday to get the upper hand in the escalating political battle over high gasoline prices by proposing a $100 rebate for taxpayers and by suggesting that they might increase taxes on oil-industry profits. The Republican proposal also called for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil production, a provision sure to draw opposition from many Democrats and even some Republicans. "The American consumer is the one that needs the break today, and we need to be taking steps to make sure that they aren't emptying their wallet every time they fill their tank," said Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, as the leadership unveiled its legislative response to an issue quickly taking over the Congressional agenda. The Republican plan includes a provision that could levy a significant tax on oil company profits, a provision that President Bush promised to veto when a version appeared in a Senate bill last year. The proposal came on a day when Exxon Mobil reported a 7 percent gain in its first-quarter earnings.

MSNBC reports Karl Rove believes he is in legal jeopardy. Karl Rove has described his three and a half hour meeting with a grand jury as grueling, and is more worried about being prosecuted than ever, MSNBC is reporting. An MSNBC report last night revealed that one of Rove's lawyers said the presidential adviser described his fifth grand jury appearance as "hell." MSNBC's David Shuster appeared live on Keith Olbermann's 8pm show this evening and stated that Rove was surprised by the tone of the questions as well as the length of time he was required to testify. Shuster agreed with Brian Unger, sitting in for Keith Olbermann, that it was "easy to imagine" that Rove's legal situation was the cause of his recent reduction of responsibilities. However, he added, "I don't see there's any chance that Karl Rove's going to resign, barring an indictment." Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the CIA leak case, is expected to decide in the next two to three weeks whether to bring perjury charges against Karl Rove, the powerful adviser to President Bush, lawyers involved in the case said Thursday, the NEW YORK TIMES will report Friday. With the completion of Rove's fifth appearance before the grand jury on Wednesday, Fitzgerald is now believed to have assembled all of the facts necessary to determine whether to seek an indictment of Rove or drop the case.

Advocates for low-income Americans and people with disabilities are calling on the federal government to drop a proposed change to Social Security that would force some people now qualifying for benefits to wait two more years before receiving aid. They say the change is nothing more than an attempt to "slash the disability rolls" while increasing hardship for some of America's most vulnerable. Critics also say the proposal would disproportionately affect people of color, especially blacks who experience higher rates of disability and have a harder time finding employment. The Social Security Administration (SSA) rule-change proposal, published in the Federal Register last November, would make several different categories of people qualifying for disability benefits wait two more years for payments to start. Because Medicare and Medicaid eligibility are based on Social Security qualifications, individuals would have to postpone receipt of those healthcare benefits too. Bryan Blackwell, a lawyer who represents Social Security claimants in Dothan, Alabama, said the wide variety of health problems that his clients have would make it difficult for them to continue working. "You have people who have been injured on the job and who may have received a little money from workers’ [compensation], but that’s either run out or fixing to run out," Blackwell explained to The NewStandard. "Maybe they get a small check, but it doesn’t come out to what they were earning previously. And you know people like that sometimes have to file for disability."

The Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has denied Democratic attempts to interview Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former CIA Director George Tenet and two former senior aides to erstwhile Secretary of State Colin Powell, RAW STORY has learned. Intelligence Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) sought to interview Rice, Tenet and Powell's aides as part of a Senate inquiry into whether public statements by Administration officials about Iraq were corroborated by intelligence information. Recent reports - including one last Sunday from a former CIA chief in Europe - suggest that the Bush Administration was warned that Iraq did not have substantive weapons of mass destruction. Rockefeller expressed his desire to interview roughly twenty Administration officials in a private letter to Sen. Roberts in January, though the names of the officials cited in the letter were not made public until today. In addition to Rice and Tenet, Rockefeller sought access to Lawrence Wilkerson, formerly Powell's chief of staff, and Richard Armitage, formerly Deputy Secretary of State.

In interviews with Salon, several retired military commanders said that the unusual revolt against Rumsfeld is both well-founded and increasingly pervasive. From the broad strategic problems in Iraq to Rumsfeld's role in the calamity of sanctioned prisoner abuse, they say the case for his resignation is indisputable, and has the support of many other retired senior officers. One retired commander suggested that the generals' censure of Rumsfeld is especially important because the defense secretary has achieved unprecedented control over selecting the top brass who surround him at the Pentagon. "Considering the level at which these generals operated, the things they've been saying are a real indictment," said Brig. Gen. David R. Irvine, an Army Reserve strategic intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years at the Sixth Army Intelligence School before retiring in 2002. "It's not the responsibility of military commanders to decide when the nation goes to war. But these guys are experts -- some of them have direct experience executing the war plans that Rumsfeld developed. So when they say there are serious problems, I would think that Congress and the White House ought to pay attention. "I don't think I've seen anything like it in my 40 years of service," Irvine added. "Over the last several months I've had conversations with dozens of retired flag officers -- one, two, three stars. I have yet to talk to anyone who is a Rumsfeld fan. The level of disapproval is significant."

A week ago, it was the generals. Now it's the colonels and majors and captains. Moreover, these officers are in uniform and have none of the security from retribution of the generals who had all already retired. In a front-page story Sunday, The New York Times described an "extraordinary debate" now going on among younger American officers "in military academies, in the armed services staff colleges, and even in command posts and mess halls in Iraq." This debate is about the war in Iraq, about the tactics and prospects of the American forces there, and, most particularly, about Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, already the target of stinging criticism by a half dozen recently-retired senior generals, most of whom had served in Iraq. The names of these junior officers have all been withheld by the Times. If ever identified, they would be court-martialed. So readers have to take it on faith that the paper has described their opinions accurately. But it's hard to doubt that the report is close to the truth. To heighten its credibility, by no means all of its findings are predictable.

The only survivor of the Sago mine disaster that killed 12 men in January says vital breathing equipment did not work. Randal McCloy said four of the air packs issued to the men at the Sago mine in West Virginia failed to operate and the ones that did had to be shared. The charge was contained in a letter to the victims' families, published by the Associated Press news agency. The US mine safety agency denied the claim, claiming that all the devices recovered from the site were in working order. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) said tests showed that "those that were activated would have functioned properly".

A US court has acquitted a group of 18 grandmothers of disorderly conduct for staging a rally against the Iraq war outside a military recruiting center. The defendants, known as the "Granny Peace Brigade", were arrested in October and charged on two counts. The courtroom burst into cheers and applause as the judge gave his verdict. The group's co-founder said it was "encouraging to know you can still protest legally" in the US and said more demonstrations were being planned. Joan Wile also said she hoped the case would motivate other senior citizens who might otherwise believe they were too old to take part in demonstrations. "I think we've shown them that it is not over and that they still have an important role to play in life," she said.

Forget bird flu, impeachment fever is spreading across the nation, state by state. On Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Dave Zuckerman (Prog.-VT) dropped the third of three nearly unreported bombshells on the Bush administration. Zuckerman, along with 12 fellow lawmakers, introduced a formal resolution for the Vermont state legislature to call on the U.S. House of Representatives to impeach President George W. Bush. With this resolution, Vermont joined the California and Illinois state legislatures, already embroiled in impeachment debates of their own. While the main impediment continues to be a sycophantic Republican majority, polls show that more Americans favor impeachment hearings than currently approve of the job Bush is doing (33 to 32 percent). In addition, as Bob Geiger notes, Bush's state-by-state popularity is lower than even his anemic nationwide figures suggest, with a paltry four states remaining red two years into his second term. In other words, the population has the stomach for it even if the representatives don't. The legal basis for these unprecedented state-level actions was discovered when, according to Steven Leser, Illinois Rep. Karen A. Yarbrough "stumbled on a little known and never utlitized rule of the U.S. House of Representatives." The rule was written in a book formerly known as Jefferson's Manual, which, according to C-SPAN, "is a book of rules of procedure and parliamentary philosophy - written by Thomas Jefferson in 1801 - [used by the House] as a supplement to its standing rules." Section LIII, sec. 603 states, "There are various methods of setting an impeachment in motion - [one of them is] by charges transmitted from the legislature of a State" Each of the three resolutions mentions Iraq lies, torture and illegal spying, with slight variations in tone and specifics. Assemblyman Paul Koretz's California resolution (which includes Dick Cheney) and the Illinois resolution both include the leak of Valerie Plame's identity, while Vermont's focuses almost exclusively on Bush's most salient transgression, his illegal spying on Americans. The spying charge leads the other two resolutions' list of charges as well.

The Central Intelligence Agency has warned former employees not to have unapproved contacts with reporters, as part of a mounting campaign by the administration to crack down on officials who leak information on national security issues. A former official said the CIA recently warned several retired employees who have consulting contracts with the agency that they could lose their pensions by talking to reporters without permission. He added that while the threats might be legally "hollow," they were having a chilling effect on former employees.

The controversy du jour aboard Air Force One today was one near and dear to the hearts of many otherwise happy couples: Command and control of the TV tuner. "It's come to my attention that there's been requests - this is a serious question - to turn these TVs on to a station other than Fox, and that those have been denied," Washington Post reporter Jim VandeHei told Press Secretary Scott McClellan. "My question would be, is there a White House policy that all government TVs have to be tuned to Fox?" "Never heard of any such thing," said McClellan, soon to be replaced by Tony Snow of Fox News, long viewed as an operation that enjoys most favored network status in the Bush White House.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: British music producer Adam Kidron says that when he came up with the idea of a Spanish-language version of the U.S. national anthem, he saw it as an ode to the millions of immigrants seeking a better life. But in the week since Kidron announced the song - which features artists such as Wyclef Jean, hip-hop star Pitbull and Puerto Rican singers Carlos Ponce and Olga Tanon - it has been the target of a fierce backlash. Some Internet bloggers and others are infuriated by the thought of "The Star-Spangled Banner" sung in a language other than English. "Would the French accept people singing the La Marseillaise in English as a sign of French patriotism? Of course not," said Mark Krikorian, head of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that supports tighter immigration controls. The initial version of "Nuestro Himno," or "Our Anthem," comes out Friday and uses lyrics based closely on the English-language original, said Kidron, who heads the record label Urban Box Office.

Habeas Corpus Death Watch: The Pentagon plans to release nearly a third of those held at Guantanamo Bay for terror suspects here because they pose no threat to U.S. security, an official of the war crimes tribunal said Monday. Charges are pending against two dozen of the remaining 330 prisoners, the chief prosecutor said. But he left unclear why the majority face neither imminent freedom nor a day in court after as much as four years in custody without an indictment. Only 10 of the roughly 490 alleged enemy combatants currently detained at the U.S. naval facility have been charged so far, and none with capital offenses, leaving the majority of the U.S. government's prisoners from the war on terror in limbo and the war crimes tribunal exposed to allegations by international human rights advocates that it is illegitimate and abusive. The decision to release the 141 detainees - the largest group to be reclassified and moved off the island - follows a yearlong review of their cases in which interrogators also determined that these men hold no further intelligence value.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: The FBI secretly sought information last year on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents from their banks and credit card, telephone and Internet companies without a court's approval, the Justice Department said Friday. It was the first time the Bush administration has publicly disclosed how often it uses the administrative subpoena known as a National Security Letter, which allows the executive branch of government to obtain records about people in terrorism and espionage investigations without a judge's approval or a grand jury subpoena. Friday's disclosure was mandated as part of the renewal of the Patriot Act, the administration's sweeping anti-terror law. The FBI delivered a total of 9,254 NSLs relating to 3,501 people in 2005, according to a report submitted late Friday to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate. In some cases, the bureau demanded information about one person from several companies. The numbers from previous years remain classified, officials said.

Republicans Believe In Strong Ethics Rules: The House is scheduled to vote today on ethics legislation to increase lobbyists' disclosures and require lawmakers to own up to the earmarks, or narrow projects, that they insert into appropriations bills. But the measure would not restrict the gifts or meals provided by lobbyists as House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) had proposed in January, nor would it expand the number of enforcers of lobbying rules and laws. Lawmakers acknowledge that the bill is more limited in its scope and impact than the provisions promised by congressional leaders immediately after Abramoff's guilty plea to federal charges of bribery, conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud nearly four months ago. But they say they do not feel compelled to push more stringent measures partly because voters do not appear to be demanding them. "We're all being rushed into a bill," said Rep. David L. Hobson (R-Ohio). "We panicked, and we let the media get us panicked."

Republicans Support The Troops: Nearly 900 soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have been saddled with government debts as they have recovered from war, according to a report that describes collection notices going out to veterans with brain damage, paralysis, lost limbs and shrapnel wounds. The report from the Government Accountability Office, to be released at a hearing today, details how long-recognized problems with military computer systems led to the soldiers being dunned for an array of debts related to everything from errors in paychecks to equipment left behind on the battlefield. The problem came to light last year, as soldiers' complaints began to surface and several lawmakers became involved. The GAO had been investigating other pay problems caused by the defense accounting system and was asked by Congress to investigate debts among the battle-wounded. The new report shows a problem more widespread than previously known. "We found that hundreds of separated battle-injured soldiers were pursued for collection of military debts incurred through no fault of their own," the report said. Last fall, the Army said 331 soldiers had been hit with military debt after being wounded at war. The latest figures show that a larger group of 900 battle-wounded troops has been tagged with debts. "It's unconscionable," said Ryan Kelly, 25, a retired staff sergeant who lost a leg to a roadside bomb and then spent more than a year trying to fend off a debt of $2,231. "It's sad that we'd let that happen."

Republicans Believe In Obeying The Rules: Before bolting from the Senate chamber, U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) shouted at Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR,) "I just violated the rules!" Domenici had interrupted Wyden's introduction of an amendment under the pretense that he was attempting to ask a question. Rather, he blasted the Senator's plan, after doing so announcing, "I just violated the rules! I didn't ask a question, I gave a speech. I hope you listened." Wyden had been on the Senate floor for nearly five hours. Under Senate rules, a lawmaker can push a vote on his or her amendment so long as they can stand on the floor. The Wyden amendment would eliminate royalty relief subsidies for drilling on government land if oil prices exceed $55 per barrel. He has argued that the program was implemented when oil was priced at under $10 per barrel, and have since come to exceed $75 per barrel. President Bush has gone on record stating that these particular subsidies were no longer necessary. Domenici argues that eliminating the subsidies won't save tax payers any money. Wyden claims independent audits say it could save taxpayers billions.

Republicans Believe In Maintaining A Clean Environment: Ten states plus New York City and Washington, D.C., sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, claiming newly adopted emissions standards do not do enough to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The states said that the EPA was refusing to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act, despite what they say is clear evidence that such emissions contribute to global warming, thereby harming "public health and welfare." The state attorneys general also allege that the EPA did not set sufficient standards for the regulation of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which power plants also emit. EPA officials defended their emissions policy and said they "will review all options and make an informed decision on how to proceed," according to a statement. "EPA's climate protection programs continue to exceed the agency's greenhouse gas emissions goals and are on target to meet the President's 18 percent goal to reduce greenhouse gas intensity by 2012," a spokeswoman said.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: US economic growth should slow to a more sustainable pace this year, but high energy prices still threaten inflation, the US Fed chief has said. Speaking to Congress' Joint Economic Committee, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said this could make interest rate decisions less predictable. Rates have risen for 15 months in a row as the Fed has sought to tighten the credit supply and cut inflation risks. In future it could pause to examine the relevant economic data, he said.

Republicans Believe In Strict Observance Of The Constitution: Eleven House Democrats said Thursday they would sue the Bush administration, alleging the $39 billion deficit-reducing legislation signed by the president is unconstitutional because the House and Senate failed to approve identical versions. The lawsuit, led by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, was to be filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Similar lawsuits have been filed in other states by an Alabama attorney and a Florida-based student loan consulting firm. "Once again the administration is playing fast and loose with the Constitution," Conyers said. "Anyone who has passed the sixth grade knows that before a bill can become law, both Houses of Congress must approve it."

Republicans Believe In Open, Transparent Government: The CIA and other agencies wrongly kept secret about a third of the records they pulled from public shelves at the National Archives during reclassification efforts that were far more extensive than previously disclosed, according to an audit released yesterday. Auditors for the Archives who reviewed a representative sample of thousands of formerly public records found that 24 percent were pulled despite being "clearly inappropriate" for reclassification, and another 12 percent were "questionable" as candidates for reclassification. "In short, more than one of every three documents removed from the open shelves and barred to researchers should not have been tampered with," said Allen Weinstein, the archivist of the United States, who ordered the audit and imposed a moratorium on the reclassification efforts last month.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, an alarming number of the country's leading academics have been killed. A human rights organisation puts the number at about a thousand and has a documented list of 105 cases. These professors, it says, were not random casualties - they were assassinated. The first documented case is that of Muhamad al-Rawi, the president of Baghdad University, who was killed on 27 July, 2003, when two men entered his private clinic, one of them feigned severe stomach pain and was doubled over. Concealed against his stomach was a gun with which he shot al-Rawi dead. Assassination incidents continued after al-Rawi's shooting. Dr Majid Ali was assassinated in 2005, shot four times in the back. He had a PhD in physics and was one of the best nuclear energy experts in Iraq. The Paris-based Arab Committee for Human Rights (ACHR), an international NGO which has special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN, has issued an international appeal for help to protect Iraqi academics.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: FBI agents are investigating whether a defense contractor provided prostitutes, limousines and hotel suites to former U.S. Rep. "Duke" Cunningham, who has been convicted on bribery charges, two federal officials said Friday. Investigators have contacted Washington-area escort services, two hotels and a limousine company in recent weeks, one official said. The allegations were raised by Mitchell Wade, another defense contractor who also has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the bribery conspiracy involving former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the officials said. Cunningham is serving a prison term of eight years, four months after pleading guilty in November to taking $2.4 million in homes, yachts and other bribes. Wade is cooperating with investigators as part of his plea agreement in February. He has told them that Brent Wilkes, a San Diego defense contractor who has been identified as a co-conspirator, secured prostitutes, limousines and suites at two Washington hotels for Cunningham, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI is "investigating whether two contractors implicated in the bribery of former Rep. Randall Cunningham supplied him with prostitutes and free use of a limousine and hotel suites." The Journal also said the investigators are exploring "whether any other members of Congress" are involved. Last night on MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, Dean Calbreath of the San Diego Union Tribune - which recently won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Cunningham case - said that "as many as a half a dozen" members of Congress could ultimately be implicated in the prostitution scandal.

Scandals Du Jour: Dr. Lester M. Crawford, the former commissioner of food and drugs, is under criminal investigation by a federal grand jury over accusations of financial improprieties and false statements to Congress, his lawyer said Friday. The lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, would not discuss the accusations further. In a court hearing held by telephone on Thursday, she told a federal magistrate that she would instruct Dr. Crawford to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination if ordered to answer questions this week about his actions as head of the Food and Drug Administration, according to a transcript of the hearing. Dr. Crawford did not reply to messages seeking comment, and Kathleen Quinn, an F.D.A. spokeswoman, declined to comment. Dr. Crawford resigned in September, fewer than three months after the Senate confirmed him. He said then that it was time for someone else to lead the agency. The next month, financial disclosure forms released by the Department of Health and Human Services showed that in 2004 either Dr. Crawford or his wife, Catherine, had sold shares in companies regulated by the agency when he was its deputy commissioner and acting commissioner. He has since joined a Washington lobbying firm, Policy Directions Inc.

The Palm Beach Post reported that Rush Limbaugh turned himself over to Florida authorities late Friday afternoon after a warrant had been issued for his arrest on drug charges. "The conservative radio commentator came into the jail at about 4 p.m. with his attorney Roy Black and bonded out an hour later on a $3,000 bail," said a spokesman for the State Attorney's office, according to the Palm Beach Post. According to attorney Roy Black, a single charge of doctor shopping will be filed in court by the state attorney, and as long as Limbaugh "completes an additional 18 months of treatment" by his physician, and pays $30,000 "to the State of Florida to defray the public cost of the investigation," the charge will then be dropped. In November of 2003, investigators raided four Florida doctor offices after Limbaugh's former maid claimed that she and her husband sold the conservative pundit drugs. Limbaugh was accused of "doctor shopping" in order to obtain an "inordinate abundance of painkillers," which included "OxyContin, Lorcet, Norco, Hydrocodone and Kadian, the anti-anxiety drug Xanax, the cholesterol-lowering drug Niacin, and Clonodine, which treats high blood pressure" according to documents obtained by The Smoking Gun.

Jack Abramoff may be facing financial ruin and a long prison sentence, but he still knows how to vacation. Guests at the oceanfront Turnberry Isle Resort and Country Club in Aventura, Fla., say they were surprised to see Mr. Abramoff, his wife and their five children at the 300-acre golf and tennis resort for more than a week this month for the Passover holiday.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:37:21 AM

Thu, Apr 27 2006

Not Feeling So Hot

The weather was back to dry-season today, after a continuation of the dark, gloomy and somewhat rainy weather of yesterday. After a high yesterday of 78, the low this morning dipped to 71 and quickly rose to 84 this afternoon - the warmest weather in some time. And the humidity is up - it has been up noticably since I returned from the hospital last week. Sure sign the rainy season is almost upon us.

Well, I defied the doctor's orders and took a brief, and very slow walk around the garden this afternoon. I could not resist - so lovely was the weather. I noticed that while I was in the hospital, my gardener had burned the last of the yard waste piles, or at least had attempted to do so. Looks like it didn't burn very much. So if the rains hold off for another day or two, maybe I'll have him try again.

Not much is really new in the garden, A few new growth flushes, related to the dry season, and some enthusiastic flowering of the bouganvillea starts that I have planted along the fence. In places, they're looking rather spectacular. But not much else that is new to report - I've been rather negligent about fertilizer this spring, so the flowering isn't as dramatic as it has been in the past. And I need to get some mistletoe cut out of some of the trees, too, as well as getting the bromeliads pulled down. Lots of work to do, but being confined to the house, no much is going to get done that the gardener doesn't do himself.

How I feel hasn't changed much, except that I am a bit more tired today than in the last couple of days. Maybe that is because of this enforced idleness, I don't know. But I have noticed a tiny bit of angina when I am sitting up for long periods, and that is new. Don't know what to make of it, or whether it is something to be concerned about. May be that I am just not eating all that well, especially this lousy 1000 calorie diet I am on.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Iran vowed on Wednesday to strike at U.S. interests worldwide if it is attacked by the United States, which is keeping military options open in case diplomacy fails to curb Tehran's nuclear program. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the threat two days before the U.N. nuclear watchdog reports on whether Iran is meeting Security Council demands to halt uranium enrichment. Iran says it will not stop enrichment, which it says is purely for civilian purposes and not part of what the United States says is a clandestine effort to make atomic bombs. "The Americans should know that if they assault Iran their interests will be harmed anywhere in the world that is possible," Khamenei was quoted as saying by state television. "The Iranian nation will respond to any blow with double the intensity," he said.

President Bush had a blunt message Monday for fellow Republicans focusing only on get-tough immigration policies: He said sending all the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants back to their home countries is not the answer. "Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic it's just not going to work," Smirkey has said. "You know, you can hear people out there hollering it's going to work. It's not going to work." With Congress coming back from a two-week spring recess to a long election-year to-do list and tensions flaring nationwide over immigration, Bush urged lawmakers to adopt a middle-ground policy. He called a Senate bill, which creates a way for illegal immigrants to work legally in the United States and for many to eventually become citizens, an "important approach." "It's just an interesting concept that people need to think through," Bush said of the bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., which stalled before the congressional break. As for Bush's comment on deportation, a Time magazine poll in January found 50 percent of the country favored deporting all illegal immigrants. But even Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., one of Congress' most outspoken advocates for tougher immigration laws, does not advocate mass deportation. Well aware that November elections could end GOP control of Congress, Bush is walking a fine line on the emotional immigration issue, between his party's conservative base which wants a clampdown on illegal immigration and business leaders who believe the economy needs immigrants to fill jobs.

Tony Snow, conservative pundit and incoming White House press secretary, told television viewers in 2003 that racism is no longer a "big deal." Ironically, the remarks were made in defense of Rush Limbaugh's assertion that quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated by a media showing preferential bias to "black quarterbacks." "Here's the unmentionable secret," Snow said on an October 2003 edition of Fox News Sunday, "racism isn't that big a deal anymore." Snow argued that "no sensible person supports" racism, arguing that the problem is "quickly becoming an ugly memory." Snow's comments on race have already been challenged as out of touch by Democrats in Congress. Asked Democratic National Committee spokesperson Amaya Smith: "How can Republicans claim to be mending fences with the African-American community after hiring Tony Snow, who just doesn't get it?" The Democratic National Committee has gone so far as to post the video of Snow's comments on the DNC website.

Apparently, when Snow was being checked out for his new job as Smirkey's press secretary, there were a few of his past public comments about Smirkey that seem to have slipped past Smirkey's loyalty check: * Bush has "lost control of the federal budget and cannot resist the temptation to stop raiding the public fisc." [3/17/06] * "George W. Bush and his colleagues have become not merely the custodians of the largest government in the history of humankind, but also exponents of its vigorous expansion." [3/17/06] * "President Bush distilled the essence of his presidency in this year’s State of the Union Address: brilliant foreign policy and listless domestic policy." [2/3/06] * "George Bush has become something of an embarrassment." [11/11/05] * Bush "has a habit of singing from the Political Correctness hymnal." [10/7/05] * "No president has looked this impotent this long when it comes to defending presidential powers and prerogatives." [9/30/05] * Bush "has given the impression that [he] is more eager to please than lead, and that political opponents can get their way if they simply dig in their heels and behave like petulant trust-fund brats, demanding money and favor - now!" [9/30/05] * "When it comes to federal spending, George W. Bush is the boy who can’t say no. In each of his three years at the helm, the president has warned Congress to restrain its spending appetites, but so far nobody has pushed away from the table mainly because the president doesn’t seem to mean what he says." [The Detroit News, 12/28/03] * "The president doesn’t seem to give a rip about spending restraint." [The Detroit News, 12/28/03] * "Bush, for all his personal appeal, ultimately bolstered his detractors’ claims that he didn’t have the drive and work ethic to succeed." [11/16/00] * "Little in the character of demeanor of Al Gore or George Bush makes us say to ourselves: Now, this man is truly special! Little in our present peace and prosperity impels us to say: Give us a great man!" [8/25/00] And on and on... See link for more.

Air Force censoring liberal web sites: Sometime in the middle of the day today, the Air Force's IT people put a block on DailyKos. He was on a coffee break and wanted to show a colleague a diary about energy policy, so he told me (probably one of Jerome à Paris'). Although it was possible to do that this morning, by around two o'clock (or however they say that in the Air Force) DailyKos was blocked. So was Atrios. So was TalkingPointsMemo, for crying out loud - and they're all policy and minimal invective over there! On the other hand, Free Republic and Little Green Footballs came through just fine, thank you very much. Attempts to load any of the "forbidden" sites causes a very scary screen to pop up, warning the user that a regulation or policy or some such has been violated and the address of the computer has been logged. I can certainly understand a policy that permits airmen to use their computers at work for work reasons only, but that hardly explains why some of the more outrageous examples of high wingnuttery are given a pass.

Six New York teen-agers sued Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld on Monday, alleging the U.S. Department of Defense broke the law by keeping an extensive database on potential recruits. The suit in federal court in Manhattan follows a series of allegations last year of misconduct by recruiters, who have experienced difficulty meeting targets because of the war in Iraq. The Pentagon last year acknowledged it had created a database of 12 million Americans, full of personal data such as grades and Social Security numbers, to help find potential military recruits. The Pentagon has defended the practice as critical to the success of the all-volunteer U.S. military, and said it was sensitive to privacy concerns. But the suit alleges the Pentagon improperly collected data on people as young as 16 and kept it beyond a three-year limit, and said that the law does not allow for keeping records on race, ethnicity, gender or social security numbers.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The U.S. Ambassador in Nicaragua met with the country's main right-wing parties on Monday to discuss their forming an alliance to oppose leftist Daniel Ortega in November elections. Without naming Ortega, a former president and leader of Nicaragua's Sandinista revolution, U.S. envoy Paul Trivelli said his intention was "to see if we can push the democratic unification of this country a little more." Trivelli has repeatedly criticized Ortega, who many think could return to power and end the 16 years of pro-Washington government that followed his 1990 ouster. "We held discussions, they are going to send us a more formal response and we'll see what happens," Trivelli told reporters after meeting with ruling party candidate Jose Rizo and other conservative politicians. The United States has a controversial history of involvement in Nicaragua, though Trivelli said he is merely concerned with promoting democracy in the Central American nation. Pollsters say national support for the Sandinistas, who in the 1980s led a Soviet and Cuban-backed government that battled U.S.-funded Contra rebels, is growing ahead of the November 5 election. Many voters say they are tired of U.S.-backed administrations that have failed to raise living standards. After years of setbacks, many Nicaraguans from Leon, the cradle of the 1979 Sandinista revolution, believe their aging former guerrilla leaders could soon return to power in elections that could also prove a diplomatic nightmare for Washington. "We need a change. It's been bad, bad, bad," said 60-year-old war Sandinista war veteran Daniel Sauro, referring to 16 years of pro-Washington governments that took power after Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega's electoral defeat in 1990.

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: Fox News is reporting an eighth general has called for Rumsfeld’s resignation. Ret. Marine General Paul Van Riper said he constantly talks with many active duty and retired senior officers who share his feelings that Secretary Rumsfeld has not fought the Iraq war competently. He told Fox that Rumsfeld has run the Pentagon through intimidation and that a change in leadership is needed. "If this leader is not capable of doing it, now going in excess of five years, has not demonstrated he is, then perhaps it is time to find a new one. If I was the president, I would have relieved him three years ago," General Van Riper said. Van Riper follows the calls of Generals Swannack, Newbold, Eaton, Zinni, Batiste, Riggs, and Clark.

The Army Times, in a web poll, has announced that 64% of its respondents think that Rumsfeld should resign. Only 32% felt he should not.

GOP sources said many in the congressional leadership have warned that growing opposition against Mr. Rumsfeld could result in the loss of the Republican Party's majority in the 2006 elections. They said Mr. Rumsfeld has become the lightning rod for the public discontent with the administration. "The leadership wants a sacrifice to show the American people that the president is listening to them on Iraq," a leadership source said. "The most obvious choice is Rumsfeld." The sources reported increasing estrangement between Mr. Rumsfeld and most of the GOP leadership. They said the defense secretary has been blamed for the rising casualties in Iraq, the huge budget deficit as well as deteriorating relations with Congress. A leading critic of Mr. Rumsfeld has been Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John Warner, Virginia Republican. Mr. Warner has refused to come to Mr. Rumsfeld's defense and a spokesman said it was up to Mr. Bush to decide whether the defense secretary continues in his post.

Republicans Believe In A Clean Environment: A chorus of environmental and health advocacy groups is urging Congress to reject the Bush administration's most recent nominee to an environmental post, based on his corporate agenda, industry ties and anti-environment record. Last week, thirteen organizations sent letters to senators, contesting William Wehrum's pending confirmation as head the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will vote on Wehrum today. If confirmed, Wehrum will lead programs that address industrial and vehicle pollution, indoor and outdoor air quality, ozone depletion, radiation protection, global climate change and acid rain. Pointing to Wehrum's five-year record at the EPA, the groups say he has helped undermine air pollution regulations, jeopardized public health and advocated for the interests of polluter industries. Wehrum was counsel to his predecessor at the EPA, Jeffrey Holmstead, before becoming the acting assistant administrator of OAR in September 2005. "Virtually anything bad that the Bush Administration has done with air pollution has Bill Wehrum's fingerprints on it," said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting clean-air laws.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Two years after the Abu Ghraib scandal, new research shows that abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay has been widespread, and that the United States has taken only limited steps to investigate and punish implicated personnel. A briefing paper issued today, "By the Numbers," presents findings of the Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project, a joint project of New York University's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First. The project is the first comprehensive accounting of credible allegations of torture and abuse in U.S. custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. "Two years ago, U.S. officials said the abuses at Abu Ghraib were aberrations and that people who abused detainees would be brought to justice," said Professor Meg Satterthwaite, faculty director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law School. "Yet our research shows that detainee abuses were widespread, and few people have truly been brought to justice." The project has collected hundreds of allegations of detainee abuse and torture occurring since late 2001 - allegations implicating more than 600 U.S. military and civilian personnel and involving more than 460 detainees.

Eight Iraqi soldiers, mostly privates, have turned in their company commander, a major, and a captain who were supplying army weapons to local insurgents. U.S. and Iraqi intelligence officers had believed for some time that munitions from the Badush ordnance depot in al Kisik, near Tal Afar, were being purloined and supplied to guerrillas, who used them to manufacture improvised explosive devices. The Badush munitions depot was established during the reign of deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Stars and Stripes reported on April 24 that although Iraqi army officers repeatedly assured their U.S. counterparts that the magazine had been secured, U.S. intelligence noted that local guerrillas seemed to have a limitless supply of artillery shells and other military ordnance. The issue strained local relations between Iraqi officers and U.S. military commanders in northwestern Iraq. The soldiers turned in their commanders last month.

It doesn't cost a lot to set up your own death squad in Iraq. Military uniforms, guns and even police vehicles are easily available to all comers in the markets of Baghdad. In a city where gangs of men dressed as police have killed dozens of people and stolen tens of thousands of dollars, anyone with a modest amount of cash can set up their own fake squad. At Baghdad's Bab al-Sharjee market, a haven for criminals, anyone can walk into one of about 15 shops selling police and military supplies and buy a police commando uniform for 35,000 Dinars (about 13 pounds) or an ordinary police uniform for $15 (about 8 pounds). No questions asked, no identity checks. Badges of rank from Captain to Major-General -- enough to ensure no one asks questions on the mean streets of the capital -- go for $2. "One person came yesterday and took 12 full commando uniforms. Another took 15 army uniforms and ski masks with holes for the eyes," said Tariq, who runs one of the stores. "I don't care who comes to buy them. As long as they give me the money, I give them the products," he said, adding the most popular items were police commando uniforms.

As criminal gangs run amuck in Iraq, hundreds of girls have gone missing. Are they being sold for sex? The Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq, based in Baghdad, estimates from anecdotal evidence that more than 2,000 Iraqi women have gone missing in that period. A Western official in Baghdad who monitors the status of women in Iraq thinks that figure may be inflated but admits that sex trafficking, virtually nonexistent under Saddam, has become a serious issue. The collapse of law and order and the absence of a stable government have allowed criminal gangs, alongside terrorists, to run amuck. Meanwhile, some aid workers say, bureaucrats in the ministries have either paralyzed with red tape or frozen the assets of charities that might have provided refuge for these girls. As a result, sex trafficking has been allowed to fester unchecked. "It is a problem, definitely," says the official, who has heard specific reports from Iraqi aid workers about girls being kidnapped and sold to brothels. "Unfortunately, the security situation doesn't allow us to follow up on this." The U.S. State Department's June 2005 trafficking report says the extent of the problem in Iraq is "difficult to appropriately gauge" but cites an unknown number of Iraqi women and girls being sent to Yemen, Syria, Jordan and Persian Gulf countries for sexual exploitation.

British paratroopers secretly operating in support of the SAS in Iraq are using American uniforms, weapons and vehicles as part of their cover, The Daily Telegraph has learned. The SFSG was formed mainly because it was found that small groups of highly trained SAS troopers did not have enough firepower to take on large groups of Iraqi and Afghan terrorists. The unit has already seen a substantial amount of action in Baghdad. Whenever the SAS goes on raids to apprehend terrorists in highly dangerous areas of Baghdad, the Paras are used to provide perimeter security. Arriving in US Humvees, dressed in American army fatigues and armed with C7 Diemaco guns - a Canadian made version of the M16, the men have fought several battles with insurgents while protecting SAS colleagues. "The SAS are doing the smash and grab but all the contacts are happening on the perimeter and there are a serious amount of rounds going down the range," a Parachute Regiment source said.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: At first glance, an outbreak of diarrhea among passengers on board a cruise ship in Alaskan waters in the summer of 2004 seemed to be relatively harmless. But then the lab reports started trickling in, and it showed that indeed a more serious problem was at hand - many of the afflicted the passengers had eaten raw oysters raised in Alaska that were infected with a type of cholera-like bacteria, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, that normally grows on shellfish harvested in much warmer waters. The finding not only signaled a dangerous new risk to the Alaskan seafood industry, it also highlighted how surprisingly and directly global warming can affect human health, particularly in terms of infectious diseases, experts say. "Depending on the warming trend that unfolds in the years ahead, we have to accept that habitats will change - new bugs can be expected to settle in. Every organism will find a niche," said epidemiology professor Colin Soskolne, of the University of Alberta in Canada. "With the tampering of the environment, we really can't predict with much certainty exactly what those changes will be."

According to a 2005 study by the European Union's environment agency, the previous three years were the hottest on record in Europe, after the continent's average temperature rose by 0.95 C (1.71 F) during the 20th century. The report said Alpine glaciers lost about 10 percent of their ice during the summer of 2003, and predicted three-quarters of Switzerland's glaciers would disappear by 2050 if current trends continued unchanged. "We have to fight really to keep a landscape as it was made by nature," Messerli said. "Otherwise I think the next generation will be very angry about us." In such an environmentally sensitive area, warmer weather will have a deep impact, experts say. "It will be a big change in touristic infrastructure," Messerli said. "What do we want from the upper Alps in future?" The melting of glaciers also will have effects farther along on many of Europe's greatest rivers that start in the Alps -- the Rhine, Rhone and Danube tributaries. First there will be increased flood flows and eventually the loss of water supply. Down the valley of the Rhone, which the Aletsch feeds, the ski resort of Verbier is concerned enough about the problem to cover another glacier with a plastic blanket to prevent excessive melting during summers.

Scandals Du Jour: Top White House aide Karl Rove arrived at the federal courthouse Wednesday for his fifth grand jury appearance in the Valerie Plame affair. Escorted by his lawyer Robert D. Luskin, Rove went into the building for a closed-door session with the panel and Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who is heading up the inquiry into who leaked Plame's status as a CIA officer to the news media in 2003. Among other things the prosecutor is investigating why Rove originally failed to disclose to prosecutors that he had talked to Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper about the CIA status of Plame. The undercover CIA officer was outed days after her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of twisting prewar intelligence on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons have been found in Iraq. Earlier Wednesday, Rove consulted with his private lawyers in preparation of his afternoon grand jury appearance. People familiar with the case, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because of grand jury secrecy, said Rove was to answer questions about evidence that has emerged since his last grand jury appearance last fall. That new evidence includes information that Rove's attorney had conversations with Time magazine reporter Viveca Novak during a critical time in the case. Asked about a Truthout report which asserted that Karl Rove had received a so-called "target letter," a spokesman for Rove told Salon's Michael Scherer that the report is "utterly false."

A project called the Fatah pipeline crossing, had been a critical element of a $2.4 billion no-bid reconstruction contract that a Halliburton subsidiary had won from the Army in 2003. The spot where about 15 pipelines crossed the Tigris had been the main link between Iraq's rich northern oil fields and the export terminals and refineries that could generate much-needed gasoline, heating fuel and revenue for Iraqis. For all those reasons, the project's demise would seriously damage the American-led effort to restore Iraq's oil system and enable the country to pay for its own reconstruction. Exactly what portion of Iraq's lost oil revenue can be attributed to one failed project, no matter how critical, is impossible to calculate. But the pipeline at Al Fatah has a wider significance as a metaphor for the entire $45 billion rebuilding effort in Iraq. Although the failures of that effort are routinely attributed to insurgent attacks, an examination of this project shows that troubled decision-making and execution have played equally important roles. The Fatah project went ahead despite warnings from experts that it could not succeed because the underground terrain was shattered and unstable. It continued chewing up astonishing amounts of cash when the predicted problems bogged the work down, with a contract that allowed crews to charge as much as $100,000 a day as they waited on standby. A crew had bulldozed a 300-foot-long trench along a giant drill bit in their desperate attempt to yank it loose from the riverbed. A supervisor later told him that the project's crews knew that drilling the holes was not possible, but that they had been instructed by the company in charge of the project to continue anyway. A few weeks later, after the project had burned up all of the $75.7 million allocated to it, the work simply came to a halt. An independent United States office, The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, began an investigation of the project and issued a report earlier this year. It sharply criticized KBR for not relaying the problems, and concluded that "the geological complexities that caused the project to fail were not only foreseeable but predicted." The company received a slap on the wrist when it got only about 4 percent of its potential bonus fees on the job order that contained the contract; there was no other financial penalty.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:45:36 PM

Tue, Apr 25 2006

Resuming The Blog

The weather has been deteriorating the last few days. Even after a balmy overnight low of 71, the temperature this afternoon only made it to 77, and that was the result of almost constant overcast all afternoon. A check of the satellite photo reveals that the overcast is due to the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone moving over us. It is the ITCZ that brings us our rainy season, and if this means the rainy season is here, it is about three weeks early. Just when I was beginning to enjoy the dry season weather, too.

Well, I am slowly recovering from the attempt on my life (see the previous blog entry), and today I feel a tiny bit better than yesterday. I am still moving rather slowly, but getting around. The house is getting low on food, and needs a good thorough housecleaning, but I may just break down and do what I have been resisting, and that is to hire a maid for a few hours a week to take care of the place until I am up to doing it myself again. Mostly, I need someone to buy groceries, which is the one unavoidable task that is guaranteed to take the starch out of me. The housework I can do a tiny bit at a time, if necessary.

Some more fishermen came by today to fish for sardinas in the pond, the little tetra fish that look like sardines. They caught a few and put them in a plastic bag filled with pond water, so I am assuming that they are stocking their own pond. Not sure, they didn't say. I can't imagine eating the little things - they are about the size of a sardine and don't have all that much meat on them.

I am resuming the More Reasons section today. If Foggy Bottom thinks they have intimidated me into keeping my mouth shut, they don't know this ornery old cowboy very well. I'll do this blog as long as there are readers to read it, and as long as I have the energy to research it and put it together. So today, I resume, even if today's entry is going to be a bit abbreviated. The arrogance, selfishness, corruption and mendacity of the Bush administration is a story that needs to be told, and if Foggy Bottom doesn't like it, they can start behaving responsibly, run the country as it should be run, and thereby deprive me of material to include here. I am going ahead with it, and that's that. So shove it up your you-know-what, Smirkey.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Staying In The Hot Zone: The US armed forces are planning to stay in Iraq for at least a decade, a Newsweek report claimed on Monday, quoting military strategists. The report said that the 38 square kilometres mini-city and airport called "Balad" was the evidence that American forces were preparing for the long haul. With 27,500 landings and takeoffs a month, Balad is second only to London's Heathrow Airport in traffic worldwide, Brig Gen Frank Gorenc, the base commander, was quoted as saying. The new $592 million U.S. Embassy being built at the heart of Baghdad's "international zone" is "massive ... the largest embassy to date," says Maj. Gen. Chuck Williams, head of the State Department's Overseas Building Operations office. In an interview with NEWSWEEK, Williams called it the "most ambitious project" his office has undertaken in its history (see photo). Officials in both the executive branch and Congress say they are unaware of any serious planning, or even talk inside the national-security bureaucracy, about a full withdrawal. The Pentagon has one intel officer assigned to produce and update analyses regarding the consequences of a U.S. pullout. But the job is only a part-time assignment, according to a Pentagon source who asked for anonymity because of the sensitive subject matter. As President George W. Bush himself said in March, the final number of U.S. troops "will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq."

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld could be criminally liable for the torture of a detainee at Guantanamo Bay in late 2002 and early 2003, Human Rights Watch said today. "The question at this point is not whether Secretary Rumsfeld should resign, it's whether he should be indicted." A December 20, 2005 Army Inspector General's report, obtained by Salon.com this week, contains a sworn statement by Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt that implicates Secretary Rumsfeld in the abuse of detainee Mohammad al-Qahtani. Based on an investigation that he carried out in early 2005, which included two interviews with Rumsfeld, Gen. Schmidt describes the defense secretary as being "personally involved" in al-Qahtani's interrogation. Human Rights Watch urges the United States to name a special prosecutor to investigate the culpability of Rumsfeld and others in the al-Qahtani case. "The question at this point is not whether Secretary Rumsfeld should resign, it’s whether he should be indicted," said Joanne Mariner, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program director at Human Rights Watch. "General Schmidt's sworn statement suggests that Rumsfeld may have been perfectly aware of the abuses inflicted on al-Qahtani." Gen. Schmidt said that Secretary Rumsfeld was "talking weekly" with Gen. Miller about the al-Qahtani interrogation, and that the secretary of defense was "personally involved in the interrogation of [this] one person." Schmidt's statement indicates that Rumsfeld maintained a high level of knowledge of and supervision over al-Qahtani's treatment. Although Schmidt said that he believed that Rumsfeld did not specifically order the more abusive methods used in the al-Qahtani interrogation, he concluded that Rumsfeld's policies facilitated the abuse.

Smirkey's public approval rating has fallen to 32 percent, a new low for his presidency, a CNN poll showed on Monday. The survey also showed that 60 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Bush is handling his job. Bush's poll numbers have languished below 40 percent in the last couple of months, hit by growing public opposition to the Iraq war, his support for a now-abandoned plan for a Dubai firm to take over major U.S. port operations and American anger over gas prices now topping $3 a gallon at the pump. Continuing fallout from the Bush administration's mishandling of the initial response to Hurricane Katrina has also hurt his popularity. Bush's approval rating as measured by CNN's poll dropped from 36 percent in March. His lowest job performance measure has been 32 percent, in a Fox News poll this month. Bush has launched a shake-up of his White House staff in an effort to revive his popularity and stave off concerns of fellow Republicans that they could lose control of both houses of Congress in a November midterm election. Bush's response to the gas crisis has been to warn Americans to expect a tough summer, vow that price gouging will not be tolerated and try to promote energy alternatives that will take years to get to consumers.

President Bush on Tuesday ordered a temporary suspension of environmental rules for gasoline, making it easier for refiners to meet demand and possibly dampen prices at the pump. He also halted for the summer the purchase of crude oil for the government's emergency reserve. The moves came as political pressure intensified on Bush to do something about gasoline prices that are expected to stay high throughout the summer. Bush said the nation's strategic petroleum reserve had enough fuel to guard against any major supply disruption over the next few months. "So, by deferring deposits until the fall, we'll leave a little more oil on the market. Every little bit helps," he said. Wholesale gasoline futures prices for June delivery dropped 8 cents a gallon to $2.10 on the New York Mercantile Exchange immediately upon Bush's remarks.

The crackdown on leaks that led to the dismissal of a veteran intelligence officer last week at the CIA included a highly unusual polygraph examination of the agency's independent monitor, Inspector General John Helgerson, according to intelligence officials with knowledge of the investigation. The special polygraphs, which have been given to dozens of employees since January, are part of a broader effort by Porter Goss, the CIA director, to re-emphasize a culture of secrecy. The campaign has included a marked tightening of the review process for books and articles by former agency employees. L. Britt Snider, who served as inspector general from 1998 to 2001, said in an interview that he had never been given a polygraph in that position, though he said he was given an initial polygraph test when he arrived at the agency in 1997 as special counsel to the director. "I've never heard of it, and it's certainly unusual," Snider said. He called it "awkward" for the inspector general to be, in effect, investigated by the agency he ordinarily investigates.

EchoStar's Dish Network is the only cable or satellite operator in the U.S. publicly willing to consider carrying controversial Arab news channel Al Jazeera's planned English-language spinoff. Even on Dish, Al Jazeera's attempt to provide an alternative to Western news outlets like BBC World and CNN International isn't likely to appear on any of the satellite-TV operator's popular programming tiers. "We have several offers and options under consideration, including with EchoStar, but have not yet signed anything," said Rana Jazayerli, a Washington-based spokeswoman for the news channel. "We will make our plans public after we have finalized."

Last week the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a story that high school graduation rates in Milwaukee, particularly among minorities, were among the worst in the nation. Was this a DPI or Department of Education study? No, it was a news release from the Manhattan Institute. One might assume the Manhattan Institute would be more interested in New York, but they have reason to focus their gaze on Milwaukee. The reason is the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation funds them. And Bradley loves vouchers. The Manhattan Institute says it will "study" the Milwaukee school system and, being the kind folks that they are, they will keep us informed about failing public schools while also making sure we get the truth about voucher school performance. (Placing the Manhattan Institute in charge of an analysis of public schools, when they are on record supporting vouchers, would be like asking Wisconsin Right to Life to run Planned Parenthood.) The "scientific study" will conclude in a year surprise, surprise that public schools are inferior to private voucher schools. Evidence will be scarce but they assume you will only read the headline. Their prescription will, predictably, be more vouchers.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Greek police on Tuesday fired tear gas at protestors who caused havoc in Athens in the wake of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Roughly 3,000 people protested for peace and against globalization in downtown Athens while Rice met with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakojannis. Some tried to break a police ring surrounding the building where the two leaders met; police met the attempt by firing tear gas into the crowd, the BBC reported. Protesters hurled petrol bombs and stones in return. Rice will also meet with Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and later travel to Bulgaria and Turkey. In a briefing to reporters en route to Greece, Rice said she would discuss peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans, the future of the divided island of Cyprus and common anti-terrorism policies. Anti-war protests have marred Rice's recent trip to the north-western United Kingdom.

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: Donald Rumsfeld is a forthright, even abrasive man whose popularity has fallen sharply as the war in Iraq has failed to turn out as the Bush administration predicted. But even so, the recent wave of criticism of the US defence secretary by former top-ranking generals is all but unprecedented in the past generation. At least seven retired generals have questioned his abilities in the past month, sparking a firestorm of debate and forcing the president to interrupt a holiday weekend to issue a statement of support. "It is unusual for retired military officers to speak out in public and through the media against a current defence secretary - there is little doubt about that," says Harry Disch, the president of the Center for Media and Security.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: Democrats outdid Republicans last year in attracting political donations from investment banks, brokerages and fund managers for the first time since 1994, helped by support from hedge funds and companies such as Merrill Lynch & Co. Democrats got $13.6 million, or 52 percent of the financial industry's $26.3 million in political donations in 2005, said the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan Washington group that researches the influence of money on elections and public policy. In the two years leading up to the 2004 presidential election, Republicans received 52 percent of the $91.6 million given by the industry. "Wall Street wants change" on issues such as the Iraq war and the budget deficit, said James Torrey, chairman of the Torrey Funds, which manages about $1 billion. "I'm finding people who are registered Republicans who are saying to me, "what can I do to help?" "When the party with no power can raise more money than the party with all the power, it means people are pretty disturbed about the country's condition," said Orin Kramer, general partner of Boston Provident Partners LP in New York and a longtime Democratic fund-raiser.

A coalition of groups supporting a plan for the nation’s largest alternative energy project are lashing out against federal lawmakers for "back-door deal-making" that could kill a proposed wind-farm project in the waters off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Fifty-five organizations - representing conservation, labor, industry and investment groups - sent letters Thursday to federal lawmakers urging them to vote against an amendment to the Coast Guard reauthorization bill that would effectively give Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney veto power over the offshore wind farm, which would operate in federal waters in Nantucket Sound. "At a time when energy costs are rising, our government should be working to remove impediments to developing new supply," Michael Kearns,National Ocean Industries Association spokesperson, said in a statement. "This provision would do exactly the opposite." The amendment, inserted by Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (R) as the innocuously titled "Opinions Regarding Whether Certain Facilities Create Obstructions to Navigation," would prohibit the Coast Guard from approving the wind-farm project if a "governor of an adjacent coastal State makes a written determination" opposing the proposed site.

Modest improvements reported in the government's latest analysis of chemical pollutants in American communities may have less to do with real reductions in pollution than with the gutting of the public's "right to know,"environmentalists say. Watchdogs further warn of efforts underway in the federal government to expand corporations' power to conceal information about toxic threats. According to the Environmental Protection Agency's report on 2004 Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data, the 23,675 participating facilities, which include manufacturing plants and mining sites, churned out a total of over 4.24 billion pounds of toxic chemicals. Between 2003 and 2004, the EPA reported an overall decrease of 171 million pounds of chemicals released into the environment or otherwise disposed of. But TRI releases increased in some industries. For the most-current core chemicals tracked by the TRI, pollution grew by about 10 percent in the food industry, 7 percent in the paper industry and 15 percent in the petroleum industry. Several states also reported increases in toxic releases and disposals, with Washington State's jump of 45 percent since 2003 leading the country.

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: Climate change is reshaping the landscape of Britain as rising temperatures allow orchids and ferns to flourish in the north, while other species retreat to cooler conditions on high land and mountainsides. The conclusion, published today in a comprehensive survey of the nation's flora, suggests that the changing climate has already brought about a rapid and dramatic shift in the country's plant life, a trend researchers say will be exacerbated by future warming. Volunteers working for the Botanical Society of the British Isles and the charity Plantlife recorded more than 200,000 plants in patches four kilometres square around the country and found the number and distribution of one third of all species had changed substantially since an earlier survey in 1987. Many plants have spread north and west to capitalize on the milder conditions warming has brought, with several species of orchid and fern, such as the bee orchid and hart's tongue fern, recorded twice as frequently as in the previous survey.

A leading U.S. government storm researcher said Monday that the record hurricane season last year can be attributed to global warming. "The hurricanes we are seeing are indeed a direct result of climate change and it's no longer something we'll see in the future, it's happening now," said Greg Holland, a division director at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. Holland told a packed hall at the American Meteorological Society's 27th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology in Monterey, California that the wind and warmer water conditions that fuel storms that form in the Caribbean are "increasingly due to greenhouse gases. There seems to be no other conclusion you can logically draw." His conclusion will be debated throughout the week-long conference, as other researchers present opposing papers that say changing wind and temperature conditions in the tropics are due to natural events, not the accumulation of carbon dioxide emissions clouding the Earth. Many of the experts gathered in the coastal city of Monterey are federal employees working under a Bush administration that contends global warming is an unproven theory. Holland, director of the Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division of the federal research center, said tropical storm anomalies in the 1940s and 1950s can be explained by natural variability. But he said carbon dioxide started changing traceable patterns in the 1970s and by the early 1990s, the atmospheric results were affecting the storm numbers and intensities. "What we're seeing right now in global climate temperature is a signature of climate change," said Holland, a native of Australia. "The large bulk of the scientific community say what we are seeing now is linked directly to greenhouse gases."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:28:09 AM

Sun, Apr 23 2006

Your Tax Dollars At Work

I am back in town, and a bit worse for the wear, I am afraid. And it appears that the week-long stay in the hospital which I endured was the aftermath of a possible (in fact, likely) assassination attempt. I don't normally go public in this space with the cloak and dagger stuff I have to endure while living here, but this was so blatant and so serious, that I believe that the world needs to know. No, I don't have a smoking gun - these boys are good enough that they rarely leave any laying around - but the circumstantial evidence is damning as you will see.

I never made it to my destination. I got as far as Liberia, in Guanacaste Province, about 70 km. from the Nicaragua border. My intended destination was Granada, Nicaragua, to conduct some business there and visit with friends. But it was not to be.

I arrived in Liberia on the afternoon of Thursday, the 13th, and took a room at my usual hotel. Being a holiday weekend, the hotel could not give me the room I asked for, but put me in room 11 instead. When I checked the air conditioner, I discovered it was inoperative, so asked for a change of room and was given room 14, the second door down (no room 13).

The next morning, I was eating breakfast in the hotel restaurant when I noticed that once again, I was being watched. I am used to that - the CIA likes to let me know from time to time that I am an object of surveillance, usually by either watching me or often even interviewing me with The Questions list. It happens about every second or third trip. They make no real effort to hide it, and I think they do it to intimidate me, presumably to let me know they can take me out anytime they like.

But this time was different. The surveillance team was trying to be a lot more discreet. And after I had eaten about two thirds of my meal, the main person watching me got up and left.

Later in the day, I was reading a book on the patio in front of the row of rooms, and noticed that the man who had been watching me at breakfast was packing his things out of his room - room 12, the room between the one I was originally in and the room I had been placed in after refusing room 11. What really had me suspicious was what he was packing out of the room. Besides lots of suitcases, there were handfuls of red "Biohazard" garbage bags, each with something rather heavy, irregular shapes and heavy and lumpy in it, each bag with contents a rather different shape. He made three trips out to the car carrying handfuls of these bags each time. What was in them? I don't know. I suspect that maybe I don't want to know. And as soon as this fellow was out of the room someone else, equally gringo, equally non-touristy, moved into it, sans maid cleaning. It was beginning to look to me like I was camped next door to CIA Central.

The morning's surveillance and the same rather odd person checking out of the room next door, combined with someone else moving in without the room being cleaned in between, had me suspicious that perhaps I ought to check and see if the common wall between my room and CIA Central had been compromised. So I began a very careful and thorough check of the wall, looking for any tiny holes that might indicate a surveillance operation directed against my room. And sure enough, I found one.

It was quickly plugged with some toothpaste mixed with some crumbled tile grout that I ground up with my foot. And within about ten minutes, I noticed some faint pounding on the wall. They were putting another hole through the wall! This had me really baffled. Why were they so intent on watching me watch television and reading a book? Why did they not want me to notice them at breakfast? Made no sense. It wasn't like I was entertaining Osama in my room. What was the big deal? Hey, if they really wanted to know what I was watching, they'd have been welcome to drop by and watch TV with me - I don't have anything to hide. I have had lots of conversations with spooks since I have been living here, and sometimes they can be quite entertaining. Well, later on in that evening, I found out why they were so intent on watching me watch TV.

That evening, around seven, I began to notice chest pains. No sharp, biting pains, just an increasingly intense dull ache all over my chest, front and rear, centered in the middle of my chest. It did not let up, but slowly, over the course of a half-hour, got worse and worse, until I was breaking out in a cold sweat. I could feel myself getting weaker, and so I decided to use the last of my strength to make it to the front desk for some help.

I told the front desk clerk to call an ambulance, which she did immediately. When the paramedics arrived, in about five minutes, they looked me over rather quickly and determined that I was likely having a heart attack, and they bundled me into the back of their ambulance, and it was off to the Social Security hospital for tests to see what was going on.

When I arrived, I found a hospital in bedlam - being Easter weekend, literally half of the country's population was in Guanacaste province at Costa Rica's famous beaches, in this hospital's territory. That meant that facilities were hugely stretched, patients were being treated on guernies in the hall, and the staff was struggling to cope (even after being augmented by drafting the private clinic staffs). But they were coping remarkably well - patient needs were being attended to promptly, and the quality of care seemed to be quite adequate and unaffected by the situation. The operations at the emergency room were in a quiet moment when I arrived, so I was immediately wheeled into an exam room. I was strapped up to an EKG machine to measure my heart's electrical activity, and it appeared to be relatively normal. A blood sample was taken and sent to the lab to see if any coronary cell death was occurring (turned out it was). My blood pressure was a bit lower than normal, and the pulse rate a bit slow, too. But otherwise things appeared to be not terribly out of whack. So the decision was made to put me into the observation ward and keep an eye on me overnight. I was given some pain medications and put to bed, hooked up to a coronary observation monitor, pleth monitor and automatic blood pressure measuring device. Before long, I was asleep, although my sleep was interrupted rather frequently by a loud air compressor located just outside the open jalousie window. When it ran, the noise was so great I could not hear the nurses talking to each other. I am astounded that such a piece of equipment was installed so close to patient sleeping facilities, with no sound deadening at all that I could perceive.

In the morning, the doctor came by and indicated that there was some cell death occuring, but it did not appear to be serious, so they were going to take another test and see if the cell death had ceased. If so, they would release me, even though I was still having minor chest pains, but nothing all that serious. At 11 AM, they came and took the blood sample. I had noticed a slight increase in the level of pain. About 1 PM, they informed me that the rate of cell death had increased, not decreased, so they were going to keep me in the hospital for a few more days and keep a close eye on me.

By nightfall, the pain had increased to the point where I was finding it difficult to sleep. I asked for some pain medication, and the nurse on duty gave me a nitroglycerine tablet. It took the edge off the pain, but wasn't adequate for sleep, and as soon as it was dissolved, the pain was back. I kept asking for more, and the nurse got suspicious that something was going on, so he summoned the cardiologist who hooked me up to an EKG strip recorder. Sure enough, my EKG had changed. So the decision was made to administer some strong anti-coagulants to halt the process. At this point, as the doctor was running the strip, my pleth began to drop alarmingly fast, and I was fading in and out of consciousness. It was explained to me later that my blood was beginning to congeal right there in my veins. Rather than wait for me to sign the consent forms for this very dangerous drug, it was administered immediately as I began to lose consciousness for the final time. The doctor and I both knew that it was the anti-coagulant or I was toast for sure. Had the cardiologist not been there at that moment, I would have been 86.

After about an hour, I woke up, feeling remarkably better. The pain in my chest was almost entirely gone, and I felt remarkably awake and clear-headed. The doctor was still there, and explained what had transpired. I had never lost pulse, but it had gotten very weak - dropped into the 30's briefly. If I had not been on oxygen at the time, I would have bought the farm.

By morning, all my vitals were normal, though my EKG was noticeably altered (and still is). But I felt in rare form - bright, alert, and ready to go, though I knew that I had just been through a life-threatening experience. My asthma was noticeably worse, but otherwise I felt fine. Of course, I had given up all hope of getting out of the hospital anytime soon.

By the time I was processed out five days after the second attack, the staff was quite well aware of my situation as a political dissident, and made sure that I had the documents I needed to deal with immigration, as my visa will have long since expired before I am fit to travel out of the country. They were solicitous to the point of falling all over themselves to help me out in that regard, making sure the right documents were generated and got to me. I thank them all - they're heroes to me.

I got a good grilling by the cardiologist, who was trying to pin down what would have precipitated the heart attack. Had I eaten any strange foods? No. Do I have any allergies? Other than a handful of nasal allergies and penicillin, no. And later cardiologists who looked at my records kept coming back to the same thing. Allergies. Do I have any allergies? They were downright persistent in grilling me about that, every single cardiologist that came on the floor asked that same question when they asked no other.

Some time back, I remember coming across an item during my research for this blog, that the CIA has developed a new assassination tool for inducing heart attacks. The new compound, which they bragged had already been used successfully several times in Latin America, was a compound that very closely mimics an allergic reaction, causing a clotting cascade and therefore a heart attack, and is very difficult to detect, even in sophisticated forensic testing. I didn't use the item in my blog because I didn't consider it sufficiently important at that time. Now I sure do, and I regret having not blogged it, as considerable efforts at Google have not turned it up again.

To The CIA Goons Who Read This: Well, I sure hope you enjoyed your fun with your license to kill. And I am sure that is why you are in this business in the first place. You sure don't have any job security anymore, do you? Pay and benefits? About as secure as a Delta Airlines pilot, huh? What with all the cloak and dagger stuff being outsourced to Bush's crony-capitalist buddies, and now even your black ops stuff beginning to be outsourced to Blackwater and all the rest, what kind of job security do you have anymore, whoring for the rich?

And once you're out of the Company, and are an old man looking back on how you lived your life, just how proud are you going to be of the fact that you spent so much of your life whoring for a bunch of meanspirited, arrogant ultra-rich elitists, intent on turning the entire population of the planet into their personal servants, and you did it only because they rewarded you with a license to kill? How proud are you going to be of that? You joined up because you thought it was a noble cause, but look at what you have become - just yet another merc, in it for the fun and hey, it's a job. And look at how you are making a living. Shipping guns south and sending drugs north. What a noble profession - way to build strong societies, and you're there helping. Somehow, I can't seem to see a whole lot of difference between what you are now doing and ordinary thuggery. Sure hope you can live with yourself.

If you somehow are among the few left in the agency who still think that there is still some honor among the right-wing fascists you have been working for, you should have been thoroughly disabused of that notion with the Valerie Plame affair. If you had any sense about you, you'd realize that Dubya, Cheney, Rove and all the rest, are going to offer you just about as much respect, loyalty, and support once you're in trouble, as a street dog offers its bitch. So if you ever get caught adding entries to your Greatest Hits album, you're on your own, buddy. And in two weeks, there will be an administration in power here in Costa Rica that has about as much love and respect for you as you have for Karl Marx - the last time Arias was president, he unhesitatingly threw out both the ambassador and the station chief for "activities incompatible" and won't bat an eyelash at doing it again. So finish working on your "retirement fund" and get the hell out while you still can, before you get caught with your fingers wrapped around those little bricks of white powder. Because there are a whole lot of folks down here that don't think very highly of what you have been up to. And now they'll be looking for you, more than ever. Since your little attempt didn't seem to score, you have only ended up looking the fool. Worse luck next time, pal.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:47:20 PM

Wed, Apr 12 2006

On Hiatus This will be the last blog entry for at least a week or two, as I will be traveling. Unfortunately, this interruption is quite unavoidable, and I deeply regret the inconvenience to the thousands of you for whom this blog has become a significant source of news.

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Weather has been rainy much of yesterday and on and off today Not enough; maybe a half inch total. The passage of a tropical wave has brought some much needed rain and slightly cooler temperatures, 78 in the day and 70 overnight.

Yesterday was Juan Santamaria day. It is the anniversary of the day in 1856 when the drummer boy for the Costa Rican army sacrificed his life to bring about a successful conclusion to the Battle of Rivas, fought in that city in Nicaragua, in which William Walker and his filibusterers were driven from Costa Rica and effectively defeated in the rest of Central America, preserving Central American independence. There were no celebrations, because when the anniversary falls during Semana Santa (holy week) as it did this year, they move the celebration of the day to another day before or after Semana Santa. This year, it will be celebrated on Monday, the 17th. Juan Santamaria, a ten-year old boy when he was killed, is one of the few genuine war heros that Costa Rica celebrates.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Critics of the Bush administration have expressed alarm over reports that the president is considering a military strike to knock out Iran's nuclear program. Anthony Zinni, a retired general and former head of US Central Command, told CNN on Sunday that a pre-emptive strike on Iran would be extremely risky. "Any military plan involving Iran is going to be very difficult. We should not fool ourselves to think it will just be a strike and then it will be over," said Zinni. "The Iranians will retaliate, and they have many possibilities in an area where there are many vulnerabilities, from our troop positions to the oil and gas in the region that can be interrupted, to attacks on Israel, to the conduct of terrorism." But he said he had no detailed knowledge of the alleged military plans. Smirkey on Monday ruled out any bilateral negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program but dismissed as "wild speculation" reports that the US was preparing for military action, including a nuclear strike, if diplomatic efforts failed. The president also insisted he had been right in his controversial State of the Union speech four years ago when he dubbed Iran part of an "axis of evil." The remarks in a question-and-answer session with students in Washington underscored the administration’s attempts to pursue a two-track policy of diplomatic pressure on Iran coupled with threats of force if those efforts failed.

"President George W. Bush acknowledged on Monday he ordered the declassification of parts of a prewar intelligence report on Iraq to respond to critics," Reuters reported Monday, after a question from a graduate student solicited the President's first response to the charge that his Vice President's top aide leaked the information to reporters that led to the exposure of Valerie Plame's CIA identity. But Bush said he could not comment on an assertion that he authorized Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to release the information to reporters. Libby is accused of obstruction of justice and perjury in an investigation designed to discover who leaked the name of a CIA operative.

While the immigration debate simmering on Capitol Hill is reported to only concern the rights of immigrants, a little-publicized provision would place the burden of proving work eligibility on citizens and non-citizens alike. The immigration-reform bill currently under consideration in the US Senate and the House of Representatives' version passed last year both include provisions establishing an Electronic Employment Verification System (EVS). The system, presently in pilot testing, is purportedly designed to help employers verify whether the workers they hire are authorized to work in the United States. But civil libertarians say that flaws in the system would leave authorized workers - both US- and foreign-born - vulnerable to identify theft. They are also concerned about the system's cost, and warn that inaccuracies in government databases could lead to the wrongful firing or rejection of workers. "This kind of system would, for the first time in American history, give the government the power to deny any willing worker, - citizen or not - the ability to obtain a job," said Tim Sparapani, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement about the proposed bills last year. "No willing worker should be forced to obtain the Department of Homeland Security's permission to work," he continued, "especially when that system will cause millions of work-eligible American citizens and lawful residents to be wrongly delayed or prevented from working and earning a living." Currently, employers must only show the government that they viewed employees' identification documents and that they looked authentic.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has released documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the Department of Defense, which confirm the military's surveillance of organizations working to repeal the Military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy, PageOneQ has learned. "The very idea that the federal government believes freedom of speech is a threat to national security is unconscionable," Steve Ralls, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s Director of Communications told PageOneQ today. "The Department of Defense has now confirmed the existence of a surveillance program monitoring LGBT groups," said C. Dixon Osburn, SLDN's executive director. "Pentagon leaders have also acknowledged inappropriately collecting some of the information in the TALON database. That information should be destroyed and no similar surveillance should be authorized in the future. Free expression is not a threat to our national security."

Beacon of Freedom and Liberty: New evidence demonstrated in 2005 that torture and mistreatment have been a deliberate part of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism strategy, undermining the global defense of human rights, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2006. The evidence showed that abusive interrogation cannot be reduced to the misdeeds of a few low-ranking soldiers, but was a conscious policy choice by senior U.S. government officials. The policy has hampered Washington’s ability to cajole or pressure other states into respecting international law, said the 532-page volume’s introductory essay. "Fighting terrorism is central to the human rights cause," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "But using illegal tactics against alleged terrorists is both wrong and counterproductive." Roth said the illegal tactics were fueling terrorist recruitment, discouraging public assistance of counterterrorism efforts and creating a pool of unprosecutable detainees.

Arizona's attorney general and a U.S. federal attorney filed a complaint with the Federal Communication Commission yesterday against a Phoenix radio station and a fill-in talk show host over comments made last month suggesting the solution to the illegal immigration problem was to "randomly pick one night every week where we will kill whoever crosses the border." In their letter to the FCC, Attorney General Terry Goddard and U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton criticized the March 8 broadcast by host Brian James on KFYI as "dangerous." "This type of threatening and inciting speech is dangerous and totally irresponsible for anyone, particularly a licensed body using the public airways," Goddard and Charlton wrote. "We are deeply concerned that, given the intensifying conflict over immigration in Arizona, this speech may lead to violence. Tempers are short on both sides and the situation is highly volatile." "At no time during this hour did Mr. James disavow violence or indicate he was joking," the letter claimed. The pair also urged the FCC to consider sanctions against the station.

California's new voter registration database - whose creation the federal government once called a model for other states - may prevent thousands of eligible voters from casting ballots in a June 6 statewide election, officials fear. Since the database was implemented last December, the voter registration process has been invalidating numerous registrations, mostly as a result of minor data-entry problems. For example, 14,629 out of 34,064 voter registration forms - or 43% - were "kicked out," or rejected, in Los Angeles County between Jan. 1 and March 15. Such results have election officials statewide fearing that the new registration system will bump eligible voters from the voter rolls. The problems could first affect a small number of local elections starting this month, including a special congressional election on Tuesday in San Diego County. The registration database, run by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, was mandated by the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The law requires that each state establish a centralized voter registration database. In an e-mail response to questions, a spokeswoman for McPherson wouldn’t provide technical details of the system, nor would she talk about the nature of the problems. She did note that 74% of voter registrations are cleared on the first try. The rest, she said, require manual validation by county elections workers.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: In a statement of unintended irony, the Bush administration says it may severely restrict the movements of Venezuela's ambassador if pro-government activists in Venezuela engage in any more "thuggish" activities against U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield, a spokesman said Monday. There have been four incidents of harassment directed at Brownfield in recent weeks, including one last Friday when his convoy was pelted with eggs, tomatoes and other food. The convoy was also pummeled by motorcyclists during a miles-long chase through Caracas. "If we see an incident like this again, I think that there are going to be serious diplomatic consequences between our two countries. And I think that the Venezuelan ambassador might find his ability to move around the United States severely restricted," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. Another official said the administration may take steps to prevent Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez from leaving the grounds of his residence here. The official asked not to be identified because the issue is still under study. In Caracas, Venezuela's top diplomat for North America, Mari Pili Hernandez, said it would be a violation of international law if the U.S. put restrictions on Alvarez's travels. She said Venezuela is willing to provide protection for Brownfield but sometimes is unaware of his activities. "What I cannot do is guess what Brownfield is doing," she said.

Venezuelan Information Minister Willian Lara has accused ambassador Brownfield of acting like a "bully" and trying to influence public opinion. "William Brownfield is more active than any Venezuelan opposition leader," Lara said. "You don't see the ambassadors of Norway, China, or any other country ... in an activity that has such a clear proselytizing nature." The Venezuelan government cited the U.S. ambassador's charity visits to poor neighborhoods as a sign that he is meddling in the country's internal affairs, and said Monday he could face expulsion for aligning himself with the opposition.

Wheels Coming Off The Republican Machine: A new Gallup poll released today finds that most Americans are critical of President Bush's actions in the Plame/CIA leak scandal, but only one in four is following the matter closely. Overall, 63% of Americans believe Bush did something either illegal (21%) or unethical (42%), while 28% say he did nothing wrong. While many more Democrats are critical, 3 in 10 Republicans also find that Bush did something illegal or unethical. The more closely people are following the issue, the more likely they are to say he did something illegal rather than merely unethical. The poll, conducted April 7-9, 2006, shows that just 25% of Americans are following the matter "very" closely, while another 39% are following the issue "somewhat" closely. Another 36% are not following the issue closely at all.

As Ted Kennedy ripped the GOP before a roaring, mostly Hispanic crowd, the Bushies saw votes vanishing. Pumping his fists in the springtime sun, Senator Ted Kennedy looked like he was having fun. Before him tens of thousands of mostly Hispanic protesters cheered and waved American flags as they listened to his condemnation of draconian House Republican legislation that would forcibly expel millions of illegal immigrants from America. "More than four decades ago, near this place, Martin Luther King called on the nation to let freedom ring," the 74-year-old Kennedy cried out, his voice cracking from the strain. "It is time for American to lift their voices now, in pride for our immigrant past and in pride for our immigrant future." It was a Democratic media consultant's dream.

A loud mixture of cheers and boos greeted Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals baseball game. Cheney, wearing a red Nationals warmup jacket, tossed a pitch that reached Nationals catcher Brian Schneider on one bounce. The vice president, whose popularity is slumping along with that of President Bush, walked out on the field to cheering and booing from the near-sellout crowd. The boos appeared to be little louder than the cheers at RFK Memorial Stadium. On the field with him were three U.S. servicemen, two of whom had been wounded in Iraq and a third who was injured in Afghanistan.

Why The Democrats Are Not The Answer: Here's a big shocker - the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party today announced it would be beginning its new war in earnest on the grassroots elements of the party that are demanding serious public policy changes. As the Financial Times reports, Citigroup Chairman Bob Rubin held a press conference at the Brookings Institution to announce the formation of the so-called "Hamilton Project." After paying lip service to various economic problems afflicting the country, Rubin and his former Treasury colleague Roger Altman quickly let it be known exactly what they are up to. Here's the key excerpt: "At a time when Democrats have become more aggressive in voicing concerns about the foreign ownership of US assets, Roger Altman, former deputy Treasury secretary under Mr Clinton, added that more inclusive economic growth could also 'blunt the political demands for protectionism'...[The group] said it was willing to take on entrenched Democratic interests, such as teaching unions. Policy papers unveiled on Wednesday proposed vouchers for summer schools..." There it all is. First there's the dishonest name-calling aimed at those courageous Democrats who are challenging the free trade orthodoxy that is destroying the lives of millions of American and foreign workers. Then there is the promise of an ensuing attack on the labor movement - a reflexive move, of course, for a bunch of corporate executives. And finally, the nod to efforts to defund public education through "vouchers."

Republican Policies Are Good For America: The price drivers will pay for gasoline this summer will average a record $2.62 a gallon, up 25 cents from last summer, and motor fuel demand will be 1.5 percent higher, the government's top energy forecasting agency said on Tuesday. "Gasoline prices are expected to increase because of the higher cost of crude oil compared with last year and the increase in production and distribution costs associated with (low sulfur fuel requirements) and the phase-out of MTBE" by refiners for ethanol as the preferred fuel additive, the Energy Information Administration said in its summer forecast.

Republicans Believe In Religious Equality: Nevada National Guard Sgt. Patrick Stewart gave his life for his country when the Chinook helicopter he was in was shot down in Afghanistan.

But those wishing to honor Stewart, who should have his name on the memorial wall at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, would have a difficult time doing so. The space reserved for Stewart is vacant. Stewart was a follower of the Wiccan religion, which is not recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Stewart's widow, Roberta, said she'll wait until her family's religion - and its five-pointed star enclosed in a circle, with one point facing skyward - is recognized for use on memorials before Stewart's plaque is installed. "It's completely blank," Roberta Stewart said, pointing to her husband's place on the memorial. She said she had no idea the pentacle could not be used on her husband's memorial plaque until she had to deal with the agency after his death last September. "It's discrimination," she said. "They are discriminating against our religion."

Can't Get Enough Of Those Republican Politicians? Now you can listen to Bill Frist's podcast. Yes, I'm serious. This humble, decent, compassionate man is now doing his own podcast. If you really want to, you can go here to sign up.

News From Smirkey's Wars: A government decision to cut food rations has hurt poor Iraqis who cannot afford high prices on the open market, say economists and Baghdad residents. Despite rising poverty in Iraq, the government has decided to cut the food ration budget from $4 billion to $3 billion in 2006, as the country shifts from a socialist to a free market economy. The Iraqi government has provided subsidies on basic food items such as flour and sugar for decades. The United Nations expanded the program when the country was under crippling economic sanctions. However, subsidies have now been cut on staples including salt, soap and beans. Trade Ministry spokesman Faraj Daud said the government will continue to supply Iraqis with free rice, sugar, flour and cooking oil. The ministry claims that items that were once scarce during sanctions are now widely available on the open market and therefore do not need to be distributed by the government. Meanwhile, as the oil-for-food inquiry drags on, new figures show US wheat exports to Iraq over the past year have grown almost five-fold, cornering the market. The US exported about 500,000 metric tonnes of wheat to Iraq last marketing year, before the UN Volker report on alleged AWB kickbacks to Iraq led to a cut-off of AWB shipments and a surge in US exports. "For the past year, we've captured almost three-quarters of the Iraqi wheat market, which is quite large, which is well over 3 million tonnes, and we've gained a very large share of the Iraqi rice market," Bob Riemenschneider, grain and feed director at the US Foreign Agricultural Services, said. The US has exported about 2.4 million tons of wheat to Iraq so far this marketing year and Mr Riemenschneider expects that to increase gradually in coming years.

Iraqis arrested by US-led forces have been vanishing into a "black hole," British Prime Minister Tony Blair's human rights envoy told a Sunday newspaper. Had the United States taken this problem seriously from the beginning, it may have helped prevent the abuse of prisoners in Iraq, Ann Clwyd, an MP for the governing Labour Party, told The Observer newspaper in a rare interview about her work. Clwyd, who reports directly to Blair, expressed concern about the "tremendous effort" required to trace detainees. "You did feel that people were disappearing into black holes and it's very difficult," she said. The human rights envoy suspected the reason for this problem was incompetence rather than malice. US officials wrote down names "sometimes in Arabic, sometimes not, sometimes in bad Arabic", which rendered any attempt to trace prisoners much harder. Clwyd said Washington should have done something to resolve this matter sooner.

No more than 200 yards from the main gate of the sprawling U.S. base here, stolen computer drives containing classified military assessments of enemy targets, names of corrupt Afghan officials and descriptions of American defenses are on sale in the local bazaar. Shop owners at the bazaar say Afghan cleaners, garbage collectors and other workers from the base arrive each day offering purloined goods, including knives, watches, refrigerators, packets of Viagra and flash memory drives taken from military laptops. The drives, smaller than a pack of chewing gum, are sold as used equipment. The thefts of computer drives have the potential to expose military secrets as well as Social Security numbers and other identifying information of military personnel. A reporter recently obtained several drives at the bazaar that contained documents marked "Secret." The contents included documents that were potentially embarrassing to Pakistan, a U.S. ally, presentations that named suspected militants targeted for "kill or capture" and discussions of U.S. efforts to "remove" or "marginalize" Afghan government officials whom the military considered "problem makers." The drives also included deployment rosters and other documents that identified nearly 700 U.S. service members and their Social Security numbers, information that identity thieves could use to open credit card accounts in soldiers' names. Troops serving overseas would be particularly vulnerable to attempts at identity theft because keeping track of their bank and credit records is difficult, said Jay Foley, co-executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego. "It's absolutely absurd that this is happening in any way, shape or form," Foley said. "There's absolutely no reason for anyone in the military to have that kind of information on a flash drive and then have it out of their possession." A flash drive also contained a classified briefing about the capabilities and limitations of a "man portable counter-mortar radar" used to find the source of guerrilla mortar rounds. A map pinpoints the U.S. camps and bases in Iraq where the sophisticated radar was deployed in March 2004.

Scandals Du Jour: Key figures in a phone-jamming scheme designed to keep New Hampshire Democrats from voting in 2002 had regular contact with the White House and Republican Party as the plan was unfolding, phone records introduced in criminal court show. The records show that Bush campaign operative James Tobin, who recently was convicted in the case, made two dozen calls to the White House within a three-day period around Election Day 2002 - as the phone jamming operation was finalized, carried out and then abruptly shut down. The national Republican Party, which paid millions in legal bills to defend Tobin, says the contacts involved routine election business and that it was "preposterous" to suggest the calls involved phone jamming. The Justice Department has secured three convictions in the case but hasn't accused any White House or national Republican officials of wrongdoing, nor made any allegations suggesting party officials outside New Hampshire were involved. The phone records of calls to the White House were exhibits in Tobin's trial but prosecutors did not make them part of their case. Democrats plan to ask a federal judge Tuesday to order GOP and White House officials to answer questions about the phone jamming in a civil lawsuit alleging voter fraud. Repeated hang-up calls that jammed telephone lines at a Democratic get-out-the-vote center occurred in a Senate race in which Republican John Sununu defeated Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, 51 percent to 46 percent, on Nov. 5, 2002.

A Republican Party official and Jack Abramoff's lobbying team bluntly discussed using large political donations as a way to pressure lawmakers into securing federal money for a tribal client, according to e-mails gathered by prosecutors. The e-mails detail how Abramoff's team worked to leverage assistance from the White House, Congress and the GOP to get a reluctant federal agency and a single Republican congressional aide to stop blocking school construction money for the Saginaw Chippewa tribe. The e-mails were obtained by The Associated Press. Abramoff's team ultimately prevailed when the congressional aide was overruled, several lawmakers pressured an Interior Department agency and Congress itself set aside the money for the tribe. Lawmakers who helped got thousands of dollars in fresh donations from Abramoff's team. Federal bribery law prohibits public officials from taking actions because of gifts or political donations and bars lobbyists from demanding government action in exchange for donations. Abramoff's team repeatedly discussed donations as the reason Republican leaders should intervene for the Saginaw, the e-mails show.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: If it wasn't a bribe, why do they want their money back? A few lobbyists who helped raise money for Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) - all of them outside the inner circle of the former Majority Leader - say they'd like the outgoing Congressman to offer them their money back. His re-election kitty, probably worth upwards of $1 million, is widely expected to be shifted into a fund to pay his mounting legal bills. While these lobbyists didn't mind cutting checks to the Majority Leader, or even a member of the Appropriations Committee, they aren't so energized about spreading their generosity to DeLay's legal team because, well, what's in it for them? "If I wanted to give to a legal fund, I would've done it directly," snarled one GOP lobbyist who refused to have his name attached to such callous-sounding sentiments, even if DeLay is leaving Congress. Another lobbyist who gives to Members on both sides of the aisle said, "It's nauseating to think about" his campaign contribution going to fund DeLay's legal team. "I'm realistic about it. He wouldn't resign for no reason," this lobbyist said, noting that the timing of DeLay's departure came awfully close to the announcement of a plea agreement by his former aide Tony Rudy. "That all this money will go to the legal defense fund, it sickens me," he added. "I have to pay for that?"

In February of this year, Jose Lambiet of the Palm-Beach Post reported that Ann Coulter, the extremist Republican columnist and author, seems to have committed voter fraud by registering and then voting in a Palm Beach, Florida precinct in which she does not live. She registered to the vote, for reasons which still remain unclear, at the address of her realtor Suzanne Frisbie. Coulter has maintained, when asked about the incident during recent public appearances, that the report is a lie and that she doesn't even live in Palm Beach. Lambiet has since characterized those denials by Coulter as "absolutely a bold-faced lie." Various information obtained by The BRAD BLOG, however, would seem to back up Lambiet's account which shows that the liar in the matter is, in fact, Coulter. The radical darling of the GOP speaking/fundraising circuit did, in fact, purchase a house at 242 Seabreeze Dr. in Palm Beach, Florida as reported publicly by the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser's website and confirmed by several different sources including the "Warranty Deed" signed on March 30th, 2005. Meanwhile, Coulter's official Florida Voter Registration Application Form received from the office of the Palm Beach County Election Supervisor confirms that she specified "999 Indian Rd" as her "Legal Residence" -- despite never having lived there. The Indian Road address is that of Coulter's Real Estate agent and her husband David. Coulter's signature on the form is next to an "oath" affirming the information on the form is true, and acknowledging that she understood she could face a third-degree felony conviction, a $5,000 fine and/or five-years imprisonment for providing false information on the form. "She never lived here," Lambiet reported Frisbie as confirming about the address Coulter used on her registration form. "I'm Ann's Realtor, and she used this address to forward mail when she moved from New York," said Frisbie.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:41:49 PM

Mon, Apr 10 2006

One Helluva Scare

The dry season rolls on and the temperatures continue to rise. Last night, I had the ceiling fan in the bedroom on high all night long, and it was still a bit warm in the morning. The temperature dropped to 72 overnight outside, but stayed at nearly 80 in the house, and it was a bit uncomfortable to say the least. Yesterday, we had a high of 84, and last night was not much relief. The high today was similar, but with slightly lower humidity. The dry season is now just getting up to the high side of comfortable for me.

Last night, after a long telephone conversation with a friend during which we discussed credit card fraud in Central America, I decided to check something on my local bank's debit card, only to discover it was not in my wallet. That can be a serious matter here, because thieves who obtain access to a debit or credit card can empty an account or run a card up to its limit in minutes, before one discovers the loss and gets the card cancelled - and there is no credit card protection law to aid the consumer. And I had just deposited some money into that account, so the balance was about as big as I ever allow it to get. So say that I was frantic, was putting it mildly.

Well, on careful reflection, I realized that my last use of that card had been to make that deposit on Thursday of last week. And I had not been to town for anything other than the ducha (shower heater) on Saturday, so unless there had been some incredibly deft slight-of-hand while I was in the ferreteria (hardware store), I decided I must have left it at the bank. I concluded that the most likely scenario was that the clerk at the bank had failed to give it back to me after I had concluded my rather involved transaction - something that has happened before. So I concluded that the only thing I could do was to head to the bank first thing in the morning. It was a sleepless night, to say the least.

This morning, bright and early, I was up, got a shower and breakfast, and headed for the bank just before when I figured they would open at eight. When I got there, I discovered that they open at 8:30, so I wandered around the park across the street, killing time until opening hour, when I lined up at the door behind a merchant there to bank his weekend receipts. It wasn't long before my neighbor, the bank clerk with whom I had done the transaction, saw me and knew what I had wanted. He handed my card to the security guard, who gave it to me through the louvers of the jalousie window. Thanking him profusely, I took it over to the ATM and checked my balance - all the money was there as it was supposed to be. Whew! Off the hook that time! I need to configure the card so that it does not point to both of my accounts - and have it point only to the account with the least amount of money in it. That way, if the card is lost or stolen, the thieves can get access only to a minimal amount of money.

I would like to thank in this space, my neighbor who is the clerk in the bank. His honesty is outstanding - he could have made hundreds or thousands of dollars selling my card anonymously to thieves who could have cleaned out my bank account, and his act would not have been traceable back to him. But he didn't do that, he did the right thing, and kept my card secure for when I came back to the bank. My hat is off to my honest neighbor the bank clerk - you're a good friend and an honest man, G.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: As he drew back the curtain this week on the evidence against Vice President Cheney's former top aide, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald for the first time described a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" - using classified information - to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" a critic of President Bush's war in Iraq. Bluntly and repeatedly, Fitzgerald placed Cheney at the center of that campaign. Citing grand jury testimony from the vice president's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Fitzgerald fingered Cheney as the first to voice a line of attack that at least three White House officials would soon deploy against former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. Vice President Cheney "specifically directed" his then-top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, far right, to tell reporters about a 2002 report that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger, according to prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald. Cheney, in a conversation with Libby in early July 2003, was said to describe Wilson's CIA-sponsored trip to Niger the previous year -- in which the envoy found no support for charges that Iraq tried to buy uranium there -- as "a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife," CIA case officer Valerie Plame.

The White House faced a barrage of questions Friday over the timing of President Bush's decision to declassify intelligence that was then leaked to the press by Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. In a tense briefing, White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked repeatedly to explain his statement from three years ago that portions of a prewar intelligence document on Iraq were declassified on July 18, 2003. McClellan told reporters July 18, 2003, that the material being released on Iraq "was officially declassified today." "On Friday, McClellan interpreted his words to mean that is when the material was "officially released." Asked when it was declassified, McClellan refused to answer, saying the matter was part of Fitzgerald's ongoing CIA leak probe that resulted in Libby's indictment. "This is a serious allegation with national security consequences," Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, said today on the Senate floor. "It directly contradicts previous statements made by President Bush, it continues a pattern of misleading by this Bush White House, and it raises somber and troubling questions about the Bush administration's candor with the Congress and the public." Mr. Reid said it was time for the president to say whether, in fact, he authorized the disclosure of the pre-war intelligence, as Mr. Libby said he had. "He must tell the American people whether the Bush Oval Office is the place where the buck stops, or the leaks start," Mr. Reid said. Mr. McClellan was in the somewhat odd position of not disputing that President Bush was involved in the disclosure of hitherto classified information, while describing any such disclosure as being in the public good. "We ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated by the American people," said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Iran has prepared a high-level delegation to hold wide-ranging talks with the US, but the Bush administration is resisting the agenda suggested by Tehran despite pressure from European allies to engage the Islamic republic, Iranian politicians have told the Financial Times. A senior Iranian official, Mohammad Nahavandian, has flown to Washington to "lobby" over the issue, aaccording to a top Iranian adviser outside the US. However, the Iranian mission to the United Nations insisted he was in Washington on private business. Iran's willingness to engage the US on Iraq, regional security and the nuclear issue, is believed to have the approval of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It represents the most serious attempt by the Islamic republic to reach out to the US since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

AT&T provided NSA eavesdroppers with full access to its customers' phone calls, and shunted its customers' internet traffic to data-mining equipment installed in a secret room in its San Francisco switching center, according to a former AT&T worker cooperating in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against the company. Mark Klein, a retired AT&T communications technician, submitted an affidavit in support of the EFF's lawsuit this week. That class action lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco last January, alleges that AT&T violated federal and state laws by surreptitiously allowing the government to monitor phone and internet communications of AT&T customers without warrants. On Wednesday, the EFF asked the court to issue an injunction prohibiting AT&T from continuing the alleged wiretapping, and filed a number of documents under seal, including three AT&T documents that purportedly explain how the wiretapping system works. According to a statement released by Klein's attorney, an NSA agent showed up at the San Francisco switching center in 2002 to interview a management-level technician for a special job. In January 2003, Klein observed a new room being built adjacent to the room housing AT&T's #4ESS switching equipment, which is responsible for routing long distance and international calls. "I learned that the person whom the NSA interviewed for the secret job was the person working to install equipment in this room," Klein wrote. "The regular technician work force was not allowed in the room." Klein's job eventually included connecting internet circuits to a splitting cabinet that led to the secret room. During the course of that work, he learned from a co-worker that similar cabinets were being installed in other cities, including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego.

US senators were today locked in renewed stalemate over plans for major reforms that would put millions of illegal immigrants on the path to US citizenship. They had last night agreed on an immigration bill based on fragile bipartisan compromise, but it failed in its first vote in the US senate today. In recent weeks, there has been bitter dispute between Republican and Democratic senators over immigration reform, while thousands of illegal immigrants and pro-reformers have held demonstrations across the country. Last night's tortuously-agreed compromise was reached after movement from hardline Republicans nervous about losing Latino votes in November's congressional elections. It had been hoped that the compromise legislation - which would put the vast majority of the country's 11 million illegal immigrants on the way to citizenship - would be approved today. But both sides said it would not now be resolved until after the two-week Easter recess at the earliest.

Two senior military officers are known to have challenged Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the planning of the Iraq war. Army General Eric Shinseki publicly dissented and found himself marginalized. Marine Lieut. General Greg Newbold, the Pentagon's top operations officer, voiced his objections internally and then retired, in part out of opposition to the war. Here, for the first time, Newbold has now gone public in TIME Magazine with a full-throated critique: "In 1971, the rock group The Who released the antiwar anthem Won't Get Fooled Again. To most in my generation, the song conveyed a sense of betrayal by the nation's leaders, who had led our country into a costly and unnecessary war in Vietnam. To those of us who were truly counterculture - who became career members of the military during those rough times - the song conveyed a very different message. To us, its lyrics evoked a feeling that we must never again stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it. Never again, we thought, would our military's senior leaders remain silent as American troops were marched off to an ill-considered engagement. It's 35 years later, and the judgment is in: the Who had it wrong. We have been fooled again..." Read the rest of the critique here.

Leonard Brown became a free man Friday, 24 years after he was sent to prison on an illegal sentence. Brown was involved in two Tampa robberies in late 1980 and early 1981 and originally was charged with attempted murder and armed robbery, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times said. He agreed to plead guilty a reduced charge after it was shown he did not do the shooting. He drew a short jail term and 10 years probation but a bad check charge sent him back to court and a new judge. This judge sentenced him 30 years for violating his robbery probation and 99 years on the attempted murder charge after allegedly misreading the earlier plea agreement. This January, Brown filed a motion claiming his sentence was illegal. State Attorney Mark Ober agreed and worked to expedite Brown's release.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: A day after a car occupied by the United States ambassador to Venezuela was pelted with eggs and tomatoes in Caracas, officials in Washington summoned Venezuela's ambassador on Saturday and warned him of "severe diplomatic consequence" in the event of a similar incident. The Venezuelan police escorts did nothing to intervene as a car carrying Ambassador William R. Brownfield was pounded, kicked and pelted, according to an embassy spokesman, Brian Penn. No one was hurt. It was the third time in three weeks that Mr. Brownfield has been met by protesters; other times, demonstrators have burned tires and an American flag. Emotions have run high among supporters of the Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chávez, who has accused the United States of plotting against him. American officials deny that and accuse him of stifling democracy. The incident began when Mr. Brownfield visited a baseball stadium in a poor Caracas neighborhood to hand out donated equipment for a youth league. He often holds public events to donate to charities and meet community leaders, even in Chávez strongholds.

Wheels Coming Off The Republican Machine: If you're going to govern, you can't run the United States of America as if it were some third-world banana republic. That's the message the Republicans should be taking home from one of their worst weeks in politics in many years. Trent Lott, the former Republican Senate leader, was headed out of the Capitol on Friday when he was asked to sum up a week in which Tom Delay said he would quit Congress, the House budget unraveled, the Senate immigration bill crumbled and President Bush became embroiled in the city's most famous leak probe. Mr. Lott hopped into an elevator and gestured toward Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, a member of the current Republican leadership. "Our spokesperson will handle this response," he said, evoking laughter from reporters as the elevator doors shut. Mr. Lott's deft disappearing act was just a taste of how odd life had become in Washington last week. There had already been months of bad news: the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the political embarrassment over port security. But not until last week's cluster of political crises did Washington's Republicans seem to exhibit real self-doubt. Suddenly, the swaggering Alphas who run this city were turned into self-effacing Betas. "A staggering collection of misfortunes and failures," declared Harry C. McPherson of the week. Mr. McPherson should know; he has watched power ebb and flow in town since he came to Washington half a century ago as a Senate aide to Lyndon B. Johnson. The sudden weakening of Republican knees on Capitol Hill also undoubtedly had something to do with the fact that Mr. DeLay's announcement Tuesday morning - after months of insisting that he would run again - came just days after one of his former aides, Tony Rudy, agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the Jack Abramoff corruption probe. In the Capitol corridors, there was a palpable sense that lawmakers were looking over their shoulder, wondering: Who's next? Still, with the November midterm election in mind, some Republicans actually seemed relieved. "He was a talking point that provided a political angle for the Democrats; that is now out of the equation," one Republican aide said. But the talking point had also been the iron fist behind the Republican's success, and some were wondering how they would get anything done without him. On Tuesday afternoon, the House speaker, J. Dennis Hastert - whose rise to the highest post in the House had been orchestrated by Mr. DeLay - was a no-show at a press conference he had called in his office. Instead, he sent four other top Republicans to face the cameras. "A great asset to our party," said the new Republican leader, John Boehner, of Mr. DeLay. "A great friend and ally," said the Rules Committee chairman, David Dreier. Then, the quartet turned on its heels and walked off in unison, a row of gray suits growing smaller against the backdrop of a burgundy red hallway, with the press corps hollering, "What? No questions?" at their backs.

Smirkey's approval ratings hit a whole series of new lows in an AP-Ipsos poll that also shows Republicans surrendering their advantage on national security - grim election-year news for a party struggling to stay in power. Democratic leaders predicted they will seize control of one or both chambers of Congress in November. Republicans said they feared the worst unless the political landscape quickly changes. "These numbers are scary. We've lost every advantage we've ever had," GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio said. "The good news is Democrats don't have much of a plan. The bad news is they may not need one." * Just 36 percent of the public approves of Smirkey's job performance, his lowest-ever rating in AP-Ipsos polling. By contrast, the president’s job approval rating was 47 percent among likely voters just before Election Day 2004 and a whopping 64 percent among registered voters in October 2002. * Only 40 percent of the public approves of Smirkey's performance on foreign policy and the war on terror, another low-water mark for his presidency. That's down 9 points from a year ago. Just before the 2002 election, 64 percent of registered voters backed Bush on terror and foreign policy. * Just 35 percent of the public approves of Smirkey's handling of Iraq, his lowest in AP-Ipsos polling. * By a 49-33 margin, the public favors Democrats over Republicans when asked which party should control Congress. That 16-point Democratic advantage is the largest the party has enjoyed in AP-Ipsos polling. * Nearly 70 percent of Americans believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction - the largest percentage during the Bush presidency and up 13 points from a year ago. * On an issue the GOP has dominated for decades, Republicans are now locked in a tie with Democrats - 41 percent each - on the question of which party people trust to protect the country. Democrats made their biggest national security gains among young men, according to the AP-Ipsos poll, which had a 3 percentage point margin of error.

Last hope for impeachment? Alberto Gonzales again put George Bush above the law today when he indicated that the administration could outright (not that they haven't been doing so in secret for decades) authorize wiretaps of domestic American citizen's phone calls without a warrant. This is a clear violation of the 4th amendment to the US Constitution. Bush's own advisor John Yoo is on the public record as arguing that no law could prevent the President from ordering children to be tortured by means of crushing their genitals. No, this isn't the Frist fake Fox News hoax - that was his actual argument in a December 1st debate in Chicago with Notre Dame professor and international human rights scholar Doug Cassel.

U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow will be on the job some weeks longer, but will leave within the next month or two, sources at the White House and close to the Treasury said. Snow has been in the top Treasury post for more than three years, and wants a more graceful departure than the abrupt and angry resignation of his predecessor Paul O'Neill in 2002, the sources said. The U.S. Treasury Secretary will host the Group of Seven finance ministers meeting in Washington on April 21, and has a busy schedule that will take him through to at least mid-May. Since President George W. Bush last week named budget director Joshua Bolten as his new chief of staff, the U.S. media has been abuzz with speculation that Bolten wanted Snow replaced. Bush did little to quell the rumors on Tuesday when he praised Snow as a trustworthy and a valued team member, but said nothing about the Treasury chief's future. Many saw the comments as a tepid show of support.

Smirkey on Thursday chose acting Federal Emergency Management Agency director David Paulison as permanent head of the embattled agency with hurricane season two months away. Paulison, 59, a veteran firefighter, was named acting director of FEMA after Michael Brown resigned last September in the face of bitter complaints about the federal government's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina. The nomination requires Senate confirmation. The New York Times reported on Sunday that Bush was turning to Paulison after seven candidates for director or another top FEMA job pulled themselves out of the running. The candidates were said to be unconvinced that the administration was serious about fixing FEMA or that there was enough time to get it done before Bush's second term ends. The Times said that of the 30 most senior jobs at FEMA, 11 are filled by officials appointed on an acting basis. It said that Kentucky Republican Rep. Harold Rogers, chairman of a House subcommittee that oversees the Homeland Security Department's budget, had threatened last week to hold up action on the budget bill until the top jobs at FEMA were filled.

A Bush administration proposal to open an energy-rich tract of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling has touched off a tough fight in Congress, pitting Smirkey against his own brother, the governor of Florida, and the Defense Department, which uses the area for a gunnery range. The two-million-acre area, in deep waters 100 miles south of Pensacola, Fla., is estimated to contain nearly half a billion barrels of oil and three trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to run roughly a million vehicles and heat more than half a million homes for about 15 years. The site, Area 181, is the only major offshore leasing zone that the administration is offering for development. But lawmakers are divided over competing proposals to expand or to limit the drilling. The Senate Energy Committee and its chairman, Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, are pushing for a wider drilling zone, while the two Florida senators and many from the state's delegation in the House are arguing for a smaller tract. Other lawmakers oppose any new drilling at all.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: US consumers borrowed less money than expected in February after January's huge credit-based shopping spree, according to a Federal Reserve report. Consumer credit - loans to individuals that aren't mortgages - rose by $3.3 billion, well down on January's jump of $6.14 billion. Outstanding consumer credit in the US now stands at $2.164 trillion. Analysts say people have been borrowing less on credit cards and taking out loans on the equity value of their homes - a cheaper form of credit. Forecasters had been expecting a $3.5bn rise in February consumer credit. Consumer spending growth is also slowing, and rose by just 0.1% in February, according to the latest Commerce Department figures. Retailers have also been reporting slower sales as rising interest rates, higher petrol prices and the cold weather have conspired to make consumers tighten their purse strings.

Republicans Believe In Campaign Finance Reform: The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday to crack down on independent political groups that spent nearly a half-billion dollars in the 2004 election, most of it trying to help Democrats. The measure would impose limits on individual contributions to those groups and require them to register with the Federal Election Commission. On a largely party-line vote of 218-209, the House sent the bill to the Senate where it faces an uncertain fate. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said Congress may want to examine campaign financing in advance of the November congressional elections -- but it should not zero in on just one component. "If we're going to take a look at everything here and have a real good, in-depth look at campaign financing again, I'm happy to do that, but not cherry-pick what somebody doesn't like," Reid said. While Republicans control the Senate, holding 55 of 100 seats, Democrats could try to stop the bill with a procedural roadblock.

Liberal Biased Media Watch: CNN's American Morning twice aired video footage showing a confrontation between a TV reporter and an aide to Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) outside the Capitol, despite the fact that the previous day, CNN's Wolf Blitzer described the confrontation as "not unusual at all." By contrast, CNN has not once mentioned or aired a video of a supporter for Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), part of a group of DeLay supporters who were there for the specific intent of disrupting a press conference by DeLay's former election opponent (see below), who pulled a hat over the face of a 69-year-old woman.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Ruth Malhotra went to court last month for the right to be intolerant. Malhotra says her Christian faith compels her to speak out against homosexuality. But the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she's a senior, bans speech that puts down others because of their sexual orientation. Malhotra sees that as an unacceptable infringement on her right to religious expression. So she's demanding that Georgia Tech revoke its tolerance policy. With her lawsuit, the 22-year-old student joins a growing campaign to force public schools, state colleges and private workplaces to eliminate policies protecting gays and lesbians from harassment. The religious right aims to overturn a broad range of common tolerance programs: diversity training that promotes acceptance of gays and lesbians, speech codes that ban harsh words against homosexuality, anti-discrimination policies that require college clubs to open their membership to all. The Rev. Rick Scarborough, a leading evangelical, frames the movement as the civil rights struggle of the 21st century. "Christians," he said, "are going to have to take a stand for the right to be Christian." In that spirit, the Christian Legal Society, an association of judges and lawyers, has formed a national group to challenge tolerance policies in federal court. Several nonprofit law firms - backed by major ministries such as Focus on the Family and Campus Crusade for Christ - already take on such cases for free. The legal argument is straightforward: Policies intended to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination end up discriminating against conservative Christians. Evangelicals have been suspended for wearing anti-gay T-shirts to high school, fired for denouncing Gay Pride Month at work, reprimanded for refusing to attend diversity training. When they protest tolerance codes, they're labeled intolerant. Christian activist Gregory S. Baylor responds to such criticism angrily. He says he supports policies that protect people from discrimination based on race and gender. But he draws a distinction that infuriates gay rights activists when he argues that sexual orientation is different - a lifestyle choice, not an inborn trait. Of course, his own Christianity is a lifestyle choice, which, by his own argument, would therefore entitle others, including the university, to discriminate against him.

After years of turning the other cheek, the United Church of Christ, among the most liberal of the mainline Protestant denominations, has recently staked out a more pugnacious stance toward the Christian right. The Rev. John H. Thomas, the denomination's president, has sharply criticized the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a conservative religious watchdog and advocacy group, for supporting groups within mainline denominations that would further a conservative theological and political perspective. And the church has undertaken new advertising and e-mail campaigns to combat more conservative forces.

Janet may have had her own Nipplegate, now Tomb Raider: Legend publisher Eidos joins the fray. The game's US release date of April 11th has been moved back after someone had posted textures of the game to a forum clearly showing nipples on a bare breast. The game contains a chapter set in Tokyo, where several women are dancing in the distance. To keep it simple for the animators they had initially modeled all the women naked, so they could simply drape different dresses around them later. In the final version of the game that part of the texture is not even mapped to any points in the meshes. Translation for the less-technical people is that it is beyond impossible to see the breast in-game, you can only see it when you are ripping textures out of the game's files. What this all means is that because of America's well-known hypocrisy towards nudity (half the population sucks on nipples frequently for the first few months of their life but then you aren't allowed to see them for 18 years), Eidos has issued a fix to be applied to the game's files and take the few days delay this causes for granted. US Xbox owners need not have hope of getting their forgotten intro movie after all since only the PC version is being fixed: it's not possible for Joe Average to extract textures from the console versions. Thus whether the other versions also suffer from the delay is unknown.

The remains of a one-eyed, noseless kitten that stirred debate last year over whether it was a hoax will be the centerpiece of a new museum intended to promote the theory of creationism. John Adolfi plans to feature Cy's remains at The Lost World Museum when it opens later this year. The Phoenix, N.Y., museum will feature such oddities as giant plants and eggs, deformed animal remains and unique archaeological finds, he said. Adolfi believes in creationism - a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation. He wrote on the museum's Web site that the theory of evolution states that "environmental pressures can lift species from the ape-like creature... to us today. My question is this. Are there really positive mutations? "All I can see are neutral or negative," said Adolfi, a real estate agent from Granby, N.Y.

We Republicans Are More Moral Than You: A former Senate aide who wrote a sexually explicit blog about her relations with officials on Capitol Hill is facing a lawsuit for invasion of privacy. Jessica Cutler, whose short-lived blog astonished Washington in 2004, is being sued by Robert Steinbuch, a former legal counsel to the Ohio Republican senator Mike DeWine. Under the pseudonym Washingtonienne, Ms Cutler, whose job was opening the mail in Mr DeWine's office, identified her lovers using sets of initials, describing their sexual encounters in alarmingly precise detail, down to exact positions and number of ejaculations. The men involved included Mr Steinbuch, known as RS, and another figure she described as a "married man who pays me for sex. Chief of staff at one of the gov agencies, appointed by Bush." As her affair with Mr Steinbuch became known on Capitol Hill, she wrote: "RS just called again. Bad news: the rumour has spread to other offices. This is bad." The blog lasted barely a fortnight, and Ms Cutler, 27, was sacked once it featured on the Washington gossip blog Wonkette. Mr Steinbuch, who was not married at the time the blog was being written, claims that her "outrageous actions, setting before anyone in the world with access to the internet intimate and private facts regarding [him], constituted a gross invasion of his privacy, subjecting him to humiliation and anguish". He is seeking unspecified damages. A judge on Wednesday allowed the lawsuit to proceed against Jessica Cutler.

Ann "Hypocrisy is soooo cool!" Coulter, currently under investigation for having possibly committed a felony for misstating her legal residence when she registered to vote, then trying to vote in the wrong district, didn't strike me as the best candidate to be defending Tom DeLay's ethics (or anyone else's, for that matter) last night (4/4/06) on Hannity & Colmes but maybe they couldn't find anyone else. Several times, the glassy-eyed and giddy Coulter called Delay "incredibly honorable" and that "no one's concerned" about the prosecution against him. Comment: Nobody except the voters, that is, but truth-in-voting is obviously not Coulter's strong point. Sean Hannity insisted several times that DeLay was indicted "for a non-existent crime." Yes, it's that little non-existent crime called money laundering. The FOXNews.com article on DeLay's resignation proves Hannity and Coulter wrong in its opening sentence: "Facing money laundering charges and a tough re-election in November, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay announced Tuesday he will not run for office again and not finish his current term."

Just a day after Tom DeLay has the chutzpah to threaten filing an ethics complaint against against Cynthia McKinney (yes, right on the heels of his resignation announcement) he sends out his attack dogs to disrupt a Nick Lampson press conference and assault little old ladies. Marsha Rovai, the 70 year-old victim, a retired CPS caseworker, describes the attack. "I can't believe my Congressman, Tom DeLay, would organize this type of assault," Rovai said. "I was assaulted by two different people. One of the men hit me and another shoved his sign into my face, and then when I pushed his sign away he violently pulled my hat down over my eyes and pushed me. I'm considering filing an assault charge. This is just very upsetting and I'm so disappointed in Tom Delay for organizing this attack." And organize this attack he did. Here's the e-mail attributed to Chris Homan, DeLay's campaign manager: "We would meet tomorrow morning at 9:45 am on the first floor of the parking garage attached to the Marriott. Please get folks to call our campaign office 281.343.1333 and let us know they can do it - or e-mail Leonard Cash (in the cc field above) so that we can get some head count. Let's give Lampson a parting shot that wrecks his press conference." Yes, this is the same Tom DeLay who starred at the War on Christians conference, that poor persecuted soul who has been drummed out of Congress solely as a result of his taking "his faith seriously into public office, which made him a target for all those who despise the cause of Christ." This can only backfire against DeLay and whoever he hand-picks as his replacement for the general election. Republicans in District 22 are going to be carrying the stain of DeLay for a very long time.

Soaking The Taxpayers For His Sleaze: When he resigns in a few months, U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay immediately will be eligible for a congressional pension of nearly $67,000 a year. The Sugar Land Republican, who will turn 59 on Saturday, would get a total of about $1.3 million in pension payouts in the next 20 years alone. DeLay also will be eligible to participate in the health plan available to all federal retirees. His pension would be unaffected by any conviction on the campaign finance charges he faces in Travis County or any charges rising from the congressional lobbying scandal in which two of his former aides, and former ally and lobbyist Jack Abramoff, have pleaded guilty.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:10:47 AM

Sat, Apr 08 2006

Weekend Emergency Plumbing Job

The dry season continues. This morning's satellite photo shows that the tropical wave that had paused over us, has died and gone to weather heaven, so our normal dry season pattern has resumed. Thank goodness. Now it is back to sunny and dry - yesterday and today both have been 84 degree highs and 70 degree lows. Now that's more like it.

Well, I was slow getting up this morning, and when I finally hauled my lazy butt off to the shower, I got a rude surprise. I had no more than turned on the shower than I heard a brief buzz from the ducha (shower flash heater), and that was it. Water was cold.

I knew from experience that it was a heater coil burned up, and I was going to have to replace the head. It occurred to me that I had best get with the program, because this is the Saturday before Holy Week, and if I didn't get a replacement by noon, I was unlikely to be able to get one until the ferreteria (hardware store) reopens a week from Monday. A quick check with the voltmeter confirmed my suspicions - a burned out heater element - and so it was get dressed quickly and off to the ferreteria.

They didn't have a direct replacement. All they had was its bigger brother, a larger model that cost more. Draws exactly the same current, so I knew it wouldn't heat any more water, or any hotter than the cheaper model I had been using. I noticed that they now carry replacement heater coils, but only for the new model, so 7400 colones - not quite $15 - later, I headed back to the house to put it on.

Replacing it was not a major problem - I went through this drill not long after I moved in, so it was a half hour job to pull the old one off, install the new one, and wire it up. Works great, and it doesn't make the hissing sound that the old one did when it was heating, so perhaps they have gone to a larger heater element that won't burn out so quickly.

I tried taking the old one apart to see if I could fix it, but it clearly wasn't meant to be dissembled. I could see it uses the same element as the new one, so if I had been able to dissemble it without damage, I could have fixed it. But it was not meant to be. So off into the trash it went.

Some fellows came by from the ferreteria this afternoon, but it wasn't to see me. The were interested in the guabas on one of the trees that forms the fence line in front of the house. Guabas are a tropical fruit that grows prolifically around here. The large, leafy trees produce a large pod, something like a bean pod, but a foot or more long, two inches wide and an inch thick. Inside the very woody pod, which can be hard to break open, are large black seeds the size of a kidney bean, which are surrounded by a sweet, white pulp. They're a favorite of the kids in the neighborhood.

Well, the kids in the neighborhood will climb the tree and go after all the easy ones about as fast as they appear. But the fattest pods, with the sweetest pulp, are out at the ends of the limbs, where they are hard to reach. So these fellows brought the ferreteria's low-boy with a tilt-up bed. One of them sat on the front edge of the bed while the other tilted it up into the tree - and right to where the biggest, fattest and sweetest pods were to be found. It didn't take them long to have a bushel or more in the bed of the truck. The bed tilted down, and off they went with their prize. No end of creativity around here.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: It is going to be War Number Three for Smirkey - and this one will be the biggest yet - this one will be a nuclear war. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersch writes in The New Yorker: "The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups. The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium. There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that Smirkey's ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has challenged the reality of the Holocaust and said that Israel must be "wiped off the map." Bush and others in the White House view him as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. "That's the name they're using. They say, "Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?" A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was "absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb" if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do "what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do, and "that saving Iran is going to be his legacy." One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that "a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government." He added, "I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, 'What are they smoking?'"

Robert Parry puts Condi Rice clearly in the frame for war crimes after her extraordinary confessions during her trip to the UK last week - confessions that have been entirely ignored by the US press. While there was a brief flurry over her casual remark about "thousands of tactical mistakes" in Iraq, no one but Parry caught her admission - nay, her boast - that the Bush Regime's policy in Iraq was an open, deliberate, carefully considered violation of the Nuremberg-based laws against aggressive war: principles articulated most forcefully by America's own representative to that international tribunal, and which were later incorporated into the UN Charter. As Parry notes, Rice confessed that the Bush Administration launched an unprovoked invasion and occupation of Iraq to effect a unilateral "regime change" for political and ideological purposes - the same crime for which the Hitler Administration was justly condemned at Nuremberg. This action was and is illegal under the Nuremberg Principles, the UN Charter and United States law.

Condoleezza Rice urged US lawmakers on Wednesday to approve the Bush administration's deal to provide nuclear technology to India, saying it will deepen ties with one of the world's fastest growing countries. "The United States and India are laying the foundation for cooperation on major issues in the region and beyond, building on and building up our broader relationship between our peoples and governments," Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Smirkey and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the agreement in India in March, but it must be approved by a skeptical Congress. The agreement has generated criticism over concerns that it could lead to the proliferation of nuclear technology and materials and because India is not a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has a nuclear weapons program. Under the deal, India is required to separate its civilian and military nuclear activities, allowing international monitoring of reactors producing electricity but not those involved with nuclear weapons. Arms control experts have criticized the deal because it does nothing to contain India's nuclear weapons arsenal, and because it sends the wrong signal to countries like North Korea and Iran, two countries suspected of having nuclear weapons programs.

Turning down Pakistan's request for a nuclear deal on the lines of India, the US on Wednesday said both countries have different situations and it believed in dealing with them in its own way. It also expressed its opposition to Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline in view of its concerns over the Tehran's nuclear program. Washington cannot extend the India-US nuclear deal to Islamabad as both countries have different situations and US believes in dealing with them in its own way, Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher told reporters here after holding talks with President Pervez Musharaf. The nuclear deal figured prominently in Boucher's meeting with Musharraf and Foreign Minister Khurshid M Kasuri during which Islamabad made out a case for adopting a "package approach" to extend the deal to it. Boucher said the nuclear cooperation with India is only on the civilian side and it has no connection with weapon production as argued by Pakistan.

Key players in the Bush administration think a military confrontation with Iran is unavoidable, leading to stepped up military planning for such a prospect, according to several experts and recently departed senior government officials. Some of these observers stressed that military strikes against Iran are not imminent and speculated that the escalated war chatter could be a deliberate ploy to ratchet up diplomatic pressure on Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Still, they made clear, the tone in Washington has changed drastically. "In recent months I have grown increasingly concerned that the administration has been giving thought to a heavy dose of air strikes against Iran's nuclear sector without giving enough weight to the possible ramifications of such action," said Wayne White, a former deputy director at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. White, who worked in the bureau's Office of Analysis for the Near East and South Asia, left government in early 2005 and is now an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute. Several experts and former officials interviewed by the Forward pointed to Vice President Dick Cheney as one of the key figures who has concluded that the ongoing diplomatic efforts to bring Iran before the United Nations Security Council and eventually slap the Islamic regime with sanctions will come to naught, forcing Washington to resort to force to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.

A defense attorney for a Canadian teenager accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan asked the judge on Wednesday to halt proceedings because of a lack of established rules for the military trials. "Sir, you should halt these proceedings ... until the government gets the rules together," said Army Capt. John Merriam, an attorney for Omar Khadr, 19. Shouting and table banging punctuated Wednesday's hearing at this isolated U.S. military base as the judge, Marine Col. Robert S. Judge, and another of Khadr's defense attorneys clashed over the lack of rules for the first military tribunals since the World War II era. "There are no rules here," Vokey asserted. "It seems kind of crazy, if the presiding officer doesn't have the authority to act on it, to go to the presiding officer." In a separate hearing Tuesday, Chester refused to say if he would use international law, or military law or federal statutes as guidelines. The chief military prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, later said the judge can use several standards of law "to provide a full and fair trial." Khadr has been charged with murder, attempted murder, aiding the enemy and conspiracy for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. Special Forces soldier while fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan and for planting mines targeted at American convoys.

Scientists doing climate research for the federal government say the Bush administration has made it hard for them to speak forthrightly to the public about global warming. The result, the researchers say, is a danger that Americans are not getting the full story on how the climate is changing. These scientists -- working nationwide in research centers in such places as Princeton, N.J., and Boulder, Colo. -- say they are required to clear all media requests with administration officials, something they did not have to do until the summer of 2004. Before then, point climate researchers -- unlike staff members in the Justice or State departments, which have long-standing policies restricting access to reporters -- were relatively free to discuss their findings without strict agency oversight. "There has been a change in how we're expected to interact with the press," said Pieter Tans, who measures greenhouse gases linked to global warming and has worked at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder for two decades. He added that although he often "ignores the rules" the administration has instituted, when it comes to his colleagues, "some people feel intimidated -- I see that." Several times, however, agency officials have tried to alter what these scientists tell the media. When Tans was helping to organize the Seventh International Carbon Dioxide Conference near Boulder last fall, his lab director told him participants could not use the term "climate change" in conference paper's titles and abstracts. Tans and others disregarded that advice.

No more he-grabbed-she-slapped - whether U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney should be charged over a confrontation with Capitol Police last week will be decided by a grand jury, perhaps as soon as next week, said federal law enforcement sources familiar with the case. Federal prosecutors have decided to present the case, and the grand jury will begin hearing testimony Thursday, the two sources said. Democrat slaps a man in the face, and you call in a grand jury. Republican shoots a man in the face and it is 'get over it.'

After today's claim by Ex-VP chief of staff "Scooter" Libby that he was led to believe the President had approved the leak of classified information to reporters, Democrats have called for the President to set the record straight about his alleged involvement. "President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid in a brief statement. "It's time for the President to come clean about his involvement in the leak case." The statement was accompanied by eight of the numerous instances in which Bush or his spokesman, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, denied the President had knowledge of the leak.

President Bush's approval ratings hit a series of new lows in an AP-Ipsos poll that also shows Republicans surrendering their advantage on national security - grim election-year news for a party struggling to stay in power. Democratic leaders predicted they will seize control of one or both chambers of Congress in November. Republicans said they feared the worst unless the political landscape quickly changes. Just 36 percent of the public approves of Bush's job performance, his lowest-ever rating in AP-Ipsos polling. By contrast, the president's job approval rating was 47 percent among likely voters just before Election Day 2004 and a whopping 64 percent among registered voters in October 2002. By comparison, Presidents Bill Clinton and

Ronald Reagan had public approval in the mid 60s at this stage of their second terms in office, while Dwight Eisenhower was close to 60 percent, according to Gallup polls. Richard Nixon, who was increasingly tangled up in the Watergate scandal, was in the high 20s in early 1974. As bad as Bush's numbers may be, Congress' are worse. Just 30 percent of the public approves of the GOP-led Congress' job performance, and Republicans seem to be shouldering the blame. "These numbers are scary. We've lost every advantage we've ever had," GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio said. "The good news is Democrats don't have much of a plan. The bad news is they may not need one."

This morning in Charlotte, NC, a Smirkey PR event on the war on terror went off-script when a man named Harry Taylor took the microphone. Watch the video: "I feel like despite your rhetoric, that compassion and common sense have been left far behind during your administration," Taylor said, standing in a balcony seat and looking down at Bush on stage. "And I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and grace to be ashamed of yourself."

Al Gore brought corporate executives and environmentally minded investors roaring to their feet Thursday with multimedia images of an overheating planet and a call for Americans to reclaim their "moral authority" by tackling global warming. "This is really not a political issue, it is disguised as a political issue," Gore said. "It is a moral issue, it is an ethical issue - If we allow this to happen, we will destroy the habitability of the planet. We can't do that, and I am confident we won't do that." As a U.S. senator, Gore gave global warming talks 15 years ago in Washington that relied almost entirely on scientists' best guesses and computer models. Now bolstered by real climate changes, he has gone Hollywood, with movies of collapsing ice shelves, then-and-now shots of vanishing glaciers and lakes, telegenic photos of dwindling wildlife species - plus floods, tornadoes and, of course, hurricanes.

The Austin-American Statesman today reports that Dr Eric Pianka, who has been at the center of a media firestorm for wishing death upon 90% of humanity via an airborne ebola bio-attack, today received a visit from the FBI after he was reported as a potential terrorist. Dr. Death types across academia and their followers have access to the very weapons of mass destruction that would enable them to enact their 'final solution'. Both UT Arlington and UT Austin have contracts with Sandia National Laboratories which includes research related to "chemical and biological weapons." Openly stating a desire to see 90% of humanity wiped out by means of releasing a bio-weapon and also having access to biological weapons is in our eyes an alarming precedent.

Fighting a flurry of legislative and public policy initiatives aimed at reducing prices and slicing drug budgets, the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $44 million on lobbying state governments in 2003 and 2004, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of lobbying records has found. The industry also funneled more than $8 million to the campaigns of candidates for various state offices over the same period, according to a Center analysis of state campaign money. At the time, many state governments were seeking to reduce spending on prescription drugs, one of their fastest-growing expenses. States are among the pharmaceutical industry's biggest customers; through Medicaid and other aid programs they purchase about 16 percent of all prescription drugs sold in the country, and also finance drug coverage for state employees, retirees and prison inmates. "The industry spent tremendous sums to defeat [legislative efforts in states] because they have so much at stake," said Bernie Horn, policy director for the Center for Policy Alternatives, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works with state legislators. Pursuing average savings of 25 percent to 50 percent below U.S. prices, many states have defied the federal government and turned to countries such as Canada for access to affordable prescription drugs for their citizens. An analysis by the Center for Public Integrity disclosed that 34 states have implemented or considered bills relating to the importation of prescription drugs since 2003. Almost 100 such bills have been introduced in the last three years in state legislatures, according to tracking by the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan organization serving state legislators and staffs that advocates state interests before Congress and federal agencies. Those proposals include several resolutions urging Congress and the Bush administration to reconsider the federal stance on importation.

A coalition concerned about the cultivation of genetically modified crops in wildlife refuge areas filed suit against the U.S. Interior Department Wednesday, saying government workers illegally approved the planting. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware, seeks to block further cultivation of the crops at the Prime Hook refuge outside Dover, Delaware. Prime Hook is one of more than 500 federal wildlife refuges. It named as defendants the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and its parent agency, the Interior Department. The plaintiffs are the Delaware Audubon Society, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Center for Food Safety. The plaintiffs said they discovered "a top Bush administration political appointee" overruled the wildlife refuge manager in allowing the genetically altered crops to be planted on land designated as a national wildlife refuge in violation of department policy. Officials with Fish and Wildlife and the Interior Department declined to comment immediately.

Liberal Biased Media Watch: A study by a group that monitors the media reveals that, over a ten month span, 77 television stations from all across the nation aired video news releases without informing their viewers even once that the reports were actually sponsored content, RAW STORY has found. One "news report" that aired on three stations relied on a video news release (VNR) produced by a PR firm on behalf of General Motors which was even apparently based on a "false claim." Center for Media and Democracy's Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed is "a multimedia report on television newsrooms' use of material provided by PR firms on behalf of paying clients," containing video footage of the 36 video news releases (VNRs) cited in the report, plus a map and spreadsheet of the stations cited. The New York Times revealed that even though Radio-Television News Directors Association's "code of ethics" specifies to "clearly disclose the origin of information and label all material provided by outsiders," the Federal Communications Commission has "never disciplined a station for showing government-made news segments without disclosing their origin." An article in Thursday's Times by Barstow indicates that the Center "presented its findings yesterday to F.C.C. officials, including Jonathan S. Adelstein, a commissioner who has criticized video news releases." Impressed by the "scope of what they found," Adelstein told the Times that it was a "disgrace to American journalism," and proof of "potentially major violations" of F.C.C. rules.

During the April 4 edition of his nationally syndicated radio program, Glenn Beck falsely accused Native Americans of wanting to open abortion clinics for profit on a reservation in South Dakota, where they could potentially be exempt from a recently passed South Dakota law banning nearly all abortions, except where the woman's life is at risk. Alleging that Native American culture has degenerated into "gaming, alcohol, fireworks, and abortion," Beck warned that by circumventing the new South Dakota law, "Indians will have found something that can be more profitable than casinos, and that's abortion clinics. And then, look out, man -- exploiting everything illegal for profit." Beck's remarks came in response to Cecilia Fire Thunder, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, an opponent of the South Dakota abortion ban who recently expressed interest in opening an abortion clinic on the state's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation if the law goes into effect.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales suggested for the first time on Thursday that the president might have the legal authority to order wiretapping without a warrant on communications between Americans that occur exclusively within the United States, the NEW YORK TIMES reported Friday. "I'm not going to rule it out," Gonzales said when asked about that possibility at a House Judiciary Committee hearing. The attorney general made his comments, which critics said reflected a broadened view of the president's authority, as President Bush offered another strong defense of his decision to authorize the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without warrants on international calls and e-mail messages to or from the United States. Bush, in an appearance in North Carolina, told a questioner who attacked the program that he would "absolutely not" apologize for authorizing it. "You can come to whatever conclusion you want about the merits of the program," Bush said. "The conclusion is I'm not going to apologize for what I did on the terrorist surveillance program." At the House hearing, Gonzales faced tough questioning from Democrats and Republicans but declined to discuss many operational details.

A Florida state law that requires doctors to tell women about the risks of an abortion before performing the procedure is constitutional, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday. In a unanimous opinion that overturned two lower courts, justices said the "Women's Right to Know Act" does not violate a woman's right to privacy, guaranteed under the Florida Constitution. The decision revives the 1997 law, which had been successfully challenged by the Presidential Women's Center, a West Palm Beach-based women's clinic, before it ever took effect.

Even before a police officer shocked a 15-year-old special-education student with a Taser in the assistant principal’s office last month, youth at Witchita high schools were organizing against the controversial weapons. The police officers who act as security guards in Wichita's middle and high schools began carrying Tasers - gun-shaped electro-shock weapons - at the beginning of this school year. Student activists from across the district say they are angry the weapons were introduced without their input and scared because of news reports about people dying after police shocked them with Tasers. "We didn’t know about it until we started seeing them on officers' hips," 18-year-old Wichita West High School student Louis Goseland told The NewStandard. This February, local student groups Hope Street Youth Development and Students United decided to address their concerns. In early March, students at Wichita West High School hand-delivered letters to the school safety director, their principal and the police department outlining questions and demands about Taser use in the school district. They got no response.

Republicans Believe In Strict Food Safety Regulation: Cancer-causing benzene has been found in soft drinks at levels above the limit considered safe for drinking water, the Food and Drug Administration acknowledged Wednesday. Even so, the FDA still believes there are no safety concerns about benzene in soft drinks, or sodas, said Laura Tarantino, the agency's director of food additive safety. "We haven't changed our view that right now, there is not a safety concern, not a public health concern," she said. "But what we need to do is understand how benzene forms and to ensure the industry is doing everything to avoid those circumstances." The admission contradicted statements last week, when officials said FDA found insignificant levels of benzene. In fact, a different study found benzene at four times the tap water limit, on average, in 19 of 24 samples of diet soda.

Republicans Believe In Sound Management Of Public Resources: The newest assault on America's forests, House Resolution 4200, should be big news. HR 4200 passed out of the House Resources Committee last week (with the votes of 6 Democrats - showing that the timber industry spreads its influence around liberally). It goes to the Agriculture Committee for mark-up this week and then to a vote. Also known as the "Walden logging bill," after its sponsor, Oregon congressman Greg Walden, HR 4200, the "Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act" would mandate logging after natural disturbances like fires, droughts and windstorms. This bill would exempt salvage logging from every relevant environmental law, including the Endangered Species Act. The bill includes no protections for old-growth reserves, roadless forests, salmon streams or other sensitive areas. Making matters worse, it is an assault on public safety that would steal taxpayer dollars from fire prevention work in order to subsidize commercial logging. Proponents of the Walden logging bill claim they need to slash environmental protections for burned forests because otherwise environmentalists will use the protections to appeal logging plans. Often, they say, appeals can drag out long enough that the burned timber rots and becomes worthless and if the timber can't be sold then there won't be enough money for replanting. Thus the politicians, who know best, must override the misguided environmentalists in order to "save" the forests. There are two very large problems with this line of reasoning: the science and the facts.

Republicans Believe In A Kinder, Gentler America: A local school employee said a rough run-in with a couple of Homeland Security officers has left him with a strong sense of insecurity. Leander Pickett, a teacher's assistant at Englewood (CO) Elementary, said he was manhandled and handcuffed by two plain clothed Homeland Security officers in front of the school Tuesday for no reason at all. "I would like to treat people the way I would want to be treated, and yesterday I wasn't treated that way," Pickett said. Pickett has been working at Englewood for two years, and his principal and colleagues told Channel 4 they have never met a harder worker or nicer guy. "He's well loved by everyone because he's willing to do anything to help children," said the Englewood Elementary Principal Gail Brinson. However, Tuesday afternoon Pickett's niceness turned to anger, disappointment, and betrayal when, as Pickett was directing bus traffic, he said he was handcuffed and roughed up and humiliated by the very people that were supposed to protect him. "I walked up to him and said, 'Sir, you need to move.' That's when he said 'I'm a police officer. I'm with Homeland Security... I'll move it when I want to.' That's when he started grabbing me on my arm," Pickett said. However, Homeland Security tells a different story. The department said the only reason the officers were at the school was because they pulled over to look at a map. The department also said it's looking into what happened, and that Pickett's version is wrong. It claims he was antagonizing the officers. "'We're with Homeland Security,' and on and on they went, and pretty soon, before you know it, he's handcuffed and slammed against a car," Brinson said. "All the children are watching, they're all upset." After about 30 minutes, the men released Pickett. "The part that really upsets me is all these students were watching, and that and it isn't good," Jackson said. Pickett said he plans to sue. "You now you hear these stories everyday and say, 'This will never happen to me,' but yesterday it happened to me," Pickett said. "If this is Homeland Security, I think we ought to be a little afraid," Brinson said.

Republicans Support The Working Man: In a move completely unnoticed by the mainstream media, Smirkey issued orders last Saturday which effectively reduce how much money unions can spend for political activities and opening up government contracts to non-union bidding. At his central Texas ranch last weekend, Bush issued four executive orders that labor union supporters denounced as a "giant step backward." The moves are a reversal of policy of the previous Democratic administration and an attack on organized labor, which vehemently opposed the orders. Republicans have long sought to limit the influence of organized labor on political campaigns. The labor movement has been a prime source of get-out-the-vote drives for Democratic political campaigns, including that of Vice President Gore last year. The orders drew a sharp rebuke from one Democratic lawmaker. "It is meant to have a chilling effect on the ability of working men and women to organize and bargain collectively for decent wages and benefits, and basic job security," Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota said in a statement. "This is no way to set the tone for bipartisanship," he added. While Bush's orders were limited to federal contracts, he would like to take it a step further as part of campaign finance reform legislation. He would like to include a provision giving all union workers the right to not have their dues spent for political activities.

Republicans Believe In A Level Playing Field: The House approved campaign-finance legislation Wednesday that would benefit Republicans by placing strict new caps on contributions to nonprofit committees that spent heavily in the last election while removing limits on political party spending coordinated with candidates. The bill passed 218-209 in a virtual party-line vote. Lifting party spending limits would aid Republican candidates because the GOP has consistently raised far more money than the Democratic Party. Similarly, barring "527" committees from accepting large, unregulated contributions known as "soft money" would disadvantage Democrats, whose candidates enjoyed a disproportionate share of the $424 million spent by nonprofit committees in 2003-04.

Republicans Believe In Honest, Open and Transparent Government: A top Democrat in the U.S. Senate questioned Wednesday why the U.S. Department of Justice continues to do business with data broker ChoicePoint Inc. a year after the company announced a data breach potentially affecting 145,000 U.S. residents. ChoicePoint is the database management firm implicated in the "felon voters" scandal in Florida in 2000, in which at least 90,000 Florida voters, nearly all Democrats, were illegally disenfranchised. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) blasted the DOJ and the FBI division for a recent five-year, $12 million contract for ChoicePoint to provide investigative analysis software to the FBI. In February 2005, ChoicePoint announced a data breach after criminals set up fake businesses that purchased private information from the data broker. "What in heaven's name are we doing allowing someone as careless as ChoicePoint to be in control of our data?" Leahy said at a subcommittee hearing on the DOJ's 2007 budget. "I consider them the poster child for lax security protection." U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended the contract, announced Monday. The ChoicePoint contract represented the best value for the FBI, and it covers software and technology, not data services, he said.

News From Smirkey's Wars: A bumper crop of opium poppies in Afghanistan has raised fears that an influx of cheap and dangerously pure heroin could flood the UK within the next few months. Drug experts have warned that, with the price of a heroin wrap already £20 or less, they are concerned supply will outstrip demand, forcing dealers to try to attract new customers with low prices and create the biggest drug epidemic in the country for 20 years. Some campaigners are worried there will be a rash of drug-related deaths because the heroin heading for the UK is likely to be stronger and more pure than many users are accustomed to. "The heroin is heading our way and we have to be prepared for it," warned Tom Wood, former deputy chief constable at Lothian and Borders Police and now chairman of the Edinburgh Drugs and Alcohol Action Team. "It will be getting cheaper. If enough comes in, then supply will outstrip demand. "The bigger concern is that it will become more powerful. We're talking about extra strong, pure heroin. If it is pure it will be more dangerous."

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: It's called "Operation Predator," a high-priority Department of Homeland Security program that does battle against those who prey sexually on children. Now, with the arrest Tuesday night of a department deputy secretary, at least two of the agency's own top personnel stand charged with just such offenses. Brian Doyle, deputy press secretary to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, faces 23 counts of using a computer to seduce a child and transmitting harmful materials to a minor. He was caught in a police Internet sting in which a detective pretended to be a 14-year-old girl. The other Homeland Security official charged with a sexual offense involving a girl is veteran administrator Frank Figueroa, 49, the ICE special agent in charge of the agency's operations in central and northern Florida. Figueroa, who also ran the agency's El Paso, Texas, office, has pleaded not guilty to charges he exposed and fondled himself to a teenage girl last year at a mall in Tampa. The victim, a 16-year-old girl, said Figueroa pulled up a leg of his shorts, exposed himself and masturbated for about 10 minutes, according to the Tampa Tribune.Figueroa was in court this morning; he pleaded no contest to charges of exposure of sexual organs and disorderly conduct He had formerly said he was not guilty. His trial is expected to begin tomorrow. Oh, the most interesting part about this story is that Figueroa used to RUN "Operation Predator" for Homeland Security!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:08:20 PM

Thu, Apr 06 2006

The Buyer Returns

What a glorious day this afternoon! After an overnight low of 69, the temperature this afternoon rose to 83, through a sunny and bright day, with just enough wind to break the heat a bit. Just the kind of day I like.

But in spite of the lovely weather, I didn't get out much. Just long enough to visit the bank to transact some business I had been putting off. A bit of the runaround, but things were quickly in hand, and I was out of there, back into the intense afternoon sunshine.

I had some visitors this morning. Buyers who spent a good deal of time looking over the place, and as soon as they were gone, not even a half hour later, the same agent brought by the fellow who is interested in buying the place. He had a lot of questions and was interested in my terms, which we discussed at some length. I get the impression his next stop will be to see a lawyer to draw up an "oferta de compravende" or offer to buy and sell. It is essentially the sales contract here. He is interested in the car, too, so it looks like it is sold as well. Suits me just fine. I can't take it with me, so I need to sell it. Great little car, and I hate to let it go.

So you think gas is expensive in the States? ARISEP, the regulatory authority here, has just authorized an increase in the price of "super" gasoline to the equivalent of $3.89 per gallon, effective Saturday. "Regular," which is pretty poor quality (low octane), isn't much cheaper. But diesel is about a dollar less.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The smoking gun: In a disturbing turn of events for an administration already plagued by sagging poll numbers and waning support for the Iraq war, Friday's revelation that the Bush Administration issued direct guidelines for programming to media outlets is troubling even die-hard conservatives. Late Friday a series of memos between senior Bush Administration officials and management at Viacom, Inc. were leaked, instructing the media giant to focus on stories and programming choices that "reinforce the Administration's positions" and to "ignore and/or discredit points of view in opposition to the Bush Administration's foreign policy objectives for the purposes of National Security." Democrats and key civil rights figures were quick to comment on this latest chapter of administration malfeasance. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer issued a statement calling for a congressional inquiry. "This is it. This is a smoking gun. For years we've been saying that liberal and moderate points of view aren't being accurately reflected in the media and this proves our point. The Bush Administration is clearly out of touch with the American people, and Viacom should be ashamed." Other prominent figures were less forgiving. Rev. Al Sharpton called the memos "treasonous" and "genocidal" and reiterated his desire for impeachment proceedings to commence. "What we have here is a complete disregard for the law, for what is morally correct and for the will of the people. It's been no secret to anyone with a brain that the majority of programming that we are exposed to by certain companies is negative, but now it's out in the open. Look at BET. Look at the exclusion of voices that accurately represent communities of color. It's insidious."

Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions will be history by the time US President George W Bush leaves office, said a report published in Pakistan. Veteran foreign correspondent Arnaud de Borchgrave, writing for the United Press International, quotes a "prominent neo-con" with good White House and Department of Defence contacts, as the source of the assertion. Asked what would the US do if sanctions did not make Iran turn away from its nuclear target, the source replied, "B-2s. Two of them could do the job in a single strike against multiple targets." De Borchgrave writes in an amused vein, "So we looked up B-2s. The US Air Force only has 21 of them. Perhaps price had something to do with it. They came in at $2.2 billion a copy. But they can carry enough ordnance to make Iranians nostalgic for the Shah and his role as the free world's gendarme in charge of the West’s oil supplies in the Gulf. These stealthy bombers have one major drawback in the Persian magic carpet mode. They can only attack 16 targets simultaneously; one short of the 17 underground nuclear facilities pinned red on Mossad's target-rich PowerPoint presentations to the political leadership. Presumably, that’s why two B-2s would be required."

Former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said Monday that Iran is at least five years away from developing a nuclear bomb, leaving time to peacefully negotiate a settlement. Blix, attending an energy conference in western Norway, said he doubted the U.S. would resort to invading Iran. "But there is a chance that the U.S. will use bombs or missiles against several sites in Iran," he was quoted by Norwegian news agency NTB as saying. "Then, the reactions would be strong, and would contribute to increased terrorism." Blix said there is still time for dialogue over Iran's nuclear enrichment program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes but the West fears is part of a secret nuclear weapons program. "We have time on our side in this case. Iran can't have a bomb ready in the next five years," Blix was quoted as saying.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday that would make Massachusetts the first state to require that all its citizens have some form of health insurance. The plan - approved just 24 hours after the final details were released - would use a combination of financial incentives and penalties to dramatically expand access to health care over the next three years and extend coverage to the state's estimated 500,000 uninsured. If all goes as planned, poor people will be offered free or heavily subsidized coverage; those who can afford insurance but refuse to get it will face increasing tax penalties until they obtain coverage; and those already insured will see a modest drop in their premiums. The measure does not call for new taxes but would require businesses that do not offer insurance to pay a $295 annual fee per employee. The cost was put at $316 million in the first year, and more than a $1 billion by the third year, with much of that money coming from federal reimbursements and existing state spending, officials said. The House approved the bill on a 154-2 vote. The Senate endorsed it 37-0.

Squabbling between the Coast Guard and the FBI could lead to confused and potentially disastrous responses to terrorism incidents at sea, a government investigator said Monday. Disagreements over the roles the two agencies should take in responding to a maritime terrorism threat or attack come as intelligence analysts continue to believe that al-Qaida and other terror groups are likely to launch attacks on ports, warships, cruise ships or ferries, said Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. The bickering came to a head in last year's weeklong anti-terrorism drill, TOPOFF 3, in which the Coast Guard said the FBI repeatedly blocked Coast Guard plans to try out a new team in a mock assault on a ferry off the coast of Connecticut, Fine said in a partially blacked-out, 103-page report. The FBI wanted to limit the assault to its elite Hostage Rescue Team. The Coast Guard ultimately changed the scenario to circumvent the FBI's role as the lead agency, Fine said.

Setting an example for moral and ethical behavior: Soon-to-retire Rep. Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.) said today he would file an ethics complaint against Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D.-Ga.) for striking a Capitol Police officer should no other House member do so first. DeLay’s comments came during a wide-ranging interview at his Capitol Hill office with reporters, including HUMAN EVENTS Editor Terry Jeffrey. "If nobody in this House files an ethics charge, I am," DeLay said in response to a question about McKinney. "Her behavior is outrageous. And it's not the only time." DeLay was asked if he supported the Capitol Police's actions following the incident with McKinney, which took place last week when she bypassed a metal detector and a police officer stopped her. "You bet," he said.

Conservatives are baying for McKinney's arrest on the presumption she might do it again: From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, quoting U.S. Rep. Bob Barr: "The Capitol Hill Police force and the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia continue to gather evidence of last week's incident in which Georgia's somewhat-redundantly-self-described "female, black Congresswoman" allegedly slugged a police officer for failing to immediately recognize her as she circumvented a Capitol Hill metal detector. Whether McKinney is arrested and ultimately prosecuted is an open question; but regardless, the incident has sparked a nasty controversy. To avoid such messiness in the future, the Capitol Hill Police Department might want to take a page from their law enforcement counterparts in Texas. Authorities in the Lone Star State appear to be implementing a program emulating 2002's hit movie 'Minority Report,' in which future cop Tom Cruise arrests still-law-abiding citizens who have been previously fingered by oracles known as "pre-cogs" to be persons who will commit crimes in the future. The doctrine of pre-emptive arrests, which has already found currency in the Bush administration national security policy of pre-emptive war, makes for a much tidier law enforcement agenda than the current situation in which prosecutors and police have to spend sometimes extensive resources actually proving a crime has occurred and that a particular person is guilty of criminal actions. Texas law enforcement apparently has found a solution to such time-consuming and bothersome requirements as proof of a crime having been committed beyond a reasonable doubt. Led by that elite and internationally acclaimed law enforcement unit, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, authorities in the nation's second-largest state have embarked on an aggressive program of arresting citizens who appear intoxicated inside bars."

A few weeks ago, when a class of seniors at Parsippany High School in New Jersey prepared for a mock trial to assess whether Bush has committed war crimes, a media tempest ensued. Typical was the response from MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, who found the very idea of such accusations against Bush to be unfathomable. The classroom exercise "implies people are accusing him of a crime against humanity," Carlson said. "It's ludicrous." In Tennessee, the Chattanooga Times Free Press thundered in an editorial: "That some American 'educators' would have students 'try' our American president for 'war crimes' during time of war tells us that our problems are not only with terrorists abroad." The standard way for media to refer to Bush and war crimes in the same breath is along the lines of this lead-in to a news report on CNN's "American Morning" in late March: "The Supreme Court's about to consider a landmark case and one that could have far-reaching implications. At issue is President Bush's powers to create war crimes tribunals for Guantanamo prisoners." In medialand, when the subject is war crimes, the president of the United States points the finger at others. Any suggestion that Bush should face such a charge is assumed to be oxymoronic. But a few journalists, outside the corporate media structures, are seriously probing Bush's culpability for war crimes. One of them is Robert Parry. During the 1980s, Parry covered US foreign policy for the Associated Press and Newsweek; in the process he broke many stories related to the Iran-Contra scandal. Now he's the editor of the 10-year-old web site Consortiumnews.com, an outlet he founded that has little use for the narrow journalistic path along Pennsylvania Avenue. "In a world where might did not make right," Parry wrote in a recent piece, "George W. Bush, Tony Blair and their key enablers would be in shackles before a war crimes tribunal at The Hague, rather than sitting in the White House, 10 Downing Street or some other comfortable environs in Washington and London."

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). "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."

A new report delivered to members of Congress today by the AFL-CIO alleges that lobbyists for America's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, are blocking efforts to secure the nation's ports. "Unchecked: How Wal-Mart Uses Its Might to Block Port Security," reveals that Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA,) a lobby group controlled by the big box giant, has poured $182,000 into current House Homeland Security Committee members since the September 11 attacks. 90% of that total went to the committee's Republican members, while and 4 of the committee's 14 Democrats accepted $18,500. During the 2004 election cycle, Wal-Mart gave $2.7 million in campaign contributions for national offices, making it the nation's third biggest corporate contributor. The retailer has in turn used this influence to oppose the introduction of electronic cargo seals and "smart containers" for material entering U.S. ports, independent, regular inspections of supply-chain security practices, toughter Customs rules, and container-handling fees to pay for improved port security measures. Yesterday, a RILA Vice President argued before Congress that improving these security measures would help terrorists: "If commerce is disrupted ... either through an attack or ill-conceived regulation of our international trading system, then the terrorists will have achieved one of their key goals."

In the face of rising homelessness, cities across the country are increasingly trying to push desperate people out of sight and out of mind. In addition to anti-panhandling, anti-camping and anti-loitering ordinances, some are targeting the few remaining public spaces where homeless people can go during the day - including parks and libraries. On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon in Richmond’s Monroe Park, about 50 people gathered with plates of seasoned tofu and zucchini, squash and potatoes, fruit salad, sweets and coffee. The meal was organized by the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, a global network of anti-war, anti-poverty volunteers that provide free, vegetarian meals in hundreds of city parks. "We like the park because it's a public space, it’s a place where everybody can come," said volunteer Maria Medas. But volunteers say the group’s weekly food distribution efforts and similar programs face a looming threat of being pushed out of the park, long an anchor of nourishment and community for the city's homeless. Next to the Food Not Bombs tables, several homeless people help Sam Bowser distribute the Sunday meal provided by the local chapter of HOPE Ministries Worldwide. "I've been serving homeless people for 20 years," Bowser said, "and the questions always asked is, 'Do the people need it?' Yes they do. I find the people depend on me to be here and anyone else who comes out here to feed the homeless people."

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: What do you call a nation that provides medical aid to desperately poor people in Mexico, heating assistance to low-income families in the U.S., crucial project financing to some of the poorest countries in Africa, and aid to impoverished Caribbean island nations? If you're the New York Times, you call it "provocative," and you call the leader of that country "the next Fidel Castro." Venezuela, under President Hugo Chavez, has been turning its increasingly valuable oil reserves into an engine for development, not just in Venezuela, where the revenues are being used to finance schools, housing and job creation for the nation's long-suffering and long-ignored poor, but also across Latin America, in the process creating a new model for Latin America--one which challenges the imperial domination of the United States. In an April 4 page one article that reeks of Cold War rhetoric, Timesman Juan Forero warns that with Venezuela's oil revenues rising 32 percent last year, Venezuela's foreign aid spending "now surpasses the nearly $2 billion Washington allocates annually to pay for development programs and the drug war in western South America." (The drug war is foreign aid?) Quoting only Chavez critics--both political opponents within Venezuela, and U.S. government and right-wing think tank members in the U.S.--Forero paints an ominous picture of a budding threat to U.S. influence in the Americas.

In the past week, the defense ministers of both Uruguay and Argentina have declared that their governments plan to cut ties with the US Army's School of the Americas. The Montevideo newspaper La República quoted Uruguay's defense minister explaining her country's position in an article published Thursday, and Argentina's defense ministry has issued a statement to The Nation confirming that the lone Argentine soldier currently training at the SOA will be the country's last to enroll there. These developments represent two of the strongest indications to date that the people of Latin America have come to view the SOA as a destabilizing force and a gateway to human rights atrocities. Since its founding in 1946, the SOA--now located at Fort Benning in Georgia and renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation--has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers in commando and psychological warfare, counterinsurgency techniques and intelligence-gathering. The Pentagon has acknowledged the school's use of field manuals advocating torture in the past, and UN commissions and research organizations have linked SOA graduates to many of the region's most heinous massacres, assassinations and torturous interrogations over the years. Graduates from Uruguay and Argentina figure prominently into this sordid history, from Uruguayan soldiers linked to kidnappings and torture through Operation Condor to the notorious Argentine dictators Roberto Viola and Leopoldo Galtieri.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: The document sits in a specially designed room in Seattle built to safeguard top-secret information relating to "intelligence sources, methods or analytical processes." It is the key evidence in a Portland lawsuit that many legal experts say presents the most potent challenge to the Bush administration's recently revealed secret wiretapping program. No one involved in the case will say so publicly, but the document appears to be a record of warrantless National Security Agency eavesdropping on phone calls between two U.S. lawyers and an official of an Ashland-based Islamic charity. The suit seeks damages and a declaration that the wiretapping program is illegal. Half a dozen other lawsuits around the nation challenge the "Terrorist Surveillance Program," but only the Oregon case claims to have specific evidence of it. "I think it is the most important of all those lawsuits. This goes to the head of the line," said Christopher H. Pyle, a constitutional law expert and a professor at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts. "These plaintiffs can prove that they were spied on." The suit could redefine how much authority a president has to defend against threats to national security. President Bush asserts that his constitutional powers to wage war carry an intrinsic authority to pursue intelligence operations, including wiretaps without warrants, of enemies such as al-Qaida. The plaintiffs, echoing the claims of Democrats and some Republicans, assert that Congress limited those powers in 1978 when it passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. The law is seemingly straightforward: Intelligence agencies can plant bugs, eavesdrop on conversations or otherwise spy on U.S. citizens, provided they obtained approval from a secret court. Bush contends that Congress gave him the power to carry out such operations without a FISA warrant when it broadly authorized him to respond to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But that argument could fail: Some key congressional players say they never intended to give Bush such powers.

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: Four Republican members of Congress are calling on the House GOP leadership to hold a floor debate on the Iraq war. Three of the Republicans announced at a press conference today that they would sign H. Res 543, a "discharge petition" being pushed by anti-war groups that would force a debate on the House floor over the objections of House GOP leadership. In order to force the debate, the petition needs 218 members' signatures. One Republican signing on is Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), who famously helped coin the term "Freedom Fries" after France declined to support U.S. war efforts in Iraq. Since then, he has become a critic of the handling of Iraq and has sought greater discussion of the challenges and strategies for winning in the war. Three other members have also agreed to sign -- Rep. Wayne Gilcrest (R-MD), Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), a libertarian maverick.

Scapegoats - Not Exactly An Endangered Species: Blame it on the vast anti-Christian conspiracy. That was the explanation offered by US Representative Tom DeLay of Texas and his supporters last week for the whirlpool of legal difficulties that finally led the ex-leader of the Republicans in Congress to admit it was time to call it quits. The convener of a "War on Christians" conference held in the nation's capital outrageously depicted the former House majority leader's political plight as the unwarranted crucifixion of a Christ-like leader by God-haters. And, with his trademark gall, the infamously ethically challenged DeLay eagerly embraced this explanation when it was his turn to speak to the adoring crowd. Let's leave aside for a moment the absurdity of right-wing Christians' persecution complex at a time when their adherents effectively control all three branches of the federal government. What's even more confusing is how so many enemies of virtue seem to have had a field day operating under poor DeLay's auspices, including the latest member of his staff to plead guilty to a felony. That would be Tony Rudy, DeLay's former deputy chief of staff, who has now pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge for accepting payments from fellow criminal Jack Abramoff while serving in DeLay's office, and later working to corrupt public officials and defraud clients. The fact that his former chief of staff, Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges on April 1 was merely a coincidence - as was the fact that his close friend, political ally and financial benefactor, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, had pleaded guilty three months ago, along with his former press secretary Michael Scanlon. His former deputy of chief staff, Edwin Buckham, an ordained minister and lobbyist who had also served as Mr. DeLay's spiritual advisor, appears to be next in the line of legal jeopardy - but that, too, is only a coincidence. Or as Mr. DeLay later told reporters: "The Abramoff stuff has nothing to do with me."

"Extraordinary Rendition" Watch: Human rights group Amnesty International accused the United States on Wednesday of using front companies to transfer individuals to countries where they have faced torture or ill-treatment. The fresh charges come after months of allegations by campaigners who say the Central Intelligence Agency transports terrorism suspects outside normal legal channels to countries where they could be tortured under interrogation. Washington says it does sometimes transfer suspects outside normal extradition procedures -- a practice known as rendition -- but denies sending them to countries that use torture. Amnesty said in a report it has records of nearly 1,000 flights directly linked to the CIA, mostly using European airspace, which were made by planes that appear to have been permanently operated by the CIA through front companies. It also said it had records of about 600 other flights made by planes confirmed as having been used at least temporarily by the CIA. "The latest evidence shows how the U.S. administration is manipulating commercial arrangements in order to be able to transfer people in violation of international law," said Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan in a statement. "It demonstrates the length to which the U.S. government will go to conceal these abductions."

In its most detailed report yet on alleged secret rendition flights of terror suspects, Amnesty International said three former detainees have lent support to the idea that eastern European countries may have been involved in secret CIA flights to so-called "black site" prisons. The report provides detailed accounts of the experiences of three Yemeni men - Muhammad Bashmilah, Muhammad al-Assad and Salah Nasser Salim Ali - who believe they were taken by U.S. authorities to secret prisons following lengthy journeys through different climates and time zones. Bashmilah said he was detained in Jordan in October 2003 while on a trip to visit his mother. Ali said he was detained in Indonesia in August 2003 and then flown to Jordan, where he was taken into custody. Al-Assad said he was detained in Tanzania in 2003. None of the three could say with confidence where they were taken next. In statements from February and March, they described travel times, changing climates, temperatures and daylight hours in detailed descriptions Amnesty says indicates they may have been held in Eastern Europe. The men were allegedly held for 13 months at a so-called "black site," a clandestine facility believed to be run by the CIA, before they were returned to Yemen, where they were charged with forging travel documents, Amnesty said. The Amnesty report details how the men's US guards removed all labels from the food and clothing they were given to make it difficult for them to know where they were. Campaigners narrowed down the likely location of their internment based on the length of their rendition flights, the changing position of the sun when the men were allowed outside to pray, and the winter temperature. "Labels were usually removed from their clothes and their bottles of water. They had some blankets and T-shirts made in Mexico, while their water cups, although made in China, had the name and telephone number of a US company embossed on the bottom," says the report.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: President Bush's tax cuts for investment income have significantly lowered the tax burden on the richest Americans, reducing taxes on incomes of more than $10 million by an average of about $500,000, according to a report Wednesday. An analysis of Internal Revenue Service data by The New York Times found that the benefit of the lower taxes on investments was more concentrated on the very wealthiest Americans than the benefits of President Bush's two previous tax cuts. The Times analyzed IRS figures for 2003, the latest year available and the first that reflected the tax cuts for income from dividends and from the sale of stock and other assets, known as capital gains. According to the study, taxpayers with incomes greater than $10 million reduced their investment tax bill by an average of about $500,000 in 2003, and their total tax savings, which included the two Bush tax cuts on compensation, nearly doubled, to slightly more than $1 million. These taxpayers, whose average income was $26 million, paid about the same share of their income in income taxes as those making $200,000 to $500,000 because of the lowered rates on investment income. Americans with annual incomes of $1 million or more reaped 43 percent of all the savings on investment taxes in 2003. The savings for these taxpayers averaged about $41,400 each. The newspaper's tax cut analysis showed that more than 70 percent of the tax savings on investment income went to the top 2 percent, about 2.6 million taxpayers. And the savings from the investment tax cuts are expected to be larger in subsequent years because of gains in the stock market.

Skyrocketing energy prices propelled Exxon Mobil Corp. to the top of the 2006 Fortune 500 list, and consigned Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to the No. 2 spot on the magazine's annual ranking of the nation's largest publicly traded companies. Fortune compiled its list based on companies' 2005 revenues. Exxon Mobil raked in $340 billion in revenue, a 25.5 percent increase over 2004, and had $36.1 billion in profits, the most by any U.S. company in history. Wal-Mart had $315.654 billion in revenue, a 9.5 percent increase from last year. Because of its pervasive U.S. presence, the world's largest retailer has struggled to sustain profit growth in the high teens as it had in previous years. Other oil producers also rose in the rankings, boosted by crude prices that topped $70 a barrel and gasoline prices that surpassed $3 a gallon after hurricanes battered the Gulf Coast. Both ChevronTexaco Corp. and ConocoPhillips saw their revenues jump in 2005, increasing by 28 percent and 37 percent, respectively. Chevron climbed two spots to No. 4, while Conoco edged up to No. 6 from No. 7 last year.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: China should trim its holdings of U.S. debt, a senior Chinese official said, rattling markets on Tuesday in the run-up to a visit by President Hu Jintao to Washington this month. As China is a leading financier of the U.S. current account deficit and holds the world's largest foreign exchange reserves, the comments from Cheng Siwei, a vice chief of the national parliament, sent the dollar and U.S. government bonds lower. The comments could add to the contentious issues that will come up during Hu's visit, notably what some U.S. politicians and companies see as currency manipulation by China, accused of holding down the yuan to gain an unfair trade advantage. Hong Kong's Beijing-funded Wen Wei Po newspaper carried Cheng's comments, made in Hong Kong on Monday. "China can stop buying dollar-denominated bonds, increase buying of U.S. products and gradually reduce its holdings of U.S. bonds," the newspaper quoted him as saying. "But all these must follow the prescribed order," he added, without elaborating. Despite rising short-term interest rates, longer-term debt yields in the United States are exceptionally low by historical standards. Any move by China to sell some of its massive debt holdings could drive up long-term rates, which ultimately could make it costlier for Americans to take out home mortgages.

For decades, the big guns of American science have been the U.S. Department of Energy's particle colliders, which investigate the nature of matter by accelerating subatomic particles and smashing them together. But this great American enterprise, like so many others, is now moving overseas. While the Europeans and Japanese build new particle accelerators, the U.S. is poised to shut down its premier colliders at Fermilab and SLAC over the next few years. The sad story began in 1993, when Congress canceled the $11-billion Superconducting Super Collider, the intended successor to Fermilab's Tevatron. CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics near Geneva, then started work on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which would produce impacts with energies seven times higher than the Tevatron's. Because the greater energies could enable researchers to discover hypothesized particles such as the Higgs boson, American physicists flocked to the LHC, which is expected to begin operating next year. Besides depriving researchers of potential discoveries, these cuts threaten to make the U.S. less economically competitive. The development of high-energy accelerators has led to advances in medicine and electronics, and American expertise in this field will wither if the U.S. ceases to build and operate colliders. Moreover, although American scientists will participate in the research at the LHC, the Europeans will get most of the educational benefits of the facility, which will inspire and train the next generation of physicists.

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: Research fresh off a boat that docked Thursday in Alaska reveals some frightening changes taking place in the Pacific Ocean. As humans are pumping out more carbon dioxide that is helping to warm the planet, the ocean has been doing yeoman's work to lessen the effects - but it's taking a toll. Over time, the changes could have an impact that ripples through the food chain, from microscopic plants that can't grow right to salmon and whales unable to find enough to eat. The Pacific is getting warmer and more acidic, while the amount of oxygen and the building blocks for coral and some kinds of plankton are decreasing, according to initial results from scientists with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, the University of Washington and elsewhere. "There are big changes," said Christopher Sabine, chief scientist for one leg of the research trip, which ultimately traveled from Antarctica to Alaska. Many of the most interesting results are tied to the ocean becoming increasingly acidic because of its absorption of carbon dioxide. "You don't have to believe in climate change to believe that this is happening," said Joanie Kleypas, an oceanographer with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a non-profit organization based in Boulder, Colo. "It's pretty much simple thermodynamics." And it's alarming. "Acidification is more frightening than a lot of the climate change issues," Kleypas said. That's in part because the process is hard to alter. Plankton - tiny plants and animals that live in the ocean - are among the creatures that could be harmed by the change. In addition to the water becoming more acidic, the extra carbon dioxide reduces the amount of chemical compounds used to construct coral and the shells of plankton. "That's a major issue," said John Guinotte, a marine scientist with the Bellevue-based Marine Conservation Biology Institute who studies deep sea corals. "You're likely looking at serious effects through out the marine food web across the board," he said.

Scandals Du Jour: Paul Kane makes a hell of a catch in his piece today in Roll Call. He points out that during his interview with Time, Tom DeLay let the cat out of the bag and admitted that a third former aide of his will be found guilty: TIME: Were there any instances where you failed to adequately supervise people who worked in your office? DeLay: "No, no. Look: I have had hundreds of people work for me. Unfortunately, there's three - one that we let go, Scanlon - that I don't yet, I'll wait until they're found guilty. But it looks like they have violated the trust of my office." Only two of DeLay's former aides have already pled guilty: Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon. Ed Buckham would be the third, and as we pointed out last week, he was recently implicated in Tony Rudy's guilty plea. So it already looked like he was likely to go down, but DeLay does us all the service of confirming it here. DeLay says he'll "wait until they're found guilty." Whether he's talking about a forthcoming guilty plea from Buckham is not clear.

Tom DeLay's exit is privately being embraced by the Republican party, according to today's Roll Call: "The former Majority Leader’s withdrawal from the House - which will occur at a still undetermined date before mid-June - brought forth effusive public praise and private sighs of relief from his Republican colleagues, who paid tribute to DeLay’s achievements even as they hoped to rid themselves of the political effects of his burgeoning legal problems. With DeLay’s announcement, the expected passage of 527 reform this week and consideration of a broader lobbying reform package coming after the easter recess, House Republicans hope to finally get ahead of the ethics stories that have plagued them for the entire election cycle. 'In the long run this is great news because the ‘Tom DeLay problem’ goes away,' said a House Republican leadership aide. 'If he has further legal problems it will be on page A8 instead of A1 because he’s no longer a Member of Congress.'"

Former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling and the company's founder Ken Lay will testify in their own defense in a Houston courtroom this week where they've been on trial since January, charged with numerous counts of federal securities fraud, insider trading and conspiracy. Skilling and Lay have maintained that they were unaware of the Byzantine, off-balance-sheet partnerships that caused Enron to implode in a wave of accounting scandals more than four years ago. But a 1997 videotape featuring Skilling, Lay and several other former executives of the one-time high-flying energy company seems to suggest otherwise. The videotape was produced as a going-away present for departing executive Rich Kinder. In the 30-minute tape, Skilling joked about Enron using accounting sleight of hand so the company could earn "a kazillion dollars" in revenue - a joke that turned out to be exactly what the government prosecutors has accused Lay and Skilling of doing during their tenure at Enron. The relationship between Enron and the Bush White House came under scrutiny following the company's spectacular collapse. Lay contributed heavily to Bush's 2000 presidential election. But Bush tried to downplay the friendship following Enron's bankruptcy. However, documents released in 2002 show that the two were friendlier than Bush let on. In April 1997, Bush sent a birthday note to Lay saying he and Laura Bush "value our friendship with you."

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Brian J. Doyle, the Deputy Press Secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., was arrested at his residence in Silver Springs, Maryland, on 23 Polk County charges related to the use of a computer to seduce a child and transmitting harmful materials to a minor. Doyle's arrest is the result of a joint investigation by the Polk County Sheriff s Office, working with Florida’s 10th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jerry Hill's office, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General s Office.

Two young men, one the son of the Arizona Senate president, charged with sodomizing 18 boys at a youth camp last year have been offered a plea agreement that may net them little jail time and no record of sexual assault. Clifton Bennett, 18, the son of Arizona Senate President Ken Bennett, and his co-defendant, Kyle Wheeler, 19, were charged in January with 18 counts of aggravated assault and 18 counts of kidnapping for the incidents, which happened at a youth camp last June. The younger Bennett confessed to police that he and Wheeler sodomized the 11- to 14-year-old boys with broomsticks and flashlights in at least 40 incidents, court documents show. Yavapai County prosecutors now say they'll drop all but one assault charge and likely recommend little or no jail time if Bennett agrees to plead guilty. His father, Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, sat behind him. A Prescott native and businessman, he hasn't spoken about his son's arrest except to issue a brief statement expressing concern as a parent. Lawyers for the younger Bennett declined to comment but wrote the county attorney saying he "took responsibility for his role, showed remorse and admitted that this "hazing' was inappropriate." The letter said Bennett was an honor student and active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who plans to go on a mission in September. "A felony conviction for assault will make his desire to complete his mission impossible," they wrote. Prosecutors told parents they plan to ask for five days in jail on the one count for each defendant, said Lynne Cadigan, a lawyer for two victims. They could face a maximum two years in prison under terms of the plea deal, but the judge could reduce the charges to a misdemeanor and no jail time.

The Bible Belt - pedophile heaven: A new federal law passed in 2003 ensures that American sex tourists landing on foreign soil and hiring prostitutes under the age of 18 can get 30 years in prison. But in Georgia, punishment for pimping or soliciting sex with a girl under 18 is only five to 20 years, according to Deborah Espy, the Deputy District Attorney of Fulton County. "Men are coming to Atlanta to have sex with a child," said LaKendra Baker, project manager for the Center to End Adolescent Sexual Exploitation (CEASE). Half of the street-level prostitutes in Atlanta are believed to be under 18, according to experts. Others are booked through Internet sex sites and from social sites like Black Planet, where girls innocently post profiles, said Baker. Just in March, police arrested a Canadian man meeting a 14-year-old girl he found through the Internet, said Cathey Steinberg, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Fund, which funds treatment for abused girls and prevention. Another man drove from North Georgia, with a bag containing a teddy bear, a love note and condoms, snorting methamphetamine on the way. He expected a 13-year-old girl, but instead found Heather Lackey, a corporal with the Peachtree City Police Department. "People are stunned that Atlanta's the No. 1 sex center in the country," said Steinberg. The FBI has identified 14 U.S. cities as centers for the sexual exploitation of children. In addition to Atlanta, they are Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tampa, and Washington, D.C.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:53:42 AM

Tue, Apr 04 2006

The American Fast Food Franchises Are Emptying Out

The weather was half dry-season, half rainy-season both yesterday and today. Three hours of delightfully sunny and warm weather yesterday, with a high of 79, and today only intermittent sun during the afternoon, meant the temperature only rose to 76. And as soon as the sun went down, the temperature began to fall rather rapidly - as I write this, we are experiencing our low for the day - it is now 69 degrees. But I experienced some really warm weather this afternoon, it just wasn't here.

I had some business to transact in Liberia, so I was up at the normal hour of about half past eight, and had a leisurely breakfast. After reading my email and checking the morning news summaries on line, I got on the road.

As I had expected, the last week's rainy weather has begun to take its toll on the freshly patched road to Tilaran. No big craters yet, just little embryonic potholes, no more than six inches across. But if the municipality were on the ball, now would be the time to patch them. There aren't many, and they aren't big, but if they are neglected, they'll grow rapidly of course, as soon as the rains hit in earnest in a couple of months. None were big enough that I needed to dodge them, and the one big pothole I encountered on my last trip to Canas had actually been repaired, so I drove the entire route to the Inter-American Highway without dodging a single pothole. A new record.

There has been a lot of work done on the Inter-American, too. North out of Canas, the road has been repaved for long stretches, and where it hasn't, the potholes have been freshly patched. I encountered only one road patching crew, and it looked to be patching the very last of the remaining potholes. The road was in great shape, and I made it to Liberia in record time, in fourth and fifth gear nearly all the way - an hour and a half for the 122 km. distance.

The journey was so fast, I arrived during the noon hour, and since I would not be able to conduct my business till after one, I headed for the food mall for a bight of lunch. It is a collection of gringo franchise fast food joints, four under one roof. There is a Burger King, Church's Chicken, Papa John's and an Icy Hot. I was totally amazed at how empty the place was. Usually at that hour, the din is unbelievable, and the lines are long, but there was no wait to get a burger at Burger King. I had my cheeseburger and was out of there in record time. The place is usually a mix of Ticos and tourists, and that same mix of about half and half was there this time, but fewer of each. The tourist season for the gringos is pretty much over, and the Europeans haven't begun showing up yet in very great numbers, but the lack of Ticos was a bit of a surprise. The economy is not doing that badly here, and so there are still plenty of Ticos out there with pocket money for a gringo lunch. But there were remarkably few of them in the food mall. I am left to wonder if the anti-American feeling which is growing down here, is taking its toll on the business activity being seen by American fast food franchises.

After a couple of hours taking care of my business, I headed back to Arenal. I made but one stop along the way - that was at a fruit stand to buy some watermelon and pineapple. Both looked really good. The watermelons here are much smaller than in the States, typically a bit bigger than a basketball and mostly round, but the flavor is exceptionally good. This watermelon proved to be seedless when I cut into it tonight, and while I expected the flavor to be rather flat, I was quite surprised to find it was quite good, though not quite up to par with the regular seeded variety. A bargain at about eight cents per pound.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: A divided Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from Jose Padilla, held as an enemy combatant held without legal rights for more than three years, sidestepping a challenge to Bush administration wartime detention powers. Justices first considered in 2004 whether Padilla's constitutional rights were violated when he was detained as an "enemy combatant" without charges and access to a lawyer, traditional legal rights. Justices dodged a decision on technical grounds. In a dissent Justice John Paul Stevens said then that "at stake in this case is nothing less than the essence of a free society." Justices are reviewing a second case arising from the government pursuit of terrorists, an appeal by a foreign terrorist suspect facing a military commission on war crimes charges at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Arguments were last week.

The causes underlying any civil war are always complex, confused, even contradictory - as one would expect in an outbreak of madness. But those seeking to discover some of the key precipitating factors behind Iraq's furious plunge into chaos and disintegration might find one of them in the records of an obscure Congressional committee meeting on August 10, 2004. At that meeting, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, General Peter Pace (now head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and General Bryan Brown, head of Special Operations Command, appeared before the House Armed Services Committee. In a long session larded with the usual rhetorical posturing, mutual backscratching with the committee's rubberstamp Republican majority - and a couple of polite queries from the timid Democratic minority - Wolfowitz announced the Pentagon's plan to give money, arms and training to a network of local militias in trouble spots around the world. These irregular forces - "not just armies," Wolfowitz emphasized - would be used to "counter terrorism and insurgencies," provide greater internal security" in regions of American interest and "deny sanctuary" to America's designated enemies, according to Pentagon transcripts of the testimony. General Brown said the use of militas was part of the "unconventional warfare" being waged by the Bush Administration across the globe, "whereby special forces accomplishes our national objectives through, by and with surrogate forces." General Pace gave the legislators a view of the scope of such operations, mentioning "Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Georgia, Paraguay, Colombia, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, North Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Iran" and of course Iraq, which he mentioned twice. Wolfowitz told the Congressman that Bush wanted $500 million to set up this network - his own personal Janjaweed. Making copious citations from Bush's 2002 "National Security Strategy" of unprovoked aggressive war against "potential" enemies, [Wolfowitz] proposed expanding the definition of "terrorist sanctuary" to any nation that allows clerics and other rabble-rousers to offer even verbal encouragement to America's designated enemies du jour. Any rogue state that countenances such freedom of speech within its borders will become a prime target for "the path of action," said Wolf, quoting Bush's most ringing Hitlerian phrase from the 2002 manifesto.

Imagine a world where wars are fought over the internet; where TV broadcasts and newspaper reports are designed by the military to confuse the population; and where a foreign armed power can shut down your computer, phone, radio or TV at will. In 2006, we are just about to enter such a world. This is the age of information warfare, and details of how this new military doctrine will affect everyone on the planet are contained in a report, entitled The Information Operations Roadmap, commissioned and approved by US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld and seen by the Sunday Herald. The Pentagon has already signed off $383 million to force through the document’s recommendations by 2009. Military and intelligence sources in the US talk of "a revolution in the concept of warfare." The report orders three new developments in America’s approach to warfare: First, the Pentagon says it will wage war against the internet in order to dominate the realm of communications, prevent digital attacks on the US and its allies, and to have the upper hand when launching cyber-attacks against enemies. Second, psychological military operations, known as psyops, will be at the heart of future military action. Psyops involve using any media - from newspapers, books and posters to the internet, music, Blackberrys and personal digital assistants (PDAs) - to put out black propaganda to assist government and military strategy. Psyops involve the dissemination of lies and fake stories and releasing information to wrong-foot the enemy. Third, the US wants to take control of the Earth's electromagnetic spectrum, allowing US war planners to dominate mobile phones, PDAs, the web, radio, TV and other forms of modern communication. That could see entire countries denied access to telecommunications at the flick of a switch by America.

Since last summer President Bush's visits to Crawford, Texas have been "less visible," which some experts link to demonstrations of antiwar protesters held nearby his ranch, according to an article set for the Waco Tribune-Herald in Monday editions. According to the Tribune-Herald, the police chief of Waco has said President Bush will not be celebrating Easter there with his family, as he has done in the past. Not everyone agrees that the protesters have kept the President away. Some just point to his busy schedule. The report, by Dan Genz, points out that since protesters have staked out what Bush used to call his "little slice of heaven," the president has not hosted foreign officials or even held a news conference there. "That used to be his sanctuary, out in the middle of rural Texas where he could get his mind off his troubles," said Bruce Buchanan, a professor of political science at the University of Texas who specializes in presidents. "And now his troubles are right down the street."... "If you look at presidents throughout history, they have all wanted to escape Washington to get away from it all," said James Riddlesperger, chairman for political science at Texas Christian University. "If you look at the White House, it can be the first residence or the first prison."

Presidential press secretary Scott McClellan and Treasury Secretary John Snow could be next in a shake-up in the Bush administration, according to White House and GOP sources. The possible departure of both men could be among "several senior-level staff" announcements to come within the next couple of weeks, said former White House staff members, GOP strategists and administration officials. "You're going to have more change than you expect," one GOP insider said. One change already has been announced: Chief of staff Andy Card officially will leave April 14 and is being replaced by Josh Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget. Under one scenario, Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, would replace McClellan, Republican officials said. But other GOP strategists said they believe McClellan's position is secure because of his close relationship with President Bush going back to Texas. McClellan was a communications aide to the president when he was governor of the Lone Star state.

Today in Toronto, Mr. Akhil Sachdeva, a Canadian citizen born in India, gives his first deposition for a class-action lawsuit, the spotlight will shift to a New Jersey jail. There, about 400 of the 762 mainly Muslim detainees rounded up in the United States after 9/11 were held. The lawsuit charges that the detainees' confinement was arbitrary, illegally based on their religion or national origin, and that guards routinely terrorized them with aggressive dogs. In November 2004, federal officials who oversee the detention of immigrants facing deportation said they would no longer send detainees to jails that used dogs to patrol inside. That decision by the Department of Homeland Security came a day after National Public Radio broadcast an investigative report saying that the dogs had been used over a three-year period to intimidate, attack and, in at least two cases, bite immigrant detainees in the Passaic County Jail. "To hear about the use of dogs in this way within the United States is truly shocking," said Jonathan Turley, a professor of national security and constitutional law at George Washington University, who is not involved in the case. "But Abu Ghraib didn't spring from the head of Zeus."

A well-known scientist gave a speech to the Texas Academy of Science last month in which he advocated the need to exterminate 90% of the population through the airborne ebola virus. Dr. Eric R. Pianka's chilling comments, and their enthusiastic reception again underscore the elite's agenda to enact horrifying measures of population control. Pianka's speech was ordered to be kept off the record before it began as cameras were turned away and hundreds of students, scientists and professors sat in attendance. Saying the public was not ready to hear the information presented, Pianka began by exclaiming, "We're no better than bacteria!" as he jumped into a doomsday malthusian rant about overpopulation destroying the earth. Standing in front of a slide of human skulls, Pianka gleefully advocated airborne ebola as his preferred method of exterminating the necessary 90% of humans, choosing it over AIDS because of its faster kill period. Ebola victims suffer the most tortuous deaths imaginable as the virus kills by liquefying the internal organs. The body literally dissolves as the victim writhes in pain bleeding from every orifice.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Moscow - In this city, it's beginning to feel like a new Cold War, driven by what many people here see as an old American impulse: to encircle, weaken or even destroy Russia, just as the country is emerging from post-Soviet ruins as a cohesive, self-confident and global power. The specter of a U.S. nuclear first strike even resurfaced this month. An article in Foreign Affairs magazine, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested that the United States could hit Russia and China without serious risk of retaliation. That sent heads spinning here with visions of Dr. Strangelove. "The publication of these ideas in a respectable American journal has had an explosive effect," former Russian prime minister Yegor Gaidar wrote in an article in London's Financial Times newspaper. "Even those Russian journalists and analysts who are not prone to hysteria or anti-Americanism took it as an outline of the official position of the U.S. Administration. Today, it's accepted by most of the establishment that we are under pressure, that we are being surrounded, and it's leading to a defensive nationalist vision," said Sergei Rogov, director of the Institute of the United States and Canada in Moscow. Intensifying U.S. criticism - that Russia is rolling back democratic institutions, interfering in the countries of the former Soviet Union and using its vast energy resources to further its interests - is leading to widespread resentment here and seen as little more than self-serving rhetoric. Russians widely believe that U.S. programs to promote democracy in Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus are a Trojan horse intended to sideline Russia and expand NATO. Academics point to reports such as one released recently by the Council on Foreign Relations: "To ease Russian pressure on neighboring states," it said, "the United States should work to accelerate those states' integration into the West. We are gradually being pushed to the northeast of the Eurasian continent away from the seas... to the place where the depths of freezing is more than two meters," said Natalia Narochnitskaya, vice chairman of the international affairs committee in the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, and a member of the nationalist Rodina Party.

Diebold Watch: Pennsylvania's Allegheny County, where plans to use Diebold's hackable Electronic Voting Equipment have recently been nixed, Plan B seems to be failing too. The machines they'd hope to use instead, as made by Sequoia Voting Systems, have now been shown to be hackable as well. Pittsburgh's Post-Gazette picked up on the story yesterday, and followed up today on the testing being run in Allegheny County by Dr. Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon University professor, on the "new" Sequoia Voting Machines. The county had hoped to use these systems -- ten-year old Sequoia "Advantage" machines as purchased from Clark County, Nevada who is moving to a different Sequoia system -- in their upcoming Primary Elections in May. That plan, now may be in grave doubt. The testing of the machines has found so many problems -- including Shamos' findings during "tampering tests" that he was able to instantly "transform a handful of votes into thousands" -- that he has now simply shut down the entire process described as "pointless" due to all of the errors in the software.

Gobs Of Panderers: In case you missed it, this past week completed the transformation of John McCain from GOP maverick to Republican prostitute. In his no-holds barred pursuit of the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, the Arizona Senator has exchanged his seething hatred of George W. Bush for a fawning courtship and high-profile bootlicking of the Bush political machine. McCain's toadying started at last weekend's 2006 Southern Republican Leadership Conference. Facing certain defeat in the SRLC straw poll to hometown favorite Bill Frist, McCain asked the delegates to throw their support to President. Bush. He used the venue to offer a full-throated support of President Bush and his Iraq policy, proclaiming "We elected him, we need him, he needs to do well and the country needs him." McCain turned his vitriol towards the President's critics, claiming that anyone who said Bush lied about WMD in Iraq "was lying." Just days later, McCain continued his pursuit of the Bush team and establishment, announcing Saturday that his Straight Talk America PAC had hired Terry Nelson, the national political director for Bush's 2004 reelection campaign. Nelson, described as the "best bricklayer in the business," will help McCain strategist John Weaver woo the Bush donor network of Pioneers, Rangers and Super-Rangers.

Straight talk or double talk? In 2004, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he opposed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage: Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona broke forcefully with President Bush and the Senate GOP leadership Tuesday evening over the issue of same-sex marriage, taking to the Senate floor to call a constitutional amendment that would effectively ban the practice unnecessary - and un-Republican. "The constitutional amendment we're debating today strikes me as antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans," McCain said. But yesterday, ABC reported that McCain confided to Jerry Falwell that he would support such an amendment: "McCain 'reconfirmed' to Falwell that he would support a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman if a federal court were to strike down state constitutional bans on gay marriage." Since aligning himself with Falwell and far right conservatives, gay marriage isn't the only issue on which the "straight talk express" has backtracked. In 2000, McCain called Falwell one of America's "agents of intolerance"; now he has agreed to give the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University on May 13.

Republicans Are Compassionate Conservatives: "We need some compassionate conservatism," said Mark Viator, a chemical company official who is chairman of the Southeast Texas Recovery Coalition, a group of area leaders that has been lobbying Washington for assistance. Some Texas officials are convinced the state has become a victim of hurricane politics, and said White House officials might be neglecting Texas for fear that helping the state would raise accusations of favoritism. Others complain that Republicans in Congress and in the Bush administration, many of them Texans, have taken a rigid ideological stand against compensating hurricane losses not covered by insurance, including millions that utilities have spent to restore basic water and electricity. "Make no mistake about it: They don't care about you, and they don't care about what is happening in our communities," said Chester R. Jourdan Jr., executive director of the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission. Jourdan made his comments at a public meeting last week less than two hours after returning from a fruitless lobbying trip to the nation's capital. "This went on deaf ears in D.C., deaf ears. One of the biggest challenges we have is the administration," he said.

Republicans Eschew Even The Appearance Of Evil: In spite of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, it remains perfectly legal for a member of Congress to buy and sell stocks based on information that's not available to the public. Last year it was reported that a "political intelligence" firm tipped off its clients to an undelivered speech by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on asbestos liability. The information was profitable to those in the know. "This is simply wrong that members of Congress can exchange information ... and get rich on it," says Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., who is co-sponsor of a bill to prohibit insider trading by members of Congress and their staffs. Baird will report to a congressional committee today on the proposal - and is optimistic. "When people hear about it, on both sides of the aisle, they think this is something that ought to be fixed." Good luck, Brian.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio), who rose to power in the wake of a congressional lobbying scandal, spent the equivalent of nearly six months on privately funded trips over the past six years, according to a new study by a nonpartisan research group. The Center for Public Integrity said that Boehner accepted 42 privately sponsored trips from January 2000 to December 2005. That put him on the road to other countries and "golfing hotspots," often with his wife, Debbie, for about half a year, "only nine days of which he listed as being 'at personal expense,' " the center said. Boehner also flew at least 45 times on corporate jets owned by companies "with a financial stake in congressional affairs" from June 2001 through September 2005, the center reported. The corporations on whose planes Boehner flew included tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco (15 times), UST Inc. (seven times) and Swisher International Inc. (seven times). "Boehner is one of Congress' most frequent corporate fliers," Roberta Baskin, executive director of the center, said, based on a review of other lawmakers' disclosure forms. The report is the most detailed and comprehensive look at the new majority leader. Boehner, who was elected to the post last month, had been criticized by lawmakers who opposed his elevation for being too close to lobbyists.

Speaking of lobbyists, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has introduced a Privileged Resolution requiring an ethics investigation of Members of Congress allegedly involved in improper conduct related to lobbyist Jack Abramoff. While reading the resolution, the House Clerk was interrupted while the House was called back into order. After Republicans voted by voice to table the resolution, Pelosi requested a recorded vote. With just 6 Republicans breaking an otherwise party-line vote, House GOP successfully tabled the resolution, 216-193.

According to documents and whistleblowers for a San Diego wastewater treatment plant to be built in Tijuana, Vice President Dick Cheney, Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Bob Filner (D-CA) and former Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-CA) have advanced the project despite serious concerns from those involved. The proposed Bajagua Project is a secondary wastewater treatment plant for San Diego, to be located in Tijuana, Mexico. Named after the company, Bajagua Project, LLC, founded solely to get the no-bid contract for water treatment, the agreement is a private-public fee-for-service proposition that will charge the federal government billions. The estimated profit forecast for the project is upwards of $600 million dollars over a twenty-year span. Documents recently obtained by Raw Story and now also available at www.bajagua.org, a site set up by the National Security Whistleblower's Coalition, indicate Cheney met twice with Bajagua officials, on October 15, 2002 and again on September 4, 2003. Cheney is alleged to have pressured the Department of Justice and the Council on Environmental Quality to give Bajagua a pass on clean water concerns and the no-bid contract of building the treatment facility.

Republicans Believe In Playing By The Rules: More than 100 Orange County, CA residents who thought they were simply signing petitions to cure breast cancer, punish child molesters or build schools were duped into registering as Republicans, an Orange County Register investigation found. The ruse took place over several days in December and January at shopping centers throughout Anaheim, Santa Ana, Buena Park, Westminster and Garden Grove, where paid petitioners begged, cajoled, lied and committed forgery to get so-called Republican converts. Petition circulators were paid as much as $7 for each GOP registration. Orange County election officials have received complaints from 167 people who were flipped to the Republican Party without their permission. The Register found the problem was far wider, interviewing 112 others who were not only switched, they were tricked and deceived. Among the victims is a lifelong Democrat who was pressured to fill out forms even though she didn't have her glasses and couldn't see what she was signing. The Register traced the bogus registrations to Christopher Scott Dinoff, who took out 13,000 blank affidavit cards from the Orange County Registrar of Voters Office, records show. Each affidavit is numbered, linking Dinoff to the doctored cards. "I think they need to be punished," said Ericka Lopez of Anaheim, who said she was unwillingly switched from Libertarian to Republican in January. "We were deceived."

The Swift Boaters have docked in Vermont. A founder of "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" - the controversial "group" run by a Washington PR firm that attacked Democratic Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam War record in the 2004 presidential campaign - is now going after independent Rep. Bernie Sanders. John O'Neill, who helped start the conservative group to undermine Kerry's image as a decorated war hero, has written a fundraising letter that went out nationwide this month on behalf of Republican Greg Parke. Parke, a retired Air Force pilot, is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Sanders for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jim Jeffords. Parke must first beat multimillionaire entrepreneur Rich Tarrant in the GOP primary if he hopes to take on Sanders in November's general election. In the letter, which has gone out to about 150,000 people, O'Neill says he agreed to help Parke "to prevent socialist candidate Bernie Sanders from entering the U.S. Senate." "Sanders is as radical as they come," O'Neill wrote. "In fact, he's so far to the Left that he calls himself an 'independent' because he thinks Democrats are 'too conservative.'

Republicans Are Loyal Americans: According to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, the new majority leader of the US House of Representatives - Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) - was quite adamant about where his loyalties are: "As the new House majority leader, I can assure you that under my leadership, legislation that is in any way perceived as anti-Israel will not be considered in the House of Representatives," Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, to thunderous applause. The above quote seems to bolster what the two academics were saying in their paper recently: The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy By John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

Republicans Believe In Promoting World Peace: The Bush administration, looking to build stronger military ties to India and other countries, wants to speed up arms export procedures and better share information, U.S. officials said on Monday. England said the Bush administration was working on several legislative proposals, including one giving the Pentagon permanent authority to pay for logistics support in combined military operations with other countries, a power it has had on a temporary basis in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, he said the administration was trying to speed up the approval process for export licenses, which now typically stands at around 21 days. U.S. direct foreign military sales are seen rising to $12.9 billion in fiscal 2006 which ends in September, up from $10.6 billion last year, according to industry experts.

Republicans Protect The Public Health: You might have read in the news about an EPA plan to make it easier for drinking water systems to reduce the quality of your drinking water, even when it comes to such hazards as arsenic, radon, and lead. What hasn't been reported is that the push for the policy came from the White House itself. The White House released a report in 2004 that invited industry to nominate regulatory protections to be weakened or eliminated, and in that report OMB offered its own list of rollbacks. One of the rollback demands on the White House's own hit list was a call for EPA to be looser with its Safe Drinking Water Act authority to grant "economically disadvantaged drinking water systems" variances from safe drinking water standards. After all, god forbid that poor communities be entitled to the same level of safe drinking water that everyone else enjoys. Now EPA has bent to OMB's will. A March 2 Federal Register entry that proposes allowing small drinking water systems to serve us water with up to three times the maximum contaminant levels! The standard of affordability that would open the way to variances would also change: the proposed rule would count spending as little as $100 per year (which NRDC notes is a mere 0.25% of median household incomes) on drinking water as unaffordable. Here's a tasty example: if your drinking water system (which may be owned by a distant corporation rather than your local government) has arsenic in the water at 29 parts per billion -- well over the standard of 10 parts per billion that the Bush administration threatened to roll back until the public cried out -- it can be considered safe.

Scandals Du Jour: Victims of sexual abuse by priests have filed two lawsuits accusing Ohio House Speaker Jon Husted and seven other House Republicans of holding an illegal meeting before a House committee passed a hotly contested sex-offender bill this week. In an ironic twist to a story that has made national headlines, one of the suits has been assigned to a Franklin County judge whom Husted and other GOP officials have sought to impeach for his sentencing of a child molester. The suit was filed Thursday in Columbus by Dan Frondorf and Christy Miller, members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests. It was assigned by blind draw to Judge John Connor, a Democrat. A second suit was filed by SNAP member Claudia Vercellotti in Toledo. Connor has been the target of withering criticism by Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, who has called for the judge's impeachment. O'Reilly continued his crusade Thursday evening by inviting Ohio Sen. Steve Austria onto his show and asking the suburban Dayton Republican for "a personal favor" - that Austria "watch [the] back" of a woman in Columbus who is working to remove Connor from the bench.

Fundraising activities for U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's powerful political machine apparently were used as opportunities by his former chief of staff to land lobby clients who paid him $770,000 over four years, state and federal documents show. The former aide is Ed Buckham, a lobbyist who once was the driving force behind DeLay's political organization. Buckham left DeLay's congressional office in 1997 to set up his lobby operation, Alexander Strategy Group, but recent national lobby scandals forced him to close the operation earlier this year. This past Friday, one of Buckham's lobby partners, former DeLay aide Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty to corruption charges related to work he did with convicted influence peddler Jack Abramoff prior to working with Buckham at Alexander. The documents reviewed by the Houston Chronicle indicate Buckham traded on his close ties to both DeLay and his fundraising organization on at least two occasions to land clients who were trying to get personal time with DeLay.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:33:06 PM

Sun, Apr 02 2006

Wall To Wall John Paul - The Redux

The weather has been somewhat indeterminate - yesterday it was a delight, with sunny skies and warm temperatures, but today, we were not so fortunate. The weather closed in around mid morning and began to rain intermittently, with gloomy, heavily overcast skies. The low last night was 69 and this afternoon, it barely made 76. But I am not real sure about that, as the batteries in my electronic thermometer died, and when I replaced them, the recorded readings were lost.

I am pleased to report that my recent efforts to reduce the ant invasions appears to have been successful. So far, no more invasions in either the office or the kitchen, so I think I am in good shape so far. Won't know until the ants have had a chance to look for alternate entry points.

My best mango tree came into bloom yesterday, and is in full bloom today. But with the cold, rainy weather, there won't be a crop this year. Oh well, I may not be here when they are ready anyway. Still no word on the house - I suspect the buyer is doing his due-diligence on the property at the moment, so it may be several days before I hear from him again. I am not worried, at least not yet.

Not much on TV worth watching tonight. Apparently, it is the first anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II. I didn't and don't have much use for that man, given what he did in Latin America, and after last year's wall-to-wall coverage that went on for a week, I was thoroughly sick and tired of turning on the tube and discovering that fawning tributes were all that was on. And now he's back - like Freddie Kruger in those horror movies. Tonight it is again wall to wall John Paul, on CNN International, CNN en Espanol, BBC World and even the Discovery Channel. Enough already! The man's dead! Bury him! ...Guess it's time to just curl up with a good book.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The UK government is to hold secret talks with defense chiefs tomorrow to discuss possible military strikes against Iran. A high-level meeting will take place in the Ministry of Defence at which senior defence chiefs and government officials will consider the consequences of an attack on Iran. It is believed that an American-led attack, designed to destroy Iran's ability to develop a nuclear bomb, is "inevitable" if Tehran's leaders fail to comply with United Nations demands to freeze their uranium enrichment program. Tomorrow's meeting will be attended by Gen Sir Michael Walker, the chief of the defence staff, Lt Gen Andrew Ridgway, the chief of defence intelligence and Maj Gen Bill Rollo, the assistant chief of the general staff, together with officials from the Foreign Office and Downing Street.

As tensions increase between the United States and Iran, U.S. intelligence and terrorism experts say they believe Iran would respond to U.S. military strikes on its nuclear sites by deploying its intelligence operatives and Hezbollah teams to carry out terrorist attacks worldwide. Iran would mount attacks against U.S. targets inside Iraq, where Iranian intelligence agents are already plentiful, predicted these experts. There is also a growing consensus that Iran's agents would target civilians in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, they said. U.S. officials would not discuss what evidence they have indicating Iran would undertake terrorist action, but the matter "is consuming a lot of time" throughout the U.S. intelligence apparatus, one senior official said. "It's a huge issue," another said. But terrorism experts considered Iranian-backed or controlled groups - namely the country's Ministry of Intelligence and Security operatives, its Revolutionary Guards and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah - to be better organized, trained and equipped than the al-Qaeda network that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Both sides have increased their activities against the other. The Bush administration is spending $75 million to step up pressure on the Iranian government, including funding non-governmental organizations and alternative media broadcasts. Iran's parliament then approved $13.6 million to counter what it calls "plots and acts of meddling" by the United States.

The U.S. military was trying to send a "little reality jab" to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr when American and Iraqi troops raided a Shiite community center and shrine last weekend, says a top U.S. military official. The joint assault killed at least 16 people, most of them believed to be tied to Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army. U.S. officials insist the center was being used as a base for insurgent activities and was not a mosque. But many Iraqis say the complex did indeed include the Shiite equivalent of a mosque, and the raid has drawn harsh condemnation from Shiite politicians and prompted Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, to launch an investigation. The mayor of Baghdad promptly cut off cooperation with the U.S. Embassy, and Shiite politicians suspended their negotiations to form a new government. The U.S. military has long contemplated taking tougher steps against Sadr and his troublesome militia but has held off in the past because it did not want to antagonize his many fervent supporters. This raid, officials say, was intended as a reminder to Sadr of the U.S. military's reach in Iraq.

Polish-born former US national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has put together a four-point plan for the United States to withdraw from Iraq, he told private Polish television TVN24. The plan would allow Washington to disengage gradually in Iraq, "without victory, but also without defeat," said Brzezinski, who worked for US President Jimmy Carter. The first step would involve "Washington suggesting to the Iraqi authorities that they publicly ask the United States to pull out of Iraq," he said. Next, a date would be set for US troops to be pulled out, following which the Iraqi government should invite its neighbors to a "regional conference of Muslim countries" aimed at stabilizing the situation in Iraq, Brzezinski said. Lastly, the United States should call an international conference to discuss funding for the reconstruction of Iraq. "I think that a program such as this one, set up in the space of one year, would close the affair in such a way that we might not be able to speak of a clear victory, but also not of defeat or running away," Brzezinski said.

The calls went out across the nation, as Bush administration officials asked the country's most seasoned disaster response experts to consider the job of a lifetime: FEMA director. But again and again, the response over the past several months was the same: "No thanks." Unconvinced that the administration is serious about fixing the Federal Emergency Management Agency or that there is enough time actually to get it done before President Bush's second term ends, seven of these candidates for director or another top FEMA job said in interviews that they had pulled themselves out of the running. "You don't take the fire chief job after someone has burned down the city unless you are going to be able to do it in the right fashion," said Ellis M. Stanley, general manager of emergency planning in Los Angeles, who said he was one of those called. Now, with the next hurricane season only two months away, the Bush administration has finally come up with a convenient but somewhat embarrassing solution. Mr. Bush, several former and current FEMA officials said, intends to nominate R. David Paulison, a former fire official who has been filling in for the past seven months, to take on the job permanently.

New Orleans's levees do not meet the standards that the Federal Emergency Management Agency requires for its flood protection program, federal officials said yesterday - and they added that the problem would take as much as $6 billion to fix. FEMA has long based its flood planning on whether an area is protected against a flood that might have a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year, also known as a 100-year flood. Without that certification, the agency's flood maps have to treat the entire levee system as if it were not there at all, which means that people hoping to build in the affected areas might have to rebuild their homes at elevations of 15 or even 30 feet above sea level in order to meet new federal building standards.

In debates over the Academic Bill of Rights, supporters of the controversial legislation have suggested that conservative students are the victims of classroom bias - and receive lower grades or even failing grades because of their political views. Markus Kemmelmeier, a sociologist at the University of Nevada at Reno, has been watching the Academic Bill of Rights debate with growing frustration, because he thinks there is proof about the question about classroom bias that has been ignored. "I just don't see evidence" of bias, says Kemmelmeier, one of three authors of an in-depth study on the topic that was published last year in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Here's what the research found: *The more liberal students are, the more likely they are to take courses in fields like sociology and American studies where "questions of social justice" are a focus. Conservative students are more likely to enroll in departments like economics and business. This is a key fact, Kemmelmeir said, because the fields conservatives tend to study are fields where average grades are lower - across all political groups. So when conservative students complain that their grades are lower than their liberal friends, they might be right - but it has nothing to do with political bias. *In disciplines that tend to attract more liberal students, there was no relationship between students' politics and the grades they received. The disciplines examined here included sociology, American studies, African-American studies, cultural anthropology, education, nursing and women's studies. *In disciplines that tend to attract more conservative students (economics and all of the disciplines in business schools), conservatives have a slight edge - the equivalent of 0.25 on a 4-point graduate point average scale.

A conservative Democrat has decided to take on Hillary Clinton in the New York primary for her Senate seat. Mark Greenstein, a 42-year-old businessman is aiming to "take a stand against 'sellout' liberals" by facing off against the freshman Senator and former first lady. "Greenstein acknowledged he had virtually no chance of defeating Clinton, who is popular in the state and has more than $17 million in the bank," the Associated Press reports. The "former lawyer who now runs a chain of test-preparation centers" also issued a challenge to Senator Clinton to sign a pledge that, if elected, she will serve her full term in office, and not run - as many pundits speculate - for President in 2008.

The US Justice Department has responded to questions from Republican and Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee on President Bush's warrantless wiretapping of international calls, releasing their responses quietly on a Friday afternoon. At their core, the responses echo previous assessments by the Bush Justice Department which maintain that the eavesdropping program was legal and met the demands of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). "The FISA court of review discussed the President's inherent authority to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance in 2002, twenty-four years after FISA was enacted," the authors write. The responses provide little new information about the program. The Attorney General refused to disclose how many Americans were spied upon, and declined to provide specifics on how "terrorists" are defined. Critics of the program say it is ripe for abuse and violates federal law.

A US soldier who fled to Canada to avoid serving in Iraq says he was shocked by alleged atrocities committed by the American military. Josh Key was speaking before Canada's refugee board hearing his asylum plea. Among the incidents, he described soldiers kicking the severed head of an Iraqi like a football in Ramadi. Mr. Key served as an explosives expert in Iraq for eight months, and deserted to Canada with his family in 2004. He faces a court martial back in the US. The soldier, 27, also told Canada's refugee board he saw a US army squad leader shooting the foot off an unarmed Iraqi man. The army's attitude in Iraq was "just shoot and ask questions later", Mr. Key said. Mr. Key says he refuses to fight in a war he regards as immoral and illegal. About 20 US soldiers have applied for asylum in Canada. Two have already had their applications rejected. The Immigration and Refugee Board said it was not convinced the men would face persecution if they were sent back to the US. They have said they will appeal against the decision.

Did you know high schools and even middle schools have started using tasers on students? I didn't. There's a brewing controversy on this now in Wichita, Kansas, which I learned about from Jake Lowen of the excellent organization Hope Street Youth Development. Here's the timeline he sent This Modern World: February: Wichita Police introduce tasers into schools. Early March: Students at Wichita West High School discover this and are understandably concerned. Organized by Hope Street, they gather 250 signatures on a letter to the school district asking about health effects and the district's use policy. March 16th: A 15 year-old student is tasered during a confrontation at another high school, Wichita North. However, no one except those involved know at the time because the school district covers it up. The next week: The tasering becomes public thanks to an anonymous tip from a teacher. The Wichita Eagle criticizes the school district for trying to hide it. Today, March 30th: The Wichita Eagle reveals two other attempts to taser students, including a 14 year-old girl.

Officials conducting a routine inspection of a nuclear reactor at the Turkey Point, Florida power plant found a small holed drilled into a pipe that helps maintain pressure, and investigators were trying to determine if the hole was drilled accidentally or deliberately, Florida Power & Light officials said Saturday. The nuclear reactor, one of two at the Miami-Dade County power plant, had been shut down for a routine refueling, FPL spokeswoman Rachel Scott said. The 1/8-inch hole was discovered late Thursday during a series of tests and inspections performed before bringing the unit back online, Scott said. Other maintenance work had been performed in the area where the hole was found, Scott said. FPL, the state's largest electric utility, repaired the damaged piping and, though the company's investigation continues, plans to bring the unit back into service in about a week, she said.

ABC News suspended the executive producer of the weekend edition of "Good Morning America" yesterday over a pair of leaked e-mails in which he used inflammatory language to slam President Bush and Madeleine Albright. John Green, whose unpaid suspension will last one month, apologized to the White House in a call to communications director Nicolle Wallace, while two ABC executives called the former secretary of state to apologize. "No one is sorrier than John for the embarrassment that these albeit private e-mails caused to his colleagues and to the people who were the subjects of those comments," said ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider. "John would be the first to say this has been a real lesson to him. John is abjectly sorry for all the comments that have come to light, and that's appropriate." In one of the e-mails, written during the first presidential debate in 2004 and leaked to the Drudge Report, Green wrote to a colleague on his BlackBerry: "Are you watching this? Bush makes me sick. If he uses the 'mixed messages' line one more time, I'm going to puke."

In case you missed it, AP recently lifted an article as researched and written by RAW STORY and published a version of it as their own. Along the way, they seem to have forgotten to give RAW the attribution they deserved for the many hours of research and work they put into the story in order to file the piece in the first place. RAW's Larisa Alexandrovna originally discovered the gem after plowing through a bunch of Bush Administration policy statements on National Security Clearance policies and comparing the most recent version to previous versions of that same policy side-by-side. One of the RAW researchers confirmed her work and the subtle, but important changes she found, and then Larisa, along with RAW's Executive Editor John Byrne finally filed the piece at RawStory.com. After all of that hard work, a human rights group shared RAW's story with AP who eventually filed their own very familiar story using the work as originally unearthed by RAW. They've since admitted to being given RAW's article and using it as the starting point for their own work, which walks a dangerously close line towards plagarism. But even as they now admit that their story originated with RAW's reporting, they still refuse to give credit where credit's due. They've now given several lame and still-changing reasons for failing to acknowledge the "oversight" including "we do not credit blogs" and later, "we only credit blogs we know."

The man known as "Big Steve" did not attend the court-martial this month of Sgt. Michael J. Smith, an Army dog handler at Abu Ghraib. But no one could miss his looming presence in the courtroom. According to both the prosecution and defense, "Big Steve" was deeply involved in the abuse committed by Smith, who was convicted March 21 for using his dog to terrify prisoners. "Big Steve," whose real name is Steven Anthony Stefanowicz, worked as an interrogator for military intelligence at Abu Ghraib. But he was no ordinary soldier. Stefanowicz was one of dozens of civilian employees from Virginia contractor CACI International hired by the Pentagon to work at the prison. According to a military policeman who testified at the court-martial, Stefanowicz directed the abuse in one of the most infamous incidents captured on camera at Abu Ghraib: A prisoner in an orange jumpsuit being menaced with an unmuzzled dog. "I was told by his interrogator, Big Steve, that he was al-Qaida," testified Pvt. Ivan Frederick II. "He said, 'Any chance you get, put the dogs on.'" According to Frederick, Stefanowicz would periodically instruct the military police when to pause from using the animals. "He would come down in between and we would pull the dogs off and he would go in and talk to him," said Frederick, who was sentenced in October 2004 to eight years in prison for his own role in the abuses. The role of Stefanowicz and other civilian contractors accused of abuse remains one of the murkiest aspects of Abu Ghraib. Stefanowicz was first identified as a perpetrator of abuse nearly two years ago by two high-profile Army investigations, known as the Taguba and Fay reports -- but he has never been charged with a crime. Now, more allegations about his role have emerged, including testimony from Smith's court-martial and in Army investigative materials obtained by Salon. In addition to the use of dogs to terrify prisoners, those allegations include the use of sexual humiliation and stress positions, and denying prisoners medical care. At Fort Meade, Stefanowicz was not on trial, nor was he called to the witness stand. But throughout the proceedings he was a reminder of key unanswered questions about Abu Ghraib -- including why no one beyond a small group of enlisted soldiers has been prosecuted.

When 15 Latino groups recently sent a letter to top Senate Commerce Committee lawmakers urging video franchising relief for the regional Bell operating companies, the appeal appeared to be on behalf of Hispanic Americans. The groups are part of the National Latino Media Council. But critics said the letter also was on behalf of two leading Bell firms - AT&T and Verizon Communications, which have financial and business ties to many of the signers. The letter urged Congress to expedite entry of telecommunications companies into the video programming business. "Too many low-income Hispanic families are already on the wrong side of the much-discussed 'digital divide,'" the letter, dated Feb. 9, warned. One source said the Ibarra connection indicates the National Latino Media Council is a Bell front. But another suggested that Ibarra is lobbying on "more than just this issue" for the group and applauded the coalition for "supporting Hispanic businesses."

Kathleen Harris, the former Secretary of State in Florida who engineered Smirkey's 2000 election victory in that state, and who has proven to be too sleazy even for the Republicans to stomach, is now facing a total collapse of her campaign for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. The last of her key staffers appear ready to abandon her campaign in a wave of resignations expected to start this weekend. Sources close to the campaign said Friday that the defections would touch virtually every level of her operation. Harris is likely to lose her chief political strategist, her campaign manager, her spokeswoman, her director of field operations and even a traveling aide who helps hand out stickers at campaign appearances. It is the latest and most dramatic indication so far that her campaign is on the verge of collapse. "I've never seen staffers go like this," said David Johnson, a Republican pollster and consultant. "It's just imploding." Calls and e-mails to the campaign were not returned Friday night, but sources said Harris met with staffers earlier in the day to tell them she would be hiring new people to replace those who had already left. Campaign workers could stay, she said, but they would have to recommit themselves to Harris' race. She gave them until 5 p.m. Sunday to decide.

The first official recognition that the Iraq war motivated the four London suicide bombers has been made by the UK government in a major report into the 7 July attacks. Despite attempts by Downing Street to play down suggestions that the conflict has made Britain a target for terrorists, the Home Office inquiry into the deadliest terror attack on British soil has conceded that the bombers were inspired by UK foreign policy, principally the decision to invade Iraq. The government's 'narrative', compiled by a senior civil servant using intelligence from the police and security services, was announced by the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, last December following calls for a public inquiry into the attacks. The narrative will be published in the next few weeks, possibly alongside the findings of a critical report into the London bombings by the Commons intelligence and security committee.

April First Exclusive: First daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush will be assigned to a high-tech unit in Iraq, the Air Force Human Resources Command has confirmed. Having finished basic training at the Officer Training School (OTS) at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, they are scheduled to receive advanced training in telecommunications at the School of Information Technology before deployment overseas with the USAF Information Operations Squadron. For security reasons, the exact dates have been withheld. The girls' surprise enlistment was kept secret until they successfully completed their basic training. During an invitation-only press conference while on leave between OTS and their school assignment - conducted, symbolically, at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware where America's war dead are brought - the twins described their motives and rationale.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: During the March 27 edition of his nationally syndicated radio program, Michael Savage repeatedly called on his listeners to "burn the Mexican flag" in opposition to illegal immigrants. Savage claimed that the only way to combat the onslaught of illegal immigrants is through protest and asked his audience to "[b]urn a Mexican flag for America, burn a Mexican flag for those who died that you should have a nationality and a sovereignty, go out in the street and show you're a man, burn 10 Mexican flags, if I could recommend it. Put one in the window upside down and tell them to go back where they came from!" Savaged added that, "If I were more than one man -- and I'm not, I'm only a radio host --I would organize a march this week where we would burn Mexican flags in the street. Then I would like to see how our hard-working brethren would react, our friends from the south. Let's see how they would react." Savage also referred to the immigration problem as "an invasion by any other name," in which "we, the people, are being displaced by the people of Mexico."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice faced more protests and public embarrassment here on Saturday that have turned a trip meant to be a friendly follow-up to an American trip by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw into a two-day run through a raucous, mishap-ridden gantlet. She was heckled by protesters and faced criticism from Muslim leaders hand-selected to meet with her by the Foreign Office during a visit here, the hometown of Mr. Straw. He visited Ms. Rice's hometown, Birmingham, Ala., in October. About 250 protesters ringing Blackburn's City Hall shouted "Shame on you" as the two arrived. Through the din, Ms. Rice looked off into the distance and spotted a handful of people, many holding shopping bags, who had stopped to gawk.

Prosecutors hoping to put 22 CIA agents on trial in Italy for kidnapping a Muslim cleric there say they have gleaned new evidence from German phone records, a well-placed judicial source said. The CIA agents are accused of grabbing Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr off a Milan street in 2003 and flying him for interrogation in Egypt, where he has said he was tortured. One of the main arguments in the Italian prosecutors' case is that Nasr was flown from Italy to a U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany, before changing planes and heading to Egypt. Ramstein was first identified partly by Nasr's description of how long he spent in the air and from examination of outbound flights at the Aviano military base north of Venice, which is used by the U.S. Air Force. New checks into German phone records -- including at the Ramstein air base and a hotel -- have produced more evidence of the stopover, the source at the Milan prosecutors' office said.

Billionaire philanthropist Jimmy Walter and WTC survivor William Rodriguez this week embarked on a groundbreaking trip to Caracas Venezuela in which they met with with the President of the Assembly and will soon meet with Venezuelan President himself Hugo Chavez in anticipation of an official Venezuelan government investigation into 9/11. Rodriguez was the last survivor pulled from the rubble of the north tower of the WTC, and was responsible for all stairwells within the tower. Rodriguez represented family members of 9/11 victims and testified to the 9/11 Commission that bombs were in the north tower but his statements were completely omitted from the official record. Jimmy Walter has been at the forefront of a world tour to raise awareness about 9/11 and has still yet to receive any response to his million dollar challenge in which he offers a $1 million reward for proof that the trade towers' steel structure was broken apart without explosives. Rodriguez said that he was told an FBI agent had asked the hotel him and Walter were staying in turn over a list of names of residents. Upon hearing this, the National Assembly provided armed military protection for the entirety of the trip. In addition, Walters said that CIA agents were seen surveilling the beach on which he and Rodriguez had handed out free DVD's a day earlier.

Diebold Watch: Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist has opened an investigation into Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia for possible antitrust violations. This is welcome news to Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho. Ion Sancho has come under fire for requesting an independent evaluation of his Diebold voting system security. Significant flaws were discovered that led to security alerts nationwide, including a study in California and a security alert in Florida. The only three vendors authorized to do business in Florida then refused to sell to Leon County. The state of Florida, instead of looking into collusion among vendors, decided to threaten Sancho with removal from office for failing to buy a HAVA-compliant system. Florida’s independent-minded state attorney general doesn’t see eye to eye with Gov. Bush and his appointee, Secretary of State Sue Cobb, and has decided to launch a formal investigation into Diebold, Sequoia, and Election Systems & Software (ES&S).

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: William F. Buckley Jr., the longtime conservative writer and leader, said Smirkey's presidency will be judged entirely by the outcome of a war in Iraq that is now a failure. "Mr. Bush is in the hands of a fortune that will be unremitting on the point of Iraq," Buckley said in an interview that will air on Bloomberg Television this weekend. "If he'd invented the Bill of Rights it wouldn't get him out of his jam." Buckley said he doesn't have a formula for getting out of Iraq, though he said "it's important that we acknowledge in the inner councils of state that it (the war) has failed, so that we should look for opportunities to cope with that failure." The 80-year-old Buckley is among a handful of prominent conservatives who are criticizing the war. Asked who is to blame for what he deems a failure, Buckley said, "the president," adding that "he doesn't hesitate to accept responsibility." Buckley called Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a longtime friend, "a failed executor" of the war. And Vice President Dick Cheney "was flatly misled," Buckley said. "He believed the business about the weapons of mass destruction."

Liberal Biased Media Watch: Why is the New York Times allowing partisan editorializing in a news story? "Bloggers, for all the benefits they might bring to both parties, have proved to be a complicating political influence for Democrats. They have tugged the party consistently to the left, particularly on issues like the war, and have been openly critical of such moderate Democrats as Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut." Tug the party to the left? You mean, the 60-some percent of the American people who agree with Democratic/progressive blogs that the war in Iraq is a disaster are now "lefties," all 60-some percent of them? That is simply absurd. AmericaBlog had intelligence a few weeks ago that Nagourney was trying to write a hit piece on the progressive blogs. He was intent on slamming AmericaBlog with this article, no matter what the facts said. You'll note that Nagourney's piece says nothing negative about the right-wing blogs. Not a word. It doesn't mention the embarrassment of the Domenech fiasco last week. It doesn't mention that the right-wing blogs are the far-right of the Republican party, whereas the Democratic blogs are the center of the Democratic party. Nope. Nagourney even mentions the Republican attack sites like FancyFord.com, yet somehow fails to mention the Democrats' response, FancyFrist.com. Isn't that amazing. It's fine for the New York Times to quote someone saying they think the progressive blogs are pulling the party to the left, that would be that person's opinion - totally quotable. But then you'd find another expert to see if they agree with that assessment, or even better, you'd interview a left-wing blogger to respond to the charge. Not this article. We don't even get the charge in a quote, we get it in blatant editorializing by the reporter himself.

On the March 31 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, Neal Boortz said that Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) "looks like a ghetto slut." Boortz was commenting on a March 29 incident in which McKinney allegedly struck a police officer at a Capitol Hill security checkpoint. Boortz said that McKinney's "new hair-do" makes her look "like a ghetto slut," like "an explosion at a Brillo pad factory," like "Tina Turner peeing on an electric fence," and like "a shih tzu." McKinney is the first African-American woman elected to Congress from Georgia.

Both the AP and the Los Angeles Times uncritically reported as fact President Bush's claim that Saddam Hussein was to blame for the sectarian violence in Iraq, but neither news outlet noted that the Bush administration bears considerable responsibility for the escalating conflict between the ethnic groups there. Both the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times reported President Bush's March 29 claim that Saddam Hussein was to blame for the sectarian violence in Iraq. But neither news outlet noted that, while the decision to topple Saddam's regime obviously did not create the country's sectarian tensions, the Bush administration bears considerable responsibility for the escalating conflict between the ethnic groups there. Indeed, news reports indicate that the White House not only ignored the intelligence community's prewar assessments that Saddam's removal would likely result in civil war, but rebuffed experts' warnings following the invasion that the country was on such a path.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: New home sales fell more sharply than expected in February - and along with them, the price of a new house - in the latest signs of a slowdown in what had been a white-hot housing market. Sales sank 10.5 percent to an annual rate of 1.08 million homes in February, from the revised rate of 1.21 million in January, the Census Bureau reported. The report also showed a drop in the median price of a new home from a year earlier, to $230,400, down $6,900, or 3 percent from February 2005. Half of all homes sold for more than the median and half for less. While it's not uncommon that prices fluctuate month to month, a year-over-year decline is far less common. February also marked the fourth straight month-over-month decline in median price since the record of $243,900 in October. The current median is 5.5 percent below that record.

Delphi, the nation's biggest auto parts maker, on Friday asked a federal judge for permission to throw out some of its labor agreements, a move that could cost 20,000 union workers their jobs and leave thousands of others with less than half their current wages. Delphi, which is operating in bankruptcy, wants the judge's permission to impose sharply lower wages and benefits on six unions, setting up a confrontation that its largest union, the United Automobile Workers, said could lead to a lengthy strike. A strike could also cripple General Motors, which spun off Delphi in 1999 and remains its biggest customer. And any harm to GM could eviscerate the UAW's own influence as one of the nation's most socially progressive and powerful unions, while accelerating the slide of the American auto industry. Delphi said it would close or sell all but 8 of its 29 plants in the United States and cut 28,500 positions around the world. Beyond the 20,000 of its 33,100 hourly jobs in the United States that Delphi plans to cut, another 8,500 salaried jobs worldwide are to be eliminated.

The biggest western oil firms plan to invest much more in finding and producing oil in 2006 than in 2005 but investors and consumers will be disappointed the extra spending has not translated into higher production targets. Last year, as oil prices hit new records above $70 per barrel, politicians demanded the big, integrated oil and gas companies invest more of their bumper profits in finding oil, to boost supplies and cool prices. However, rampant oil services inflation, the need to look for oil in more inhospitable locations and an increased focus on natural gas and heavy oil, which require costlier infrastructure than ordinary crude, mean that while capital expenditure is rising, growth plans are static. "Higher capex and unchanged production growth targets were the clearest trends from the integrated oils year-end strategy presentations," Lehman Brothers said in a research note last week. Rising costs will provide long term support for oil prices, and make it harder for oil firms to repeat the record earnings they reported last year, on the back of higher prices, analysts said. "It's going to impinge on underlying profitability ... profitability is reaching a peak," Jason Kenney, oil analyst at ING in Edinburgh said.

Much of the oil and natural gas production still shut- in after last year's hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico will stay offline because it would not be economical for companies to rebuild the production platforms, Energy Secretary Sam Bodman told Congress today. About 255,000 barrels per day in crude oil production and 400 million cubic feet of natural gas output is expected to still be offline in the Gulf of Mexico at the June 1 start date of the 2006 hurricane season, according to the government. That represents 17 percent of pre-hurricane daily Gulf oil production and 4 percent of gas output. "By and large those production platforms that are out are not going to be put back because it's not economically desirable to reinvest to put those facilities back in place," Bodman told the House Energy and Commerce Committee during a hearing on the Energy Department's proposed 2007 budget. Bodman said the shut-in production platforms are mostly in old oil and gas fields close to shore. "They tend to be depleted and it would not economically be viable to reinvest in to rebuild them and the companies haven't done that," he said.

God's Own Party: At a messianic "War on Christians" conference, Tom DeLay warned that "the future of man hangs in the balance" as other righteous souls demanded that gay sex be explicitly described to restore "shame." Introducing Rep. Tom DeLay at the War on Christians and the Values Voter in 2006 conference in Washington Tuesday, master of ceremonies Rick Scarborough described him as "the man God has appointed in this last day." The conference began on Monday and was saturated with millennial anxiety. A succession of preachers, talk-radio hosts, religious right operatives and, significantly, major Republican politicians took to the stage at the posh Omni Shoreham hotel to rally the troops for an epic battle between the forces of national renewal and those of vice and enervating perversion. People were shocked that the government America midwifed in Afghanistan seemed close to executing Christian convert Abdul Rahman. In the face of lassitude, speakers repeatedly cautioned against giving in to disillusionment and apathy. They reminded the audience that they are one judge away from overturning Roe v. Wade. They warned that Christianity is on the verge of being criminalized in America, and they harped on the manifold dangers of the "homosexual agenda."

John McCain being interviewed by Tim Russert: MCCAIN: I believe that the "Christian Right" has a major role to play in the Republican Party. One reason is because they’re so active and their followers are. And I believe they have a right to be a part of our party. I don’t have to agree with everything they stand for, nor do I have to agree with everything that’s on the liberal side of the Republican Party. If we have to agree on every issue, we’re not a Republican Party. I believe in open and honest debate. Was I unhappy in the year 2000 that I lost the primary and there were some attacks on me that I thought was unfair? Of course. Should I get over it? Should I serve - can I serve the people of Arizona best by looking back in anger or moving forward? RUSSERT: Do you believe that Jerry Falwell is still an agent of intolerance? MCCAIN: No, I don’t. I think that Jerry Falwell can explain how his views on this program when you have him on.

Republicans Believe In Judicial Independence: A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Rep. Jim McDermott violated federal law by turning over an illegally taped telephone call to reporters nearly a decade ago. In a 2-1 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that McDermott violated the rights of House Majority Leader John Boehner, who was heard on the 1996 call involving former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The call included discussion by Gingrich, R-Ga., and other House GOP leaders about a House ethics committee investigation of Gingrich. Boehner, R-Ohio, was a Gingrich lieutenant at the time and is now House majority leader. A lawyer for McDermott had argued that his actions were allowed under the First Amendment, and said a ruling against him would have "a huge chilling effect" on reporters and newsmakers alike. Lawyers for 18 news organizations - including ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post - filed a brief backing McDermott.

Republicans Believe In Honest, Fair and Transparent Elections: A book review at Amazon.com attacking campaign finance reform written nearly five years ago bears the same name as an ex-aide to Congressman Tom DeLay (TX-Rep) who pled guilty to conspiracy earlier today for his work with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, RAW STORY has learned. The review, applauding the book, is attached to "Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform," a book written by former FEC Chair Bradley A. Smith, and was submitted on June 11, 2001. Along with bearing the same name, the review also lists Arlington, Virginia as the writer's home address, and Rudy's About page on Amazon also includes the nickname "tonycrudy." According to the Political Money Line Web Site, Tony C. Rudy gave donations to DeLay and other Republicans in 2001 from an address in Arlington, Virginia during his tenure as a lobbyist at Greenberg Traurig.

Say goodbye to honest elections in Ohio: In another frightening and blatantly partisan move, Ohio Secretary of State and former Bush campaign co-chair in 2004, J. Kenneth Blackwell, who personally negotiated the deal with Diebold for new machines in 47 of Ohio’s 88 counties, has ordered that all the access cards to the notoriously hackable e-voting machines be centralized in his office. With the May 2 primary looming, Blackwell issued a directive ordering all computer access cards to be sent to him before the primary "so the security codes can be changed," according to the Columbus Dispatch. Even Republicans are critical of this undemocratic power grab. Linda S. Stutz, a Republican and Director of the Van Wert County Board of Elections, told the Dispatch, "I just feel very strongly there’s a problem here." Let’s see. A well-known criminal with no respect for democracy seizing all the access cards just prior to the primary? No wonder the Secretary of State is known as J. Kenneth Hackwell in the voting rights community.

Be Nice To America Or We'll Bring Democracy To Your Country: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Britain's Jack Straw flew in secret into Baghdad on Sunday in a dramatic bid to break a deadlock over forming a unity government that can halt a slide to civil war. Pressure on Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari looked almost irresistible as a leader of the biggest party in his ruling Shi'ite Alliance joined others in publicly breaking ranks and calling on him to step aside in the name of national consensus. Though they refused to say so in public, it was a message certainly conveyed, too, by Rice and Foreign Secretary Straw. Minority Sunni and Kurdish leaders insist they will not join a cabinet under Jaafari and want a different Shi'ite nominee.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Winter air temperatures over Antarctica have risen by more than 2C in the last 30 years, a new study shows. Research published in the US journal Science says the warming is seen across the whole of the continent and much of the Southern Ocean. The study questions the reliability of current climate models that fail to simulate the temperature rise. Temperature rises on parts of the surface of Antarctica have been seen for some time. The western side of the Antarctic Peninsula is known to have the largest annual warming seen anywhere in the world with increases of over 2.5C in the last 50 years. the air above the entirety of Antarctica has warmed by as much as 0.70 degree Celsius per decade during the winter months. Until now, very little was known about air temperatures above the vast continent. The new work uses meteorological data collected from weather balloons launched in the Antarctic winters between 1971 and 2003. The scientists collected information from nine international research stations, mostly in the east of the continent.

As global warming causes the oceans to rise, coastlines across the Pacific and beyond are at risk. Low-lying islands like the nine that make up Tuvalu could become uninhabitable over the next century, along with low coastal areas, such as parts of Bangladesh, that currently have millions of inhabitants. The world has yet to determine what will become of these displaced citizens. But whether we've decided or not, a new kind of immigrant is already emerging. Some call them "climate refugees." The arrival of families like Telaki and Peni's in Australia and New Zealand - countries that have already maxed out their quotas serving traditionally defined refugees - has sparked international debate over whether those displaced by rising waters should be classified as refugees at all. And, if so, which countries should take them? For the immigrants themselves, the challenges are more personal. Leaving Tuvalu means leaving behind small islands with few cars, where locals spend much of their days barefoot on the sand, living in quiet communities where one can sleep on a local airstrip if it's too hot indoors. With a population of 11,600, Tuvalu is the second-smallest nation in the world, after Vatican City. And its Pacific Ocean location, midway between Hawaii and Australia, makes it among the most remote. Adjusting to a city like Auckland, New Zealand - a sprawling, Los Angeles-like crisscross of highways, mini-malls and meat pies - isn't always easy.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Mosul slips out of control as the bombers move in: When the 3,000 men of the mainly Kurdish 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Division of the Iraqi Army go on patrol it is at night, after the rigorously enforced curfew starts at 8pm. Their vehicles, bristling with heavy machine guns, race through the empty streets of the city, splashing through pools of sewage, always trying to take different routes to avoid roadside bombs. "The government cannot control the city," said Hamid Effendi, an experienced ex-soldier who is Minister for Peshmerga Affairs in the Kurdistan Regional Government. He is influential in the military affairs of Mosul province with its large Kurdish minority, although it is outside the Kurdish region. He believes: "The Iraqi Army is only a small force in Mosul, the Americans do not leave their bases much and some of the police are connected to the terrorists." In the days since a suicide bomber killed 43 young men waiting to join the Iraqi army at a recruitment centre near Mosul last week soldiers in the city have been expecting a second attack. "We are not leaving the base in daytime because we know other bombers are waiting for us," said a soldier at a base near Mosul's city center.

The war in Iraq has entered a bloodier phase, with American casualties steadily declining over the past five months while the killings of Iraqi civilians have risen tremendously in sectarian violence, spurring tens of thousands of Iraqis to flee from mixed Shiite-Sunni areas. The new pattern, detailed in casualty and migration statistics and in interviews with American commanders and Iraqi officials, has led to further separation of Shiite and Sunni Arabs, moving the country toward a de facto partitioning along sectarian and ethnic lines - an outcome that the Bush administration has doggedly worked to avoid over the past three years.

Iraq is splitting into three different parts. Everywhere there are fault lines opening up between Sunni, Shia and Kurd. In the days immediately following the attack on the Shia shrine in Samarra on 22 February, some 1300 bodies, mostly Sunni, were found in and around Baghdad. The Shia-controlled Interior Ministry, whose police commandos operate as death squads, asked the Health Ministry to release lower figures. A friend of the author, a normally pacific man living in a middle-class Sunni district in west Baghdad, rang me. 'I am not leaving my home,' he said. 'The police commandos arrested 15 people from here last night including the local baker. I am sitting here in my house with a Kalashnikov and 60 bullets and if they come for me I am going to open fire.' It is strange to hear George Bush and John Reid deny that a civil war is going on, given that so many bodies - all strangled, shot or hanged solely because of their religious allegiance - are being discovered every day. Car bombs exploded in the markets in the great Shia slum of Sadr City in early March. Several days later a group of children playing football in a field noticed a powerful stench. Police opened up a pit which contained the bodies of 27 men, probably all Sunni, stripped to their underpants; they had all been tortured and then shot in the head. Two and a half years ago, when the first suicide bomb targeting the Shias killed 85 people outside the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, there was no Shia retaliation. They were held back by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the hope of gaining power through legal elections. Since the Samarra bomb this restraint has definitively ended: the Shia militias and death squads slaughter Sunnis in tit-for-tat killings every time a Shia is killed.

Scandals Du Jour: The Wall Street Journal is telling the story of Emily Miller and Michael Scanlon, two aides to Tom DeLay who were engaged to be married until, "with the wedding a few months away, he called off the engagement and started dating a 24-year-old waitress." After the breakup, Miller began pondering the events of the preceding few months: People who have spoken to Ms. Miller say that after her breakup she began questioning how Mr. Scanlon could afford a lavish lifestyle while working summers as a beach lifeguard and doing seemingly little work at his public-relations firm. She talked about the beach house he had presented to her, the private jet he flew around in and the $17,000-a-month apartment he rented at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington. Indeed. That does seem a trifle extravagant, doesn't it? Shortly thereafter, Miller had a chat with federal prosecutors and helped them build a case against Scanlon, and Scanlon in turn helped build a case against his buddy Jack Abramoff. Miller kept her engagement ring.

In the months before Ohio GOP governor Tom Noe came under scrutiny for his state-funded rare-coin venture, he used a federal appointment to forge relationships with U.S. Mint officials that opened doors for him on Capitol Hill, documents obtained by The Blade show. And before he was brought down by scandal last year, the coin dealer helped persuade Congress - for the first time in the nation's history - to authorize the minting of a 24-karat gold coin. Mr. Noe's quest to become a Washington power broker and to help redesign all U.S. coins fell apart last year when controversy gripped the $50 million rare-coin investment he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation and federal authorities announced they were investigating the GOP fund-raiser for allegedly laundering political contributions to President Bush's campaign. Last week, Greg Weinman, the Mint's senior counsel and ethics official, told The Blade that the Treasury Department's inspector general had opened an investigation into Mr. Noe's role as a member and chairman of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, a panel that advises the Treasury secretary on themes and designs for coins and congressional gold medals. In May, 2003, the White House and House Speaker Dennis Hastert recommended that Mr. Noe get a seat on the influential 11-member committee. Treasury Secretary John Snow appointed Mr. Noe, less than six months after the Toledo-area coin dealer expressed interest in joining a Mint committee to Henrietta Fore, then director of the Mint.

News Of The Weird: Three men have been arrested on charges of performing castrations on apparently willing participants in a sadomasochistic "dungeon" in a rural house, authorities said Friday. "It's extremely bizarre," District Attorney Michael Bonfoey said in a telephone interview. "It's incredible the amount of ways that people can find to run afoul of the law." Sheriff's investigators said Richard Sciara, 61, Danny Reeves, 49, and Michael Mendez, 60, admitted performing at least eight surgeries, including castrations and testicle replacements, on six consenting clients over the past year. None of the three is licensed to practice medicine, officials said. The suspects, all residents of the house in Haywood County, in western North Carolina, where the surgeries were allegedly performed, were arrested Thursday. They were being held on $150,000 bond each and could make their first court appearances Monday, Bonfoey said.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:32:11 PM
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