Letters From Exile

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

Fri, Jun 30 2006

More Strange Weather - And Cows In The Yard Again

The weather has continued its strange, unusual pattern. Right now, it is wind. And boy, has it been windy! The latest spate of strange weather began at about two o'clock this morning, when I was awakened by extremely loud thunder - loud enough to rattle the windows and roof sheets. And it was just one burst of lightning, but it was evidently close enough to be a hazard, so I got up and got the computer shut down and disconnected - the first time ever I have had to do that in the middle of the night. But that lightning strike was the only one, too - not until late in the morning was there any more thunder. And the temperatures have continued to do strange things. The warmest it got all day was 75, and it began to cool slowly from that, dropping to 73 by ten in the evening, as I write this - the low for the day. The meteorological institute says this weird weather will continue through the weekend, and may lead to local flooding in Limon province and possibly down in the Osa peninsula area.

The principal feature of the weather during the day was wind. And extremely windy it has been, with the strongest winds I have ever seen in this country - strong enough to rip roof sheets off of my neighbor's new addition, and blow over several banana plants in my yard. Usually, strong winds here are associated with thunderstorms, but not in this storm. It has been incredibly strong trade winds, which have persisted all day. When the gardener arrived today, he suggested that the lawn needed mowing, so that he did, and after doing so, tried to put the garden back together a bit from all the wind, picking up broken tree limbs and replanting the bananas that have been pushed over by the wind. Several more plants came down after he left, and will need to be replanted when I can get out into the garden to do it.

The only damage to my place was to my ham radio antenna. It didn't bring the antenna down, but it certainly played havoc with the feedline cable. It was broken not in one place or even two, but three separate places. It took me the better part of an hour out in the rain to find and repair all the breaks induced by the wind.

I went to town, as usual for Fridays, and got my weekly chores in town done, along with getting a haircut, which I badly needed. I took off early, because the power was off and I couldn't cook breakfast, and I needed to get to the bank before the lines formed. When I returned, the gardener had most of the lawn cut and was taking a break. He pointed out that there had been a cow through the yard, which had left behind a line of tracks in the muddy soil of the lawn. After the gardener left, I went out to have a look and found the hole in the fence, which turned out to be in the fence with my eastern neighbor's property. I found the broken strands and tied them together until I can get the fence line fixed, and that should at least keep the cows out. But permanent repairs will have to wait until I can get a peone hired to do some much needed fence work around these parts.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Stating that American law outweighs an international treaty, the Supreme Court said Wednesday that foreign criminals held in state prisons did not have a right to reopen their cases if their rights under the Vienna Convention had been violated. The 6-3 ruling spares state prison officials a major headache. If the high court had ruled the other way, thousands of state inmates who were not U.S. citizens could have sought to have their convictions reversed. The international treaty, drafted in 1963, seeks to protect foreigners, including Americans traveling or living abroad. It requires that officials notify the home-country consulate when a foreigner is arrested or held for "pending trial." Despite its clear terms, police and prosecutors in the United States have failed to notify foreign criminal suspects that they have a right to the help of their nation's consulate. Two years ago, the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, took up an appeal from the governments of Mexico and Germany. The court, based in The Hague, ruled that the treaty gave individuals a right to reopen their cases if they did not get the proper notification.

Smirkey has refused to rule out military tribunals for inmates at Guantanamo Bay detention center. His administration was dealt a blow on Thursday when the Supreme Court ruled it had overstepped its authority in setting up the tribunals. But Republican senators immediately began planning how to win congressional approval for new tribunals. The ruling came in response to a case brought by Osama Bin Laden's ex-driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan. He is one of 10 Guantanamo inmates facing a military tribunal, but demanding to be tried by a civilian tribunal or court martial, where proceedings would be more open and defendants would have greater access to the evidence against them.

The US military has opened a criminal investigation into the alleged killing of another Iraqi family by US soldiers. Little official detail has been given, but unnamed officials say the inquiry includes the alleged rape of one of the victims before she was killed. The investigation began on Saturday and follows an initial military inquiry. The probe is the latest in a series of inquiries into alleged abuse of Iraqis by US troops. The US Army's Criminal Investigation Command was asked to look into the incident after a preliminary military inquiry found reason to open a criminal probe, the military said in a statement in Baghdad. The criminal investigation was ordered a day after two soldiers said they had heard about the incident in the area of Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, on 12 March, the statement said.

Eleven Sunni insurgent groups have offered an immediate halt to all attacks - including those on American troops - if the United States agrees to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq in two years, insurgent and government officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday. Withdrawal is the centerpiece of a set of demands from the groups, which operate north of Baghdad in the heavily Sunni Arab provinces of Salahuddin and Diyala. Although much of the fighting has been to the west, those provinces are increasingly violent and attacks there have crippled oil and commerce routes. The groups who've made contact have largely shunned attacks on Iraqi civilians, focusing instead on the U.S.-led coalition forces. Their offer coincides with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to reach out to the Sunni insurgency with a reconciliation plan that includes an amnesty for fighters. The Islamic Army in Iraq, Muhammad Army and the Mujahedeen Shura Council - the umbrella group that covers eight militant groups including al-Qaida in Iraq - were not party to any offers to the government.

The Right Wing has gone hog-ass wild over the New York Times’ "shocking" report that the Bush Administration is actually tracking terrorists' money transfers. Oh my! The fruitcakes are in flames! "Stand them in front of a firing squad or put them in prison for the rest of their lives," says one pinhead on Fox TV. Yes, let's talk treason. How about this: Before the 9/11 attack, George Bush’s intelligence chieftains BLOCKED the CIA’s investigation of the funding of al-Qaeda and terror. Who was exempt from investigation? That was on page 2 of the 199-I document, leaked from the CIA to the BBC. The FBI was hunting in Falls Church, Virginia, for "ABL," Abdullah bin Laden, nephew of Osama. They were also seeking another relative, Omar bin Laden (or "Binladden" in the alternative translation of the Arabic name). But by September 13, when the restrictions on agents were removed, the bin Ladens were gone. Why did buildings have to fall before the FBI could question the bin Ladens? Because, frustrated agents noted, the "suspected terrorist organization" was funded directly by the Saudi Royal family. So I'm tempted to say that, Yes, the New York Times has committed treason - not by reporting on what Bush's spies are doing, but on failing to report on what Bush’s spies did not do: a deadly failure to follow the money before September 11 because the House of Bush chose to protect the House of Saud.

The United States rejected on Friday Iranian calls for more time to study an offer of incentives to curb its nuclear fuel program, insisting Tehran must respond by a G8 deadline next week. The Group of Eight industrialized nations told Iran on Thursday they wanted a "clear and substantive response" on July 5 to an offer of incentives to stop enriching uranium. But two Iranian officials immediately declared more time was needed. A Western diplomat familiar with the issue said the Islamic Republic was unlikely to give a firm answer but that if one did not arrive by July 12, when major power foreign ministers next meet, U.N. Security Council action would loom. UnderSecretary of State Nicholas Burns insisted the offer was "very straightforward" and Iran's chief negotiator Ali Larijani should respond as requested at a slated July 5 meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. "There will be a meeting here in this city next week, where we expect and hope that Larijani will give us an answer ... This is not a complicated offer," Burns said in Brussels.

The former top US weapons inspector testified at a House hearing on Thursday that close to 500 degraded chemical munitions found in Iraq, and revealed last week, constitute weapons of mass destruction, although they haven't "killed a single American or Iraqi," and that his report didn't note them because his team wasn't concentrating on pre-1991 weapons. Dr. David Kay, formerly First Director of the CIA Iraq Survey Group from 2003 to 2004, was testifying before the House Armed Services Committee which is investigating the results of the search for Iraq's WMD. But Kay also acknowledged that many alleged WMD in Iraq had not been found, when grilled by a Democratic Congressman at the hearing. "It really should not be a surprise to anyone that chemical munitions produced in Iraq between 1980 and roughly 1991 have been found there during the course of Iraq -- Operation Iraqi Freedom," said Kay. "Such rounds continue to be found throughout the period that the UN was in Iraq from 1991 until it was kicked out in 1998; they were even found during Dr. Blix's brief period of return prior to the onslaught of Operation Iraqi Freedom." "Iraq has a great deal of weapons scattered throughout it," Kay said.

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday unanimously approved an international treaty that would ban states from abducting perceived enemies and hiding them in secret prisons or killing them. The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance would require states to keep registers of detainees and tell their families the truth about their disappearance, as well as paying compensation. It still has to be adopted in the U.N. General Assembly, and then individual governments would need to approve it. Rights experts say the United States, in the spotlight over allegations it has been transferring terrorism suspects to secret jails in other countries, is not expected to ratify the pact. The Human Rights Council, a new 47-member state forum, agreed by consensus in its first major decision to send the pact to the General Assembly for final adoption. Some 535 new "disappearances" were reported to the U.N. last year, many of them in Chechnya, Colombia, and Nepal. The treaty has been under negotiation since 1992, inspired by disappearances and killings of government opponents during Latin American military dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s.

The United States is losing its fight against terrorism and the Iraq war is the biggest reason why, more than eight of 10 American terrorism and national security experts concluded in a poll released Wednesday. One participant in the survey, a former CIA official who described himself as a conservative Republican, said the war in Iraq has provided global terrorist groups with a recruiting bonanza, a valuable training ground and a strategic beachhead at the crossroads of the oil-rich Persian Gulf and Turkey, the traditional land bridge linking the Middle East to Europe. "The war in Iraq broke our back in the war on terror," said the former official, Michael Scheuer, the author of "Imperial Hubris," a popular book highly critical of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism efforts. "It has made everything more difficult and the threat more existential." Scheuer, a former counterterrorism expert with the CIA, is one of more than 100 national security and terrorism analysts who were surveyed this spring for the poll by Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for American Progress.

A week after the GOP-led Senate rejected an increase to the minimum wage, Senate Democrats on Tuesday vowed to block pay raises for members of Congress until the minimum wage is increased. "We're going to do anything it takes to stop the congressional pay raise this year, and we're not going to settle for this year alone," Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said at a Capitol news conference. "They can play all the games the want," Reid said derisively of the Republicans who control the chamber. "They can deal with gay marriage, estate tax, flag burning, all these issues and avoid issues like the prices of gasoline, sending your kid to college. But we're going to do everything to stop the congressional pay raise." The minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. Democrats want to raise it to $7.25. During the past nine years, as Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to increase the minimum wage, members of Congress have voted to give themselves pay raises -- technically "cost of living increases" -- totaling $31,600, or more than $15 an hour for a 40-hour week, 52 weeks a year, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Two Senate Democrats on Wednesday criticized a White House plan to cut money intended for food stamps, student loans and farmers to pay for credit monitoring for veterans whose personal and financial data was stolen last month. "The Bush-Cheney administration has no qualms about coming up here and twisting our arms for funding for Iraq, but when it comes to needs here at home for veterans and other ordinary Americans, it's rob Peter to pay Paul," said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont. Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said, "It's outrageous to first expose millions of Americans to credit fraud and identity theft, and then try to cut food stamps, student loans and youth programs to pay for it." "This is about taking responsibility when you mess up," Ms. Murray added. "That's something even little kids understand."

George Soros has assigned himself a daunting mission. "Changing the attitude and policies of the United States remains my top priority," he writes in the introduction to his latest book, "The Age of Fallibility" (PublicAffairs). The billionaire investor is set on convincing Americans to renounce the idea of a "war on terror" because he believes that an "endless" war against an invisible enemy is counterproductive and dangerous. He argues that since the attacks of September 11, the Bush administration has suffered from a kind of infallibility complex which impedes progress and obscures reality.

The UK mission in Afghanistan is in danger of failing because of "misguided" support for American military and drug-eradication policies, an international think-tank has claimed. Instead of taking part in the reconstruction of the country shattered by decades of war, British forces find themselves "at war" with a resurgent Taliban and alienated from an increasingly hostile population. The study by the Senlis Council, a drug policy think-tank, predicts that the violence in the south will escalate. The Taliban and their allies have been exploiting the anger felt by farmers at the destruction of opium crops and by civilians who have suffered in US-led operations. Lt-Gen David Richards, the British officer who is due to take over all Nato operations in Afghanistan with US troops under his command, warned the crop eradication programme was driving farmers into the hands of the Taliban and the Western forces are creating new enemies.

In a unanimous decision and sweeping decision, the Arkansas Supreme Court today struck down a regulation that banned lesbian and gay people from serving as foster parents. The decision ends a seven-year legal battle between the state and the American Civil Liberties Union. Pointing to the findings of a lower court that overturned the ban, the Court criticized the Child Welfare Agency Review Board’s reasons for enacting the regulation, writing, "These facts demonstrate that there is no correlation between the health, welfare, and safety of foster children and the blanket exclusion of any individual who is a homosexual or who resides in a household with a homosexual."

More key NASA officials who oversee the agency said they don't believe the shuttle is safe for launch. E-mails sent to NASA's administrator from the agency's inspector general's office obtained by the Orlando Sentinel said they didn't believe shuttle Discovery should launch without more work to prevent foam insulation from breaking off the external fuel tank. NASA already had a "no go" for flight from the agency's top safety official and chief engineer. However, NASA managers went ahead and gave the "go for launch" for Saturday. Meanwhile, NASA declined Thursday to release documents from a critical safety meeting where managers debated whether to go forward with the shuttle launch.

U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris said she is getting support in strange places in her fall bid for the U.S. Senate. Harris, the Republican who represents Florida's 13th District, spoke at a Lincoln Day dinner held by the Putnam County Republican Executive Committee on Saturday night, saying House Democrats have told her they want her to beat incumbent Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson in their race for the U.S. Senate this November. "I've had Democrats in the House of Representatives come to me and say 'You know, we'd really like to take the majority in the U.S. Senate'" these are Florida Democrats in the U.S. Congress - 'but you'll do so much more for us if you're there. We hope you win,'" Harris told a crowd gathered at the Putnam County Shrine Club. Harris said one Florida representative suggested a slogan for her campaign against Nelson. "I had one of the most liberal house members from Florida say to me, 'I've got a great slogan for you for Nelson.' I said 'What is it?' He said, 'All about nothing for far too long.'" Harris said she replied she did not think she could use the slogan. "I said 'Well, it's kind of mean. I don't think I could really use it, but can I quote you?' And he's like 'No, no, no.'"

President Bush sparred with reporters today who wanted him to discuss the Supreme Court ruling that he had exceeded his presidential authority with the Guantanamo tribunals. When first asked if he planned to close down the prison quickly, President Bush noted that he had only had a "drive-by" briefing on the ruling. "Yeah, I - thank you for the question on a, quote, "ruling" that literally came out in the midst of my meeting with the prime minister, and so I haven't had a chance to fully review the findings of the Supreme Court," said Bush. "The American people need to know that this ruling, as I understand it, won't cause killers to be put out on the street," Bush said. "In other words, there's not a - as I - as I was - a drive-by briefing on the way here, I was told that this was not going to be the case." When asked about the ruling by another reporter, Bush again said that he hadn't had the time to "fully review" it.

Raytheon Co. will pay a $12 million fine and two of its former executives will give back part of their bonuses to settle a long-running accounting probe into the defense contractor's aircraft unit, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said on Wednesday. The settlement all but clears the persistent cloud hanging over the Waltham, Massachusetts company, which the SEC charged with misleading accounting between 1997 to 2001. A former Raytheon chief financial officer is still on leave from the company and has not yet settled with the SEC.

Americans are closely divided on whether the economy is in good shape, with 50% saying it is doing well and 47% saying it is doing badly, the poll found. In January, when Bush launched his campaign to spread good news, the national mood was slightly better: In a Times Poll that month, 55% said the economy was doing well. And Bush doesn't get much credit for the economy's relative health, the new survey found. Of respondents, 39% say they approve of the president's handling of the economy and 19% say they think the economy is better because of his policies - numbers that are basically unchanged since the beginning of the year. People questioned in the poll cited several reasons for their gloomy views, but two were mentioned most frequently: fears of higher unemployment, and the high price of gasoline and other fuels.

Some readers of HuffingtonPost.com have initiated a new wave of harassing phone calls to Swift Boat veterans who questioned John Kerry's military record in the 2004 campaign - and the website's proprietors remained ignorant of it for days, despite repeated complaints. Last Saturday morning, HuffPost, Arianna Huffington's year-old online effort, linked to a story regarding the release of Navy personal information. By Saturday afternoon, two registered "trusted" HuffPost commenters posted the names and personal information of more than a dozen Swift Boat veterans. "SatanLivesinUSA" wrote at 2:15 p.m., June 24, "SwiftBoatVets who need some Black Ops done on them. I have some very good ideas I gleaned from 'CIA BOOK of DIRTY TRICKS' Don't get mad, get EVEN." Minutes later, at 2:19 p.m., "YvonneMoorhead" repeatedly pasted SatanLivesinUSA's comments on that page and on another Huffington Post post.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has named Ron Nehring and Jim Kelly, two members of the controversy-plagued Grossmont Union High School District (GUHSD) board in San Diego county, as co-chairs of the Governor’s education coalition. The move has sparked an angry response from teacher’s union representative Bruce Seaman, president of the Grossmont Education Association. "He’s certainly putting together a coalition of enemies of public education," Seaman told RAW STORY. "Ron Nehring is working for Grover Norquist’s organization, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR)." Noting that Norquist has stated he wants to reduce the size of government in order to "drown it in a bathtub," Seaman added, "His second agenda is to eliminate public education and go to vouchers. Certainly Nehring can in no way be looked at as a friend of public education."

The House on Wednesday voted to continue to allow federal prosecution of those who smoke marijuana for medical purposes in states with laws that permit it. A year ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government can prosecute medical marijuana users, even when state laws allow doctor-prescribed use of the drug. By a 259-163 vote, the House again turned down an amendment that would have blocked the Justice Department from prosecuting people in the 11 states with such medical marijuana laws. Advocates say medical marijuana use is the only way that many chronically ill people, such as AIDS and cancer patients, can relieve their symptoms. The vote came as the House debated a $59.8 billion bill covering the departments of Commerce, Justice and State.

The Pentagon no longer deems homosexuality a mental disorder, officials said on Wednesday, although the reversal has no impact on U.S. policy prohibiting openly gay people from serving in the military. After a 1996 Pentagon document placing homosexuality among a list of "certain mental disorders" came to light this month, the American Psychiatric Association and a handful of lawmakers asked the Defense Department to change its view. The Pentagon said in a statement: "Homosexuality should not have been characterized as a mental disorder in an appendix of a procedural instruction. A clarification will be issued over the next few days."

U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris doesn't have overwhelming support among fellow Republicans in her bid to be their nominee for U.S. Senate, according to a poll released Friday, despite her reputation as being a party heroine for her role in the 2000 presidential recount. Harris, of Sarasota, also still lags far behind in a general election matchup with incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Melbourne Democrat who still would beat any Republican in the race, according to the poll by Quinnipiac University. Nelson had 59 percent to 26 percent for Harris, virtually unchanged from a month ago.

The claim was startling. At a Republican dinner in Putnam County, FL last weekend, Rep. Katherine Harris said some very unlikely people were supporting her campaign for U.S. Senate. Harris said several House Democrats from Florida want her to defeat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson this fall. "You'll do so much more for us if you're there," Harris said they told her. "We hope you win." That Florida Democrats would be pulling for any Republican is surprising. That they'd be rooting for Harris - who many Democrats say rigged the 2000 presidential election - would be shocking. But all seven House Democrats from Florida told the Orlando Sentinel they never expressed any support for Harris. Responses from two - Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Alcee Hastings - were typical. "That would be a big 'No,' " Wasserman Schultz said. "Under no circumstances, in any way, shape or form am I supporting Katherine Harris, nor do I know anybody in the delegation who is." "I can assure you, Congressman Hastings is 110 percent committed to the re-election of Bill Nelson," Hastings' spokesman said. "He wishes Katherine Harris well in her life as a private citizen next year." Asked about the Democrats' universal denials, Harris' spokesman Chris Ingram said his boss is sticking by her account. He said she won't identify the mystery Democrats because they offered their support in confidence.

House Republicans intend to hold votes this summer and fall touching on abortion, guns, religion and other priority issues for social conservatives, part of an attempt to improve the party's prospects in the midterm elections. The "American Values Agenda" also includes a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage - which already has failed in the Senate - a prohibition on human cloning and possibly votes on several popular tax cuts. "Radical courts have attempted to gut our religious freedom and redefine the value system on which America was built. We hope to restore some of those basic values through passing this legislative agenda and renewing our country's commitment to faith, freedom and life," Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Tuesday.

An odd thing seems to have happened to mighty right-wing talking head media juggernaut. They are still talking, but fewer people seem to be listening - at least on the Internet. During the past three months, for instance, http://rushlimbaugh.com traffic ranking has declined 18 percent. He still huffs and puffs away daily on radio, but advertisers might want to double check the size of his audience. If the bottom has dropped out on him online, it likely has had a similar trend line with his radio show. Even Fox News, that gold standard of right-wing media, is down 13 percent. Here are the numbers.

More than six in 10 Americans say the country is on the wrong track, according to a new Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll. More than half disapprove of Bush's handling of the economy, and 36 percent strongly disapprove. Almost half, 48 percent, say his policies have made the economy worse than it was when he became president; 19 percent say it's better. Approval of Bush's performance on the economy breaks along partisan lines, with 73 percent of Republicans giving him a thumbs-up versus 21 percent of Democrats. Only 29 percent of independents say they approve. While almost three-fourths of Republicans say the economy is doing well, most Democrats and independents say it's doing badly. Those who think the economy is doing poorly cite energy prices and difficulty finding a job as the biggest reasons. Six in 10 Americans say rising costs for gasoline, home heating and electricity are forcing them to cut spending in other areas to compensate.

The US government said it could not find the men that Guantánamo detainee Abdullah Mujahid believes could help set him free. The Guardian found them in three days. Two years ago the US military invited Mr Mujahid, a former Afghan police commander accused of plotting against the United States, to prove his innocence before a special military tribunal. As was his right, Mr Mujahid called four witnesses from Afghanistan. But months later the tribunal president returned with bad news: the witnesses could not be found. Mr Mujahid's hopes sank and he was returned to the wire-mesh cell where he remains today. The Guardian searched for Mr Mujahid's witnesses and found them within three days. One was working for President Hamid Karzai. Another was teaching at a leading American college. The third was living in Kabul. The fourth, it turned out, was dead. Each witness said he had never been approached by the Americans to testify in Mr Mujahid's hearing.

The Bush administration has been unable to muster even half of the 2,500 National Guardsmen it planned to have on the Mexican border by the end of June. As of Thursday, the next-to-last day of the month, fewer than 1,000 troops were in place, according to military officials in the four border states of Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona. President Bush's plan called for all 50 states to send troops. But only 10 states - including the four border states - have signed commitments. Some state officials have argued that they cannot free up Guardsmen because of flooding in the East, wildfires in the West or the prospect of hurricanes in the South. On the deadline to have 2,500 troops along the Mexican border, the National Guard said Friday that only 483 were in position and working with the U.S. Border Patrol as the Bush administration had directed.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport Pakistan's Foreign Ministry responded angrily to a call by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for democratic elections next year, saying it doesn't need "outside" advice. The comments came in a statement late Wednesday, a day after Rice met with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan's capital. En route to Islamabad, Rice told reporters "there has to be, the world expects there to be, democratic, free and fair elections in Pakistan in 2007." Musharraf, a close U.S. ally in the war on terror, seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999. Although Washington has said it wants free and fair elections in Pakistan, Rice did not raise the issue during her talks with Pakistani officials, the ministry said.

Smirkey's operatives have plans to jigger with the upcoming elections. I'm not talking about the November '06 vote in the USA (though they have plans for that, too). I'm talking about the election this Sunday in Mexico for their Presidency. It begins with an FBI document marked, 'Counterterrorism' and 'Foreign Intelligence Collection' and 'Secret.' Date: "9/17/2001," six days after the attack on the World Trade towers. It's nice to know the feds got right on the ball, if a little late. What does this have to do with jiggering Mexico's election? Hold that thought. Hunting for Terrorists in Latin America... This document is what's called a "guidance" memo for using a private contractor to provide databases on dangerous foreigners. Good idea. We know the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf Emirates. So you'd think the "Intelligence Collection" would be aimed at getting info on the guys in the Gulf. No so. When Greg Palast's organization received the document, they obtained as well its classified appendix. The target nations for "foreign counterterrorism investigation" were nowhere near the Persian Gulf. Every one was in Latin America - Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico and a handful of others.

The southern U.S. state of Texas executed a Mexican immigrant Tuesday night after rejecting expert medical opinions that the condemned man was mentally incompetent, and ignoring appeals from the Mexican government to spare the man's life. "Any execution is a failure of justice, and so was this one. Everything possible was done to prevent it, but the efforts were in vain," Alfonso García, spokesman in Mexico for the human rights watchdog group Amnesty International, said in an interview with IPS. The administration of Mexican President Vicente Fox lodged a series of appeals with the U.S. justice system attempting to prevent the execution, and even convinced the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in Costa Rica, to ask the United States to postpone the execution until all available legal means had been exhausted. But neither these actions, nor a telephone call from Mexican Foreign Minister Ernesto Derbez to Texas Governor Rick Perry, pleading for clemency, had any effect. Last week judge William Harmon, of the 178th district criminal court in Houston, Texas, heard the medical evidence. Although four of the five experts were of the opinion that Maturino was insane, the judge ruled that he was "sufficiently competent" and would not be spared the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that convicts who are "mentally incompetent" shall not be executed.

By the beginning of this week, it became clear that a world-class hoax had gone down. Either North Korea had hoodwinked the globe into thinking it was about to launch a missle - or the Times was once again hyping up a national security threat. Today, finally, the Times admitted the obvious. Well, kinda sorta. And on page A9 - not the font page, where the Taepodong "scoop" had been originally published. Defense Tech notes that if Pyongyang really had loaded up all that fuel in the rocket 10 days ago, it would have eaten through the missile’s casings by now.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: Al Kamen, who writes a column of political gossip for the Washington Post, had unearthed a memo from the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The memo contained 23 points describing conditions in Iraq: Point 2: "Two of our three female employees report stepped up harassment beginning in mid-May. One, a Shia who favors Western clothing, was advised by an unknown woman in her Baghdad neighborhood to wear a veil and not to drive her own car. She said some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative." Point 7 noted that "Temperatures in Baghdad have already reached 115 degrees. Employees all confirm that, by the last week of May, they were getting one hour of power for every six hours without." Point 18 referred to an embassy employee who finds himself going to a funeral "every evening." Point 21: "Personal safety depends on good relations with 'neighborhood' governments, who barricade streets and ward off outsiders. People no longer trust most neighbors." Taken as a whole, the memo added up to a complete refutation of the Bush administration's assertions regarding progress in Iraq. I expected to wake up the next morning and see the memo on the front page of every newspaper in America. And then: nothing. Other than a few mentions in editorials, the memo faded from sight. The only meaningful coverage of it was in the British newspapers.

It's bad enough that the Israeli government went and seized as political prisoners, essentially as hostages, 87 Hamas members of the Palestine Authority (PA) parliament yesterday, including eight cabinet ministers. Once again, Israel has demonstrated its contempt for virtually every known code of conduct honored by civilized (and, usually, even by uncivilized) governments around the globe. But what was even more appalling was the response of American media, which didn't think the kidnapping of a third of the government of a supposedly sovereign state authority was all that significant. Consider this headline and subheads from the Washington Post: West Bank Settler Killed / An 18-year-old Israeli settler was found executed today. Israel arrests more than 80 Hamas officials.

Why Moving To Canada Is Not An Option: Three Canadian citizens who visited the Brookestreet Hotel in Ottawa to observe members of the Bilderberg Group earlier this month were kidnapped, detained without charge and suffered the ordeal of a marathon interrogation session and psychological torture - including threats to "cut off the arms" of one of the victims. The nightmare began on June 9th, the second day of the Bilderberg conference. After being warned to leave the previous day, Joe Burd's party of three left the site of the Brookestreet Hotel at 2pm where he and Crystal Slack headed for a local bar, while Burd's friend electrician Don McCormick rested in their rented vehicle which was parked on a downtown street. What happened next should chill the core of anyone who thinks that westerners still live in a free society. Joe Burd picks up the story. "A military-grade task force involving local police, RCMP and members of the "Integrated National Security Enforcement Team" descended around the rental vehicle with weapons pointed at Mr. McCormick. He was abruptly and forcibly taken into custody from his vehicle, thrown to the ground and kicked in head." After approaching the vehicle, Burd and his friend Crystal Slack were also grabbed and kidnapped, taken to a RCMP holding facility, detained without charges, harassed and interrogated for hours about their connections to the "insurgent" and "threat to national security" Alex Jones, who himself had been detained and interrogated for 15 hours at the hands of Canadian immigration the previous day. They were the lucky ones. McCormick was taken to a secret high security facility where he was brutally interrogated without charge and mentally tortured for six hours. He was accused of wanting to blow up the Brookestreet Hotel, as the interrogators threatened to "cut off his arms" warning him that they also "had his friends" in custody. This is the very definition of psychological torture, the threat of physical harm and dismemberment.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: If you've been following Wired News' coverage of the Electronic Frontier Foundation case against the NSA spying on the Internet, you won't find many new hard revelations in Marcus' analysis - at least, not in the censored version made public. But he connects the dots to draw some interesting conclusions: * The AT&T documents are authentic. That AT&T insists they remain under seal is evidence enough of this, but Marcus points out that the writing style is pure Bell System, with the "meticulous attention to detail that is typical of AT&T operations." * There may be dozens of surveillance rooms in AT&T offices around the country. Among other things, Marcus finds that portions of the documents are written to cover a number of different equipment rack configurations, "consistent with a deployment to 15 to 20" secret rooms. * The internet surveillance program covers domestic traffic, not just international traffic. Marcus notes that the AT&T spy rooms are "in far more locations than would be required to catch the majority of international traffic"; the configuration in the San Francisco office promiscuously sends all data into the secret room; and there's no reliable way an analysis could infer a user's physical location from their IP address. This, of course, directly contradicts President Bush's description of the "Terrorist Surveillance Program." * The system is capable of looking at content, not just addresses. The configuration described in the Klein documents -- presumably the Narus software in particular -- "exists primarily to conduct sophisticated rule-based analysis of content", Marcus concludes.

Republicans Believe In Conservation: A timber sale in an Oregon national forest roadless area has been awarded to a logging contractor, despite efforts by conservation groups and the governor to stop it. The southeastern Oregon timber sale was awarded Tuesday to Silver Creek Logging Co. of Merlin, after a federal judge in Medford decided it could go forward while he hears a lawsuit arguing the U.S. Forest Service should consider new scientific information, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest spokeswoman Patty Burel said. Meanwhile, a federal judge in San Francisco has yet to rule on a motion from Gov. Ted Kulongoski and conservation groups to stop the logging until two other lawsuits challenging the Bush administration's new roadless rule can be heard. One of the lawsuits was filed by Oregon, Washington, California and New Mexico, and the other by a coalition of 20 environmental groups. The governor's office and conservation groups have complained that the Bush administration is pushing through the sale in Mike's Gulch when it had assured them it would keep protections in place until states had worked out with the Forest Service whether to log in roadless areas. Kulongoski has said he wants to keep logging out of roadless areas in Oregon.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: Most U.S. employers are planning to further scale back health benefits offered to retirees, as companies struggle with the upward march in the cost of medical care and weigh increased contributions from the government's Medicare program, a survey found. Ninety-five percent of the mostly Fortune 500 companies polled expect to further restrict their retiree health plans over the next five years, and 14 percent plan to stop providing coverage entirely, the survey of 163 companies by benefits consultants Watson Wyatt found.

US consumer spending edged up a fractional 0.1% in May, tempered by increasing oil prices. The data, published by the Commerce Department, showed that US inflation rose by 0.2% last month. Core consumer prices, which are considered the main gauge of inflation and which exclude food and energy, have risen by 2.1% over the past year. The US Federal Reserve increased interest rates to 5.25% on Thursday, in a move to ease inflation. In announcing its latest quarter point rise, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said inflation pressures could well require "some further policy firming". But Mr Bernanke simultaneously indicated that the string of rate rises over the past eighteen months could be coming to a close, which prompted a surge in US stocks.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Baghdad's morgue has run out room to store bodies as more victims of smoldering violence in the Iraqi capital are delivered. More than 100 bodies are being held at room temperature because morgue refrigerators are full, inspector-general of Iraq's health ministry Adil Abdul Muhsin told Al-Mada news. Muhsin said the morgue had received 8,000 bodies so far this year, compared with 10,150 for the whole of last year. A new estimate of Iraqi deaths since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion shows at least 50,000 on the books but the toll is thought to be higher, according to a new Los Angeles Times report. Data was collected from the Iraqi Health Ministry and the Baghdad morgue to reach the 50,000 figure, which is already more than 30,000 President Bush estimated last year, the report notes. The U.S. military, however, says the number of Iraqi civilians killed by coalition forces is down sharply so far this year compared with last year.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Jerry Falwell on the Iraq war: "President Bush declared war in Iraq to defend innocent people. This is a worthy pursuit. In fact, Proverbs 21:15 tells us: 'It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity." One of the primary purposes of the church is to stop the spread of evil, even at the cost of human lives. If we do not stop the spread of evil, many innocent lives will be lost and the kingdom of God suffers. Finally, some reading this column will surely ask, 'Doesn't the sixth commandment say, 'Thou shalt not kill?' Actually, no; it says: 'Thou shalt not commit murder.' There is a difference between killing and murdering. In fact, many times God commanded capital punishment for those who break the law. We continue to live in violent times. The Bible tells us war will be a reality until Christ returns. And when the time is right, Jesus will indeed come again, ending all wars."

Warren Buffett's new philanthropic alliance with fellow billionaire Bill Gates won widespread praise this week, but anti-abortion activists did not join in, instead assailing the two donors for their longtime support of Planned Parenthood and international birth-control programs. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to which Buffett has pledged the bulk of his $44-billion fortune, devotes the vast majority of its funding to combating disease and poverty in developing countries. Less than 1 percent has gone to Planned Parenthood over the years.

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: When it comes to greenhouse gases, U.S. drivers are getting more of the blame. Americans represent 5 percent of the world's population but contribute 45 percent of the world's emission of carbon dioxide, the main pollutant that causes global warming, according to a report by the nonprofit group Environmental Defense. Americans own 30 percent of the world's vehicles, drive farther each year than the international average and burn more fuel per mile, the report says. Additionally, the sport-utility boom of the past decade put vehicles on the road that could be spewing carbon dioxide for years to come. General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. have long been the targets of environmentalists and other groups concerned with global warming. Vehicles made by GM, the No. 1 U.S. automaker, produced as much carbon dioxide in 2004 as American Electric Power Co., the nation's largest operator of coal-fired power plants, the report says.

Paul Epstein, associate director of Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment, said the Atlantic is warming faster than scientists projected even a decade ago, and he expects such storms as the one seen this week from Virginia to New York to become common. Epstein sees a clear pattern: rain has increased in the United States by 7 percent in three decades; heavy rain events of more than 2 inches a day are up 14 percent and storms dumping more than 4 inches a day rose 20 percent. The floods that forced up to 200,000 evacuees from a historic Pennsylvania coal town on Wednesday followed a year of erratic weather in other parts of the region, including record rainfall in May and June in Massachusetts, a spring-like January in Maine and Vermont's worst autumn foliage in memory.

A giant growth of algae in the waters off Canada's west coast, so huge it can be seen from space, may be linked to climate change, say scientists who hope to collect samples Friday for analysis. The growth, called a bloom, became visible in late June on NASA satellite images, said Jim Gower, a physicist with the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sydney, in British Columbia province. The images show swirls of chalky green in the darker waters off Vancouver Island.

Scandals Du Jour: Roger Stillwell, the desk officer for the Mariana Islands at the U.S. Department of the Interior who dealt closely with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, is expected to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of false certification, his attorney confirmed Wednesday. Department of Justice officials charged Stillwell, 65, with filing a financial-disclosure report for fiscal year 2003 that "falsely certified that he did not receive reportable gifts from a prohibited source," according to a document filed June 27 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The charges against Stillwell are the first connected to the Abramoff scandal to touch the Interior Department, and they mark an expansion of the government's ongoing investigation into public corruption involving the convicted lobbyist. So far five people - Abramoff and former associates Michael Scanlon, Tony Rudy, Neil Volz, and Adam Kidan - have pleaded guilty. Earlier this month, David Safavian, the former top procurement officer at the Office of Management and Budget, was convicted on four charges of making false statements and obstructing justice stemming from his dealings with Abramoff.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Celebrity auctioneer and former Congressman Tom DeLay (R-TX), reportedly generated plenty of laughs Tuesday night with a barrage of "beaver"-related double-entendres. At the annual Safari Club dinner, DeLay managed to bring in $1,400 for the sheared--or shaved, some say he called it--beaver fur vest. Excerpts from the Roll Call story follow: "Who wants a beaver?" asked DeLay, whom attendees said looked happier and more relaxed than ever. Hoots and hollers followed. The Hammer continued with lines such as, "Everybody likes beaver, even women" and, as a couple of people in the crowd recall, "The best thing about it, it’s a shaved beaver!" (Though two others, both of them DeLay supporters and protectors, said they think they remember DeLay saying it was "sheared beaver," not "shaved beaver.")

We seem to have arrived at the run-for-the-hills phase of the Congressman Bob Ney (R-OH) probe. Roll Call's John Bresnahan is reporting that three of Ney's key staffers are quitting their jobs with the ensnared congressman. Will Heaton, his Chief of Staff and Brian Walsh, his long-suffering communications director are both leaving. And Chris Otillo, his legislative director, apparently bailed last Friday. For those of you who aren't familiar with the nomenclature of the congressman's staff, that's pretty much it. Not that there aren't more people. But that's the troika. Another good sign is Matt Parker, Ney's District director, just got tagged with a subpoena. Walsh told Bresnahan he thanked Ney "for the chance to work for him, which was great", thus showing that Walsh may have to have a period of post-Ney detox because he can work out of the habit of making comically ridiculous statements.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:44:15 PM

Wed, Jun 28 2006

Strange Weather

This morning, I woke up to a thunderstorm. Not just a little rain, this was a full-on, gettin' down ripsnorter. And it didn't just last a couple of minutes, either. It went on for most of the morning, several hours, pouring down rain sufficient to over-run the pond overflow.

Thunderstorms here are usually afternoon affairs, as they are in the States. It usually takes the heat of the day to build them to something that can impress. But not this one. This one grew during the night, and by daybreak, it was something to behold.

That wasn't the worst of it, either. As the day progressed, the temperatures, which started out at 75 at daybreak, just got colder, until by 11:30, it was barely 72. The temperatures didn't recover much in the afternoon, either - it only got up to 76 by the end of the day. I found myself wearing a flannel shirt and long pants for the first time since last winter.

And then there was the wind. Strong trade winds out of the east, which would be normal for January - but not July. Really strange weather. I checked the satellite images for clues, and it appears that there is a very large convection cell centered directly over Costa Rica, with the strongest convection in the Caribbean region occurring right here. Maybe that accounts for it. But I hope whatever it is goes away.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Apparently rushing to lock in a long-sought goal before the fall elections, GOP congressional leaders may bring to a vote within weeks on a little-noticed proposal that could literally wipe out any federal program that protects public health or the environment - or for that matter civil rights, poverty programs, auto safety, education, affordable housing, Head Start, workplace safety or any other activity targeted by anti-regulatory forces. With strong support from the Bush White House and the Republican Study Committee, the proposal would create a "sunset commission"--an unelected body with the power to recommend whether a program lives or dies, and then move its recommendations through Congress on a fast-track basis with limited debate and no amendments. Three leading proposals have been introduced and are being winnowed into a final version. They would give the White House some--or total--authority to nominate members to the commission. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) has confirmed that his office is coordinating development of a final version for prompt floor action. Sunset commissions have been proposed, and defeated, before. But public interest veterans say the current situation is unlike any in the past, because the House Republican Study Committee, which includes some of the most anti-regulatory members of Congress, has secured guaranteed floor consideration of a sunset bill. If such a bill should become law, the sunset commission could be packed with industry lobbyists and representatives from industry-funded think tanks, and could conduct its business in secrecy. Two of the sunset proposals under consideration would mandate that programs die after they are reviewed, unless Congress takes action to save them.

House Republican leaders are expected to introduce a resolution today condemning The New York Times for publishing a story last week that exposed government monitoring of banking records. The resolution is expected to condemn the leak and publication of classified documents, said one Republican aide with knowledge of the impending legislation. The resolution comes as Republicans from the president on down condemn media organizations for reporting on the secret government program that tracked financial records overseas through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT), an international banking cooperative. Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), working independently from his leadership, began circulating a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) during a late series of votes yesterday asking his leaders to revoke the Times’s congressional press credentials. The Standing Committee decides which organizations and reporters can be accredited, according to the rules of both the House and Senate press galleries. Members of that committee are elected by accredited members of those galleries. "Under no circumstances would we revoke anyone’s credentials simply because a government official is unhappy with what that correspondent’s newspaper has written," said Susan Milligan, a reporter for the Boston Globe, which is owned by the Times, who also serves the standing chairwoman of the Standing Committee of Correspondents. "The rules say nothing about the stories a newspaper chooses to pursue, or the reaction those stories provoke. The Times clearly meets our standards for credentials."

Government records show that the administration was encountering unprecedented second-guessing by the secret federal surveillance court when President Bush decided to bypass the panel and order surveillance of U.S.-based terror suspects without the court's approval. A review of Justice Department reports to Congress shows that the 26-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court modified more wiretap requests from the Bush administration than from the four previous presidential administrations combined. The court's repeated intervention in Bush administration wiretap requests may explain why the president decided to bypass the court nearly four years ago to launch secret National Security Agency spying on hundreds and possibly thousands of Americans and foreigners inside the United States, according to James Bamford, an acknowledged authority on the supersecret NSA, which intercepts telephone calls, e-mails, faxes and Internet communications. "They wanted to expand the number of people they were eavesdropping on, and they didn't think they could get the warrants they needed from the court to monitor those people," said Bamford, author of "Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency" and "The Puzzle Palace: Inside America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization." "The FISA court has shown its displeasure by tinkering with these applications by the Bush administration."

The US Supreme Court is to consider whether to force the government to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from energy producers and cars. A dozen states and environmental groups asked the court to take up the case after a lower court ruled against them. They argue the onus should be on the government's Environmental Protection Agency to limit CO2 emissions. They say CO2 is the primary greenhouse gas causing a warming of the Earth and so should be categorised a pollutant. The US government says that CO2 is not a pollutant under federal laws and that even if it was, it would have discretion over whether or not to regulate it. A federal appeals court recently sided with the government. If the Supreme Court disagrees when it makes its ruling later this year, it could have a profound impact on American life. It could pave the way, for example, for car manufacturers to be forced to improve fuel efficiency as a way of reducing CO2 emissions. That would be opposed by US President George W Bush.

The White House on Tuesday defended President Bush's frequent use of special statements that claim authority to limit the effects of bills he signs, saying the statements help him uphold the Constitution and defend national security. Senators weren't so sure. "It's a challenge to the plain language of the Constitution," said Arlen Specter, a Republican whose Senate Judiciary Committee opened hearings on the issue. "There is a sense that the president has taken signing statements far beyond the customary purview." At the White House, Press Secretary Tony Snow said, "There's this notion that the president is committing acts of civil disobedience, and he's not. It's important for the president at least to express reservations about the constitutionality of certain provisions." The bill-signing statements say Bush reserves a right to revise, interpret or disregard measures on national security and constitutional grounds. Some 110 statements have challenged about 750 statutes passed by Congress, according to numbers combined from White House and the Senate committee. They include documents revising or disregarding parts of legislation to ban torture of detainees and to renew the Patriot Act.

Seven men charged with conspiring to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI building in Miami were entrapped by a federal informant, lawyers for two of the suspects said on Monday. There was "a lot of talking going on by the informant and more listening by the defendant and or the defendants," Levin told Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly. Nathan Clarke, a lawyer for another suspect Rotschild Augustine, agreed. "With respect to my client, from what I can read in the indictment, there's going to be a question of whether there's even sufficient evidence to sustain the burden of proof on conviction," Clarke said. "If by any chance there's a scintilla of that then, of course, there's going to be the entrapment issue," he said. "This thing took place over eight months, according to the indictment and at the end of the indictment, it says that this thing became disorganized and nobody had ever done anything or did anything," Clarke said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued its first license for a major commercial nuclear facility in 30 years, allowing an international consortium to build what will be the nation's first private fuel source for commercial nuclear power plants. Construction of the $1.5 billion National Enrichment Facility, under review for the past 2 1/2 years, could begin in August, and the plant could be ready to sell enriched uranium by early 2009, said James Ferland, president of the consortium of nuclear companies, Louisiana Energy Services. The plant, licensed on Friday, will be built near the small southeastern New Mexico community of Eunice, where support for the project is strong. Critics say it will pollute the environment, guzzle scarce water and leave the town with tons of radioactive waste and nowhere to put it.

Federal regulators granted the Navy a permit Tuesday to use sonar in a maritime exercise despite environmentalists' concerns it could disturb or even kill whales and dolphins. It was the first such permit granted to the Navy, and one environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, said it would file a lawsuit Wednesday to prevent the sonar's use. The monthlong exercise, which includes anti-submarine training, involves naval forces from eight nations. It began Monday off the Hawaiian Islands. The sonar part of the exercise begins after July 4 and lasts three weeks. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gave the Navy a permit to use mid-frequency active sonar, which can affect marine mammals' behavior. In documents released Tuesday, NOAA determined that the exercise would cause no significant environmental impact.

American presence in Iraq is more dangerous to world peace than nuclear threats from North Korea or Iran, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said to an audience of more than 200 in North Miami Saturday afternoon. Murtha was the guest speaker at a town hall meeting organized by Rep. Kendrick B. Meek, D-Miami, at Florida International University's Biscayne Bay Campus. Meek's mother, former Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Miami, was also on the panel. War veterans, local mayors, university students and faculty were in the Mary Ann Wolfe Theatre to listen to the three panelists discuss the war in Iraq for an hour. A former Marine and a prominent critic of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq, Murtha reiterated his views that the war cannot be won militarily and needs political solutions. He said the more than 100,000 troops in Iraq should be pulled out immediately, and deployed to peripheral countries like Kuwait. "We do not want permanent bases in Iraq," Murtha told the audience. "We want as many Americans out of there as possible."

A majority of Americans say Congress should pass a resolution that outlines a plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday. Half of those surveyed would like all U.S. forces out within 12 months. The poll finds support for the ideas behind Democratic proposals that were soundly defeated in the Senate last week. An uptick in optimism toward the war after the killing of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi earlier this month seems to have evaporated. Richard Eichenberg, a political scientist at Tufts University who studies presidential polling, says views on Iraq are too set to be changed by momentary developments, even positive ones. "The other piece of quote-unquote 'good news' is the unity government in Iraq, but it's not as if we're hearing that they have made great strides in eliminating the militia influence or violence anywhere in Iraq," he says. "There's still a steady drumbeat of bad news." Bush's approval rating is at 37%. After hitting the low point of his presidency at 31% in May, it rose to 38% in mid-June. His standing, which slipped below 40% in February, hasn't rebounded above that level since then.

The United States has confirmed it has been monitoring international financial transactions, including those in and out of Switzerland, for almost five years. The Swiss government has remained quiet on the issue, but data protection experts and lawyers are concerned by Friday's revelations in the New York Times. US Treasury Secretary John Snow defended the secret programme, carried out by the CIA and the Treasury, calling it "government at its best" and a valuable aid for fighting terrorism. Snow confirmed that since just after the attacks on September 11 2001, the Treasury had been tapping into records of the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) for evidence of potential activity by terror groups.

The news media's ability to cover the Vietnam War without censorship was unlike anything that has been seen since, correspondents who covered that conflict for The Associated Press said during a reunion. "We had relationships with officers and generals that are totally foreign to reporters trying to cover Iraq today, absolutely in a fantasy world," said Peter Arnett, who spent 13 years in Vietnam for the news cooperative from 1962 to 1975. "The military was remarkable in Vietnam - they not only didn't try to censor us, they made every accommodation to us," said Richard Pyle, who was AP's bureau chief in Saigon from 1970-1973. "There's never been a situation quite like that anywhere." Arnett and Pyle were joined on the panel by correspondents Seymour Topping, George Esper, Hugh Mulligan, Edith Lederer and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Horst Faas, who took part from Germany. The discussion was part of a lecture series on the AP's history, and was timed to coincide with an exhibit of the archives from the Saigon bureau on display at the company's headquarters. The archive chronicles the AP's coverage of the war, including thousands of stories and battlefield dispatches that were marked up by editors. The journalists recalled that soldiers in the field welcomed reporters, would transport them around the country and respected them for facing the hardships and dangers in battle zones. "In Vietnam, if you had the courage and the stamina, you could go anywhere," said Esper, who spent 10 years in Southeast Asia and wrote more words on the war than any other reporter. He retired from the AP in 2000.

The basic questions the press is NOT asking, but should be: The Financial Spying Program, how many people has it caught? Who are they? Where are they? What has been done about them? Did it catch anyone that could not have been caught another way? What was the cost per catch? Would that expenditure in time, effort and money, been better applied elsewhere? Did it catch anyone that was part of 9/11? Al Qaeda spent a lot of money on 9/11. They spent a lot of money elsewhere. How many of the Al Qaeda's backers has this program found? More than one? Why haven't they been arrested? Who are they? Where are they? The wiretaps without warrants program, how many people did it catch? How many operations did it interrupt? How many arrests or captures did it lead to? What did it cost? What does it continue to cost? Is it cost effective? If all that money - however much it is - had been spent in other ways, would we have caught more terrorists than we have caught to date? Are we doing a really good job and catching a lot of the terrorists - there don't actually seem to be a lot? There was the guy who wanted to take down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blow torch. Now there's the Miami 6/Atlanta 1 (the Urban South 7?), who everyone describes as willing but not able. There was the Lackawanna Six. Were their captures a result of the wiretaps without warrants program? Are they the cream of the terrorist crop?

The seven crew members of the space shuttle Discovery will arrive at Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday to take one of the biggest risks of their lives. They have a 1-in-100 chance of dying during their spaceflight next month. Those, at least, are the official odds that NASA has long given. Exactly what the real odds are is a question that looms larger than normal this time. That is because two top officials at NASA took the unusual step of dissenting from the space agency's decision to go ahead with the launch without fixing the potentially catastrophic problem of foam falling off the external fuel tank - the very problem that doomed Columbia 3 1/2 years ago. The agency's safety director and chief engineer wanted to wait and fix the problem. But NASA Administrator Michael Griffin decided a July 1 launch is worth the added risk for a variety of reasons.

Chairman of the House Judiciary Committe F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has broken House rules to adjourn a meeting after losing a vote to Democrats, Democratic sources tell RAW STORY. The vote was on an item from the Republican's "American Values Agenda," which the party says will codify "the American character." Specifically, it aims to bar any court--including the United States Supreme Court--from hearing any legal challenge to the pledge of allegiance. Sensenbrenner, according to sources, hoped to reverse the vote when the committee reconvened later in the afternoon. Democrats on the committee, save ranking member John Conyers (D-MI) refused to attend. With many Republicans also absent, there was no quorum present to hold a vote. Conyers attended, according to sources, only for the sake of raising a point of order, indicating that the previous adjournment had violated rules. Sensenbrenner responded by indicating that he had not heard the objection earlier. However, sources tell RAW STORY that Sensenbrenner actually responded to the earlier statement at the time.

Cecelia Fire Thunder, the first woman elected president of the Oglala Sioux Nation, faces impeachment Thursday because of her plan to open an abortion clinic on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the southwest corner of South Dakota, reported here previously. A year and a half ago, Fire Thunder, a 59-year-old nurse, swept into office, beating famed American Indian Movement leader Russell Means, whose arguments against her included that she is a woman. "I got really angry about a bunch of white guys making decisions about my body," Fire Thunder said in an interview last week with Women's eNews. Yet in the days when the ban seemed imminent, Fire Thunder told a newspaper columnist of her plan to open a clinic on the reservation, which operates under US federal law rather than state law. Yet she didn't anticipate the strength of the anti-abortion sentiment on the reservation. Members of Reservation churches marched against her; others called for her ouster and for an abortion ban as strict as the state's. "She put her presidency in jeopardy because she is so committed to helping Native American women," said Charon Asetoyer, director of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center, a nonprofit organization located on Yankton Sioux Reservation. By May 25 the rumblings about Fire Thunder's stand against the ban came to a head. Two hundred tribal members filed into the council meeting to call for Fire Thunder's ouster. A reservation newspaper captured the mood with a headline: "Wilma Mankiller, Cecelia Babykiller." Fire Thunder was absent, she said, because of a medical appointment. The council proceeded without her. First an abortion ban - clearly aimed at the proposed center - was unanimously passed. It contains a provision to banish from the reservation anyone who considers getting an abortion or helps someone else obtain one. Then the council turned to Fire Thunder. In a 14-to-1 vote, the council of 18, mostly men, suspended her, pending an impeachment hearing.

U.S. federal authorities were trying to determine Tuesday if anti-George Bush graffiti on a cargo ship that arrived in California was a terrorist threat. A message scrawled with a marker pen in the cargo hold of the Wild Lotus, a 30,000-ton refrigerated cargo ship carrying bananas from Guatemala, said: "This nitro is for you Mr. George W. Bush and your Jewish cronies." The message was found after the ship docked Monday at Port Hueneme, 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles, and officials ordered the port closed. About 20 people aboard the Panamanian-registered vessel were taken off the ship for questioning, the Caltrade Report said. The port reopened several hours later. A sweep aboard the ship and around it by divers turned up no nitroglycerine or any other dangerous materials.

As much as 11 percent of emergency funds, or $2 billion, paid out to last year's hurricane victims were fraudulent claims, The New York Times reported Tuesday. That's a record, as government officials said in the haste to get aid out, they generally send excessive payments about 1-3 percent of the relief distributed, which they later seek to recover. The newspaper examined government audits, criminal prosecutions and congressional investigations into payments made after hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast last August and September, and said the fraud tally is likely to increase. One of the newest cases to come to light is a woman from Belleville, Ill., who was charged this month with claiming her two daughters died in the flooding in New Orleans. But prosecutors said the children never existed and the woman was living in Illinois at the time of the storm. Elsewhere, records show about 1,100 prison inmates across the Gulf Coast apparently collected more than $10 million in rental and disaster-relief assistance.

Most of the electronic voting machines widely adopted since the disputed 2000 presidential election "pose a real danger to the integrity of national, state and local elections," a report out Tuesday concludes. There are more than 120 security threats to the three most commonly purchased electronic voting systems, the study by the Brennan Center for Justice says. For what it calls the most comprehensive review of its kind, the New York City-based non-partisan think tank convened a task force of election officials, computer scientists and security experts to study e-voting vulnerabilities. The study, which took more than a year to complete, examined optical scanners and touch-screen machines with and without paper trails. Together, the three systems account for 80% of the voting machines that will be used in this November's election. While there have been no documented cases of these voting machines being hacked, Lawrence Norden, who chaired the task force and heads the Brennan Center's voting-technology assessment project, says there have been similar software attacks on computerized gambling slot machines. "It is unrealistic to think this isn't something to worry about" in terms of future elections, he says. The report comes during primary season amid growing concerns about potential errors and tampering. Lawsuits have been filed in at least six states to block the purchase or use of computerized machines. Election officials in California and Pennsylvania recently issued urgent warnings to local polling supervisors about potential software problems in touch-screen voting machines after a test in Utah uncovered vulnerabilities in machines made by Diebold Election Systems. North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold did not return calls for comment. The company, a major manufacturer of e-voting machines, said earlier this month that security flaws cited in its machines were theoretical and would be addressed this year. The new threat analysis does not address specific machines or companies. Instead, it "confirms the suspicions about electronic voting machines that people may have had from individual reports" of problems, Norden says.

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Arlen Specter, said yesterday that he is "seriously considering" filing legislation to give Congress legal standing to sue President Bush over his use of signing statements to reserve the right to bypass laws. Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, made his comments after a Judiciary Committee hearing on signing statements, which are official documents that Bush has used to challenge the constitutionality of more than 750 laws when signing legislation. Bush has issued more signing statements than all previous presidents combined. But he has never vetoed a bill, depriving Congress of any chance to override his judgment. If Congress had the power to sue Bush, Specter said, the Supreme Court could determine whether the president's objections are valid under the Constitution. "There is a sense that the president has taken the signing statements far beyond the customary purviews," Specter said at the hearing. He added that ``there's a real issue here as to whether the president may, in effect, cherry-pick the provisions he likes, excluding the provisions he doesn't like... The president has the option under the Constitution to veto or not."

While Karl Rove was en route to talk at a campaign fundraiser for Republican congressional candidate Mike Whalen of Bettendorf, IA, about three dozen protesters stood with signs showing what they think of President Bush’s deputy chief of staff: "Rove fiddles while working families burn." "Health care is a right, not a privilege." "Karl Rove, congratulations on not getting indicted!" Signed, "Concerned Iowans." Rove’s response a short time later: "What protesters?" "He said, 'You've never seen protesters until you've seen the ones that were outside my house,’" added Hugh Field, a Waterloo lawyer who attended the invitation-only fundraiser. "So he wasn't very impressed." Whalen said 70-to-75 people attended the $250-a-plate luncheon. The event was closed to the public and the news media.

Americans are paying unusually close attention to the congressional elections in November, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds. They are more inclined to deliver significant gains to Democrats than in any year since Republicans won control of the House and Senate in 1994. Those surveyed are more concerned about national issues than local ones - a situation that favors Democrats hoping to tap discontent over the Iraq war and gasoline prices - and prefer Democrats over Republicans on handling every major issue except terrorism. President Bush looms as a significant drag: 40% of Americans say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports Bush. A fifth say they are more likely. "At this point, it certainly looks like a significant tilt to the Democrats, but it's still early," says James Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Buffalo and author of The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections. He says the Democratic advantage could narrow over the next four months if voters see the election more as a choice between two candidates and less as a referendum on the president.

Blogospheric political pressure spiked Tuesday over online allegations that U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy, the Republican-endorsed candidate for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota, had "scrubbed" his congressional website of references to President Bush. For example, a smiling joint portrait of Kennedy and the president that formerly graced the congressman's web biography page has been replaced by a photo of Kennedy and some schoolchildren. And legislation that once was "signed into law by President Bush" now merely "became law" on Kennedy's website, markkennedy.house.gov, according to the liberal political weblog MN Publius.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel has retracted its false report that Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) called the United States the greatest threat to world peace: "Correction: An article in Sunday’s editions misinterpreted a comment from U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., at a town hall meeting in North Miami on Saturday. In his speech, Murtha said U.S. credibility was suffering because of continued U.S. military presence in Iraq ,and the perception that the U.S. is an occupying force. Murtha was citing a recent poll, by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, that indicates a greater percentage of people in 10 of 14 foreign countries consider the U.S. in Iraq a greater danger to world peace than any threats posed by Iran or North Korea." The purported quote was seized upon by right-wing pundits, who claimed that Murtha had put "all Americans in danger" and was "in the thrall" of anti-American activists. Now they need to correct the record and let their viewers know that Murtha was quoted erroneously. Will they do so? Will the Pope join the Mormon church?

Planned Parenthood of Colorado said they will distribute free "morning after" contraceptives at state clinics Friday to protest Gov. Bill Owens' veto of a bill that would have let pharmacists prescribe the pill. Owens rejected the measure in April, saying that spreading prescription power beyond doctors and specialized nurses "strays radically from the accepted norms of medicine." "Every woman should have it in their medicine cabinets, in case of birth control failure, or worse, sexual assault," Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rockies, said in a statement. The contraceptive, called Plan B, uses a high dose of the hormones found in birth control pills. It is designed to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's uterus if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, and not have any effect once the egg is embedded in the uterus wall. It is not the abortion drug RU-486.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Diplomats at the United Nations have found U.S. Ambassador John Bolton's behavior so inexplicable that a virtual quasi-science has sprung up, aimed at divining his true intentions. The primary school of thought, according to one diplomat, is that Mr. Bolton, who has made plain his disdain for the world body since arriving there 11 months ago, is playing to a domestic audience of U.N. skeptics, possibly with an eye on future political ambitions. A second theory, said another official who works in the U.N., holds that Mr. Bolton is busily storing up anecdotes that will form the basis of a book about his experiences: He did his best to change the organization, but, tragically, the bureaucracy and corruption were too much even for him to overcome. "A lot of us wonder what his real agenda is," a European diplomat told The Observer. "First, we think maybe he wants things to fail because then he can say, 'We cannot reform this place.' The other question is, does he really reflect the position in Washington? That is always the question: Is it Bolton or is it Washington?" The fact that international officials have come to engage in abstract theorizing about Mr. Bolton's motives is a testament both to the genuine shock inspired within the diplomatic ranks by his behavior and to the center-stage role he has assumed since arriving in Turtle Bay. Just last week, Mr. Bolton attacked the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, after she expressed "grave concern" about the reported existence of secret detention centers.

By year's end, the European Union is expected to adopt REACH, a proposal that would "require manufacturers to test industrial chemicals used in the manufacturing process to gather health and safety data." REACH stands for "Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals." The bill "has prompted a U.S.-led coalition of 13 countries to step up lobbying efforts to make the final measure more amenable to industry," reports the Wall Street Journal. "The diplomatic missions of the U.S., Japan, Australia, India and other countries issues a length joint critique of the proposed law this month, saying certain provisions would disrupt international trade without offering clear environmental benefits." C. Boyden Gray, the U.S. ambassador to the EU and former chair of FreedomWorks and Citizens for a Sound Economy, said European policymakers "never did a proper impact assessment to evaluate the risk-versus-benefit status of this legislation."

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the Department of Defense has released documents that show wider surveillance of student organizations than previously reported, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has reported. On April 11th PageOneQ reported that the Pentagon had admitted to conducting surveillance of groups protesting the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy for gays and lesbians in the armed forces. The new FOIA request yielded information about an undercover investigation by the Pentagon on acitivities into student groups protesting the war at State University of New York at Albany (SUNY Albany), William Paterson University in New Jersey, Southern Connecticut State University and the University of California at Berkeley, reports SLDN. The documents released by the Pentagon on the SUNY Albany protests gave a description of planned activities. "Source received an email from [redacted by DoD] stating a protest was planned against military recruiters at SUNY Albany on 21 April 05. The text of the email is as follows:," said a report filed with the Department of Defense.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld most of the pro-Republican Texas congressional map engineered by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and freed all states to draw new political boundaries as often as they want. The court, however, said that part of the new Texas map failed to protect minority voting rights, a small victory for Democratic and minority groups who accused Republicans of an unconstitutional power grab in drawing boundaries that booted four Democrats from office. The ruling did not make clear whether or not lower courts or the state would have to change congressional district boundaries before the November elections. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for a 5-4 majority, said Hispanics do not have a chance to elect a candidate of their choosing in south and west Texas under the state's plan. The plan's "troubling blend of politics and race - and the resulting vote dilution of a group that was beginning to achieve (the federal law's) goal of overcoming prior electoral discrimination - cannot be sustained," Kennedy wrote. Some 100,000 Hispanics had been shifted out of a district represented by a Republican, and foes of the plan had argued it violated the Voting Rights Act which protects minority voting rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union said that federal authorities have dropped their demand for library patrons' records after a judge lifted an earlier gag order on the librarians who received the request. The Library Connection is a consortium of 26 Connecticut libraries. It looked for help from the ACLU when the FBI demanded patron records through a national security letter last summer as part of an investigation into terrorism or spying. U.S. District Judge Janet Hall ruled last year that the gag order should be lifted. She said it unfairly prevented the librarians from participating in a debate over how the Patriot Act should be rewritten. But it wasn't until April that prosecutors dropped an appeal of that order.

The American Civil Liberties Union today announced that it has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the primary American security agencies for information relating to the use of "cutting-edge brain-scanning technologies" on suspected terrorists. "There are certain things that have such powerful implications for our society - and for humanity at large - that we have a right to know how they are being used so that we can grapple with them as a democratic society," said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Project. Equally worrisome to the group is the fact that experts in the field have told the ACLU that the science to back up any reliable use of fMRI as a "lie detector" or "mind reader" simply does not exist. At most, correlations have been observed between certain brain patterns and particular, highly controlled behaviors produced in laboratory experiments. Experts also note that these early experiments on a few American college students are a long way from real-world settings, involving individuals in widely varying situations and with widely varying cultures, intelligence levels and states of mind.

Republicans Fiddling While American Civilization Burns: On the Senate floor yesterday, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said there was nothing the Senate could be doing that was more important than banning flag burning. He said: "I was asked this afternoon by a large body of media: Is this the most important thing the Senate could be doing at this time? I can tell you: You’re darned right it is." Watch him here. Is Hatch familar with the Iraq war, terrorism, the energy crisis, the 45 million Americans without health insurance or the 37 million Americans living in poverty? Apparently flag burning is more important to Republicans.

Extraordinary Rendition Watch: European secret services colluded in the detention and secret transfer of terrorist suspects in or across the continent, the author of a key report on the CIA rendition flights has said. Dick Marty, a Swiss parliamentarian who compiled the report for the Council of Europe rights watchdog, said there was no doubt of collaboration. "It has been proved that agents from national intelligence services colluded in the handing over and the transportation of persons suspected of terrorism," he told members of the pan-European body's parliamentary assembly Tuesday. Questioned at a news conference afterward, Marty singled out Bosnia, whose government admitted during the inquiry that it had delivered six suspects of Algerian origin into US hands on January 18, 2002.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: Some 35,000 workers at troubled US car giant GM have agreed to take voluntary redundancy or early retirement, the company has confirmed. GM has said it needs to radically reduce its workforce and close a host of factories by 2008 if it is to control costs and stay competitive. US sales have fallen sharply amid a drop-off in demand for sports utility vehicles and tough competition. The carmaker said its plan to transform the business was ahead of schedule. GM has been forced to take drastic action in the face of mounting losses, which some experts believe still leave the company vulnerable to potential bankruptcy. The world's largest carmaker lost $10.6bn last year.

Republicans Protect The Health And Safety Of Americans: A 15-month inquiry by a top House Democrat has found that enforcement of the nation's food and drug laws declined sharply during the first five years of the Bush administration. For instance, the investigation found, the number of warning letters that the Food and Drug Administration issued to drug companies, medical device makers and others dropped 54 percent, to 535 in 2005 from 1,154 in 2000. The seizure of mislabeled, defective or dangerous products dipped 44 percent, according to the inquiry, pursued by Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, the senior Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee. The research found no evidence that such declines could be attributed to increased compliance with regulations. Investigators at the FDA continued to uncover about the same number of problems at drug and device companies as before, Mr. Waxman's inquiry found, but top officials of the agency increasingly overruled the investigators' enforcement recommendations. The biggest decline in enforcement actions was found at the agency's device center, where they decreased 65 percent in the five-year period despite a wave of problems with devices including implantable defibrillators and pacemakers. "Americans have relied on FDA to ensure the safety of their food and drugs for 100 years," Mr. Waxman said. "But under the Bush administration, enforcement efforts have plummeted and serious violations are ignored."

Republicans Are Protecting Americans From Natural Disasters: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is slated to release a new set of flood maps in early October that could force California's Central Valley cities to spend millions on repairing local levees to keep every homeowner in town from having to spend roughly $1,200 a year on mandatory flood insurance. On Wednesday, Reps. Dennis Cardoza of Merced, Richard Pombo of Tracy and 16 other California representatives asked FEMA to delay release of those maps, which could send shock waves through their constituencies just weeks before the November election. Not only will all 18 lawmakers be up for re-election, a $4.5 billion levee-repair bond also will be on the ballot. It is unclear what effect the release would have on the electorate. Although the initial maps would not have the force of law, they would put communities such as Lathrop on notice that their levees are not up to snuff. Stockton faced a similar situation in 1995. This round is different, however, because FEMA announced in August it would finally enforce laws already on the books requiring a stricter evaluation of levees that protect homes. Now a levee's internal construction will become more of a factor in evaluating its strength - bad news for Valley levees, many of which are essentially un-engineered mounds of dirt.

Republicans Think You Should Do As They Say, Not As They Do: When scandal-ridden Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher's day is over, he leaves his Capitol office, climbs into a Lincoln Town Car driven by a state trooper and returns to the Governor's Mansion - which is just across the street. Meanwhile, his administration is encouraging Kentuckians to get out and walk more for their health. The Republican governor - a physician by training - makes no apologies for riding back and forth to work. "I think that's been a tradition for a long time," he said. "That's what security likes." But his do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do example irks some politicians. "I just think it's incredible," said Democratic state Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, a marathon runner and frequent critic of Fletcher. "The governor should practice what he's preaching. Otherwise it smacks of being hypocritical."

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: Global warming accounted for around half of the extra hurricane-fueling warmth in the waters of the tropical North Atlantic in 2005, while natural cycles were only a minor factor, according to a new analysis by Kevin Trenberth and Dennis Shea of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The study will appear in the June 27 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, published by the American Geophysical Union. "The global warming influence provides a new background level that increases the risk of future enhancements in hurricane activity," Trenberth says. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's primary sponsor. The study contradicts recent claims that natural cycles are responsible for the upturn in Atlantic hurricane activity since 1995. It also adds support to the premise that hurricane seasons will become more active as global temperatures rise. Last year produced a record 28 tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma all reached Category 5 strength.

The oceans are inexorably becoming corrosive. Unknown to the greater public, this process due to the increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will have considerable impact. And well before the end of the century. In barely twenty years, the acidification of vast oceanic regions of the Southern Hemisphere will provoke the disappearance of certain planktonic organisms. This phenomenon is all the more worrying in that the affected flora and fauna constitute the first links in the marine food chain. At issue may be microscopic vegetation, such as calcareous algae (coccolithophorids and foraminifers) or miniscule mollusks, like the pteropods. These organisms construct their exoskeletons from aragonite. That element is very sensitive to ocean waters' acidification. The increase in CO2 emissions has a perfectly quantifiable impact on the oceans, "more finely understood than its effects on climate," specifies James Orr, a researcher at the Sciences Laboratory of Climate and the Environment. "Out of 70 CO2 molecules that we emit, 20 are absorbed by the terrestrial biosphere, 30 remain in the atmosphere, and 20 dissolve in the oceans," details Paul Tréguer, scientific director for EUR-Océans, a European network for the study of oceanic ecosystems. That dissolution modifies the chemical balance by increasing the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+). Since the beginning of the industrial era, that concentration has increased by 25%, a modification of the same order as that of the atmosphere, ever more overburdened with CO2.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Many Afghans and some foreign supporters say they are losing faith in President Hamid Karzai’s government, which is besieged by an escalating insurgency and endemic corruption and is unable to protect or administer large areas of the country. As a sense of insecurity spreads, a rift is growing between the president and some of the foreign civilian and military establishments whose money and firepower have helped rebuild and defend the country for nearly five years. While the U.S. commitment to Karzai appears solid, several European governments are expressing serious concerns about his leadership. "The president had a window of opportunity to lead and make difficult decisions, but that window is closing fast," said one foreign military official in Kabul who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The annual cost of replacing, repairing and upgrading Army equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to more than triple next year to more than $17 billion, according to Army documents obtained by the Associated Press. From 2002 to 2006, the Army spent an average of $4 billion a year in annual equipment costs. But as the war takes a harder toll on the military, that number is projected to balloon to more than $12 billion for the federal budget year that starts next Oct. 1, the documents show. The $17 billion also includes an additional $5 billion in equipment expenses that the Army requested in previous years but has not yet been provided.

The U.S. military, in the spotlight over murder charges against its troops accused of killing Iraqis, said it had killed a "non-combatant" during a raid in which an al Qaeda militant was detained on Wednesday. A statement said U.S.-led forces killed the civilian near the violence-racked city of Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad, as troops were securing the house of the alleged militant. "While securing the initial target, Coalition forces noticed an individual acting suspiciously at a nearby house. They assessed him as an imminent threat, engaged and killed him. He was later determined to be a non-combatant," it said.

Scandals Du Jour: Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, R-TX, testified at a hearing today in the federal courthouse in Austin regarding a lawsuit filed by Democrats who argue that DeLay is still legally the GOP congressional candidate for his district, despite his resignation from the House. Delay said at the hearing, presided by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, that he has moved to Virginia and plans to vote and live there, and that he is leasing office space in Washington. According to reporters in the courtroom, Delay said, he has obtained hunting and fishing licenses in Virginia. And that he didn't hire movers because his Virginia condo was already furnished. He said the only belonging he moved to Virginia was a car. Under the state election code there is a crucial difference between a candidate being ruled ineligible or simply withdrawing. In the first situation, the party can replace the candidate on the ballot. In the second situation, it cannot. State Republican Chairwoman Tina Benkiser has ruled DeLay ineligible as a candidate because of his move to Virginia, setting in motion a procedure for party officials to name a successor for the November ballot. According to the Austin Statesman newspaper, Judge Sparks questioned both DeLay and Benkiser about letters that DeLay sent to the chairwoman about his plans. He quizzed both about why a draft of the letter was sent before a final version was delivered days later. Neither could answer why. DeLay testified that he understood before he made his decision the consequences of withdrawing from the race as opposed to being declared ineligible. DeLay resigned from Congress on June 9th. Once DeLay finished testifying, Sparks explained he could either leave or stay for the rest of the proceedings. "My recommendation is to run like a rabbit," Judge Sparks quipped, according to an Austin Statesman newspaper account. Whatever happened to judicial objectivity?

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: A political consultant whose company was behind a television ad accusing the Clinton-Gore administration of giving away nuclear technology was convicted of child molestation charges. A jury deliberated almost two days before convicting Carey Lee Cramer, 44, of aggravated sexual assault of a child, two counts of indecency with a child by contact and one count of indecency with a child by exposure. He was cleared of nine other charges Tuesday. The sentencing phase of the trial was scheduled to begin Wednesday. Cramer faces up to 149 years in prison. Cramer, who now lives in Tucson, Ariz., gained national attention during the 2000 presidential election when his company created the ad that accused the administration of giving nuclear technology to China in exchange for campaign contributions. The spot was modeled after the infamous 1964 "Daisy" nuclear scare commercial and was pulled after a barrage of Democratic criticism. Cramer, who had been free on bond since his 2005 arrest, was taken into custody on a $4 million appeal bond after the verdict, The (McAllen) Monitor reported in its Wednesday editions. Two girls accused Cramer of sexual assault, alleging it occurred in the past eight years.

Rush Limbaugh could see a deal with prosecutors in a long-running prescription fraud case collapse after authorities found a bottle of Viagra in his bag at Palm Beach International Airport. The prescription was not in his name. Limbaugh was detained for more than three hours Monday at the airport after returning from a vacation in the Dominican Republic. Customs officials found the Viagra in his luggage but his name was not on the prescription, said Paul Miller, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. Miller said the alleged violation could be a second-degree misdemeanor. The sheriff's office was investigating and will soon turn the case over to the state attorney's office, which had no immediate comment Tuesday. Under the deal reached last month with prosecutors, Limbaugh was not to be arrested for any infraction for 18 months in exchange for authorities deferring a charge of "doctor shopping." Prosecutors had alleged the conservative talk-show host illegally deceived multiple physicians to receive overlapping painkiller prescriptions. Limbaugh also must submit to random drug tests and continue treatment for his admitted addiction to painkillers.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:58:33 AM

Mon, Jun 26 2006

Mango Season Is Here

Fog and rain. It has been downright marine today, with lots of fog and rain, and the damp has made it seem chilly even though the temperatures have been mild. A high of 78 today and overnight low of 72 has felt uncomfortably cool. Yesterday was pleasant until midday when it began to rain and this whole marine-like regime set in. It is a sure sign that the little dry season we have been having is over, and the rainy season has resumed in earnest.

My friends from the States have gone elsewhere to finish their trip to Costa Rica. It sure was a joy to have them - what a delightful couple they are. They were by yesterday morning to fish a bit more in the pond and enjoy some banana betidos, as I make them, and they enjoyed both. But the pond skunked them once again - all that was caught was one tetra - a small bait fish.

Last night, I enjoyed the first mango off of my trees for this year's crop. It was quite good, though small. As my gardener had promised, it is a good variety, with an excellent flavor, though the fruit don't seem to make it to a particularly large size, at least in this climate. Mangos like a very hot and long dry season, and we don't get that here. So I will have to be content with what we do get. The neighbors like to come by and clean up the windfalls, so even that is not the problem it could be. Just about every day, they come by and ask to pick them up and I am happy to oblige. What the neighbors don't get, the animals do. And the toucans and other birds love them while on the trees. Mangos around here don't last long.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Smirkey on Monday sharply condemned the disclosure of a program to secretly monitor the financial transactions of suspected terrorists. "The disclosure of this program is disgraceful," he said. "For people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America," Bush said, jabbing his finger for emphasis. He said the disclosure of the program "makes it harder to win this war on terror." The program has been going on since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. It was disclosed last week by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. Using broad government subpoenas, the program allows U.S. counterterrorism analysts to obtain financial information from a vast database maintained by an interbank cooperative based in Belgium. It routes about 11 million financial transactions daily among 7,800 banks and other financial institutions in 200 countries.

Vice-President Dick Cheney has condemned as "offensive" US media disclosures of a secret program that probes global financial transactions. The government has covertly tracked thousands of international money transactions for nearly five years as part of its so-called war on terror. Mr Cheney said leaking the program played into the enemy's hands. The New York Times defended its coverage, saying the information was in the public's interest. Civil liberty groups have raised concerns that the program, which began soon after the 9/11 attacks in the US, may infringe individual rights to privacy.

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee urged the Bush administration Sunday to seek criminal charges against The New York Times for reporting on the secret financial-monitoring program. Rep. Peter King blasted the newspaper's decision last week to report that the Treasury Department was working with the CIA to examine messages within a massive international database of money-transfer records. "I am asking the Attorney General to begin an investigation and prosecution of The New York Times -- the reporters, the editors and the publisher," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. "We're at war, and for the Times to release information about secret operations and methods is treasonous." The conservative lawmaker called the paper "pompous, arrogant, and more concerned about a left-wing elitist agenda than it is about the security of the American people."

On a cable news show, David Frum, a conservative journalist and former speechwriter for President Bush, argued that out of the three newspapers that wrote about the secret program to search through thousands of American's bank accounts to find terror ties only the The New York Times should be prosecuted. On CNN's Reliable Sources with Howard Kurtz, Times columnist Frank Rich wondered why the administration wasn't going after the Wall Street Journal or the Los Angeles Times. Frum responded that he could tell from the "grammar" used in all three publications that the news originated at the Times, and that if they hadn't published the story the others wouldn't have either.

The disclosure this week of a secret databank operation tracking international financial transactions has caused renewed concerns about civil liberties in the United States. But this program is just the latest in a series of secret surveillance programs, databanks and domestic operations justified as part of the war on terror. Disclosed individually over the course of the last year, they have become almost routine. Yet, when considered collectively, they present a far more troubling picture, and one that should be vaguely familiar. Civil liberty-minded citizens may recall the president's plan to create the Total Information Awareness program, a massive databank with the ability to follow citizens in real time by their check-card purchases, bank transactions, medical bills and other electronic means. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, was assigned this task, but after its work was made public, Congress put a stop to it in September 2003 as a danger to privacy and civil liberties. However, when Congress disbanded the Total Information Awareness program, it did not prohibit further research on such databanks, or even the use of individual databanks.

New Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito broke a tie Monday in a ruling that affirmed a state death penalty law and also revealed the court's deep divisions over capital punishment. Justices split 5-4 in the term's oldest case, which was argued in December before Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement. A new argument session was held in April so that Alito could break a deadlock. The justices are in the final week of their term and handling some of the most contentious and important cases. They meet again Wednesday to announce more decisions. The Kansas case was unique. The state law says juries should impose death sentences if aggravating evidence of a crime's brutality and mitigating factors explaining a defendant's actions are equal in weight. Justice David H. Souter, writing for the liberals, said the law was "morally absurd." Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas disputed the claim by critics that the law created "a general presumption in favor of the death penalty in the state of Kansas."

A Republican gubernatorial candidate's call for creation of a forced labor camp for illegal immigrants drew rebukes Friday from two GOP lawmakers, who labeled it a low point in the immigration debate. Don Goldwater, nephew of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, caused an international stir this week when EFE, a national news agency of Spain, quoted him as saying he wanted to hold undocumented immigrants in camps to use them "as labor in the construction of a wall and to clean the areas of the Arizona desert that they're polluting." The article described Goldwater's plan as a "concentration camp" for migrants. Goldwater, a candidate for governor in Arizona, said in a statement Friday that his comments were taken out of context. He said he was calling for a work program for convicted nonviolent felons, similar to "tried and tested, effective and accepted practices" used by state and local jails.

A U.S. district judge in Baltimore yesterday heard arguments over the validity of Maryland's controversial law requiring large companies - namely Wal-Mart - to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health benefits. At issue was whether the state legislation is preempted by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which sets minimum standards for private companies' voluntary pension and health plans. The state law was enacted earlier this year despite a veto attempt by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The Maryland law applies to four companies with at least 10,000 employees in Maryland: Northrop Grumman Corp., Giant Food LLC, Johns Hopkins University and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. But all except Wal-Mart were exempted from the law or have already met its provisions, resulting in the nickname "Wal-Mart bill" as the legislature deliberated over it. The Retail Industry Leaders Association, which filed the legal challenge and counts Wal-Mart among its members, said the law unfairly targets the world's largest retailer. The association also argued that the law restricts the way businesses provide health benefits for their employees.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week rejected a request from the Bush administration to send an additional 1,500 National Guard troops to the Mexican border, the governor's office confirmed Friday to the Associated Press after two California National Guard officials leaked the policy decision. The National Guard Bureau, an arm of the Pentagon, asked for the troops to help with the border-patrol mission in New Mexico and Arizona, but Schwarzenegger said the request would stretch the California Guard too thin in case of an emergency or natural disaster. Schwarzenegger spokesman Adam Mendelsohn said the governor believed sending more troops would create an inappropriate burden on the state and disrupt the guard's training schedule.

A federal appeals court on Friday declined to force the government to turn over information on the National Security Agency's wiretapping program to a man charged in a terrorism case. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case of Yassin Aref, an imam at an Albany mosque who is accused of laundering money for an FBI informant posing as an arms dealer. Aref wanted the government to say whether any of the evidence against him had been gathered through the warrantless electronic surveillance program, which has been challenged by some civil liberties groups. He asked the court to force the NSA to reveal details of the program, rule it illegal and toss out evidence gathered from it. The New York Civil Liberties Union joined Aref's motion. Much of the legal debate over the request has been conducted under a shroud of secrecy because of the program's classified nature, with key court documents available only to those with security clearance.

The flag-burning amendment, which already passed the House, is apparently just short of the 67 needed in the Senate. With one or two absences, the amendment would be approved. It would then go to the states for ratification, where its chances for approval appear good. On the Republican side, all senators except Robert Bennett of Utah, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky favor the amendment. The rest (including those who should know better, like John McCain and Chuck Hagel) are apparently in favor of trivializing the document they swore to uphold. Banning flag burning, in the words of Justice Antonin Scalia, "dilutes the very freedom that makes this emblem so revered."

They're back. Those opinionated octogenarians who made headlines last fall by trying to enlist in the military to stop the War in Iraq. Now, they're heading to Washington D.C. for the Fourth of July. With wheelchairs, walkers, canes and pictures of their grandchildren on their backs, the Granny Brigade was back in Times Square, the scene of their arrest last fall for blocking the entrance to the Military Recruitment Center to stop the war. This time, they're kicking off a 10-day trek to the nation's capital. "We want to wake up an apathetic American public," Joan Wile, the Brigade's founder said. "Maybe they're against the war, maybe they're not. But they're totally indifferent." Actress Barbara Barrie says the next 10 days of marches and rallies by these gutsy grannies will make a difference. Barrie said the White House has got to hear it, "whether they like it or not." Some of these spry seniors even saw Saturday's driving rain in metaphoric terms. "It's the tears of the mothers of the 2,500 killed," Vinie Burrows said. "The mothers and fathers." And the oldest among them, 91-year-old Marie Runyon, would love to speak directly to President Bush to tell him, "you've made the whole world hate us. What you've done is illegal and immoral and I think you need a psychiatrist."

A new Website devoted to the "lies" of Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha went live a few days early in order to post "hateful" emails sent by readers of liberal blogs that were tipped off early and had already begun digging into the site's background. Although the original url for the Website was to be www.murthalied.com, a few days ago, one of the site's founders, retired Navy Captain Larry Bailey, purchased a new url at BootMurtha.com. Bailey served as president of Vietnam Veterans For The Truth, which attacked 2004 Democratic Presidential candidate Senator John Kerry's military record, on the heels of the more well-known Swift Boat Veterans For Truth. In 2004, the term "swift boating" entered the modern lexicon, which the online community encyclopedia Wikipedia defines as "an ad hominem attack against a public figure, coordinated by an independent or pseudo-independent group, usually resulting in a benefit to an established political force. Specifically, this form of attack is controversial, easily repeatable, and difficult to verify or disprove because it is generally based on personal feelings or recollections," Wikipedia continues.

Sen. Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum (R-PA) and Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) held a press conference and announced "We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." Santorum and Hoekstra are hyping a document that describes degraded, pre-1991 munitions that were already acknowledged by the White House’s Iraq Survey Group and dismissed. Fox News' Jim Angle contacted the Defense Department who quickly disavowed Santorum and Hoekstra's claims. A Defense Department official told Angle flatly that the munitions hyped by Santorum and Hoekstra are "not the WMD’s for which this country went to war." Fox’s Alan Colmes broke the news to Santorum.

Slackers at Fox News Channel, you're on notice! Your boss is not pleased. Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes is on the warpath following his network’s recent ratings slump, and he won’t hesitate to clean house to turn things around. So far during the second quarter, the No. 1 cable news channel’s primetime schedule has dropped 22% in its core 25-54 demographic and 8% in total viewers. The first quarter was even worse. Chief rival CNN has also dipped in recent weeks, but less dramatically, off 18% in the demographic and 2% in total viewers. Insiders say that, even though Fox News remains No. 1, Ailes is fuming over the complacency he senses among staffers. Production values are slipping, and bookers aren't competitive enough, relying too heavily on the same pool of faces and settling for authors or actors after they’ve already been on CNN or - gasp - MSNBC. A full-page "Now Hiring" ad that ran recently in a trade magazine asked, "Can you make the cut?" Says one Fox staffer, that question was not addressed to outside applicants: "That was aimed inside."

The Federal Bureau of Investigations has conceded another legal victory to a group of Connecticut libraries, thereby ending the case entirely. The Librarians, members of Library Connection, a not-for profit cooperative organization for resource sharing across 26 Connecticut library branches sharing a centralized computer, were served with a National Security Letter (NSL) in August of last year as part of the FBI's attempt to obtain access to patron's records. The NSL is a little known statute in the Patriot Act that permits law enforcement to obtain records of people not necessarily suspected of any wrongdoing, without a court order. As part of the NSL, those served with the document are gagged and prohibited from disclosing that they have even been served. "When I and my colleagues received FBI National Security Letters demanding access to our patron's records, I knew that this power had had already been declared unconstitutional by a district court in New York," said Library Connection Vice President Peter Chase. "The government was telling Congress that it didn't use the Patriot Act against libraries and that no one's rights had been violated."

A revolt that began when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld government's right to take private property for economic development a year ago is sweeping much of the nation. Property rights activists in 11 states, including California, also are responding to the ruling, called Kelo vs. City of New London, by supporting ballot initiatives to restrict land seizures and protect landowners. But California's proposed Protect Our Homes Act may be the most controversial. The proposed ballot measure would require governments that seize property either to occupy it themselves or rent it out for public use; they could not seize it for private development. The measure also would increase how much governments must pay for seized property, and it would require governments to compensate landowners if regulations not directly related to public safety hurt their property's value -- unless the property is exempted from the new restrictions. The proposed ballot measure would require governments that seize property either to occupy it themselves or rent it out for public use; they could not seize it for private development. The measure also would increase how much governments must pay for seized property, and it would require governments to compensate landowners if regulations not directly related to public safety hurt their property's value -- unless the property is exempted from the new restrictions.

A new poll shows Republican voters don’t share as much hostility to immigrants as the Members of Congress they elect. According to a report Thursday in Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire, a survey conducted for the generally pro-immigration Manhattan Institute, the Tarrance Group found that "80% of likely Republican voters favor allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. and earn eventual citizenship." In a finding that may draw the attention of skittish congressmen, the poll also found that half those voters would cast ballots for a favored candidate even if they they disagreed with the candidate’s stand on immigration." However, the poll also showed that a plurality of those who watched media footage of large pro-immigrant rallies were less likely to support citizenship for illegal immigrants. Additionally, 75% of those surveyed supported deploying the National Guard to the US-Mexico border.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Belgium's government said on Monday it was investigating the legality of counter-terrorism searches by U.S. officials of thousands of private records held by Brussels-based international bank cooperative SWIFT. U.S. media reported last week that the U.S. Treasury Department had been tapping into records of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications since September 11, 2001 for evidence of potential activity by terrorist groups. Belgian Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx learned of the searches from the media and asked Belgium's national security services and counter-fraud office to produce reports into the matter before the end of the week, a ministry spokeswoman said. "She wants to know if these actions taken by the U.S. and SWIFT are okay under Belgian law," Annaik De Voghel said, adding security officials would discuss the issue later this week. Belgium's national bank (BNB) admitted that it knew that the United States was monitoring financial transactions via the Swift system, which is based in Belgium, as part of its "war on terror."

The US will deploy advanced Patriot interceptor missiles on Japanese soil this year for the first time as the region braces itself for a possible test launch by North Korea of an intercontinental ballistic missile, local media reports said today. Under the agreement, reached this month, US bases on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa will host US Patriot advanced capability-3 missiles, which are said to be capable of intercepting ballistic missiles of the type being developed by Pyongyang, as well as cruise missiles and aircraft.

Fair And Balanced Access: Last week, the Pentagon "shut down access entirely" for the press to the Guantanamo Bay prison after the suicide deaths of three detainees, "for security reasons." Journalists covering the suicides had their clearances revoked and were immediately flown back to the United States, and regular visits between detainees and their lawyers were cancelled. Human rights groups protested: "This press crackdown is the administration's latest betrayal of fundamental American values. The Bush Administration is afraid of American reporters, afraid of American attorneys and afraid of American laws." Afraid of American journalists, that is, as long as they're not from Fox. This morning, Fox News analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano described how the Defense Department had personally invited him on a trip to Guantanamo on Wednesday: NAPOLITANO: "Well, we saw everything. We saw all six camps. We had FBI interviews, I actually sat down and examined the evidence they're going to use at trial with prosecutors. It was very detailed." HOST: "That was some kind of access." NAPOLITANO: "It was. It was great."

It's Election Year Again: Smirkey, asked if he thinks global warming is a significant threat to the Earth, says he believes climate change is a serious problem. Speaking to reporters at the White House, Bush said, "There's a debate over whether (global warming) is manmade or naturally caused. We ought to get beyond that debate and start implementing the technologies necessary to enable us to achieve a couple of big objectives -- one, be good stewards of the environment; two, become less dependent on foreign sources of oil for economic reasons and for national security reasons." Bush his administration wants the next generation to be able to drive cars not fueled by hydrogen. He also called for development of safe nuclear power. "The truth of the matter is, if this country wants to get rid of its greenhouse gases we've got to have the nuclear power industry be vibrant and viable," said Bush. "And so I believe ... I've got a plan to be able to deal with greenhouse gases."

Spin Cycle: Press secretary Tony Snow asked journalist Helen Thomas to "stop heckling" at Friday's White House press briefing, as she asked questions about news reports that the federal government is tapping a large international database to search financial records of thousands of Americans in order to find terror ties. "Helen, will you stop heckling and let me conduct the press conference?" Snow said to the sound of laughter. "Well no, I'm making an argument and you're pestering the teacher," Snow added.

Liberal Biased Media Watch: Dan Henniger, deputy editor from the Wall Street Journal says (in spite of it being a logical fallacy) that in the wake of a woman in India supposedly marrying a snake, gay-marriage supporters in America should now be required to guarantee that animal marriage is not around the corner. "This is a footnote to our gay marriage discussion: A woman in India last week married a snake. I would like to ask the proponents of gay marriage--which violates, after all, traditions going back through all of human history--to now absolutely, positively guarantee that the next movement is not going to be allowing people to marry their pet horse, dog or cat. And you know What? Given the 'anything goes' culture we live in, I don’t think they can deliver that guarantee."

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: The White House is nearing an agreement with Congress on legislation that would write Smirkey's warrantless surveillance program into law, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman said Sunday. Bush and senior officials in his administration have said they did not think changes were needed to empower the National Security Agency to eavesdrop - without court approval - on communications between people in the U.S. and overseas when terrorism is suspected. But Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and other critics contend the program skirted a 1978 law that required the government to get approval from a secretive federal court before Americans could be monitored. "We're getting close with the discussions with the White House, I think, to having the wiretapping issue submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court," Specter told "Fox News Sunday."

Republicans Support The Troops: As a member of the National Guard, Nadine Beckford patrolled New York train stations after Sept. 11 with a 9mm pistol, then served a treacherous year in Iraq. Now, six months after returning, Beckford lives in a homeless shelter. "I'm just an ordinary person who served. I'm not embarrassed about my homelessness, because the circumstances that created it were not my fault," said Beckford, 30, who was a military-supply specialist at a base in Iraq that was a sitting duck for around-the-clock attacks, "where hell was your home." Thousands of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan are facing a new nightmare -- the risk of homelessness. They are living on the edge in towns and cities big and small from Washington state to Florida. But the hardest hit are in New York City, because housing costs here "can be very tough," said Peter Dougherty, head of the Homeless Veterans Program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: John Jacob, a Congressional candidate from Utah, said Thursday that Satan was trying to keep him out of office. It seems the "old deluder" has kept Jacob from investing as much money as he'd like into his campaign, and has caused a series of recent business-related mishaps. "You know, you plan, you organize, you put your budget together and when you have 10 things fall through, not just one, there's some other, something else that is happening," he told the Salt Lake Tribune. "There's another force that wants to keep us from going to Washington, D.C. It's the devil is what it is. I don't want you to print that, but it feels like that's what it is," he said, apparently unaware that pleas for secrecy are like catnip to journalists. He first brought up the Satan-as-campaign-foe theme on Wednesday, at an immigration rally, and then reiterated it in a meeting with the Salt Lake Tribune editorial staff on Thursday. "I don't know who else it would be if it wasn't him," he said. "Now when that gets out in the paper, I'm going to be one of the screw-loose people." At least he got that right.

The author of what has been described as the definitive dictionary of slang is gobsmacked, gutted, throwing up bunches, honked, hipped, and jacked like a cock-maggot in a sink-hole. A North Carolina school district has banned the dictionary under pressure from one of a growing number of conservative Christian groups using the internet to encourage school book bans across the US. Jonathon Green, who compiled the 87,000 entries in the Cassell Dictionary of Slang, which was published last year, said that North Carolina is the only place he knows of where the book cannot be used in schools. A Wake County school official told ABC News that five books, including the dictionary, were formally challenged. The others were listed as The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier, Junie B Jones and Some Sneaky, Peaky Spying by Barbara Park, Reluctantly Alice by Phyllis Reynolds and In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. School officials acted after pressure from Called2Action, a local Christian activist group.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Despite the "yes, sir" attitude of senior military officers toward the Bush administration's illegal policies in the Middle East, there is resistance within the US military to the war on Iraq. Military personnel know they have the right and duty to refuse illegal orders, including the order to deploy to an illegal war. They know the United States executed German and Japanese military officers and civilians for their participation in wars of aggression in World War II. They know that the Nuremberg principles adopted by the international community after World War II require civilians and military personnel to stop their government from committing illegal acts. Those in the military who dissent and resist what they know are illegal actions of the Bush administration are persons of the highest courage and conscience. Resistance to the war on Iraq within the US military community is growing. Over eight thousand American soldiers are absent without leave (AWOL), most living underground in the United States. Many now refer to AWOL as "Against War of Lies" instead of Absent Without Leave. Individual non-public resistance in the military generally results in an administrative discharge without publicity. Thousands have turned themselves in to military authorities and have been administratively discharged from the military. US military bases discharge dozens of war resisters each week.

U.S. military documents, obtained by ABC News, list the brother of Afghanistan president Karzai as a "problem maker" in the pay of drug lords. Wali Karzai is described in the documents as "receives money from drug lords as bribe to facilitate their work and movement." The documents, marked secret, appear to be part of a "U.S. military targeting assessment" produced in January 2005. The documents were downloaded from a computer flash disc sold at an Afghanistan street bazaar for $200. Nine other prominent Afghanis are also listed as "problem makers" for a variety of reasons, including connections to opium drug lords. Wali Karzai strongly denied the allegations in an interview with ABC News today in Kandahar.

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: By all accounts, the glaciers of Greenland are melting twice as fast as they were five years ago, even as the ice sheets of Antarctica - the world's largest reservoir of fresh water - also are shrinking, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Kansas reported in February. Across the ice cap, however, the area of seasonal melting was broader last year than in 27 years of record-keeping, University of Colorado climate scientists reported. In early May, temperatures on the ice cap some days were almost 20 degrees above normal, hovering just below freezing. The average winter temperature has risen almost 10 degrees. Last year, the annual melt zone reached farther inland and up to higher elevations than ever before. There was even a period of melting in December.

Scientists are calling for action to prevent foreign species from taking hold in Antarctica and wrecking the continent's unique ecosystems. Despite Antarctica's inhospitable environment, non-native species introduced by tourists, scientists and explorers are gaining a foothold. Species can hitch a ride on ships and planes carrying visitors and supplies. A paper on the matter tabled at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Edinburgh met with "good agreement". "Antarctica has long been considered as an isolated continent with a harsh environment. So the general perception has been that we don't need to worry about non-native species. We know better now," Dr Gilbert, environmental manager at Antarctica New Zealand, told BBC News. Male and female North Atlantic spider crabs (Hyas araneus) have been found in waters off the Antarctic Peninsula. Neil Gilbert says the species could not have migrated such a great distance by its own accord. In addition, a cosmopolitan species of grass, Poa annua, is surviving on King George Island, north of the Antarctic Peninsula. According to Dr Gilbert, two principal factors are facilitating colonisation of Antarctic habitats by foreign species: the increased numbers of people travelling to the continent and climate change. "There are more and more people going to Antarctica and we know that people and ships and planes carry plant seeds and other non-native species," Dr Gilbert explained.

The Earth is the hottest it has been in at least 400 years, probably even longer. The National Academy of Sciences, reaching that conclusion in a broad review of scientific work requested by Congress, reported Thursday that the "recent warmth is unprecedented for at least the last 400 years and potentially the last several millennia." A panel of top climate scientists told lawmakers that the Earth is heating up and that "human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming." Their 155-page report said average global surface temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere rose about 1 degree during the 20th century. This is shown in boreholes, retreating glaciers and other evidence found in nature, said Gerald North, a geosciences professor at Texas A&M University who chaired the academy's panel.

Scandals Du Jour: Newly released documents in the Jack Abramoff investigation shed light on how the lobbyist secretly routed his clients' funds through tax-exempt organizations with the acquiescence of those in charge, including prominent conservative activist Grover Norquist. The federal probe has brought a string of bribery-related charges and plea deals. The possible misuse of tax-exempt groups is also receiving investigators' attention, sources familiar with the matter said. Among the organizations used by Abramoff was Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. According to an investigative report on Abramoff's lobbying released last week by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Americans for Tax Reform served as a "conduit" for funds that flowed from Abramoff's clients to surreptitiously finance grass-roots lobbying campaigns. As the money passed through, Norquist's organization kept a small cut, e-mails show. A second group Norquist was involved with, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, received about $500,000 in Abramoff client funds; the council's president has told Senate investigators that Abramoff often asked her to lobby a senior Interior Department official on his behalf. The committee report said the Justice Department should further investigate the organization's dealings with the department and its former deputy secretary, J. Steven Griles.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: A National Enquirer reporter boasted that she got a one-on-one interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger, now the governor of California, after editors threatened to run a story on rumors that he slept with Brigitte Nielsen. The two co-starred in the 1985 leather-kilt epic "Red Sonja," and Nielsen married Stallone five months after the film's release. Turns out the reporter herself was being recorded by a writer at The Globe, Jim Mitteager. "That's how I got Schwarzenegger," The Enquirer scribe crows on tape. Stallone later had his own problems with the paper. The Enquirer reporter is heard to say that Stallone handed over personal information after the paper obtained nude photos of him taken from the set of "The Specialist," a steamy thriller co-starring Sharon Stone. The tapes were unearthed by investigator Paul Barresi for his book on life as a legman for notorious Hollywood P.I. Anthony Pellicano. Reps for Schwarzenegger and Stallone told us they did not recall such events. Reps for The Enquirer declined to comment.

In Boca Raton, FL, where gossip is an art form, tongues have been wagging overtime about Monday's bust of a downtown brothel. But the big question has been: How did Boca cops figure out the alleged customers' names? The city's boys in blue aren't talking, but their reports on the incidents are so precise that they mention the type of sex act and whether condoms were used. According to Mike Edmondson, State Attorney Barry Krischer's spokesman, cops secretly installed video cameras that taped from June 13-16 the sex-for-money at La Place, officially a lotion establishment at 7300 N. Federal Highway. This is how it worked: Cops observed men driving into the parking lot, then walking into the joint. From license tags, the officers called up on computer screens the driver licenses of the cars' owners, then matched instantly the license photos with the faces of the men allegedly having sex. So far, 25 of 42 men have been identified, and Edmondson said they should expect to receive misdemeanor prostitution summonses at home within two weeks. Among the alleged johns are a community stalwart, a disgraced entrepreneur and a family values-supporting Republican operative. Also expected to be summoned to court: jeweler Scott King, who owns King Jewelers in Miami and is a recipient of the National Republican Congressional Committee's leadership award. "It's a case of mistaken identity," King said.

As Congress debates a crackdown on members' and their staffs' accepting travel paid for by outside interests, newly filed records show Capitol Hill lawmakers aren't Washington's only frequent freebie fliers. According to filings with the Office of Government Ethics, White House staffers have accepted nearly $135,000 in free trips since November 2004. Among those picking up the tab: some of the president's top business supporters, including the National Association of Manufacturers, and dozens of conservative and religious groups, among them the Southern Baptist Convention, Focus on the Family and the Federalist Society. Records list most trips as speaking engagements or panel discussions - including White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove's $2,600 trip last September to Aspen, where he attended a two-day retreat sponsored by financier Ted Forstmann. Al Hubbard, Bush's top economic adviser, also visited Colorado, reporting a $4,276 trip in June 2005 paid for by the American Enterprise Institute. Bush aides listed trips as far away as Norway, Germany, Latvia, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Australia, where Rove aide Barry Jackson reported a $15,483 jaunt to Sydney to attend a conference on Australian-U.S. relations.

Wanted: Face time with President Bush or top adviser Karl Rove. Suggested "donation": $100,000. The middleman: lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Blunt e-mails that connect money and access in Washington show that prominent Republican activist Grover Norquist facilitated some administration contacts for Abramoff's clients while the lobbyist simultaneously solicited those clients for large donations to Norquist's tax-exempt group. Those who were solicited or landed administration introductions included foreign figures and American Indian tribes, according to e-mails gathered by Senate investigators and federal prosecutors or obtained independently by The Associated Press. "Can the tribes contribute $100,000 for the effort to bring state legislatures and those tribal leaders who have passed Bush resolutions to Washington?" Norquist wrote Abramoff in one such e-mail in July 2002. "When I have funding, I will ask Karl Rove for a date with the president. Karl has already said 'yes' in principle and knows you organized this last time and hope to this year," Norquist wrote in the e-mail. A Senate committee that investigated Abramoff previously aired evidence showing Bush met briefly in 2001 at the White House with some of Abramoff's tribal clients after they donated money to Norquist's group.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:54:44 AM

Sat, Jun 24 2006

Fishing In The Rain

The weather has continued in a mostly rainy-season mode, but with a break midday today for several hours. Otherwise, it rained most of the day yesterday, varying between heavy and a good strong drizzle, and threatened to do so today, but without much result. In spite of a mostly cloudless night, the temperature was quite warm, a pleasant 74, and today was a delightful 83.

My guests from the States, readers of my blog, have been by visiting a good deal yesterday and today, and I have been enjoying their visit immensely. They came by yesterday morning, and proceeded to do some fishing in the pond, in spite of the rain. Finding worms for the bait proved a bit difficult, until we found a pile of leaf litter mixed with soil that the road grader had left behind, and it proved to be the mother-lode. Armed with worms, we proceeded to toss some cooked rice out in the water to attract the fish near the shore, and then drown the worms trying to catch them. The worms are used to catch a bait fish, and then the bait fish are used to bait a hook for the guapote. Well, the sardinas, a small tetra fish, were elusive - after a lot of nibbled worms, we finally managed to catch one sardina, placed it on the hook, and proceeded to cast for the famed guapote, the 'rainbow bass' that are among the prized finny denizens of my pond.

Cast after cast produced no result. It was a bit late in the morning, close to noon, in fact, and I suspect the guapote were just not interested. Eventually, most of our time was spent chatting as much as fishing, and my guest cast yet again, mostly talking to me and not watching where the cast went. As one would expect, it went right where it wasn't supposed to - into the pond overflow, and got caught on the grate. There was no way to free it, and so the sardina bait fish and the bobber were lost.

Not long after, a young school boy, maybe twelve years old, came by on his way home from school, still in his white uniform shirt and blue pants. Seeing what we were doing, he was interested in participating and was soon using an extra rod and reel, and was casting as well as could be expected for a youth with no experience with proper fishing equipment. Yet the fish cooperated - with a bare brass hook, not even a lure, he caught the one proper fish of the day - a five-inch long tilapia. And with baited hooks he was having far better luck with the sardinas than we were. He wasn't catching any, but at least they were taking his bait quite reliably - more than we could claim. No results to show for all that fishing out there in the rain. Skunked. But maybe we'll have better luck at sunset today. At least its not raining.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The Bush administration was forced yesterday for the second time in as many months to account for a controversial spying program, defending its tracking of millions of financial transactions as an "important tool" in the "war on terror." The revelation that CIA agents and treasury officials had been secretly monitoring financial transactions routed through SWIFT, the Brussels-based banking cooperative, caused uproar. Under the banking surveillance programme, disclosed on Thursday night on the websites of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal, agents from the US treasury department and CIA gained access to a trove of international financial transactions. Although the White House has often spoken of the importance of disrupting terrorist financial networks, it had not previously revealed its methods. But John Snow, the treasury secretary, said yesterday the administration had not intruded unduly on Americans' privacy. "It's entirely consistent with democratic values, with our best legal traditions," he told a press conference. "This is government at its best," he said. Initiated shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, the surveillance program has used a broad new interpretation of the Treasury Department's administrative powers to bypass traditional banking privacy protections. It has swept in large volumes of international money transfers, including many made by U.S. citizens and residents, in an effort to track the locations, identities and activities of suspected terrorists. The Brussels-based cooperative, known as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, links about 7,800 banks and brokerages and handles billions of transactions a year. Terrorism investigators had sought access to SWIFT's database since the 1990s, but other government and industry authorities balked at the potential blow to confidence in the banking system.

Vice-President Dick Cheney has condemned as "offensive" US media disclosures of a secret programme that probes global financial transactions. The government has covertly tracked thousands of international money transactions for nearly five years as part of its so-called war on terror. Mr Cheney said leaking the program played into the enemy's hands. The New York Times defended its coverage, saying the information was in the public's interest. Speaking in Chicago, Mr Cheney said the disclosures, which went ahead despite appeals from the White House, would make it more difficult for the administration to prevent future attacks.

Vice President Cheney yesterday offered an unusually revealing glimpse of his worldview -- one in which a withdrawal from Iraq may have less to do with Iraq, and more to do with the message it would send to the world about the limits of American power. Cheney really loathes weakness. And like his fellow neoconservatives, he is consumed with the conviction that an all-powerful United States is both imperative to American security and the best thing for the world. Moral leadership, multilateralism, containment, human rights -- those are all less crucial than maintaining unquestioned power, at the point of a gun if necessary. But in Cheney's mindset, American might makes right -- so the invasion of Iraq couldn't have been a mistake. And backing off would be a global disaster.

The New York Times reports that Republicans are strongly embracing the Bush Administration's war in Iraq in "an effort to turn what some party leaders had feared could become the party's greatest liability into an advantage in the midterm elections." In a strategy meeting "White House officials including the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, outlined ways in which Republican lawmakers could speak more forcefully about the war. Participants also included Mr. Bush's top political and communications advisers: his deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove; his political director, Sara Taylor; and the White House counselor, Dan Bartlett." The NY Times article makes no mention of the new group Vets for Freedom, an apparent client of the Republican consultanting firm Donatelli Group. It has been attacking John Murtha and other Iraq war critics while heavlily promoting Bush's pro-war position. Vets for Freedom could be very helpful in the Republican pro-war PR strategy to keep control of Congress and the Senate.

Getting contractors on U.S. military bases in Iraq to return the passports they seized from thousands of foreign workers imported to do menial labor in the war zone was "kind of like pulling teeth," even though the seizures violated U.S. laws against human trafficking, a senior contracting officer told Congress Wednesday. Air Force Col. Robert Boyles, who helped implement military reforms aimed at eliminating trafficking of Asian laborers onto American bases in Iraq, also testified that contractors had seized passports as a standard practice. He suggested they complied with military orders to return travel documents to the workers only because their business was threatened. Boyles testified at a joint hearing by two House subcommittees, one from the Armed Services Committee and one from the International Relations Committee. The session was convened to examine how the Defense Department is implementing its zero-tolerance policy on human trafficking. Much of the hearing focused on the agency's investigation of and response to a 2005 Chicago Tribune series, "Pipeline to Peril." The series documented networks run by a string of human brokers in Asia and the Middle East, men working in tandem with a chain of subcontractors doing business on U.S. military bases in Iraq. They deceitfully lured workers into the war zone from poor Asian nations, sometimes used coercion, violated human rights or failed to protect them.

Former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, speaking at the opening of a new RAND Corp. office, said the war on terror is likely to last for decades, much like the Cold War. "For every (Osama) bin Laden, there's a bin Laden wannabe. And for every al-Qaida, there's a like organization," Ridge said Wednesday in Pittsburgh."I don't know if anyone in the 1950s thought the Cold War would last close to half a century, but it did," Ridge said. "The challenge is global and it may take a generation or two or more to reduce." Federal, state and local authorities now share more intelligence that they did before the attacks, but they will have to continue to improve to if they are to prevent future terrorism, Ridge said.

More than 750 inmates have passed through the steel mesh cages of Guantanamo since the Bush administration decided to establish an offshore prison that would be beyond the reach of the US constitution and international law, where inmates would be subjected to open-ended interrogation and tried before military tribunals without the protection of the Geneva convention. But it now appears that the White House has decided that America can no longer afford the damage to its reputation and its relations around the world. Within the last two weeks, George Bush has said three times that he would like to close the camp, but was waiting for direction from the US supreme court. "Because Guantánamo can no longer serve its purpose, and because Guantánamo has become a symbol that contradicts everything the administration is trying to accomplish in the world, I think the administration would love nothing more, at this point, than to close it down and release most prisoners," David Remes, who represents 17 Yemenis, has said. Others describe Guantánamo as an "impulse buy" the administration soon regretted. The camp's first commander had 96 hours' notice to transform an ancient holding pen for Haitian and Cuban refugees to a high security prison for al-Qaida suspects. "The Bush administration boxed itself into a corner by the choices it made in treating the people at Guantánamo," said David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University. "Had it given individuals hearings at the outset to ensure they were, in fact, fighters for al-Qaida, had it treated them humanely while they were detained there, rather than coercively interrogating them, and had it asserted the authority to hold them only for the duration of the conflict with al-Qaida - rather than the duration of the war on terror, which is never ending - I don't think Guantánamo would be a problem."

A group of religious broadcasters Monday sent White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove a strongly worded letter to complain that Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin "was forced to pull multicast must carry" from the agency's June 21 public meeting. The letter, signed by 16 religious broadcasting executives, argued in a scolding tone that Martin's inability to line up a majority at an agency controlled by Bush appointees was indicative of ongoing White House "indifference" toward providers of "local quality, family-friendly programming that is both faith-based and community oriented." Martin wanted the FCC to adopt rules that would have allowed TV stations to demand cable carriage of every free programming service that they can fit into their digital spectrum. Broadcasters insist that multicast must carry is essential in order to remain competitive in market that offers consumers hundreds of channels of programming. The GOP has held a 3-2 majority at the FCC since the June 1 arrival of Robert McDowell.

With the presidential election more than two years away, a CNN poll released Monday suggests that nearly half of Americans would "definitely not vote for" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose name repeatedly tops lists of potential 2008 Democratic candidates. Respondents were asked whether they would "definitely vote for," "consider voting for," or "definitely not vote for" three Democrats and three Republicans who might run for president in 2008. Regarding potential Democratic candidates, 47 percent of respondents said they would "definitely not vote for" both Clinton, the junior senator from New York who is running for re-election this year, and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the party's candidate in 2004. Forty-eight percent said the same of former Vice President Al Gore, who has repeatedly denied he intends to run again for president.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Costa Rica wants its name erased from the list of countries supporting the invasion of Iraq. But the United States says that's not possible. The Costa Rican government initially supported the invasion, but public sentiment was never strong and polls show now that most Costa Ricans oppose the war. Opponents of the fighting took the name issue to the country's Supreme Court, which ruled the references to support should be removed. While the U.S. government removed the Central American nation from the list of the so-called "coalition of the willing" in 2004, it still appears in archive documents and on related Internet Web sites that haven't been updated. "We are insisting through diplomatic routes that it be clarified our country was removed" from the list, Costa Rican Foreign Relations Minister Bruno Stagno told Radio Eco Thursday. U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Mark Langdale, who delivered the response, said the list is part of the Web page's archives and appear in other parts of the Internet. "Although they aren't correct anymore, they form part of the historic record and can't be modified or removed," he said. "We regret any confusion these archives have caused."

The popularity of Iran's controversial leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is surging almost a year after he unexpectedly won closely contested presidential elections, Iranian officials and western diplomats said on Tuesday. Attributing his success to his populist style and fortnightly meet-the-people tours of the country, the sources said, as matters stand, Mr Ahmadinejad was the clear favorite to win a second term in 2009. The perception that the president was standing up to the US over the nuclear issue was also boosting his standing.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: While dozens of lawsuits challenging the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance of Americans slowly move through the courts, the Senate Judiciary Committee is poised to consider legislation that would effectively legalize the practice. Civil-rights advocates and constitutional-law experts say several proposed bills attempt to "whitewash" executive wrongdoing before Congress has the opportunity to conduct hearings and gather the facts surrounding the National Security Agency’s involvement in warrantless wiretapping and telecommunications data mining. "Congress has the power to ensure that the president follows the law; they just have chosen not to use it," said Brittany Benowitz, staff attorney for the Center for National Security Studies, a government watchdog group. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) introduced the "National Security Surveillance Act" (S.2453) last March, which he followed with a substitute proposal in May. The legislation would amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and establish new "procedures for the review of electronic surveillance programs." FISA, which was expanded under the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act, was first established in 1978 to define the procedures and set up special courts to oversee the gathering of foreign intelligence through physical and electronic surveillance.

Private data brokers who covertly gather Americans' telephone records without subpoenas or warrants on behalf of banks, bail bondsmen and even federal and local police are bracing for intensive scrutiny by Congress. These brokers, many of whom market aggressively on the Internet, have tricked telephone carriers into revealing private customer information and broken into online accounts, sometimes by guessing passwords that were the names of pets, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. "She has two pets, one named Rainbow and the other is Max," wrote a private detective, Donnie Tidmore of Waco, Texas, in September in e-mail to a data broker, PDJ Investigations of Granbury, Texas. The detective wanted lists of cellular calls and the Social Security number of a Virgin Mobile USA subscriber for a case. Tidmore didn't return a phone message from the AP late Tuesday.

A bill that supporters say is targeted at the American Civil Liberties Union may undo a law that forces losing defendants to pay plaintiffs' legal fees in cases involving some rights issues. The Public Expression of Religion Act, introduced last year in the House by Representative John Hostettler (R-Indiana), would amend a law passed in the 1970s aimed at making it easier for Americans to sue the government over civil-rights violations. The law is meant to encourage attorneys to take on cases, providing them guaranteed payment if they win. Hostettler’s bill would do away with the provision granting attorney’s fees and reimbursement in cases involving violations of the prohibition against government establishment of religion. Supporters of Hostettler’s bill are angered that current law has allowed the American Civil Liberties Union to collect money after winning cases aimed at enforcing the constitutional separation of religion and government. The Public Expression of Religion Act is awaiting a vote in the House Judiciary Committee and has 46 co-sponsors. It also has the backing of the American Legion, a huge conservative veterans organization, which has pledged that its membership will force passage of the bill.

Republicans Believe In The Rule Of Law: The Bush administration will have to explain why it thinks it can ignore or overrule laws passed by Congress in a hearing next week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said on Wednesday. Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said he hoped to force the Bush administration to reduce its use of "signing statements" - memos that reserve the right to ignore laws if the president thinks they impinge on his authority. "Our legislation doesn't amount to anything if the president can say, 'My constitutional authority supersedes the statute.' And I think we've got to lay down the gauntlet and challenge him on it," Specter said in a telephone interview. A Justice Department official is scheduled to testify at a hearing on signing statements next Tuesday, Specter said. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who had lunch with Specter on Wednesday, will face questions about the presidential memos when he appears before the committee on July 18 to discuss the National Security Agency's domestic spying program. Bush has signed at least 750 such memos since taking office in 2001, according to the Boston Globe, more than previous presidential administrations combined.

Republicans Believe In Telling The Truth: "Who needs Hill & Knowlton when you've got Benador Associates?" asks Larry Cohler-Esses in The Nation. Cohler-Esses examines a rapidly-debunked May 2006 story in Canada's National Post, which claimed that Iran's government was requiring Jewish residents to wear a yellow insignia. That story was planted by the PR firm Benador Associates,, according to its president, Eleana Benador. The firm's "stable of writers and activists" reads like "a Who's Who of the neocon movement," including Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, Frank Gaffney and Amir Taheri, an Iranian exile who wrote the false story. Cohler-Esses notes that Taheri's 1989 book, Nest of Spies, was also debunked for citing "nonexistent sources," fabricating "nonexistent substance in cases where the sources existed," and distorting the facts "beyond recognition." Last year, Taheri falsely claimed that Iran's current ambassador to the United Nations took part in the 1979 hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Yet, Taheri was part of an "Iraq experts" briefing of President Bush last month. "My major concern is the large picture," Benador told Cohler-Esses. "As much as being accurate is important, in the end it's important to side with what's right. What's wrong is siding with the terrorists."

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming, It Will Go Away: Weighing in on the highest profile debate about global warming, the nation's premier science policy body on Thursday voiced a "high level of confidence" that Earth is the hottest it has been in at least 400 years, and possibly even the last 2,000 years. A panel convened by the National Research Council reached that conclusion in a broad review of scientific studies, reporting that the evidence indicates "recent warmth is unprecedented for at least the last 400 years." The panel of top climate scientists told lawmakers that the Earth is running a fever and that "human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming." Their 155-page report said average global surface temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere rose about 1 degree F during the 20th century. The report was requested last November by the chairman of the House Science Committee, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., to survey what science says about climate change over the last 2,000 years. Boehlert said Thursday the report shows the value of having scientists advise Congress. "There is nothing in this report that should raise any doubts about the broad scientific consensus on global climate change," he said. If you don't like the message, then kill the messenger: the fall-out culminated in one US politician demanding to see financial and research records from the three scientists who had put the data together: Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley, and Malcolm Hughes (sometimes referred to simply as MBH).

News From Smirkey's Wars: In Afghanistan, "the Taliban now have three different press spokesmen covering three separate regions of the country. In Kandahar this summer, Taliban cassettes, DVDs and magazines are available in numbers never previously seen. ... The Taliban have also begun broadcasting a pirate station called the 'Voice of Sharia' from mobile transmitters in at least two southern provinces," reports The Independent. "In response, Western forces in the country are extending a fledgling military funded radio channel called Radio Peace," which aims to counter Taliban propaganda portraying President Hamid Karzai as a "puppet" of the United States. The Washington Post reports on "an unsigned but official-looking document" recently delivered to Afghan media outlets, which directed them to avoid any material that "weakens public morale or damages the national interest," among other instructions. Karzai disavowed the document, which the national journalists' association called "illegal." The document is believed to have come from the Afghan intelligence service or government officials "seeking to indirectly intimidate the press."

If you want to understand why the war is going so badly in Iraq, it may help to examine the recent reaction to "Hadji Girl," the videotaped song about killing Iraqis by U.S. Marine Corporal Joshua Belile. The song became controversial when the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) discovered it on the internet and objected to its lyrics. "Hadji Girl" tells the story of a soldier "out in the sands of Iraq / And we were under attack" The girl says that she "wanted me to meet her family / But I, well, I couldn’t figure out how to say no. / Cause I don’t speak Arabic." They visit her home, a "side shanty" down "an old dirt trail," and as soon as they arrive, "Her brother and her father shouted/Dirka Dirka Mohammed Jihad/Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah/They pulled out their AKs so I could see/... So I grabbed her little sister and pulled her in front of me./As the bullets began to fly/The blood sprayed from between her eyes/And then I laughed maniacally/Then I hid behind the TV/And I locked and loaded my M-16/And I blew those little fuckers to eternity./And I said/'Dirka Dirka Mohammed Jihad/Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah/They should have known they were fucking with a Marine'." The song is gruesome, to be sure, and CAIR complained that it celebrated the killing of Iraqi civilians. The video shows Belile performing the song before a laughing, applauding audience of fellow soldiers at their base in Iraq. Recognizing that the song could only bring bad publicity, U.S. military officials promptly issued a statement saying that it was "clearly inappropriate and contrary to the high standards expected of all Marines." Belile also apologized, saying the song was intended as "a joke" and that he didn't intend to offend anyone. Pro-war pundits, however, actually rallied to the song's defense. The conservative Little Green Footballs weblog thought news reports about the video controversy were the "mainstream media disgrace of the month." There's nothing wrong with the song, the Footballs said, because it doesn't actually describe a soldier killing civilians: "the people who kill the 'little sister' in this darkly humorous song are "not the Marines" but her father and brother, as they attempt to perpetrate an ambush." Some of the comments on LGF even called it "a wonderful song," and attacked the "nutless Pentagon star-chasing bastards" for their "capitulation."

Scandals Du Jour: When Dick Cheney left Halliburton in 2000 to become George W. Bush's running mate, the Republican ticket was touted as two tough-minded business executives running against wimpish politicians. "The American people should be pleased they have a vice presidential nominee who has been successful in business," Karen Hughes, Bush's then-communications director, enthused. Well, a rather different story is told by a class-action investor lawsuit against Halliburton, recently revived after languishing for four years. It describes Cheney as not much different from other corporate titans ensnared by accusations of fraud. Brushing aside facts and subordinates' warnings, CEO Cheney made a series of daring but wrong decisions that were disastrous for the company. The managerial incompetence was compounded by fraudulent accounting gimmicks that concealed the company's true condition. Cheney, however, relentlessly issued bullish assurances, hiding the losses and pumping up the stock price. Eventually, the truth caught up with the company--its stock tanked--but Cheney was already off to Washington, $40 million richer and running the country. He sold his shares at the top. HAL, the Halliburton stock symbol, began falling a few months after his resignation, from $53 to an eventual low of $8. By then Bush/Cheney were rolling out another bold venture--the invasion of Iraq.

Lobbyists from the defunct firm Alexander Strategy Group, which closed after being tied to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and disgraced House majority leader Tom DeLay, are finding new K Street homes, reports Judy Sarasohn. Daniel Gans and Amelia Blackwood have started their own shop, Polaris Government Relations. Polaris has several former ASG clients, including BellSouth, U.S. Telecom Association, Xcel Energy and the Association of Kentucky Fried Chicken Franchisees, which retained Polaris to lobby on "estate taxes, 'frivolous obesity suits,' the minimum wage and avian flu." Former ASG lobbyist Paul Behrends is now at C&M Capitolink and Terry Haines is at Buchanan Ingersoll. In related news, the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee released a report detailing how Abramoff used nonprofit groups "as extensions of for-profit lobbying operations." One group, conservative activist Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, funneled more than $1 million from the Choctaw tribe to Ralph Reed, reports Associated Press.

A bipartisan Senate report released on Thursday documented more than $5.3 million in payments to Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition and a leading Republican Party strategist, from an influence-peddling operation run by the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff on behalf of Indian tribe casinos. The report by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee portrayed Mr. Reed, now a candidate for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in his home state of Georgia, as a central figure in Mr. Abramoff's lobbying operation, the focus of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department. Mr. Reed was depicted as having used his contacts among conservative Christian groups in the South and Southwest beginning in the late 1990's to block the opening or expansion of casinos that might compete with the gambling operations of Mr. Abramoff's clients. Mr. Abramoff and his former partner, Michael Scanlon, have pleaded guilty to conspiring to corrupt public officials and bilking some Indian tribe clients out of tens of millions of dollars. They are cooperating with a federal grand-jury investigation that is threatening to derail the careers of several members of Congress.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: It's never-say-die time for Pennsylvania's two-term incumbent Republican Senator Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum, running for re-election and well behind in the polls. He is counting on several hot-button "values voters" issues - immigration and same-sex marriage in particular - to bring out his core constituency, conservative Christian evangelical voters. Santorum, who was elected to the House in 1990 and the Senate in 1994, is turning to the Pennsylvania Pastors Network, a tax-exempt pastoral organization, for support. This new group, which models itself after the Ohio Restoration Project, is squarely in Santorum's camp. Santorum has addressed the group's "training" sessions, and has contributed copies of his book to their literature distribution. But all that could challenge the group's status as a non-political charity: "The [training] sessions could test the promises of the tax agency [the Internal Revenue Service] to step up enforcement of the law that prohibits such activity by [tax] exempt organizations," the New York Times pointed out.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:20:47 AM

Thu, Jun 22 2006

Much Appreciated Visitors

Well, it appears that our little dry-season of the last week or so is about to be at an end. After a largely warm and sunny day yesterday, the weather today has turned deeply overcast, and the wind has died down, allowing thunderstorms to build. The skies to the south are darkening as I write this, and it looks like we may be in for a classic thunderbumper this afternoon. The temperatures are up a bit too, with a high of 86 in spite of the overcast, and a 72 degree night last night.

The last two days, I have been immensely enjoying the company of some friends, readers of my blog who wrote and introduced themselves as preparing to move to Costa Rica. They have travelled to Costa Rica several times before, and are back, this time making preparations to move here. After carrying on an email correspondence with them for nearly a year, I finally met them yesterday, when they arrived in Arenal. We had a fine conversation during the afternoon, and shared a delightful dinner in the evening. This morning, they came by for a bit before going out to do some real estate shopping, and I am looking forward to them returning late this afternoon for some more fishing. He is an avid fisherman, and is enjoying himself drowning worms in my pond. Unfortunately, the rainstorm last week muddied up the pond, and so the fish are not biting well, and so far, it has been no luck. But we're going to try some different bait tonight, something with more smell to it, that may attract some guapote. I sure hope they decide to buy here in Arenal - what a delightful couple they are, and how wonderful it would be to have them as neighbors.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: North Korea is far along in its preparations for a test of a long-range ballistic missile and the United States hopes the North Koreans will "give it up and not launch," a senior U.S. official said on Thursday. White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters it remained uncertain if North Korea actually planned to conduct a test-firing of the missile, which Washington has warned would be seen as a provocative act. "I think what we've said publicly is we're watching it very carefully and preparations are very far along. So you could, from a capability standpoint, have a launch. Now what they intend to do ... of course we don't know. What we hope they will do is give it up and not launch," he said. South Korea's defense minister said Thursday that Seoul believes North Korea's missile launch is not imminent despite concern in the region that the communist nation would test-fire a long-range missile.

"It is our judgment that a launch is not imminent," Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung told a parliamentary meeting in comments confirmed by his ministry. North Korea said Wednesday it wants direct talks with the United States over its apparent plans to test-fire a long-range missile, but the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations rejected the request. North Korea this week issued a bristling declaration of its right to carry out the launch and said U.S. concerns should be resolved through negotiations. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said a missile threat wasn't the way to seek dialogue. "You don't normally engage in conversations by threatening to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles, and it's not a way to produce a conversation because if you acquiesce in aberrant behavior, you simply encourage the repetition of it, which we're obviously not going to do," Bolton told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. China issued its strongest statement of concern yet Thursday over a possible North Korean long-range missile launch, while Pyongyang warned of possible clashes in the skies as it accused U.S. spy planes of repeated illegal intrusions. Beijing is the North's last major ally and key benefactor, and Washington has urged China to press the North to back down on its potential missile test.

The U.S. has declined to tell the South Korean military if one of its Aegis destroyers is plowing the East Sea with a view to intercepting a long-range ballistic missile North Korea is allegedly planning to launch. Washington normally gives Seoul due notice when an aircraft carrier or Aegis ship is headed into Korea’s maritime operational zone, but it sometimes keeps quiet about ships it sends into international waters off North Korea. Military insiders say there is a good chance the U.S. already has an Aegis vessel in the East Sea. Meanwhile, the U.S. started the largest military exercise in 10 years. The operation codenamed "Valiant Shield" takes place in waters surrounding Guam, with three aircraft carriers joining drills from Monday until Thursday. A spokesman of the U.S. Forces in the Pacific said the possibility that the missile situation in North Korea could have an effect on the drills cannot be ruled out.

The level of violence in some areas of Iraq is worsening dramatically and US forces may soon be asked to leave by the Iraqi Government. In an exclusive interview with The Australian, former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage has given a gloomy assessment of the situation. "The British used to make a big deal of walking around in their berets in the south," he said. "Now they won't even go to the latrines without their helmets. The south has got much rougher, it's mainly Shia on Shia violence." Mr Armitage said much of the violence came from differences over how the Islamic religion should be interpreted. And he said he believed the Iraqis would soon ask the US to leave their country. The most optimistic scenario following a US withdrawal would be that Iraq would become a loose federation -- although the term federation would not be used because it upsets neighbouring Turkey -- with a weak central government. "The difficulty then will be to stop them (the Iraqis) causing violence for their neighbours," Mr Armitage said. This was because almost all of Iraq's neighbours had restive Shia minorities and the governments of both Iraq and Iran would come under pressure to intervene on their behalf. Mr Armitage believed the Shi'ites and Sunnis had not sated their appetite for violence against each other. But there were signs of the essential compromises necessary to make Iraq stable in the negotiations taking place inside the new Iraqi Government. Mr Armitage said he hoped there could be a draw-down of US and other coalition troops in Iraq in the next 12 to 18 months.

The US Senate on Wednesday defeated a proposal pushed by Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage in increments from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour by January 1, 2009. Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, unsuccessfully tried to attach the proposal raising the wage for the first time since 1997 to a defense authorization bill that is expected to be passed by the Senate soon. While a majority of the Senate, 52 senators, backed the move to increase the minimum wage, it failed to win the 60 votes needed for passage under a procedural agreement worked out earlier. Operating under those same rules, the Senate was expected to also defeat a Republican-backed amendment that would raise the minimum wage in two steps to $6.25. But that measure also would change some work rules, drawing Democratic opposition. House Democrats, like their Senate counterparts, are pushing a $2.10-per-hour minimum wage increase. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee voted to include the wage hike in a fiscal 2007 labor and health spending bill. the vast majority of Republican Senators, several of them millionaires several times over, don't care about poverty or the well-being of their working class constituents, What they really care about is that they're sitting pretty, having voted themselves another raise - to $168,500 - on January 1. Even the not-exactly-populist Wall Street Journal points out, "While the minimum wage has remained frozen, lawmakers' salaries have risen with annual cost-of-living increases keyed to what is given federal employees. And last week's vote in the House Appropriations Committee followed a floor vote days before in which the House cleared the way for members to get another increase valued at thousands of dollars annually." So, while Congress will soon make close to $170,000 a year, hardworking full-time minimum wage workers make just $10,700 annually.

Several conservation groups filed a federal court challenge to new rules allowing polluters to bypass Clean Air Act regulations when their equipment malfunctions. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule on emissions from refineries, chemical plants and other toxic polluters while they are starting up, shutting down or experiencing a malfunction. The new rules state that during these times, excessive emissions are not considered violations of the Clean Air Act. Jesse Marquez is executive director for the Coalition for a Safe Environment, one of the plaintiffs in the recent court challenge of the rules. "The people living near these facilities should be protected from breathing carcinogenic and toxic fumes at all times, not just when it is convenient for plant owners," Marquez said in a press statement. The new EPA rule also weakens the circumstances under which the public can obtain information about plans companies have in place for controlling emissions during equipment failures.

New Orleans is experiencing what appears to be a near epidemic of depression and post-traumatic stress disorders, one that mental health experts say is of an intensity rarely seen in this country. It is contributing to a suicide rate that state and local officials describe as close to triple what it was before Hurricane Katrina struck and the levees broke 10 months ago. Compounding the challenge, the local mental health system has suffered a near total collapse, heaping a great deal of the work to be done with emotionally disturbed residents onto the Police Department and people like Sergeant Glaudi, who has sharp crisis management skills but no medical background. He says his unit handles 150 to 180 such distress calls a month. Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, the deputy New Orleans coroner dealing with psychiatric cases, said the suicide rate in the city was less than nine a year per 100,000 residents before the storm and increased to an annualized rate of more than 26 per 100,000 in the four months afterward, to the end of 2005.

City officials in New Orleans are hurrying to resurrect a nighttime curfew to keep children off the streets, after five teenagers were killed last weekend. Curfew enforcement went by the wayside after Hurricane Katrina, but officials say the problem is now urgent as summer starts and more people return to the city. On Wednesday, work was under way to get one piece of the curfew program going: A holding center for violators. The center - a partitioned room where violators wait for parents or social workers - was, like so much else, flooded by Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Ray Nagin's predecessor, Marc Morial, was credited with using a curfew in the mid-1990s to fight a rise in crime. "It has not actively been enforced because the juvenile justice system has been down and there is nowhere to house these juveniles," said Sgt. Carlton Lewis, a police spokesman. The move comes as National Guard troops patrol streets and help the depleted New Orleans Police Department fight a wave of crime.

The American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal judge to stop the Miami-Dade County school district from removing a series of children's books from its libraries, including a volume about Cuba which depicts smiling kids in communist uniforms. The ACLU and the Miami-Dade County Student Government Association argued in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Miami on Wednesday that the school board should add materials with alternate viewpoints rather than remove books that could be offensive. Last week, the board voted 6-3 to remove "Vamos a Cuba" and its English-language version, "A Visit to Cuba" from 33 schools, stating the books were inappropriate for young readers because of inaccuracies and omissions about life in the communist nation. The book, by Alta Schreier, targets students ages 5 to 7 and contains images of smiling children wearing uniforms of Cuba's communist youth group and a carnival celebrating the 1959 Cuban revolution. The district owns 49 copies of the book in Spanish and English.

The U.S. Army, aiming to make its recruiting goals amid the Iraq war, raised its maximum enlistment age by another two years on Wednesday, while the Army Reserve predicted it will miss its recruiting target for a second straight year. People can now volunteer to serve in the active-duty Army or the part-time Army Reserve and National Guard up to their 42nd birthday after the move aimed at increasing the number of people eligible to sign up, officials said. It marked the second time this year the Army has boosted the maximum age for new volunteers, raising the ceiling from age 35 to 40 in January before now adding two more years. More than three years into the war, the Army continues to provide the bulk of U.S. ground forces in Iraq. Army officials have acknowledged the war has made some recruits and their families wary about volunteering. The Army Reserve, along with the regular Army and Army National Guard, missed its fiscal 2005 recruiting goal, and it currently lags its fiscal 2006 year-to-date goal by 4 percent. Army Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, the new Army Reserve chief, said he does not expect the Reserve to reach its goal of 36,000 recruits for fiscal 2006, which ends September 30. In spite of their recruiting problems, the services all continue to discharge hundreds of gay and lesbian servicemembers each year for the crime of being gay. Apparently, the Army feels that a middle-aged, paunched heterosexual is a more qualified soldier than a young and fit queer.

The summer months usually provide young people with a respite from teachers, homework and school-day stress. But for queer high-school students in a Bible Belt town in Georgia, a court battle for the right to express their identity is just heating up, fueling the national dialogue over gay rights in the education system. Last week, a group of teenagers testified before a district court judge that local school officials had violated their legal rights by blocking them from forming a "gay-straight alliance" club. The youth are students at White County High School in Cleveland, a town of about 2,000 people in northern Georgia. Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, they sought an injunction based on the federal Equal Access Act, which requires equal treatment for all student extracurricular activities in public schools. "We figured, you know, maybe that the principals would be mean about it," said Kimberlee Gould, a 17-year-old lesbian and co-founder of the group. "But we never figured that the whole county would blow up about it.... And going to court now - we never figured any of this would happen."

Democrats want a different direction in Iraq. Republicans back Smirkey. "The public is very happy about the fact that we have not been attacked since 9/11," Sen. Mitch McConnell, the second-ranking Senate Republican, said, even though polls show voters are weary about the war that's in its fourth year. "Americans want an exit strategy," countered Sen. Barbara Boxer (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif. "The status quo is a disaster." The GOP-controlled Senate was poised to vote Thursday on two Democratic proposals to start redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq this year, a week after both houses of Congress soundly rejected withdrawal timetables. Both proposals - offered as amendments to an annual military bill - were expected to be defeated, mostly along partisan lines. "One hundred percent of the Democratic caucus believes it's time for change. One hundred percent of the Republican caucus believes it's time to stay the course," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said during debate, voicing the Democratic view of the likely vote outcome as well as the choice facing voters this fall.

In a new attempt to permanently reduce the estate tax on the ultra-rich, House Republican leaders moved on Tuesday to win over crucial Democrats with a tax sweetener for timber companies. Admitting that Congress would not be able to abolish the estate tax this year, House leaders unveiled a compromise that would stop just short of full repeal and would give the Senate another chance to take up the issue. The latest proposal would eliminate the tax for all estates worth less than $5 million - up to $10 million for couples. That would cover more than 99.5 percent of estates, according to Congressional estimates. In addition, the compromise would reduce the tax rates on the few estates that would still be subject to a tax. "We need to do what is reality, what you can get done with the Senate," said Representative J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, the House speaker. "We just want to bring death to the death tax." But it includes a tax cut that would save timber companies about $900 million over the next three years, a new twist that could win as many as four more Democratic votes in the Senate. The provision would reduce the corporate capital gains tax, which is assessed on sales of timber, to about 14 percent from 35 percent. Two of the timber industry's strongest advocates are the Democratic senators from Washington - Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell - who both voted with other Democrats against blocking a filibuster on the estate tax.

A new national poll finds overwhelming support (74%) for public financing of elections, the result no doubt of soaring campaign costs, lobbyist scandals and the desire for fairer, cleaner elections. The result is bipartisan with eighty percent of Democrats, 78% of Independents, and 65% of Republicans support this reform. What's important to emphasize is why voters said things would improve with public financing of elections. * 82% of voters believe it is likely, as a result of publicly financed elections, that candidates will win on their ideas, not because of the money they raise. * 79% said it would allow candidates with good ideas rather than just the rich and powerful to have a shot at winning elections. * 77% said that special interests would not receive as many favors, tax breaks and deals from politicians.

Democrats are touting six polls released this week that all brought good news for Senate Democrats and Democratic candidates. In New Jersey, incumbent Democrat Robert Menendez looks safer than ever, increasing his lead over Tom Kean Jr. (43%-36% in a Quinnipiac poll). Menendez has led in three prior Quinnipiac polls this year. Pennsylvania State Treasurer is leading incumbent Republican Rick Santorum in the latest Today's Strategic Vision survey, 49%-40%. An independent poll conducted for Ohio TV stations this week showed Democratic challenger Sherrod Brown with a 48%-39% lead over Republican incumbent Mike DeWine. In Tennessee, Congressman Harold Ford is polling as statistically tied with all three GOP candidates hoping to succeed retiring Senator Bill Frist. In Rhode Island, moderate Republican Lincoln Chafee is taking heat from all sides, in a turn of events seeming to favor Democrats. As always, incumbents who do not enjoy majority leads are still considered vulnerable. However, Democrats are quick to point out that generic ballot polls indicate that Americans want Democrats to take back Congress by a double-digit margin. In fact, 51% of Americans in a recent poll said they "worried about the possibility of Republicans remaining in power."

Smirkey's push for a sweeping overhaul of immigration laws was dealt a major blow Tuesday when House Republican leaders announced they would hold public hearings on the Senate bill that they strongly oppose. The plan, unveiled almost a month after the Senate measure passed, is the latest sign of reluctance among the GOP House leadership to try to negotiate a compromise bill that would include a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Conservatives say that element - a central part of the Senate measure - is the equivalent of amnesty. House leaders insisted Tuesday that they still hoped to negotiate with the Senate. But the schedule for the hearings, set for July and August across the country, makes it unlikely that the two chambers can reach a final agreement before the November elections. When Congress reconvenes in September, most lawmakers will be preoccupied with their campaigns; traditionally, little important business gets done at that time. Failure to produce a bill would be a huge setback for Bush, who has prodded lawmakers to pass immigration legislation that - like the Senate legislation - would toughen border enforcement but also create a guest worker program and offer millions of illegal immigrants a way to gain legal status.

The Bush administration will have to explain why it thinks it can ignore or overrule laws passed by Congress in a hearing next week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said on Wednesday. Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said he hoped to force the Bush administration to reduce its use of "signing statements" -- memos that reserve the right to ignore laws if the president thinks they impinge on his authority.

Today, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment offered by Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) to strengthen a watchdog agency that monitors the spending of reconstruction funding in Iraq. The Amendment, accepted onto the Department of Defense Authorization bill aims to extend the life of the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) to oversee spending on the Iraq reconstruction, monitoring for efficiency and effectiveness. An identical amendment filed earlier this year with the emergency supplemental appropriations bill but was blocked from coming to a vote. After 55 audit reports, and over 165 recommendations for program improvement, the office has seized over $13 million in assets. Overall, the SIGIR estimates that its operations have resulted in savings of $24 million. The agency's work has also resulted in the arrest of five individuals who were defrauding the U.S. government.

AT&T has issued an updated privacy policy that takes effect Friday. The changes are significant because they appear to give the telecom giant more latitude when it comes to sharing customers' personal data with government officials. The new policy says that AT&T -- not customers -- owns customers' confidential info and can use it "to protect its legitimate business interests, safeguard others, or respond to legal process."

GOP.com Wants You To Wish Smirkey a Happy Birthday! How? By shoveling money to the GOP! If you try to fill out the online birthday card without coughing up bucks, your request will be rejected.

The Al Gore documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" will receive a rare recognition from the Humanitas Prize, which honors screenwriting that helps "liberate, enrich and unify society." "An Inconvenient Truth," which chronicles Gore's quest to draw attention to global warming, will receive the organization's first Special Award in over 10 years, president Frank Desiderio announced Wednesday.

Smirkey has said he would like to close the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and send many detainees back to their home countries. However, he said not all the inmates would be returned - some would need to be put on trial in the US because they were "cold-blooded killers". The comments came after talks with EU leaders at a one-day summit in Vienna. Mr Bush then flew on to Hungary, where he was due to commemorate the country's 1956 uprising. The US has faced mounting pressure over Guantanamo Bay, the camp that currently holds about 460 detainees, mostly without charge. Mr Bush has said before that he wants to close the camp. But the BBC News website's world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds says his remarks on Wednesday were significant because he revealed more about how he might bring this about.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Venezuela condemned what it called U.S. diplomatic pressure against its bid for a U.N. Security Council seat, saying Washington is trying to lobby Latin American nations to keep Venezuela off the council because it would stand up to the Bush administration. Maripili Hernandez, Venezuela's deputy foreign minister for North America, said in a statement Tuesday that the United States "is worried that a small country like Venezuela can stand up to the empire with dignity and strength." Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's government, which has close ties with Iran and Cuba and has opposed the war in Iraq, is competing with U.S. ally Guatemala for a regional seat. The dueling bids are expected to be a test of support for the leftist Chavez in Latin America.

President Evo Morales drew a sharp denial from the U.S. Embassy when he claimed in a speech that the United States is sending soldiers disguised as students and tourists to Bolivia. The accusation, which the U.S. Embassy dismissed as unfounded Wednesday, comes as Morales faces attacks by political opponents for his cozy relationship with President Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, including accepting aid from that country's military. "But I also have the right to complain because U.S. soldiers disguised as students and tourists are entering the country," said Morales, a leftist who has pledged revolutionary changes for the poor, including his recent move to nationalize Bolivia's natural gas industry. Morales offered no evidence to back his claim. Spokesman Alex Contreras said Morales would provide evidence, though he did not say when.

Ten years after US President Bill Clinton declared the country would "aggressively pursue an international agreement to ban the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines," the US has moved no closer to eliminating the weapons, and is in fact developing new types of mines. According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, budget documents submitted to Congress in 2005 show that the Pentagon is preparing for the development of new types of antipersonnel landmines called "Spider." Spider landmines differ from conventional mines because they are designed to detonate in a variety of ways. Spider mines can explode either through command-detonation--where a human operator determines when the mine will explode the mine (also know as a "man in the loop" system)--or through conventional victim-activation, where a victim detonates the weapon by stepping on or picking up the mine. An operator would have the ability to turn the switch one way for command-detonation, and the other way for victim-detonation.

In early June U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick had the nerve to speak publicly against "interventionism" in Latin America at a meeting of the Organization of American States in the Dominican Republic. Ironically, a few days later the U.S. Congress voted to continue supporting military intervention in Latin America by rejecting an amendment put forth by Rep. McGovern which would have excluded funding for the infamous School of the Americas (SOA) as part of the annual Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. 188 representatives voted in favor of shutting down the SOA, a positive step towards preventing Washington’s intervention in the hemisphere. As we continue the movement to close the SOA, our elected officials must also take note of new "law enforcement" institutions that the United States government is funding throughout the world. In this year’s Foreign Operations bill $16.2 million was granted to fund International Law Enforcement Academies (ILEAs) around the globe for "police training programs and activities". Included in that budget was funding for a new "ILEA-South" in El Salvador. The choice to fund this new ILEA branch in El Salvador was made without any debate in the U.S. Congress. In fact, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced this decision at an OAS meeting last year, no one in Congress had been briefed about the decision. In a similar fashion, the proposal was passed unconstitutionally in El Salvador where international agreements usually need a 2/3 majority in El Salvador’s National Assembly. Nor was the agreement disclosed to the public - indeed, right-wing government officials must have suspected (and rightfully so!) that most Salvadorans would fervently oppose the presence of a U.S. funded law enforcement academy in their country.

Free Markets Solve All Problems: Unsafe fire engines and chronically backlogged repairs were not likely what the federal government had in mind when it outsourced all the maintenance of California's Forest Service vehicles in 2005. Nonetheless, that's just what it got when it handed the jobs of 80 government employees over to Britain's Serco Management Services, which the agency called at the time "a leading international outsourcing company." The contract, undertaken in accordance with President George W. Bush's competitive sourcing initiative, handed over to Serco the repair, maintenance and inspection duties for all vehicles used in California's 18 national forests; it was billed as an estimated savings of $1.7 million in fiscal year 2005. But numerous brake failures, inadequate annual inspections and a ballooning backlog of work began plaguing the agency within weeks of the company's February 2005 start date. In one case, an accident investigation discovered failed brakes on a fire engine though it had been twice repaired by Serco mechanics, according to the Forest Service. In another example, government inspectors "red tagged" 14 out of 25 fire engines for critical safety issues just after Serco's annual service checkups. In April 2006, the Forest Service issued a warning to the company, citing a "significant and growing decline in Serco's performance." And after Serco's response, which called the agency's performance standards "impossible to meet," the Forest Service cancelled the contract altogether in May. This California fiasco may read like a significant cautionary tale of outsourcing gone bad, but to hear it from Forest Service representatives in Washington, D.C., the contract default is little more than par for the course. "It's very common in the contracting world that that happens," says Jacqueline Myers, the agency's associate deputy chief for business operations. "That work is still contracted out today under a new contract, so it's not really a big deal."

Republicans Fight Against Fraud, Waste and Abuse: In an effort to stop companies like Halliburton and its subsidiaries from cheating our troops and stealing from Americans, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), introduced S.AMDT.4230 and attached it to the Defense Authorization bill currently being debated in the Senate. The bill was intended to improve contracting "by eliminating fraud and abuse and improving competition in contracting and procurement." "I think when you are at war, when a massive quantity of money is being pushed out the door, that we ought to decide to get tough on those who would be engaged in war profiteering," said Dorgan in fighting for his amendment last week. "I dare say that never in the history of this country has so much money been wasted so quickly. And, yes, there is fraud involved, there is abuse involved, and it is the case that there is a dramatic amount of taxpayers' money that is now being wasted." Dorgan's bill - cosponsored by 17 Democrats and called the Honest Leadership and Accountability in Contracting Act of 2006 - was tabled by a roll call vote of 55-43, effectively rejecting the amendment. Every single Senate Republican voted against the measure to make the contracting process honest and impose penalties on those who break the law. And just what were the stern rules that the GOP didn't think their buddies at Halliburton should have to live with? The text of the legislation spelled out that Bush and Cheney's defense-contractor buddies would be in trouble if they did any of the following: "Executes or attempts to execute a scheme or artifice to defraud the United States or the entity having jurisdiction over the area in which such activities occur." "Falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact." "Makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations, or makes or uses any materially false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry." "Materially overvalues any good or service with the specific intent to excessively profit from the war or military action."

Republicans Believe In Honesty, Transparency And Accountability In Government: Florida Governor Jeb Bush vetoed a bill that would have required prompt replies to public records requests while signing 37 measures into law today, including legislation making key lime Florida's official state pie. The governor wrote in his veto message that requiring officials to "promptly" reply to public records requests could require hiring additional staff, though the Legislature did not provide any money for that and it would be too disruptive. Bush says officials may have more important things to do, including emergencies.

A new report claims that a "shadow government" of federal contractors has exploded in size over the last five years. The document, compiled at the request of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and distributed to RAW STORY, indicates that procurement spending increased by over $175 billion between 2000 and 2005, making federal contracts the fastest growing component of federal discretionary spending. 500 reports, audits and investigations by government and independent bodies, including the Government Accountability Office and the Defense Contract Audit Agency, were used to compile the data. That spending increase -- an astonishing 86 percent -- puts total US federal procurement at $377.5 billion annually. The increase means spending on federal contracts has grown more than two times as fast as other forms of discretionary government spending. Waxman claims that overcharging -- by mistake or outright fraud -- has been a frequent occurrance. In all, the report identifies 118 federal contracts worth $745.5 billion that have been found by government officials to include significant waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: Prices of the most widely used prescription drugs rose sharply in this year's first quarter, just as the new Medicare drug coverage program was going into effect, according to separate studies issued yesterday by two large consumer advocacy groups. AARP, which represents older Americans, said prices charged by drug makers for brand-name pharmaceuticals jumped 3.9 percent, four times the general inflation rate during the first three months of this year and the largest quarterly price increase in six years. Price increases for some of the most popular brand-name drugs were much steeper; the sleeping pill Ambien was up 13.3 percent, and the best-selling cholesterol drug, Lipitor, was up 4.7 to 6.5 percent, depending on dosage. Over all, AARP said, higher prices mean that the cost of providing brand-name drugs to the typical older American, who takes four prescription medicines daily, rose by nearly $240 on average over the 12-month period that ended on March 31. "When the manufacturers' wholesale prices increase, it gets passed through the system, regardless of who the final purchaser is," said John Rother, the policy director of AARP. Although the drug industry's main trade association challenged the accuracy of the AARP survey, a separate study, by Families USA, a patient advocacy group, found similar inflation rates among brand-name drug prices. While the higher prices have a general impact on the drug-taking public, consumer advocates said the higher prices have special implications for Medicare, which Congress barred from negotiating prices with drug makers when lawmakers devised the new so-called Part D drug program.

World oil prices could double or triple over the current painful $70-per-barrel level if military conflict broke out over Iran's nuclear ambitions, Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal warned this morning. "We don't know" what will happen if the United States chooses a military option in Iran, al-Faisal said, but "if there is military conflict, if bombs are dropped, ships are blown up, oil facilities on our side of the gulf are targeted . . . just the idea of somebody firing a missile at an installation somewhere would shoot up the price of oil astronomically." In such a scenario, he said, Saudi Arabia "hopefully would defend our oil installations as best as we can and seek an immediate resolution," but the risks would be grave. "Not just our installations, but the whole gulf would become an inferno of exploding fuel tanks and shut-up facilities," al-Faisal said.

Struggling US carmaker General Motors (GM), which made a loss of $10.6 billion in 2005, has had its credit rating cut deeper into junk territory. The move came after GM announced it was lengthening the timescale of its existing $5.6 billion credit facility. GM is extending the credit facility from 2008 to 2011 by offering lenders increased collateral in the company. The decision to further cut GM's credit rating was made by both Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service. The carmaker needs the extra time as it continues work to turn around its fortunes and return to profitability. GM is continuing with plans to cut 30,000 jobs globally and close 12 plants. Last month GM's vice-chairman Bob Lutz insisted that the firm's recovery efforts were "starting to bear fruit". GM is far from the only carmaker currently struggling in the face of stagnant sales. Its fellow giant Ford also recently saw its own credit rating cut further into junk status, and European giant Volkswagen admitted at the weekend that its situation was "serious" as it continues with a cost-cutting programme that could cost 20,000 jobs.

Republicans Believe In Equal Rights For All: A bipartisan bill to extend the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a crown jewel of the U.S. civil rights era, was unexpectedly and indefinitely delayed on Wednesday amid objections from some southern Republican lawmakers. The controversy centered on extra scrutiny faced mostly by states in the U.S. South with a legacy of civil rights violations, and on requirements that some areas supply bilingual ballots to voters whose English is poor. In a private morning meeting, House Republicans have raised objections that have forced House leaders to yank the Voting Rights Act renewal bill from the House floor. One concern had its roots in the bill's origins. The legislation requires nine states with a documented history of discrimination against black voters - such as poll taxes and literacy tests - to get Justice Department approval for their election laws. Another objection, a spillover from the contentious debate on immigration, had to do with requirements in some states for ballots printed in several languages and the presence of interpreters at polling places where large numbers of citizens speak limited English.

Injecting himself in the middle of a South Philly controversy as burning-hot as a stainless-steel grill, Sen. Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum made an unscheduled stop at Geno's Steaks last night to wolf down a cheesesteak and stand behind its owner. He voiced support - albeit in an odd, indirect way - for owner Joe Vento's much debated "Speak English" sign (reported earlier in this space - prohibits customers from ordering in a language other than English). "It makes all the sense in the world to have a sign like this," he told a Daily News reporter after the paper was tipped off to his late-night visit. "There's not really an extensive menu here. I mean, come on, it's cheese-steaks, onions, et cetera. It's not that hard."

The Bush administration, which is vowing to crack down on U.S. companies that hire illegal workers, virtually abandoned such employer sanctions before it began pushing to overhaul U.S. immigration laws last year, government statistics show. Between 1999 and 2003, work-site enforcement operations were scaled back 95 percent by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which subsequently was merged into the Homeland Security Department. The number of employers prosecuted for unlawfully employing immigrants dropped from 182 in 1999 to four in 2003, and fines collected declined from $3.6 million to $212,000, according to federal statistics.

Last Throes News: The US marine corps has charged seven marines and a navy sailor with murder over the death of a disabled Iraqi man. All eight also faced kidnapping and conspiracy charges, a spokesman told reporters at the Californian camp where the defendants were being held. They are accused of shooting a disabled man in Hamdaniya in April, and covering up the circumstances of his death. It is one in a series of inquiries into the alleged abuse or killing of Iraqis by coalition forces. Another Pentagon inquiry is looking into an alleged massacre at Haditha last November, in which 24 civilians are thought to have been killed. The allegation is that Marines pulled an unarmed and disabled Iraqi man from his home on April 26 and shot him to death without provocation. Seven Marines and one Navy corpsman from the Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment were taken out of Iraq and put in the brig pending the filing of any charges against them. The case is separate from the alleged killing by other Marines of 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha last November. A pair of investigations related to that case are still under way and no criminal charges have been filed.

A report on the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in Haditha has found that senior military personnel in Iraq failed to follow up on "red flags" that should have indicated problems with and potential inaccuracies in initial accounts of the incident, according to a portion of the report's summary. The report questions why senior military officers in western Iraq failed to investigate further what happened in the town of Haditha when they learned that civilians there had been killed in the November incident. A portion of the executive summary of the report, by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell, was read to The Times by a Defense Department official who requested anonymity because the report had not been released publicly. "Virtually no inquiry at any level of command was conducted into the circumstances surrounding the deaths," Bargewell wrote, according to the excerpt provided to The Times. "There were, however, a number of red flags and opportunities to do so."

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a $427.6 billion Pentagon funding bill on Tuesday after rejecting a bid by Democrats to force the Bush administration to get court orders for its domestic surveillance program. The House voted 407-19 for the defense bill, which includes another $50 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Senate has not taken up its version of the bill. Voting 219-207 largely along party lines, the House defeated an amendment to make the National Security Agency obtain warrants before listening to the international phone calls and reading the e-mails of U.S. citizens. The Bush administration has defended its domestic spying program conducted without obtaining warrants as essential to pursuing terrorism suspects. But Democrats and some Republicans say it tramples on U.S. citizens' privacy rights. Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, said his amendment would make the administration comply with the Foreign Electronic Surveillance Act, which governs such programs and requires warrants. But most Republicans said the amendment would hamper the NSA's ability to use electronic eavesdropping and infringe on President George W. Bush's war powers.

The Iraqi government has arrested one of two Iraqi troops accused of killing two U.S. soldiers while the Americans were training them, a senior military official said Wednesday. The June 2004 deaths of Army Spc. Patrick R. McCaffrey Sr., 34, of Tracy, and 2nd Lt. Andre D. Tyson, 33, of Riverside, were originally attributed to an ambush during a patrol near Balad, Iraq, but the Army this week said a military investigation found the two had been shot to death by Iraqi civil defense officers.

The United States military is quietly carrying out the largest military offensive in Afghanistan since U.S. troops invaded the country in 2001. "The Taliban has made a comeback, and we have the next 90 days to crush them," said a senior U.S. military official. The offensive, "Operation Mountain Thrust," involves almost 11,000 U.S. troops and is focused on four southern Afghanistan provinces. The Taliban has re-emerged as the Afghan government "has created vacuums of power" says the official. Proceeds from the growing opium trade in the region has helped the Taliban obtain new weapons and pay local officials. The Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, remains at large despite a $10 million reward offered by the United States. U.S. military officials believe he has established a safe haven in Pakistan, where U.S. soldiers cannot operate.

Al-Qaida stepped up its propaganda war against foreign troops in Afghanistan today through a fresh video by deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri urging Afghans to rise against "infidel invaders" The message, Zawahiri's sixth this year, came as the US military announced that four American soldiers had died in a fresh fighting in eastern Nuristan province. Seated against a black background with an AK-47 rifle at his side, the Egyptian-born fundamentalist attempted to stoke a wave of bloodshed that has destabilised the Afghan south in recent months. "I am calling upon the Muslims in Kabul in particular and in all Afghanistan in general ... to stand against the infidel forces that are invading Muslim lands," he said. President Hamid Karzai, whose popularity has been knocked by declining security, immediately repudiated the tape and denounced Zawahiri as "the enemy of the Afghan people".

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: Emissions of climate-changing carbon dioxide could more than double by 2050 if unchecked, the International Energy Agency warned on Thursday, ahead of an energy-focused meeting of G8 world leaders in July. The Paris-based IEA, adviser to 26 industrialized nations, said in a report that it was possible for the world to emit less carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2050 than today while also increasing energy production. But it warned that in the absence of new policies, global energy demand and CO2 emissions would more than double by 2050 to 58,000 billion tonnes. "We can find a sustainable energy future but it's not the case with the current trends. We're very far from that," IEA executive director Claude Mandil told a news conference.

This year, wildfires have already burned more than 3 million acres - more than three times the average at this time of year. Many scientists say that these fires fit exactly into the pattern predicted for global warming and that it's likely to get, on average, even drier and hotter. Over the last month, ABC News has traveled through the San Bernardino Mountains, Western Sierras, and Rockies to find out what scientists and firefighters make of the new flames they must now face. The size and ferocity of these wildfires plaguing the West right now - many growing in size every hour - astonishes even experienced fire chiefs like Mat Fratus of the San Bernardino City Fire Department. "I had talked to people who had been in the fire service their entire career, and not only this fire, but fires in preceding years, because of the drought, because of the fuel conditions, they produced fire behavior, flame links, intensities that we had never really experienced before," Fratus said. "And everything we had to throw at it, we did. And it just seemed to burn right through us," Fratus said.

Stephen Hawking expressed concern about global warming Wednesday even as he charmed and provoked a group of Chinese students. Before an audience of 500 at a seminar in Beijing, the celebrity cosmologist said, "I like Chinese culture, Chinese food and above all Chinese women. They are beautiful." The audience of mostly university students and professors and a smattering of journalists laughed and applauded. Asked about the environment, Hawking, who suffers from a degenerative disease, uses a wheelchair and speaks through a computerized voice synthesizer, said he was "very worried about global warming." He said he was afraid that Earth "might end up like Venus, at 250 degrees centigrade and raining sulfuric acid."

Many countries may be grossly underestimating the quantity of greenhouse gases they emit according to a new method of monitoring output, scientists said on Wednesday. The new "top-down" system measures the actual amount of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, compared with the traditional "bottom-up" method which estimates what is likely to be produced on the ground. The findings, still the subject of scientific debate, could destabilise the European Union's fledgling carbon trading system and have implications for the Kyoto treaty. "Work at the (European Commission's) Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Italy suggests huge under-reporting of many national CH4 (methane) emissions," said Euan Nisbet of London's Royal Holloway University. "Top-down science is still somewhat in its infancy. But the gas they measure is there, not an estimate of what they think should be there," he told Reuters. According to work by Peter Bergamaschi at the JRC in Ispra, Italy, top-down science suggests that Britain may be reporting only half its actual methane emissions and France only two-thirds, the magazine New Scientist said on Wednesday.

Scandals Du Jour: The Justice Department and attorneys for convicted former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff have agreed to postpone for at least three months the day he has to report to federal prison - the latest sign that Abramoff’s continued cooperation with an ongoing corruption probe in Washington, D.C., is proving helpful to prosecutors. Abramoff had been scheduled to surrender himself to the Bureau of Prisons on June 29 to begin the 70-month prison sentence handed down by Judge Paul Huck of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Abramoff and Adam Kidan, Abramoff’s former business partner in a Florida-based gambling cruise ship company, pleaded guilty in January to mail and wire fraud in that case, and each received the same prison sentence from Huck.

Conservative political strategist Mary Matalin will host a reception Tuesday night at her home in Alexandria to help augment the defense fund of indicted Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby according to an invitation read to RAW STORY. Barbara Comstock, a spokesman for Libby's fund, declined to comment. No one answered the phone at the RSVP line. Libby has been indicted for obstruction of justice and other charges in connection with the CIA leak investigation. Matalin is married to Democratic strategist James Carville and formerly worked in the Office of the Vice President. It is not known whether Carville will be present at the event. Matalin was also a member of the White House Iraq Group. According to those familiar with the reception, a mailing for the event included some 17 co-hosts, each contributing $5,000. The co-hosts listed on the mailing include former Commerce Secretary Don Evans, former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Bush political media strategist Mark McKinnon, as well as former Congressman Bob Livingston, Ed Rogers, Rich Galen, David Kean and Bobby Birchfield.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Senator Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum showed up to do his thing with Peter Hoekstra on Hannity and Colmes and it took one phone call by Jim Angle of FOX News to debunk Santorum's WMD claims today. That's pretty embarrassing when the Dick Cheney network undermines him. Hannity was all excited and tried to say that WMD's were only "a part of the reason we went Iraq." If that is the document that's classified, isn't little Ricky breaking about a gazillion different federal laws by exposing them?

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:56:37 AM

Tue, Jun 20 2006

Flood Control Project Done

The weather was classic dry-season yesterday and today, with brief showers early in the morning, but clearing and bright sun most of the day both days. It appears some dry Pacific air is moving in over us, and that has helped keep the thunderstorms from developing. It has also kept the temperatures remarkably cool, in spite of the sun - the high today was only 78, and the low last night was 70 - the coolest temperatures since last winter.

I had a prospective buyer come by the house yesterday, and he spent a good deal of time looking the place over. Seemed somewhat interested, but didn't appear to mentally move in, so I doubt I will get an offer. But I sure hope so. I would like to get this place sold and get out of here.

Well, my flood control project was finally completed yesterday morning. The low berm at the end of the driveway is done, as is the recontouring of the gravel in the driveway itself. I am well and truly ready for the mother of all thunderstorms now, and am eager to see how the measures I have implemented handle it. But alas, there has been no rain at all since the big storm, at least not enough to generate any runoff, so I still have no idea if my measures were adequate.

Today I spent the day cleaning house. I am expecting guests later in the week, and wanted to get the place cleaned up a bit. It has been getting pretty rough since I had my heart attack, and I am well enough now to have been able to get on it and clean the place up. So I did that today, and am pretty tired now as I write this.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: International tensions over the testing of a long-range North Korean missile continued to escalate today with the Bush administration making plans to shoot it down. The US's recently installed ground based interceptor missile defence system has been activated and may be called into use if the communist regime defies warnings over firing the Taepondong rocket, a US defence official told Reuters. The official confirmed a report in the Washington Times that the Pentagon has switched the multibillion-dollar system from test mode to operational, after being in the developmental stage for years. Citing US intelligence sources, the Washington Times earlier reported that two US Navy aegis warships were patrolling off the North Korean coast and would be among the first sensors that would trigger the use of interceptors. The US's defence missile system includes nine long range interceptor missiles based at Fort Greeley in Alaska and another two at Vandenberg Air Force base in California. A senior Bush administration official told the paper that shooting down the North Korean missile, thought to have the ability to reach the US mainland, was among the options being considered. Neither a White House nor Pentagon spokesman would confirm the specific response being planned to any testing.

The government has hired defense subcontractor Lockheed Martin to design and develop an enormous blimp that will be used to spy on Americans, according to the Athens News. Government agencies such as the NSA are anticipating that as early as 2009 the blimp will be operational and begin supporting new ways of monitoring everything that happens in the country. A prototype of the blimp is already being developed at a cost of $40 million. The spy ship, called the High Altitude Airship, will be seventeen times larger than the Goodyear Blimp and hover 12 miles above the ground. Although it is very large it will be invisible to both the naked eye and ground radar because of its distance from the earth. Fuel economic and self sufficient, it will be powered by solar energy and will be able to fly for years at a time. The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command has already conducted a study to determine some of the uses of the spy ship. It has the capability of monitoring an area 600 miles in diameter at a time with surveillance equipment, such as high-resolution cameras. The government has ordered 11 of them – enough to monitor every parcel of land in the U.S.

National Guard troops rolled into New Orleans on Tuesday in support of a police force struggling to keep peace in a city still badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina and reeling from the weekend slaying of five teens. Dozens of tan and camouflaged Humvees converged near the banks of the Mississippi River where commanders gave orders to secure the ghostly neighborhoods most devastated by the storm. "If the criminals control, our families won't return," Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco told about 100 Guard soldiers and about 60 state police who will take their posts by Tuesday evening. Two hundred more Guard troops are due within a week. Guardsmen and women from around the nation were called in after Katrina to secure the city and quell looting, but they departed in February. A rising murder rate, the return of drugs and the killing of five teens on Saturday galvanized officials to accelerate their plan to reinforce city police over the summer.

Americans paying $3 per gallon at the pump have it relatively cheap when compared with prices globally, say oil and gas company executives who defend their record profits as essential to maintaining supplies. In parts of Europe and elsewhere in the West, gasoline prices are more like $5 per gallon to $7 per gallon, said the chairman of ConocoPhillips Co., James J. Mulva. "This is a global business, and it's not only that we need to add to supply, but we need to reduce demand," Mulva said. "In the United States alone, we have about 2 percent of world oil reserves, 5 percent of the population and yet we use about 25 percent of the world's consumption of oil." Mulva and two other executives who appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" said they are optimistic about keeping a lid on domestic prices, unless their fears come true about the potential for damage to U.S. energy production from the hurricane season that began June 1. What the oil company executives didn't say, however, is that much of the price difference between the U.S. and the rest of the world, reflects taxes charged by those governments.

Nasa is to press ahead with next month's space shuttle launch against the advice of the agency's chief safety officer and top engineer, who have warned that the same problems that doomed Columbia in 2003 could lead to another catastrophe. The decision followed two days of "spirited discussion" among senior managers at Kennedy Space Centre about the risk of foam insulation falling from Discovery's fuel tank and striking the shuttle during its planned lift-off on July 1. Michael Griffin, the Nasa administrator, overruled colleagues who wanted the mission postponed for safety improvements, arguing that there was no danger. "We have elected to take the risk," he said. But he admitted that a "major incident" would lead to the closure of the 26-year-old shuttle programme and the likely scrapping of the half-built International Space Station. "If we were to lose another vehicle, I would be moving to figure out a way to shut the program down," he said. "I think at that point we're done."

Nurses backed by the biggest U.S. health-care union on Tuesday filed four class-action lawsuits against some of the biggest U.S. hospitals, including No. 1 chain HCA Inc., claiming they conspired to depress wages for nurses amid a national shortage. The lawsuits, which also target the biggest U.S. Catholic hospital system, Ascension Health, charge the hospitals regularly discussed nurses' wages in meetings, over the telephone and in written surveys, in an effort to coordinate and suppress pay. The suits, filed in federal courts in Chicago; Memphis, Tennessee; Albany, New York; and San Antonio, Texas, seek back compensation and legal costs totaling "hundreds of millions of dollars" under federal antitrust laws. "We have HR (human resources) employees calling their counterparts at competitor hospitals, asking for and receiving detailed and current information about the wages these hospitals are paying their nurses," said Daniel Small, a partner at the Washington law firm representing the plaintiffs, which are seeking class-action status. "The hospitals have reached an understanding that they will use this information not to compete." Information from the Service Employees International Union, which organizes nurses and other health care workers, led to the investigations and the lawsuits.

After slashing the city's anti-terrorism funds, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff now apparently thinks angry letters from New Yorkers are the real safety threat. When a Daily News reporter attempted to deliver scores of messages protesting the cuts to Chertoff's Washington office, he was promptly turned away. The letters, faxes and printed e-mails "would put all the employees here, including the secretary, at risk," said a Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman when the delivery was attempted Friday. She cited the 2001 scare caused by anthrax-laced letters. Chertoff was not in any immediate danger. He was safe in a Moscow hotel during an official visit. The dozens of envelopes containing New Yorkers' outrage at losing 40% of their security funds did go through an X-ray machine outside the government complex. That wasn't enough. They must be scanned and processed in an offsite facility, the reporter was told. "They have to be mailed," the spokeswoman said flatly. "We cannot accept mail from people we don't know."

A sense of fear has spread in this community of weather-worn homes in Linda Vista, CA, near San Diego, since immigration agents began walking the streets as part of a stepped-up nationwide effort targeting an estimated 590,000 immigrant fugitives. Other illegal immigrants are being rounded up along the way. Juana Osorio, an illegal immigrant from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, said her neighbors have largely stayed indoors since agents visited her apartment complex June 2. "People rarely leave their houses now to go shopping," Osorio, 37, said as she clutched a bottle of laundry detergent in a barren courtyard. "They walk in fear." Her husband, Juan Rivera, 29, has stopped taking their two children to the park on weekends. "We want to go out but we can't," said Rivera, a construction worker. In a blitz that began May 26 and ended Tuesday, federal agents arrested nearly 2,200 illegal immigrants, including about 400 in the San Diego area - more than any other city. It was the latest salvo in a crackdown on illegal immigration that has included arrests of nearly 1,200 workers at a supplier of wooden cargo pallets and the deployment of National Guard troops on the Mexican border. Meantime, Congress is considering a broad overhaul of immigration laws.

You've got to hear it to fully absorb the dimensions of Bill O'Reilly's socipathic tendencies, but here's the quote: O'Reilly: "Now to me, they're not fighting it hard enough. See, if I'm president, I got probably another 50-60 thousand with orders to shoot on sight anybody violating curfews. Shoot them on sight. That's me... President O'Reilly... Curfew in Ramadi, seven o'clock at night. You're on the street? You're dead. I shoot you right between the eyes. Ok? That's how I run that country. Just like Saddam ran it. Saddam didn't have explosions - he didn't have bombers. Did he? because if you got out of line, your dead."

With the presidential election more than two years away, a CNN poll released Monday suggests that nearly half of Americans would "definitely not vote for" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Respondents were asked whether they would "definitely vote for," "consider voting for," or "definitely not vote for" three Democrats and three Republicans who might run for president in 2008. Regarding potential Democratic candidates, 47 percent of respondents said they would "definitely not vote for" both Clinton, the junior senator from New York who is running for re-election this year, and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the party's candidate in 2004.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The US has launched a diplomatic campaign to block Venezuela's bid to become a member of the United Nations security council out of concern that Hugo Chávez's government would use its seat to try to block punitive measures against Iran. Washington has publicly backed Guatemala's rival effort to take the two-year rotating council next year, but it has reportedly gone further in recent weeks - threatening retaliatory action against Latin American countries who support the Venezuelan bid. According to the Los Angeles Times, Chile is one of the countries under pressure. Washington has agreed to sell the country F-16 warplanes, but has since warned that Chilean pilots would not be trained to fly them if the government backed Venezuela's bid. The Chilean embassy in Washington had no comment on the report yesterday, but a state department spokeswoman, Amanda Rogers-Harper, said the story was false. Ms Rogers-Harper said that Guatemala's contributions to the UN, for example in sending peacekeepers to the Democratic Republic of Congo, showed it was a "viable candidate". The diplomatic offensive, in which Condoleezza Rice is reported to be playing a leading role, is intended to deprive Venezuela of a vote and a platform in the security council at a time when the Bush administration anticipates a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program.

The European commission threatened to force US diplomats to apply for visas to work in parts of the EU on Monday, in retaliation for the refusal of Washington to allow visa-free access to the US to all EU citizens. On the eve of a visit by George Bush to Europe, an internal commission paper warned of punitive steps. It said: "The only feasible retaliatory measure in the field of visa policy at this stage would be the introduction of visas for holders of diplomatic and official passports." Franco Frattini, the European justice commissioner, is understood to have told the US that the EU was prepared to impose restrictions unless EU citizens in eastern Europe were allowed into the US without visas. Travellers from all but one of the EU's new entrants have to apply for visas - only Slovenia is included in the visa waiver system. Travellers from all but one of the EU-15, the union's members before the "big bang" expansion in 2004, are allowed to go to the US without visas. Only Greek citizens have to apply for visas.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: The Yemeni captive who killed himself at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had an attorney arranging to visit him in August, but did not know it when he committed suicide. One of the Saudis, Mani Shaman al Utaybi, 30, had been approved for transfer to a jail back home, but also had never been told he was cleared to depart the U.S. detention center. As the Pentagon was silent Thursday on the repatriation of the bodies of the three men from the island prison, their lawyers questioned whether their isolation and lack of knowledge about their status contributed to their deaths. The three men hanged themselves in Camp 1 with nooses made from shredded bedsheets and towels on Saturday in what the military called a choreographed group suicide. Rear Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the camps' commander, described it as an act of "asymmetrical warfare." But attorneys for the men_who the military initially said had no lawyers_say that had the detainees known of legal efforts on their behalf, they might be alive today. "As far as we know he (Ali Abdullah Ahmed) did not know he had an attorney. We certainly never got through to him to advise him of that fact," said Dave Engelhardt of Washington, D.C., who had filed a habeas corpus petition for Ahmed, the 29- or 30-year-old Yemeni. "Perhaps he would have not have committed suicide if he had known the facts of his representation of counsel and the progress that is being made in the American courts for the detainees."

After the U.S. Senate voted last year to strip Guantanamo detainees of the right to habeas corpus, you'd think it would have dashed the hopes of the desperate prisoners that the world's greatest deliberative body would prove their salvation. But Saifullah Paracha is apparently an eternal optimist. In March, after 18 months in Guantanamo, Paracha, 58, decided to write a letter to 98 U.S. senators describing his plight. The senators haven't responded, though it's hard to blame them. They don't know the letters exist. The Department of Defense won't release them for delivery. "He lived in the United States," says Paracha's lawyer G. T. Hunt. "He's a pro-American person. He believes in American justice. He believes that if he can get a hearing he'll get out." The rules guiding attorney/client correspondence at Guantanamo are frustratingly vague, lawyers for the detainees say, and the processing delays are maddening. Mail routinely arrives six months after it's been sent, if it arrives at all. "For months I sent him letters and he sent me letters and they were all just impounded," Hunt says. "Now, I think my letters get through but they take their sweet time about it."

A Pentagon document classifies homosexuality as a mental disorder, decades after mental health experts abandoned that position. The document outlines retirement or other discharge policies for service members with physical disabilities, and in a section on defects lists homosexuality alongside mental retardation and personality disorders. Critics said the reference underscores the Pentagon's failing policies on gays, and adds to a culture that has created uncertainty and insecurity around the treatment of homosexual service members, leading to anti-gay harassment. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jeremy M. Martin said the policy document is under review. The Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, at the University of California at Santa Barbara, uncovered the document and pointed to it as further proof that the military deserves failing grades for its treatment of gays. Nathaniel Frank, senior research fellow at the center, said, "The policy reflects the department's continued misunderstanding of homosexuality and makes it more difficult for gays and lesbians to access mental health services." The document, called a Defense Department Instruction, was condemned by medical professionals, members of Congress and other experts, including the American Psychiatric Association. "It is disappointing that certain Department of Defense instructions include homosexuality as a 'mental disorder' more than 30 years after the mental health community recognized that such a classification was a mistake," said Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass. Congress members noted that other Pentagon regulations dealing with mental health do not include homosexuality on any lists of psychological disorders. And in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Monday, nine lawmakers asked for a full review of all documents and policies to ensure they reflect that same standard.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Numerous federal and local law enforcement agencies have bypassed subpoenas and warrants designed to protect civil liberties and gathered Americans' personal telephone records from private-sector data brokers. These brokers, many of whom advertise aggressively on the Internet, have gotten into customer accounts online, tricked phone companies into revealing information and even acknowledged that their practices violate laws, according to documents gathered by congressional investigators and provided to The Associated Press. The law enforcement agencies include offices in the Homeland Security Department and Justice Department _ including the FBI and U.S. Marshal's Service _ and municipal police departments in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Utah. Experts believe hundreds of other departments frequently use such services. "We are requesting any and all information you have regarding the above cell phone account and the account holder ... including account activity and the account holder's address," Ana Bueno, a police investigator in Redwood City, Calif., wrote in October to PDJ Investigations of Granbury, Texas.

Spin Cycle: In May 2005, Vice President Cheney declared that the insurgency in Iraq was in its "last throes" and predicted "[t]he level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline." Since that time, violence in Iraq has continued unabated. Today at the National Press Club, Cheney was asked if he still believed that May 2005 was when the insurgency entered its "last throes." He said he still did. REPORTER: "About a year ago, you said that the insurgency in Iraq was in its final throes. Do you still believe this?" CHENEY: "I do. What I was referring to was the series of events that took place in 1995 [sic: 2005]. I think the key turning point when we get back 10 years from now, say, and look back on this period of time and with respect to the campaign in Iraq, will be that series of events when the Iraqis increasingly took over responsibility for their own affairs."

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: On the June 14 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, host Don Imus failed to challenge White House press secretary Tony Snow's false claim that President Bush has never linked the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Snow claimed that Bush told him and NBC's Tim Russert that "there's no demonstrated link between Saddam [Hussein] and 9-11, and we're never going to make that argument." Snow then asserted that Bush "never has" claimed such a link. But both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have, in fact, explicitly linked Iraq to 9-11. Bush did so in a March 21, 2003, letter to the speaker of the House of Representatives and president pro tempore of the Senate notifying them of the use of military force in Iraq after the failure of diplomacy, as Media Matters for America has previously noted. In the letter, Bush stated that "the use of armed force against Iraq is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." In addition, Cheney also linked Iraq to 9-11 during two appearances on Russert's NBC program Meet the Press, as Media Matters for America has also noted. The 9/11 commission reported in June that there was no "collaborative relationship" between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, and thus that Bush’s Enemy No. 1 had no role in the 9/11 attacks. Far from finding any partnership between the two, the report noted that bin Laden "at one time sponsored anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan." This report effectively nuked a key justification for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. President Bush responded to the revelation by asserting, "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al-Qaeda is because there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda." But the evidence showed that though al-Qaeda had repeatedly approached Saddam's regime about working together, the Iraqi government had effectively rebuffed their proposals.

Last Throes Of What? As fighting in Afghanistan has intensified over the past three months, the U.S. military has conducted 340 air strikes there, more than twice the 160 carried out in the much higher-profile war in Iraq, according to data from the Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for the Middle East. The airs trikes appear to have increased in recent days as the United States and its allies have launched counter-offensives against the Taliban in the south and southeast, strafing and bombing a stronghold in Uruzgan province and pounding an area near Khost with 500-pound bombs. U.S. officials say the activity is a response to an increasingly aggressive Taliban, whose leaders realize that long-term trends are against them as the power of the Afghan central government grows.

The U.S. military has controlled Iraqi airspace since the invasion of Iraq, and apparently does not intend to relinquish it any time soon. Despite promises to help the ineffective Iraqi Air Force upgrade itself, the U.S. military has yet to provide any significant information or technology, The Los Angeles Times reported. The lack of support has caused many to postulate that the U.S. military is concerned about giving up control of Iraqi air space, and upgrading aircraft that could be used by insurgent government infiltrators. "I think they're afraid of terrorists taking over the air force and attacking American bases," an anonymous Iraqi airman told the Times. While the U.S. military has recently increased its aerial bombing and escort missions in Iraq, the remaining Iraqi Air Force pilots are still limited to reconnaissance, delivery and monitoring missions.

Taleban militants killed 32 friends and relatives of an influential lawmaker in southern Afghanistan and 10 others are missing, the legislator said yesterday. MP Dad Mohammad Khan said that 27 of the men had been killed in Helmand province when they had gone to the scene of an earlier attack in which five others were shot dead. "Yesterday morning in Taleban attacks, 32 of my relatives and friends were killed," said Khan, the influential former intelligence chief of the province. "Ten relatives of mine are still missing and five are wounded," he said. One of the five men killed in the earlier ambush was a brother of Khan named Juma Gull, a former governor of Helmand’s Sangin district.

Republicans Believe In Doing The Right Thing: Ignored by the national media, and without a word of protest from the U.S. national AIDS organizations, the Bush administration -- behind closed doors -- has been secretly sabotaging the ability of the world’s poorest countries to produce or buy cheap, generic AIDS-fighting drugs. Here’s the background: Back in 2001, after a long fight against Big Pharma’s Pills_3 monopolization of the production of AIDS drugs, a World Trade Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar, agreed that poor countries should have the right to break the multinational drug companies’ patent monopoly on those drugs if they declared a national health emergency due to the AIDS pandemic. The U.S. was one of the 142 countries that signed on to this breakthrough agreement, under which poor countries could make their own AIDS-fighting medications cheaply, or buy generic versions of them from a country that produced them, thus bypassing Big Pharma. This was a huge victory, won after years of struggle by AIDS and non-governmental public health advocacy organizations from around the world. And the Doha agreement began to save thousands of lives, by getting cheap, life-prolonging AIDS meds into the hands of the HIV-positive in the poorer nations who so desperately needed them but couldn’t afford them. But the Bush administration is morbidly blackmailing poor countries into giving up their rights to make cheap AIDS meds under that international treaty if they want the benefits of so-called Free Trade Agreements with the U.S. Either the poor countries refuse to knuckle under and scuttle these bi-lateral and regional trade deals with Washington -- which are worth billions of dollars -- or they accept these deals and raise the price of AIDS meds beyond the reach of the poor. This unconscionable blackmail has already resulted in many countries giving up their rights to break the Big Pharma AIDS drug monopoly in these secretly-negotiated deals, including six countries in Latin America. And tough negotiations are now under way with a raft of poor countries hard hit by AIDS, from Thailand to five southern African countries, including South Africa and Botswana. If Thailand signs the trade agreement the U.S. has proposed, “Those who require the essential drugs but cannot afford them, they will have to die,” says Dr. Suwit Wibulpolpraset, the Thai Public Health Ministry official who is coordinating his country’s response to the Bush administration’s arm-breaking trade deal that rolls back the Doha agreement. And the same goes for the other countries being beaten with Washington’s big stick.

Coalition Of The Billing: Japan's government will withdraw its troops from Iraq, ending a mission that broke postwar taboos by sending its troops into foreign combat zones for the first time since 1945. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told executives of his ruling party that the roughly 600 Japanese soldiers stationed in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah would come home over the next two months, according to Japanese media reports. "We've finished this chapter," Koizumi reportedly told the officials. The mission has been controversial in Japan, where polls show a majority of the public opposes the war. Koizumi had to ensure that the deployment conformed to Japan's pacifist constitution, which prohibits the country from using force to resolve international disputes. Tokyo had portrayed the mission as strictly humanitarian, with troops focused on improving water supplies and rebuilding hospitals and schools. Security was provided by allies to avoid situations in which Japanese soldiers might have to fire their weapons or risk injury or death. The Iraqi government, noting the relative calm in the Samawah region, announced this week that it would be the first place where Iraqi forces would assume security duties from foreign troops.

Australia will re-assign 460 troops protecting Japanese forces in southern Iraq to help the Iraqi military secure the country's border with Syria, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said today. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said his forces will take over security in the southern province of al Muthanna in July, and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is expected to unveil an exit plan for Japanese troops later on Tuesday. Nelson said the Australian troops would be redeployed when Japan withdrew. "The role of our soldiers in al Muthanna will change," Nelson told reporters. "We are negotiating with the provincial Iraqi government and our coalition partners, particularly the British." "It has the potential to be more dangerous for our soldiers. We don't underestimate the risk." Nelson said Australia's troops would move to Tallil in al Muthanna from Samawah, where they have been helping protect about 550 Japanese non-combat troops. British troops have been overseeing the multinational contingent in al Muthanna.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Louisiana Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed into law a ban on most abortions, which would be triggered if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 ruling legalizing the procedure, a spokesman said on Saturday. The ban would apply to all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest, except when the mother's life is threatened. It is similar to a South Dakota law that has become the latest focus of the abortion battle. The South Dakota law was enacted partly to invite a court challenge in the hope a more conservative Supreme Court would overturn its Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman's right to abortion. The Louisiana ban would take effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Medicaid, which provides health benefits for the poor and disabled, requires funding for abortions in cases of rape or incest. Louisiana would allow those exceptions so long as it was required for Medicaid funding. Meanwhile, South Dakota voters will decide in November whether they agree that life begins at conception and that the state should outlaw most abortions. Secretary of State Chris Nelson said Monday that a petition to refer the new abortion law to a public vote has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, making official a matter that is expected to dominate political debates this year.

While other students learn how to conjugate French verbs or navigate a musical scale, nearly 6,500 S.C. students a year leave campus and learn about the Bible and its Ten Commandments. Now South Carolina has became the second state to allow schools to give students academic credit for that instruction. The South Carolina Released Time Credit Act, signed into law June 2 by Gov. Mark Sanford, permits schools to give students an elective credit for participating in the religion class. "The (new law) just eliminates any questions of the legality or viability of Bible curriculums." said Grayson Hartgrove, a member of the national organization Bible Education in School Time Network and program director for the Midlands Christian Learning Center.

Sometimes, very important elections receive very little attention. When the Southern Baptist Convention elected the Rev. Frank Page as the group's new president at their meeting this week in Greensboro, N.C., the news appeared on the back pages of most secular newspapers -- or it didn't appear at all. But Page's upset victory could be very significant, both to the nation's religious life and to politics. He defeated candidates supported by the convention's staunchly conservative establishment that has dominated the organization since the mid-1980s. His triumph is one of many signs that new breezes are blowing through the broader evangelical Christian world. "I believe in the word of God," Page said. "I'm just not mad about it." The mellowing of evangelical Christianity may well be the big American religious story of this decade. The evolution of the evangelical movement should not be confused with the rise of a religious left. But the evangelical political agenda is broadening as new voices insist on the urgency of issues such as Third World poverty, the fight against AIDS and the battle against human trafficking. Among the most prominent advocates for a wider view of Christian obligation is Rick Warren, the pastor of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and the author of "The Purpose Driven Life."

Scandals Du Jour: A jury Tuesday convicted a former Bush administration official of four counts of lying and obstructing justice in the first trial to be held in connection with the influence-peddling scandal of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. On the fifth day of deliberations, the jury found David Safavian - a former chief of staff at the General Services Administration - guilty of four of five counts of lying and obstructing justice. Safavian sat impassively as the judge read the verdict and showed no expression when the judge announced the guilty verdicts on each of four counts. Sentencing was scheduled for Oct. 12. Each of the counts carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in jail. Safavian was charged with lying about his relationship with Abramoff and his knowledge of the lobbyist's interest in acquiring properties from GSA, the property managing agency for the federal government. He was also charged with obstructing investigators looking into a golf trip he took with Abramoff in 2002. The trial consumed eight days of testimony about Safavian's assistance to Abramoff regarding government-owned real estate and a weeklong golfing excursion the lobbyist organized to the famed St. Andrews golf course in Scotland and London. Safavian went on the trans-Atlantic trip while he was chief of staff at the GSA, and other participants included Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, two Ney aides and Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed. The jury found Safavian guilty of obstructing the work of the GSA inspector general and of lying to a GSA ethics official. It also convicted him of lying to the GSA's Office of Inspector General and of making a false statement to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. He was acquitted of a charge of obstructing the committee's investigation.

What a snakes' nest of corruption and nastiness. The latest involves Speaker Denny Hastert and a land deal. Hastert had sold to a developer a 69-acre portion of a 195-acre farm that had been purchased in his wife's name. The developer also purchased an adjacent plot of roughly equal size owned in trust by Hastert and two of his "longtime supporters." The area of west of Chicago is growing madly, and Hastert - through an earmark appropriation process - dedicated $207 million in taxpayer dollars as the first appropriation on the Prairie Parkway, which will run 5.5 miles from the Hastert land. Went through in the fall of 2005. Three months later, Hastert and his partners sold the land for a $3 million total profit, $1.8 million to Hastert. In a staggering display of brass-faced gall, Hastert is now claiming a freeway running 5.5 miles from his land is not close enough to affect the price of the farm. Then what did the developer pay the extra $3 million for? Hastert is said to be furious with the Sunlight Foundation, which broke the story, and the Chicago newspapers, which pounced on it gleefully. This is what I don't get about Republicans. Apparently they think they are genuinely entitled to get these special deals.

Meanwhile, the entire Department of Homeland Security is beginning to look like a Republican playground. According to The New York Times, over 90 former officials at DHS or the White House Office of Homeland Security are now "executives, consultants or lobbyists for companies that collectively do billions of dollars' worth of domestic security business." Now isn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher admitted to infidelity and marijuana use during his first marriage in an unusual conference call with state media on Monday. Gallagher, the state's chief financial officer, discussed his past after the Tampa Tribune provided his campaign staff with more than two dozen pages of depositions and court records from the 1979 divorce proceedings in Miami-Dade County. Gallagher was a state representative at the time. Gallagher's campaign provided those documents to the media on Monday, in an apparent effort to limit political damage. Though the partial transcripts only allude to an extra-marital affair and the use of marijuana, Gallagher confirmed both activities Monday on a conference call where he was joined by his wife, Laura.

A young girl featured in a controversial television ad during the 2000 presidential campaign testified this week that the Republican political consultant who developed the commercial molested her for years and forced her to watch pornography and use sex toys. The girl, now 15, told jurors Carey Lee Cramer - a 44-year-old Republican political consultant who gained national notoriety when he released an anti-Al Gore ad showing a young girl picking daisy petals and ending in a nuclear blast - began molesting her in the third grade, when she lived in Mercedes with him, his then-wife and her younger brother. The ad in which she and another girl were featured was a remake of one Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign used against Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964. The girl took the stand Thursday in Cramer’s aggravated child sexual assault trial, which began June 7 in Hidalgo County before Visiting Judge Homer Salinas’ Auxiliary Court A. She continued testifying Friday.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:18:01 PM

Sun, Jun 18 2006

Cleaning Up After The "Flood"

Yesterday's weather tried to be rainy-season, but didn't quite make it. Overcast most of the day, but with only a sprinkle of rain now and again, a refreshing change after Thursday's inundation. Today was brilliantly sunny all day - hardly a cloud in the sky and reminiscent of the dry season. Looks like it should last a day or two as well, since there is dry air moving in over us from the Caribbean. In spite of the sunny weather, the temperatures have been moderate, as the Intertropical Convergence Zone is directly over us at the moment. That gave us an overnight low last night of 72, and a high today of 84.

I have been taking advantage of the sunny weather to get out and get some flood control work done, cleaning up a bit after the flood in the carport and pila, but mostly recontouring some of the yard to prevent this flooding, minor as it was, from happening again. As I had threatened, I built up a low dam in the end of the driveway, and cut a shallow channel in front of it, so that if the culvert overflows again, the overflow will be diverted harmlessly out into the street. And if a really, really big storm happens, and overflows the dam, well, I have been recontouring the driveway gravel to divert any excess into the side yard and away from the house.

That project is almost done, and has taken all of the last two mornings, with my two shovels full, followed by ten minutes of resting. A good peone could have done it in an hour. And tomorrow, if the weather holds, I should have the work finished up. So I'll be quite prepared for the storm of the century, should it happen. It would have to turn the street into a full-blown river to overflow that dam, and even if it did, the excess should flow harmlessly into the side yard, through the water garden and into the pond. So I am not at all concerned about flooding now. It can rain all it likes, and I should be well and truly prepared. Should I say "bring it on?" ...Famous last words.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Military and non-military intelligence sources have raised worries over what some describe to as "the Iran group" and others as "the Iran working group" and still others as a "cabal" operating out of the Pentagon. A recent article by Laura Rozen for the Los Angeles Times revealed the Pentagon has created yet another Office of Special Plans-type body called the Directorate for Iran, or the Iranian Directorate. "The Pentagon's directorate began with six full-time staff members," Rozen reported. "But they can draw on expertise throughout the government, providing access to potentially hundreds of specialists." The notorious Office of Special Plans - which focused on Iraq - is now believed by most experts to have provided a secondary conduit of cherry-picked intelligence on Iraq to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the White House. One former intelligence official, wishing to remain anonymous for this article, described OSP in a mocking tone as a "separate channel of information." John Pike of Global Security, a Washington-based intelligence clearinghouse, was less polite in his description of OSP. "It was created to, as Dean Acheson urged Harry Truman, to scare hell out of the American people by making things a little bit clearer than the truth," he said.

There may well be lead in your drinking water soon, thanks to the Republicans, and there won't be a thing you can do about it. The Small System Safe Drinking Water Act makes it voluntary for plumbing companies to comply with national standards for the use of lead alloy pipes and the use of chloramine as a disinfectant. The introduction of the act announces that it's intention is to, "to prevent the enforcement of certain national primary drinking water regulations unless sufficient funding is available or variance technology has been identified." If your water is tainted with lead, there isn't much you can do about it. The manufacturer probably won't be liable and probably can't be sued under the Act. When plumbing manufactures use pipes containing lead alloys, which are cheaper than most other alloys, the pipes can corrode and react with a new water disinfectant, chloramine. Chloramine reacts with the pipes and lead leaches into household water. An interview with the EPA about the chemical could not be arranged before press time. Fifty percent of water systems are making the switch to chloramine from chlorine, said Marc Edwards, the Charles Lunsford Professor of Civil Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. "It's of quite a significant concern," he said of communities switching to chloramine. "The train is already going down the tracks. It's not even possible to have a discussion at this point. There is no slowing the train down."

Tucked into the the wide-ranging immigration reform proposal approved by Senate lawmakers last month is a provision that could prompt significant changes in the decennial process used to redistribute House seats, ROLL CALL reports Monday. Burns is an embattled Senate race in his home state over his role in the Abramoff scandal. An amendment authored by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) requires the Census Bureau to issue a report to Congress on the impact of illegal immigrants in the reapportionment process. In addition, the Census Bureau would be compelled to establish a plan to exclude those individuals from the population counts used to determine the allocation of House seats. The proposal was based on similar legislation, the Fair and Accurate Representation Act, that Burns introduced in May. "If we get started on this now, this broken system can be fixed by 2010 when apportionment next occurs," Burns said in a statement.

Congress is considering a plan - ten years in the making - to open federal waters to Open Ocean Aquaculture practices. The National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2005, written at the behest of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), would give the Secretary of Commerce authority to grant aquaculture permits in the "exclusive economic zone," which comprises 3.4 million square miles of federal waters, anywhere from three to 200 nautical miles offshore. The US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on the bill on June 8. Concerns about OOA - by which farmers keep thousands of fish in giant, underwater cages offshore in the exposed sea - include biological and environmental pollution, habitat destruction, the depletion of other fish, adverse human health effects and the undermining of local fishing communities. In British Columbia, where thousands of salmon have escaped into the wild, Dom Repta, a spokesperson for Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, says his group is witnessing the impacts of more than 25 years of OOA. "First we were told they would never escape," Repta said. "Then we were told they would never survive. Then we were told that they would never spawn. And they've actually done all of those things." Environmentalists fear that an influx of specifically bred, farm-raised fish could harm wild fish populations by spreading disease and parasites, and through increased competition and interbreeding.

NASA managers on Saturday picked July 1 to launch the first space shuttle in almost a year, despite recommendations against a liftoff attempt by the space agency's chief engineer and safety offices. The decision to launch Discovery on a trip to the international space station was made after two days of meetings by NASA's top managers and engineers at the Kennedy Space Center. The flight would be only the second shuttle mission since the Columbia disaster in 2003. During a poll of top managers, representatives from NASA's Office of Safety and Mission Assurance and the Office of the Chief Engineer recommended against flying until further design changes are made to the external fuel tank. Despite their recommendations, the dissenting managers didn't object to making a launch, NASA officials said. The ultimate decision to fly was made by NASA administrator Michael Griffin, who said he would shut down the space shuttle program if there was another vehicle lost like space shuttles Challenger and Columbia. "The administrator ... has the obligation to decide. That's what I do," Griffin said. "Our staff offices ... have the right, have the obligation, have the utter necessity to tell us exactly what they think. But all of that is advice." The most contentious debate focused on whether the shuttle's external tank should undergo further changes in 34 areas called ice-frost ramps. About 35 pounds of foam already have been removed from an area of the tank where a 1-pound piece fell off during last July's launch of Discovery. NASA described it as the biggest aerodynamic change ever made to the shuttle's launch system. Representatives from NASA's safety and chief engineer offices said at the meeting that the shuttle shouldn't fly until the ice-frost ramps are redesigned.

U.S. lawmakers today questioned why the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to suffer from cybersecurity problems despite multiple warnings from government auditors. Members of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee asked government auditors why the VA has not acted on repeated cybersecurity recommendations. The hearing follows the VA's announcement last month that the personal data of 26.5 million U.S. military veterans and spouses was stolen from the home of a VA data analyst, who had the information stored on a personal laptop computer and an external hard drive. He was not authorized to take that information home. The VA has said that the computer equipment -- not the data -- was the target of whoever stole it.

A majority of Americans - 53 percent - favors setting a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, with 47 percent saying the deadline should be in a year or less, according to a CNN poll released Friday. Among those who favor setting a deadline of a year or less, opinions also are divergent. The survey found 13 percent of Americans want withdrawal within a few weeks; 15 percent want it in six months; and 19 percent want it in a year. The poll also showed Americans' approval of the way President Bush is handling the Iraq war was up 5 points from May's poll to 39 percent. His disapproval rating fell 8 points, to 54 percent. Approval of the way he is handling terrorism is up 2 points from May's poll to 49 percent, while disapproval is down 3 points to 42 percent. The poll, conducted for CNN by Opinion Research Corp. interviewed 1,017 adults from Wednesday through Thursday.

The Bush administration has denied Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack's request for federal aid for Iowa's counties affected by severe weather in April. Vilsack had asked for Johnson, Jones and Muscatine counties to receive Presidential Disaster Declarations after a series of tornados swept across eastern Iowa, killing one and causing millions of dollars in damage. The declaration would have made federal money available for housing assistance and repairs. Vilsack says he was - quote - "extremely disappointed" in Bush and would consider appealing the decision. Vilsack says he has asked the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division to work with the Small Business Administration to obtain loans for those in the affected counties.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. could significantly increase employee wages and benefits without raising prices, and still earn a healthy - albeit smaller - profit, research released on Thursday concluded. The Economic Policy Institute study comes as the world's biggest retailer faces a barrage of criticism from labor unions, politicians and community activists, who say it pays poverty-level wages and drives competitors out of business. Wal-Mart, which has taken steps to improve its health care and other benefits, argues that its low prices boost consumers' buying power and increase their standard of living. The retailer regularly cites a Global Insight study that found Wal-Mart saves U.S. families more than $2,000 per year.

Ever feel there's no getting away from telephone sales calls? You're not the only one. The federal government has decided to put its own secret Homeland Security hotline to the nation's 50 governors on the federal Do Not Call Registry, according to Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. The move came after a complaint Thursday by Minner, who said that when her line rings, chances are it's not an emergency but an unwanted intrusion. "Every time that phone rings, it's telemarketers," she said in Washington. Minner keeps the secret homeland defense hotline in her office. Governors have them for instant communication with Washington in case of a major emergency. Minner says that when her line rings, it's someone offering a time-share condominium or the latest deal on long-distance phone service. "I wonder about the security of that line," Minner said. She said other governors have reported similar interruptions, such as the caller who chirps, "Hello! Are you satisfied with your long-distance service provider?"

In an exclusive interview with a New Hampshire "citizen activist network," President Bush's senior political adviser, Karl Rove, claimed that conservatives have broadened their appeal through the Internet while liberals have used it to "mobilize hate and anger," RAW STORY has found. "I do also think that the Internet has proven to be a more powerful tool on our side than it has been for the other side," Rove told VictoryNH.com, a website founded by a former ambassador who has raised and contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to strictly Republican candidates. "It has proven to be a tool on our side to sort of unite Conservatives and have a healthy intra-movement dialogue," Rove explained. "But it's essentially been something that has helped us gain in influence and broaden our appeal." Rove had harsh words to say about the effectiveness of liberal and Democratic blogs. "Among Democrats, my sense is that the blog world has tended to strengthen the far Left of the Democratic Party at the expense of liberal, but somewhat less liberal, members of their party," Rove said.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Austrian right-wing populist Joerg Haider called President Bush a war criminal on Saturday, days before Austria's government hosts Bush and European leaders in Vienna. Haider, whose group is part of Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel's government coalition, said Bush's meeting with his European peers on Wednesday was pointless as he did not expect the U.S. president to pay attention to what Europe had to tell him. "He is a war criminal. He brought about the war against Iraq deliberately, with lies and falsehoods," Haider said in an interview with Austrian daily newspaper Die Presse. "The Iraqi population is suffering terribly. Bush took the risk of an enormous number of victims," said Haider.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Last Friday, Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reported that Sen. Arlen Specter had proposed legislation which included blanket amnesty for anyone who has violated FISA, i.e., a "provision that seems to ensure that no one would be held criminally liable if the current program is found illegal under present law." That same day, the ACLU issued a press release objecting that Specter was trying "to win administration support by . . . creat[ing] a retroactive exception to criminal liability when warrantless wiretapping is done at the president's direction under a claim of inherent authority." These reports created a limited but intense backlash - there was abundant fury in the blogosphere over the notion that Congressional Republicans would attempt to shield the president and his aides from criminal liability arising out of their illegal eavesdropping conduct, and CNN’s Jack Cafferty said that Specter "has turned out to be yet another gutless Republican worm cowering in the face of pressure from the administration and fellow Republicans."

The federal government sued the New Jersey attorney general and other state officials Wednesday to stop them from seeking information about telephone companies' cooperation with the National Security Agency. The unusual filing in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J., is the latest effort by federal authorities to halt legal proceedings aimed at revealing whether and how often AT&T, Verizon and other phone companies have provided customer records to the NSA without a court order. New Jersey Attorney General Zulima Farber, a Democrat, and other officials sent subpoenas to five carriers on May 17, asking for documents that would explain whether they supplied customer records to the NSA, the lawsuit said.

Your tax dollars at work: Congress attempted to kill the ill-conceived Terrorist Information Awareness program in 2003. But instead, the Rasputin-like program -- designed to somehow find terrorists from a sky-high pile of credit card bills, car rental receipts and travel records -- came back, bigger and stronger and arguably worse than ever, National Journal's Shane Harris reports today (article not available online -- yet, anyway). How could a program designed to monitor the minute data of millions of innocent Americans be any worse? By stripping its privacy protections and abuse safeguards, and opening the database up to browsers all over the national security community. Have at it, boys -- there's only one Consitution, so you'll have to share the scissors: "As National Journal revealed in February, the NSA’s Advanced Research and Development Activity took over TIA and carried on the experimental network in late 2003. ARDA continued vetting new tools and even kept the aggressive experiment schedule... documents show. But it discontinued some programs, most notably a multimillion-dollar effort to build privacy-protection technologies. ARDA also abandoned the effort to build audit trails in TIA, which would have permanently recorded any abuse by users.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: Single-family homes in 71 U.S. cities were extremely overvalued in the first quarter of 2006 and at risk of price correction, with the costliest properties clustered in California and Florida, economists said Monday. National City Corp. and consulting firm Global Insight in a joint study said even though the rate of home price appreciation nationally has slowed in recent months, the number of extremely overvalued markets rose 11% from 64 cities at the end of 2005. Overall, the study said, markets where prices were far higher than justified based on income, employment and other variables represented 39% of all single-family housing value in the first quarter of 2006. As recently as 2004, only three markets, representing 1% of home value, were considered grossly overpriced. "Those markets that have been showing the highest appreciation rates and are most overvalued are continuing to see prices increase currently," says Jeannine Cataldi, senior economist at Global Insight.

President Bush has overseen the largest expansion of federal spending since Lyndon Johnson - even if you exclude defense and national security spending. Republicans in Washington cannot seriously claim to favor reducing federal spending. Maybe Rove meant that Republicans want to spend less than the Democrats do. But spending has grown at a faster rate under President Bush and the Republicans in Congress than it did under President Clinton. Perhaps today's Democrats would spend more if they got the chance. But they might spend less, just to erase spending as an electoral issue. When Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., challenged some pork spending on the floor of the House this week, Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, said Flake's attempt to trim home-district appropriations was "insanity." Flake's efforts failed - killed by his fellow Republicans. Sen. Judd Gregg introduced a spending reduction bill, co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, this week. Gregg has always been a budget hawk, but where were Frist and the rest of the Senate leadership as the Senate larded up bill after bill and approved some of the most offensive overspending in history these past five years? Republicans are anti-tax, that we know. But anti-spending? We'll believe it when we see it.

Analysts said rising oil prices will likely send the nation's current accounts deficit in the current quarter to a new high, and they forecast that the imbalance for all of 2006 is on track to set a record for a fifth straight year. "Even with the modest improvement at the start of the year, reducing the U.S. current account deficit will be an exceptionally slow process," said Douglas Porter, an economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns, a Toronto investment bank. The country has to raise $2 billion from foreigners each day to finance the deficits, which Democrats said means more and more U.S. assets being owned by foreigners and controversies such as the flap over the aborted Dubai Ports deal. "The current account deficit remains unsustainably large," said Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on Congress' Joint Economic Committee. "If we don't change course, we will continue to mortgage our future to foreign investors and foreign governments."

Republicans Can Be Trusted To Protect America's Natural Resources: "A rule designed by the Environmental Protection Agency to keep groundwater clean near oil drilling sites and other construction zones was loosened ... after years of intense industry pressure, including court battles and behind-the-scenes agency lobbying," in addition to a letter from "a well-connected Texas oil executive" to White House advisor Karl Rove, reports the Los Angeles Times. The letter, from Republican activist and Rove hunting partner Ernest Angelo, complained that the stricter, EPA version of the rule was causing oil executives to "openly express doubt as to the merit of electing Republicans when we wind up with this type of stupidity." Rove forwarded the letter to White House environmental advisors, calling for "a response ASAP." The rule was then rewritten by the Office of Management and Budget. "A top EPA official" wrote Angelo about the changes, copying Rove, then-EPA head Christine Todd Whitman and White House environmental advisor James L. Connaughton.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: President Bush signed legislation Thursday that will cost broadcasters dearly when raunchy programming exceeds "the bounds of decency." At a signing ceremony for the new law increasing by tenfold the maximum fine for indecency, Bush said that it will force industry figures to "take seriously their duty to keep the public airwaves free of obscene, profane and indecent material." For raunchy talk or a racy show of skin, the Federal Communications Commission can now fine a broadcaster up to $325,000 per incident. Approval of the bill culminates a two-year effort to get tough on sexually explicit material and offensive language on radio and television following Janet Jackson's 2004 Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction." The FCC recently denied a petition of reconsideration from CBS Corp.-owned stations facing $550,000 in fines over the Jackson incident, in which she briefly revealed a breast during a halftime concert. The agency recently handed down its biggest fine, $3.3 million, against more than 100 CBS affiliates that aired an episode of the series "Without a Trace" that simulated an orgy scene. That fine is now under review.

A key committee of the U.S. Episcopal Church, responding to criticism from fellow Anglicans worldwide for the consecration of an openly gay bishop, approved on Saturday an expanded and more strongly worded apology for the action. The same panel has yet to decide how to respond to two related issues dominating the triennial convention of the 2.3 million-member U.S. church -- the blessing of same-sex unions and the consecration of other gay bishops in the future. The special committee passed the apology resolution and sent it to two legislative bodies at the convention that must approve final policy. One consists of 230 bishops, the other of more than 800 diocesan representatives, both lay and clergy. It was at the last such convention in 2003 that the church approved the consecration of Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first bishop in more than 450 years of Anglican history known to be in an openly gay relationship. Issues such as the apology have divided the U.S. branch the Anglican Communion, as the 77 million-member worldwide church is called. Many who supported the Robinson elevation say they are not sorry for what they did. But conservatives are still upset by it, and some U.S. churches have placed themselves under the jurisdiction of bishops elsewhere in the world in protest.

A woman at odds with a hospital over whether it would be futile to continue life support for her 11-month-old son has been given two weeks to find a facility willing to take the baby. Daniel Wayne Cullen II was hospitalized in early April after suffering from a lack of oxygen when he pulled out a tube that was helping him breathe. He had a tracheotomy after his premature birth. Brian Potts, attorney for Daniel's mother, Dixie Belcher, said the boy is in stable condition and exhibiting some brain function, but not at normal levels. He's also on a ventilator and feeding tubes, Potts said. Last month, the ethics board of Children's Medical Center Dallas agreed with the child's doctor that continued treatment would be futile. On May 19, a judge granted Belcher a temporary restraining order blocking the hospital from ending life support. The parties agreed to a two-week extension at the end of May, and confirmed Thursday that they have agreed to a second extension.

The owners of an Idaho roller skating rink have fired an 18-year-old woman they called one of their "Top 10" employees because she moved in with her boyfriend, violating a company ethics policy that prohibits "live-in relationships of an intimate nature." "I loved my job and I didn't want to leave," Crystal Plotner told the Coeur d'Alene Press this week. She said she was fired after casually telling her bosses, Skate Plaza owners Marvin and Pat Miller, that she planned to move in with her boyfriend in mid-May. Before terminating her, Plotner said the Millers said she and her boyfriend should "check out their church." She declined. "Even if I had gone to their church, I don't think it would have saved my job," said Plotner, who worked at Skate Plaza for three years and made $9.25 an hour. "They didn't want me to live with my boyfriend. They were pushing their religion on me and I was offended. I don't have the same religious beliefs as they do.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: It’s getting so that a couple nice young girls can’t drive up to DC for the Gay Pride parade without getting openly propositioned by Republican Strategists who give them their real names and business cards these days. Take, for example, the MySpace blog of one such lady, whose sordid tale is reprinted (as a warning to the well-endowed) herein: "afterward, we got a snazzy hotel room at the Mayflower downtown. on the way over there, this really hot business man in a pinstriped suit walked past me, said hello, and doubled back. he asked me my name and introduced himself (jack burkman, government relations strategies), asked where I went to school, etc, gave me his card, and asked me to call him. I later texted him and never could get rid of him again. he thought he talked to me on the phone several times, but he never did. I always made kat or kristin be me. he told kristin about how he really enjoyed my outfit (TITS GALORE) and that I was beautiful, etc. by the end of the night (5 am or so), he was offering to pay for our room and give us a thousand dollars if two of us would fuck him. oh, jack burkman. his card is my DC souvenir."

A man convicted of "corruption of minors" after being accused of having sex with two teenage girls is working as the campaign manager for a Republican candidate for Congress in Arizona, according to documents obtained by ABC News. Steve Aiken, a former Quakertown, Pa. police officer and self-proclaimed reverend, was convicted of two counts of corruption of a minor stemming from his 1995 sexual relationships with two teenage girls. He served almost two-and-a-half months at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. Aiken is listed as campaign manager for Randy Graf, a Republican in a five-way primary for the Congressional seat in Arizona's 8th district. Aiken told ABC News he had been "falsely accused and convicted" of the two misdemeanor counts. Aiken says the candidate, Graf, was fully aware of the conviction when he was hired as campaign manager.

Fifty-six year old Department of Homeland Security press aide Brian Doyle chatted with a police officer he believed to be a fourteen year old girl about sex, President Bush, and the possibility that "she" may have been an undercover cop. Prosecutors have released 400 pages of documents recording the exchanges between Doyle and "Ashlynne," a fictitious girl invented by police to trap pedophiles. Doyle acknowledged that his actions were illegal, but seemed to indicate that it enhanced the experience: "hey it is illegal ... and it would be exciting and forbidden ... you are young - illegal - and gorgeous. and it would be great. fun. food, laughter, talk and yes sex."

In an email interview with John Hawkins at the Right Wing News web site, Ann Coulter was asked, among other things, to offer short comments on several individuals. After harmlessly dismissing former Ambassador Joseph Wilson as the "World's most intensely private exhibitionist," she said of Rep. John Murtha, the hawkish ex-Marine and now antiwar congressman: "The reason soldiers invented 'fragging.'" Fragging, which became a well-known expression - and occasional occurence - during the Vietnam war, means soldiers attempting to kill their own officers for one reason or another, often using fragmentation grenades. This was so over the top that conservative Mike Krempasky at RedState.org posted, "I've said before that's its kind of ironic that just about every phrase Stewie from Family Guy uses to describe Lois could easily be applied to Ann Coulter. Well - once again, Ann proves us right." He went on to call her "fragging" remark absolutely "disgusting... there's no excuse - NONE - for the allusion to soldiers who kill other soldiers. It's despicable - and frankly, so is Coulter."

Ann Coulter hasn't lost any of her 100-plus newspaper clients, or the support of her syndicate, Universal Press Syndicate, despite her nasty remarks in her new book about 9/11 widows and her comment in an online interview implying that, perhaps, U.S. Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) should be "fragged." A Universal spokesman said there were no discussions going on there about dropping the columnist. Why is Coulter keeping all her subscribers? "Ann's client newspapers stick with her because she has a loyal fan base of conservative readers who look forward to reading her columns in their local newspapers," Universal Director of Communications Kathie Kerr said in a statement, after being queried today by E&P. Kerr added that the syndicate "represents a full spectrum of editorial viewpoints, from very conservative to very liberal writers and cartoonists. Many people enjoy Ann's writing -- after all, her latest book did go to No. 1 on the best seller on Amazon within 48 hours of its publication."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:48:01 PM

Fri, Jun 16 2006

The Mother Of All Thunderstorms

The weather yesterday was truly awful - worst thunderstorm in six years, according to my gardener, struck about 2 pm and didn't let up till sundown. The most intense rainfall I have seen in Costa Rica caused damage (see below), and led to a lot of hurried work to prevent flood damage to the house. Once it was over, the rain let up to an ordinary evening rain, and things got back to normal. The temperatures have moderated a bit, and were 70 overnight and 83 during the day today. Today's weather couldn't have been more different, without so much as a sprinkle all day, and bright, sunny weather most of the day. Temperatures were the same.

As mentioned, the big news is the huge thunderstorm yesterday. The day had started out pleasantly enough, with broken overcast, but by ten it started to thicken, and by noon, there was rain on and off. By two, lightening began, and I shut everything down, stopping my work on the blog entry, and preparing to wait it out. Well, it just got more and more intense, until the rain was coming down in sheets, with no letup. The desaguas (roadside drainage ditches) filled up, and I was getting concerned about them overflowing into the driveway.

Well, the concerns were well founded. The rain simply got worse to the point where eventually the desaguas and the culvert were completely full, and began to spill over, running down the driveway and into the carport. And soon, it was a small river coming down the driveway, even moving the gravel of the driveway with it. Concerned about house flooding - and me, caught without a sandbag anywhere in sight - I checked out the front porch. Water overtopped the dam that keeps rainwater out of the front porch, and in seconds, it was flooded. I wasn't too worried about the house, because it is set about four inches up from the porch, high enough that the house was not likely to flood. So I went out back and checked out the rear of the house, and found water pouring into the pila (covered washroom), through the screened grates. Well, there was little I could do to stem that flooding, which couldn't do that much damage anyway, so I turned my attention to ditching the driveway, to try to divert the water into the side yard. As I completed a small trench, the water level began to ease up, and in an hour or so, the storm was over. I did manage to prevent any further flooding to the house.

This morning, I went out to survey the situation. The flood had filled the culvert to about a third with gravel and sand and lots of boulders, and there was a trail of gravel and sand in the exit for about fifty feet. A lot of boulders were piled up around the intake to the culvert, though they weren't blocking it. There was a lot of digging out to be done. When the gardener got here this morning, I asked him to dig it out for me, and within about an hour, it was all cleaned out. So I am ready for the usual torrential downpour, though not a record-breaker like yesterday's storm.

I figured that the best way to deal with a storm on the scale of yesterday's is to build a low rise in the driveway, near the street end, and on the street side of that, cut the level down to where the rise will block the water and force it into the street, around the end of the driveway. I went to work on that after the gardener left, and got it about half done this afternoon, picking and shoveling a bit, resting a lot, and resuming. Slow work for a heart patient, but something a good peone could do in half an hour. But for me, it will be a two-day project. But once it is done, I need not worry about even the most intense storm. There will be no way that the water can come down the driveway. The good news is that all of my roof patches held. The roof didn't leak a drop, and the only water was the small amount of flood water in the pila. But there was no damage, so I am not concerned about it. And now, once the driveway recontouring project is done tomorrow, I can relax about intense storms, and just sit here and enjoy them. They just won't be a problem.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The Supreme Court has decided to allow illegally obtained evidence at trial when it ruled Thursday that police armed with a warrant can barge into homes and seize evidence even if they don't knock, a huge government victory that was decided by President Bush's new justices. The 5-4 ruling signals the court's conservative shift following the departure of moderate Sandra Day O'Connor. Dissenting justices predicted that police will now feel free to ignore previous court rulings that officers with search warrants must knock and announce themselves or run afoul of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said Detroit police acknowledge violating that rule when they called out their presence at a man's door, failed to knock, then went inside three seconds to five seconds later. The court has endorsed longer waits, of 15 seconds to 20 seconds. "Whether that preliminary misstep had occurred or not, the police would have executed the warrant they had obtained, and would have discovered the gun and drugs inside the house," Scalia wrote. Suppressing evidence is too high of a penalty, Scalia said, for errors by police in failing to properly announce themselves. Antonin Scalia said disallowing evidence from every "knock-and-announce violation" by officers would lead to the "grave adverse consequence" of a flood of appeals by accused criminals seeking dismissal of their cases.

A federal judge in Brooklyn has ruled that the government has wide latitude under immigration law to detain noncitizens on the basis of religion, race or national origin, and to hold them indefinitely without explanation. The ruling came in a class-action lawsuit by Muslim immigrants detained after 9/11, and it dismissed several key claims the detainees had made against the government. But the judge, John Gleeson of United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, allowed the lawsuit to continue on other claims, mostly that the conditions of confinement were abusive and unconstitutional. Judge Gleeson's decision requires top federal officials, including former Attorney General John Ashcroft and Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, to answer to those accusations under oath. This is the first time a federal judge has addressed the issue of discrimination in the treatment of hundreds of Muslim immigrants who were swept up in the weeks after the 2001 terror attacks and held for months before they were cleared of links to terrorism and deported. The roundups drew intense criticism, not only from immigrant rights advocates, but also from the inspector general of the Justice Department, who issued reports saying that the government had made little or no effort to distinguish between genuine suspects and Muslim immigrants with minor visa violations.

Washington is failing to make progress in the global war on terror and the next 9/11-style attack is not a question of if, but when. That is the scathing conclusion of a survey of 100 leading American foreign-policy analysts. In its first "Terrorism Index," released yesterday, the influential journal Foreign Affairs found surprising consensus among the bipartisan experts. Some 86 per cent of them said the world has grown more, not less, dangerous, despite President George W. Bush's claims that the U.S. is winning the war on terror. The main reasons for the decline in security, they said, were the war in Iraq, the detention of terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay, U.S. policy towards Iran and U.S. energy policy. The survey's participants included an ex-secretary of state and former heads of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, along with prominent members of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment. The majority served in previous administrations or in senior military ranks.

The Pentagon pays a private company to compile data on teenagers it can recruit to the military. The Homeland Security Department buys consumer information to help screen people at borders and detect immigration fraud. As federal agencies delve into the vast commercial market for consumer information, such as buying habits and financial records, they are tapping into data that would be difficult for the government to accumulate but that has become a booming business for private companies. Industry executives, analysts and watchdog groups say the federal government has significantly increased what it spends to buy personal data from the private sector, along with the software to make sense of it, since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They expect the sums to keep rising far into the future. Privacy advocates say the practice exposes ordinary people to ever more scrutiny by authorities while skirting legal protections designed to limit the government's collection and use of personal data.

The number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq has reached 2,500, the Pentagon said on Thursday, and the military warned it expected the new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq to continue the bloody tactics of his slain predecessor. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have also been killed since the U.S.-led invasion more than three years ago to overthrow Saddam Hussein, igniting an insurgency by his once-dominant Sunni Arab minority that is showing little sign of easing.

The House on Friday handily rejected a timetable for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq, culminating a fiercely partisan debate between Republicans and Democrats feeling the public's apprehension about war and the onrushing midterm campaign season. In a 256-153 vote that mirrored the position taken by the Senate earlier, the GOP-led House approved a nonbinding resolution that praises U.S. troops, labels the Iraq war part of the larger global fight against terrorism and says an "arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment" of troops is not in the national interest. "Retreat is not an option in Iraq," declared House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Achieving victory is our only option ... We have no choice but to confront these terrorists, win the war on terror and spread freedom and democracy around the world."

A measure that would change the U.S. Constitution to let Congress ban burning the American flag was sent to the Senate floor on Thursday, setting up an election-year debate. The amendment has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives by the needed two-thirds margin. The bill's sponsor, Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, said he believes it will pass the Senate. "I know we have more than 67 votes, if people are allowed to vote their conscience," Hatch said after the Judiciary Committee's 11-7 vote, which fell largely along party lines. The flag debate comes shortly after the Senate defeated a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriages. Democrats say Republicans are scheduling votes on a string of similar issues to win support from conservatives who might otherwise not vote in the November congressional elections. The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag burning was protected under constitutional free-speech guarantees, invalidating laws in 48 states and outraging veterans' groups and others who say that an important national symbol should be protected from defacement.

Federal housing officials announced on Wednesday that more than 5,000 public housing apartments for the poor were to be demolished here and replaced by developments for residents with a wider range of incomes. The announcement, made by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso R. Jackson, provoked strong criticism from low-income tenants and their advocates, several of whom noted that thousands of public housing apartments had been closed since Hurricane Katrina. But local officials have for months said they do not want a return to the intense concentrations of poverty in the old projects, where crime and squalor were pervasive.

U.S. special operations forces fed some Iraqi detainees only bread and water for up to 17 days, used unapproved interrogation practices such as sleep deprivation and loud music and stripped at least one prisoner, according to a Pentagon report on incidents dating to 2003 and 2004. The report, with many portions blacked out, concludes that the detainees' treatment was wrong but not illegal and reflected inadequate resources and lack of oversight and proper guidance more than deliberate abuse. No military personnel were punished as a result of the investigation. Released to the American Civil Liberties Union on Friday, the details of the report were was part of more than 1,000 pages of documents, including two major reports - one by Army Brig. Gen. Richard Formica on specials operations forces in Iraq and one by Brig. Gen. Charles Jacoby, on Afghanistan detainees. While some of the incidents have been reported previously and reviewed by members of Congress, this was the first time the documents were released publicly. Specific names and locations, including the identities of the military units, were blacked out.

A grand jury declined Friday to indict Rep. Cynthia McKinney in connection with a confrontation in which she admitted hitting a police officer who tried to stop her from entering a House office building. The grand jury had been considering the case since shortly after the March 29 incident, which has led to much discussion on Capitol Hill about race and the conduct of lawmakers and the officers who protect them. "We respect the decision of the grand jury in this difficult matter," said U.S. Attorney Kenneth Wainstein. His statement, released late Friday, also included support for the officer involved, Paul McKenna, and the Capitol Police. He said, "This is a tremendously difficult job, and it is one that Officer McKenna and his colleagues perform with the utmost professionalism and dignity." With that, Wainstein closed a case that has simmered with racial and political tension. McKinney's office had no immediate comment.

After a week of positive news for the White House - including the death of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the formation of a new government in Iraq - the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that President Bush's standing has slightly improved, especially when it comes to the situation in Iraq. But with the November midterm elections getting closer, the NBC/WSJ poll also has plenty of troubling news for the White House and the Republican Party: Bush's job approval remains below 40 percent, a majority believes that the Iraq war was a mistake, and a strong plurality prefers Democrats winning in the fall. According to the poll, 37 percent approve of Bush's job performance - an increase of one point since the last survey in April. This is the seventh straight NBC/Journal poll that has had Bush's job approval below 40 percent. Meanwhile, just 23 percent approve of Congress' job, while a whopping 64 percent disapprove.

Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, arrived in China last night for a summit of Asian states and Russia that Washington fears is forming a new anti-western alliance. Mr Ahmadinejad will seek support for his country's nuclear program, fuelling US concern that Iran is being protected by its growing friendship with Russia and China, who both sit on the UN Security Council. He is also believed to be pushing to join the Shanghai Co-operation Organization, which is holding its annual summit in the city today and tomorrow. The SCO, under the leadership of China and Russia, is playing an ever-greater role in the jostling for power in Central Asia. The dictatorial nature of some of its membership, which also includes the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, has provoked descriptions of it as an anti-American alliance of despots.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has announced he will soon travel to Iran, Syria, Russia, China, North Korea and Vietnam to boost bilateral relations before the beginning of an electoral campaign in September during which he will be seeking a re-election for a second presidential mandate on 3 December. Chavez is supporting Iran's right to a nuclear program in an standoff sparked by international fears that Tehran is trying to build atomic weapons. Chavez is also seeking to boost relations with Russia, a country from which it has recently bought 100 thousand kalashnikov rifles. The Venezuelan president would also reportedly like to build a kalashnikov factory in the country. The trip to Syria is key for Venezuela's ambition to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, a plan supported by Damascus. Syria's deputy foreign minister Faisal Meqdad has said that Venezuela's wish to join the UN body also enjoys the support of many Arab countries.

Facing an increasingly hostile group of law students in an Oxford seminar that had somehow gone dreadfully wrong, beads of sweat began to pop out on John Bolton's furrowed brow. Amidst a rising chorus of taunts, jeers, hisses and outright denunciations, Bolton was swiftly surrounded by his entourage of three American security agents and whisked out the door of the seminar room at Oriel College on Friday, the 9th of June. Pursued by vocal recriminations from angry and frustrated American students who led the incisive questioning and the equally incisive jeering - with taunts like, "You should be doing a better job!" Bolton bolted. He turned sharply on his heel and took flight out the door and then fled down the mediaeval passageway and into the relative safety and calm of his bullet-proof diplomatic limousine. Bolton swiftly headed out of Oxford, rudely foregoing the well-established tradition of lingering to talk with interested members of the audience.

Joan Stewart writes in Tactics, the monthly magazine from the Public Relations Society of America, that "in many cases, viewers don't know until the end of a five- or 10-minute spot that the segment is, in fact, advertising." For example, "in Minnesota, KARE-TV has turned its morning news show into a giant infomercial called 'Showcase Minnesota.'" Segments cost $2000 each -- a bargain compared to Phoenix, Arizona's Channel 13 show "Mind, Body and Spirit," where a six-minute interview costs $5000. Poynter Institute professor Jill Geisler points out, "In a news program, the person asking the questions is the advocate for the viewer. In pay for play, the person asking the question is the paid advocate of the interviewee." Former entertainment publicist Raleigh Pinskey counters that such arrangements are "legal and ... good business."

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The United States on Friday warned North Korea against conducting a "provocative" intercontinental missile test after U.S. officials said there were signs a test could take place as early as this weekend. A test would be Pyongyang's first launch of a long-range missile since it stunned the world in August 1998 by firing a Taepodong 1 over Japan that landed in the Pacific Ocean. "Such a launch would be a provocative act and we would instead urge them to focus their energies and their activities on returning to the six-party talks," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. He was referring to talks on curbing Pyongyang's nuclear program involving the United States, China, Russia, North and South Korea and Japan.

An Afghan government delegation to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, said Wednesday that about half of the 94 Afghans being held there were not guilty of serious crimes and should be released. The remainder, including several high-level members of the former Taliban government, should be tried in Afghan courts, said the leader of the delegation, Abdul Jabar Sabit, a legal adviser to the Ministry of the Interior. "The delegation concluded that some of the detainees should not stay longer in prison on the basis of the allegations against them and they must be returned to their country," Mr. Sabit, a former prosecutor, said at a news briefing. "We want to assure our people that the detainees will return to the country."

Defense ministers from close allies Iran and Syria on Thursday signed an agreement for military cooperation against what they called the "common threats" presented by Israel and the United States. In a joint press conference, Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar and visiting Syrian counterpart Hassan Turkmani said their talks had been aimed at consolidating their defense efforts and strengthening support for one another. "Our cooperation is based on a strategic pact and unity against common threats. We can have a common front against Israel's threats," Turkmani told reporters after two intensive rounds of talks with Najjar. "Our cooperation with the Iranians against Israeli threats is nothing secret and we regularly consult about this with our friends," he said. Before the press conference, Iran's defense ministry said the two sides "stressed strengthening mutual ties and the necessity to preserve peace and stability in the region."

The United States has denied the British Government consular access to David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay. The British Government was seeking access so they could register him as a British citizen. Last year, Hicks won a British High Court ruling that he was entitled to become a UK citizen because his mother was born in England. Hicks's legal team returned to the High Court yesterday in a bid to enforce the decision and register him as a British citizen immediately. The legal team representing Hicks complained the process of registering him as a citizen had been delayed. The court was told that the British Government had tried to gain access to Hicks to deliver the oath needed before he can register for citizenship. The US has blocked those attempts because he is not a British citizen.

The US military has canceled regular visits between detainees at Guantanamo Bay and their lawyers this week after three prisoners committed suicide last weekend, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represents many of the 460 detainees. Government officials told the CCR that no guards are available to supervise attorney-client visits because so many are aiding a military investigation of the suicides, according to CCR lawyer Barbara Olshansky. She plans to go to federal court in Washington, DC, Thursday to file a motion for immediate access to the detainees. On Wednesday, the CCR criticized the military [press release] for suspending a visit to Guantanamo by US journalists. A spokesman for the US Department of Defense [official website] said the reporters were expelled partly because the military trials they planned to cover had been canceled. Olshansky said government lawyers told her that the attorney visits would resume Monday and that journalists also may be allowed to return next week.

Relatives of a Saudi detainee found dead at the American prison in Guantanamo Bay said Thursday they want his body sent home for an autopsy because they do not believe U.S. claims he committed suicide. "He is an extremely devout Muslim who would never, never, never commit suicide," Manyia Shaman Turki al-Habradi al-Utaybi told The Associated Press from Saudi Arabia. "I strongly assure to you that the Americans are behind his death." "I hope that they bring his body back so I can see him for the first time in five years, and to be buried in the land of Islam," al-Utaybi‘s sister said. "I doubt the American suicide story because of the strict security measures applied inside the detention center," he said in a statement. "The remains of the deceased have been treated with the utmost respect. A cultural adviser has assisted us to ensure that the remains have been handled in a culturally and religiously appropriate manner," said Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon. The facility has been plagued with reports of abuse and human rights violations since opening more than four years ago, though U.S. officials insist detainees are treated humanely.

Spin Cycle: More on the Zarqawi Psi-Op case: Zarqawi - a Jordanian thug who, like so many others, had been radicalized by the American-backed anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan - was a White House tool from the beginning. Before the war, his two-bit terrorist wannabe organization in the Kurdish-held Iraqi north had been targeted for destruction by U.S. Special Forces. But as the Atlantic Monthly reports, George W. Bush prevented at least three separate operations that would have eliminated the Zarqawi group - because such a strike would have interfered with that earlier psy-ops attack on the American people: the selling of the Iraq invasion on false pretenses. Although Zarqawi's gang was in U.S.-controlled territory where Saddam had no power, the Regime's war-peddlers used it to "prove" the non-existent link between Iraq and al Qaeda. Spared by Bush, Zarqawi proved a serviceable villian after the invasion, always there to be blamed for a new terrorist spectacular whenever a spate of bad war news hit the Homeland press - despite, once again, being in the crosshairs of American forces on several occasions. On at least three occasions in the past year, Jordanian intelligence had pinpointed Zarqawi's location in Iraq and passed the intelligence to their close compadres in the American security organs; but every time, the Americans somehow "arrived too late," as the Atlantic reports. However by this spring, with no amount of psy-ops able to halt Bush's plunge in the polls - and with the horrific sectarian civil war unleashed by Bush's aggression eclipsing all other violence - the "Zarqawi program" was obviously faltering: not enough PR bang for the buck. And so they did his quietus make - not with a bare bodkin but a thousand pounds of bombs: a little bit of "shock and awe" to goose the news cycle. Bush could have stopped him long ago; he could have spared the Iraqi people the ravages of his favored freebooter; but he chose not to.

With his insistence that the war in Iraq is "worth it" and his unwavering promise of success there, President Bush is trying to frame congressional elections this November as a contest between a Republican Party resolute on the war in Iraq and a Democratic Party riven by divisions. The president is unlikely to change many minds among opponents of the war after more than three costly years of battles and with violence certain to continue, analysts say. Instead, the full arsenal of public relations weaponry that Bush has deployed this week--a Camp David war summit and a surprise visit to Baghdad, followed by a Rose Garden news conference Wednesday--appears aimed more at stirring the Republican base for political battles ahead.

Smirkey has designated a swathe of remote Hawaiian islands as a US national monument, making them the world's largest marine sanctuary, using a procedure widely criticised by Republicans when President Bill Clinton used it to create the Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah eight years ago. He signed an order on Thursday which will give the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands the highest protected status in US law. The area, nearly as big as California, supports more than 7,000 species, a quarter of which occur nowhere else. Environmental groups welcomed the decision, although fishing industry bodies have raised concerns. The designated site - more than 140,000 sq miles (362,000 sq km) of reefs, atolls and shallow seas - is just larger than the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia, previously the world's largest protected marine area. The remote and uninhabited islands and surrounding seas are important breeding grounds for sea turtles, and are home to the only remaining population of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. The new restrictions will mean all fishing is phased out within five years and visitors will need permits to snorkel or dive in the area. The islands were already being considered for designation as a national marine sanctuary.

Privatization Solves All Problems: Fannie Mae's $11 billion accounting scandal should drive the Senate to stop delaying and advance legislation that would overhaul supervision of U.S. mortgage finance giants, some Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee argued on Thursday. "Fannie and Freddie, along with their trade association allies, cannot continue to block the Senate from taking up this bill," said Sen. John Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican and sponsor of the legislation. Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said Congress has been continually warned about the risks posed by Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's activities. "We have been warned time after time, year after year, about the systemic failure that's at risk here. And my goodness, when will the Congress act?" he said at a Banking Committee hearing about the findings of a U.S. probe into Fannie's accounting.

Republicans Support The Troops: The following is an excerpt of comments of Senate Republicans defending the proposal to give amnesty to terrorists who have killed or wounded US troops. These statements were made on the Senate floor yesterday. TED STEVENS - "I really believe we ought to try to find some way to encourage that country to demonstrate to those people who have been opposed to what we're trying to do, that it's worthwhile for them and their children to come forward and support this democracy. And if that's amnesty, I'm for it. I'd be for it. And if those people who are, come forward... if they bore arms against our people, what's the difference between those people that bore arms against the Union in the War between the States? What's the difference between the Germans and Japanese and all the people we've forgiven?" - Sen. Ted Stevens CHAMBLISS: "Is it not true today that we have Iraqis who are fighting the war against the insurgents, who at one time fought against American troops and other coalition troops as they were marching to Baghdad, who have now come over to our side and are doing one heck of a job of fighting along, side by side, with Americans and coalition forces, attacking and killing insurgents on a daily basis?" - Sen. Saxby Chambliss Funny, we simply "must" punish "law-breakers" when they're Mexican immigrants because "it would send a bad message" showing law-breakers any mercy. But when the law-breakers are reputed Al Qaeda terrorists who have murdered American soldiers, suddenly the Republican party becomes all warm and fuzzy. So the message for Mexicans seeking amnesty is what? Go to Iraq and pick up a gun first?

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: Ancient roots and bones locked in long-frozen soil in Siberia are starting to thaw, and have the potential to unleash billions of tons of carbon and accelerate global warming, scientists said on Thursday. This vast carbon reservoir, contained in permafrost soil in northeastern Siberia, contains about 75 times more carbon than the amount released into the atmosphere each year by the burning of fossil fuels, the researchers said in a statement. Siberia isn't the only place on Earth with massive lodes of permafrost - parts of Alaska, Canada and northern Europe have them too. The Siberian area is possibly the world's largest, covering nearly 400,000 square miles, with an average depth of 82 feet, and probably holds about 500 billion metric tons of carbon. By any measure, this is a lot, and it is in fact twice what scientists previously believed was there, ecologist Ted Schuur of the University of Florida said in a telephone interview. "There's a huge pool of carbon, even more than people thought before, perhaps double the amount of carbon that we thought," said Schuur, one of the article's co-authors. "If you have twice as much carbon there, essentially in the future twice as much could be released into the atmosphere."

World leaders must not allow concern for energy security to distract them from taking promised action on global warming, top world scientists said on Wednesday. Climate change solutions agreed at the G8 summit in Scotland a year ago risked being pushed off the agenda at next month's G8 summit in Russia by worries about security of energy supply, they said. "One year on from the UK Gleneagles Summit, where the G8 committed to taking action on climate change, this crucial issue must not be allowed to fall by the wayside," said Martin Rees, president of the UK's Royal Society. Rees is a signatory to the statement from the science academies of the G8 and China, Brazil, India and South Africa. "The G8 must demonstrate that this was a serious pledge by integrating climate concerns with their discussions regarding security of supply," he said. Britain pushed global warming to the top of the agenda during its presidency of the G8 in 2005, eliciting promises of action from some of the world's major polluters. But energy supply worries have increased as Russia briefly turned off gas supplies in December in a dispute with Ukraine, Iraq's insurgency has escalated as has a nuclear row with Iran, factors that boosted oil prices to record levels.

News From Smirkey's Wars: The global refugee population has begun to rise for the first time in four years, largely due to instability in Iraq, a US group said in a survey, which saw refugee protection deteriorating by all measures. The number of refugees and asylum seekers increased to 12 million in 2005 from 11.5 million a year earlier, according to "World Refugee Survey 2006" of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), a non-profit group tracking the problem worldwide. The survey counted 644,500 more Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria in 2005 and indicated a "more significant outflow" in the future. "The deteriorating situation in Iraq has led to the refugee outflow some predicted at the onset of the war, which has only now materialized," the USCRI said. Over 40 percent of Iraqi professionals have fled the insurgency-wracked nation since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, it said. Syria now hosts 351,000 Iraqi refugees and has the largest population of Iraqi Shiite Muslims outside Iraq, while Jordan hosts 450,000 Iraqi refugees, many of whom are Christian minorities, according to the report.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) took to the Senate floor last week to deliver a strident push for the bigoted Marriage Protection Amendment, with massive distortions of the issue and an argument that was based almost solely on the opinion of a little-known, conservative think tank affiliated with the Roman Catholic organization, Opus Dei. Brownback really hit his stride when he described a paper, called "Ten Principles on Marriage and the Public Good," published by a fairly new and extremely-conservative group at Princeton University. According to Brownback, the paper is an "... important statement of principles from top American scholars [to] be considered carefully by my colleagues." He then added that the sentiments expressed in the non-scientific treatise were so vital to our national dialog that they should "..help guide our debate on this issue." The paper, sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton, makes a case for banning same-sex marriage altogether. What's extraordinary, is the idea of a United States Senator attempting to sway opinion on an amendment that would have altered our Constitution (had it not been defeated last Wednesday) by using a paper from an organization linked to Opus Dei, a strict, religious group that some former members have described as a cult. Brownback spent a good part of his lengthy Senate speech last week citing the study and attributing it to "this Princeton group of scholars" while never mentioning that all of the findings were based on the ultraconservative Witherspoon Institute bolstered by the involvement -- directly or indirectly -- of a nonprofit, tax-exempt religious organization in Opus Dei.

Earlier this month, efforts to ban gay marriage by amending the Constitution failed badly in Senate. Now the religious right is considering appealing to state legislatures to call a Constitutional Convention under an obscure provision of Article 5 that would allow amendments to the Constitution without congressional approval. The Evans-Novak report has the details: "Meeting after the big failure at the offices of the social-conservative Family Research Council, the top leaders of the marriage movement - Catholic, Protestant and Mormon leaders among others - discussed the possibility of an unprecedented Constitutional Convention. Two-thirds (34) of the state legislatures would have to call for such a convention - which could be done only with great difficulty. Even then, no one knows what such a convention would look like or what sort of amendments could result from it."

It’s a court case that could have major implications for President Bush’s faith-based initiative: Is an evangelical Christian prison rehabilitation program, paid for by taxpayer dollars, constitutional? The answer, issued by a federal district judgee in Iowa on June 2, was a resounding "no." Judge Robert Pratt found that the InnerChange program run by Prison Fellowship Ministries in an Iowa prison was "pervasively sectarian" and that the facts "leave no room to doubt that the state of Iowa is excessively entangled with religion" through the program. The decision, which will be appealed, is a major victory for those who believe America has gone too far in supporting religious or semi-religious activities using public money.

Scandals Du Jour: Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert and two partners turned a profit of more than $3 million on property they accumulated and sold in just over three years near the route of a proposed controversial freeway on the western fringe of suburban Chicago, according to land records and financial disclosure reports released Wednesday. Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean rejected the notion that the land, located 5 1/2 miles from the proposed Prairie Parkway route, rose in value because of the highway project. The speaker long has been an aggressive proponent of the highway and helped secure more than $200 million in federal funding through an earmark in federal transportation legislation. The property near Plano, Ill., was sold three months after the transportation bill was signed into law. It was purchased by a real estate developer who is planning to build more than 1,500 homes on the land.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt's trips seemed routine - visits to dozens of cities to launch the Medicare drug benefit and to help states plan for a potential pandemic. How he got there is creating controversy. Leavitt was criticized Wednesday for using a jet leased by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for emergencies. HHS estimated the cost of the flights at $720,000, and Democrats called it a waste of resources to do what Rep. John Lewis of Georgia called "public relations for the president." Leavitt said use of the jet on 19 separate trips helped him meet the "breathtaking challenge" posed by the two programs. "The good news is we accomplished the task," he said. "Otherwise, I don't know that we could have."

In April 2000, then-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham sent his chief of staff to Panama for what the aide described on his travel disclosure form as "education and research." Although the cost of the three-day trip taken by Dewitt "Trey" Hardin III - roughly $1,900 - was not remarkable, the timing and sponsor are intriguing. Hardin traveled to Central America about two weeks before the date on which Cunningham, a California Republican, has said he took his first bribe from defense contractor Brent Wilkes. Wilkes is the founder of ADCS Inc. And it was ADCS that paid for Hardin's trip, the Center for Public Integrity has discovered. It's unclear what Hardin did in Panama. In an e-mail to the Center, he described the trip as "my visit to a San Diego constituent's facility in Panama to provide research and education about their work," which "was taken in my capacity as a congressional staff member." A British security firm has welcomed the outcome of a US army investigation clearing it of criminal offences.

A limousine company involved in congressional prostitution and bribery allegations got a Homeland Security contract after then-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham interceded on the company's behalf, the company's president has told lawmakers. The statement by the president of Shirlington Limousine was made in an affidavit discussed at a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing Thursday. It prompted renewed protests from lawmakers about the Homeland Security Department's awarding of two contracts to Shirlington despite the company's history of problems. Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., noted that Shirlington president Christopher Baker had a criminal record and business dealings with a defense contractor named as an unindicted coconspirator in the prosecution of Cunningham. "And then we find out that the congressman at the center of all of this sends a letter on behalf of this limousine company. If that doesn't raise issues, if that isn't more than a series of coincidences, I don't know what is," King lectured government witnesses.

New documents obtained by a conservative watchdog group suggest that the US Army Corp of Engineers may have publicly lied regarding the involvement of the Vice President's office in awarding a 2003 multi-billion dollar, no-bid contract to Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, RAW STORY has learned. RAW STORY has obtained a copy of the emails, which were acquired by the government watchdog group Judicial Watch under the Freedom of Information Act. The newly released emails show the Army Corps attempting to deflect attention from Cheney's office by distributing talking points that would mask Cheney's purported role. The Corps could not immediately be reached for comment. Among the 100 pages of newly-obtained documents is an 2003 email in which Army Corps official Carol Sanders writes, "Mr. Robert Andersen, Chief Counsel, USACE, participated in a 60 Minutes interview today in New York regarding the sole source award of the oil response contract to Kellogg, Brown and Root... [Andersen] was able to make many of the points we had planned." Sanders subsequently provided sound bites from the interview, including, "There was no contact whatsoever (with the VP office)."

The House stripped Democratic Rep. William Jefferson of his committee seat on Friday in an unprecedented action against a lawmaker ensnared in scandal, but not under indictment. The move came on a voice vote, without debate, and capped an election-year effort by House Democrats to seize the political high ground on the issue of lawmaker ethics. Jefferson had refused to step aside voluntarily from the powerful House Ways and Means Committee before the corruption probe was completed. The drive to remove him from the committee, led by the Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, sparked protests by black lawmakers who said Jefferson was being singled out unfairly.

The US military launched an inquiry after a video showing an Aegis Defence Services contractor firing at civilian cars in Iraq was shown on the internet. Ageis, which has a Pentagon contract in Iraq said to be worth £157m, said the film had been edited to mislead. It said the man responsible for the film is now the subject of legal action. Aegis said its own investigation, which was handed to the US Army's Criminal Investigation Division, had found that the incident shown on the film was within the rules on the use of force by civilian personnel.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:48:57 PM

Wed, Jun 14 2006

Clearing The Ditches After The Municipality Cleared The Ditches

Maybe hurricane weather, maybe not - today started out in the hurricane weather mode, with clear skies and dead-calm, brutal sunshine, but by one in the afternoon, that was history. By three, a thunderstorm came up and forced me to shut down the electricity to the house, and leave it shut off for the better part of two hours. During that time, there was some truly serious rain. The weather has cooled off a bit, too. The low last night was 72 and the high today was 83.

I have been spending some time the last few days cleaning out the desagua (roadside drainage ditch) just downstream from my driveway culvert. Since the municipality came by with a road grader and cleaned them up and down the street, the sand that ended up on the street has been washing into the desagua in front of my house and accumulating there. If I had not dealt with it, it would have plugged up the culvert, and then I would have a serious problem. So for two days, I have been out there moving a shovel-full at a time. Since it is just the sort of sand needed in the soil, I have been putting it on the lawn under one of the mango trees, where the soil is the thinnest. And I am hoping that the sand will eventually find its way into the soil and help improve the texture. I have been very, very slow about it - what I have accomplished in the last two mornings is work that a good peone could complete in about fifteen minutes, but my health forces me to go very slowly with the project.

I managed to clear about thirty feet of the desagua over the last two days, and was careful to clear the part where most of the obstruction is occurring, so that sand upstream from there could wash away with a good heavy rain. Well, my plan worked, and this afternoon's heavy rains washed away all the sand, leaving behind only a small amount of gravel. I can shovel that out tomorrow, and that should be the end of that project - the culvert should be clear. I should be good to go till the next time the municipality cleans the desaguas.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The United States on Tuesday reasserted its right to develop weapons for use in outer space to protect its military and commercial satellites and ruled out any global negotiations on a new treaty to limit them. In a speech to the Conference on Disarmament, a senior State Department arms control official insisted that such weapons systems would be purely defensive. Washington sees no need for negotiations to prevent an arms race in space as a 40-year-old international treaty banning weapons of mass destruction in space remains adequate, he said. John Mohanco, deputy director of the office of multilateral, nuclear and security affairs, said the United States faced a threat of attacks from the earth or from other countries' spacecraft. He did not name any potential attackers. "As long as the potential for such attacks remains, our government will continue to consider the possible role that space-related weapons may play in protecting our assets," he told the United Nations-backed forum. "For our part, the United States does not have any weapons in space, nor do we have plans to build such weapons," he said. The White House is due to announce a new space policy this month, the first overhaul in a decade. Some U.S. experts have said it will underscore the Pentagon's determination to protect its existing space assets and maintain dominance of outer space.

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove will not be indicted in the CIA leak investigation, his attorney announced yesterday, a decision that signals that a special prosecutor's probe is unlikely to threaten any other Bush administration officials. Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald told Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, in a short letter delivered Monday afternoon that he "does not anticipate seeking charges" against Rove in the case, Luskin said. Rove was told about 4 p.m. while aboard a Southwest Airlines flight en route to a campaign speech in New Hampshire, but he waited until early yesterday morning to publicly reveal the news. "It's a chapter that has ended," Bush told reporters during his trip back from Iraq. The president said he thinks Fitzgerald "has conducted his investigation in a dignified way." Will special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald indict Rove? It was always: Will Fitzgerald connect the dots that lead to Cheney? No top office within the administration was better positioned than Cheney's to gather the information that was used to attack Wilson and his wife and to peddle that information to the press. In fact, as Joe Wilson told me in an interview about the leaking of his wife's name that we did early in 2004, "With respect to who actually leaked the information, there are really only a few people -- far fewer than the president let on when he said there are a lot of senior administration officials -- who could have done it. At the end of the day, you have to have the means, the keys to the conversations at which somebody might drop my wife's name -- deliberately or not -- a national security clearance, and a reason to be talking about this. When you look at all that, there are really very few people who exist at that nexis between national security and foreign policy and politics. You can count them, literally, on two hands."

It's now known that Rove had discussed Plame's CIA employment with conservative columnist Robert Novak, who exposed her identity less than a week later, citing two unidentified senior administration officials. Rove's truth-telling to the FBI saved him from indictment. And by misleading reporters, the White House saved itself from a political liability during the 2004 presidential campaign. While the president and the vice president underwent questioning by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in 2004, Rove's role never surfaced. The lone blip on the radar screen was a one-day flurry of news stories the month before Election Day when Rove was brought before a federal grand jury - one of his five grand jury appearances in the probe. The extent of Rove's involvement didn't become official until Oct. 28 of last year, when Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, was indicted on charges of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI about how he learned of Plame's CIA identity and what he told reporters about it.

In the wake of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death, Smirkey is seeing improvement in public confidence that the Iraq war is winnable, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows. The new poll found that 48% believe the United States probably or definitely will win the war, up from 39% in April. It also found that 47% believe things are going well in Iraq, up from 38% in March. The survey, taken Friday to Sunday and released Monday, also showed Bush's approval rating going up to 38% from 36% earlier this month and an all-time low of 31% in May. The poll news came as Bush and members of his Cabinet met at Camp David to discuss ways to help the recently formed government in Iraq.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the U.S. Defense Department on Wednesday to demand information it says the government has collected on groups opposed to the war in Iraq. The group says the Pentagon has been monitoring anti-war groups and individuals and has compiled lists on people it sees as potential threats but who the ACLU says are exercising their free-speech rights. The suit was the ACLU's first attempt to force the Pentagon to disclose domestic surveillance and followed similar suits by the organization against the FBI and the Justice Department. "It's absolutely improper for the U.S. military to keep databases on lawful First Amendment (free-speech) activities," said ACLU attorney Ben Wizner. "These are peaceful, law-abiding groups and individuals that oppose U.S. war policy but pose no threat to the military." The ACLU said the Defense Department shared the information with other government agencies through the database, known as the Threat and Local Observation Notice, or Talon.

After taking Smirkey up on his challenge to "go down to Guantanamo and see for yourself," journalists have been ordered to leave Guantanamo Bay and local military authorities have had their permission to invite reporters to the base overruled following last week's suicides at the US detention camp. Reporters from the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times are being flown home this afternoon having arrived at the base last Saturday, just hours after two Saudis and one Yemeni detainee committed suicide in their rooms with improvised nooses. The removal of access comes amid unprecedented criticism of the camp and follows yesterday's publication of one of the most frank media reports yet to have emerged from the tightly controlled base. "There is not a trustworthy son of a [bitch] in the entire bunch," one journalist is quoted as saying. Journalists have been granted sporadic access to the camp since February 2002 with permission from the US military's joint task force and office of military commissions.

For nearly a decade, Allen Raymond stood at the top ranks of Republican Party power. He served as chief of staff to a cochairman of the Republican National Committee, supervised Republican contests in mid-Atlantic states for the RNC, and was a top official in publisher Steve Forbes's presidential campaign. He went on to earn $350,000 a year running a Republican policy group as well as a GOP phone-bank business. But most recently, Raymond has been in prison. And for that, he blames himself, but also says he was part of a Republican political culture that emphasizes hardball tactics and polarizing voters. In his first interview about the case, Raymond said "Republicans have treated campaigns and politics as a business, and now are treating public policy as a business, looking for the types of returns that you get in business, passing legislation that has huge ramifications for business," he said. "It is very much being monetized, and the federal government is being monetized under Republican majorities."

Irrefutable evidence confirms that Musab Al-Zarqawi was a US agent provocateur used to both sell the necessity of the war in Iraq and as a patsy to take the fall for numerous suspicious bombings which only had the effect of realizing a long-held US and Israeli goal to deliberately foment civil war in Iraq and break up the country along sectarian lines. Preceding the release of the recent Al-Zarqawi video tape, the Pentagon embarked on a propaganda push to magnify the role and influence of Al-Zarqawi in Iraq - reinforcing the 'Al-Qaeda in Iraq' brand myth and pinning the increasingly unpopular occupation to the wider 'war on terror'. Leaked documents splashed in the New York Times were proof that the Pentagon has even gone to the lengths of faking letters taking credit for insurgent bombings, attributing them to Al-Zarqawi and leaking them to journalists. Transcripts of meetings between the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed turning Al-Zarqawi into a caricature and making him appear, "more important than he really is."

Business is booming for those willing to tackle one of the most dangerous jobs on Earth. Lucrative U.S. government contracts go to firms called on to provide security for projects and personnel -- jobs that in previous conflicts have been done by the military. A single contract awarded to Britain's AEGIS Specialist Risk Management company by the Pentagon was worth $293 million, and while the government says it cannot provide a total amount for the contracts -- many of which are secret -- industry experts estimate Iraq's security business costs tens of billions of dollars. These contractors have not been without controversy. Late last year, AEGIS launched an investigation into whether its employees produced video clips that showed up on the Internet in which it appeared civilian vehicles were being shot at. AEGIS has not released the results of its investigation, but a U.S. Army investigation found no probable cause that a crime occurred.

About $1bn (£542m) in relief meant for victims of Hurricane Katrina was lost to fraud, with bogus claimants spending the money on Hawaiian holidays, football tickets, diamond jewellery and Girls Gone Wild porn videos, the US Congress was told on Wednesday. The fraud, exposed through an audit by the Government Accountability Office, found a staggering amount of abuse of the housing assistance and debit cards given out by the beleaguered Federal Emergency Management Agency as a way of granting relief to those who lost their homes to Katrina. Predictions that this year will bring another season of severe storms has raised tensions along the Gulf coast, where, nearly one year after Katrina, tens of thousands of people continue to live in Fema trailers, their homes still in ruins. "It is key that Fema address weaknesses in its registration process so that it can substantially reduce the risk for fraudulent and improper payments before the next hurricane season arrives," the GAO report said. Prison inmates, a supposed victim who used a New Orleans cemetery for a home address, and a person who spent 70 days at a Hawaiian hotel all were able to wrongly get taxpayer help, according to evidence that gives a new black eye to the nation's disaster relief agency. Agents from the General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, went undercover to expose the ease of receiving disaster expense checks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The GAO concluded that as much as 16 percent of the billions of dollars in FEMA help to individuals after the two hurricanes was unwarranted.

In an exclusive interview with Florida House of Representatives candidate Charlie Grapski - arrested after he filed a lawsuit alleging voting fraud against Alachua County City Manager Clovis Watson, RAW STORY learns of corruption allegations that can only be described as not seen since the days of Boss Tweed. Charlie Grapski, a Democrat running for the Florida House of Representatives, was arrested in April after filing a lawsuit alleging that City officials abused power and influenced the outcome of an election by manipulating the absentee voting process. The story, however, does not start or end with election fraud allegations. What Grapski tells is a tale that one cannot imagine occurring in a law abiding country, one of false arrest, intimidation, and a crony-business system all centered around money interests. Clovis Watson is not only the City Manager of Alachua county and, as such, the defendant in Grapski's lawsuit, he is also the Police Commissioner of Alachua, Florida, a town dominated by the Republican Party and pro-development Democrats. Watson, one website alleges, is funded by the Alachua County Republican Party, and declined to accept the Democrat of the Year Award because he is planning a switch to the Republican Party. The site also takes aim at Grapski. According to Grapski, "Clovis Watson filed a sworn complaint as a police officer himself, and as City Manager he was the aggrieved party. As Police Commissioner, he was his own boss and accepted the sworn complaint from himself - and then instructed his subordinates on the police force to have me arrested." Now, RAW STORY has learned, the Sheriff's office has announced that additional charges, including felony wiretapping, will be filed against Grapski and Michael Canney, a Green Party member who witnessed and videotaped Grapski's efforts to obtain public records.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a champion of Utah taking its place in the global economy, finds himself in an awkward position after shutting down a state-owned online information site because it is in Spanish. Huntsman's spokesman Mike Mower says the site will remain down until the governor's legal counsel can determine if its translations of basic state information violate a 2000 Utah law that makes English the state's official language. But critics say Huntsman overreacted to a xenophobic backlash that followed the recent visit of Mexican President Vicente Fox and that continues to be fueled by the immigration reform debate. Two weeks ago, the state launched www.espanol.utah. gov, a Spanish-language companion to the state's informational Web site www.utah.gov. The Spanish-language site offered 10 pages of information on taxes, health services, driver licences, and work-force services selected from the state's 400-page Web site. But within days, callers complained to the governor's office that the site violated Utah's law making English the state's official language. The Spanish-language site was quickly taken down until its content can be reviewed, said Mower. Neither www.utah.gov nor its Spanish-language counterpart are supported with taxpayer money. "We absorbed the cost of this project," said Hope Miller, spokeswoman for Utah Interactive, which maintains the state Web site. "It did not cost the state of Utah anything."

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: John Bolton, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, has drawn fire from some prominent civil society groups in his own country for using threatening language against the world body and its senior officials. "Ambassador Bolton is jeopardizing a 60-year relationship with the UN that delivers results," said Scott Paul of Citizens for Global Solutions, a Washington, DC-based independent group that promotes multilateral solutions to problems of global conflict, freedom, and human rights. "We can't afford the shut down of the UN." Bolton, a unilateralist diplomat, who was appointed last year by President George W. Bush despite strong opposition by a majority of U.S. lawmakers, Wednesday made a statement that implied the closure of the world body. "Even though the target of the speech was the United States, the victim, I fear, will be the United Nations," Bolton told reporters in response to comments by UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown. In a critical speech Tuesday, Malloch Brown accused Washington of failing to stand up for the UN against domestic critics and observed that it was using the world body as a "diplomatic tool."

People in European and Muslim countries see US policy in Iraq as a bigger threat to world peace than Iran's nuclear program, a survey has shown. The survey by the Pew Research Group also found support for US President George W Bush and his "war on terror" had dropped dramatically worldwide. Goodwill created by US aid for nations hit by the 2004 tsunami had also faded since last year, the survey found. The latest in a series of annual polls by the Pew Global Attitudes Project interviewed respondents between 31 March and 14 May 2006. Favorable views of the United States dropped sharply over the past year in Spain, where only 23 percent said they had a positive opinion, down from 41 percent last year, according to the survey. It was done in 15 nations, including the United States, this spring by the Washington-based Pew Research Center. Other countries where positive views dropped significantly include India (56 percent, down from 71 percent); Russia (43 percent, down from 52 percent); and Indonesia (30 percent, down from 38 percent). In Turkey, only 12 percent said they held a favorable opinion, down from 23 percent last year. Declines were less steep in France, Germany and Jordan, while people in China and Pakistan had a slightly more favorable image of the United States this year than last. In Britain, Washington's closest ally in the Iraq war, positive views of America have remained in the mid-50-percent range in the past two years, down sharply from 75 percent in 2002, before the war. Support for Washington's "global war on terror" has also declined, according to the survey of nearly 17,000 people, and confidence in the leadership of President George W. Bush is at its lowest ebb, as it is in the United States, as well. And in 12 of the 14 foreign countries surveyed, strong pluralities of 44 percent (Russia and China) to majorities of up to 76 (France) percent said the Iraq war had made the world "more dangerous." The only exceptions were India and Nigeria, where pluralities of 41 percent of respondents said the world had been made "safer."

Twenty-seven religious leaders, including megachurch pastor Rick Warren, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, have signed a statement urging the United States to "abolish torture now - without exceptions." The statement, being published in newspaper advertisements starting today, is the opening salvo of a new organization called the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which has formed in response to allegations of human rights abuse at U.S. detention centers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Titled "Torture is a Moral Issue," the statement says that torture "violates the basic dignity of the human person" and "contradicts our nation's most cherished values." "Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed?" it asks.

U.S. customs officials arrested more than 2,000 illegal immigrants, gang members and other fugitives in a nationwide sweep, the head of the U.S. Immigration and Customer Enforcement agency said on Wednesday. The sweep, code named "Operation Return to Sender," has yielded arrests in 34 states since May 26 and comes as the U.S. Congress is debating several immigration measures, including proposals that would tighten border security and create a temporary worker program. About half of the 2,179 people arrested in the operation had criminal records, and 367 were members or associates of violent street gangs, including the Mara Slavatrucha, or MS-13, Julie Myers, the assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security for ICE told a press conference.

It would be a "bad idea" for North Korea to test a long-range missile, and Pyongyang should return to six-party talks on its nuclear program, White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley said on Wednesday. U.S. officials have said North Korea is making plans to test an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States, but there were differing opinions about when a launch might come. "We think that would be a bad idea for North Korea. We think what North Korea ought to do is come back to the six-party talks and talk about how they're going to give up their nuclear program," Hadley said in an interview on CNN. Six-country talks on North Korea's nuclear programs are stalemated and international attention has shifted to concerns that Iran is building a nuclear weapon.

Amnesty International urged European states on Wednesday to stop being "partners in crime" with the United States over the alleged kidnapping of terrorism suspects and their transfer to countries that use torture. In a report and a letter addressed to EU leaders meeting on Thursday and Friday in Brussels, the human rights groups backed accusations that the U.S. Central lntelligence Agency ran secret transfer flights and that European countries were aware of it. "There is irrefutable evidence of European complicity in the unlawful practice of renditions," Amnesty said in the letter. "The European Council must therefore put a resolute stop to the attitude of see no evil, hear no evil that has prevailed so far," Amnesty said, referring to the EU summit. The human rights group urged EU leaders to say in their meeting this week that the so-called rendition flights were "unacceptable" and to make sure their airspace and airports were not used for such flights in the future. It asked EU leaders to raise the issue with President Bush when they meet him in Vienna on June 21, saying the bloc's credibility was at stake.

European Parliament deputies demanded on Tuesday the United States close its prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, adding their voice to growing European pressure on Washington over the issue. "The European Parliament... reiterates its call on the US Administration to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and insists that every prisoner should be treated in accordance with international humanitarian law," the EU assembly said. The parliament’s statement, agreed by a show of hands, reinforces comments made on Monday by Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the EU presidency, that the US government should shut Guantanamo as soon as possible.

Wearing his old army uniform and red paratroop beret, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez handed new Russian-made rifles to troops on Wednesday, vowing Washington would not defeat his "revolution". Venezuela received a shipment of 30,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles earlier this month just weeks after Washington banned U.S. arms sales to Caracas over concerns about Chavez's close ties to longtime U.S. foes Cuba and Iran and what it called his inaction against Marxist FARC guerrillas in neighboring Colombia. "The U.S. empire has a campaign around the world trying to isolate Venezuela so no one will sell us even a shotgun. This is an act of victory," Chavez told troops after inspecting and sighting a target with one of the new rifles.

Why Democrats Are Not The Answer: Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) won't rule out Campaign backing of Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) should he fail to win his state party nomination in the primary, according to the Hotline on Call blog at National Journal. Schumer said the Dem primary voters want winners and are focused one electability. He couldn't resist adding even "in 2008," which pricked the ears of reporters who thought he was sending a message about the relative electability of Hillary Clinton. (He wasn't, apparently.) Schumer said that the DSCC "fully supports" Sen. Joe Lieberman in his primary bid, and he refused to rule out continuing that support if Lieberman were to run as an independent. There were degrees of independence, Schumer said. "You can run as an independent, you can run as an independent Democrat who pledges to vote for Harry Reid as Majority Leader." Schumer said he had neither sought nor recieved assurances from Lieberman that an independent bid would not ensue if Ned Lamont tightened the noose.

A spokesman for Senator John Kerry (D-MA) has launched an unusually personal attack on presidential adviser Karl Rove. The move comes one day after Rove called plans to exit Iraq proposed by Senator Kerry and Representative John Murtha (D-PA) "profoundly wrong" "cut and run" strategies. "They may be with you for the first few bullets," Rove said, "but they won't be there for the last tough battles." Both Kerry and Murtha are decorated service veterans. "The closest Karl Rove ever came to combat," said Kerry spokesman David Wade, "was these last months spent worrying his cellmates might rough him up in prison. This porcine political operative can't cut and run from the truth any longer."

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: The Associated Press, who ran a photo today of a "mock swearing-in ceremony" in House Speaker Dennis Haster's office, also ran a story, widely carried unquestioningly around the country, describing Bilbray's official first day in the U.S. House, as if the election results had been legitimized. They haven't been. "Bilbray sworn in to replace Rep. Cunningham," says the headline accompanying a story written by AP's Erica Warner and picked up widely. The story gives no indication that the questionable results of the election have yet to be certified by the state of California. AP's coverage has been published widely today by, amongst scores of others, USA Today and Washington Post. And yet, four sources in the CA-50's San Diego County Registrar of Voters office, including the Registrar himself, Michael Haas, along with two officials in the CA Secretary of State's office have confirmed to The BRAD BLOG that there are thousands of votes still be counted in the closely watched race, which has yet to be officially certified by either the county or the state. Ashley Giovannettone, Communications Director for the CA Secretary of State's office confirmed that nothing has been certified yet and that only unofficial results have been posted on the SoS and County websites. "The counties have a 28-day canvassing period to collect and count the results of the races," she told us. "We didn't do anything out of the ordinary to complete the count in that race any earlier than the others," said Cathy Glaser, Supervisor of Campaign Services in the San Diego County Registrar's office. "We haven't certified it yet."

Republicans Believe In Fair, Honest Debate: On Thursday, the House of Representatives will hold a debate on the Iraq war. Media reports say Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) "hopes to match the serious, dignified tone of deliberation that preceded the Gulf war, in 1991." ThinkProgress has obtained a "Confidential Messaging Memo" from Boehner instructing his caucus to conduct a very different kind of deliberation. Here’s a quick summary: 1. Exploit 9/11. The two page memo mentions 9/11 seven times. It describes debating Iraq in the context of 9/11 as "imperative." 2. Attack opponents ad hominem. The memo describes those who opposes President Bush’s policies in Iraq as "sheepish," "weak," and "prone to waver endlessly." 3. Create a false choice. The memo says the decision is between supporting President Bush’s policies and hoping terrorist threats will "fade away on their own."

Smirkey Fights Terrorism Any Place, Any Time: The release of United 93 has brought renewed attention to the tragic events of 9/11. Yet Americans are less familiar with the story of another jet full of innocent people destroyed by terrorists: Cubana Flight 455. On October 6, 1976, it was scheduled to take off from Barbados to Kingston, Jamaica. Nine minutes after takeoff, a bomb in the aircraft’s rear lavatory exploded. A second bomb exploded, causing the plane to crash into the water. All 73 people on board died, including all 24 members of the Cuban national fencing team, many of them teenagers. One of the men responsible for the planning of this incident currently lives within the United States, and is currently applying for citizenship. His name is Luis Posada Carriles. Posada has spent thirty years on the run from the government of Venezuela, which tried him for his role in the bombing. His trial was never completed and Posada escaped from prison while prosecutors appealed an acquittal and is still wanted by the government of Venezuela. He was arrested in the United States in 2005, and since has been involved in a bid for asylum. Now, in a new twist, Posada applied on April 26, 2006 for US citizenship. He has a good chance of getting it. Not surprisingly, Posada's case has not made national news. The reason for the resounding silence and indifference given to his case is the double standard that exists in the United States: the very slim difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter.

"A covert effort by the Central Intelligence Agency to finance Somali warlords has drawn sharp criticism from American government officials who say the campaign has thwarted counterterrorism efforts inside Somalia and empowered the same Islamic groups it was intended to marginalize," begins a story set for the front page of Thursday's New York Times. Among those who have criticized the C.I.A. operation as short-sighted have been senior Foreign Service officers at the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Earlier this year, Leslie Rowe, the embassy's second-ranking official, signed off on a cable back to State Department headquarters that detailed grave concerns throughout the region about American efforts in Somalia, according to several people with knowledge of the report. Around that time, the State Department's political officer for Somalia, Michael Zorick, who had been based in Nairobi, was reassigned to Chad after he sent a cable to Washington criticizing Washington's policy of paying Somali warlords.

News From Smirkey's Wars: The U.S.-led coalition is unleashing more than 11,000 troops to attack militants in the southern mountains of Afghanistan, the biggest offensive since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The push starting Thursday by U.S., British, Canadian and Afghan troops aims to squeeze Taliban fighters in four volatile provinces. It will focus on southern Uruzgan and northeastern Helmand, where the military says most of the forces are massed. The offensive comes amid Afghan and coalition efforts to curb the fiercest Taliban-led violence since the hard-line Islamic government was toppled for harboring Osama bin Laden following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. The U.S. military announced Wednesday that an American Soldier was killed in Helmand's Musa Qala district Tuesday after his logistics patrol came under rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire attack. Another coalition soldier was also killed in combat in the eastern Kunar region.

The Afghanistan province being patrolled by British troops will produce at least a third of the world's heroin this year, according to drug experts who are forecasting a record harvest that will be an embarrassment for the western-funded war on narcotics. British officials are bracing themselves for the result of an annual UN poppy survey due later this summer. Early indications show an increase on Helmand's 1999 record of 45,000 hectares (112,500 acres) and a near-doubling of last year's crop. "It's going to be massive," said one British drugs official. "My guess is it's going to be the biggest ever." Helmand's bumper harvest highlights the failure of western counter-narcotics efforts that have cost at least $2bn (£1.1bn) since 2001. It could undo progress made last year, when poppy cultivation dropped 21% after a call for a "jihad" on drugs by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

Scandals Du Jour: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, under federal investigation for possible insider trading, will have a nice nest egg to fall back on when he retires from Congress in January, recording income last year of more than $5 million from his largest blind trust. Frist, R-Tenn., is hardly the richest member of the millionaires' club of Congress, but he and numerous other lawmakers whose financial dealings have been questioned were under scrutiny as House and Senate lawmakers disclosed their finances Wednesday.

In the next few days, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct is expected to recommend changes to the chamber's rules on privately sponsored travel, including measures that could strengthen disclosure requirements and close loopholes used by lobbyists. However, the Center for Public Integrity has found that the current members of the committee are no strangers to taking privately funded trips. From January 2000 through June 2005, the members - five Republicans and five Democrats - and their aides accepted about 400 such trips valued at nearly $1 million, according to a Center review of disclosure records. More than half of that figure was spent on the lawmakers. The members took roughly 180 trips over the 5½-year study period, reporting expenses in excess of $550,000. Among the sponsors were corporations, trade groups and nonprofit organizations.

Despite record low approval ratings, House lawmakers Tuesday embraced a $3,300 pay raise that will increase their salaries to $168,500. The 2 percent cost-of-living raise would be the seventh straight for members of the House and Senate. Lawmakers easily squelched a bid by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, to get a direct vote to block the COLA, which is automatically awarded unless lawmakers vote to block it. In the early days of GOP control of Congress, lawmakers routinely denied themselves the annual COLA. Last year, the Senate voted 92-6 to deny the raise but quietly surrendered the position in House-Senate talks. As part of an ethics reform bill in 1989, Congress gave up their ability to accept pay for speeches and made annual cost-of-living pay increases automatic unless the lawmakers voted otherwise.

Tom DeLay accidentally sent out a voice message to Virginia voters saying he was voting in California, according to today's Roll Call. DeLay, now a permanent resident of Alexandria, Va., put his name to good use by doing a round of get-out-the-vote "robocalls" on behalf of Mark Ellmore, one of two GOP candidates who ran in Tuesday’s Republican primary to oppose Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) this fall. DeLay began his message by saying, "Hello, this is Tom DeLay." He mentioned that as Majority Leader, he "battled Jim Moran in Congress for 14 years." Then, for some reason, he continued, "I recently re-registered to vote in Northern California." A House GOP aide who lives in Alexandria and who played for HOH the voice mail message she saved from DeLay’s robocall said, "My husband made me listen to it three times, he thought it was so funny."

Lawyers for Jeffrey Skilling have asked the government to release $60 million in assets under its control, citing the former Enron Corp. CEO's acquittal on insider trading charges connected to the funds. Defense attorney Daniel Petrocelli filed a motion with U.S. District Court Judge Sim Lake on Monday requesting the assets be released to Skilling. "Jeff wants to pay his obligations. He has obligations to his children, his family and of course he owes substantial sums of money to his lawyers," Petrocelli told the Houston Chronicle for a story in Wednesday editions. Skilling owes Petrocelli's firm, Los Angeles-based O'Melveny and Myers, "tens of millions of dollars," Petrocelli said. Lay and Skilling also asked for their Sept. 11 sentencing to be delayed by up to 45 days to give the defense team more time to prepare. A jury convicted Skilling of 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors. Jurors found Skilling guilty of only one of 10 counts he faced for insider trading. Petrocelli said the profit from that one sale could be forfeited, but very little should be. Both Skilling and Lay face the possibility of millions of dollars in fines. During his trial, Skilling listed his remaining assets as including a $5 million Houston house, a $350,000 condo in Dallas, a Mercedes Benz, two Land Rovers and nearly $50 million in stock and bonds frozen by the government.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Chicago gay rights activists are concerned about what may have been a hate crime in the Lakeview neighborhood. The Chicago Public Library says that about 100 books were destroyed after someone set a fire in the section for gay and lesbian literature. It happened Tuesday about noon at the John Merlo branch of the public library in the 600 block of West Belmont. Newsradio 780 is told that someone is believed to have set fire to books with a cigarette lighter and that about 90 gay and lesbian books were destroyed, and that about 10 books destroyed in the African American literature section. Police say they are investigating but are not calling it a hate crime investigation at this point. No one was injured. The first floor of the library stayed open, but the second floor - where the fire was - was closed for a few hours yesterday afternoon.

The Food and Drug Administration had intended to allow over-the-counter sales of Plan B last year but delayed the move while determining how to limit those sales to women 17 and older - a process that should have wrapped up by now, the agency's former chief testified. Former FDA commissioner Lester Crawford, in a sworn statement, said he had reserved the right to decide whether to loosen the sales restrictions on the prescription-only emergency contraceptive pills. His account of that unusual and perhaps unprecedented move, given in a deposition over a lawsuit against the FDA, confirmed earlier testimony given by two senior agency officials who said he'd shut them out of the decision-making process.

Brigham Young University has decided not to rehire a part-time instructor because he publicly opposed the Mormon church's stand against marriage for same-sex couples. Jeffrey Nielsen, a philosophy instructor at the church-owned university, said in an op-ed piece for the June 4 edition of The Salt Lake Tribune, "I believe opposing gay marriage and seeking a constitutional amendment against it is immoral." Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have spent millions of dollars campaigning against gay marriage and on May 28 called on members to support a constitutional amendment banning it. Nielsen, a Mormon, said he learned of the school's decision regarding his employment in a June 8 letter from Daniel Graham, chairman of the Department of Philosophy. "Since you have chosen to contradict and oppose the church in an area of great concern to church leaders, and to do so in a public forum, we will not rehire you after the current term is over," the letter said. BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins confirmed that Graham decided not to rehire Nielsen because of the op-ed piece.

Freedom, Liberty And Justice For All: A lawyer for one of three Guantanamo Bay detainees who committed suicide said Monday the U.S. government thwarted his attempts to represent the man "at every turn." Lawyers Jeff Davis and George Daly filed papers in U.S. District Court in Washington in September challenging the detention of Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi al-Utaybi, one of three prisoners found hanging inside their wire mesh cells before dawn Saturday. The legal challenge, known as a writ of habeas corpus, was one of hundreds filed by defense attorneys on behalf of detainees at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the U.S. now holds about 460 men accused of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. But the government asserted that Davis and Daly had not adequately identified the detainee - they initially gave a different version of his name - and lacked the proper authority to file a legal challenge on his behalf, court records show. In April, the lawyers said the government refused to deliver mail to their client. They also complained that the Pentagon delayed their security clearances to visit the detainee at the base. Davis said Monday their defense was hampered "at every turn" by the government. In the end, the lawyers never spoke with their client. When Daly was finally granted permission recently to visit al-Utaybi, the detainee refused to meet with him for unknown reasons. When announcing the suicides on Saturday, the military said none of the three men had lawyers or had filed habeas petitions. But in court papers filed Monday, the U.S. acknowledged the two lawyers had represented al-Utaybi, noting he was "now deceased as a result of apparent suicide."

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea may be turning to cannibalism because longer seasons without ice keep them from getting to their natural food, a new study by American and Canadian scientists has found. The study reviewed three examples of polar bears preying on each other from January to April 2004 north of Alaska and western Canada, including the first-ever reported killing of a female in a den shortly after it gave birth. Polar bears feed primarily on ringed seals and use sea ice for feeding, mating and giving birth. Polar bears kill each other for population regulation, dominance, and reproductive advantage, the study said. Killing for food seems to be less common, said the study's principal author, Steven Amstrup of the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center. "During 24 years of research on polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea region of northern Alaska and 34 years in northwestern Canada, we have not seen other incidents of polar bears stalking, killing, and eating other polar bears," the scientists said.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: In an attempt to counter a New York Times article, conservative pundit Ann Coulter appears to have inserted a list that was originally compiled by an anti-abortion group almost word-for-word into her new book. The seventh chapter of Godless: The Church of Liberalism is devoted to "the left's war on science," which - according to Coulter - includes lying about "the science that is working" so as "to elevate the science that has produced nothing." "In the August 24, 2004, New York Times, science writer Gina Kolata claimed that no one had succeeded in using adult stem cells 'to treat diseases,'" writes Coulter. To prove the Times science writer wrong, Coulter then provides a "short list" of sixteen "successful treatments achieved by adult stem cell research." But fifteen of Coulter's examples (listed at the end of this story) are nearly identical to items in a longer list of seventeen compiled by the Illinois Right To Life website, that has been available since at least September of 2003.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:15:14 PM

Mon, Jun 12 2006

Doing Battle With The Ants

The hurricane weather that we enjoyed the last few days ended late this morning, and the brilliant sunshine has been replaced by the usual June gloom. But no real rain, and the overcast still breaks up occasionally. This suggests to me that there may be another storm getting ready to develop out in the carribean. Goodbye to Alberto, hello to the next hurricane. The temperatures have moderated a bit, with an overnight low of 70 and a high this afternoon of 83, but no rain to speak of. Just a bit for a few minutes.

Well, I ran out of heart medicine yesterday, so today I made a quick trip into town to refresh my supply. I sure do like having that farmacia here in town. Sure beats a trip to Tilaran every time you need anything more serious than aspirin. Of course I forgot some of the medicine that I need, but that is not a serious issue and it can wait for my regular Friday trip.

My health is still on a slow mend, and some of my Tico neighbors came by yesterday with a gift of a hand of bananas and wanting to sit and chat for a bit and check up on me and find out how I have been. I am still moving rather slowly, but I can at least get a few things done around the place and carry a ladder around and climb it freely, and so I have calked yet more ceiling tiles to try to keep the tiny sugar ant invasions to a minimum. So far, my efforts seem to be working to a degree, but I still see them from time to time. I am thinking about setting off an insect bomb in the attic to try to kill the colony. This morning, there was a trail of the little blighters in the shower, going out through the pila (laundry room), and to the outside - I never did find the colony out in the yard. I have calked some holes in the flower box masonry near the front door, and that has greatly reduced the ants on the front porch. Slowly but surely, I'll get their entry points plugged.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Haditha Redux? Fears of an imminent offensive by the U.S. troops massed around the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi intensified Saturday, with residents pouring out of the city to escape what they describe as a mounting humanitarian crisis. The image pieced together from interviews with tribal leaders and fleeing families in recent weeks is one of a desperate population of 400,000 people trapped in the crossfire between insurgents and U.S. forces. Food and medical supplies are running low, prices for gas have soared because of shortages and municipal services have ground to a stop. U.S. and Iraqi forces had cordoned off the city by Saturday, residents and Iraqi officials said. Airstrikes on several residential areas picked up, and troops took to the streets with loudspeakers to warn civilians of a fierce impending attack, Ramadi police Capt. Tahseen Dulaimi said.

Three prisoners were found dead on Saturday after hanging themselves with clothing and bedsheets in the first deaths at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since the prison camp for foreign terror suspects opened in January 2002, U.S. officials said. The military said two Saudis and one Yemeni were found unresponsive and not breathing in their cells by guards shortly after midnight and that attempts to resuscitate them failed. They were pronounced dead by a physician at Guantanamo, a controversial prison camp that holds around 460 foreigners captured mainly in the U.S. war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Base commander Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris said the suicides were acts of "asymmetrical warfare" and linked to a "mystical" belief at the camp that it would take the deaths of three detainees for the rest to go free. The deaths threw a fresh spotlight on the camp, which has drawn widespread criticism of the Bush administration from foreign countries, including allies, and human rights groups. Facing indefinite detention with none of the rights afforded formal prisoners of war, or criminal suspects in the U.S. justice system, dozens of the detainees have undertaken hunger strikes and 23 inmates have also attempted suicide a total of 41 times. The suicides of three detainees at the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, amount to acts of war, the US military says. The camp commander said the two Saudis and a Yemeni were "committed" and had killed themselves in "an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us." A top US official has described the suicides of three detainees at the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a "good PR move to draw attention". Colleen Graffy told the BBC the deaths were part of a strategy and "a tactic to further the jihadi cause", but taking their own lives was unnecessary.

The suicides of three Arab detainees at Guantanamo ignited new calls on Sunday for the United States to shut down the prison camp. Prisoner advocates blamed the Bush administration for the deaths and said the men were held under conditions that "for all intents and purposes had already taken their lives." Several countries urged Washington to shut the camp down. "Their blood is on the hands of the Bush regime and their deaths will fuel the anger of the global Muslim community," said Cageprisoners.com, a Web site that draws attention to the cases of detained Muslims. Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry identified the two Saudis as Manei al-Otaibi and Yasser al-Zahrani but gave no further details. Pentagon documents show Zahrani was 21, meaning he was sent to Guantanamo as a teenager. Saudi Arabia, a staunch U.S. ally, asked for the return of the bodies, and said it was stepping up efforts to repatriate more than 100 Saudis held at the prison so they could be tried "based on our laws and regulations."

The reported suicides of two Saudi detainees at Guantanamo Bay intensified Saudi anger at the camp, drawing questions Sunday about whether the men really killed themselves or were driven to it by torture. The detention of more than 130 Saudis at the U.S. jail has long grated on people in the kingdom, and there was marked skepticism that the prisoners committed suicide. "The families don't believe it, and of course I don't believe it either," said Kateb al Shimri, a lawyer who represents relatives of Saudis held at Guantanamo. "A crime was committed here and the U.S. authorities are responsible," al Shimri said, echoing the general sentiment heard in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

The U.S. military issued medical guidelines Tuesday for the treatment of prisoners, formally directing doctors at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere to force-feed hunger strikers whose lives are in danger and granting doctors a limited role in interrogations. The guidelines, which the military said formalize existing rules and policies, drew criticism from a human-rights group that said the military should not interfere with detainees who use hunger strikes as a protest and should bar experts in psychology from having any role during interrogations. "It's wrong because a doctor's role is to provide care, to support a person's health and, as we all know, to do no harm," said Leonard Rubenstein, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights.

Thickening the haze of secrecy surrounding the executive branch, the Office of Vice President Dick Cheney has declared itself exempt from a yearly requirement to report how it uses its power to classify secret information. In its 2005 report to the president released last month, the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), a branch of the National Archives, provides a quantitative overview of hundreds of thousands of pages of classified and declassified documents. But the vice president’s input consists of a single footnote explaining that his office failed to meet its reporting requirements for the third year in a row. Open-government advocates say Cheney’s refusal to divulge even basic information about classification activities reflects an alarming pattern of broadening executive privilege while narrowing public accountability. "It's part of a larger assertiveness by the Office of the Vice President and a resistance to oversight," said Steve Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy, a division of the public-interest association Federation of American Scientists. "It's as if they’re saying, 'What we do is nobody’s business.'" Though not the only government entity to shrug off the reporting duties, Cheney’s office is unique in that it has actually issued a public justification for its non-compliance. Cheney’s office argued on Monday that its dual role in the federal government places it above the reporting mandate.

The National Security Agency's domestic spying program faces its first legal challenge in a case that could decide if the White House is allowed to order eavesdropping without a court order. Oral arguments are set for Monday at U.S. District Court in Detroit at which the

American Civil Liberties Union will ask Judge Anna Diggs Taylor to declare the spying unconstitutional and order it halted. The case goes to the heart of the larger national debate about whether Smirkey has assumed too much power in his declared war on terrorism. Bush said he authorized NSA intercepts soon after the September 11 attacks, allowing the NSA to monitor the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens without first obtaining warrants if in pursuit of al Qaeda suspects. The ACLU sued the NSA on behalf of scholars, journalists and attorneys, claiming that warrantless wiretaps violate the U.S. Constitution and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or FISA. "The NSA has the capability of eavesdropping on anyone, anywhere, anytime," said James Bamford, an NSA expert and author who is supporting the ACLU suit. Justice Department lawyers have asked the judge to dismiss the suit because it would reveal state secrets.

A new loophole in election spending regulations is likely to produce a torrent of unsolicited e-mails to voters - and widespread complaints about political spam - as the midterm elections approach this fall, political consultants say. Purveyors of private e-mail addresses and designers of campaign Web sites report that their businesses are booming this year as partisans take advantage of an exemption in election rules that allows wealthy individuals to pour unlimited sums into Internet communications without having to disclose their identities or total expenditures. The loophole is "potentially breathtaking," said Roger Alan Stone of Advocacy Inc., an e-mail address retailer. "It provides an enormous opportunity for political campaigns," agreed Max Fose of Integrated Web Strategy, which also sells e-mail addresses to political campaigns. Both men are expanding their staffs in anticipation of what they expect to be a multimillion-dollar surge in unregulated campaign spending via the Internet. Critics worry that electoral e-mailing, which blossomed two years ago but is still in its infancy, could grow so quickly that millions of voters will be deluged with unwanted electronic messages before Election Day. Critics said the result could be a backlash against the candidates being advertised. "I can't imagine this will be a particularly effective method of getting out the vote," said Jim Jordan of Thunder Road Group, a political consultancy. "It is spam after all, and there are few things that annoy us more than spam." The e-mail exemption, which was approved by the Federal Election Commission in March, might become the next big avenue for campaign funding abuses, some experts warn. Heavy spenders, such as individuals or groups not affiliated with campaigns, could use mass e-mailings to alter the outcome of key congressional races and still remain anonymous, a result that runs counter to the intention of federal election laws. Carol C. Darr, director of the nonpartisan Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet, foresees "a complete free-for-all" because of the loophole. She added: "Sure, the FEC may still regulate the nickel-and-dime stuff. But... in the Hundred Years War against political money, big money has won."

Don't worry, the doctor told Brian Lykins' parents, as he prepared to use cartilage from a cadaver to fix their son's knee. A million people a year have operations that use tissue from "donated" dead bodies. The nation's largest tissue bank had supplied this cartilage. It was disinfected and perfectly safe, he assured them. But it wasn't. Four days after this routine, elective surgery, Lykins - a healthy, 23-year-old student from Minnesota - died of a raging infection. He died because the cartilage came from a corpse that had sat unrefrigerated for 19 hours - a corpse that had been rejected by two other tissue banks. The cartilage hadn't been adequately treated to kill bacteria. None of this broke a single federal rule. And it could happen again today - likely is still happening today - because of shoddy practices by some in the billion-dollar body parts business and the lack of government regulation. The industry is in the news because a New Jersey company is accused of scavenging corpses without families' permission and then selling those parts to tissue processors. But apart from this scandal, thousands more Americans each day are put at risk in more insidious ways by legitimate tissue suppliers. A three-month investigation by The Associated Press found problems ranging from inadequate testing for potentially deadly germs to lack of a unified system for tracking tissues as they travel from donor to recipient. At every step - from funeral homes, where the journey often begins, to hospitals and doctors' offices, where it ends with patients receiving the eyes, bones, skin and other parts of the dead - poor oversight invites abuse and creates danger.

"How Hispanics Became The New Gays," Frank Rich explains in his latest column slated for Sunday's edition of The New York Times. "Gay people, though traditionally handy for that role, aren't the surefire scapegoats they once were; support for a constitutional marriage amendment, ABC News found, fell to 42 percent just before the Senate vote," Rich writes. "Hence the rise of a juicier target: Hispanics," Rich continues. "They are the new gays, the foremost political pinata in the election year of 2006." Rich calls some politicians "equal opportunity bigots." Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) is singled out for "demanding that immigrants be quizzed on the Federalist Papers" and "proclaiming that in his family's 'recorded history' there has never been 'any kind of homosexual relationship.'" Republican congressional candidate Vernon Robinson is also slammed for running a radio ad which warned that if his opponent Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) "had his way, America would be nothing but one big fiesta for illegal aliens and homosexuals."

Money going where the votes are: Democratic campaign fundraising is beginning to close a long time Republic advantage, according to an article set for the front page of Sunday's Washington Post. The Democratic surge is attributed to "small, individual contributions" and "stronger grass-roots support," according to data filed with the Federal Election Commission examined by the Post. For the GOP it's an entirely different story, the Post reports. "At the same time, Republican campaign committees are stumbling," writes Jim VandeHei. "The Republican National Committee is lagging behind its totals from two years ago, though it continues to have a financial lead over the Democratic National Committee." According to the Post, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has raised just $6 million more than the National Republican Senatorial Committee. While in the House, the National Republican Congressional Committee still leads but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has "raised 45 percent more through the end of April than it had at the same point in 2004" compared to "a 13 percent drop over the same period" for the NRCC.

The death of al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq came as more Americans than ever thought the war in Iraq was a mistake, according to AP-Ipsos polling. The poll, taken Monday through Wednesday before news broke that U.S. forces had killed al-Zarqawi, found that 59 percent of adults say the United States made a mistake in going to war in Iraq - the highest level yet in AP-Ipsos polling. Approval of President Bush’s handling of Iraq dipped to 33 percent, a new low. His overall job approval was 35 percent, statistically within range of his low of 33 percent last month. The poll of 1,003 adults has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Records with Social Security numbers, addresses and other personal information on more than 150,000 people are missing at Denver city election offices, and officials are trying to determine if the files were lost, moved or stolen. The Denver Election Commission is also trying to figure out why officials didn't learn the records were missing until June 1, even they are believed to have disappeared nearly four months earlier. "We will get to the bottom of it," commission spokesman Alton Dillard told the Rocky Mountain News in Saturday's editions. He said police have not been called in. The microfilmed voter registration files from 1989 to 1998 were in a 500-pound cabinet that disappeared when the commission moved to new offices in February. Officials said they first learned of it on June 1 from City Councilwoman Judy Montero, who found out about it from an Internet blog the day before.

A computer hacker stole sensitive information on 1,500 people working for the nuclear-weapons unit of the Energy Department, but neither the theft victims nor high officials were notified for nine months, administration officials acknowledged on Friday at a Congressional hearing. The theft, at a National Nuclear Security Administration center in Albuquerque, involved names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and information on where the people worked and their security clearances. The leak, on the heels of a much larger breach in the Veterans Affairs Department, is sure to raise new alarms about government's cybersecurity and may provide Democrats more grist to attack the competence of the Bush administration.

A Southern California sheriff is being scrutinized local officials for suspending a deputy who had been his chief opponent in last Tuesday's election. The San Clemente City Council on Monday will consider a formal resolution in support of Lt. Bill Hunt, police chief of San Clemente, who was suspended from duty by Sheriff Michael Carona a day after he lost the election to Carona. Three county supervisors said Friday they planned to review Hunt's suspension, as well as Carona's decision to demote two of Hunt's supporters in the department, The Los Angeles Times reported. The action against Hunt has focused attention on Martin Mayer, whose law firm was hired by the Orange County, Calif. Board of Supervisors in December to advise them on "peace officer personnel matters."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Spector (R-Pa.) explained why he lashed out at the Vice President in a letter on CNN's The Situation Room earlier today, and complained about Cheney's lobbying behind the scenes to stonewall Congressional inquiries into the NSA wiretapping program. "This is nothing personal between Arlen Specter and Vice President Cheney," said Specter. "This is a matter of civil liberties, it's a matter of separation of power, and it's a matter of important congressional oversight - and so far we're not getting there - and that's why I prepared a fairly strong letter." "A very strong letter," replied CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Video here.

During tedious days of counting tiny Douglas fir seedlings on fire-blackened slopes west of Selma, Oregon, Daniel Donato never imagined his work would put him in the crosshairs of Congress. He was just studying how forests grow back after a fire. But after his research appeared in the online version of the journal Science in January, the Oregon State University graduate student began to feel like a lightning rod. A federal agency briefly yanked funding for his project, irate politicians and timber interests e-mailed Donato's dean to complain, congressmen grilled him, and professors at his own university tried unsuccessfully to keep the paper from being published in the print edition of Science. His principal finding - that post-fire logging hindered forest regrowth - was hardly revolutionary. But the study, with Donato as lead author, was published just as Congress was considering legislation to make it easier for timber companies to undertake salvage logging of dead trees after fires on federal land. That bill, backed by the Bush administration and recently passed by the House, is based on an underlying assumption that burned forests recover more quickly if they are logged and then replanted. Donato's results provided ammunition to the bill's opponents - and more broadly to environmentalists fighting salvage logging, which makes up roughly a third of the timber sales from national forests across the country. They argue that dead trees provide not only wildlife habitat, but the nourishment for a new forest that will ultimately provide a richer, more diverse ecosystem. That is anathema to timber advocates, who see dead wood left to rot unharvested as not only counterproductive but a waste of resources.

Luxury goods firm LVMH has sued Wal-Mart, claiming the world's largest retailer is selling illegal copies of its Fendi-brand products in some stores. According to the lawsuit, Wal-Mart is selling fake handbags, wallets and key chains at Sam's Club stores in states including New York and California. LVMH complained that the Fendi goods were being sold as "genuine" at prices that were discounted as much as 70%. Wal-Mart did not make an immediate comment in response to the lawsuit.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: A ragtag army of nurses, students and other citizens is being formed throughout Venezuela, part of President Hugo Chávez's attempt to create Latin America's largest civilian reserve force. "I always thought of myself as a peaceful person with barely the will to kill a cockroach," said Carmen Tovar, 55, a nurse who had been training with reserves for several months. "But now I'm prepared to defend with ferocity the sovereignty of our homeland." Last month, the United States placed Venezuela on a list of countries that had not cooperated in fighting terrorism, citing its close relations with Cuba and Iran and effectively suspending American arms sales to Caracas. The United States has at times sent troubling signals, like the recent deployment of 6,500 American military personnel for two months of naval exercises in the Caribbean. Washington said the purpose of the deployment had been to focus on drug and migrant trafficking. But Hugo Chávez interpreted it as a threat. Shortly after the naval exercise started in April, Mr. Chávez threatened to use the ultimate weapon at his disposal, Venezuela's oil reserves, explaining that he would take inspiration from Iraq and blow up the nation's oilfields to thwart an attack from the United States. "The real reason for the open conflict," Mr. Chávez said, "is energy." Indeed, Venezuela still ranks as the United States' third-largest supplier of oil, behind Canada and Mexico but ahead of Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. "The irony of the present situation," said Mr. Garrido, the military analyst, "is that the United States is the principal financier of an increasingly creative movement against its authority in its own backyard."

A little-known organization closely tied to the Republican Party and the Bush administration and often accused of unscrupulous promotion of partisan policies and ideology at home and abroad is now heavily involved in efforts to "establish democratic institutions" in Afghanistan and Iraq. The International Republican Institute, though billing itself as an independent nonprofit unaffiliated with the Republican Party, acts essentially as a wing of the GOP. Many of IRI’s high-ranking staff members have at some point worked directly for the Bush administration. What makes these connections troubling is that the organization, ostensibly dedicated to nurturing free institutions in emerging democracies, has also been associated with unscrupulous and undemocratic campaign practices both at home and overseas. In December 2004, IRI contracted with Tony Marsh and Lance Copsey of the media consulting firm Marsh, Copsey & Scott to set up a Baghdad Media Center on behalf of the U.S. State Department. Its stated purpose was to assist Iraqi political parties and candidates in the upcoming January elections. Earlier that year, in January 2004, Marsh Copsey & Scott (now Marsh Copsey & Associates) had registered the domain name crushkerry.com, which was used throughout the 2004 election for an anti-Kerry blog run by their senior account executive, Patrick Hynes. The site was heavily involved in promoting both the SwiftBoat Veterans and CBS Memos stories. It also encouraged readers to suggest other ways of discrediting John Kerry, and claimed to have inside sources of information on the Kerry campaign. Today, the blog is gone, but http://www.crushkerry.com is still the main URL for the website of Marsh Copsey & Associates. Until 2003, Tony Marsh and Lance Copsey had been associated with the firm of Russo Marsh & Rogers, which has since then become known for its sponsorship of a pro-Iraq War organization called Move America Forward. In 2004, MAF encouraged a campaign of intimidation to prevent theater owners from showing Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911. In 2005, it launched a "You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy" caravan to demonstrate against Cindy Sheehan. It is currently running television ads calling for the censure of former President Jimmy Carter, in retaliation against calls to censure George W. Bush.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman says he's prepared to force telephone company executives to testify about the White House's eavesdropping program if the Bush administration doesn't fully cooperate in drafting new rules on what's allowable. "If we don't get some results, I'm prepared to go back to demand hearings and issue subpoenas if necessary," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition." Specter said he was more hopeful, after talking Thursday with Vice President Dick Cheney, that committee hearings and subpoenas could be avoided. Specter had threatened to subpoena executives of major phone companies to get them to testify about their cooperation with the National Security Agency. But one company lawyer has told Specter the executives wouldn't be able to testify about any classified information.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: WSBT-TV has stopped running a new ad targeting U.S. Rep. Chris Chocola because of "misleading" content, station president and general manager John Mann said Thursday. Mann left open the possibility that an edited version of the MoveOn.org commercial could resume airing once negotiations are complete, but said the station will make no decision to do so "until we see the finished product." The ads, which began airing earlier this week on South Bend area stations, including WSBT-TV, accuse Chocola of being "caught red-handed" accepting money from political organizations representing defense contractors and then opposing penalties for contractors who overcharge the military. Supporting documents supplied by MoveOn.org, a Washington, D.C., political action group, state Chocola has accepted a total of $5,750 from various PACs representing defense contractors over the past six years. MoveOn also asserts that Chocola voted in November against changing a bill "to add language that would impose stricter criminal and civil penalties on corporations who intentionally overcharge the federal government for the provision of goods and services in response to a presidentially declared major disaster, emergency or military action, including in Iraq or Afghanistan." "We've contended the ads are blatantly false and misleading," Chocola spokesman Brooks Kochvar said.

Republicans Oppose Social Engineering: The Food and Drug Administration advisory panel approved a vaccine for the human papilloma virus (HPV) last week. The vaccine appears to be 100% effective at protecting against the most prevalent viruses that cause cervical cancer. While public health professionals view the vaccine as miraculous, many conservative organizations oppose it on the grounds that it might encourage promiscuity among adolescent girls. Now that the FDA has approved the vaccine, conservatives are already working feverishly to limit or even prevent its use. Despite the benefits of the vaccine, conservative organizations began to rally against it last year. One of the most vocal opponents was the Family Research Council. The council, according to its mission statement, "promotes the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free, and stable society." Last October the council’s president, Tony Perkins, spoke against the vaccine. "Our concern," he said, "is that this vaccine will be marketed to a segment of the population that should be getting a message about abstinence. It sends the wrong message." He went on to say that he would not vaccinate his 13-year-old daughter. Yet another organization that promotes abstinence is the Physicians Consortium. The head of the consortium, Dr. Hal Wallis, is also critical of the vaccine. In his opinion, "If you don’t want to suffer these diseases, you need to abstain, and when you find a partner, stick with that partner." The founder of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse also opposes the vaccine. This organization was formed "to promote the appreciation for and practice of sexual abstinence (purity) until marriage." Leslee Unruh, the organization’s founder, stated firmly, "I personally object to vaccinating children against a disease that is 100% preventable with proper sexual behavior."

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: The White House yesterday raised its forecast for U.S. economic growth in 2006, but offered a more pessimistic view of inflation. In its midyear economic report, the administration predicted gross domestic product would grow by 3.6 per cent this year, faster than the 3.4 per cent rate the White House forecast in December. The report also showed a higher pace of inflation, with the consumer price index expected to rise by 3.0 per cent, up from a previous forecast of 2.4 per cent. Top White House economist Edward Lazear told reporters the buoyant growth in the first part of this year would slow somewhat "and then remain at a robust pace." "All of the indications that we've seen are that we are moving to soft landing," said Mr. Lazear, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, which compiles the economic forecasts along with the Office of Management and Budget and Treasury. The U.S. unemployment rate was seen averaging 4.7 per cent this year with payroll growth of 156,000 a month, according to the forecasts.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Ten miles west of the frontier town of Peshawar on the road to Khyber Pass there is a collection of roadside commercial buildings commonly known as Bara Markets. These markets are just inside the tribal territory and hence outside the reach of Pakistani laws. Now the American presence in Afghanistan has brought an interesting twist: Some of the goods destined for American forces in Afghanistan ends up in these markets. While the bulk of the merchandise that is sold in these markets is legal, the availability of American goods is intriguing. How does American government-issued stuff end up in these markets? Or how do the secured containers in passage through Pakistan to Afghanistan spring such huge leaks? Some of the merchants in the market were candid about the process. The American containers remain intact in their 1,200-mile journey from Karachi to Peshawar. At Peshawar the containers are placed on flat-bed trucks for the 270-mile ride to Kabul, where they have to pass through the tribal territory around Khyber Pass. This is where the containers are pilfered and merchandise is brought to these markets for sale. This was confirmed by government officials and also by Michael Spangler, the officer in charge of the American consulate in Peshawar. And what a wide variety or merchandise one can find here. These storefront mini-Wal-Marts sell everything that one would find in American superstores. There are canned and packaged food items from pasta to tuna to nuts to breakfast cereals, all available at less than half the price that they would cost in the United States. There is government-issue office furniture, field telephones, folding shovels, vacuum cleaners, tents, cots, and portable chairs, the kind parents carry to their kids' games in the United States.

Scandals Du Jour: Larry Zilliox, the private investigator who maintains the most up to date data base of Sun Myung Moon's front groups, did one heckuva pre-emptive strike on what Moon likely had up his sleeve by "donating" money to Bush the elder's Presidential Library in 2004. Moon has long sought a pardon for his tax cheating conviction in the 80s. A pardon is a very big deal for him since it will allow him to tell his cult and those preachers and politicians he uses to influence the direction of the planet that he was persecuted and wronged. Reagan tried to stop the prosecution which was handled out of New York, but he failed. Moon has tried to get Bush 41 and Reagan to pardon him in the past but they apparently didn't want the closeness of Moon to their political movement to be exposed to that degree and did not do so. Bush Jr. may still pardon Moon, but thanks to Zilliox, we will now know what helped grease the wheel if he does. Moon gave $1 million to the Greater Houston Community Foundation. Why would Moon's Washington Times Foundation give a million bucks to Houston? Zilliox said he figured I'd have a better chance of finding out than he would. Zilliox had a theory. He figured Moon gave the money to the Houston foundation as a pass-through to the presidential library of the elder President Bush. It wouldn't be the first connection between Moon and Bush. In 1995 Bush was handsomely paid to make six speeches to Moon-related groups in Japan. The next year he would go to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to celebrate the opening of a new Moonie newspaper there. Zilliox's notion turned out not to be an idle theory. The long list of grant recipients listed in the community foundation's tax return that year included the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation at Texas A&M. The amount: $2,132,471. So Daily Kos called Rod Thornton at the Bush library foundation. He hesitated for a moment, then explained that the donation from the Greater Houston Community Foundation came from proceeds from Bush's 80th birthday celebration in 2004, which included a huge party at Minute Maid Park and a fundraising extravaganza to benefit three of the former president's favorite causes: his library, the Points of Light Foundation he founded, and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Ann Coulter has a bad habit, and I am not referring to her mouth, foul as that is. That habit, as mentioned before by the Rude Pundit (followed up by Raw Story), is that she appears to like to copy whole sentences from other sources without putting them in as quotes or even citing where she might have "paraphrased" from. You judge for yourself: Here's Coulter from Chapter 1 of Godless: "The massive Dickey-Lincoln Dam, a $227 million hydroelectric project proposed on upper St. John River in Maine, was halted by the discovery of the Furbish lousewort, a plant previously believed to be extinct." Here's the Portland Press Herald, from the year 2000, in its list of the "Maine Stories of the Century": "The massive Dickey-Lincoln Dam, a $227 million hydroelectric project proposed on upper St. John River, is halted by the discovery of the Furbish lousewort, a plant believed to be extinct." Strangely similar, no? By the way, that's a story from 1976. Coulter doesn't tell you that little tidbit, letting you assume it happened last week. The next one's from 1977. Here's Coulter writing about an attack on the Alaska pipeline: "A few years after oil drilling began in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, a saboteur set off an explosion blowing a hole in the pipeline and releasing an estimated 550,000 gallons of oil." Here's something from the History Channel: "The only major oil spill on land occurred when an unknown saboteur blew a hole in the pipe near Fairbanks, and 550,000 gallons of oil spilled onto the ground." Why, in this age of the "terrorist," would Coulter use "saboteur," a quaint term, to be sure? Could it be a cut and paste job with a couple of words changed, like a good college freshman?

Yesterday on Imus, Mary Matlin - a former counselor to Vice President Cheney and an influential strategist for the White House - defended Ann Coulter’s vicious attack on the 9/11 widows. In a new book, Coulter says the widows are "enjoying their husband’s deaths." Matalin passed on multiple opportunities from Imus to condemn or distance herself from Coulter’s comments. Instead, Matalin said she agreed with Coulter’s "larger point." She also argued the outrage against Coulter was misplaced, saying "She calls somebody a harpy and you’d think that the world was on fire."

Lately, there's been a lot of controversy about political figures altering and omitting quotes from past articles. Case in point: The recent flap over new White House domestic policy czar Karl Zinsmeister (we do we picture Rob Schneider "making copies" every time we see that name?), who altered quotes in a profile written about him and reposted the changed version on the website of his own magazine. Now, why is Sen. Rick Santorum doing some creative editing as he adapts his 2005 book, "It Takes a Family," to an audio version? Today, the rival Bob Casey Jr. campaign caught an alteration on one of the book's most controversial passages, the one where the Pennsylvania GOP senator decries the "weird socialization" that he believes that children get in public schools. That quote is likely one of the many reasons that Santorum is losing by as many as 23 points in the polls to Democrat Casey -- after all, most voters send their kids to public schools and either a) don't think the socialization of learning to interact with a broad and often diverse community is "weird" or b) can't afford to school their kids any other way. In Santorum's case, the whole subject reminds people that his kids were attending an online cyberschool from his now $962,000 McMansion in Leesburg, Va., while working class taxpayers in Penn Hills, Pa. were paying for it.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:38:05 PM

Sat, Jun 10 2006

Painful, But Not So Bad

Weather today started out as hurricane weather - bright, sunny, warm and dead calm, not a leaf stirring. And by noon, the thunderstorms started to build, leading to torrential downpours by three o'clock this afternoon. The sun allowed the temperature to rise to a humid 86 degrees, after an overnight low of 72. The tropical depression brewing off of the western tip of Cuba means that we are getting a counterflow that nullifies the trade winds, and brings circulation to a halt. And that means afternoon rip-snorters.

This evening, I noticed a car parked in the middle of the street in front of my house, and no one around. Pretty soon the owner showed up, with what I thought at first was a gallon jug of gasoline, but it turned out to be water. His radiator was leaking into the cylinders, he said, and that fouled his plugs, and so his car had stalled. He insisted on a tow to get it started, as his battery was dead. Well, I towed him as far as I could before I would have to tow up a hill, but he never did try to tow-start the car. Apparently, he was looking for a tow home. Wrong, I am not operating a tow truck, so at the bottom of a hill I cut him loose and told him he is on his own. Well, a half hour later, someone came by and apparently gave him a jump-start, because his car is gone now. One of the downsides of living at the bottom of a hill in Costa Rica.

Well, the big game is over and the country can get on with its business. Costa Rica played Germany in the opening game of the World Cup in Munich. How did the national team make out? Everyone expected it to be a rout, as Costa Rica's team is good, but not anywhere near the powerhouse that Germany is. So when Costa Rica not only managed to score, but to actually tie the game at one point, everyone but the Ticos were flat amazed. The result was 4-2 Germany, with six goals scored, the highest-scoring opening game ever. So it was painful that the home team didn't win, but at least they managed helped to set a scoring record in the process of losing.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was tracked by US Predator unmanned planes, killed by American bombs and his body retrieved by Iraqi army members. His death has been celebrated by Bush and the prime ministers of Britain and Iraq but are those celebrating the most in the leadership of Al-Qaeda in Iraq? In short, does his betrayal represent a victory for "democracy" or is it a coup within Al-Qaeda? Despite the claims, there appears to be some evidence that Al-Zarqawi was already being sidelined and had lost the titular leadership of his group. In a BBC interview, Abdul Bari, the editor of Al Quds Al Arabia who is well known for his interviews with Bin Laden before 9/11, claimed Zarqawi had been demoted to merely being a member of the ruling committee. A plot to betray him and replace him with a more media savvy figurehead rather than the attractions of the money reward might be the reason behind, as the BBC put it, "the US struck after receiving specific tip-offs from within Zarqawi's organization. That fits with a number of recent assessments, indicating that Zarqawi was losing popularity, even among his own supporters. There has been a vigorous debate on insurgent websites in recent months about Zarqawi's brutal methods, particularly his gruesome trademark of videotaped beheadings. Several sources close to the insurgency had suggested in the last few weeks that Zarqawi's role had already been downgraded. He was also criticised recently by Osama bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. Many supporters of the insurgency feared Zarqawi's brutal methods were discrediting their cause."

The U.S. House of Representatives thoroughly rejected the concept of Internet neutrality on Thursday, dealing a bitter blow to Internet companies like Amazon.com, eBay and Google that had engaged in a last-minute lobbying campaign to support it. By a 269-152 vote that fell largely along party lines, the House Republican leadership mustered enough votes to reject a Democrat-backed amendment that would have enshrined stiff Internet neutrality regulations into federal law and prevented broadband providers from treating some Internet sites differently from others. Of the 421 House members who participated in the vote that took place around 6:30 p.m. PT, the vast majority of Net neutrality supporters were Democrats. Republicans represented most of the opposition. The vote on the amendment (click for PDF) came after nearly a full day of debate on the topic, which prominent Democrats predicted would come to represent a turning point in the history of the Internet. "The future Sergey Brins, the future Marc Andreessens, of Netscape and Google...are going to have to pay taxes" to broadband providers, said Rep. Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat behind the Net neutrality amendment. This vote will change "the Internet for the rest of eternity," he warned. Education groups challenged the FCC rule because they said the requirements would impose burdensome new costs on private university networks. They argued that broadband Internet access is an information service beyond the reach of CALEA.

House Republicans yesterday revived their efforts to slash funding for public broadcasting, as a key committee approved a $115 million reduction in the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that could force the elimination of some popular PBS and NPR programs. On a party-line vote, the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees health and education funding approved the cut to the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributes money to the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio. It would reduce the corporation's budget by 23 percent next year, to $380 million, in a cut that Republicans said was necessary to rein in government spending. The reduction, which would come in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, must be approved by the full Appropriations Committee, and then the full House and Senate, before it could take effect. Democrats and public broadcasting advocates began planning efforts to reverse the cut. A similar move last year by Republican leaders was turned back in a fierce lobbying campaign launched by Public Broadcasting Service stations and Democratic members of Congress, in a debate that was colored by some Republicans' frustration with what they see as a liberal slant in public programming. Still, Republicans say they remain adamant that public broadcasting cannot receive funding at the expense of healthcare and education programs.

NASA is canceling or delaying a number of satellites designed to give scientists critical information on the earth's changing climate and environment. The space agency has shelved a $200 million satellite mission headed by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor that was designed to measure soil moisture - a key factor in helping scientists understand the impact of global warming and predict droughts and floods. The Deep Space Climate Observatory, intended to observe climate factors such as solar radiation, ozone, clouds, and water vapor more comprehensively than existing satellites, also has been canceled. And in its 2007 budget, NASA proposes significant delays in a global precipitation measuring mission to help with weather predictions, as well as the launch of a satellite designed to increase the timeliness and accuracy of severe weather forecasts and improve climate models. The changes come as NASA prioritizes its budget to pay for completion of the International Space Station and the return of astronauts to the moon by 2020 - a goal set by President Bush that promises a more distant and arguably less practical scientific payoff. Ultimately, scientists say, the delays and cancellations could make hurricane predictions less accurate, create gaps in long-term monitoring of weather, and result in less clarity about the earth's hydrological systems, which play an integral part in climate change.

A computer hacker got into the U.S. agency that guards the country's nuclear weapons stockpile and stole the personal records of at least 1,500 employees and contractors, a senior U.S. lawmaker said on Friday. The target of the hacker, the National Nuclear Safety Administration, is the latest agency to reveal that sensitive private information about government workers was stolen. The incident happened last September but top Energy Department officials were not told about it until this week, prompting the chairman of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee to demand the resignation of the head of the NNSA. An NNSA spokesman was not available for comment. The NNSA is a semi-autonomous arm of the Energy Department and also guards some of the U.S. military's nuclear secrets and responds to global nuclear and radiological emergencies. Committee chairman Rep. Joe Barton said NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks should be "removed from your office as expeditiously as possible" because he did not quickly notify senior Energy Department officials of the breach. "And I mean like 5 o'clock this afternoon if it's possible," Barton, a Texas Republican, said in a statement.

The Texas Democratic Party on Thursday won a temporary restraining order blocking the process that would name outgoing Republican U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's replacement on the November ballot. State District Judge Darlene Byrne ordered Texas GOP Chairwoman Tina Benkiser to not convene party officials to name DeLay's replacement until after a June 22 court hearing. The Democrats are trying to keep DeLay's name on the ballot, which would also keep his legal problems in front of voters. DeLay leaves Congress on Friday. State Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie said Democrats are trying to keep the GOP from creating a "sham vacancy" for the Republican nomination for the 22nd Congressional District. A phone call to the Texas Republican Party by The Associated Press wasn't immediately returned Thursday night.

"Too liberal" is a label seldom applied to a big shot Wall Street banker, much less a high-ranking Bush appointee. Yet this is just the sort of jab being aimed by some conservative groups at President George W. Bush's choice for Treasury Secretary, Goldman Sachs Chairman Henry Paulson. "We hope that President Bush will come to see the mistake he's made and withdraw Mr. Paulson from consideration," declared Myron Ebell, research director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank in Washington. The reason? Paulson has strong views on the environment and is chairman of Nature Conservancy, a non-profit group dedicated to protecting endangered lands. That makes him the wrong guy for the top U.S. economic job, some conservative advocacy groups say. "The country doesn't need another Paul O'Neill, who will neglect his job in order to promote the Kyoto global warming treaty and other radical environmental causes," added Ebell, referring to Bush's first Treasury secretary.

Visitors to New York already knew it, but now it's official: foreign tourists arriving in the city have a more than 50% chance of being ripped off on their first taxi ride. Agents from the city's Department of Investigation (DOI) posed as clueless tourists unable to speak English and took cabs from John F Kennedy airport to Manhattan and Brooklyn. Of the 24 taxi drivers who unwittingly undertook this "integrity test", 13 overcharged. One took $130 (£71) for a trip to Brooklyn - at least $82 more than the metered fare. Another overcharged by $65. They have since been charged themselves - with fraudulent accosting and petty larceny - and their cabs have been impounded. Eleven other drivers demanded up to $20 more than the proper fare, and may face disciplinary action. Rapacious taxi drivers are a tourist cliche around the world, and those in New York's yellow cabs are an international fraternity well-known for their hard-nosed techniques for surviving in the city that never sleeps. But the authorities were shocked by the seriousness of the problem in their city. "NYC's tourists deserve the welcome mat, not the doormat. Ripping off visitors to the city will not be tolerated," Rose Gill Hearn, the DOI's commissioner, said in a statement yesterday. She made it clear that the sting operations would continue.

Energy services company Halliburton Co. expects net income and earnings per share to double over the next three to five years, Chief Financial Officer Cris Gaut said on Thursday. In a presentation to investors, Gaut also forecast revenue growth for the energy services group of the company of 20 percent per year or more over the next three to five years.

A border inspector accused of accepting cash and a luxury vehicle from smugglers driving carloads of illegal immigrants through border crossings was arrested Thursday. The arrest came after a two-year investigation by the Border Corruption Task Force, a multi-agency team that pursues claims against officers at border crossings in California. Investigators said that they had placed wiretaps on U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer Richard Elizalda's phones after receiving tips that he was involved in suspicious activities. In an indictment unsealed by federal prosecutors, Elizalda is accused of allowing smugglers from Tijuana, Mexico, into the U.S. through the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego. Elizalda, a 10-year veteran, was arrested in an early morning raid on his home in Chula Vista. Agents seized cash and two luxury cars.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega told regional observers on Friday the U.S. and Nicaraguan governments were working together to try to disqualify him from November's presidential election in Nicaragua. Ortega, a former president and leader of Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista revolution, is seeking to return to power and has clashed in recent months with the U.S. envoy and the country's main right-wing parties. "We see a coordinated action between the United States government and the government of President (Enrique) Bolanos, both of whom want to disqualify the Sandinistas," Ortega said after a meeting with Organization of American States observers. A spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Managua declined to comment on Ortega's remarks. Nicaraguan government officials were not immediately available for comment. U.S. Ambassador Paul 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 defeat. In April, Trivelli met with right-wing parties to discuss forming an alliance to oppose Ortega in the November 5 election.

A covert effort by the Central Intelligence Agency to finance Somali warlords has drawn sharp criticism from American government officials who say the campaign has thwarted counterterrorism efforts inside Somalia and empowered the same Islamic groups it was intended to marginalize. The criticism was expressed privately by United States government officials with direct knowledge of the debate. And the comments flared even before the apparent victory this week by Islamist militias in the country dealt a sharp setback to American policy in the region and broke the warlords' hold on the capital, Mogadishu. The officials said the C.I.A. effort, run from the agency's station in Nairobi, Kenya, had channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year to secular warlords inside Somalia with the aim, among other things, of capturing or killing a handful of suspected members of Al Qaeda believed to be hiding there. Officials say the decision to use warlords as proxies was born in part from fears of committing large numbers of American personnel to counterterrorism efforts in Somalia, a country that the United States hastily left in 1994 after attempts to capture the warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid and his aides ended in disaster and the death of 18 American troops. The United States has reversed its position on Somalia and has created a task force to use diplomatic pressure to work with Islamic militias in power. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the "Somalia Contact Group" was being formed and hinted at United Nations involvement although U.N. officials say the United States has been quiet on details, the Washington Post reported Saturday. The U.S. move from shadow support to open involvement in Somalia comes after 15 years of strife in the country and a recent militia takeover of the capital Mogadishu.

A newly surfaced report alleges that in 1996, drug monolith Pfizer gave an unproven drug to Nigerian children and infants suffering from meningitis -- without the authorization of the Nigerian government. Completed five years ago and coming to light in a May 7 Washington Post investigation, the confidential report, written by a panel of Nigerian health experts, concluded that administering the drug Trovan to 100 patients suffering a deadly strain of meningitis was "an illegal trial of an unregistered drug." The drug was ultimately shown to be ineffective. A lawsuit against Pfizer claims some of the children in the trial died and others suffered brain damage. The report surfaces as more and more clinical research relocates to the Global South in order to escape burdensome regulation schemes in the United States and Western Europe.

Why Moving To Canada Isn't The Answer: Canadian authorities detained an American activist filmmaker at the Ottawa airport late Wednesday night, confiscating his passport, camera equipment and most of his belongings. Citizenship and Immigration Canada agents stopped Alex Jones, whose films include Martial Law 9/11: The Rise of the Police State, and questioned him for nearly four hours before letting him go with only one change of clothes and telling him to return Thursday morning. "It's really chilling, like a police state," said Mr. Jones of his detention. Mr. Jones and his crew, camera operators Ryan Schlickeisen and Aaron Dykes, traveled to Canada to film a documentary about the Bilderberg group, a secretive group of former politicians and business leaders who are meeting in Ottawa this week. A Citizenship and Immigration representative said that her department was unable to comment on Mr. Jones' detention.

Liberal Biased Media Watch: On the June 7 edition of CNN Live Today, CNN correspondent Mary Snow falsely claimed that "renowned forecaster" William M. Gray - professor emeritus of atmospheric science at Colorado State University who has spoken against the notion that human beings are responsible for global warming - "accurately predicted last year's hurricane season better than the National Hurricane Center." In fact, Gray's predictions for the 2005 hurricane season were virtually the same as those of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), which runs the National Hurricane Center. In 2005, Gray and his team at the Tropical Meteorology Project predicted 15 "named" storms, eight hurricanes, and four "intense" hurricanes. The NOAA predicted virtually identical numbers - between 12 and 15 tropical storms, 7-9 hurricanes, and 3-5 major hurricanes. Both were wrong. As CNN host Anderson Cooper said during a June 1 segment of Anderson Cooper 360, Gray's hurricane predictions were "way off last year": COOPER: Gray's record, over about 20 years, is one of the most reliable. But he was way off last year. In 2005, [Gray] said there would be 15 named storms, but there were 27. He also expected eight hurricanes, four of which would be intense. But there were 14 hurricanes last year, and seven were major, including Katrina, which left more than 1,800 people dead.

When They Stand Up, We'll Stand Down: The amount of cash the US military has paid to families of Iraqi civilians killed or maimed in operations involving American troops skyrocketed from just under $5 million in 2004 to almost $20 million last year, according to Pentagon financial data. The dramatic spike in what's known as condolence payments - distributed to Iraqi families whose loved ones were caught in US crossfire or victimized during US ground and air assaults - suggests that American commanders made on-the-spot restitution far more frequently, according to congressional aides and officials familiar with a special fund at the disposal of military officers in Iraq. Defense Department officials maintain that the payments - which officials said range from a few hundred dollars for injuries such as a severed limb to $2,500 for the death of a relative - mirror a local custom commonly known as "solatia," in which families receive financial compensation for damages or human losses. They stressed that the payments shouldn't be seen as an admission of guilt or responsibility.

A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee approved a bill on Wednesday that would give another $50 billion next year to President George W. Bush for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The House Appropriations defense subcommittee cleared a $427 billion bill to fund the Pentagon next fiscal year starting on October 1, including the additional $50 billion which was primarily for Iraq. The subcommittee passed its bill as House and Senate negotiators put final touches on an emergency measure for about $67 billion the Pentagon wants immediately to cover the wars' rising costs.

Congressional Republicans killed a provision in an Iraq war funding bill that would have prohibited the permanent basing of U.S. military facilities in that country, a lawmaker and congressional aides said on Friday. The $94.5 billion emergency spending bill, which includes $65.8 billion to continue waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is expected to be approved by Congress next week and sent to President George W. Bush for signing into law. As originally passed by the House of Representatives, the Pentagon would have been prohibited from spending any of the funds for entering into a military basing rights agreement with Iraq. A similar amendment passed by the Senate said the Pentagon could not use the next round of war funding to "establish permanent United States military bases in Iraq, or to exercise United States control over the oil infrastructure or oil resources of Iraq." The Bush administration has said it does not want to place any artificial timelines on a U.S. presence in Iraq and that it wants to begin withdrawing troops when Iraqi security forces are better able to protect the country. But it has not ruled out permanent bases in Iraq.

The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi removes the man who took Iraq's insurgency to new heights of savagery but it also creates a martyr whose inspiration will mobilize new recruits. Arab and Western security analysts were agreed on Thursday that Zarqawi's death in a U.S. air raid would not end the insurgency, even if it represents a rare triumph in Iraq for the Bush administration. "There will be people that will be mobilized to join the caravan of martyrs, to emulate his example and to honor him," said Magnus Ranstorp, an al Qaeda expert at the Swedish National Defense College. President George W. Bush said on Thursday the killing of al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, offers a chance to "turn the tide" in the war but he urged patience and predicted more violence to come. Zarqawi's killing gave the president a desperately needed success in Iraq, the most significant since Saddam Hussein's capture in December 2003, as he tries to regain American confidence in his handling of the war. "Zarqawi is dead, but the difficult and necessary mission in Iraq continues," a somber-looking Bush said in a measured statement in the White House Rose Garden. Bush said he will discuss next Tuesday with Iraqi leaders "how to best deploy America's resources in Iraq," but a senior White House official cautioned that Bush was not hinting at possible early reductions in U.S. troops there.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A U.S. appeals court on Friday upheld the government's authority to force high-speed Internet service providers to give law enforcement authorities access for surveillance purposes. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a petition aimed at overturning a decision by regulators requiring facilities-based broadband providers and those that offer Internet telephone service to comply with U.S. wiretap laws. In a split decision, two of three judges on the panel concluded that the 2005 Federal Communications Commission requirement was a "reasonable policy choice" even though information services are exempted from the government's wiretapping authority. The FCC has set a May 14, 2007, deadline for compliance, and the ruling drew praise from the FCC and the Justice Department, which sought the access. "Today's decision will ensure that technology does not impede the capabilities of law enforcement to provide for the safety and security of our nation," the department said in a statement. But the chief author of the 1994 wiretapping law, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, criticized the court's decision, saying Congress had deliberately excluded the Internet when it wrote the wiretap law. "The court's expansion of (the wiretapping law) to cover the Internet is troubling, and it is not what Congress intended," Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in a statement.

The National Security Agency is funding research into ways to collect personal information from social networking websites like MySpace and Friendster, according to New Scientist magazine. The agency is reportedly aiming to combine personal information from social networking websites like MySpace and Friendster with details from banking, retail and property records, allowing the NSA to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of individuals.

Republicans Don't Believe In Promoting Hate And Would Never Lie: Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, bowing to legal and ethical troubles, said goodbye to the House on Thursday with a parting shot at his liberal opponents. The 11-term Republican from Texas, said it is customary for departing lawmakers to "reminisce about the 'good old days' of political harmony and across-the-aisle camaraderie." "I can't do that," he said.

In defending right-wing pundit Ann Coulter - who smeared both liberals and the widows of the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in her new book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism (Crown Forum, June 2006), and in recent public appearances - Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that Coulter "doesn't lie." Although Media Matters for America does not purport to know whether Coulter advances false claims consciously, we have previously documented numerous statements by Coulter that have proved to be untrue. During an interview with right-wing activist and author David Horowitz on the June 8 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly asked Horowitz to identify "the difference" between Coulter and liberal satirist and Air America Radio host Al Franken. O'Reilly then answered his own question, claiming that, although "Franken lies, and we can prove that," "Coulter doesn't lie." O'Reilly offered no evidence to support his claim that Franken lies but claimed, on the June 8 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, that, in his upcoming book, Culture Warrior (Broadway Books, September 2006), he "will prove that beyond any doubt at all" both Franken and liberal filmmaker Michael Moore "consciously lie." During the June 8 broadcast of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, right-wing activist and author David Horowitz called right-wing pundit Ann Coulter "a national treasure" and stated that the "point" of Coulter's controversial remarks on the widows of the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was "right on the mark."

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: The US trade deficit increased in April by 2.5% to $63.4 billion, as oil prices surged to nearly $71 per barrel. The figure was below that expected by analysts, who had feared that the deficit could soon reach $65 billion. The trade gap was $252 billion for the year to date, leaving it on course to exceed the record $716bn recorded in 2005. The high US trade deficit is leading to pressure on the US dollar, which has been falling in international markets, amid worries about financing the gap. Analysts said that the April figure may help ease some of the negative feeling that has surrounded the dollar in recent months, even if only for a short time.

Republicans Believe In States Rights: Rep. Henry Waxman has released a report evaluating how many times Congress has voted over the last five years to preempt state laws and regulations. Republican leaders in Congress and President Bush have repeatedly promised to respect the role of states as laboratories of democracy. But the report documents that there is a wide gulf between the rhetoric of Republican leaders in Washington and the actual legislative record. The 54-page report includes a comprehensive list of the preemptive legislation passed by the House and Senate over the last five years. The report finds that the House and the Senate have voted 57 times to preempt state laws and regulations. These votes have resulted in 27 laws, signed by President Bush, that override state laws and regulations. Some of this legislation contains multiple distinct preemptive provisions. During the last five years, the House and the Senate have passed 73 separate preemptive provisions, 39 of which have become law. Most of the preemptive federal legislation passed by the House and the Senate over the last five years falls into four general categories: (1) usurping state choices on social policies, (2) preventing states from protecting health, safety, and the environment, (3) overriding state consumer protection laws, and (4) seizing power from state courts. The reach of the preemptive legislation is broad and its intrusiveness is deep, extending even into the end-of-life decisions of individual families. The House and Senate have passed legislation that would preempt states from regulating sources of air pollution, setting health insurance standards, and protecting consumers from contaminated food. Areas of traditional state prerogatives, such as local land use decisions and the issuance of drivers' licenses, have been federalized, and states have been blocked from protecting their citizens from emerging threats, such as unsolicited "spam" email.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: By fighting against Plan B and other emergency contraception, President Bush are leaving women with no choice but to have an unwanted abortion. By making Plan B difficult to obtain, women who find themselves pregnant after the 72-hour window during which Plan B is effective, have no other option than to seek out an abortion - particularly when they are on drugs that can cause birth defects.

The state of Missouri plans to drop its legal challenge to a lesbian's efforts to become a foster parent because a new state law makes the appeal impossible, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon said. A spokesman for Gov. Matt Blunt called the decision "outrageous" and said the governor wants the appeal to continue. Both men are running for governor in 2008, and exchanges between Nixon, a Democrat, and Blunt, a Republican, have become increasingly pointed in recent months. Nixon said the law, which Blunt signed this week, deletes a long-standing state law that banned same-sex sexual contact and that had been the basis of the state's appeal. "The governor's signature took away the last argument of the state in this case," said Nixon spokesman Scott Holste. Blunt spokesman Spence Jackson said in Thursday editions of The Kansas City Star that if Nixon drops the case, "he is doing so without the consent of his client."

Scandals Du Jour: A U.S. district court judge has ordered the Army to release 14 documents, including six emails, dealing with the Halliburton oil contract in Iraq. U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo M. Urbina also ordered the Army to give to the court an additional six documents for the court to review to make a further determination. At issue is a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, an anti-corruption public interest group. Judicial Watch believes the award of a multi-billion contract to Halliburton subsidiary KBR for the restoration of Iraq's oil fields may have been unduly influenced by Vice President Dick Cheney, who headed Halliburton for five years prior to joining President George. W. Bush's campaign. The documents amount to 100 pages, according to Judicial Watch. Three years ago Judicial Watch obtained and released an e-mail between the Army Corps of Engineers and another party that referenced the fact that the deal -- awarded in secret, without any competition, two weeks before the invasion of Iraq -- had been coordinated with the vice president's office.

As chief of staff to then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Susan Hirschmann spent months away from Capitol Hill, visiting exotic international locales while conferring with heads of state and staying at oceanside resorts - most of the time with her lobbyist husband in tow. The travel wasn't cheap, but it cost her hardly a dime. Before leaving the Texas Republican's office to join the lobbying firm of Williams & Jensen, Hirschmann accepted privately funded travel worth more than $85,000 from a host of corporations, associations and private interest groups, according to disclosure records for travel taken from January 2000 to June 2005 reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity, American Public Media and Northwestern University's Medill News Service. Among congressional staffers, the only comparable total was the more than $87,000 in trips accepted by Brian Gaston, who worked for two Republicans, then-Rep. Dick Armey of Texas and later Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, during the 5½-year period studied.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:59:28 AM

Thu, Jun 08 2006

Battening Down For The World Cup

The weather has cleared off today, just a bit, and we have had sun most of the afternoon. The day didn't start out all that promising, though, with dense overcast and intermittent light rain most of the morning. Yesterday was cloudy all day, and both days have had highs of 84 and overnight lows of 72.

You folks in the United States have probably not noticed this, but there is a world-shattering event about to take place tomorrow morning. I don't mean the Rapture, or the Tribulation, or even the Second Coming or anything like that, oh no. I mean something much more significant - the FIFA World Cup football (OK, "soccer" to you Americans) tournament is starting in Germany.

Since Costa Rica is in the starting round - for only the third time in its history - the whole country is on pins and needles, everyone in the country who is not in a permanent vegetative state or in solitary confinement will be glued to the television set tomorrow morning. The president, Oscar Arias, has flown to Germany (along with everyone else in the country who has the money) to be at the game in person, and he has declared a national half-holiday tomorrow morning - complete with a Dry Law ban on booze sales - so that all the public servants can watch the game without being interrupted by that annoying obligation to perform public service.

So, what is my prediction for the game? Well, I wish them luck. If any of the eight pre-tournament friendlies they have played in Europe the last two weeks will be any guide, it's not looking too good. Seleccion Nacional, as the team is called, didn't win a one of them, each time coming off looking not-too-brilliant, not even scoring in most of them.

But nevertheless, there's a lot of that irrepressible Tico optimism here, though, and, of course, one never knows. It may be, as some have suggested, that the team has not been willing to give away their secrets to the German team they will be up against - and it may be that Dick Cheney might die from his sixth coronary and leave his Halliburton fortune to Amnesty International, Pat Robertson might endorse gay marriage at Gay Days at Disneyworld, and the whole Bush clan might hold a joint press conference to collectively apologize to Al and John, and endorse Hillary for president in a couple of years. Maybe even the Greenland ice cap might start growing again, and the mayor of New Orleans will actually run out of excuses and let the 9th-Ward blacks have their real estate back. Hey, there is always some hope, isn't there?

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Fourteen European states colluded with the CIA in secret US flights for terror suspects, a report released by the European Union concludes. The report comes from Europe's human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe. The report says there is evidence to back suspicions secret prisons are or were located in Poland and Romania - allegations both countries deny. Under the CIA policy of rendition, prisoners are moved to third countries for interrogation. There have been allegations some were tortured. More than 20 states, mostly in Europe, colluded in a "global spider's web" of secret CIA prisons and transfers of terrorism suspects, a European rights watchdog said in a report released on Wednesday. European states were aware of or took part in a network run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency that stretched from Central Asia to the Caribbean, via the Middle East and North Africa, the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly said. "It is now clear -- although we are still far from having established the whole truth -- that authorities in several European countries actively participated with the CIA in these unlawful activities," said investigator Dick Marty. "Other countries ignored them knowingly, or did not want to know," Marty said in the conclusions of the 65-page report released on the body's Web site. The system was a form of "legal and judicial apartheid" that placed non-Americans beyond normal legal norms simply because those seized were suspected of terrorism, he told a news conference in the French capital. Among the charges: * Poland and Romania ran secret detention centers; * Germany, Turkey, Spain, Cyprus and Azerbaijan were "staging points" for flights involving the unlawful transfer of detainees; * Ireland, Britain, Portugal, Greece and Italy were "stopovers" for flights involving the unlawful transfer of detainees; * Sweden, Bosnia, Britain, the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, Germany and Turkey handed over suspects; * Cairo, Amman, Islamabad, Rabat, Kabul, Guantanamo Bay, Tashkent, Algiers and Baghdad served as detainee transfer/drop-off points. "The United States... actually created this reprehensible network. But we also believe to have established that it is only through the intentional or grossly negligent collusion of the European partners that this 'web' was able to spread also over Europe," it said. "Governments have a duty to carry out serious, transparent investigations" of these allegations, Marty told a press conference in Paris. "These states could have established the truth long ago -- they did not. They now have an obligation to do so."

6,000 bodies have been brought into Baghdad's mortuaries since the start of the year, and what's more, "no-one believes these are the true figures from the violence in and around Baghdad as many bodies are not taken to the morgue, or are never found". Here's the thing: the US government can openly announce its intentions. It can even be reported once in a while (albeit with a rather crude apologia bracketing the facts). Knight Ridder correspondent Yasser Salihee can die while uncovering the truth behind it. Yet somehow, invariably, it's simply taboo to mention what is richly evident. The BBC did not mention any of this either on television or on the internet. No one mentions that the bulk of these deaths are attributed to the Special Police Commandos [read: "Salvador Option" death squads], who "were formed under the experienced tutelage and oversight of veteran US counterinsurgency fighters, and from the outset conducted joint-force operations with elite and highly secretive US special-forces units." Yasser Salihee found that "many of the dead were apprehended by large groups of men driving white Toyota Land Cruisers with police markings. The men were wearing police commando uniforms and bulletproof vests, carrying expensive 9-millimeter Glock pistols and using sophisticated radios". He died shortly after reporting this at a US checkpoint, with a bullet in the head. John Pace, the former UN human rights envoy to Iraq, described, before the violence was re-scripted into a 'civil war' after the attack on the Askari mosque (itself seemingly orchestrated by guys in Special Police Commando uniforms), how hundreds of Iraqis were being executed and tortured to death each month by death squads operating from within the Interior Ministry, which happens to have been constructed and populated by the occupiers. The Brussels Tribunal found that: "After exact counting and documenting, the Iraqi Organisation for Follow-up and Monitoring has confirmed that 92 % of the 3498 bodies found in different regions of Iraq have been arrested by officials of the Ministry of Interior. Nothing was known about the arrestees’ fate until their riddled bodies were found with marks of horrible torture."

The National Security Agency has responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay rights group helping members of the military, by saying it will "continue to neither confirm nor deny the existence or non-existence" of information obtained via surveillance of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender organizations. The agency responded to attorneys for SLDN, via a three page letter. Steve Ralls, Communications Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network told PageOneQ that, "This is an example of the continued stonewalling SLDN has encoutered throughout our work to find out what was truly happening. This a disappointing response and it destroys any hope of a continued transparency of government and that should offend most Americans."

Personal information on about 2.2 million active-duty, National Guard and Reserve troops may have been stolen last month from a government employee's house, officials said on Tuesday in the latest revelation of a widening scandal. The Department of Veterans Affairs said the information, including names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth, may have been stored in the same stolen electronic equipment that contained similar personal data on 26.5 million U.S. military veterans. In the wrong hands, such data can be used in credit-card fraud and other crimes. The government disclosed on May 22 that unidentified burglars on May 3 had broken into the Maryland residence of a Veterans Affairs employee who was not authorized to take the data home, and stole equipment containing the veterans' data. Later, the government said personal information on about 50,000 active-duty, National Guard and Reserve personnel may have been involved. But now Veterans Affairs said that as it and the Pentagon compared electronic files, officials discovered that personal information on as many as 1.1 million military members on active duty, 430,000 National Guard troops and 645,000 members of the Reserves may have been included in the data theft.

The Central Intelligence Agency took no action after learning the pseudonym and whereabouts of the fugitive Holocaust administrator Adolf Eichmann in 1958, according to C.I.A. documents released Tuesday that shed new light on the spy agency's use of former Nazis as informants after World War II. The C.I.A. was told by West German intelligence that Eichmann was living in Argentina under the name Clemens - a slight variation on his actual alias, Ricardo Klement - but did not share the information with Israel, which had been hunting for him for years, according to Timothy Naftali, a historian who examined the documents. Two years later, Israeli agents abducted Eichmann in Argentina and flew him to Israel, where he was tried and executed in 1962.

In early May, just 31% approved of Bush, marking the low point of his administration to date. A subsequent poll in May found a 33% rating for Bush. The current rating of 36% is in line with Bush's public standing in March and April. While it is difficult to pinpoint a precise reason for Bush's improved rating, several events in recent weeks may have had an impact: Gas prices have stabilized (though they remain high), Bush's nomination of Henry Paulson as Secretary of the Treasury has been well-received, Bush addressed the nation regarding immigration, and he admitted some mistakes in his prior statements on the wars in Iraq and against Osama bin Laden. The June 1-4 poll shows about a 10 percentage-point increase in Bush's approval rating among Republicans, from 69% in the two May polls to 78% in the current poll. Independents' (25% in May, 28% currently) and Democrats' (8% at both times) ratings of Bush have held steady, so the modest improvement in recent weeks is mostly due to more positive evaluations from Bush's own partisans.

A former Republican congressman narrowly beat his Democratic rival early Wednesday for the House seat once held by jailed Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a race closely watched as a possible early barometer of next fall's vote. Republican Brian Bilbray emerged victorious after a costly and contentious special election race against Democrat Francine Busby, a local school board member. With 90 percent of precincts reporting, Bilbray had 56,130 votes, or 50 percent. Busby trailed with 51,292 votes, or 45 percent. "I think that we're going back to Washington," Bilbray told cheering supporters. The race - one of dozens of contests Tuesday in eight states - was viewed by Democrats as an opportunity to capture a solidly Republican district and build momentum on their hopes to capture control of the House. Also in California, State Treasurer Phil Angelides narrowly beat Controller Steve Westly in the state's gubernatorial primary. He next faces GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who faced no credible opposition in his party's nomination.

Federal prosecutors investigating the confrontation between Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and a Capitol police officer have been talking privately with McKinney's office in hopes of resolving the case without the spectacle of an indictment and trial, officials familiar with the talks tell the COX NEWS SERVICE for Wednesday papers. Prosecutors for several weeks have been carrying on confidential discussions with the DeKalb County Democrat in what they characterized as an effort to reach a plea agreement, even as they were presenting evidence in the March 29 incident to a grand jury, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The grand jury has not yet decided whether McKinney should be charged, an official familiar with the proceedings said, and no decision is expected this week. Prosecutors subpoenaed at least six witnesses to appear before the grand jury over the last two months.

While the Senate prepares to debate the Paris Hilton Tax (a.k.a. estate tax) this week, supporters of its abolishment admit they are "well short of the 60 votes required to take up a full repeal measure." If full repeal fails, Senators may vote on "compromises which are nearly as costly and unfair as full repeal." Today, six former White House advisers are urging Senators to oppose these costly proposals that "benefit only the wealthiest three of every 1,000 estates." CongressDaily reported last week that Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) may put forward a "counter offer" containing "a graduated rate structure setting rates of 15, 25, and 35 percent depending on the size of the estate." Today's letter points out how this also would be very costly: * This "alternative compromise" would cost nearly 75% as much as full repeal over the long run, according to estimates by the Tax Policy Center. * Compared to freezing current law at the 2009 levels, this would cost about $200 billion in the decade from 2012-2021. * When compared to 2009 law, the graduated rate structure cuts taxes by 66% for couples with estates between $7-10 million, by almost half for couples with estates between $10-20 million, and by 20% or more for multi-billion dollar estates.

The father of a Marine whose funeral was picketed by anti-gay protesters from a fundamentalist Kansas church filed an invasion-of-privacy suit against the demonstrators Monday. It is believed to be the first lawsuit brought by a serviceman's family against Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., whose members routinely demonstrate at military funerals around the country. Albert Snyder of York, Pa., the father of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, is seeking unspecified damages. The younger Snyder, 20, died March 3 after an accident in the Anbar province of Iraq. He was buried in Westminster, Md. "We think it's a case we can win because anyone's funeral is private," Albert Snyder's lawyer Sean Summers said. "You don't have a right to interrupt someone's private funeral." Members of Westboro say the military deaths in Iraq are God's punishment for America's tolerance of gays. They typically carry signs with slogans such as "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for IEDs," a reference to the roadside bombs used by insurgents.

Taxpayers spend millions of dollars a year to subsidize an organ transplant policy that gives well-to-do recipients an advantage over the poor. Critics say the policy violates medical ethics by skewing a system that is supposed to be equitable. It’s especially galling, they say, because publicly funded Medicare pays for 70 percent of U.S. kidney transplants, the most common transplant operation. Others, however, say the policy provides freedom of choice to patients who, their lives at stake, deserve any opportunity they can take to find an organ. Known as "multiple listing," the practice lets transplant patients have their names on waiting lists at different transplant centers at once. The system divides the country into 11 regions. Organs generally stay within a region and go to qualified patients based on how ill they are, how long they have been waiting and whether the organ is a good fit. Some regions have shorter or faster waiting lists than others. Paul Cibis, a Kansas City native who lives in Los Angeles, needed a kidney transplant and listed in both cities. He got a new kidney at St. Luke’s in Kansas City in September 2004. "It increased the chances of getting a kidney sooner," Cibis said, noting the average wait in Kansas City was two years shorter than in Los Angeles. "That's the bottom line." But the practice is expensive, requiring duplicative comprehensive medical examinations and frequent blood tests - for which Medicare pays most of the costs. It also requires travel that not everyone can afford and the sophistication to navigate a particularly complex part of the American health-care system.

The White House threatened on Tuesday to veto legislation that would reverse the Bush administration's decision to impose contract terms on the nation's 14,500 unionized air traffic controllers. The move put pressure on congressional Republicans not to follow one of their own, Ohio Rep. Steven LaTourette, who has proposed a measure that would send disputed aspects of the contract to binding arbitration. LaTourette's bill would change the law that permitted FAA Administrator Marion Blakey to impose contract terms after Congress opted not to intervene in the dispute during a 60-day review that ended on Monday. The unusual FAA action formally ended 10 months of contentious bargaining, including mediation. It also pushed relations between the agency and its biggest union to their most contentious point since 1981 when thousands of controllers were fired for ignoring a White House back-to-work order by President Ronald Reagan. Federal law prohibits air traffic controllers from striking and the union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, has not threatened any job action.

Be afraid, be very afraid! If television stations are required to abide by existing regulations and label the corporate and government propaganda they routinely pass off as "news," the First Amendment will be shredded, the freedom of the press repealed, and TV stations will collapse overnight! At least, that's what the public relations firms that produce and distribute video news releases (VNRs) and other forms of fake news would have you believe. PR firms are banding together and launching lobbying and PR campaigns to counter the growing call for full disclosure of VNRs, the sponsored video segments frequently aired by TV newsrooms as though they were independently-produced reports. This alarmist campaign comes as no surprise; the PR industry is like any other business interest. And if there's one thing business is good at, it's avoiding meaningful oversight. Take direct-to-consumer drug marketing: The industry group PhRMA adopted voluntary guidelines last year, in a so-far successful bid to preempt increased scrutiny from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A conservative strategist claimed that the "homosexual agenda" is "designed to do away with the American family" in an appearance on CNN. Lob Dobbs, a conserative CNN host, also beats on GOP strategist Richard Viguerie, asking what conservatives have done for American families. "What have we done for the family that everybody's so concerned about?" asked CNN host Lou Dobbs. "Where are the values? I'm lost." "You've got schools that are now indoctrinating the children with values that are in opposition to the American families' values here in this country," replied Viguerie. "You've got schools that are actually teaching people. The inner city and people don't need anything as much as they need good schools." Dobbs then asked, "What's gay marriage got to do with any of that?" "Because the homosexual agenda in my opinion and many conservatives is designed to do away with the American family," Viguerie claimed.

Playboy's first openly gay Playmate says she plans to sue the city of New York for being manhandled by police. Stephanie Adams, 35, said police threw her to the ground late last Thursday, put pressure on her back and shoved her face to the pavement after a cab driver called 911 and claimed she had a gun. Adams said she was wearing skin-tight jeans with no place to hide a weapon. "They (the police) leered at me," Adams told the New York Post. She said she asked officers to frisk her but one responded: "There's no way, man, you could have a gun in that outfit." Adams said as a result of the incident she is in constant pain. The cab driver disputed Adams recollection of facts when questioned by the Post. He said one of the officers even paid Adams' $10.60 cab fare and threw in a $4.40 tip.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The British government's apparent support of CIA rendition flights is "massively damaging" in the battle against international terrorism, a former Foreign Office minister said today. Tony Lloyd demanded that the Bush administration give "proper and definitive" answers to allegations that it has been kidnapping terrorist suspects and transferring them to countries where they could be tortured. He was speaking as the Council of Europe human rights' committee named Britain among 14 countries that had colluded with the CIA practice, and called on the government to ask Washington "the right questions" about what the US flights that passed through Britain were being used.

John R. Bolton, the American ambassador to the United Nations, has run off at the mouth again, calling on Secretary General Kofi Annan today to repudiate "personally and publicly" critical remarks his top official made about the United States, but Mr. Annan turned aside the challenge. Calling the matter "very, very grave," Mr. Bolton said he made the demand in a morning phone call in which he told the secretary general, "I've known you since 1989, and I'm telling you this is the worst mistake by a senior U.N. official that I have seen in that entire time." The official, Mark Malloch Brown, the deputy secretary general, assailed the United States in a speech Tuesday for withholding support from the United Nations, encouraging its harshest detractors and undermining an institution he said Washington needed more than it would admit. "The prevailing practice of seeking to use the U.N. almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics is simply not sustainable," Mr. Malloch Brown said. "You will lose the U.N. one way or another." Responding to Mr. Bolton today, Mr. Annan's spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said: "The secretary general stands by the deputy secretary general and agrees with the thrust of the speech. This is not a criticism of the United States, it is call for greater U.S. involvement in the U.N."

President Bush on Wednesday suggested that Venezuela's fiery anti-American President Hugo Chavez has done "a great disservice to the traditions and people" of his South American nation. Venezuela is a major supplier of oil to the United States, but relations between Chavez and the Bush administration have deteriorated sharply.

Spin Cycle: While news organizations had already cast doubts on early battlefield reports that blamed civilian casualties in the Nov. 19 incident on an incendiary planted by insurgents, Murtha was the first congressman to publicly lend credence to reports of atrocities. High-ranking military officials have since acknowledged two separate investigations of the incident: Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell is looking into the initial inaccurate battlefield reports, while the Naval Criminal Investigation Service is investigating the 24 civilian deaths. The NCIS probe may lead to homicide charges, according to reports. However, it's Murtha's outspokenness, not the alleged atrocity, that is roiling the conservative blogosphere, where some correspondents continue to cast him as a cowardly ally of the French, if not a traitorous aide to al-Qaida.

The amount of time devoted to Iraq on the three biggest television networks' weeknight newscasts has dropped by nearly 60 percent from 2003 to the first four months of 2006, according to the independent Tyndall Report tracking service. Even before Monday's attack in a relatively placid section of Baghdad, some network TV correspondents had reached the conclusion that, even as they were risking their lives in the war zone, audiences and producers in America had grown weary of much of the coverage from Iraq. ABC correspondent John Berman in Baghdad wrote in his blog recently that he and his colleagues felt like the castaways on the network's prime-time drama Lost -- "We have come to the conclusion that no one knows we are here." Earlier, he wrote, "There is definitely a sense that the public feels like it knows what is going on here, and doesn't want to hear anymore about it." One NBC veteran expressed frustration at the current verities of the nightly news -- the demand for ever-more-vivid storytelling to help combat audience "fatigue," an imperative that can be thwarted because the relentless violence makes reporting so difficult. Network news executives defend their coverage. NBC News President Steve Capus said the network's coverage is "extensive," giving "an accurate depiction of what's going on over there."

On the June 2 edition of his nationally syndicated radio program, Rush Limbaugh admitted that, two days earlier, he had aired a phone call from a purported Air Force officer in Iraq who the military says "[d]oes not exist." The apparently phony officer, who Limbaugh said identified himself as "Lieutenant Colonel Luke Fitzpatrick" of the "336th Tactical Air Wing" at "Tallil Air Force Base" in Iraq, delivered what Limbaugh described as a "profound" and "mov[ing]" message -- among other things, the caller stated that Limbaugh and fellow conservative Sean Hannity are the "only two" radio hosts who "are allowed to get broadcasts across" to the troops in his unit and declared that former President Bill Clinton "castrated" the military. Despite acknowledging that Pentagon officials, as well as the Air Force, told him they have no record of a "Luke Fitzpatrick" or a "336th Tactical Air Wing," and that the Air Force "asked us to stop airing or put up any information about him," Limbaugh nonetheless continued to float the possibility that the caller was in fact an officer in Iraq.

This month's offensive by President Bush and his allies in Congress against gay marriage and flag-burning proves one thing: The Republican Party thinks its base of social conservatives is a nest of dummies who have no memories and respond like bulls whenever red flags are waved in their faces. The people who should be angry this week are not liberals or gays or lesbians, but the president's most loyal supporters. After using the gay marriage issue shamelessly in the 2004 campaign, Bush and Republican leaders left gay-marriage opponents out in the cold as they concentrated on the party's real priorities: privatizing Social Security and cutting taxes on rich people. The constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning is also about electoral politics. As a Senate Republican leader said happily, a vote against the amendment "would make a good 30- second spot." An official of the National Republican Congressional Committee said that "if Democrats choose to vote against a constitutional amendment" banning flag-desecration, "I think they'll pay a price." Both quotations appeared in a New York Times story that ran 16 years ago - from Bob Dole, the Republican leader, and Ed Rollins, the GOP official. Does wedge politics have to be so boringly predictable?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has refused to turn over 89 percent of Vice President Dick Cheney's FBI records and has heavily redacted the remainder in response to a request for the records under the Freedom of Information Act. In all, the bureau has released 112 of 1061 pages reviewed during a two-year investigation following a request by San Francisco blogger Michael Petrelis. Petrelis filed the request prior to the 2004 election. Portions of nearly all pages released have been redacted. The release does not foreclose the possibility that the FBI may turn over more files in the future. But it remains striking -- an aide to the FBI Freedom of Information Act office told RAW STORY in February that 783 pages had been approved for release; it appears now that many of the pages were blocked from release by the department's declassification office, which is required to review all of the pages before releasing them.

In his last days as a member of the House, former Majority Leader Tom DeLay has predicted the GOP will lose control of the legislative body in November if the party continues it's 'panic, depression and woe-ism,' today's edition of USA TODAY reports. Delay also expressed disappointment in the guilty pleas of three former associates, adding that his feelings do not mean he was aware of their activities. DeLay mentioned Tony Rudy and Jack Abramoff, saying that they "are not the people I knew." DeLay did not mention the guilty plea of his former press secretary, Michael Scanlon.

From Americablog: Not a single religious right leader was visible on camera during George Bush's entire gay marriage address. Not one. I TiVo'd the entire address, watched it twice, froze the frames, and there were plenty of audience shots of the crowd assembled at the White House to cheer on Bush's address supporting an anti-gay constitutional amendment. And not a single shot showed a leader of the religious right sitting in the audience. Now, we know this White House. Not a single event happens in this White House that isn't fully scripted. The camera in the room swung out numerous times to show the audience, but interestingly enough, the people in the line of sight of the camera were NEVER the religious right leaders. It's almost as if, by sheer coincidence, the entire religious right leadership just happened to be placed in the obstructed view seats, so to speak. And trust me, this White House knows exactly which seats are on camera and which are not.

From TPMmuckraker.com: Almost immediately after the Homeland Security Department announced its grant awards to major cities, condemnations were launched. What appeared to be deep cuts in funding for New York City and Washington, D.C. were decried by lawmakers and pundits as incompetence and worse (my favorite: Buzzflash said it was "raw, oozing evil"). Some have called for the resignation of Tracy Henke, the DHS official who oversees the grant program; some have even called for DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff to step down. I'm hardly a loyalist and defender of the Homeland Security Department. But in this case I think they may be the dog that's whipped when it's the owner who deserves the punishment. In fact, the future may show DHS is - gasp - forward-thinking. First, place the blame where it belongs: President Bush's 2006 budget request cut funding for the urban area grant program. Congress approved the cut. Congress also made big noises that the DHS grant award program should be "de-politicized" -- that is, make sure that some areas aren't given more money than others simply because they have political clout. Also, the free-marketeers in Congress thought the process should be a little more Darwinian, and pushed to make grants "competitive" -- DHS shouldn't make assumptions, but force grantees to prove they'd spend the government's money wisely. So DHS cooked up a new process, which -- by its very results -- appears to be both apolitical and competitive. Guess what? New York lost. Washington, D.C. lost. Congress, welcome to the program you micromanaged and whose funding you cut. Prez, enjoy another hit to your poll numbers. (The cities hold some blame, too. I've spoken to a trusted source familiar with the cities' applications, whose unequivocal opinion is that certain portions stank. That opinion is backed up by the result of the grant review process.)

In a June 6 article based on information from the Center for Public Integrity's (CPI) recent analysis of privately funded congressional travel, Washington Post staff writer Jeffrey Birnbaum largely depicted the issue of members accepting privately funded trips as a bipartisan one. But Birnbaum omitted several pertinent findings that show greater participation by Republican lawmakers and staff than by Democrats. Specifically, Birnbaum reported that the 10 congressional offices that took the most privately sponsored trips were all in the House of Representatives but did not note that all 10 offices were Republican. He also reported the CPI finding that General Atomics, the largest corporate sponsor of congressional travel, had arranged 86 trips for lawmakers and their staff, but he did not report that 70 of those trips -- more than 80 percent -- were taken by Republican lawmakers and staff members. Overall, in four out of the five metrics CPI used to analyze the volume of privately funded congressional travel -- including the two mentioned above -- Republicans outnumbered Democrats -- a fact not presented by Birnbaum. Reports on the CPI study by The New York Times, Knight Ridder, and CBS also glossed over several of these findings.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: Five media giants joined the U.S. government last week in paying maligned Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee $1.6 million while once again denying any serious culpability in his totally unjustified and extremely harsh incarceration. Hiding behind their "bond" with government sources, the media companies continue to protect officials who broke the law in leaking highly classified information to defame an individual, as they have more recently in the Valerie Plame case. In the now infamous racial profiling of Lee, the media was in cahoots with government leakers, who were bizarrely determined to prove that Lee was a dangerous spy whose freedom would profoundly jeopardize national security. Amid this manufactured hysteria, a frail, middle-aged Lee was forced to spend nine months in solitary confinement - chained even in meetings with his attorneys, and under 24-hour video surveillance, during his every private moment --because the government claimed that if he were released on bond the lives of "hundreds of millions of Americans" would be endangered.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Senior Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sharply criticized a Justice Department official yesterday for refusing to say whether the Bush administration has ever considered prosecuting journalists for publishing leaked national security information. The senators also bristled when Deputy U.S. Attorney Matthew W. Friedrich declined to answer questions about the rationale for the FBI's attempts to review the papers of the late columnist Jack Anderson. "You're basically taking what would be called a testifying Fifth Amendment. You should be ashamed of yourself, or your superiors should be ashamed of themselves," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) told Friedrich after he declined to answer questions from committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). The purpose of the hearing, Specter said in opening the session, was to examine Justice Department efforts to control leaks, explore suggestions that newspapers and their reporters can be prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act and take comment on legislation that would protect reporters through a shield law. The law would provide an exception if national security matters were involved. Friedrich, in his opening statement, confirmed that the Justice Department was prepared to investigate and prosecute leaks, but referred to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's recent statement that the "primary focus is on the leakers of classified information, as opposed to the press."

In a terse and highly unusual letter to Vice President Cheney, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) today rejected the Bush administration’s insistence that a secret wire tapping program being conducted on U.S. civilians by the National Security Agency is legal, complaining that efforts by the White House to stonewall Congressional inquiries into the program “denigrates the constitutional authority and responsibility of the Congress and specifically the Judiciary Committee to conduct oversight on constitutional issues," ROLL CALL reports Wednesday.

A little-noticed proposal from the Senate intelligence committee would exempt federal agencies from important provisions of the Privacy Act in the name of the war on terrorism. The committee's annual authorization bill, which was sent to the Senate last month after a unanimous vote, would initiate a three-year pilot program, during which U.S. intelligence agencies would be able to access personal information about Americans held by other federal departments or agencies if it is thought to be relevant to counterterrorism or counterproliferation. In the wake of revelations about the administration's use of data mining and warrantless surveillance of telephone and Internet communications in pursuit of the nation's terrorist enemies, the provision could cause a furor. "If this is enacted, the Privacy Act will look like Swiss cheese," American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legislative counsel Tim Sparapani said. Mr. Sparapani said he was not reassured by the role that the law envisages for the president's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which would monitor the program and report to Congress as the three-year sunset approached.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drone aircraft, are about to be launched for the first time by the police in Los Angeles. UAVs have long been used by the military in war zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan. But the technology has been adapted for domestic use and could revolutionise the way law enforcement agencies carry out surveillance and rescue operations. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD) has been experimenting with a drone called SkySeer, which it intends to put into service later this month. SkySeer looks like a remotely controlled model aircraft. It has a wingspan of 6.5 feet (1.98m) and weighs 4 pounds (1.81kg). A camera is attached to its belly and a small battery powers the drone. "It has a video link that sends data in real time down to our ground station - the operator can then see, in real time, what it's seeing," explains SkySeer inventor Sam De La Torre, from Octatron Inc - a surveillance technology firm.

Dun and Bradstreet has been supplying business intelligence to the federal government for the past two and a half decades, but in the past five years, the government has dramatically increased its use of the company's data. The Homeland Security Department and the intelligence community in particular rely on D&B information for risk mitigation. Federal officials sometimes use the data simply to validate a company's address, for example, said Chris Corrie, an assistant vice president of D&B's federal sector business development group. But the database offers additional information, such as whether the business is active and operational, pays taxes, has a high credit risk, or is registered with the secretary of state. Lauren Jones, director of consulting at the market research firm Input, said local, state and federal government agencies need accurate third-party business intelligence such as that supplied by D&B, LexisNexis and Hoover's. Some federal agencies ask Input, which collects information about government contracts and the information technology market, for information about vendors and IT spending.

In January, four congressional Democrats - Maurice Hinchey of New York, John Lewis of Georgia, and Henry Waxman and Lynn Woolsey of California - asked the Office of Professional Responsibility to find out who in the Justice Department told the president and General Michael Hayden (then head of the National Security Agency) that it was legal for the NSA to engage in warrantless eavesdropping on Americans as well as in collection of their records. A corollary question was whether George W. Bush started the eavesdropping program even before he told the Justice Department he was doing it. On May 11, H. Marshall Jarrett, the OPR's counsel, told Congressman Hinchey that the investigation was over because the National Security Agency - obviously involved in the probe - refused to grant the OPR's lawyers security clearance to proceed to look into the NSA's classified programs. Said the frustrated Mr. Jarrett: "Without those clearances, we cannot investigate this matter and therefore have closed our investigation. No one in OPR for the 24 years I was there was denied the necessary clearance, ever, and much less one that brought to a conclusion an investigation. That just makes it smell the worse."

Republicans Believe In Honest, Transparent Elections: Ernest Partridge writes in Smirking Chimp.com: Complication of the election integrity issue works to the advantage of the status quo; which is to say, the increasing use of paperless, unauditable Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines. More complications abound as critics of the status quo attempt to prove that past, and presumably future, elections were and will be fraudulent. In fact, the controversy can be reduced to two simple questions: 1. Can defenders of the status quo prove that the 2004 (and also the 2000 and 2002) elections were fair and accurate? 2. Can defenders of the status quo refute the critics? The answer to the first question is simple and straightforward: they cannot, because the DREs (and also the central compiling computers) were designed to exclude proof. The software is secret, and thus closed to inspection and validation, and there is no independent record of the votes against which the totals can be verified. (Running the same computations again is not a "recount"). Moreover, computing experts have found, and demonstrated, numerous "holes" in the machines through which voting totals can be finagled, and reports of still more flaws continue to come in. The response of the private election industry and the Republicans to demands of proof are (1) "trust us," (2) ad hominem attacks on the critics. ("Sore losers," "conspiracy theorists," "get over it!"). And finally (with the collaboration of the mainstream media) (3) no response. There are no substantive proofs of validity because, once again, the machines are designed to exclude them. Regarding the second question, every now and then an attempt is made to refute the critics. The most recent of note was published last Friday in Salon.com, and was written by Farhad Manjoo, who has made something of a career out of debunking the critics. Whenever an important critique of the electoral status quo is published, by John Conyers' committee, by Mark Crispin Miller, or most recently by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., we can generally count on a rebuttal by Manjoo. Last week, he did not disappoint us.

The latest sign that Republicans have an election-year strategy to shut down voter registration drives comes from Ohio. As the state gears up for a very competitive election season this fall, its secretary of state, J. Kenneth Blackwell, has put in place "emergency" regulations that could hit voter registration workers with criminal penalties for perfectly legitimate registration practices. The rules are so draconian they could shut down registration drives in Ohio. Mr. Blackwell, who also happens to be the Republican candidate for governor this year, has a history of this sort of behavior. In 2004, he instructed county boards of elections to reject any registrations on paper of less than 80-pound stock - about the thickness of a postcard. His order was almost certainly illegal, and he retracted it after he came under intense criticism. It was, however, in place long enough to get some registrations tossed out. This year, Mr. Blackwell's office has issued rules and materials that appear to require that paid registration workers, and perhaps even volunteers, personally take the forms they collect to an election office. Organizations that run registration drives generally have the people who register voters bring the forms back to supervisors, who can then review them for errors. Under Mr. Blackwell's edict, everyone involved could be committing a crime. Mr. Blackwell's rules also appear to prohibit people who register voters from sending the forms in by mail. That rule itself may violate federal elections law. Mr. Blackwell's rules are interpretations of a law the Republican-controlled Ohio Legislature passed recently. Another of the nation's most famous swing states, Florida, has been the scene of similar consternation and confusion since it recently enacted a law that is so harsh that the Florida League of Women Voters announced that it was stopping all voter registration efforts for the first time in 67 years.

Republicans Believe Business Leaders Are Moral Examples To Be Emulated: General Motors Corp. has accused its biggest supplier of engaging in "blackmail" by threatening to tear up more than 5,000 GM contracts and asked a judge to end the threat from Delphi Corp. In papers filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan on Monday, GM said Delphi knows that scrapping the contracts could "result in the shutdown of GM plants" that use Delphi's parts. That would do "irreparable harm" to GM, but its effect on Delphi would be far more severe, the automaker said. Under the circumstances, GM said, Delphi's request to scrap contracts worth $4.5 billion "is blackmail, no matter how it is cloaked in bankruptcy jargon," GM said. It contended that Delphi was operating on the "unexplained theory" that GM would be willing to "to pay billions of extra dollars to Delphi to convince Delphi not to destroy itself."

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: Growth in the US service sector slowed in May, the latest sign that American economic expansion may be cooling. The Institute for Supply Management's services index fell to 60 in May, down from 63 in April. Any figure above 50 represents growth in the sector. Any change to the service sector is closely watched as it accounts for about 80% of US economic activity. The sector ranges from businesses such as restaurants, hotels, bars, to hair salons, banks and airlines. Last week, official data showed that the US economy created 75,000 jobs in May, considerably below expectations, and nearly half April's numbers. US manufacturing output levels also dipped in May.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Monday the Fed needed to be vigilant to make sure inflation stays under control even as the economy starts to shift to a slower pace of growth. "It is reasonably clear that the U.S. economy is entering a period of transition," Bernanke told a group of bankers. "The anticipated moderation of economic growth seems now to be under way." Despite forecasts of easing growth, the U.S. central bankchief expressed concern over core inflation, saying the pace of increase in non-food, non-energy prices measured over both the past three and past six months was at levels that "if sustained" would be at or above the upper end of the range he views as consistent with price stability. "These are unwelcome developments," Bernanke said. "With the economy now evidently in a period of transition, monetary policy must be conducted with great care and with close attention to the evolution of the economic outlook as implied by incoming information," he said. "Given recent developments, the medium-term outlook for inflation will receive particular scrutiny."

News From Smirkey's Wars: A state of war is gripping southern Afghanistan as Taleban fighters win public support and it will spread unless newly deployed British troops regain control, a security think-tank warned on Tuesday. Entire districts in the restive province of Helmand have already been lost to insurgents who have learnt new bomb-making skills from the bloody campaign in Iraq, said Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of the Senlis Council. In a new report on southern Afghanistan, the council said: "Helmand is in a state of war, once again. The nature of instability in Helmand has shifted from random insurgency to a state of prolonged and organised violence that threatens the very foundations of the new Afghanistan." Hardline military tactics used by US troops, who were in charge of security in the south following the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, have left the local population fearful and wary of foreign soldiers, it said. The report by the think-tank, which has offices in London, Paris, Brussels and Kabul, found that 80 per cent of the people in Helmand support insurgent groups. "The British troops will need to regain control ... otherwise the whole of southern Afghanistan will be lost to the Taleban insurgents," Reinert told a London news conference to launch the report, "Helmand at war - the changing nature of insurgency in southern Afghanistan and its effect on the future of the country."

The Taliban have reclaimed southern Afghanistan, reconstruction has been miniscule, and there’s been no attempt to establish security beyond the capital of Kabul. Afghanistan continues to languish in grinding poverty with less clean water and electricity than before the war. It is a failed narco-state with 99% of the countryside under the iron-grip of the regional warlords and drug-kingpins. Is this Bush’s definition of a democratic utopia?

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Loisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco was expected to sign a strict abortion ban into law after the Senate on Monday gave the measure final legislative approval. Blanco has said she planned to sign the bill that would ban nearly all abortions in Louisiana, though only if the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion rights ruling is overturned. The bill by Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, could only take effect under two circumstances: the U.S. Constitution is amended to allow states to ban abortion; or the Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade. Under the measure, doctors found guilty of performing abortions would face up to 10 years in prison and fines of $100,000. Originally, the bill would have allowed abortions only to save the life of the mother, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. The House added a provision to allow abortions in cases where the mother's health faces permanent harm. The Senate voted 27-0 to approve the change and send it to Blanco.

While American troops and innocent Iraqis are bleeding in Iraq, Senator Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum (R-PA) is on the Senate floor railing about sodomy. According to Santorum, this entire debate about gay marriage hinges on the issue of whether society should legitimize sodomy or not. And you thought I was crazy talking about sodomy, adultery and masturbation yesterday? Oh, but it gets better than that. Santorum is railing against the recent Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas. That's the decision that rules that states can no longer throw gay people in jail simply because of who they are (up until then, several states made "sodomy" a crime - and remember, sodomy includes oral and anal sex, both heterosexual and gay). So, Rick Santorum is upset that states can no longer throw gay people in jail. Rick Santorum is upset that analingus, cunnilingus and fellatio are no longer crimes in America, even for heterosexual married couples. Rick Santorum thinks this is what the United States Congress should be spending its time and money debating. But oh, it gets even better again. Santorum just spent a lot of time defending Justice Scalia's dissent in the case. Santorum agrees with Scalia's dissent. That would be the dissent in which Scalia said the following: "State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers’ validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today’s decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding." Yes, Rick Santorum just made the entire debate about masturbation and oral sex.

Legislation boosting fines tenfold on broadcast television and radio stations that violate decency standards was sent on Wednesday to Smirkey in a victory for conservative groups. The bill raising fines to $325,000 per violation, which Bush said he would sign, caps fines at $3 million for continuing violations. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the measure by a 379 to 35 vote on Wednesday, while the Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent last month. The punishment was less than groups like the Christian Coalition and Parents Television Council had sought, but the passage of the bill could help bolster support for Republicans who are facing tough re-election races in November.

On the June 5 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson, Gary Bauer, president of the group American Values and a former GOP presidential candidate, asserted that "the American people" believe that a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage "is important." In fact, according to recent polling, when asked to prioritize the most pressing issues facing the country, most respondents have cited the war in Iraq, the economy, energy prices, terrorism, and immigration, but very few listed same-sex marriage.

Not planning on getting pregnant? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t care. As far as it is concerned, if you are one of the 62 million U.S. women of childbearing age, you are pre-pregnant--a vessel. You are a future fetal incubator. In April, the CDC issued a report detailing measures to be taken to intervene in the life, healthcare and behavior of all women, "from menarche [first occurrence of menstruation] to menopause - even if they do not intend to conceive." The CDC report calls for a radical shift in medical care so that at every point of interaction, women’s doctors are to stage "interventions" to make sure they are healthy and prepared to give birth. Want to take your newborn in for a checkup or your 8-year-old in for a high fever? Expect an "intervention" into your eating habits, weight and behavioral risk factors. Got diabetes or epilepsy and looking for the care that is best for you? Wrong approach, says the CDC: "Separating childbearing from the management of chronic health problems and infectious diseases places women, their future pregnancies, and their future children at unnecessary risk."

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: A registered lobbyist opened a retirement account in the late 1990s for the wife of then-House Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and contributed thousands of dollars to it while also paying her a salary to work for him from her home in Texas, according to sources, documents and DeLay's attorney, Richard Cullen. The account represents a small portion of the income that DeLay's family received from entities at least partly controlled by lobbyist Edwin A. Buckham. But the disclosure of its origin adds to what was previously known about the benefits DeLay's family received from its association with Buckham, and it brings the total over the past seven years to about half a million dollars. Buckham was DeLay's chief of staff before he became a lobbyist at the end of 1998, shortly before the account was opened and the flow of funds began. He has come under scrutiny from federal investigators because his lobbying firm received hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from clients of indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Buckham's financial ties to DeLay's family -- and the retirement account in particular -- have recently attracted the interest of FBI agents and others in the federal task force probing public corruption by lawmakers and lobbyists, according to a source who was questioned in the course of the government's investigation. Under congressional ethics rules, lobbyists such as Buckham are barred from providing gifts or gratuities with a total value exceeding $50 to lawmakers in a single year.

Syndicated columnist and author Ann Coulter appeared on the Today Show on Tuesday, promoting a new book. Host Matt Lauer asked her to explain certain remarks in the book aimed at activist 9/11 widows, including her charge that they were nothing but "self obsessed" and celebrity-seeking "broads" who are "enjoying" their husbands' deaths "so much." After she defended these statements, he closed by saying, "always fun to have you here." Elsewhere in the book, Coulter refers to the widows as "witches" and asks, "how do we know their husbands weren't planning to divorce these harpies"? In response, a group of five 9/11 widows, who may have been the prime targets of Coulter's remarks, issued a statement denouncing Coulter's views. The New York Daily News on Wednesday featured this headline on its front page: COULTER THE CRUEL. One story inside was topped with "Coulter's Revolting New Read" and another declared her a "a model of meanness." "We are forced to respond to Ms. Coulter's accusations to set the record straight because we have been slandered. Contrary to Ms. Coulter's statements, there was no joy in watching men that we loved burn alive. There was no happiness in telling our children that their fathers were never coming home again. We adored these men and miss them every day. It is in their honor and memory, that we will once again refocus the nation's attention to the real issues at hand: our lack of security, leadership and progress in the five years since 9/11."

United States Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) issued the following statement today in response to remarks made by right-wing pundit and author Ann Coulter. "Ms. Coulter’s shameless attack on the victims of the worst act of terrorism in American history can only engender disgust at her tasteless statements when she asserts that their husbands’ deaths bring them joy. Her bookselling antics and accompanying vulgarity deserve our deepest contempt. Her foul remarks trivialize the deaths of every single person who died that terrible day, including the lives of those brave police officers and firefighters who ran into those burning buildings," said Senator Lautenberg. You will note that no such statements have come from Republican politicians.

This afternoon on the Senate floor, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) stood before a large photograph of his family and shared this important fact: "I'm really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we've never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship." Inhofe is consistent in his professional life. His office says "he does not hire openly gay staffers 'due to the possibility of a conflict of agenda.'"

On Friday, June 2, the San Diego Union-Tribune ran a story stating that Republican candidate Jim Galley "was married to two women at the same time, defaulted on his child support payments and has been accused of abuse by one of his ex-wives." Galley, a water treatment operator, is running against teacher Miles Blake in the Republican primary for the 51st Congressional district. But in an exclusive interview with RAW STORY, Galley maintained that the charges are unfounded. "If I'd been guilty of any of those three things, I'd be in jail. I've never even had a traffic ticket," said Galley, who added that he has no criminal record and expressed outrage at the newspaper for failing to check hospital and police records. "As a matter of fact, there's going to be a malice lawsuit against them," he said, adding that he also plans to sue his ex-wife. RAW STORY was unable to verify or refute the claims of Galley or the Union-Tribune as of the time this story was published.

Two organizations that have provided free trips to hundreds of federal judges received large contributions from tobacco, oil and other corporate interests, according to documents released yesterday. The Montana-based Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE) and George Mason University's Law & Economics Center previously said corporate money does not pay for the judges' seminars or declined to disclose their donors. But documents released by the Community Rights Counsel, a nonprofit Washington law firm, show that corporations including Exxon Mobil, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco have contributed tens of thousands of dollars toward these programs. The new information comes as judicial trips are receiving increased scrutiny on Capitol Hill, where bills would either outlaw such trips or create an inspector general for the judicial branch. Opponents of these seminars -- often held at pleasant places with plenty of time to do pleasant things, such as play golf and ride horses -- is a way to lobby powerful judges who often decide cases that change industries and roil markets. The groups generally pay for judges' travel, lodging, food and tuition expenses, and together have funded 1,158 trips for 349 federal judges between 1992 and 2004, according to the Community Rights Counsel.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:44:49 AM

Tue, Jun 06 2006

Printed Out And Mailed

The weather has continued to be classic mid-rainy season, overcast all day, but the temperatures have been nice - 85 midday, and 72 overnight. But there has been little rain. In fact, it is starting to dry out a bit, though not seriously. There have been short, mostly light rains, but nothing to really wet things down. I think we're back into the overcast season now, when the sun seldom comes out, and the only change in the weather is whether it is raining or not.

The print and mail operation to get all my tax forms and declarations printed out and mailed as described in the last entry went off without a hitch. I took my trip to Tilaran to get some printer ink cartridges. They didn't have the usual cartridges that I use, but according to the HP compatibility book, another pair was compatible, so I bought it and brought it home, $76 lighter in the wallet. I really have to find some re-inking kits for those things - that price is a bit steep.

I made a brief stop at the grocery store in Tilaran for a few things, and at the feed co-op store for some insecticide powder and Mirex leaf-cutter ant-bait pellets, and returned home over a road that is still in remarkably good condition for this being the rainy season. I followed a big tourist coach about a third of the way, and couldn't get around it, and that slowed me down a bit, but finally home, I started my printing project and finished up without a hitch two hours later, without spoiling a single sheet of paper. I sure like that HP printer a lot better than the Canon I bought here. The print cartridges are sure dear, but at least I get printouts when I need them without fighting really bad driver software problems and spoiling more paper than I end up using.

After a run to the libreria (bookstore), to got all the copying done, I returned home to collate and staple everything. And then it was off to the post office to mail it all. I spent the equivalent of nearly $5 just on ordinary, first-class surface postage to send the three flats to each of three different addresses, two to the IRS and one to the Treasury Dept. How I love being a U.S. Person enjoying all that Freedom And Liberty (TM).

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: From Infowars.com: Numerous nexus points have emerged that suggest major western governments are preparing for a summer terror attack that will come close to but not match 9/11 in scale and will provide the justification needed for an air strike on Iran before the midterm elections in early November. While there is a danger of becoming the boy who cried wolf, disturbing trends over the last couple of months do strongly indicate that the twist in the tale, which is always to be expected in an election year, will be a staged attack on a major developed city or the soccer World Cup. Here are the red flags. * An increase in taped messages from supposed Al-Qaeda figures Osama bin Laden and Musab Al-Zarqawi. * Terror arrests in England and Canada that seem to have little purpose other than making a future attack seem inevitable in the minds of the public. * A report in the Washington Post detailing how 4,000 federal government officials will enter shadow government bunkers on June 19th for a continuity of government drill in anticipation of a major terrorist attack. Every major terrorist attack is preceded by or runs parallel to a government drill in order to provide governments with plausible deniability if they get caught facilitating the attack. * Martial law evacuation exercises being conducted in Washington DC under the cover of manufactured crises. * A nationwide FEMA program teaching pastors and other neighborhood volunteers to inculcate the inevitability of martial law in America to their communities and urging them not to resist when it happens, a procedure set to be completed at the end of August (reported here earlier; emphasis added). * A report from CBS News quoting anonymous US government officials who say that they would be surprised if an attack didn't happen before the end of the year, albeit on a smaller scale than 9/11. * Sagging presidential approval numbers that have dipped into the twenties for the first time. * A GOP memo that touts a devastating attack by terrorists on US soil as a way of keeping the Republican party from losing control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections and restoring Bush's image as a war leader. * The need for a pretext to launch an air strike on Iran's alleged nuclear processing facilities, an eventuality scheduled for later this month or in July, according to former CIA analyst Ray McGovern. * Israel's fundamentalist insistence that such an attack be launched as soon as possible. * A pretext that could be created by means of a false flag attack on the World Cup in Germany, blamed on Hizbullah and by proxy Iran. Israel have sent out veiled threats that this could happen and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's decision to travel to Germany if his country reaches the second round of the tournament is more likely to be based around his desire to offset the potential attack than his love of soccer.

The United States has warned Iran it will "not have much time to respond" once it is offered an international package of rewards to encourage it to suspend uranium enrichment, suggesting that the window could soon close and be replaced by penalties. "It really needs to be within weeks," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told NBC's "Today" show, referring to the six-power package of perks or penalties aimed at halting Iran's enrichment activities. In separate comments on National Public Radio, Rice suggested she was ready to meet her Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, if Tehran agreed to suspend the activity that can be used to make nuclear arms and negotiate the details of the deal.

Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist who spent eight months in occupied Iraq, told a gathering at Thomas Jefferson School of Law on Friday that the US has been conducting ongoing special operations inside Iran. He cited unmanned surveillance drones flying over Iran. Jamail predicts Bush will invade Iran before the November election. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern agrees with Jamail's prediction, but thinks it will happen in June or July. "There is already one carrier task force there in the Gulf, two are steaming toward it at the last report I have at least - they will be there in another week or so," McGovern said on the Alex Jones Show. Team Bush is following the same game plan used in the run-up to Iraq - hyping a threat that doesn't exist and going through the motions of diplomacy. Bush & Co. are not motivated by rationality. They act in the interests of the huge corporations, at the expense of humanity. During the Bush years, oil companies have earned record profits. Dick Cheney's Halliburton has landed many of the juiciest contracts in Iraq. New Iraqi laws that US ambassador Paul Bremer put in place lock in significant advantages for US corporations in Iraq, including corporate control of Iraq's oil. Neoconservative NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman, in a March 1999 New York Times article illustrated by an American flag on a fist, accurately summed up US foreign policy: "For globalism to work, America can't be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is... The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist - McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."

The board of governors of the American Bar Association voted unanimously yesterday to investigate whether President Bush has exceeded his constitutional authority in reserving the right to ignore more than 750 laws that have been enacted since he took office. Meeting in New Orleans, the board of governors for the world's largest association of legal professionals approved the creation of an all-star legal panel with a number of members from both political parties. They include a former federal appeals court chief judge, a former FBI director, and several prominent scholars - to evaluate Bush's assertions that he has the power to ignore laws that conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution. Bush has appended statements to new laws when he signs them, noting which provisions he believes interfere with his powers. Among the laws Bush has challenged are the ban on torturing detainees, oversight provisions in the USA Patriot Act, and "whistle-blower" protections for federal employees. The challenges also have included safeguards against political interference in taxpayer-funded research. Bush has challenged more laws than all previous presidents combined.

In the scandal regarding the recent theft of data on millions of veterans, the VA declared it was the data on veterans who were discharged after 1975. Were they telling the truth? "The data was stolen on May 3 and included names, Social Security numbers, date of birth and numerical disability ratings. Under intense bipartisan fire from Capitol Hill, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson said Wednesday he was outraged by his agency's decision to keep the theft of veterans' personal data quiet for two weeks." The problem with his testimony to Congress on Wednesday May 28th Secretary Nicholson stated that the information was on veterans discharged after 1975. However, this data from the 2000 U.S. Census shows that in 2000 that out of the 208.1 million Americans 18 or older, there were 26.4 million veterans, this is all veterans WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam and all veterans discharged since 1975. This does not begin to be the testimony that the VA Colonel gave on May 28th 2006. I thought is was a crime to lie to Congress, what about lying to the American public? If he can't be trusted to tell us the truth about whose data was lost, why should we believe anything else he states? Now we are hearing that 50,000 active duty Navy and Guard members data was also on the computer, why was active duty information on a VA database? The VA has previously said the stolen data involved up to 26.5 million veterans discharged since 1975, as well as some of their spouses; veterans discharged before 1975 also were deemed at risk if they submitted claims to the agency.

Despite decent weather, White House organizers moved President Bush's endorsement of the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage from the austere and unmistakably presidential Rose Garden, where invitations last week advertised it would be, into a plain room with blue curtains at an office building next door. The president stood on the stage alone, gave a muted speech and quickly left. The way cameras were positioned, the presidential seal was not visible as he spoke to the room. While his words in favor of the Marriage Protection Amendment were tough, the event itself lacked the pageantry that could have backed up the force of his words. If last week in the Senate was Memorial Day vacation week, and the two weeks before that were immigration weeks, and the week before that was health week, we're coming up on core American values week, GOP style. Issue No. 1, as introduced on the Senate floor Monday: the Marriage Protection Amendment. But for all the talk in the media about the gay marriage issue stoking the embers of the Republican base and helping the GOP gird up for what could be a difficult November 2006, the debate lacked the passionate protests and impassioned floor speeches on both sides of the immigration debate. At the two gay marriage press events on Capitol Hill, one supporting and one against the amendment, the only lawmaker in sight was the main sponsor of the amendment. The reason for the downgrading of the event? The increasing realization in the White House that virtually everyone knows a gay person or AIDS victim who has been the victim of discrimination - and writing discrimination into the constitution does not go down well with millions of Americans.

Breaking nearly a week of silence, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani blasted federal bean-counters yesterday for cutting homeland security dollars to the city by 40% - blaming the decision on "incompetent" bureaucrats in Washington. "I don't know who was responsible for it, but it looks like a report that was incompetent," the former mayor said of last week's Department of Homeland Security study that found no national monuments in the city worth protecting - and slashed city anti-terror grants by $80 million. "The thing that jumps out at you is that they seem to have missed the fact that New York has many monuments and icons," an incredulous Giuliani told the Daily News as he headed to last night's matchup in the Bronx between the Yankees and the Red Sox. "I am going to one tonight - Yankee Stadium." Rudy, sweetie, you need to understand - this ain't about terrorism vulnerabilities. It's about getting Republicans elected. Cities located in states where Republicans are struggling to hang onto power in the 2006 election did really, really well in the Department of Homeland Security's grant allocation process.

President Bush's job approval ratings have fallen to a new low among California voters, as Republicans once loyal to the commander-in-chief are abandoning him over issues from the Iraq war to immigration to runaway federal spending, according to a Field Poll released today. Even as Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has seen his ratings start to rebound among state voters, 28 percent of Californians now approve of the job Bush is doing, while 65 percent of state voters disapprove. "We're in uncharted waters," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. "All previous presidents who have dipped this low either resigned from office shortly thereafter or were voted out of office. Here we have a president who will be with us for 2 1/2 more years. "The question is, can a president who has reached those depths reconnect with voters and turn those ratings around? I've never seen it done before because we've never had it happen before." Historically, Bush's ranking is just shy of the worst-ever approval rating given to a president by California voters -- 24 percent for President Richard Nixon in August 1974, just before he resigned from office.

The war in Iraq has become so unpopular that it could cost Republicans control of Congress, statehouses and governor races around the country, national pollster John Zogby said Friday. He said 70% of voters believe the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction, adding, "I have never seen a number like that since I’ve been polling." He said 68% of voters believe the war in Iraq wasn’t worth the loss of American lives. He added, "Americans want their wars to be won, they want it won quickly and their troops home and out of harms way." "It’s not a good time to be governor anywhere," he said. "But Republicans are swimming upstream, they have a hell of a lot of work to do in what could be a big Democratic year." But he cautioned: "The Democrats have no program on any issue, they have nothing to say that matters to anyone in the United States today."

National Intelligence Director John Negroponte's Commencement Address to the graduating class of private St. Johnsbury Academy was disrupted twice by protesters inside the auditorium where the ceremony was being held. Over 75 protesters gathered on the sidewalk outside of the Academy protesting Negroponte's shadowy record that spans decades including a stint as the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras and Ambassador to Iraq before his present position as the nation's number one "intelligence" overseer. Two other protesters from Vermont School of the Americas Watch were arrested as they attempted to gain entrance to the auditorium. (More details later in this article of Negroponte's actions in Honduras and his complicity in Nicaragua during the Contra War in the 1980's). Briefly after Negroponte began his address, Michael Colby, a horse logger* from Worcester, VT stood up saying, "In the name of democracy I object to this man speaking. He has blood on his hands from his work in Central America and Iraq. He shouldn't be at the podium, he should be in jail. He is a war criminal." Colby was grabbed by police and security and escorted out of the auditorium to awaiting police cars. As Colby was being escorted away, Negroponte told the audience, "Now it's my turn." But before he could continue, Boots Wardinski, another logger quickly rose stating, "No! It's my turn! When the headmaster introduced Negroponte, he forgot to tell about all the people tortured, killed and raped (under Negroponte's helm in Honduras). You should be ashamed to stay in here and listen to this man." Some of the protesters assembled outside started to move toward the auditorium. Palmer Legare and Brendan O'Neill, both from Vermont School of the Americas Watch, were grabbed by the police and arrested.

If the chips fall right for Democrats and their party seizes control of the House, President Bush's agenda on Capitol Hill would fall into the hands of some of his most dogged opponents. It's not just would-be Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, but a boatload of Democrats newly running committees who would determine what legislation gets debated and which programs and agencies get scrutiny. So who are the chairmen to be? * a Polish-American lawyer with a reputation for making witnesses quiver. * a die-hard liberal from New York's Harlem with 35 years in the House. * a free-spending progressive from Wausau, Wisconsin. * one of the few remaining "Watergate babies" swept into Congress in 1974. As for those prospective Democratic chairmen, the group is overwhelmingly liberal-leaning. Only two of 20 earned grades of less than 90 percent on last year's voting records from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action interest group. Half had perfect scores of 100 from the ADA.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned that fuel shipments from the Gulf region could be disrupted if the US makes a "wrong move." In a speech on state TV, Ayatollah Khamenei also said accusations that Iran intended to make a nuclear bomb amounted to a "sheer lie." He insisted Iran would not give up its right to produce nuclear fuel. Tehran has agreed to study proposals drawn up by six world powers to defuse the row over Iran's nuclear program. The proposals are due to be delivered by the EU's foreign policy head, Javier Solana, within days. The precise details of the proposals are not known, but they aim to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear work - a step which Iran has repeatedly said it will not take.

Apparently business trumps politics: U.S. military ties with unrepentant Communist Hanoi, 31 years after the end of the Vietnam war and 11 years after the normalization of diplomatic ties, have warmed gradually with ship visits. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his Vietnamese counterpart agreed on Monday to boost military exchanges between the former battlefield enemies, Pentagon officials said. Vietnam is one of several Asian states that the Pentagon has built close ties with to conduct its war on terrorism and to hedge against a rising China, which Washington says is too secretive about its military spending and intentions. "It was cordial and both sides agreed we want to expand these contacts," a senior Pentagon official said after Rumsfeld's hour-long meeting with Defense Minister Pham Van Tra. The two sides agreed to share medical training under a Pentagon-funded program and have "more visits at all levels," the official told reporters traveling with Rumsfeld on the second leg of a Southeast Asian visit.

More than 22,000 veterans who underwent prostate biopsies at veterans' hospitals across the country are being warned that improperly sterilized equipment may have exposed them to deadly viruses. Officials said Friday it was unlikely someone could get infected by the equipment, and no patient is known to have been sickened. Still, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs decided to offer free blood tests as a precaution after officials in Maine questioned whether the cleaning procedure was thorough enough, said VA spokesman Jim Benson. The prostate biopsy equipment includes a probe that, if improperly cleaned, could retain traces of body fluids containing the viruses that cause hepatitis or AIDS. Since April, the VA has alerted patients of potential inadequacies with the biopsy cleaning procedure at 21 medical centers in 18 states, plus Puerto Rico. So far, about 7,000 vets contacted the VA after receiving the letter and about 2,000 have been tested, Benson said. "It's too soon to have any information on their test results because each of the potential diseases we might be worried about require not only initial tests but confirmatory tests as well," Benson said. "Right now our first priority is getting information out to every veteran."

Soon, schoolchildren may be singing new lyrics to the classic "Wheels on the Bus." "The ads on the bus go on and on, on and on..." BusRadio, a start-up company in Massachusetts, wants to pipe into school buses around the country a private radio network that plays music, public-service announcements, contests and, of course, ads, aimed at kids as they travel to and from school. As BusRadio's Web site ( http://www.busradio.net/ ) explains: "Every morning and every afternoon on their way to and from school, kids across the country will be listening to the dynamic programming of BusRadio providing advertiser's [sic] with a unique and effective way to reach the highly sought after teen and tween market." BusRadio, the Web site adds, "will take targeted student marketing to the next level." Marketers can advertise and sponsor contests or provide a celebrity deejay (perhaps to promote that next CD or movie). They can also use BusRadio's Web site to conduct surveys and test songs, CD covers, packaging and ads.

The Supreme Court said Monday it will decide the extent to which public schools can use race in deciding school assignments, setting the stage for a landmark affirmative action ruling. Justices will hear appeals from a Seattle parents group and a Kentucky parent, ruling for the first time on diversity plans used by a host of school districts around the country. Race cases have been difficult for the justices. The court's announcement that it will take up the cases this fall provides the first sign of an aggressiveness by the court under new Chief Justice John Roberts.

After years of ardent support for the Iraq war, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman could become that conflict's first big political casualty in a Democratic primary race fueled by rising anti-war anger. Lieberman, the party's vice presidential nominee in 2000, faces a growing challenge from a political neophyte who has rallied Democrats angered by the senator's enthusiastic backing of the war and willingness to support Republican President George W. Bush on other issues. Challenger Ned Lamont's underdog bid to unseat Lieberman in Democratic-leaning Connecticut could offer an early gauge of the intensity of anti-war sentiment ahead of November's midterm elections, along with a measure of the influence of the Internet activists and bloggers who have flocked to his cause. "Senator Lieberman has cheered on the president every step of the way when it comes to the invasion of Iraq, and he is too quick to compromise on core Democratic principles," Lamont, a businessman and former Greenwich town selectman, told Reuters.

In the first major Congressional race of what could be a politically volatile year, the contest to fill the seat of a jailed Republican is testing whether Democrats can capitalize on Republican unrest in the battle for the House. Fractures among conservatives in the affluent coastal communities extending north of San Diego - coupled with dissatisfaction with President Bush - have put Democrats within striking distance of capturing a safe Republican seat that was thrown open when Representative Randy Cunningham resigned after pleading guilty to corruption charges. Though Mr. Bush carried the district, the oceanfront 50th, by 10 points in 2004 and Republicans have a 44 percent to 29 percent edge in voter registration, polls show Brian P. Bilbray, a Republican, and Francine Busby, a Democrat, essentially tied going into Tuesday's special election, which each party is desperate to win. "It is going to be close," Mr. Bilbray, a former congressman, acknowledged. The campaign will have cost an almost-unheard-of $10 million when spending by the candidates, the national parties and others is totaled.

On May 24, Republican Senator Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum of Pennsylvania appeared on the nationally syndicated radio show, "Janet Parshall's America," to discuss the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), a bill that would amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. During the broadcast, Santorum called same-sex marriage "harmful to our country," mocked the term "alternative lifestyles" and described the FMA as a means "to counter what Hollywood is purveying to our young people." He pointed to the film Brokeback Mountain as an example of insidious homosexual influence in popular culture. While Parshall and Santorum acknowledged the FMA's bleak prospect of passing a full Senate vote, Parshall cast the bill as an attempt to "speak back to the culture." Santorum agreed, declaring that the debate over the FMA would be "an opportunity for us to get beyond, you know, 'We should treat people nicely.'" Though the FMA is almost certain to fall short of the 67 votes required to amend the Constitution, Santorum and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist have scheduled a vote on it for the week of June 5. One week after Santorum's appearance on Parshall's show, a poll by Rasmussen Reports showed him trailing Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr. by a whopping 23 points – 56% to 33%. Rasmussen called Santorum the "most vulnerable congressional incumbent this election season."

In the three years since Americans gained federal protection for their private medical information, the Bush administration has received thousands of complaints alleging violations but has not imposed a single civil fine and has prosecuted just two criminal cases. Of the 19,420 grievances lodged so far, the most common allegations have been that personal medical details were wrongly revealed, information was poorly protected, more details were disclosed than necessary, proper authorization was not obtained or patients were frustrated getting their own records. The government has "closed" more than 73 percent of the cases - more than 14,000 - either ruling that there was no violation, or allowing health plans, hospitals, doctors' offices or other entities simply to promise to fix whatever they had done wrong, escaping any penalty.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The United States welcomed friction between Venezuela and some of its regional neighbors on Sunday, the opening day of a meeting of the Western Hemisphere's top diplomatic body. "It is encouraging that democracies in Latin American feel that Venezuela has been infringing on their own democratic process are speaking up on their own," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told reporters. "This is not only Peru but Nicaragua and others," he said. Zoellick's comments were his first to the media since he arrived in the Dominican capital for a three-day annual meeting of the Organization of American States.

American veterans of the war in Iraq have described a culture of casual violence, revenge and prejudice against Iraqi civilians that has made the killing of innocent bystanders a common occurrence. The US military is now involved in at least three separate investigations into its own soldiers' conduct in Iraq that may illegally have led to the deaths of Iraqi civilians. It is widely expected that more incidents will be uncovered. The most serious is the alleged massacre of 24 civilians in the Sunni town of Haditha by a unit of marines. The victims included women and children who were shot after a roadside bomb hit a convoy and killed a US soldier. Last week it was revealed that two more incidents have also been under investigation. The first is the death of 11 Iraqis during an American raid near Balad in March. The dead included five children. The second inquiry involves seven US marines and a sailor in the death of an Iraqi civilian near Baghdad in April. It is believed the man was dragged from his home and shot before an AK-47 and a shovel were placed next to his body to make it look like he was an insurgent. Some American veterans have expressed little surprise at the latest revelations. 'I don't doubt for one moment that these things happened. They are widespread. This is the norm. These are not the exceptions,' said Camilo Mejia, a US infantry veteran who served briefly in the Haditha area in 2003. The wife of a Marine staff sergeant from the same battalion accused of killing civilians in Haditha, Iraq told Newsweek that "a total breakdown" in disclipine including drug and alcohol abuse may have been partly to blame. "There were problems in Kilo Company with drugs, alcohol, hazing, you name it," said the woman unidentified by Newsweek. "I think it's more than possible that these guys were totally tweaked out on speed or something when they shot those civilians in Haditha."

"The US forces have violated human rights many times across Iraq," said Omar al-Juburi, spokesman for the human rights section of the party led by Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. In the latest in a string of allegations against US forces, Juburi said 29 Iraqis were killed in May in separate incidents in the towns of Latifiyah and Yusifiyah, south of Baghdad, and in the capital itself. "On May 13, US forces launched an air assault on a civilian car in Latifiyah and killed six people," Juburi told reporters. "On the same day US aircraft attacked the house of a civilian, Saadun Mohsen Hassan, and killed seven members of his family," he added. Juburi said US forces carried out another air strike the next day on the house of Sheikh Yassin Saleh Shallal in Yusifiyah, "killing 13 people -- including women and children." Three other Iraqis were killed in US raids in Baghdad, he said.

The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment," according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards. The decision culminates a lengthy debate within the Defense Department but will not become final until the Pentagon makes new guidelines public, a step that has been delayed. However, the State Department fiercely opposes the military's decision to exclude Geneva Convention protections and has been pushing for the Pentagon and White House to reconsider, the Defense Department officials acknowledged. For more than a year, the Pentagon has been redrawing its policies on detainees, and intends to issue a new Army Field Manual on interrogation, which, along with accompanying directives, represents core instructions to U.S. soldiers worldwide. The process has been beset by debate and controversy, and the decision to omit Geneva protections from a principal directive comes at a time of growing worldwide criticism of U.S. detention practices and the conduct of American forces in Iraq.

News From The Electoral Sausage Machine: Democrats and representatives of voter-registration groups accused Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (who served as Bush's campaign co-chair in 2004 while also serving as Secretary of State) on Monday of trying to rig this November's election by publishing draconian new rules governing the activities of people who register voters. Testifying at a hearing chaired by Judy Grady, Blackwell's director of elections, lawyers for ACORN, Common Cause, the Ohio Democratic Party and other groups said training documents drafted by Blackwell's office are so vague that they subject registrars to felony penalties for even inadvertent violations. As a result, ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has drastically cut back its voter-registration efforts while its lawyers review the new rules, Katy Gall, Ohio ACORN's head organizer, said in an interview. Gall said ACORN has registered 35,000 voters in six Ohio cities since February. Its goal is 130,000. Samuel Gresham, an attorney for Common Cause, charged that the rules are "part of a consistent pattern, intentionally so," by Blackwell to disenfranchise black, low-income and Democratic voters. Blackwell's actions, Gresham and others said, are intended to suppress Democratic voter turnout in what is shaping up as a closely contested governor's race between Blackwell, a Republican, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal on behalf of four reporters from some of America's biggest news organizations in a case over protecting sources. Without comment, justices refused to consider the case of the four, including a reporter for The Associated Press. All have been held in civil contempt of court for refusing to say who leaked them information about an espionage investigation of Wen Ho Lee. The forme r nuclear weapons scientist was fired from his job at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. ABC's Pierre Thomas and reporters for The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times are also involved. Last week, those news organizations, along with The Washington Post and the federal government, settled a privacy suit Lee brought, agreeing to pay $1.6 million.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: The Dow Jones industrial average tumbled nearly 200 points Monday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke cited concerns about inflation and slowing economic growth. Rising oil prices also contributed to the drop, one of the worst on Wall Street so far this year. The 30-share Dow (down 199.15 to 11,048.72) sank about 1.8 percent, making it the third-biggest percentage and point loss for the blue-chip index this year. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index (down 22.93 to 1,265.29) also lost 1.8 percent, while the Nasdaq composite (down 49.79 to 2,169.62) tumbled 2.2 percent, dragged down by chip stocks. Both the S&P 500 and tech-fueled Nasdaq posted their second-biggest percentage and point declines for the year. With Monday's declines, the Dow has now lost nearly 600 points since the Fed's last meeting on May 10 - when the blue-chip index came about 80 points within reach of its all-time high. Since then, a fresh wave of inflation concerns, as well as worries that the Fed might raise interest rates too high and choke off economic growth, have pressured the market. "Given recent developments, the medium-term outlook for inflation will receive particular scrutiny," Bernanke said in remarks at a monetary conference in Washington.

News From Smirkey's Wars: The marine unit involved in the killing of Iraqi civilians in Haditha last November had suffered a "total breakdown" in discipline and had drug and alcohol problems, according to the wife of one of the battalion's staff sergeants. The allegations in Newsweek magazine contribute to an ever more disturbing portrait of embattled marines under high stress, some on their third tour of duty after ferocious door-to-door fighting in the Sunni insurgent strongholds of Falluja and Haditha. A member of the US Marines unit accused of murdering 24 unarmed Iraqis said yesterday that his colleagues "were blinded by hate" and lost control before the massacre. Corporal James Crossan, who was injured in the roadside bomb attack that appears to have triggered the incident, was speaking just before President Bush said that he was troubled by the reports.

Republicans Believe In Open, Honest, Accountable Government: The Justice Department claims that its attempt to investigate Bush's eavesdropping programs has gone nowhere because its staff was denied security clearance. With news reports exposing the National Security Agency's previously secret spying on the phone conversations of tens of millions of Americans, what is the status of the U.S. Department of Justice probe of the Bush administration's authorization of a warrantless domestic wiretapping program? The investigation has been closed. That's right. Even as it is being revealed that the president's controversial eavesdropping program is dramatically more extensive -- and Constitutionally dubious -- than had been previously known, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) has informed Representative Maurice Hinchey that its attempt to determine which administration officials authorized, approved and audited NSA surveillance activities is over. Why? In a letter to Hinchey, the New York Democrat who has been the most dogged Congressional advocate for investigation of the spying program, OPR Counsel H. Marshall Jarrett explained that he had closed the Justice Department probe on Tuesday, May 9, because his office's requests for security clearances to conduct the investigation had been denied.

Republicans Would Never Deceive You: In the June 5 global warming cover story in the print edition of the National Review, scientist Curt Davis said author Jason Steorts completely misrepresented his study to argue that Antartica gained ice between 1992 and 2003. Steorts now maintains he omitted the fact that Davis' study only covered the eastern interior of the continent - and did not consider the western and coastal areas that other studies show are losing mass at a rapid pace " "for the sake of brevity." In his cover story, Steorts then references a study by Isabella Velicogna that examined the whole continent from 2002 to 2005 and found is was losing substantial amounts of ice. But Steorts provides this rebuttal: "2002 - the year in which the study began - was a high-water mark for Antarctic ice, so it's not too surprising to see some decline since then. Alarmism over Velicogna's study is on the order of going to the beach at high tide, drawing a line at the water's edge, and fretting a few hours later that the oceans are drying up." Davis responds: "If Michaels is using my study to claim that 2002 was a high water mark in terms of ice for all Antartica, that is completely wrong. My study result only demonstrated this for the interior of East Antarctica. You can't use that for Antartica as a whole because the coastal areas of the ice sheet were not included in my analysis. My study clearly stated that the overall mass balance of the Antarctic ice sheet depends on the sum of the contributions from the interior and coastal areas." Steorts now claims these serious factual errors are "immaterial."

Republicans Believe In Freedom Of Religion: The Texas state GOP party platform, adopted at the state convention on Saturday, declares "America is a Christian nation" and affirms that "God is undeniable in our history and is vital to our freedom... We pledge to exert our influence toward a return to the original intent of the First Amendment and dispel the myth of the separation of church and state," it says. Just off the convention floor, among the warren of booths selling buttons and T-shirts denouncing Democrats, the table for WallBuilders - founded by outgoing party vice chairman David Barton - was piled high with books and DVDs extolling religion in government. The Keys to Good Government was one DVD. America's Godly Heritage was another. John Green, an expert on church-state issues at the University of Akron, said the GOP has defined itself against Democrats by making religion, particularly issues such as abortion and gay marriage, part of its politics. "This is not a political disagreement. This is a religious disagreement," he said.

Republicans Believe In Helping Those Who Can't Help Themselves: State officials and advocates for the poor are asking the federal government for greater flexibility in enforcing a new law that requires Medicaid enrollees and applicants to verify their citizenship and identities beginning July 1. Those who can't produce a U.S. birth certificate, passport, naturalization certificate or other acceptable documentation could lose or be barred from coverage under Medicaid, the joint state and federal health plan that serves more than 50 million low-income adults and children. The new law, included in the Deficit Reduction Act that President Bush signed into law in February, was authored by Republican Reps. Charles Norwood and Nathan Deal, both of Georgia. It's designed to prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving taxpayer-funded health care that's slated for U.S. citizens and other qualified recipients. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the law will save $220 million between 2006 and 2010 and purge 35,000 people from Medicaid rolls by 2015. But experts fear that rightful Medicaid enrollees who can't produce the needed documents will lose their coverage as well. State officials worry that the new law will create a massive administrative burden and confuse beneficiaries.

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: The 500 million people who live in the world's desert regions can expect to find life increasingly unbearable as already high temperatures soar and the available water is used up or turns salty, according to the United Nations. Desert cities in the US and Middle East, such as Phoenix and Riyadh, may be living on borrowed time as water tables drop and supplies become undrinkable, says a report coinciding with today's world environment day. Twentieth-century modernist dreams of greening deserts by diverting rivers and mining underground water are wholly unrealistic, it warns. But the report also proposes that deserts become the powerhouses of the next century, capturing the world's solar energy and potentially exporting electricity across continents. For instance, a 310-square mile area of the Sahara could, with today's technology, generate enough electricity for the whole world. The problem now facing many communities on the fringes of deserts, says the UN environment program report, is not the physical growth of deserts but that rising water tables beneath irrigated soils are leading to more salinisation - a phenomenon already taking place across large tracts of China, India, Pakistan and Australia. The Tarm river basin in China, it says, has lost more than 5,000 square miles of farmland to salinisation in a period of 30 years.

Scientists had some sobering news last week about the potential impact of climate change, and it didn't come from the foot of a shrinking glacier in Alaska or the shores of a tropical resort where the rising ocean is threatening the beachfront bar. It came from a North Carolina forest, at an experimental plot where scientists can precisely control the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air. Duke researchers discovered that when exposed to higher levels of CO2, the greenhouse gas released in ever-increasing quantities from human activity, poison ivy goes haywire. The researchers found that the weedlike plant grew much faster under CO2 conditions similar to those projected for the middle of the century. The plant also produced a more noxious form of its rash-causing chemical: a more poisonous poison ivy. "We were surprised to find it," said William H. Schlesinger, a Duke professor who took part in the study.

Scandals Du Jour: Manufacturer United Technologies will pay the US Department of Defense $283 million after a probe into its handing of contracts over 20 years. The US company's Pratt & Witney jet engine unit is settling a claim for work over-charged through its accounting system. United said the bill was larger than anticipated, but would have little impact on its 2006 financial results. The firm also supplies the US military with Black Hawk helicopters. Other United businesses include making Carrier air conditioners and Otis lifts.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: If cuts in New York state's Homeland Security allocation are not restored, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is threatening to launch an investigation into rumors of orgies involving CIA officers at the Watergate Hotel. King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, made the threat on WABC Radio's John Gambling show yesterday. "[The cut] to me raises very serious questions about the judgment and the sincerity of the department and everything they do," he said. "If they can't get something like this right, how can we trust them to get anything right? So I am going to be investigating them from top to bottom, and one clear example is this whole scandal with Congressman Duke Cunningham, which has now unfolded to include orgies at the Watergate Hotel."

New White House domestic policy chief Karl Zinsmeister has now acknowledged he didn't found the American Enterprise magazine, as the White House claimed when it announced his appointment in late May. After Zinsmeister was questioned about this, the mag's real first editor, Karlyn Bowman, confirmed he hadn't founded the magazine. A publicist for the American Enterprise Institute named Veronique Rodman issued the following: "Karl Zinsmeister has asked me to forward his answer that: 'the magazine was founded in 1990 and that he (KZ) had started in 1994.'" The claim that Zinsmeister had founded the mag was made by a White House press release on May 24 announcing his appointment, which described his chief career accomplishment as follows: "Mr. Zinsmeister is Editor-in-Chief of The American Enterprise magazine, a national publication he founded twelve years ago." The claim is also echoed on Zinsmeister's bio page at AEI's web site, which says that "Zinsmeister first formulated The American Enterprise in 1994." It was also echoed in media reports, such as this Times story which describes him as the mag's "founding editor." So why was the claim allowed to stand? It's now official that it isn't true. Zinsmeiseter revamped the mag in 1994. But he emphatically didn't found it. In fact, it was founded in 1990, and its first editor was Ms. Bowman.

Evangelical leaders insist they know how gay marriage affects their voters--they'll stay home if politicians don't push for the FMA. "It's the one issue I have seen that eclipses even the abortion issue among Southern Baptists," says Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Though Bush himself has publicly embraced the amendment, he never seemed to care enough to press the matter. One of his old friends told NEWSWEEK that same-sex marriage barely registers on the president's moral radar. "I think it was purely political. I don't think he gives a s--t about it. He never talks about this stuff," said the friend, who requested anonymity to discuss his private conversations with Bush. White House aides, who also declined to be identified, insist that the president does care about banning gay marriage. They say Monday's events with amendment supporters - Bush will also meet privately with a small group - have been in the works "for weeks" and aren't just a sop to conservatives.

Members of the US Congress and their aides took free trips worth nearly $50m paid for by corporations, trade associations and other private groups between January 2000 and June 2005, according to a study published yesterday. Some of the 23,000 trips featured hotel rooms costing $500 a night, $25,000 corporate jet rides and visits to popular spots such as Paris, Hawaii and Colorado ski resorts, said the research, conducted by the Centre for Public Integrity, American Public Media and Northwestern University's Medill News Service. The analysis found many apparent violations of ethics rules. Disclosure forms show, for example, that at least 90 trips, valued at about $145,000, were sponsored or co-sponsored by firms registered to lobby the federal government. Ethics rules do not allow lobbyists to pay for congressional travel. The forms show that about 2,300 trips cost $5,000 or more. At least 500 cost $10,000 or more, 16 cost $25,000 or more, and the cost of one exceeded $30,000. There were $500-a-night hotel rooms, $25,000 corporate jet rides and other extravagant perks. Almost three-quarters of all trips were taken by aides, who often influence how their bosses vote, negotiate in committee and interact with other government officials. All told, the travelers were away from Washington for a minimum of 81,000 days - a combined 222 years. San Diego-based General Atomics alone targeted congressional staff members, spending roughly $660,000 on 86 trips for legislators, aides and their spouses from 2000 to mid-2005, according to an analysis of travel disclosure records by the Center for Public Integrity, American Public Media and Northwestern University's Medill News Service. While on trips to Turkey in 2004 and Australia in 2005 - some valued at more than $25,000 - staffers attended meetings with officials of foreign governments being solicited to buy the company's unmanned spy plane, the Predator.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:06:38 AM

Sun, Jun 04 2006

Tax Day Today

Today was gloomy all day long yesterday and today, with just a few moments of rain, but no sun at all. Gloomy sort of day perfect for being inside doing taxes (see below). The temperatures were fine, reaching 86 - fairly high for a day without sunshine - and dropping to 72 last night. We saw the moon for only a few minutes last night before the weather closed back in and the heavy overcast resumed.

I had a brief visit this afternoon from one of my Tico neighbors. He came by to harvest some yucca flowers for a salad tonight, and also bummed some mangoes off of me. There were some fairly low-hanging green mangoes in a couple of my trees, and he wanted some for dinner. There is a method of preparation here that uses green mangoes, peeling them and boiling them like potatoes, and eating them with salt. I haven't tried it, but I am tempted to, just to see what they are like. For a change, I have plenty of mangoes on my trees.

June 15, the deadline for overseas tax filers is approaching, and so I figured I had better get with the program. So I spent most of the day today doing taxes - that's why the blog entry is fairly short tonight. Not that my income tax was any big deal - it wasn't, but I had to find, download, and fill out and prepare for filing a wonderful tax form that the IRS is requiring of many of us expatriates living here in Tico-land, a tax form which, of course, does not come with TurboTax. It seems that if you hold your property in a corporation here which you also own and control (commonly done here), you have to fill out and file Treasury Form 5471 - Information Return of U.S. Persons With Respect To Certain Foreign Corporations, along with the instruction sheet, not included in the main 5471 file, all of which can be found in the forms section of the IRS web site. In its usual style, the IRS figures that if I own a foreign corporation, I must be some high-powered dude with big bucks, money-laundering financial interests and octopus-like tentacles of influence spreading around the world, which, of course, they really, really want to know all about - the fine for not filing is big enough to make an Enron CEO think twice. Well, I am none of that, and so the 5471's I filed - with no fewer than four attachments each, which I also had to find, fill out and file (in duplicate, yet, with copies going to two different addresses) - had lots and lots of zeros in them. Hope they're happy now, knowing all about my empty shell corporations and my total lack of tentacles of influence. Tomorrow, I need to go to Tilaran and get some printer cartridges to print it all out. Several cartridges. I am going to be printing for awhile.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: President Bush is beginning a major push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, part of a new campaign to appease cultural conservatives who say he and his party abandoned their issues after the 2004 elections. Mr. Bush plans to declare strong support for the amendment - scheduled for a vote in the Senate next week - in his radio address on Saturday, and at an event at the White House on Monday with conservative activists and religious leaders, White House officials said Friday. Taken together, the events will be the first time Mr. Bush has so strongly promoted his opposition to same-sex marriage since his re-election campaign nearly two years ago. Democrats accused the White House of trotting out a reliable hot-button issue to help soothe and re-energize disgruntled conservative voters five months before the midterm Congressional elections. "Everybody's going to see through it," said Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Two years ago, Republican tacticians maneuvered to add amendments against gay marriage to the ballots in 11 states, including Georgia. The result was to lure religious conservatives to the polls in large numbers, probably giving President Bush the boost he needed in the battleground state of Ohio. This year, conservative Republicans - struggling against voter discontent over Iraq, health care and high gas prices, among other things - are desperate to bring those religious conservatives back to the polls. So they've resurrected the same tired tactic.

It's a powerful moment in Michael Moore's anti-war film Fahrenheit 9/11. A young American soldier who lost his arms in a helicopter explosion is describing his injuries. The soldier, Sergeant Peter Damon, says he feels like he is being "crushed in a vice". Painkillers, he continues, "take a lot of the edge off of it". But now Sgt. Damon is suing the man who he says used footage of him without his permission and distorted his words. He never met Moore, or anyone from his production company, says the former soldier, who is claiming $75m (£40m) in damages for "loss of reputation, emotional distress, embarrassment, and personal humiliation." Sgt. Damon's wife is seeking an additional $10m in damages because of the mental distress caused to her husband.

Strong Democratic sentiment pushes President George W. Bush to the top of the list when American voters pick the worst U.S. President in the last 61 years. Bush is named by 34 percent of voters, followed by Richard Nixon at 17 percent and Bill Clinton at 16 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. Leading the list for best President since 1945 is Ronald Reagan with 28 percent, and Clinton with 25 percent. President Bush is ranked worst by 56 percent of Democrats, 35 percent of independent voters and 7 percent of Republicans, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds. Best ranking for Reagan comes from 56 percent of Republicans, 7 percent of Democrats and 25 percent of independent voters. Among American voters 18 - 29 years old, Clinton leads the "best" list with 40 percent. Among young voters, 42 percent list Bush as worst. Clinton tops the "worst" list among white Protestants - 24 percent, and white evangelical Christians - 29 percent. American voters disapprove 58 - 35 percent of the job Bush is doing, compared to 58 - 36 percent in a March 2 survey. Even voters in red states, where Bush's margin was more than 5 percent in 2004, disapprove 52 - 39 percent.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Four Connecticut librarians, members of Library Connection, a not-for profit cooperative organization for resource sharing across 26 Connecticut library branches sharing a centralized computer, were served with a National Security Letter (NSL) in August of last year as part of the FBI's attempt to attain access to patron's records. The NSL is a little known statute in the Patriot Act that permits law enforcement to obtain records of people not suspected of any wrongdoing and without a court order. As part of the NSL, those served with the document are gagged and prohibited from disclosing that they have even been served. The foursome of Barbara Bailey, Peter Chase, George Christian, and Jan Nocek were automatically gagged from disclosing that they had received the letter, the contents of the letter, and even from discussions surrounding the Patriot Act. The librarians, via the national and Connecticut branches of the ACLU, filed suit challenging the Patriot Act on first amendment grounds. The suit names Alberto Gonzales, Robert Mueller, and an un-named FBI official as the defendants in the case. The plaintiffs are collectively referred to in all court filings as simply John Doe. On September 9 of last year, a federal judge lifted the gag order and rejected the government's argument that identifying the plaintiff would pose a threat to national security. Yet the government continued to appeal the case throughout the reauthorization debate, passionately arguing that not a single incident of civil liberties violations by the Patriot Act had occurred. By continuing the appeal, the government effectively silenced any evidence to counter their claims. "We could not speak to Congress until after the renewal of the Patriot Act," Said Barbara Bailey, President of Library Connection and one of four plaintiffs in the case.

The customer is always right? Not at Geno's Steaks in South Philadelphia. Belly up to its counter and order a cheese-steak in a language other than English, and you'll walk away hungry. Fromage-avec? Fugheddaboudit. It seems that Joseph Vento, Geno's owner, feels strongly that everyone in this country ought to speak English - even if they're tourists from faraway climes looking for that fabled Philly cheesesteak fix. Vento insists his customers order in English. No pointing at the menu items. Speak English, a sign at Vento's popular, curbside counter reads. This comes from a man whose Italian-born grandparents spoke limited English. Talk about irony thicker than Cheez Whiz.

News Of The American Electoral Sausage Machine: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. revisits the 2004 election and finds evidence of massive electoral fraud in a new article in Rolling Stone. Kennedy writes: "After carefully examining the evidence, I’ve become convinced that the president's party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people in 2004." He writes: "Like many Americans, I spent the evening of the 2004 election watching the returns on television and wondering how the exit polls, which predicted an overwhelming victory for John Kerry, had gotten it so wrong. By midnight, the official tallies showed a decisive lead for George Bush - and the next day, lacking enough legal evidence to contest the results, Kerry conceded. Republicans derided anyone who expressed doubts about Bush's victory as nut cases in 'tinfoil hats,' while the national media, with few exceptions, did little to question the validity of the election. The Washington Post immediately dismissed allegations of fraud as 'conspiracy theories,' and The New York Times declared that 'there is no evidence of vote theft or errors on a large scale.'"

The California legislature has come up with a novel way of nullifying the distorting effects of the Electoral College system of choosing the U.S. president. Seeking to force presidential candidates to pay attention to California’s 15.5 million voters, state lawmakers on Tuesday jumped aboard a new effort that would award electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide. As it is now, California grants its Electoral College votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state. Practically speaking, that means Democrat-dominated California spends the fall presidential campaign on the sidelines as candidates focus on the states - mostly in the upper Midwest - that are truly up for grabs. Under a bill passed by the Assembly, California would join an interstate compact in which states would agree to cast their electoral votes not for the winner in their jurisdictions but for the winner nationwide. Proponents say that would force candidates to broaden their reach to major population centers such as California.

Republicans Believe In Shrinking The Size Of Government: Within the Intelligence Community, consider but three examples of Bush administration rapid growth policies: Start with the CIA, an agency in the process of being downgraded. It has, in fact, lost its central position as the President's daily briefer - Negroponte does that now - and the agency is no longer his covert right-arm either. As intelligence expert Thomas Powers wrote recently: "Historically the CIA had a customer base of one - the president. When its primacy in reporting to the White House was taken away, the agency was being told in effect that henceforth it would be talking to itself." But talking, it turns out, is hardly everything in the IC. In the very period when it was slipping down the pole of influence, its forces on the ground were ramping up. The Agency has opened or reopened 20 stations and bases abroad, experienced a flood of new recruits, and, since 2001, tripled the number of case officers it has in the field - without as yet coming anywhere close to "a presidential directive, announced in late 2004, to increase the number of case officers and intelligence analysts by an additional 50 percent." Or take Negroponte's ODNI operation. When originally suggested by the 9/11 commission and approved by Congress, it was to be a lean, mean coordination office meant to bring the sprawling IC under some control. Its staff of perhaps 750 was to lop the fat and overlap out of the IC. Instead, according to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, it has undergone "rapid growth," now has a staff of over 1,500, and a budget of nearly $1 billion - "about one-third the size of all CIA funding in years before" Sept. 11, 2001" - without yet having any significant accomplishments (other, of course, than its own growth). Or, to return to the Pentagon, consider the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), which started as a small office to protect military facilities and personnel, but in the last years has "grown from an agency that coordinated policy and oversaw the counterintelligence activities of units within the military services and Pentagon agencies to an analytic and operational organization with nine directorates and ever-widening authority." At the same time, according to that NBC Investigative Unit, it is becoming "the superpower of data mining within the U.S. national security community" Now, multiply what happened at the CIA, ODNI, and CIFA, across 17-30 major and minor organizations, all sensing financial good times and looking for expansive "intelligence" missions to "protect" us all And so, as Kurt Vonnegut might have written, it goes.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: The US economy created 75,000 jobs in May, considerably below expectations, US Labor Department data shows. The figure was nearly half April's original figure of 146,000 new jobs, though that was later revised lower. In separate data, the non-farms payroll brought the US unemployment rate to 4.6% in May, from 4.7% in April. While the job creation data points to a cooling economy, some economists welcome it because they believe that it makes an interest rate rise unlikely. The net increase in nonfarm payrolls in May - 75,000 - is a significant falloff from April, when the Labor Department estimates that 126,000 jobs were added, a figure it revised downward today from the 138,000 it initially reported. Anything below about 150,000 net new jobs a month is regarded as too slow to keep up with population growth, so in effect, workers are losing ground.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: In Colorado, there stands a holy shrine called Coors Field. On this site, named for the holiest of beers, a team plays that has been chosen by Jesus Christ himself to play .500 baseball in the National League West. And if you don't believe me, just ask the manager, the general manager and the team's owner. In a remarkable article from Wednesday's USA Today, the Colorado Rockies went public with the news that the organization has been explicitly looking for players with "character." And according to the Tribe of Coors, "character" means accepting Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior. "We're nervous, to be honest with you," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "It's the first time we ever talked about these issues publicly. The last thing we want to do is offend anyone because of our beliefs." When people are nervous that they will offend you with their beliefs, it's usually because their beliefs are offensive.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: In the United States, emissions of so-called greenhouse gases climbed by 16 percent between 1990 and 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in its latest assessment. The United States, by far the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming, rejects the Kyoto pact on reductions. Against this backdrop of rising emissions and discord over what to do about them, delegates from more than 160 nations on May 26 wrapped up two weeks of semiannual U.N. sessions in Bonn, Germany, on how to confront the threat of climate change. On one track, they began talks on a stricter regime of emissions cuts for Kyoto nations after the 2012 expiration of that 1997 agreement, named for the Japanese city where it was negotiated. On a second, less formal track, they began a "dialogue," including U.S. representatives, to try to draw Washington and other outsiders into the mandatory controls system. "Both tracks got going in a fairly smooth way," Richard Kinley, chief U.N. organizer of the sessions, told The Associated Press. "It means there will be some very intensive talks in the next two, three years."

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Conservative pundit and best-selling political writer Ann "Hypocrisy is sooo cool!" Coulter has hired a white-glove, White House-connected law firm to fight allegations she voted illegally in February's Town of Palm Beach election. And the attorney from the Miami-based Kenny Nachwalter firm is no stranger to Palm Beach voting. Marcos Jimenez - who was, along with the more famous Olson, one of the lead attorneys who fought for George W. Bush's side in the 2000 presidential election here - was assigned to Coulter. Jimenez, by the way, also knows a thing or two about criminals. Appointed by Bush as U.S. attorney for the southern district of Florida in 2002, Jimenez was charged with going after terrorists, drug dealers and wayward union bosses.

Politicians in legal jeopardy thunder and moan, threatening prosecutors while cloaking their pressure tactics in the grand language of constitutional rights and democracy. So don't be fooled by the hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on the Justice Department's supposed violation of congressional rights in an FBI search of Rep. William Jefferson's office in a bribery investigation. Why would House Republicans be so concerned with Jefferson, a Democrat from Louisiana who, according to prosecutors, kept $90,000 in cash in his freezer? One answer is high principle. The more plausible answer is that Republicans are worried that the next shoes to drop in the congressional probes will belong to Republican members. Using a Democrat's case now to protect Republican members in the future is not so much clever as transparent.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:27:29 AM

Fri, Jun 02 2006

Dengue Fever Alert

The weather yesterday and this morning was overcast and cloudy, and classic early rainy season, with rain in the morning and late afternoon, but clearing midday. Today, there wasn't much of a clearing, just a few patches of blue in an otherwise overcast sky all day. The temperatures were quite pleasant, making it to 84 in spite of the overcast, after an overnight low of 69 - the chilliest overnight low in some time, and lots of short bursts of rain late in the day.

There's been good news and bad news with my health. It seems that my weight is still going down, slowly, and I have lost a total of four inches off my waist line. My pants won't stay up without a belt now, and my shorts are getting rather loose. I may have to shop for some new pants fairly soon, but since my waist is now a reasonable size, I should be able to find some in-country. That's the good news. The bad news is that I have been having some rather persistent chest pains lately, possibly indicating a partially blocked vein, and I may have to see a doctor about it if it doesn't get better in a day or two. I'll just have to see what happens before I panic and go see a doc about it. My liver, which was well-behaved through this whole heart attack thing, has decided to act up, and my urine is reeking again, but this time the odor is somewhat different - so I am not sure what is up with that. I may have to seek out a hepatologist, too, and have him look into that.

Speaking of health issues, yesterday morning, the Ministry of Health sent a sound truck around town to warn everyone in Arenal to take precautions against a dengue fever outbreak. With its lush forest, urban population, considerable rainfall and fairly high Culex mosquito population, Arenal is a prime location for dengue, though there has only been one small outbreak here in the past (four cases about three years ago, related to a large outbreak in La Fortuna). Being a tourist town, a dengue outbreak here could have serious repercussions for the tourist industry, and the country is determined to prevent it. Preventative measures mean that yards have to be cleaned up - old tires, tin cans, abandoned cars, plastic bottles, etc., must be disposed of, raingutters checked to ensure that no water stands in them, and bromeliads in the trees pulled down to prevent the breeding of the kinds of mosquitos which spread the virus. Residents are advised to keep doors and windows closed to prevent the ingress of mosquitos into inhabited places, should an outbreak occur. No bed nets are suggested, as the culprit is a day-flying mosquito - so they're recommending mosquito repellent instead. So far, there has been no suggestion of spraying inside walls with DDT, which is really effective, but of course, highly controversial. My yard is in good shape except for a lot of bromeliads in my trees. I really need to hire a neighborhood teenager to climb the trees and get them all cleaned up. Cases of dengue have been doubling every year since it was discovered to be present about six years ago, after a fifty year absence from the country. Malaria is also present in Costa Rica, though it has so far remained confined to a small area of the Caribbean coast near the Panamanian border, and does not appear to be a growing threat. Rapidly increasing air travel throughout the tropics, an increase in the number of families living in poverty in the country, and increasing population density are the main reasons why dengue has become a problem again in Costa Rica.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The Federal Communications Commission is poised to propose new media ownership rules that will allow media companies to own newspapers, television and radio stations in the same city, according to media watchdog groups. The proposed rule would dissolve a longstanding policy that prohibited corporations from owning a television station and a daily newspaper in the same market. The "cross ownership" rule, promulgated in 1975, was enacted to ensure media diversity. Individuals close to the Commission say the FCC will propose relaxing media ownership rules, possibly as soon as June 15 when the Commission next meets, the media watchdog Free Press says. "All indications are that the next time the FCC meets - now that they have a full commission - we expect to see media ownership come up, and we think it will be the cross ownership rule as well as rules on how many TV stations companies can own in a single market," Free Press spokesman Craig Aaron said. So don't be too surprised when all your local TV stations and daily newspaper all end up owned by the same out-of-town media conglomerate.

Iran on Thursday spurned a U.S. offer of direct talks on its nuclear program as major world powers sought agreement on incentives to coax it to scrap potentially weapons-related atomic work. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran was open to talks with Washington, which severed ties with Tehran in 1980, but rejected a U.S. condition it stop enriching uranium first. "We will not give up our nation's natural right (to enrichment), we will not hold talks over it. But we are ready to hold talks over mutual concerns," Mottaki said in Tehran. Speaking before Mottaki's statement, a senior U.S. official said Tehran had only weeks to accept the diplomatic overture before facing sanctions.

Former CIA analyst and Presidential advisor Ray McGovern, fresh from his heated public confrontation with Donald Rumsfeld, fears that staged terror attacks across Europe and the US are probable in order to justify the Bush administration's plan to launch a military strike against Iran, which he thinks will take place in June or July. Appearing on The Alex Jones Show, McGovern was asked about the timetable for war in Iran and said that behind the diplomatic smokescreen, the final chess pieces were being moved into position. "There is already one carrier task force there in the Gulf, two are steaming toward it at the last report I have at least - they will all be there in another week or so. The propaganda has been laid, the aircraft carriers are in place, it doesn't take much to fly the bombers out of British and US bases - cruse missiles are at the ready, Israel is egging us on," said McGovern. McGovern said Iran's likely response to a US air strike would be threefold - mobilizing worldwide terrorist cells that would make Al-Qaeda look like a girls netball team - utilizing its cruise missile arsenal to attack US ships and sending fighters into Iraq to attack US forces. "The Iranians can easily send three divisions of revolutionary guard troops right over....the long border with Iraq," said McGovern, stating that the local Sunni population of Iraq would welcome such an invasion. The turmoil caused by such an action would lead the US to tap its so-called 'mini-nuke' arsenal said McGovern, opening a new Pandora's box of chaos.

Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH), Ranking Member of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, issued the following statement today on Iran: "The US must not participate in phony diplomacy and diplomatic head fakes in order to force our nation, and the world, into war with Iran. Iran has reached out to the United States seeking negotiations to end the current stand-off peacefully. The United States should enter into direct, high-level, negotiations with Iran to peacefully end this stand off. This is exactly what over 70 Members of Congress stated last week when they signed onto a letter, I authored, to President Bush. Setting conditions on such talks appears to be an effort to ensure their failure and will only put this nation on the fast track to another unnecessary war.

The White House on Thursday rejected an invitation from North Korea for the chief U.S. envoy to stalled nuclear talks to visit Pyongyang. "The United States is not going to engage in bilateral negotiations with the government of North Korea," said White House spokesman Tony Snow, saying Washington was sticking to its position that any negotiations be conducted through a six-nation format.

The two cities targeted in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will receive far less counterterrorism money this year in what the Homeland Security Department described Wednesday as an effort to spread funding to other communities facing threats. Officials noted a $119 million cut in the total funds available for the 2006 fiscal year from last year. In all, 46 cities will share $710 million in Homeland Security grants to prevent and respond to terror attacks and, to a lesser extent, other catastrophic disasters like hurricanes. The department said the total does not reflect an additional $25 million for nonprofit groups, and other minor costs. "At the end of the day our job is to make sure that we apply resources in an appropriate manner across the full breadth of this nation so that we get the maximum benefit out of those dollars," Homeland Security Undersecretary George Foresman told reporters in Washington. New York has no national monuments or icons, according to the Department of Homeland Security form obtained by ABC News. That was a key factor used to determine that New York City should have its anti-terror funds slashed by 40 percent--from $207.5 million in 2005 to $124.4 million in 2006. The formula did not consider as landmarks or icons: The Empire State Building, The United Nations, The Statue of Liberty and others found on several terror target hit lists. It also left off notable landmarks, such as the New York Public Library, Times Square, City Hall and at least three of the nation's most renowned museums: The Guggenheim, The Metropolitan and The Museum of Natural History.

The deaths of two CBS journalists on Monday means the Iraq conflict is now the deadliest war for reporters in the past century. Since 2003, 71 journalists have been killed in Iraq, more than the 63 killed in Vietnam, 17 killed in Korea - and now the 69 killed in World War II, according to Freedom Forum. The Iraq numbers do not include the 26 members of media support staff who have also died, as counted by the Committee to Protect Journalists. "It is absolutely striking," Ann Cooper, the executive director of the CPJ, said on Monday. "We talk to veteran war correspondents who have covered everything going back to Vietnam and through Bosnia. Even those who have seen a number of different wars say they have never seen something like this conflict," Cooper told The New York Times. In addition to those killed, at least 42 journalists have been kidnapped, according to Reporters Without Borders. That group released a statement today: "The security situation is becoming more and more alarming for the press in Iraq. Although better protected, embedded journalists are not completely isolated from the dangers."

A security guard at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant was so absorbed in playing a hand-held video game that he failed to see an inspector approach during a surprise inspection, the agency said. The employee did not violate any rules as guards are allowed to engage in mind-stimulating activities, the state Department of Environmental Protection said. But the alleged lapse - which follows five other reports of employee inattention in the past two years - is prompting officials to review current policies. "The issue is not the guard's use of the video game," Kathleen McGinty, secretary of the environmental agency, said in a statement.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and senior officials and career prosecutors at the Justice Department told associates this week that they were prepared to quit if the White House directed them to relinquish evidence seized in a bitterly disputed search of a House member's office, government officials said Friday. Mr. Gonzales was joined in raising the possibility of resignation by the deputy attorney general, Paul J. McNulty, the officials said. Mr. Gonzales and Mr. McNulty told associates that they had an obligation to protect evidence in a criminal case and would be unwilling to carry out any White House order to return the material to Congress. The potential showdown was averted Thursday when President Bush ordered the evidence to be sealed for 45 days to give Congress and the Justice Department a chance to work out a deal.

More than one out of every three individuals in the United States have diabetes and another 26 percent have impaired fasting glucose, which increases the risk of developing diabetes, new study findings suggest. The prevalence of diagnosed diabetes has increased in recent years, while undiagnosed diabetes and impaired fasting glucose has remained constant over the past decade. "Despite public health messages, we're not finding a counterbalance of fewer people with undiagnosed diabetes," study co-author Dr. Catherine C. Cowie, of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, in Bethesda, told Reuters Health. The findings are based on an analysis of four years of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The study included information on 4,761 adults, age 20 years or older, who were classified according to their glycemic status. Cowie and her team compared data from the 1999-2002 with data from 1988-1994. Over 35 percent of study participants, representing 73.3 million individuals had diabetes or impaired fasting glucose in 2002, the researchers report in the journal Diabetes Care. A total 9.3 percent had diabetes in 1988-2002 and the prevalence of undiagnosed remained stable at 2.8 percent during this period. However, the prevalence of diagnosed diabetes rose from 5.1 percent in 1988-1994 to 6.5 percent in 1999-2002. They also estimate that about one third of diabetics are undiagnosed.

Louisiana's hurricane protection system was overwhelmed by Katrina because it was built disjointedly using outdated data, according to an Army Corps of Engineers report released Thursday. "The system did not perform as a system," according to the report, released on the first day of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season. "The hurricane protection in New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana was a system in name only." The 6,000-plus page document included details on engineering and design failures that led to the Aug. 29 storm surge overwhelming the city's outer levees and breaking through flood walls within New Orleans.

The top editor of Syracuse (N.Y.) New Times, which saw its profile of President Bush's new chief domestic advisor altered and reposted on his Web site, calls the incident "insulting" and said she plans to consult a lawyer about possible legal action. "What is getting lost here is that he changed quotes, that is getting lost here," Molly English, who has served as editor-in-chief of the alternative weekly for five years, told E&P today. "I find it insulting and his excuse is awfully lame." English's comments came a day after the newly appointed domestic policy advisor, Karl Zinsmeister, acknowledged taking the 2004 New Times profile of him and changing both quotes and text. He then reposted it on the Web site of the American Enterprise Institute magazine, which he edits -- still under the New Times author's byline. The article, by New Times staffer Justin Park, had been written because Zinsmeister lived in the Syracuse area.

The right wing has recently been engaged in an effort to downplay the deteriorating security situation in Iraq by suggesting that the violent death rates in Washington, D.C. are higher than those in Iraq. From Newsmax: "Despite media coverage purporting to show that escalating violence in Iraq has the country spiraling out of control, civilian death statistics complied by Rep. Steve King, R-IA, indicate that Iraq actually has a lower civilian violent death rate than Washington, D.C." Using Pentagon statistics cross-checked with independent research, King said he came up with an annualized Iraqi civilian death rate of 27.51 per 100,000. Rep. King’s shoddy "report" has slowly gained greater circulation, appearing in the New York Sun and on the Rush Limbaugh show. Here’s why the report is deceptive and false: 1) The King report uses 2002 data for Washington, D.C., finding a violent casualty rate of 45.9 deaths per 100,000 people. That number is badly outdated. Using the most recent 2004 data, the violent casualty rate in D.C. is 35.8 deaths per 100,000. There were 198 homicides total in D.C. for the entire year. 2) According to Pentagon’s own data released today, there have been 94 violent casualties per day in Iraq between February and May of 2006. That translates into 34,310 deaths per year in Iraq. For an Iraqi population of about 26.7 million, plus another 150,000 coalition forces, the violent casualty rate in Iraq is 128 deaths per 100,000. 3) Lastly, the King report is trying to conflate the data for one urban area in the U.S. with the entire country of Iraq. As Opinion Journal writes, "The comparison with U.S. cities poses a problem of scale. Just as some municipalities here have high concentrations of crime, Baghdad and some other Iraqi cities have high concentrations of military, guerrilla and terrorist activity. A comparison of Baghdad with Los Angeles or a similarly sprawling U.S. city would be more enlightening than a comparison of Iraq as a whole with cities of well under a million people."

In a debate with powerful echoes of the turbulent civil rights era, four Republicans running for Alabama's Supreme Court are making an argument legal scholars thought was settled in the 1800s: that state courts are not bound by U.S. Supreme Court precedents. The Constitution says federal law trumps state laws, and legal experts say there is general agreement that state courts must defer to the U.S. Supreme Court on matters of federal law. Yet Justice Tom Parker, who is running for chief justice, argues that state judges should refuse to follow U.S. Supreme Court precedents they believe to be erroneous. Three other GOP candidates in Tuesday's primary have made nearly identical arguments. "State supreme court judges should not follow obviously wrong decisions simply because they are `precedents,'" Parker wrote in a newspaper opinion piece in January that was prompted by a murder case that came before the Alabama high court. Parker is a former aide to Roy Moore, who became a hero to the religious right when he was ousted as Alabama's chief justice in 2003 for refusing to obey a federal judge's order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the state courthouse.

The truth is out there about Kirsten Heffron, the "child spokesperson" for the "Send A Brick" project, and it’s not far out there at all, even though the New York Times can't seem to find it. In fact, when it comes to investigative reporting, we’re not talking "All the President’s Men" here - it took this intrepid reporter [Will Bunch at Attywood] literally five minutes of Googling to learn the following about the spokeswoman for the Send-a-Brick Project. In the heat of the 2004 presidential campaign, writing as "Kirsten Andersen Heffron" on the JerseyGOP.com Web site, she penned a hate-filled attack on John Kerry - "’Thank You, John Kerry,’ A Dear John Letter" - that goes way lower than the notorious Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth, calling the former Vietnam Vet "a treasonous scumbag." Her letter suggests - without any supporting evidence - that Kerry forged documents and raises "the questionable circumstances surrounding your three Purple Hearts." On the Send-a-Brick Project Web site, Heffron boast of working for conservative GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes (would that have been hard for the Times to squeeze in the article - it’s only 11 letters!) but adds that she served as "Public Affairs Director for a 2-million-member national grassroots advocacy group." For some reason, she won’t tell you what it is, so we will: It was the anti-union National Right-to-Work Committee. We guess that if it came out that Heffron worked against both unions and illegal immigrants, people might get the idea that maybe she just doesn’t like working people".

The Bush administration - having made it hard for federal scientists to talk publicly about global warming - appears to have decided that loose lips are also bad when they talk about West coast salmon runs. The Washington office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - the agency responsible for protecting endangered salmon - has instructed its representatives and scientists in the West to route media questions about salmon back to headquarters. Only three people in the entire agency, all of them political appointees, are now authorized to speak of salmon, according to a NOAA employee who has been silenced on the fish.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: With an arrogance bordering on intimidation, the administration of George W. Bush wishes to impose its will onto Chile's sovereignty and force that country to impede Venezuela's admission to the United Nations Security Council. That attempt came to light on Sunday, April 28, when the Chilean daily La Tercera published a report - based on Chilean diplomatic sources - titled "White House Ultimatum." Progreso Weekly has translated that report and summarizes it here. Words [in brackets] are PW's clarifications. During a visit by Chilean Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley to the U.S. State Department on April 21, "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice devoted an overwhelming proportion of her meeting with Foxley to only one issue: Venezuela's candidacy to the United Nations Security Council," La Tercera reported. "She differentiated this issue from all other regional and multilateral decisions and said its singularity is that 'it aims at the heart of U.S. interests.' Foxley attempted to explain that Chile must consider the opinions of its neighbors and that, in any case, has not yet made a decision [...] but the Secretary of State was unequivocal: the United States 'will not understand' a vote by Chile in favor of Venezuela at the Security Council." Bush's Choice: Guatemala. In October, the General Assembly of the United Nations must choose the five new rotating members who will join the Security Council on Jan. 1, 2007. The Council, which oversees global stability, is composed of 15 countries. Five of them (the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain) are permanent members; the other 10 are elected for two years but change alternately, in groups of five. Latin America is entitled to two seats, now occupied by Peru and Argentina, but the latter must abandon its seat on Dec. 29. Venezuela wishes to occupy the vacant seat, but is challenged by Guatemala, the United States' unofficial candidate.

Winning Hearts And Minds: Think the Haditha Massacre was unique? Think again: a news release from the Monitoring Net On Human Rights, an Iraqi human rights group, was sent out earlier this month: "On Saturday, May 13th, 2006, at 10:00 p.m., U.S. Forces accompanied by the Iraqi National Guard attacked the houses of Iraqi people in the al-Latifya district south of Baghdad by an intensive helicopter shelling. This led the families to flee to the al-Mazar and water canals to protect themselves from the fierce shelling. Then seven helicopters landed to pursue the families who fled and killed them. The number of victims amounted to more than 25 martyrs. U.S. forces detained another six persons, including two women named Israa Ahmed Hasan and Widad Ahmed Hasan, and a child named Huda Hitham Mohammed Hasan, whose father was killed during the shelling. The forces didn't stop at this limit. They held an attack on May 15th, 2006, supported also by the Iraqi National Guards. They also attacked the families' houses, and arrested a number of them while others fled. U.S. snipers then used the homes to target more Iraqis. The reason for this crime was due to the downing of a helicopter in an area close to where the forces held their attack." The U.S. military preferred to report the incident as an offensive where they killed 41 "insurgents," a line effectively repeated uncritically by much of the media. The Iraqi government decided Thursday to launch its own investigation into reports that U.S. Marines killed unarmed civilians last year.

US soldiers in Iraq have been ordered to take extra training in moral and ethical standards, it emerged today. The move comes amid growing concern over the fallout from the alleged massacre of 24 civilians in the town of Haditha last November. General George Casey - the highest-ranking US general in Iraq - ordered the training two days after US troops shot dead a pregnant mother and her cousin as they travelled to a maternity hospital. Lieutenant general Peter Chiarelli, the commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, said the ethics training, to take place over the next 30 days, would reinforce the education that troops receive before being sent into battle. It would emphasise "professional military values and the importance of disciplined, professional conduct in combat", he said.

Republicans Believe In A Free And Independent Press: The Pentagon's new "strategic communications roadmap" will soon be approved, according to U.S. News and World Report. The plan seeks to "create a culture" that sees strategic communications as "not just public affairs, information operations or psychological operations, legislative affairs or public diplomacy, but... the totality of that that you have to work to be effective," explained Lt. Gen. Gene Renuart of the Joint Staff. The Pentagon has already established a Strategic Communications secretariat, to "research important or contentious issues, such as the recent Dubai ports debate"; a Strategic Communications Integration Group "will decide how to handle those issues." In 2004, the U.S. Strategic Command established a Joint Information Operations Center in San Antonio, Texas, to send support teams "to the various combatant commands in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Latin America." And the Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, sends psychological operations units around the world.

Republicans Seek Out Expert, Objective Advice: Two weeks ago, Amir Taheri had an Op-Ed article in the Canadian National Post claiming that the Iranians have a law requiring Jews to wear yellow badges. It turned out to be a complete fabrication and has been the subject of much contempt among bloggers. So Tuesday, Taheri was invited to the White House along with other

"experts" to give the president their "honest opinions." With advice like that, our war in Iran will be a slam-dunk.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: The United States is lagging behind Britain and other leading nations on stem cell research, a visiting U.S. Congressional delegation said on Thursday. Scientists believe that stem cells, master cells in the body that can develop into any cell type, could be used to treat diseases ranging from diabetes to Parkinson's. But their use is controversial because the most promising stem cells for treating human diseases are derived from very early human embryos. The United States has restricted federal funding of stem cell research which Colorado Democrat Rep. Diana DeGette said has forced some American scientists to relocate to countries which have more lenient policies. "In addition, leadership in this area of research has shifted to the United Kingdom, which sees this scientific area as a cornerstone of its biotech industry," she said in a statement. DeGette and other members of the bipartisan Congressional delegation are holding meetings in Britain with government officials, agencies and scientists about advances in stem cell research, as well as ethical and regulatory issues.

Nearly two of every three undergraduate students are going into debt to go to college, owing an average of more than $19,000, most often to the government. Among a dozen states sampled, New York students averaged the largest loans, while those in Oregon and Minnesota were most likely to have borrowed. About 65 percent of students who graduated in the 2003-2004 school year did so after getting student loans, according to the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. For students who took out loans, the average debt was $19,202. Of that sum, $17,022 came through federal loan programs. The agency focused on 12 large, medium, and mid-sized states, but did not compile enough data from the other 38 states to create reliable statewide averages.

An anti-gay pastor with no HIV-related experience is to be sworn in tomorrow in Washington to help advise President George W. Bush on how best to fight the epidemic. The president hasn't been one to shy away from making openly political appointments to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) - or from otherwise beefing up "abstinence-only" influence on government policy and funding. But some of his critics say he has gone too far in choosing the Reverend Herbert Lusk. "The appointment of a minister who is essentially homophobic is very disturbing," says Ronald Johnson, a PACHA member under President Clinton who is now associate executive director of New York’s Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC). Adds Julie Davids, head of the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), "[Lusk's] positions will lead to more infections, more stigma and more marginalization." The reverend, who presides over the Greater Exodus Baptist Church in Philadelphia, is on the board of the antigay group Alliance for Marriage and has worked alongside Focus on the Family, one of the nation's most politically powerful right-wing Christian groups. What advocates like Johnson and Davids are asking is this: How will Lusk square his abstinence-till-marriage and anti-same-sex-marriage crusades with PACHA's mission to develop programs for a disease in which the majority of infections are still among gay men?

Liberal Biased Media Watch: The Associated Press is a c3 non-profit - in my view, they are entering very interesting legal territory in terms of their non-political non-profit status. AP's John Solomon just published a story stating in the first sentence: "Reversing course, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid's office acknowledged Wednesday night he misstated the ethics rules governing his acceptance of free boxing tickets and has decided to avoid taking such gifts in the future." Any reader who speaks a lick of English is clearly going to understand Solomon's sentence as saying that Harry Reid claimed the Senate ethics rules said it was okay for him to accept the boxing tickets, and now Reid realizes the ethics rules say he cannot accept such tickets. The problem? That's a flat out lie - Reid never said any such thing. Of course, in the way that only AP can do, they bury the "real" explanation of what they mean towards the end of the story so you'll walk away thinking something totally different than the truth. Reid misstated the Senate ethics rules alright. He unintentionally painted the rules as MORE restrictive than they actually are. But you won't find that out until the end of the story.

Republicans Support The Bill Of Rights: A group of young women are suing because they were ordered to leave a book signing featuring Sen. Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum because of their political views. The federal lawsuit, filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, argues that the women's free speech rights were violated at the event last August. It says two of the women were arrested for trespassing and three others were threatened with arrest. The suit names a Delaware state trooper and one of the Pennsylvania lawmaker's representatives. According to the lawsuit, the women went to a Barnes & Noble store in Wilmington to challenge Santorum at an event advertised as a signing and discussion of his book, "It Takes a Family." The women were ordered to leave by a state trooper hired to provide security after a member of Santorum's promotional team overheard them talking before the senator arrived, according to the suit. When two of the women asked why they were being ejected, they were arrested, the suit say. "The trooper denied these women their right to share their views with an elected official," said Julia Graff, attorney for the Delaware ACLU, which sued along with the Pennsylvania ACLU. Named as defendants were State Police Sgt. Mark DiJiacomo and the Santorum representative, identified only as "Jane Doe."

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: According to scientists at the University of Washington, the Pacific Northwest has gotten warmer by 1.5 degrees since 1900, about a half-degree higher than the global average. That might not seem like much, but the effects are being noticed here, particularly in the amount of snow in the Cascades. Since 1949, snowpack in the lower mountain range, a primary source of water for the area, has declined 50 percent, raising the odd specter of water shortages in the rainy Pacific Northwest. The culprit is unusually warm weather, which is melting snowpack and changing the precipitation cycle. More water is falling as rain--and being lost as runoff--and less is falling as mountain snow, a natural banking system that holds the precipitation until the spring, when it melts to fill reservoirs for the dry summer season. "Our water system is based on snowmelt," Sims says. "But we're continually losing huge volumes." The problem snapped into focus over the past two years, when the state was hit by a severe drought--the kind of extreme weather fluctuation that scientists expect will become more common as temperatures climb. The governor declared a statewide emergency. Ski resorts closed. Rivers and reservoirs fell to dangerous lows. For Sims, the water crisis was a worrisome sign of things to come. "How are we going to meet the needs of people and fish," he asks, "when the snowmelt is going away?"

News From Smirkey's Wars: Taliban fighters killed at least a dozen Afghan police and abducted up to 40 in two separate attacks in southern Afghanistan, while US-led forces launched an offensive in a nearby province, officials said on Wednesday. In the southern province of Zabul, a senior police official, Mohammad Rasoul, was killed and four other people, including two senior provincial officials, were wounded after the Taleban hit their car with a rocket on Tuesday night. "They were part of a reinforcement sent to help a group of highway police who had come under Taliban attack on a road of Zabul," said Yousuf Stanizai, the Interior Ministry spokesman. An official in Zabul, who declined to be identified, said more than 10 policemen were killed in the Taliban assault. The raid in Zabul came hours after the Taliban attacked a police base in Chora district of neighbouring Uruzgan province and abducted up to 40 policemen, an official in Kabul said on condition of anonymity. A Reuters reporter received a phone call from an unknown person who described himself as Mullah Ahmad, a Taliban commander, and said the militants had taken the police hostage and the Taliban's leadership would decide their fate. He said militants had killed 12 police in the attack before kidnapping the others.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: A coin dealer and prominent GOP fundraiser at the center of an Ohio political scandal pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges he illegally funneled about $45,000 to President Bush's re-election campaign. Tom Noe, once a powerful political figure who also raised money for Ohio Republicans, still is charged with embezzlement in an ill-fated $50 million coin investment that he managed for the state workers' compensation fund. The investment scandal has been a major embarrassment for Ohio's ruling Republicans and given Democrats a better shot at winning state offices this year, including the governor's office, which has been under GOP control since 1991. Investigators do not know whether Noe used money from the state coin fund for campaign contributions. Noe was charged with exceeding federal campaign contribution limits, using others to make the contributions and causing the Bush campaign to submit a false campaign-finance statement. He said Wednesday that he pleaded guilty to "spare my family and many dear friends" the ordeal of a trial. Noe, 51, declined to comment to reporters at the hearing. He has been free on bond since he was indicted in October and now lives in Florida. Prosecutors planned to recommend a sentence of 2 to 2 1/2 years. The maximum sentence would be five years on each of three counts and a combined $950,000 in fines. A sentencing date was not set.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:55:39 AM
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