Letters From Exile

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

Mon, Jul 31 2006

Security Issues On My Mind

The classic rainy season weather continues. Both yesterday and today were met with bright sunshine in the morning, overcast by midday, and heavy downpours in the late afternoon. The weather map shows two low pressure areas, one in the Pacific off Nicaragua, and one in the Caribbean off Panama, that are competing at feeding us moisture. So why we don't have even more rain is a mystery to me. The temperatures have been a bit extreme, however, with an overnight low of 70, and a high this afternoon of 86. That is more temperature differential than we normally see.

I have not gotten much done in the last couple of days, as I just haven't felt up to doing much. Tiredness, associated with the aftermath of the heart attack I think, has taken some of the starch out of me, and so I just moped around the place a bit, not getting a lot done.

I need to get on this security situation, however. I ran into the town metalworker when I was in town on Friday, and talked with him about coming out today and looking over the front door and giving me a bid on building and installing a steel door. He said he would be out today or tomorrow, and he didn't show today, so I hope he makes it out here tomorrow. He said Thursday or Friday he could begin construction. Well, I sure hope so. I would love to get that done, and sooner rather than later. I also need to get with the bricklayer that I normally use and have him come by and look at doing me a strong-room. Between the two, I think they will pretty much solve the security issues around here.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: U.S. citizens accused of "terrorism ties" might be detained indefinitely and barred from access to civilian courts under legislation proposed by the Bush administration, say legal experts reviewing an early version of the bill. A 32-page draft measure is intended to authorize the Pentagon's tribunal system, established shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks to detain and prosecute detainees captured in the war on terror. The tribunal system was thrown out last month by the Supreme Court. Administration officials, who declined to comment on the draft, said the proposal was still under discussion and no final decisions had been made. Senior officials are expected to discuss a final proposal before the Senate Armed Services Committee next Wednesday. According to the draft, the military would be allowed to detain all "enemy combatants" until hostilities cease. The bill defines enemy combatants as anyone "engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners who has committed an act that violates the law of war and this statute." Legal experts said Friday that such language is dangerously broad and could authorize the military to detain indefinitely U.S. citizens who had only tenuous ties to terror networks like al Qaeda. "That's the big question ... the definition of who can be detained," said Martin Lederman, a law professor at Georgetown University who posted a copy of the bill to a Web blog.

More young people are attending "conservative boot camps," according to an article slated for Monday's edition of The New York Times. "Headed for what she called 'conservative boot camp,' Christina Pajak grabbed the essentials: dress sandals, her Bible and The Politics of Prudence by Russell Kirk, the celebrated writer who a half-century ago gave the conservative movement its name," reports Jason DeParle. "If she had not found Kirk, he would have found her," DeParle writes. "At a monthlong retreat for college conservatives here, he was both required reading and a source of after-hours debate among students excited to hear him called 'one of Ronald Reagan's favorite philosophers.'" Every political movement has its texts. But James W. Ceaser, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, argues that the conservative focus on core thinkers has no exact parallel among liberals. "It doesn't mean they're not interested in ideas," Ceaser said. "It means their approach to politics doesn't rest on theory in the same way."

On Fox this morning, conservative uber-pundit Robert Novak was highly critical of the Bush Administration, and Secretary Rice in particular, on the subject of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. Novak contended that Israel had failed in its military plan to diminish or destroy Hezbollah. He added that the Bush Administration had thus far been "a disaster." HOST: "Is [Rice's next visit to Mideast] the first in a new round in shuttle diplomacy for the United States?" NOVAK: "Well, I think it probably will be. It's been a disaster so far because the United States' position was to let the Israelis have a go at it. They thought it would clean out Hezbollah in about a week. Hezbollah turned out to be much tougher and I would say that Secretary Rice first mission was totally unsuccessful. So, The United States seems very isolated right now and they've got to reestablish their position as an honest broker in trying to reach a peace agreement."

Seven years after leaving Congress, former Speaker of the House and thrice-divorced "Family Values" Republican Newt Gingrich has again become a high-profile figure among conservatives as he considers a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. A recent Gallup Poll placed Mr. Gingrich third in a field of Republicans who are viewed as potential presidential candidates. Although Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani placed first and second in the poll, they are considered too moderate by many of the party's base to secure the nomination. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Virginia Sen. George Allen have been positioning themselves as conservative standard-bearers, but finished fourth and sixth in the poll, respectively.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: A newly published book has revealed that Australia intervened to stop key US military strikes against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, fearing they might constitute a war crime. Major General Maurie McNarn, then a brigadier and commander of Australian forces in Iraq, on several occasions played a "red card" against the American plans, which included hits on individuals. His objections drew anger from some senior US military figures. In one instance, Major General McNarn vetoed a US plan to drop a range of huge non-precision bombs on Baghdad, causing one angry US Air Force general to call the Australian a "pencil dick". However, US military command accepted Major General McNarn's objection and the US plans were scrapped. The revelation of how Australia actively and successfully used its veto power in the 2003 invasion of Iraq is contained in a new book on the US-Australian alliance, The Partnership, by The Weekend Australian's foreign editor, Greg Sheridan.

Construction work has begun near Washington on a vast germ warfare laboratory intended to "help protect" the US against an attack with biological weapon, but critics say the laboratory's work will violate international law and its extreme secrecy will exacerbate a biological arms race. The National Biodefence Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC), due to be completed in 2008, will house heavily guarded and hermetically sealed chambers in which scientists simulate potential terrorist attacks. To do so, the center will have to produce and stockpile the world's most lethal bacteria and viruses, which is forbidden by the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Three years before that treaty was agreed, President Richard Nixon halted the production of US biological weapons at Fort Detrick in Maryland. The same military base is the site for the new $128m (£70m), 160,000 sq ft laboratory.

Two US aircraft carrying bombs to Israel landed at Prestwick International Airport in Britain last night amid growing protests fuelled by the revelation that Ireland had ruled out allowing Shannon Airport to handle similar flights. Dermot Ahern, the Irish foreign affairs minister, said he would block any attempt by the US to transport arms to Israel through his country. A spokeswoman for Ahern told the Sunday Herald: 'Minister Ahern did say permission would not be granted if there was an application made to transport munitions of war to the Middle East.' Scottish opposition MPs yesterday described the use of Prestwick Airport to re-arm the Israeli offensive in Lebanon as 'completely unacceptable.' The arrival of the flights yesterday came less than a day after George Bush apologised to Tony Blair over a procedural slip in the previous use of Prestwick to refuel two planes carrying bombs to Israel.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Israel has rejected mounting pressure for a truce in its 20-day-old war on Hezbollah despite global outrage over a massacre in a village that killed at least 60 Lebanese, 34 of whom were children. Israel had agreed to halt air strikes for 48 hours pending an investigation into Sunday's attack on the village of Qana, but its war planes were back in action near a Lebanese border town where fighting erupted at the weekend, and a Lebanese soldier was killed in a gunboat attack. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flew back to Washington Monday after a weekend visit to Israel overshadowed by the carnage in Qana, saying she was convinced that "an urgent ceasefire and a lasting settlement" could be achieved this week. But as Lebanon was plunged into mourning over the biggest single loss of life since Israel unleashed its war machine against its northern neighbor on July 12, the Jewish state warned it would widen its offensive on Hezbollah.

Israel rejected mounting international pressure on Monday to end its 20-day-old war against Hizbollah guerrillas and the United Nations indefinitely postponed a meeting on a new peacekeeping force for Lebanon. A U.N. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon had been delayed "until there is more political clarity" on the path ahead in the Middle East conflict. Civilians fled battered villages in southern Lebanon after Israel agreed to partially halt air strikes for 48 hours, and aid convoys headed into the area to deliver supplies. But Israeli air force jets bombed southern Lebanon this morning, despite a 48-hour suspension of air strikes negotiated by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice yesterday after an attack that left more than 60 dead. Rescue workers found 28 bodies buried for days in destroyed buildings in three south Lebanon villages, the Red Cross said. Israel said the war was not over despite an international outcry following the deaths of at least 54 civilians, most of them children, in an Israeli air strike on the Lebanese village of Qana on Sunday.

A leading press freedom group on Thursday demanded an "immediate investigation" into reports that Israel is targeting Arab television crews operating in southern Lebanon, the latest in mounting criticism that Israel is making little distinction between civilian and combatant in its campaign in Lebanon. The call by the Committee to Protect Journalists came in response to allegations from several Arab television stations that Israeli aircraft fired missiles within 75 metres of them on July 22, in an apparent bid to prevent them from covering the effect of Israel's bombardment around the town of Khiam. So far, at least two journalists and media workers have been killed, and another seven wounded since the fighting began on July 12, following the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas, according to media groups. In all, at least 420 Lebanese have been killed since the start of the fighting, most of them civilians, while 52 Israelis have died, including 34 military personnel. The strikes in question were directed at television crews, especially those of the independent satellite channels Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya and the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar channel, said Ghassan Benjeddou, Al-Jazeera's Lebanon bureau chief.

On July 18, the Senate unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution "condemning Hamas and Hezbollah and their state sponsors and supporting Israel's exercise of its right to self-defense." After House majority leader John Boehner removed language from the bill urging "all sides to protect innocent civilian life and infrastructure," the House version passed by a landslide, 410 to 8. The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee not only lobbied for the resolution; it had written it. "They [Congress] were given a resolution by AIPAC," said former Carter Administration National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who addressed the House Democratic Caucus on July 19. "They didn't prepare one."

While Israel fights Hezbollah with tanks and aircraft, its supporters are campaigning on the internet. Israel's Government has thrown its weight behind efforts by supporters to counter what it believes to be negative bias and a tide of "pro-Arab propaganda." The Foreign Ministry has ordered trainee diplomats to track websites and chatrooms so that networks of US and European groups with hundreds of thousands of Jewish activists can place supportive messages.

While You Were Glued To Faux News: The UN Security Council has passed a resolution giving Iran a month to suspend uranium enrichment or face possible sanctions. The resolution was passed by 14 votes to one, with Qatar the lone dissenter. The resolution says "appropriate measures" will be taken if Iran does not comply, but does not threaten the immediate imposition of sanctions. The US and other nations accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, but Iran says its motives are peaceful. The draft resolution was negotiated over the past two weeks by the five permanent Council members - the US, UK, China, France, Russia - as well as Germany. It follows a 12 July agreement to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for failing to respond to a package of energy, commercial and technological incentives to suspend enrichment. Iran has said it will respond to this package by 22 August. The US says it does not believe Tehran's assertions and has pushed for tough international action.

Why Moving To Europe Is Not The Answer: British children, possibly as young as six, will be subjected to compulsory fingerprinting under European Union rules being drawn up in secret. The prints will be stored on a database which could be shared with countries around the world. The prospect has alarmed civil liberties groups who fear it represents a 'sea change' in the state's relationship with children and one that may lead to juveniles being erroneously accused of crimes. Under laws being drawn up behind closed doors by the European Commission's 'Article Six' committee, which is composed of representatives of the European Union's 25 member states, all children will have to attend a finger-printing centre to obtain an EU passport by June 2009 at the latest. The use of fingerprints and other biometric data is designed to prevent passport fraud and allow European member states to meet US entry visa requirements, but the decision to fingerprint children has disturbed human rights groups. The civil liberties group Statewatch last night accused EU governments of taking decisions in which 'people and parliaments have no say'. It said the committee's decisions were simply based on 'technological possibilities - not on the moral and political questions of whether it is right or desirable.'

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the Chief Privacy Officer of the Department of Homeland Security to investigate a recent news report that federal air marshals are labeling innocent Americans as "suspicious" after being directed to fill a monthly watchlist quotas. The Air Marshals Service responded to earlier complaints by indicating that the complaints came from disgruntled Denver employees. However, Denver's KMGH-TV contacted 17 employees in 4 different states, who confirmed the story. KMGH quotes one Air Marshal as saying, "Our job is to prevent another Sept. 11 from happening. We can't do that. Not under these circumstances, not under these conditions." Another told the station, "We do not want to come before the media. This is the last hope that we have to get these dangerous policies changed." U.S. air marshals based in Las Vegas told KMGH 7-News in Denver that they are required to submit at least one "Surveillance Detection Report," or SDR, a month. According to the account, SDRs are documents intended to identify terrorist surveillance activity, and can lead to a person being listed on national or international watch lists. According to the Marshals, whose identities were masked in the report, the quotas are enforced, and affect raises, bonuses, awards and assignments.

The controversy over the US-run detention center at Guantanamo Bay is to erupt anew with confirmation by the Pentagon that a new, permanent prison will open in the Cuban enclave in the next few weeks. Camp 6, a state-of-the-art maximum-security jail built by a Halliburton subsidiary, will be able to hold 200 prisoners. Commander Robert Durand, a spokesman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said the 30 million dollar, two-story block was due to open at the end of September. He added: "Camp 6 is designed to improve the quality of life for the detainees and provide greater protection for the people working in the facility." This development will refuel the controversy about the jail, which still holds 450 prisoners from President George Bush's "war on terror". Campaigners pointed to Mr Bush's claim earlier this summer that he would "like to close" Guantanamo. Just weeks after he made his comments in June, the Supreme Court ruled that the administration's system for trying prisoners using military tribunals breached United States and international law.

Constitutional law experts and civil rights advocates are slamming the latest legislative proposal from US Senator Arlen Specter to address the government's warrantless wiretapping program. After months of negotiations with other lawmakers and Bush administration officials, Specter announced a "compromise" agreement last Thursday. But critics say the proposal is a "sham" that eliminates congressional oversight over the executive branch and any meaningful legal review of the program. "It’s really basically a sell-out," said Shayana Kadidal, a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a legal organization that filed a lawsuit on related matters against President Bush and the NSA in January. "It’s basically everything the administration wants in order to be able to continue warrantless spying on Americans."

Presidential adviser Karl Rove said Saturday that journalists often criticize political professionals because they want to draw attention away from the "corrosive role" their own coverage plays in politics and government. "Some decry the professional role of politics. They would like to see it disappear," Rove told graduating students at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. "Some argue political professionals are ruining American politics -- trapping candidates in daily competition for the news cycle instead of long-term strategic thinking in the best interest of the country."

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: A poll completed by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News was presented to show good news for the Bush administration in today's Wall Street Journal, RAW STORY has found. The report on the poll by the Journal's Senior Contributing Writer John Harwood states that "In the Journal/NBC poll, approval of Mr. Bush's job performance inched up to 39% from 37% last month, but a 56% majority disapproves of the president's job performance. Congress fares even worse, with 25% approval and 60% disapproval." However, the survey results in PDF format show that there is a margin of error in the poll's findings of 3.1% in either direction. When confronted with similar results, a USA Today/Gallup Poll stated that "President George W. Bush's job approval rating holding in the same range" because the margin of error meant that there was no statistically significant change in Bush's approval ratings.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: The housing industry - which largely carried the American economy through the tribulations of the 2000 stock-market crash, a recession and climbing oil prices - has lost its vigor in recent months and now has begun to bog down the broader economy, which slowed to a modest 2.5 percent growth rate this spring. That was a sharp comedown from the 5.6 percent growth rate of the first quarter, the Commerce Department reported yesterday, caused in part by the third consecutive quarterly decline in spending on houses and apartment buildings, after several years of rapid growth. "It hasn't slowed down a little bit - it has slowed down a lot," said Doug McCraw, a developer who has scrapped his plans for a 205-unit condominium tower in a neighborhood just north of downtown Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "Anybody who did not have a shovel in the dirt has chosen to wait till the market settles."

Millions of American men in the "prime of their lives" are unemployed by choice, according to a front page story set for Monday's edition of The New York Times. "Millions of men in the prime of their lives, between 30 and 55, have dropped out of regular work," report Louis Uchitelle and David Leonhardt for The Times first article in its "New Gender Divide" series. "They are turning down jobs they think are beneath them or are unable to find work for which they are qualified, even as an expanding economy offers opportunities to work," the article continues.

In July, US President George W Bush used his veto for the first time to block funding for stem-cell research. Now, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to promote Britain as an ideal place for stem-cell research when he meets US biotechnology firms later. Mr Blair is on a four-day visit to California to try to boost co-operation between the state and the UK. The UK may benefit from an influx of cash as US stem-cell firms face vocal and politically powerful opposition.

News From Smirkey's Wars: The US administration has quietly reversed its goal from whittling down troop numbers in Iraq before the mid-term congressional elections in November. A Pentagon spokesman on Friday confirmed that US troop levels in Iraq rose to 132,000 during the past week - the highest since late May - from 127,000 at the start of the week. The spokesman said troop numbers often fluctuated and "there might be temporary spikes during periods of troop rotation." President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki have agreed to send thousands more troops to tackle sectarian and insurgent violence in Baghdad, where criminal gangs and kidnappers feed off the instability. Maliki has already launched a crackdown but it has failed to ease the communal violence which has raised fears of civil war.

Raging sectarian violence has pushed up the number of refugees in Iraq by 20,000 in the last 10 days alone, the migration ministry said on Monday. It said in a statement the total number of people displaced has reached 182,154. The crisis is likely to be far graver because ministry figures include only those who formally ask for aid within the country, some of them living in tented camps. By excluding thousands fleeing abroad or quietly seeking refuge with relatives, officials accept the data is a gross underestimate. The figure of 182,154, based on the ministry's data of 30,359 families, is the number of those claiming aid since the February 22 bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra sparked a new phase of killing by Shi'ites and minority Sunni groups. Some 27,744 people have fled Baghdad alone in the past five months. More and more houses are boarded up in the capital and many shops in once bustling commercial districts have shut after being threatened with violence or attacked.

Many American politicians were surprised by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's criticism of Israel's attacks on Lebanon. They need only look at the stance taken by Iraq's top Shiite spiritual leader to understand why al-Maliki cannot stand with the U.S. in the crisis. On Sunday, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani condemned the "Israeli aggression" and warned that "Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire" - a clear reference to the United States. His statement came after an Israeli airstrike that killed 56 people, mostly women and children, in the southern Lebanese village of Qana. Al-Maliki's comments came five days earlier, but it was no secret that the grand ayatollah and the rest of the Shiite clerical leadership strongly opposed Israel's offensive - and supported their fellow Shiites in Hezbollah. The Iraqi prime minister angered many Americans - especially Democrats - during a visit to Washington last week when he called for an immediate cease-fire without criticizing Hezbollah for provoking the crisis by capturing two Israeli soldiers and firing missiles into Israel.

Winning Hearts And Minds: "I came over here because I wanted to kill people." Over a mess-tent dinner of turkey cutlets, the bony-faced 21-year-old private from West Texas looked right at me as he talked about killing Iraqis with casual indifference. It was February, and we were at his small patrol base about 20 miles south of Baghdad. "The truth is, it wasn't all I thought it was cracked up to be. I mean, I thought killing somebody would be this life-changing experience. And then I did it, and I was like, 'All right, whatever.' " He shrugged. "I shot a guy who wouldn't stop when we were out at a traffic checkpoint and it was like nothing," he went on. "Over here, killing people is like squashing an ant. I mean, you kill somebody and it's like 'All right, let's go get some pizza.' "

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: The European heatwave has forced nuclear power plants to reduce or halt production. The weather, blamed for deaths and disruption across much of the continent, has caused dramatic rises in the temperature of rivers used to cool the reactors, raising fears of mass deaths for fish and other wildlife. Spain shut down the Santa Maria de Garona reactor on the River Ebro, one of the country's eight nuclear plants which generate a fifth of its national electricity. Reactors in Germany are reported to have cut output, and others in Germany and France have been given special permits to dump hot water into rivers to avoid power failures. France, where nuclear power provides more than three quarters of electricity, has also imported power to prevent shortages. The problems have come to light just weeks after Britain declared it will build a new generation of nuclear power stations, prompting opponents to claim the crisis proved nuclear reactors - although they emit no carbon dioxide greenhouse gases - are not the solution to the problem of global warming.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Ann Coulter repeated on Hardball her insinuation that Bill Clinton is gay, then went on to joke that "may not be gay, but Al Gore: total fag". She also repeated the claim that liberalism stands for "sucking the brains out of little babies." Video here. In concluding the interview, Matthews said of Coulter, "We'd love to have her back."

Picture the TV commercial, a deep voice delivering this ominous message, in a slow, deliberate cadence: "Even al-Jazeera endorsed Democrat Bobby Casey Jr. Whose side is he on, anyway?" It's hard not to think that was partly why Republican blogs and aides to U.S. Sen. Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum (R., Pa.) sounded giddy last week as they passed around a commentary from a Web site, www.Al-Jazeerah.info. "Don't ask Santorum to 'apologize,' folks. Vote Democratic," stated the commentary, which denounced the senator's July 20 speech describing the United States as fighting a war on Islamic fascism, not terror. Santorum referenced it himself Thursday on Fox's O'Reilly Factor. But there was one little wrinkle. The Web site was not related to the Arabic TV network based in the Middle East - spelled al-Jazeera, no "h." The goal of al-Jazeerah, according to its Web site, is to "promote cross-cultural understanding between people all over the world." It's based in Dalton, Ga., not Qatar. "Rick Santorum has reached a new low in gutter politics by trying to ridiculously link Bob Casey to terrorists," Casey spokesman Larry Smar said. Santorum's spokeswoman, Virginia Davis, said it doesn't make a difference. "We thought we should share these kind of sentiments."

There is probable cause to believe that Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher violated ethics laws by owning stock in two insurance companies while he regulated the industry, the state ethics commission determined Friday. The commission will determine later whether action should be taken against the Republican. Its next meeting isn't scheduled until after Gallagher faces Attorney General Charlie Crist in the Sept. 5 primary election. When Gallagher posted his tax returns on his campaign Web site it was revealed he had traded hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock between 2002 and 2005, including shares of insurers Penn Treaty American Corp. and Conseco Inc. Gallagher served as insurance commissioner until 2003, when he was sworn in as the state's chief financial officer. As CFO, Gallagher sits on the Cabinet which, along with the governor, oversees insurance regulation and several state agencies. The commission's determination came after a closed hearing, but the panel confirmed the findings after Gallagher's campaign disclosed them.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:00:13 AM

Sat, Jul 29 2006

Trees Down, Antenna Up

The weather has generally been pretty decent the last couple of days, considering it is the rainy season and all. Bright sunny day most of the day yesterday, with drizzle during the evening, but dry by morning. And this morning, it was the same, until about three this afternoon when it clouded over and the rain began. A good thunderstorm, not a major one, though, and it forced me to pull the power in the house as there was a lot of lightning associated with it. And this evening, there was another one, but neither lasted all that long or were particularly intense. Nice temperatures, though. The sun brought the temperature to 83 yesterday, 82 today, and 72 overnight.

But there was some serious weather a couple of nights ago. During the night, I knew it was blowing hard as some of the roof sheets were being rattled by the wind. But I didn´t know how hard until I looked out the window yesterday morning to discover that the wind had blown down one of the enormous Ficus benjaminica trees growing on the north side of my pond. When the gardener arrived, I went over to have a look, and it turns out that the trunk was rotten inside, and that is why the wind brought it down. It also brought down a guava tree on the north side of my property, which I had expected to come down ever since it was damaged by my neighbor during the construction of his house. Well, it is down, now, and with the big Ficus tree, I now have a lot of work for the chainsaw man. I need to go talk to him Monday about coming over and cutting up those trees, and then get my peon to come by and haul it all away. I have to get him started on the fence project, too. Seems one of the trees along the fence line came down in that same storm, and wrecked part of the fence and came down on the power line across the street, but the ICE crew cut it down for me. I just need to remove the stump.

When the gardener was here yesterday, we tried using his slingshot to get some fishing line up in the trees around here so I could haul up some antennas. Well, that didn't work out, but it turns out that he has a fabulous pitching arm, and was able to do as well with a fast pitch as the slingshot could manage with a small pebble. So he found a green mango on the ground, wrapped some line around it, and threw it clear over the top of my highest mango tree. No problem. I used that line to haul up a piece of electric fence wire, and we did the same with the other three trees near the house that I wanted to have access to.

This morning, since the weather was good, I decided to go ahead and put up one of the antennas, using some electric fence wire brought down for me from the States (thanks, Arlie!). After rather considerable effort at getting the antenna up through all the trees and shrubs around here, I got the cable into the house and hooked it up to the radio.

I was surprised to be able to hear hams in the States on the 40-meter band in the middle of the day. I had never heard that before from here in Costa Rica. Signal levels were rather weak on other bands, indicating poor band conditions today, but signals came up nicely in the evening, indicating that all the effort was worth it. I now have one of the two antennas up that I really need. Talking to other hams around the Caribbean and in the southeastern U.S. will no longer be difficult. And when I get the other antenna up, Central America and the western U.S. will no longer be a problem either. I am finally back on the air with reasonable antennas.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Captain Clueless speaks to the nation about the causes of terror: President Bush on Saturday cast the Lebanon war as part of a broader struggle against terrorism and said a strategy to end the violence there must address the threat posed by Hizbollah. Amid mounting concern over civilian casualties in the fighting between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was headed to Israel to discuss the terms of a proposal for a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a negotiated truce. A day after Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced they would try to offer the resolution next week, Bush used his weekly radio broadcast to highlight his goals. "As we work to resolve this current crisis, we must recognize that Lebanon is the latest flashpoint in a broader struggle between freedom and terror that is unfolding across the region," Bush said. Bush and Blair agreed that a multinational force for Lebanon should be formed quickly to help speed delivery of aid to thousands of displaced Lebanese and help stabilize the border.

Iran's foreign ministry on Friday denied allegations that Tehran has provided military support to Hezbollah in its fight against Israel, a day after President Bush sharply criticized Iran's role in the bloody fighting. "Our support has been spiritual. If we had military support, we would announce it... We don't have any hidden business," ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on state-run television. Bush said Thursday that Iran is connected to Hezbollah, and now was the "time for the world to confront this danger." Bush was responding to statements from top Israeli officials that the fighting could continue for several weeks. The Israeli offensive, which began after Hezbollah crossed the border and captured two Israeli soldiers, continued into its 17th day Friday. John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also has alleged that Iranians are Hezbollah's "paymasters, and they're calling the tune."

Tony Blair will press George Bush today to support "as a matter of urgency" a ceasefire in Lebanon as part of a UN security council resolution next week, according to Downing Street sources. At a White House meeting, the prime minister will express his concern that pro-western Arab governments are "getting squeezed" by the crisis and the longer it continues, the more squeezed they will be, giving militants a boost. The private view from No 10 is that the US is "prevaricating" over the resolution and allowing the conflict to run on too long. But diplomatic sources in Washington suggest the US and Israel believe serious damage has been inflicted on Hizbullah, so the White House is ready to back a ceasefire resolution at the UN next week. Today Mr Bush and Mr Blair will discuss a version of the resolution that has been circulating in Washington and London.

Hizbullah wants an immediate ceasefire and is ready to swap the two abducted Israeli soldiers "in six hours" after it comes into force, according to officials from Amal, a Shia party allied to Hizbullah. Hizbullah has entrusted Amal with negotiations for a prisoner deal, realising that it cannot be a direct partner to talks. Nabih Berri, Amal's leader, who is also speaker of the Lebanese parliament, met Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, on Tuesday in a clear sign that Washington sees him as a conduit to Hizbullah. "Mr Berri says he can get the Israeli soldiers sent back in return for Lebanese prisoners in six hours after a ceasefire," Ali Hamdan, the head of Amal's foreign affairs bureau, told the Guardian yesterday. "He wouldn't say that if he didn't have assurances from Hizbullah."

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Buying: Israel's U.N. ambassador on Thursday ruled out major U.N. involvement in any potential international force in Lebanon, saying more professional and better-trained troops were needed for such a volatile situation. Dan Gillerman also said Israel would not allow the United Nations to join in an investigation of an Israeli airstrike that demolished a post belonging to the current U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. Four U.N. observers were killed in the Tuesday strike. "Israel has never agreed to a joint investigation, and I don't think that if anything happened in this country, or in Britain or in Italy or in France, the government of that country would agree to a joint investigation," Gillerman said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice launched a new round of diplomacy in the Middle East in a bid to end the 18-day-old Lebanon conflict, as Israel flatly rejected UN pleas for a humanitarian truce and unleashed another wave of strikes. Shortly after Rice touched down in Israel for the second time in a week, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed to strike cities "in the center" of the country if the Jewish state continued to attack civilians in Lebanon. Israel, backed by the United States, has refused to set a date for ending its war on the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah that has killed more than 450 people in Lebanon, most of them civilians, and made hundreds of thousands homeless.

An Israeli air strike has closed the main border crossing from Lebanon into Syria, witnesses and officials say. Missiles hit the road between the two states' immigration posts, but on the Lebanese side, the reports said. A separate strike wounded two UN monitors in their observation post, the UN said, days after four were killed. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has returned to the region for fresh talks set to focus on bringing in a larger international peace force. Deployment of the force is expected to be discussed by world leaders at a meeting at the UN headquarters in New York on Monday.

The United Nations has decided to remove 50 unarmed observers from posts along the Israeli-Lebanese border and relocate them with lightly armed UN peacekeepers, a spokesman said Friday. Also Friday, Hezbollah announced it had fired a new rocket, called the Khaibar-1, striking near the northern Israeli town of Afula. Israeli authorities reported that five rockets hit fields outside Afula, causing no casualties. Afula is about 30 miles south of the Israeli-Lebanese border, and is farther south than the Israeli port city of Haifa. The strike came two days after Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech that Hezbollah would start a new phase in the battle striking beyond the Israeli city of Haifa, which has been hit several times in lethal rocket fire. The area around Afula has been struck before, but Israeli security officials said Friday's attacks were the southernmost so far. The UN decision came three days after an Israeli airstrike destroyed one of the posts earlier this week, killing four UN observers from Austria, Canada, China and Finland.

Israeli troops pulled back from a key Lebanese border town Saturday where it battled Hezbollah for a week, claiming to have finished its mission after the bloodiest ground fight of the 18-day war. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah threatened in a TV broadcast to attack more cities in central Israel, as Israeli warplanes blasted bridges and demolished houses in southern Lebanon, killing seven people, including a woman and her five children. The battle for Bint Jbail has symbolized Israel's difficulty in pushing guerrillas back from the border, whether by air bombardment or ground assault. Hezbollah on Friday escalated its cross-border attacks, firing longer-range missiles deeper into Israel than ever before.

Along Lebanon's sandy beaches and rocky headlands runs a belt of black sludge, 10,000 to 30,000 tonnes of oil that spilled into the Mediterranean Sea after Israel bombed a power plant. Lebanon's Environment Ministry says the oil flooded into the sea when Israeli jets hit storage tanks at the Jiyyeh plant south of Beirut on July 13 and 15, creating an ecological crisis that Lebanon's government has neither the money nor the expertise to deal with. "We have never seen a spill like this in the history of Lebanon. It is a major catastrophe," Environment Minister Yacoub al-Sarraf told Reuters. "The equipment we have is for minor spills. We use it once in a blue moon to clean a small spill of 50 tonnes or so. To clean this whole thing up we would need an armada ... The cost of a full clean-up could run as high as $40-50 million." The spill is especially threatening since fish spawn and sea turtles nest on Lebanon's coast, including the green turtle which is endangered in the Mediterranean, local ecologists say. Carried by a north-easterly wind, the spill has travelled 70-80 km up the coast of Lebanon, which has been bombarded by Israel for 16 days in a war against Hizbollah.

At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight. Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for 15 days, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements. The Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah's main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington. An outpouring of newspaper columns, cartoons, blogs and public poetry readings have showered praise on Hezbollah while attacking the United States and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for trumpeting American plans for a "new Middle East" that they say has led only to violence and repression. Even Al Qaeda, run by violent Sunni Muslim extremists normally hostile to all Shiites, has gotten into the act, with its deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, releasing a taped message saying that through its fighting in Iraq, his organization was also trying to liberate Palestine.

Something I have been predicting for a long time: Police stepped up security at Seattle synagogues and mosques on Saturday, a day after a Muslim man who said he was angry at Israel shot dead one woman and wounded five others at a Jewish center. Naveed Afzal Haq, 31, burst into the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle on Friday afternoon. He surrendered without a struggle and police arrested him on charges of murder and five counts of attempted murder. Amy Wasser-Simpson, the federation's vice president, told the Seattle Times that Haq got past security at the building and shouted, "I'm a Muslim American; I'm angry at Israel," before he began shooting. Police officers circled Seattle's Seward Park area, the city's traditional Jewish neighborhood and home to three major synagogues. Uniformed guards stood outside the neighborhood's Bikur Cholim-Machzikay Hadath synagogue and the Sephardic Bikur Holim synagogue. "There is high security," said Robin Boehler, chairwoman of the Jewish Federation. "This is the thing we dread the most happening."

On a day of heavy Israeli military casualties and failed international talks to end more than two weeks of fighting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with senior Cabinet ministers Wednesday to assess the course of Israel's offensive in Lebanon in the face of growing domestic doubts about the conduct of the campaign. As televised images of wounded soldiers carried off helicopters raised haunting memories of Israel's 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon, critics began to raise questions about the tactics of the offensive and the army's performance in the face of determined resistance by Hezbollah. Putting up a stronger fight than expected, Hezbollah guerrillas inflicted heavy losses on Israeli troops in Wednesday's combat, killing nine soldiers and wounding 25 in the worst single-day toll for the Israelis since the start of the campaign. The casualties in the fighting in the hill town of Bint Jbail in southern Lebanon were also a blow to the army's credibility after some senior officers announced in media interviews Tuesday that resistance in the town had been broken and that it was under the control of Israeli forces.

As Israeli troops sustained considerable casualties in the fighting in south Lebanon, the Israeli military appeared divided over the course of operations. Disagreement broke out between the Mossad intelligence service and military intelligence at a meeting of the inner cabinet for security and political affairs Thursday over the evaluation of Hezbollah's force and capacity to resist a long offensive. The two sides also could not agree on the extent of damage inflicted on Hezbollah's military infrastructure as a result of military operations which have been going on without respite for the past 17 days, Israeli daily Haaretz reported Friday. In addition to differences between the intelligence apparatuses, sharp criticism was voiced within the military institution about the course of military operations in south Lebanon, reflecting confusion over the proceeding of the war conduct. The military correspondent at Israel's Channel One television reported that high-ranking IDF officers are highly critical of the way military operations are being executed in south Lebanon and have accused military intelligence of underestimating Hezbollah's strength and failing to prevent the Shiite group from kidnapping Israeli soldiers despite previous unsuccessful attempts.

While You Were Glued To Faux News: Social networking sites such as MySpace and chat rooms have allowed sexual predators to sneak into homes and solicit kids," said Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican and co-founder of the Congressional Victim's Rights Caucus, will be banned under ab till proposed by Poe. "This bill requires schools and libraries to establish (important) protections" - meaning they're going to be outright banned. Even though politicians apparently meant to restrict access to MySpace, the definition of off-limits Web sites is so broad the bill would probably sweep in thousands of commercial Web sites that allow people to post profiles, include personal information and allow "communication among users." Details will be left up to the Federal Communications Commission. Many schools and libraries already block MySpace and certain other sites. Good. So why should this action be legislated by the federal government? The role of computers in libraries is to provide general access to information, much as the same way books and magazine provide general access to information. Is liberty less important than teenagers annoying you while they sit at a public computer? What is the government to say to a public library who has determined that social networking sites are not a burden or a threat in their facility? Why punish and restrict all users to remove the (perceived) risks of a few?

Republicans muscled the first minimum wage increase in a decade through the House early Saturday after pairing it with a cut in inheritance taxes on multimillion-dollar estates. Combining the two issues provoked protests from Democrats and was sure to cause problems in the Senate, where the minimum wage initiative was likely to die at the hands of Democrats opposed to the costly estate tax cuts. The Senate is expected to take up the legislation next week. Still, GOP leaders saw combining the wage and tax issues as their best chance for getting permanent cuts to the estate tax, a top GOP priority fueled by intense lobbying by farmers, small business owners and super-wealthy families such as the Waltons, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune. "This is the best shot we've got; we're going to take it," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. The unusual packaging also soothed conservatives angry about raising the minimum wage over opposition by GOP business allies. The House passed the bill 230-180 before leaving for a five-week recess.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday directed more than 2,500 U.S. troops who have spent the past year in Iraq to stay up to four months past their scheduled departure date, boosting the size of the U.S. force amid unrelenting violence in Baghdad, officials said. The move, involving elements of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Wainwright in Alaska, was the latest sign that any significant reduction in the size of the 130,000-strong U.S. force in Iraq is unlikely any time soon.

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: Tony Blair was facing a full-scale cabinet rebellion last night over the Middle East crisis after his former Foreign Secretary warned Israel's actions risked destabilizing the whole of Lebanon. Jack Straw, now Leader of the Commons, said in a statement released after meeting Muslim constituents that while he grieved for innocent Israelis killed he also mourned the '10 times as many innocent Lebanese men, women and children killed by Israeli fire'. Straw added that he agreed with the Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells that it was 'very difficult to understand the kind of military tactics used by Israel', adding: 'One of the many serious worries I have is that a continuation of such tactics by Israel could destabilize the already fragile Lebanese nation.' The Observer can also reveal that at a cabinet meeting before Blair's Middle East summit talks with George Bush, minister after minister pressed him to break with the Americans' position and publicly criticise the Israelis for the scale of death and destruction in Lebanon. No one, according to one senior minister at the meeting, weighed in to support the Prime Minister.

What The GWOT (Global War On Terror) Is Buying: ConocoPhillips, Houston's largest company ranked by revenue, announced yet another record profit on Wednesday. For the second quarter of the year, the company booked net income of $5.2 billion, or $3.09 a share, on revenue of $47.1 billion. That's a 65 percent increase in profit over this time last year when ConocoPhillips booked net income of $3.1 billion, or $2.21 a share, on revenue of $41.8 billion. Even with the spike in profit, ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva said the company could have done better. Still, it outperformed Wall Street analysts' expectations, and its stock closed up $1.15 at $68.60 per share. On both the refining side and the oil and gas production side of the business, the company's earnings were hampered slightly by downtime at facilities. Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Europe’s second-largest oil company, said Thursday its second-quarter earnings jumped 40 percent as high oil prices offset production difficulties in Nigeria and the Gulf of Mexico. Net profit rose to $7.32 billion from $5.24 billion a year earlier. Sales rose less than 1 percent to $83.1 billion from $82.6 billion. Exxon Mobil Corp. said Thursday it earned $10.36 billion in the second quarter, the second largest quarterly profit ever recorded by a publicly traded U.S. company. The earnings figure was 36 percent above the profit it reported a year ago. High oil prices helped boost the company’s revenue by 12 percent to a level just short of a quarterly record.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: The US economy, the world's largest, has slowed in the second quarter of the year, on the back of rising interest rates and soaring energy costs. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an annual rate of 2.5% in the three months to the end of June, compared to a 5.6% annual rate in the previous quarter. Some slowdown had been expected, but its severity comes as a surprise. The US dollar dropped on the news, as analysts questioned their forecasts for annual US economic growth. The Federal Reserve predicts that the US economy will expand by 3.5% this year, compared with a growth rate of 3.2% in 2005.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: An obscure law approved by a Republican-controlled Congress a decade ago has made the Bush administration nervous that officials and troops involved in handling detainee matters might be accused of committing war crimes, and prosecuted at some point in U.S. courts. Senior officials have responded by drafting legislation that would grant U.S. personnel involved in the terrorism fight new protections against prosecution for past violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment. In light of a recent Supreme Court ruling that the international Conventions apply to the treatment of such detainees, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has spoken privately with Republican lawmakers about the need for such "protections," according to someone who heard his remarks last week. Gonzales told the lawmakers that a shield was needed for actions taken by U.S. personnel under a 2002 presidential order, which the Supreme Court declared illegal, and under Justice Department legal opinions that have been withdrawn under fire, the source said. A spokeswoman for Gonzales, Tasia Scolinos, declined to comment on Gonzales's remarks.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee has issued a strongly worded critique of the U.S. government's rights record at home and abroad, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch urges the United States to adopt the committee's recommendations, which reflect a growing international consensus that the U.S. is violating basic human rights norms. The committee called upon the U.S. to immediately abolish all secret detention facilities; ensure that all detainees at Guantanamo Bay are provided a fair opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of their detention; and hold accountable all persons - including contract employees and senior military officers - responsible for abuse and torture in Guantanamo, Afghanistan or Iraq. It also criticized U.S. domestic policies on asylum-seekers and prisoners. "The U.N. committee clearly rejected the Bush administration's claim that it isn't violating the U.N. treaty on civil and political rights when it acts beyond its own borders," said Alison Parker, acting director of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch. "If U.S. agents deliver detainees to countries where they face torture or keep people in secret prisons, they are violating fundamental human rights." The committee sharply criticized the Bush administration's view that its human rights treaty obligations do not apply to persons detained outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, and that actions taken by CIA and civilian contractors were not proper subjects of inquiry.

Meanwhile, Back At Rancho Iraq: The United States is dropping Bechtel, the American construction giant, from a project to build a high-tech children's hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Basra after the project fell nearly a year behind schedule and exceeded its expected cost by as much as 150 percent. Called the Basra Children's Hospital, the project has been consistently championed by the first lady, Laura Bush, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and was designed to house sophisticated equipment for treating childhood cancer. Now it becomes the latest in a series of American taxpayer-financed health projects in Iraq to face overruns, delays and cancellations. Earlier this year, the Army Corps of Engineers canceled more than $300 million in contracts held by Parsons, another American contractor, to build and refurbish hospitals and clinics across Iraq. American and Iraqi government officials described the move to drop Bechtel in interviews on Thursday, and Ammar al-Saffar, a deputy health minister in Baghdad, allowed a reporter to take notes on briefing papers on the subject he said he had recently been given by the State Department.

President Bush and national security adviser Stephen Hadley yesterday for the first time publicly acknowledged the momentous shift in the role for U.S. troops in Iraq, from fighting terrorists to trying to suppress religious violence. This sea change was described in such understated terms that it was eclipsed by news about the crisis in Lebanon. Bush described a change in tactics; Hadley called it a repositioning. But it’s a historic admission: That job one for many American troops in Iraq is no longer fighting al-Qaeda terrorists, or even insurgents. Rather, it is trying to quell an incipient - if not already raging - sectarian civil war, with Baghdad as ground zero.

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: Heat waves and global warming "are very strongly" connected, said Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis branch chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. The immediate cause of the California heat wave - and other heat waves - is day-to-day weather, he said. A persistent high pressure system in the upper atmosphere prevents cooler jetstream air, from making it into the West, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dennis Feltgen. "You can't tie global warming into one single event," he said. But what global warming has done is make the nights warmer in general and the days drier, which help turn merely uncomfortably hot days into killer heat waves, Trenberth said. Much of global warming science concentrates on average monthly and yearly temperatures, but recent studies in the past five years show that climate change is at its most dangerous during extreme events, such as high temperatures, droughts and flooding, he said.

The heatwave that has been baking California since mid-July is being blamed for more than 130 deaths across the state, the authorities have said. Many of the deaths have been in the Central Valley, where temperatures have reached 46C (115F) in some areas. Among the worst-hit areas is Fresno, where the local mortuary is struggling to deal with dozens of bodies. The heat has also hit the agriculture sector, killing 25,000 cattle and 700,000 poultry, farmers say.

The record-breaking heat wave that plagued California will pass this weekend to the U.S. Midwest and East Coast where high air conditioning use will strain electricity systems and increase the chance of outages, power officials and weather forecasters said. The heat wave is not expected to be as long-lasting in the Midwest, Northeast or Mid-Atlantic as it was in California, where cities inland from the Pacific Ocean were over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for two weeks and more. The death toll in California topped 126 by Friday, state officials said. [nN28119059] The hot spell is over for now for most of the West, forecasters agreed. A string of extremely hot days through next Wednesday will rival those of mid-July when power grids in the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic, New England and New York state all set records of electricity consumption. Power grids in all those locations were strained but held without major power outages, similar to what happened during California's heat wave. Heat and humidity will make it feel like 110 F in Eastern cities Philadelphia, New York and Washington by Tuesday, said Chris Hyde, meteorologist with MDA-EarthSat Weather.

More than 60 percent of the United States now has abnormally dry or drought conditions, stretching from Georgia to Arizona and across the north through the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin, said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist for the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. An area stretching from south central North Dakota to central South Dakota is the most drought-stricken region in the nation, Svoboda said. "It's the epicenter," he said. "It's just like a wasteland in north central South Dakota." Conditions aren't much better a little farther north.

Just as American wines from the now famous Napa and Sonoma valleys and other enclaves have established their place at the world's top tables, a new report has warned that global warming may destroy the industry. The study forecasts that by the end of this century up to four-fifths of the best vine-growing areas will no longer be able to grow their premium grapes because of the steady rise in very hot days, when temperatures pass 35C. And with California now in a state of emergency because of a two-week heatwave in which temperatures have soared to 49C, and which has been blamed for killing more than 120 people, the wine industry faces an imminent crisis, says Dr Noah Diffenbaugh, one of the study's authors. Such a dramatic change would affect wine drinkers around the world - especially those in Britain, which imports more wine from America than from Chile, South Africa or Spain. 'The climate change we're predicting for the late 21st century is so far above those maximum tolerances [to very hot days], we'd expect to see those changes a lot sooner,' said Diffenbaugh, of Purdue University in Indiana.

Coal-burning utilities are contributing money to one of the few remaining climate scientists openly critical of the broad consensus that fossil fuel emissions are intensifying global warming. The critic, Patrick J. Michaels, is a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and Virginia's state climatologist. Dr. Michaels told Western business leaders last year that he was running out of money for his analyses of other scientists' global warming research. So a Colorado utility organized a collection campaign for him last week and has raised at least $150,000 in donations and pledges. The utility, the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, based in Sedalia, Colo., has given Dr. Michaels $100,000 of its own, said Stanley R. Lewandowski Jr., its general manager. Mr. Lewandowski said that one company planned to give $50,000 and that a third planned to contribute to Dr. Michaels next year.

New data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirms fears that rain from hurricanes and tropical storms could flood some New Orleans neighborhoods with up to 5 feet of water when new floodgates are closed at the mouths of three major drainage canals. The floodgates are designed to prevent storm surges from Lake Pontchartrain from backing up into the canals, preventing the surge flooding that inundated most of the city during Hurricane Katrina. But the floodgates also would prevent rainfall from draining through canals into the lake. The data released Wednesday shows 9 inches of rain in six hours - which happened during Katrina - could leave some neighborhoods under 1 to 5 feet of water. That's less than the storm surge that topped houses last August, but it could still flood some homes and endanger the city's recovery, said U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who requested the data. When plans to install the floodgates were announced in January, Corps officials acknowledged the possibility of flooding caused by heavy rains, but never said how bad it could be.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Two months before Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) became chairman of the powerful House Government Reform Committee in January 2003, one of his close friends formed ICG Government, a consulting company for technology firms seeking government contracts. Donald W. Upson had risen with Davis through the burgeoning Northern Virginia technology community, where they worked side by side as executives at a company that sold computer systems to the government. Davis went on to Congress, where he became a leading voice on government contracting and an advocate for his technology industry constituents in Fairfax and Prince William counties. Upson became the top technology official for the Virginia state government before reentering the private sector and starting ICG. From the beginning, Upson worked with Davis and his staff as he built his consulting business, which holds seminars on procurement and advises clients on winning government technology contracts worth billions of dollars. Those contracts often came under the oversight of Davis's committee. One of Upson's first hires was Jeannemarie Devolites, a Virginia politician who later married the congressman.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:15:58 PM

Thu, Jul 27 2006

The Ever Higher Price Of Gasoline

The weather has been very windy, yesterday and today, and although sunny, dry and relatively warm (71 overnight and 79 both days), it has been windy to the point of being rather unpleasant. Last night, the wind blew down a huge tree on the hilltop across the street from the house, and when it came down, it broke a concrete power pole along with it. That brought down the high-tension wire on top of the pole, and took out the power in the barrio. The power was off for a couple of hours while the ICE crew was out putting a temporary extension on the pole, and reinstalling the high tension wire. They were still at it when I went to bed, but the power was back on just before I went to sleep. I am going to miss that tree. It was absolutely enormous, one of the biggest trees in the neighborhood - a hundred feet high and as wide, and was a favorite resting place for traveling flocks of parrots, oropendulas and toucans. Guess they'll have to go somewhere else now.

The price of "super" gasoline is going up again this weekend. It just went to $4.10 per gallon last week, but the word in the paper this morning is that the government-owned RECOPE refining monopoly has asked for yet another price increase, this time to $4.29 per gallon. A gallon of "regular" is going to $4.12 from $3.98. And you thought you had it bad!

So I can expect another rate increase for both taxis and buses. It has already gotten to the point that a taxi ride from my place into town - a distance of about half a mile - now costs 1,000 colones - $1.94. When I first moved here two and a half years ago, it was about 75 cents. Sigh. Taxis used to be dirt cheap in this country, but not any more. Bus rides to anywhere in the country were paid from pocket shrapnel. Those days are gone, too. Diesel powered mo-peds anyone?

I wouldn't mind it quite so much if the fuel quality was decent, but I can tell from how my car engine runs that the 92-octane "super" isn't exactly 92 octane, and the 89-octane "regular" is far from 89. It would be interesting to run samples through a modern testing lab in the States and find out just how they actually measure up. I keep hearing that they're going to build an ethanol plant to make ethanol from Costa Rica's abundant sugar cane resources, and start blending it with the gasoline, but so far that has just been talk. It would be a good way to relieve pressure on the forex reserves.

I drove into town yesterday to drop off a friend, and you would never have guessed at the high price of gasoline - there wasn't a parking spot anywhere in sight, from the highway all the way to beyond the post office, about three blocks, and it wasn't the usual delivery trucks either. It was like every car in town was there, and then some. You would never know that there is a gas price crisis going on. It was just like the old days. I suppose people are getting used to it.

I can understand why the government is purposely keeping fuel prices high - the importation of crude petroleum is by far the single largest foreign exchange bill that the central bank has to pay, and transportation fuel is by far the largest use for it - far more than all the other uses combined. So by keeping the price up, the government accomplishes two things - first, reduce the pressure on forex reserves by keeping demand for petroleum down, and second, increase revenues to the government, which it desperately needs. But there is a limit - if the government raises gasoline prices too far, people will begin driving across the borders to Panama and Nicaragua to fill up on relatively cheaper gasoline there. Not that it is that much cheaper at the moment - when I was in Nicaragua three weeks ago, regular gasoline was $3.77 per gallon there at that time, and is probably higher now. Haven't been to Panama recently, but when I was there a year and a half ago, it was about 10 cents a gallon higher than here on the main highways, and about 30 cents a gallon higher off the beaten tracks.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, said today that foreign troops could leave his country within months. Later today Mr al-Maliki will talk to Tony Blair in Downing Street about the conditions needed to bring about that withdrawal. The new leader's much-touted security plan has failed to stem the bloodshed in Baghdad and other parts of the country but Mr al-Maliki, who is on an official visit to London, insisted that the handover by British forces of Muthanna province, a sparsely populated desert region, earlier this month was a positive sign. Iraqis were now ready to take charge of security in other areas, he said. Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today program how long it would be before foreign forces could depart, he replied: "Definitely not decades, not even years. I think in this visit we will discuss issues that will allow foreign troops to leave."

Conservative national security allies of President Bush are in revolt against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying that she is incompetent and has reversed the administration’s national security and foreign policy agenda. The conservatives, who include Newt Gingrich, Richard Perle and leading current and former members of the Pentagon and National Security Council, have urged the president to transfer Miss Rice out of the State Department and to an advisory role. They said Miss Rice, stemming from her lack of understanding of the Middle East, has misled the president on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. "The president has yet to understand that people make policy and not the other way around," a senior national security policy analyst said. "Unlike [former Secretary of State Colin] Powell, Condi is loyal to the president. She is just incompetent on most foreign policy issues." The criticism of Miss Rice has been intense and comes from a range of Republican loyalists, including current and former aides in the Defense Department and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. They have warned that Iran has been exploiting Miss Rice's inexperience and incompetence to accelerate its nuclear weapons program. They expect a collapse of her policy over the next few months.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan publicly disagreed at a grim-faced news conference on whether Iran and Syria should be involved in talks, with Annan saying they should, and Rice denouncing the two nations for their role in the region. After listening to the news conference, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora expressed despair. Saying his country was being "cut to pieces" by Israel, Siniora said: "We really wanted, on the one hand, to really ask the participants to provide humanitarian relief assistance, which is important, and to provide all other assistance. . . . But more, we wanted a cease-fire, an immediate cease-fire." U.S. officials briefing after the meeting played down disagreements. But others did not. Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said that "we agreed upon what we could agree upon, but that does not change the fact that the European Union has called for an immediate cessation of hostilities" while the United States has not.

A cafe called Osama opposite the US embassy in Belgrade has been told to change its name after diplomats complained. The word Osama means "secluded" in Serbo-Croat and cafe owner Milomir Jeftic said he had named his shop after a local shelter for the homeless. But he has been told to change it after an official complaint from the US Embassy, local media reported. Jeftic said: "I had no intention of offending Americans. It is just a word in Serbian. I admit I have heard of Osama Bin Laden, but until now I was not quite sure who he was."

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: About 55 percent of all casualties at the Beirut Government University Hospital are children of 15 years of age or less, hospital records show. "This is worse than during the Lebanese civil war," Bilal Masri, assistant director of the hospital, one of Beirut's largest, told IPS Monday. Not only are most of the patients children, but many of the injured have been brought in serious condition, he said. "Now we have a 30 percent fatality rate here in Beirut. That means that 30 percent of everyone hit by Israeli bombs are dying. It is a catastrophe." The fatality rate was high, he said, "because the Israelis are using new kinds of bombs which can enter shelters. They are bombing the bomb shelters which are full of refugees." Masri told IPS that he believed so many children were becoming casualties because of the "widespread and indiscriminate nature of the bombings" and because "children are least able to run away when the bombings commence." This new 544-bed hospital was forced to open its emergency room six months early due to the current crisis. The hospital has had to handle "scores and scores" of casualties, according to the assistant director. Masri said he had barely slept in the 13 days since the Israeli bombing of Lebanon began. His hospital, he said, was functioning with only 25 percent staff because "most are now unable to get here because so many roads and bridges are bombed. Those who are here are eating, sleeping and living here 24 hours a day because if they leave they fear they may be unable to return."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan today said he was "shocked" at Israel's "apparently deliberate targeting" of a UN post in Lebanon, in which up to four UN observers were killed. Mr Annan described the strike as a "co-ordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long established and clearly marked UN post." He said it took place "despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that UN positions would be spared Israeli fire." "Furthermore, General Alain Pelligrini, the UN Force Commander in south Lebanon, had been in repeated contact with Israeli officers throughout the day on Tuesday, stressing the need to protect that particular UN position from attack. "I call on the Government of Israel to conduct a full investigation into this very disturbing incident and demand that any further attack on UN positions and personnel must stop. "The names and nationalities of those killed are being withheld pending notification of their families. I extend sincere condolences to the families of our fallen peacekeepers." UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon contacted Israeli troops 10 times before an Israeli bomb killed four of them, an initial UN report says. The UN contacted Israeli forces up to 10 times about the strikes. The UN's deputy general secretary, Mark Malloch Brown, made several calls to the Israelis to protest at the shelling and to call for it to stop, he told the security council yesterday. In response, Israel reportedly promised to halt the firing. An Irish army officer warned the Israelis six times. The post was hit by a precision-guided missile after six hours of shelling, diplomats familiar with the probe say.

Amid intensifying recriminations tonight over the killing of four UN monitors, an Israeli army general tonight said the bombing campaign in Lebanon would continue for many weeks. "I assume it will continue for several more weeks, and in a number of weeks we will be able to [declare] a victory," Major General Udi Adam, the head of Israel's northern command, said at a news conference. Earlier, the United Nations general secretary, Kofi Annan, accused the Israeli military of carrying out a sustained bombing of the UN base on the Lebanon-Israel border that culminated in the killing of four unarmed monitors.

Israeli military attacks in the Gaza Strip have killed 23 Palestinians, including several children, witnesses and medical sources say. At least 11 militants were among the dead, but many civilians were also killed, and about 70 people were hurt. The raids come amid Israeli efforts to release a soldier captured by Palestinian militants last month. About 140 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier have been killed since Israel launched its offensive. The attacks on Gaza have been overshadowed by fierce clashes between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israeli air strikes began early on Wednesday and were backed by up to 30 tanks and other ground forces. A military spokesman said the air force had targeted "armed gunmen" east of Gaza City as troops mounted a fresh incursion on the city's borders, the AFP news agency reported.

Two weeks into the fighting, growing unease in Israel itself about a wide range of war-related issues has burst into the open with a series of anxious comments by politicians, former officers and leading experts and pundits. Experts say Israel's much-vaunted intelligence services have underestimated Hizbullah capabilities, especially in not knowing it had an Iranian-made missile capable of hitting an Israeli naval vessel off Beirut. The air force has also come under scrutiny after the loss of three US-built Apache helicopters and an F16 jet, with one helicopter reportedly downed by friendly fire. Five Israeli soldiers have also been killed by friendly fire. Wall-to-wall TV and radio talk shows have wheeled out reserve or former officers highlighting the shortcomings of those running the show, bringing defensive responses from the IDF general staff and even charges of disloyalty in wartime. But Ze'ev Schiff, the highly respected doyen of Israeli military commentators, and author of the definitive history of the 1982 war, put it bluntly: "Israel is far from a decisive victory and its main objectives have not been achieved."

Aid workers have started supply runs into southern Lebanon but some villages remain cut off, the Red Cross said Tuesday, and a U.N. agency warned a food crisis was looming in areas worst hit by Israeli bombardment. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had set up two southern bases, in the port of Tyre and the town of Marjayoun, and was sending medical assistance to border villages needing urgent help after two weeks of war. "Things have not stabilized yet. There are a lot of people stuck in the south," Andreas Wigger, ICRC head of delegation in Lebanon, said. While the United Nations says it is waiting for Israeli guarantees of safe passage before distributing aid to the south, the Red Cross started operations four days ago. It is concentrating on 200 villages in the hills of southern Lebanon, where heavy bombardment has forced tens of thousands to flee and left others stranded. Many remain beyond its reach. "Today we could not go to Rmaish, they are in dire need," he said, referring to a village barely a mile from the border with Israel and close to Bint Jbeil, where Israeli and Hizbollah forces have fought fierce battles.

While You Were Glued To Faux News: Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter introduced legislation on Wednesday to challenge Smirkey's assertion that he can bypass sections of bills that he signs into law. Judiciary Committee Chairman Specter's bill would empower Congress bring to federal court lawsuits to test the constitutionality of Bush's signing statements, which the president has appended to several bills he has signed. In the statements, Bush has reserved the right not to enforce certain provisions of laws if he believes they impinge on his authority or interpretation of the Constitution. Under the Constitution, Congress passes bills and the president may either sign or veto them, and give lawmakers an opportunity to override any veto. But the constitution, and the presidential oath of office also state that the President "shall faithfully execute the laws of the United States."

US citizens will be forced to adopt a de-facto national identification card and have their freedom of mobility defined by behavioral fealty to the government under proposals set to derive from NAFTA superhighway toll road systems and the implementation of the American Union of the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Existing toll road systems operational at US borders such as SENTRI/NEXUS and the FAST program already mandate that passing vehicles are enrolled in RFID passive tracking and identification programs linked to central databases. The open plan to merge the US with Mexico and Canada and create a Pan American Union networked by a NAFTA Super Highway has long been a globalist brainchild but its very real and prescient implementation on behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations has recently come under bright spotlight.

The Senate is taking up an election-year bill that would open a large area of the central Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling. The bill would affect an 8.3 million-acre area believed to contain large amounts of natural gas and 1.3 billion barrels of oil. Opponents of the legislation fear it's a first step to lifting a moratorium that for decades has prohibited drilling in 85 percent of the country's coastal waters from New England to Alaska. Senators were expected to vote Wednesday to begin debate on the legislation, a largely procedural move that could set up a final vote later this week or early next. A month ago, the House passed a much broader offshore energy development bill that would lift the ban on oil and gas drilling that has been in effect for 25 years in most waters outside the western Gulf of Mexico. That bill would still bar drilling within 50 miles of the shoreline, but it would open waters beyond that to energy companies unless a state specifically acts to protect waters within 100 miles of shore.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) claims its new rules, announced earlier this month, will promote "flexibility" for ranchers who have access to hundreds of millions of acres of public rangelands. But conservation groups say the Bureau is seeking to enhance its "working relationship" with ranchers by suppressing public stakeholders. John Carter, Utah director of the Western Watersheds Project, a group that opposes cattle-grazing on federal lands, called the rules "another step in the effort by public-lands ranchers to divest the American people of ownership of these lands." Arguing that cattle roaming the Western states form one of the most destructive uses of the country’s natural resources, groups complain that the new rules would make it nearly impossible to fully address livestock damage to local wildlife. They say that additional bureaucratic hurdles would paralyze the enforcement of Clinton-era guidelines intended to balance grazing with other public-land uses like camping and fishing.

A dependence on no-bid contracts and inadequate oversight have contributed to extensive waste and misspending at the Department of Homeland Security, The Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing a congressional investigation. In the latest report on the agency's spending, U.S. government investigators found problems involving "significant overcharges" or "mismanagement" in 32 DHS contracts worth a total of $34 billion, the Post said. The findings were to be released on Thursday. The Washington Post said it had obtained a copy of the report. According to the newspaper, the bipartisan congressional report says an explosion of no-bid deals and a critical shortage of government contract managers created a system prone to abuse. Among the contracts that raised questions were deals for hiring airport screeners, securing borders and housing Hurricane Katrina evacuees, the newspaper said. Investigators also found a surveillance system for monitoring activity on the borders with Mexico and Canada does not work because the cameras malfunction when exposed to snow, ice or humidity, the report said.

In an effort to combat Al Qaeda’s non-existent fleet of stealth fighter jets, the Air Force, following an endorsement by the taxpayer-funded Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), approved a new three-year, $11 billion contract for the F-22. The F-22 is arguably the Pentagon's most useless weapon system. Not only is it the world's most expensive fighter jet, but it was conceived in 1985 to fight a Soviet fighter jet that was never built. As wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo show, U.S. air superiority is not in doubt. So it is perplexing that the independent Institute for Defense Analyses would recommend that the Pentagon continue purchasing a jet that has been plagued by technical problems and cost overruns. But it turns out that IDA is not so "independent" after all. The Washington Post reported today: "The endorsement came from the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a federally financed research center whose president, Dennis C. Blair, is a member of the board of a subcontractor for the F-22 Raptor fighter program, EDO Corp. EDO developed a missile launcher for the F-22 and has held contracts worth at least $38 million that are part of the program, according to its news releases."

Americans generally approve of President Bush's handling of the current Mideast crisis, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll, but six in 10 say the president is not respected by foreign leaders. The poll finds Americans are pessimistic about the prospects for Mideast peace and do not think the United States should involve itself in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. More than 60 percent think the conflict will lead to a larger war in the region, and a similar number doubt Israel and the Arab states will ever be able to live in peace. Just 32 percent said U.S. troops should be sent to the Mideast as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force, although 60 percent favor such a force. By 59 percent to 31 percent, Americans said the United Nations and other countries, rather than the United States, should take the lead in solving international crises.

Brushing aside warnings from Wal-Mart, the City Council approved an ordinance Wednesday that makes Chicago the biggest city in the nation to require big-box retailers to pay a "living wage." "It's trying to get the largest companies in America to pay decent wages," said Alderman Toni Preckwinkle. The ordinance passed 35-14 after three hours of impassioned debate. The measure requires mega-retailers with over $1 billion in annual sales and stores of at least 90,000 square feet to pay workers at least $10 an hour in wages plus $3 in fringe benefits by mid-2010. The current minimum wage in Illinois is $6.50 an hour and the federal minimum is $5.15.

When Tesla, the upstart auto company based in Silicon Valley, unveiled its all-electric Roadster at a swank affair in Santa Monica last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped in for surprise visit. The event - where Tesla was offering its first 100 "signature edition" cars for $100,000 apiece - felt like automotive history. To appreciate the Tesla, it helps to compare it to the much-lamented EV1, GM's purpose-built electric car that was, in the mid-1990s, the most advanced vehicle of its kind. The Tesla Roadster has a range of 250 miles, says the company. The EV1, with the best nickel metal hydride batteries, could go about 150 miles under ideal conditions. A full charge of the EV1 could take eight hours. The Tesla's lithium-ion batteries can be raised from the dead to a full charge in 3 1/2 hours and, unlike the EV1, the Tesla will come with its own portable charging pack so it won't be range-tethered to its home charging station.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Citing national security, a federal judge Tuesday threw out a lawsuit aimed at blocking AT&T Inc. from giving telephone records to the government. "The court is persuaded that requiring AT&T to confirm or deny whether it has disclosed large quantities of telephone records to the federal government could give adversaries of this country valuable insight into the government's intelligence activities," U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly said. A number of such lawsuits have been filed around the country in the wake of news media reports that AT&T and other phone companies had turned records over to the National Security Administration, which specializes in communications intercepts. Kennelly's ruling was in sharp contrast to last week's decision from U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco, who said media reports of the program were so widespread there was no danger of spilling secrets.

The federal government sued two members of the Missouri Public Service Commission on Tuesday to stop them from seeking information about customer records that telephone companies may have given to the National Security Agency. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, claims disclosure of any information the Missouri regulatory body wants to obtain could cause "exceptionally grave harm to national security." Public Service Commission members Robert Clayton and Steve Gaw issued subpoenas last month to find out whether AT&T Inc. supplied Missouri customer information and calling records to the NSA in violation of Missouri privacy rules. The Missouri subpoenas came after a USA TODAY story reported that AT&T and other phone companies handed over phone records of millions of Americans to the NSA after the Sept. 11 attacks. In its lawsuit, the Justice Department says the federal government has "exclusive control vis-a-vis the states with respect to foreign intelligence gathering, national security, that conduct of foreign affairs and the conduct of military affairs."

U.S. authorities could not track al Qaeda effectively if required to obtain court warrants before eavesdropping on telephone conversations involving U.S. callers, top intelligence officials said on Wednesday. Three administration officials, including CIA Director Michael Hayden, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to press lawmakers to ease warrant requirements for the surveillance of "war on terrorism" suspects. "Why should our laws make it more difficult to target al Qaeda communications that are most important to us - those entering or leaving this country," Hayden said. The four-star Air Force general set up President George W. Bush's warrantless surveillance program in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks while he was director of the National Security Agency.

Despite high-profile legal losses and complaints about failures to consult with lawmakers, the Bush administration is sticking to its core post-9/11 legal argument: that the Constitution and a congressional resolution passed after the terror attacks grant the president almost unlimited power to protect the country. Responding to congressional inquiries, administration lawyers have defended a warrantless surveillance program viewed by some as in doubt after a recent Supreme Court decision barring special military commissions to try enemy combatants. In letters to Congress, administration lawyers wrote that the high court's decision -- which rejected arguments similar to those used to defend the National Security Agency program -- didn't affect its legal analysis. The release of the letters came as Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) announced a bill, drafted in negotiations with the White House, to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the law critics say President Bush violated by authorizing the program. While Mr. Specter has said the legislation -- to be considered today by the Senate Judiciary Committee -- wouldn't affect the president's legal footing, many scholars called it an attempt to retroactively validate the administration's position.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: The US economy has shown signs of slowing since the start of June and inflation has been modest, the Federal Reserve said in its Beige Book survey. Among the districts reporting a dip in growth were San Francisco, the largest of the 12, and Chicago and Dallas. At the same time, the economic conditions have made it difficult for companies to pass on higher costs to consumers, the Fed explained. The report may strengthen arguments for the Fed to stop raising interest rates.

News From Smirkey's Wars: It has come down to this. "Sectarian Break-Up of Iraq Is Now Inevitable, Admit Officials," read the headline from Monday's UK Independent. "'Iraq as a political project is finished,' a senior government official was quoted as saying," continued the report, "adding: 'The parties have moved to plan B.' He said that the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parties were now looking at ways to divide Iraq between them and to decide the future of Baghdad, where there is a mixed population. 'There is serious talk of Baghdad being divided into (Shia) east and (Sunni) west,' he said." At a minimum, the predicted Balkanization of Iraq points to nothing more or less than the comprehensive failure of the Bush administration to bring democracy to that nation. The Iraqi parliament is today comprised of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish elements, the three main groups that comprise the Iraqi population. Yet the fighting within this parliament mirrors the bloodshed taking place on the streets, and this signaled desire to split Iraq into three parts means there isn't any hope left for anything other than an utterly shattered state. It is hard to be surprised by this, considering the nature of the Iraqi government the Bush administration actively assisted in cobbling together. Consider the speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, who said on July 13th, "Some people say 'we saw you beheading, kidnapping and killing. These acts are not the work of Iraqis. I am sure that he who does this is a Jew and the son of a Jew. I can tell you about these Jewish, Israelis and Zionists who are using Iraqi money and oil to frustrate the Islamic movement in Iraq."

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: The US Senate yesterday reinforced parental control over children's reproductive rights by passing legislation to keep young women from traveling across state lines to obtain otherwise legal abortions. Once merged with a similar House bill and signed by President Bush, the Child Custody Protection Act, passed 65-34, would add more teeth to parental-notification and -consent laws enacted in the majority of states. The bill criminalizes adults who help young women circumvent those laws by going out of state to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Anti-abortion-rights groups hailed the vote, saying it would protect parents' "right" to know when their children are considering an abortion. The National Right to Life Committee has argued that interstate enforcement of parental-consent and -notification laws is necessary to prevent older men from forcing their teenage partners to obtain abortions in order to cover up evidence of statutory rape. The group has also said that if parents do not know about their children’s health decisions, they will be unprepared to recognize any physical complications that arise from an abortion. Abortion-rights groups immediately blasted the bill - which they have dubbed the "Teen Endangerment Act" - saying it fails to recognize the complexity of family situations and would threaten teens whose parents are abusive by cutting off their access to adults they do trust.

In recent days, some members of the conservative media have seen signs of the Apocalypse in the escalated conflicts in the Middle East and Asia. Pat Robertson has considered the possibility but has seemed to reject it, while columnist Hal Lindsey has simply asserted: "Now Armageddon looms large before us." But as recent reports on CNN and in USA Today attest, conservatives are not the only media figures to raise the question of whether current events are a sign of the "End Times."

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: You can only bash 9/11 widows for so long before your book starts slip-sliding down the charts. Solution: Call Bill Clinton gay. A source from "The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch" handed us this transcript from tonight's 10 pm ET show, during which Deutsch notes that Coulter was talking about Bill Clinton off the air and goads her into repeating what she said. COULTER: "I think that sort of rampant promiscuity does show some level of latent homosexuality." DEUTSCH: "OK, I think you need to say that again. That Bill Clinton, you think on some level, has - is a latent homosexual, is that what you’re saying?" COULTER: "Yeah." Following on the heels of daily papers in Augusta, Ga., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a weekly in Greensboro, N.C., has decided to drop Ann Coulter's regular column, distributed by Universal. "Yes! Weekly", which has carried the conservative firebrand since last August, announced the move after polling its readers, among other considerations. She will be replaced by another conservative, William F. Buckley. This follows the pattern at the other papers that had dropped Coulter, where she was replaced by conservatives Michelle Malkin in one case, David Limbaugh in the other. A fourth paper, the Shreveport (La.) Times, has said it is strongly considering dropping Coulter.

His detachment from his own responsibility is breathtaking. The glibness with which Donald Rumsfeld describes the mass slaughter of innocents in a country whose security he is responsible for is astonishing. Check this transcript out: Q: Is the country closer to a civil war? RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't know. You know, I thought about that last night, and just musing over the words, the phrase, and what constitutes it. If you think of our Civil War, this is really very different. If you think of civil wars in other countries, this is really quite different. There is - there is a good deal of violence in Baghdad and two or three other provinces, and yet in 14 other provinces there's very little violence or numbers of incidents. So it's a - it's a highly concentrated thing. It clearly is being stimulated by people who would like to have what could be characterized as a civil war and win it, but I'm not going to be the one to decide if, when or at all.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:17:08 AM

Tue, Jul 25 2006

Today Is Security Issues Day

The weather has been classic rainy season the last couple of days, and the constant gloom has had me rather depressed. But as I write this, the overcast is breaking up and the sun coming out, promising a nice day - though I'll withhold judgment until this afternoon. I can't complain about the temperatures, though, they have been about perfect - 79 yesterday afternoon, 73 overnight, and 75 as I write this at nine in the morning.

Today I am going to go visit some friends, one with some construction experience, and solicit their advice on doing some construction work around here. I have concluded that the front door has got to go - neither the lock on the door nor the lock on the security grate is secure enough to suit me, and I am determined to find something more secure, along with a door that I won't have to worry about. In looking over the front door, it appears that the recent burglary attempt included an unsuccessful attempt at pulling the door open by brute force; very minor, almost invisible damage resulted, but I have never been happy about the security of that door. And apparently more was taken than just the flashlight - my old laptop, a drillmotor, my digital camera and a ham rig I wasn't using have all turned up missing. They even took my rodeo assn. souvenir overnight-bag, apparently to carry everything. So I have decided to simply replace the door with a double steel, solid-core door, such as the kind used on communications equipment shelters. I have actually found a local source for them - one of the ferreterias (hardware stores) in town can have them fabricated and installed. I checked on the price, and it was quite reasonable - 90,000 colones - about $173 - fully installed, lock not included. I am still looking for a suitable lock. Most of the ones sold here are cheap six-pin Yale locks which are easy to pick. I have found a source for Wieser residential electronic deadbolt locks, but am concerned about the long-term stability of electronics in this climate, so would prefer a purely mechanical lock. For anyone moving here to a house you intend to buy, I would recommend you bring with you a top-quality deadbolt that you obtain from a knowledgeable locksmith. The locks available here aren't up to all that much, and they really need to be.

I am also considering the construction of a strong room to keep my valuables. That will solve the burglary problem fairly inexpensively, though not completely. But it ensures that my valuables will likely survive all but the most determined break-ins. Since it appears that I may be living in this house for awhile, I am going to have to do something. I'll be talking with my friend about what I should do to make it sufficiently strong and work out a hidden locking mechanism.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: For those of you confused by and wishing to understand what is going on in Lebanon, I would recommend you read this.

Israeli Defense Forces Northern Command Maj.Gen. Udi Adam acknowledged in a briefing at Northern Command headquarters in Safed on Sunday afternoon that the commander of the IDF's civil administration unit had already begun preparations toward the possibility of instituting a military administration in areas captured by the IDF over the last week. According to Adam, "certain units who will give us breathing space have been called up, including the commander of that unit." The unit's activation, however, would only take place following comprehensive consultations, he said. Adam denied reports that there were plans to set up a large prison camp for captured Hizbullah fighters, saying the measure would not be needed. Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert said Sunday that the current Israeli offensive against Lebanon would "last a very long time," as he addressed a Cabinet meeting Sunday. According to a senior Israeli government official, Olmert said: "The diplomatic process will not come at the expense of destroying infrastructures of terror and this process will take a very long time." Olmert said during the cabinet meeting, "The army has all the time and flexibility to carry out its mission in Lebanon" and added "There is a possibility that the population that cooperates with Hizbullah will get hurt, although they are not on our target list" The IDF has started constructing a temporary detention center designed to hold the Lebanese prisoners that will be captured during army operations in Southern Lebanon, Ynet has learned recently. A truck convoy carrying barbed-wire fences, containers, and mobile showers and toilets started unloading equipment at the Filon military base near Rosh Pina Friday, and construction works at the place are already underway. According to plans, the structure should be able to hold up to hundreds of Hizbullah prisoners at any given time.

According to General Wesley Clark - the Pentagon, by late 2001, was planning to attack Lebanon. "Winning Modern Wars" (page 130) General Clark states the following: "As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan. ...He said it with reproach - with disbelief, almost - at the breadth of the vision. I moved the conversation away, for this was not something I wanted to hear. And it was not something I wanted to see moving forward, either. ...I left the Pentagon that afternoon deeply concerned."

The Administration goes Orwellian: Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday pointed to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah as fresh evidence of the ongoing "battle against terrorism" that underscores the need to keep President Bush's Republican allies in control of Congress. "This conflict is a long way from over," Cheney said at a fundraising appearance for a GOP congressional candidate. "It's going to be a battle that will last for a very long time. It is absolutely essential that we stay the course." Meanwhile, John Kerry has stated that the war "would not be happening" if he were president, and if the policies that led up to it had been rational, he would be right. Shortly after attacking Iraq in March 2003, President Bush told wounded soldiers that "the war in Iraq is really about peace." Now it seems that 'peace' is breaking out in Lebanon too. The Washington Post reports that "Bush sees a step to peace" in the current "Mideast strife." According to White House counselor Dan Bartlett, "a moment of clarity has arrived."

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, meets Tony Blair in London today as violence in Iraq reaches a new crescendo and senior Iraqi officials now say the break up of the country is inevitable. "Iraq as a political project is finished," a senior government official was quoted as saying, adding: "The parties have moved to plan B." He said that the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parties were now looking at ways to divide Iraq between them and to decide the future of Baghdad, where there is a mixed population. "There is serious talk of Baghdad being divided into [Shia] east and [Sunni] west," he said. Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, told The Independent in an interview, before joining Mr Maliki to fly to London and then Washington, that in theory the government should be able to solve the crisis because Shia, Kurd and Sunni were elected members of it. But he painted a picture of a deeply divided administration in which senior Sunni members praised anti-government insurgents as "the heroic resistance". In the past two weeks, at a time when Lebanon has dominated the international news, the sectarian civil war in central Iraq has taken a decisive turn for the worse. There have been regular tit-for-tat massacres and the death toll for July is likely to far exceed the 3,149 civilians killed in June. Mr Maliki, who is said to be increasingly isolated, has failed to prevent the violence. Other Iraqi leaders claim he lacks experience in dealing with security, is personally very isolated without a kitchen cabinet and is highly dependent on 30-40 Americans in unofficial advisory positions around him.

America must need more oil: The Bush administration said on Thursday it approved the sale to Saudi Arabia of 24 UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters, radios, armoured vehicles and other military equipment worth more than $6 billion. Congress has 30 days to block the sales, although such action is rare. The Pentagon's Defence Security Cooperation Agency said the principal contractors for the different sales included Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp., General Electric Co., Harris Corp., ITT Corp., General Dynamics Corp., and Raytheon Corp. The agency said in a mandatory notice to Congress that the arms sales would help strengthen Saudi Arabia's military and its ability to help the United States fight terrorism around the world. The deal comes amid escalating fighting between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia had asked to buy 24 Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters, spare parts, communications and other equipment valued at $350 million, if all options were exercised, according to the agency, which oversees foreign arms sales.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Buying: Carpenters are running out of wood for coffins. Bodies are stacked three or four high in a truck at the local hospital morgue. The stench is spreading in the rubble. The morbid reality of Israel's bombing campaign of the south of Lebanon is reaching almost every corner of the city of Tyre, not just those occupied by Hezbollah. Just a few miles from the Rest House hotel, where the United Nations was evacuating civilians on Thursday, feral dogs gnawed at the charred remains of a family bombed as they were trying to escape the village of Hosh, officials said. Officials at the Tyre Government Hospital inside a local Palestinian refugee camp said they counted the bodies of 50 children among the 115 in the refrigerated truck in the morgue, though their count could not be independently confirmed. The New York Times states that because of bombed-out roads and bridges, few families have been able to make it to the hospital to claim their dead. Even those relatives who reach the morgue are unable to arrange for proper burials. The city is prepared to begin burying the dead in mass graves, and the Tyre morgue has ordered more than 100 coffins with special handles, so they can more easily be removed from the ground for reburial later. Still other bodies remaining rotting along the roadsides, because the dangers of removing them are too great for emergency workers to risk. At least 380 people are now known to have been killed in Lebanon, according to local officials, though the stench of death emanating from the rubble suggests that many more have been killed but are not accounted for. Thirty-six Israelis have died -- 17 civilians from Hezbollah rockets, and 19 soldiers during fights against militants. The growing conflict has displaced at least 700,000 people in Lebanon, according to an estimate by the UN.

The Israeli military is using chemical weapons during its bombing of Lebanon, a Belgian-Lebanese professor claimed during a press conference in Brussels on Thursday. The press conference was organised by the secretary of the Tripoli archbishop, Monsignor Jean Abboud. The Belgian professor of Lebanese origin, Bachir Cham, is the head of a hospital in Lebanon. "The bodies don't look like they normally do. After an explosion there were no traces of blood loss or subcutaneous haemorrhages [bruises]," Cham said via mobile phone direct from Beirut. "The hair and sometimes the beard and the moustache remained intact. I found no traces of the pressure wave by the explosion. The color of the skin was black like a shoe, but the skin was not carbonised or burnt."

An Egyptian legal committee has warned of the serious consequences of the Israeli use of chemical weapons against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip for more than a week now, and have called for an international investigation of the claim. The committee for citizens' rights in northern Sinai, adjacent to the Gaza Strip, charged that the Israeli warplanes have been releasing chemical materials against the Palestinian populace in the Strip for the past week. It said that the chemical agents cause extraordinary burns that could turn into cancer and added that they could also cause miscarriages and death of patients especially those suffering chest diseases. The committee said its members saw the warplanes releasing those chemicals from the Egyptian-Palestinian borders. Doctors treating Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have called for an international investigation of the types of weapons being used by Israel, as many of the patients have burns that are indicative of possible chemical weapon use by Israel. The organs, particularly the kidney and spleen, of the victims continue to burn even after the person has been declared clinically dead, according to doctors in hospitals throughout the Gaza Strip.

Effectively admitting officially that they are targeting civilian infrastructure (which is a war crime), the Israeli air force is under orders to blast 10 buildings in south Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, for every rocket the Shiite militant group fires at the Israeli port of Haifa, Israeli army radio said Monday. "Army chief of staff Dan Halutz has given the order to the air force to destroy 10 multi-storey buildings in the Dahaya district (of Beirut) in response to every rocket fired on Haifa," a senior air force officer told the station. Hezbollah rockets fired from southern Lebanon killed two people on Sunday in the northern city of Haifa, which has been hit by dozens of missiles since the latest conflict started on July 12.

Despite the diplomatic moves, Israeli Brig Gen Alon Friedman told Israel Army Radio the ground operation would probably go on for another 10 days. Correspondents say the US is unlikely to push for an immediate end to the Israeli assault, and one aim of Ms Rice's trip is to assess how much time is needed for Israel to make a significant impact on Hezbollah capability.

Despite increased fighting with Hezbollah, violence did not subside on Israel's southern front, with Gaza, where bombardments killed three and injured 10. Palestinian security sources said heavy gun shells hit a residential tower near Beit Lahya in the north of Gaza Strip, inflicting several casualties among its residents. Initial counts indicated that three had been killed and 10 injured. The sources said the area has been the target of intensive bombardments since dawn in apparent retaliation to rockets fired at Israel by Palestinian militants. The Israeli army confirmed the rocket attack, saying one of the missiles landed near a strategic position; there was no information about the nature of the position.

Israel has been unable to silence Hezbollah's television station, its powerful voice at home and in the Arab world, despite 11 days of bombing. But warplanes on Saturday did knock a Lebanese station often critical of the guerrillas off the air in parts of the country. Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. TV appeared to have gotten caught in Israel's campaign to prevent Hezbollah from communicating among its fighters and spreading its word in a war that has played out on television to viewers across the Middle East - bumping even the violence in Iraq. Three missiles leveled a transmission station in Fatqa, about 10 miles northwest of Beirut, leaving it a mountain of rubble and twisted antennas. The head of LBC's transmission center, Sueliman Chidiac, was killed. Another airstrike crippled a transmission tower at Terbol in northern Lebanon, where relay stations for LBC, Future TV and Hezbollah's Al-Manar as well as cell phone towers are located.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Against growing international criticism that Israel's response to Hezbollah's July 12 attack has been disproportionate, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Sunday defended Israel's use of wildly overwhelming force. "I think it's important that we not fall into the trap of moral equivalency here," Ambassador John Bolton told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer." "What Hezbollah has done is kidnap Israeli soldiers and rain rockets and mortar shells on innocent Israeli civilians. What Israel has done in response is act in self-defense. And I don't quite know what the argument about proportionate force means here. Is Israel entitled only to kidnap two Hezbollah operatives and fire a couple of rockets aimlessly into Lebanon?" What Bolton has not explained, of course, is how, if there is no moral equivalency, what exactly IS the moral basis for what Israel is doing to the civilians of Lebanon? And how does he explain the fact that the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah, the pretext for this vast massacre, were actually captured by Hezbollah inside Lebanon?

The U.S. Army 4th Infantry and its commander, Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, are best remembered for capturing former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, one of the high points of the U.S. occupation. But in the late summer of 2003, as senior U.S. commanders tried to counter the growing insurgency with indiscriminate cordon-and-sweep operations, the 4th Infantry was known for aggressive tactics that may have appeared to pacify the northern Sunni Triangle in the short term but that, according to numerous Army internal reports and interviews with military commanders, alienated large parts of the population. The unit, a heavy armored division despite its name, was known for "grabbing whole villages, because combat soldiers [were] unable to figure out who was of value and who was not," according to a subsequent investigation of the 4th Infantry Division's detainee operations by the Army inspector general's office. Its indiscriminate detention of Iraqis filled Abu Ghraib prison, swamped the U.S. interrogation system and overwhelmed the U.S. soldiers guarding the prison. Lt. Col. David Poirier, who commanded a military police battalion attached to the 4th Infantry Division and was based in Tikrit from June 2003 to March 2004, said the division's approach was indiscriminate. "With the brigade and battalion commanders, it became a philosophy: 'Round up all the military-age males, because we don't know who's good or bad.' " Col. Alan King, a civil affairs officer working at the Coalition Provisional Authority, had a similar impression of the 4th Infantry's approach. "Every male from 16 to 60" that the 4th Infantry could catch was detained, he said. "And when they got out, they were supporters of the insurgency."

While You've Been Glued To Faux News: Pakistan has begun building what independent analysts say is a powerful new reactor for producing plutonium, a move that, if verified, would signal a major expansion of the country's nuclear weapons capabilities and a potential new escalation in the region's arms race. Satellite photos of Pakistan's Khushab nuclear site show what appears to be a partially completed heavy-water reactor capable of producing enough plutonium for 40 to 50 nuclear weapons a year, a 20-fold increase from Pakistan's current capabilities, according to a technical assessment by Washington-based nuclear experts.

Nationwide gas prices hit an all-time high in the last two weeks, rising nearly 2 cents to just over $3 per gallon, according to a survey released Sunday. The national average for self-serve regular stood at $3.0150 a gallon Friday, up 1.98 cents in the last two weeks, according to the Lundberg Survey of 7,000 gas stations across the country.

Richard Lugar, chairman of the US Senate foreign relations committee, has urged the Bush administration to adopt specific "contingency plans" for a potential disruption to oil supplies from Venezuela. In a letter sent to Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, last Friday, a copy of which has been obtained by the Financial Times, Mr Lugar warned the US that it needed to "abandon" reliance on a "passive approach" to energy diplomacy. Mr Lugar's warning follows the release last month of an investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that the US was ill-prepared for an oil embargo by Venezuela, the world's fifth largest ex­porter. President Hugo Chávez, whose government has been emboldened by a torrent of oil revenues, has several times warned that he would "cut off" oil supplies to the US if Washington persisted in allegedly plotting his overthrow. "Venezuela's leverage over global oil prices and its direct supply lines and refining capacity in the US give Venezuela undue ability to impact US security and our economy," Mr Lugar wrote in his letter to Ms Rice.

Cuba is drilling for oil 60 miles off the coast of Florida with help from China, Canada and Spain even as Congress struggles to end years of deadlock over drilling for what could be a treasure trove of offshore oil and gas. Republicans in Congress have tried repeatedly in the past decade to open up the outer continental shelf to exploration, and Florida's waters hold some of the most promising prospects for major energy finds. Their efforts have been frustrated by opposition from Florida, California and environmental-minded legislators from both parties. Florida's powerful tourism and booming real estate industries fear that oil spills could cost them business. Lawmakers from the state are so adamantly opposed to drilling that they have bid to extend the national ban on drilling activity from 100 miles to as far as 250 miles offshore, encompassing the island of Cuba. Cuba is exploring in its half of the 90-mile-wide Straits of Florida within the internationally recognized boundary as well as in deep-water areas of the Gulf of Mexico. The impoverished communist nation is eager to receive any economic boost that would come from a major oil find.

President Bush should stop issuing statements claiming the power to bypass parts of laws he has signed, an American Bar Association task force has unanimously concluded in a strongly worded 32-page report that is scheduled to be released today. The bipartisan panel of legal specialists includes a former FBI director, a former federal appeals court chief judge, former Republican officials, and leading scholars. The panel said presidents do not have the authority to declare that sections of the bills they sign are unconstitutional, and that they thus need not be enforced as Congress wrote them. Bush has used these so-called signing statements to challenge more than 750 laws that have been enacted since he took office, more than all previous presidents combined. "The president's constitutional duty is to enforce laws he has signed into being, unless and until they are held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court," the report said. ``The Constitution is not what the president says it is."

Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut on Sunday promised a bruising fight in the U.S. Senate against confirming John Bolton to be the country's ambassador to the United Nations. President George W. Bush bypassed the Senate and installed Bolton into the position last year when lawmakers were on recess. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee scheduled a confirmation hearing on Bolton for Thursday after Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich, who previously opposed the nomination, expressed support for Bolton. "This is going to be a bruising fight," Dodd said on CNN's "Late Edition" program. "I'm sorry the administration wants to go forward with this." He argued that problems Democrats had raised last year were not resolved. They blocked the nomination amid accusations Bolton in his previous job as the top U.S. diplomat for arms control had bullied intelligence analysts. "The problems still persist. Many ambassadors at the U.N. feel he hasn't done a good job there," said Dodd, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee. "It's polarized the situation." Bolton's appointment expires in January when the current congressional session formally ends. While Bush could reappoint him, he would not be paid.

Global free trade talks, billed as a once in a generation chance to boost growth and ease poverty, collapsed on Monday after nearly five years of haggling and resuming them could take years. The suspension of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Doha round came after major trading powers failed in a last-ditch bid to overcome differences on reforming world farm trade, which lies at the heart of the round. "The WTO negotiations are suspended," Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath told journalists. When asked how long the suspension could last, he replied: "Anywhere from months to years." The European Union and India firmly pointed the finger at the United States for the final breakdown, saying that Washington had been demanding too high a price for cutting into the some $20 billion it spends annually on farm subsidies. Accusing the United States of "stone-walling," EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said: "Surely the richest and strongest nation in the world, with the highest standards of living, can afford to give as well as take." But the United States was adamant neither the EU nor India had been prepared to offer the sort of access to their markets that Washington needs to make a deal on subsidies worthwhile. It has said all along it preferred no deal to one that brought it no new business.

The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the state attorney general to release the results of an investigation into a police roadblock on a major New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina. In a letter to Attorney General Charles Foti, Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Joe Cook said the delay in reporting findings "makes no sense." In late September, less than a month after Katrina hit, Foti said he would conduct a "fact-finding mission" into reports that New Orleans evacuees were blocked by several law enforcement agencies from entering neighboring Jefferson Parish by crossing the Crescent City Connection over the Mississippi River. Witnesses have reported being turned away over a period of several days and threatened with warning shots on at least one occasion. "It has now been eleven months since the incident occurred, and we do not have an answer from your office on the results of your investigation," Cook wrote in the letter dated Tuesday. Foti could not be reached for comment Friday. Officers from the Crescent City Connection's police force, the Gretna Police Department and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office blocked the bridge in the days after Katrina, preventing pedestrians from crossing to leave flood-stricken New Orleans.

The Bush administration is quietly remaking the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, filling the permanent ranks with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights, according to job application materials obtained by the Globe. The documents show that only 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003, after the administration changed the rules to give political appointees more influence in the hiring process, have civil rights experience. In the two years before the change, 77 percent of those who were hired had civil rights backgrounds. In an acknowledgment of the department's special need to be politically neutral, hiring for career jobs in the Civil Rights Division under all recent administrations, Democratic and Republican, had been handled by civil servants - not political appointees. But in the fall of 2002, then-attorney general John Ashcroft changed the procedures. The Civil Rights Division disbanded the hiring committees made up of veteran career lawyers.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency prohibits journalists from having unsupervised interviews with Hurricane Katrina victims who have been relocated to FEMA trailer parks, according to a report in the Baton Rouge Advocate (7/15/06). "If a resident invites the media to the trailer, they have to be escorted by a FEMA representative who sits in on the interview," FEMA spokesperson Rachel Rodi is quoted in the article. "That's just a policy." The Advocate report, by reporter Sandy Davis, describes two separate attempts to talk to people displaced by Katrina that were halted by the intervention of a FEMA security guard. In the first incident, in a Morgan City, Louisiana camp, an interview was interrupted by a guard who claimed that residents of the camp are "not allowed" to talk to the media. Dekotha Devall, whose New Orleans home was destroyed by the storm, was in her FEMA-provided trailer telling the Advocate reporter of the hardships of life in the camp when a security guard knocked on the door. "You are not allowed to be here," the guard is quoted as telling the reporter. "Get out right now." The guard reportedly called police to force the journalist to leave the camp, and even prevented the reporter from giving the interview subject a business card. "You will not give her a business card," the guard said. "She's not allowed to have that."

Republicans are in jeopardy of losing their grip on Congress in November. With less than four months to the midterm elections, the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that Americans by an almost 3-to-1 margin hold the GOP-controlled Congress in low regard and profess a desire to see Democrats wrest control after a dozen years of Republican rule. Further complicating the GOP outlook to turn things around is a solid percentage of liberals, moderates and even conservatives who say they'll vote Democratic. The party out of power also holds the edge among persuadable voters, a prospect that doesn't bode well for the Republicans. The election ultimately will be decided in 435 House districts and 33 Senate contests, in which incumbents typically hold the upper hand. But the survey underscored the difficulty Republicans face in trying to persuade a skeptical public to return them to Washington. The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults conducted Monday through Wednesday found that President Bush has stopped his political freefall, with his approval rating of 36 percent basically unchanged from last month.

Spin Cycle: At today's White House press conference, White House spokesman Tony Snow said that the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is not a war - after saying it was. DAVID GREGORY: "I don't think that you really answered the part about 'Why is this not our war? Why is it just Israel's?'" TONY SNOW: "Why would it be our war? I mean, it's not on our territory. This is a war in which the United States... It's not even a war. What you have at this point is hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. I would not characterize it as a war." Well, I wouldn't call it a war, either, Tony. I would call it a massacre. The civilian-combatant casualty ratio is so high it is not even being quoted.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D- Mass., who was in town Sunday to help Gov. Jennifer Granholm campaign for her re-election bid, took time to take a jab at the Bush administration for its lack of leadership in the Israeli-Lebanon conflict. "If I was president, this wouldn't have happened," said Kerry during a noon stop at Honest John's bar and grill in Detroit's Cass Corridor.

Major defense contractors in the United States and Europe hope to overcome their scandal-ridden image with a new code of ethics. A report in today's Wall Street Journal suggested that American umbrella organizations such as the Aerospace Industries Association as well as European firms (including BAE Systems PLC, Rolls-Royce PLC and Smiths Group PLC) have been involved in a variety of discussions intending to pave the way for a set of principles that all defense contractors are to implement when dealing with governments for arms procurement. Watchdog groups like Transparency International have embraced the proposals, which have been pushed by the Pentagon in the aftermath of a scandal involving Boeing Co. that recently resulted in a multi-million dollar settlement.

For a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of National Review, President Bush declared William F. Buckley "The most important thing he did was to contribute to the realm of ideas for America. He was an entrepreneur... he formed a magazine that helped move conservatism from the margins of American society into the Oval Office." Buckley, for his part, returned the favor by commenting that Smirkey suffers from "the absence of effective conservative ideology," and that on foreign policy "There will be no legacy for Mr. Bush... his legacy is indecipherable."

A new Osama bin Laden message from al Qaeda's as-Sahab Institute for Media Production is to be released soon, according to IntelCenter, a private contractor providing counterterrorism support work to the intelligence community. In his message, bin Laden will reportedly address events in Gaza and Lebanon. This message has been expected and is consistent with new efforts in 2006 by al Qaeda's senior leadership to be responsive in their messages to current developments.

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: First-term Republican Senator John Thune from South Dakota who received major accolades from President George W. Bush has stated his intent to distance himself from the administration. The Associated Press reported that the Senator who defeated former Democrat Minority Leader Tom Daschle in the 2004 election declared at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, "If I were running in the state this year, you obviously don't embrace the president and his agenda." Thune is seeking to be elevated to the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2008, and warned that because the president's approval ratings are so low, "these are going to be tough races to win," referring to this November's Congressional elections.

The British Foreign Office minister Kim Howells yesterday stood by his criticisms of the 12-day bombardment of Lebanon with a warning that Israel had to win the "political battle" as well as confronting Hizbollah militarily. Mr Howells, whose weekend remarks in Beirut and here yesterday appeared to reflect an emerging difference - at the very least in tone - between the UK and US governments over Israel's conduct of the war, repeated that Israel had to "think very hard" about the loss of civilian life and the impact on Lebanon's infrastructure. The minister was speaking after touring the main Rambam hospital in Haifa where two men - including an Arab carpentry worker - were killed yesterday in repeated volleys of around 80 Katyusha rockets which Hizbollah fired throughout the day on northern Israel.

"Extraordinary Rendition" Watch: The man and woman were pretending to be American business executives on international assignments, so they did what globe-trotting executives do. While traveling abroad they used their frequent-flier cards as often as possible to gain credits toward free flights. In fact, the two were covert operatives working for the CIA. Thanks to their diligent use of frequent-flier programs, Italian prosecutors investigating the snatching of an Egyptian man off the streets of Milan, have been able to reconstruct much of their itinerary during 2003, including trips to Brussels, Venice, London, Copenhagen, Vienna and Oslo. The Norway visit has assumed particular importance because it represents the first independent confirmation that CIA operatives were in that country at the same time an Oslo resident named Mullah Krekar was being warned that he was the target of a planned CIA abduction. Weeks before arriving in Norway, prosecutors say, the two operatives were among more than two dozen CIA personnel who participated in the February 2003 abduction of a radical Islamic preacher named Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, as he walked to a mosque in Milan. Aides to former CIA Director Porter Goss have used the word "horrified" to describe Goss' reaction to the sloppiness of the Milan operation, which Italian police were able to reconstruct through the CIA operatives' imprudent use of cell phones and other violations of basic CIA "tradecraft." Goss ordered a sweeping review of the agency's field operations before stepping down in May, aides said.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: The right to be present throughout one's own trial - a cornerstone of American law - is a key issue confronting Congress as it works to create a fair-trial process for suspected Al Qaeda war criminals. A month after the US Supreme Court struck down the Bush administration's plan for military commissions at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention camp, lawmakers are weighing how to create a system that protects basic rights of the accused without undermining America's war on terror.

The American Bar Association said Sunday that President Bush was flouting the Constitution and undermining the rule of law by claiming the power to disregard selected provisions of bills that he signed. In a comprehensive report, a bipartisan 11-member panel of the bar association said Mr. Bush had used such "signing statements" far more than his predecessors, raising constitutional objections to more than 800 provisions in more than 100 laws on the ground that they infringed on his prerogatives.

"On Thursday July 6, eight days after winning an important victory in the Supreme Court, Salim Hamdan met with his lawyers in Guantanamo to discuss legal strategy," reports Time Magazine. "After polishing off his favorite meal of Jamaican jerk chicken, Hamdan took hand-written, Arabic notes on a page of yellow legal paper, as his lawyers outlined a series of strategic questions," the article written by Brian Bennett and Adam Zagorin continues. "After the meeting, Hamdan's notes were confiscated, according to a sworn affidavit given by Hamdan and obtained by TIME. In the previous weeks, the government had carted away over half a ton of similar materials from the cells of other prisoners - much of which, like Hamdan's notes, ARE protected by attorney-client privilege. "In these notes the government knows all of my future legal strategy," Hamdan writes in his affidavit. The government has said it seized the material as part of its investigation into the suicides of detainees at Guantanamo."

White House officials believe that Congress should use traditional military law rather than President Bush's special military tribunals as the basis for bringing charges against detainees at Guantanamo Bay, key senators said today. That position would put the White House officials at odds with testimony earlier this week from Pentagon and other administration lawyers. The different positions reflect apparent divisions that are emerging within the Bush administration and the two houses of Congress. On one side, the administration's civilian lawyers and House Republicans generally express a preference for keeping Bush's system of military tribunals, which were criticized in a landmark Supreme Court decision last month as violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which governs courts martial, and the Geneva Conventions, which regulate treatment of persons arrested on the battlefield. On the other side, the administration's military lawyers and the Senate prefer a system based on military law, in particular the Uniform Code of Military Justice. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) said Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security advisor, had told them this week that the White House would not simply ask Congress to rubber-stamp the system of military commissions that the Supreme Court has ruled violates the law.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: Even as the recriminations reached maximum volume, business between the Bush administration and the nation's putative "newspaper of record" remained on a remarkably even keel. Some journalists at the New York Times' Washington bureau protested critics' harsh tone and said they feared administration sources might go silent. But the furor over the Swift banking article did not stop President Bush and his top spokesman from speaking warmly about the Times' White House reporters. It did not lead the administration to eliminate the paper's reports from the batch of press clippings delivered to the media daily. And at least a couple of important administration initiatives still got their first airing in the pages of the New York Times. This is all just another shoving match between politicians and the press, said Ron Hutcheson, a White House correspondent for the McClatchy Co.'s newspapers and former president of the White House Correspondents' Assn.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: Wage stagnation, long the bane of blue-collar workers, is now hitting people with bachelor's degrees for the first time in 30 years. Earnings for workers with four-year degrees fell 5.2% from 2000 to 2004 when adjusted for inflation, according to White House economists. It is a remarkable setback for workers who thought they were well-positioned to win some of the benefits of the nation's economic growth, and it may help explain why surveys show that many Americans think President Bush has not managed the economy well. Not since the 1970s have workers with bachelor's degrees seen a prolonged slump in earnings during a time of economic growth. These workers did well during the last period of economic growth, 1995 to 2000, with inflation-adjusted average wages rising 12%, according to an analysis by the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

Deregulation Solves All Problems: Hundreds of thousands of people in different parts of the US continue to be affected by power outages as temperatures soar to record highs. In California, where temperatures reached 50C (122F) in places, the heat was blamed for at least four deaths. The power grid was unable to cope with the increased demand for electricity, leading to widespread cuts. In Missouri and New York, thousands are still without power after high temperatures and storms last week. On Sunday, power was restored to thousands of homes in the borough of Queens, but more than 5,000 customers (an estimated 20,000 people) remained without electricity for a seventh day. It is not clear when power will be fully restored there. Meanwhile, utility workers in St Louis, Missouri, struggled to resume services to hundreds of thousands of homes left without electricity after violent storms last week. Ameren, the owner of the local power company, said 250,000 homes and businesses were still without electricity on Sunday.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: The Rapture is headed for New York City, and just in time for Christmas. In Left Behind: Eternal Forces, a Christian-themed videogame due out this October, the New York skyline smolders during the End of Days, the faithful have been called up to heaven, and the remaining New Yorkers are engaged in an epic clash between the Tribulation Forces and the Antichrist's army of Global Community Peacekeepers (aka UN Peacekeepers). Evangelical videogame makers are praying that Eternal Forces will finally enable them to tap into the $25 billion global videogame market. They hope their "Christian" values-themed game will capture the same audience that has made bestsellers out of violent standards like Grand Theft Auto and Halo 2. Eternal Forces caught the media's attention in May, when it premiered at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. The Los Angeles Times reported that in order to foster buzz for the videogame, the game's co-creators, Troy Lyndon and Jeffrey Frichner, plan to issue a million advanced copies to churches nationwide. That announcement galvanized Jonathan Hutson of Talk To Action, a forum for discussing the religious right, into action. Hutson, who identifies himself as a Christian and a patriot, said by phone, "I'm offended by a game that allows children to rehearse mass killing in the name of Christ or the Antichrist."

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: The U.S. National Climatic Data Center said the first half of 2006 were the warmest six months since records began in 1895. "NASA's averages for the world and what we produce here are far more informative than looking at the extremes in Britain, France or Italy like the summer of 2003," said Philip Jones, climate research professor at Britain's East Anglia University. "It's the global averages that count." "Ten of the last 12 years were the warmest since 1850. The global temperature (since then) rose 0.7 degrees Celsius and most climate models suggest it's going to continue to warm by 2 to 5 degrees Celsius this century," Jones said.

The risk of rockfalls and landslides in the Alps will continue to grow as the permafrost melts, warn the Swiss authorities. According to officials, all towns and villages situated on the valley floor are in danger of being hit by landslides. They include the ski resort of Zermatt, which is surrounded on three sides by permafrost-covered peaks, said environment agency spokesman Adrian Aeschlimann. Also on the list are Saas Balen, Kandersteg and St Moritz. In addition to the risk of landslides, a number of places are threatened by lakes of meltwater. The fear is that natural barriers holding in the water could weaken due to global warming or that rockfalls could send a wall of water flooding over the top of dams. Wilfried Haeberli, a geology professor at Zurich University, told the SonntagsZeitung that the chances of a major disaster occurring increased as the permafrost melted. Permafrost, which forms above 2,300 metres, glues rock and soil to the mountain face. But its ability to do so is weakened by rising temperatures. The issue of disintegrating Swiss mountains was brought home ten days ago by the spectacular mass of rock that broke off the Eiger mountain.

Tiny Cassin's auklets live much of their lives on the open ocean. But in spring, these gray-and-white relatives of the puffin venture to isolated Pacific outposts like the Farallon Islands to dig deep burrows and lay their eggs. Adult auklets usually feed their chicks with krill, the minuscule shrimp-like crustaceans that anchor the ocean's complex food web. But not this year. Almost none of the 20,000 pairs of Cassin's auklets nesting in the Farallon Islands off San Francisco will raise a chick that lives more than a few days, a repeat of last year's "unprecedented" breeding failure, according to Russ Bradley, a seabird biologist with the Point Reyes Bird Observatory who monitors the birds on the islands. But the return of higher ocean temperatures and scarce food resources this year has scientists wondering whether last year's erratic weather was not a fluke but the emergence of a troubling trend. "How many years in a row do you see this before you start raising your eyebrows?" said Frank Schwing, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Pacific Grove.

The vast Amazon rainforest is on the brink of being turned into desert, with catastrophic consequences for the world's climate, alarming new research suggests. And the process, which would be irreversible, could begin as early as next year. Studies by the blue-chip Woods Hole Research Centre, carried out in Amazonia, have concluded that the forest cannot withstand more than two consecutive years of drought without breaking down. Scientists say that this would spread drought into the northern hemisphere, including Britain, and could massively accelerate global warming with incalculable consequences, spinning out of control, a process that might end in the world becoming uninhabitable. The research ­ carried out by the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole centre in Santarem on the Amazon river ­ has taken even the scientists conducting it by surprise. the Amazon now appears to be entering its second successive year of drought, raising the possibility that it could start dying next year. The immense forest contains 90 billion tons of carbon, enough in itself to increase the rate of global warming by 50 per cent. Dr Nepstead expects "mega-fires" rapidly to sweep across the drying jungle. With the trees gone, the soil will bake in the sun and the rainforest could become desert. Dr Deborah Clark from the University of Missouri, one of the world's top forest ecologists, says the research shows that "the lock has broken" on the Amazon ecosystem. She adds: the Amazon is "headed in a terrible direction".

Scandals Du Jour: An independent investigation has found that imprisoned former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham took advantage of secrecy and badgered congressional aides to help slip items into classified - "black" - bills that would benefit him and his associates. The finding comes from Michael Stern, an outside investigator hired by the House Intelligence Committee to look into how Cunningham was able to carry out the scheme. Stern is working with the committee to fix vulnerabilities in the way top-secret legislation is written, said congressional officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the committee still is being briefed on Stern's findings. Cunningham's case has put a stark spotlight on the oversight of classified - or "black" - budgets. Unlike legislation dealing with social and economic issues, intelligence bills and parts of defense bills are written in private, in the name of national security.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: A report in today's Roll Call indicated that the former Texas Congressman and House Republican Majority Leader has spent $1.7 million on legal fees, leaving him with only $641,000 in his campaign reserves. DeLay's legal team is currently drawn from nine different law firms. A recent ruling by a federal judge has required DeLay's name to stay on the ballot in his now former Congressional district. If he chooses to go forward with an attempt at re-election, he will face Democrat Nick Lampson who currently holds $2.2 million in campaign funds. DeLay would then also be faced with the dilemma of simultaneously financing both his legal defense and his political campaign. Couldn't happen to a more deserving fellow.

An adviser to President George W. Bush wants the White House Counsel's office to be "beef[ed] up" in case a possibly Democratic controlled House pursues a "tangle of investigations," according to a Time Magazine web exclusive. Near the end of an article about how "the crisis in Lebanon has dragged the Administration into the role of potential peacemaker," Time's Mike Allen reports that the Administration's "outlook" for the midterm elections reads "ominous" for the Republican Party and for President Bush. "As for Bush himself, he is curtailing his traditional August working vacation at the ranch so that he can barnstorm before the midterm elections," writes Allen for Time. "Their outlook thus far seems so ominous for the G.O.P. that one presidential adviser wants Bush to beef up his counsel's office for the tangle of investigations that a Democrat-controlled House might pursue," Allen continues.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:24:12 AM

Sun, Jul 23 2006

I Can't Watch The News Anymore

The weather this afternoon was delightfully sunny and warm, a pleasant break from the usual rainy season weather. No so pleasant this morning - it was a reversal of the usual morning break and afternoon rain, this time with intermittent thunderstorms all morning, and a break this afternoon. Last night saw an unusually cool night, at 69, and this afternoon, the sun allowed the temperature to rise to a pleasant 81.

I spent much of the day today doing laundry, and watching television, but I find that I am not much glued to the news anymore these days. What is happening in Lebanon - and Smirkey's outrageous response to it - is so angering that I cannot watch the news without getting just spitting mad, and that starts up the angina pain, so I have to cool it and turn off the news. Instead, I have to try to find something else to watch, and if nothing is on, go do something else, such as fool around with my ham radio or my computer. That is why I have been doing a lot of that lately.

I finally got my computer connected to my ham radio and the sound card running with the software I downloaded, so I can monitor the "PSK" computer signals from all over the world. Lots of fun doing that - I am amazed at how many Cubans there are. Few on voice, but lots and lots on PSK. There have been an abundance of signals from all over the world. Now I have got to get some antennas up so I can start talking with these fellas. Signals have been poor as a result of the fact that we're at the bottom of the sunspot cycle, but there has been a surprising amount of signals from some fairly rare countries, such as Romania, Estonia and the like.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Britain dramatically broke ranks with Smirkey last night over the Lebanon crisis, publicly criticising Israel's military tactics and urging America to 'understand' the price being paid by ordinary Lebanese civilians. The remarks, made in Beirut by the Foreign Office minister, Kim Howells, were the first public criticism by the UK of Israel's military campaign, and placed it at odds with Washington's strong support. The Observer can also reveal that Tony Blair voiced deep concern about the escalating violence during a private telephone conversation with the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, last week. But sources close to Blair said Olmert had replied that Israel faced a dire security threat from the Hizbollah militia and was determined to do everything necessary to defeat it. Downing Street sources said last night that Blair still believed Israel had every right to respond to the missile threat, and held the Shia militia responsible for provoking the crisis by abducting two Israeli soldiers and firing rockets into Israel. But they said they had no quarrel with Howells' scathing denunciation of Israel's military tactics.

Bill Berkowitz reports, "If you thought that a global conflagration on the order of a World War was more the stuff of Biblical prophecy, science fiction and apocalyptic end-times novels, think again. For years, U.S. neoconservatives have been ratcheting up the rhetoric - mostly in small gatherings and on partisan web sites - claiming that terrorist activities around the world constituted the initial stages of a new world war. But during the past week or so... Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the United States House of Representatives, is using any platform available to him to convince the public that the U.S. is engaged in World War III... While Gingrich's media tour definitely thrust him back into the national political spotlight, it may have also given the public a sneak peek into the Republican Party's political/marketing strategy for the November congressional elections: If the war on terrorism doesn't create a fearful enough climate amongst voters, why not ratchet it up by mentioning the spectre of a World War III? ... John Stauber ... [co-] author of the forthcoming book, '"The Best War Ever", [told IPS] 'You've got to call it something and five years after 9/11 with Osama [bin Laden] still roaming free and Iraq an American quagmire, and the Republican Party in danger of losing control of Congress, this ploy makes marketing sense.' "

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The White House released a fact sheet yesterday entitled, "Setting the Record Straight: President Bush's Foreign Policy Is Succeeding." The sheet declares not once but four times that the administration "is rallying the world behind its policy," and claims that "a consensus is building behind the President's foreign policy approach." Actually, U.S. standing in the world has plummeted under the Bush administration, as John Bolton tacitly admitted yesterday. Asked who he would choose as Kofi Annan's successor at the United Nations, Bolton acknowledged, "If I told you who I thought we thought the best candidate would be, it would probably be the kiss of death for that person."

"With the tacit consent of the Bush administration, authoritarian Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is continuing his campaign against the democratic movement that sprouted in his country last year," writes the Washington Post. His government has made it illegal to ""affront the president of the republic" - or insult parliament, public agencies, the armed forces, the judiciary. Journalists and bloggers have been arrested, jailed and brutally treated. "The crackdown on the press was predictable," the Post says, "because it followed Mr. Mubarak's assault on opposition political parties and on a judges' reform movement - the two other key elements of Cairo's promising Spring of 2005."

The torture of prisoners in US custody in Iraq was authorized and routine even after the Abu Ghraib scandal came to light, a US-based rights group says. Soldiers' accounts show that detainees routinely faced severe beatings, sleep deprivation and other abuses for much of 2003-2005, Human Rights Watch says. Soldiers who tried to complain about the abuse were rebuffed or ignored. But a Pentagon spokesman said 12 reviews had found there was no policy condoning or encouraging abuse.

Italy's prime minister, Romano Prodi, was facing a political dilemma today after it emerged that prosecutors had asked his government to demand the extradition of 26 CIA agents from the US so they can be put on trial for kidnapping a terrorist suspect. Judicial sources said the wanted men and women included a former head of the CIA in Italy, named as Jeff Castelli. The extradition request was sent to Rome by prosecutors in Milan investigating the disappearance three years ago of an Islamist cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar. Prodi is facing a political dilemma over the extradition of CIA agents. Italy's prime minister, Romano Prodi, was facing a political dilemma today after it emerged that prosecutors had asked his government to demand the extradition of 26 CIA agents from the US so they can be put on trial for kidnapping a terrorist suspect. Judicial sources said the wanted men and women included a former head of the CIA in Italy, named as Jeff Castelli. The extradition request was sent to Rome by prosecutors in Milan investigating the disappearance three years ago of an Islamist cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar. Mr Prodi's justice minister can choose, in the interest of relations with the US, not to forward the request to Washington. This was the course taken by his predecessor in the rightwing government of Silvio Berlusconi, who was presented with an application for the extradition of 22 of the suspects earlier this year. But a decision to shelve the application would outrage many members and supporters of the present centre-left government, which has a wafer-thin majority. Pressing the case has the attraction of putting Mr Berlusconi under pressure. Today new evidence surfaced indicating that the abduction of Abu Omar had been authorised at a high level while Mr Berlusconi was in office, and there is growing support for the view that it was a joint US-Italian intelligence operation.

What Your Billions of Aid-To-Israel Dollars Are Buying: Israeli bombing of a Beirut neighborhood has breached humanitarian law, a senior U.N. official said on Sunday. "It is horrific. I did not know it was block after block of houses," Jan Egeland, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, told reporters as he toured the shattered Haret Hreik district. "It makes it a violation of humanitarian law." "It's bigger, it's more extensive than I even could imagine," he said, surveying a pile of rubble. Israeli warplanes have pounded the area nearly every night since its war with Hizbollah began on July 12. Egeland said between half a million and a million people were in need of international assistance in Lebanon, but delivering aid required safe access. "So far Israel is not giving us access," he said. Egeland plans to travel to Israel on Tuesday to negotiate safe corridors by land, sea and air. He has estimated that $100 million is urgently needed to help avert a humanitarian crisis. "There is definitely a humanitarian crisis unfolding in Lebanon," he said. Israel's bombardment of its northern neighbor has killed 359 people, mostly civilians.

Israeli warplanes rocketed a minibus carrying people fleeing the fighting Sunday in southern Lebanon, killing three people, Lebanese security officials said. A member of the U.N. observer team in south Lebanon was wounded by guerrilla fire and a Lebanese photographer became the first journalist to die in the fighting when an Israeli missile hit near her taxi in southern Lebanon. Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz told the Cabinet that the current offensive is not an invasion of Lebanon, but rather a series of "limited raids" into the area. An army spokesman said Israeli forces were making only limited thrusts a few kilometers (miles) into south Lebanon. "It will probably widen, but we are still looking at limited operations," he said. "We're not talking about massive forces going inside at this point."

Turns out that the two soldiers that Hezbollah captured in Israel and took back to Lebanon weren't captured in Israel, in spite of CNN's reporting it that way. They were captured in Lebanon. And it turns out that while Israel occupied southern Lebanon, it routinely captured totally innocent Lebanese to hold as bargaining chips. Not once, not twice, but dozens of times - can we say "hypocrisy," boys and girls?. So Israel's paper-thin, fig-leaf excuse for its aggression against the civilians of Lebanon - a war crime under Article 33 of the 4th Geneva Convention to which it is signatory - doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

Israeli Brigadier-General Alon Friedman said yesterday: "It's possible that in the coming days our ground operations will increase." He added that troops on Israel's northern border "are of more than division strength and would allow a large-scale ground offensive if necessary". A division is usually at least 10,000 troops. As part of its plan for a ground invasion, Israeli jets dropped leaflets over southern Lebanon yesterday warning the population to move north of the Litani river, about 12 miles inside Lebanon. About 300,000 civilians normally live south of the Litani. The planned ground campaign dashes Smirkey's hopes that the Israeli operation would be relatively quick and makes it harder to fend off international pressure for diplomatic action. Tomorrow Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, is to fly out to visit Jerusalem, Beirut and Cairo to explore peace options. She will also attend an international conference on Lebanon in Rome on Wednesday.

Israeli forces targeted cell telephone and television masts north of Beirut on Saturday during a series of three air raids. Three Israeli air raids struck a relay station used by several Lebanese television stations and a mast of the Alfa mobile telephone network in Christian areas north of Beirut. The bombing started a fire at facilities used by LBC television, affiliated to the Lebanese Forces faction that emerged from a Christian civil war militia backed by Israel. Also on Saturday Israeli forces entered a Maroun Al Ras village in the south east corner of Lebanon.

Reports from the US suggest Washington has been asked to speed up a shipment of precision bombs sold as part of a deal with Israel last year. According to a report in the New York Times, Israel made the request after it began its air assault on Lebanon 12 days ago. The weapons, including five-ton laser-guided bombs, are part of a sale signed last year. Unnamed US officials say the request to speed up delivery is unusual. The disclosure is likely to anger Arab governments because of the appearance that the United States is actively aiding Israel at such a sensitive time. The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which some military officers see as a sign of a longer campaign ahead.

A nauseating sign of the times: Preteen Israeli girls at a heavy artillery position in northern Israel were photographed by the Associated Press apparently gleefully scrawling their names and other inscriptions on shells destined to be dropped on Lebanon. One reads "Nazrala with love" - a reference to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasarallah.

While You Were Glued To Fox News: The Bush administration plans to cut nearly in half the number of auditors who review tax returns of some of the wealthiest U.S. taxpayers. Plans call for eliminating 157 of the Internal Revenue Service's 345 estate tax lawyers, The New York Times reported. The cuts will affect audits of taxpayers who are subject to gift and estate taxes when they transfer assets to their children and others, the newspaper said. IRS Deputy Commissioner Kevin Brown told the Times he ordered the staff cuts because the number of Americans who are subject to the estate tax has fallen under the Bush administration. However, six IRS estate tax lawyers whose jobs are at risk told the newspaper the cuts are part of a behind-the-scenes move at the IRS to shield people with political connections and complex tax-avoidance devices from thorough audits. IRS estate tax lawyer Sharyn Phillips said the cuts were a "back-door way for the Bush administration to achieve what it cannot get from Congress, which is repeal of the estate tax." Brown said the savings from estate tax lawyer job cuts would be used to hire agents to audit income tax returns.

When school was canceled to accommodate a campaign visit by President Bush, the two 55-year-old teachers reckoned the time was ripe to voice their simmering discontent with the administration's policies. Christine Nelson showed up at the Cedar Rapids rally with a Kerry-Edwards button pinned on her T-shirt; Alice McCabe clutched a small, paper sign stating "No More War." What could be more American, they thought, than mixing a little dissent with the bunting and buzz of a get-out-the-vote rally headlined by the president? Their reward: a pair of handcuffs and a strip search at the county jail. Authorities say they were arrested because they "refused to obey reasonable security restrictions," but the women disagree: "Because I had a dissenting opinion, they did what they needed to do to get me out of the way," said Nelson, who teaches history and government at one of this city's middle schools. "I tell my students all the time about how people came to this country for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, that those rights and others are sacred. And all along I've been thinking to myself, 'not at least during this administration.'" Their experience is hardly unique. In the months before the 2004 election, dozens of people across the nation were banished from or arrested at Bush political rallies, some for heckling the president, others simply for holding signs or wearing clothing that expressed opposition to the war and administration policies.

Sen. Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum (R., Pa.) yesterday called for regime change in Iran and described "Islamic fascism" as the "great test" of this generation, as threatening to the United States as last century's German Nazism and Soviet communism. Santorum also severely criticized the news media for revealing details of secret surveillance programs, saying these reports "have put American lives at greater risk." "There has been a war against the war," he said. "A joint campaign by some people inside the government and allies in the media to undermine critical national security programs." Pennsylvania's junior senator made his remarks at the National Press Club, his first appearance at the well-known political forum. It was a rare speech devoted to foreign policy by the senator, who does not serve on any related committees but who has spoken out against repression in Syria and Iran. The Senate's No. 3 Republican and chief communicator is in a tough reelection battle with Democrat Bob Casey Jr. Iran is the "keystone" of the Islamic fascist structure - "a threat to the civilized world all by itself," Santorum said. He said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, "are working to bring about the end of the free world as fast as they possibly can, in order to subject mankind to the slavery of a new caliphate."

This morning on Fox, Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and cheerleader for the Neocon movement, continued to escalate his calls for war against Iran, stating, "We can try diplomacy. I’m not very hopeful about that. We have to be ready to use force." Kristol claimed the people of Iran would embrace "the right use of targeted military force." He added that military force could "trigger changes in Iran," causing them to embrace regime change. He offered no evidence to support his case. This is the same Bill Kristol who figured the Iraqis would be strewing rose petals in the path of U.S. occupation troops in Iraq to depose Saddam.

Deregulation Helps Build A Strong America: The misery of a five-day blackout that has darkened large swaths of Queens during the hottest week of the year erupted into fury yesterday after Con Edison disclosed that the blackout is 10 times larger than it had previously reported.

The development sparked an angry response, with residents and city leaders branding the utility incompetent and a state lawmaker calling for a criminal investigation. All the while, Queens residents endured another sweltering day with no lights and no air-conditioning, spoiled food piled up, and streetlights remained dark. A firehouse responded by handing out water and dry ice, and the Red Cross was giving away meals. "I'm here and I go home and it's the same thing," said Marie Koutsoumbaris, a receptionist at a funeral home. "No lights, no air." Con Edison originally said the blackout affected only 2,500 customers, but provided a new estimate yesterday of 25,000, saying the initial figure was based only on the number of customers who called to complain. The number increased to 26,000 customers around midnight. The utility said it had not yet determined the cause of the increase. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, always the defender of unregulated private enterprise, defended Con Edison, while saying the actual number of people without power is about 100,000: "the term 'customer' can refer to more than one household or an entire apartment building."

News From Smirkey's Wars On Civilization: Four U.S. soldiers accused of murdering suspected insurgents during a raid in Iraq said they were under orders to "kill all military age males," according to sworn statements obtained by The Associated Press. The soldiers first took some of the men into custody because they were using two women and a toddler as human shields. They shot three of the men after the women and child were safe and say the men attacked them. "The ROE (rule of engagement) was to kill all military age males on Objective Murray," Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard told investigators, referring to the target by its code name.

Last Throes Of The Iraqi Insurgency: U.S. military officials have reported a 40 percent increase in the daily average of attacks in the Baghdad area in the last week. U.S. spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said there has been an average of 34 attacks a day against U.S. and Iraqi forces in the capital over the past five days. The daily average for the period June 14 until July 13 was 24 a day, he said. "We have not witnessed the reduction in violence one would have hoped for in a perfect world," U.S. spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said at a news briefing Thursday.

Last Throes Of The Taliban In Afghanistan: The most senior British military commander in Afghanistan yesterday described the situation in the country as "close to anarchy" with feuding foreign agencies and unethical private security companies compounding problems caused by local corruption. The stark warning came from Lieutenant General David Richards, head of Nato's international security force in Afghanistan, who warned that western forces there were short of equipment and were "running out of time" if they were going to meet the expectations of the Afghan people. The assumption within Nato countries had been that the environment in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban in 2002 would be benign, Gen Richards said. "That is clearly not the case," he said yesterday. He referred to disputes between tribes crossing the border with Pakistan, and divisions between religious and secular factions cynically manipulated by "anarcho-warlords".

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: It has been revealed that funding for Title X of the Public Health Services Act -- the backbone of subsidized family planning health services for low-income uninsured women -- is less than half what it was in 1980 when adjusted for inflation. The program faces a pitched battle in Congress every year just to maintain level funding. Meanwhile, funding for abstinence-only programs that provide no health services has catapulted from near-zero to almost equal Title X. It's no surprise then that low-income women feel the heel of this particular anti-woman boot. Among higher-income women, in contrast, unintended pregnancies and abortions have declined by a significant 20 percent. They can afford the rising costs of birth control including very effective newer methods such as injectable contraceptives. They have greater access to uncensored information on the Web and the wherewithal to drive across town to get their prescription filled when their neighborhood pharmacist refuses. Restrictions on access fall most heavily on young and low-income women who are the most vulnerable, have the fewest resources with which to advocate for themselves and are thus politically speaking invisible.

James Dobson's Colorado Springs-based ministry stands firmly against same-sex marriage, gay rights initiatives and, now, mooing puppies. On Tuesday, Focus unveiled its new "straight" puppy Web site, www.no-moo-lies.com, featuring a basset hound named Sherman, who barks as biology intended. During a news conference, a Focus employee dressed in a dog suit, who serves as a mascot at the group's visitors center, made a brief appearance. "Dogs aren't born mooing, and people aren't born gay," a Focus news release stated.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Two former Pentagon officials, including an acting secretary of the Navy, have been accused of scheming with a banned American contractor to get lucrative rebuilding contracts in Iraq, The Associated Press has learned. The contracting firm, Custer Battles LLC, was suspended two years ago by the military for submitting millions of dollars in fake invoices. The charges come in a sealed federal lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by The AP. It was filed by two whistleblowers - one of whom won a $10 million judgment in another suit when a federal jury agreed that Custer Battles had swindled the government. The current suit names former acting Navy Secretary Hansford T. Johnson, former acting Navy Undersecretary Douglas Combs, and Custer Battles LLC officials including founders Scott Custer and Mike Battles, who were barred in 2004 after billing the government for work that was never done and for padding invoices by much as 100 percent. Also named were six companies connected to the contracting firm, including Windmill International Ltd., a worldwide contractor run by Combs and Johnson, and a Romanian company, Danubia Global, which purchased Custer Battles in 2005. The new lawsuit contends Custer and Battles, both Army veterans with Washington political connections, tried to get around the suspension order by plotting with Johnson and Combs "to set up sham companies (thereby) concealing their ownership and control of those entities."

Government Accountability Office investigators posing as private citizens were able to buy sensitive excess military equipment from a Department of Defense logistics agency, a GAO report obtained by NBC News shows. The equipment included two launcher mounts for shoulder-fired guided missiles, two guided missile radar test sets, ceramic body armor inserts currently used by deployed troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, a digital signal converter used in naval surveillance, an all-band antenna used to track aircraft and 12 digital microcircuits used in F-14 fighter aircraft. GAO identified at least 79 buyers of 2,669 sensitive items between November 2005 and June 2006.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:33:14 AM

Fri, Jul 21 2006

A Ham Radio Day

Another lovely little break in the rainy season weather. Yesterday and this morning, we enjoyed bright, sunny, warm weather, with only a break for a brief but intense thunderstorm late in the evening yesterday. This afternoon has been cloudy and warm - it is 81 as I write this, and has been as high as 83 today and was 73 overnight.

Yesterday, I didn't feel up to a whole lot of hard work, still recovering from the previous day's efforts in doing the house repairs. Instead, I started playing around with my ham radio, and began to think some about building a special antenna that would give me access to two of the more important frequency bands that I would like to use. So I fired up the antenna modeling program I have and went to work on a design I found in the American Radio Relay League's antenna handbook.

The description was very vague and short on (read: nonexistent) design details, so I simply created a model based on what I thought was intended. It didn't work or even come close, so I started playing around until I found a combination of parameters that did - and set about optimizing it. Eventually, by mid afternoon, I had managed to work out a model that behaved as the article said it should, and was properly dimensioned based on materials I can obtain locally. Turns out I can make it of about six pieces of 1 1/2 inch electrical tubing, some steel perlin, and a few other things. It would be a fun project to build, but the program predicts the performance to be a bit less than I had hoped for. So I am up in the air about whether to actually build it. Meanwhile, I really need to just get some wire antennas up in the air, and I am still looking for a bow and arrow to make that possible. The gardener forgot to bring his when he came today. Would have been a good day, too, to get the ropes up into the trees. No rain today, but that will at least be good for all the weed spraying he did. I'll have to wait for another week for antennas.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: President Bush cast his first veto on Wednesday to block legislation to expand embryonic stem cell research, putting him at odds with top scientists, most Americans and some fellow Republicans. "It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect, so I vetoed it," Bush said of the research that involves tiny human embryos. The U.S. House failed to muster the two-thirds vote necessary to override the veto, Bush's first in more than five years in the White House. The vote was 235-193. The issue has become ethically and politically volatile because extracting the cells entails destruction of an embryo. Bush believes that is destroying a life. His opponents say the research, which would be done only on excess embryos from fertility treatments that would otherwise be destroyed, is potentially life-saving. The debate has become an issue in several of this November's Senate races and it may factor in the 2008 presidential contest. The veto fulfills a Bush promise made to socially conservative supporters whose votes his Republican Party will need in November to help keep control of Congress. But Democrats, citing opinion polls showing that most Americans support the research that could lead to new treatments for conditions ranging from diabetes to paralysis, said that Bush's stance may alienate centrist voters. The House failed to override Smirkey's veto of the bill. That means the veto stands, killing the measure. The vote was 235-193 to override, 51 votes short of the two-thirds majority required to send the question to the Senate.

Smirkey has not called the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. When the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was asked about this, she said that there was no need for such a call because Israeli and US officials already "understood each other's position". Rice said the US would not support a ceasefire. "What is really happening here is that extremists have revealed their hand," she said. "They are demonstrating that they cannot tolerate the forward march of democratic moderate forces in the Middle East. And, of course, they are doing this in conjunction with sponsors in Damascus and in Tehran." This policy is a huge gamble. There is a good chance that while Israel can weaken Hezbollah, it will not be able to destroy it. But its bombing campaign - which could well be followed by a ground invasion of southern Lebanon - will destroy the Lebanese Government, the only democratically elected government in the Arab world.

Military strategy analysts say Israel's targeting of civilian and government infrastructure overshadows its strikes on the offices and rocket launchers of Hezbollah guerrillas, whose capture of two Israeli soldiers triggered the attacks. "This is a classic strategic bombing campaign," said Stephen Biddle, a former head of military studies at the U.S. Army War College now at the Council on Foreign Relations. "What the Israelis are trying to do is pressure others into solving their problem for them, hence the targeting of civilian infrastructure." But the growing list of civilian casualties - despite Israel's use of U.S.-designed precision-guided bombs - could turn Arabs and others against the Jewish state and its key ally, the U.S., and still not fatally wound Hezbollah, said military analysts.

The House, displaying a foreign affairs solidarity lacking on issues like Iraq, voted overwhelmingly Thursday to support Israel in its destruction of Lebanon. The resolution, which was passed on a 410-8 vote, also condemns enemies of the Jewish state. House Republican leader John Boehner cited Israel's "unique relationship" with the United States as a reason for his colleagues to swiftly go on record supporting Israel in the latest flare-up of violence in the Mideast. Little of the political divisiveness in Congress on other national security issues was evident as lawmakers embraced the Bush administration's position. So strong was the momentum for the resolution that it was steamrolling efforts by a small group of House members who argued that Congress's pro-Israel stance goes too far. The nonbinding resolution is similar to one the Senate passed Tuesday. It harshly condemns Israel's enemies and says Syria and Iran should be held accountable for providing Hezbollah with money and missile technology used to attack Israel. Yet as Republican and Democratic leaders rally behind the measure in rare bipartisan fashion, a handful of lawmakers have quietly expressed reservations that the resolution was too much the result of a powerful lobbying force and attempts to court Jewish voters.

"Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq on Wednesday forcefully denounced the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, marking a sharp break with President Bush's position and highlighting the growing power of a Shiite Muslim identity across the Middle East," reports The New York Times on Thursday. "The Israeli attacks and airstrikes are completely destroying Lebanon's infrastructure," Mr. Maliki said at an afternoon news conference inside the fortified Green Zone, which houses the American embassy and the seat of the Iraqi government. "I condemn these aggressions and call on the Arab League foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo to take quick action to stop these aggressions. We call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression."

At a moment when his conservative coalition is already under strain over domestic policy, President Bush is facing a new and swiftly building backlash on the right over his handling of foreign affairs. Conservative intellectuals and commentators who once lauded Bush for what they saw as a willingness to aggressively confront threats and advance U.S. interests said in interviews that they perceive timidity and confusion about long-standing problems including Iran and North Korea, as well as urgent new ones such as the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah. "It is Topic A of every single conversation," said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has had strong influence in staffing the administration and shaping its ideas. "I don't have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration."

Vincent Ferrari managed to make a recording of his hilarious phone conversation with a customer service representative at America Online, in which the service rep repeatedly stonewalled and ignored Ferrari's request to cancel his AOL account. After the recording began circulating on the web, AOL fired the employee and said he had "violated our customer service guidelines and practices." Shortly thereafter, the Consumerist website reports, "A plain manila envelope arrived on our desk. ... Inside was the eighty-one paged 'Enhanced Sales Training for AOL Retention Consultants' manual" which showed that in fact, "customer service John" was just following orders. The manual instructs employees that "every Member that calls in to cancel their account is a hot lead" and tells them to "retain control by redirecting the Member if necessary."

A new study by the Brookings Institution found that the urban poor pay hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars a year in extra costs for necessities, such as car insurance, home appliances, banking fees and other basics. Drivers from low-income neighborhoods of New York, Hartford and Baltimore, insuring identical cars and with the same driving records as those from middle-class neighborhoods, paid $400 more on average for a year’s insurance. The poor are also the main customers for appliances and furniture at "rent to own" stores, where payments are stretched out at very high interest rates; in Wisconsin, a $200 television can end up costing $700.

A funny thing happened to Ralph "Baby Face" Reed this week: he lost a Republican primary in a Southern state - exactly the sort of electorate that Reed was an expert at courting. In a race for lieutenant governor of Georgia, Reed was defeated by Casey Cagle, a state senator who initially didn't seem to have a prayer against his charming and charismatic foe. Reed was upended by his very success as a consultant: an old friend named Jack Abramoff had some Indian gambling clients who wanted to beat back the effort of a competing tribe to open a casino. Abramoff arranged for Reed's companies to be paid $4 million to organize grass-roots anti-gambling sentiment to oppose the competitor's casino bid. So Reed got to be on the anti-gambling side publicly, even as he was being paid privately by gambling interests to do what they needed done. It all might have worked splendidly had Abramoff not gotten into a spot of trouble. The public interest in Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges, forced Reed's gambling transaction to the surface, and Cagle made the most of it. One Cagle ad declared that Reed had "sold out our conservative values" and concluded: "Ralph Reed: His values are for sale." It's the sort of attack Reed himself might have admired under other circumstances. Cagle won by 12 points.

In a joint declaration, published today in Nature, the scientists say that the earth is on the verge of a biodiversity catastrophe and that only a global political initiative stands a chance of stemming the loss. They say: "There is growing recognition that the diversity of life on earth, including the variety of genes, species and ecosystems, is an irreplaceable natural heritage crucial to human well-being and sustainable development. There is also clear scientific evidence that we are on the verge of a major biodiversity crisis. Virtually all aspects of biodiversity are in steep decline and a large number of populations and species are likely to become extinct this century. "Despite this evidence, biodiversity is still consistently undervalued and given inadequate weight in both private and public decisions. There is an urgent need to bridge the gap between science and policy by creating an international body of biodiversity experts," they say. More than a decade ago, Edward O Wilson, the Harvard naturalist, first estimated that about 30,000 species were going extinct each year - an extinction rate of about three an hour. Further research has confirmed that just about every group of animals and plants - from mosses and ferns to palm trees, frogs, and monkeys - is experiencing an unprecedented loss of diversity. Scientists estimate that 12 per cent of all birds, 23 per cent of mammals, a quarter of conifers, a third of amphibians and more than half of all palm trees are threatened with imminent extinction. Climate change alone could lead to the further extinction of between 15 and 37 per cent of all species by the end of the century, the scientists say: "Because biodiversity loss is essentially irreversible, it poses serious threats to sustainable development and the quality of life of future generations."

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Thanks to an unsuspected open mike, we caught a glimpse of the mindset of a leader unaccountably pleased with his ignorance of the world. What seemed to interest Smirkey most at that farewell get-together of leaders bitterly divided over a disintegrating Mideast was not some last-minute proposal for peace, but rather the fact that it would take China President Hu Jintao eight hours to fly home from St. Petersburg to Beijing. Bush had started the exchange by noting, absurdly, that, "This is your neighborhood, doesn't take you long to get home." Uh, yeah, incurious George, sure thing. Never mind that St. Petersburg is in Europe, on Russia's northwestern corner, due north of Turkey, and Beijing is on the eastern edge of mainland Asia. "You, eight hours? Me, too. Russia's a big country and you're a big country," he said when corrected, sounding for all the world like an earnest kindergartner, processing new information. "Russia's big and so is China." The infantile sound of the remarks is truly scary. What can the other world leaders be thinking?

Norman Solomon writes in Truthout: After getting out of Lebanon, writer June Rugh told Reuters on Tuesday: "As an American, I'm embarrassed and ashamed. My administration is letting it happen [by giving] tacit permission for Israel to destroy a country." The news service quoted another American evacuee, Andrew Muha, who had been in southern Lebanon. He said: "It's a travesty. There's a million homeless in Lebanon and the intense amount of bombing has brought an entire country to its knees." Embarrassing. Shameful. A travesty. Those kinds of words begin to describe the alliance between the United States and Israel. Here are a few more: Government criminality. High-tech terror. Mass murder from the skies. The kind of premeditated action that the US representative in Nuremberg at the International Conference on Military Trials - Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Jackson - was talking about on August 12, 1945, when he declared that "no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy." The United States and Israel. Right now, it's the most dangerous alliance in the world. Of course, Israeli officials talk about murderous crimes against civilians by Hezbollah and Hamas. And Hezbollah and Hamas officials talk about murderous crimes against civilians by Israel. Plenty of real crimes to go around. At the same time, by any measure, Israelis have done a lot more killing than dying. (If you doubt that, take a look at the web site of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem and its documentation of deadly events.)

What Your Aid-To-Israel Dollars Are Paying For: Israel continues to target Lebanon's infrastructure and bomb civilian neighborhoods. The United Nations is warning of a looming humanitarian disaster and the World Health Organization expects the number of Lebanese residents displaced to reach 900,000 by the end of today. So far, hundreds have been killed and thousands injured. Meanwhile, a BBC reporter reports that there is no evidence that Hezbollah's grip is weakening - in 15 minutes of setting up for a live report from south Beruit, the reporter says he was approached by Hezbollah security five times. Additionally, there is no evidence that popular support for Hezbollah is being weakened by the bombardment of civilians, either.

An independent U.N. human rights expert is calling for an inquiry into the destruction of the sole Gaza Strip power station. The June 28 Israeli strike on the station, which generated 42 percent of the power used by Gaza's 1.3 million residents, may have constituted a violation of international humanitarian law, Paul Hunt, a special rapporteur for the U.N. Human Rights Council, said in a statement Wednesday. "The destruction of Gaza's electricity power station is profoundly inconsistent with the health and safety of all civilians living in Gaza, especially the young, sick, infirm and elderly, as well as their right to the highest attainable standard of health, enshrined in the International Bill of Rights and other international human rights instruments," he said. The strike resulted in "a serious water shortage," Hunt said, "affecting sewage disposal for tens of thousands of households throughout the Gaza Strip." Hunt also noted reported cases of diarrhea have increased by 163 percent compared with the same period last year, and he also warned that communicable diseases, such as cholera and poliomyelitis, could re-emerge. International humanitarian law requires parties to a conflict to distinguish between combatants and civilians. A target may be attacked if it is both aiding the enemy's military action and if its destruction gives a definite military advantage to the attacker. "Whether or not both conditions applied in the case of Gaza's electricity power station is an issue that demands careful, independent investigation," Hunt said.

War crimes could have been committed in Lebanon, Israel and Gaza, a senior UN official has said. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said international law stressed the need to protect civilians. There is an obligation on all parties to respect the "principle of proportionality", she said. About 300 Lebanese, most of them civilians, have been killed in the violence. Thirty Israelis, including 15 civilians, have also been killed. Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians... Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged military significance, but resulting invariably in the killing of innocent civilians, is unjustifiable. The UN reported on Wednesday that about 100 Palestinians, civilians and fighters, have been killed since the start of the Israeli offensive in Gaza in late June.

Palestinian sources in Gaza claimed that IDF tanks shelled a convoy which was transporting UN Mideast envoy Terje Roed-Larsen. No casualties were reported. According to the claims, the artillery shells were fired as Roed-Larsen reached the Beit Hanoun area on his way to the Erez Crossing following a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

An al-Jazeera technican was shot by the Israeli military today during the filming of a live report, the Arabic satellite broadcaster has claimed. Al-Jazeera said that technician Wael Tantous, who was part of a crew covering today's Israeli assault on the West Bank town of Nablus, was shot, but declined to elaborate on the extent of his injuries. The network claimed the attack came after an Israeli military vehicle suddenly sped up towards al-Jazeera's reporter, Jivara al-Budeiri, in "an apparent attempt to interrupt the report". Al-Jazeera said that Tantous, who was part of the crew working with al-Budeiri, was subsequently shot and immediately rushed to hospital. "Since the start of the current war on Lebanon al-Jazeera crews have consistently been targeted by the Israeli authorities, resulting in a constant hindrance and obstruction of their work," the broadcaster said in a statement.

Republicans Believe In Compassionate Government: If someone looks like he could use a meal, be warned: Giving him a sandwich in a Las Vegas park could land you in jail. The Las Vegas City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday that bans providing food or meals to the indigent for free or a nominal fee in parks. The measure is an attempt to stop so-called "mobile soup kitchens" from operating in parks, where residents say they attract the homeless and render the city facilities unusable by families. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada called the ordinance blatantly unconstitutional, unenforceable and the latest attempt by the city to hide and harass the homeless instead of constructively addressing their plight. "So the only people who get to eat are those who have enough money? Those who get (government) assistance can't eat at your picnic?" asked ACLU attorney Allen Lichtenstein. "I've heard of some rather strange and extreme measures from other cities. I've never heard of something like this. It's mind-boggling." The city's new ordinance, which officials could begin enforcing as early as Friday, defines an indigent as a "person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive assistance" from the government under state law.

Picking Up Where Republican-Led Government Leaves Off: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced $287 million in grants on Wednesday to create an international network of 16 labs to try new approaches to making a vaccine against AIDS. The foundation says it wants the program to transform the so-far unsuccessful AIDS vaccine effort by rewarding individual labs that come up with innovative ideas and helping them develop those ideas, but also ensuring that they collaborate with other researchers, who under ordinary circumstances would often be considered rivals. "This is the foundation's largest-ever investment in HIV vaccine development. In fact, it's our largest-ever package of grants for HIV and AIDS," Dr. Nicholas Hellmann, acting director of the Gates Foundation's HIV, TB, and Reproductive Health program, told reporters in a telephone briefing. AIDS was first described in 1981 and the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS was found soon after -- but it has proven extremely difficult to find a way to make an effective vaccine. The virus attacks the very immune cells that are usually stimulated by a vaccine, and mutates quickly to evade back-up immune responses. More than 30 vaccines are being tested in people now, but no scientists expect that any of them will prevent HIV infection in large numbers of people.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Top White House officials took a harder line yesterday on a new system to try terrorism suspects, telling Republican senators that President Bush will soon formally propose a tribunal structure with only minor changes from the military commissions that were ruled unconstitutional last month. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley met with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), offering views on a new tribunal structure that they said could pass constitutional muster with a Supreme Court that rebuked the White House in June. The senators said Bush will give Congress a proposal soon. But Senate Republican aides familiar with the discussion said that the White House position has hardened since a White House meeting earlier this month, when Hadley assured the same senators the White House could accept tribunals based largely on existing military law, known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That could place Bush on a collision course with the Senate, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers is preparing legislation that would hew closely to military law in outlining more rights for defendants than the administration wants to grant.

The House, citing the nation's religious origins, voted Wednesday to protect the Pledge of Allegiance from federal judges who might try to stop schoolchildren and others from reciting it because of the phrase "under God." The legislation, a priority of social conservatives, passed 260-167. It now goes to the Senate where its future is uncertain. "We should not and cannot rewrite history to ignore our spiritual heritage," said Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn. "It surrounds us. It cries out for our country to honor God." Opponents said the legislation, which would bar federal courts from ruling on the constitutional validity of the pledge, would undercut judicial independence and would deny access to federal courts to religious minorities seeking to defend their rights. "We are making an all-out assault on the Constitution of the United States which, thank God, will fail," said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Constitutional law experts and civil rights advocates are slamming the latest legislative proposal from US Senator Arlen Specter to address the government's warrantless wiretapping program. After months of negotiations with other lawmakers and Bush administration officials, Specter announced a "compromise" agreement last Thursday. But critics - some of whom are challenging the National Security Agency's (NSA) spying program in court - say the proposal is a "sham" that eliminates congressional oversight over the executive branch and any meaningful legal review of the program. "It's really basically a sell-out," said Shayana Kadidal, a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a legal organization that filed a lawsuit on related matters against President Bush and the NSA in January. "It's basically everything the administration wants in order to be able to continue warrantless spying on Americans."

A federal judge Thursday refused to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Bush administration's domestic spying program, rejecting government claims that allowing the case to go forward could expose state secrets and jeopardize the war on terror. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said the warrantless eavesdropping has been so widely reported that there appears to be no danger of spilling secrets. Dozens of lawsuits alleging that telecommunications companies and the government are illegally intercepting Americans' communications without warrants have been filed. This is the first time a judge has ruled on the government's claim of a "state secrets privilege."

The Bush administration is using the Treasury Department and the CIA to mine American banking records, all in an effort to find the next terra cell, which by the way they just happened to do the very day the news of the Sears Tower "terror plot" broke. What the NYT describes can only be seen as illegal and far-reaching, leaving any reasonable person laughing in horror at the idea of John Snow and Porter Goss -- or now General Hayden -- working together to sift through our finances, all looking for the ghost of Osama Bin Laden. Chances are that looking for the actual Osama might yield better results, but this is not an administration searching for Osama, when the myth of him is so much more politically potent. Osama won't be "found" until he is needed for a victory dance that will neatly tie Iraq, Iran, WMD and 911 together in some fantasy story, delivered just in time for political purposes. Will Osama's head too be splashed all over the news and displayed at press briefings in a large wooden frame? But back to Snow, who appears terribly concerned about locating the terrorists via bank files, our bank files that is. There is of course a good reason to track suspected terrorists and drug traffickers by following the money, as it will, of course, lead to the culprits eventually. But somehow I don't think Snow is looking for that kind of information.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: US Federal Reserve head Ben Bernanke has warned that while US economic growth is slowing, rising oil prices could add to inflationary pressures. Mr Bernanke told Senate members that higher energy and other raw material prices could "sustain inflation". The news comes as figures showed US consumer prices rose only moderately in June, helped by falling energy costs. However, the respite is likely to be temporary, as Middle East tensions have forced oil prices to record levels. US core inflation in June was 0.3%, meaning core inflation for the past three months rose by a rate of 3.6% annually - well above the Federal Reserve's preferred level of 2% or under. Core inflation excludes energy and food.

"I don't want to be alarmist, but this is actually quite alarming," Michelle Goldberg said. She was referring to the subject of her new book, "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism," which chronicles the steady rise of the neocons of Christianity. She goes on to say, "In the Department of Health and Human Services, the people they hired to formulate sex education policy, at both the national and international level, didn't come from the American Medical Association or the big medical schools. They're coming from places like the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, which is this Christian Nationalist medical group. [The group says it is a "nonprofit scientific, educational organization to confront the global epidemics of non-marital pregnancy."] One of the earlier stories I did for Salon was on the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) which does family planning, but they don't do abortion, mostly safe childcare and reproductive health through clinics all over the world. Congress had appropriated $35 million to the UNFPA. There's this group called the Population Research Institute -- another one of these parallel institutions. They're radically anti-family planning and claim that population control policies are part of this "one-world conspiracy" to cull the population of the faithful so that the "one-world government" can more easily assert its control. On the website it said that not only is overpopulation a myth, but all the people on Earth could live comfortably in the state of Texas. I did this story in 2002. I still had this naïve idea that this kind of thing would remain marginal. But what's amazing is that Population Research Institution went on to testify before Congress saying that the UNFPA promotes forced abortions in China. These kinds of accusations start echoing up the ladder to the point where Bush froze the UNFPA funding. This despite the fact that the State Department had already sent a delegation to China to investigate and said there was nothing to these accusations at all."

As many as 1.5 million people are sickened by bacterial pollution on Southern California beaches each year, resulting in millions of dollars in public health care costs, a new study has found. The study prepared by researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles and Stanford University is believed to be the first to examine illnesses at a large swath of the nation's most popular beaches. Previous studies have linked health problems to contamination at individual beaches. "This helps us understand (the) risks and identify beaches where cleanup can yield the most benefit," said Linwood Pendleton, an environmental economist at UCLA and an author of the study. The study, posted Monday on the Web site of the journal Environmental Science and Technology, covers 100 miles of shoreline in Los Angeles and Orange counties, which is visited by an estimated 80 million people annually. The study found that between 627,800 and 1,479,200 "excess" cases of gastrointestinal illness occur at the beaches each year. That is beyond the number that would normally be expected.

With gasoline prices approaching an average of $3 a gallon and Middle East strife escalating, it might seem like a bad time to encourage drivers to burn even more fuel. But speed limits on stretches of freeways around the country are rising - just in time for summer road trips. States around the country, including Texas and Michigan, have recently increased speed limits on hundreds of miles of interstate highways and freeways. Other states are expected to follow soon. Near Detroit, drivers long confronted by signs telling them to go no more than 55 miles per hour or 65 mph are seeing new signs with 70 mph speed limits. By November, cruising at 70 mph will be allowed on nearly 200 miles of road, including parts of Interstate 75 and M-59, a major suburban route. Texas has begun erecting 80 mph signs along 521 miles of I-10 and I-20 in 10 rural western counties, giving them the highest speed limit in the U.S. In September, Virginia is likely to boost the speed limit on I-85 near the North Carolina border to 70 mph from 65 mph.

Republican Policies Protect The Weak And Vulnerable: Local and national fair-lending groups say predatory lenders and their practices - which involve misleading consumers into loans with unfair terms - are growing in size and sophistication. Sarah Ludwig, executive director of the New York-based Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project (NEDAP), told The New Standard that new forms of exploitative lending enable loan marketers to "perpetuate neighborhood poverty and inequality and find new ways to give communities a raw deal and exploit them." Consumers are often duped into these bad deals, she added, through manipulative, aggressive marketing. According to a 2001 study by the research and advocacy organization Coalition for Responsible Lending, predatory lending cost communities an estimated $9.1 billion, primarily through exorbitant fees, penalties and other charges.

News From Smirkey's Wars: The U.S. military has removed two firms from a psychological operations contract aimed at influencing international public opinion, reports the Washington Post. The firms, plus a third company (SYColeman) that will retain the contract, spent the past year developing prototypes for radio and television "news" intended for use in Iraq and in other nations... The TV and radio contract, originally worth up to $300 million over five years, had been held by three firms since last year: the Lincoln Group; San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp.; and Arlington-based SYColeman, a subsidiary of New York-based L-3 Communications Corp. ... 'We learned that working with three companies increases expenditures in both time and money and does not provide best value to the government," said Lt. Col. David Farlow, spokesman for the military's psychological operations unit. Lincoln Group spokesman Bill Dixon said in a statement yesterday that the firm 'continues to win contracts' for Pentagon propaganda, but 'because confidentiality is vital to this work, the firm will not comment on the details of any contracts.'

Scandals Du Jour: The fundraising organization that helped vault former Rep. Tom DeLay to Republican leadership ranks in the House and distributed election money to numerous Republicans has been fined for campaign finance violations and is shutting down. Under an agreement with the Federal Election Commission, Americans for a Republican Majority's political action committee agreed to pay a $115,000 fine and close. The agreement, reached July 7, was made public late Wednesday.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:12:44 PM

Wed, Jul 19 2006

Repairs To The House Done

What a delightful break in the rain we enjoyed yesterday and this morning. No rain, lots of sun, even a bit of heat. But it was not to last - by this afternoon, the weather closed back in again and the rain resumed. The 80 degree high today occurred early this morning, after a relatively warm 73 degree low last night that had me running the ceiling fan in the bedroom all night.

When I woke to a bright, sunny day yesterday, I decided that I had best make hay while the sun was shining, so I got with the program fairly early and went to work repairing the soffit that was broken in the break-in reported earlier. The project proved to be a bit more work than I had expected. Getting out the ladder and placing it in the gardenia bush and climbing up and breaking out what remained of the piece of soffit was not much of a big deal. But pulling out the nails from the nailers proved to be a bit problematic - it seems that thirty years of humidity had rusted the nails to the point were they were difficult to pull out, and most simply broke off, leaving the nail in place. Once the soffit was gone and the nails removed as best I could, I poked my head up in the attic to have a look around and see how things were.

I discovered that some termites had recently colonized a roof truss next to where I was doing the repair work. Everywhere I checked, the wood was still sound, but of course that won't last unless the termites are killed. The trusses are made of a termite-resistant wood, but that doesn't mean termite-proof, and since they have been sitting there for thirty years in this high humidity, some termites found it possible to colonize them. I found the trail to the ground - from roof height all the way to ground level along cinder block yet - and removed the trail, poisoned the ground around it, then found the nest inside the attic. I went to the ferreteria for some insecticide and termite fogger, and went to work in there, poisoning the nest and fumigating the attic. It is impossible to know if I killed them all, but given the age of the timbers, and the aggressiveness of termites in this climate, I am sure they'll be back at some point. I may be replacing the roof sooner than I had imagined, if I continue living here. I can't imagine doing a roof with wood trusses in this climate, but people do it, even though steel perlins are now about the same price as wood in these parts. If/when I replace this roof, it won't be with wood trusses, perlins and nailers, that's for sure.

I measured and cut the Fiberlite panel that I purchased the day before, and got it fitted, then drilled it and screwed it into place. At that point, I realized I didn't have any paint, so I made a second trip to the ferreteria and got a small can of oil-based white paint, along with a cheap, throwaway paint brush - didn´t bother with any paint thinner. It is actually a good match for the original color, but that color has faded over the years, and has accumulated a healthy film of dirt, so the patch is pretty obvious anyway. But by two in the afternoon, the project was complete. I put everything away, changed my clothes and collapsed on the couch. One tired old gringo. I am amazed at how much starch this project took out of me, but then I guess that three months on a 1,000 calorie a day diet might have something to do with that.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The US is giving Israel a window of a week to inflict maximum damage on Hizbullah before weighing in behind international calls for a ceasefire in Lebanon, according to British, European and Israeli sources. The Bush administration, backed by Britain, has blocked efforts for an immediate halt to the fighting initiated at the UN security council, the G8 summit in St Petersburg and the European foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels. "It's clear the Americans have given the Israelis the green light. They [the Israeli attacks] will be allowed to go on longer, perhaps for another week," a senior European official said yesterday. Diplomatic sources said there was a clear time limit, partly dictated by fears that a prolonged conflict could spin out of control.

Various news agencies are reporting that what US President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair thought was a private conversation that was accidentally broadcast at the G8 conference. A much-reported expletive came when conversation turned to the situation in Lebanon and Israel. "You see," said the President. "The ironic thing is what they need to do is to get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it's over." Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor and Middle East expert is horrified at Bush's belief (caught on the open mike) that Hezbollah is entirely to blame for the violence wracking Lebanon, and that Syria could easily stop Hezbollah if it chose to do so. "It is an astonishingly simple-minded view of the situation, painted in black and white and making assumptions about who is who's puppet and what the Israeli motivations are. Israel doesn't appear as a protagonist. It is purely reactive. Stop provoking it, and it suddenly stops its war. Since Israel is just being provoked and has no ambitions of its own, in this reading, it is useless to begin with a ceasefire. That treats the two sides as both provoking one another. Here, only Hizbullah matters, so you lean on Syria to lean on it, and, presto, peace breaks out. It is a little window into the superficial, one-sided mind of the man, who has for six years been way out of his depth. I come away from it shaken and trembling."

Vice President Dick Cheney told Republicans on Monday to keep "security issues" (fear mongering?) prominent ahead of November's elections and condemned Democratic calls for a timetable on troop withdrawal from Iraq as "a bad idea." "As we make our case to the voters this year, it is vital to keep issues of national security at the top of the agenda," Cheney told donors at an Iowa fund-raiser for Republican congressional candidate Jeff Lamberti. "The president and I welcome the discussion because every voter in America needs to know where the president and I stand - and where every candidate for federal office stands - when it comes to the war on terror," Cheney said. Cheney's comments on security issues echoed White House political adviser Karl Rove, who has called Democrats weak on national security and urged Republicans to stress President George W. Bush's leadership in the war on terrorism ahead of November's congressional elections. "Either we're serious about fighting this war or we are not. With George Bush leading this nation we are serious and we will not let down our guard," Cheney said, adding America's enemies were "still lethal and still desperately trying to hit us again."

On July 13, the Pensacola, Fla.-based law firm of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filed a "qui tam" lawsuit in U.S. District Court, alleging that Diebold and other electronic voting machine (EVM) companies fraudulently represented to state election boards and the federal government that their products were "unhackable." Kennedy claims to have witnesses - centrally located, deep within the corporations, - who will confirm that company officials withheld their knowledge of problems with accuracy, reliability and security of EVMs in order to procure government contracts. Since going into service, many of these machines have been linked to allegations of election fraud. In the wake of alleged vote count inconsistencies and the "hanging chad" debacle of 2000, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002. HAVA appropriated $3 billion to replace voting equipment and make other improvements in election administration. Diebold, Election Systems & Software and Sequoia Systems secured the lion’s share of nearly half that sum in contracts to purchase EVMs. All 50 states have received funds and many are hurriedly spending it on replacing lever and punch card machines in time for November. According to the Election Assistance Commission, more than 61 percent of votes in the 2004 presidential election were cast and/or tallied by EVMs. Election Data Services, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm, estimates that the figure will jump to 80 percent by November, which will see elections for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

The Bush administration says it plans sweeping changes in Medicare payments to hospitals that could cut payments by 20 percent to 30 percent for many complex treatments and new technologies. The changes, the biggest since the current payment system was adopted in 1983, are meant to improve the accuracy of payment rates. But doctors, hospitals and patient groups say the effects could be devastating. Federal officials said that biases and distortions in the current system had created financial incentives for hospitals to treat certain patients, on whom they could make money, and to avoid others, who were less profitable. Michael O. Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, said the new system would be more accurate because payments would be based on hospital costs, rather than on charges, and would be adjusted to reflect the severity of a patient's illness. A hospital now receives the same amount for a patient with a particular condition, like pneumonia, regardless of whether the illness is mild or severe.

In early 2004, President Bush issued a presidential proclamation barring corrupt foreign officials from entering the United States. Then, a few months ago, in spite of that proclamation, Washington was treated to the disgusting spectacle of an official visit by Teodoro Obiang, the corrupt dictator who rules over oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. But now the Bush Administration is preparing to roll out the red carpet for a man who, by sheer numbers, appears to have stolen far more than Obiang: President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan. Last week, Kazakhstan’s foreign minister, Kassymzhomart Tokaev, came to town and met with the hospitable U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss strengthening ties between the two countries. The visiting Kazakh immediately told the Washington Times that Nazarbayev—a former Communist Party hack who has ruled his country since it won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991—would be coming to town this September for meetings with administration officials. I spoke to a well-placed source who said that while nothing has been finalized, the White House, with strong backing from the Pentagon, is seriously considering extending an invitation to Nazarbayev. It's hard to see how Nazarbayev’s visit could possibly be squared with Bush’s 2004 proclamation. This fall, James Giffen, an American business consultant, is set to be tried in the Southern District Court of New York on charges that he funneled more than $78 million in bribes to Kazakh officials. And guess who is alleged to have received most of that money? President Nazarbayev himself, along with his former prime minister, Nurlan Balgimbayev.

From Greg Sargert at the American Prospect: "GOP House Majority Leader John Boehner wants you to know that it's OK if Republicans use images of people killed on 9/11 for political purposes, but at the same time, it's very very bad indeed if Dems show pictures of flag-draped coffins. How's that? Well, the dead in the Democrats' ad were soldiers killed by Islamic militants in Iraq, and the dead in Bush's ad were civilians killed by Islamic militants on Sept. 11. Having a hard time figuring out why it's OK to exploit one group and not the other? So was a reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer. He called Boehner on it. And his response was, well, ridiculous. Questioned by reporters on what the difference was, Boehner seemed tongue-tied. "These were American citizens killed by terrorists. That is a very different policy issue than American soldiers dying on the battlefield protecting the rights and freedoms of American people." "How so?" a reporter asked. "How so? You want me to describe the difference between men and women of the military out there defending the American people, and victims - victims - of terrorist activities?" Boehner asked. "They were both killed by opponents, right? Terrorists or Islamic insurgents?" a reporter pressed. An exasperated Boehner said: "The World Trade Center victims were victims of a terrorist act here on our shore and I think all Americans were appalled that this did in fact happen. But I think the differences, in terms of the images, are as clear as night and day."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has threatened to remove her name as co-sponsor of an event that plans to honor, among others, Representatives "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) and Tom DeLay (R-TX). The Capitol Historical Society each year honors retiring members of the US House and Senate at an event co-sponsored by leadership from both Houses of Congress. This year, that list includes DeLay, who was indicted and arrested over what the Washington Post called "a criminal enterprise running out of the Majority Leader's office," and Cunnigham, who pleaded guilty in a major bribery scandal. Pelosi responded to the invitation by writing Historical Society President Ronald Sarasin, quoting the Post story and indicating that if the two were honored at the event, she would withdraw her name as a co-sponsor.

One way to measure the fears of people in power is by the intensity of their quest for certainty and control over knowledge. By that standard, the members of the Florida Legislature marked themselves as the folks most terrified of history in the United States when last month they took bold action to become the first state to outlaw historical interpretation in public schools. In other words, Florida has officially replaced the study of history with the imposition of dogma and effectively outlawed critical thinking. Although U.S. students are typically taught a sanitized version of history in which the inherent superiority and benevolence of the United States is rarely challenged, the social and political changes unleashed in the 1960s have opened up some space for a more honest accounting of our past. But even these few small steps taken by some teachers toward collective critical self-reflection are too much for many Americans to bear. So, as part of an education bill signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida has declared that "American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed." That factual history, the law states, shall be viewed as "knowable, teachable and testable." Florida's lawmakers are not only prescribing a specific view of U.S. history that must be taught (my favorite among the specific commands in the law is the one about instructing students on "the nature and importance of free enterprise to the United States economy"), but are trying to legislate out of existence any ideas to the contrary. They are not just saying that their history is the best history, but that it is beyond interpretation. In fact, the law attempts to suppress discussion of the very idea that history is interpretation.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich says America is in World War III and President Bush should say so. In an interview in Bellevue, WA this morning Gingrich said Bush should call a joint session of Congress the first week of September and talk about global military conflicts in much starker terms than have been heard from the president. "We need to have the militancy that says 'We're not going to lose a city,' " Gingrich said. He talks about the need to recognize World War III as important for military strategy and political strategy. Gingrich said he is "very worried" about Republicans facing fall elections and says the party must have the "nerve" to nationalize the elections and make the 2006 campaigns about a liberal Democratic agenda rather than about President Bush's record. Gingrich says that as of now Republicans "are sailing into the wind" in congressional campaigns. He said that's in part because of the Iraq war, adding, "Iraq is hard and painful and we do not explain it very well."

When Robert Rubin speaks his mind, his thoughts on economic policy are the gold standard for the Democratic Party. The former Treasury Secretary, now executive co-chair of Citigroup, captured the party's allegiance in the 1990s as principal architect of Bill Clinton's governing strategy, the conservative approach known as "Rubinomics" (or less often "Clintonomics"). Balancing the budget and aggressively pushing trade liberalization went hard against liberal intentions and the party's working-class base. But when Clinton's second term ended in booming prosperity, full employment and rising wages, most Democrats told themselves, Listen to Bob Rubin and good things happen. So it's a big deal when Robert Rubin changes the subject and begins to talk about income inequality as "a deeply troubling fact of American economic life" that threatens the trading system, even the stability of "capitalist, democratic society." More startling, Rubin now freely acknowledges what the American establishment for many years denied or dismissed as inconsequential - globalization's role in generating the thirty-year stagnation of US wages, squeezing middle-class families and below, while directing income growth mainly to the upper brackets. A lot of Americans already knew this. Critics of "free trade" have been saying as much for years. But when Bob Rubin says it, his words can move politicians, if not financial markets. Rubin has launched the Hamilton Project, a policy group of like-minded economists and financiers who are developing ameliorative measures to aid the threatened workforce and, he hopes, to create a broader political constituency that will defend the trading system against popular backlash. A strategy paper Rubin co-wrote defines the core problem: "Prosperity has neither trickled down nor rippled outward. Between 1973 and 2003, real GDP per capita in the United States increased 73 percent, while real median hourly compensation rose only 13 percent."

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: George Will swats the Bush administration in a powerful editorial about to appear in the Washington Post: "Grotesque" was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's characterization of the charge that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was responsible for the current Middle East conflagration. She is correct, up to a point. This point: Hezbollah and Hamas were alive and toxic long before March 2003. Still, it is not perverse to wonder whether the spectacle of America, currently learning a lesson -- one that conservatives should not have to learn on the job -- about the limits of power to subdue an unruly world, has emboldened many enemies. Speaking on ABC's "This Week," Rice called it "short-sighted" to judge the success of the administration's transformational ambitions by a "snapshot" of progress "some couple of years" into the transformation. She seems to consider today's turmoil preferable to the Middle East's "false stability" of the last 60 years, during which U.S. policy "turned a blind eye to the absence of democratic forces." There is, however, a sense in which that argument creates a blind eye: It makes instability, no matter how pandemic or lethal, necessarily a sign of progress. Violence is vindication: Hamas and Hezbollah have, Rice says, "determined that it is time now to try and arrest the move toward moderate democratic forces in the Middle East."

Why Moving To Canada Is Not The Answer: Canada has enhanced its "anti-terrorism" laws but more could be done, FBI Director Robert Mueller said on Tuesday. Mueller, who was in Canada for a police training conference, said people who support terrorism should face extended jail time, and countries that do not provide for long jail sentences face the risk of becoming havens for terror networks. Canada has been accused by some U.S. lawmakers as being a haven for potential terrorists because of weak immigration laws after the June arrest of 17 Toronto-area men, in what police said was an al Qaeda-inspired plot to attack Canadian targets. Mueller declined to comment on the criticism, but during a press conference with Toronto's police chief he said that, despite different judicial systems, the countries had improved their ability to share information about cross-border activity by militant groups.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Smirkey prevented an investigation earlier this year by Justice Department ethics lawyers of his warrantless domestic spying program, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified on Tuesday. Gonzales told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, however, that he was confident the program's constitutionality would be upheld in a proposed review by a secret federal court. Gonzales said Bush refused to give the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility access to the classified program begun shortly after the September 11 attacks and disclosed in December by The New York Times. The office announced in May it was unable to conduct an investigation into the role department lawyers had in developing the National Security Agency's eavesdropping program, which targets overseas telephone calls and e-mails of Americans with suspected terrorists ties. Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, asked Gonzales why Bush declined access, saying, "Many other lawyers in the Department of Justice had clearance. Why not OPR?" Noting the importance of the program, Gonzales said: "The president of the United States makes decisions about who is ultimately given access."

Conservatives Believe In Freedom, Liberty And Justice For All: John W. Dean, of Nixon Watergate fame, writes: "For almost half a century, social scientists have been exploring authoritarianism. We do not typically associate authoritarianism with our democracy, but as I discovered while examining decades of empirical research, we ignore some findings at our risk. Unfortunately, the social scientists who have studied these issues report their findings in monographs and professional journals written for their peers, not for general readers. With the help of a leading researcher and others, I waded into this massive body of work. What I found provided a personal epiphany. Authoritarian conservatives are, as a researcher told me, "enemies of freedom, antidemocratic, antiequality, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, power hungry, Machiavellian and amoral." And that's not just his view. To the contrary, this is how these people have consistently described themselves when being anonymously tested, by the tens of thousands over the past several decades. Authoritarianism's impact on contemporary conservatism is beyond question. Because this impact is still growing and has troubling (if not actually evil) implications, I hope that social scientists will begin to write about this issue for general readers. It is long past time to bring the telling results of their empirical work into the public square and to the attention of American voters. No less than the health of our democracy may depend on this being done. We need to stop thinking we are dealing with traditional conservatives on the modern stage, and instead recognize that they've often been supplanted by authoritarians."

News From Smirkey's Wars: US military officials were preparing to launch "decisive operations" to reclaim territory in southern Afghanistan yesterday after the Taliban seized control of two towns in Helmand province. Afghan officials said scores of Taliban fighters had crossed from Pakistan to the town of Garmser and defeated a small group of police on Sunday. On Monday, large numbers of Taliban militants entered Naway-i-Barakzayi, north of Garmser, also forcing out the police. An International Organisation for Migration official said about 4,000 Afghans had fled the fighting between Taliban and coalition forces in southern Helmand province over recent days.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Advisers working at some federally funded pregnancy resource centers mislead pregnant teens about the risks of abortion, falsely telling callers it raises the risk of breast cancer, infertility and mental illness, a U.S. congressman said on Monday. Democratic staff on the House of Representatives Government Reform Committee who called up some faith-based pregnancy resource centers said they received incorrect advice aimed at discouraging abortion. "Twenty of the 23 centers reached by the investigators (87 percent) provided false or misleading information about the health effects of abortion," California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman said in a statement. Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the committee, asked staff to check on pregnancy crisis centers, which were given $24 million in federal funding between 2001 and 2005. Female staffers posed as pregnant 17-year-olds and called the 25 pregnancy resource centers that have received grants from the Compassion Capital Fund. One center told a caller that an abortion would 'affect the milk developing in her breasts' and that the risk of breast cancer increased by as much as 80 percent after an abortion," Waxman's office said. The Institute of Medicine and the National Cancer Institute have discounted any link between abortion and breast cancer, although the Institute briefly carried a statement on its Web site making such a link -- a statement that was taken down after a public clamor by scientists and doctors.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: The average fuel economy of 2006 model year vehicles remained constant compared with last year, the government reported Monday. The Environmental Protection Agency said in its annual report, based on sales projections provided by automakers, that the estimated average fuel economy for 2006 vehicles was 21 miles per gallon, the same as for 2005 models. Honda Motor Co. had the highest fuel economy rating by manufacturer, 24.2 mpg (10.3 km/ltr), followed by Toyota Motor Corp., with a 23.8 mpg (10.1 km/ltr) average. Both Japanese automakers saw their averages drop from the previous year as they placed more of an emphasis on larger vehicles. DaimlerChrylser AG had the lowest fuel economy rating -- 19.1 mpg (8.1 km/ltr) -- followed by Ford Motor Co., which improved half a percentage point to reach 19.7 mpg (8.4 km/ltr). General Motors Corp. also showed improvement, posting a 20.5 mpg (8.7 km/ltr) average, but environmental groups said they were disappointed by overall results. "The more things seem to change in the world in terms gas prices and energy crises, the more things seem to stay the same in the auto industry," said David Friedman, research director for the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Power consumption across the U.S. and parts of Canada soared with scorching temperatures to new record highs on Monday, but blackouts were unlikely unless there were major equipment failures, said the industry group that oversees transmission. By mid-afternoon, power demand in the Midwest region and Texas exceeded 2005 records and continued to climb. Expected electric use will far exceed a summer forecast issued in May by the North American Electric Reliability Council, the group said. "We are shattering old records," said Stan Johnson, NERC's manager of situation awareness. "It's very unusual to see records being set all across North America." Generation was expected to be ample to avoid blackouts, Johnson said. "We are feeling pretty good," Johnson said as late afternoon peak-hour demand approached the East Coast. "We are watching some areas: the upper Midwest, the mid-Atlantic states, California and Ontario." Those were areas where power-plant construction has not kept pace with growing demand for electricity, Johnson said. While heat strains transmission lines and generating plants, Johnson said the U.S. will avoid blackouts "unless there are major equipment failures."

Global warming could lead to the destruction of more than half the mangrove wetlands of some Pacific islands, wiping out or reducing marine breeding grounds that support multi-million dollar fisheries, a UN report says. A U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) report looking at the impact of rising seas on mangroves in 16 Pacific nations found the worst hit-islands would be American Samoa, Fiji, Tuvalu and the Federated States of Micronesia. The report, released on Monday, found that these island nations could lose more than half their mangroves by the end of the century. "The true economic value of ecosystems like mangroves is now starting to emerge," said report coordinator Kitty Simonds. "Mangroves are important nurseries for fish, act to filter coastal pollution and are important sources of timber and construction materials for local communities," she said. An estimated 75 percent of commercially caught prawns in Australia's tropical state of Queensland depend on mangroves. In Malaysia, a 400 sq km (154 sq miles) managed mangrove forest in Matang supports a fishery worth US$100 million a year. Mangroves also protect islands from flooding during storms, with mangroves estimated to reduce wave energy by 75 percent, said the report. For example, mangroves proved crucial in limiting damage to some sections of coast during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Fierce heat blanketed the nation from California to the Northeast Monday. Scores of communities reported temperatures of more than 100. Redding, Calif., about 160 miles north of Sacramento, reached 110 degrees. Parts of Oklahoma hit 109. In Kansas, the state Agricultural Statistics Service reported that the high temperatures continued to stress row crops. Corn condition has deteriorated, with the agency rating 12 percent of the crop as poor to very poor. About 34 percent remained in fair shape, while 45 percent was rated as good and 9 percent as excellent. "Corn lucky enough to be in places that received beneficial rains last week are probably positioned as good as it can be for this time. They are not immediately under as much drought stress," said Jere White, executive director of the Kansas Corn Growers Association. In California, the United Farm Workers union launched a radio campaign to educate farmworkers throughout the state about their right to drinking water, shade and breaks - rules developed after five farmworkers died of heat-related deaths last year.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Republican gubernatorial candidate Melody Damayo couldn't decide what karaoke song to sing. "Oh, I know -- 'She Bangs! She Bangs!' " the former adult film star said, laughing. "Just kidding." Damayo, also known by her stage name, Mimi Miyagi, says her run for Nevada's top office is not a stunt or a joke, but the consequence of a passion for politics. On Friday, a fundraiser for Damayo's campaign proved to be far from your average political event. The candidate wore heaps of silver jewelry, six-inch black high heels, a men's-style shirt unbuttoned to reveal her capacious bosom, and a headband to hold back her waist-length black hair. It was one of the more demure outfits for a candidate whose campaign signs show her lying on her back, feet in the air, breasts barely covered by a flag-motif top -- and who can be seen in much more revealing detail in an extensive catalog that includes "Deep Throat 6," "She's the Boss" and "Oriental Lust." Friday night's fundraiser was a never-before-seen mix of local Republican Party stalwarts, Damayo's adult industry pals and several bargoers just there for the regular karaoke at Barbeque Masters Tavern, on Sahara Avenue and Decatur Boulevard.

"The Daily Show" host Jon Stuart was just being playful last night when he joked that President Bush could have been caught on the open mike talking about German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s "camel toe" (a lewd sexual reference). But in light of the now-infamous unsolicited massage Bush gave to Merkel, Stewart is looking prophetic all of a sudden. Seriously, what are the odds? Jon Stewart was joking about worst-case scenario - of Bush making an innappropriate sexual gesture towards Merkel when he thought no one was looking - and then it actually came true the very next day! Video here.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:17:32 PM

Mon, Jul 17 2006

Intrusion - But Why?

Rain, rain and more rain. The rainy season continues in full force in Arenal, with a light drizzle varying to a heavy rain, all day long today and most of yesterday. A brief clearing in the morning ended by noon yesterday, and it has been raining since. A check of the satellite image indicates that a major convection cell is over us, deepened by a tropical wave, so this is only going to go on for awhile. It has been downright chilly, too, with the high today reaching only 75, and the low overnight dropping to 72.

I need a break in the rain to do some house repairs. Yesterday, I discovered some soffit that had been broken out and needs to be repaired, so I went into town today and got a piece of cement board, known here as "Fiberlite," with which to replace the broken Fiberlite panel that was there. But the repair work will have to wait until the rain lets up for a bit.

There was an intrusion of my house while I was gone to Granada, but whether it was a burglary or yet another illicit entry by intelligence agents, I am not sure, but it appears to be the latter - this certainly wouldn't be the first time. The house was thoroughly searched, and everything put back mostly where it was, but there was plenty of evidence left behind that they had been here, where some things had been moved. A check of my filing cabinets shows that they had gone through the files. All that was taken, that I know of, was a flashlight, even though some readily portable valuables had been within easy reach.

It appears they originally attempted to pull down some soffit and crawl through the attic, push down a ceiling tile and enter the house that way. That is the classical method of entry in these parts. But they failed to enter the house that way, because the roof pitch is so low and the eaves so shallow, that they could not gain access to the attic through a hole in the soffit, so it appears that they had picked the lock instead, and made it in that way. I believe it was intelligence operatives, because they were careful to lock up when they left, tried to hide evidence they had been there, and had even gone to some effort to conceal the hole they had made in the soffit - none of these things would be done by burglars. And nothing was taken, other than the flashlight. Inside, at least one, possibly as many as three ceiling tiles were pulled down, and the mess made in the process was not cleaned up - burglars would not have had a reason to pull down ceiling tiles.

I know that the successful method of entry was the front door, because when I returned and put my key in the lock, it had a very slightly different feel and sound to it than it usually does, and I have learned from past experience that means the lock had been picked since the key was last in it. Yet the door was properly closed and locked when I returned - again, a burglar wouldn't have bothered. My thought is that the amateurish manner in which this was done, leads me to suspect that it was the poorly-trained DIS, or local secret police, who did it, and the question would be motive - I have not been active in local politics or engaged in criminal activity. Did they do it on their own or were they put up to it by Foggy Bottom? If it was Foggy Bottom's own people, I would suspect that the amateurish way it was done was intended to intimidate - I can't believe they would be that unprofessional - they never have been in the past. I suspect I'll never know the answers to these questions. But fellas, I sure liked that flashlight. Could you please bring it back? And I could use the 1180 colones that the new Fiberlite panel cost me, too. Just expense it, OK?

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Though United States President George W. Bush has spoken to multiple world leaders about the escalating violence between Israel and the Lebanon-based Islamist group Hezbollah, he has not actually communicated with the only government directly involved. At a press conference on Saturday, White House press secretary Tony Snow noted that Prime Minister Siniora of Lebanon, King Abdullah of Jordan, and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt all received calls from Bush regarding the present situation. However, "The President is not going to make military decisions for Israel," Snow noted. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has also spoken with Kofi Annan, Mohammoud Abbas, and Siniora, and is reportedly working to contact others. Snow declined to specify who the others were. "The President has not called any Israeli officials to make that point?" One reporter asked. "He has not spoken with Israeli officials," Snow answered.

The Pentagon notified Congress of plans to sell Israel jet fuel valued at up to $US210 million "to keep peace and security in the region." "The proposed sale of the JP-8 aviation fuel will enable Israel to maintain the operational capability of its aircraft inventory," the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in notice required by law. It said Israel had requested the sale, but did not say when the request was made. The move was announced after Israeli aircraft rocketed runways at Beirut's international airport and blasted the main Beirut-Damascus highway, tightening an air, sea and land blockade of Lebanon.

More than 3,000 pro-Israel evangelical Christians will be in Washington next week for a "Washington/Israel summit" to push the Bush administration toward stronger support for the Jewish state. Starting with a banquet July 18 at the Hilton Washington and visits to Capitol Hill the next morning, the inaugural gathering of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) will showcase a deeper cooperation between evangelical Christians and Jews in the face of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's suggestion in October, often reiterated since, that Israel "be wiped off the map."

Ken Lay has taken his place alongside Elvis Presley in the pantheon of people whose deaths have not been fully believed. In Internet sites and blogs, conspiracy theorists and jokesters have floated the idea that the Enron founder's powerful friends helped him fake his death to escape sentencing in one of the biggest corporate frauds in U.S. history. Some disbelievers are serious. Others are clearly having fun, such as the creator of a Web site that shows Lay's face inserted Where's Waldo-style into pictures from around the world - at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the running of the bulls in Spain and as E.T. on a bike about to fly away from bad guys. Others are trying to make a buck, such as the person selling T-shirts emblazoned with Lay's photo and the words, "Ken Lay lives," for $14.99 apiece online. Lay's lawyer, Michael Ramsey, irritably dismissed all the Web talk after Lay's memorial service in Houston on Wednesday: "When I read the garbage that's on the Internet, I'm reminded of the parable of the jackass kicking the dead lion. I think that's enough said."

Behind the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and her family lies a far larger story of what's happened to women in Iraq since they were 'liberated' by the Bush administration. Abu Ghraib. Haditha. Guantanamo. These are words that shame our country. Now, add to them Mahmudiya, a town 20 miles south of Baghdad. There, this March, a group of five American soldiers allegedly were involved in the rape and murder of Abeer Qassim Hamza, a young Iraqi girl. Her body was then set on fire to cover up their crimes, her father, mother, and sister murdered. The rape of this one girl, if proven true, is probably not simply an isolated incident. But how would we know? In Iraq, rape is a taboo subject. Shamed by the rape, relatives of this girl wouldn't even hold a public funeral and were reluctant to reveal where she is buried.

A children's book that fails to paint a harsh picture of communist Cuba is at the heart of the latest battle between Cuban exiles in Miami and civil libertarians over cherished U.S. free-speech rights. A federal court is scheduled to hear arguments this week in a lawsuit against the Miami-Dade County School Board's decision in June seeking to ban the book, called "Vamos a Cuba" in Spanish and "A Visit to Cuba" in English, from elementary school libraries. Critics say the book's pictures of smiling Cuban children and bland generalities, meant to teach 5- to 7-year-olds about life on the island, distort the harsh realities of food rationing, one-party political rule and other facets of life under a brutal communist dictatorship. "The book teaches our kids that Cuba is a paradise," said Julio Cabarga, president of the exile group Cuban Patriotic Council. "We want to make sure our community knows that we are against the pack of lies, half-truths and deceit that this book is projecting to our kids and our grandkids."

Roads and bridges built by U.S. taxpayers are starting to be sold off, and so far foreign-owned companies are doing the buying. On a single day in June, an Australian-Spanish partnership paid $3.8 billion to lease the Indiana Toll Road. An Australian company bought a 99-year lease on Virginia's Pocahontas Parkway, and Texas officials decided to let a Spanish-American partnership build and run a toll road from Austin to Seguin for 50 years. Few people know that the tolls from the U.S. side of the tunnel between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, go to a subsidiary of an Australian company - which also owns a bridge in Alabama. Some experts welcome the trend. Robert Poole, transportation director for the conservative think tank Reason Foundation, said private investors can raise more money than politicians to build new roads because these kind of owners are willing to raise tolls. "They depoliticize the tolling decision," Poole said. Besides, he said, foreign companies have purchased infrastructure in Europe for years; only now are U.S. companies beginning to get into the business of buying roads and bridges. Gasoline taxes and user fees have fueled the expansion of the nation's highway system. Thousands of miles of roads built since the 1950s changed the landscape, accelerating the growth of suburbia and creating a reliance on motor vehicles to move freight, get to work and take vacations.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been detaining Muslim immigrants, holding their green cards hostage, and threatening deportation unless the detainee agrees to become a government informant, today's Wall Street Journal is reporting. In one case reported by the paper, a man was detained at a Canadian-U.S. border crossing and forced to travel to California by bus. He was given instructions on what he was to do after arriving in San Francisco. Once meeting an FBI agent, the gentleman was given the choice of becoming an informant or being deported back to Morocco. Last November, when Yassine Ouassif crossed into Champlain, N.Y., from Canada, border agents questioned him for several hours. Then they took away his green card and sent him home to San Francisco by bus, with strict instructions: As soon as he got there, he was to call a man named Dan. Dan, it turned out, was Daniel Fliflet, a counterterrorism agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mr. Ouassif met the agent at an Oakland subway station on Nov. 30, and the two men walked the streets together for 90 minutes. Mr. Fliflet told the 24-year-old Moroccan that he'd been monitoring his friends and him for many months, Mr. Ouassif recalls. Mr. Fliflet made him an offer: Become an informant and regularly report to the FBI on what his Muslim friends in San Francisco were saying and doing. In exchange, he would get back his green card. He could resume his education, bring his Moroccan wife to America, and pursue his dream of buying a car, moving to Sacramento and becoming an engineer. If he refused? asked Mr. Ouassif. "I will work hard to deport you to Morocco as soon as possible," Mr. Fliflet responded, according to an account written by Mr. Ouassif soon after the meeting. "I want you to know something important," the FBI agent added, according to Mr. Ouassif. "America is just like a bus, and you have a choice to make: Either you board the bus or you leave."

Democrats pulled an Internet ad that showed flag-draped coffins Friday after Republicans and at least two Democrats demanded it be taken down on grounds the image was insensitive and not fit for a political commercial. The ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called for a "new direction" and displayed a staccato of images, including war scenes, pollution and breached levees as well as a photograph of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay doctored to look like a police mug shot. The campaign committee replaced the ad with a radio commercial that targets Rep. John Hostetler, R-Ind., for opposing an increase in the minimum wage. Democrats have made a minimum wage increase a central theme of this year's election. Democrats had featured the video ad for nearly two weeks on the DCCC Web site where it had gone largely unnoticed until Republicans began objecting to it this week. On Thursday, more than a dozen Republicans, many with military backgrounds, called on DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., to apologize. Democratic Reps. John Spratt of South Carolina and Chet Edwards of Texas asked Emanuel to pull or alter the ad.

Executives at leading US companies could make millions through the award of stock options issued in the weeks after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks. Nearly 200 US companies awarded options to their board members in the wake of the attacks when share prices were at historic lows, giving executives the chance to make millions of dollars later as values returned to normal levels. Prominent companies including Black & Decker, Home Depot and United Health offered more than 500 executives stock options worth a total of $325m in the last two weeks of September 2001. Companies directly affected by the attacks, including Merrill Lynch, which lost three employees on September 11, offered stock to senior executives, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. On September 24, Merrill Lynch president Stanley O'Neal was granted the option to buy 750,000 shares at a price 15% lower than the level prior to the attacks. On that day the financial services group's shares were trading at $39.80. Today they trade at more than $67 per share, offering Mr. O'Neal a potential profit that is $5m greater than if the shares had been offered before the attacks. Stock options are typically used by companies to reward executives. But the practice has come under scrutiny as it offers recipients the right to buy shares at the same price for years to come.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: On May 26, 2005, the Paraguayan Senate allowed US troops to train their Paraguayan counterparts until December 2006, when the Paraguayan Senate can vote to extend the troops' stay. The United States had threatened to cut off millions in aid to the country if Paraguay did not grant the troops entry. In July 2005 hundreds of US soldiers arrived with planes, weapons and ammunition. Washington's funding for "counterterrorism" efforts in Paraguay soon doubled, and protests against the military presence hit the streets. The paramilitaries, trained by U.S. troops, pursue farm leaders who are organizing against the occupation of their land by large soy farmers. Investigations by Serpaj demonstrate that the worst cases of repression against farmers have taken place in areas with the highest concentration of US troops. Serpaj reported that in the department of San Pedro, where five US military exercises took place, there have been eighteen farmer deaths from repression, in an area with many farmer organizations. In the department of Concepción there have been eleven deaths and three US military exercises. Near the Triple Border, where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet, there were twelve deaths and three exercises. "The US military is advising the Paraguayan police and military about how to deal with these farmer groups.... They are teaching theory as well as technical skills to Paraguayan police and military. These new forms of combat have been used internally," Orlando Castillo of Serpaj told me over the phone. "The US troops talk with the farmers and get to know their leaders and which groups, organizations, are working there, then establish the plans and actions to control the farmer movement and advise the Paraguayan military and police on how to proceed.... The numbers from our study show what this US presence is doing. US troops form part of a security plan to repress the social movement in Paraguay. A lot of repression has happened in the name of security and against 'terrorism.'"

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Friday that American support of Israel is responsible for flaming tensions in the Middle East. Israel launched its attack on Lebanon after Hezbollah carried out a brazen cross-border raid Wednesday, capturing two soldiers. "The fundamental blame falls again on the U.S. empire. It's the empire that armed and supported the abuses of the Israeli elite, which has invaded, abused and defied the United Nations for a long time," Chavez said. The Venezuelan president said Israel was using excessive force destroying critical civilian infrastructure and killing and injuring civilians. An ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro, Chavez frequently lashes out at President Bush and U.S. policy. "The U.S. empire's desire to dominate has no limits and that could take this world to a real Holocaust," Chavez said.

In a press release issued today, the American Civil Liberties Union charges the government with enforcing an "ideological exclusion" policy to block entry at the border, RAW STORY has found. "The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union today released new documents that indicate the government is broadly interpreting and using a controversial Patriot Act power known as the "ideological exclusion" provision to block people from entering the country," the press release reads. "The ACLU is concerned that the provision is increasingly being used to target foreign scholars and others whose politics the government disfavors," the press release continues. "The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging a provision of the Patriot Act that is being used to deny visas to foreign scholars whose political views the government disfavors," says ACLU's Website. "The lawsuit charges that the provision, known as the "ideological exclusion" provision, is being used to prevent United States citizens and residents from hearing speech that is protected by the First Amendment." "The ACLU lawsuit was filed on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and PEN American Center, and also names as a plaintiff Professor Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss intellectual who is widely regarded as a leading scholar of the Muslim world," the website adds. "The government revoked Professor Ramadan's visa under the ideological exclusion provision in 2004, preventing him from assuming a tenured teaching position at the University of Notre Dame."

Liberal Biased Media Watch: Reflecting on his 50 years of reporting Washington politics, Washington Post journalist, Walter Pincus, notes that media coverage has "become dominated by increasingly sophisticated public relations practitioners, primarily in the White House and other agencies of government." Writing in an edition of the Nieman Reports on the theme of "journalistic courage", Pincus argues that "journalistic courage should include the refusal to publish in a newspaper or carry on a TV or radio news show any statements made by the President or any other government official that are designed solely as a public relations tool, offering no new or valuable information to the public."

Fox News and some right-wing commentators are touting columnist Robert Novak's version of the CIA leak story, but Republican commentator Joe Scarborough says he has his doubts. Novak has claimed the leak was accidental, and was not a personal attack on Joe Wilson for his efforts to discredit the claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium for use in nuclear weapons. Scarborough disagrees that the leak of Valerie Plame's covert status was "accidental", calling it "garbage". Scarborough goes on to say: "Conservative commentators are already trumpeting Novak's claim that the leak was inadvertent and accidental... Maybe I'm cynical or perhaps it's because I worked in Congress for years. But you know what, I always found that leaks of this size were rarely mistakes regardless of what the writer or the right-wing people may tell you. I can assure you that if you assign selfish motives to leakers, you will rarely be proven wrong."

Republicans Believe In Free, Fair, Honest And Transparent Elections: According to voting rights activists, the office of San Diego County Registrar of Voters has publicly released three wildly differing separate quotes for hand counting the ballots in the U.S. House special election in California's 50th Congressional District. A California voter last week filed paperwork requesting a hand count, after it was reported that Diebold evoting machines used in the county had gone home with poll workers over night, where they were stored in garages and cars. Registrar Mikel Haas has admitted this would violate state laws regarding chain of custody. The Registrar has so far not provided Jacobson with the chain of custody logs, as required by law. Haas also reportedly ignored Jacobson's earlier Public Records Request for the results of the mandatory 1 percent random audit. In addition, Waas concedes that security seals were not placed on every machine.

After successfully attempting mid-census redistricting efforts in Texas and Georgia and unsuccessfully redrawing districts in Colorado, Republicans have once again shown their contempt for the constitutional reapportionment and redistricting process by underfunding the Census Bureau. The White House's proposed 2007 budget asked for $878 million for bureau operations. The House voted late last month to give the agency $815.7 million, and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill this week that includes $828 million for the bureau. Bureau officials declined to comment on the cuts, but agency advocates said they would threaten the accuracy and cost-effectiveness of the 2010 head count. Among the impacts: The agency would drop plans to use hand-held computers to collect information and would not be able to provide a full picture of residents of group quarters such as prisons, college dormitories and mental hospitals.

News From Smirkey's Wars: During a Capitol Hill briefing for an audience mostly of congressional aides, Schoomaker paused for more than 10 seconds after he was asked the question - lips pursed and brow furrowed - before venturing: "I think I would answer that by telling you I don't think we're losing." It was a small but telling window into the thinking of the Army's top uniformed officer and one of the military's most important commanders: The outcome in Iraq, in many ways, is growing more uncertain by the day.

The Afghan government has alarmed human rights groups by approving a plan to reintroduce a Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the body which the Taliban used to enforce its extreme religious doctrine. The proposal, which came from the country's Ulema council of clerics, has been passed by the cabinet of President Hamid Karzai and will now go before the Afghan parliament. "Our concern is that the Vice and Virtue Department doesn't turn into an instrument for politically oppressing critical voices and vulnerable groups under the guise of protecting poorly defined virtues," Sam Zia Zarifi of Human Rights Watch said. "This is specially in the case of women, because infringements on their rights tend to be justified by claims of morality." Under the Taliban the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice became notorious for its brutal imposition of the Taliban's codes of behaviour.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Operation Save America is holding rallies across Jackson in an effort to force the closure of Mississippi's only abortion clinic - a move the National Organization for Women and abortion rights advocates say would chip away at Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortions. A bomb threat halted the rally, leading to angry exchanges between the groups. The Jackson Police Department cleared the park and blew up a package found by a bomb squad. Officers would not say what the package contained. NOW president Kim Gandy said the contentious rally showed "Mississippi is a battleground state for sure." Gandy said if the state's only abortion clinic is closed, "it's going to have a devastating impact on the women who live here and don't have other options that they can exercise." Flip Benham, Operation Save America director, said his group will remain in Mississippi until the Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion clinic shuts its doors for good.

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: The first half of the year was the warmest on record for the United States. The government reported Friday that the average temperature for the 48 contiguous United States from January through June was 51.8 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3.4 degrees above average for the 20th century. That made it the warmest such period since recordkeeping began in 1895, the National Climatic Data Center reported. No state was cooler than average and five states - Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri - experienced record warmth for the period. While much of the Northeast experienced extreme rainfall and flooding at the end of June many other areas continued below normal rain and snowfall. As of June, 45 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in moderate-to-extreme drought, an increase of 6 percent from May. Dry conditions spawned more than 50,000 wildfires, burning more than 3 million acres in the continental U.S., according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Worldwide, it was the sixth warmest year-to-date since record keeping began in 1880.

Scandals Du Jour: The House Government Reform Committee has subpoenaed the former law firm of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff for records of any contacts he or members of his lobbying team had with the Bush White House. Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) authorized a subpoena weeks ago to Greenberg Traurig, according to several of the law firm's former clients who have been notified that it is turning over billing records, e-mails, phone logs and other material that reflects efforts to lobby the White House. Representatives of four of Abramoff's former tribal clients said they have been notified by Greenberg Traurig that the firm is turning over records. In some cases, there were scores of phone calls or other contacts with the White House. It is not known whether any of those contacts resulted in improper aid to Abramoff. Several tribal representatives said they believe many contacts were with staff members at the White House office of intergovernmental affairs.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Representative John A. Boehner won the job of House majority leader amid a post-Abramoff clamor for an overhaul of lobbying and ethics rules. But nearly six months later, the changes are still tied up in Congress. And far from trying to put the brakes on lobbyists and the money they channel into Republican coffers, Mr. Boehner, who has portrayed his ties to Washington lobbyists as something to be proud of, has stepped on the gas. He has been holding fund-raisers at lobbyists' offices, flying to political events on corporate planes and staying at a golf resort with a business group that has a direct stake in issues before Congress. Tapping a rich vein of longstanding relationships with lobbyists and their corporate clients, Mr. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has raised campaign contributions at a rate of about $10,000 a day since February, surpassing the pace set by former Representative Tom DeLay after he became majority leader in 2002, a review of federal filings shows. His fund-raising pace is roughly twice what it was before he became majority leader in February; in April his two federal committees took in $334,500 from political action committees, a monthly take that Mr. DeLay did not match for more than two years after the elections in 2002.

Kent Hovind, the self-styled Dr. Dino of Creation Science Evangelism and owner of the defunct Dinosaur Adventure Land Theme Park, Science Center, and Museum, was arrested Thursday on 58 federal charges, including failing to pay $473,818 in employee-related taxes. According to press reports Hovind has been sparring with the IRS for at least 17 years on his claims that he is employed by God, receives no income, has no expenses and owns no property. "The debtor apparently maintains that as a minister of God, everything he owns belongs to God and he is not subject to paying taxes to the United States on money he receives for doing God's work," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Lewis Killian Jr. wrote when he dismissed a claim from Hovind in 1996. Hovind, an avowed creationist, has widely publicized his "standing offer" to pay $250,000 to anyone who can provide scientific evidence of evolution. In the indictment unsealed Thursday, a grand jury alleges that Kent Hovind failed to pay $473,818 in federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes on employees at his Creation Science Evangelism/Ministry between March 31, 2001, and Jan. 31, 2004. The indictment alleges Kent Hovind paid his employees in cash and labeled them "missionaries" to avoid payroll tax and FICA requirements. Of the 58 charges, 44 were filed against Kent Hovind and his wife, Jo, for evading bank reporting requirements as they withdrew $430,500 from AmSouth Bank ...The indictment also says the Hovinds' made cash withdrawals from AmSouth Bank in a manner that evaded federal requirements for reporting cash transactions. The withdrawals were for $9,500 or $9,600, just below the $10,000 starting point for reporting cash transactions.

Evangelical and ultraconservative beer baron Peter Coors' driver's license has been revoked by a hearing officer who ruled the executive had been driving under the influence of alcohol, officials said. Hearing officer Scott Garber ruled Friday that Coors did not stop at a stop sign on May 28 and was driving intoxicated. Coors, 59, said he had consumed a beer about 30 minutes before leaving a wedding, the Rocky Mountain News reported Saturday. He faces a July 20 arraignment and has 30 days to appeal the revocation. "I made a mistake. I should have planned ahead for a ride," Coors said in a statement. "For years, I've advocated the responsible use of our company's products." In one breath test, he registered a blood alcohol level of 0.073 percent. In a second, 20 minutes later, he registered 0.088. In Colorado a blood alcohol count of 0.05 results in a driving while impaired charge, while a count of 0.08 results in driving under the influence.

Katherine Harris' downward slide began with a phone campaign to implicate Joe Scarborough in the 2001 death of an intern, according to insiders quoted in a report in today's Miami Herald. It was Joe Scarborough, host of the prime-time MSNBC show Scarborough Country and a former Pensacola Republican congressman who was courted last summer by national Republicans to run against Harris. But before he could announce he wouldn't, Harris called major donors and suggested Scarborough would have to answer questions about the strange death of a former staff member in 2001, according to two former high-level Harris staff members, a GOP donor and Scarborough. "That was the first clue that something wasn't right with Katherine Harris," Scarborough told The Miami Herald in a recent interview, noting that a medical examiner found his staff member's death was natural and not the result of foul play. Harris, through a spokeswoman, denied Scarborough's account, saying she "would never insinuate publicly or privately" that he did anything untoward. But her former staff members say they expected her to deny the previously untold anecdote, which they say marked the beginning of the Harris campaign's tailspin. Since then, Harris has been dogged by her connections to an indicted defense contractor and by heavy staff turnover from last fall through Thursday, when five top aides announced their departure a day after her spokesman quit. Her campaign had issued a news release Wednesday suggesting only spokesman Chris Ingram was leaving.

When he was running for Majority Leader, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) pledged to end the K Street Project for lobbyists and "lead the effort to bring about the kind of reforms the American people are expecting from Congress." But a new review of financial holdings shows Boehner has raised corporate and lobbyist contributions at a faster clip than even corrupt, criminally-indicted former Rep. Tom DeLay: "[Boehner] has been holding fund-raisers at lobbyists’ offices, flying to political events on corporate planes and staying at a golf resort with a business group that has a direct stake in issues before Congress. Boehner has raised campaign contributions at a rate of about $10,000 a day since February, surpassing the pace set by former Representative Tom DeLay after he became majority leader in 2002, a review of federal filings shows. Mr. Boehner’s biggest donors include the political action committees of lobbying firms, drug and cigarette makers, banks, health insurers, oil companies and military contractors. Seven American Indian tribes with casinos have contributed $32,000."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:51:36 PM

Sat, Jul 15 2006

It's A Jungle Out There

The weather took a bit of a break from the rainy season this morning, with a bright sunny morning, with very welcome sunshine through about noon. Even the howler monkeys that hang out in the rain forest west of the house, were really enjoying it, with hoots and hollers all morning long. But by one, it closed back in again and began a light rain. The temperatures reflected the warm sunshine, and by noon it was 78, after an overnight low of 73.

I needed some sunny weather to get out and fix my ham radio antenna, which had come down during the night. Seems the polypropylene cord holding it up had broken, apparently from sun rot. I tossed the rope as high as I could get it in the loquat tree, and it is at least as high as it was, but that only means about fifteen feet high. I really need to get a bow and arrow so I can get the rope into the top of the trees, and at least get it up to about 30 feet. That would help a lot. I asked my gardener yesterday about a bow and arrow and where I could buy one here, but he says forget that, he´s never seen one in this country. He is going to bring a slingshot next week, and we are going to try using that. If that doesn't get the job done, I am going to have to look into importing a bow and some arrows.

While the gardener was here, he told me he was very nearly bitten by a snake last week while I was in Granada. He says it was hanging out in the leaf-litter pile near the pond and almost got him when he was adding to the pile. Turns out it was a terciopelo, known in English as a fer de lance. They're the meanest, baddest bad-boys in this part of Central America, and my guide book says they account for as many snake-bite deaths as all other venomous snakes in Costa Rica put together (though the clinics are getting pretty good at treating the victims). Needless to say, I don't plan on hanging out around the leaf-litter pile more than I need to. When I returned last week from Granada, I found the shed skin of a mussurana snake in the vines on the front of the house. I don't mind those guys - while they're venomous, they're not very dangerous, and the good news is they eat fer de lances for lunch. So I'd like a few more of them and a few less of the others, thank you very much. Hey, it's a jungle out there. Quite literally.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Smirkey refused to press Israel for a cease-fire in Mideast violence Friday, risking a wider breach with world leaders at a weekend summit already confronting crises with Iran and North Korea. Flying to St. Petersburg from Germany, Bush called the leaders of Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan to explore ways to end three days of furious fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. Turning aside complaints that Israel is using excessive force, Bush rejected a cease-fire plea from Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. "The president is not going to make military decisions for Israel," White House press secretary Tony Snow said. He said it was unlikely that either side would agree to a cease-fire now. The eruption of Mideast violence moved prominently onto the agenda of the summit beginning Saturday.

The U.S. State Department on Thursday authorized families of its embassy staff in Lebanon to leave and urged Americans to avoid travel into the country because of escalating violence between Israel and the Lebanese guerrilla group Hizbollah. The State Department also authorized the departure of some embassy workers after a series of intense Israeli strikes virtually isolated Lebanon by air, sea and land in retaliation for Hizbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers. "American citizens are urged to evaluate their personal security posture and consider departing in light of the current situation in Lebanon," the State Department warning said. The warning also urged American citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon. "In light of the events of July 12 in Southern Lebanon and the resulting escalation in tensions in Lebanon, including the closure of Beirut International Airport and the Port of Beirut, American citizens are urged to avoid nonessential travel in Lebanon," the statement said.

Smirkey is more moral than you: Informed sources inside the beltway report that First Lady Laura Bush has established temporary residence in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC as a result of a tiff with President Bush over an extramarital relationship involving her husband. Mr. Bush's tryst is said to involve Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It is not known how long Mrs. Bush plans to remain at the Mayflower, however, her security detail has been present at the hotel during hours when the First Lady would normally be residing in the White House. While she was National Security Adviser, Rice, who has never been married, referred to George W. Bush as "my husband" before she corrected herself and said, "the president." Rice was speaking at a dinner when she made her "husband" remarks. As much as the White House wants the story of President Bush's tryst with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Laura Bush's disgust with the relationship to go away, The Globe tabloid is running the story for the second week in a row (and WMR's initial story on the affair is once again cited). The Globe's neuro-linguistic (body language) expert analyzes Bush's and Rice's cavorting incidents. The White House has also altered its story on Mrs. Bush's Secret Service detail being seen at the Mayflower Hotel for at least one night (when Mrs. Bush reportedly stormed out of the White House after a confrontation with Mr. Bush over the affair). The White House at first denied the First Lady was even at the Mayflower. A White House source now concedes that the First Lady arranged to transport an old college female friend back to the Mayflower from the White House and that the First Lady remained at the hotel until 11:00 PM. The White House continues to deny that the First Lady remained at the hotel for at least one entire evening.

Yet another new poll suggests the Republicans are in jeopardy of losing their grip on Congress in November. With less than four months to the midterm elections, the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that Americans by an almost 3-to-1 margin hold the GOP-controlled Congress in low regard and profess a desire to see Democrats wrest control after a dozen years of Republican rule. The election ultimately will be decided in 435 House districts and 33 Senate contests, in which incumbents typically hold the upper hand. But the survey underscored the difficulty Republicans face in trying to persuade a skeptical public to return them to Washington. The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults conducted Monday through Wednesday found that President Bush has stopped his political freefall, with his approval rating of 36 percent basically unchanged from last month. Bush received slightly higher marks for his handling of the Iraq war and the fight against terrorism, weeks after his surprise trip to Baghdad and the killing of Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a U.S. airstrike last month. The AP-Ipsos survey asked 789 registered voters if the election for the House were held today, would they vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in their district. Democrats were favored 51 percent to 40 percent. Democrats also held the advantage among persuadable voters - those who are undecided or wouldn‘t say whom they prefer. A total of 51 percent said they were leaning Democrat, while 41 percent were leaning Republican.

You're a Republican running for Colorado governor, it's the last week of the 1st quarter of election year, and a famous right-wing pundit's in town - gotta milk that for all it's worth, right? If the pundit’s Ann Coulter, maybe not. But I guess you can't blame the Beauprez campaign for trying. Back on March 28, when Coulter brought her one-woman standup routine to the Paramount Theater in Denver, she hadn't quite completed her transition from leggy pundit/author to radioactive slime. So a pre-show meet-greet with the 9/11 Widow Watchdog might still have seemed like a reasonable idea. "We found out the hard way," says former Beauprez for Gov campaign chief Steve Truebner, "that Ann Coulter is not a major draw for donors." Nary a one showed up, according to Truebner, leaving Ms. Coulter and Mrs. Beauprez - the candidate himself was in D.C., working his day job - to hobnob in the Paramount's 2nd.-floor lobby with about a dozen earnest but penniless campaign volunteers, plus some KOA Radio listeners who'd won free tickets to the Coulter show from the station and just happened to be in the vicinity. Smiles were flashed, photos were taken, and cheese/crackers were eaten, just like at a real campaign event. The only things missing were the $1,000 checks. "It turned out to be an interesting evening for the volunteers, a way to reward them," says Truebner, who'd already left the campaign by then but sponsored the event as a donor. And the reward for the Beauprez campaign? An object lesson in the perils of pushing pusanillamous pundit piggybackery.

U.S. Republican lawmakers reportedly are irate over a Democratic campaign ad showing footage of flag-draped coffins of U.S. troops killed in Iraq. "The fact that they are using this as a way to somehow raise money is more than disturbing," U.S. Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Washington Times. "A huge apology to the troops and their families is owed by everyone involved in this travesty." Some House Democrats defended their "America Needs a New Direction" video, saying Republicans had exploited images of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for campaign purposes, the report said. The video also has footage showing victims of Hurricane Katrina. The Times report said some Democrats criticized the ad. In a letter to the party's Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, Rep. John Spratt Jr., D-S.C., said, "I strongly recommend that you pull this ad and delete both these clips before running it again."

This year, the EPA was required to review the emission standards of the 162 large municipal waste combustors (MWC) in the United States, and, as mandated by the federal Clean Air Act, ensure their pollution standards meet the "maximum degree of reduction." Despite some improvements in emission standards, the EPA’s final ruling on MWCs will not make the incinerators any cleaner. Although the facility uses what is considered the best pollution-control technology, the EPA says it still lets some toxins through. And with the lenient new rules, the incinerator will not have to increase any emission standards, nor will it be held to its own current ones.

Washington State’s attorney general announced yesterday that his office is appealing a federal court ruling that barred the state from enforcing a voter-approved law against dumping more waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. As previously reported by The NewStandard, the Hanford dump - leftover from efforts to build the atomic bomb - is considered the most contaminated nuclear waste site in the country. Cleanup of the site has been rife with delays and contract abuses, while almost a million gallons of radioactive sludge has leaked into the surrounding groundwater. The site is managed by the US Department of Energy. In 2004, voters in Washington approved Initiative 297, a measure prohibiting Hanford from accepting more waste until the waste already stored there is cleaned up. Last month, US District Judge Alan McDonald ruled the state did not have power to enforce the ban because it violates the interstate-commerce clause of the US Constitution.

After months of contentious negotiations, Senate leaders announced a breakthrough agreement on Wednesday that would expand energy exploration in the Gulf of Mexico but create a 125-mile buffer against drilling along the west coast of Florida. The Senate deal provides most of the protections Florida senators have demanded to shelter their state's environment, beaches and tourism economy. It would not, however, extend the drilling ban to the Atlantic coast. The deal appeared to clear a path toward Senate passage of an offshore energy bill later this month. It moved Congress a long step closer to expanding domestic energy supplies in a way that most members from Florida can support. "All this moaning, all this crying - all gone," exulted Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and Florida's foil during the negotiations. "You've got great protection," he told Florida's senators. "And you can say [to your constituents] that hundreds of miles away we are going to be producing natural gas and crude oil. Can't even see it. Won't even know it's there." While establishing a 125-mile buffer, the Senate deal also would ban drilling in a military training zone south of the Panhandle, which extends as much as 236 miles into the Gulf. The buffer zones would continue until the year 2022. The current moratorium, which extends hundreds of miles into the Gulf, is set to expire in 2012. The deal is similar to a set of demands by most members of the Florida congressional delegation. But Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, strongly objected on Wednesday that it would fail to protect the east coast of Florida. "What was Sen. Martinez thinking?" Wexler said. "The fact that he agreed to leave the Atlantic coast exposed is inexplicable. This is not just a debate about the west coast."

An Indian tribe sued the former superlobbyist Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed, a candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia, on Wednesday, seeking millions of dollars in lost revenues from a casino that the Texas tribe said had been fraudulently closed. The suit, in Federal District Court in Austin, says Mr. Abramoff, Mr. Reed and three other men mounted a fake religiously themed moral crusade in 2001 to defeat a bill in the Texas Legislature that would have legalized gambling in Indian casinos. Their real motive, the suit adds, was to promote the gambling interests of a tribe in Louisiana that was paying them to represent its interest in a competing casino. Two former Congressional aides who pleaded guilty to corruption charges along with Mr. Abramoff were also named in the suit: Michael Scanlon, who worked for the former House majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas; and Neil Volz, formerly on the staff of Representative Bob Ney of Ohio. Jon Van Horne, who worked with Mr. Abramoff at his lobbying firm in Washington, was also named. "This case chronicles Jack Abramoff and his associates' greed, corruption and deceit and their devastating impact on Texas's oldest recognized Indian tribe," said the suit, filed by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. The tribe, whose 4,594-acre reservation is 75 miles northeast of here, was forced to close its sole casino in 2002 by a federal court order. Lawyers for the tribe said the closing had devastating economic effects on the community, including the loss of several hundred jobs.

Former President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, were among the mourners Wednesday at the funeral of Enron Corp. founder and convicted swindler Kenneth "Kenny Boy" Lay. Lay's funeral drew some of the high-profile guests who were close to him before he was convicted in May of fraud and conspiracy for lying to investors and the public about the energy company’s financial health before it collapsed in 2001. Among the other mourners at the downtown Houston church Lay attended for 12 years were former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr., heart surgeon Denton Cooley and Lay’s criminal lawyer, Mike Ramsey.

Five top-level campaign workers left Florida Rep. Rep. Katherine Harris' campaign for Senate on Thursday, the second time a group of staffers has walked away from her sputtering campaign. But Harris, already beset by bad poll numbers and poor fundraising, isn't showing any signs of quitting. By Thursday evening, she announced she had already hired three new employees. So, as she prepares for a doctor's appointment on Monday that will determine whether she has ovarian cancer, Harris is assembling a new campaign staff, for the third time. With less than two months until the Sept. 5 Republican primary, political watchers say she'll be scraping the bottom of the barrel for new workers. "All the good people have long been taken," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Harris sent out a press release Thursday naming her new hires, but could not be reached for comment. Former campaign advisers say Harris should try to make a graceful exit from the campaign, but they know she probably won't.

Sen. Arlen Specter on Thursday revealed a bill that would require a court to review the constitutionality of the National Security Agency's controversial warrantless intelligence-gathering program, saying the deal was negotiated with the Bush administration's cooperation. An administration official said the White House would accept Specter's legislation if Congress does not change it dramatically. The Pennsylvania Republican unveiled the bill at a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs.

This administration's penchant for classifying everything as secret is well known, but did you know even Smirkey's poop is classified top secret? Austrian newspapers are currently abuzz with special security details of George W. Bush's recent trip to Vienna. Although the heavy-handed Gestapo-like security measures meted out to Viennese home owners, business proprietors, and pedestrians by US Secret Service agents and local police before and during Bush's visit received widespread Austrian media attention, it was White House "toilet security" ("TOILSEC"), which has Austrians talking the most. The White House flew in a special portable toilet to Vienna for Bush's personal use during his visit. The Bush White House is so concerned about Bush's security, the veil of secrecy extends over the president's bodily excretions. The special port-a-john captured Bush's feces and urine and flew the waste material back to the United States in the event some enterprising foreign intelligence agency conducted a sewage pipe operation designed to trap and examine Bush's waste material. One can only wonder why the White House is taking such extraordinary security measures for the presidential poop. In the past, similar operations were conducted against foreign leaders to determine their medical condition. However, these intelligence operations were directed against dictators in countries where even the medical conditions of the top political leaders were considered "state secrets." Even Bush's toilet paper was flown in from the U.S. Air Base at Ramstein, Germany. In addition, Bush's food was flown in from the United States and tested with special chemicals before he ate it. Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was shot by a firing squad in 1989, was the last major European leader to constantly use a food tester. The last frequent state visitor to Vienna, who always relied on a food tester, was Adolf Hitler.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Representatives of 40 Bolivian civil and social organizations asked the government Thursday to stop sending Bolivian military for training to the US School of the Americas/WHINSEC, known as "The University of Assassins." The Human Rights Permanent Assembly handed over five books of signatures to legislators Ivan Canelas and Leonilda Zurita, rejecting training troops in that US military center. Canelas and Zurita recalled that many officials, not only from Bolivia, were trained in this school and then carried out bloody actions in their home countries. In the case of Bolivia, the military repressed social movements, for example in central El Chapare in October 2003. In 1996, the Pentagon published training manuals used in the School of the Americas, which defended torture, extortion, and individual and extrajudicial executions. Several nations, activist groups, and members of the US Congress have urged closing the School of the Americas, considered the greatest base of Latin American political destabilization.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Dollars Are Buying: Whatever may be the fate of the captive soldier Gilad Shalit, the Israeli army's war in Gaza is not about him. As senior security analyst Alex Fishman widely reported, the army was preparing for an attack months earlier and was constantly pushing for it, with the goal of destroying the Hamas infrastructure and its government. The army initiated an escalation on 8 June when it assassinated Abu Samhadana, a senior appointee of the Hamas government, and intensified its shelling of civilians in the Gaza Strip. Governmental authorization for action on a larger scale was already given by 12 June, but it was postponed in the wake of the global reverberation caused by the killing of civilians in the air force bombing the next day. The abduction of the soldier released the safety-catch, and the operation began on 28 June with the destruction of infrastructure in Gaza and the mass detention of the Hamas leadership in the West Bank, which was also planned weeks in advance. Israel does not need this piece of land, one of the most densely populated in the world, and lacking any natural resources. The problem is that one cannot let Gaza free, if one wants to keep the West Bank. A third of the occupied Palestinians live in the Gaza strip. If they are given freedom, they would become the center of Palestinian struggle for liberation, with free access to the Western and Arab world. To control the West Bank, Israel needs full control of Gaza. The new form of control Israel has developed is turning the whole of the Strip into a prison camp completely sealed from the world.

Republicans Believe In Free, Fair, Honest and Transparent Elections: Computerized voting was supposed to be the cure for ballot fiascos such as the 2000 presidential election, but activist groups say it has only worsened the problem and they've gone to court across the country to ban the new machines. Lawsuits have been filed in at least nine states, alleging that the machines are wide open to computer hackers and prone to temperamental fits of technology that have assigned votes to the wrong candidate. Manufacturers say their machines are more reliable than punch cards and other traditional voting technologies. But they face a determined opponent in Voter Action, which has filed lawsuits in Colorado, California, Arizona and New Mexico. Similar bans have been sought by voters in Texas, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. On Thursday, a coalition of groups filed a lawsuit in Georgia. New York University's Brennan Center for Justice released a one-year study last month that determined that the three most popular types of U.S. voting machines "pose a real danger" to election integrity. The survey examined optical scanners, which electronically read ballots, and touch-screen machines, which operate like ATMs. Some produced paper receipts, others didn't. More than 120 security threats were identified, including wireless machines that could be hacked "by virtually any member of the public with some (computer) knowledge" and a PC card; the failure of most states to install software that could detect outside attacks; and the failure of many states to audit their electronic systems.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A government program designed to track down terrorists and money launderers is frightening bank customers, frustrating financial institutions and inundating federal agencies with secret reports of dubious value. It's called the Suspicious Activity Report, or SAR, and critics say it victimizes honest citizens who are conducting legitimate financial activities through legitimate banking channels, while generating a flood of useless paperwork and burdening financial institutions with billions of dollars in costs. Experts predict nearly 1 million such reports will be filed in 2006, a bit more than half by depository institutions, the rest by money-services businesses, casinos, card clubs and the securities and futures industries. Insurance companies had to begin filing in spring 2006, and mutual-fund companies will have to establish anti-money laundering programs and file SARs in fall 2006. In total, 919,230 SARs were filed in 2005. You cannot find out if one has been filed on you; anyone revealing that information is breaking the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging the U.S. Secret Service and state and local police protecting President Bush during a 2004 campaign appearance discriminated against anti-Bush protesters when they moved to clear the streets outside an inn where the president was eating dinner. An unidentified man is arrested after refusing to move back during a protest during a visit by President Bush in Jacksonville, Ore. The class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court contends that police acting on orders from the Secret Service used unreasonable force to move some 200 people peacefully protesting against the war in Iraq in the historic Gold Rush town of Jacksonville while allowing pro-Bush demonstrators to remain standing on sidewalks. "Our primary motive is to prevent this kind of activity from happening again in the future," said David Fidanque, executive director of the Oregon ACLU. "Discrimination is taking place across the country that is part of the Secret Service keeping away protesters from the president and vice president. It has escalated dramatically in the past five years." Fidanque and attorney Ralph Temple said they knew of 16 similar instances in 12 other states and at least three other lawsuits have been filed.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: A slump in sales of new cars saw US retail sales fall 0.1% in June, according to government figures. The Commerce Department data surprised analysts who had expected a 0.4% climb in month-on-month sales. However, when sales from the volatile auto sector were stripped out, sales actually rose 0.3%. Surging fuel costs, as a result of global oil prices, and worries about interest rate rises have seen shoppers being more cautious with their cash. The figure was an indication that gasoline prices were "beginning to bite and beginning to squeeze customers pretty hard", said economist Nariman Behravesh of Global Insight.

The top one percent wealthiest Americans enjoyed an increase in income far greater than the rest of the population’s from 2003 to 2004, according an analysis released this week by a progressive think tank. While that richest one-hundredth of Americans saw their income go up by almost 17 percent, everyone else saw an average rise of 3 percent, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported. The report also found that 2004 saw an unusually high jump in how much of the nation’s wealth went to the top 1 percent. The wealthiest took a fifth of the American pie, up 2 percentage points from 2003. Since 1913, such an increase in wealth concentration has only been experience five times, according to the Center. The 2 percent increase amounts to a total of approximately $136 billion. According to the report, weak wage and salary increases and the rapid growth of corporate profits have contributed to the growing inequality. In January, the Center released another report finding that growth in employment and was less than half of the average growth rate during other economic recovery periods since World War II. Meanwhile, corporate profits rose by 15.9 percent, almost twice the average. As these trends continue in 2006, the report said, income concentration to the wealthiest populations will also continue.

Analysts predict that front-month, crude-oil futures will reach $80 a barrel as early as next week, following a four-session gain of more than $3 and a record close Friday. Violence between Israel and Lebanon and the West's quarrels with Iran and North Korea fueled traders' anxiety over the state of oil supplies, as countries begin to take sides on the various conflicts around the world. If Israel proposes to blame Iran for instigating the attacks, there could be an escalation in military operations, said John Person, president of National Futures Advisory Service. "This is putting in a new price 'terror premium' in crude oil, which could take oil past $80 by late next week." That's much earlier than many analysts expected, and that means prices could climb beyond $80, Person added, noting the he "would not rule out $100 to $120 given a supply disruption event, such as an oil-line sabotage or a hurricane in the Gulf region." See Commodities Corner on hurricane-related commodity bets.

Republicans Believe In Treating All With Dignity And Respect: Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) showed off to Congress a model of an electric fence he designed for America’s southern border. He said its nonlethal current works fine with barnyard animals. Rep. King went on the House floor on Tuesday to discuss a fence that he "designed" for the southern boarder. (King constructed a model of the fence as he was speaking.) King’s design features a wire electrified "with the kind of current that would not kill somebody." King noted that "we do this with livestock all the time." It’s a tough calculus these Republicans are facing: wondering whether they'll lose more conservative votes by appearing soft on immigration or more Hispanic votes by lumping Latinos in with livestock.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: The makers of WholesomeWear swimsuits would like women to cover up their tummies. And their backs. And their arms. And half their legs. The Oregon company, based outside Portland, sells a collection of swimwear online that consists of a wet suit topped by a dress. The spandex underpinning is not sufficient on its own because bystanders would still be able to make out the curves of the woman's body. The nylon overdress takes care of any audacious display of an hourglass shape. The collection is not aimed at practitioners of any specific religion. There is no obvious mention of spirituality, God, Allah or Joseph Smith on the company's Web site. "There are still people in this world who prefer modesty," says Joan Ferguson, who handles sales for the company. "So my son, his wife and daughter designed the product."

Last week, New York's highest court voted 4-to-2 that a legislative ban on same-sex marriage did not violate the state Constitution. In doing so, it added to the patchwork of state rulings on the issue, including those of Indiana and Arizona (which similarly upheld legislative bans) and Massachusetts (which struck down a legislative ban). What's noteworthy about the New York decision, however, is that it became the second ruling by a state high court to assert a startling rationale for prohibiting same-sex marriage - that straight couples may be less stable parents than their gay counterparts and consequently require the benefits of marriage to assist them. The critical question, expressed in a plurality opinion by three members of the New York court, is whether a "rational legislature" could decide that the benefits of marriage should be granted to opposite-sex couples but not to same-sex couples. The opinion then answered in the affirmative with two different arguments. While both related to the interests of children, they differed significantly in vintage and tone.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Due to global warming, the icy continent could revert to how it looked 40 million years ago--with bushes and trees, an environmental expert told an international scientific conference. Trees could be growing in the Antarctic within a century because of global warming. With carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere set to double in the next 100 years, the icy continent could revert to how it looked about 40 million years ago, said Professor Robert Dunbar of Stanford University. "It was warm and there were bushes and there were trees," he told some 850 delegates in the Tasmanian capital Hobart, the national AAP news agency reported.

Scandals Du Jour: Convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff improperly obtained a top-secret FBI document and tried to use the information to aid his clients in the Pacific Island territories, according to a report released Friday by the Justice Department's inspector general. The lobbyist feared information in the document could be damaging to his clients' interests, the inspector general said, and he used his knowledge of its contents to warn them and to devise a counterattack. "Abramoff's e-mail records indicate that by late June 2002 he had obtained a copy of the report from an official of the Department of Interior," the report said. The leak has been referred to the FBI and the Interior Department's inspector general for further investigation. Abramoff earlier this year pleaded guilty to corruption charges, including conspiracy to bribe public officials and failure to pay taxes. He is cooperating in an investigation that has resulted in guilty pleas from top legislative aides and Abramoff's lobbying partners.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: GQ Magazine has revealed new details of the ties between Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed and convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. According to former associates, Reed and Abramoff devised a plan they called the Black Churches Insurance Program. The plan would offer lobbying services to African-American churches. Instead of direct payment, Abramoff would arrange life-insurance polices that would have made him the beneficiary when elderly Church members passed away. A former Reed associate said: "It sounds like Jack approached Reed about mortgaging old black people." The news comes just one week before Reed faces a primary in his campaign for Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor.

Why won't Ralph Reed talk to reporters, even though he's running for public office? "He can’t afford to," writes Sean Flynn in a lengthy profile of the scandal-dogged former Christian Coalition organizer. "If he does, they’ll just start asking him all those uncomfortable questions that have nothing to do with being lieutenant governor. Mostly, they'll ask about his relationship - his multimillion-dollar relationship - with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. And that’s if they're only skimming the surface. Give them some time and they'll ask about his work for eLottery or Enron or Microsoft; or his shilling for China; or his close call with the statute of limitations in Texas; or the way John McCain got slimed in the 2000 South Carolina primary; or something called the Black Churches Insurance Program. Maybe they'd even ask how he squares up his professed salvation through his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with - well, with everything else."

There are indications from WMR sources that the Gulfstream IV-SP that landed at Palm Beach International Airport carrying Rush Limbaugh (and his 29 Viagra tablets listed with an estimated value of $1 (U.S.)) and two producers for the Fox Network's "24," a program that hypes the importance of neo-conservative counter-terrorism methods, was used in the past as a CIA prisoner rendition aircraft. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection Arrival Report released to the web site "TheSmokingGun.com" conveniently has the tail number of the Gulfstream IV obscured along with the the departure point in the Dominican Republic. The only information about the flight and plane that can be ascertained is that it landed at Palm Beach International at 1804 on June 26. Palm Beach airport officials could not provide the tail number of the plane to WMR and, instead, referred us to the Federal Aviation Administration in Oklahoma City. After a spokesman for Palm Beach airport was given the date and arrival time of the plane in order to obtain the tail number, he stated, "I can give you the arrival time if you can give me the tail number." A Gulfstream IV (tail number N227SV, formerly N85VM), registered to Assembly Point Aviation of Glens Falls, New York and previously used by the Boston Red Sox, stopped frequently at Palm Beach International during CIA rendition flights between Asia, Europe, and Guantanamo Bay. The dates the Gulfstream IV was at Palm Beach included 1 Nov. 02, 7 Dec. 02, 10 Apr. 03, 13 Apr 03, 22 Mar. 04, 26 Mar. 04, and most recently on 1 Jan. 06. The CIA has frequently changed the tail numbers of its rendition aircraft to mask their flight histories and routes. The plane Limbaugh flew on from the Dominican Republic was leased to Premiere Radio Networks of Sherman Oaks, California.

John Dean joined Keith Olbermann Monday to explain the theories in his new book, "Conservatives Without Conscience," which explains a lot of the behavior we see today. To put it simply, Dean makes the case (with data he uncovered) that many conservatives of today need an authoritarian figure to guide them and they willingly do whatever it takes to please that figure. Dean cites G. Gordon Liddy as the perfect example of a guy willing to be shot in the street to indulge his master. He highlights the fear mongering that this administration has been using for years now as a model that allows the concept to be implemented. The way Tom Delay controlled the House is another perfect illustration of this behavior. Dean is a Barry Goldwater conservative. Looking back on the development of conservative politics in the U.S., Dean notes that conservatism is regressing to its authoritarian roots. Dean draws on five decades of social science research that details the personality traits of what are called "double high authoritarians": self-righteous, mean-spirited, amoral, manipulative, bullying. He concludes that Chuck Colson, Pat Robertson, Newt Gingrich, and Tom DeLay are all textbook examples. Dean calls Vice-President Cheney "the architect of Bush’s authoritarian policies," and deems Bush "a mental lightweight with a strong right-wing authoritarian personality."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:43:43 PM

Thu, Jul 13 2006

Fencing Project Getting Urgent

The rainy season continues, with dreadfully muggy weather and lots of rain, punctuated by an occasional half-hour of clearing and sun. The last two days have seen the pattern continue, with only some high winds to interrupt the pattern. And the temperatures have been warm, too, with a 73 overnight and a high today of 81.

This morning, I was sitting watching television and minding my own business, when I heard someone yelling "Upe!" out front. That's the Costa Rican equivalent of a doorbell, so when I peeked out, I found a young man, mid twentyish, at my front gate. He asked if he could fish in the pond for sardinas, the little tetra fish that is mostly a forage fish in the pond, but which some of the Ticos like to catch and eat. Well, I am not surprised, the water is fairly clean this morning, and I figured the fish would probably be hungry after two days of muddy water. I agreed, and after a few minutes, I went out to see how he was doing.

His little boy was with him, and he was out at the west end of the pond, by the deepest part, fishing with his little boy under the shade of the madera negra trees, in a spot where they can't be seen from the house - which is why it is a popular spot with the poachers. To my annoyance, they had conveniently crawled under a high spot in the fence wire rather than going through the gate. After a half hour of fishing, they still hadn't caught anything, and I headed back towards the house.

Well, I had gotten about half way back to the house when I discovered that a neighbor's cows were loose, unsupervised, in the street, and one was poking its head over the barbed wire and was noshing on my landscaping plants. I ran out and chased it away, and sat on the front porch guarding the rest until the neighbor came by. I figured he wouldn't be long.

Sure enough, within a few minutes, his boy, who often herds the cattle around, came by, and hurredly rounded them up, just as his father rode up on a motorcycle and herded them along the road and back home. Apparently, they had broken out of their pasture on his farm.

I really need to get going on this fence project and get another wire up about chin height, so the cattle can´t get at my landscaping plants, and get the lower wires around the end of the pond secure. I hate to have to get that carried away, but I am going to have to do it, no doubt, to keep things under control around here. Next time I see the guy I hire as my peon, I am going to talk to him about it and get him started. This is getting a bit much.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The Bush administration is poised to press the U.N. Security Council to begin the process of imposing punitive action against Iran, after signals over the weekend that Tehran will not provide the straightforward acceptance or rejection today of a U.S.-backed proposal designed to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon, U.S. and European officials said yesterday. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is scheduled to meet Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani today in Brussels to get an answer, a meeting that already had been delayed a week. But over the weekend, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Solana had not provided answers about what Iranian officials have termed ambiguities in the plan. Meanwhile, the Iranian ambassador to Switzerland said Iran would not be ready to provide an answer until August. In a telephone interview, an Iranian official in Tehran said yesterday that the regime had been transparent about its concerns. The United States and some Security Council countries have now concluded that Iran has decided to test American resolve and the solidarity of Security Council cooperation, U.S. and European officials said.

Seymore Hersch, interviewed on Democracy Now, says that such a strike could have disastrous consequences for the U.S.: "Iran may respond asymmetrically. There's a lot of reason to believe that Iran would not hit Israel or begin attacking American facilities around the world, but instead hit the hanging overripe fruit, hanging in the Gulf, which is all of the oil and gas production facilities in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar. They’re all out there unprotected. Iran could simply lob a few missiles into some of those facilities and cause horrific consequences for us. We would go dark. We wouldn’t be able to fly our planes as much, our commercial airliners. Gasoline would go up to enormous prices. Iran has that capability."

Sunni politicians Monday called on the U.N. Security Council to send peacekeepers to Iraq saying U.S.-led "occupation forces" cannot protect Iraqis, a day after Shiite gunmen entered a Baghdad neighborhood and started killing members of the minority sect. Ayad al-Samaraie, a member of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, blamed members of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia for Sunday's killings, which police said left 41 people dead. He said U.S.-led forces have failed to provide security in the country. "Occupation forces cannot protect the people and therefore United Nations peacekeepers" should be sent to Iraq, al-Samaraie told reporters.

A Nuremberg chief prosecutor says there is a case for trying Bush for the "supreme crime against humanity, an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation." The extent to which American exceptionalism is embedded in the national psyche is awesome to behold. While the United States is a country like any other, its citizens no more special than any others on the planet, Americans still react with surprise at the suggestion that their country could be held responsible for something as heinous as a war crime. From the massacre of more than 100,000 people in the Philippines to the first nuclear attack ever at Hiroshima to the unprovoked invasion of Baghdad, U.S.-sponsored violence doesn't feel as wrong and worthy of prosecution in internationally sanctioned criminal courts as the gory, blood-soaked atrocities of Congo, Darfur, Rwanda, and most certainly not the Nazis - most certainly not. Howard Zinn recently described this as our "inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism. We are penned in by the arrogant idea that this country is the center of the universe, exceptionally virtuous, admirable, superior." Most Americans firmly believe there is nothing the United States or its political leadership could possibly do that could equate to the crimes of Hitler's Third Reich. The Nazis are our "gold standard of evil," as author John Dolan once put it. But the truth is that we can, and we have - most recently and significantly in Iraq. Perhaps no person on the planet is better equipped to identify and describe our crimes in Iraq than Benjamin Ferenccz, a former chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials who successfully convicted 22 Nazi officers for their work in orchestrating death squads that killed more than one million people in the famous Einsatzgruppen Case. Ferencz, now 87, has gone on to become a founding father of the basis behind international law regarding war crimes, and his essays and legal work drawing from the Nuremberg trials and later the commission that established the International Criminal Court remain a lasting influence in that realm.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met Iraq's Shi'ite-led government on Wednesday after his top general in the country told him Shi'ite "death squads" were fuelling a surge in communal bloodshed. Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told lawmakers Iraq had one "last chance" to avert a slide to all-out civil war. Several hours after he spoke, clashes erupted between gunmen armed with rocket-propelled grenades and police and residents in Um al-Maalif, a mainly Shi'ite neighborhood in southern Baghdad. Police said there were a number of casualties. Soon after Rumsfeld arrived in Baghdad, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a restaurant, killing seven people, police said. Security forces also found the bodies of 24 bus drivers who had been kidnapped earlier in a town north of Baghdad. Major General Ghassan al-Bawi, the police chief of Diyala province, blamed insurgents for the kidnappings and said they were aimed at "inflaming" tensions between Shi'ites and Sunnis. Ten of the drivers were Sunni, the rest Shi'ite, he said. Maliki told parliament Iraqi security forces had defeated a coordinated attempt by gunmen to occupy Baghdad districts west of the Tigris. Gunmen have fought in the streets and battled security forces in several districts in the past few days. Scores of people, mainly civilians, have been killed.

A man is gunned down after a confrontation over a loud car stereo. A teenager is shot in the back as he tears down a street to escape his pursuers, hands bound. In a rough city like Las Vegas, these incidents would ordinarily be the stuff of local crime blotters: except in all the incidents, the bullets came from police officers’ guns. In recent months, a rash of shootings involving the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has sent chills through local communities. Yesterday, a coalition of civil-liberties and community-advocacy groups, including state and local branches of the NAACP, ACORN, the Mexican American Political Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, launched a campaign calling for an overhaul of what they view as a law-enforcement system rife with impunity. This year, the Metro police have registered nineteen officer-involved shootings, six of which took place in the past month. The shootings resulted in ten deaths, and another death resulted from the use of a Taser electroshock weapon. The number of shootings has already exceeded the total for all of 2005, according to police statistics. Activists have been especially incensed over the shooting death of 17-year-old murder suspect Swuave Lopez as he fled the police in handcuffs. The case was recently sealed by a special investigatory hearing that deemed the killing "justifiable" according to the state’s legal standards.

The US House of Representatives has backed a bill which aims to rein in online gambling. The bill aims to limit internet gaming by making it illegal for US-based banks and credit card firms to make payments to online gambling sites. Estimates suggest the online gaming industry generates $12 billion a year worldwide, half from US gamblers. As yet it is unclear whether the US Senate will make the bill law ahead of elections in November. Critics have attacked the proposals as an "outrageous" measure, claiming it aims to stir up the more conservative sectors of society ahead of the elections - and so boost the Republican party's chances. However, one of the bill's sponsors, Republican Bob Goodlatte, claimed the plans aimed to control a "scourge on society" which causes "innumerable problems." The US plans have come under close scrutiny from some UK-listed sites such as Partygaming and 888 Holdings - owners of 888.com - amid concerns that earnings will suffer if the US government does clamp down on online gaming.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The Kyrgyz authorities are expelling two US diplomats for "inappropriate" contacts with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), reports say. Spokesmen from the foreign ministry and another official body confirmed the reports, but it was unclear whether the diplomats had already left the country. In a statement on its website, the US embassy in the capital Bishkek said the allegations were "simply not true." It said the expulsions were a bid to "silence the voice of civil society." And it vowed to maintain contact with "all sectors" of Kyrgyz society, including opposition figures and NGOs. The Associated Press quoted an unnamed Kyrgyz official as saying the expulsions were down to "inappropriate" contacts with NGOs, and the US embassy used the same word in its statement, which referred only to "reports" of the expulsion. AP also quoted Tursunbek Akun, head of the official Human Rights Commission, as saying: "A decision has been taken, but the diplomats remain in the country."

Iraq will ask the United Nations to end immunity from local law for U.S. troops, the human rights minister said on Monday, as the military named five soldiers charged in a rape-murder case that has outraged Iraqis. In an interview a week after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki demanded a review of foreign troops' immunity, Wigdan Michael said work on it was now under way and a request could be ready by next month to go to the U.N. Security Council, under whose mandate U.S.-led forces are in control of Iraq. "We're very serious about this," she said, blaming a lack of enforcement of U.S. military law in the past for encouraging soldiers to commit crimes against Iraqi civilians, such as the alleged rape and murder of a teenager and killing of her family. "We formed a committee last week to prepare reports and put it before the cabinet in three weeks. After that, Maliki will present it to the Security Council. We will ask them to lift the immunity," Michael said. "If we don't get that, then we'll ask for an effective role in the investigations that are going on. "The Iraqi government must have a role." Analysts say it is improbable the United States would ever make its troops answerable to Iraq's chaotic judicial system. The day before handing formal sovereignty back to Iraqis in June 2004, the U.S. occupation authority issued a decree giving its troops immunity from Iraqi law. That remains in force and is confirmed in an annex to Resolution 1546, the Security Council document that established the U.S.-led force's mandate in Iraq. Many Iraqis have complained for the past three years about hundreds of civilians killed by U.S. troops and abuses such as those highlighted in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal of 2004. Asked to respond to Michael's remarks, White House spokesman Tony Snow dismissed that as a "hypothetical game".

The Bush Administration's "Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba," co-chaired by our Secretaries of State and Commerce, has presented a new report to our President this week. It's a lengthy and comprehensive plan, detailing the steps which US government and other "vital actors" will be taking to bring Cuba back into the family of overt US colonies, which now include some of the Pacific Islands, Puerto Rico, Kabul, and the Green Zone in Baghdad. The Administration was roundly criticized for not having such a plan for Iraq after its conquests there. Some even claimed it was the reason for the failure of the occupation. One of the purposes of this Plan may be to forestall such criticism in Cuba's case. Nevertheless this Plan is much the same as the one for Iraq (which was not publicly articulated beforehand). By privatizing what is now being done publicly, it will bring Cuba into the "modern, civilized world" by creating a capitalist utopia where private entrepreneurs from the "international community" (mostly US corporations) and the "Cuban community abroad" (mostly ultra-right wing Cuban-American U.S. citizens), unencumbered by societal restraint, will unleash their full creative powers to save the long-suffering Cuban people from continuing poverty and tyranny, while just incidentally benefiting themselves. The recommendation for Cuba destabilization activities going on now is to continue or increase everything, especially the radio-TV projects illegally being forced on Cubans by US airplanes, denying hard currency to Cuba by tightening the blockade, i.e., fining foreign banks which deal in Cuba transactions, punishing and rewarding foreign governments which increase or decrease Cuba trade, and tightening and increasing punishment for the travel restrictions, the cost of which already triples what we spend trying to trace Al Qaeda funds. The funding for this will be a new US slush fund of $80 million increased by $20 million per year, plus all the dirty destabilization money (unknown multimillions per year) now being funneled through AID, NED, the so-called NGO's in Florida, and the US Interests Section in Havana.

Spin Cycle: Italy's government said on Tuesday it did not believe its intelligence agency aided the alleged CIA abduction of a terrorism suspect in Milan -- but left open the possibility that rogue Italian agents may have been involved. Defence Undersecretary Lorenzo Forcieri said the government was not currently aware of any "involvement or complicity" by the Sismi military intelligence agency, whose No. 2 was arrested and jailed last week over his suspected role. Another Sismi official was placed under house arrest over the 2003 kidnapping of radical Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar. "The government expresses its confidence in (Sismi)," Forcieri said, speaking before a Senate panel on behalf of Prime Minister Romano Prodi's government.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: Recently volunteer contributors to SourceWatch exposed some of the links between the Republican Party and a pro-war lobby group called Vets for Freedom, an organization whose "dispatches" have regularly been reported as news by mainstream news organizations. This in turn helped the Buffalo News to ask some questions, and their investigation discovered that in fact Vets for Freedom was a project of Taylor Gross, who was until 2005 a top operative in the White House PR team, working directly under presidential spokesman Scott McClellan. In addition to writing op-ed pieces for newspapers including the New York Times, Vets for Freedom tried to pass themselves off as "non-partisan" journalists so they could con newspapers into publishing their pro-war reports from Iraq as though they were actual news dispatches. The Buffalo News story also noted the links between Vets for Freedom and the Donatelli Group (the same PR firm that helped concoct Swift Boat Veterans for Truth) and reported on the inability of Vets for Freedom to explain just who is paying for all their travel and PR and their fancy website. Immediately upon reporting these facts, the Buffalo News became the target of attack from Mackubin Thomas Owens in the conservative National Review. Owens wrote that exposing the ties between Vets for Freedom and Republican political operatives reflected the "moral smugness of the American press" that "has become unsufferable." Owens went on to suggest that the Buffalo News report was "a harbinger of a return to the bad old days of the post-Vietnam mutual mistrust between the press and the military." The Buffalo News story on Vets for Freedom has not been picked up by a single other mainstream news organization. It hasn't been syndicated by the Associated Press or UPI. It hasn't appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CNN, Fox News, PBS, ABC, NBC or NPR. In fact, the mainstream media has done more to circulate Owens' attack on the Buffalo News than it has done to circulate the original story which Owens is attacking. The website of CBS News has republished Owens' media-bashing column, thus undercutting the one small voice in the mainstream news media that actually exposed Vets for Freedom and their attempts to manipulate the media.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: The Bush administration Monday asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the National Security Agency’s domestic warrantless eavesdropping program, arguing that defending the four-year-old wiretapping program in open court would risk national security. In arguments before U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit, the American Civil Liberties Union Monday renewed its call for a court order that would force the government to suspend its program of intercepting without a court order the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens. But the U.S. Justice Department has asked federal judges in Detroit and New York to throw out the landmark challenges to the eavesdropping program. In both cases, the Bush administration has invoked a legal doctrine known as the "state-secrets privilege" that it has used to head off other court action spy programs. "If the court accepts the state-secret argument, we are truly facing a constitutional crisis in this country," Michael Steinberg, legal director for ACLU Michigan, told reporters after the hearing.

Halliburton Watch: The U.S. Army will discontinue its multi-billion dollar contract with oil services giant Halliburton Co. to provide logistical support to U.S. troops worldwide, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday. Halliburton, formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney, has drawn scrutiny for its work in Iraq from auditors, congressional Democrats and the Justice Department, which is investigating potential overcharges for fuel, dining and laundry services. Texas-based Halliburton is the world's second-largest oil services company and the U.S. military's biggest contractor in Iraq. The logistical support is performed by Halliburton engineering and construction unit Kellogg Brown & Root. Last year, the Army paid the company more than $7 billion under the contract, the Post said. Army officials defended the company's performance but said Pentagon leaders decided multiple contractors would give them better prices, more accountability and greater protection if a one contractor fails to perform, the newspaper said. Halliburton maintains that its billing disputes with Defense Department auditors have been resolved and that its work has received rave reviews from the military, the Post reported.

Free Markets Solve All Problems: Seniors should think twice about relying on guidance from private insurers when selecting a Medicare drug plan, government investigators indicate in a new report. Many of the 43 million people eligible for Medicare drug coverage rely on insurers' call centers for information about what plan would best meet their needs. In March, investigators made 900 calls to 10 of the largest drug plan sponsors. They said they got complete and accurate answers only a third of the time. "Our calls to 10 of the largest (drug plan) sponsors' call centers show that Medicare beneficiaries face challenges in obtaining the information needed to make informed choices," concluded the Government Accountability Office. The overall accuracy and completeness rate ranged from 20 percent to 60 percent. Only one insurer gave the proper, full answer more than half the time. The investigators did not identify the insurers by name. They said that call centers were unable to answer 15 percent of the questions posed. Further, different operators within the same call center sometimes provided inconsistent answers. Officials with the agency that oversees the drug program disputed the analysis. They said it was based on "inaccurate, incomplete and subjective methods" that limit the report's validity. But the GAO maintained its methods were sound.

Prices of cancer drugs in the United States have risen sharply, costing as much as $10,000 a month for a single drug, reports USA Today. Both patients and insurance companies are deeply concerned over the trend, says the report. "These costs are out of control," Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, told the newspaper. The group plans to have a conference in the fall to address the cost issue. The Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit manager, says the average cost of a 30-day prescription for cancer drugs is nearly $1,600. Rising cancer costs affect all Americans, says Sharon Levine with HMO Kaiser Permanente, because taxpayers through Medicare absorb much of the cost of cancer treatment. The drug industry says it wants to ensure patients get the drugs they need, adding that companies gave away more than $8 billion in cash and products to poor or uninsured patients last year.

Republicans Protect The Public Health: A U.S. study released this week is raising new concerns about the safety of imported, canned tuna - the most popular fish in the United States. The report says some imported tuna contains far higher levels of toxic mercury than indicated by U.S. Food and Drug Administration warnings, The Christian Science Monitor reported Wednesday. The researchers from the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife, the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Mercury Policy Project said among 144 cans of mostly foreign brand "light tuna" taken from grocery store shelves nationwide, the average mercury content was 0.269 parts per million - far above the FDA's cutoff for fish deemed "low-mercury," The Monitor said. The study recommends a reassessment of mercury in canned tuna and closer examination of imports, along with revised FDA guidelines. "What we've found is that the government is not enforcing its own standards and very high-mercury containing fish is sold all the time in the United States," said Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest told the newspaper.

Republicans Believe The Government Should Honor It's Obligations And Commitments: Despite the federal government’s own admission that the health of American Indians is below US averages, lawmakers may once again fail to reauthorize one of the principal mechanisms for funding Native healthcare programs. When the federal government brokered treaties with American Indian tribes during the 19th Century, it promised to provide health care and medical services in exchange for millions of acres of land. But today, Native Americans - one of the most marginalized demographic groups in the US - continue to experience higher rates of chronic diseases, mortality, suicide and alcoholism. According to public-health advocates, a deficient healthcare infrastructure and lack of qualified providers largely contributes to tribes’ inability to provide their communities with the level of care they need. The Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) was originally passed in 1976 to enhance the Snyder Act of 1921, another bill providing legislative authority to fund Native American health programs. But the IHCIA expired in 2000, and thirteen years after the last reauthorization, Congress has yet to renew it.

Republicans Believe In Supporting The Troops: When military benefits were updated in 1984 through a law called the Montgomery GI Bill, members of Congress and even the military did not envision reservists being called into active duty as frequently as they are today. The law did not extend full college benefits to citizen soldiers and terminated them once they left the Guard or Reserve. But since 2001, more than 500,000 reservists and Guard troops have been deployed for homeland security duties or sent to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet when they get home, they don't get the same benefits as those who were active-duty service members. "Looking at how the Reserve forces are being used now, it really upset me," said Rowe, called up from the inactive Reserves to serve in Afghanistan. Retired Army Col. Bob Norton is deputy director for government relations for the Washington-based Military Officers Association of America, which is lobbying for an extension of benefits. "Under the law, [reservists and Guard troops] are veterans for every single benefit except the education benefits," Norton said. Primary opposition to changing the education benefit for reservists and Guard troops - those on duty one weekend a month and two weeks in summer unless they are called to active duty - is coming from the Pentagon's Office of Reserve Affairs. Pentagon officials fear changes could hurt attracting and keeping men and women who sign up for the Guard or Reserve. "It has proven to be a very attractive recruiting tool, and its effectiveness as a retention tool is certainly equally important to the Reserve components," Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Thomas Hall testified in March before the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

News From Smirkey's Wars: The letter pinned overnight to the wall of the mosque in Kandahar, Afghanistan was succinct. "Girls going to school need to be careful for their safety. If we put acid on their faces or they are murdered then the blame will be on their parents." Today the local school stands empty, victim of what amounts to a Taliban war on knowledge. The liberal wind of change that swept the country in 2001 is being reversed. By the conservative estimate of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, 100,000 students have been terrorised out of schools in the past year. The number is certainly far higher and many teachers have been murdered, some beheaded. In the province of Zabul a teacher and female MP, Toor Peikai, said yesterday: "There are 47 schools in my province but only three are open." Only one teaches girls. It is 200 meters from a large US military base in the provincial capital. Across the south, schools burn during the night. According to a bleak report released by Human Rights Watch today at least 200 have been destroyed in the past year and half. Their blackened shells, many of them new buildings constructed with foreign aid money, are visible from the ever more dangerous road south to Kandahar. This summer, across the south of Afghanistan, the Taliban have returned. They boast the same medieval world vision but their numbers are unprecedented, their weapons abundant, and their coffers full of money from wealthy Pakistani and Gulf State patrons and from the proceeds of drug trafficking. And what was, until this year, characterized as an increasingly vicious "low-level insurgency" has become a war. A palpable terror grips the south of the country, where overstretched Western forces battle an enemy that melts in and out of the local populace at will, and anyone associated with the foreigners or the central government is a target for violent reprisals. Faced with collapsing security and insurgents who are flowing back and forth from safe havens in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the Western forces in the south are resorting to more extreme measures. Yesterday, Operation Mountain Thrust, the 11,000-strong coalition offensive in the south, claimed to have killed another 40 insurgents in a strike on a house in Uruzgan. The two months since the start of Mountain Thrust have seen more than 600 killed in the south, the vast majority of them Taliban fighters.

Scandals Du Jour: The editorialist at the center of a criminal investigation into the naming of a CIA agent has revealed that top presidential aide Karl Rove played a major role in the affair. Robert Novak, a conservative columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, admitted publicly for the first time that Mr Rove, one of George Bush's closest advisers, had been among his sources for a story outing CIA agent Valerie Plame. Publicly naming a CIA operative is a criminal offence in the US. The affair raised suggestions that the White House was endangering national security for the sake of discrediting an Iraq war critic. Ms Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, a former diplomat, had been sent on a fact-finding mission to Niger to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein had attempted to obtain "yellow cake" uranium ore from the country for a nuclear weapons program. After his return he wrote an editorial in the New York Times casting doubt on the Niger claims, which had been alluded to as being confirmed by British intelligence officers in Mr Bush's 2003 state of the Union address. The editorial infuriated the vice president, Dick Cheney, who scrawled handwritten notes on a copy of the newspaper: "Have they done this sort of thing before? Send an amb[assador] to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?" Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was called on to find out if officials in the White House had ordered the outing of Ms Plame in Novak's column so as to undermine the credibility of Mr Wilson's criticisms. After being frustrated in the initial investigation, Mr Fitzgerald has turned to finding out whether the officials were involved in a cover-up. Novak, whose silence on his role in the affair and long-standing association with Mr Rove and other senior Republicans has made him a target of criticism since the scandal broke, today finally laid out his side of the story.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: In the past two years, campaign and political action committees controlled by Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) paid ever-larger commissions to his wife's one-person company and spent tens of thousands of dollars on gifts at stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany & Co. and a Ritz-Carlton day spa. The use of such committees, especially "leadership" PACs, for purposes other than electing politicians to Congress is a common and growing phenomenon, but campaign finance watchdogs say Doolittle has taken it to new heights. Doolittle's wife, Julie, a professional fundraiser, has collected 15 percent of all contributions to Doolittle's leadership PAC and additional commissions on contributions to his campaign committee - a total of nearly $140,000 since 2003, according to Federal Election Commission records. "I don't know if there's anything comparable," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a watchdog group that called last month for an investigation of Doolittle by the House ethics committee. "If this is okay, it is a road map for how to convert substantial sums of campaign money to personal use." The committees have spent money they raised on friends and supporters, recording at least $40,000 in gifts, flowers, club memberships and stays at romantic inns. Doolittle's Superior California Federal Leadership Fund reported purchasing gifts from Bose Corp. worth $2,139, while his campaign committee has reimbursed him and his wife for nearly $5,000 in purchases from Best Buy Co. and a $1,000 trip to Saks Fifth Avenue in Baltimore. Campaign records do not list the beneficiaries of the gifts and trips financed by the committees.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:24:44 AM

Tue, Jul 11 2006

Muddy Pond Again

The weather has been very rainy-season. Lots of brief thunderstorms, generalized rain and heavy, dark overcast. It has been gloomy to say the least. And with the heavy overcast, the temperatures have been very moderate, not changing much day to night. Last night the temperature was 73, and today it rose only to 76 - cool enough that I was tempted to put on a long-sleeved shirt.

It has been pretty quiet in the neighborhood since I returned from my trip to Granada. The only excitement was yesterday, when I discovered a teenaged boy collecting mangos in my yard. I scolded him a bit for coming in and collecting them without asking - I grant permission freely - but, grinning sheepishly, he claimed he had "asked before." I told him that he needs to ask each time he wishes to do so. We'll see if he complies.

Meanwhile, the heavy rains of the last few days have muddied the water in the pond again, and have washed quite a bit of debris into the pond. The water is fairly muddy and there is a fair amount of debris in the overflow that needs to be cleaned out. I really need to get out there and clean it out. That is a bit of a problem, because of all the rather large snapping turtles in there, and I really am reluctant to wade out there to do that. I really need to come up with a flotation device of some sort that will keep fingers and toes out of harm's way.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: A senior Republican congressman has hit out at the Bush administration's intelligence practices, saying the White House concealed at least one large operation, not yet publicly known, in possible violation of the law. The revelations by Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the powerful House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, deal a blow to President George W. Bush's repeated assurances that the White House has complied with its disclosure requirements to Congress. Mr Hoekstra appeared on Fox News yesterday after The New York Times published a letter at the weekend that he had sent to Mr Bush on May 18. In the letter Mr Hoesktra alleged there was yet another intelligence program that the administration had not told Congress about. Mr Hoesktra has made it clear the operation in question was different from the wiretapping controversy or the covert monitoring of international financial transactions that the White House has been defending in recent weeks. Mr Hoekstra's letter to Mr Bush was also notable for his claim that there was a dissident faction within the CIA that he said "intentionally undermined" the President's policies. This confirmed rumors that have long circulated in Washington about the existence of a dissident group, which critics claim has selectively leaked stories to the media about the Bush administration's intelligence operations. Hoekstra was mad at Bush for keeping him out of the loop, and he warned the president about expanding the bloated intelligence capability. But he thinks the CIA is laced with politically-minded plotters who hold unfounded beliefs (such as there were no operational links between Saddam and Osama bin Laden) and who are working to thwart the national security policies of the nation. In Washington's version of Spy Verus Spy, it can be difficult to know which--if any--side to cheer.

In a sharply worded letter to President Bush in May, an important Congressional ally charged that the administration might have violated the law by failing to inform Congress of some secret intelligence programs and risked losing Republican support on national security matters. The letter from Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, did not specify the intelligence activities that he believed had been hidden from Congress. But Mr. Hoekstra, who was briefed on and supported the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program and the Treasury Department’s tracking of international banking transactions, clearly was referring to programs that have not been publicly revealed.

In getting ready for the big National Press Club event tomorrow to discuss the politics of "free" trade - and Washington's refusal to back off selling out Americans - David Sirota of the Huffington Post came across this positively shocking piece in the Wall Street Journal. The broad strokes are simple: the Bush administration and both parties in Congress are considering signing a "free" trade pact with South Korea that would cover a special project in North Korea that allows Big Money interests to exploit the enslaved people there. This proposed deal goes beyond the other awful trade deals that we've watched the Bush administration and Congress consider recently - it goes beyond the job-destroying Central American Free Trade Agreement and even beyond the proposed trade pact with Malaysia, a country that prohibits a minimum wage. This trade pact "would be the U.S.'s largest pact since the North American Free Trade Agreement passed Congress more than a decade ago."

After being pulled from the House schedule before recess, the expired provisions of the Voting Rights Act will go before the floor mid-week for renewal. But some Democratic sources close to the process say that they believe provisions may be pulled once again. That's because of two amendments--issued by Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) and Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA)--that would weaken federal oversight of changes that states make to their election processes. The renewal, the result of a compromise reached by leadership from both parties, was originally scheduled as a suspension vote, which would prohibit the consideration of such amendments. But, after a hearing in the House Rules Committee, the two were approved. "They had this big press conference in a bipartisan fashion, announcing a deal that said there would be no amendments," noted one Democratic aide who wished to remain anonymous. "Then, they changed the rules to allow two amendments." The terms of the amendments, if they pass, would make Hawaii the only state required to seek justice department approval for any changes to their electoral systems. Currently that requirement applies to 16 states. Neither is expected to succeed in a full House vote.

President Bush today held a press conference boasting of a reduced US defecit--even though it is still the fourth largest defecit in American history. "This good news is no accident," Bush told taxpayers from the East Room of the White House. "It's the result of the hard work of the American people and sound policies in Washington, D.C." Although Bush inherited a budget surplus, and a national debt that had dwindled in both of Clinton's terms, his administration has since seen a ballooning defecit and record debt. The nation's three highest deficits were seen under Bush. "The increase in tax revenues is much better than we had projected," the President explained, "and it's helping us cut the budget deficit." If the deficit this year matches the expectations Bush is touting, it would come in as the fourth highest ever, at $296 billion.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison announced Monday that it would keep Kevin Barrett as a part-time lecturer and allow him to teach a controversial theory on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in spite of political pressure to dismiss him. But after conducting a 10-day review of Barrett's past teaching and his plans for a fall class on Islam, Provost Patrick Farrell determined that Barrett was fit to teach and that the alternative theory on 9-11 had a place in the classroom when taught along with other viewpoints. Barrett has come under fire in recent weeks for teaching that the Sept. 11 attacks were an inside job and for advocating the theory outside the classroom. Gov. Jim Doyle, U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Wis.) and several state legislators have called for his dismissal.

Prisoners at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay have been subjected to "systematic physical, psychological, sexual, medical and religious abuse," according to a report released Monday by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) . CCR describes the 51-page "Report on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment of Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," as the most comprehensive primary-source account of abuse at the facility. The report cites declassified statements from detainees still at Guantanamo and from their lawyers. According to the report, Guantanamo detainees have been: * held in solitary confinement for periods exceeding a year; * deprived of sleep for days and weeks and, in at least one case, months; * exposed to prolonged temperature extremes; * beaten; * threatened with transfer to a foreign country, for torture; * tortured in foreign countries or at U.S. military bases abroad before transfer to Guantanamo; * sexually harassed and raped or threatened with rape; * deprived of medical treatment for serious conditions, or allowed treatment only on the condition that they "cooperate" with interrogators; and * routinely "short-shackled" (wrists and ankles bound together and to the floor) for hours and even days during interrogations.

Word comes that federal law enforcement officials thwarted three attacks in Chicago and New York City by so-called homegrown Islamic fundamentalists. The warnings are intended to convince the public that only Republicans can deal with terrorism and if voters consider casting a vote for a Democrat it's tantamount to putting your own safety at risk. Don't buy it. The latest threats aren't real. The data doesn't lie. It just so happens that nearly every terrorist warning that has been issued since 2003 came at a time when Bush's approval ratings lagged and when bad news was coming out of the war in Iraq. Go to pollingreport.com and then check the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department web sites and you'll see how the terrorist warnings were issued at the same time Bush started to fall behind in the polls. The Australian newspaper The Age ran a Reuters story that quoted unnamed senior US officials as saying that the constant flow of terrorist warnings since March 2003 "may also just be a ploy to shore up the president's job approval ratings or divert attention from the increasingly unpopular Iraq campaign."

A new Gallup poll finds that roughly 2 in 3 Americans urge a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, with 31% wanting this to start immediately. Gallup’s director, Frank Newport, sums up the results today: "Taken together, it is perhaps fair to say that a significant majority of Americans would like the United States to either withdraw troops from Iraq or make specific plans to do so, although there is no majority demand that troops be withdrawn immediately." The poll was unusual in that rather than give respondents a list of options, it allowed them to respond in their own words. Gallup then grouped the varied responses and labelled them with a common theme.

Rod Nordland, Newsweek's former Baghdad bureau chief, says journalists in Iraq are subject to a review of their previous work and their "slant" prior to their participation in the U.S. military’s embedded media program. "The military has started censoring many [embedded reporting] arrangements. Before a journalist is allowed to go on an embed now, [the military] check[s] the work you have done previously. They want to know your slant on a story - they use the word slant - what you intend to write, and what you have written from embed trips before. If they don’t like what you have done before, they refuse to take you..."

For now, Georgia voters will not be required to show a photo ID when they cast a ballot beginning Monday in the July primaries. A Fulton County judge stopped enforcement of the state's photo voter ID law on Friday, declaring it an illegal impediment to the right to vote. Former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes had sought the action in a state court, arguing Thursday before Judge Melvin K. Westmoreland that requiring voters to show government-issued photo ID violated the state Constitution. Both Gov. Sonny Perdue and state Attorney General Thurbert Baker immediately announced plans to file an appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court, in hopes of overturning the judge's decision in time for a July 18 primary election. The state had been prepared to begin enforcing the law Monday, when a five-day early voting period begins for the July 18 primary. Voters will select Republican and Democratic candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, Congress and a host of state and local races. The Secretary of State's office alerted elections officials in all 159 counties Friday to revert back to an old law requiring voters to show any of 17 forms of identification, including some nonphoto documents such as a utility bill. Any voter who cannot produce ID can sign a sworn statement confirming identity.

Massachusetts' highest court ruled on Monday that voters could have a chance to overturn a landmark court decision that made the state the first and only in the country to legalize gay marriage. But a popular vote on the issue would be unlikely to resolve the issue, according to the court. Even if voters approve a ban on gay marriage, the state's Supreme Judicial Court said, such a law would look "starkly out of place" in the Massachusetts Constitution and could cause the court to revisit the issue. Conservative and Christian groups who have campaigned to put the issue on the ballot in 2008 hailed the decision, which comes four days after two high-profile setbacks for gay marriage supporters. The court "finally made the right call when it comes to allowing the people have a voice in our democracy," said Kristian Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a conservative Christian organization. But in the ruling, the state Supreme Judicial Court said same-sex marriage may be irreversible in Massachusetts because it was now part of the "fabric of the equality and liberty" guaranteed by the state constitution.

President Bush will likely cast the first veto of his presidency if the Senate, as expected, passes legislation to expand federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, White House aide Karl Rove said today. "The president is emphatic about this," Rove - Bush's top political advisor and architect of his 2000 and 2004 campaigns - said in a meeting with the editorial board of The Denver Post. The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed the legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, and Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del. If the Senate approves the bill it would go to the president's desk. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who backs the bill, has said he will try to bring it up for a Senate vote soon. "It is something we would, frankly, like to avoid," Rove said when asked if the White House would welcome, or dread, vetoing legislation passed by a Republican Congress, especially on so emotional an issue as embryonic stem cell research. But Rove said that he believes the legislation will pass the Senate with more than 60 votes this month, "and as a result the president would, as he has previously said emphatically, veto the Castle bill."

It's the kind of ending Hollywood craves. After a bitter three-year legal battle involving Utah companies that sanitize movies on DVD and VHS tape, a federal judge in Denver ruled Thursday that such editing violates U.S. copyright laws and must be stopped. In a ruling in the case involving CleanFlicks vs. 16 of Hollywood's hottest directors, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch found that making copies of movies to delete objectionable language, sex and violence hurts studios and directors who own the movie rights.

Consumer Reports, in its current issue, said that an analysis of 23 "wild" salmon filets purchased at a mix of chain supermarkets, small fish stores and wholesalers during the off-season - November, December and March - found that only 10 were definitely caught in the Great Outdoors. The rest were from a growing number of salmon farms, which have sprung up as demand for the fish rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids has skyrocketed. The Consumer Reports team purchased their samples in five states - New York, California, Ohio, Texas and Michigan - during the summer of 2005 and the winter of 2006. They used a new technology able to detect the traces of the harmless synthetic additive fed to farm-raised salmon to turn their flesh pinkish orange, a color wild salmon get the same way flamingos do - by eating crustaceans. Geoff Martin, director of consumer sciences at Consumers Union, the publishers of Consumer Reports, said he was "amazed" how many of the off-season wild samples were really farmed-raised substitutes. Yet when Consumer Reports had done the test with 27 filets purchased during the summer months, the height of the salmon season, all of those branded "wild" were labeled correctly. "I think its pretty clear cut," said Martin. "But we don't know if the retailers or the wholesalers are at fault." The solution, he suggested: Only buy fresh wild salmon in the summer and purchase it from someone you trust.

Ending lifelong allegiances to the Republican Party in Kansas was no simple matter. "I didn’t sleep well that night," said Kent Goyen of Pratt, who’s running for the 114th District seat. But each of the party jumpers had a common tonic - visits with Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, either in person or by telephone. Those talks eased the way for several new Democrats. "She said we are all Kansans," said Judy Leyerzapf of Abilene. "I think that’s a great answer. We’re all about the same thing, really." Whether the state is seeing the beginning of a trend that features a more robust Democratic Party and a Kansas GOP shorn of its moderate base remains to be seen. In other words, some of the new Democrats have to win in November if the party jumping is to continue.

In a serious blow to Sen. Joseph Lieberman's (D-CT) reelection campaign, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is likely to back the winner of the Democratic primary in Connecticut, meaning that Lieberman may be left without national allies for campaign money. A senior Democratic party official confirmed that the DSCC is unlikely to back Lieberman should he lose the primary to Ned Lamont, a more progressive contender in Connecticut who has garnered support from bloggers and has catalyzed his campaign around Lieberman's aggressive position on Iraq. "It is likely that the DSCC will back the winner of the Democratic primary in Connecticut," the party official told RAW STORY, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the race. Lieberman spokesman Marion Steinfels did not immediately return a call for comment. She told a reporter for the Washington Post yesterday that the senator is "totally focused on winning the Democratic primary."

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Smirkey has approved an $80m fund towards "boosting democracy" in Cuba. The president said the fund would help the Cuban people in their "transition from repressive control to freedom." The fund is part of proposals put forward by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which is considering a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. A draft version of the proposals, released last week, drew strong criticism from Cuban officials. In a statement, the president said: "I approved a Compact with the People of Cuba, which outlines how the United States will support the Cuban people as they transition from the repressive control of the Castro regime to freedom and a genuine democracy. "The report demonstrates that we are actively working for change in Cuba, not simply waiting for change," the statement said. Smirkey did not say which Cubans, if any, living under Castro's rule he had actually consulted, or whether they considered it to be meddling in the internal affairs of another country.

The Bush administration vowed Monday to crack down on nickel exports from Cuba, at least half of which are accounted for by Canada's Sherritt International Corp., alleging that the money from the sales is being "diverted to maintain the regime's repressive security apparatus." But Sherritt's chairman, Ian Delaney, immediately labelled the proposed actions as "nothing new" and said that the continuing U.S. embargo on the Communist nation is simply "nonsense." With an eye on Florida's vote-rich Cuban-American community, President George W. Bush said Monday he would go ahead with recommendations of a special government-appointed group known as the Commission for Assistance for a Free Cuba. The commission called for a range of policies aimed at strangling the regime of President Fidel Castro, including the expenditure of $80-million (U.S.) to assist political opposition and make it more difficult to provide humanitarian aid and remittances to Cubans. The report specifically calls for a crackdown on nickel exports, which it says now account for "nearly half of the regime's current foreign income. The revenue from these sales does not go to benefit the Cuban people, but is diverted to maintain the regime's repressive security apparatus and fund Castro's interventionist and destabilizing policies in other countries in the hemisphere," the report said.

A coalition of 142 U.S.-based non-profits and organizations and 32 individuals say they have filed what they believe is the most comprehensive review of human rights violations in the United States ever produced. The 465-page "shadow report" was assembled for the United Nation's Human Rights Committee as part of its review of U.S. human rights abuses later this month, a routine review that occurs every four years for countries that have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. According to the coalition, the ICCPR is one of two treaties that together are the equivalent to an international "Bill of Rights." The U.S. signed and ratified the treaty in 1992, but the U.S. review - its second - is more than seven years late due to the State Department's delay in submitting its own official report. Last year, the U.N. warned that it would commence reviewing the U.S. without the official report if it were delayed any longer. The State Department submitted its official report on October 21, 2005. "The U.S. prides itself on being an advocate for human rights," said Ajamu Baraka of U.S. Human Rights Network in the release. "Unfortunately, this administration's slow response in submitting our own human rights record is yet another example of how they 'talk the talk' but refuse to 'walk the walk.' The United States' reluctance to participate in this process sets a poor example for the rest of the world to follow."

The family of an Al Jazeera reporter killed during a US bombing in Iraq in 2003 will sue President Bush. Tareq Ayyoub, a reporter for Al Jazeera, was killed on April 8, 2003, during a strike of the building in which the Arab-language TV station was housed. Ayyoub was on the roof of the building for a live broadcast. The Pentagon claimed that the attack had been an accident, having fired after it had detected hostile fire from the building. The incident was featured in the 2004 film Control Room, a documentary about the TV network. Hamid Rifai, a New Jersey-based attorney for Ayyoub's family, will bring the case to court tomorrow. The lawsuit was spurred on by the revelation in the UK newspaper The Mirror in November 2005 of a British government memorandum reporting that Bush expressed a desire to bomb Al Jazeera's world headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

After seeing a Justice Department memo arguing that Qaeda and Taliban prisoners did not even deserve basic protections under the Geneva Conventions, David Bowker warned that the administration was inviting an enormous backlash, both from U.S. courts and foreign allies. It would also, they feared, jeopardize President George W. Bush's plans to try such prisoners in specially created military courts. "Even those terrorists captured in Afghanistan... are entitled to the fundamental humane treatment standards of... the Geneva Conventions," William Howard Taft IV, the State Department legal counselor and Bowker's boss, wrote in a Jan. 23, 2002, memo obtained by NEWSWEEK. In particular, Taft argued, the United States has always followed one provision of the Geneva Conventions—known as Common Article 3—which "provides the minimal standards" of treatment that even "terrorists captured in Afghanistan" deserve. But the complaints went unheeded. The hard-liners forcefully argued that in wartime, the president had virtually unlimited powers to defend the nation. They may come to wish they'd listened a little more closely to the warnings. In a ruling late last month, the Supreme Court came down squarely on the side of the dissenters.

The mayor of a small Bergen County, NJ town is calling for a McDonald's boycott if the fast-food chain does not take down a Spanish-language billboard advertising iced coffee. Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan said the advertisement is "offensive" and "divisive" because it sends a message that Hispanic im migrants do not need to learn English. "The true things that bind us together as neighbors and community is our belief in the American flag and our common language," Lonegan said. "And when McDonald's sends a different message, that we're going to be different now, that causes resentment." Representatives for McDonald's and CBS Outdoor in New York, the company that owns the billboard on River Road in Bogota, defended the advertisement yesterday. "McDonald's has the right to advertise to their customers in an appropriate and tasteful manner," said Jodi Senese, executive vice president for marketing for CBS Outdoor. "The billboard is directed to the Hispanic residents of Bogota who make up 20 percent of that town's population. Advertisers recognize the diverse makeup of our nation and often reach out to different populations with messages that are relevant through images and or language."

"Extraordinary Rendition" Watch: Bosnian air traffic authorities authorized the landing and takeoff of three flights that a European rights organization believes might have been used by the CIA to transport suspects, a civil aviation official said Monday. Responding to a request for information from the continent's leading human rights monitor, the Council of Europe, Bosnia reviewed a list of suspect flights and said it gave formal clearance to three that passed through Sarajevo airport. Hasan Redzepagic of the Bosnian Department of Civil Aviation said, however, that authorities did not know whether the flights were operated by the U.S. intelligence agency or if they were used to transport detainees. "Nothing about these flights was suspicious," Redzepagic said.

A former Italian intelligence agent told prosecutors that the top CIA official in Italy in 2003 worked directly with Italian military intelligence to abduct a Muslim cleric who was later imprisoned in Egypt, according to an arrest warrant filed last week. The former Italian agent, Stefano D'Ambrosio, told prosecutors that he was informed "in explicit terms" by a ranking CIA agent that a joint operation to kidnap the cleric was encouraged by and "directly attributed" to the CIA's station chief in Rome. "It was [the CIA station chief] who actually made the contacts with SISMI for this purpose," said D'Ambrosio, who worked for SISMI, the Italian military intelligence agency.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: The federal government will pay a Texas law school $1 million to do research aimed at rolling back the amount of sensitive data available to the press and public through freedom-of-information requests. Beginning this month, St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio will analyze recent state laws that place previously available information, such as site plans of power plants, beyond the reach of public inquiries. Jeffrey Addicott, a professor at the law school, said he will use that research to produce a national "model statute" that state legislatures and Congress could adopt to ensure that potentially dangerous information "stays out of the hands of the bad guys." "There's the public's right to know, but how much?" said Addicott, a former legal adviser in the Army's Special Forces.

Corporate Welfare News: As the Republican leadership in the US House of Representatives works to gut the federal tax on dead millionaires' estates, the hunt for tax breaks has moved from the coffers of the ultra-rich to the nation's forests. An estate-tax reduction proposal passed by the House last Thursday contains a "sweetener" provision to cut taxes for timber companies, tacked on in hopes of greasing the bill for Senate approval. But the move to ax taxes for big timber has riled environmental and taxpayer watchdog groups. They say that while lightening taxes for loggers might make estate-tax reform more palatable to industry-funded politicians, it will come at a bitter cost to the public. The proposed timber-tax reform would benefit lumber and paper companies by exempting 60 percent of the profits generated from growing and logging trees. The legislation would effectively reduce the industry’s capital-gains tax rate from 35 percent to 14 percent. Based on congressional budget projections by the progressive think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the tax break would sap some $940 million from federal funds over the first two years, before coming up for renewal at the end of 2008.

The US House of Representatives last Thursday approved a bill to lift federal bans on offshore oil and gas exploration, alarming environmentalists who say the measure would open up America's coasts to destructive drilling. The Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act, introduced by Representative Richard Pombo (R-California) would repeal a set of restrictions that has barred offshore drilling in certain areas for 25 years. The legislation was fueled in part by rising public anxieties over high fuel prices and dependence on foreign oil. As previously reported by The NewStandard, lawmakers, backed by oil-industry interests and big manufacturing businesses, have steadily gained momentum in their push to lift federal moratoria on offshore oil and gas exploitation. The bill, approved by a 232-187 vote, would target the area ranging about three to 200 miles off the country’s coastline under federal control, known as the Outer Continental Shelf. Companies would have unlimited drilling access for areas 100 miles or more offshore, and could also drill from 50 to 100 miles offshore, pending a petition from state governments.

The Bush administration wants to let factory farms determine whether the animal excreta that oozes from their facilities into waterways should be regulated, environmentalists say -- and they argue that the plan, well, stinks. Today these facilities are responsible for some 500 million tons of animal manure a year -- three times more waste than humans in this country produce, activists say. According to a 1998 report from the Department of Agriculture and U.S. EPA, CAFO muck has fouled roughly 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and groundwater in 17 states. More recent data show that 29 states have reported water contamination from these feedlots.

Last week, the EPA proposed a rule that purports to address this problem. It would revise a set of rules issued in 2003 that revamped the permitting process required of CAFOs under the Clean Water Act, with the aim of better tracking discharge levels at each facility and holding factory farms accountable for their water pollution. The 2003 rules were deemed inadequate by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year. This decision was the upshot of a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the Waterkeeper Alliance alleging that U.S. waterways aren't sufficiently protected from farm-animal feces, which can carry viruses, parasites, and bacteria such as E. coli. Says EPA spokesperson Dale Kemery, "The new rule complies with the 2nd Circuit decision, and will result in better Clean Water Act compliance among CAFOs." But environmentalists disagree. "The court required the EPA to bring clarity to some aspects of the 2003 rules; instead they've created more confusion and new loopholes," says Michele Merkel, a former staff attorney in the EPA's enforcement division who now works for the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project. The most concerning loophole, she says, would allow CAFOs themselves to define what constitutes a polluting discharge, and therefore decide whether a permit is needed at all.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: Millions of oranges will rot on the trees of Florida this year because a shortage of fruit-pickers has been aggravated by fears about more stringent US immigration laws, local media reported yesterday. "There's very little doubt we'll leave a significant amount of fruit on the tree," Mike Carlton, the director of production and labor affairs at Florida Citrus Mutual, told the newspaper The Ledger. "Whether that's 3 million boxes or 6 million boxes, nobody can say." Growers have reported difficulty finding enough workers. Industry officials say labor problems got worse in the middle of May, when a large segment of the Hispanic labor force seemed to leave the state. They said reports of an immigration crackdown made it difficult to find Hispanic workers, who make up much of Florida's farm workforce. "Really, the labor shortage is what held us up this year," said Dave Crumbly, the vice-president of fruit control at Florida's Natural Growers in Lake Wales, the nation's third-largest citrus processor. He said word had spread through the Hispanic community that they should return home if they wanted jobs in the US in future. The workers were told they could get deported if they remained in the country, he said. But if they returned home, they would become eligible for a guest-worker program that is part of the immigration reform bill. "In reality, the current guest-worker program bars anybody who has been in this country illegally," Mr Carlton said. There are still tens of millions of oranges on Florida's trees, according to the US department of agriculture, one of the highest totals on record, he added.

Making ethanol from sugar could be profitable with the current high demand for the gasoline substitute, but it probably won't be for long, the Agriculture Department said Monday. At recent spot market prices of $4 per gallon, converting sugarcane, sugar beets, raw sugar and refined sugar to ethanol is profitable, the department said in a report. However, the report added that those spot market prices are expected to drop as more ethanol is produced from other sources, chiefly corn. "Based on current future prices, the price of ethanol could drop to $2.40 per gallon by the summer of 2007, making it unprofitable to produce ethanol from raw and refined sugar," the report said. "Molasses, from either sugarcane or sugar beets, was found to be the most cost-competitive feedstock." The report was put together through a cooperative agreement between USDA and Louisiana State University.

Smirkey's most senior aides - the ones who hold the coveted title of "assistant to the president" - recently received a $4,200 cost-of-living bump-up in compensation and now earn a top pay rate of $165,200, according to an internal White House list of staff salaries. The list was compiled by the administration for the year that ended June 30 and is displayed both alphabetically, and by dollar ranking, below. Those at the bottom of the White House staff pay scale - the folks answering phones and responding to the president's mail, for example - remain stuck at last year’s pay floor of $30,000, according to a year-to-year comparison of White House data obtained by National Journal. At that level, the White House aide who keeps a log of the gifts sent to the president makes about as much as the average starting pay for a public school teacher. At $15 an hour, that’s almost three times the national minimum wage of $5.15. (Congress is debating this summer whether to raise the minimum wage, while the administration prefers to leave it where it is).

A Few Good Men: A decade after the Pentagon declared a zero-tolerance policy for racist hate groups, recruiting shortfalls caused by the war in Iraq have allowed "large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" to infiltrate the military, according to a watchdog organization. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and right-wing militia groups, estimated that the numbers could run into the thousands, citing interviews with Defense Department investigators and reports and postings on racist Web sites and magazines. "We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," the group quoted a Defense Department investigator as saying in a report to be posted today on its Web site, www.splcenter.org. "That's a problem." A Defense Department spokeswoman said officials there could not comment on the report because they had not yet seen it. The center called on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to appoint a task force to study the problem, declare a new zero tolerance policy and strictly enforce it. The report said that neo-Nazi groups like the National Alliance, whose founder, William Pierce, wrote "The Turner Diaries," the novel that was the inspiration and blueprint for Timothy J. McVeigh's bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, sought to enroll followers in the Army to get training for a race war. The groups are being abetted, the report said, by pressure on recruiters, particularly for the Army, to meet quotas that are more difficult to reach because of the growing unpopularity of the war in Iraq. The report quotes Scott Barfield, a Defense Department investigator, saying, "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces, and commanders don't remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members."

News From Smirkey's Wars: A bookstore in eastern Baghdad is getting more customers these days, but they aren't looking for something to read. The owner sells fake IDs, a booming business as Iraqis try to hide their identities in hopes of staying alive. Although it's nearly impossible to distinguish between a Sunni and a Shiite by sight, names can be telling. Surnames refer to tribe and clan, while first names are often chosen to honor historical figures revered by one sect but sometimes despised by the other. For about $35, someone with a common Sunni name like Omar could become Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite name that might provide safe passage through dangerous areas. "I got a fake ID card to protect myself from the Shiite militias who are deploying in Baghdad and hunt Sunnis at fake checkpoints," said Omar Abdul Rahman, a 22-year-old university student. He refused to give the name on his fake ID. The growing use of fake IDs reflects the spike in violence between Sunnis and Shiites since the Feb. 22 bombing of a revered Shiite mosque in Samarra - an attack that triggered reprisal killings of Sunnis and pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

Ever since the case of the raping and killing of an Iraqi and the alleged murder of three of her family members by U.S. troops went public, the age of the rape victim had been in dispute, ranging from about 15 to 25. Two days ago, Reuters and others news agencies produced proof that she was 14, based on a passort and identity card. Most news organizations then started calling her a girl -- but some persist in referring to her as a "woman." The girl was apparently born August 19, 1991. Yet a widely published AP story today by Robert H. Reid repeatedly referred to the girl, whose name was al-Janabi, as a "young Iraqi woman." The story was in reference to the gag order being requested by attorneys of Steven D. Green, an ex-soldier who is one of the men charged with the rape and murders. It begins: "An al-Qaida-linked group posted a Web video today purporting to show the mutilated bodies of two Fort Campbell soldiers, claiming it killed them in revenge for the rape-slaying of a young Iraqi woman by American troops from the same unit."

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: If you like good wine, lay in a supply of your favorite - it is about to get a lot more expensive. Climate warming could spell disaster for much of the multibillion-dollar U.S. wine industry. Areas suitable for growing premium wine grapes could be reduced by 50 percent _ and possibly as much as 81 percent _ by the end of this century, according to a study Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper indicates increasing weather problems for grapes in such areas as California's Napa and Sonoma valleys. The main problem: An increase in the frequency of extremely hot days, according to Noah Diffenbaugh of the department of earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue University. Grapes used in premium wines need a consistent climate. When temperatures top about 95 degrees they have problems maintaining photosynthesis and the sugars in the grapes can break down, Diffenbaugh said in a telephone interview. "We have very long-term studies of how this biological system (of vineyards) responds to climate," said Diffenbaugh, and that gives the researchers confidence in their projection. Diffenbaugh is a co-author of the paper.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: "John Ashcroft" is a name that doesn't come up very often in the Jack Abramoff mucky muck. But it should. The former Attorney General and his staff had extraordinary ties to Abramoff and his team, as numerous emails and the recent report out from the Justice Department Inspector General make clear. With Ashcroft, as with so many other power players, Abramoff gained access by hiring someone who already had it. It was former Ashcroft aide Kevin Ring, who joined his firm in 2000. Ring had been Ashcroft's counsel when he was a Senator on the Judiciary Committee. After Ring left Ashcroft's office, the two stayed in close contact. An Abramoff email shows that the two played basketball together while Ring was with Abramoff (let the eagle soar!). And you can see Ring graciously inviting Ashcroft's staff to bask in the splendor of Abramoff's MCI Center skybox in this email obtained by TPM. In late September of 2001, Abramoff learned of a classified report on the Northern Marianas from Ashcroft's Chief of Staff, who was in Abramoff's box at the FedEx Field. That access came in handy. Abramoff used it when he set out to "get rid of Fred Black," the pesky US Attorney for Guam and the Northern Marianas.

In the aftermath of reports that Grover "Drown-Government-In-The-Bathtub" Norquist served as a cash conduit for disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the irascible, combative activist is struggling to maintain his stature as some GOP lawmakers distance themselves and as enemies in the conservative movement seek to diminish his position. "People were willing to cut him a lot of slack because he's done a lot of favors for a lot of people," said J. Michael Waller, a vice president of the right-leaning Center for Security Policy who for several years was an occasional participant at Norquist's Wednesday meetings. "But Grover's not that likable." Norquist has lashed back at his critics, accusing them of dishonesty, personal vendettas and political gamesmanship. He has saved his choicest words for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose Senate Indian Affairs Committee last month stated in a report that for a small cut, Americans for Tax Reform served as a "conduit" for funds that flowed from Abramoff's clients to surreptitiously finance grass-roots lobbying campaigns. "The idea that our friend John McCain yelling at me would hurt me misses McCain's position" among conservatives, Norquist said. "John McCain thinks he can't be president if I'm standing here saying he's got a problem with taxes."

An ongoing RAW STORY examination of possible plagiarism and failure to cite sources by conservative pundit Ann Coulter in her best-selling book Godless has uncovered more examples that have yet to be reported or viewed by her publisher. In addition to the three examples identified by plagiarism expert John Barrie (commissioned by The New York Post), three other examples cited by The Rude Pundit, and a list of fifteen items already reported by RAW STORY, the continuing investigation has turned up four more examples.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 03:56:00 PM

Sun, Jul 09 2006

Adventures In Third-World Travel

Blogging here resumes today, after a week-long trip to Granada in Nicaragua. The trip was enjoyable, even if there was some inconvenience due to the planned power and water outages being implemented by Union Fenosa, the electric power utility provider in Nicaragua.

The trip began with the usual bus rides to Liberia, and an overnight stay in that city to catch an early bus out in the morning. The trip to Liberia was uneventful, and the buses connected quite well, with the longest wait for a bus being in Canas, where I waited for only about ten minutes. After a journey of 120 kilometers, involving two changes of buses, I was in Liberia by one in the afternoon. I went to the ticket agencies to get a ticket for the next stage of the journey, a bus ride from Liberia to Granada first thing in the morning, but my usual bus line did not have any space, so I was forced to go with plan B and use a different bus line I have not used before.

The bus turned out to be a good one, and the procedures used in crossing the border were identical to what I had been used to from my usual bus line - only the faces were different. I met several other gringos who were making the same trip and enjoyed chatting with them about their travel experiences as we proceeded with the journey.

It turns out that Nicaragua is again observing daylight savings time this summer in another futile attempt to save energy, while Costa Rica is not, so the five hour journey which began at 9 AM in Libera, ended at 3 in the afternoon in Granada. As the bus arrives in Granada in front of the agency for the bus line I usually use, I just went in and bought a ticket for the return trip and made the reservation without a hitch, then caught a cab over to my hotel.

That night, all the nonsense began. While watching television at about 9 PM, the power went off. Shortly afterward, so did the water - in Granada, the water is pumped from Lake Nicaragua, run through a filtration plant, and then into the city pipes, so when the power is off, so is the water. Well, the power went off because of one of the power utility's planned cuts.

It seems that Union Fenosa, the Spanish company that bought the power grid from the Nicaraguan government back in 2000, has discovered to their horror that the connected load to the Nicaraguan grid is 860 megawatts, but that they are being paid for only 646 megawatts, the load of record. There is a whole lot of energy theft going on in Nicaragua. In addition, the municipalities have not been paying the bills for streetlight illumination, water utilities and the municipal government facilities lights - Granada alone owes about $26 million. But Union Fenosa has done little to cut off unpaid loads. Instead, Union Fenosa's response to all this has been to simply impose power outages, planned and announced in the paper in advance, to try to force the cash-strapped municipalities to pay up, saying that the cuts will continue until that happens.

That strategy hasn't worked. The Nicaraguan people are quite used to dining by candlelight because the power is off - Union Fenosa, in spite of their high rates, has not been a particularly reliable provider in the past, and small businesses are coming up with workarounds or are closing during the outages. All that is happening is that the huge textile mills and maquiladoras, on which Nicaragua depends for much of its foreign exchange, have been having to shut down or install their own generating plants, or use their political influence to avoid the cuts. So too has the tourist industry been affected - tourists don't want to come to a country where they can't shower or flush the toilet, where the beer is warm, where their choice of restaurants, hotels and attractions are limited by which locations have adequate backup power, and planned economic improvements are being put on hold by the lack of utility reliability. International investors are starting to have second thoughts about investing in a country where the power is off for six hours or more per day. Pensioners moving to Nicaragua from developed countries are beginning to put off coming to buy properties until they can see how this utility reliability issue is going to get sorted out.

In addition to all this, most of the power in Nicaragua is privately generated, and the generating companies are not using the country's resources in the wisest manner - instead of generating with the country's abundant hydro, wind and geothermal resources, they build the cheapest and easiest generating plants they can - oil fired power plants that are dependent on $75-a-barrel imported oil - and then hand the foreign exchange bill to the central bank, which Nicaragua as a nation can hardly afford. Nicaragua is forced to pay for the oil by simply borrowing money and diverting foreign exchange from much-needed investments, just so they can keep the lights on. The situation, since Union Fenosa took over the grid, has gone from bad to steadily worse, while the power rates have gone up an average of 30 percent, to levels several times higher than in neighboring Costa Rica. Additionally, with much of the national foreign exchange reserves being used to expatriate Union Fenosa's profits, there is that much less foreign exchange left over to buy cars, refrigerators and washing machines - not to mention imports needed for economic investment - making life more difficult for Nicaraguans and tourists alike - Fenosa's profits therefore become a double tax on the Nicaraguan standard of living, twice over, first in higher utility rates, and second, when they find that imported goods have become more scarce as a result of the expatriation of Fenosa's profits. Nicaragua, after a decade and a half of doing everything Washington's way, has become the very poster-child for the failure of conservative "free-market" economics. I wish some conservative economic theoretician would explain to me how the Nicaraguan people are somehow benefitting from all this, especially in the long term, because frankly, I fail to see it.

Contrast this with how things are done in relatively "socialist" Costa Rica. Power in Costa Rica is generated and distributed primarily by the Instituto Costaricense de Electricidad (ICE), a monopoly company owned entirely by the Costa Rican government, and whose profits are either re-invested in ICE's activities, or turned over to the Costa Rican treasury. The Costa Rican people and institutions don't get behind on their power bills - if they do, ICE will pull the meter in as little as five days, and would do that unhesitatingly to anybody - powerful government agencies who are delinquent are frequently targeted. Streetlights are ICE's direct responsibility, so there is no quibbling there about who pays that bill. Costa Rica is generating its power largely through sustainable resources as well, as mandated by the government - 79 percent comes from hydroelectric projects, 4 percent from wind energy, and nearly all of the balance from geothermal (with the wind and geothermal shares scheduled to double over the next ten years). ICE generates enough power to meet all of Costa Rica's needs and with a small balance available for export - mostly to "free market" Nicaragua. Costa Rica doesn't currently spend a dime of its foreign exchange earnings for raw energy imports to be made into electricity, nor does it export any of its hard earned foreign exchange reserves as profits for foreign-owned energy corporations - everything Washington says it should be doing (and will eventually force it to do under CAFTA). As a result, in a foreign debt crisis, the lights in Costa Rica won't be going off as they will in Nicaragua.

Maybe Nicaragua should learn from Costa Rica's "socialist" example. And Costa Rica should not emulate Nicaragua's path, just because the U.S. says to.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The U.S. Food And Drug Administration has approved an application that would enable a company to test - on human subjects, without their knowledge or approval - an artificial blood substitute that has been linked to serious chronic health damage in past tests. In 27 cities across the United States, seriously injured accident victims could end up in a medical experiment, without their knowledge or consent. The experiment involves an artificial blood substitute its creators call Polyheme. The federal government has given the company that makes it approval to use badly bleeding accident victims as test subjects, without obtaining the subjects' prior informed consent. The only way to opt out is to wear a blue bracelet provided by the company. The company says it's the only way to test such a product. But others, including Pastor Paul Burleson of a Denver church alliance, say it turns Americans into human guinea pigs. "If I'm in accident and I just don't happen to have this particular wristband, that I'd be a guinea pig is unconscionable," he said.

Smirkey says the people being held at Guantanamo Bay do not fall under the Geneva Conventions because they do not represent a country. At a news conference Friday in Chicago, Bush said though he will adhere to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision saying he exceeded his authority in ordering military tribunals for Guantanamo inmates, he is convinced this is different than what any president has been through before. "I stand by the decision I made in removing these people from the battlefield," Bush said. "See, here's the problem. These are the types of combatants we have never faced before. They don't wear uniforms and they don't represent a nation-state. They're bound by an ideology. They swore allegiance to individuals, but not to a nation. The Geneva Conventions were set up to deal with armies of nation-states. They've got standard rules of war. So this is new ground," he said.

Brutality and corruption are rampant in Iraq's police force, with abuses including the rape of female prisoners, the release of terrorism suspects in exchange for bribes, assassinations of police officers and participation in insurgent bombings, according to confidential Iraqi government documents detailing more than 400 police corruption investigations. A recent assessment by State Department police training contractors echoes the investigative documents, concluding that strong paramilitary and insurgent influences within the force and endemic corruption have undermined public confidence in the government. Officers also have beaten prisoners to death, been involved in kidnapping rings, sold thousands of stolen and forged Iraqi passports and passed along vital information to insurgents, the Iraqi documents allege. The documents, which cover part of 2005 and 2006, were obtained by The Los Angeles Times and authenticated by current and former police officials.

Judge Radi Hamza Radi, head of the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity set up in 2004, says corruption has "exploded" since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Judge Radi blamed "the weakness of state institutions during the transition period which saw several governments succeed each other in a short period of time." "Also, the absence of serious punishment hasn't helped us control this plague," he added. Eight former ministers are under investigation, including former defence minister Hazem Shaalan, who is accused of "squandering" $A1.76 billion. Of 1,400 court cases filed 42 involved high-ranking officials.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez took a major step toward securing a crucial bloc of votes for a seat on the U.N. Security Council Thursday after the 15-member Caribbean Community made it clear they would not support Guatemala's U.S.-backed candidacy. A formal declaration of CARICOM's support for Venezuela would come later, but leaders of the regional bloc meeting here said Guatemala's long-standing territorial claims against Belize, a CARICOM member, made them oppose its candidacy. Venezuela is locked in a tight race with Guatemala over which country will replace Argentina as a non-permanent Latin American representative on the Security Council for a two-year term that starts next year. The usually routine process suddenly became a major concern for the Bush administration after Venezuela decided to run on a platform that, according to a Venezuelan brochure for fellow U.N. members, "seeks to find the balance between the hegemonic tendencies, in favor of the interests of the countries of the South."

Russian regulators have forced more than 60 radio stations to stop broadcasting news reports produced by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, according to radio managers and Russian officials. The regulators cited license violations and unauthorized changes in programming format. But senior executives at the U.S.-government-funded broadcast services and at the stations blame the Kremlin for the crackdown, which has knocked the reports off stations from St. Petersburg in western Russia to Vladivostok in the Far East.

The European Parliament today voted to continue its investigation into alleged CIA secret prisons and flights in Europe for another six months, to determine whether European countries have colluded in human rights violations and breached the continent’s civil liberties treaties. The MEPs endorsed an interim report drafted by Italian Socialist Giovanni Claudio Fava, which says that the CIA or other US services have been directly responsible for the abduction and detention of terror suspects on European territory and their rendition to the Americans following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States. The report, endorsed by 389 votes to 137, with 55 abstentions, also says the rules for governing the activities of secret services in the EU member states are inadequate and calls on governments to establish how European airspace, civil and military airports and Nato bases are being used by the US secret services.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A Los Angeles filmmaker today sued Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other high-ranking military officials, alleging they violated his civil rights, international law and the Geneva Convention by imprisoning him for 55 days in Iraq last year. Mark D. Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, said the suit was the first civil action challenging the constitutionality of the detention and hearing policies of the U.S. government in Iraq. Cyrus Kar, a 45-year-old Los Feliz resident, was freed a year ago just days after the American Civil Liberties Union sued seeking his release. His lawsuit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, says his imprisonment violates fundamental principles of due process of law.

Republicans Believe In The Right To Privacy: The FBI has drafted sweeping legislation that would require Internet service providers to create wiretapping hubs for police surveillance and force makers of networking gear to build in backdoors for eavesdropping, CNET News.com has learned. FBI Agent Barry Smith distributed the proposal at a private meeting last Friday with industry representatives and indicated it would be introduced by Sen. Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican, according to two sources familiar with the meeting. The draft bill would place the FBI's Net-surveillance push on solid legal footing. At the moment, it's ensnared in a legal challenge from universities and some technology companies that claim the Federal Communications Commission's broadband surveillance directives exceed what Congress has authorized. The FBI claims that expanding the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act is necessary to thwart criminals and terrorists who have turned to technologies like voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. "The complexity and variety of communications technologies have dramatically increased in recent years, and the lawful intercept capabilities of the federal, state and local law enforcement community have been under continual stress, and in many cases have decreased or become impossible," according to a summary accompanying the draft bill.

Republicans Believe In Honest, Fair And Transparent Elections: The fourth man indicted in a New Hampshire phone-jamming scheme - in which Republican operatives jammed the phone lines of Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts in a 2002 Senate race - will argue at trial that the Bush Administration and the national Republican Party gave their approval to the plan, according to a motion filed by his attorney Thursday. Shaun Hansen, the former owner of the company that placed hang-up calls to jam Democratic phone lines, was indicted in March for conspiring to commit and aiding and abetting the commission of interstate telephone harassment relating to a scheme to thwart get out the vote efforts on Election Day, 2002. His lawyer's motion signals that Hansen intends to argue that he was entrapped because the Administration allegedly told his superiors the calls were legal. The filing indicates, however, that Hansen does not have firsthand knowledge of Administration intervention.

To determine what it would take to hack a U.S. election, a team of cybersecurity experts turned to a fictional battleground state called Pennasota and a fictional gubernatorial race between Tom Jefferson and Johnny Adams. It's the year 2007, and the state uses electronic voting machines. Jefferson was forecast to win the race by about 80,000 votes, or 2.3 percent of the vote. Adams's conspirators thought, "How easily can we manipulate the election results?" The experts thought about all the ways to do it. And they concluded in a report issued yesterday that it would take only one person, with a sophisticated technical knowledge and timely access to the software that runs the voting machines, to change the outcome. The report, which was unveiled at a Capitol Hill news conference by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice and billed as the most authoritative to date, tackles some of the most contentious questions about the security of electronic voting. The report concluded that the three major electronic voting systems in use have significant security and reliability vulnerabilities. But it added that most of these vulnerabilities can be overcome by auditing printed voting records to spot irregularities. And while 26 states require paper records of votes, fewer than half of those require regular audits.

The Republican Plan For Remaining In Control - Fear: Just for good measure, the FBI is pretending not to be happy about the New York subway bombing plot being made public because it may hamper their ability to capture all the people involved. The agency spoke of punishing whoever leaked the plot to the press. Here is the question: When it is discovered that either Karl Rove or another GOP political operative or politician was responsible for the leak, will the FBI punish them? Or will they only punish the person if they are not linked to the Bush administration? Who knows, maybe Bush or Cheney "declassified" the information so Rove or another could "legally" release the information. The Republican strategy of dividing the nation while inspiring their base through "culture war" issues has failed. Word has leaked out that Rove intends to run a national "Swift Boat" campaign in any district that might be close. Bush has all ready said Republicans will hold onto both Houses of Congress - apparently not concerned about what voters might decide.

If Bloomberg News is correct in its June 30 report that the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program started up to seven months before the Sept. 11 attacks, then why did the vice president, the attorney general and the new CIA chief say otherwise? The January 4, 2006 Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney said yesterday that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks might have been prevented if the Bush administration had had the power to secretly monitor conversations involving two of the hijackers without court orders." Cheney said if the administration had the power "before 9/11, we might have been able to pick up on two of the hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon." Current CIA director and former NSA chief, General Michael Hayden, as quoted by CNN, January 23, 2006: "Had this program been in effect prior to 9/11, it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the 9/11 al Qaeda operatives in the United States, and we would have identified them as such," said Hayden, who now is principal deputy director of national intelligence.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: A diversion of dollars to help fight the war in Iraq has helped create a $530 million shortfall for Army posts at home and abroad, leaving some unable to pay utility bills or even cut the grass. In San Antonio, Fort Sam Houston hasn’t been able to pay its $1.4 million monthly utility bill since March, prompting workers in many of the post's administrative buildings to get automated disconnection notices. Fort Bragg in North Carolina can't afford to buy pens, paper or other office supplies until the new fiscal year starts in October. And in Kentucky, Fort Knox had to close one of its eight dining halls for a month and lay off 133 contract workers. "Every time something goes away it impacts a person... a soldier or their family or one of our civilians," said Col. Wendy Martinson, garrison commander at Fort Sam Houston, which has 27,300 military and civilian workers. "I'm charged with taking care of them, not taking things away from them." Meanwhile, The U.S. Army said on Tuesday it had awarded $72 million in bonuses to Halliburton Co. for logistics work in Iraq but had not decided whether to give the Texas company bonuses for disputed dining services to troops. Army Field Support Command in Rock Island, Illinois, said in a statement it had given Halliburton unit Kellogg Brown & Root ratings from "excellent" to "very good" for six task orders for work supporting U.S. troops in Iraq. Bonuses are awarded based on, among other factors, how efficient and responsible the company is to requests from the Army and is an indicator of how the Army views KBR's performance in the field. KBR's logistics deal with the U.S. military has been in the spotlight from the outset in Iraq, with allegations by auditors that they overcharged for some work, including dining services.

Every "Mohammed" A Terrorist? Money transfer agencies, including Western Union, have delayed or blocked thousands of cash deliveries on suspicion of terrorist connections simply because senders or recipients have names like Mohammed or Ahmed, company officials said. In one example, an Indian driver here said Western Union prevented him from sending $120 to a friend at home last month because the recipient's name was Mohammed. "Western Union told me that if I send money to Sahir Mohammed, the money will be blocked because of his name," said 36-year-old Abdul Rahman Maruthayil, who later sent the money through UAE Exchange, a Dubai-based money transfer service. In a similar case, Pakistani Qadir Khan said Western Union blocked his attempt this month to wire money to his brother Mohammed for a cataract operation. "Every Mohammed is a terrorist now?" Khan asked.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Global carbon dioxide emissions are dramatically altering ocean chemistry and threatening marine organisms, a group of researchers warned today. Already, damage to fragile coral reefs has been documented. Coral supports a range of other organisms, from the microscopic to small fish and the larger predators that feed on them. Carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels could overload the seas, researchers say in a new report designed to document what's known about the problem. The report echoes earlier warnings from individual scientists. "It is clear that seawater chemistry will change in coming decades and centuries in ways that will dramatically alter marine life," said Joan Kleypas, the report’s lead author and a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. "But we are only beginning to understand the complex interactions between large-scale chemistry changes and marine ecology. It is vital to develop research strategies to better understand the long-term vulnerabilities of sensitive marine organisms to these changes." The report, "Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Coral Reefs and Other Marine Calcifiers," is the result of a a workshop funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.Oceans are naturally alkaline, and they are expected to remain so, but the interaction with carbon dioxide is making them less alkaline and more acidic, the report states. The increased acidity lowers the concentration of carbonate ion, a building block of the calcium carbonate that many marine organisms use to grow their skeletons and create coral reef structures. "This is leading to the most dramatic changes in marine chemistry in at least the past 650,000 years," said Richard Feely, one of the authors and an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.

Scandals Du Jour: At the start of the Iraq war, around $23 billion-worth of Iraqi money was placed in the trusteeship of the US-led coalition by the UN. The money, known as the Development Fund for Iraq and consisting of the proceeds of oil sales, frozen Iraqi bank accounts and seized Iraqi assets, was to be used in a "transparent manner", specified the UN, for "purposes benefiting the people of Iraq". In a federal courthouse in Virginia, US, two men - one a former CIA agent and Republican candidate for Congress, the other a former army ranger - are found guilty of fraudulently obtaining $3 million intended for the reconstruction of Iraq. Because the Iraqi banking system was in tatters at the end of the invasion, the funds were placed in an account with the Federal Reserve in New York. From there, most of the money was flown in cash to Baghdad. Over the first 14 months of the occupation, 363 tons of new $100 bills were shipped in - $12bn, in cash. And that is where it all began to go wrong. "Iraq was awash in cash - in dollar bills. Piles and piles of money," says Frank Willis, a former senior official with the governing Coalition Provisional Authority. "We played football with some of the bricks of $100 bills before delivery. It was a wild-west crazy atmosphere, the likes of which none of us had ever experienced."

Even though Donald R. Matthews put his sprawling new residence in the heart of rice country, he is no farmer. He is a 67-year-old asphalt contractor who wanted to build a dream house for his wife of 40 years. Yet under a federal agriculture program approved by Congress, his 18-acre suburban lot receives about $1,300 in annual "direct payments," because years ago the land was used to grow rice. An investigation by The Washington Post found that billions of dollars in crop payments were paid out over the past six years, with a good deal of the money going to people who don't farm. An investigation by The Washington Post found that billions of dollars in crop payments were paid out over the past six years, with a good deal of the money going to people who don't farm. In recent years, farm subsidies have remained high even in years of near-record profits. In 2002, this land in El Campo, Tex., was a rice field. Today, owners of new homes on the land collect farm subsidies on their back yards. One real estate broker refers to the properties as "cowboy starter kits." As Congress prepares to debate a farm bill next year, The Washington Post is examining federal agriculture subsidies that grew to more than $25 billion last year, despite near-record farm revenue. Matthews is not alone. Nationwide, the federal government has paid at least $1.3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals who do no farming at all, according to an analysis of government records by The Washington Post. Some of them collect hundreds of thousands of dollars without planting a seed. Mary Anna Hudson, 87, from the River Oaks neighborhood in Houston, has received $191,000 over the past decade. For Houston surgeon Jimmy Frank Howell, the total was $490,709. "I don't agree with the government's policy," said Matthews, who wanted to give the money back but was told it would just go to other landowners. "They give all of this money to landowners who don't even farm, while real farmers can't afford to get started. It's wrong."

The corruption of Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a powerful California Republican, was, as the U.S. Attorney's Office maintains, historically "unparalleled" - an astonishing statement coming in the wake of the Abramoff scandal. A former Vietnam naval pilot who was awarded two Silver Stars and a Purple Heart, Cunningham, now 64, appropriated John Wayne's nickname and first ran for the House with the slogan "A congressman we can be proud of." The government believes he was bribed chiefly by two men, identified in court documents as "co-conspirator No. 1" and "co-conspirator No. 2," now known to be Brent Wilkes and his protégé Mitchell Wade. (Wilkes has vigorously denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes in this case.) The products they hawked - computer software to scan and convert military maps, drawings, and documents into digital format - lacked glamour, perhaps, but they made the two entrepreneurs and Cunningham wealthy, arrogant, and even reckless, courtesy of a compliant Pentagon. Wilkes's two dozen or so firms, in California and Virginia, raked in $100 million over the last decade, while Wade's Washington-based MZM Inc. has gotten $150 million since 2002. According to prosecutors, Wilkes and Wade generously remunerated Duke Cunningham for steering government business their way. Wilkes, prosecutors allege, gave Cunningham more than $600,000 in bribes, including two checks totaling $100,000 and $525,000 to pay off a mortgage. (Wilkes, through his attorney, denies these allegations.) In February, Wade pleaded guilty to bribing Cunningham with over $1 million - but he operated with more panache, indulging Cunningham's taste for outsize antiques. The truth is no one knows if the $2.4 million in bribes Cunningham has admitted taking in his guilty plea is the final total. Duke's been at it for some time. In fact, right up to the end, the Maryland antiques dealer tells me, Cunningham was trying to get her to put one of his valuable 19th-century armoires in storage, "anywhere, he didn't care where," as long as it was far from the government's prying eyes."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:10:45 AM

Sun, Jul 02 2006

On Hiatus Again

This will be the last blog entry for a few days, as I will be out of town and I won't have access to my computer to continue. I don't know exactly when I will be able to resume, but I expect it will be about a week. My apologies to those of you who have come to depend on this blog for your news of the Evil Empire, and for those who just enjoy reading about my life in Costa Rica. If you have not yet done so, you can receive an automatic alert via RSS subscription when the blog resumes. Either click on your browser's RSS button, or copy the link location on the RSS icon in the upper right of this screen to get the link for your RSS reader...

Weather yesterday started out miserably, with a continuation of the heavy rain and high winds of the last few days. But by noon, there were a few breaks in the overcast and rain, and the wind died down. The temperatures have risen and stabilized, with an overnight low of 73 and a high of 82 yesterday. Maybe we've seen the end of these strange weather conditions. I hope so.

More adventures in termite control - the wall between bedrooms installed by the tenant who lived in this house before me, has been infested with insects since I moved in. When I first arrived, it had a colony of pharaoh ants in it, and after some effort, I managed to get them under control. Then, about a year ago, it developed a termite infestation. I managed to exterminate that one, and seal up the wall. Well, this morning, I discovered that the termites were back in another part of the wall. This time, it was in the master bedroom, and the little buggers were chewing up a piece of plywood that the tenant had used to close up the wall. I discovered that there was a whole ecology developing around the sizable nest - two species of cockroach and four species of spiders had taken up residence in it, besides the termites, feeding on their waste. Well, I moved everything out of that portion of the closet, climbed up there and cut out the nest, and fumigated the stud wall through the hole they had made in the plywood. I hope I have got them again this time, but that remains to be seen. I patched the hole with the only thing at hand - a piece of Fiberlite. If I stay in this house, that wall is coming out, and is going to be replaced with proper tropical closet construction.

This is a good lesson for anyone inclined to do American-style construction here. Stud walls, as we know them in the U.S., are an absolute no-no. A hollow interior wall cavity is an open invitation for insect infestations, and that is why Costa Rican houses are not made from such construction. It is not just economy, it is keeping the bugs under control. Things are different here. Apparently, that is something the former tenant didn't seem to understand.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The U.S. National Security Agency asked AT&T Inc. to help it set up a domestic call monitoring site seven months before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, lawyers claimed June 23 in court papers filed in New York federal court. The allegation is part of a court filing adding AT&T, the nation's largest telephone company, as a defendant in a breach of privacy case filed earlier this month on behalf of Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. customers. The suit alleges that the three carriers, the NSA and President George W. Bush violated the Telecommunications Act of 1934 and the U.S. Constitution, and seeks money damages. "The Bush Administration asserted this became necessary after 9/11," plaintiff's lawyer Carl Mayer said in a telephone interview. "This undermines that assertion." The lawsuit is related to an alleged NSA program to record and store data on calls placed by subscribers. More than 30 suits have been filed over claims that the carriers, the three biggest U.S. telephone companies, violated the privacy rights of their customers by cooperating with the NSA in an effort to track alleged terrorists.

The Supreme Court on Thursday dealt the Bush administration a stinging rebuke, declaring in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld that military commissions for trying terrorist suspects violate both U.S. military law and the Geneva Convention. But the real blockbuster in the Hamdan decision is the court's holding that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention applies to the conflict with Al Qaeda - a holding that makes high-ranking Bush administration officials potentially subject to prosecution under the federal War Crimes Act. The provisions of the Geneva Convention were intended to protect noncombatants - including prisoners - in times of armed conflict. But as the administration has repeatedly noted, most of these protections apply only to conflicts between states. Because Al Qaeda is not a state, the administration argued that the Geneva Convention didn't apply to the war on terror. These assertions gave the administration's arguments about the legal framework for fighting terrorism a through-the-looking-glass quality. On the one hand, the administration argued that the struggle against terrorism was a war, subject only to the law of war, not U.S. criminal or constitutional law. On the other hand, the administration said the Geneva Convention didn't apply to the war with Al Qaeda, which put the war on terror in an anything-goes legal limbo.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) criticized House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's comment Thursday that the court decision "affirms the American ideal that all are entitled to the basic guarantees of our justice system." That statement, Boehner said, amounted to Pelosi's advocating "special privileges for terrorists." Similar views ricocheted around conservative talk radio -- Rush Limbaugh called Pelosi's comments "deranged" on his show Thursday -- and Republican strategists said they believed that the decision presented Bush a chance to put Democrats on the spot while uniting a Republican coalition that lately has been splintered on immigration, spending and other issues.

Vice President Dick Cheney in a letter this week urged Alaska lawmakers to approve Gov. Frank Murkowski's controversial deal with major oil companies for a $20 billion natural gas pipeline from the state. Cheney sent the letter to members of the Alaska Legislature urging them to promptly enact legislation needed to seal the pipeline contract that Murkowski brokered with ConocoPhillips, BP Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp. "You have it in your hands to help ensure that the Alaska Gas Pipeline ultimately furnishes dependable, affordable, and environmentally-sound energy for America's future," Cheney wrote in the letter, dated on Tuesday and seen by Reuters. "Your early action is necessary to move the process forward." The gas pipeline is a decades-long dream of Alaska officials. It would run about 3,500 miles from the northern part of the state to the lower 48 U.S. states and provide a means for shipping the known 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the North Slope region.

A letter on behalf of 10,000 EPA scientists asked Congress today to stop the Bush Administration from closing the agency's network of technical research libraries. Jeff Ruch, Executive Director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told BuzzFlash that the libraries "house documents of work conducted by the EPA or related to EPA projects or efforts" and are vital for the EPA as well as research universities and other organizations. "Public access will completely lost." Ruch said that the closures will prevent the use of nearly "everything created before 1990 (which) is not digitized, including 50,000 unique documents." The EPA has already begun shutting the facilities down even though Congress has yet to approve the President's budget. Ruch was especially troubled by Bush's decision to cut most of the $2.5 million library budget out of the total EPA funding of $8 billion because a study has shown the libraries save staff 214,000 hours each year, worth about $7.5 million. "It will be harder to find the information and in some cases (researchers) will have to do without," according to Ruch. The letter cites library closures as "one more example of the Bush administration’s effort to suppress information on environmental and public health-related topics." "This is a serious matter that ultimately affects the very issues citizens care about daily," Rep. Bart Godron (D-TN), Ranking Member of the Science Committee, told BuzzFlash. "Closing off access to data and valuable research is not only a slap in the face to EPA scientists; it could very well endanger lives."

A spate of good news at home and abroad has so far failed to boost how Americans feel about President Bush's job performance. Bush's approval rating slipped to 35% in a TIME poll taken this week, down from 37% in March (and 53% in early 2005). Only 33% of Americans in the survey said they approved of Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq, vs. 35% in March, and 47% in March 2005. His management of the U.S. economy lost supporters, too, as 36% approved, compared with 39% three months earlier. Bush's handling of the war on terror saw a slight gain in support, from 44% to 45%. Bush's poll numbers remain stuck in a rut despite several high-profile victories scored recently by the Bush Administration. Earlier this month, U.S. forces killed al-Qaeda leader Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi in an air raid in Iraq. Also this month, Karl Rove escaped indictment in the CIA leak investigation. And the Commerce Department reported today that the U.S. economy grew 5.6% in the first quarter of 2006, the fastest growth in more than two years. But continued pessimism about the situation in Iraq and a broad sense of unease about America's direction may be undermining Bush's popularity. In the TIME survey, 66% said the country is on the wrong track, vs. 28% who said it's going in the right direction. Those numbers have worsened since March, when the poll recorded a 60% to 34% split. When asked whether the new Iraqi government will be able to build a stable and reasonably democratic society, 48% of those surveyed said no, while 39% remain optimistic.

Do Americans worry about terrorism? Seventy-nine percent of Americans told the most recent CNN survey of national concerns that they did. They considered the fight against terrorists "very important"--more so than Iraq, the economy, immigration or gas prices. But it isn't true. Something interesting is revealed when you turn the same poll into an open-ended question. Unlike CNN, which asks people to react to a laundry list of issues, a poll by CBS News simply asks them: "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?" When Americans aren't prompted, terrorism barely registers among their concerns. Worries about the Iraq war rank first, at 28%, followed by the economy and the difficulty of finding a job (15%), and illegal immigration (12%). Terrorism ranks a paltry fifth, with just 5%. More people fret over paying too much for gas (6%) than the remote possibility of getting blown up by Al Qaeda.

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. Americans have grown more negative even as the economy grew at an annual pace of more than 5 percent in the first three months of this year and the unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent in May from 5.1 percent a year earlier. In the poll, 47 percent say the economy is doing badly, up slightly from 44 percent in January. The nationwide poll of 1,321 adults was conducted by telephone June 24 to June 27.

Vice President Dick Cheney's financial advisers are apparently betting on a rise in inflation and interest rates and on a decline in the value of the dollar against foreign currencies. That's the conclusion we draw after scouring the financial disclosure form released by Cheney recently. As of the end of last year, Cheney and his wife, Lynne, held between $10 million and $25 million in Vanguard Short-Term Tax-Exempt fund (it's impossible to be more precise because the disclosure form lists holdings within ranges). The fund's holdings of tax-free municipal bonds mature, on average, in a little more than a year -- meaning that the fund should hold up well if rates rise. The Cheneys held another $1 million to $5 million in Vanguard Tax-Exempt Money Market fund, which is practically risk-free and could benefit from continued increases in short-term interest rates. And the couple had between $2 million and $10 million in Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities fund. The principal and interest payments of inflation-protected bonds rise along with consumer prices, making them good inflation hedges. Expecting a dollar drop? The Cheneys also had between $10 million and $25 million in the American Century International Bond Fund. The fund buys mainly high-quality foreign bonds (predominantly in Europe) and rarely hedges against possible increases in the value of the dollar. Indeed, its prospectus limits dollar exposure to 25% of assets and the fund currently has only 6% of assets in dollars, according to an American Century spokesman. The Cheneys' total assets could be as high as $94.6 million, according to the disclosure form. The vice president's advisers say the vice president pays no attention to his investments. His lawyer, Terrence O'Donnell, says outside money managers supervise the investments. "He has nothing to do with it," O'Donnell says. As for stocks, the couple held between $1 million and $5 million in Lazard International Equity and a like amount in Lazard Emerging Markets. The Cheneys' relatively few U.S. stock fund holdings include $1 million to $5 million in GMO Tax-Managed U.S. Equities III.

President Bush rallied Republicans with another attack on the media last night, in remarks that highlighted efforts at the White House and on Capitol Hill to gain momentum from recent disclosures about classified programs that violate civil rights. Senior administration officials say the president was outraged by articles in the New York Times and other newspapers about a surveillance program in which the U.S. government has tapped international banking records for information about terrorist financing. But his comments at a Republican fundraiser in a St. Louis suburb yesterday, combined with new moves by GOP congressional leaders, showed how both are working to fan public anger and reap gains from the controversy during a midterm election year in which polls show they are running against stiff headwinds. Democrats, for their part, denounced Republicans for trying to divert attention from issues such as the Iraq war and high gasoline prices, and some terrorism experts said the White House is exaggerating the damage.

Appearing before the The Senate Democratic Policy Committee, former Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research Carl Ford called upon policy makers to accept part of the blame for intelligence failures, telling them to "not accept the crap we give you." The proceedings, chaired by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), heard testimony regarding pre-war intelligence in Iraq. The Democrats held their own hearings out of frustration with a lack of scrutiny of Iraq intelligence by the Republican-led Senate.

From the spring of 2003 until autumn 2004, the Shin Bet security service tracked down Palestinian terror cells in the West Bank thanks to information from the Western Union money transfer service, which was passed on by the FBI. This fact was disclosed in a book published this week about America's war on terror after September 11, 2001. In "The One Percent Doctrine," author Ron Suskind connects the transfer of intelligence from the FBI to the Shin Bet with several targeted assassinations carried out by Israel during this period. The FBI's most important connection during this period was with First Data, an Omaha-based electronic fund transfer company with a global reach. The company offered to assist the U.S. government in the war against terror.

A braided leather whip, a sniper rifle, six jars of fertiliser and a copy of the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook were among the presents foreign leaders have given George Bush. They are clearly trying to tell him something. The inventory of official gifts from 2004, published this week by the state department, reads like the wish list of the sort of paranoid survivalist who holes up in his log cabin to await Armageddon, having long ago severed all ties with the rest of the world. The president received a startling array of weapons, including assorted daggers and a machete from Gabon. He got the braided whip with a wooden handle from the Hungarian prime minister. The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, a gift from the Sultan of Brunei, has some tips on how to use some of these implements in a tight spot. The paperback also explains how to wrestle with an alligator, escape from a mountain lion and take a punch. But the small arsenal of guns presented by Jordan's King Abdullah, including a $10,000 sniper rifle, would presumably render much of that advice unnecessary. The king also gave President Bush six jars of "various fertilisers" on a rotating wooden stand. It sounds like the sort of present likely to cause offence when coming from a mother-in-law or sibling. But according to the Jordanian embassy, the jars contained neither manure nor the sort of chemicals that can be turned into homemade bombs, but rather an array of fertile volcanic soils found around the country .

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office in charge of protecting California against terrorism has tracked demonstrations staged by political and antiwar groups, a practice that senior law enforcement officials say is an abuse of civil liberties. The Los Angeles Times obtained reports prepared for the state Office of Homeland Security in recent months that contain details on the whereabouts and purpose of a number of political demonstrations throughout California. The source of the information is listed in some cases as federal law enforcement agencies, including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, an investigative arm of the U.S. Homeland Security department. Political activities cited in the reports include: * An animal rights rally outside a Canadian consulate office in San Francisco to protest the hunting of seals. * A demonstration in Walnut Creek at which U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) and other officials spoke against the war in Iraq. * A Women's International League for Peace and Freedom gathering at a courthouse in Santa Barbara in support of an antiwar protester - a 56-year-old Salinas woman - facing federal trespassing charges. State homeland security officials said information in the reports was compiled by SRA International, a company hired to provide counterterrorism analysis. The sources of the information were listed in some cases as federal law enforcement agencies, including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, an investigative arm of the U.S. Homeland Security department. When officials learned of the practice, they ordered it stopped, said agency spokesman Chris Bertelli. Of the more than 60 reports, the Times obtained two — the only ones that contained information on political rallies, homeland security officials said. The office declined to release others.

Berkeley voters may become the first in the nation to consider impeaching President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney this November. The City Council voted this week to place an advisory measure on the ballot calling for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. Other cities have passed resolutions urging the president's impeachment, but Berkeley claims to be the first one to put the matter to a public referendum. "It's not about Bush and Cheney, much as I despise them," said Mayor Tom Bates. "It's about the Constitution and what they're doing to it." On Wednesday, Bates said his office had received 446 e-mails and more than 30 phone calls since the vote, and all but three were supportive. In addition, he said an overnight Channel 5 telephone poll of 500 Berkeley residents showed 66 percent of the respondents favored putting the measure on the ballot. The TV station reported that 28 percent were opposed and 5 percent were not sure. The poll had a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points. "Some people might say, 'Oh, only in Berkeley,'" said Bates. "But things that start in Berkeley have a history of eventually being adopted by the rest of the country."

A man's sexual orientation appears to be determined in the womb, a new study suggests. Past research by Dr. Anthony F. Bogaert of Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario and colleagues has shown that the more older brothers a man has, the more likely he is to be gay. But it has not been clear if this is a prenatal effect or a psychosocial effect, related to growing up with older male siblings. To investigate, Bogaert studied 944 gay and straight men, including several who were raised with adopted, half- or step-siblings or were themselves adopted. He reasoned that if the relationship between having older male siblings and homosexuality was due to family environment or child-rearing practices, it would be seen whether or not a man's older brothers were biological or adopted. Bogaert found that the link between having older brothers and homosexuality was present only if the siblings were biologically related -- this relationship was seen between biological brothers who were not raised together. The amount of time that a man was reared with older brothers had no association with sexual orientation. "These results support a prenatal origin to sexual orientation development in men and indicate that the fraternal birth-order effect is probably the result of a maternal 'memory' for male gestations or births," Bogaert writes in his report in PNAS Early Edition.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: In his first visit to Egypt, the US attorney-general has defended the secret transfer of terrorism suspects to countries where they could face torture - a practice the US calls "extraordinary rendition." But Alberto Gonzales refused to confirm reports that Egypt, with a human rights record the US has criticised, was one of those countries. "I'm not going to confirm that there have been any [suspects sent to Egypt], and I'm certainly not going to talk about the numbers - it's intelligence activity and we just don't do that," Gonzales told reporters after meeting Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president. "All I can say is that we do have an obligation to seek assurances from any country in which we are returning someone, that the individual is not going to be tortured," he said.

A prominent British doctor has criticised the World Medical Association for not tackling the role doctors are playing at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Dr Iain Banks said it was a scandal that doctors were "becoming involved in torture practices". He said the practices were "the worst thing doctors can be involved in." Dr Banks said: "Not having the WMA taking a strong stance on this is a nonsense." He said prisoners had been force-fed under the direct supervision of US doctors.

Iran’s foreign minister on Thursday brushed aside demands from the major industrialized nations, led by the United States, to respond by July 5 to an international offer for Tehran to roll back its uranium enrichment program, saying his nation would need until August. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran had questions about the proposal that will be raised in talks expected early next month with Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief. The questions need to be answered so Tehran can respond in August, he said. "The Islamic Republic of Iran is seriously and carefully reviewing the proposed package," he said. "Questions and ambiguities on the Iranian side are pending. Therefore, we welcome the discussions and negotiations for clarification of those ambiguities."

In the Mexican oil fields of Tabasco state, engineers who have been fired from the company complain that Pemex under the Fox administration has unnecessarily given billions of dollars of service contracts to U.S. companies such as Bechtel, Halliburton and Schlumberger. "[Presidential candidate] Calderon wants to privatize Pemex, but that's just a recipe for more corruption," said Ricardo Decle, a petroleum engineer who was frog-marched off his workplace by soldiers in 2004 as part of a purge of about 50 dissenting technical staff and is now chief of a group of local Pemex retirees. "In Pemex, there is no transparency, nobody watches over the contracts. For starters, they ask for a 10 percent (bribe) off the top of the price. When anyone complains, they are repressed. This is the way business is done here." Feeling the criticism, some U.S. companies are mounting a feel-good public-relations counteroffensive. Halliburton, for example, has placed giant billboards along highways that show idyllic jungle wildlife scenes with the slogan, "We work to protect the environment."

For decades, Latin Americans have listened to Washington preach about the virtues of private ownership, and has forced privatization of many of their assets, because they have had little choice. Now, the verdict is in. The Latin American Economic Commission lashed out yesterday at the privatization of Nicaraguan banking, telephone and electricity services over the past 16 years. The El Nuevo Diario newspaper in Managua echoed a LAEC report that terms "unsuccessful" the privatization of five banks, which among them, control 90 to 95 percent the assets. Telecommunications are even worse for private control replaced public monopoly, leaving Nicaragua with one single phone operator charging 19 cents for a 3-minute local call, and passing fewer than half the homes with its wires, while Costa Rica is regional telephone leader with state-run services, charging less than a cent a minute and passing the vast majority of homes with its cables, and whose users seldom suffer outages. Electricity, controlled by Spanish transnational Union Fenosa for over two years, rose the tariffs 30 percent but services are a disaster and little investment is being made in improving service while the company blames costly oil-fired generation plants, also privatized, instead of using Nicaragua's abundant hydro and geothermal resources.

Bolivia's government said at the weekend it would sue former executives of US energy company Enron as well as former government officials for fraud in relation to the Brazil natural gas pipeline project that was completed in the 1990s. Among the approximately 40 people to be included in the charges are former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and several US citizens, Energy Minister Andres Soliz told a news conference in La Paz. "The country has suffered one of the biggest frauds in its history," he said. Soliz said the state would seek to recover profits made by Enron and its subsidiaries in Bolivia, accusing the bankrupt company of having paid bribes and illegally receiving profit from the natural gas pipeline.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Israel last night threatened to assassinate Palestinian Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh if Hamas militants did not release a captured Israeli soldier unharmed. The unprecedented warning was delivered to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a letter as Israel debated a deal offered by Hamas to free Corporal Gilad Shalit. It came as Israeli military officials readied a second invasion force for a huge offensive into Gaza. Hamas's Gaza-based political leaders, including Mr Haniyeh, had already gone into hiding. But last night's direct threat to kill Mr Haniyeh, a democratically elected head of state, sharply raised the stakes. The bid to free Corporal Shalit was brokered by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who last night warned Hamas it faced severe consequences if it did not curb its "extreme stance" and described the growing conflict as a lightning rod for Palestinian vengeance. An Israeli aircraft on Friday fired a missile into the office of the Palestinian interior minister in the ministry's headquarters in Gaza, setting it ablaze, Palestinian witnesses and security sources said. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military, which has launched several air strikes in the territory in recent days as part of a larger offensive aimed at freeing a kidnapped soldier. No one has asked if all this violates Israel's treaty obligations, which it clearly does, as in the case of the Geneva Conventions and countless conventions and treaties on diplomacy. And you're paying for it.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Defense lawyers said Friday that authorities at the Guantanamo Bay prison confiscated letters to detainees and other legal papers as part of an investigation into three apparent suicides three weeks ago at the facility. U.S. military officials declined to discuss whether papers were seized or the reasons for doing so. Attorneys said at least one detainee claimed it was because prison officials suspected the lawyers might have had advance knowledge of suicide attempts, or even encouraged them as a form of protest - an allegation the lawyers deny. "They think that they are going to find letters from us suggesting suicide. It's ludicrous," said Clive Stafford Smith, legal director for Reprieve, a British human rights group that has filed legal challenges on behalf of about 35 men held at the prison for terrorism suspects. The Center for Constitutional Rights, which has filed challenges on behalf of about 200 detainees, plans to have one of its attorneys look into the seizure and press for the return of papers during a visit to the jail next week, said Bill Goodman, the group's legal director. "This is a huge breach of attorney-client privilege," Goodman said.

Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift - the Navy lawyer who beat the president of the United States in a pivotal Supreme Court battle over trying alleged terrorists - figures he'll probably have to find a new job. Of course, it's always risky to compare your boss to King George III. Swift made the analogy to the court, saying President Bush had overstepped his authority when he bypassed Congress and set up illegal military tribunals to try Guantanamo detainees such as Swift's alleged al-Qaida client, Salim Ahmed Hamdan. The justices agreed, ruling 5-3 Thursday in favor of dismantling the current tribunal system. Despite his spectacular success, with the assistance of attorneys from the Seattle firm Perkins Coie, Swift thinks his military career is coming to an end. The 44-year-old Judge Advocate General officer, who was recently named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the country by The National Law Journal, was passed over for promotion last year as the high-profile case was making headlines around the world. "I may be one of the most influential lawyers in America," the Seattle University Law School graduate said, "but I won't be in the military much longer. That irony did strike me."

House Republicans failed Wednesday to advance a bill protecting the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Only a day earlier, the GOP had placed the measure on its "American Values Agenda" in hopes of bolstering the party's prospects in the fall election. But Republicans could not muster a simple majority on the issue in a committee where they outnumber Democrats by six. The legislation tries to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over cases challenging the pledge. It responds to a federal appeals court ruling in 2002 that the pledge is unconstitutional because it contains the words "under God." A district court judge made a similar ruling last fall, citing the appeals court precedent. A simple majority is required to report a bill to the House floor with a favorable committee recommendation. The House Judiciary Committee split 15-15 on the pledge bill Wednesday; Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., joined 14 Democrats to oppose it.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: RealtyTrac(TM) has released its May 2006 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report, showing 92,746 properties nationwide entering some stage of foreclosure during the month, an increase of less than 2 percent from April 2006, but still a 28 percent increase from May 2005. Report results also indicate a national foreclosure rate of one foreclosure filing for every 1,247 U.S. households during the month.

BP Plc manipulated the price of propane used to heat homes and businesses in the northeastern U.S. in February 2004 and tried to do the same in April 2003, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said. The commission filed suit today in federal court alleging BP Products North America, a subsidiary of London-based BP, cornered the propane market with the aim of driving up prices to gain at least $20 million in profit for the company. By purchasing "enormous quantities" of propane, BP caused the price to increase to more than 90 cents a gallon on Feb. 27, 2004, "a price that would not otherwise have been reached under the normal pressures of supply and demand," the commission said in a press release. The company at one point owned over 88 percent of all "TET" propane, which is used in rural areas not served by natural-gas pipelines, the commission said. "Cornering a commodity market is more than a threat to market integrity," Gregory Mocek, director of enforcement for the commission, said in the statement. "It is an illegal activity that could have repercussions for commercial market participants as well as retail consumers around this country." The strategy to corner the market was done "with the knowledge, advice and consent of senior management," the commission said. BP also tried to corner the market in April 2003, as a "trial run," the commission said.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Two California Soldiers shot to death in Iraq were murdered by Iraqi civil-defense officers patrolling with them, military investigators have found. The deaths of Army Spc. Patrick R. McCaffrey Sr. and 1st Lt. Andre D. Tyson were originally attributed to an ambush during a patrol near Balad, Iraq, on June 22, 2004. But the Army's Criminal Investigation Command found that one or more of the Iraqis attached to the American Soldiers on patrol fired at them, a military official said Tuesday. A Pentagon spokesman knew of no other similar incident, calling it "extremely rare." The Army has conducted an extensive investigation into the deaths but declined to provide details out of respect for relatives of the Soldiers, spokesman Paul Boyce said Tuesday evening.

The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said on Thursday the international community had underestimated a resurgent Taliban, partly because the war in Iraq diverted attention and resources. Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since 2001, but the NATO commander, Lieutenant General David Richards, said he was optimistic the insurgency could be dealt with. "There's no doubt there is a resurgent Taliban problem," Richards told the BBC in an interview. "Why? Largely it's because people took their eye off this ball and a vacuum was allowed to develop, and that vacuum was filled by the Taliban," the British general said. The surge of violence, most of it in the south, has killed about 1,100 people, including about 50 foreign troops since January. It comes as NATO prepares to take over security in the south from U.S. forces. It is set to be the alliance's toughest ground mission in its history. NATO troops, most of them British, Canadian and Dutch, are pushing into areas where no foreign or government troops have been, and where the Taliban - and their drug-gang allies - hold sway. The troops are meeting much stiffer resistance than expected. "Essentially, we put too little effort into the south," Richards said.

Americans can expect to see large-scale troop reductions in both Iraq and Afghanistan over the next few years as the U.S. military shifts to a new phase of the "long war" against radical Islamic terrorists, a top official of the U.S. Central Command said in Cincinnati today. "I’m not suggesting that the numbers should go from 200,000 to zero, but I am saying that, within a few years, the numbers will be a fraction of what they are today," said Army Brig. Gen. Mark T. Kimmitt, the deputy director of strategy and plans at Central Command in Iraq. Kimmitt, who spoke at a private breakfast sponsored by the Jewish Federation at the Bankers Club downtown, said the top priority for the U.S. Central is winning what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dubbed the "long war."

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Sea levels in the Arctic have been falling by a little more than two millimetres a year - exactly the opposite of what is happening elsewhere. "It's enough to be significant. It's remarkable that it's the opposite sign of what we see in the rest of the world," said researcher Remko Scharroo. A Dutch-U.K. team made the discovery after analyzing radar altimetry data gathered by Europe’s ERS-2 satellite. Scharroo said in an interview from his home in the U.S. that the drop in Arctic sea levels may be the result of climate change. "It might mean that the currents are changing. It might be linked to the reasons why we see less sea ice," Scharroo said. Scharroo and his colleagues are eager to understand why the Arctic sea level in dropping as "everything indicates the sea level should rise." Generally land emerging from glaciers, such as Baffin Island or Greenland, rises, so the sea looks like it's going down. But what Scharroo and his team have seen is that the sea is actually dropping, too. It's "all contrary to whatever we expect which is what makes it so unique," Scharroo said.

The Mid-Atlantic region, with its extensive coastline, is likely to suffer from the impacts of increased flooding and sea-level rise expected under scenarios of climate change. Changes in temperature and rainfall could take a toll on the region's important deciduous forests and migratory bird habitats and contribute to summer heat stress and other health risks. These are among the conclusions of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Assessment, which was led by a team of experts from Pennsylvania State University with support from the U.S. EPA. The regional assessment, which included input from stakeholders, is part of the first congressionally mandated assessment of the potential consequences of climate change and variability throughout the United States. The National Assessment includes all regions in the United States and five sectors including coastal areas, forests, water resources, agriculture, and human health. Given the uncertainties in projecting climate change, the researchers used two different climate scenarios in their analysis to assess the region?s vulnerability to various climate changes. They considered scenarios for the region of higher average temperatures of 2-3 deg. F by 2030 and 4 to 10 deg. F by the end of the century. The group also considered scenarios with both higher and lower precipitation levels and, in both cases, more intense rainfall and flooding.

This year's world grain harvest is projected to fall short of consumption by 61 million tons, marking the sixth time in the last seven years that production has failed to satisfy demand. As a result of these shortfalls, world carryover stocks at the end of this crop year are projected to drop to 57 days of consumption, the shortest buffer since the 56-day-low in 1972 that triggered a doubling of grain prices. World carryover stocks of grain, the amount in the bin when the next harvest begins, are the most basic measure of food security. Whenever stocks drop below 60 days of consumption, prices begin to rise. It thus came as no surprise when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projected in its June 9 world crop report that this year's wheat prices will be up by 14 percent and corn prices up by 22 percent over last year's. With carryover stocks of grain at the lowest level in 34 years, the world may soon be facing high grain and oil prices at the same time. For the scores of low-income countries that import both oil and grain, this prospect is a sobering one. The 2006 world grain harvest of 1,984 million tons, estimated by the USDA in its June crop report, is down 24 million tons from last year, or roughly one percent. It is down three percent from the historical high of 2,044 million tons produced in 2004.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Former White House adviser Claude Allen is negotiating with prosecutors in hopes of avoiding a trial on theft charges, according to his attorney. Allen was to go on trial Friday for allegedly trying to make fraudulent returns worth at least $5,000 at Target and other stores. But Montgomery County prosecutors and Allen's attorneys have agreed to postpone the trial while negotiations continue, according to Allen lawyer Gregory Craig. He would not elaborate on the talks. Prosecutor Douglas Gansler would not comment. Allen, 45, was one of President Bush's top domestic policy advisers in a $161,000-a-year job until he resigned in February, a month after he was arrested at a Target store in Gaithersburg. He cited personal reasons at the time, and reportedly told the White House that the arrest was the result of a mix-up with his credit cards. White House officials later said they were unaware of the extent of Allen's legal problems, and Bush said it would be "deeply disappointing" if Allen had misled them.

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