Letters From Exile

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

Wed, Aug 30 2006

Busy Two Days

Our stretch of very welcome hurricane weather here in Arenal is slowly drawing to a close. Yesterday, as was the day before, was brilliantly sunny, dry and very warm, with a high of 86, and today was only slightly cooler, with a high of 85, and an overnight low of a very warm 75. Tomorrow promises to be back to seasonable norms, however, as afternoon showers have reappeared with a brief thunderstorm this afternoon. Looks like the break in the rainy season is now over.

The last two days have been very busy for me. My peon (laborer) finally showed up to do the fence work I have been needing done, and at nine yesterday, went to work, getting the problems with the fence fixed. The first item of business was a fence that was down completely on the North Forty, and getting a gate rebuilt there. Then it was on to the holes in the fence around the end of the pond, and finally, today, the fence between me and my neighbor to the east. It was a hole in that fence that precipitated this whole adventure, when a cow wandered through it and into my garden. All in all, the peon's estimate of five hours was out the window - I was into it thirteen by the time it was all done. There is still some work that needs to be done, but that is going to have to wait for awhile.

In the midst of all that, I needed to get some dental work done, so after my experience on Monday with the new dentist in town, I decided to go ahead and get another cavity filled yesterday, after she advised me that it was rather urgent. So with my peon working away on the fence, I left and submitted myself to the torture of the dentist's chair. As it turned out, she had a gentle touch, and had my jaw well and truly anesthetized, so it was relatively painless. She indicated when it was all done that the decay wasn't as bad as first appeared, and when the anesthetic wore off, there was relatively little pain in my jaw.

In addition, my friend who is just moving here had needed some help with a few things in getting settled. Yesterday, he brought a car he was considering buying, over for me to look at, and after having looked it over, we agreed that it was not a good deal. Today, he needed a local resident to go with him to the bank to arrange an introduction so he could get an account set up at the local bank branch. I went with him to the bank for that purpose, and, as luck would have it, my ex-neighbor was the clerk that waited on us, so there was never even any hesitancy about proceeding with an account. After about an hour of filling out various forms, he had his bank account, and spent the next ten minutes signing traveler's checks to make an initial deposit. We went to a nearby bar for a drink, and enjoyed a nice banana betido while he was waiting for his next appointment - with a lawyer to buy an off-the-shelf corporation.

What he doesn't know yet, is that now that he has a foreign bank account and will have controlling interest in a foreign corporation, he will be enjoying the privilege of filling out and filing (two separate copies, one copy with his income tax returns each year, and the other to an IRS office in Philadelphia, thank you very much) Internal Revenue Service form 5471, Report Of Profit And Losses In A Controlled Foreign Corporation. And then there is the lovely Treasury Department form TDF 90.22, Report Of Interest In A Foreign Bank Or Securities Account. Not to be filed with the taxpayer's income tax return, but to be sent to the Treasury Department office in Detroit, Michigan, to be received not later than June 30 of the current calendar year, every year - both on pain of a felony conviction (and a huge fine) if either form is not properly filed in a timely manner. His taxes just got a lot more complicated, even though he doesn't live in the United States anymore.

I am growing to truly hate being a "United States Person."

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Sen. John Kerry didn't contest the results at the time, but now that he's considering another run for the White House, he's alleging election improprieties by the Ohio Republican who oversaw the deciding vote in 2004. An e-mail will be sent to 100,000 Democratic donors Tuesday asking them to support U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland for governor of Ohio. The bulk of the e-mail criticizes Strickland's opponent, GOP Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, for his dual role in 2004 as President Bush's honorary Ohio campaign co-chairman and the state's top election official. "He used the power of his state office to try to intimidate Ohioans and suppress the Democratic vote," said Kerry's e-mail. Kerry, D-Mass., conceded the election when he lost Ohio and its 20 electoral votes. A recount requested by minor-party candidates showed Bush won by about 118,000 votes out of 5.5 million cast. But Kerry's e-mail says Blackwell "used his office to abuse our democracy and threaten basic voting rights." Multiple lawsuits by outside groups were unsuccessful in challenging Ohio's 2004 election. One case filed by the League of Women Voters is still in U.S. District Court in Toledo. It claims Ohio's election system discriminates against minority voters.

"Agencies across government are under increasing pressure to sway public opinions -- either to win funding from Congress, to satisfy customers, to recruit new employees, to educate the public about new programs, to minimize fallout from controversial policies," writes Mollie Ziegler. With more U.S. federal agencies "applying sophisticated public relations tools and tactics," government spending on PR and marketing services skyrocketed from $39 million in 2001 to more than $400 million for 2006 to date. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration "hired a PR consultant last year to help it put a more positive face on its decision to outsource 2,500 jobs, the biggest outsourcing deal yet by an agency." The Defense Department hired consultants to survey college students, to improve their branding and recruiting materials. And agencies are still putting out video news releases, though the Government Accountability Office ruled that segments that don't make their government source clear are illegal covert propaganda.

Karl Rove was not "perp-walked" out of the White House in handcuffs as his detractors had hoped, but the past year was certainly a low point for President Bush's close friend and chief political strategist. A criminal investigation put Rove under scrutiny for months, then he was forced to surrender a key policy role in a move that raised questions about his authority in the White House. While Rove fought the allegations and kept a low public profile, he never lost his unparalleled influence on the president, say those close to him. "The history of a lot of folks in these jobs is that they are hired guns," Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said. "With Karl, you have someone who has been central to what the president has been doing for decades." Mehlman and others in the White House say Rove gave up his responsibilities as chief policy coordinator in April, but remains heavily involved in all aspects of domestic and international policy. The coordinator role had turned Rove into an internal White House diplomat, trying to coordinate different views into a coherent position while maintaining neutrality. Some felt it stretched the political strategist too thin. The slimmed-down portfolio leaves Rove freer to focus on politics, look at the big picture and provide a gut-check in a White House that has struggled with missteps that may leave Republicans vulnerable in the midterm congressional elections. Rove fell under a legal cloud after a grand jury, starting late in 2003, began investigating the leak of a CIA officer's identity to reporters. He learned in June that he would not be indicted. With that threat behind him, Rove is back to his old playful self _ sporting Elvis sideburns on a recent trip to Memphis with the president and traveling around the country for lucrative storytelling to GOP donors.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature in California is on the verge of sending Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a bill that would create a state-run universal health care system, testing him on an issue that voters rate as one of their top concerns in this election year. On a largely party-line 43-30 vote, the Assembly approved a bill by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, that would eliminate private medical insurance plans and establish a statewide health insurance system that would provide coverage to all Californians. The state Senate has already approved the plan once and is expected this week to approve changes that the Assembly made to the bill. Schwarzenegger has said he opposes a single-payer plan like the one Kuehl's bill would create, but the governor has not offered his own alternatives for fixing the state's health care system. As many as 7 million people are uninsured in the state, and spiraling costs have put pressure on business and consumers. "We know the health care in place today is teetering on collapse," said Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles. "We need to do something to improve it, to reform it, and this is what we are bringing to the table."

Hackers have obtained the credit card details of almost 19,000 online shoppers from telecoms giant AT&T. The US company said it had notified shoppers at its online store of the security breach, which affected people buying high-speed DSL internet items. Security was breached at the weekend, the company said, and online stores were quickly shut down in response. AT&T said it would reimburse customers for any fraudulent transactions and pay for any necessary credit services. There were no indications that fraudulent transactions had been carried out before the stolen information came to light, AT&T said.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu Saturday described as abusive, abominable and reprehensible the fact that the US has taken advantage of the current sickness suffered by the Cuban President Fidel Castro to increase its aggressive anti-Cuban plans. "That is the very first reason why I signed the intellectuals declaration in defense of Cuba's sovereignty," said the outstanding social fighter to Prensa Latina. "In second place," she asserted, "it is abominable that any government [arrogate to] itself the right to ride roughshod over people's opinions, interests and self determination." Menchu referred to her love for the Cuban people and their spirit of resistance as the third motive encouraging her to join the signatory intellectuals. "Cuba is an example of dignity and Latin American dignity is also brought to mind when it comes to crazy presidents like Bush trying to impose their policies," she stressed.

The US government has been accused of trying to undermine the Chávez government in Venezuela by funding anonymous groups via its main international aid agency. Millions of dollars have been provided in a "pro-democracy programme" that Chávez supporters claim is a covert attempt to bankroll an opposition to defeat the government. The money is being provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Office of Transition Initiatives. The row follows the recent announcement that the US had made $80m (£42m) available for groups seeking to bring about change in Cuba, whose leader, Fidel Castro, is a close ally of Mr Chávez.

Venezuela has launched a probe on US attempts to smuggle fuses and detonators, among other military supplies, into Venezuela under diplomatic immunity. Venezuela on August 23 intercepted twenty packages of "personal effects belonging to a US diplomat" which exceeded the 16 in an officially arranged diplomatic exception. Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacon said another box diverted to the US embassy contained missiles for Bronco aircraft which had been requested by the National Air Force of Venezuela under a contract signed before the imposition of an arms embargo imposed by the United States. The incident led to a probe by the Justice and Defense Ministries, and widens the investigations on funds being supplied to the opposition, especially Sumate. Presidential Advisor, Rear Admiral Luis Cabrera Aguirre, and Parliament Chairman Cilia Flores warned of maneuvers to subvert Venezuela and invalidate its candidacy to the UN Security Council.

The presence of North American troops in Paraguay has aggravated the criminalization of peasant organizations by the corrupt right-wing government. According to studies of Serpaj the worst cases of repression against farmers have taken place in areas with the highest concentration of US troops: "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 - the US troops form part of a security plan to repress the social movement in Paraguay."

Islamic fascism is the "greatest threat we'll ever face," and Iran and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are the driving forces behind a movement bent on destroying the United States, Sen. Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum said Monday. He said America needs to "aggressively provide access to its oil reserves" to decrease reliance on Middle East supplies. In a speech to the Pennsylvania Press Club, the Penn Hills Republican portrayed Iran as a country intent on getting nuclear weapons. "The principal leader of this Islamic fascist movement is Iran," Santorum said. "I believe this is the greatest enemy we will ever face. This is the enemy of our generation. It is the challenge of our time. And yet, we tend to play politics with it here in America - sadly."

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Israel rejected a call by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Wednesday to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon, saying it would end the seven-week-old siege only when all aspects of a ceasefire were in place. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also told Annan he would not withdraw Israeli troops fully from southern Lebanon until the full implementation of the truce, which took effect on August 14 and ended 34 days of conflict with Hizbollah guerrillas. Olmert's statements amounted to a rejection of the two main requests Annan had brought to Jerusalem, but Annan later played down the differences of opinion. "There isn't that much of a difference between Prime Minister Olmert and myself," Annan told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah when asked about his apparent failure to strengthen the ceasefire. Annan, who visited Lebanon on Monday and Tuesday, later left for Amman, where he will meet King Abdullah of Jordan on Thursday. Annan's Middle East tour also includes Syria and Iran. "The blockade should be lifted," Annan told a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the second leg of a tour intended to underpin a UN-brokered truce that ended the 34-day conflict. "It is important not only because of the economic effect it is having on the country but it is important to strengthen the democratic government of Lebanon with which Israel has repeatedly said it had no problems," he said.

Spin Cycle: In an interview Tuesday night on "NBC Nightly News," the president said history would vindicate his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and remove President Saddam Hussein from power. But it would consign him to ignominy if he heeded the calls of critics and much of the public to pull U.S. troops home before democracy could be stabilized in Iraq, he said. "If we lose our nerve and leave the Middle East before the job is finished, the world will be much worse off," Bush told "Nightly News" anchor and Managing Editor Brian Williams.

Somewhere, Keith Olbermann is sticking pins in a Bill O'Reilly voodoo doll: Fox News' ratings, TVNewser reports, are down since August of last year. Like, way down. Like down 28 percent in primetime among all viewers, down 20 percent in primetime in the "money demo" (viewers aged 25-54) and down 7 percent in daytime viewership overall. In fact, the only place Fox is up is during the day, when they managed a ratings increase of just 2 percent, and even then only in the money demo. And lest you think this is an industry-wide trend, consider this: over the same time period, CNN and MSNBC are up. CNN's up 35 percent during the day -- 46 percent in the money demographic - and up 21 percent in primetime overall, 25 percent in the money demo. MSNBC's ratings increases aren't quite as impressive -- up 6 percent in primetime overall, 8 percent in the money demo, and up 36 percent in the money demo during the day, 26 percent overall. We, of course, are Fair And Balanced here, so there won't be any celebrating later tonight. Certainly we will not be opening any champagne. Bad for the liver.

The Texas Republican Party establishment has rallied around a single candidate, Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, in their unusual write-in campaign to salvage the 22nd Congressional District seat vacated in June by Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader. But the extreme rarity of successful write-in campaigns for Congress and the presence of a solid Democratic nominee on the ballot in former Rep. Nick Lampson has prompted CQPolitics.com to change its rating on the 22nd District race to Leans Democratic from No Clear Favorite. The GOP faces a world of trouble in this race because of a serious miscalculation on the part of DeLay and his party colleagues. Party officials initially were encouraged by DeLay's decisions to renounce the nomination he had won in the March 7 primary and to resign from Congress on June 9. Though long one of the most powerful figures in Texas and national politics, DeLay faced a still-pending trial for alleged state campaign finance violations and ethics controversies stemming from his past ties to now-convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Click on Katherine Harris' Senate campaign Web site and look for the blog. "This section will be updated soon," reads a message - dated May 29. A Web site 100 days out of date is hardly the worst of it for Harris, whose political wounds, many of them self-inflicted, make her the poster woman for Senate Republican recruiting woes. Missed opportunities, stumbles and bad breaks in a half-dozen states or more in 2005 have tilted the map toward the Democrats in ways that are still unfolding. "In every single state where they were challenging one of our incumbents they did not get their first choice and in many cases they did not get their second," said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, head of the Democratic campaign committee. As a result, he said, "we can spend our time and money challenging their incumbents." Apart from Florida, Republicans failed to get their preferred recruits in North Dakota, a heavily Republican state, as well as Washington, Nebraska, Michigan, West Virginia and Vermont. Several GOP officials concede the party's prospects are hampered as a result. They spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid open criticism of North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who chairs their campaign committee.

Technological advances in a refurbished White House Press Room open the door (or wall, actually) to daily presidential video news releases, says Professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse University. "The equivalent of press releases could go out without interruption or analysis," Thompson said of the new "video wall" that likely will be added to the press room when it reopens next year. The Wall Street Journal reports that the new press room will take its design from Defense Department and political convention displays and quotes a senior White House official as saying that the room will have the capability to include everything "from flags waving in the breeze [to] detailed charts and graphs." The White House has also described the refurbishing as a safety matter in a cramped space, with President Bush playing with a line from his predecessor by telling reporters, "We felt your pain." But S. Robert Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Afffairs points out, "These new toys will aid the administration in setting the agenda by giving them more time, more video evidence, and a larger profile."

Conservative Policies Are Building A Strong America: In the world's biggest economy one in eight Americans and almost one in four blacks lived in poverty last year, the US Census Bureau said on Tuesday, releasing a figure virtually unchanged from 2004. The survey also showed 15.9 percent of the population, or 46.6 million, had no health insurance, up from 15.6 percent in 2004 and the fifth increase in a row. It was the first year since President George W. Bush took office in 2001 that the poverty rate did not increase. As in past years, the figures showed poverty especially concentrated among blacks and Hispanics. In all, some 37 million Americans lived below the poverty line, defined as having an annual income below around $10,000 for an individual or $20,000 for a family of four. The last decline in poverty was in 2000, the final year of Bill Clinton's presidency, when it fell to 11.3 percent. "It shows that we are spending more money than ever on anti-poverty programs and we haven't done anything to reduce poverty," he said.

Conservatives Believe In Free, Fair, Honest and Transparent Elections: Ohio officials will soon begin destroying the paper ballots from the 2004 presidential election despite objections from voter rights groups. "Soon after the 2004 presidential election, questions emerged about how votes were tallied in Ohio, a battleground state that delivered the presidency to George W. Bush," Ian Urbina writes in a story slated for the New York Times. "Now, following a routine procedure, state officials are preparing to destroy the paper ballots from the election," writes Urbina. "Critics say the ballots should be preserved for more study," the article continues.

Conservatives Believe In Conserving Natural Resources: Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne declared after a helicopter tour that drilling will proceed in a North Slope region that has become the focus of a new dispute over Alaska oil drilling. He said the area's wildlife will be protected. Some members of Congress and environmentalists have argued that problems with pipeline spills at Prudhoe Bay and pipeline corrosion 200 miles to the west makes opening an ecologically sensitive area of the North Slope to oil companies especially questionable. But Kempthorne said Tuesday after seeing the region in person from the air that he is more convinced than ever energy production can coincide with environmental protection. "We're set to go forward," said Kempthorne, whose department will sell oil leases to nearly 500,000 acres north and east of Lake Teshekpuk, an area environmentalists maintain should be protected because of its value to caribou and as molting grounds for tens of thousands of geese. In his first trip to Alaska's North Slope, Kempthorne was scheduled to tour the Prudhoe Bay fields on Wednesday and get a briefing on the pipeline corrosion problems on Wednesday. Included on the schedule was a stop at the site where a pipeline leak last March spilled 270,000 gallons of oil onto the Alaska tundra. That spill triggered new requirements from the federal Transportation Department for testing and the discovery of serious corrosion in much of BP Alaska's pipes and a partial shutdown of Prudhoe Bay oil production.

Conservatives Support Free Speech: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is urging the United States government to disconnect an Iranian news site from American Internet servers, charging that the site has ties to terrorist organizations. The allegation is based on a report published by Haaretz last month. According to the Haaretz report, the site, Baztab, published details about a month ago of what it termed "an interrogation" of the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah on July 12. Baztab's report claimed that the soldiers had admitted that Israel planned a military attack on Hezbollah in September or October, and the kidnapping had foiled this plan. Based on this report and other information published on the site, AIPAC concluded that Baztab, which is supported by an American server, has ties with a terrorist organization. It therefore asked the U.S. Treasury Department to order the site shut down.

Conservatives Support Broad Voter Participation: Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio along with the Brennan Center, Lawyers' Committee and the ACLU Voting Rights Project filed a lawsuit challenging a voter intimidation provision in Ohio law that unfairly burdens naturalized U.S. citizens. "This law singles out one group of U.S. citizens and places an unfair extra burden on them to cast their ballot," said ACLU of Ohio cooperating attorney Daniel P. Tokaji. "The principle that every eligible voter should have equal access to the vote is a keystone of democracy." Tokaji said the provision, a section of Ohio House Bill 3, would allow poll workers to inquire whether a voter is a naturalized citizen and require those voters to provide proof of naturalization. If voters cannot provide proof at the polling place, they may cast provisional ballots but must go to the Board of Elections with documentation within 10 days of the election. According to legal papers filed by the groups today, allowing poll workers to challenge someone’s ability to vote based on where they were born will open the door to ethnic and racial profiling and will almost certainly discourage voting by racial minorities and other immigrant groups. Among the plaintiffs in the case are community organizations including the Asian American Bar Association, the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Ohio and the Federation of India Community Associations. The lawsuit also names nearly 20 individuals who represent naturalized U.S. citizens from around the state, including community activists, doctors and lawyers.

Conservatives Are Calm, Reasonable, Rational People: Rush Limbaugh, pioneer of inane right-wing babble, has accused the left, the government, and the United Nations of exacerbating the obesity epidemic in America by attempting to feed the hungry. Limbaugh, in a trail of thought Magellan couldn't have navigated, used as his inspiration a recent study which noted the prevalence of obesity-related health problems in poor communities, ignoring the well-established fact that malnutrition can contribute to obesity. LIMBAUGH: "I think you might then say that the obesity crisis could be the fault of government, liberal government. Food stamps, all those - you know, I'm gonna tell you people a story. I - just, well, the government, you could say, is killing these people because we know obesity kills, and the government’s killing the poor. The Bush administration is killing the poor with too much food... And so, now, we find out that there is obesity and all this amongst the poor more than amongst those who are not poor. It’s sort of a textbook case of what happens when we let liberals have their way. I mean, for decades, all over the world, we’ve been beat about the head that there are hungry people out there, that they are starving. UNICEF - how many of you trick-or-treated for UNICEF? Did you 'Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF,' Brian? We all did - did you? We all trick-or-treated. One of the biggest scams on the face of the earth. It was - the scam was to get everybody loving the United Nations. The scam was to get everybody thinking the United Nations is feeding poor people. Remember all these stories: "A dime a day will feed 20 kids in some outward place around the world"

Conservatives Believe Businesspeople Are Moral Examples To Be Emulated: CEOs of the largest 15 oil companies averaged $32.7 million in compensation in 2005. This sum is more than twice the amount paid out to CEOs at other "large U.S. firms." More on the study released by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy here. Bloomberg: "Rising prices and profits translated into pay packages for oil company chief executive officers that are nearly three times the size of similarly sized businesses, a new study from two watchdog groups said. In 2005, the CEOs of the largest 15 oil companies averaged $32.7 million in compensation, compared with $11.6 million for all large U.S. firms, according to the study, released today by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy. Amid reports of multimillion-dollar pay packages, shareholder activists have sponsored resolutions to limit compensation at companies like Exxon Mobil Corp. and Home Depot Inc. In May, three members of the House of Representatives criticized the retirement benefits of former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond and asked the company to fill a gap in its workers’ pension fund."

In their glossy annual reports, military contractors are typically modest about how much loot they've gotten from a bloody and increasingly unpopular "War on Terror." But read the transcript of virtually any Q&A session with Wall Street and the truth comes out. While millions are suffering from the human and economic costs of the Iraq war, the violence has been very good for the bottom lines of military contractors and their top executives. "Obviously, military was a big bang for us in the post-September 11 period," crowed George David, CEO of United Technologies, in a meeting with analysts last December. UTC makes Black Hawk helicopters and fighter jet engines, along with civilian aircraft and elevators. David went on to boast that UTC had beaten all its competitors because the military side of its business had more than made up for a 25 percent drop in commercial aerospace revenues. Not surprisingly, David's personal rewards haven't been too shabby either. Since 9/11, he has been by far the highest paid defense executive, hauling in a total of more than $200 million. David and other top defense executives are highlighted in a new report, "Executive Excess," by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy

News From Smirkey's Wars: Bombers killed nearly 50 Iraqis on Wednesday, mostly in Baghdad, but the top U.S. commander said a security drive in the capital was making progress and local forces could largely be running Iraq within 12 to 18 months. General George Casey declined to be drawn on what that might mean for how many American troops could go home, and when. He told reporters a fierce battle on Monday in which Shi'ite militiamen in a southern city killed at least 20 Iraqi soldiers - 13 of them "executed" after they ran out of bullets - was not a setback and that continuing operations would show the U.S.-trained Iraqi army had the upper hand in Diwaniya. A bomb in a crowded wholesale market in central Baghdad killed 24 people and wounded 35, the latest of several attacks in recent days that have broken a lull and may be intended by suspected Sunni insurgents to defy a clampdown on Sunni areas that U.S. officers say has halved the death rate this month.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Pope Benedict gathers some of his former theology students on Friday for a private weekend debate on evolution and religion, an issue conservative Christians have turned into a political cause in the United States. Benedict, who taught theology at four German universities before rising in the Catholic Church hierarchy, has pondered weighty ideas with his former Ph.D students at annual meetings since the late 1970s without any media fuss. But his election as pope last year and controversies over teaching evolution in the United States have aroused lively interest in this year's reunion on September 1-3 at the papal summer residence of Castel Gondolfo outside Rome. Religion and science blogs are buzzing about whether it means the Vatican will take a more critical view of evolution and possibly embrace "Intelligent Design," which claims to have scientific proof that human life could not have simply evolved.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Signs that our local forests are stressed by global warming recently struck me while traveling over North Cascades passes in Washington state. The forest is dying near the top on both east and west sides; trees are still partially green but turning red - old trees, young trees, the forest itself. Tents, and campers, in the Lone Fir Campground were surrounded by these dying trees. The same reddening trees can be seen hiking through the Glacier Peak Wilderness on the trail to Spider Meadow in the Chiwawa River watershed of the Wenatchee National Forest. People are reporting that forests are dying near Mt. Rainier, on Chinook and White passes and down to central Oregon. Huge expanses of forest in central British Columbia have died and turned red. A friend living in the Quesnel River watershed of central British Columbia said, "It's all red, and next come the fires." Millions of acres of lodgepole pine have been pushed over the mortality threshold by global warming. There is no longer suitable habitat for the trees that have been growing there. In northern Canada, forests are showing signs of heat stress. Tracking forest changes between 1982 and 2003 using satellite data, Scott Goetz, an ecologist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, found that a wide swath of the northern forest was getting browner, not greener as he had expected. Goetz believes this is some of the first evidence that high latitude forests may be in decline following an initial growth spurt associated with warming. A massive Alaska yellow cedar die-off on 500,000 acres of land in Southeast Alaska has been documented by the US Forest Service. Scientists investigating the dramatic decline in yellow cedar eliminated all other possible causes except climate change. Yellow cedars live in the higher latitudes and altitudes of the coastal temperate rainforest from Alaska to the Olympic Peninsula. The trees that are dying have been living there for up to 1,000 years, in a climate conducive to life.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Beyond "Macaca": Barnstorming around Virginia in the re-election campaign that Republican Senator George Allen hopes will provide the impetus for his 2008 run for the presidency, he has suddenly been forced on the defensive. Time and again, he has felt compelled to explain that his mocking of S.R. Sidarth, a young Indian-American staff member for his Democratic opponent, as "macaca," or monkey, was an unintentional gaffe. "It was a mistake. I made a mistake," he told a reporter from a local NBC affiliate at a campaign stop on Thursday. Hours later, he told the ABC affiliate, "It was a mistake, I was wrong." On Fox News's Sean Hannity show, he echoed, "It was a mistake." But was it an isolated "mistake"? Only a decade ago, as governor of Virginia, Allen personally initiated an association with the Council of Conservative Citizens, the successor organization to the segregationist White Citizens Council and among the largest white supremacist groups. You can see a photograph of him here with the leaders of those groups.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist acknowledged Tuesday that he may not have met all the requirements needed to keep his medical license active - even though he gave paperwork to Tennessee officials indicating that he had. In other words, he lied. The state of Tennessee requires its licensed physicians to complete 40 hours of continuing medical education every two years. Frist, a heart-lung surgeon who is considering a 2008 presidential run, submitted a license renewal with the Tennessee Health Department stating he has fulfilled that requirement. Responding Tuesday to repeated requests from The Associated Press, a Frist spokesman said the Republican senator may not have done his continuing education after all.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:52:06 AM

Mon, Aug 28 2006

Adventures In Dentistry

What splendid weather we are having today! It is hurricane weather - whenever there is a hurricane out in the eastern Caribbean, the weather here in Arenal is truly spectacular. And today is no exception. While Ernesto is churning up the eastern tip of Cuba and making a mess out of Guantanamo (which is well and truly deserved by the people who run that place), those of us in Arenal enjoy bright sunshine, few clouds, light winds - just the sort of weather I moved to the tropics to enjoy, and indeed, with a high today of 85, a low last night of 70, it couldn't be much nicer.

Not that I was in much of a position to enjoy the weather, however. Seems I had a tooth inlay come out on Saturday night (whatever can't be dealt with on a weekend always seems to happen on a Saturday around here), and so I had to wait over the weekend to deal with it. I tried calling the clinic in Fortuna that I had heard about, and the phone was never answered when I called, so I went into town and started asking around. It was suggested that I try the new dentist here in town. She is the daughter of one of the prominent families in town, and, as it turned out, had studied at the best of the private medical schools in the country. One of the other gringos that I know here had been to her, and was satisfied with her work. So I figured I would give her a try, since what I needed done was about the simplest of procedures.

She had no appointments this morning, so I was able to walk right in and get the work done without waiting. The equipment in her office was basic and furnishings spartan, but was spotlessly clean, and the dental instruments were professionally autoclaved and sealed, so no health worries that I could see. I was delighted with how professionally she set about her task, using good hygiene procedures and working with confidence. From what I saw of it, her work was everything I had come to expect. She did her job quickly and efficiently, and when done, adjusted the bite beautifully. All in all, it appears I got a good inlay done. I had her clean my teeth while I was there, and in the process, she discovered two unfilled cavities, one in a wisdom tooth which has been there for years and has never grown, but another in a premolar that is hidden between the teeth and was quite large. It had gotten bad enough that the tooth has begun to discolor, and if unattended, will soon cause trouble, so she advised me to have it filled right away. I made an appointment with her tomorrow to get that cavity done, as it will be a somewhat lengthy procedure done under local anaesthetic. I paid 15,000 colones each for the cleaning and the filling, a total of 30,000, or just under $60. It would have been cheap at twice the price.

So today, I am sitting in my rocking chair on the porch enjoying this truly splendid weather. Tomorrow by this time, I will be in sheer agony.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: A bill to promote government transparency faces an uncertain future because of a far-from-transparent hold placed upon it in the Senate. An unknown number of senators have blocked legislation to create a public, searchable Web site of all federal grants and contracts. Senate rules permit any senator to anonymously block consideration of a bill on the floor, effectively killing the measure. "Hopefully the person or persons blocking it will realize it's important to promote transparency and not secrecy in government," said John Hart, spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the bill's sponsor. Supporters of the measure had hoped to bring it to the Senate floor before lawmakers left Washington for the August recess. Hart noted that the bill has a bipartisan list of prominent co-sponsors including: Senate President Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and possible presidential hopefuls Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The bill was approved July 27 by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The House approved a similar measure in June, but its version of the database would include information only on grants. Hart said sponsors in the Senate are working with House members to iron out this difference. He said they're optimistic an agreement will be reached soon.

The U.S. Army has quietly increased, by nearly half, the rate at which it grants what it terms "moral waivers" to potential recruits. According to the Pentagon, waivers in 2001 totaled 7,640, increasing to 11,018 in 2005. "Moral waivers" permit recruits with criminal records, emotional problems, and weak educational backgrounds to be taught how to use submachine guns and rocket launchers. Afterward, if they survive, they'll be called heroes - and released back into society. (One ex-soldier praising the military for having "properly trained and hardened me" was Timothy McVeigh). The U.S. military is now a mercenary force. In addition to hired militias and "independent contractors," we do have a draft: a poverty draft. That's why the Army is so disproportionately comprised of people of color, seeking education, health care, housing. But the military inflicts other perks: teenage males, hormones surging, are taught to confuse their bodies with weapons, and relish that. One notorious training song (with lewd gestures) goes: "This is my rifle, this is my gun; one is for killing, one is for fun." The U.S. Air Force admits showing films of violent pornography to pilots before they fly bombing raids. Military manuals are replete with such blatant phrases as "erector launchers," "thrust ratios," "rigid deep earth-penetration," "potent nuclear hardness."

When U.S. News cited "a top insider" describing how Smirkey likes to fart in the presence of junior White House staffers as a joke on them, the item was given the boys-will-be-boys title: "Animal House in the West Wing." But it is really much more than that - it is a way of asserting his superiority. During a presidential debate in 2000, Bush was back to making light of Texas executions. While arguing against the need for hate-crimes laws, Bush said the three men convicted of the racially motivated murder of James Byrd were already facing the death penalty. "It's going to be hard to punish them any worse after they're put to death," Bush said, with an out-of-place smile across his face. Beyond the inaccuracy of his statement - one of the three killers had received life imprisonment - there was that smirk again when discussing people on Death Row. The swelling of Bush's head was apparent in his interview for Bob Woodward's Bush at War, .which took a largely flattering look at Bush's "gut" decision-making but reported some disturbing attitudes within the White House. "I am the commander, see," Bush told Woodward. "I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the President. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they need to say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation." So, Bush had come to see himself as beyond accountability, much as ancient royalty viewed their own powers as unlimited under the divine right of kings. In the traditional droit du seigneur, a nobleman had the right to deflower the bride of a male subject on their first night of marriage. Now we're told that George W. Bush has another way of demonstrating his supremacy over subordinates: when new White House aides are brought in to be introduced to the President of the United States, the President farts.

The wives of soldiers whose duty in Iraq was extended to add troop strength to Baghdad peppered U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with tough questions, some that he could not answer, at a closed-door meeting in Alaska on Saturday. Rumsfeld, who received a mixed reception from a crowd that offered more applause for the questions asked than the answers provided, praised the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. He would not commit to a date for bringing those soldiers home, but told a 12-year-old girl in the audience, "I'd bet your daddy gets home before Christmas." He also told the estimated 700 to 800 family members at the meeting in an Army gymnasium that what the soldiers were doing was necessary to ensure terrorism does not strike the United States. "In five or 10 or 15 years, you'll all be able to look back and appreciate the importance of what's being done and the value of what's being done," he told the crowd. Rumsfeld's meeting with family members was closed to the press, unlike other large events, such as "town hall" sessions with troops. But some wives taped the event and one shared the recording with reporters.

The federal government has barred two relatives of a Lodi, CA man convicted of supporting terrorists from returning to the country after a lengthy stay in Pakistan, placing the U.S. citizens in an extraordinary legal limbo. Muhammad Ismail, a 45-year-old naturalized citizen born in Pakistan, and his 18-year-old son, Jaber Ismail, who was born in the United States, have not been charged with a crime. However, they are the uncle and cousin of Hamid Hayat, a 23-year-old Lodi cherry packer who was convicted in April of supporting terrorists by attending a Pakistani training camp. Federal authorities said Friday that the men, both Lodi residents, would not be allowed back into the country unless they agreed to FBI interrogations in Pakistan. An attorney representing the family said agents have asked whether the younger Ismail trained in terrorist camps in Pakistan. The men and three relatives had been in Pakistan for more than four years and tried to return to the United States on April 21 as a federal jury in Sacramento deliberated Hayat's fate. But they were pulled aside during a layover in Hong Kong and told there was a problem with their passports, said Julia Harumi Mass, their attorney. The father and son were forced to pay for a flight back to Islamabad because they were on the government's "no-fly" list, Mass said. Muhammad Ismail's wife, teenage daughter and younger son, who were not on the list, continued on to the United States.

Michael J. O'Keefe, a veteran United States diplomat and the deputy nonimmigrant visa chief at the American Consulate in Toronto, was indicted in Washington on charges that he traded work visas for jewelry, lavish dinners, New York hotel rooms and Las Vegas trips. The indictment describes a scheme in which Mr. O’Keefe fast-tracked applications for employees of an international jewelry manufacturer, STS Jewels, with headquarters in New York, and was lavished with gifts in return. Sunil Agrawal, chief executive of STS, was also charged. Mr. O’Keefe, 59, of Portsmouth, N.H., faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Finding cash to fund TV commercials is "the only thing that matters in American politics now", former US Vice-President Al Gore has said. "The person who has the most money to run the most ads usually wins," he told the Edinburgh TV Festival. It was "astonishing" that the average American devoted nearly five hours a day to TV viewing, he added. And Mr Gore asserted the internet was making TV more accessible and letting people join a "multi-way conversation." He called this an important move because people could find and distribute information, and then watch as it was judged by others in terms of quality.

Coca-Cola Co. was sued Friday as part of an effort to force soft drink makers to eliminate ingredients in their products that can form cancer-causing benzene. The complaint against the soft drink giant came as two smaller companies settled a lawsuit over benzene, which is linked to leukemia. "I think if they understand that consumers, and perhaps courts, expect them to eliminate this problem, they will," said Boston lawyer Andrew Rainer, who represents the parents. A Coca-Cola spokesman said the lawsuit is not about consumer safety but about lining lawyers' pockets. The Food and Drug Administration "has closely reviewed beverages for the presence of benzene in soft drinks several times in the past and each time has found no public health issue," said Coke spokesman Ray A. Crockett. And that's an order!

A group of government dissenters has called out Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for what they see as a lack of principle and unwillingness to stand up for whistleblowers. In an op-ed to be published soon, Sibel Edmonds and William Weaver of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC) criticized Senator Clinton for her failure to take a stand on the deaths of two veterans and injuries of others in illegal drug experiments at the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albany, NY. A number of efforts have been made by NSWBC and other concerned parties to get Sen. Clinton to address the matter, but to no avail. Edmonds and Weaver called Clinton's inaction in the Stratton case "part of a pattern of studious avoidance of principled action in the face of serious government misconduct, and the refusal to come to the aid of those people who expose that misconduct."

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The US would have to lift decades-old sanctions against Iran and probably give assurances that it has no policy of regime change towards the Islamic republic to settle Iran's nuclear dispute with the west, according to leaks of the Iranian response to the Security Council resolution demanding an end to its nuclear enrichment program. Iran is demanding firmer guarantees on trade and nuclear supplies, a tighter timetable for implementing agreements and clearer security pledges from the west before it decides whether to freeze its uranium enrichment program and explore an offer of a new relationship. Details of its response delivered this week to diplomats, disclosed yesterday by two well-connected Iranian political scientists, claimed moderates in Tehran had won an important power struggle and were offering a negotiated settlement of the nuclear row. If the US spurns the Iranian olive branch and forces through sanctions from the UN security council, "the stage will be set for a full-scale international crisis", the response's authors stated.

Government officials from the United States and this country are intensifying their verbal sparring after Venezuelan customs authorities this week seized diplomatic baggage from the United States that contained military hardware. In what analysts say may be a prelude to worsening relations, Venezuela's attorney general began an investigation on Friday into whether the American Embassy violated customs law when it brought 20 diplomatic bags into the country. The cargo, delivered by a C-17 military transport plane, included ejector seats apparently intended for Venezuelan combat jets, explosive charges and about 180 pounds of chicken that did not pass through sanitary inspection, Interior Minister Jesse Chacon Escamillo said Friday night. Displaying a photo of the lorries for journalists, Mr Chacon said that only four out of 20 packages were considered diplomatic baggage covered by international protocol. The US had bypassed customs and the necessary paperwork with the other 16 which included 80 kilos (176 pounds) of chicken, he said. This latest row occurred amid growing distaste in President Hugo Chavez's government over moves by the United States to step up spying operations in relation to Venezuela, with the creation this month of a post overseeing intelligence gathering and analysis for Venezuela and Cuba. Mr. Chavez regularly claims the United States plans to destabilize his administration and topple him.

A state within the Federal Republic of Germany has ruled that US government monitoring of international wire transfers is not legal. The Data Protection Commission within the German lander (or state) of Schlewsig-Holstein published an analysis of the handing over of transactional data from the agency SWIFT in Brussels to the US government. It found that the practice violates German and European data protection law because there is no legal basis for the transfer of intra-European transactional information to the US SWIFT processing center, and because US-EU transactions do not have their data properly safeguarded by the US. With the Commission finding a lack of legal basis for the SWIFT monitoring, it called for an immediate cessation of the mirroring of European data in the US SWIFT data center.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Cluster bomb explosions wounded three children and a man on Sunday, bringing to almost 60 the number of people hurt by the explosives since a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah two weeks ago, hospital sources said. The children, aged six to 11 years old, were wounded when one of six bomblets in the town of Blida, near the border with Israel. A 39-year-old man in the bordertown of Houla was also hurt when a cluster bomb exploded in his home, the sources said. Despite a massive public awareness campaign warning people of the thousands of unexploded cluster bombs left over from Israel's month- long blitz against Hezbollah fighters, casualties are reported each day. Since the August 14 ceasefire, 11 people, including three members of a Lebanese army mine-clearing unit, have been killed, along with 47 wounded, according to government figures. More than 280 cluster bomb strikes have been found so far across southern Lebanon, which was heavily bombed and shelled during Israel's offensive. The United States said last week it would probe Israel's use of US-made cluster bombs, after the UN and international rights groups sounded alarms about what they call a growing emergency.

An Israeli air strike hit a Reuters vehicle in Gaza City on Saturday, wounding two journalists and three others as they covered a military incursion, doctors and residents said. One of the Palestinian journalists, who worked for a local media organization, was seriously wounded. A cameraman working for Reuters was knocked unconscious in the air strike, one of several in the area. The Israeli army said the vehicle was hit because it was acting suspiciously in an area of combat and had not been identified as belonging to the media. "During the operation, there was an aerial attack on a suspicious vehicle that drove in a suspicious manner right by the forces and in between the Palestinian militant posts," army spokeswoman Captain Noa Meir said. "This car was not identified by the army as a press vehicle," she said. "If journalists were hurt, we regret it." The missile struck the vehicle after dark. The Reuters armored car was clearly labeled as a media vehicle, with signs on all sides, including the roof. Both journalists were by the doors, covering an Israeli military incursion into the Shijaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, known as a stronghold of militant groups.

Four men, who, according to Israel, were members of a security force of the governing Palestinian movement Hamas have been killed by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian officials say the men died in a strike by a pilotless Israeli aircraft on the outskirts of Gaza City. Israeli officials said two men had been killed in an exchange of fire and other gunmen were targeted from the air. The deaths bring to eight the number of Palestinians killed during an Israeli incursion which began on Saturday. Reports say the Hamas militants killed on Monday belonged to a special forces unit of the Palestinian interior ministry, which is controlled by Hamas.

Israeli security forces detained a Palestinian politician from Hamas on Sunday, witnesses and the army said, as part of a two-month dragnet against senior officials from the governing Islamist faction. Witnesses said Mahmoud Musleh was taken into custody at his home in Ramallah, the Palestinians' cultural and political hub in the occupied West Bank. An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed the detention but declined to say why it was ordered. Israel has detained at least 35 Hamas politicians and cabinet members since Gaza Strip gunmen, some from Hamas, killed two soldiers and abducted a third in a June 25 border raid. The detentions have drawn foreign censure and speculation that Israel was gathering high-level "bargaining chips" to force Corporal Gilad Shalit's return. Palestinian officials accused Israel of trying to topple the Hamas-led government.

A key U.S. legislator said in Israel on Sunday he would block aid Smirkey promised Lebanon and free the funds only when Beirut agreed to the deployment of international troops on the border with Syria. "The international community must use all our available means to stiffen Lebanon's spine and to convince the government of Lebanon to have the new UNIFIL troops on the Syrian border in adequate numbers," said Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives' International Relations Committee. Lantos said he was putting a legislative hold on Bush's proposal to provide $230 million in aid for Lebanon in the aftermath of the 34-day war between Israel and Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas. Meanwhile, Construction Jihad, the civil engineering arm of Hizbollah, was bombed out of its headquarters in Beirut's southern suburbs during the recent 34-day conflict. But within a day of the UN-brokered ceasefire, engineers from Jihad al-Bina’a, to give its Arabic name, were at work in the streets of the suburbs and south Lebanon assessing damage from Israel’s bombardment. Today, Construction Jihad’s makeshift premises in a south Beirut branch of the Mahdi school, the organisation's education association, is a hive of activity. Between pictures of Hizbollah leaders holding children, and the party's yellow flags, a large map of the area is plastered on the wall, dividing neighborhoods into small numbered zones. Engineers huddle along the length of a table strewn with forms detailing damage to individual properties from the conflict between Israel and Hizbollah. Since the ceasefire two weeks ago, Construction Jihad has moved into high gear, dispatching agents to areas affected by the conflict to measure the damage - they estimate 15,000 properties were destroyed or damaged - and send the forms back to this central office. This information is entered into computers, before people are paid compensation from the party itself, or assisted with reconstruction. Construction Jihad is part of a socialnetwork,includingschools, hospitals and a banking institution,that was critical to Hizbollah’s ability to fight Israeli troops during the occupation of Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s.

Spin Cycle: A plurality of voters in each of 32 states agree that the political system in the U.S. is "badly broken." Percentages range from a high of 63% in Vermont to 47% in Nebraska, but all point in the same direction. The Rasmussen Reports surveys were conducted as part of a series of Election 2006 polls on Senate and Governor's races across the nation. An earlier, national, survey found that just 48% of American adults believe that elections are generally fair to voters. That number has been fairly consistent since we began polling on the topic in the mid-90s. The only change has been the partisan details. In the 1990s, with a Democrat in the White House, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to believe that elections are fair. Now, with a Republican in the White House, the partisan perspectives have reversed.

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll finds that Americans have a more negative than positive opinion of presidential adviser Karl Rove, a pattern that has been consistent over the last year. Rove's current ratings have recovered somewhat from the low point measured in April, shortly after some of Rove's White House duties were reduced and as reports continued to suggest Rove might be indicted in the CIA leak investigation. His current ratings are roughly in line with his ratings from last October. Nearly 4 in 10 Americans say Rove has too much influence over the decisions the Bush administration makes. Views of Rove are predictably divided along partisan lines; Democrats are more critical than Republicans in their overall opinion and a majority of Democrats say he has too much influence over the Bush administration.

The latest state-by-state analysis by the Rothenberg Political Report projects a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives. In the lower house of the legislature, Rothenberg's analysis sees Democrats gaining 15-20 seats - well over the 12 needed for a House majority. Previous analysis had the gap much tighter, with Democrats' prospects for takeover hanging on just a handful of hotly contested seats. Democrats still appear unlikely to re-take the Senate, however, with projected gains of just 3-5 seats. Of the 9 seats ranked as at least somewhat competitive, both of those leaning toward an incumbent ouster and three of the four toss-ups are currently held by Republicans. However, three Democrats are also given just a narrow advantage in their races.

Their confidence shaken by Katrina, most Americans don't believe the nation is ready for another major disaster, a new AP-Ipsos poll finds. Poor people are more likely to fear becoming victims of the next disaster. The survey, conducted one year after the devastating hurricane and with much of New Orleans still in shambles, found diminishing faith in the government's ability to deal with emergencies. It also gave President Bush poor marks for his handling of the storm's aftermath. The region could get an eerily timed test of preparedness with forecasters concerned that a storm system named Ernesto could be at hurricane strength as it crosses over Cuba and heads across the Florida Keys this week.

Joseph Lieberman, who is seeking to return to the US Senate as an independent after losing his bid for re-nomination by the Democratic Party in Connecticut, and who still calls himself a Democrat, will campaign today with two Republicans for office in the state. A message was posted last night at the blog of Democratic challenger Ned Lamont, who bested Lieberman in the August 8 Democratic primary, indicating that Lieberman would campaign today with Republican Governor Jodi Rell and Republican Congressman Rob Simmons, both of whom are up for re-election. Jane Hamsher at the blog Fire Dog Lake added that the campaign event would occur at a submarine base in the city of Groton.

A number of high profile Republican campaigns are facing immediate problems reports MSBC's David Shuster. As recently as Sunday, McCain expressed his approval of Bush's handling of the Iraq war but has since criticized the administration for making statements that misled the public about the war. Shuster also notes that George Allen is still facing blowback about a colorful remark he made towards an American of Indian descent. Shuster also notes the latest New York Time/CBS poll that found Americans who believe that the war on terror is a separate issue from the Iraq war has increased by 10% in the last month. Shuster says, "If public skepticism holds and voters increasingly see Iraq and National Security as seperate, Republican troubles may deepen." Video here.

Wal-Mart, capitalist retailer for the masses, now has its own Communist Party branch. Earlier this month, Communist Party and Communist Youth League branches and a trade union were set up at a Wal-Mart outlet in the northeastern industrial city of Shenyang, a staffer in the store's communications department said Thursday, confirming Chinese media reports. As is typical of many media-shy Chinese, she gave only her surname, Liu. She would not discuss further details. A bastion of private business, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has fought efforts to form unions elsewhere in its worldwide operations. But in recent weeks it said it agreed to work with the state-sanctioned labor federation to allow unions in its outlets in China, where it has 30,000 employees.

Katrina, A Year On: The evacuation plan that was supposed to save the people of New Orleans was written, or supposed to have been written two years ago by a company called, "Innovative Emergency Management." Weird thing about IEM, their founder Madhu Beriwal, had no known experience in hurricane evacuations. She did, however, have a lot of experience in donating to Republicans. IEM and FEMA did begin a draft of a plan. The plan was that, when a hurricane hit, everyone in the Crescent City would simply get the hell out in their cars. Apparently, the IEM/FEMA crew didn’t know that 127,000 people in the city didn’t have cars. But Dr. van Heerden knew that. It was his calculation. LSU knew where these no-car people were - they mapped it - and how to get them out. Dr. van Heerden offered this life-saving info to FEMA. They wouldn’t touch it. Then, a state official told him to shut up, back off or there would be consequences for van Heerden’s position. This official now works for IEM. So Greg Palast asked him what happened as a result of making no plans for those without wheels, a lot of them elderly and most of them poor. "Fifteen-hundred of them drowned. That’s the bottom line." The professor, who’d been talking to me in technicalities, changed to a somber tone. "They're still finding corpses." Van Heerden is supposed to keep his mouth shut. He won't. The deaths weigh on him. "I wasn't going to listen to those sort of threats, to let them shut me down." Van Heerden had other disturbing news. The Hurricane Center's computer models showed the federal government had built the levees around the city a foot-and-a-half too short. After Katrina, the Hurricane Center analyzed the flooding and found that, had the levees had just that extra 18 inches, they would have been 'overtopped' for only an hour and a half, not four hours. In that case, the levees would have held, and the city would have been saved. He had taken the warning about the levees all the way to George Bush’s doorstep. "I myself briefed senior officials including somebody from the White House." The response: the university's trustees threatened his job.

Bari Landry sees signs of life all around her in Lakeview, a neighborhood that was flooded by Hurricane Katrina a year ago. However, Lakeview still is crowded with signs of the disaster: deserted houses, windows and doors standing wide open, and roof-high weeds. City officials have set Tuesday - the storm's first anniversary - as the deadline for homeowners to gut or otherwise clean up their properties. Landry is among those hoping the deadline will spur a cleanup that will lead to more redevelopment and repopulation after the exodus that followed Katrina. "The city needs to do what it needs to do," councilman Arnie Fielkow said Friday at a meeting during which the City Council approved some exemptions to the deadline. People who do not comply with the deadline after being put on notice face a range of possible penalties, from liens being placed on their property to the seizure or destruction of homes. That the city has a long way to go to recover was evident Sunday during various observances for the anniversary. NAACP President and CEO Bruce S. Gordon was among activists who took a walking tour of the still devastated Lower Ninth Ward on Sunday morning. He criticized the slow pace of recovery and said state, local and federal governments were still failing neighborhood residents.

A year ago, in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, NEWSWEEK published a cover story called "Poverty, Race and Katrina: Lessons of a National Shame." The article suggested that the disaster was prompting a fresh look at "The Other America" - the 37 million Americans living below the poverty line. "It takes a hurricane," I wrote. "It takes the sight of the United States with a big black eye - visible around the world - to help the rest of us begin to see again." I ended on a hopeful note: "What kind of president does George W. Bush want to be? ... If he seizes the moment, he could undertake a midcourse correction that might materially change the lives of millions. Katrina gives Bush an only-Nixon-could-go-to-China opportunity, if he wants it." Some readers told me at the time that this was naive - that the president, if not indifferent to the problems of black people, as the singer Kanye West charged, was not going to do anything significant to help them. At first this seemed too cynical. The week after the article appeared, Bush went to Jackson Square in New Orleans and made televised promises not only for Katrina relief but to address some of the underlying struggles of the poor. He proposed "worker recovery accounts" to help evacuees find work by paying for job training, school and child care; an Urban Homesteading Act that would make empty lots and loans available to the poor to start over, and a Gulf Enterprise Zone to spur business investment in poor areas. Small ideas, perhaps, but good ones. Well, it turned out that the critics were largely right. Not only has the president done much less than he promised on the financing and logistics of Gulf Coast recovery, he has dropped the ball entirely on using the storm and its aftermath as an opportunity to fight poverty. Worker recovery accounts and urban homesteading never got off the ground, and the new enterprise zone is mostly an opportunity for Southern companies owned by GOP campaign contributors to make some money in New Orleans. The mood in Washington continues to be one of not-so-benign neglect of the problems of the poor.

Attorney Vallie Schwartz fell in love with the 130-year-old Victorian shotgun in the French Quarter, which like all grand houses in this former Spanish enclave has tall, cathedral ceilings and brightly painted cypress shutters. A successful personal injury lawyer, she could comfortably afford the mortgage on the half-million-dollar house, so she made an offer - one that was soon accepted. That was before she knew how much it would cost to insure the property: The best quote she got from a private insurer was nearly $10,000 per year, or over $800 a month on top of her monthly mortgage - far more than she had budgeted and enough to price her out of the house. "I’m in the higher income bracket in this city, and I can’t afford that. I just saw my money floating out the window," says Schwartz, who pulled out of the deal and is still living in a rental one year after losing her house to flooding. To a bruised economy still reeling from Hurricane Katrina, add the most recent challenge: Finding affordable insurance. With private insurers retreating from this hurricane-scarred region, residents in New Orleans are facing a new economic reality. Mortgage brokers are penciling in hundreds of extra dollars to the New Orleans loans they’re writing to account for soaring insurance premiums. Those living in condominiums are being slapped with hefty increases in their condo dues, the result of a spike in the buildings' wind and fire coverage. Hotel and inn owners are paying more, too - an especially heavy burden at a time when tourists are scarce. Most affected of all are new home buyers, who are trying to secure insurance in a landscape few insurers will touch.

Land Of Equal Opportunity: Suspicious stares. Physical assaults. Thinner wallets? Post-9/11 anti-Islamic and anti-Middle Eastern sentiment hasn't just taken an emotional toll on Muslim and Arab men living in the United States. It has also put a dent in their checkbooks, a study indicates. Arab and Muslim men saw their wages and weekly earnings drop by 10 percent after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the research reveals. The largest decreases, according to the data collected from over 4,000 men between 1997 and 2005, occurred in locations that reported higher rates of ethnic and religious-based hate crimes. Part of the reason pay fell is that these men, mostly from predominantly Islamic countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Algeria, found fewer opportunities and had to find work in different industries that paid less than the jobs they used to be employed in after 9/11, said the study's co-author, Robert Kaestner, a University of Illinois at Chicago economics professor. In addition, Kaestner said, most Muslim and Arab men, possibly wary of the reception they might receive in another state, curbed their travel within the country after 9/11, which may have kept them from seeking better jobs.

Republicans Believe In Upholding Free Speech: President Clinton’s impeachment nemesis Kenneth Starr is staying busy. Monday, the former Independent Counsel is expected to file a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the suspension of a high school student disciplined for holding a banner across the street from campus reading, "BONG HITS 4 JESUS." The incident occurred in January 2002, as the Olympic torch relay wound through Juneau, Alaska, en route to the winter games in Salt Lake City. As the torch passed by the school, student Joseph Frederick and friends unfurled the banner across the street from campus apparently to attract the attention of television cameras.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: A pipeline shuts down in Alaska. Equipment failures disrupt air travel in Los Angeles. Electricity runs short at a spy agency in Maryland. None of these recent events resulted from a natural disaster or terrorist attack, but they may as well have, some homeland security experts say. They worry that too little attention is paid to how fast the country's basic operating systems are deteriorating. "When I see events like these, I become concerned that we've lost focus on the core operational functionality of the nation's infrastructure and are becoming a fragile nation, which is just as bad - if not worse - as being an insecure nation," said Christian Beckner, a Washington analyst who runs the respected Web site Homeland Security Watch. The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation "D" for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem.

It is difficult to name more than a handful of resource-rich states that are liberal democracies and that are still significantly aligned with the United States. Only Canada and Mexico come immediately to mind, and even Canada is increasingly embracing China and the East in the sphere of strategic energy deals and agreements. Even those resource-rich regimes that are considered to be the most moderate of the globe's producing states are far less closely aligned geopolitically with the US than they were previously. Saudi Arabia, for example, continues its "Look East" policy of diversifying its markets away from the US. It has concluded a range of important deals in the energy sector with China and India and is steadily moving into closer geopolitical alignment with the rising East. A number of other key Middle Eastern regimes are following suit. By and large Latin America is doing the same, as are Africa and Central Asia. Almost none of the world's oil and gas producers wants to be inordinately dependent on the US market any longer. Additionally, the steady rise of the powerful economies of Asia beckons oil and gas producers toward such lucrative markets that are politically cost-free, meaning they do not attach political demands and seek to interfere in the domestic affairs of the producing regimes, as does the US. In virtually all cases, the interests of the West and of its multinational oil companies and big Western financial institutions are being minimized and/or pushed out as the global trend of nationalization, by one means or another, of the oil-and-gas sector picks up speed.

Republicans Believe Businesspeople Are Moral Examples To Be Emulated: A NY Times study finds that 41% of companies receiving buyout bids in the last twelve months show "abnormal and suspicious trading" before the deals became public. "The boom in corporate mergers is creating concern that illicit trading ahead of deal announcements is becoming a systemic problem," writes Gretchen Morgenson for the Times. "It is against the law to trade on inside information about an imminent merger, of course," Morgenson writes. "But an analysis of the nation’s biggest mergers over the last 12 months indicates that the securities of 41 percent of the companies receiving buyout bids exhibited abnormal and suspicious trading in the days and weeks before those deals became public," the article continues. "For those who bought shares during these periods of unusual trading, quick gains of as much as 40 percent were possible."

Republicans Believe In Open, Honest, and Transparent Government: In the wake of an activist's death at the hands of FBI operatives, the agency’s revelation that it may have destroyed records on the independence movement in Puerto Rico has aggravated tensions over the government's presence on the island. In a recent response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Chicago-based legal advocacy group People's Law Office, the FBI admitted that it "could not locate" records relating to the activities of a prominent Puerto Rican nationalist. It also stated that its field office in San Juan, Puerto Rico may have destroyed the documents when purging its files years ago. The subject of the requested records was José Paralitici, leader of the activist group Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques, which opposed US Navy weapons testing on the island of Vieques. The group helped stop the Naval bombardments of the island in 2003, and since then Paralitici has continued to organize around Puerto Rican nationalist issues. In a June 29 letter reviewed by The NewStandard, the FBI's Records Management Division denied the request. The Bureau admitted that "records which may be responsive" to the group's query "were destroyed on February 2, 1989." Claiming that the action was part of the Bureau's routine record-disposal process, Section Chief David Hardy wrote, "Since this material could not be reviewed, it is not known if it actually pertains to your subject."

A scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency has written a letter to Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and other members of the New York congressional delegation blasting the EPA for hiding dangerous toxins from Ground Zero workers in the aftermath of 9/11. The letter, written by Dr. Cate Jenkins and obtained by RAW STORY, claims that EPA-funded research on the toxicity of breathable alkaline dust at the site "falsified pH results" to make the substance appear benign, when it was, in reality, corrosive enough to cause first responders and other workers in lower Manhattan to later lose pulmonary functions and, in some cases, to die. Jenkins writes: "These falsifications directly contributed not only to emergency personnel and citizens not taking adequate precautions to prevent exposures, but also prevented the subsequent correct diagnosis of the causative agents responsible for the pulmonary symptoms. Thus, appropriate treatment was prevented or misdirected, and loss of life and permanent disability undoubtedly resulted."

Last Throes Of The Insurgency In Iraq: Iraq's most prominent archaeologist has resigned and fled the country, saying the dire security situation, an acute shortage of funds, and the interference of supporters of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had made his position intolerable. Donny George, who was president of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, achieved international recognition for his efforts to track down and recover the priceless antiquities looted from Iraq's National Museum in the mayhem that followed the fall of Baghdad in 2003. But this week he revealed that he had resigned and was in hiding with his family in the Syrian capital Damascus. In an interview with the Art Newspaper, Dr George said Baghdad was now so dangerous that the National Museum, which houses a trove of Sumerian and Babylonian artefacts, had been sealed off by concrete walls to protect it from insurgent attacks and further looting. Mr George is said to have told a Baghdad paper the Iraqi state board of antiquities and heritage, which he presided over, had come under the increasing influence of supporters of radical Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr, and he had been trying to counter a growing Islamist and anti-Western agenda. He claimed that people had been put into the antiquities department who were interested only in Islamic sites and not in Iraq's rich earlier heritage.

Reuters news agency urged the U.S. military on Sunday to investigate the killing of one of its journalists by American troops in Baghdad a year ago. An independent inquiry commissioned by Reuters concluded that the soldiers' shooting of television soundman Waleed Khaled on August 28 last year appeared "unlawful." But the Pentagon has failed to respond to requests to review the local commander's ruling, which said the firing of shots at the car was "appropriate." In April, Reuters gave the U.S. Defense Department the report, which found the soldiers' own evidence did not support the commander's conclusion. The report also criticized the military for "losing" vital video footage of the incident shot by the Reuters cameraman who was Khaled's passenger. He was wounded and then arrested by troops.

The majority of U.S. service members charged in the unlawful deaths of Iraqi civilians have been acquitted, found guilty of relatively minor offenses or given administrative punishments without trials, according to a Washington Post review of concluded military cases. Charges against some of the troops were dropped completely. Though experts estimate that thousands of Iraqi civilians have died at the hands of U.S. forces, only 39 service members were formally accused in connection with the deaths of 20 Iraqis from 2003 to early this year. Twenty-six of the 39 troops were initially charged with murder, negligent homicide or manslaughter; 12 of them ultimately served prison time for any offense.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: A Bush-funded prison initiative that fast-tracked parole for Christian converts has been swatted down in the federal courts. The day after a federal court struck down a taxpayer-supported evangelical Christian program in an Iowa prison, Mark Earley, president of Prison Fellowship, issued a press statement. He was not pleased. "The courts took God out of America's schools, now they are on the path to take God out of America's prisons," Earley groused. Earley's analysis of judicial decisions dealing with religion and public schools was widely off the mark, but he had good reason to be upset about the recent ruling on public funds for inmate indoctrination. His organization, Prison Fellowship Ministries, founded by ex-Watergate felon Charles Colson, has been sponsoring the Iowa program for three years. If the ruling stands up on appeal, not only will Earley's group have to shut down the program, it will be required to repay the state of Iowa more than $1.5 million in public support it has received during that time. The June 2 decision in Americans United for Separation of Church and State v. Prison Fellowship Ministries was a staggering loss not just for Earley's group but perhaps for key elements of President George W. Bush's "faith-based" initiative as well. U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt didn't mince words. Officials at Iowa's Newton Correctional Facility had become, he wrote, far too entangled with religion by establishing a special wing for Prison Fellowship's InnerChange program. InnerChange, Pratt declared, is suffused with religion.

The Catholic Church is rejecting claims in the United States of new "embryo-safe" stem-cells, pouring cold water on hopes by many scientists of ending ethical uproar over their research. A U.S. company says it has developed a way to create the stem cells without harming the original embryo, which the Vatican holds is a full-fledged human life. The breakthrough technique was meant to answer critics at the papal palace, the White House and beyond, who have long argued that it was ethically reproachable to attempt to save one life by taking another. But the head of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, told Reuters in an interview that the new method by Advanced Cell Technology Inc. failed to overcome the Church's many moral concerns. Sgreccia said the procedure was wrong footed from the start - experimenting with embryos is reprehensible, as is use of "unnatural" in-vitro embryos created at fertility clinics, like the ones the U.S. scientists employed in their research. Advanced Cell Technology Inc. then made things worse by extracting what could be a "totipotent" cell, Sgreccia said. "This is not just any cell, but a cell capable of reproducing a human embryo," Sgreccia said. He added that, in effect: "a second embryo is being destroyed." "There is no rational reason left to oppose this research," said Dr. Robert Lanza, vice president of Advanced Cell Technology and leader of a team that reported the new method in an article published online by the journal Nature.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: An unusually large number of tropical fish have been spotted this summer in Rhode Island waters by divers, fishermen and environmentalists. Among the fish seen so far: juvenile orange filefish, snowy grouper and lookdowns. A local lobsterman pulled up a large trigger fish in one of his traps. "We're always catching tropicals during the summer months, but I mean there are a lot more. Probably about double the amount," Jean Bambara, an aquarist at Save the Bay's Exploration Center in Newport, told The Providence Journal. The fish being seen are normally found in the warm waters off the southern states, just like the Portuguese men-of-war that invaded southern New England waters earlier in the summer and the manatee that was spotted this week in Warwick and North Kingstown. John Torgan, baykeeper with Save the Bay, said the average water temperature of Narragansett Bay has increased three degrees over the past few decades. He said this could cause cold-water species like cod and haddock to move further north and warm-water fish to move in. "What's different is we've seen warmer water and we're seeing an increased sighting of these rare or accidental species in Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound," Torgan said.

Scandals Du Jour: If someone is convicted of a crime and dies before exhausting all his appeals, is he innocent? That's the question now challenging federal prosecutors in the latest twist of the Enron case. A legal precedent could clear the record of Enron founder Kenneth Lay, even though he was found guilty of six counts of conspiracy and fraud, because of his sudden death last month. The move could also make tens of millions of dollars in his estate off-limits to creditors. The Justice Department has said it will use all available legal means to reclaim the money related to the criminal charges Mr. Lay was convicted of in May. But those means may be few because of the legal precedent set by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which found in 2004 that a person's criminal record is "abated," or wiped out, if he or she dies before having a chance to exhaust all appeals.

The rationale is that someone convicted of a crime should not be denied the right to have the trial's fairness tested, says Brian Wice, a Houston attorney. In this case, it means Lay's conviction, trial, even his indictment will most likely be abated - making him an innocent man. The lawyer handling Lay's estate has already filed a motion with US District Judge Sim Lake, asking him to erase Lay's criminal record, based on the ruling by the Fifth Circuit, which governors federal courts in Texas. That may be hard for the public to take, says Ross Albert, an Atlanta lawyer formerly with the Securities and Exchange Commission. "There is a presumption of innocence that comes before every conviction. But Ken Lay, at the time he died, was not presumed to be innocent," says Mr. Albert, who believes the Fifth Circuit is "zealously" protecting the prerogative of the appeals court even though well over 80 percent of all criminal appeals are denied.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris said Saturday that she did not intend to exclude Jews and other non-Christians from public office when she told a Baptist magazine that unless "tried and true" Christians were elected, those in power would "legislate sin." But Harris' remarks drew sharp condemnation from her opponents in the Sept. 5 Republican U.S. Senate primary and even from some GOP supporters. Harris said her remarks in last week's edition of the Florida Baptist Witness were intended for Christian voters who mistakenly believe the constitutional separation of church and state prevents them from participating in politics, even voting. "It wasn't my intent to section out Christians at all," Harris said as she attended a gun show here. "My passion is to make sure that people participate in the process. Everyone should vote. Everyone should be engaged, but the problem is a lot of Christians believe they should not participate because of the separation of church and state." Among those critical of her comments was state Rep. Irving Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, who is Jewish. Slosberg demanded an apology. Harris, of Longboat Key near Sarasota, said she has a strong record of supporting Israel. "When I speak in temples, I say, 'Please, I am so passionate about Israel, make certain that you are engaged and involved in the process, because otherwise you're going to have people voting that are not going to be supportive of it.' I have always said in my speeches in churches I stand with Israel."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:05:20 PM

Sat, Aug 26 2006

Can't Compete With Hollywood

The usual rainy season weather has continued for the last two days, with gloomy overcast, and just an hour or so of sunny weather this afternoon to relieve the gloom a bit. But that bit of sunny weather brought today's high to a "balmy" 81 degrees, after a low last night of 72. The rain has slowed down a bit, probably in response to the tropical storm building up in the eastern Caribbean. Maybe we'll get a spate of hurricane weather (read: sunny, warm, dry and not a hint of a breeze) if this thing develops into a real hurricane.

My friend who has moved here from the States was by yesterday with a few things he wanted to store in my house while his rental is getting secured with new locks and a couple of better doors. We enjoyed a long chat till almost sunset, and he indicated he was going to come by again today to take care of a few things on the computer, but he didn't make it. I got a phone call instead, advising me that he got a television and a DVD player, and I suspect now he has a reason to stay home. Anyway, it was a very pleasant visit yesterday, and I was looking forward to the same today. But I guess I can't compete with Hollywood.

The gardener came by today instead of his usual day on Friday, as he had to make a trip to Bagaces, and wasn't back till late. But he got things taken care of quite well today, including getting some fertilizer down - it had been some time, and the rain had pretty well washed it out of the soil, so I was happy to get that done. I spent most of my day reading and listening to music, however, and working on a little Excel spreadsheet I am putting together as content for a ham radio page I am planning for this website. Not much happening, just a lazy Saturday.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: A chief prosecutor of Nazi war crimes at Nuremberg has said George W. Bush should be tried for war crimes along with Saddam Hussein. Benjamin Ferenccz, who secured convictions for 22 Nazi officers for their work in orchestrating the death squads that killed more than 1 million people, told OneWorld both Bush and Saddam should be tried for starting "aggressive" wars--Saddam for his 1990 attack on Kuwait and Bush for his 2003 invasion of Iraq. "Nuremberg declared that aggressive war is the supreme international crime," the 87-year-old Ferenccz told OneWorld from his home in New York. He said the United Nations charter, which was written after the carnage of World War II, contains a provision that no nation can use armed force without the permission of the UN Security Council. Ferenccz said that after Nuremberg the international community realized that every war results in violations by both sides, meaning the primary objective should be preventing any war from occurring in the first place. He said the atrocities of the Iraq war--from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the massacre of dozens of civilians by U.S. forces in Haditha to the high number of civilian casualties caused by insurgent car bombs--were highly predictable at the start of the war. Which wars should be prosecuted? "Every war will lead to attacks on civilians," he said. "Crimes against humanity, destruction beyond the needs of military necessity, rape of civilians, plunder--that always happens in wartime. So my answer personally, after working for 60 years on this problem and [as someone] who hates to see all these young people get killed no matter what their nationality, is that you've got to stop using warfare as a means of settling your disputes."

Even before Iran gave its formal counter-offer to ambassadors of the P5+1 countries (the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) Tuesday, the George W. Bush administration had already begun the process of organizing sanctions against Iran. Washington had already held a conference call on sanctions Sunday with French, German and British officials, the Washington Post reported. Thus ends what appeared on the surface to be a genuine multilateral initiative for negotiations with Iran on the terms under which it would give up its nuclear programme. But the history of that P5+1 proposal shows that the Bush administration was determined from the beginning that it would fail, so that could bring to a halt a multilateral diplomacy on Iran's nuclear programme that the hard-liners in the administration had always found a hindrance to their policy. Britain, France and Germany, which had begun negotiations with Tehran on the nuclear issue in October 2003, had concluded very early on that Iran's security concerns would have to be central to any agreement. It is has been generally forgotten that the Nov. 14, 2004 Paris Agreement between the EU and Iran included an assurance by the three European states that the "long-term agreement" they pledged to reach would "provide...firm commitments on security issues." Iran's president launched a new phase in the Arak heavy-water reactor project on Saturday, saying Tehran would not give up its right to nuclear technology despite Western fears it is aimed at producing a bomb.

GOP leaders in the administration and in Congress are angry that US intelligence agencies will not support their arguments that Iran may soon have nuclear weapons and that it is arming Hezbollah. The complaints, expressed privately in recent weeks, surfaced in a Congressional report about Iran released Wednesday. They echo the tensions that divided the administration and the Central Intelligence Agency during the prelude to the war in Iraq. The criticisms reflect the views of some officials inside the White House and the Pentagon who advocated going to war with Iraq and now are pressing for confronting Iran directly over its nuclear program and ties to terrorism, say officials with knowledge of the debate.

The United Nations solution to the Lebanon invasion that Ms. Rice helped to craft is looking shaky, opening her and the Bush administration to criticism that they oversold the strength of the deal to end the war. Some of the sharpest criticism comes from conservatives in Ms. Rice's own party. Critics tick off a list of missteps they claim the administration made after fighting broke out July 12 between Israel and the heavily armed Islamic militia group. Most damaging, they assert, may be how the Bush administration portrayed the war early on as a means to bring long-lasting improvements to Lebanon by dismantling Hezbollah, and then brokered a deal that may end up neither weakening the group nor greatly bolstering either Israel's security or Lebanon's wobbly government. "It's pretty clear that things are going to pan out badly," says Danielle Pletka, a Middle East expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and increasingly vocal administration critic. "Whenever you try to solve something that needs major surgery with a Band-Aid you run a real risk of disaster."

Did criminal insider speculators with informants inside the British intelligence apparatus take advantage of their foreknowledge of the announcement of a foiled terror plot to place put options on airline stocks, reaping the benefits of their subsequent fall? So says the India Daily, claiming strange patterns in airline stocks preceded the announcement - and that carefully placed money was waiting on the sidelines to jump in and buy the stocks as cheaper prices before they rose again in subsequent trading. Airline stocks dropped as much as 28 per cent during morning trading following the announcement of the alleged liquid bomb plot. Though the report can be quantified as nothing more than speculation at this point, it mirrors murmurs we've been receiving from stock brokers who also claim potential foul play. If true it would also dovetail with similar activity prior to the 9/11 attacks and the 7/7 bombings in London. 9/11 was preceded by suspicious put options in large quantities placed on American and United Airlines which betrayed advance knowledge of the attack. The investigation as to who was responsible for authorizing the transactions led directly back to former CIA director Buzzy Krongard. In the case of the London bombings, the pound fell 6 per cent against the dollar for no apparent reason in the 10 days before the attack. "Currencies of established countries simply do not fall that fast based upon any kind of economic or financial analysis," said a 35 year veteran economist. "Somebody - somewhere - knew something. Or maybe I should say 'somebodies.'"

A Florida company wants to get under the skin of 1.4 million U.S. servicemen and women. VeriChip Corp, based in Delray Beach, Fla., and described by the D.C. Examiner as "one of the most aggressive marketers of radio frequency identification chips," is hoping to convince the Pentagon to allow them to insert the chips, known as RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips under the skin of the right arms of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen. The chips would replace the legendary metal dog tags that have been worn by U.S. military personnel since 1906. The device is usually implanted above the triceps area of an individual’s right arm, but can also by implanted in the hand if scanned at the proper frequency. The VeriChip responds with a unique 16-digit number, which can correlate the user to information stored on a database for identity verification, medical records access, and other uses. The insertion procedure is performed under local anesthetic, and once inserted it is invisible to the naked eye. The company, which the Examiner notes has powerful political connections, is "in discussions" with the Pentagon, VeriChip spokeswoman Nicole Philbin told the Examiner. "The potential for this technology doesn’t just stop at the civilian level," Philbin said. Company officials have touted the chips as versatile, able to be used in a variety of situations such as helping track illegal immigrants or giving doctors immediate access to patient’s medical records.

Karl Rove criticized a federal judge's order for an immediate end to the government's warrantless surveillance program, claiming Wednesday such a program might have prevented the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Rove said the government should be free to listen if al Qaeda is calling someone within the U.S. "Imagine if we could have done that before 9/11. It might have been a different outcome," he said. U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit last week became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency's program, ruling it unconstitutional. Rove's comments came as he headlined a fundraiser for Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who is running for governor. About 50 protesters stood outside the country club where the fundraiser was held, some with signs that said "Impeach Bush."

A Republican candidate for a New Hampshire congressional seat said Wednesday that the U.S. government was complicit in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In an editorial board interview with The Telegraph on Wednesday, the candidate, Mary Maxwell, said the U.S. government had a role in killing nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, so it could make Americans hate Arabs and allow the military to bomb Muslim nations such as Iraq. Maxwell, 59, seeks the 2nd District congressional seat. The Concord resident opposes the incumbent, Charles Bass of Peterborough, and Berlin Mayor Bob Danderson in the Republican primary Sept. 12. Maxwell would not specify if she holds the opinion that the government stood by while terrorists hijacked four domestic airliners and used them as weapons, or if it had a larger role by sanctioning and carrying out the attacks. But she implicated the government by saying the Sept. 11 attacks were meant "to soften us up . . . to make us more willing to have more stringent laws here, which are totally against the Bill of Rights . . . to make us particularly focus on Arabs and Muslims... and those strange persons who spend all their time creating little bombs," giving Americans a reason "to hate them and fear them and, therefore, bomb them in Iraq for other reasons."

President Bush came to his parent's century-old summer home on the Maine coast for a little relaxation, a distant cousin's wedding and some family time. He got all that, along with a boisterous reminder nearly on his bucolic doorstep of the unpopularity of his Iraq policies. What local police estimated were about 700 anti-war demonstrators marched Saturday to within half a mile of the Bush compound before being turned back at a security checkpoint. Called Walker's Point after the family of former President Bush's mother, the stone-and-shingle retreat covering a craggy promontory is owned by the current president's parents. The protesters sang, chanted, beat drums, waved signs and even played fiddles to call on Bush to bring troops home. "Bush is fiddling while the world burns, just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned," said Pippa Stanley, 15, of Richmond, Maine, who was helping with the backdrop for pair of fiddlers dressed in togas.

Across the nation and around the world, colleges are increasingly creating degree programs and other courses to prepare students for work in "homeland security," the broadly defined realm of protecting communities and businesses against terror attacks and natural disasters. At Wilmington College, a master's degree concentration in the field will begin in September, and has attracted about 25 students. At Delaware Technical & Community College, officials are exploring a two-year degree in homeland security and emergency management. "We saw regional need for homeland security at the master's level," said Chris Trowbridge, an assistant professor and the coordinator of Wilmington College's graduate administration of justice programs. Increasingly, he said, business and law enforcement professionals see the benefit of studying the dynamics of terrorism and the complexities of assessing risk. Many firms and government agencies already have people in place who are working to cope with these security issues, said Bill Esposito, a former deputy director of the FBI who will be teaching two of the four courses included in Wilmington College's yearlong homeland security program. "The question is, how much training do these people really have and how much education do they have in those programs?" he said.

State Farm Insurance supervisors systematically demanded that Hurricane Katrina damage reports be buried or replaced or changed so that the company would not have to pay policyholders' claims in Mississippi, two State Farm insiders tell ABC News. Kerri and Cori Rigsby, independent adjusters who had worked for State Farm exclusively for eight years, say they have turned over thousands of internal company documents and their own detailed statement to the FBI and Mississippi state investigators. In an exclusive interview with ABC news, to be broadcast on 20/20 -- Watch 20/20 tonight at 10 --and World News, the Rigsby sisters say they saw "widespread" fraud at the State Farm offices in Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss. "Katrina was devastating, but so was State Farm," says Cori Rigsby. At one point, they say State Farm brought in a special shredding truck they believe was used to destroy key documents. State Farm says shredding is standard to protect policyholders' privacy. The sisters say they saw supervisors go to great lengths to pressure outside engineers to prepare reports concluding that damage was caused by water, not covered under State Farm policies, rather than by wind. They say reports that concluded that damage was caused by wind, for which State Farm would have to pay, were hidden in a special file and new reports were ordered. Cori Rigsby says she recalls a senior coordinator ordering that an engineering company be told to alter the findings in its report so that State Farm would not have to pay. "Tell them if they don't change their report, we're not paying their invoice," she remembers the supervisor saying.

The government awarded 70 percent of its contracts for Hurricane Katrina work without full competition, wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in the process, says a House study released Thursday by Democrats. The report, a comprehensive overview of government audits on Katrina contracting, found that out of $10.6 billion in contracts awarded after the storm last year, more than $7.4 billion were handed out with limited or no competitive bidding. In addition, 19 contracts worth $8.75 billion were found to have wasted taxpayer money at least in part, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the report. It cited numerous instances of double-billing by contractors and cases of trailers meant as emergency housing sitting empty in Arkansas. Aaron Walker, a national spokesman for the Homeland Security Department's Federal Emergency Management Agency, the primary agency for awarding hurricane contracts, said FEMA was already working to improve its contracting process based on "previously issued, non-politicized, reports."

Robert Henderson was not fired as a state trooper because he belonged to the Ku Klux Klan and another white supremacist group, authorities said. Instead, he was ousted because he could not uphold public trust while participating in such groups, they said. An arbitrator disagreed, ordering the State Patrol to reinstate Henderson within 60 days and pay him back wages. The state went to court Friday to keep him off the force. "The integrity of Nebraska's law enforcement is at risk," Attorney General Jon Bruning said at news conference in Lincoln. "The Constitution does not require law enforcement to employ anyone tied to the KKK."

With immigration reform legislation stalled indefinitely, the congressional hearings on the issue that attracted overflow crowds around the Fourth of July have now fizzled with disinterest leading into Labor Day. Most Americans paid little attention to the two dozen House hearings held around the country during the last two months. Many families have been on vacation, and the news has been dominated by war in the Middle East, the foiled terror plot in London and an arrest in the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation. "People don't pay attention to these things, except the C-SPAN junkies," said Gary Jacobson, an expert in congressional politics at the University of California, San Diego. "It's not surprising that it's fizzled." Democrats and immigrant groups have questioned the need for the hearings because such meetings are typically held before legislation is passed - not after. Critics call the hearings an election-year tactic to delay negotiations on the competing immigration bills passed by the House and Senate. Many House members have shown waning interest in the meetings, preferring to campaign during the August recess or go on vacation, Jacobson said.

Greg Sargent, writing in Talking Points Memo: "I just got off the phone with Hildi Halley, a woman from Maine whose husband is a fallen soldier. Yesterday President Bush met with her privately, and news of their meeting was reported in a local Maine paper, the Kennebec Journal. The paper shared few details of the meeting, saying simply that Halley objected to Bush's policies and that she said Bush responded that there was no point in them having a "philosophical discussion about the pros and cons of the war." But Halley has just given me a much more detailed account of her meeting with Bush. She told me that she went much farther in her criticism of the President, telling him directly that he was "responsible" for the deaths of American soldiers and that as a "Christian man," he should recognize that he's "made a mistake" and that it was his "responsibility to end this." She recounted to me that she was "very direct," telling Bush: "As President, you're here to serve the people. And the people are not being served with this war."

Americans believe Democrats would do a better job of dealing with the situation in Iraq and handling the economy, but Republicans would do a better job against terrorism, according to a poll released Tuesday. On terrorism, Republicans were favored by 48 percent of respondents, versus 38 percent for Democrats. Eleven percent said there would be no difference and 3 percent offered no opinion. But on the war in Iraq, respondents favored Democrats over Republicans by 47 percent to 41 percent, with 8 percent saying there would be no difference, and 3 percent expressing no opinion. That's a reversal of what national sentiment was in January 2003, when Republicans were favored over Democrats 53 to 29 percent in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The U.S. government is spending millions of dollars in the name of democracy in Venezuela - bankrolling "human rights seminars," training emerging leaders, advising political parties and giving to "charities." But the money is raising deep suspicions among supporters of President Hugo Chavez, in part because the U.S. has refused to name many of the groups it's supporting. Details of the spending emerge in 1,600 pages of grant contracts obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request. The U.S. Agency for International Development released copies of 132 contracts in all, but whited out the names and other identifying details of nearly half the grantees. U.S. officials insist the aid is aboveboard and politically neutral, and say the Chavez government would harass or prosecute the grant recipients if they were identified. Chavez, however, believes the United States is campaigning - overtly and covertly - to undermine his leftist government, which has crusaded against U.S. influence in Latin America and elsewhere. "The empire pays its lackeys, and it pays them well," he said recently, accusing some of his opponents of taking "gringo money." While USAID oversees much of the public U.S. spending on Latin America, President Bush's government also has stepped up covert efforts in the region.

Launching a blistering attack on the US for imposing its culture and value system on other nations, Indian intelligence Chief KS Sudharshan has charged the CIA with funding large-scale conversions in the country. American Baptists were engaged in a grand project of religious conversion, christened as Joshua I, with the patronage of the Bush administration, he alleged, addressing a symposium on Empowerment of Hindu Intelligentsia organised as part of the Golwalkar centenary celebrations at Madurai on Tuesday night. According to him, the project envisaged a church initially in each locality having a post office and then between a cycling distance.

Tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela took a bizarre turn this week after Venezuelan authorities confiscated diplomatic cargo headed for the American Embassy in Caracas and accused Washington of smuggling. Included in the shipment were parts for military jet ejector seats not requested by the Venezuelans, and 176 pounds of chicken. The State Department has denied the charge and demanded an explanation: "The impounded cargo consisted of household effects of a U.S. diplomat and a shipment of commissary goods.... We have requested an immediate explanation of the entire incident." Displaying a photo of the trucks for journalists, Mr Chacon said that only four out of 20 packages were considered diplomatic baggage covered by international protocol. The US had bypassed customs and the necessary paperwork with the other 16 which included 80 kilos (176 pounds) of chicken, he said. "They brought in food goods without any health controls, they brought in armaments without any legal control," he told reporters. "It's not the Venezuelan government that is making violations - it's the US embassy that's making them."

What Your Aid-To-Israel Dollars Are Paying For: Lebanon's 15-year economic and social recovery from civil war was wiped out in the recent Israeli offensive against Hezbollah, the UN development agency has said. "The damage is such that the last 15 years of work on reconstruction and rehabilitation, following the previous problems that Lebanon experienced, are now annihilated," said Jean Fabre, a spokesman for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) on Tuesday. Lebanon's relatively healthy progress towards the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, which cover a range of social and economic targets, "have been brought back to zero," he told journalists. "Fifteen years of work have been wiped out in a month." Fabre estimated that overall economic losses for Lebanon from the month-long conflict between Israel and Hezbollah totalled "at least 15 billion dollars, if not more." Lebanese authorities estimated last week that direct structural damage inflicted by the offensive reached 3.6 billion dollars, including 15,000 housing units, 80 bridges and 94 roads destroyed or damaged. About 35,000 homes and businesses were destroyed in the conflict, while a quarter of the country's road bridges or flyovers were shattered, according to the UNDP's initial estimate. Fabre underlined that Lebanon, which had already added to its debt with post-civil war reconstruction, would find it difficult to foot the bill for even more investment. "The debt of the country was so big already that the capacity to repay it was already insufficent. Now it won't be able to do that," he explained. UN agencies said it would take weeks to assess the full extent of the damage in south Lebanon and southern Beirut. The most urgent issues are the need for clean water and sanitation and to clear unexploded munitions, relief agencies said Tuesday. Underground waterpipes and sewers were destroyed in 10 out of 12 war-struck communities visited by the UN Children's Fund in recent days, and a similar scale of damage was reported elsewhere.

In the wake of the Israeli prime minister’s handling of the Lebanese/Hezbollah war, 63% of Olmert’s countrymen say he should resign, according to a new poll in a leading Israeli daily. A poll published on Friday in the Yedioth Ahrnonoth daily shows that 63 percent of Israelis feel that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert failed in managing the war in Lebanon and should resign. Only 29 percent believe the prime minister is fit to continue leading the country. About 74 percent of those polled said Defense Minister Amir Peretz mishandled the war and should resign his post. A mere 20 percent said Peretz should keep his post.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Javed Iqbal, a.k.a. "John Iqbal," 42, of Staten Island, N.Y., has been arrested and charged with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). A complaint announced today by the FBI alleges that through a company called HDTV Ltd. located in Brooklyn, Iqbal and others provided customers in the New York area with satellite broadcasts of al Manar, which is a television station owned and/or operated by Hezbollah. The Department of Treasury named al Manar as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity" in March 2006, thereby making it a crime to, among other things, engage in business transactions with al Manar. In conjunction with the arrest, agents executed search warrants at both HDTV's Brooklyn office and Iqbal's Staten Island residence where, it is alleged, Iqbal maintained several satellite dishes (which, by the way, is not a crime).

Republicans Believe In Free, Fair, Honest and Transparent Elections: U.S. House special election between Francine Busby and Brian Bilbray in San Diego, CA was held on June 6, on illegal Diebold voting machines as has been reported here many times. On June 13, Bilbray was quickly sworn in to the House of Representatives while thousands of votes were still being counted back in San Diego. (This surprised and angered many voters, especially since a poll taken three weeks before the election showed Busby ahead by 7%.) On June 29, the election was finally certified - in favor of Bilbray - by the Registrar of Voters Mikel Haas. The election was contested on July 29 after Haas refused to allow for a hand count of the ballots, as allowed by California state law. And on August 22, defendants filed a brief in the case to dismiss, stating that because Bilbray has already been sworn in (by the Republican House of Representatives,) the California Court has no jurisdiction whatsoever and the House has exclusive jurisdiction to judge who its members are and the qualifications of those members. According to an email sent to The BRAD BLOG this evening from attorney Paul Lehto: "The defendants' position is that the court is powerless (i.e. without jurisdiction) to do anything about this election contest, because Bilbray was sworn in only 7 days after the June 6, and long before the election was legally final on or about June 29. This premature termination of the election in the 50th Congressional District by the swearing in took place while votes were literally still being counted and provisional votes were still being counted, and also this premature swearing-in took place well before the 1% ballot audit required as part of the certification process, and also occurred fully 16 days prior to the official certification of the results. The defendant's premature swearing-in at the command of Washington DC politicians, if it had any legal effect at all, necessarily means that if there's no power for a Court in San Diego County to protect and review our elections for Congress, there was certainly no power and no jurisdiction for defendant Registrar Haas to certify the results of the election, either. The swearing in simply terminated the election in mid-count. Consequently, the defendants' arguments about the court's lack of power also mean that this uncertified election does not legally exist, in the legal sense that the election never happened, and this election never became final because it has never been certified at a time when anybody in San Diego had any power to do anything about it. Because no election is decided or over until it's officially certified, this election was actually decided in Washington DC, and not decided in San Diego's 50th Congressional District.

Republicans Protect Our Natural Resources: A federal judge on Thursday rejected a Bush administration decision to weaken rules governing pesticide use, saying the change lacked scientific justification. It was the second time in recent years that U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour chastised federal agencies for failing to follow the Endangered Species Act in licensing pesticides for sale. In 2001, environmental groups sued over the Environmental Protection Agency's failure to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before allowing certain pesticides to be sold. Coughenour ordered the EPA to conduct the consultations in determining whether 55 of the pesticides were likely to harm salmon. Instead, in 2004, the administration created a new rule allowing it to ignore the consultation requirement of the Endangered Species Act. Officials reasoned the EPA should decide on its own whether pesticides were likely to harm protected species. The environmental groups sued again, and on Thursday, Coughenour threw out the new rule, saying the government could not simply ignore the act's requirements. "The administrative record is striking in its total lack of any evidence of technical or scientific support for the policy positions ultimately adopted," Coughenour wrote.

Republicans Believe In Open, Honest and Transparent Government: Last week, the US Department of Agriculture announced that US commercial long-grain rice supplies are contaminated with "trace amounts" of genetically engineered rice unapproved for human consumption. The genetically engineered (GE) rice is known as Liberty Link (LL) 601. Its genetic code has been modified to provide resistance to herbicides and is illegal for marketing to humans because it has not undergone environmental and health impact reviews by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). LL601 was field-tested from 1998 to 2001 under permits granted by the USDA, but Bayer Corp Science, the developer of the experimental rice, did not seek commercial approval for it. The contamination was only disclosed after Bayer notified the USDA itself. Currently, the government relies on self-reporting from food companies to determine genetically engineered (GE) contamination, rather than a federal testing system. The USDA dismissed concerns that companies may not always "self-report" or even be aware of their mistakes, which would lead to further undetected contamination of unapproved GE food. It appears a separate company first detected the contamination in January of this year and that Bayer may have known about the contamination since May. But the government was not notified until July 31. It took another 18 days for the USDA to tell the public. At a press conference, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns would not divulge how the contamination had happened, or how far it had spread. It was unclear whether he even knew. Jim Rogers, a USDA spokesperson, told The NewStandard the contaminated rice was detected in barrels sent to Missouri and Arizona. "But the rice could have come from anywhere [in the US]," Rogers said.

Republicans Are Building A Safe, Strong America: Repairs on the levees in New Orleans, Louisiana, which burst last year under the fury of Hurricane Katrina should do some good but are not enough to handle another storm that size, a US Corps of Engineers official said Tuesday. "There's still a huge amount of risk in that part of the country for a levee system," Don Basham, chief engineer for construction in the US Army Corps of Engineers, said at a a news conference. Basham discounted the possibility of the levees failing but said: "If we have another Katrina event today ... you definitely are going to have water going on top of the levees." Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore August 29, 2005, devastating New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities and killing more than 1,300 people. The US Army Corps of Engineers spent months repairing the levees that, when they overflowed or broke, flooded most of New Orleans. "Our commitment was to restore the integrity of the levees system back to pre-Katrina conditions. We have done that," Basham said, allowing that "in some cases, we had to do that not with a permanent fix but with a temporary fix."

The reactionary campaign against knowledge and information is reaching frightening new heights. The Environmental Protection Agency has been ordered by the White House to "shut down [its] libraries, end public access to research materials and box up unique collections on the assumption that Congress will not reverse President Bush’s proposed budget reductions." Fifteen states will lose library service immediately, the rest will follow, and the public is to be turned away as soon as possible. Unsurprisingly, EPA scientists are protesting, saying that the lack of access to data will impair their research and scientific capabilities. The Administration says its plan is to "centralize" control of all data; EPA scientists say the real goal is to "suppress information on environmental and public health-related topics." The Administration is not yet burning books, but they are getting very close. They're not much fonder of telling the truth - the whole truth - over at the Defense Department. The Department has refused to complete congressionally ordered studies of the potential security threat to radar systems from wind turbines. Until it finishes that study, Defense is blocking all new wind turbines that might help reduce our dependence on what the President calls our "addiction" to oil and natural gas "often from insecure places." The Sierra Club sued and demanded that Defense finish the study. (Of course, if wind turbines actually were a threat to our air defense systems, you would think that the Department of Defense would be rushing to prove it and make us safer by dealing with the thousands that already exist.)

An analysis of the nation's most important labor-market survey concludes that official estimates of the number of Americans living in poverty and without health insurance may significantly underestimate the true number of poor and uninsured. According to the study, conducted by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), the measurement problems with the Current Population Survey (CPS) have been growing, making it difficult to assess changes in economic well being over time. "The share of Americans covered by the country's most important survey of labor-market conditions has been declining over time," said John Schmitt, Senior Economist at CEPR and a co-author of this report. "The group that is falling out of the survey is economically marginalized, less likely to have a job, less likely to have health-insurance, and more likely to be poor." Among the study's main findings: * The CPS appeared to miss about 1.4 percent of the adult population, or over 2.5 million non-working adults. The size and the increase over time in the bias in the CPS are largest for black men. The CPS overstated black male employment by about 2.5 percentage points in 1986, rising to 3.0 percentage points in 2000, and reaching 3.5 percentage points in 2005. * Since the undercounting has become more severe in the CPS in recent years, estimates of employment rates from the CPS are biased and the bias is growing over time. For all adults, the CPS overstated employment by about 1.1 percentage points in 1986, growing to 1.3 - 1.4 percentage points in 2000, and about 1.7 percentage points by 2005. * In 2005, the official national estimate of poverty, which is taken from the CPS, underestimated the actual number of adults and children in poverty by about 600,000 people (about 0.2 percentage points). * The official national estimates of the population lacking health insurance coverage in 2004 underestimated the number of adults and children without health insurance by about 350,000 people (about 0.1 percentage points). * The impact on poverty estimates for blacks and Hispanics are proportionately much greater. In 2000, the CPS underreported the poverty rate for blacks by 0.5 - 0.7 percentage points and for Hispanics by about 0.4 percentage points.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students. The omission is inadvertent, said Katherine McLane, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, which administers the grants. "There is no explanation for it being left off the list," Ms. McLane said. "It has always been an eligible major." Another spokeswoman, Samara Yudof, said evolutionary biology would be restored to the list, but as of last night it was still missing. If a major is not on the list, students in that major cannot get grants unless they declare another major, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. Mr. Nassirian said students seeking the grants went first to their college registrar, who determined whether they were full-time students majoring in an eligible field. "If a field is missing, that student would not even get into the process," he said. That the omission occurred at all is worrying scientists concerned about threats to the teaching of evolution. One of them, Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University, said he learned about it from someone at the Department of Education, who got in touch with him after his essay on the necessity of teaching evolution appeared in The New York Times on Aug. 15. Dr. Krauss would not name his source, who he said was concerned about being publicly identified as having drawn attention to the matter. An article about the issue was posted Tuesday on the Web site of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In a lengthy interview with Florida Baptist Witness, struggling U.S. Republican Senate candidate Katherine Harris asserts, among other things, that the separation of church and state is a fallacy. "We have to have the faithful in government and over time," the Witness quotes Harris as saying, "that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state, people have internalized, thinking that they needed to avoid politics and that is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers."

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: The worst red tide in perhaps a decade has shut down shellfish beds all along Puget Sound and prompted serious public health worries, state officials said Wednesday. Expanded beach closures have not reached the heart of Washington state's large farmed shellfish industry, and the state said commercial shellfish on the market have been tested and should be safe to eat. But industry officials worried that more bad news could further damage businesses already reeling from a separate bacterial outbreak. The state Health Department said the newest round of beach closures means virtually the entire shoreline from Everett south to the Nisqually River just north of Olympia is off-limits for shellfish harvesting. The eastern Kitsap Peninsula also has been affected, along with areas near Port Gamble, Port Ludlow and along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, said Frank Cox, a Health Department marine biotoxin coordinator. "I don't think we've ever had anything quite to this scale," Cox said Wednesday.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Beer executive Pete Coors pleaded guilty Friday to driving while impaired, a lesser charge than the DUI count filed against him after his May arrest, and was sentenced to 24 hours of community service. The judge suspended a $200 fine, but ordered Coors to participate on a panel sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and to go through alcohol education courses. Coors' driver's license also was suspended for three months from the date of his arrest, and he must also pay $495 in court costs and fees. Company spokeswoman Kabira Hatland has said Coors rolled through a stop sign a block from his Golden home and was stopped by the officer in his driveway. She said his blood-alcohol content after a breath test was 0.088 percent, above the 0.08 percent level at which a motorist is considered to be driving under the influence. Coors often appears in television ads for the company and ran for the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 2004. He issued a statement last month apologizing for not following his own advice to drink responsibly.

Senator George "Macaca" Allen's campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, just put this memo out. He blames the media, pundits, Democrats, liberal groups, and Moveon.org for Allen's racist gaffe. He says that it's the Democrats that are playing the race card. The only person who isn't to blame, in fact, is saintly George Allen, who made a simple mistake for which he should be forgiven. Reading this memo, it's become clear that George Allen isn't sorry for his racist comment. Allen put out some soft words to appease those who are uncomfortable with racism, but is also allowing his campaign manager to embrace the full-throated repudiation of that fake apology. As long as Wadhams is George Allen's campaign manager, we'll know that Allen stands behind his racist quip. No longer is this simply a single weeklong story; with this memo, Wadhams has retroactively justified the racist attitude of his candidate, who of course has done nothing wrong. Since this guy is managing Allen's campaign, Allen clearly agrees. On the off-chance Allen is genuinely sorry for his comment, Allen would need to fire Wadhams. It's that simple. Read the memo here.

Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt (Miami, OH) attracts controversy whether she's running for office - or just running a marathon. Four months after she was reprimanded for making false statements about having a second undergraduate degree, the state's top elections officials will investigate whether the Miami Township Republican told the truth about how well she fared in - or whether she even ran - a 1993 marathon in the state capital. A panel of the Ohio Elections Commission found probable cause Thursday that false statements might have been made by the first-term Republican and her campaign about the Columbus Marathon 13 years ago.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:46:54 PM

Thu, Aug 24 2006

A Tour Of Tilaran

The weather has been persistently rainy-season, with a heavy overcast and rather gloomy skies, but with little rain, except for brief periods of intense rain last night. Otherwise, just a few sprinkles now and again. The heavy overcast has held the temperatures to moderate levels, too, and I have found myself putting on a flannel shirt to defend myself against the damp chill of a 77 degree afternoon. The overnight low was 73 again this morning.

A couple from the United States who have been long-time readers of my blog and with whom I have corresponded for quite some time, are now moving to Costa Rica, have decided to settle here in Arenal, and the husband has arrived in the country to work on getting themselves settled here. He came by yesterday for a visit, and today came by and asked me for a tour of Tilaran so he could get familiar with that market town's basic services and the locations with which he needed to be familiar. He came by early today, and we took off just after breakfast and headed over there for a quickie tour. The road was in similar condition to my last trip, a few potholes expanding with each rainstorm, and some of them growing to the point where they cannot be avoided. But we arrived in about an hour and I began by taking him to the biggest fereteria (hardware store) in the town, where he exchanged a padlock that his landlord had gotten for his house, but which did not fit the hasp.

That one out of the way, we hit another fereteria or two, looking for a medicine cabinet for the bathroom of his rental house, but without any success. We stopped at the ICE office to get his phone ordered, but discovered that they have changed the rules, and will not provide a telephone unless the person ordering it can produce a cedula (national ID document), so unfortunately, they'll have to do without a phone until either they can get a corporation set up, or they have their residencies approved. Finally, we hit an importer shop for a television, and found what he was looking for, but the place was crowded and with only two clerks, so we gave up on that one as being too time-consuming to be worthwhile. I took him to show him where the big vivero (nursery) is located on the east end of town. We hit the bigger of the two grocery stores, and we stopped at the Dos Pinos agricultural co-op store so I could buy some leafcutter ant bait on the way out of town. All in all, we spent all morning there, and well into the afternoon.

Back home in Arenal, we got the landlord's propane cylinder exchanged, and stopped at the hardware store for a regulator and hose kit so he could hook up his new gas stove and cook some dinner. All in all, we spent most of the day on all these errands, which left me pretty much exhausted. But it was a fun day, nevertheless, and it was nice getting to know him a bit better. It is going to be a joy having them around town and visiting with them.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The US marine corps has been forced to call up its reserves for compulsory service in Iraq and Afghanistan because it has not been able to find enough volunteers - a reflection of the strain the two wars are putting on America's armed forces. The marines' involuntary call-up, seen as a "back-door draft" by Pentagon critics, is the first since the start of the Iraq war, and will begin in a few months when a first batch of up to 2,500 reservists will be summoned back to active service for a year or more. The army has already sent 2,200 reservists back to the front, of which only about 350 went voluntarily. The marine corps announcement is in contrast to predictions by US commanders a few months ago that American force levels in Iraq could be reduced from about 130,000 to 100,000 by the end of the year. Those plans were shelved as sectarian violence worsened. "All that happy talk about getting down to 100,000 by the end of this year, that's not on the cards for this year," said John Pike, the director of GlobalSecurity.org, a military thinktank in Washington.

Fast on the heels of yesterday's Defense Department involuntary call up of Marine reserves, an Iraq veterans group tells RAW STORY that if a draft is not the next step, President Bush must choose to accept a loss in the war. Reports yesterday indicated that 2,500 inactive reserve members of the Marines were called up for duty in Iraq. The Marines are members of the individual Ready Reserve and have already given four years of service, allowing them to return to civilian life. However, they are contractually obligated to return to service when needed. But Jon Soltz, who heads up the group VoteVets.org, warned ABC News yesterday that the call up showed a lack of plans for victory in Iraq, and the problems faced by an overburdened American military. Soltz served as a captain in the Army in the Iraq war and is still a member of the reserves.

US President George W. Bush has announced that the United States will not be leaving Iraq during his presidency. "Either you say, 'Yes it’s important we stay there and get it done,' or we leave," Bush argued. "We’re not leaving so long as I’m the president. That would be a huge mistake." At a news conference Monday, Bush also conceded that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Of all the words that President Bush used at his news conference this week to defend his policies in Iraq, the one that did not pass his lips was "progress." For three years, the president tried to reassure Americans that more progress was being made in Iraq than they realized. But with Iraq either in civil war or on the brink of it, Bush dropped the unseen-progress argument in favor of the contention that things could be even worse. The shifting rhetoric reflected a broader pessimism that has reached into even some of the most optimistic corners of the administration -- a sense that the Iraq venture has taken a dark turn and will not be resolved anytime soon. Bush advisers once believed that if they met certain benchmarks, such as building a constitutional democracy and training a new Iraqi army, the war would be won. Now they believe they have more or less met those goals, yet the war rages on.

A detailed new report issued this week from Britain's top foreign policy think tank, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, says "Iran's influence in Iraq has superseded that of the United States, and is increasingly rivaling the U.S. as the main actor at the crossroads between the Middle East and Asia." Moreover, the report says, the Bush administration has directly helped strengthen Iran to become a major regional power. "The war on terror removed the Taliban and Saddam Hussein -- Iran's two greatest regional rivals -- and strengthened Iran's regional leverage in doing so," it says, adding that "Israel's failure to defeat Hezbollah has reinforced Iran's position as the region's focal point against U.S.-led policy." Iran's role within other embattled areas in the region like Afghanistan and southern Lebanon has now increased hugely, says the report, which was prepared with considerable input from British officials and diplomats, as well as academics and regional experts. "While the U.S. has been playing poker in the region, Iran has been playing chess. Iran is playing a longer, more clever game and has been far more successful at winning hearts and minds," says Nadim Shehadi, one of the report's authors and a fellow of the Institute's Middle East department.

The US lacks reliable intelligence on Iran's weapons capability, including its possible plans to develop a nuclear bomb, a US Congressional report says. The House Intelligence Committee report says more must be spent spying on Iran. Given the "significant gaps" in US intelligence, the report questions whether the US can engage in effective dialogue with Iran. Iran this week offered to discuss its nuclear work with world powers who suspect it is trying to build a bomb. Iran maintains its nuclear program has a purely civilian purpose and has rejected a UN demand to immediately stop uranium enrichment. Iran's proposal for "serious talks" - made in response to a package of incentives offered in exchange for abandoning uranium enrichment - has drawn a cool response from Washington. The US has indicated it is considering the threat of sanctions against Iran because its response falls short of UN demands.

California would cast its 55 Electoral College votes for the winner of the national popular vote under a bill designed to change the way the president is elected and increase the state's influence in national elections. The bill, approved Tuesday by the Senate, would help draw candidates to the nation's most populous state for intensive campaigning, said Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach, who carried the bill in the Senate. California is a crucial stopover on presidential candidates' fundraising tours but often is otherwise ignored because it is considered to be safely Democratic. The bill's supporters want candidates to pay more attention to California, rather than devoting most of their energies to a handful of swing states. "More than a third of the country never sees... many campaign visits from candidates," Bowen said. The bill, which goes back to the Assembly for a final vote, would make California part of an interstate compact. The multistate agreement is part of a national campaign started in February by National Popular Vote, a nonprofit based in the Silicon Valley city of Los Altos that seeks to change the way the nation picks a president. "The founding fathers didn't get everything right," Bowen said, calling the Electoral College "a dinosaur."

Advocates for the homeless say unprovoked violence against them is on the rise across the nation. Often the attackers are teenagers or young adults who are more affluent than their victims, experts say. A 2005 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless showed 86 violent attacks on homeless people in 2005 compared with 60 in 1999. Those numbers are likely low because they only reflect attacks that have been documented in public records, said Michael Stoops, executive director of the Washington-based coalition. Stoops said that in the 1980s attacks appeared to plague only big cities on the East Coast and West Coast. Now, the coalition has documented incidents in 165 cities nationwide, 42 states and Puerto Rico. "I think they do it for thrills. I think they think they can get away with it, that the homeless won't fight back, that no one will care, that the police won't pay any attention to them," Stoops said. In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a teenager beat a homeless man to death and pelted his body with paintballs in January. Another homeless man was beat to death in March in Orlando, Fla., and five juveniles have been arrested in the case. In February, the National Coalition for the Homeless asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conduct a study of violence against the homeless, though the GAO has not responded, Stoops said. The increase in violence may be loosely linked to the increasing popularity of so-called "Bumfights" videos and imitation videos which show homeless people fighting one another and performing dangerous stunts, he said. Four producers of the "Bumfights" videos pleaded guilty in June 2003 to charges of conspiracy to stage an illegal fight for their videos.

Last week, the US Department of Agriculture announced that US commercial long-grain rice supplies are contaminated with "trace amounts" of genetically engineered rice unapproved for human consumption. The genetically engineered (GE) rice is known as Liberty Link (LL) 601. Its genetic code has been modified to provide resistance to herbicides and is illegal for marketing to humans because it has not undergone environmental and health impact reviews by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). LL601 was field-tested from 1998 to 2001 under permits granted by the USDA, but Bayer Corp Science, the developer of the experimental rice, did not seek commercial approval for it. The contamination was only disclosed after Bayer notified the USDA itself. Currently, the government relies on self-reporting from food companies to determine genetically engineered (GE) contamination, rather than a federal testing system. The USDA dismissed concerns that companies may not always "self-report" or even be aware of their mistakes, which would lead to further undetected contamination of unapproved GE food. It appears a separate company first detected the contamination in January of this year and that Bayer may have known about the contamination since May. But the government was not notified until July 31. It took another 18 days for the USDA to tell the public.

Senator John Kerry (D-MA), The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, spoke out today about efforts of a member of the Wal-Mart advocacy group sponsored by Wal-Mart to tie prominent Democrats to Hezbollah guerrillas. Herman Cain, a member of the pro-Wal-Mart advocacy group Working Families for Wal-Mart repeatedly used the term "Hezbocrats" in an op-ed he wrote for Townhall.com. Kerry referred to the attack as the "Swiftboating" of Democrats who ask tough questions of big corporations. Kerry was referring to Swiftboat Veterans For Truth, the 527 organization which attacked Kerry's military record during the campaign.

After a string of embarrassments over what critics have denounced as racially insensitive statements by candidates, RAW STORY has learned that Republican leadership is keeping its distance from statements by its lesser-known candidates that may be perceived as racially insensitive. Speaking last week at a fundraiser in southwestern Virginia, Senator George Allen gestured to a staffer for opponent James Webb, referring to him as "macaca," an epithet used by French-speaking northern Africans to describe local natives. The staffer, S.R. Sidarth, an American of south Asian descent, videotaped the incident. Last week, at a meeting with Indian Americans near Washington, D.C., Allen apologized for his remarks, saying, "It was a mistake, it was wrong, and it was hurtful to people." Allen denies knowing the meaning of the slur, insisting instead that the statement was an accident, and has not apologized for its racial connotations.

Nine black children attending Red River Louisiana Elementary School were directed last week to the back of the school bus by a white driver who designated the front seats for white children. The situation has outraged relatives of the black children who have filed a complaint with school officials. Superintendent Kay Easley will meet with the family members in her office this morning. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also is considering filing a formal charge with the U.S. Department of Justice. NAACP District Vice President James Panell, of Shreveport, said he would apprise Justice attorneys of the situation this week. He's considering asking for an investigation into the bus incident and other aspects of the school system's operations, including pupil-teacher ratio as it relates to the numbers of white and black children, along with a breakdown of the numbers of black and white teachers employed. "If the smoke is there, then there's probably fire somewhere else," Panell said in a phone interview from New Orleans. "At this point, it is extremely alarming. We fought that battle 50 years ago, and we won. Why is this happening again?" Easley would not comment much on the allegations Wednesday, saying it is a personnel issue. She acknowledged that she has investigated the claim. And she confirmed that the bus driver did not run her route Wednesday, nor would she today. Asked if the driver would work for the rest of the year, Easley said, "I'm not going to answer the questions."

The lone survivor of a West Virginia mine explosion in January and families of two of the 12 others killed have filed lawsuits against the mine. Randal McCloy Jr., was the only one of 13 miners rescuers found alive after 41 hours of digging at the Sago coal mine after the Jan. 2 explosion near Buckhannon, W. Va. One miner was killed instantly by the methane explosion, while the others succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning. The three suits focus on safety violations by mine owner International Coal Group, and five other suppliers, the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette reported Thursday.

The river was named the Verde, or "green," for a reason - meandering through arid land in central Arizona, the waterway has carved out a contrasting corridor of vegetation and created an oasis for wildlife. But the river's name may not be fitting for long. The City of Prescott and Town of Prescott Valley have plans to pump groundwater from the aquifer that feeds the river and pipe it 30 miles away to thirsty residents. The proposed "water ranch" would supply the municipalities with more than 4 billion gallons of water per year. Michelle Harrington, river program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, predicts the well's effect on the river will be like a "straw drawing the water levels down." Calling it a "horrendous water grab," the Center launched a "Save the Verde" campaign this month to protect one of Arizona's last continuously flowing rivers, a stretch of which has been designated "wild and scenic" by the federal National Park Services. The Verde was also among the top ten most endangered rivers in a 2006 ranking by American Rivers, a conservation organization.

In a state that already houses some of the nation’s dirtiest utilities, environmentalists say a plan to build eleven new coal-fired power plants will keep Texas residents "gasping for clean air." Despite widespread and growing opposition, the project, proposed by TXU, the state’s largest utility company, has the outspoken support of Governor Rick Perry. TXU says the plants are needed to keep pace with increased energy demands due to projected population growth in the state. The company also claims the plants would provide jobs, foster economic growth and lower electricity prices. But environmentalists say Texas cannot afford a plan that threatens to exacerbate the health hazards and hazy landscapes that already blanket the state’s metropolitan areas. They also fear the new plants would jeopardize gains made across the country in reducing carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Environmental Defense, a nonprofit legal advocacy group, estimates that the new plants would emit 78 million tons of carbon-dioxide (CO2) pollution per year. This could negate reductions expected in dozens of states and cities that have passed legislation to stem greenhouse-gas emissions from automobiles and other polluting industries. According to the federal government’s own data, power plants currently contribute 40 percent of total US carbon-dioxide emissions. "At a time when the earth is warming…it’s incomprehensible that we would risk the climate by adding emissions to our already over-heated skies," said Tom Smith, with Texas Public Citizen, a public-interest campaign organization.

UK oil giant BP has further cut crude production at its Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska - the biggest in the US - because of a technical problem. BP said it had cut oil output by 90,000 barrels per day, lowering production to 110,000 barrels per day, or about a quarter of its normal level of pumping. The company said the problem was caused by the failure of a gas compressor and would take several days to fix. Earlier this month, BP closed half the field because of pipeline corrosion. The further trimming of production at the Prudhoe Bay field was one of the factors behind a firming of global oil prices, traders said. In London, a barrel of benchmark Brent crude gained 28 cents to $78.30. New York light crude gained 20 cents to $71.96 a barrel.

Americans believe Democrats would do a better job of dealing with the situation in Iraq and handling the economy, but Republicans would do a better job against terrorism, according to a poll released Tuesday. On terrorism, Republicans were favored by 48 percent of respondents, versus 38 percent for Democrats. Eleven percent said there would be no difference and 3 percent offered no opinion. But on the war in Iraq, respondents favored Democrats over Republicans by 47 percent to 41 percent, with 8 percent saying there would be no difference, and 3 percent expressing no opinion. That’s a reversal of what national sentiment was in January 2003, when Republicans were favored over Democrats 53 to 29 percent in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

When offered a choice between "Citizens have the right to view and obtain information about how election officials count votes" or "Citizens do not have the right to view and obtain information about how elections officials count votes," 92% of those polled agreed with the first statement. Only 6% agreed with the second, while 2% were unsure. The issue of transparency has become particularly important due to the use of electronic voting systems, most of which employ secret, proprietary code and do not allow public inspection. For example, after a recent primary in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, it was found that 15% of paper ballot records did not match the Diebold touch-screen electronic counts. CNN correspondent Kitty Pilgrim called that election "a debacle."

The Federal government will not require data recorders in autos but said on Monday that car makers must tell consumers when technology that tracks speed, braking and other measurements is in the new vehicles they buy. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulation standardizes recorder content and sets guidelines for how the information should be disclosed. It also requires recorders to be more durable. Privacy experts complained that consumer interests are not fully protected and information captured by recorders can be exploited for purposes not in the consumers' interests.

Duarnis Perez became an American citizen when he was 15, but he didn't find out until after he had been deported and then jailed for trying to get back into the country. He was facing his second deportation hearing when he learned he was already a U.S. citizen. Still, federal prosecutors fought to keep him in custody. Last week, a federal judge scolded prosecutors for the mistake. "In effect, the government is arguing that an innocent man who was wrongly convicted should not be released from the custody of the United States," U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn wrote. He ruled that Perez never should have been deported.

Federal disease control experts and leading eye doctors have formally concluded that ReNu With MoistureLoc from Bausch & Lomb was the only contact lens solution contributing to an outbreak of potentially blinding fungal eye infections earlier this year. But the researchers' report, to be published today in The Journal of the American Medical Association, says it remains unclear how the product caused the problems. An accompanying commentary by two academic researchers, meanwhile, argues that further study is needed to gauge the safety of various brands of "multipurpose" lens care solutions on the market that, like MoistureLoc, are used for cleaning, storing and moistening soft contact lenses. The research report challenged Bausch & Lomb's argument that a major factor in the outbreak was customers' failure to properly clean their lenses and regularly replace the storage solution.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Israel says it will not lift a sea and air blockade of Lebanon unless a reinforced U.N. peacekeeping force helps the Lebanese army control the border so that no new weapons reach Hizbollah in the south. The dispute has the Lebanese government caught in the middle. Its priority is to reopen the country to the world but it has limited influence over Syria and Israel. Culture Minister Tareq Mitri, who led the Lebanese delegation in truce talks at the United Nations this month, said: "The Lebanese government is working hard to secure the border and lift the (Israeli) blockade. The Lebanese stance is clear. The sovereignty of any state includes securing its border crossings, preventing any smuggling attempts, and this is what the Lebanese state is planning to do," he told Voice of Lebanon radio.

CNN International's Jim Clancy, reporting from southern Lebanon, finds that unexploded munitions are taking a toll on Lebanese children. A nurse describes the child casualties she sees as "the new phase of the war." Clancy reports that a 10% failure rate among the small bombs released from cluster bombs has left the unexploded--and extremely dangerous--munitions in Lebanon. The bombs dropped on Lebanon were reportedly old, with a much higher failure rate of about 40%. In the wasteland of southern Lebanon, children gather up metal to sell. It's easy to mistake one of the small cluster bomb-lets for scrap. One child survivor recalls the bomb that put him in a hospital bed, "...my cousin picked up the bomb. It was shaped like a ball. It was an explosion. My insides fell out. I held them and started running and screaming."

Israeli forces crossed into the Gaza Strip early Thursday in a raid that captured a local Hamas militant leader and left his brother dead near a Gaza border town, Palestinians witnesses and officials said. As the forces - backed by tanks and helicopter gunships - moved into the area of Abasan and took up positions on rooftops, militants began firing at them, sparking gunbattles that wounded two militants, Palestinian officials said. Hamas officials identified the captured man as Younis Abu Daka, a local Hamas leader and a lecturer at Islamic University in Gaza City. His brother, Yousef, was killed in the fighting, the militant group said. The army confirmed that a senior Hamas operative was arrested, and at least one militant was killed. It did not identify the men. The violence came as Israel continued its offensive in the Gaza Strip, which it began June 28, three days after Hamas-linked militants tunneled into Israel, attacked an Israeli army post and captured a soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Israel said it would maintain its offensive until Shalit was released and militants ceased firing rockets into Israel. The army has routinely carried out nighttime raids into Gaza since the offensive began.

An oil slick caused by Israeli bombing has begun sinking to the floor of the Mediterranean, blanketing marine life with sludge, according to a Greenpeace video that shows dead fish along the sea bottom. The scuba diver's videotape, released Tuesday by Greenpeace, also shows the sunken slick sliding ominously toward a lone red sea urchin rooted in the sand, its tentacles waving in the current. The footage graphically details some of the environmental destruction a month after the oil spill began sinking, creating what has been called Lebanon's worst-ever environmental disaster. The UN has said the spill could take as long as a year to clean up and cost $64 million. "You have the bottom of the sea filled with fuel - between the rocks and little valleys. It's just dotted and covered with black tar," said Mohammed El Sarji, head of the Lebanese Union of Professional Divers. Sarji recorded the footage, which showed oil spread four inches thick over a 100-yard-wide area of the sea bed near Beirut. Some 110,000 barrels began pouring into the Mediterranean after Israeli warplanes on July 14 hit a coastal power plant at Jiyeh, 12 miles south of Beirut. More missiles hit a day later. Six fuel tanks ruptured in all, sparking explosions that knocked out a dike meant to prevent spills.

More U.N. aid convoys have left Beirut for southern Lebanon where some 30 areas plagued with unexploded ordnance lack water, electricity and infrastructure. U.N. agencies said Wednesday the full extent of destruction in the south was becoming clear and warned of growing public health dangers faced by survivors. The region suffered over a month of attacks during Israel's campaign to rout Hezbollah militia. "We have managed to determine the immediate needs of some 30 most affected villages in the area," said Andrew Duggin, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees engineer in the southern city of Tyre. The refugee agency has begun an extensive returnee monitoring process in the south. "These villagers have suffered severe destruction -- some say, worse than seen in Bosnia -- and will as a first priority be targeted for immediate assistance," he said. "The whole south is, however, severely handicapped because of a lack of electricity and water, the destruction of infrastructure and the presence of cluster bombs."

A nine-day-old truce in Lebanon continued to hold as the United Nations struggled to find European countries ready to put troops between the Israeli army and the Shiite militia Hezbollah. Despite intense negotiations since a truce took effect on August 14 and warnings that it could unravel if peacekeepers fail to deploy quickly, few European countries have made firm commitments. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad weighed in meanwhile, with a warning that a deployment along his country's border as demanded by Israel would be considered a hostile action, Dubai Television reported. On Friday, an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers is to be held in Brussels to discuss contributions to the expanded force with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. "The purpose of the meeting is to focus on EU member states' contributions to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the conditions needed to make the operation a success," said a statement from Finland, current holder of the EU rotating presidency. Ahead of the meeting, Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja is to make lighting visits to Berlin and Paris. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has said his country is willing to lead the expanded UN force and offered 3,000 troops, but insisted a new UN Security Council resolution was needed to clearly define the peacekeepers' role. Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema was quoted as saying that Italy will commit troops to Lebanon only if Israel respected the ceasefire, after its ground troops in Lebanon said they had killed two Hezbollah fighters on Monday. "From Israel, we expect a renewed commitment ... to respect the ceasefire," D'Alema told the La Repubblica newspaper. "It is right to demand that Hezbollah gives up its weapons but we cannot send our soldiers to Lebanon while the Israeli armed forces continue to fire."

The Israeli government's plan to dismantle some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and redraw the country's borders is being shelved at least temporarily, a casualty of the war in Lebanon, government officials said. The plan, which propelled Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to victory in March elections and was warmly endorsed by President Bush as a way of solving Israel's conflict with the Palestinians, is no longer a top priority, Olmert told his ministers last weekend, according to one of his advisers. Instead, the government must spend its money and efforts in northern Israel to repair the damage from the war and strengthen the area in case fighting breaks out again, Olmert said. "I've decided to invest most of my energy and the government's energy in rehabilitating the north," Olmert said Monday in the northern community of Kiryat Shemona. "This is a national new priority. It takes precedence for the moment over realignment" of the settlements, Miri Eisin, an adviser to Olmert, said Tuesday. "At the moment there will be no withdrawal."

The repercussions of Israel's war on Hezbollah are still reverberating as protests are set to press for Prime Minister Edul Olmert's resignation. Israel Radio said the inhabitants of the "front line" in north Israel who sustained human and material losses during 33 days of relentless confrontations will be demonstrating outside the Knesset Thursday to call for the resignation of Olmert for failing to run the war properly and achieve decisive results in terms of destroying Hezbollah's rocket firing capabilities. The demonstrators will also march from the Knesset building to Olmert's home in West Jerusalem as part of their protest, the radio said. In parallel, reserve troops and political activists will demonstrate to press for the formation of an official investigation committee to probe political and military failures during the war on Lebanon. In light of growing public uproar, Olmert's political advisers urged him to reverse his initial refusal to conduct a probe. Daily Yedit Ahronot quoted one of the advisors, Uri Shani, as saying he advised Olmert "to show firmness and leadership" by allowing the probe and facing its findings.

Spin Cycle: "With nearly 50 years in marketing, Keith Reinhard knows when a brand is in trouble," Christopher Lee writes in the Washington Post. "Even before the war in Iraq bred new resentment of the United States abroad, the country had developed an image problem, says Reinhard," who in 2004 founded Business for Diplomatic Action, to get U.S. corporations involved in public diplomacy. "We're trying to change visa policies and the entry attitudes," Reinhard says. "For example, we have offered Disney to help orient customs and immigration agents. Disney handles large crowds, long queues and still has a way of making people feel welcome." Reinhard says "it is in the best interest of business to address this problem," because tourism to the U.S. is down and U.S. brands are less popular overseas.

The top U.S. general in the Middle East praised a major security clampdown in Baghdad on Thursday and said Iraq was far from civil war. On a day when three car bombs and two roadside bombs killed four people and wounded 24 in the capital, General John Abizaid told reporters: "I think there has been great progress on the security front in Baghdad recently. We are very optimistic that the situation will stabilize." The U.S. military has sent reinforcements to Baghdad to help the government take back the streets from sectarian militias and death squads, who have been blamed for the killing of thousands in violence that has raised fears of civil war.

Nearly sixty years ago President Harry S. Truman infamously derided the 1947-1948 Congress as the "Do-Nothing Congress" for meeting for only 108 days. Well, Harry must be rolling in his grave, because the current U.S. House of Representatives (now on their annual August break) is projected to spend a mere 79 days in session in 2006. This is largely due to their extended "district work periods" in which they go home and meet with constituents, campaign and fit in a few rounds of golf. While most Americans returned from their holiday vacation in the first week of January, the House took nearly the entire month off, commencing the session on January 31st. In February, the House met for only 47 hours, an average work week for many Americans. While the year still has over 4 months to go, the calendar leaves a maximum of only 16 additional days for the House to complete its business. Meanwhile, the Senate is also projected to have a light workload this year, devoting only 125 days to legislative business, a 34-day drop from 2005.

A majority of Americans no longer see a link between the war in Iraq and Washington's broader anti-terrorism efforts despite President George W. Bush's insistence the two are intertwined, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll released on Tuesday. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said the war in Iraq was separate from the U.S. government's war on terrorism. The findings were a considerable shift from polls taken in 2002 and early 2003, when a majority considered the two to be linked, The New York Times said. As recently as June, opinion was evenly split, with 41 percent on both sides of the divide. Now only 32 percent considered Iraq to be a major part of the fight against terrorism, the newspaper said. According to the poll, 46 percent said the Bush administration had concentrated too heavily on Iraq and not enough on terrorists elsewhere. Fifty-three percent said going to war in the first place was a mistake, up from 48 percent in July, The New York Times said.

The U.S. government sued Maine officials on Tuesday to block their demand that Verizon disclose whether it gave the government's spying program access to its customer data, documents showed. The government's civil suit, submitted by the U.S. Department of Justice to a district court in Maine, said the Maine public utilities officials' attempts to obtain information on Verizon's involvement with the National Security Agency (NSA) were "invalid". "The defendant state officers' attempts to obtain such information are invalid under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution and are preempted by the United States Constitution and various federal statutes," the lawsuit said. Kurt Adams, chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, as well as two other regulatory officials, were named in the lawsuit.

Rats Fleeing The U.S.S. Bush: US President George W. Bush has defiantly reaffirmed his "stay-the-course" message on Iraq, even as some of the unpopular war's strongest defenders have turned critical ahead of key November elections. With just over two months before voters decide who controls the US Congress, Bush took pains on Monday to confront candidates, overwhelmingly opposition Democrats, who want to set a timetable for a US withdrawal. "Any sign that says we're going to leave before the job is done simply emboldens terrorists," he said at a press conference. "We're not leaving, so long as I'm the president. That would be a huge mistake." But more than a few politicians and commentators once firmly in Bush's camp have joined the doubters on the war, which has cost hundreds of billions of dollars and the lives of more than 2,600 US troops. Republican Representative Walter Jones, who once helped rename French fries "freedom fries" in anger at Paris's opposition to the conflict, reversed course in June 2005 and urged Bush to set a withdrawal timetable. Michael Fitzpatrick, another Republican representative who backed the March 2003 invasion, has reportedly branded both his Democratic rival - a decorated Iraq war veteran who supports a US redeployment - and Bush as "extreme." "Congressman Fitzpatrick says no to both extremes: No to President Bush's 'stay-the-course' strategy, ... and no to Patrick Murphy's 'cut-and-run' approach," said a Fitzpatrick campaign flier described in the Washington Times. Moderate Republican Christopher Shays, who backed the use of force to oust Saddam Hussein, told the Washington Post last week that he would propose a time frame for a US withdrawal from Iraq.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: The United States is headed for a recession that will be "much nastier, deeper and more protracted" than the 2001 recession, says Nouriel Roubini, president of Roubini Global Economics. Writing on his blog Wednesday, Roubini repeated his call that the U.S. would be in recession in 2007, arguing that the collapse of housing would bring down the rest of the economy. Roubini wrote after the National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that sales of existing homes fell 4.1% in July, while inventories soared to a 13-year high and prices flattened out on a year-over-year basis. "This is the biggest housing slump in the last four or five decades: every housing indicator is in free fall, including now housing prices," Roubini said. The decline in investment in the housing sector will exceed the drop in investment when the Nasdaq collapsed in 2000 and 2001, he said. And the impact of the bursting of the bubble will affect every household in America, not just the few people who owned significant shares in technology companies during the dot-com boom, he said. Prices are falling even in the Midwest, which never experienced a bubble, "a scary signal" of how much pain the drop in household wealth could cause. Roubini is a professor of economics at New York University and was a senior economist in the White House and the Treasury Department in the late 1990s. His firm focuses largely on global macroeconomics.

Sales of existing US homes have fallen to their lowest level since the start of 2004, in a fresh sign that the once red-hot housing market is cooling down. Sales of previously-owned homes were down 4% in July from a month before, a bigger fall than analysts had expected. Successive interest rate rises have taken the heat out of the market, with sales of new homes also falling. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said recently he believed the market was headed for a "soft landing." The housing boom helped drive the US economy forward over the past few years. But two years of interest rate rises - which have seen rates increase to 5.25% - have put growing pressure on household incomes.

Durable goods orders in the United States last month fell 2.4 percent, far more than the 1 percent or less that had been expected. However, excluding transportation's 9.6 percent drop in July, the overall level of U.S. durable goods orders actually rose 0.5 percent, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. New orders for manufactured durable goods, which are items expected to last three years or more, in July decreased $5.3 billion to $212 billion. This decrease follows two consecutive monthly increases, which includes a 3.5 percent June increase. Shipments of manufactured durable goods in July, down following two consecutive monthly increases, fell $2.8 billion or 1.3 percent to $210.6 billion. This followed a 0.3 percent June increase.

Republicans Make America Safe From Terrorism: Michael Scheuer served in the CIA for 22 years before resigning in 2004; he served as the chief of the bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center from 1996 to 1999. He is the formerly anonymous author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror and Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America. A Harper's reporter met him for breakfast last week at an IHOP in the Virginia suburbs outside of Washington. Over a plate of eggs and hash browns, he answered a series of questions about the current state of the Bush Administration’s "War on Terrorism." His prognosis was illuminating and insightful - and, unfortunately, almost unrelentingly grim.

The Marine Corps, America's 911 force, needs emergency help of its own, according to a report released today by two prominent think tanks. Largely echoing what Marine commanders have told Congress in recent weeks, the study says the Corps needs $12 billion to bring its ground, communications and aircraft equipment back up to their levels before the Iraq war. The service must also spend $5 billion for equipment repairs each year it maintains a major presence in Iraq, said military experts from the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., and the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. Before the war started, Marine officials spent about $3 billion annually on refurbishing equipment that was 20 years old in many cases.

Republicans Protect America's Natural Resources: A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a Bush administration plan to allow commercial logging inside the Giant Sequoia National Monument violates environmental laws. US District Judge Charles Breyer sided with environmental groups that sued the US Forest Service over its plans for managing the 328,000-acre preserve, home to two-thirds of the world's largest trees. Breyer had already issued a preliminary injunction, in September 2005, to halt further logging in the national monument created by President Clinton in 2000. In the lawsuit filed last year, the Sierra Club and other conservation groups said the management plan for the reserve in the southern Sierra Nevada range was a scientifically suspect strategy that was intended to satisfy timber interests under the guise of wildfire prevention. The Forest Service had said the plan to allow thinning of some trees was aimed at meeting fire prevention goals. "Today's ruling only strengthens the case for transferring management of this magnificent Monument to neighboring Sequoia National Park, where it would be treated with the good stewardship it deserves," Bruce Hamilton, the Sierra Club's conservation director, said in a statement.

News From Smirkey's Wars: After months of widespread frustration with corruption, the economy and a lack of justice and security, doubts about President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, and by extension the American-led effort to rebuild that nation, have led to a crisis of confidence. Interviews with ordinary Afghans and with foreign diplomats and Afghan officials make it clear that the expanding Taliban insurgency in the south represents the most serious challenge to his presidency to date. The insurgency, along with the other issues, has brought an eruption of doubts about Mr. Karzai, who is widely viewed as having failed to attend to a range of problems. That has left more and more Afghans asking what the government is doing. Corruption is so widespread, the government apparently so lethargic and the divide between rich and poor so gaping that Mr. Karzai is losing public support, warn officials like Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chairman of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "Nothing that he promised has materialized," Mr. Hakim said, echoing the comments of diplomats and others in Kabul, the capital. "Beneath the surface, it is boiling." For the first time since Mr. Karzai took office four and half years ago, Afghans and diplomats are speculating about who might replace him. Most agree that the answer for now is no one, leaving the fate of the American-led enterprise tied to his own success or failure. He was re-elected in 2004 to a five-year term.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc. won U.S. approval to sell its Plan B "morning-after" contraceptive without a prescription to women 18 and older, the company said on Thursday. Younger girls still need a prescription for Plan B, Barr said in a statement. The Plan B pills may prevent pregnancy when taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse. The Food and Drug Administration approval follows more than three years of controversy. Backers and opponents of wider access had fiercely lobbied the agency, and the feud stalled the nominations of two FDA commissioners. Plan B will be kept behind pharmacy counters, Barr said. The pills should be available in a dual nonprescription and prescription package by the end of the year. "While we still feel that Plan B should be available to a broader age group without a prescription, we are pleased that the agency has determined that Plan B is safe and effective for use by those 18 years of age and older as an over-the-counter product," Barr Chief Executive Bruce Downey said in a statement.

A coalition of conservative groups that "strongly believe" hotel porn is prosecutable have issued an "urgent appeal" to the Department of Justice to "immediately investigate" two leading in-room adult movie distributors. "Pornographic movies now seem nearly as pervasive in America's hotel rooms as tiny shampoo bottles, and the lodging industry shows little concern as conservative activists rev up a protest campaign aimed at triggering a federal crackdown," David Cary reports for the Associated Press. "A coalition of 13 conservative groups - including the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America - took out full-page ads in some editions of USA Today earlier this month urging the Justice Department and FBI to investigate whether some of the pay-per-view movies widely available in hotels violate federal and state obscenity laws," Cary writes. The advertisment featured a remote control above two outstretched, handcuffed hands. "If what begins with a click can end as a registered sex offense, it's time we rethink hardcore porn," the ad said.

Three disgruntled state affiliates have severed ties with the Christian Coalition of America, one of the nation's most powerful conservative groups during the 1990s but now buffeted by complaints over finances, leadership and its plans to veer into nontraditional policy areas. "It's a very sad day for our people, but a liberating day," said John Giles, president of the coalition's Alabama chapter, which announced Wednesday that it was renaming itself and splitting from the national organization. The Iowa and Ohio chapters took similar steps this year. Giles said he and his Alabama colleagues have "a dozen hard reasons" for the action but would elaborate on only one - a perception that the coalition's leadership was diverting itself from traditional concerns such as abortion and same-sex marriage to address other issues ranging from the environment to Internet access. Giles predicted further defections and said the coalition was now left with only a half-dozen strong state chapters and a weak presence in Washington.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Forests in interior British Columbia are changing color, turning from green to red as they get infected by the pine bark beetle, and then from red to gray once they are dead. The minuscule beetles, the size of a grain of rice, are making visible global warming's impact on western North America. If you're a witness, it's an unsettling summer. The beetles have killed lodgepole pine trees over an area the size of Iceland. They've moved east, infecting trees across the Continental Divide in Alberta. "The danger is the beetles will cross over into jack pine habitat, and then head toward the East Coast," said James Agee, University of Washington forest ecology professor. Or, in the words of retired US Forest Service scientist Jesse Logan, "There is a continental-scale event waiting to happen." The infestation has spread out of the western Chilcotin Plateau, where bitter winter temperatures previously kept the beetle population in check. "The winters are no longer cold enough," said David Suzuki, scientist host of CBC-TV's "The Nature of Things." In the United States, similar conditions threaten the white bark pine at higher elevations in the Rocky Mountains. White bark pine seeds are a vital food source for grizzly bears. "Typically, the climate up high is too harsh for the pine bark beetle, but we've seen a continuous warming trend in the last 30 years. White bark pine is a sitting duck for the beetle," said Logan. When faced with overwhelming evidence, and a growing scientific consensus of human as cause in climate change, the Bush administration has insisted on more evidence.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: In his new book, State of Emergency, Pat Buchanan argues for "an immediate moratorium on all immigration." Why? To preserve the dominance of the white race in America. Buchanan explains on pg. 11: "America faces an existential crisis. If we do not get control of our borders, by 2050 Americans of European descent will be a minority in the nation their ancestors created and built. No nation has ever undergone so radical a demographic transformation and survived."

A judge dismissed all charges against KY Gov. Ernie Fletcher in a state hiring scandal Thursday after the governor and attorney general agreed to a settlement that involves zero punishment for Fletcher personally. The Republican governor took responsibility for his administration in the settlement, but he did not admit any criminal wrongdoing. "The governor acknowledges that the evidence strongly indicates wrongdoing by his administration with regard to personnel actions with the merit system," the judge said in a five-page order dismissing the charges. Fletcher's administration was accused of illegally giving protected state jobs to political supporters. Several current and former state employees testified before a grand jury investigating the scandal that they were passed over for promotions, transferred, demoted or fired because of their political leanings.

A voter registration group with Republican ties has been banished from Wal-Mart stores in Tennessee for failing to meet the retailer's standards of nonpartisanship and may soon be shut out of stores in California and Nevada, the retailer's spokesman said Tuesday. Liberty Consultants wanted to register Wal-Mart shoppers in seven traditionally Republican suburban counties around Nashville. But the request was denied after the company's owner, Gary Thompson, acknowledged to Wal-Mart that he had been hired by Tempe, Ariz.-based Sproul & Associates. Headed by Nathan Sproul, a former Christian Coalition activist and executive director of the Arizona GOP, Sproul & Associates was paid $7.9 million by the Republican National Committee for consulting and voter registration drives in the 2004 election cycle, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The group set up tables Friday at a Wal-Mart in Gallatin, about 25 miles northeast of Nashville, despite being denied permission earlier in the week. They left only when company officials threatened to call police, Wal-Mart spokesman Dennis Alpert said.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:11:24 AM

Tue, Aug 22 2006

The Really, Really Big Day?

No rain today. Not that it isn't cloudy, but there just hasn't been rain dropping out of those clouds. The high has been 77 degrees, and the low only 74 - an indication of just how thick this overcast has been. The heavy, dark overcast has kept the temperatures absolutely constant, the winds absolutely still and the skies ominously dark, and if I were the paranoid type, I'd say that something Really, Really Big Is About To Happen Today. I am sitting here holding my breath.

Well, today was supposed to be Armageddon Day. Being the militant infidel that I am, I don't normally follow such things, but one of my regular blog readers kindly tipped me off to this one and asked my analysis. Apparently the conservative/fundamentalist blogosphere, to which I don't normally pay a whole lot of attention, has been all abuzz with rumors that Armageddon was supposed to happen today. Well, you're reading this, so it obviously hasn't happened yet.

Darn. I was sure hoping they had got it wrong, and today was going to be Rapture Day instead. I was secretly hoping God would poof 'em all up into heaven, and we'd finally be rid of all those sanctimonious little twits like Lou Sheldon, James Dobson, Rick Santorum, Ann Coulter and Pat Robertson - you know, all those "tolerant" and "loving" fundamentalist Christian "saved" types that think they have the right to tell the rest of us how to order our lives, everything from who to marry, to what we can do with our own bodies, to whether we can go out for a drink with friends, and lately, even who we are going to be allowed to vote for.

Sure, the Rapture is supposed to pave the way for the Tribulation, but quite frankly, I think the Tribulation would be a rather pleasant relief from the hell those meddling Talibaptists are already putting the rest of us through. Of course, number one by a long shot on my "Hope God Takes 'Em All" list is ol' Smirkey himself. Likely to be the only way we'll ever get rid of that obnoxiously small mind. The Democrats sure don't seem to be offering us much hope for impeachment these days, so Rapture Day, if it ever happens, can't come soon enough for me.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Driving while in possession of money is now a crime: A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that if a motorist is carrying large sums of money, it is automatically subject to confiscation. In the case entitled, "United States of America v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency," the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit took that amount of cash away from Emiliano Gomez Gonzolez, a man with a "lack of significant criminal history" neither accused nor convicted of any crime. On May 28, 2003, a Nebraska state trooper signaled Gonzolez to pull over his rented Ford Taurus on Interstate 80. The trooper intended to issue a speeding ticket, but noticed the Gonzolez's name was not on the rental contract. The trooper then proceeded to question Gonzolez -- who did not speak English well -- and search the car. The trooper found a cooler containing $124,700 in cash, which he confiscated. A trained drug sniffing dog barked at the rental car and the cash. For the police, this was all the evidence needed to establish a drug crime that allows the force to keep the seized money. Associates of Gonzolez testified in court that they had pooled their life savings to purchase a refrigerated truck to start a produce business. Gonzolez flew on a one-way ticket to Chicago to buy a truck, but it had sold by the time he had arrived. Without a credit card of his own, he had a third-party rent one for him. Gonzolez hid the money in a cooler to keep it from being noticed and stolen. He was scared when the troopers began questioning him about it. There was no evidence disputing Gonzolez's story. Yesterday the Eighth Circuit summarily dismissed Gonzolez's story. It overturned a lower court ruling that had found no evidence of drug activity, stating, "We respectfully disagree and reach a different conclusion... Possession of a large sum of cash is 'strong evidence' of a connection to drug activity."

The Briton alleged to be the 'mastermind' behind the airline terror plot could be innocent of any significant involvement, sources close to the investigation claim. Rashid Rauf, whose detention in Pakistan was the trigger for the arrest of 23 suspects in Britain, has been accused of taking orders from Al Qaeda's 'No3' in Afghanistan and sending money back to the UK to allow the alleged bombers to buy plane tickets. But after two weeks of interrogation, an inch-by-inch search of his house and analysis of his home computer, officials are now saying that his extradition is ‘a way down the track’ if it happens at all. It comes amid wider suspicions that the plot may not have been as serious, or as far advanced, as the authorities initially claimed. Analysts suspect Pakistani authorities exaggerated Rauf's role to appear 'tough on terrorism' and impress Britain and America. A spokesman for Pakistan's Interior Ministry last night admitted that 'extradition at this time is not under consideration.'

Bush has put out a quiet feeler to replace Rumsfeld in recent weeks. He was politely turned down by at least one candidate he personally called. Unknown: is this one of many candidates Bush has sounded out? Is there a Bernacke-style search going on quietly in the background?

A proposal by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff would allow the United States government not only to look for known terrorists on watch lists, but also to search broadly through the passenger itinerary data to identify people who may be linked to terrorists, he said in a recent interview. Similarly, European leaders are considering seeking access to this same database, which contains not only names and addresses of travelers, but often their credit card information, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers and related hotel or car reservations. "It forms part of an arsenal of tools which should be at least at the disposal of law enforcement authorities," Friso Roscam Abbing, a spokesman for Franco Frattini, vice president of the European Commission and the European commissioner responsible for justice and security, said Monday. The proposals, prompted by the recent British bomb-plot allegations, have inspired a new round of protests from civil libertarians and privacy experts, who had objected to earlier efforts to plumb those repositories for clues. "This is a confirmation of our warnings that once you let the camel’s nose under the tent, it takes 10 minutes for them to want to start expanding these programs in all different directions," said Jay Stanley, a privacy expert at the American Civil Liberties Union.

The new Pentagon Papers? The US military establishment has quietly undertaken a wholesale reassessment of its war strategy with a goal of identifying the mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan - and remedying them before the next conflict. This summer, high-level Pentagon officials ordered a pair of secret studies to pinpoint the military’s failures in the two conflicts, and, according to one of the authors, "the results won't be pretty" when the findings are produced this fall. Last week, the Defense Department invited about 50 of the nation's top counter insurgency specialists to a closed-door meeting outside Washington to critique recent operations and chart a way forward. The studies, according to several Pentagon officials involved, have found serious deficiencies across the board. For example, US troops in Iraq have often used too much force when conducting operations in civilian areas, unnecessarily alienating local populations. They cite US commanders as being too slow to establish working relationships with local allies, and note that providing security and safety for the Iraqi people wasn't an early priority.

The alliance between George Bush and Tony Blair is in danger after it was revealed that the Prime Minister believes the President has 'let him down badly' over the Middle East crisis. A senior Downing Street source said that, privately, Mr Blair broadly agrees with John Prescott, who said Mr Bush's record on the issue was 'crap.' The source said: "We all feel badly let down by Bush. We thought we had persuaded him to take the Israel-Palestine situation seriously, but we were wrong. How can anyone have faith in a man of such low intellect?" The disclosure comes ahead of a mini recall of Parliament to allow MPs to vent their fury over Mr Blair's handling of Israel's war with Hezbollah and whether the recent terror plot in Britain was affected by his role in the Iraq war. The rift between No10 and the White House stems from British anger that Mr Bush failed to do enough to pursue the 'road map' to peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, which he approved, at Mr Blair's instigation, on the eve of the Iraq war. "We have been banging on at them for three years about the need to address the Palestinian problem but they just won't engage," said a senior Government insider. "That is one of the reasons there is such a mess now."

A middle school teacher who burned two American flags as part of a civics lesson has been removed from the classroom. Dan Holden, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Stuart Middle School, burned the flags Friday as part of a lesson on freedom of speech, Jefferson County schools spokeswoman Lauren Roberts said. The students were asked to write an opinion paper on the flag burning, Roberts said. The burning did not appear to be politically motivated, she said. Holden, who has taught in the district since 1979, has been reassigned to non-instructional duties while the incident is under investigation. Roberts said at least one parent complained to the district. "Certainly we're concerned about the safety aspect," Roberts said, along with "the judgment of using that type of demonstration in a class." Pat Summers, whose daughter was in Holden's class, said more than 20 parents showed up at the school Monday, upset over the incident.

As the wealthy Native American groups in California expand their gambling empires, they are using the power that comes with money to keep the poor tribes out. They hire blue-chip lawyers, lobbyists and public relations experts to promote their cause in Sacramento, where permission to own casinos is granted. They give millions in campaign cash to lawmakers who approve and block tribal pacts. "The rich tribes are denying us a future," said Mike Jackson, president of the Quechan Tribe in the far southeast corner of California. "Money has pushed tribes apart." Wealthy tribes pay into a fund that grants $1.1 million a year to each tribe that lacks a casino or has a small one. But for the 3,000 or so Quechan members, it's not much. On the rich side of the divide, Jacob L. Coin, communications director of the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians, said Indian gambling was never intended to be "a share-the-wealth program or a welfare program for all Indian tribes." The San Manuel casino abuts San Bernardino and is one of the busiest in the state. "No tribe is guaranteed a successful casino," Coin said. "There are some tribes that are poorly located, and there are some tribes that are especially favorably located. The law basically understands that." Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration is fashioning deals to grant thousands more slot machines to rich Southern California Indian bands, including the San Manuel. The governor agreed this month to allow the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians to increase its Palm Springs-based operation to include three casinos and 5,000 slot machines, up from its existing two casinos and 2,000 slots. Tribes are not required to publicly report their gambling profits. But a single slot machine can generate $350 in profits a day, or more. Multiplied by 5,000, that's about $640 million a year.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: China's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, throwing diplomatic language to the wind, has told the United States in no uncertain terms to "shut up and keep quiet" on the subject of Beijing's growing military spending. Interviewed for a BBC radio program on the topic Thursday, Sha Zukang also said China would "do the business" and sacrifice its own people's lives if any nation supported a declaration of independence by Taiwan. Responding to jitters within the Bush administration about Beijing's spiraling military budget, Sha said the United States itself accounts for half of the entire world's military spending.

Acting President Raul Castro said Cuba remains open to normalized relations with the United States, but warned the Bush administration in his first comments since assuming power that it will get nowhere with threats or pressure. Raul Castro also said in Friday editions of the island's Communist Party newspaper that he had mobilized tens of thousands of troops in response to what he called aggressive U.S. acts, including stepped-up radio and television broadcasts to the island, and an $80 million plan to hasten the end of the Castros' rule. State Department spokesman Tom Casey declined on Friday to respond specifically to Raul Castro's comment but said "I don't think we're particularly enamored of the first words we heard from 'Fidel Light.'"

A presidential candidate backed by Venezuela's major opposition parties pledged Thursday that, if elected, his government would remain independent of both U.S. and Cuban influence. "We don't have to depend on either the (U.S.) empire or the bearded one," Rosales said, alluding to Castro. Chavez this week said Rosales and every other presidential challenger were candidates of the U.S. "empire."

Main Nicaraguan political parties continue Monday their propaganda campaigns for the November elections, amid accusations of extensive US manipulations. Surveys on intention to vote favor firstly the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN), followed by the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance and the Constitutionalist Liberal Party. Other minority groups like the Sandinista Renovating Movement and the Alternative for Change Party also have popular support. The electoral campaign will conclude on November 1, four days before voting, which in addition to President, will also elect 90 new national legislators and 20 members of the Central American Parliament.

A covert program under which confidential information about British banking transactions is passed to the CIA with the full knowledge of the government may breach both British and European law. The information commissioner, who is responsible for enforcing the Data Protection Act, is investigating the arrangement, which has seen details of computerised transactions from around the world passed to the CIA in an attempt to spy on the financiers of jihadist terrorism. The US government has acknowledged that the agency has been receiving international financial records from the Belgian-based co-operative which processes money transfers on behalf of the world's banks. The programme was launched in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Data handed over each year by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift, includes the details of an estimated 4.6 million British banking transactions. A spokesman for the information commissioner told the Guardian that the privacy issue was being taken "extremely seriously". If the CIA had accessed financial data belonging to European individuals then this was "likely to be a breach of EU data protection legislation", he said, adding that UK data protection laws may also have been breached if British banking transactions had been handed over. The commissioner is requesting more information from Swift and the Belgium authorities before deciding how to proceed.

By a margin of more than five to one - the British public wants Tony Blair to split from Smirkey and either go it alone in the "war on terror", or work more closely with Europe. Only eight per cent of those questioned by YouGov said Mr Bush and Mr Blair were winning the battle against Muslim fundamentalism. The poll findings will encourage John Reid, the Home Secretary, who has warned the British public that they will have to forgo many of the freedoms and liberties they have grown used to in order to ensure the maximum level of security.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Israeli forces seized a senior Palestinian legislator Sunday in the latest move in a 7-week-old crackdown on the ruling Hamas movement, drawing angry accusations from Palestinian leaders that Israel is undermining their efforts to form a unity government. Troops and agents of the Shin Bet intelligence agency grabbed Mahmoud al-Ramahi, a senior Hamas member and secretary-general of the Palestinian parliament, at his Ramallah home, a military statement said. It gave no further details, but his sister Yaqeen said the raid took place in broad daylight. His capture puts almost all of the Palestinian Authority's West Bank leadership in Israeli custody.

There have been clashes in the Gaza Strip after Israeli troops backed by tanks launched several incursions into the territory. Palestinian medical sources said three people had been killed by Israeli fire in southern Gaza. Palestinian sources said they were militants from the Islamic Jihad group. The Israeli military said troops had opened fire after spotting what they said were suspicious figures near the border fence with Israel. Palestinian medics discovered the three bodies after daybreak near the Kissufim crossing with Israel. No weapons were found near the bodies, but Palestinian security officials said the three had been sent to carry out an attack.

Israel said last night that it would veto the presence in Lebanon of peace-keeping forces from nations with which it does not have diplomatic links. Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister, ruled out countries that do not recognise Israel, complicating the already difficult task of assembling 15,000 troops to oversee the United Nations’ ceasefire resolution and bolster Lebanese forces. Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh - Muslim states that do not have diplomatic links to Israel - are among the few countries that have offered troops for the stabilisation force that is expected to be led by European troops. Israeli ministers had earlier suggested barring countries with which it did not have ties, but Foreign Ministry officials said that it was still a matter of discussion. Last night, at a meeting of the Israeli Cabinet’s security committee, Mr Olmert excluded those countries.

Spin Cycle: At his press conference today, the president came refreshingly (although just a tad belatedly) clean about the fact that Iraq played no part whatsoever in the Sept. 11 attacks. Watch it. A howler from Bush: "Nobody’s ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack." OK, maybe not in those words, but how 'bout in these? Crooks and Liars: "Karl Rove and Dick Cheney are not happy campers today that’s for sure. He admits he was wrong about WMD’s in Iraq and now this. QUESTION: A lot of the consequences you mentioned for pulling out seem like maybe they never would have been there if we hadn’t gone in. How do you square all of that? BUSH: I square it because imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein, who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who was paying suiciders to kill innocent life, who had relations with Zarqawi. You know, I've heard this theory about, you know, everything was just fine until we arrived [in Iraq] and - you know, the stir-up-the-hornet's-nest theory. It just doesn't hold water, as far as I'm concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East. They were... QUESTION: What did Iraqi have to do with that? BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what? QUESTION: The attacks upon the World Trade Center. BUSH: Nothing. Except for it's part of - and nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a - Iraq - the lesson of September the 11th is: Take threats before they fully materialize." Then there is Dick Cheney's comments: What Vice President Cheney in December 2001 said about links between 9/11 and Iraq was that it was "pretty well confirmed" that hijacking ringleader Mohammed Atta had met with Iraqi intelligence. On June 17, 2004, Cheney said: "We have never been able to confirm that, nor have we been able to knock it down, we just don’t know. ... I can’t refute the Czech claim, I can’t prove the Czech claim, I just don’t know." In July 2004, the CIA’s own report stated the agency did not have "any credible information”" that the alleged meeting ever took place. The CIA said the whole concoction was based on a single source "whose veracity... has been questioned" and that the Iraqi official allegedly involved was in U.S. custody and denied the meeting ever took place.

A new study of media coverage shows that a large number of daily newspapers wildly exaggerated the number of volunteers who actually took part in the Minuteman Project, a vigilante "citizens border patrol" operation that took place in southeastern Arizona over the month of April 2005. The report, "Creating the Minutemen," is based on an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) analysis of 581 articles and editorials printed in major U.S. newspapers between January 2005 and February 2006. The ACLU has been highly critical of the Minutemen, and ACLU volunteers closely monitored the group. The first of those articles, "Volunteers Set to Monitor Border Crossings," by Jerry Seper of the hard-right Washington Times, reported that 240 volunteers had signed up. By early March, Seper was reporting that the number of volunteers had "more than tripled," came from every state, and included 16 pilots with aircraft. During the last two weeks of March 2005, the media hype shifted into overdrive. Fifteen journalists reported the Minuteman Project had signed up "at least 1,000 volunteers." The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin ran a March 23, 2005, article headlined "2,000 volunteers expected for Minuteman Project." Vastly fewer actually showed up. During the first week of the project, The New York Times, the Houston Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times all reported "between 100 and 200" volunteers (an Intelligence Report story estimated fewer than 150). Even Jerry Seper of The Washington Times, the Minuteman Project's most prolific cheerleader, reported just 100 volunteers in his April 3 article, "Border-vigil Volunteers Big in Spirit, Not Number." The majority of those volunteers went home after the first weekend, and while others trickled in over the course of the month-long operation, the Minuteman Project never came close to matching its opening strength. "Yet, mysteriously, by the end of the month the Minutemen were claiming they had 857 volunteers," the ACLU study reports. Journalists reporting from their desks in faraway cities failed to challenge the increasingly outrageous claims of the project's organizers, often publicizing their numbers as simple fact, without attribution.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a member of a small group of analysts who were asked to discuss their views on the Middle East with President Bush at a private lunch this week, said this morning on ABC's This Week that the mid- to long-term fallout from Israel-Hezbollah conflict could be a good thing because it may prompt Bush to take military action against Iran. GERECT: "I think more importantly - because of the way the Syrians and Iranians reacted - it is possible that the president has gotten very, very angry over that issue. If, in fact, you see down the road - because the premier issue for the iranians is nuclear weapons program - if you see down the road the president taking a much harder line on that issue." STEPHANOPOULOS: "How much harder line could he take? Are you talking about military action?" GERECT: "Well yeah it is conceivable you go down the road 12 or 18 months that the president will say nuclear weapons in the hands of the mullahs is simply unacceptable - as he said many times. And if in fact Lebanon contributes to the hardening of the American postion, then I would say that hezbollah actions in Lebanon were a great mistake."

Iran rejected a deal on its uranium enrichment program backed by the US and other global powers today. But its rejection was not outright. A report from the Iranian TV channel Al Alam suggested that the response delivered by Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larjiani to representatives of the offering governments rejected a suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment programs. Iran claims that its uranium program is for peaceful civilian nuclear energy, but many fear that it will provide cover for an illegal nuclear weapons program. In spite of the rejection, Iran has apparently offered "a new formula to resolve the issue through negotiations," according to Al Alam.

Newt is back. Recently, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gave a speech at the Brookings Institution. Mr. Gingrich stated that, if there remained a "vacuum" in the Republican field of candidates seeking the 2008 presidential nomination, he would throw his hat in the ring. It is remarkable that he is positioning himself for a presidential run. Mr. Gingrich left Congress seven years ago after his failed leadership during the Clinton impeachment debacle. He is once again a rising star among conservatives who are hungry for a bright, principled and articulate champion. Many conservatives long for a return to the glory days of the 1994 Contract With America when Newt and his Republican revolutionaries captured control of Congress and promised small government, low taxes and welfare reform. A recent Gallup poll placed Mr. Gingrich third in a field of likely GOP presidential candidates. Only Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani fared better. Newt's appeal is especially strong among conservative activists - many of whom consider Mr. McCain and Mr. Giuliani to be too moderate.

A day after U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman declared himself a "devoted Democrat" on national TV, peace activists in his hometown of New Haven asked the local registrar of voters (Sharon Ferrucci, pictured) Monday afternoon to strip him of his party affiliation because of his third-party reelection bid against party-endorsed Ned Lamont. Some two dozen activists, camera crews and reporters squeezed into the narrow entry to the second-floor Registrar of Voters office to present their request to Ferrucci. Ferrucci said she wasn't familiar with the law. In a friendly encounter with the surprise crowd in her office, Ferrucci promised, "I will read it and get back to you" within 48 hours or sooner. The activists cited Section 9-61 of Chapter 143 of the state statutes in their request. That section allows for a Democrat's party affiliation to be "stricken or excluded" for two years if he runs for office as a candidate of a different party.

Rats Fleeing The U.S.S. Bush: For 10 minutes, the talk show host grilled his guests about whether "George Bush's mental weakness is damaging America's credibility at home and abroad." For 10 minutes, the caption across the bottom of the television screen read, "IS BUSH AN 'IDIOT'?" But the host was no liberal media elitist. It was Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman turned MSNBC political pundit. And his answer to the captioned question was hardly "no." While other presidents have been called stupid, Scarborough said: "I think George Bush is in a league by himself. I don't think he has the intellectual depth as these other people." These have been tough days politically for President Bush, what with his popularity numbers mired in the 30s and Republican candidates distancing themselves as elections near. He can no longer even rely as much on once-friendly voices in the conservative media to stand by his side, as some columnists and television commentators lose faith in his leadership and lose heart in the war in Iraq. While most conservative media figures have not abandoned Bush, influential opinion-makers increasingly have raised questions, expressed doubts or attacked the president outright, particularly on foreign policy, on which he has long enjoyed their strongest support. In some cases, they have complained that Bush has drifted away from their shared principles; in other cases, they think it is the implementation that has fallen short. In most instances, Iraq figures prominently. "Conservatives for a long time were in protective mode, wanting to emphasize the progress in Iraq to contrast what they felt was an unfair attack on the war by the Democrats and media and other sources," Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, said in an interview. "But there's more of a sense now that things are on a downward trajectory, and more of a willingness to acknowledge it and pressure the administration to react to it."

Republicans Believe In Open, Honest and Transparent Government: The Bush administration has begun designating as secret some information that the government long provided even to its enemy the former Soviet Union: the numbers of strategic weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during the Cold War. The Pentagon and the Department of Energy are treating as national security secrets the historical totals of Minuteman, Titan II and other missiles, blacking out the information on previously public documents, according to a new report by the National Security Archive. The archive is a nonprofit research library housed at George Washington University. "It would be difficult to find more dramatic examples of unjustifiable secrecy than these decisions to classify the numbers of U.S. strategic weapons," wrote William Burr, a senior analyst at the archive who compiled the report..." The Pentagon is now trying to keep secret numbers of strategic weapons that have never been classified before."

Republicans Care Deeply About Their Constituents: Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana) attended a Farm Bill Field Hearing on August 17, 2006. Burns had arranged the hearing, saying "I am glad I've been able to secure this field hearing for Montana." "This Farm Bill is critically important for my producers..." Burns also said. Burns' statements were prior to his dozing off during the 'critically important' hearing. Burns is locked in a tight reelection race for his Senate seat. In a printed statement about the Farm Bill, Burns said "These principles are just the starting point of our work on the next Farm Bill. Over the coming months, I will be working with Montana producer groups to develop concrete proposals that will benefit our most important industry."

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: An Ohio school board voted to allow discussion of contraception in sex education classes upon learning that 13% of one high school’s female students were pregnant. There were 490 female students at Timken High School in 2005, and 65 were pregnant, WEWS-TV in Cleveland reported.

News From Smirkey's Wars: In Panjwai district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan, the Taliban have told the district's mayor that he will be left untouched providing he and his men stay where they are and forbid NATO forces permission to enter the area, Besmillah says. "The Taliban have kept the bodies of NATO soldiers killed in raids because they have asked for 10 rocket-propelled grenades in return for each corpse," he says. Another account suggests that the Taliban have asked for the release of prisoners in return for the bodies. Temperature this week have been hitting 44C. "The bodies will rot and people will be affected by their smell," he says. Another man from Pashmoul, Panjwai, who left his home three days ago, says the Taliban had taken over his village too. "The Taliban were hiding there for a long time," he says. "Before, when the American convoys were passing, we used to ask them: 'Why don't you attack them?' They'd say they didn't have enough weapons, or that they hadn't yet received orders," he explains. "But now, no foreigners can pass. Not in convoys or on foot."

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: If you thought the sight of New Orleans flooded to the eaves - its people trapped in attics or cowering on rooftops - was the nightmare hurricane scenario, think again. Max Mayfield, director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center, says there's plenty of potential for a storm worse than Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,339 people along the U.S. Gulf coast and caused some $80 billion in damage last August. "People think we have seen the worst. We haven't," Mayfield told Reuters in an interview at the fortress-like hurricane center in Florida. "I think the day is coming. I think eventually we're going to have a very powerful hurricane in a major metropolitan area worse than what we saw in Katrina and it's going to be a mega-disaster. With lots of lost lives," Mayfield said. "I don't know whether that's going to be this year or five years from now or a hundred years from now. But as long as we continue to develop the coastline like we are, we're setting up for disaster." Looking back nearly a year to the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, and the third-worst hurricane in terms of American lives lost, Mayfield said Katrina itself could have been a greater disaster. More than two days before Katrina struck the Gulf coast August 29, the hurricane center had predicted its future track accurately and also warned it could become a powerful Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.

Cool your home, warm the planet. When more than two dozen countries undertook in 1989 to fix the ozone hole over Antarctica, they began replacing chloroflourocarbons in refrigerators, air conditioners and hair spray. But they had little idea that using other gases that contain chlorine or fluorine instead also would contribute greatly to global warming. CFCs destroy ozone, the atmospheric layer that helps protect against the sun's most harmful rays, and trap the earth's heat, contributing to a rise in average surface temperatures. In theory, the ban should have helped both problems. But the countries that first signed the Montreal Protocol 17 years ago failed to recognize that CFC users would seek out the cheapest available alternative. The chemicals that replaced CFCs are better for the ozone layer, but do little to help global warming. These chemicals, too, act as a reflective layer in the atmosphere that traps heat like a greenhouse. That effect is at odds with the intent of a second treaty, drawn up in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 by the same countries behind the Montreal pact. In fact, the volume of greenhouse gases created as a result of the Montreal agreement's phaseout of CFCs is two times to three times the amount of global-warming carbon dioxide the Kyoto agreement is supposed to eliminate. This unintended consequence now haunts the nations that signed both U.N. treaties.

Scandals Du Jour: An indictment first reported by Truthout said to be connected to Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's Plame investigation remains sealed, and Fitzgerald continues to work on the leak case. The indictment, 06 cr 128, was returned by the grand jury hearing evidence in the CIA leak case between May 10 and May 17 - right around the time that Truthout reported, based on sources close to the investigation, that Karl Rove had been indicted on charges of perjury and lying to investigators. However, that indictment remains under seal more than three months after it was filed - an unusually lengthy period of time, according to experts in the field of federal law. The indictment could be dismissed down the road, meaning the public may never get the opportunity to learn the identity of the defendant or the substance of the criminal case. These experts said the length of time the indictment has been under seal suggests that the defendant named in the complaint is cooperating with an ongoing investigation and may have accepted a plea agreement. Former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson said it's very likely that the indictment was sealed in the first place because the "defendant is cooperating with an investigation and the government wants to keep that person's identity secret" to protect the integrity of the investigation. "It would be extraordinary to keep it sealed as the process goes on," said Levenson, now a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. A two-month investigation undertaken by Truthout into the circumstances that led to Karl Rove's alleged exoneration in the leak probe has once again put the spotlight back on Sealed vs. Sealed, the heading under which 06 cr 128 was filed in US District Court between May 10 and May 17.

The No. 2 State Department official met with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in mid-June 2003, the same time the reporter has testified that an administration official talked to him about CIA employee Valerie Plame. Official State Department calendars, provided to The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act, show then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage held a one-hour meeting marked "private appointment" with Woodward on June 13, 2003. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has investigated whether Bush administration officials intentionally revealed Plame's identity as a one-time CIA covert operative to punish her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for criticizing the administration's march to war with Iraq. An attorney for the Wilsons said Tuesday that, based on the calendar, she was considering adding Armitage to a civil lawsuit accusing Vice President Dick Cheney and two White House aides of conspiring to reveal Plame's identity.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:17:23 PM

Sun, Aug 20 2006

Run Around The Lake

More rainy season weather, but this time, off the Pacific. A much-vaunted Caribbean storm that is bringing buckets of rain to the rest of the country hasn't made it this far, and instead, our circulation today has been off of the Pacific, with brief but lightning-riddled thunderstorms all afternoon. The water in the Pacific is a bit cooler than the water in the Caribbean, which means that this circulation off the Pacific has cooled our temperatures down a bit, too, to a pleasant 70 overnight, and 78 this afternoon. Ideal for the big race.

Today is a big day in town, and a good day to stay away from the town center. Arenal is hosting a triathalon event featuring dozens of both men and women runners/bikers/swimmers from all over Costa Rica, swimming, biking and running a marathon along the shore of Lake Arenal. It is one of several such races held here every year. Among the others are a horseback event and a mountain-bike event that circumnavigate the lake. They're often held during the rainy season, to ensure that the weather is cloudy and not terribly hot, so the participants are less likely to suffer heat exhaustion.

This year, the route took the running stage of the triathalon right past my front door, apparently after a lengthy slog through a marshy area or perhaps a muddy beach - most of the participants had clearly fallen into the mud and were rather badly mud-streaked by the time they passed my place. Watching the race was no big deal, of course, just sit in the rocking chair on my front porch, fresco (juice drink) in hand, and watch the participants go by. For a gay man such as myself, it is a joy to watch such a race, with all those fine, handsome, muscle-rippled and Spandexed young men providing such enjoyable eye candy, one after another. I didn't have to lift a finger and it was great entertainment that didn't cost a dime. Hey, it was exhausting just watching them.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The estimated costs for the development of major weapons systems for the US military have doubled since September 11, 2001, with a trillion-dollar price tag for new planes, ships, and missiles that would have little direct role in the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq. The soaring cost estimates - disclosed in a report for the Republican-led Senate Budget Committee - have led to concerns that supporters of multibillion-dollar weapons programs in Congress, the Pentagon , and the defense industry are using the conflicts and the war on terrorism to fulfill a wish-list of defense expenditures, whether they are needed or not for the war on terrorism. The report, based on Defense Department data, concluded that the best way to keep defense spending in check in the coming years lies in "controlling the cost of weaponry," especially those programs that the Pentagon might not necessarily need. The projections of what it will cost to acquire "major weapons programs" currently in production or on the drawing board soared from $790 billion in September 2001 to $1.61 trillion in June 2006, according to the congressional analysis of Pentagon data. Costs for some of the most expensive new weapon systems - such as satellite-linked combat vehicles for ground troops; a next-generation fighter plane ; and a cutting-edge, stealth-technology destroyer for the Navy - are predicted to cost even more by the time they are delivered, because many of them are still in their early phases. In a quarterly report to Congress on weapons costs earlier this month, the Pentagon reported that of the $1.61 trillion it thinks it will need for big-ticket weapons, it has spent more than half so far - about $909 billion. But the huge increase in weapons costs is already placing enormous strain on the federal budget, according to government budget specialists, who predict major increases in defense spending for years to come so that the Pentagon can afford all the weapons it has on the books. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, for example, estimates that between 2012 and 2024 the Pentagon budget will have to grow between 18 percent and 34 percent over what was appropriated this year. For example, the Future Combat System, a high-tech fleet of armored combat vehicles being developed by the Army , was forecast to cost $92 billion when its development began in 2003, according to the GOP committee's report. As of December 2005, however, the price tag had skyrocketed to $165 billion, about an 80 percent increase in just two years.

Perhaps in response to the steady drumbeat of bad news coming out of Iraq, Smirkey today attempted to lower expectations about the situation there, telling reporters at a White House briefing that the best-case scenario for Iraq is now "a moderate fiasco." Mr. Bush acknowledged some errors in judgment about the war, including posing in front of a banner that said "Mission Accomplished" when it should have said "Mission Impossible." But he lashed out at critics who called the invasion of Iraq a total fiasco, saying, "If we continue to make progress at the rate we are going, we will have a moderate fiasco on our hands." The somewhat more sober assessment of the situation in Iraq comes just days after a new poll was released showing that a majority of Americans now hope that the Bush presidency turns out to be a dream sequence.

The cultural, moral, political and informational performance of the Lebanese resistance has awakened Muslims and Arabs to the fact that confronting the aggression with science, order, transparency morals, and honesty are the only guarantee to survive and to live in honor, pride and dignity. Israel and its backers were embarrassed and confused after being defeated for the first time, and their allies tried to find a way out of this war. Sept. 11 events became old and no longer persuasive, but still, found the need to provoke them in order to hide attention against war crimes committed in Lebanon. And, to maintain in the Western mind the fear of danger coming from Arabs and Muslims. For this reason they invented the story of the alleged hijacking airplanes. President Bush was at his farm waiting for "the hijacking conspiracy" to respond to "Islamic Fascism" in spite of the fact that nothing had happened, and no murder occurred. However, President Bush did not utter a word to condemn the killing of Arab and Muslim children in Palestine and Lebanon. It is strange that a group of Muslims who consider themselves friendly to Washington are not aware that they are counted among the "Islamic Fascists," as the administration in Washington shows its hate of all Muslims. Bush's phrase "Islamic Fascism" was not uttered by chance. It was a carefully chosen phrase, designed to describe all Muslims in any part of the world. Moreover, his phrase is addressed to the Europeans who demonstrating against U.S. crimes in Iraq and Olmert's war crimes in Lebanon and Palestine.

There was a big clue planted at the bottom of the very long lead article in The New York Times of August 17. That story noted the alarming rise in insurgent attacks against American and Iraqi forces. The number of IEDs in July was 2,625, just about twice what it was back in January, when Zarqawi was still prowling around. Clearly, his death did nothing to slow the pace down or snuff out the insurgency. The shelf life of Bush propaganda is only about one week these days. But back to the clue. The last three paragraphs of this story revealed that "senior administration officials... are considering alternatives other than democracy," according to a military expert who was just briefed at the White House. Hmmm, "alternatives other than democracy." My, what can those be? Monarchy? Dictatorship? The Bush Administration may be looking for an Iraqi Augusto Pinochet, or another, more reliable Saddam. That may have been what Cheney and Rumsfeld had in mind all along. From the very beginning, they wanted to install in power Ahmad Chalabi and his groups of exiles roosting in the Iraqi National Congress, writes George Packer in his book The Assassin's Gate. When the situation in Iraq began to deteriorate, Cheney blamed those in the Administration who refused to go along with this plan. "In the fall of 2003, Dick Cheney approached his colleague Colin Powell, stuck a finger in his chest, and said, 'If you hadn't opposed the INC and Chalabi, we wouldn’t be in this mess,' " Packer reports.

The latest chapter in America's long war on drugs - a six-year, $4.7 billion effort to slash Colombia's coca crop - has left the price, quality and availability of cocaine on American streets virtually unchanged. The effort, begun in 2000 and known as Plan Colombia, had a specific goal of halving this country's coca crop in five years. That has not happened. Instead, drug policy experts say, coca, the essential ingredient for cocaine, has been redistributed to smaller and harder-to-reach plots, adding to the cost and difficulty of the drug war. * As much coca is cultivated today in Colombia as was grown at the start of the large-scale aerial fumigation effort in 2000, according to State Department figures. * Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, the leading sources of coca and cocaine, produce more than enough cocaine to satisfy world demand, and possibly as much as in the mid-1990's, the United Nations says. * In the United States, the government's tracking over the past quarter century shows that the price of cocaine has tumbled and that purity remains high, signs that the drug is as available as ever.

Iran on Sunday test-fired a surface-to-surface short-range missile a day after its army launched large-scale military exercises throughout the country, state-run television reported. "Saegheh, the missile, has a range of between 80 to 250 kilometers (50 to 150 miles)," the report said. It said the missile was tested in Kashan desert, about 150 miles southeast of Tehran, the capital. Saegheh means lightning in Farsi.

Muslims were planning to blow up a bunch of jetliners enroute from London to America - or so say George Bush and Tony Blair. Muslims without tickets. Muslims without passports. Muslims without bombs. Muslims without a clue... and they aren't the only ones, it turns out. Without a clue, that is. What kind of bombs? TATP bombs, short for triacetone triperoxide. What's more, Bush and Blair told us that Muslims favor the TATP bomb, mixed on the spot with separate liquids. With that lie, both Bush and Blair foreclosed any possibility that the Muslims involved actually were guilty. With that lie, both Bush and Blair disclosed themselves for the treasonous, lying criminals that they are. Why? Glad you asked. You see ... it can't be done. It quite simply cannot be done. Not in any airplane toilet. Not with any resources that might be available aboard any airplane other than Tom Swift's Flying Lab. Not with the time afforded by a Trans-Atlantic flight. And certainly - not by anybody without chemistry lab training and experience - not under the circumstances claimed, anyway. An excellent (and humorous) on-line discussion by British writer Thomas Greene, also as to why TATP simply cannot be made aboard a plane: "Mass murder in the skies: was the plot feasible?" Mr. Greene agrees with my friend, the PhD in chemistry, and concludes his description of the process of creating TATP with: "So the fabled binary liquid explosive - that is, the sudden mixing of hydrogen peroxide and acetone with sulfuric acid to create a plane-killing explosion, is out of the question."

House Majority Leader John Boehner, predicted today that soon after Congress returns to session in September, it will pass a law making Smirkey's domestic eavesdropping program legal. On Thursday, a federal judge in Detroit ruled that the program is unconstitutional and ordered it ended immediately. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the Bush Administration disagrees with the ruling and has appealed. That appeal will land in Cincinnati, at the U .S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. But Congress may not wait to see what that court decides. "The systems that have been developed to help secure Americans are important," said Boehner, R-West Chester Township, during an interview on a wide range of national and local topics at the Cincinnati Enquirer. "This disclosure of the eavesdropping program and yesterday’s judgment on it - I think you will see Congress move quickly to make clear that the President does have the authority to operate this program basically the way it has been operated."

According to the latest polling by Rasmussen Reports, Republican Virginia Senator George Allen's lead has shrunk six points since before he referred to a young man of Indian descent working for his opponent Democratic challenger James Webb as "macaca." "Senator George Allen's alleged slur of an opposition campaign worker of Indian descent, recorded on video, has provoked a furious controversy in the state," reports Rasmussen. "In the wake of the controversy, support for Allen has dipped below the 50% mark for the first time this year." Allen now only leads Webb 47% to 42%, six points less since the last poll in July. "Based upon this latest poll, Rasmussen Reports is shifting Virginia from Republican to Leans Republican in our Senate Balance of Power summary," the site continues. The nationwide fallout from controversial remarks Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) made last week has given Democrats new hope in a race many thought would be difficult to win in the historically conservative state. Before Allen insulted a native Fairfax County man of Indian descent, many Democratic officials were privately doubtful that James Webb could mount an aggressive challenge to the former governor and possible 2008 presidential candidate. But Allen's remarks to S.R. Sidarth, 20 - which included saying "welcome to America" - are generating new support for the Webb campaign and energizing Democratic activists. "Before this week, I thought it would be a very tough race for Jim Webb," said Martin Tillett, a self-described Democrat who is vice president of the Spring Bank Community Association in Fairfax County. He had already opposed Allen for his conservative positions. "This week has just added fuel on the fire as far as I am concerned," he said. Even Northern Virginia Republicans who support Allen say they are a bit worried.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced late Friday that U.S. commercial supplies of long-grain rice had become inadvertently contaminated with a genetically engineered variety not approved for human consumption. Johanns said the company that made the experimental rice, Bayer CropScience of Monheim, Germany, had provided information to the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration indicating that the rice poses no threats to human health or the environment. "Based upon the information we have seen, this product is safe," he said in a telephone news conference. Johanns said he did not know where the contaminated rice was found or how widespread it may be in the U.S. food chain. The agency first learned about it from the company, he said, after it discovered "trace amounts" during testing of commercial supplies. The variety, known as LLRICE 601, is endowed with bacterial DNA that makes rice plants resistant to a weed killer made by the agricultural giant Aventis. Johanns acknowledged that the discovery could have a significant impact on rice sales - especially exports, which are worth close to $1 billion a year.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission chair Dale Klein "said he supports the 'groundwater protection initiative,' a self-policing effort proposed in May by the Nuclear Energy Institute trade organization. 'I think as a nation we need to be cautious about putting unneeded regulations in place,' Klein said." He spoke at the Braidwood nuclear power plant in Illinois, "where tritium in groundwater spread beyond plant boundaries, sparking state and federal legislation, three lawsuits and an Exelon cleanup effort being monitored by state and federal agencies." Tritium contamination of groundwater has been found at at least 10 U.S. nuclear plants, most recently Wisconsin's Kewaunee and California's defunct San Onofre plants. Tritium is a low-energy nuclear isotope readily cleared by the body, though in high concentrations it has been linked to cancer and birth defects.

"If you owe back taxes to the federal government, the next call asking you to pay may come not from an Internal Revenue Service officer, but from a private debt collector," reports David Cay Johnston in Sunday's edition of The New York Times. "Within two weeks, the I.R.S. will turn over data on 12,500 taxpayers - each of whom owes $25,000 or less in back taxes - to three collection agencies," the article continues. The move, an initiative of the Bush administration, represents the first step in a broader plan to outsource the collection of smaller tax debts to private companies over time. Although I.R.S. officials acknowledge that this will be much more expensive than doing it internally, they say that Congress has forced their hand by refusing to let them hire more revenue officers, who could pull in a lot of easy-to-collect money.

More than 100 young women who expressed interest in joining the military in the past year were preyed upon sexually by their recruiters. Women were raped on recruiting office couches, assaulted in government cars and groped en route to entrance exams. A six-month Associated Press investigation found that more than 80 military recruiters were disciplined last year for sexual misconduct with potential enlistees. The cases occurred across all branches of the military and in all regions of the country. "This should never be allowed to happen," said one 18-year-old victim. "The recruiter had all the power. He had the uniform. He had my future. I trusted him." At least 35 Army recruiters, 18 Marine Corps recruiters, 18 Navy recruiters and 12 Air Force recruiters were disciplined for sexual misconduct or other inappropriate behavior with potential enlistees in 2005, according to records obtained by the AP under dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests. That's significantly more than the handful of cases disclosed in the past decade.

Calling their lives blessed, more than a dozen children and young adults from polygamist families in Utah spoke at a rally Saturday, calling for a change in state laws and the right to live the life and religion they choose. "Because of our beliefs, many of our people have been incarcerated and had their basic human rights stripped of them, namely life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," said a 19-year-old identified only as Tyler. "I didn't come here today to ask for your permission to live my beliefs. I shouldn't have to." Polygamy is banned in the Utah Constitution and is a felony offense. The rally was unusual because those who practice polygamy typically try to live under the radar. It drew about 250 supporters to City Hall, said Mary Batchelor, co-founder of Principle Voices of Polygamy, which helped organize the event. The youths, ages 10 to 20, belong to various religious sects, as well as families that practice polygamy independent of religious affiliation. They said they spoke voluntarily. They gave only their first names, saying they were protecting the privacy of their parents.

Chanting "Try Rove for treason," Cindy Sheehan and more than 50 other war protesters ambushed a reception before President Bush's top adviser Karl Rove spoke at a fundraiser at a hotel Saturday. One woman was arrested during a scuffle with police after Sheehan and the anti-war demonstrators rushed toward the closed doors and kept chanting loudly after the guests went into the dinner. Rove was speaking at an Associated Republicans of Texas dinner, where ticket prices started at $200 per person and raised an estimated $250,000. He was not in the Renaissance Austin Hotel lobby during the reception. "I want him arrested. He planned the war that killed my son," Sheehan, referring to Rove, told the officers guarding the door. Sheehan's oldest son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004. Police then ordered the group to leave, but some protesters had paid for rooms for the night. Those protesters went upstairs, including Sheehan. One protester was able to slip inside the ballroom during the dinner but was escorted out after shouting about men and women dying, the Austin American-Statesman reported in its Sunday editions. "Pat, did you get her check before she left?" Rove quipped to the GOP group's executive director, Pat Robbins, as the crowd of 300 laughed, the newspaper reported.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Just after noon on Friday, July 21, Adamo Bove -- head of security at Telecom Italia, the country's largest telecommunications firm -- told his wife he had some errands to run as he left their Naples apartment. Hours later, police found his car parked atop a freeway overpass. Bove's body lay on the pavement some 100 feet below. Bove was a master at detecting hidden phone networks. Recently, at the direction of Milan prosecutors, he'd used mobile phone records to trace how a "Special Removal Unit" composed of CIA and SISMI (the Italian CIA) agents abducted Abu Omar, an Egyptian cleric, and flew him to Cairo where he was tortured. The Omar kidnapping and the alleged involvement of 26 CIA agents, whom prosecutors seek to arrest and extradite, electrified Italian media. U.S. media noted the story, then dropped it. About 16 months earlier, in March of 2005, Costas Tsalikidis, a 38-year-old software engineer for Vodaphone in Greece had just discovered a highly sophisticated bug embedded in the company's mobile network. The spyware eavesdropped on the prime minister's and other top officials' cell phone calls; it even monitored the car phone of Greece's secret service chief. Others bugged included civil rights activists, the head of Greece's "Stop the War" coalition, journalists and Arab businessmen based in Athens. All the wiretapping began about two months before the Olympics were hosted by Greece in August 2004, according to a subsequent investigation by the Greek authorities. Investigations into the alleged suicides of both Adamo Bove and Costas Tsalikidis raise questions about more than the suspicious circumstances of their deaths. They point to politicized, illegal intelligence structures that rely upon cooperative business executives. European prosecutors and journalists probing these spying networks have revealed that: * The Vodaphone eavesdropping was transmitted in real time to four antennae located near the U.S. embassy in Athens, according to an 11-month Greek government investigation. Some of these transmissions were sent to a phone line in Laurel, Md., near America's National Security Agency. * According to Ta Nea, a Greek newspaper, Vodaphone's CEO privately told the Greek government that the bugging culprits were "U.S. agents." Because Greece's prime minister feared domestic protests and a diplomatic war with the United States, he ordered the Vodafone CEO to withhold this conclusion from his own authorities investigating the case. * In both the Italian and Greek cases, the spyware was much more deeply embedded and clever than anything either phone company had seen before. Its creation required highly experienced engineers and expensive laboratories where the software could be subjected to the stresses of a national telephone system. Greek investigators concluded that the Vodaphone spyware was created outside of Greece. * Once placed, the spyware could have vast reach since most host companies are merging their Internet, mobile telephone and fixed-line operations onto a single platform. * Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, BND, recently snooped on investigative journalists. According to parliamentary investigations, the spying may have been carried out using the United States's secretive Bad Aibling base in the Bavarian Alps, which houses the American global eavesdropping program dubbed Echelon. As more troubling revelations come out of Europe, it may become more difficult to ignore how easily spying programs can be hijacked for illegitimate purposes. The brave soul who pursues this line of inquiry, however, should fear for his or her life.

The United States has named a special "manager" for its intelligence operations against Cuba and Venezuela, in effect putting the two Latin American nations on a par with "axis of evil" states confronted on multiple levels by the administration of President George W. Bush. North Korea and Iran are the only other countries that have been assigned so-called "mission managers," who supervise intelligence operations against them on what the office of national intelligence director called "a strategic level." In a statement released Friday, the office of National Intelligence Director John Negroponte said the manager would be responsible "for integrating collection and analysis on Cuba and Venezuela across the intelligence community" and "ensuring the implementation of strategies" that have not been disclosed. "Such efforts are critical today, as policymakers have increasingly focused on the challenges that Cuba and Venezuela pose to American foreign policy," the statement said. The director's office said the manager would also be asked to ensure "that policymakers have a full range of timely and accurate intelligence on which to base their decisions." The document did not say what kind of decisions US officials could be making with regard to either of the targeted countries. For the moment, the task of handling the Havana-Caracas axis fell to 32-year Central Intelligence Agency veteran J. Patrick Maher, whose previous job was deputy director of the CIA's Office of Policy Support. His biographical sketch supplied in the announcement indicates he was one of the architects of the CIA's current counterterrorism strategy in violence-torn Colombia and managed the agency's operations in the Caribbean basin.

In Nicaragua, one of the smallest and poorest countries in the hemisphere, U.S. envoys seem to be violating what is often considered a cardinal rule of diplomacy: Never publicly meddle in a host country's presidential election, the quintessential internal affair. The diplomats are loudly promoting a conservative presidential candidate that the Bush administration favors while working to undermine the campaign of a leftist politician it loathes, according to analysts and former American envoys. Washington's practice of pushing its political favorites, they say, also has been evident in other Latin American countries. Though U.S. diplomats may discreetly advocate for their preferred politicians, they risk expulsion if they go too far in larger countries such as Colombia, Mexico or Venezuela. But when it comes to smaller countries such as Nicaragua that crave good relations and financial aid from Washington, U.S. officials often go out of their way to influence the vote, the analysts say.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: UN explosives experts have identified 10 places where Israeli guns have fired cluster bombs on southern Lebanon and fear there could be many more of the devices, a human rights group said yesterday. As Human Rights Watch warned that the sites could be the "tip of the iceberg", UN officials reported yesterday that two children were killed by a cluster bomb explosion in the town of Naqoura. Two of the sites identified by the UN were in the village of Kfar Roummane. UN officials were quoted as saying that dangerous unexploded submunitions - duds that failed to detonate on impact but were still live and at risk of exploding - were present in Nabatiyeh, Tibnine and Beit Yahoun, as well as areas adjacent to the road connecting the latter two places.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has expressed deep concern over Saturday's Israeli commando raid deep inside Lebanon, calling it a truce violation. Lebanon has said it may halt its army deployment in the south - a key element of the ceasefire plan. The Bekaa Valley raid early on Saturday left one Israeli dead. Hezbollah denies reports it lost three militants. Israel said it was trying to disrupt weapons supplies from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah, and insisted the truce held. We had specific information of arms transfers taking place and we acted to prevent that violation. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is reported to have defended the raid during a telephone conversation with Mr Annan.

"My fellow American," Howard Friedman, President of AIPAC, begins his letter of July 30 to friends and supporters of AIPAC, "Look what you've done"! After warning that "Israel is fighting a pivotal war for its life," by which he means Israel's wanton slaughter and all-out destruction in Lebanon, Friedman condemns "the expected chorus of international condemnation of Israel's actions" and Europe's call for "a cease-fire immediately." Then he exults: "only ONE nation in the world came out and flatly declared: Let Israel finish the job. . That nation is the United States of America--and the reason it had such a clear, unambiguous view of the situation is YOU and the rest of America Jewry."

Spin Cycle: Facing Senator Joseph I. Lieberman's independent candidacy, Republican officials at the state and national level have made the extraordinary decision to abandon their official candidate, and some are actively working to help Mr. Lieberman win in November. Despite Mr. Lieberman's position that he will continue to caucus with Democrats if re-elected, all three Republican Congressional candidates in Connecticut have praised Mr. Lieberman and have not endorsed the party's nominee, Alan Schlesinger. An independent group with Republican ties is raising money for Mr. Lieberman, who has been a strong supporter of President Bush on the Iraq war. Senator John McCain of Arizona, while saying he would support the Republican nominee, is not planning to campaign for him, and even allowed two of his aides to consult with the Lieberman camp before the Aug. 8 Democratic primary. And Newt Gingrich, the Republican who once served as House speaker, has endorsed Mr. Lieberman's candidacy.

Rats Fleeing The U.S.S. Bush: Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, indicated in a column on Tuesday that Iraq could turn into another Vietnam. This, after arguing in 2003 that the comparison was "wishful thinking" on the part of war critics. Of course, being a hawk, Lowry offered the analogy in the hope of escalating the war, rather than ending it: "For there is one other similarity with Vietnam that should be avoided - the aching sense that not everything was done to win the war. By the end of Vietnam, we had essentially beaten the insurgency and could have helped the South Vietnamese hold off the conventional invasion of the North, if we hadn’t given up."

Today on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) said that Iraq is in a "very defined civil war" and that the Middle East is "the most unstable we’ve seen since 1948." He also reiterated that the United States needs to begin withdrawing troops within the next six months because staying the course just continues to "kill Americans and put Americans in the middle of a civil war that we have less and less control and influence over every day."

The traditional fundraising advantage held by incumbent lawmakers - which Republicans have regarded as a safety wall in their effort to keep control of Congress - has eroded in many closely contested House races, as many Democratic challengers prove competitive in the race for cash. In a year of bad omens for the GOP, the latest batch of disclosure forms filed with the Federal Election Commission offers one more: Incumbency no longer means that embattled Republican representatives can expect to overwhelm weakly funded Democratic challengers with massive spending on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts. There are 27 Republican incumbents classified by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report as the most vulnerable to losing reelection this fall. These incumbents still boast a clear fundraising edge, but it is much less pronounced than in years past. According to calculations made from FEC data, the Democratic challengers in these races have raised about 60 percent of what their opponents have collected and have about the same percentage of cash on hand.

Twenty-one former generals and high ranking national security officials have called on United States President George W. Bushto reverse course and embrace a new area of negotiation with Iran, Iraq,and North Korea. In a letter released Thursday, the group told reporters Bush's "hard line" policies have undermined national security and made America less safe. Of particular concern for the generals was increased saber rattling between Washington and Tehran over the development of an Iranian nuclear program. "We call on the administration to engage immediately in direct talks with the government of Iran without preconditions to help resolve the current crisis in the Middle East and to settle differences over an Iranian nuclear program," their letter read. "An attack on Iran would have disastrous consequences for security in the region and U.S. forces in Iraq," they argued. "It would inflame hatred and violence in the Middle East and among Muslims everywhere."

An environmentalist group that once held up Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman as an "environmental champion" is so far witholding its financial backing for him. The League of Conservation Voters, which has endorsed a key group of senators and representatives it believes are good on environmental policy in Congress, has pledged to provide funding for several senators, according to the National Journal's Congress Daily PM. However, the group has so far failed to fund Lieberman's campaign, though it did endorse him. A representative from the League of Conservation Voters explained that it hasn't decided to fund Lieberman's campaign for re-election so far because "Generally speaking, we only spend money on races where we're concerned about the outcome," and that "I don't think we know what the dynamics of that race are at this point in time."

Republicans Support The Troops: As many as 61,000 military widows whose husbands died of causes relating to their military service lose out on thousands of dollars a year in survivor benefits because of a law that dates from the 1970s. Widows and retirees have spent decades trying to persuade Congress to change the law, which hits hardest at the widows of lower-ranking service members and is referred to by many critics as the "widow's tax." The Senate passed such a change last year and again this year as part of the military authorization bill. But House Republican leaders oppose the change because of its steep price tag, nearly $9 billion over 10 years, Senate legislative aides from both parties say. A change was not in the military bill that passed the House, but lawmakers who support the change are hoping to make it part of the bill's final version, which is now being worked on by a bipartisan Congressional committee. "My husband thought he was securing my future," said Edie Smith, a member of the Gold Star Wives, a group of military widows who are lobbying to change the law. "He didn't realize his own disability would void the benefit he purchased for me." A 1972 law created the Survivor Benefits Plan, a Department of Defense retirement income fund similar to a life insurance policy. The plan, in turn, pays benefits calculated according to a dead service member's rank and length of service. In addition, widows of veterans who died of service-related causes receive monthly cash stipends from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Known as the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation stipend, it is currently $1,033 plus $257 for each child.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: A California-based consumer watchdog group has accused energy interests in the state of ratcheting up gas prices by increasing refinery outages. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights pointed to a report by the California Energy Commission as providing evidence that refineries experienced three times as many shut downs in the first half of 2006 as they did in 2005. The 175 unplanned outages resulted in "abnormally low gasoline production" which caused gas price spikes earlier in the year. The group criticized Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for "whitewashing" the California Energy Commission's findings that oil companies raked in huge profits during the first half of the year from the gas price hike. They pointed to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions Schwarzeneger had received from Chevron Texaco, a key refiner in the state, in addition to other energy interests, as the cause for the governor's silence on the problem.

Winning Hearts And Minds: The U.S. Marine officer who commanded the battalion involved in the deaths of two dozen Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November did not consider the incident unusual and did not initiate an inquiry, The Washington Post reported on Saturday. "I thought it was very sad, very unfortunate, but at the time, I did not suspect any wrongdoing from my Marines," Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, commander of the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marines, said in a sworn statement given to military investigators in March. "I did not have any reason to believe that this was anything other than combat action," he said in the statement, which was cited by the Post. The newspaper said it was provided with the statement by a person sympathetic to the enlisted Marines involved in the case. It said it helps explain why there was no investigation of the incident at the time and why the U.S. military chain of command took several months to react to the event.

The U.S. soldier who exposed the atrocities at the notorious Iraq prison camp is speaking out for the first time about his experiences. His claims are unexpected. Joe Darby at GQ: "Everybody thinks there was a conspiracy at Abu Ghraib. Everybody thinks there was an order from high up, or that somebody in command must have known. Everybody is wrong. Nobody in command knew about the abuse, because nobody in command cared enough to find out. That was the real problem. The entire command structure was oblivious, living in their own little worlds. So it wasn’t a conspiracy - it was negligence, plain and simple. They were all fucking clueless."

In the search for a sense of dignity, basic services and honesty, Arabs from all walks of life are turning to fundamentalist groups that have succeeded where their own governments have failed. "I have more faith in Islam than in my state; I have more faith in Allah than in Hosni Mubarak," said one educated middle-class Egyptian woman. Hezbollah’s perceived triumph has propelled, and been propelled by, a wave already washing over the region. Political Islam was widely seen as the antidote to the failures of Arab nationalism, Communism, socialism and, most recently, what is seen as the false promise of American-style democracy. It was that wave that helped the banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood win 88 seats in Egypt’s Parliament last December despite the government’s violent efforts to stop voters from getting to the polls. It was that wave that swept Hamas into power in the Palestinian government in January, shocking Hamas itself. "We need an umbrella," said Mona Mahmoud, 40, Jihan’s older sister. "In the 60's, Arabism was the umbrella. We had a cause. Now we lack an umbrella. We feel lost in space. We need to be affiliated to something. Usually in our part of the world, because of what religion means to us, we immediately resort to it." The lesson learned by many Arabs from the war in Lebanon is that an Islamic movement, in this case Hezbollah, restored dignity and honor to a bruised and battered identity. People in Egypt still talk painfully about the loss to Israel in 1967, a loss that was the beginning of the end of pan-Arabism as an ideology to unite the region and define its people.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: An upcoming television special produced by a Christian broadcaster that features conservative pundit Ann Coulter blames Charles Darwin for Adolf Hitler, RAW STORY has learned. "Author and Christian broadcaster Dr. D. James Kennedy connects the dots between Charles Darwin and Adolf Hitler in Darwin’s Deadly Legacy, a groundbreaking inquiry into Darwin’s chilling social impact," announces a press release issued by Florida's Coral Ridge Ministries. "The new television documentary airs nationwide on August 26 and 27 on The Coral Ridge Hour." "To put it simply, no Darwin, no Hitler," says Dr. Kennedy. "Hitler tried to speed up evolution, to help it along, and millions suffered and died in unspeakable ways because of it." Fourteen scholars, scientists, and authors featured on the show "outline the grim consequences of Darwin’s theory of evolution and show how his theory fueled Hitler’s ovens," according to the press release.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: By the middle of this century, smokestacks, tailpipes and other sources are on pace to raise the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by about 50 percent. In turn, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that sea levels will rise about 1 1/2 feet, or as much as 3 feet, by century's end. That doesn't sound like much until you visit a place like Sri Lanka or coastal Louisiana -- where communities are thriving on vulnerable shorelines. In Bangladesh, more than 10 million people live within 3 feet of sea level. Overall, the World Bank predicts that rising sea levels "could displace tens of millions of people living in low-lying areas" around the world. That is little surprise to Papua New Guinea, a rugged island nation about the size of California, east of Indonesia. The 5.7 million people in PNG, as it is known, have particular interest in their natural surroundings because 85 percent subsist on what they grow, fish or hunt. Here, rising waters are swamping coastal villages and small islands. Salt water is inundating coastal farms, destroying vital crops and orchards. Among the hardest hit areas are the Carteret Islands, where citizens have tried and failed to hold back rising waters. In April, a minister who visited the island of Malasiga returned to report that islanders were surviving on only coconuts and fish after relief supplies ran out. Professor Hugh Davies of the University of Papua New Guinea calculates that if the estimate holds true, a rise of 50 centimeters to 100 centimeters would be enough to affect all of PNG's coastal plains and swamplands. "If you are on one of these islands," Hunter said, "you will be continually swamped by water-laden sand, and if you don't clear it up, you eventually get drowned."

Scandals Du Jour: A federal judge blocked Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff on Friday from using some classified material to help with his defense in the CIA leak case. Former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby has been granted access to a number of classified documents to prepare for trial, but U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton denied Libby's request for an unspecified number of other documents. "The documents and information at issue are extremely sensitive and their disclosure could cause serious if not grave damage to the national security of the United States," Walton wrote in a ruling that sides with prosecutors and intelligence officials who opposed turning them over.

Texas Republicans agreed Thursday to support a Houston city councilwoman as the write-in candidate on the November ballot in place of former House Majority leader Tom DeLay, who resigned from Congress in June amid allegations of money laundering. The Texas Republican Party decided it should rally behind one write-in candidate after a federal appeals court ruled Delay, who won the March Republican primary election, must remain on the ballot. Tina Benkiser, the state GOP party chairwoman, said Dr. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs was selected by a clear majority of the precinct chairmen who attended a gathering in Pearland. About 85 of the 150 precinct chairmen invited to the closed-door meeting attended.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Representative Bob Ney, the Ohio Republican who did such generous favors for the casino clients of Jack Abramoff, announced his retirement from Congress on Aug. 7; the next morning The Washington Post reported that he had acted under pressure from his fellow Ohioan John Boehner, who is said to have told Ney that, if he stood for re-election and lost, he "could not expect a lucrative career on K Street." This is one of those remarkable moments when the veil of rhetoric falls away and the mysteries of conservative government are briefly revealed: K Street, synonymous with the corporate lobbying industry, will not abide a man whose reputation imperils the Republican majority, even though he has earned that reputation in the service of K Street's leading personality. Irredeemably tainted by his work for K Street, Bob Ney is now ineligible for public office. The corporate lobbying industry demands that the voters of southeastern Ohio submit a different, untainted Republican to Washington.

A high-level military investigation into the killings of 24 Iraqis in Haditha last November has uncovered instances in which American marines involved in the episode appear to have destroyed or withheld evidence, according to two Defense Department officials briefed on the case. The report, based on an investigation by Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell of the Army, does not directly accuse marines of attempting a cover-up, but it does describe several suspicious incidents, according to the Defense Department officials. It says that the logbook, which was meant to be a daily record of major incidents the marines’ company encountered, had all the pages missing for Nov. 19, the day of the killings, and that those portions had not been found, the officials said. No conclusions are drawn about who may have tampered with the log. But the report says that Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the leader of the squad involved in the killings, was on duty at the unit’s operations center, where the logbook was kept, shortly after the killings occurred, the officials said. Neal A. Puckett, a lawyer for Sergeant Wuterich, was unavailable to comment. Coincidence? No more so than Wuterich's lawsuit against John Murtha a few months before the election.

Two years after marrying convicted bribe recipient and resigned GOP congressman Duke Cunningham, Nancy Cunningham has filed for divorce and a restraining order. She said in court papers that her husband "is a very aggressive spontaneously assaultive person, and I fear for my immediate physical safety and well-being." She later had a change of heart--"he put on that poor sad-dog face of his," she said--and they reconciled. According to Nancy, he was shell-shocked from his tour in Vietnam and had nightmares about parachuting into waters filled with the bodies of Viet Cong. "When we first married, he slept with a knife under his pillow," she said. "Well, the knife graduated to a loaded gun." Nancy showed little interest in defending her husband's behavior, which, she said, was an embarrassment to her and her girls. "When I was going to retire and become director of the Rhoades School, I made him promise to stop gay-bashing in public, because it might upset parents at that private school," she said. She recalled when her husband addressed a group of men about his prostate surgery, he said his rectal procedure was "just not natural, unless maybe you're Barney Frank." Frank dismissed Cunningham's comment. "I wouldn't list stability as his strongest personal characteristic," he said. Frank later added, "He tends to frequently blurt out stuff on gay issues. He seems to be more interested in discussing homosexuality than most homosexuals."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:22:36 PM

Fri, Aug 18 2006

A Trip And A Lock

More rainy season weather, with the usual on and off showers lasting all day yesterday and today, with the usual pattern of mostly late afternoon thunderstorms and mostly drizzle the rest of the time. The temperatures continue to be rainy-season moderate: 71 overnight, and 81 today.

Yesterday, I made a short-notice run into San Jose. I discovered that I could not put off the trip any longer, and so I got up early, got on the road by six AM, and was in Tilaran to catch the San Jose bus by seven. The highway to Tilaran is deteriorating rapidly - it is getting potholed rather badly as a result of the rainy season weather, as usual for this time of the year. I found it took me an hour to get to Tilaran, a distance of just 25 miles, and arrived just in time to catch the bus. The trip to San Jose went well, and the road was in good condition with little traffic, so we arrived in San Jose about a half hour before the usual arrival time. This gave me time for another errand as well, so I got off the bus just a block from where it was, and once the main purpose of the trip was out of the way, and my secondary errand was done, I headed back to the bus terminal for the return trip.

The problem was that the bus company had moved. I had not noticed that there was a new company on the bus line (local buses here seldom have company logos on them), as everything had been handled as I had expected in Tilaran. But indeed, once I finally found it after getting a lot of bad directions, I got my ticket and waited for the bus. The new bus company is apparently a new local cooperative. I have no idea why the old company lost its franchise, but I do know that the new company is operating a lot of direct buses to Canas, which the old one did not. This bus was not packed to the gills like the bus was on my last trip.

The bus pulled out on time, and the trip back to Tilaran was quite uneventful, and I arrived at a quarter to five. I had just barely enough time to race to the ferreteria before they closed to find a replacement lock for my front door grate - and they had just what I needed. So today, I got busy and went to work replacing the front door lock. I ran into a problem, though - the new lock proved to not be identical to the old one - it was for a right-hand installation, and my grate lock is a left-hand lock. But the cylinders were identical, so I was able to remove the new cylinders from the new lock and install them in the old lock. That process went just fine, and soon the lock was back in place and my front door and grate is now fully re-keyed, my wallet about $40 thinner for the entire effort. But at least I can sleep nights, knowing that when I leave the house, no one can get in easily with a key, as no one should have a key to either lock. The sad thing is that I will abandon the investment in the two new locks when I replace the door in a few weeks. Since I have already had one minor attempt two days ago (someone unlocked the grate, but not the door), I could not wait. Re-keying the door had to be done, and now. I may just salvage the old lock and install it on the grate to the pila, which I would like to be able to use as a rear entry. Right now, it is welded closed. However, that is a low priority project.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: A federal judge on Thursday struck down President Bush's warrantless surveillance program, saying it violated the rights to free speech and privacy, as well as the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution. U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit is the first judge to rule on the legality of the National Security Agency's program, which the White House says is a key tool for fighting terrorism that has already stopped attacks. "Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution," Taylor wrote in her 43-page opinion. The administration said it would appeal to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. "The wiretapping program here in litigation...has undisputedly been implemented without regard to FISA and...in violation of the Fourth Amendment." Bush, as president, she added, has no extraconstitutional powers: "The President of the United States, a creature of the same Constitution which gave us these Amendments, has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders as required by FISA, and accordingly has violated the First Amendment Rights of these Plaintiffs as well... In this case, the President has acted, undisputedly, as FISA forbids. FISA is the expressed statutory policy of our Congress. The presidential power, therefore, was exercised at its lowest ebb and cannot be sustained. The Government appears to argue here that, pursuant to the penumbra of Constitutional language in Article II, and particularly because the President is designated Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, he has been granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of the Congress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, itself. We must first note that the Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all 'inherent powers' must derive from that Constitution."

The president described those who hailed the ruling against an electronic surveillance program as "naïve." Stung by a judge's ruling, Smirkey said on Friday he expects U.S. courts to uphold his belief that a National Security Agency eavesdropping program does not violate U.S. civil rights. At a news conference, Bush said he strongly disagreed with a ruling on Thursday by U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit that wiretaps under the Terrorist Surveillance Program violated freedom of speech, protections against unreasonable searches and a constitutional check on the power of the presidency. The Justice Department had immediately appealed the decision and obtained approval to continue the program until the appeal is heard September 7.

The United States, concerned about North Korea, will double to six by the end of the year the number of its ships in the Pacific capable of shooting down enemy ballistic missiles, the head of the Pentagon missile-defense project involved said on Wednesday. "I think it gives the nation more options," Rear Adm. Alan Hicks, program manager for Aegis ballistic missile defense, told reporters here after speaking to a conference on the fledgling U.S. shield. In coming years, a growing number of ship-based interceptor missiles will be deployed on 18 Aegis cruisers and destroyers as part of a multibillion-dollar U.S. defense push stoked by fears of North Korea and Iran. The six ships due to be available this year will carry a specialized Aegis combat system developed by Lockheed Martin Corp. as well as Standard Missile SM-3 interceptors built by Raytheon Co., Hicks said.

For years, President Bush has being going around the country touting his faith-based initiative, claiming that it has been achieving remarkable results delivering social services to the needy. Few reporters bothered to ask what the president he meant by "results." Well, the results are in on the president's Faith-Based Initiative and it doesn't look good for Team Bush. A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has affirmed what many critics of President Bush faith-based initiative have long asserted: too many religious groups that have received government grants have been mixing religious activities with their social work; and the government has not yet established a concrete process to monitor grant recipients to see if they are being effective. The GAO study entitled "Faith-Based and Community Initiative: Improvements in Monitoring Grantees and Measuring Performance Could Enhance Accountability" found that "While officials in all 26 FBOs [faith-based organizations receiving federal grants] that we visited said that they understood that federal funds cannot be used for inherently religious activities, a few FBOs described activities that appeared to violate this safeguard. Four of the 13 FBOs that provided voluntary religious activities did not separate in time or location some religious activities from federally funded program services."

Guess it's safe to say the gloves - and perhaps the rubber sheets - are off in the [Colorado] governor's race. Democrats took after GOP running mate Janet Rowland for comments she made equating homosexuality with bestiality, reports Lynn Bartels. Now she says she regrets saying that. Michael Huttner, director of the liberal ProgressNow.org, sugested GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez drop Rowland from the ticket. That prompted Beauprez campaign manager John Marshall to call Progress Now "bed-wetting, pampered liberals."

Police in Orlando, Fla., are under fire for using a 14-year-old girl as bait to nab a suspected sex offender, according to a Local 6 News report. Jose Laina, 39, was arrested earlier this month at Lake Underhill Park and charged with lewd and lascivious conduct involving a child. Officers said Laina traveled to the area to meet the teen but was arrested.

Barr Pharmaceuticals has refiled its application to sell the Plan B "morning-after" pill without a prescription, the company and U.S. regulators said on Friday. Barr spokeswoman Carol Cox and FDA spokeswoman Susan Bro both said the company had resubmitted the Plan B application but declined to comment on the contents. Last month, the agency urged Barr to reapply to sell the emergency contraceptive without a prescription to women 18 and older. The company originally had sought approval to sell Plan B over the counter without an age limit but later revised the request to 16 and older at the FDA's suggestion. The drug can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse. The bid to ease access has stalled at the FDA for years amid fierce lobbying by supporters and opponents.

The Army has launched an investigation into claims by the parents of a young soldier from Utah that recruiters used false promises and forged documents to enlist him. The 17-year-old was recruited from a youth prison in Ogden. In a coincidence of timing, a Congressional report was released today detailing hundreds of complaints of recruiting irregularity and fraud. In the Utah case, is it fraud or just a homesick kid who wants to come home? To take the oath and join the military, a 17-year-old must have parental approval in writing. Steve Price of Brigham City was barely 17 when he enlisted last January. He was recruited while serving time at a youth prison in Ogden. He's now a PFC at Ft. Stewart Georgia. He told us by phone, he believes his parents' approval signatures were forged. Pfc.Steven Price: "I want out. Right now. It's all, it's all bull. It's all a game. It's terrible." Staffers say they don't routinely bring in recruiters. But they did in this case because the boy asked for it and because they thought the army might be a good thing for him.

Actor Mel Gibson has been ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings by a judge after he pleaded no contest to a drink-driving charge. The Oscar-winning director was given three years' probation, California officials said. He did not appear at the hearing but entered the plea through his lawyer, the district attorney's office said. During his arrest, Gibson made what he has said were "harmful" anti-Semitic comments. He subsequently apologized. Gibson said he had suffered a relapse in his battle with alcoholism. He was arrested on 28 July after being seen driving at 87mph on a 45mph stretch of Malibu's Pacific Coast Highway, the local sheriff's department said.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Airline passengers around the world will soon have their names checked against the US "no-fly" list before flights take off for the United States, the homeland security chief said. The requirement, resisted by the airline industry for fear of costly delays, could be in place by early next year. It would make permanent a security measure temporarily put in place for flights from Britain after last week's foiled plot to bomb trans-Atlantic flights. Currently, airlines have to submit their passenger lists for international flights 15 minutes after takeoff. "This is part of our border authority," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday.

Software that will help sort millions of Canadian health records was developed by a company funded through the CIA's venture capital partner, sparking concerns about the confidentiality of patient data. Privacy advocates are raising questions about Canadian use of the Initiate Systems indexing program given its creator's financial connection to In-Q-Tel - a private firm that helps the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency zero in on promising technology. "There's a smell test that happens here, and it doesn't smell right," said David Fewer, general counsel for the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic. "The optics require that foreign intelligence services stay well away from the delivery of health care services in Canada." Initiate Systems of Chicago has sold the indexing software to Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan and Ontario for use in a national initiative to better manage health records. Canada Health Infoway, a non-profit corporation accountable to the federal, provincial and territorial governments, aims to create compatible electronic health information systems across the country.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Buying: Israeli soldiers returning from the war in Lebanon say the army was slow to rescue wounded comrades and suffered from a lack of supplies so dire that they had to drink water from the canteens of dead Hezbollah guerrillas. "We fought for nothing. We cleared houses that will be reoccupied in no time," said Ilia Marshak, a 22-year-old infantryman who spent a week in Lebanon. Marshak said his unit was hindered by a lack of information, poor training and untested equipment. In one instance, Israeli troops occupying two houses inadvertently fired at each other because of poor communication between their commanders. "We almost killed each other," he said. "We shot like blind people... We shot sheep and goats." In a nation mythologized for decisive military victories over Arab foes, the stalemate after a 34-day war in Lebanon has surprised many.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has suspended his plans for a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, a government minister says. Housing minister Meir Shetreet said the plan had not been abandoned entirely. He was commenting on media reports press that the pullout was no longer at the top of Mr Olmert's agenda. Mr Olmert was elected on a platform of withdrawal from some of the West Bank, while tightening Israel's hold on large settlements and the Jordan Valley. The BBC's Bethany Bell in Jerusalem says the development comes at a time when support in Israel both for the withdrawal and for Mr Olmert's government appears to be slipping.

"Israel is under attack, her civilians living their lives in bomb shelters," intones the narrator, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, leader of a group that seeks to rally support for Israel among Christians, particularly conservative evangelicals. "Stand with Israel in its time of need." And as circumstances changed, the organization quickly adapted. By Tuesday, a day after the cease-fire in Lebanon, the ads were rotating with a modified commercial geared toward funding reconstruction: "As the world chooses sides against Israel, will you stand on the sidelines?" Eckstein asks. The advertising campaign, which began airing July 26 on the Fox News Channel and a few religious television networks, is an unusual convergence of faith, politics, money and media that illustrates the rising importance of the bond between many American evangelicals and Israel.

Bank Leumi [Israel] executives on Tuesday ordered an internal inquiry to determine whether its employees leaked information about the sale by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz of an NIS 120,000 investment portfolio just hours after two IDF soldiers were abducted by Hezbollah on the northern border. As the country's political and military echelons met urgently to discuss the possible declaration of war, Halutz went to sell the portfolio, the Ma'ariv newspaper reported on Tuesday. In response to the report, Halutz confirmed to Ma'ariv that he sold the portfolio on that date, but denied it had anything to do with the possibility of an imminent war. The IDF chief said he sold the portfolio because of losses he sustained prior to July 12. "It was my portfolio of shares, on which I had lost NIS 25,000," Halutz told Ma'ariv. "It is true that I sold the portfolio on July 12, 2006, but it is impossible to link that to the war. At the time I did not expect or think that there would be a war." Senior sources in the IDF General Staff and field officers who took part in the war in Lebanon said Tuesday that Halutz cannot escape resignation. The sources say there is a clear ethical flaw in the chief of staff's behavior during the hours when soldiers were being killed in Lebanon and others were attempting a rescue operation. Halutz should resign the moment the military completes its pullout from south Lebanon, they said.

A star of gay pornographic films is traveling to Israel to entertain the troops and shoot two films. Michael Lucas, head of Lucas Entertainment, is planning to give troops free admission to a live sex show in Tel Aviv. It will be his third appearance there. "I toured Israel before with Rob Ramos in 2004 (Haifa and Tel-Aviv) and with Wilfried Knight in 2005 (Tel-Aviv)," he wrotes in the announcement on his blog. "I haven't decided yet who will be my partner for the live sex show I'm doing there (Israel has no problem with that type of entertainment)." "I am very proud to be going to my home away from home and entertain gay Israelis in a time of war," he adds. Lucas also plans to shoot two films while visiting--an adult film, and a documentary about his visit.

Spin Cycle: Republicans this week began once again to portray Democratic policies and electoral gains as potential victories for Islamists, as Dick Cheney has charged in the Lieberman defeat. The pattern emerges after Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) was defeated in his primary by anti-war challenger Ned Lamont - and after a terrorism scare in London led to heightened security measures at American airports. Last week, speaking to reporters via conference call, Vice President Dick Cheney issued the following statements about the consequences of a Ned Lamont victory in Connecticut: "The thing that's partly disturbing about it is the fact that, the standpoint of our adversaries, if you will, in this conflict, and the al Qaeda types, they clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task. And when we see the Democratic Party reject one of its own - it would seem to say a lot about the state the party is in.

Just over half - fifty-seven percent (57%) - of Americans view Smirkey as politically conservative. Nineteen percent (19%) say the 43rd president of the United States is politically moderate, while 11% see him as liberal (one is forced to wonder what kind of fascist planet that last group must be living on). The survey's responses place him 29 points to the right of the nation's political center. The political center is calculated by subtracting the number of liberals from the number of conservatives among the general public (35% conservative, 18% liberal for a net +17). For President Bush, 57% conservative minus 11% liberal equals a net plus 46. The plus 46 reading for President Bush is 29 points away from the plus 17 reading for the general public. As a point of comparison, one of the likely contenders to replace Bush when his term ends, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, scores 55 points to the left. Republican Senator John McCain is nine points away from the political center. In January of 2004, at the beginning of his re-election campaign, just 48% of Americans viewed the President as politically conservative. By the end of the campaign season, 64% viewed him as politically conservative.

President Bush is not frustrated over the slow progress in Iraq, the White House insists. But a lot of other Americans are - apparently including U.S. troops. The Pentagon's top general says troops suggested to him during a recent trip to Iraq that they are among those who are worried. White House spokesman Tony Snow took pains to deny a report Wednesday that Bush had privately expressed frustration with the Iraqis for not appreciating American sacrifices made there and with the Iraqi people and their leaders for not supporting the U.S. mission. Troops are also disgruntled over Iraqi efforts, according to questions put to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he visited the country over the weekend. One asked how much more time the Iraqi government should be given to achieve the political unity needed to stabilize the country. Another wanted to know whether U.S. forces will stay if Iraqis descend into all-out civil war. And a third ended a question about continued U.S. troop deployments to Iraq by asking, "Is the war coming to an end?"

It was supposed to be a big rally of support to prove that Katherine Harris still has plenty of backing from key players in the GOP for her U.S. Senate run. U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, three congressmen and four state legislators were expected to stand side by side with Harris at the "Orlando Fly-In Rally" set up the day before by the Harris campaign. None of them showed up. "They confirmed that they would be here," Harris said. "I don’t know what the problem is." Harris said there had been a location change for the rally and that may have delayed some of the expected "special guests." Harris said the event was supposed to be at a different hangar at the Orlando Executive Airport, but "apparently a tree fell on it." About 40 other supporters did show up to the rally. The biggest name was former State Rep. Allen Trovillion, who served eight years in the Florida Legislature. Even though none of the expected guests showed up, Harris said they are still endorsing her. Her campaign sent out a press release later with comments from some of the supporters.

Rats Abandoning The U.S.S. Bush: British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has given vent to his private feelings about the Bush presidency, summing up George Bush's administration in a single word: crap. The Deputy Prime Minister's condemnation of President Bush and his approach to the Middle East could cause a diplomatic row but it will please Labour MPs who are furious about Tony Blair's backing of the United States over the bombing of Lebanon. The remark is said to have been made at a private meeting in Mr Prescott's Whitehall office on Tuesday with Muslim MPs and other Labour MPs with constituencies representing large Muslim communities. Muslim MPs wanted to press home their objections to British foreign policy and discuss ways of improving relations with the Muslim communities. The Independent asked a group of Labour MPs what they though of John Prescott's outburst, and eight agreed with Prescott. Their comments can be read here. John Prescott's remark that President Bush was "crap" on peace in the Middle East has been dismissed by Tony Snow, the White House press secretary. "The president has been called a lot worse and I suspect will be," he said.

Married women with children, the "security moms" whose concerns about terrorism made them an essential part of Republican victories in 2002 and 2004, are taking flight from GOP politicians this year in ways that appear likely to provide a major boost for Democrats in the midterm elections, according to polls and interviews. This critical group of swing voters -- who are an especially significant factor in many of the most competitive suburban districts on which control of Congress will hinge -- is more inclined to vote Democratic than at any point since Sept. 11, 2001, according to data compiled for The Washington Post by the Pew Research Center. Married mothers said in interviews here that they remain concerned about national security and the ability of Democrats to keep them safe from terrorist strikes. But surveys indicate Republicans are not benefiting from this phenomenon as they have before.

Republicans Believe In Free, Fair, Honest And Transparent Elections: After votes were suppressed in Florida and Ohio during the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, Salon warns that four additional states could see voters prevented from casting ballots, with the greatest impact felt by Democratic candidates. The report shows business as usual in Ohio where gubernatorial candidate and current Secretary of State Ken Blackwell has pushed regulations working to hinder voter registration efforts in the state. Similar efforts are afoot in Florida, as well as new authority for partisan pollwatchers to challenge the registration of individual voters. But it is in four new states where Salon emphasizes new troubles might break out: In Arizona, legislation that requires proof of citizenship to vote is taking a toll beyond the illegal immigrants it seeks to keep out of polling places. In Indiana, difficulties in securing state identification have complicated the ability of many to register to vote. In California, problems have been identified with electronic voting machines, and the consolidation of statewide voter registration lists is being used to bar voters from the rolls. In Missouri, rigid ID laws for voters are seen to be targeting minority voters likely to vote against Republicans.

Republicans Believe In Open And Transparent Government: The U.S. military and government have sealed access to previously available data from the Cold War era. The Pentagon and the Energy Department have now stamped as national security secrets the long-public numbers of U.S. nuclear missiles during the Cold War, including data from the public reports of the Secretaries of Defense in 1967 and 1971, according to government documents posted today on the Web by the National Security Archive. Pentagon and Energy officials have now blacked out from previously public charts the numbers of Minuteman missiles (1,000), Titan II missiles (54), and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (656) in the historic U.S. Cold War arsenal, even though four Secretaries of Defense (McNamara, Laird, Richardson, Schlesinger) reported strategic force levels publicly in the 1960s and 1970s. Documents posted today by the National Security Archive include: *Recently released Defense Department, NSC, and State Department reports with excisions of numbers of nuclear missiles and bombers in the U.S. arsenals during the 1960s and70s. *Unclassified tables published in a report to Congress by Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird as excised by Pentagon reviewers. *A "Compendium of Nuclear Weapons Arrangements" between the United States and foreign governments that was prepared in 1968 and recently released in a massively excised version under Defense Department and DOE guidelines. *Canadian and U.S. government documents illustrating the public record nature of some information withheld from the 1968 "Compendium."

Republican Leaders Are Reasonable, Rational Men: A former timber industry lobbyist who serves as Agriculture Undersecretary in the Bush Administration likened environmentalists to funeralgoers and says environmentalists want funerals for trees. "There are people who think that every tree should be named and hugged before being cut and then taken out with pallbearers," said Mark Rey, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment, to a regional council in Montana yesterday. Rey made the comment while speaking of a costly forest-thinning project in the Nevada Tahoe basin. In his present capacity, the onetime lobbyist is responsible for managing national forests and grasslands, along with projects involving millions of acres of publicly-owned lands across the country.

Republican Policies Make You Safe: The government sought to assure airline travelers Tuesday that X-raying shoes at security checkpoints was a reliable way of detecting improvised bombs, a claim contradicted by a Department of Homeland Security study. "Screening shoes by X-ray is an effective way of identifying any anomaly, including explosives," said Kip Hawley, Transportation Security Administration chief, at a news conference at Reagan National Airport just outside Washington. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers screen passenger belongings at a security checkpoint at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., Friday, Aug. 11, 2006. After a day of long lines and confusion, travelers arriving at U.S. airports Friday were better prepared for new rules, tighter security and bans on liquids of all types. A study by the Homeland Security Department, obtained by The Associated Press, states that X-ray images "do not provide the information necessary to effect detection of explosives." Under new orders this week, all airline passengers must put their shoes through X-ray machines before boarding their flights. A scientist who has studied the issue said the truth lies somewhere between the study's findings that X-ray machines can't detect bombs and Hawley's assertion that they can.

The nation's largest travel industry association urged the Bush administration on Thursday to delay until June 2009 putting into effect a law requiring Americans traveling from Canada, Mexico, Panama and the Caribbean islands to present passports to return to the United States. Americans now typically present just driver's licenses or birth certificates when returning from those areas. The law, going into effect in stages beginning in January, also applies to Canadians, Mexicans and Bermudians who can now enter the United States without passports. The trade group, the Travel Industry Association of America, called for the new requirement to be delayed, warning that the present schedule would create chaos among Americans and deter many foreigners from visiting here. Officials of the State and Homeland Security Departments defended the deadlines, noting that Congress had mandated the change to strengthen border security by streamlining the number of documents used to enter the country.

Strapped by war and equipment shortages, the National Guard will find it difficult to deal with two or more major hurricanes if they sweep ashore in different regions around the same time, Guard leaders say. To counter equipment shortfalls caused largely by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Guard has borrowed more than $500 million worth of equipment from the active duty military to restock its units. Thousands of trucks, Humvees and other supplies have been shifted mostly from inland states' Guard units closer to where storms are more likely to strike.

Republican Policies Keep You Healthy: While the number of employees without health insurance has been rising, the number of insured employees forced to pay of out-of-pocket healthcare expenses has also increased, according to a progressive think tank. In 2005, 76 percent of employees at private companies paid insurance premiums, up from 54 percent in 1993, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute. Workers are also paying for a greater percentage of their coverage. Last year, employees footed an average of 22 percent of their health insurance bill, compared to 14 percent in 1993. The average cost of health insurance premiums also increased, by an average of 9.2 percent in 2005, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies healthcare issues. In the previous four years, premiums experienced growth of 10 percent or more. But Kaiser reported that the rise in premium costs was three times the growth in workers’ earnings and two-and-a-half times the rate of inflation. The average worker paid $2,713 toward premiums for family coverage in 2005. As previously reported in The NewStandard, rising healthcare costs, along with competition between companies to raise profits, has made employers increasingly reluctant to provide coverage for their workers.

Across the nation, states have made headlines this year for innovative approaches to expanding residents' access to health insurance. But when the publicity has cleared and the reality sets in, the uninsured are finding these plans fall short of the fanfare that surrounded their announcement. What was billed in Massachusetts as the nation's first universal healthcare plan turned out to be legislation strong arming moderate-income residents without employer-funded health insurance into buying expensive healthcare plans. A plan touted in Arkansas to help small businesses extend insurance to low-wage workers lacks clear incentives for employers and provides workers with scant coverage: six clinician visits and seven hospital days per year, two outpatient or ER visits per year and two prescription fillings per month.

A mix of bacteria-killing viruses can be safely sprayed on cold cuts, hot dogs and sausages to combat common microbes that kill hundreds of people a year, federal health officials said Friday in granting the first-ever approval of viruses as a food additive. The combination of six viruses is designed to be sprayed on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products, including sliced ham and turkey, said John Vazzana, president and chief executive officer of manufacturer Intralytix Inc. The special viruses called bacteriophages are meant to kill strains of the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium, the Food and Drug Administration said in declaring it safe to use on ready-to-eat meats prior to their packaging. The viruses are the first to win FDA approval for use as a food additive, said Andrew Zajac, of the regulatory agency's office of food additive safety.

Republicans Protect America's Natural Resources: The Interior Department is set to open a vast area of environmentally sensitive wetlands in Alaska to new oil drilling, even as opponents point to corroding pipelines to the east at Prudhoe Bay as a reason to keep the area off-limits. The tens of thousands of acres in and around Lake Teshekpuk on Alaska's North Slope are part of the oil-rich Barrow Arch, which also includes the Prudhoe Bay fields that have kept oil flowing for decades. The lease sale, which is opposed by environmentalists and some members of Congress, comes as federal regulators and a House committee investigate inspection and maintenance programs of BP-Alaska, where widespread pipeline corrosion forced the partial shutdown of Prudhoe Bay oil production Aug. 6. BP-Alaska is a subsidiary of London-based BP PLC. Government geologists believe that at least 2 billion barrels of oil and huge amounts of natural gas lie beneath the coastal lagoons, river deltas and sedge grass meadows - an area where caribou give birth to their calves and thousands of geese migrate each summer to molt. Within days, the Interior Department will open tracts in the lake area for leasing, with the winning bids to be announced in late September. The lake and its surrounding wetlands are within the federal National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a vast area of 22 million acres set aside in 1923 by the federal government for its oil and gas resources.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: An indicator of future economic activity dipped in July, in the latest sign that economic growth is cooling. The Conference Board, an industry-backed research group based in New York, said its index of leading economic indicators fell 0.1% in July from June, following an increase of 0.1% in June and a 0.5% decline in May. Analysts had expected an increase of 0.1%. The index, aimed at forecasting economic activity three to six months in advance, stood at 138.1, below its high this year of 139.1 in January. Ken Goldstein, labor economist at The Conference Board, said the housing sector's slowdown is becoming more pronounced, causing a drag on the economy. He also pointed to higher interest rates, lower consumer confidence and higher energy prices as other factors keeping growth in check. However, he said it does not appear the economy is headed for a hard landing. "The economy is cooling but isn't likely to stall out," Goldstein said. The leading index measures a basket of economic indicators, from unemployment benefit claims to building permits and is intended to forecast economic trends.

The United States Of America, A Third-World Country: A once-rare drug-resistant germ now appears to cause more than half of all skin infections treated in U.S. emergency rooms, say researchers who documented the superbug's startling spread in the general population. Many victims mistakenly thought they just had spider bites that wouldn't heal, not drug-resistant staph bacteria. Only a decade ago, these germs were hardly ever seen outside of hospitals and nursing homes. Doctors also were caught off-guard - most of them unwittingly prescribed medicines that do not work against the bacteria. "It is time for physicians to realize just how prevalent this is," said Dr. Gregory Moran of Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, who led the study.

Starbucks branches in New York are infested with rats and cockroaches yet the company refuses to do anything about it, say workers who have filed a complaint against the chain with the US government. One activist, at a rally outside a Starbucks in Union Square, Manhattan, where protesters were joined by a giant inflatable rat, said: "It's part of your job to smile excessively but at the same time I'm scared to reach into the cabinet because something might crawl in my hand." The campaigners released amateur footage of cockroaches and dead rats in what they said were Starbucks backrooms. The chain denies the allegations, and argues that the complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in Washington, was "the latest tactic in an aggressive campaign against Starbucks and our partners [employees] that is designed to damage the credibility and good name of the company". The city's health department found 44 of the 201 branches in violation of its codes last year but all branches scored better than the average for a New York restaurant.

Winning Hearts And Minds In Iraq: The military has charged a U.S. Marine Corps officer with assaulting three Iraqi civilians in April, accusing him of beating and choking them and placing a pistol in one victim's mouth, the Marines said on Wednesday. The officer, 2nd Lt. Nathan Phan, was charged with three counts of assault and one count of making a false official statement relating to the incident on April 10, near Hamdania, a town west of Baghdad. Phan, 26, was the platoon leader of the troops charged with premeditated murder in the fatal shooting of an Iraqi man on April 26 in the same town, the Marines said, but he was not charged in relation to that incident. Seven Marines and a Navy medic were charged in June with premeditated murder in the man's killing. All could face the death penalty if convicted.

A Pentagon investigation into the deaths of two dozen Iraqi civilians in Haditha has found possible concealment or destruction of evidence by U.S. Marines involved in the case, The New York Times reported on Friday. Two Defense Department officials briefed on the investigation said the unit's logbook had been tampered with and an incriminating video taken by an aerial drone was not given to investigators until a top-ranking commander in Iraq intervened, the newspaper reported. The findings, based on an investigation by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell, draws no conclusions about who may have tampered with the log and does not directly accuse Marines of attempting a cover-up, The New York Times said. It said the report, concluded last month but not made public, is the first time details about possible concealment or destruction of evidence have been disclosed. The Pentagon had no immediate comment. Initial military reports of the incident in the insurgent-held town claimed that 15 civilians were killed in the initial roadside bombing and eight insurgents were shot dead in the ensuing firefight. But prosecutors and Iraqi human rights groups say that the marine group went on a revenge rampage through the streets of Haditha after the death of their colleague, invading homes and shooting 24 people, including women and children.

The American and Iraqi armies began construction of a wall encircling Al-Dora, a southern Baghdad neighborhood, on Tuesday, August 15. Soldiers positioned prefabricated concrete barriers "to prevent terrorists from getting in," according to the American Army. Although Al-Dora is a vast mixed neighborhood, the operation in this specific case consists of isolating an area inhabited mostly by Sunnis in order to protect it from Shiite militia incursions. Since Baghdad has been prey to civil war and transfers have been occurring between Shiite and Sunni populations, Al-Dora has been one of the neighborhoods most affected by inter-community violence. Acknowledging the failure of the "Forward Together" security plan launched in June, the American Army and Iraqi security forces unveiled a new strategy August 11 that consists of separating Baghdad neighborhoods according to sectarian criteria. "We shall concentrate ourselves on sectarian borders, go into those sectors, clean them out, install security forces, bring economic aid, and work with local leaders so people feel safe," explained the multinational force commandant, American General George Casey. The objective is "to clean up Baghdad before Ramadan," the end of September.

At gas stations around Baghdad, the line of cars waiting to fill their tanks with increasingly rare petrol now reaches 60 to 80 vehicles. Some prefer to spend the night in their vehicles on streets to maintain their turn in the long line. The nationwide fuel shortage is so severe that 20 litres now cost about $20 (Dh73.56). The official price of fuel is 250 Iraqi dinars per litre, or 5,000 dinars ($3.50) for 20 litres, and 350 dinars for a litre of special fuel. "The increasing fuel shortage has led to a 40-50 per cent commodities price increase because transportation costs have increased. This negative development has increased citizens' transport to 80 per cent," Najm Abdul Saheb, chairman of the Consumer Protection Authority in Baghdad, told Gulf News. Fuel distribution and marketing stations are centres of corruption in Iraq. Tens of illegitimate dealers stand near stations, making deals with gas station employees to sell fuel on the black market, sharing profits. "Security forces are unable to control the work in gas stations because the number of accomplices smuggling fuel from the stations to the black market is increasing, and I can honestly say there is a fuel smuggling mafia," said Ahmad Al Askari, a security officer at a gas station in Al Hurriya square in Baghdad. "Corruption has extended to security officers too, who assist these smugglers - selling fuel for double its price." Iraqi officials announced plans to double the amount of money spent to import fuel to combat the country's worst oil and gasoline shortages in years. Much of the fuel crisis is due to insurgent attacks on convoys and on Iraq's fragile pipeline network, Oil Ministry officials said.

Last Throes Of The Iraq Insurgency: The number of roadside bombs planted in Iraq rose in July to the highest monthly total of the war, offering more evidence that the anti-American insurgency has continued to strengthen despite the killing of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Along with a sharp increase in sectarian attacks, the number of daily strikes against American and Iraqi security forces has doubled since January. The deadliest means of attack, roadside bombs, made up much of that increase. In July, of 2,625 explosive devices, 1,666 exploded and 959 were discovered before they went off. In January, 1,454 bombs exploded or were found. The bomb statistics - compiled by American military authorities in Baghdad and made available at the request of The New York Times - are part of a growing body of data and intelligence analysis about the violence in Iraq that has produced somber public assessments from military commanders, administration officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. "The insurgency has gotten worse by almost all measures, with insurgent attacks at historically high levels," said a senior Defense Department official who agreed to discuss the issue only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution. "The insurgency has more public support and is demonstrably more capable in numbers of people active and in its ability to direct violence than at any point in time."

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Health care providers in New York have filed complaints against two pharmacies for refusing to fill prescriptions for Plan B emergency contraception, commonly know as "EC" or "the morning after pill." The complaints, by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) acting on behalf of Planned Parenthood employees in the Mohawk-Hudson region, allege that pharmacists at CVS and Rite Aid stores violated state laws in 2005 and 2006 when they refused to refill prescriptions for the drug. The pharmacists had dispensed the initial EC prescriptions, but refused to provide refills to the patients despite orders to do so from the health care professionals.

State agencies in Florida have accused a doctor of failing to follow proper procedures in two late-term abortions, suspended his license and blocked his five clinics from performing abortions. Dr. James Pendergraft denies the accusations and plans to appeal the order. Spokeswoman Marti Mackenzie said he was "the target of government agencies determined to limit the access of Florida women to safe and legal late-term abortions." The emergency license suspension order filed last week by the Health Department said that Pendergraft prescribed drugs without appropriate authorization in two third-trimester abortions he performed in 2004 and 2005.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Some 250,000 evacuees from last year's Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast may never return permanently and should be considered "climate refugees," whose ranks around the world could grow until global warming is mitigated, an environmental expert said. The number of "climate refugees" will grow unless the world cuts the amount of greenhouse gases it releases, said Lester Brown, president of Earth Policy Institute in Washington D.C. "What we're looking at is the potential not of displacing thousands of people, but possibly millions of people as the result of rising seas and more destructive storms in the years and decades ahead if we don't move quickly to reduce CO2 emissions," he said.

Cholera may return to London, the mass migration of Africans could cause civil unrest in Europe and China's economy could crash by 2015 as the supply of fresh water becomes critical to the global economy. That was the bleak assessment yesterday by forecasters from some of the world's leading corporate users of fresh water, 200 of the largest food, oil, water and chemical companies. Analysts working for Shell, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Cargill and other companies which depend heavily on secure water supplies, yesterday suggested the next 20 years would be critical as countries became richer, making heavier demands on scarce water supplies. The study of future water availability, which the corporations have taken three years to compile, suggests water conflicts are likely to become common in many countries, according to the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, which brought the industrial groups together.

Scandals Du Jour: An attorney for David Safavian, the former chief of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy who was convicted of obstruction of justice and other charges in June, filed a motion for a new trial last month. Government lawyers have responded with a 27-page document opposing the motion. A judge will hear arguments for both sides in court next Thursday. Safavian's lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, argued that the admission of e-mails between lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Safavian as evidence was improper and unfairly prejudiced jurors. In the e-mails, Abramoff and Safavian discussed their 2002 golf trip to Scotland and property owned by the General Services Administration, where Safavian served as chief of staff at the time. Van Gelder claims the e-mails constitute hearsay, which should not be considered as evidence, because Abramoff was not available for cross-examination. Federal Rules of Evidence, which govern federal courts, prevent hearsay, or second-hand information, from being used in court except under certain circumstances. Van Gelder argues that although the judge instructed the jury to consider the e-mails only for a limited purpose, such as the fact that the communication occurred, jurors would likely consider the statements in the e-mails as facts.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: A private fundraiser set to feature an appearance by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) may yet violate certain provisions of McCain's own Campaign Finance Reform Act. The controversy, as described two days ago by the website Senate Majority Project, surrounds the language used in the invitation materials. The invitation, for a fundraiser later tonight for Adjutant General Stanhope Spears, does not itself stipulate a ceiling on donations, as McCain-Feingold suggests it should. It does, however, suggest a minimum donation of $100 per guest. The RSVP card, sent separately, reads as follows: "Contributions to Spears for Adjutant General are not tax deductible for federal income tax purposes. The solicitation of funds is being made only by Spears for Adjutant General. We are honored to have Senator McCain as our Special Guest for this event. In accordance with federal law, Senator McCain is not soliciting individual contributions in excess of $2,100 per person, nor is he soliciting corporate, labor union, or foreign national contributions. South Carolina state law allows campaign contributions of up to $3,500 per election cycle. Registered lobbyists please disregard." However, experts say that, despite the legal donation limit of $3,500 in South Carolina, if the Spears campaign (Spears for Adjutant General) accepts donations over the federal limit of $2,100 at this event, McCain will still be in violation of the campaign finance reform law that he spearheaded.

A handful of super-rich political contributors, giving at least $25,000 a year, will put at least $10 million into Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry's re-election treasury - forming an elite fundraising corps that the campaign calls the Century Council. In exchange, donors who pledge to give at least $100,000 get invitations to private luncheons with the governor. And many are beneficiaries of government business, plum appointments and other state largesse. Three Century Council members have lucrative contracts to help build Mr. Perry's multibillion-dollar toll-road initiative. The state has deposited millions in investment funds operated by three other top-tier givers. And 16 are Perry appointees to coveted boards, including the Parks and Wildlife Commission and state university regent boards. A Perry campaign spokesman says the donors get no special treatment. But the number of super-donors dwarfs anything that Mr. Perry's three most recent predecessors had, according to a computer-generated review of contribution records. Mr. Perry has attracted twice as many $25,000 contributions as fellow Republican George W. Bush did in 1994 or 1998. Mr. Perry has more than five times as many as Democrat Ann Richards had in her 1990 campaign and Republican Bill Clements had in 1986, according to the records.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 03:25:32 PM

Wed, Aug 16 2006

Busy Two Days

Rain, rain and more rain, yesterday and today, but with just a bit of sunshine for an hour or two at a time. Most of the rain has been in the afternoon and the evening, and last night, the heavens opened up with a real rip-snorter - at two thirty in the morning, a very unusual hour for a big thunderstorm. I wound up getting out of bed to disconnect everything to prevent lightning damage. Temperatures have cooled a bit - 71 overnight and 80 today.

The town welder showed up yesterday morning to take my steel-door project as far as he could until the deadbolts show up. At this point, I don't know how long that is going to take, but it shouldn't be too terribly long. In the meantime, I had discovered that my hidden keys were missing, so the first task this morning was to go to the hardware store and buy new lock cylinders and install them. That done, I was surprised when, unannounced, a gringo couple I have seen in town but had not met, showed up and wanted to see the house. They seem interested. Late in the afternoon, yet another fellow showed up and wanted a look-see too, and I was, of course, happy to accomodate him. Apparently all this activity on my house was the result of the welder telling the folks around town that he knows, that my house is for sale. Glad to see the activity; we'll see if anything results. The welder himself came by to talk with me about these prospects and ask if I would be able to offer him a commission if he brought me a buyer, to which I agreed.

Yesterday's big project, after the welder left, was to finally get the antenna I have been working on up in the trees as far as I could manage. I did so, and got it up to a usable height just as the afternoon rains began. I brought the cable into the house, connected it to my radio, and began to check out the results. What a disappointment! The signals were consistently about half as strong as the other antenna I installed a couple of weeks ago, and I was just crestfallen. Well, as it turns out, I looked into matters and discovered that there was a bad cable connection, and when it was repaired, the signals were about equal. This morning, when the Central Americans started chatting with each other on 40 meters, I couldn't wait to check out the results - and was pleased to discover that the new antenna is working magnificently for stations in Central America - which was the intention. The new antenna produces signals much, much stronger for the Central American stations. So now I have my choice of two antennas, one oriented towards the States, and the other oriented for Central America. I am a happy ham now. But I do need a rotatable antenna for 20 meters...

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: As Britain's outspoken Ambassador to the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan, Craig Murray helped expose vicious human rights abuses by the US-funded regime of Islam Karimov. He is now a prominent critic of Western policy in the region. He writes: "Unlike the great herd of so-called security experts doing the media analysis, I have the advantage of having had the very highest security clearances myself, having done a huge amount of professional intelligence analysis, and having been inside the spin machine. So this, I believe, is the true story. None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time. In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms. What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests. Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries... We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why? I think the answer to that is plain. Both in desperate domestic political trouble, they longed for "Another 9/11". The intelligence from Pakistan, however dodgy, gave them a new 9/11 they could sell to the media. The media has bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shovelled. We then have the appalling political propaganda of John Reid, [British] Home Secretary, making a speech warning us all of the dreadful evil threatening us and complaining that "Some people don't get" the need to abandon all our traditional liberties. He then went on, according to his own propaganda machine, to stay up all night and minutely direct the arrests. There could be no clearer evidence that our police are now just a political tool. Like all the best nasty regimes, the knock on the door came in the middle of the night, at 2.30am. Those arrested included a mother with a six week old baby... In all of this, the one thing of which I am certain is that the timing is deeply political. This is more propaganda than plot. Of the over one thousand British Muslims arrested under anti-terrorist legislation, only twelve per cent are ever charged with anything. That is simply harrassment of Muslims on an appalling scale. Of those charged, 80% are acquitted. Most of the very few - just over two per cent of arrests - who are convicted, are not convicted of anything to do terrorism, but of some minor offence the Police happened upon while trawling through the wreck of the lives they had shattered. Be skeptical. Be very, very skeptical."

President Bush said Tuesday that the foiled "plot" to blow up flights between Britain and the United States is evidence the U.S. could be fighting terrorists for years to come. "America is safer than it has been, yet it is not yet safe," Bush told reporters at the National Counterterrorism Center just outside Washington. "The enemy has got an advantage when it comes to attacking our homeland: They got to be right one time and we've got to be right 100 percent of the time to protect the American people."

The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency has begun working with Israel to help find ways to counter enemy rockets, a much shorter-range threat than the "Star Wars" mission to block ballistic missiles for which is it known, the head of the agency said on Tuesday. "We have been working with the Israelis ... as they go through with development of their own indigenous capabilities for that threat," Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering told reporters after a speech at a missile-defense conference here. "That is not mature. That is still in development," he said of the effort to defeat something he likened to mortar or artillery fire. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency grew out of the so-called "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative launched by then-President Ronald Reagan in 1983. It is building a multibillion-dollar shield designed to thwart all classes and ranges of incoming ballistic missiles.

Join the Army and see the world: Allegations of wrongdoing by U.S. military recruiters jumped by 50 percent from 2004 to 2005, and criminal violations such as sexual harassment and falsifying documents more than doubled, a congressional agency said on Monday. The Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative agency, said the full extent of violations by military recruiters is unknown because the Defense Department does not have an oversight system. While the GAO said available information likely underestimated the problem, it showed that allegations of recruiter wrongdoing increased to 6,600 cases in fiscal year 2005 from 4,400 a year earlier. Substantiated cases rose to almost 630 cases from 400, and criminal violations jumped to 70 from about 30, it said. The report said the military's roughly 20,000 recruiters have been under pressure to meet recruiting goals while a fairly strong economy has sustained a competitive job market and the death toll in the Iraq war has been rising. "Determined to find ways to succeed in a challenging recruiting environment, some recruiters reportedly have resorted to overly aggressive tactics, such as coercion and harassment," the GAO report said.

A search has begun to locate the original film footage of man's first steps on the Moon. The footage of the Apollo 11 crew's landing on the Moon is one of 20th Century's most important artifacts. The tapes are believed to be stored somewhere in the archive at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center, Maryland. But as many of those involved in the archiving of the original tapes moved on, retired or passed away their location has been lost. The footage seen by people around the world has been compared to a photocopy of a photocopy, according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper. It came from a camera that had been pointed at a black-and-white monitor. The astronauts actually beamed higher-quality footage back to Earth -seen by a small number of people at three tracking stations.

The federal program that provides legal help to poor Americans turns away half of its applicants for lack of resources. But that hasn't stopped its executives from lavishing expensive meals, chauffeur-driven cars and foreign trips on themselves. Agency documents obtained by The Associated Press detail the luxuries that executives of the Legal Services Corp. have given themselves with federal money - from $14 "Death by Chocolate" desserts to $400 chauffeured rides to locations within cab distance of their offices.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Buying: Israel's military chief today said it could be months before Israeli troops left southern Lebanon if an international force did not arrive to take their place soon. Dan Halutz, the armed forces chief of staff, said the Israel Defence Force would stay in occupied areas until the 15,000-strong Unifil peacekeeping force could come in to prevent Hizbullah guerrillas from taking control. "The deployment of Unifil troops in south Lebanon is likely to take several months," he told a parliamentary committee. "It is not clear exactly how many. Until then, IDF forces will be forced to stay in the field." Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said Wednesday that the IDF would halt its withdrawal from southern Lebanon if the Lebanese army did not deploy in the area within days. "The withdrawal of the IDF within 10 days is dependent upon the deployment of the Lebanese army," Halutz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Commitee, according to a spokesman. "If the Lebanese army does not move down within a number of days to the south... the way I see it, we must stop our withdrawal," Halutz added.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, was obliged to admit "shortcomings" in the 34-day-old conflict in Lebanon yesterday as he launched what may prove a protracted fight for his own political survival. Mr Olmert's admission in a stormy Knesset session came in the face of devastating poll figures showing a majority of the Israeli public believes none or only a very small part of the goals of the war had been achieved. Adding insult to injury, the leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, crowed on television that his guerrillas had achieved a "strategic historic victory" over Israel. The Prime Minister, who was repeatedly heckled by opposition MPs during his address, insisted the international commitments in Friday night's UN resolution would "change fundamentally" the balance of forces on the country's northern border.

Hezbollah refused to unilaterally disarm and withdraw its fighters from the battle-scarred hills along the border with Israel on Tuesday, threatening to delay deployment of the Lebanese army and endangering a fragile cease-fire. The makings of a compromise emerged from all-day meetings in Beirut, according to senior officials involved in the negotiations, and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora scheduled a cabinet session Wednesday for what he hoped would be formal approval of the deal. Hezbollah indicated it would be willing to pull back its fighters and weapons in exchange for a promise from the army not to probe too carefully for underground bunkers and weapons caches, the officials said.

Spin Cycle: Since the recent arrests in the United Kingdom of several suspects reportedly plotting an attack using liquid explosives on U.S.-bound international flights, numerous media outlets have suggested that the news would help lift President Bush's approval ratings, without any consideration of whether news of these arrests could actually hurt Bush or have a negligible impact on his political standing, as Media Matters for America has noted. In fact, the three major polls at least partially conducted since the arrests show little or no improvement in Bush's overall job approval rating, and in only one -- an August 12 Newsweek poll -- did approval of his handling of terrorism improve measurably. Yet some in the media continue to report the arrests as a boon to Bush, by either ignoring the contrary polling or citing poll results selectively.

Drop those rights or else: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in Pittsburgh to address the World Affairs Council, invoked memories of Sep. 11 while referring ominously to a stateless enemy hidden in American towns, and the need for Americans to surrender ever more of their liberties. "The most dramatic change," said Gonzales, "is the nature of the enemy our country today faces -- a stateless enemy sometimes hidden and nurtured here in our neighborhoods, taking advantage of the very laws they mock with their killing and destruction, as a shield from detection and prosecution." Gonzales, further emphasizing the perceived domestic danger, stated, "The threat of homegrown terrorist cells may be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda, if not more so. It is therefore essential that we continue to develop the tools we need to investigate their actions and intentions with the help of our partners, and prosecute those who travel down the road of radicalization."

The White House denied on Wednesday that the U.S. hunt for Osama bin Laden has been downgraded after the CIA disbanded a unit set up in the 1990s to oversee the search for the al Qaeda leader. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada had cited the disbanding of the CIA unit as an example of what he called misplaced priorities in the Bush administration. Democrats are trying to raise questions about President George W. Bush's national security policies in a bid to overturn Republican control of the U.S. Congress in November elections. White House spokesman Tony Snow opened his daily briefing with a statement addressing Reid's charges, saying the CIA had reshaped the unit to deal with a more diffuse threat from al Qaeda.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: In case you thought McCarthyism in the press died out in the late-1950s, consider this past Sunday’s editorial in the daily newspaper in Waterbury, Connecticut. At least Ann Coulter, an avowed fan of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, has moved on to current threats (terrorists and other liberals), while the aptly named Republican-American, Sunday circ 60,000, is still obsessed with Communists. Not many were laughing late last Sept. 1, either, when New Orleans’ besieged Times-Picayune, then underwater and only publishing online, felt it had to reply to the Waterbury paper after it suggested their city might not be worth "re-claiming" after Katrina. "How dare they?" the Times-Picayune asked. Not surprisingly, this past Sunday's editorial was inspired by Ned Lamont's upset victory in the state's Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate last Tuesday, in which he edged Joseph Lieberman, mainly on grounds that the incumbent backed President Bush on the Iraq war and several other key issues. Lieberman is now running as an Independent. Here are a few excerpts from the Waterbury paper's Sunday editorial. It’s titled "Ned Lamont's True Colors" and I think you can guess what color they are referring to: "(L)iberal journalists adore him because they share his world view on abortion, homosexual marriage, universal health care, racial quotas, loopy environmentalism and especially the war against Islamic terrorism. They are blood brothers, or more accurately, fellow travelers. Just as journalism has become a hornet's nest of socialism (communism not yet perfected), if you shake Mr. Lamont's family tree, a lot of Red apples will fall..."

The Independent, a major newspaper in Britain, has this to say about the American media: "The media, more generally, has left little doubt in the minds of a majority of American news consumers that the Israelis are the good guys, the aggrieved victims, while Hizbollah is an incarnation of the same evil responsible for bringing down the World Trade Centre, a heartless and faceless organisation whose destruction is so important it can justify all the damage Israel is inflicting on Lebanon and its civilians. The point is not that this viewpoint is necessarily wrong. The point - and this is what distinguishes the US from every other Western country in its attitude to the conflict - is that it is presented as a foregone conclusion. Not only is there next to no debate, but debate itself is considered unnecessary and suspect."

Republican Policies Are Building A Strong America: Optimism among US house builders has fallen to its lowest level in 15 years, the latest sign that a once booming market has now slowed sharply. The National Association of Home Builders' index of sentiment fell seven points to 32 in July, its lowest level since February 1991. Analysts said the housing market has cooled as interest rates have continued to rise, making mortgages more costly. US interest rates were held at 5.25% in August after 20 consecutive increases. While the Federal Reserve's main aim for the increases was to keep general inflationary pressures under control as the US economy grew, it also cautioned last year that an overheating housing market was a specific concern. Its comments came after the US housing market has boomed in recent years, aided by both the growing economy and low interest rates.

Republicans Know How To Fight Terrorism: Five Asian men who had been detained at Guantanamo Bay for years as dangerous terrorists have been sent to Albania, a poor Balkan nation eager to please Washington. Their arrival in Albania involved intense behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity in Washington, Ottawa, Albania's capital Tirana, Beijing and elsewhere. The five men are Uighurs who were captured in Afghanistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001. They had travelled there from their homeland in the Xinjiang province of China, where the Uighur people, most of whom are Muslims, have fought a low-level insurgency against Beijing's rule for years. Their transfer to Albania meant exchanging a military prison camp on the south-eastern tip of Cuba for a bleak and unpromising future in one of Europe's poorest countries where no one speaks their language. One of the men, Abu Bakker Qassim, said in an interview: "I would rather be in a society where I can be with my countrymen, but here is better than Guantanamo." For the Bush Administration, the transfer provided an opportunity to sidestep yet another court challenge to its detention policies. A federal judge had ruled that the Uighurs' continued detention at Guantanamo was illegal and disgraceful, but he said he could not admit them to the US, as their lawyers had requested.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: Northwest Airlines Corp. advised workers to fish in the trash for things they like or take their dates for a walk in the woods in a move to help workers facing the ax to save money. The No. 5 U.S. carrier, which has slashed most employees' pay and is looking to cut jobs as it prepares to exit bankruptcy, put the tips in a booklet handed out to about 50 workers and posted for a time on its employee Web site. The section, entitled "101 ways to save money," does not feature in new versions of the booklet or the Web site. Northwest spokesman Roman Blahoski said some employees who received the handbook had taken issue with a couple of the items. "We agree that some of these suggestions and tips ... were a bit insensitive," Blahoski told Reuters. The four-page booklet, "Preparing for a Financial Setback" contained suggestions such as shopping in thrift stores, taking "a date for a walk along the beach or in the woods" and not being "shy about pulling something you like out of the trash." The booklet was part of a 150-page packet to ground workers, such as baggage handlers, whose jobs will likely be cut after their union agreed to allow the airline to outsource some of their work, Blahoski said.

Privatization Solves All Problems: A congressional committee has scheduled a Sept. 7 hearing to examine the management of the nation's largest oil field by British operator BP PLC. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will look at BP's corrosion control practices for its oil-transit lines at Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, such as those involved in two spills this year before the partial shutdown last week of the sprawling oil field near the edge of the Arctic Ocean. The London-based company launched a complete shutdown after leaks and corrosion were found Aug. 6 during an inspection of a transit line. BP ultimately decided to keep the western half of the field open after reviews of ultrasound pipeline inspections and discussions with federal and state regulators. As of Tuesday, daily production was 150,000 barrels of crude and natural gas, with the eventual goal of 200,000 barrels, or half of normal production. The full production of 400,000 barrels a day won't resume until 16 miles (26 kilometers) of pipe is replaced. As much as 13,000 barrels of oil remains inside the corroded line. The company on Monday submitted a plan to the U.S. Department of Transportation to remove the oil. Another 23 barrels -- or 966 gallons (3,657 liters) -- seeped into the delicate tundra grasses. The incident followed repeated assurances from BP that a March spill at Prudhoe Bay was an anomaly and the company's corrosion control program was adequate, energy committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, said in a Friday letter to BP's chief executive, John Browne. The March spill, estimated to be up to 267,000 gallons (1.01 million liters), is the largest ever on the North Slope.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Opium cultivation in Afghanistan has hit record levels - up by more than 40 percent from 2005 - despite hundreds of millions in counternarcotics money, Western officials told The Associated Press. The increase could have serious repercussions for an already grave security situation, with drug lords joining the Taliban-led fight against Afghan and international forces. A Western anti-narcotics official in Kabul said about 370,650 acres of opium poppy was cultivated this season - up from 257,000 acres in 2005 - citing their preliminary crop projections. The previous record was 323,700 acres in 2004, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. "It is a significant increase from last year ... unfortunately, it is a record year," said a senior U.S. government official based in Kabul, who like the other Western officials would speak only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive topic.

Smirkey has voiced frustration at the Iraqi people's lack of appreciation of the US sacrifices in their country, noting especially an huge anti-American and pro-Hezbollah rally held in Baghdad recently. "I do think he was frustrated about why 10,000 Shiites would go into the streets and demonstrate against the United States," said another person who attended the luncheon. The New York Times said that from the questions he posed to several non-government experts at a recent 90-minute lunch, Bush appeared to be uncertain of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's effectiveness, said some of the participants, who pointed out that Bush never expressed a personal view of the Iraqi leader. "I sensed a frustration with the lack of progress on the bigger picture of Iraq generally -- that we continue to lose a lot of lives, it continues to sap our budget," said one person who attended the meeting this week "The president wants the people in Iraq to get more on board to bring success," added the source, who like several others at the meeting spoke with the newspaper on condition they would not be identified.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: American Atheists has filed suit in federal court Friday in a case involving charges of "prayer bullying" and conspiracy to violate the civil rights of an atheist family.In November, 2004, Nicole Smalkowski - a student at Hardesty Oklahoma High School and member of the female basketball squad - was ordered by her coach to participate in a game-time recitation of the "Lord's Prayer." Ms. Smalkowski, an Atheist, refused and was then banished to the locker room. Days later, following a meeting of school officials, she was punished by being removed from the team. The suit charges that Nicole and the rest of her family were then made the victims of false accusations and "subjected to public humiliation and distress." Her father, Chester Smalkowski, tried to meet with the School Principal who "struck Plaintiff Chester Smalkowski repeatedly without warning or provocation." Incredibly, a warrant was filed against Mr. Smalkowski who was arrested and scheduled for trial. Officials with the District Attorney's Office in Texas County, Oklahoma then offered a deal where charges would be dropped if the Smalkowski family agreed to leave the jurisdiction. He refused the buckle under to the intimidation. Represented by attorneys Tom Gungoll and American Atheists National Legal Director Edwin Kagin, Smalkowski endured a five-day trial that included a grilling of the school district superintendent. Mr. Kagin patiently explained to the jurors what Atheism was. Many of the prospective jurors opined that they could not believe the word of an Atheist over that of a god-fearing Christian, and were struck for cause.

As discontent with the Republican Party threatens to dampen the turnout of conservative voters in November, evangelical leaders are starting a big registration drive designed to reach religious voters in battleground states. The program, coordinated by the Colorado-based group Focus on the Family and its influential founder, James Dobson, will use a variety of methods -- including information inserted in church publications and booths placed outside worship services -- to try to recruit millions of new voters in 2006 and beyond. The effort builds on the aggressive courtship of evangelical voters in 2004 by President Bush's re-election campaign, even as the Internal Revenue Service has announced renewed scrutiny of nonprofit organizations, including churches, that engage in political activities. The new voter-registration program -- with a special focus on eight states with key Senate, House and state-level races -- comes as Republicans are struggling with negative public sentiment over the war in Iraq and other administration policies. Turning out core GOP voters is central to the party's strategy to retain control of Congress. The program, announced in an e-mail to activists last week, is seeking county and church coordinators in the targeted states of Maryland, Montana, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Minnesota.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Authorities say global warming may be responsible for the migration of armadillos from Southern states like Texas as far north as Missouri and Illinois. "They are here to stay," Professor Lynn Robbins of Missouri State University tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The football-size creatures feast on beetles, grubs and earthworms. It is said they can smell insects through 6 inches of soil. Prolific diggers, their handiwork has left some yards looking as if a "plow had gone through," says Tom Meister, a wildlife damage biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation in the St. Louis area. Because the armadillo is a non-native species, there are few restrictions preventing Missouri property owners from shooting or trapping armadillos suspected of causing damage - although it rarely goes that far, Meister says. The armadillo was, over some resistance, made the state small mammal of Texas, where it is considered a pest.

Global warming is affecting the intensity of Atlantic hurricanes, according to a new study by a university professor in Florida who says his research provides the first direct link between climate change and storm strength. James Elsner of Florida State University said he set out to perform a statistical analysis of the two theories in a raging debate within the scientific community: Whether recent intense hurricanes are the result of climate change or natural ocean warming and cooling cycles. "Is the atmosphere forcing the ocean or the ocean forcing the atmosphere?" Elsner asked. The issue has a wide-ranging impact on insurance companies, municipal planners, some 50 million residents of hurricane-prone U.S. coastal communities and millions of others in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean islands.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: U.S. Rep. Gary Miller has avoided paying millions of dollars in taxes on real estate deals under a tax break that protects people forced to sell their property, but officials dispute they ever made him sell his land, a newspaper reported Sunday. Miller, R-Brea, sold 165 acres to Monrovia, a suburb about 10 miles east of Los Angeles, in 2002 for a profit of more than $10 million, according to the Los Angeles Times. After the sale, he told the Internal Revenue Service and the state he was forced to sell under threat by the city of eminent domain, a process by which government agencies can force sales in the public interest. That allowed him to avoid paying capital gains on the sale for two years, during which time he could reinvest the proceeds and avoid taxes altogether. In an interview, Miller contended that Monrovia threatened him during the bargaining process with eminent domain, giving him no choice but to sell, the paper said. "The base of the deal was either you sell to us or we'll have to condemn it," Miller said. But city officials told the Times they never strong-armed him into selling.

According to Talking Points Memo, it looks like those Green Party petition signatures bought and paid for by the Republican Party in Pennsylvania may be... ahem... "questionable." TPM: "The signatures belong to family members of another fellow staffer, Julianne George, Santorum's Deputy Director of Coalitions... The writing expert's findings raise serious questions, not only about the illegal financing of the petition drive paid for by Santorum backers but how he authorizes the use of campaign staff for apparent fraud," Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney said. Democrats say that more than 69,000 of the approximately 100,000 signatures gathered by Santorum staffers and JSM, Inc., a private company hired by the Greens, are fraudulent. So let's get this straight: Not only did the Republicans pay for the Green candidacy, not only did they staff the Green candidacy, now it appears, if the writing expert is correct, Santorum staff members may have committed fraud for the Green candidacy?

Democrats pounced on Colorado's Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez and his newly chosen running mate Janet Rowland on Tuesday for comments she made five months ago comparing same-sex marriage to bestiality. In a March 17 broadcast of the Rocky Mountain PBS program "Colorado State of Mind," Rowland said homosexuality is an alternative lifestyle, adding, "For some people, the alternative lifestyle is bestiality. Do we allow a man to marry a sheep?" Democrat Bill Ritter's campaign called the remarks "insensitive, close-minded, derogatory and crude" and demanded an apology.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 03:58:58 PM

Mon, Aug 14 2006

Two Projects Well Underway

The rainy season resumed big-time today, after the respite of the last few days. It has rained most of the day, varying from intermittent drizzle during the morning, to heavy rain, even downpours during the afternoon. What a contrast with yesterday, during which there was no rain at all, and sun much of the day. After a high yesterday of 83, today's weather felt almost chilly at 80 degrees, with an overnight low of 73. I really have gotten too used to this tropical weather, when 80 degrees starts to feel chilly.

I took advantage of the fine weather yesterday to attempt to put up the antenna I had been trying to get installed since last Friday when the gardener was here and helped with the end support wires. The first task was to get out the slingshot and try to get a line across the pond, which, after considerable effort, I managed to do. The result ended up in a marshy area just barely reachable with a garden rake, which I used to snag and pull in the pebble with the fish line tied to it. I tied the fish line on the end of the antenna wire and went around the pond to pull it across. Not having anyone to feed it to me, every time it got caught up somewhere, I had to walk all the way back around the end of the pond, straighten the tangle, walk back and resume pulling. After an hour and a half of this, I managed to get the wire across the pond, and pulled enough to eventually get it to the end support wire. By now it was getting towards the end of the day, and the constant running around to get small problems solved had taken its toll on my stamina, and my heart had begun to complain. So when the blackflies came out about five in the afternoon, I called it a day. The antenna is connected to the support wires on both ends, is free on the south end and is pulled about half-way up, but will require some effort to get it past some tree branches on the north-forty end.

I was getting ready to go out there this morning to finish the antenna, and was just washing the breakfast dishes, when the town welder showed up, much to my surprise. He wanted to begin work on my steel door, and not wishing to impede that project in any way, I agreed and went out into the carport to help. He looked over the job and we agreed to a price, which I found quite reasonable. I was moving rather slow - the rubber boots I wore on the antenna project all day yesterday had left a rather nasty blister on each of my big toes, and made walking rather painful, so I was hobbling around a bit. But by the end of the day, the door had been fully fabricated and painted. By half-past four, he knocked off work and I took him home. But he left his tools in my house - a good sign, it means he'll be back in the morning to resume work. We have determined that the six-inch steel perlin will work magnificently as a door frame - it will fit over the end of the cinder block of the wall perfectly. So I'll end up with a nicely fit door frame that will be incredibly strong - pulling it down would require pulling the whole wall apart, and it is unlikely that burglars would go to that much trouble. So when the steel door is fitted with a high quality U.L. listed deadbolt and installed, I'll have a front door that will be incredibly difficult for a burglar to enter, and since the door is windowless, it won't be possible for someone outside to tell whether or not I am home in the evening. All that will really help put my mind at ease.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The Bush administration was informed in advance and gave the "green light" to Israel's military strikes against Hizbollah - with plans drawn up months before two Israeli soldiers were seized. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reports in this week's issue of the New Yorker that Israeli officials visited the White House earlier this summer to get a "green light" for an attack on Lebanon, and the U.S. Air Force viewed this as a dress rehearsal for an attack on Iran. The Bush administration approved, Hersh says, in part to remove Hezbollah as a deterrent to a potential US bombing of Iran (because they would use missiles against Israel if the U.S. attacked Iran). The major new article says U.S. support for the invasion of Lebanon has gone even further than we already know. That in fact, White House support for the massive bombing of Lebanon considerably predated the day those two Israeli soldiers were seized. Seymour Hersh: "What I understand is this: our military, our Air Force has been trying for a year to get plans for a major massive bombing assault on Iran pushed through the Pentagon, pushed through the process. And there's been sort of an internecine fight inside the Pentagon over just basically the idea of strategic war against Iran. They're very dug in Iran. The Persians have been digging in for -- what? -- centuries and centuries. And the Marines and the Navy and the Army have said, No way we're going to start bombing, because it will end up with troops on the ground. So there's been a stalemate. I've written a lot about it. And in this spring, as part of the stalemate, the American Air Force approached the Israeli Air Force, which as you know is headed by General Dan Halutz, who is an Air Force -- I think the first IDF commander, the commander of the Israeli Defense Forces, to be an Air Force guy, and another believer of strategic war, and the two had a lot of interests. And so, out of these meetings in the spring became an agreement, you know, sort of we'll help you, you help us, and it got to Cheney's attention, this idea of Israel planning a major, major strategic bombing campaign against Hezbollah. And for -- I can't tell you where Bush is, but you have to assume he’s right with him. Obviously everything he's done makes that clear. Cheney's idea was this, that we sort of -- it's like a three-for. We get three for one with this. One, here we're having this war about the value of strategic bombing, and the Israeli Air Force, whose pilots are superb, can go in and -- if they could go in and blast Hezbollah out of their foxholes or whatever they are, their underground facilities, and roll over them, as everybody in the White House and I'm sure everybody in the Israeli Air Force thought they could do, that would be a big plus for the ambitions that I think the President and Cheney have for Iran. I don't think this president, our president, is going to leave office with Iran being, as he sees it, a nuclear threat."

As the weeks "wore on," the Bush Administration began to doubt that Israel could win an outright military victory in Lebanon, according to an early version of an article published in Monday's New York Times. An advance version of the Times article obtained by RAW STORY included references to such doubts as expressed by an unidentified senior Bush Administration official, but for unknown reasons it was left out of the published article. "When the war in Lebanon began in mid-July, American diplomacy was predicated on giving the vaunted Israeli armed forces the time it needed to destroy Hezbollah militarily," Warren Hoge had once written. The unpublished draft continued: "The Bush administration resisted all calls for a cease-fire, even as worldwide clamor for one increased, arguing that a simple truce with no conditions for its aftermath would leave Hezbollah entrenched and Israel exposed to renewed rocket attacks from southern Lebanon."

A report buried deeply in an April edition of the New Yorker - which claims it is an "open secret" in Washington that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld wants to exit Iraq - is being featured today as front page news in the Middle East Times. The paper is published in Cairo, under the control of the Egyptian Ministry of Information. The original story, "The Lesson of Tal Afar," by George Packer, appeared in the New Yorker on April 3, 2006. It discussed at length what the author characterized as failures of U.S. strategy in Iraq, the disastrous consequences of Donald Rumsfeld's refusal to acknowledge the existence of a broad-based insurgency, and the inadequacy of an approach based solely on killing or capturing as many insurgents as possible. And it warned: "It’s an open secret in Washington that Rumsfeld wants to extricate himself from Iraq. But President Bush’s rhetoric - most recently, in a series of speeches given to shore up faltering public support - remains resolute. For three years, the Administration has split the difference between these two poles, committing itself halfheartedly to Iraq."

Many adults in the United States believe their country will be unable to prevent sectarian violence in Iraq, according to a poll by Opinion Dynamics released by Fox News. 67 per cent of respondents think the U.S. will not stop the situation from becoming a civil war. On Aug. 7, U.S. president George W. Bush discussed the situation, saying, "No question it’s still difficult. On the other hand, the political process is part of helping to achieve our objective, which is a free country, an ally in the war on terror that can sustain itself and govern itself and defend itself." 68 per cent of respondents believe the U.S. should pull out all of its troops from Iraq before the end of 2007.

Bill and Melinda Gates have come off the political fence and publicly backed key causes of Aids campaigners, criticising the abstinence policies beloved of the US government and calling for more rights for women and help for sex workers. Making the keynote speech of the opening session of the 16th International Aids Conference in Toronto, on Sunday, the Microsoft billionaire and his wife, who have previously largely confined themselves to discussing and funding non-political scientific research, spoke with passion and commitment about the social changes necessary to stop the spread of HIV/Aids.

An Alaska Airlines flight was evacuated on landing at Los Angeles International Airport on Monday after the flight crew became suspicious of a toy found on board. Alaska Airlines Flight 281 from Guadalajara, Mexico, landed normally at LAX but taxied to a remote part of the airport, where passengers were quickly taken off while police using bomb-sniffing dogs investigated, an FBI spokesman said. "The device was identified as a type of toy transmitter and a thorough search of the plane and cargo hold for explosives came up negative," he said. He declined to elaborate on the nature of the device. The passengers were taken by bus to a terminal, where Transportation Safety Administration agents searched luggage and personal belongings by hand before allowing passengers to leave, the spokesman said. Amanda Tobin Bielawski, a spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines, said there were 129 passengers and six crew members on Flight 281, a Boeing 737-400. The crew found the suspicious item shortly before its scheduled landing in Los Angeles. The spokeswoman said she had no information on where the item was found. No other flights were affected.

Private boot camps in Florida for the children of wealthy parents who want them to attend "character-building" courses were under scrutiny at the weekend after a 13-year-old boy collapsed and died. The unnamed teenager died hours after taking part in a relay race in a temperature of 34C during a camping expedition with 32 others from a privately run Christian military academy in Fort Lauderdale. "He got up in the middle of the night and was incoherent, and then he passed out," said Major Ron Simpson of the North Miami police department, which has launched an investigation into the death at the Oleta River state park.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is continuing its push to paint the troubled re-election campaign of Senator Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum as competitive by claiming a huge cash advantage. Polls have long showed challenger Bob Casey leading Santorum by double digits. However, that gap has dwindled to about 6-8%, according to some pollsters. A major advertising push for the embattled Senator has preceded the poll boost Republicans so eagerly tout. Republicans point to a clear cash advantage for Santorum, who by mid-July had raised over $20 million for his re-election bid. The number was double that raised by Democratic moderate Casey, who was left with just $5.2 million cash on hand to the Senator's $9.5.

The Santas on Amazon may soon know if intended gift recipients have been not only naughty or nice, but also whether they're Muslim, gay and unemployed. Amazon.com filed a patent application on Aug. 10 for a process that would allow Amazon customers to use the retail Web site to gather information on other customers, including "birthday, interests, occupation, education level, income level, location, race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation."

More Reasons Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: US private security firm and defense contractor DynCorp International Inc. will begin next year to reshape thousands of former Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM/A) rebel fighters into a professional army, a firm official said Saturday, August 12. "The military training could start anywhere from early next year and it will be ongoing for the next several years," DynCorp vice president for international business development, Al Rigney, told Reuters in an interview. "It's always a challenge when a rebel militia force has too much idle time. We need to put them to work quickly," he said on the sidelines of the first trade fair in southern Sudan's capital Juba. DynCorp, one of the fair's sponsors, has almost $40 million in US State Department contracts to build barracks, provide telecommunications and training to the former rebel rebels.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Dollars Are Paying For: Israel has said it will pursue Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon despite the ceasefire ending the month-long conflict, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has told parliament. During a stormy session, he defended his conduct of the war saying Hezbollah had been crippled. However the group's leader denied this and claimed victory. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the ceasefire, which came into force early on Monday, seemed to be holding. Thousands of people are returning to southern Lebanon following the truce. Fighting ended at 0500 GMT, although Israel said it had killed at least four Hezbollah fighters in later clashes. Israeli officials told the AFP news agency that in each case soldiers had opened fire "when armed men tried to approach" and had not broken the terms of the UN ceasefire.

Israeli air strikes in the night killed at least 19 people in Lebanon, with the final attacks occurring 15 minutes before the ceasefire went into effect. Jets also dropped leaflets warning that Israel would "return and act with the required force against any terrorist act that is launched from Lebanon against the State of Israel." Just before the ceasefire, Israeli missiles struck a van on the outskirts of the city of Baalbek, killing seven people.

Israeli air raids in the eastern Lebanese region of Baalbek killed one child and caused damage to the ancient Roman temple of Bacchus overnight, the town mayor said. Israeli fighter bombers carried out two raids overnight in the old town square near the centuries-old Baalbek temple complex, killing a 10 year-old boy and wounding three people, police said. Two buildings were completely destroyed in the raids. The bombardment caused cracks in the Bacchus temple, weakening the structures of the Roman temple which had withstood several earthquakes, head of the municipality Mohsen al-Jamal said. Several stones fell inside the temple complex which is a UNESCO world heritage site, he added. The raids also destroyed the old market, where a two-year renovation project financed by the United Nations had just been completed.

The United Nations new Human Rights Council on Friday voted by a big majority to condemn Israel for its current military assault in Lebanon and for "massive violations of human rights" there. Approving a resolution from countries of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Arab League, the Council also agreed to set up a commission to investigate "systematic targeting and killing" of Lebanese civilians by Israel. A total of 27 members - including Russia, China, India and Latin American states on the new 47-nation Council - voted for the text while 11 - seven European Union members, Canada, Japan, Romania and Ukraine - voted no.

Spin Cycle: Even after British officials revealed a terrorist plot to blow up as many as 10 jetliners traveling from the U.K. to the United States, using ordinary-looking liquid explosives smuggled into airplane cabins, a majority of Americans still aren't willing to part with their carry-ons. So says the latest NEWSWEEK Poll. Fifty-four percent of respondents oppose prohibiting all carry-on baggage "to better prevent terrorists from putting a bomb on a plane," according to the poll, conducted Thursday and Friday nights. Only 26 percent say they "definitely favor" such a move, and 18 percent say they would "probably favor" it. Despite this week's foiled plot, almost five years after terrorists turned airplanes into missiles in the worst peacetime attack in U.S. history, 45 percent of Americans believe air travel is safer today than it was before September 11 (41 percent believe flying is about as safe). And though we treasure our carry-ons, 52 percent of Americans say they are willing to support a "major increase" in airfares to fund additional security at airports and in planes.

White House officials and surrogates have fanned out in a coordinated Rovian campaign to smear their opponents as "defeatists" and "cut-and-runners." In a mass email yesterday, former Rove deputy Ken Mehlman turned his guns on Rep. John Murtha: "The message from Connecticut is clear, and Ned Lamont isn’t alone. He is joined by Rep. John Murtha - who claims America is more dangerous than Iran and North Korea." Mehlman is referencing a 6/25/06 story in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which reported that Murtha said he believed the "American presence in Iraq is more dangerous to world peace than nuclear threats from North Korea or Iran." Three days later, the paper retracted the report. Murtha was actually citing an international public opinion poll, not expressing his own views. But why let facts get in the way of a perfectly good smear?

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: The same legal approach that helped put mafia dons, capos, and associates behind bars in America is at the center of US military efforts to prosecute suspected Al Qaeda members for war crimes. But now in the wake of the US Supreme Court's decision in the Hamdan case invalidating the military commission process, it is unclear to what extent military prosecutors can continue to use conspiracy as a war crimes charge. The Bush administration is asking Congress to simply pass a law recognizing conspiracy as a war crime.

It used to be said that academic rows were vicious because the stakes were so small. That's no longer true in America, where a battle is underway on campuses over what can be said about the Middle East and US foreign policy. Douglas Giles is a recent casualty. He used to teach a class on world religions at Roosevelt University, Chicago, founded in memory of FDR and his liberal-inclined wife, Eleanor. Last year, Giles was ordered by his head of department, art historian Susan Weininger, not to allow students to ask questions about Palestine and Israel; in fact, nothing was to be mentioned in class, textbooks and examinations that could possibly open Judaism to criticism. Students, being what they are, did not go along with the ban. A young woman, originally from Pakistan, asked a question about Palestinian rights. Someone complained and Professor Giles was promptly fired. Leaving aside his boss's doubtful qualifications to set limits on a class of comparative religion - her speciality is early 20th-century Midwestern artists such as Tunis Ponsen (nor have I) - the point to grasp is that Professor Giles did not make inflammatory statements himself: he merely refused to limit debate among the young minds in front of him. Giles's sacking is important because it is part of the movement to suppress criticism of Israel on the grounds that it is anti-semitic. A mild man, Giles seems astonished to find the battle for free speech in his own lecture theatre. 'It may be sexy to get on a bus and go to DC and march against war,' he said to me last week. 'It is much less sexy to fight in your own university for the right of free speech. But that is where it begins. That is because they are taking away what you can talk about.' He feels there is a pattern of intolerance in his sacking that has been encouraged by websites such as FrontPageMag.com and Campus Watch.

Republicans Support The Troops: A number of American troops from the same unit in Iraq recently discovered they were all suffering from a mysterious set of illnesses. Though their doctors couldn't determine the source of the sickness, the soldiers came to believe their exposure to depleted uranium munitions was to blame, and decided to sue the U.S. Army. Depleted uranium is the garbage left from producing enriched uranium for nuclear weapons and energy plants. It is 60 percent as radioactive as natural uranium. The United States has an estimated 1.5 billion pounds of it, sitting in hazardous waste storage sites across the country. Meaning it is plentiful and cheap as well as highly effective. A shell coated with depleted uranium pierces a tank like a hot knife through butter, exploding on impact into a charring inferno. As tank armor, it repels artillery assaults. It also leaves behind a fine radioactive dust with a half-life of 4.5 billion years.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Rising temperatures will increase the risk of forest fires, droughts and flooding over the next two centuries, UK climate scientists have warned. Even if harmful emissions were cut now, many parts of the world would face a greater risk of natural disasters, a team from Bristol University said. The projections are based on data from more than 50 climate models looking at the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers gathered results from 52 computer simulations to calculate the risks from climate-induced changes to the world's key ecosystems. They then grouped the results according to the amount of global warming: less than 2C (3.6F); 2-3C (3.6F-5.4F); and more than 3C (5.4F). For each of the temperature ranges, the team assessed the probability of changes in forest cover, the frequency of wildfires and changes to freshwater supplies over the next 200 years.

Scientists say the oxygen-starved "dead zone" along the Pacific Coast that is causing massive crab and fish die-offs is worse than initially thought. Scientists say weather, not pollution, appears to be the culprit, and no relief is in sight. However, some say there is no immediate sign yet of long-term damage to the crab fishery. Oregon State University scientists looking for weather changes that could reverse the situation aren't finding them, and they say levels of dissolved oxygen critical to marine life are the lowest since the first dead zone was identified in 2002. It has returned every year. Strong upwelling winds pushed a low-oxygen pool of deep water toward shore, suffocating marine life, said Jane Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology at OSU. But she said wind changes could help push that water farther out but current forecasts predict the opposite. After a recent trip to the dead zone and an inspection via camera on a remote-controlled submarine, she said, "We saw a crab graveyard and no fish the entire day."

News From Smirkey's Wars: About 300 U.S. soldiers who just weeks ago returned home to Alaska after a year in Iraq are being ordered back to try to help bolster security in Baghdad, the U.S. Army said on Monday. The soldiers are part of the 3,900-strong 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Wainwright in Alaska. Facing rising sectarian violence in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on July 27 ordered the unit to remain in Iraq for up to four months past its scheduled departure. That order provoked anger and disappointment among some of the soldiers' families in Alaska. It also made clear that any significant reduction in the 135,000-strong U.S. force in Iraq was unlikely in the immediate future. The brigade was so far along in the process of flowing out of Iraq after its yearlong tour that 378 soldiers had returned home to Alaska and about 300 had arrived in Kuwait en route home, the Army said.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: A poll conducted by what bills itself as "the world's most visited Christian website" indicates a surprising number of Christians are addicted to pornography. "The poll results indicate that 50% of all Christian men and 20% of all Christian women are addicted to pornography," said Clay Jones, founder and President of Second Glance Ministries. The group defines "addicted" as applied to pornography as use on an ongoing basis. "We are seeing an escalation to the problem in both men and women who regularly attend church," said Bill Cooper, President of ChristiaNet.com. The poll, conducted at ChristiaNet.com, used a self-selected sample, and is therefore not a scientific study. Over 1,000 users responded to the survey. Additionally, 60% of the women who answered the survey confessed having "significant struggles with lust." 40% admitted to being "involved in sexual sin" in the past year.

A government official appointed to the Labor Department has spoken as a conservative pundit on multiple talk shows. Her TV commentary may point to a conflict of interest while she earns a government paycheck. While the Labor Department has stated that it fails to see any conflicts of interest in her TV commentary, a review of Czarnecki's responsibilities and her TV appearances would seem to dispute that claim. In addition to her work as Deputy Assistant Secretary, Czarnecki has served since 2003 as the Director of the Office of 21st Century Workforce, according to the Labor Department's Key Personnel List. The Office describes its mission as ensuring "that all American workers have the opportunity to equip themselves with the necessary tools to succeed in their careers and in whatever field they choose in this new and dynamic global economy." During Czarnecki's tenure, the Office has dealt heavily with women in the workforce.

Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney called Ned Lamont's win in the Connecticut primary "disturbing" because "the al Qaeda types, they clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task." Today on Fox News Sunday, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol called Cheney’s remarks "indisputably correct." Kristol said that anyone who advocates redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq is helping al-Qaeda.

The Republican lobby group Vets for Freedom is the 2006 equivalent of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the Republican 527 committee whose attack advertisements in battleground states helped sink John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race by smearing him as a phony war hero and a traitor to his country. Vets for Freedom (VFF) made lame claims to be "non-partisan" when in early 2006 it first appeared out of the blue online and in op-ed pieces in the New York Times and other major papers and in TV interviews. An investigation of the group by citizen journalists at SourceWatch and by the Buffalo News blew the VFF claim of non-partisanship out of the water. For instance, the Buffalo News revealed in June that former White House flack Taylor Gross, who left Scott McClellan's office in 2005 to start his own PR firm represented VFF and pitched them to papers as non-partisan journalists who would embed for these newspapers and report accurately and cheaply for them from Iraq. Now the camouflage has fallen completely off. Vets for Freedom has registered itself as a 527 committee and is going to run a full page advertisement in Connecticut's Hartford Courant on behalf of Joe Lieberman's renegade run for re-election to the US Senate as a 'stay the course in Iraq' candidate.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:29:06 PM

Sat, Aug 12 2006

Maybe Friday, Maybe

The weather has been a mix of rain and dry, surprising considering that the Intertropical Convergence is right over us at the moment. But in spite of that, there have been several hours of warm, sunny weather yesterday and today, albeit interrupted with brief thunderstorms. There has been just enough rain to keep things watered, but not enough to run off into the lake. As a result, the water in my pond is the cleanest I have seen it in quite some time. Temperatures are still moderate; 73 overnight and 81 today.

When my gardener was here yesterday, I had him toss a line over a couple of trees for another antenna I want to put up. That went well, but a third line - across the pond - didn't go so well. He got it across, alright, but unbeknownst to us, it was snagged on a submerged branch. After he was gone, I executed my battle plan for this very long antenna - 167 feet - got it all laid out on the lawn, built up and ready to go, and when I tried to drag it across the pond, the snag wouldn't give. Of course, no good battle plan survives contact with the enemy and this one was no exception. The wire got caught up on a submerged branch, and no amount of tugging would free it. So I pulled hard enough to hopefully pull the branch out of the water, but no cigar - the fishing line broke instead. So now I have to try to get another line across the pond. I can easily get a pebble across the pond with my slingshot, but I don't know yet if a pebble will carry the fishing line that far. I sure hope so.

Maybe construction of the new steel door will begin on Friday. I went to town today on a couple of small errands, and ran into the town welder. He gave me an excuse for why he couldn't make it on Thursday, and said he is tied up until Friday, but should be available by then. I hope it happens. We'll see.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: In the wake of the foiled terrorist plots to explode passenger jets in midair, a White House official told an AFP reporter on Thursday, "Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big" as a political opportunity for the GOP. The AFP reporter was merciless in his report, noting that Bush & Co. have been tarring Democrats as soft on terrorism the past few days - knowing full well that news of the terror plot could break at any moment.

The ban on carrying liquids and gels onto airliners will continue indefinitely, raising questions about whether there are enough airport screeners to do the added work. The restrictions are part of tighter airline security ordered by the Transportation Security Administration Thursday in the wake of a foiled terror plot. The alleged conspirators planned to blow up as many as 10 planes flying from Britain to the U.S. using liquid explosives - which the TSA's security equipment can't detect in carry-on luggage. Since Thursday, screeners have searched more carry-on luggage by hand. They also randomly checked passengers at airport gates to make sure that they hadn't bought toothpaste or drinks at airport shops after going through a security checkpoint. The TSA, though, is limited by law to have 45,000 screeners. That's not enough to do the job right at the 450 commercial airports the agency protects, according to congressional Democrats.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Moderate reformers across the Arab world say American support for Israel's battle with Hezbollah has put them on the defensive, tarring them by association and boosting Islamist parties. The very people whom the United States wanted to encourage to promote democracy from Bahrain to Casablanca instead feel trapped by a policy that they now ridicule more or less as "destroying the region in order to save it." Indeed, many of those reformers who have been working for change in their own societies - often isolated, harassed by state security, or marginalized to begin with - say American policy either strangles nascent reform movements or props up repressive governments that remain Washington's best allies in the region.

Using US government declassified documents, US attorney Eva Golinger said it was at very least "suspicious" that the US is funding Venezuelan opposition groups, given Washington's hostility to the President Hugo Chavez administration. Golinger specifically denounced the US financing of Sumate, an organization that unified the Venezuelan opposition, to the tune of $53,400 in 2003 and $107,000 in 2005-06, just from the National Endowment for Democracy. The State Department's USAID (Agency for International Development) also granted the opposition group, in four month bits, a total of more than half a million dollars in 2003. Venezuela s Civil Leadership and Vision Association opposition group also receives money from the US Department of State, noted Golinger. In 2003, 42,207 dollars were granted to that group for a "Police Civic Education Program", as well as 56,000 dollars in 2004 for "human rights training" for police.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Israel today ordered the military to begin expanding its ground offensive in South Lebanon, the Defense Ministry said. Lebanon's government said Israel's intention is to "destroy" the country. Defense Minister Amir Peretz gave the order for Israeli forces to move deeper into Lebanon after instructions from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Israel's Aug. 9 plan to expand the operation had been delayed to allow more time for United Nations diplomats to agree on a resolution aimed at ending the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. Israeli troops were ordered to move farther into Lebanon because there was no political progress in ending the conflict, said a ministry spokeswoman who spoke anonymously by regulation. Olmert today expressed dissatisfaction with a UN cease-fire proposal that was close to approval in the Security Council, the Associated Press reported earlier. Israeli forces had advanced about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) inside Lebanon since the conflict began July 12 after Hezbollah fighters seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack. "This goes to prove that Israel's war is not to free its prisoners, but to destroy Lebanon," Lebanese presidential spokesman Rafik Shlala said in a telephone interview after the Israeli decision to expand the operation. "This is yet another obstacle introduced by Israel after a series of obstacles in the way of reaching a settlement to the conflict." Israel’s move to greatly increase its ground forces in Lebanon a day before it is expected to accept a cease-fire has two goals: to damage Hezbollah as much as possible and to conclude the conflict with something that could be called a victory for an Israeli government under domestic pressure. Having begun the war by proclaiming that the aim was the destruction and disarmament of Hezbollah, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be able to claim only that Hezbollah is badly hurt and, with the help of international troops, effectively restrained — even without the robust new international force or disarming of the militia that Israel initially demanded.

Israel widened its military offensive in Lebanon today, killing at least 19 people, despite a United Nations resolution for a ceasefire, passed unanimously last night. The deadliest attack was on homes in the village of Rachaf, in the south of the country, just four miles from the Israeli border, where at least 15 civilians were killed by air strikes, security officials said. Israeli missiles hit a vehicle in Kharayeb, a village in the Zahrani region about halfway between Beirut and the Israeli border, killing three people and wounding five, and the army reported that a Lebanese soldier was killed overnight in an air raid near an army base in the western Bekaa Valley. Another Israeli airstrike destroyed a road leading to the only remaining border crossing to Syria - Arida, on the northern coast - severing the last escape route for besieged Lebanese people and for humanitarian aid entering the country. Israeli air strikes killed seven people and wounded one in northern Lebanon on Friday, medical sources said. They said Israeli planes struck the area of Balenat al-Hissa, near Lebanon's northern border with Syria. The U.N. estimates almost a million people - about a quarter of the population - have fled their homes in Lebanon, where at least 1,061 people have been killed.

The mayor of Tyre said the port city could run out of food in two days and humanitarian agencies tried to get aid to an estimated 100,000 people trapped in southern Lebanon on Friday. As the United Nations' new Human Rights Council voted to condemn Israel for "massive violations of human rights," aid workers struggled to send supplies to the region cut off when Israel bombed the last bridge across the Litani river on Monday. "We have not received any aid since the last route was cut off. We have enough food supplies for no more than two days," Tyre's mayor, Abdel-Mohsen al Husseini, told a news conference. "We contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross to try to set up a humanitarian crossing over the Litani river but we have yet to receive an answer." The ICRC said it had not been able to reach villages from where it had hoped to take several hundred people, including wounded, to safety in the north. The UNHCR refugee agency condemned Israel's dropping of leaflets telling people in heavily populated areas in Beirut to flee on Thursday, which prompted hundreds to evacuate.

Human Rights Watch: "The United States should reject any request by Israel to transfer cluster munitions for use against targets in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch wrote in a letter to National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley today. Civilians in Lebanon have already died from Israel’s use of similar weapons, which blanket a wide area with deadly submunitions."

The top U.N. humanitarian official criticized Israel on Thursday for hindering aid agencies' access to trapped civilians in southern Lebanon, saying it was a "disgrace" they had failed to allow convoys to get through. Jan Egeland said a plan worked out with Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah to funnel aid through humanitarian corridors has not worked the way each side had promised. He blamed all groups for the failure, which he said is preventing relief workers from saving lives.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has voted to send a team to Lebanon to investigate alleged abuses by Israel. The council approved the resolution, proposed by a group of states led by Islamic countries, by 27 votes to 11. Many of the resolution's opponents criticised it for not mentioning Hezbollah attacks on Israel. Addressing the emergency session in Geneva, the UN's human rights chief, Louise Arbour, chided both sides for inflicting suffering on civilians. "Israeli attacks affecting civilians continue unabated," she told a special session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Israeli soldiers have occupied a Lebanese army barracks in southern Lebanon holding about 350 troops. Two hundred Israeli soldiers, supported by two tanks, seized the barracks in the mainly Christian town of Marjayoun but a senior Lebanese officer told Aljazeera that there were now signs that they were planning to leave. Ahmad Fatfat, the acting Lebanese interior minister, said: "It appears from the ongoing contacts, which included the US secretary of state [Condoleezza Rice] and senior French officials... there is a big hope they will leave the barracks without harming any of the security personnel."

Israel will halt its war in Lebanon at 7 a.m. Monday (midnight EDT Sunday night), a senior Israeli government official said Saturday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the sensitive matter. Israel's Cabinet was to endorse the U.N. cease-fire resolution later Sunday.

Spin Cycle: Smirkey seized on a foiled London airline bomb plot to hammer unnamed critics he accused of having all but forgotten the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Weighed down by the unpopular war in Iraq, Bush and his aides have tried to shift the national political debate from that conflict to the broader and more popular global war on terrorism ahead of November 7 congressional elections. The London conspiracy is "a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation," the president said on a day trip to Wisconsin. "It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America," he said. "We've taken a lot of measures to protect the American people. But obviously we still aren't completely safe." His remarks came a day after the White House orchestrated an exceptionally aggressive campaign to tar opposition Democrats as weak on terrorism, knowing what Democrats didn't: News of the plot could soon break.

Republicans determined to win in November are up against a troublesome trend - growing opposition to President Bush. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted this week found the president's approval rating has dropped to 33 percent, matching his low in May. His handling of nearly every issue, from the Iraq war to foreign policy, contributed to the president's decline around the nation, even in the Republican-friendly South. More sobering for the GOP are the number of voters who backed Bush in 2004 who are ready to vote Democratic in the fall's congressional elections - 19 percent. These one-time Bush voters are more likely to be female, self-described moderates, low- to middle-income and from the Northeast and Midwest. Two years after giving the Republican president another term, more than half of these voters - 57 percent - disapprove of the job Bush is doing. "The numbers... are similar to what I'm hearing out in the streets," said Democrat Ed Perlmutter, a primary winner Tuesday in a competitive House race in Colorado. "I talked to so many people and they've had enough and want to see a change."

Send the Republicans $500 or we'll send in the terrorists: Within hours of the announcement of the anti-terrorism arrests in the U.K., Rudy Giuliani sent out a fundraising email from the Republican National Committee that read, in part: "Today, President Bush faces a similar challenge. In the middle of a war on terror, we need to remain focused on furthering Republican ideas more than ever before. We can't turn back now... That's why I am emailing to ask you for a favor: will you click here to make a contribution of $500, $250, $100, $50, $35 or $25 to show your strong commitment to our Party and our principles?" The terrorism arrests were announced in the morning. By early afternoon, this email was out. Even if we make the extraordinarily generous presumption that it was already planned before the arrests were announced, ya think maybe the Republicans might have cancelled the message and waited, oh, at least a day or two or so before using the terrorism plot as a damn fundraising tool?

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Random bag searches by New York police at subway stations are constitutional and an effective means of combating terrorism, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday. "In light of the thwarted plots to bomb New York City's subway system, its continued desirability as a target, and the recent bombings of transportation systems in Madrid, Moscow, and London, the risk to public safety is substantial and real," the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals said in its ruling. The court disagreed with the New York Civil Liberties Union, which last year sued the city claiming that the random bag searches police have conducted since July 2005 bombings on the London underground rail system were unconstitutional and would not deter an attack on America's largest subway system. The NYCLU had argued the searches were ineffective as police had too few checkpoints and invaded privacy rights. But the court said the testimony of three counterterrorism experts showed the value of the searches.

The U.S. government on Friday said that effective January 8, 2007, citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico must present a passport or one of two other approved documents to enter the United States by air or sea from the Western Hemisphere. The plan, which must undergo public comment before going into effect, moves the deadline back a week from its original date of January 1 to accommodate holiday travel, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement. Under the rule, which implements part of a 2004 law and also covers Bermudans, the government will accept a Merchant Mariner Document -- issued by the U.S. Coast Guard to merchant mariners -- instead of a passport. Some Canadian and U.S. citizens enrolled in a pilot program called NEXUS Air can also enter the country by presenting the identity card they have been issued that includes a computer chip with a photograph of their iris.

Republicans Believe In Free, Fair, Honest and Transparent Elections: Missouri is the latest front in the Republican Party's campaign to use photo ID requirements to suppress voting. The Republican legislators who pushed through Missouri's ID law earlier this year said they wanted to deter fraud, but that claim falls apart on close inspection. Missouri's new ID rules - and similar ones adopted last year in Indiana and Georgia - are intended to deter voting by blacks, poor people and other groups that are less likely to have driver's licenses. Georgia's law has been blocked by the courts, and the others should be too. Even before Missouri passed its new law, it had tougher ID requirements than many states. Voters were required, with limited exceptions, to bring ID with them to the polls, but university ID cards, bank statements mailed to a voter's address, and similar documents were acceptable. The new law requires a government-issued photo ID, which as many as 200,000 Missourians do not have. Missourians who have driver's licenses will have little trouble voting, but many who do not will have to go to considerable trouble to get special ID's. The supporting documents needed to get these, like birth certificates, often have fees attached, so some Missourians will have to pay to keep voting. It is likely that many people will not jump all of the bureaucratic hurdles to get the special ID, and will become ineligible to vote. Not coincidentally, groups that are more likely to vote against the Republicans who passed the ID law will be most disadvantaged. Advocates for blacks, the elderly and the disabled say that those groups are less likely than the average Missourian to have driver's licenses, and most likely to lose their right to vote. In close elections, like the bitterly contested U.S. Senate race now under way in the state, this disenfranchisement could easily make the difference in who wins.

Republicans Believe Businesspeople Are Excellent Role Models To Be Emulated: Former Wal-Mart vice chairman Tom Coughlin has been sentenced to 27 months of home confinement for stealing thousands of dollars from his employer. Coughlin was also ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and a further $400,000 in restitution. US District Judge Robert Dawson declined to sentence him to jail after doctors had testified his health was too poor for him to go to prison. Prosecutors had called for him to be jailed for at least six months. Coughlin had faced a maximum of 28 years in prison on five counts of wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return and fines up to $1.35 million.

BP PLC was told by employees and contractors in a February 2004 survey that its Prudhoe Bay pipeline network probably was not being adequately monitored for corrosion, according to a company report. "If we find pipe that we know is rotten, they have to replace it," an unidentified employee was quoted as saying in the report, posted on BP's Web site. "My concern, however, is that they are not taking a look at every piece of pipe that they need to be." Production from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the largest oilfield in the United States, was shut down Sunday after the company found severe corrosion and a leak in the pipeline. Prudhoe Bay produces 400,000 barrels a day, 8 percent of U.S. output.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: While the British terror suspects were hatching their plot, the Bush administration was quietly seeking permission to divert $6 million that was supposed to be spent this year developing new homeland explosives detection technology, including technology to detect liquid explosives aboard aircraft. Congressional leaders rejected the idea, the latest in a series of steps by the Homeland Security Department that has left lawmakers and some of the department's own experts questioning the commitment to create better anti-terror technologies.

High levels of immigration in the past 15 years do not appear to have hurt employment opportunities for American workers, according to a new report. The Pew Hispanic Center analyzed immigration state by state using U.S. Census data, evaluating it against unemployment levels. No clear correlation between the two could be found.

Spreading Freedom And Democracy Around The World: Tom Hayden writes in The Nation: "The possibility of saving Iraq as a viable Arab nation is in question, even if American public opinion forces the withdrawal of US troops. For some American hawks, a dismembered Iraq may not be ideal but would no longer be a strategic threat. Those were the morbid impressions I formed after two days of discussions with Iraqis gathered in Amman, Jordan, at an unprecedented meeting initiated by Code Pink and attended by Cindy Sheehan and a smattering of peace activists that included Iraq Veterans Against the War and United for Peace and Justice. That so many Iraqi representatives wanted to meet with antiwar Americans was a hopeful sign. Attending were official representatives of the Shiite coalition now holding power, the minority Sunni bloc, the anti-occupation Muslim Scholars Association, parliamentarians and torture victims from Abu Ghraib. Their broad consensus favored a specific timetable for American withdrawal combined with efforts to "fix the problems" of the occupation as the withdrawal proceeds. Recent surveys show that 87 percent of Iraqis hold the same views."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said the United States and the West were losing credibility in the Middle East because they were dragging their feet on a ceasefire in Lebanon between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas. In an interview with the Egyptian magazine October, released on Thursday, Mubarak also said it would be impossible to implement quickly a UN resolution which requires Hizbollah to disarm - one of the steps Israel and the United States want to see in a political settlement of the month-old conflict. He dismissed Washington's talk of "a new Middle East", saying it ignored what he called the real problem - the collapse of attempts at peace between Israelis and Palestinians. "Foot-dragging on a ceasefire and the continuation of the Israeli aggression detract from the credibility of the United States and the West in the region," Mubarak said. "The United States has not moved to a sufficient extent and with the necessary speed to contain the situation," he added.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Surveys by a Michigan State University researcher find that about one-third of the American population does not believe in evolution, a figure which is much higher than those found in similar surveys in European nations and Japan. "One in three American adults firmly rejects the concept of evolution, a significantly higher proportion than found in any western European country," Miller said. For example, in Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and France, 80 percent or more of adults accepted the concept of evolution, as did 78 percent of Japanese adults. Only adults in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim nation, were less likely to accept the concept of evolution than American adults. There were several reasons for these inflated U.S. numbers. Miller said the most significant factor was the influence of fundamentalist religions. "The total effect of fundamentalist religious beliefs on attitude toward evolution was nearly twice as much in the United States," he said, "which indicates that individuals who hold a strong belief in a personal God - and who pray frequently - were significantly less likely to view evolution as probably or definitely true than adults with less conservative religious views."

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: The meltdown of Greenland's ice sheet is speeding up, satellite measurements show. Data from a US space agency (Nasa) satellite show that the melting rate has accelerated since 2004. If the ice cap were to completely disappear, global sea levels would rise by 6.5m (21 feet). Most of the ice is being lost from eastern Greenland, a US team writes in Science journal. Jianli Chen of the University of Texas at Austin and colleagues studied monthly changes in the Earth's gravity between April 2002 and November 2005. These measurements came from the US space agency's Grace (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite, launched in 2002. Estimated monthly changes in the mass of Greenland's ice sheet suggest it is melting at a rate of about 239 cubic kilometres (57.3 cubic miles) per year. This figure is about three times higher than an earlier estimate of the mass loss from Greenland made using the first two years of Grace measurements.

Warmer water temperatures are raising the levels of a serious shellfish toxin along the U.S. Pacific Northwest coastline. Health officials in Washington state said they were seeing a spreading bloom of PSP (paralytic shellfish poison) that is making it dangerous to consume clams, oysters and other shelled creatures found in the Seattle and greater Puget Sound area, the Seattle Times said. Amateur clam-diggers were warned Friday to avoid shellfish for a while; however officials told the Times the commercial shellfish catch is tested and should be safe. The toxin strikes the human nervous system and cannot be removed by cooking. PSP is found in algae eaten by the shellfish. Levels of PSP well over 3,000 micrograms were recently seen in the sound. The Times said shellfish grounds are generally closed when levels above 80 micrograms per gram of shellfish tissue are found.

Prompted by climbing gas prices and mandates to promote alternative fuels, Washington is pouring public money into ethanol production. But watchdogs and environmentalists fear that corporate and political agendas are eclipsing environmental concerns in a headlong rush for "green" energy. While they acknowledge its potential as a renewable "biofuel," skeptics say that banking on ethanol in its current form is environmentally and economically unsustainable, threatening to squander over $1 billion in tax incentives that Congress has recently lavished on the industry. An alternative fuel derived mainly from corn, ethanol currently constitutes only a miniscule fraction of the country's fuel supply, but domestic production capacity has more than doubled since 2001, to over 4.5 billion gallons per year. About 100 production plants or "biorefineries" now dot the country, according to the trade group Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). Production is likely to soar over the next several years, since the Energy Policy Act of 2005 set a Renewable Fuels Standard mandating 7.5 billion gallons of annual domestic renewable-fuel production by 2012.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:58:07 AM

Thu, Aug 10 2006

Yellow Fever Returning To Costa Rica?

The last two days have been warm and dry, and reminiscent somewhat of the dry season. I do believe we are having a second veranilla (little summer) this year, and it sure is welcome, though the lake is in fact noticeably low, and the nice weather won't help. Temps were a 72 low and an 82 high - cool, in spite of all the sun.

Yesterday, against all expectations, the town welder showed up as he had promised me on Tuesday and looked over my place for what it will take to replace the front door. The total cost of materials came to the equivalent of $236, and he hasn't told me yet how much he is going to charge to do the actual work. But I expect it won't by much less than that. So we went to the ferreteria (hardware store) together and got the stuff bought. They delivered it just as they said they would just after 5:30, though a few minutes late, but now the material is all sitting in the garage, waiting for the preliminary work to begin. That was promised for today. The welder said he would call and have me come and get him, but when he didn't ask for my phone number, I knew that wouldn't happen, and it didn't. So it looks like I'll probably have to play the waiting game on this project, too. If he doesn't show tomorrow morning, I'll be going to town to run him down and find out what his real plans are.

If you, gentle reader, are a frequent traveler to Costa Rica, you had best go to a travel clinic and get a yellow fever vaccination and certificate, as the health department here has announced it is strongly considering imposing a yellow fever vaccination requirement for all persons entering Costa Rica. The same species of mosquito that has been the vector in the dengue outbreak is apparently capable of spreading yellow fever, and the concern is that it could become established here for the first time in many years. Guess I'll need to get a shot, as I haven't had a yellow fever vaccination in thirty years, and have long since lost my certificate anyway. I can't help but wonder what effect this will have on the tourism industry and the level of foreign investment in real estate here, on which this country is so dependent...

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has become increasingly dismayed over President Bush's support for Israel to continue its war with Hezbollah. State Department sources said Ms. Rice has been repeatedly stymied in her attempts to pressure Israel to end strikes against Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon. The sources said the secretary's trip to the Middle East last week was torpedoed by the Israeli air strike of a Lebanese village in which 25 people were killed. "I've never seen her so angry," an aide said. The U.S. response to the Israeli-Hezbollah war was said to have divided both the administration as well as the family of President George W. Bush. At the same time, it marked the first time since Ms. Rice became secretary of state that the president has overruled her. "For the last 18 months, Condi was given nearly carte blanche in setting foreign policy guidelines," a senior government source familiar with the issue said. "All of a sudden, the president has a different opinion and he wants the last word." The disagreement between Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice is over the ramifications of U.S. support for Israel's continued offensive against Lebanon. The sources said Mr. Bush believes that Israel's failure to defeat Hezbollah would encourage Iranian adventurism in neighboring Iraq. Ms. Rice has argued that the United States would be isolated both in the Middle East and Europe at a time when the administration seeks to build a consensus against Iran's nuclear weapons program. Instead, Ms. Rice believes the United States should engage Iran and Syria to pressure Hezbollah to end the war with Israel. Ms. Rice has argued that such an effort would result in a U.S. dialogue with Damascus and Tehran on Middle East stability. "The United States and Israel must understand that it is not in their long-term interests to allow themselves to become isolated in the Middle East and the world," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Rice ally and senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Both Damascus and Tehran must hear from America directly."

South Florida is surrounded by water, making it one of the most vulnerable areas for drug traffickers, terrorists and illegal aliens to enter. NBC 6 has learned that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wants to remove some of the key military assets that currently protect the state. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, Bahamian police, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army all watch the waterways stretching from Miami 500 miles south to the Bahamas. This year alone, they've confiscated 1,700 pounds of cocaine and 94,000 pounds of marijuana. But now, Rumsfeld wants to pull the Army from the team. In a memo, Rumsfeld wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, "I intend to discontinue this support." Rumsfeld said he would remove Army helicopters from the drug mission -- seven helicopters that the DEA says participate in 50 to 75 percent of the drug busts. Rumsfeld's letter indicated the resources are needed to fight the war on terrorism instead. "I couldn't believe it," said Florida Sen. Bill Nelson. Nelson said the Rumsfeld plan would leave South Florida exposed to more drugs and potentially terrorists.

The United States is not making the case for freedom, democracy and Western law to the rest of the world, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said Saturday. "Make no mistake, there's a jury that's out. In half the world, the verdict is not yet in. The commitment to accept the Western idea of democracy has not yet been made, and they are waiting for you to make the case," Kennedy said in an address to the American Bar Association. Kennedy, 70, said he fears many parts of the world are not yet convinced that the American form of government as designed by the framers of the Constitution guarantees a better way of life. "Our best security, our only security, is in the world of ideas, and I sense a slight foreboding," he said. Kennedy, a moderate justice who has become a key swing vote on the Supreme Court, argued that the meaning of the phrase "rule of law" must be made clear in order to spread the cause of freedom to other countries. He avoided singling out specific nations.

Yet another laptop computer, this one being used by the Department of Transportation to combat fraud, was stolen in Doral, Florida last month, putting the sensitive personal information of almost 133,000 Florida residents at risk of the criminal activity the agency was trying to guard against. Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses were on the laptop assigned to a special agent in the Miami office when it was stolen from a government-owned vehicle on July 27, acting Inspector General Todd Zinser wrote Gov. Bush in a letter on Wednesday.

Senator Joe Lieberman, conceded defeat in the Senate primary Tuesday night. But the three-term incumbent announced he would go ahead with a sore-loser campaign on a third-party line against the candidate of the party that nominated him for vice president in 2000. "I will not let that result stand," Lieberman said of the decision of Connecticut Democrats to hand their party's nomination to Lamont, a political unknown before his frustration with Lieberman's support of the war in Iraq led him to challenge the Bush administration's favorite Democrat. Lieberman seized on the terror arrests in Britain today to attack his Democratic rival, Ned Lamont, saying that Mr. Lamont’s goals for ending the war in Iraq would constitute a "victory" for the extremists who are accused of plotting to blow up airliners traveling between Britain and the United States. "If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England," Mr. Lieberman said at a campaign event at lunchtime in Waterbury, Conn. "It will strengthen them and they will strike again."

AT&T Inc. is putting its official stamp on the West Bank and Gaza by changing its phone bills, a move driven more by economics than politics. Long-distance charges for dialing the Palestinian-run lands will carry their own designation rather than appearing as calls to Israel. The company also is raising the rates sharply for calling the West Bank and Gaza, citing the rising fees AT&T needs to pay other carriers in that region to connect calls.

America On Line (AOL) admitted to "a screw-up" yesterday which resulted in 20m search inquiries by more than half a million subscribers going public. The company said none of the data was personally identifiable. "We're angry and upset about it," it said, explaining that the website on which the information was published was used for research and had been shut down at the weekend when the security implications were realised. But there were fears that identities could be discovered from the searches, and some bloggers were said to have copied the information before it was taken down. Searches recorded were said to include "how to kill your wife" and "ways of committing suicide".

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Following news of Cuban President Fidel Castro's illness, "the United States beefed up its television transmissions to Cuba ... through its Miami-based TV Marti station," reports Associated Press. "The Office of Cuba Broadcasting unveiled a new G-1 twin turbo propeller plane, which will increase the transmissions from one afternoon a week to six." The 2006 U.S. budget includes $10 million, "to develop airborne TV broadcasting and counter the Cuban government's mostly successful efforts to jam the transmission." Cuban officials may crack down on satellite dishes, which are illegal, saying that "a good part of the programming ... is destabilizing, interventionist, subversive." Castro's death "could be the first step toward ending the decades-long U.S. embargo and opening the country to U.S. corporate interests," writes PR Week. "Most PR firms interested in the Cuban market already have an idea of what they will do when Castro is out of the picture." Burson-Marsteller's Latin America president called setting up Cuba operations "one of the biggest challenges ... but the opportunity is there."

Some 30 percent of Americans cannot say in what year the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against New York's World Trade Center and the

Pentagon in Washington took place, according to a poll published in the Washington Post newspaper. While the country is preparing to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives and shocked the world, 95 percent of Americans questioned in the poll were able to remember the month and the day of the attacks, according to Wednesday's edition of the newspaper. But when asked what year, 30 percent could not give a correct answer.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: The Israeli bombing of a building in Qana, Lebanon, should be investigated as a possible violation of international law, the U.N. secretary-general says. "The effects of the current conflict on civilians in Lebanon and Israel rise to a level of seriousness that requires further gathering of information, including violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a letter delivered Monday evening to the president of the U.N. Security Council. He said the attack should be seen in the "broader context" and, pending further investigation, as part of a "pattern" of illegal acts. The letter quotes the official accounts made available to the secretary-general by Israel, Lebanon and U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon. The Israeli statement says Qana civilians - who number 12,000 in peacetime -- were warned of the July 30 early morning attack via leaflets and radio announcements, and urged to leave the village days in advance. It also says Qana has been the source of over 150 missiles launched into Israel and is the center of Hezbollah's regional headquarters, playing host to Hezbollah militants and weapons stockpiles.

The UN has abandoned its daily attempt to get an aid convoy through to south Lebanon, citing security fears. The decision comes a day after Israel imposed an open-ended curfew on all residents south of the Litani River. Jan Egeland said both sides could give aid agencies access in a "heartbeat". Hospitals in south Lebanon are also said to be low on food and fuel. More than 1,000 Lebanese, most of them civilians, have now been killed in the hostilities, the Lebanese government has said. Some 122 Israelis, most of them soldiers, have also been killed.

UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland blamed both sides for aggravating a crisis that has left almost one million people homeless in Lebanon, some of them cut off in the south, which Israel wants to turn into a buffer zone against rocket attack. "It's a disgrace really because the parties to the conflict, Israel and Hezbollah, could give access in a heart beat, and then we could help 120,000 people in southern Lebanon," Egeland told a news conference in Geneva. "If there's one thing that will be the most critical - even more critical than food - over the next days and weeks, it's fuel." Four hospitals in the south of the country have run out of fuel needed for generators that are crucial for surgery and stocking drugs, Egeland said.

Israeli troops thrust deeper into Lebanon on Wednesday and four soldiers were reported killed by Hizbollah rockets as Israel's inner cabinet debated whether to order a bigger advance before any U.N. move to end the war. Lebanese security sources said Israeli forces pushed west from Taibeh, some 5 km (3 miles) from the border, toward the village of Qantara and north toward Burj al-Molouk and Qlaiah villages. The sources also reported fighting near the town of Bint Jbeil and the village of Aita al-Shaab. Al Arabiya television said four Israeli soldiers had been killed by Hizbollah rocket fire near Aita al-Shaab. Hizbollah said it had inflicted at least 10 casualties and knocked out six tanks in battles around Qantara and elsewhere. It did not say if its own fighters had suffered any losses. Israel's army, which has about 10,000 troops inside Lebanon, reported fighting near Qantara, but had no word on casualties. Lebanese Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat told The Associated Press about 350 Lebanese soldiers and police garrisoned in Marjayoun were taken into custody. Residents said the Israelis also took over one building in the barracks, locked up the ammunition and weapons depot and took away the keys. Israeli soldiers today consolidated strategic positions in southern Lebanon and warned of new attacks on Beirut and the north of the country. The development came after a planned major invasion of the country was temporarily called off under apparent pressure from Washington.

Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets over Tyre yesterday morning, warning people not to use vehicles south of the Litani river, heightening the city's isolation. All roads north and south of the port city have been cut by bombing in the last few days and Israeli authorities have refused permission for any ships to dock. The travel ban had no time limit and mentioned no exceptions, even for ambulances and humanitarian convoys. Addressed to "Lebanese civilians south of the Litani River", it said: "Read this carefully and follow its instructions. The Israeli Defence Forces will escalate their operations and will strike with force against terrorist elements who are using you as human shields and firing rockets from inside your homes against Israel..." All vehicles would be bombed the letter said. It was signed "State of Israel".

Israel plans to ramp up its offensive in Lebanon by attacking the nation's strategic civilian infrastructure to make Beirut more amenable to ceasefire proposals acceptable to Jerusalem. Stung by increasingly deadly rocket attacks and believing an imminent ceasefire to be unlikely, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met his senior security advisers yesterday to discuss proposals to reinforce and speed up the army's northward movement in order to push most of Hezbollah's rockets out of range of Israel. "We are now in a process of renewed escalation," a senior general defence staff officer said. "We will continue hitting everything that moves in Hezbollah, but we will also hit strategic civilian infrastructure." Although he did not mention specific civilian targets, Beirut's power grid would appear to be particularly vulnerable. Another Israeli official said he expected no ceasefire for another two weeks. With progress on the diplomatic front painfully slow, the Israeli Defence Force yesterday sharply escalated its ground and air war south and east of the port city of Tyre, from where Hezbollah guerillas are firing most of the rockets hitting northern Israel.

A high-ranking IDF officer and member of the General Staff told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday that it would take the military at least one week to reach the Litani and beyond, and to set up position and begin taking control of the area. The officer said that it would then take four to six weeks to clear out southern Lebanon, from the Litani river south, of the Hizbullah presence and to destroy the thousands of Katyusha rockets and rocket launchers believed to be in that area. Some 7,000 IDF troops were operating in southern Lebanon Wednesday, clashing with Hizbullah guerrillas in several villages while holding and maintaining position along a 10-kilometer-deep security zone the IDF had created. 40,000 IDF troops and reservists were massed along the northern border Wednesday evening in preparation for Israel's largest and deepest ground incursion into southern Lebanon since the beginning of Operation Change of Direction last month.

Sunday night, an Israeli airstrike obliterated the last bridge in and out of Tyre. Monday, relief workers from Doctors Without Borders - knee deep in the river - carried in supplies hand-to-hand in a human chain. A high risk because they had no Israeli clearance. With international aid reduced to just a few dozen boxes of supplies carried in a human chain, Hezbollah is stepping in, taking advantage of the shortage. In Tyre, Hajj Hamid told us Hezbollah has stepped up door-to-door deliveries of food, water and medicine. "This helps us resist and makes all the people become Hezbollah," Hamid says. Hamid's son has a skin infection. On Sunday, Hezbollah brought him a cream. "Me too," another man interrupts. "Yesterday, Hezbollah gave my father eye medicine." In his apartment, he showed it to us, along with the sugar and gas Hezbollah also brought.

On his CNN TV program, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post interviewed Thomas Ricks, the Post's Pentagon reporter and author of the book "Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq." Ricks told Kurtz, "One of the things that is going on, according to some U.S. military analysts, is that Israel purposely has left pockets of Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon, because as long as they're being rocketed, they can continue to have a sort of moral equivalency in their operations in Lebanon." Kurtz responded, "Hold on, you're suggesting that Israel has deliberately allowed Hezbollah to retain some of its fire power, essentially for PR purposes, because having Israeli civilians killed helps them in the public relations war here?" Ricks replied, "Yes, that's what military analysts have told me." Kurtz remarked "that's an extraordinary testament to the notion that having people on your own side killed actually works to your benefit in that nobody wants to see your own citizens killed but it works to your benefit in terms of the battle of perceptions here." Ricks replied "It helps you with the moral high ground problem, because you know your operations in Lebanon are going to be killing civilians as well."

As its attacks on Lebanese civilians continue, Israel demanded that a possible United Nations backed cease-fire permit future attacks by Israel on Hezbollah strongholds and suspected weapons depots in Lebanon. The UN, which failed to condemn the massacre of children by Israel, is still discussing a cease-fire, although it has been 28 days since the war broke out. A resolution hammered out by France and the United States over the weekend failed to take into account Lebanon’s request demanding Israel withdraw its forces completely before serious attempts at establishing peace begin and was met with harsh criticism by the Arab world. China and Russia, two veto-wielding members of the UN, objected to the joint resolution which does not directly refer to the withdrawal of Israeli forces. An anonymous Israeli government official said Israel had requested the UN allow them to continue air strikes in order to prevent weapons from reaching Hezbollah guerillas and future rocket attacks on Israel. Furthermore, Israel demanded the deployment of an international force 20 kilometers north of the Israeli border.

Israel shut down south Lebanon with a threat to blast any moving vehicles, as ground fighting intensified near the Israeli border, airstrikes killed at least 19 civilians and Arab governments called for a full Israeli withdrawal as a condition of any cease-fire. With U.S., French and Arab negotiators meeting into the evening at the United Nations, Israel voiced cautious interest in a Lebanese proposal to deploy 15,000 soldiers to control the ground in south Lebanon where Hezbollah has been firing missiles into Israel. But the warring sides appeared to be some distance apart on the text of a possible resolution, now not expected to come before the Security Council before Thursday. The United Nations suspended attempts Tuesday to send relief to southern Lebanon because of heavy shelling in the area, a spokeswoman said, though aid shipments were arriving elsewhere in the country. "The Israeli forces were warning today, saying that there shouldn't be any vehicles in the southern part of Lebanon," said Christian Berthiaume of the World Food Program. "They had exempted humanitarian convoys (but) we decided not to go because there has been heavy shelling the last 24 hours." The WFP and other U.N. relief agencies said they were frustrated over the difficulty of moving aid into Lebanon, and said what they had brought in so far was insufficient.

"Cell phones and land lines across Lebanon have been ringing with automated, recorded messages -- part of a propaganda war being waged along with Israel's assault on Lebanon," reports Associated Press. "The Israeli army has refused to confirm that is is behind the phone calls. But few Lebanese have any doubts." One call asks, "Who is using you as human shields?" Similar messages appear on leaflets dropped by Israeli planes and in Israeli radio broadcasts into south Lebanon. The Los Angeles Times reports that "during three recent TV broadcasts, Israel has hacked into Hezbollah's Al Manar channel. ... The Israel Defense Forces had confirmed that the hacking was the work of the army's intelligence corps." Professor Charles Harb at the American University of Beirut called the approaches "a classic psychological ploy" meant to make Lebanese civilians feel closer to their government and more distant from Hezbollah.

Spin Cycle: The White House accused the Democratic Party on Wednesday of catering to the extreme left after Connecticut voters defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in a primary election over his support of the Iraq war. Foreshadowing a debate likely to play itself out in November congressional elections, White House spokesman Tony Snow called the election a defining moment for the Democratic Party. "I know a lot of people have tried to make this a referendum on the president. I would flip it. I think instead it's a defining moment for the Democratic Party whose national leaders now have made it clear that if you disagree with the extreme left in their party, they're going to come after you," he said. The former vice presidential candidate lost Tuesday's vote, in which Democrats chose a U.S. Senate candidate for the November election, to Ned Lamont, who had accused Lieberman of being too close to President George W. Bush. Lamont had cast the race with Lieberman as a referendum on the Iraq war. But Snow said the vote did not reflect American views on Bush's policies, but rather how the Democratic Party dealt with the Iraq war and other issues of national security.

As the Mideast sits on the brink of regional war, Vice President Dick Cheney spent his time yesterday holding a teleconference to discuss the outcome of the Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut. Cheney said that to "purge a man like Joe Lieberman" was "of concern, especially over the issue of Joe’s support with respect to national efforts in the global war on terror." He explained: "The thing that’s partly disturbing about it is the fact that, the standpoint of our adversaries, if you will, in this conflict, and the al Qaeda types, they clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task." According to a close Lieberman adviser, the President's political guru, Karl Rove, has reached out to the Lieberman camp with a message straight from the Oval Office: "The boss wants to help. Whatever we can do, we will do." Everybody's talking about the report that Karl Rove's offered to help the Lieberman campaign. An offer like this, leaked by one of Joe's top aides, it raises the question: Has Rove been guiding the Lieberman campaign from the very beginning? That alleged "website hacking" could well be Rove's handiwork - and more clues abound. (UPDATE: Joe's people, and W's, have issued their predictable, obligatory, and not-too-convincing denials. My hypothesis still stands.) Before you say the idea's too farfetched, consider this: Lieberman's campaign has been designed from the start to inflict maximum damage on the Democratic Party. Lieberman's statements from the beginning have made it clear that, in his mind, any dissent from Bush's war policy constitutes a) "weakness on national defense," b) is a clear sign that Democrats "lack national security" credibility, and c) means that Dems "have yielded to the extremists" (despite the fact that new polls reveal those "extremists" agree with 60% of all Americans about the war). Democrats are "extremist "and "weak on national security?" That's straight out of the Rove playbook.

Republicans had words of praise for Democrat Joe Lieberman, whose longtime support of the US administration on the Iraq war was seen as causing his US Senate primary election defeat. Lieberman - who lost Tuesday's election in part because of his perceived role as an ally of the George W. Bush administration on Iraq - vowed to continue his fight for reelection but as an independent, and found many prominent Republican backers, including New York City Michael Bloomberg.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A CIA contractor accused of beating an Afghan prisoner so badly that he later died told a colleague afterward that he had kicked the detainee in the groin, a prosecution witness told a federal court on Tuesday. David Passaro, a former Special Forces medic who worked under contract with the CIA, is the first civilian to be charged with abusing a detainee in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a case that raises questions about government guidelines for interrogators, Passaro has pleaded not guilty to four counts of assault for allegedly beating Abdul Wali over two nights in June 2003. "At one point he (Passaro) lined up on Wali as though he was going to kick in a football game and kicked him full in the groin. Abdul Wali was lifted into the air," Mr Sullivan said. Wali sustained a suspected fractured pelvis that would have made it impossible for him to urinate, he said. Mr Passaro is charged with four counts of assault and accused of using his hands, feet and a large torch to beat Wali, who died two days after the interrogation.

Does the government have the right to keep secret a law that is applied to millions of Americans every day? That's the question John Gilmore has asked the Supreme Court to decide in his petition to the Court, filed on the 4th of August 2006. When John, an American citizen, decided to take a trip to Washington, DC back on the 4th of July 2002, he was told at Oakland International Airport that he had to produce his ID if he wanted to travel. He asked to see the law demanding he show his 'papers' and was told after a time that the law was secret and no, he wouldn’t be allowed to read it. He hasn't flown in his own country since.

Republicans Believe In Free, Fair, Honest and Transparent Elections: The campaign of Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), facing a difficult run-off in Georgia against challenger Hank Johnson today, issued statements on her website to indicate that voting irregularities have adversely affected her election chances. In some cases, she indicated, her name had not appeared on the ballot. Officials, though, claim, that, as of press time, none of the allegations can been substantiated. "We have monitors on the ground addressing each of these issues," Kara Sinkule of the Secretary of State’s office said. "We have not had any of these allegations substantiated."

Republicans Believe In Free Speech: Here's an FYI for anyone planning protests at campaign events for U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon: The Pennsylvania Republican is ready for you. Expecting a demonstration by the liberal activist group MoveOn.org, Weldon's campaign called the police to a campaign event Friday in Springfield, Delaware County. The officer responding found only Ross Doppelt, 18, a campaign volunteer from Havertown for Democratic challenger Joe Sestak. Doppelt, an Eagle Scout and an honor student, was taking notes on Weldon's remarks to report back to the Sestak braintrust, a tactic that both sides employ. "I wasn't completely sure why they came up to me and no one else," Doppelt said of his meeting with Springfield's finest. The police officer was equally perplexed, apparently. When he didn't find any marchers or placards, he approached Weldon's staff, who pointed out Doppelt "as a possible protester," said Police Lt. William Clark. "He wasn't doing anything," Clark said. The police wouldn't intervene in a lawful protest, he said. Weldon protesters carried signs at a recent Sestak event at a Springfield Township shopping mall asking the retired admiral to go back to Virginia, where he still owns a home. Sestak, who grew up in Springfield, retired this year after serving 31 years in the military. Weldon's campaign had been given an e-mail from MoveOn appealing for volunteer protesters, said Michael Puppio, his campaign manager. Given the "occasional extreme quality of organizations like MoveOn, we thought it was prudent to notify law enforcement," he said. That will be the Weldon campaign's standard campaign practice, he said.

Privatization And Deregulation Solve All Problems: Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday called on the U.S. Congress to hold hearings into BP's operations in Alaska following a second oil pipeline rupture at its Prudhoe Bay operations over the weekend that will shut the 400,000 barrel-a-day oilfield. "It is appalling that BP let this critical pipeline deteriorate to the point that a major production shutdown was necessary," said Rep. John Dingell, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in a statement. "The United States Congress has an obligation to hold hearings to determine what broke down here and what laws and regulations need to be improved to ensure problem pipelines like these are found and fixed earlier," Dingell said. Democratic Rep. Edward Markey, who also serves on the House committee, said the shutdown reflects BP's chronic mismanagement of its U.S. drilling operations and that the company had been earning enough money to prevent the problem. "With oil above $70 per barrel and BP making record profits, it can afford to properly clean and maintain its pipelines," Markey said in a statement. BP, one of the world's largest oil companies, posted a net profit of US$7.3 billion for the three months ending June 30, up from US$5.6 billion a year earlier. Revenue rose 24 percent to US$73.5 billion (euro58 billion) from US$59.3 billion.

The governor of Alaska has questioned whether BP misled it over the condition of its pipelines, given the recent leak from the Prudhoe Bay oilfield. The shutdown at the site is expected to cost Alaska $6.4m a day in tax revenues and this has prompted a government state-wide hiring freeze. The closure followed "numerous" satisfactory maintenance reports from BP, governor Frank Murkowski said. He said BP would be "held responsible" for its earlier management of the site. "BP must get the entire Prudhoe Bay field back up and running as soon as is safely possible," he said.

Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous: From the conservative National Review: "Personally, I don't know what all the shouting is about. Global warming is great. Granted, maybe it isn't really happening, and if it is there are strong reasons to doubt that humans have anything to do with it. But if the world is warming, I say "bravo." People in most parts of the globe should have no objection to a warmer, wetter climate. If the aliens were watching they'd conclude we were making our planet more habitable on purpose. Consider the large landmasses in the northern hemisphere, say north of 55 degrees. These are very extreme climates for human habitation. A population distribution map of Canada shows most people live in a belt running along the southern border with the United States. But add global warming and vast regions would become comfortably habitable. As well, there would be more land available for cultivation. Resources would be easier to extract. True, there might be some dislocations as crops shifted northward, but so what? Economies change all the time. And imagine the land boom up the coastlines as people rushed on up for beachfront property. If global warming is real it is creating the investment opportunity of a lifetime."

If you had a billion dollars in the bank and lived a jet-set lifestyle out of a string of luxury homes filled with valuable artworks, your taxes would be pretty hefty, right? Well not entirely, according to a Senate probe that has examined hundreds of documents and issued 74 subpoenas as it turns a spotlight on the murky tax dealings of some of America's richest citizens. The Senate's subcommittee on investigations has spent a year tracking the finances of several billionaires and discovered they funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars to tiny Caribbean islands and the Isle of Man. Named in a subcommittee report are Robert Wood Johnson IV, the owner of the New York Jets American football team, Haim Saban, the billionaire behind the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show, Texan tycoons Charles and Sam Wyly and telecoms entrepreneur Walter Anderson. "Our investigation blows the lid off tax haven abuses that use sham trusts, shell corporations and fake economic transactions to hide the fact that US citizens are controlling offshore assets... and dodging taxes," Senator Carl Levin fumed as the panel released its findings last week. Investigators claim Johnson and Saban used a strategy to shield billions of dollars out of sight of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), while the Wyly brothers allegedly have not paid tax on over 100 million dollars in stock options compensation held offshore. The billionaires engaged "an army of attorneys, brokers and other professionals" to set up their offshore corporations and trusts, according to investigators. Vast amounts of cash were transferred to the offshore corporations or trusts, which sometimes traded among themselves or granted huge "loans" back to some of the billionaires and their families in the United States. Between 1999 and 2004, about 85 million dollars in "offshore dollars" was credited to US accounts and used by the Wylys to buy and outfit luxury homes in Aspen, Dallas and Malibu, according to the report.

Winning Hearts And Minds In Iraq: Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has angrily charged American forces with undermining national reconciliation after a US-led raid in the eastern Baghdad stronghold of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr reportedly caused the death of three people, including a woman and a child. The forthright criticism of US tactics comes just days after the launch of a much-publicised American-Iraqi crackdown, supported by Mr Maliki, on sectarian Sunni-Shia violence in the capital. But in a statement on government television late on Monday night, Mr Maliki said he was "very angered and pained" by the latest operation, which involved air and ground forces in the volatile Sadr City area early in the morning.

Two American soldiers Thursday described in gruesome detail how their comrades allegedly killed three blindfolded Iraqi detainees, one of whom was covered in brain matter and another who spit blood during his dying moments. The soldiers testified during a military hearing to decide if the four soldiers should face a military court-martial on murder charges for allegedly killing the Iraqis after detaining them in a house on May 9 near Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad. Cpl. Brandon Helton testified that he was the last man off the helicopter that brought a group of soldiers to a marshy island outside Samarra in search of suspected al-Qaida operatives. By the time he reached the house, the Iraqis had been detained, he said. He said he saw detainees fleeing before they were shot. When he approached, some of the detainees had their blindfolds down and were "running at full sprint." At that point, the soldiers fired. "The first one fell flat down and the second one, whenever he got shot, it was kind of like what you'd see in a movie where he spun around and landed on his back," Helton said. "I seen one spitting up blood." The four accused soldiers -- Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, Spc. William B. Hunsaker, Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard and Spc. Juston R. Graber -- initially said the detainees were killed because they tried to escape, but military prosecutors have said they were freed before being shot.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: With signs that the world is warming, even Inuit peoples of the far north are ordering air conditioning. Better known for building igloos during hunts on the polar ice, Inuit in the village of Kuujjuaq in Quebec, Canada, are installing 10 air conditioners for about 25 office workers. "These are the times when the far north has to have air conditioners now to function," said Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a leading campaigner for the rights of 155,000 Inuit in Canada, Alaska, Russia and Greenland. "Our Arctic homes are made to be airtight for the cold and do not ‘breathe’ well in the heat with this warming trend," she said. Temperatures in Kuujjuaq, home to 2,000 people, hit 31 Celsius (88 Fahrenheit) in late July. If the Inuit are feeling the heat, chances are that people further south are sweltering too.

Stronger hurricanes forecast for the next few decades could flood major cities including Miami and New Orleans, environmental scientists said Wednesday. Storm surges - walls of water up to 30 feet high pushed ashore by hurricanes - could pose a higher risk to coastal areas than the threat of rising seas tied to global warming, scientists from the group Environmental Defense said. More intense hurricanes - some as strong as 2005's devastating Katrina - are likely in the future, the scientists said, because global climate change could mean warmer sea surface temperatures, which fuel hurricanes' development. "There's been a lot of talk about the threat to coastal areas of sea level rise, and that is a very, very real issue ... but one that is going to unfold over a period of decades, if not a century," said Bill Chameides, Environmental Defense's chief scientist, in a telephone news conference. "What we think will actually be a more immediate risk to coastal areas ... is the threat of storm surge, which is actually exacerbated by sea level rise due to these growing-intensity storms," Chameides said.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: The UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into an alleged Nigerian bribery scandal has taken on a number of new twists, according to information disclosed in the Financial Times in London. The investigations center on Halliburton, a US company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and in particular, on one of its subsidiaries, Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR). The SFO probe followed criticism that London authorities were doing little on the case even though a British-based company and a British lawyer were allegedly at the centre of a plot to pay more than $170m of bribes to win $7bn of building contracts. Halliburton has declined to comment other than to say it continued to co-operate with the authorities investigating its Nigerian operations. According to company information, Halliburton was founded in 1919 and today ranks as "one of the world's largest providers of products and services to oil and gas industries. The company adds value through the entire lifecycle of oil and gas reservoirs." The most substantial political dimension of the case, so far, is that it relates in part to the period between 1995 and 2000 when Halliburton was headed by Dick Cheney, incumbent US vice-president. Halliburton became involved in the Nigerian consortium through its 1998 takeover of Dresser Industries, after the first gas plant building contract was signed but before later project expansion deals were agreed.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:30:24 AM

Tue, Aug 08 2006

Encounter With A Deadly Snake

Today was a dry-season day. Lovely sunny weather all day long, from dawn to dusk, and not a drop of rain anywhere in sight. Sure was a refreshing change. But the temperatures were moderate, in spite of the sun, with a high today of 82 and an overnight low of 73. I did not have the fan running last night, but it was on the ragged edge of comfortable without it.

Well, I decided to go ahead and put up the second of several antennas that I have been threatening to put up for my ham radio. To make the insulators for it out of plastic water pipe, of which I have a fair amount, I got out the tools and went out to the carport where I have a work table to do the work.

I had been working on the two end insulators and the center insulator for about five minutes, when I heard someone out in the street calling me over. I went out to see what he wanted, and it turned out to be a sweet old gentleman from up on the hill who works a piece of ground near me, and walks past my house on his way to and from his field. With his machete, he pointed to an object on the ground. "Terciopelo," he said. Well, that is the local name for the fer-de-lance snake, famed around the world for its deadly venom. I looked down and sure enough, it was a very recently dispatched young snake, about two feet long, which my neighbor says he found crawling up the desagua (drainage ditch) in the direction of my house. He had lured it over towards him, and dispatched it with his machete.

I took a close look and could not decide if it was a fer-de-lance or a tropical rattlesnake, known locally as a cascabel, which has a similar appearance, but in practical terms, the difference is unimportant - the cascabel is even more dangerous. The old man insisted it was a fer-de-lance, and I am not one to argue with him, but looking at the pictures in my book of snakes of Central America, it looked more like a tropical rattlesnake to me. The old man picked it up with his machete and flung it over into the weeds in the pasture across the street from my house.

This makes the third one found near my house in as many months, the second in two weeks. The last was when the gardener was chopping weeds on the North Forty, and found a somewhat smaller one near a pile of sticks and branches. And this was the second one found near the house. The fer-de-lance is a prolific livebreeder that likes hanging out near human settlements, and as a result, is the source of most snake bites in this country. If not promptly treated, about half of its bites are fatal. I am concerned that a female may have had a litter near here, or even in my yard, and I now have the young to deal with. Since these snakes are most active at night, you can well imagine that I am keeping my doors closed and not going out at night. The days of sitting on the front porch enjoying the cool of the late evening are now gone, at least until the rainy season is over and they move on.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Critics of Ohio's new voter registration rules say the rules make it harder for many people to vote, but defenders say the rules will prevent voter fraud, without offering any evidence that vote fraud was a significant problem before the new rules were adopted. The law requires that all paid voter registration workers must personally submit registration cards to the state. Formerly, registration cards could be submitted in bundles. Six states have passed similar restrictions in the last year. In three states including Ohio, civic groups have filed lawsuits, saying that the rules disproportionately affect poor neighborhoods where volunteers to register voters are scarce, The New York Times reported. The debate is particularly fierce in Ohio, however, because they were administered by Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell -- who was at the same time, the state campaign co-chair for Bush in the 2004 election, and who is also the Republican candidate for governor, running against Ted Strickland, a Democratic member of the state's congressional delegation. "In Washington, D.C., Congress may have passed the voting rights bill to extend voter participation," said Katy Gall, organizing director of Ohio Acorn, a group that advocates for disadvantaged neighborhoods and their inhabitants. "But out here at the grass roots, things are headed in the opposite direction."

The US is to review preferential trade deals with "advanced developing" nations such as India and Brazil, which could see countries lose long-term benefits. An agreement which allows duty-free imports of specified products from developing countries, is up for renewal at the end of 2006. But Congress says the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) may not be operating as it was designed to. Some countries could lose all benefits, with others seeing advantages reduced.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has asked the US Senate to craft and approve a bill that would allow for terror war detainee trials similar to those recently ruled unconstitutional. "The Administration believes that Congress should respond to the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan by providing statutory authorization for military commissions," Gonzales told a Senate committee, "to try captured terrorists for violations of the laws of war." Gonzales specifically requested a new type of trial modeled after military court-martials, but applied to civilians. He opened the request by asking for legislation that would also "preserve flexibility in the procedures." "We would propose," he told Senators, "that Congress establish a system of military commissions, presided over by a military judge, with commission members drawn from the Armed Forces. The prosecution and defense counsel would be appointed from the JAG corps, with an opportunity for the appointment of Justice Department prosecutors and with the ability of the accused to retain a civilian counsel, in addition to assigned military defense counsel."

In a typical election year, it would be too soon to make predictions about which party will win control of Congress. Voters don't really begin tuning in until after Labor Day, the thinking goes. But this November's vote is shaping up to be no ordinary election. A climate favoring change away from Republican control is already clearly in place. The biggest worry point for Republicans is the intensity factor: How interested are the voters and how likely are they to turn out for the election? In that category, polls show Democrats enjoying a significant advantage. "The question to me is much less, 'Hey, are Democrats going to take control of Congress?' as much as it is, 'Hey, can the Republicans do anything to stop it?' " says Amy Walter, House analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. The Democrats need a net gain of only 15 seats to take over the 435-seat House, where the balance is currently 231 Republicans to 201 Democrats, with one independent and two vacancies. With only about 50 competitive House races, both parties' campaign committees are concentrating their resources in a targeted fashion. For once, the Democrats are competitive with the Republicans in fundraising this cycle, but the organization of Democrats' turnout operations remains a point of fierce contention in party circles. It remains unclear whether the Democrats can build an infrastructure to match the Republicans' time-tested turnout program. In the end, Democratic intensity may trump Republican organization on Nov. 7. But in a year that many Democrats consider the party's best chance to retake the House since it lost control in the political tsunami of 1994, voter turnout remains a critical question. "There's a big anti-Republican wave building," says Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster working for several House candidates. "But that wave will crash up against a very stable political structure, and nobody will know till Wednesday morning [the day after the election] which is more important - the size of the wave or the stability of the structure."

As many as 38,000 veterans may be at risk of identity theft because a Veterans Affairs Department subcontractor lost yet another computer containing their sensitive personal data. VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said that Unisys Corp., a subcontractor hired to assist in insurance collections for VA medical centers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, reported the missing computer last Thursday. The computer was being used in Unisys offices in Reston, Va. It is not yet known what happened to the computer, Nicholson said, adding that local and federal authorities are investigating. The computer was a desktop computer, and could not have been simply misplaced like an ordinary laptop.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Following a series of hearings held in Geneva in July, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has released a final report which amounts to a moral indictment of US treaty violations, as well as what some attendees and delegates describe as US hubris, willful disregard for international and domestic law, and contempt for the Committee itself. At the hearings, signatory nations to the Conventions against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CAT) and the 1992 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - one of two treaties that make up what is commonly referred to as the International Bill of Rights - presented reports on their implementation of the standards agreed upon in the treaties. The Committee holds hearings every four years to review the compliance status of ICCPR signatory member nations. As part of that review, the official State report is presented along with what is called a "shadow report," a rebuttal from non-government organizations (NGOs), advocacy groups, and citizen representatives. The US "shadow report" was prepared by The Coalition for Human Rights at Home, a coalition of 142 not-for-profit groups. The shadow report that this coalition delivered, amounting to a whopping 456 pages, documents domestic human rights abuses that generally go unreported. The report meticulously details over 100 instances of human rights violations as a response to the official report by the US. The US, for its part, was seven years late in delivering any sort of report, something it is obligated to do as a signatory of the ICCPR.

British police have arrested seven anti-war activists after three of them boarded a US military transport plane at an airport in Scotland to check if it was carrying weapons to Israel, a peace group says. Anti-nuclear campaign group Trident Ploughshares said its activists had cut through a perimeter fence at Prestwick Airport, near Glasgow, on Monday and boarded a US plane to search for evidence of arms shipments to Israel. David Mackenzie, a spokesman for the group said "security was lax" at the airport, making it easy for Trident Ploughshares' "war crimes detectives" to board the aircraft in the early hours. The group said the airport has been used by chartered cargo planes to carry US-made bunker-busting bombs to Israel as the war in Lebanon continues. "We want to underline the fact that by colluding with the US supplying Israel with bombs, Britain is colluding in war crimes," he said, although no bombs were found on the plane and it was not known if it was bound for Israel.

U.S. sanctions against two leading Russian arms exporters mark a new low in already chilly ties between Moscow and Washington and could hurt business deals worth billions of dollars. The United States announced sanctions on Friday on seven firms from Russia, India, North Korea and Cuba for selling restricted items to Iran, which Washington fears is trying to make nuclear weapons. The sanctions were imposed on Russian state export agency Rosoboronexport -- headed by a close friend of President Vladimir Putin -- and state-owned warplane maker Sukhoi. "This is going to be very serious because this threatens President Putin and some of his very closest people," Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defense analyst, told Reuters. "The official reaction from the Kremlin, especially when it sinks in about how serious this is, will be severe. I think there will be countermeasures." The Kremlin has so far made no comment. The foreign ministry has called the sanctions an "illegitimate attempt" to make foreign companies work by American rules.

The United States has increased the number of its television broadcasts to Cuba to six times per week, The Miami Herald reported Monday. Broadcasts by T.V. Marti - broadcast from a civilian airplane flying near Cuban airspace - will take place Monday through Saturday evening, up from four hours a week. The transmissions, which contravene international telecommunications law, provides "news" to residents of the island, but have been criticized in Congress as overwhelmingly ineffective and a waste of time and money, as they have no credibility and are watched by almost no one. They overwhelmingly reflect the Miami-Cuban point of view, which has little support on the island. "The transmission from this plane is the fulfillment of the president's commitment to break the Cuban dictatorship's information blockade on the Cuban people, and will increase their access to timely and accurate information that they need at this critical time," said Pedro Roig, director of the agency that runs TV and Radio Marti.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: The assault on Lebanon was premeditated - the soldiers' capture simply provided the excuse. It was also unnecessary. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "more than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to US and other diplomats, journalists and thinktanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail." The attack, he said, would last for three weeks. It would begin with bombing and culminate in a ground invasion. Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, told the paper that "of all of Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared ... By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we're seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it's been simulated and rehearsed across the board." A "senior Israeli official" told the Washington Post that the raid by Hizbullah provided Israel with a "unique moment" for wiping out the organisation. The New Statesman's editor, John Kampfner, says he was told by more than one official source that the US government knew in advance of Israel's intention to take military action in Lebanon. The Bush administration told the British government. Israel's assault, then, was premeditated: it was simply waiting for an appropriate excuse. It was also unnecessary. It is true that Hizbullah had been building up munitions close to the border, as its current rocket attacks show. But so had Israel. Just as Israel could assert that it was seeking to deter incursions by Hizbullah, Hizbullah could claim - also with justification - that it was trying to deter incursions by Israel. The Lebanese army is certainly incapable of doing so. So it is not hard to answer the question of what we would have done. First, stop recruiting enemies, by withdrawing from the occupied territories in Palestine and Syria. Second, stop provoking the armed groups in Lebanon with violations of the blue line - in particular the persistent flights across the border. Third, release the prisoners of war who remain unlawfully incarcerated in Israel. Fourth, continue to defend the border, while maintaining the diplomatic pressure on Lebanon to disarm Hizbullah (as anyone can see, this would be much more feasible if the occupations were to end). Here then is my challenge to the supporters of the Israeli government: do you dare to contend that this program would have caused more death and destruction than the current adventure has done?

Israel inflicted one of its deadliest attacks on Beirut last night when an air strike on a southern district killed at least 15 people, just hours after the departure of a delegation from the Arab League. At least 30 were injured in the strike, which capped another day of violence in Lebanon in which more than 50 people died, including three Israeli soldiers. As night fell, Israel declared a curfew in southern Lebanon, warning that all vehicles apart from humanitarian traffic would be at risk. Ground forces continued to run into fierce resistance in southern Lebanon. Hizbullah militants fired more than 100 rockets into northern Israel, wounding at least one.

It is perhaps the world's most dangerous road, snaking up and down through boulder-strewn hills and wadis along the Lebanese-Israeli border. By Israel's account, its forces are moving between four and six miles beyond it to take control of a long strip of Lebanese territory before the UN security council votes for a cessation of hostilities. But reporters traveling along the border road on Saturday found few signs of an Israeli presence, let alone success. People in only one village had seen Israeli troops recently. Elsewhere, there was evidence of Israeli failures: burnt-out or crippled tanks. Despite the message of success Israel's generals and politicians are giving their public, the reality on the ground appeared mixed. At the western end of the border road just inland from the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon (Unifil) at Naqura, Hizbullah fighters were launching Katysuha rockets from positions within three miles of Israel. At Marwahin, where the road offers a clear view of the greenhouses and neat red-tiled roofs of the Israeli community of Zarit only 200 yards away, the ground was scarred with tank tracks. A broken metal towing cable lay on the ground, an apparent sign of mishap. Nearby were bits of caterpillar track. A mile further at the junction of the side-road to Debel a burnt-out Merkava tank was stuck in the trees, its cannon pointing limply downwards. The deepest Israeli presence inside Lebanon that the press convoy encountered was at Jibbain, a Sunni village two miles from the border.

The Israeli left is growing increasingly restive over the moral cost of the war. Tom Segev is one of Israel's best historians and writers, and a man of the left. "Israel has adopted the moral values of Hezbollah," he wrote in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz August 3 after Israel bombed civilians in Qana. "Whatever they are doing to the residents of northern Israel, we can also do to the citizens of Lebanon, and even more. Many Israelis tended to look at the Qana incident primarily as a media disaster and not as something that imposed on them any ethical responsibility."Gideon Levy is the former spokesman for Shimon Peres, now a writer for Ha'aretz who often criticizes the moral blindness of Israeli society toward Palestinians. "Israel is sinking into a strident, nationalistic atmosphere and darkness is beginning to cover everything," he wrote July 30. He denounced "the insensitivity and blindness" of Israelis, the "tones of jingoism, ruthlessness and vengeance" that dominate public discourse. He reminded Israelis that Lebanon "has never fought Israel and has 40 daily newspapers, 42 colleges and universities," and that it "is being destroyed by our planes and cannon and nobody is taking into account the amount of hatred we are sowing."

Israeli air strikes killed at least 55 people, nearly all civilians, in Lebanon on Monday prompting an emotional Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to demand a "quick and decisive ceasefire" to end the 27-day-old war. Choking back tears in an emotional speech to an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Beirut, Siniora said more than 40 civilians were killed in an air raid in a southern village. But he later revised the toll to one. As diplomatic efforts to end the 27-day-old war between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas stalled, air strikes elsewhere in the south and the Bekaa valley killed at least 24 people. Israel said it may expand its ground offensive and warned residents of south Lebanon to stay indoors after 10 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Monday, an Israeli military source said. "Anyone who does travel is taking a high risk. There is no end period," the source said. "This will allow us to track anyone potentially trying to launch rockets." Israel is pressing ahead with its offensive while world powers struggle to agree a U.N. resolution to end the fighting. Hizbollah says it will fight on until Israel stops bombing Lebanon and pulls out its forces. Israel struck hard across Lebanon Sunday, killing 14 Lebanese civilians, including five members of one family crushed in their home by an air strike. Warplanes attacked near Beirut and in southern Lebanon, where some villages were bombed continually for a half-hour, security officials said.

The Israeli military is reportedly planning to ramp up its attacks on Lebanon by targetting more of the civilian infrastructure as well as symbols of the Lebanese government. One military official told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz: "It could be that at the end of the story, Lebanon will be dark for a few years."

After almost four weeks of Israeli bombing, one quarter of Lebanon's population has heeded Israeli leaflets and fled towns and villages that Israel claims Hezbollah rocket teams were using for civilian cover. Only the too old or too poor stayed behind. Beirut is isolated, cut off from its main roads to the south, east and north, its sea-lanes west, its airport runways cratered and air space interdicted. Almost 1,000 Lebanese were killed and several thousand wounded. Hospitals are running out of essential supplies. A comparable tragedy in the United States would translate into 73 million refugees and 97,000 dead in less than a month. Israel's war on Hezbollah has now entered phase III, or what could be called the final phase: to cause maximum damage before the U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities is passed. Given what appears to be the lack of real military or rather militia targets, Israeli warplanes resumed their attack at the end of last week on a series of bridges north of Beirut, this time well inside the Christian hinterland. Maintaining his sense of humor, a Beirut resident e-mailed this correspondent the following message: "The Israelis are playing bridge," and he proceeded to list the bridges being bombed: "Halat, Maamalatein..." etc. This war, yet unnamed, should be called the "War of Destruction." The name sounds prophetically close to a famous protest song from the 1960s, "Eve of Destruction," in which singer Barry McGuire laments the senseless slaughter as bodies float down the Jordan River. This time the bodies are in the Litani River. Lebanese police counted nearly 4,000 Israeli artillery shells being lobbed on the country just this past Saturday.

While You Were Glued To Faux News: Late last month the Union of Concerned Scientists released the disturbing results of its survey of FDA scientists. The survey was sent to almost 6,000 FDA scientists, of whom about one-fifth responded. The responses revealed that 20 percent had been asked explicitly by FDA administrators to provide incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information to the public. And 60 percent of the scientists reported that commercial interests have inappropriately induced or attempted to induce the reversal, withdrawal or modification of FDA actions. Almost 20 percent of FDA scientists in the survey indicated that they had been asked, for non-scientific reasons, to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information or conclusions in a scientific document. There was ample evidence of this in 2004 when the FDA prevented an agency scientist from publicly criticizing antidepressants. In February of that year agency officials prevented Dr. Andrew Mosholder from testifying at a public hearing on the increased risk of suicide among children who take antidepressants. Dr. Mosholder conducted an FDA review of 22 studies on children and antidepressant medication. He concluded that these children were twice as likely to become suicidal. After being slated to present his findings at a public hearing, FDA officials removed him from the agenda. The complaints of scientists at both the EPA and the FDA are serious and troubling. And there seems to be little doubt that their accusations are valid. The Bush administration is consistently placing political and industry interests ahead of sound science. As a result, the health, safety and welfare of the nation are being compromised.

Despite the certainty of another high-profile battle with opponents of media consolidation, Clear Channel Communications Inc. has quietly floated a plan that would allow the radio giant and other radio station owners to boost their monopolization in the largest U.S. markets. Clear Channel is considering filing a formal petition with the Federal Communications Commission seeking to raise the caps limiting how many stations one company can own in the largest individual U.S. markets, according to sources close to the company. The commission last month launched its congressionally mandated review of FCC rules, which it must conduct every four years. Clear Channel, the country's largest radio station group with 1,189 outlets, wants the FCC to relax a rule that limits a company's radio station ownership in individual markets. The limits are set on sliding scale and based on market size. A company may own no more than eight radio stations in the largest U.S. markets, such as Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, where at least 45 full-power radio stations operate. Radio industry sources say Clear Channel is seeking approval from the FCC to own 10 stations in markets with 60 radio stations and 12 radio outlets in the largest U.S. markets that have 75 radio stations or more.

Why Moving To Canada Is Not The Answer: The conservative administration in Canada "is trying to push global climate change off the federal map, shutting down the main federal website on the topic and removing mention of it from speeches and postings" -- in Canada. Two liberal officials have protested the demise of the website, along with other examples of Tories' "expunging previous government news releases and other climate change information from federal websites." The defunct website directs people to two other sites, but neither provides the "detailed information on climate-change theories, measures to combat it, and how it might affect the economy, environment and health of Canadians," that the old climate change site did. Canadian environmentalist John Godfrey said the Tories appear to be removing "as many references as possible on government websites to the Kyoto climate change protocol."

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: The Bush administration is threatening to sue if Maine regulators decide to investigate whether Verizon Communications illegally turned over customer information to the National Security Agency. Verizon customers in Maine have asked the state's Public Utilities Commission to investigate whether the telecom giant violated privacy laws by cooperating with a domestic surveillance program. The PUC is expected to decide Monday whether to open such a probe. In a July 28 letter to the PUC, the U.S. Department of Justice cites national security as a key reason for its opposition to a state investigation. The seven-page letter suggests a lawsuit is likely if Maine regulators decide to investigate.

The document that federal agents handed to Yassine Ouassif to justify his deportation contained startling language: "The United States government has reason to believe that you are likely to engage in terrorist activity." Ouassif was in exclusive company. Since Sept. 11, only five people have faced that ominous charge. Ouassif was about to become the sixth. The slip of paper offered no details on what was behind the accusation. As federal officials took him into custody in December, they told the 24-year-old Moroccan - a permanent resident who had moved to California nine months before the terrorist attacks - that he would be taken to a detention facility in Arizona. He could fight deportation from there, but it would take at least two years, they said. And they assured him he would fail. Ouassif was scared. He cried. But he was not surprised. Just three weeks earlier, an FBI agent had laid out a stark choice in a furtive meeting near an East Bay commuter rail station: If Ouassif signed on as an informant in the government's war to root out terrorism, all his problems would disappear. If he declined, Ouassif would almost certainly be deported. "He was gambling on me," said Ouassif, a devout Muslim whose thick, curling eyelashes lend him a childlike demeanor. Ouassif, saying he is a law-abiding green-card holder, chose to fight back. "Hire people to help you and pay them," he said. "Don't put someone in the field and say, 'You have to help us.' "

Friends Don't Let Friends Use AOL: America On-Line must have missed the uproar over the DOJ's demand for "anonymized" search data last year that caused all sorts of pain for Microsoft and Google. That's the only way to explain their release of data that includes 20 million web queries from 650,000 AOL users. The data includes all searches from those users for a three month period this year, as well as whether they clicked on a result, what that result was and where it appeared on the result page. It's a 439 MB compressed download, expanded to just over 2 gigs. The data is available here (this link is directly to the file), and the output is in ten text files, tab delineated. The utter stupidity of this is staggering. AOL has released very private data about its users without their permission. While the AOL username has been changed to a random ID number, the abilitiy to analyze all searches by a single user will often lead people to easily determine who the user is, and what they are up to. The data includes personal names, addresses, social security numbers and everything else someone might type into a search box. The most serious problem is the fact that many people often search on their own name, or those of their friends and family, to see what information is available about them on the net. Combine these ego searches with porn queries and you have a serious embarrassment. Combine them with "buy ecstasy" and you have evidence of a crime. Combine it with an address, social security number, etc., and you have an identity theft waiting to happen. The possibilities are endless. Marketers are going nuts over the possibilities, users are calling for a boycott of AOL, and others are just plain enraged and quite properly so.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: A Louisiana newspaper that publicly announced it was deliberating on dropping Ann Coulter says it will keep the conservative pundit's column. The Shreveport Times's executive editor Alan English explained his decision in a letter to readers yesterday. Questioning Coulter's tastefulness and describing her as "the Howard Stern of political commentary,the letter noted that the paper might not retain Coulter's column "for the long haul." But English said that "she'll remain a Sunday Times columnist for now." English added that only 10% of the 500 e-mails weighing in on what to do with Coulter's column were from locals, and that approximately 60% were in favor of keeping Coulter on the paper's editorial page.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: The United States faces almost a 40 per cent chance of slipping into recession in the next 12 months, according to the Federal Reserve's own market model. As Fed chairman Ben Bernanke prepares to decide whether to raise American interest rates for the 18th time on Tuesday, bond prices and the high level of borrowing costs are now showing a 38 per cent chance of recession, according to a model published by Fed economist Jonathan Wright earlier this year. After official payroll figures released on Friday showed that the economy created fewer jobs than expected last month, Wall Street began predicting Bernanke would halt the Fed's rate-hiking campaign this week. But some economists believe the central bank has already gone too far. 'They've hiked far too much,' said Ian Shepherdson of High Frequency Economics. 'The Fed has a long and inglorious history of raising rates too far, and cutting them too far.' He expects growth in the world's largest economy to have ground to a halt by the end of the year, even if Bernanke chooses to leave rates unchanged this week.

Georgia's Millen News reports on how Jockey International announced last week that sewing operations at its Millen facility will be permanently terminated, putting 203 workers out on the street. The paper notes that this is the same company that lobbied for CAFTA by claiming the passage of CAFTA was essential to preserving the Millen jobs. The CEO of the company even told the local paper at the time of the CAFTA vote that "The free trade agreements allow this plant to stay here." Now, as the area's Congressman, Rep. John Barrow (D) notes, "Jockey plans to outsource [the] jobs to Jamaica, Honduras, Costa Rica and El Savador, many of the countries included in the CAFTA." Barrow voted against CAFTA, realizing early just how dishonest the "free" traders were being. But courageous lawmakers like him who opposed CAFTA were overwhelmed by massive campaign contributions from Big Money interests. They bought enough Republican and Democratic votes in the House to make sure we get a trade policy that has nothing to do with helping ordinary Americans and everything to do with helping corporate executvies slashAmerican jobs, wages and exploit oppressed workers abroad.

Iran warned Britain and the US yesterday that the international community could face a new oil crisis if the United Nations security council imposes sanctions on Tehran over its alleged attempt to acquire a nuclear weapons-making capability. Speaking in Tehran, Ali Larijani, the country's chief nuclear negotiator and head of the supreme national security council, said Iran would be reluctant to cut its oil exports. "We do not want to use the oil weapon. It is them who would impose it upon us." But Mr Larijani added that if the west did decide on sanctions, "we will react in a way that would be painful for them... Do not force us to do something that will make people shiver in the cold." Iran is the world's fourth largest oil exporter and is estimated to have the second largest oil and gas reserves.

Raw Story is claiming it has obtained a copy of the GOP "economic talking points" election playbook. All of the points made therein are crap -- as in pure crap. Assuming this is the true playbook, Daily Kos has posted the basic rebuttals to the economic claims made therein.

Republicans Help The Most Needy: New welfare rules written by Congress and the Bush administration are taking effect, denying assistance to the poor for education and drug addiction treatment. The rules also require welfare recipients to work more hours a week, without providing additional child support subsidies. Washington Post: "'States are kind of in a low-grade panic,' said Ron Haskins, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who helped to write the 1996 law and later worked on welfare in the Bush White House. In a climate of such flux, most of the nearly 2 million families on welfare nationwide are not yet feeling any change. Many will soon. Riordan heard about the threat to her last year of college a few weeks ago. "I feel nauseous," she said. "This is my ticket... out of poverty."

The United States Of America, A Third-World Country: Absent from the U.S. for so long that some thought they were a myth, bedbugs are back. Entomologists and pest control professionals are reporting a dramatic increase in infestations throughout the country, and no one knows exactly why. "It's no secret that bedbugs are making a comeback," said Dan Suiter, an associate professor of entomology at the University of Georgia. Before World War II, bedbug infestations were common in the U.S., but they were virtually eradicated through improvements in hygiene and the widespread use of DDT in the 1940s and 1950s. In the past four years, reports of bedbugs have significantly increased in U.S. cities, from New York to Honolulu, especially in hotels, hospitals and college dormitories - all places with high resident turnover. The National Pest Management Association, which represents many of the country's pest control companies, says the number of bedbug reports have increased fivefold in four years. The Atlanta branch of pest-control firm Terminix saw no cases of bedbugs in 2004 and only three or four last year. But in the first six months of this year, they've had 23 new cases, said Clint Briscoe, a spokesman. Experts are not entirely sure what has caused the marked increase. Some speculate that increased international travel and immigration may be partially to blame.

In a sudden blow to the nation's oil supply, half the production on Alaska's North Slope was being shut down Sunday after BP Exploration Alaska, Inc. discovered severe corrosion in a Prudhoe Bay oil transit line. BP officials said they didn't know how long the Prudhoe Bay field would be off line. "I don't even know how long it's going to take to shut it down," said Tom Williams, BP's senior tax and royalty counsel. Once the field is shut down, in a process expected to take days, BP said oil production will be reduced by 400,000 barrels a day. That's close to 8 percent of U.S. oil production as of May 2006 or about 2.6 percent of U.S. supply including imports, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The shutdown comes at an already worrisome time for the oil industry, with supply concerns stemming both from the hurricane season and instability in the Middle East. "We regret that it is necessary to take this action and we apologize to the nation and the State of Alaska for the adverse impacts it will cause," BP America Chairman and President Bob Malone said in a statement. A 400,000-barrel per day reduction in output would have a major impact on oil prices, said Tetsu Emori, chief commodities strategist at Mitsui Bussan Futures in Tokyo.

Rats Abandoning The U.S.S. Bush: President George W. Bush's hopes of attracting a new generation of voters to the Republican Party may be fading, as younger Americans are far more critical of his job performance than the broader population. A Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll of Americans age 18 to 24 found Bush's approval rating was 20 percent, with 53 percent disapproving and 28 percent with no opinion. That compares to a 40 percent approval rating among Americans of all ages in a separate Bloomberg/Times poll. Much like Franklin Roosevelt attracted a new generation of voters with the New Deal, Bush and his administration have had high hopes of drawing younger voters to his party. He has sought to do that through policy initiatives aimed at creating an "ownership society," and public relations tactics like a Youth Convention at the party's 2004 national convention, in which his twin daughters took the stage. "The very cultural issues the president wants to use to rally his party's base are exactly the issues that are alienating younger voters," said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. "Across a broad swath of social issues, younger Americans see the administration as being out of line with what they believe."

Winning Hearts And Minds In Iraq: A U.S. military court in Baghdad heard graphic testimony on Monday of how three U.S. soldiers took turns raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl before murdering her and her family. At the hearing into whether four U.S. soldiers should be court-martialled for rape and murder, a special agent described what took place in Mahmudiya in March, based on an interview he had with one of the men, Specialist James Barker. The case, the fifth involving serious crimes being investigated by the U.S. military in Iraq, has outraged Iraqis and led Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to call for a review of foreign troops' immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law.

Half of all Iraqi Christians have fled their country since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, said the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad. Chaldean Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Andreos Abouna of Baghdad said that before the invasion there were about 1.2 million Christians in the predominantly Shiite Muslim state. Since then the overall number has dropped to about 600,000, he said. "What we are hearing now is the alarm bell for Christianity in Iraq," the bishop said. "When so many are leaving from a small community like ours, you know that it is dangerous -- dangerous for the future of the church in Iraq." The bishop said 75 percent of Christians from Baghdad had fled the capital to escape the almost daily outbreaks of sectarian violence. Since the beginning of the war, the number of Chaldean Catholics, who make up the country's most numerous Christian denomination, had dropped below half a million from 800,000, he said. Many sought new lives mostly in the neighboring countries of Syria, Jordan and Turkey, he added. Bishop Abouna said he thought it was unlikely that many of those who had emigrated would return.

Scandals Du Jour: Republican Rep. Bob Ney, dogged by a corruption scandal involving disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, as well as two other scandals, finally dropped out of the U.S. mid-term election race on Monday in a move that analysts said could dampen Democratic hopes to gain ground in the November ballot. The decision by Ney to quit the race deprives Democrats of a favorite poster-boy for the bribery investigation that has plagued Congress, and analysts said it puts his central Ohio district onto firmer footing for Republicans. The National Republican Congressional Committee, which helps organize and fund key election races, said voters in Ney's district would stick with the Republicans in November. "Ohio's 18th is a ruby red Republican district and I am confident it will remain in GOP hands come November," NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds said in a statement. Democrats had targeted Ney's sprawling rural district as one of their best chances to gain one of 15 seats they need to take control of the House of Representatives, even though Ney won 66 percent of the vote there in 2004. "Bob Ney was forced out of this race by the reality of an electorate demanding change from the culture of corruption in Washington and a Congress that compulsively puts special interests first at every opportunity," Bill Burton, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Bottom fish and crabs washing up dead on Oregon beaches are being killed by a recurring "dead zone" of low-oxygen water that is larger than in previous years and may be triggered by global warming, scientists said. There are signs it is spreading north to Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Scientists studying the 70-mile-long zone of oxygen-depleted water, along the Continental Shelf between Florence and Lincoln City, conclude that it is being caused by explosive blooms of tiny plants known as phytoplankton, which die and sink to the bottom, then are eaten by bacteria which use up the oxygen in the water. The recurring phytoplankton blooms are triggered by northerly wind, which generates a process known as upwelling in which nutrient-rich water is brought to the surface from lower depths. "We are seeing wild swings from year to year in the timing and duration of the winds that are favorable for upwelling," Jane Lubchenco, professor of marine ecology at Oregon State and a member of the Pew Oceans Commission, said from Corvallis. "This increased variability in the winds is consistent with what we would expect under climate change."

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Voters in Rhea County, Ohio, have elected five new people to the County Commission and say a short-lived request for a ban on homosexualty was only one issue in the change. People who live in the Dayton area say overcrowded schools and how the county is handling growth also drove the election on Thursday. Voters turned out incumbents Harold Fisher, Tom Davis and R. Paul Tallent. Incumbents Dennis Tumlin Brad Varner didn't seek re-election. Four incumbents were returned by voters. Fisher had been a commissioner for 20 years and was chairman of the body. In March 2004, commission members voted unanimously voted to ask state lawmakers to introduce legislation amending Tennessee's criminal code so the county could charge homosexuals with crimes against nature. Two days later, they rescinded the vote, saying they didn't understand they were voting to ban homosexuality in the county. Newly-elected member Bill Hollin says some constituents thought the gay ban wasn't as bad as the commissioners not understanding what they had voted to do.

Scandals Du Jour: The Supreme Court has rejected the appeal by the Texas GOP regarding whether scandal-disgraced Tom DeLay should remain on the Texas ballot. The case was routed to Justice Antonin Scalia, who handles appeals from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The New Orleans-based appeals court last week sided with Democrats' claims that, if DeLay is eligible to run but drops out of the race, the Republican Party cannot substitute another candidate. Election laws allow political parties to replace ineligible candidates as their nominee with someone who would be eligible to serve if elected, the application to the Supreme Court stated. DeLay is awaiting trial in Texas state court on money laundering alleging that illegal corporate cash helped pay for legislative campaigns in 2002.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: A GOP challenger to Rep. Alan Mohollan (D-WV) has come under scrutiny after accusations he falsely claimed to be a veteran of the first Gulf war. Republican candidate Chris Wakim has also been questioned about the type of graduate degree he received from Harvard University. Wakim currently serves as a member of the House of Delegates in West Virginia. He has claimed to be a veteran of the first Gulf War, honorably discharged for injuries sustained "in the line of duty." However, the Delegate was actually stationed at Fort Devens in Massachusetts from 1988 to 1991, the period encompassing the war. Waskim has also been questioned about his claim of earning a "Masters Degree in Public Policy from Harvard." Wakim did not attend Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the only school at Harvard that awards such a degree. ROLL CALL reports he "graduated from the Harvard Extension School, and he received a Masters in Liberal Arts." Harvard Extension School has open enrollment, meaning everyone is accepted for courses. The school is not a part of Harvard University, although the two schools are affiliated.

Embattled US Senate candidate Katherine Harris' (R-FL) fourth campaign manager, Bryan Rudnick, was accused of petition fraud while working for Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage, today's issue of ROLL CALL has reported. The organization was founded to counter the success of lesbian and gay couples and sought signatures for a petition to force a statewide vote on amending the state's constitution to restrict marriage to one man and one woman. Citizens for Marriage was accused during the petition process of using 'bait and switch' tactics, in which petition signers were approached to sign popular petitions and are then tricked into signing the petition supporting the effort to place marriage equality on the state's ballot.

On July 7, Media Matters for America asked Random House Inc. whether it would investigate charges of plagiarism lodged against right-wing pundit Ann Coulter's latest book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism (Crown Forum, June 2006). Steve Ross, senior vice president and publisher of Crown Publishing Group and publisher of the Crown Forum imprint - divisions of Random House Inc. - responded to Media Matters by stating that charges of plagiarism against Coulter were "trivial," "meritless," and "irresponsible," and defended Coulter's scholarship by stating that she "knows when attribution is appropriate, as underscored by the nineteen pages of hundreds of endnotes contained in Godless." In response, Media Matters decided to investigate each of the endnotes in Godless. They found a plethora of problems. Among other things, Coulter misrepresented and distorted the statements of her sources; omitted information in those sources that refuted the claims in her book; misrepresented news coverage to allege bias; relied upon outdated and unreliable sources; and simply invented "facts." The specific instances can be found detailed here.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:07:15 AM

Sun, Aug 06 2006

Winter Weather In Arenal

Winter weather. At least it is the weather that passes for winter among the Ticos - it is what they call "winter" even though it would be a late-spring day to anyone from the States. It has been a relatively chilly 76 most of the afternoon, the result of a heavy overcast, and with the persistent breeze, it has actually felt just a tiny bit bit brisk. It made it up to 82 this morning, during the brief sunshine, but that didn't last long when the clouds came up.

The brisk weather has had me thinking a bit about where I would go if/when this house finally sells. I am not sure I want to live in a climate any colder than this one - it can get decidedly chilly here during the winter - but a bit warmer would not be a big deal - I think I could adjust to that. But going to a place like Zarcero, no thanks, in spite of its totally drop-dead gorgeous scenery. Whether the Pacific plains of Central America would be suitable, would be another matter, as they are just a bit too warm for my taste. Right now, even with the overcast, Canas or Liberia would be a good ten degrees warmer, and that would be a bit too much.

But on the other hand, those areas are both out of the wind and have some really big trees - over a hundred feet tall - that would be ideal for my ham radio antennas. But that is really a relatively low priority at the moment. I will have to soon replace two of my radios if I am going to stay on the air, and that will set me back a fair amount of money. I have been researching what I want to get, and have made my decision on both, but I am having a hard time convincing myself to spring for the money. And then there is the problem of getting them brought down here - I would feel much better having someone bring them in rather than relying on my forwarding service. But we'll see if I can convince myself to spring for the cash.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: A group of national security experts formed by Democratic leadership has reported to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) that, "there is not a single non-deployed Army Brigade Combat Team in the United States that is ready to deploy." "The bottom line," the group concludes in a letter to Democratic leadership, "is that our Army currently has no ready, strategic reserve." "More than two-thirds of the Army National Guard's 34 brigades are not combat ready, mostly because of equipment shortages that will cost up to $21 billion to correct, the top National Guard general said Tuesday," the Associated Press reported today.

The most vacationed president in American history, Smirkey got a tour of border patrol efforts in his home state - a "look-see," as he called it - before settling down on his ranch Thursday for yet another 10-day summer vacation. In spite of violence boiling in three locations in the Middle East and his party's control of Congress up for grabs in elections this fall, Bush is forgoing his typical monthlong break from the White House. Instead, he planned to spend 10 days in Crawford, Texas, before returning to work in Washington - his shortest summer vacation since taking office. The White House was taking pains to make sure it didn't appear that the president was tuned out from the world's problems, even temporarily. Bush's national security adviser and secretary of state were to arrive at the ranch Saturday to discuss a diplomatic resolution to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

Former Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith is claiming President George W. Bush was unaware that there were two major sects of Islam just two months before the President ordered troops to invade Iraq, RAW STORY has learned. In his new book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End, Galbraith, the son of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, claims that American leadership knew very little about the nature of Iraqi society and the problems it would face after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Far from turning the war over to Iraqis, U.S. troop reinforcements have begun arriving in Baghdad to help Iraqi forces try to regain control of the streets amid worsening sectarian violence that U.S. generals fear is pushing the country toward civil war. In the northern town of Tikrit, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a mourning ceremony, killing at least 10 people and wounding 20, police said. Iraq's Ministry of Defense on Sunday confirmed the arrival of the first units of the 172nd Stryker Combat Team in Baghdad from the northern city of Mosul after U.S. soldiers were seen patrolling some of the capital's predominantly Sunni districts.

Over 100,000 protesters filled the streets of Baghdad to show support for Hezbollah. The demonstrators, followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr, carried posters of Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, waved Lebanese flags, chanted, "No, no, no, Israel, no, no, no, America," and called on Hezbollah to strike Tel Aviv, according to the New York Times. Protesters also burned American and Israeli flags, and pledged their willingness to die for Hezbollah.

King Abdullah of Jordan, one of America's few allies in the region, has publicly criticised the United States and Israel over the fighting in Lebanon. He told Jordanian newspapers he was enraged by the war, and that continued fighting only weakened the voice of Middle East moderates such as himself. He argued Israel's attempt to destroy the militant Hezbollah group would not solve problems in the region. He stressed the only way to achieve peace was to end the Israeli occupation of Arab lands.

Most in the U.S. Congress would rather vote not knowing what is in a classified intelligence bill, rather than know and face prosecution if they speak about it. "It's a trap," said Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Mo., referring to a rule that House members must never discuss details of a classified bill. Nearly all House members chose not to read this year's classified intelligence bill, and then voted on secret provisions they knew almost nothing about, the Boston Globe reports. The bill, which passed 327-96 in April, authorized the Bush administration's war on terrorism. Many members said they faced an untenable choice: Either consent to a review process so secretive that they could never mention anything about it in House debates, under the threat of prosecution, or vote on classified provisions they knew nothing about, the Globe says. The failure to read the bill calls into question the promises many House members made to provide greater oversight of intelligence, the newspaper says.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the RNC "opened its two-day annual summer meeting... hoping to outline a national strategy that will enable its candidates to swim against a tide of popular opinion flowing against Bush and the Republicans in Congress." "The theme of the meeting... is 'Defining the difference,' and that means debating the Democrats on the issues and not defending Bush and the Republican Congress on the policies they have instituted in the past six years." Instead, they hope GOP candidates can "localize" the elections.

Gays in the U.S. military face regular hostility on some bases and ships where commanders fail to prohibit harassment more than a decade after the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law was enacted, although seeds of greater tolerance may be taking root, advocates and witnesses report. While some leaders have created environments where harassment is not tolerated, others have not and the evidence, according to witnesses, is both verbal and visual. On the Navy's USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, for example, anti-gay statements and jokes are on display and have been incorporated into a video about the F-14 Tomcat fighter aircraft, recently shown to reporters on the carrier. Pilots on the Roosevelt sported T-shirts, also shown to reporters including this Reuters correspondent, that said, "I'm a Tomcat guy and you're a homo." The commander of the fighter squadron, in fact, wore the shirt. The U.S. military argues that banning gays from the military is critical to maintaining a unit's "cohesion," the trust among service members crucial to combat effectiveness. Harassment of gays, however, is prohibited. The Pentagon, in a 2000 memo to the armed services and commanders, said "mistreatment, harassment and inappropriate comments or gestures" based on sexual orientation were not acceptable. That followed a report from the Defense Department's inspector general that found 80 percent of service members surveyed had heard anti-gay comments and 37 percent had witnessed harassment against people thought to be homosexual.

Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) sent a letter to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Dr. Michael D. Griffin expressing concerns about the organization's elimination from its mission statement of the phrase "to understand and protect the home planet." In addition to its space exploration role, NASA's stated mission has historically included scientific research devoted to better understanding planet Earth, including the impact of climate change on our planet. As a global leader in earth science research, NASA's elimination of this role could negatively affect current efforts to better understand how the earth's climate responds to greenhouse gas emissions.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Sweden's biggest defense manufacturer, the Saab Group, says it will no longer provide weapons to Venezuela. Saab says it cannot continue sales of anti-aircraft and anti-tank devices to Venezuela because of a US arms embargo against President Chavez's government. Saab subsidiary Bofors has supplied Venezuela's armed forces for 20 years. Under the terms of the American restrictions, no factory in the world may sell weapons to Venezuela that contain components made in the US. Bofors will cut its commercial ties to Venezuela on 1 October, complying with the strict embargo put in place by Washington back in May.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Hizbollah killed 12 Israeli soldiers on Sunday in its deadliest rocket strike yet and Israeli bombs killed 19 Lebanese civilians as Lebanon rejected a draft U.N. resolution to end the 26-day-old war. A rocket struck a group of Israeli reservists, called up for the Lebanon offensive, in the Israeli village of Kfar Giladi. Medics said dozens were wounded. Soldiers near the scene held their heads and one wept as a military ambulance pulled away. Helicopters landed nearby to fly the badly wounded to hospitals further from the war front. Israeli air strikes killed at least 40 civilians in Lebanon on Friday. An army spokesman said Israeli forces hit at least seven Hizbollah fighters during the battle in the Lebanese town of Markaba. Israeli media said the seven had been killed.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cautioned on Sunday that a U.N. resolution would not stop all the fighting in southern Lebanon, calling it a first step toward a lasting cessation of violence. Rice, in Crawford to consult with President George W. Bush about the Middle East crisis, told reporters it was important to get a vote on the U.N. resolution in the next day or two. U.N. Security Council envoys are attempting to put the finishing touches on a resolution drafted by France and the United States calling for a halt to fighting between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas and setting terms for a settlement.

At least two Israeli fighter pilots have deliberately missed civilian targets in Lebanon as disquiet grows in the military about flawed intelligence, The Observer has learnt. Sources say the pilots were worried that targets had been wrongly identified as Hizbollah facilities. Voices expressing concern over the armed forces' failures are getting louder. One Israeli cabinet minister said last week: 'We gave the army so much money. Why are we getting these results?' Last week saw Hizbollah's guerrilla force, dismissed by senior Israeli military officials as 'ragtag', inflict further casualties on one of the world's most powerful armies in southern Lebanon. At least 12 elite troops, the equivalent of Britain's SAS, have already been killed, and by yesterday afternoon Israel's military death toll had climbed to 45. As the bodies pile up, so the Israeli media has begun to turn, accusing the military of lacking the proper equipment, training and intelligence to fight a guerrilla war in Lebanon. Israel's Defence Minister, Amir Peretz, on a tour of the front lines, was confronted by troubled reserve soldiers who told him they lacked proper equipment and training.

Lebanon asked the U.N. Security Council on Sunday to revise a draft resolution seeking an end to fighting between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas to include a demand for the withdrawal of Israeli troops. Lebanese foreign ministry official Nouhad Mahmoud gave the 15 council members an amendment calling for Israel to pull out of southern Lebanon, in addition to an end to hostilities. Paris and Washington hope their resolution seeking an end to fighting can be adopted within a day or two, but Lebanese officials have said it ignores their appeals for an immediate cease-fire and a full Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, as called for in Beirut's seven-point peace plan. "Lebanon, and all of Lebanon, rejects any resolution that is outside these seven points," Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who has been negotiating on behalf of Hizbollah, said in Beirut.

While many Lebanese Christians have long distrusted Hezbollah and other Muslims and Druse (there were, after all, 15 years of civil war along sectarian lines), and many criticized the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers on July 12 that touched off the conflict, comments Friday indicated that the damage Israel has inflicted on Lebanon has shifted that equation. "Public opinion is 100 percent against Israel from this area," said Camille Chamoun, scion of one of the three major Christian families who mounted militias against the Muslim and Palestinian forces during the civil war and whose faction was aligned with Israel during its 1982 invasion. "This is just an excuse to hit more of our infrastructure," said Manal Azzi, a 26-year-old health worker who lives next to the destroyed bridge. "I'm here speaking as a Christian," she went on. "Israel is our main invader and has been for the last 50 years. Right now we’re getting more civilian casualties, so we'll have another war in 10, 15 years. "They talk about a new Middle East. To serve who? Israel and the United States. Israel is itself a terrorist state backed up by the United States."

While You Were Glued To Faux News: Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked legislation tying the first minimum wage increase in almost a decade to a decrease in the federal estate tax, denying Republicans a legislative victory as lawmakers head into a crucial month of campaigning before the November elections. Republican backers of the measure, dubbed the trifecta for its three chief elements, fell 4 votes short of the 60 needed to cut off debate. Democrats had argued that it was a bad bargain to exchange a $2.10 wage increase for struggling workers for a costly tax cut for the country's wealthiest families. A little-noticed provision in the legislation would have enabled hospitality-industry employers to withhold from their employees' wages, the equivalent of the tips they receive! In other words, tips go to the employer!

To the chagrin of privacy advocates, the Bush administration is making moves toward creating a nationwide system of electronic medical records that that would allow access by corporations to a patient's data anywhere, any time. The administration argues that electronic conversion will help reduce medical error and improve emergency care by making patient data more immediately accessible. Government agencies will also be able to better monitor outbreaks with electronic records that can be transferred immediately from a hospital to an agency like the national Centers for Disease Control, allowing them quicker access to critical data. Medical-privacy advocates, however, say digitized patient data linked on a nationwide or even statewide scale could threaten patients' privacy rights, especially in conjunction with loosened medical privacy laws. "The more data is linked up, and the more we build an electronic superhighway, the more people can tap into it," said Deborah Peel, a psychiatrist and founder of Patient Privacy Rights.

Cancer rates in Iraq are soaring as a result of depleted uranium left from the Gulf War. But what about closer to home? Today the U.S. military generates over one-third of our nation's toxic waste, which it disposes of very poorly. The military is one of the most widespread violators of environmental laws. People made ill by this toxic waste are, in effect, victims of war. But they are rarely acknowledged as such. Last week a study was released by the National Academy of Sciences, raising already substantial concerns about the cancer risks and other health hazards associated with exposure to TCE, a solvent used in adhesives, paint and spot removers that is also "widely used to remove grease from metal parts in airplanes and to clean fuel lines at missile sites." The report confirms a 2001 EPA document linking TCE to kidney cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, impaired neurological function, autoimmune disease and other ailments in human beings. Generally, fines associated with hazardous waste laws are up to six times higher in white communities than their minority counterparts. What has happened in Tucson since the early '80s reflects this unevenness. There has been only one legal case against the military and its cohorts, a lengthy personal-injury lawsuit filed in behalf of 1,600 people against the aircraft manufacturer, the city of Tucson and the Tucson Airport Authority (citizens are not allowed to sue the federal government over such matters). The case excluded thousands of potential plaintiffs and did not include funds from which future claimants could collect for illnesses like cancers, which typically do not appear until 10 or 20 years after chemical exposure. As a result, many southside residents have yet to be compensated and probably never will be. To this day, some area wells remain polluted, and most estimate cleanup will not be completed for another 20 to 50 years. Meanwhile, residents have the small consolation their water supply is being monitored.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: During a panel discussion on the August 6 broadcast of ABC's This Week, ABC News chief congressional analyst Cokie Roberts asserted that it would be "a disaster for the Democratic Party" if businessman Ned Lamont were to win the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary against incumbent Joseph I. Lieberman on August 8. Roberts's comments came in response to a question from host George Stephanopoulos, who asked her to explain why there has been such strong opposition to Lieberman because of his support for the Iraq war. She later explained: "I think that ... pushing the party to the left, which is what's likely to happen, is pushing the party to the position from which it traditionally loses ... presidential elections." She also stated that "it will send a signal to everybody in the Senate: 'Watch out. The only smart thing to do here is play to your base.' And then ... what that means is that your legislation becomes a mess," in which case, "you get ... total chaos."

Rats Fleeing The U.S.S. Bush: Finally, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has thrown in the towel on the Iraq War. "It is now obvious that we are not midwifing democracy in Iraq. We are baby-sitting a civil war," he wrote in his Times column on August 4. Long the war's leading liberal defender, Friedman came late and reluctantly to the realization that the jig is up. "We can't throw more good lives after good lives," he wrote. Beyond the human costs of the quagmire, which the peace movement has long tallied, Friedman also recognized what we in the peace movement have been saying about the security ramifications: "The longer we maintain a unilateral failing strategy in Iraq . . . the stronger the enemies of freedom will become," Friedman concluded. This marks quite a journey for Friedman. In his columns leading up to the war, Friedman supported the effort to take Saddam out, though not in the unilateralist fashion favored by the Bush Administration.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: "As Workers' Pensions Wither, Those for Executives Flourish: Companies Run Up Big IOUs, Mostly Obscured, to Grant Bosses a Lucrative Benefit." This headline comes to us not from the communist Daily Worker but the orderly pages of The Wall Street Journal, the chronicler of capitalism - or, as it used to market itself, "The Daily Diary of the American Dream." General Motors has long complained that its "legacy costs" have made the automaker dangerously uncompetitive. By "legacy costs," it means the health benefits and pensions that it promised its workers and retirees. In an effort to ease those "burdens," GM recently announced it would end pensions for 42,000 of its salaried employees. But guess what The Journal discovered. It found that the fund for those middle-class pensions was actually bulging with $9 billion more than was needed to honor them. The real problem, it turns out, was GM's executive pensions, which management had been supersizing even as it demanded cuts from the lower-downs. GM's executive-pension obligations, we learn, are $1.4 billion. General Motors is not the only company to have built up extravagant pension deals for the privileged few. Executive-pension liabilities have hit $3.5 billion at General Electric, $1.8 billion at AT&T, and $1.3 billion at Exxon Mobil and at IBM. "Sometimes a company's obligation for a single executive's pension approaches $100 million," The Journal reports.

Freedom, Liberty And Justice For All In The New Iraq: Shiite militias in Iraq are now brutally killing gays and children forced into same-sex prostitution, a report says Sunday. The killings are ignored under Iraqi law because homosexuality is seen as a horrific act against Islam, London's Observer newspaper reports, and those doing the killing face no consequences. Section 111 of Iraq's penal code lays out legal protections for murder when the targeted people are deemed to be acting against Islam. Homosexuality is viewed by some as so immoral that killing someone who is gay qualifies as an "honor killing," the newspaper says. Graphic photos the newspaper obtained show ruthless execution scenes of Iraqis believed to have been gay. The fervency of the militia death squads is growing into brutal "witch hunts" for homosexuals and even as an excuse to torture and kill people wearing Western clothing, the newspaper says. The killing campaign is responsible for a rise in Iraqis seeking asylum in Britain, the Observer says.

An Iraqi army medic has told a military hearing in Baghdad how he found the bodies of four Iraqis allegedly murdered by US troops. The preliminary hearing will establish if there is sufficient evidence to court martial four American soldiers. The men are accused of raping and killing an Iraqi girl and murdering three of her family members in Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad. It is one of a series of atrocities being blamed on US forces in Iraq. Sergeant Paul Cortez, Specialist James Barker, Private Jesse Spielman and Private Bryan Howard are charged with conspiring to rape the girl in the attack on 12 March after shooting dead her parents and five-year-old sister.

Remember "Vietnamization"? Welcome To "Iraqification"! While comparisons to Vietnam and terms from that era like "quagmire," "hearts and minds," and "body counts" swamped the media the moment the invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, "Vietnamization" didn't make it into the mix until that November. Then, the White House, which initially shied off anything linked to Vietnam, launched a media campaign to roll out what they were calling "Iraqification," perhaps as an answer to critics who doubted the "mission" had actually been "accomplished" and feared that there was no "light at the end of the [Iraqi] tunnel." But the term was quickly dropped. Perhaps it resurrected too many baby-boomer memories of Vietnamese clinging to the skids of choppers fleeing the fruits of Vietnamization. It seems, however, that there is no way of keeping failed Washington policies in their graves, once the dead of night strikes. I was amazed, when, in 2005, in Foreign Affairs magazine, Melvin Laird resurrected a claim that his "Vietnamization" policy had actually worked and plugged for "Iraqification" of the war there. Soon after, journalist Seymour Hersh, famed for his reportage on the Vietnam-era My Lai massacre (and the Iraq-era Abu Ghraib abuses), reported in the New Yorker that the Vietnamization policy of the Nixon era was indeed being reclothed and returned to us - with similarly planned American drawdowns of ground troops and a ramping up of American air power - and I wondered if we could be suffering a moment of mass post-traumatic stress syndrome... Go to the link and read the editorial. It is worth your trouble.

The Bush administration insists Iraq is a long way from civil war, but the contingency planning has already begun inside the White House and the Pentagon. President Bush will move U.S. troops out of Iraq if the country descends into civil war, according to one senior Bush aide who declined to be named while talking about internal strategy. "If there's a full-blown civil war, the president isn't going to allow our forces to be caught in the crossfire," the aide said. "But institutionally, the government of Iraq isn't breaking down. It's still a unity government." Bush's position on a pullout of U.S. troops emerged in response to news-week's questions about Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Warner warned last week that the president might require a new vote from Congress to allow troops to stay in Iraq in what he called "all-out civil war." But the senior Bush aide said the White House would need no prompting from Congress to get troops out "if the Iraqi government broke down completely along sectarian lines."

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: For the fifth year in a row, unusual wind patterns off the coast of Oregon have produced a large "dead zone," an area so low in oxygen that fish and crabs suffocate. This dead zone is unlike those in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere, which result from fertilizer, sewage or runoff from hog or poultry operations carried by rivers. The Oregon zone appears when the wind generates strong currents carrying nutrient-rich but oxygen-poor water from the deep sea to the surface near shore, a process called upwelling. The nutrients encourage the growth of plankton, which eventually dies and falls to the ocean floor. Bacteria there consume the plankton, using up oxygen. Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist at Oregon State University, said the phenomenon did not appear to be linked to recurring El Niño or La Niña currents or to long-term cycles of ocean movements. That made Dr. Lubchenco wonder if climate change might be a factor, she said, adding, "There is no other cause, as far as we can determine."

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Brent R. Wilkes rented a suite at the Hyatt Hotel a few blocks from the Capitol. In his briefcase was a stack of envelopes for a half-dozen congressmen, each packet containing up to $10,000 in checks. Mr. Wilkes had set up separate meetings with the lawmakers hoping to win a government contract, and he planned to punctuate each pitch with a campaign donation. But his hometown congressman, Representative Bill Lowery of San Diego, a Republican, told him that presenting the checks during the sessions was not how things were done, Mr. Wilkes recalled. Instead, Mr. Wilkes said, Mr. Lowery taught him the right way to do it: hand over the envelope in the hallway outside the suite, at least a few feet away. That was the beginning of a career built on what Mr. Wilkes calls "transactional lobbying," which made him a rich man but also landed him in the middle of a criminal investigation. Last November, Mr. Wilkes was described as "co-conspirator No. 1" in a plea agreement signed by Representative Randy Cunningham, a California Republican on the House Appropriations Committee. In the plea deal, Mr. Cunningham admitted accepting more than $2.4 million in cash and gifts from Mr. Wilkes and other contractors. Another defense contractor, Mitchell J. Wade, pleaded guilty to paying some of the bribes. Mr. Wilkes could also figure in a related federal investigation into the House Appropriations Committee. The inquiry has focused on ties between Mr. Lowery, who left Congress and became a lobbyist, and Representative Jerry Lewis, a California Republican who is the chairman of the committee and the former chairman of its Defense Subcommittee.

"Was there something nefarious going out there on the World Wide Web?" asked Jake Tapper of ABC News on Friday in regards to a Wall Street Journal article which investigated the makers of an online parody of Al Gore's documentary, 'An Inconvenient Truth.' "But when the Wall Street Journal tried to find the guy who posted this film - listed on YouTube as a 29-year-old - they found the movie didn't come from an amateur working out of his basement," report Jake Tapper and Max Culhane for ABC News. "The film actually came from a slick Republican public relations firm called DCI, which just happens to have oil giant Exxon as a client. So next time you're reading something on the Internet from a supposedly 'real person pushing a movie, defending an actor, talking about a politician, keep in mind that it might not actually be a real person but a corporate hired gun, selling you an idea through deception," Tapper warned in the ABC News segment.

Texas Republicans plan to appeal a federal court's decision that Tom DeLay is eligible to run for office in Texas Congressional District 22, RAW STORY has learned. The fight will now take the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. "The Republican Party of Texas intends to expeditiously appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court," said party Chair Tina Baker in a release, "the 5th Circuit's decision to force Tom DeLay, an ineligible candidate for Congress, to stay on the ballot in Texas Congressional District 22 as the Republican nominee." DeLay moved to Virginia in April of this year. The U.S. Constitution requires that anyone who serves as a U.S. Representative be an inhabitant of the State he serves when elected. The state party has characterized earlier court decisions forcing DeLay to stay on the ballot as "chaotic."

An evangelical Christian political action group based in Nashville has been subpoenaed by federal investigators to produce records that may tie them to Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. J. Thomas Smith, president of America 21, said Tuesday that he couldn't confirm reports that he or his records have been subpoenaed. A memo Abramoff wrote in 2001 to a Native American tribe telling them to contribute to America 21 was made public last year.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:59:54 AM

Fri, Aug 04 2006

Another Gasoline Price Increase

The weather has continued its classic rainy-season pattern, but with less rain and more sun than usual. Yesterday was typical - sun all morning and into the early afternoon, with thunderstorms until evening. Looking at the satellite image, it appears that the Intertropical Convergence Zone has moved to the north of us, which is the classic veranillo (little summer) pattern - reduced rainfall, more sun, warmer temperatures. That usually happens in June, but it is late this year, and it looks like it is finally starting to happen now. It has been heavily overcast most of the day and was most of the night, with moderate temperatures as a result - 74 overnight, and 82 today. It was 86 yesterday, mostly because of all the sun in the early afternoon.

Another gasoline price increase happens this weekend. Eighth this year. "Super" is going from $4.13 per gallon at the current exchange rate to $4.29 per gallon. "Regular" is going from $3.94 to $4.11. Diesel is still a relative bargain, and not going up all that much - from $2.72 per gallon to $2.75. If I had it to do over again, I'd be looking for a diesel-powered car, thank you very much. I am surprised no one is selling a diesel-powered motorcycle in this market. It ought to be a big hit here.

The IMF just concluded a visit to Costa Rica, and issued a glowing report, happy as a clam with the 6 1/2 percent projected growth in the economy this year (mostly the result of the country's rejection of the "Washington Consensus"). This has happened in spite of the huge increase in the price of petroleum, which the economy here seems to have handled quite well. Inflation remains a problem, as does the level of external debt, but at least both of those problems are being brought under control. Exports are up hugely and demand for them is strong. Foreign investors remain happy, and are looking to invest in the country as one of the brightest spots in Latin America. Well, if the IMF is happy, Smirkey should be too, so maybe he'll leave us alone, and the country can continue to grow and provide more jobs at the rate it has. I have seen plenty of evidence of the growth. The Help Wanted ads section of the classifieds is running to three times its usual size, and a lot of the jobs on offer are good-paying technical and managerial jobs. Best of all is that the government is reinvesting its increased revenues in education and infrastructure improvements - meaning the growth will continue. I am much happier with this administration than the last one.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The US House of Representatives is poised to consider a bill that would make it more difficult for consumers to protect their credit from identity thieves. Backed by the lucrative financial-services industry, the Financial Data Protection Act of 2005 would narrow the circumstances in which consumers could restrict their credit activity to prevent fraudulent borrowing, and it would undermine stronger state-based reporting rules for companies that hold and sell consumer data. "It's shocking that at a time when data breaches are in the headlines daily and consumers are at greater risk than ever [of] identity theft, Congress would choose to vote on a bill that would strip consumers of their existing identity-theft protections," Susanna Montezemolo, policy analyst with Consumers Union, said in a press statement. Consumers Union publishes Consumer Reports magazine. Companies that stand to gain from the legislation have spent a small fortune on campaign contributions and lobbying. In the last two election cycles, finance and credit companies have donated more than $12.5 million to political campaigns, and in 2005 alone, the industry spent almost $30 million on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money's influence on government. Two of the Act's four co-sponsors are on the industry's top-ten recipient list for the House: Michael Castle (R-Delaware) took in a total of $116,616, and Dennis Moore (D-Kansas) got $67,729. Another co-sponsor, Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), received $22,500 from the industry. One of the most controversial provisions of the bill would make it much more difficult for consumers to "freeze" their credit, a process that enables consumers to make it nearly impossible for anyone - including the consumer him or herself - to open new credit cards without first going through extra security precautions.

OK, class, answer this question - and let's not see the same hands: President George W. Bush says, "Syria has been a primary sponsor of Hezbollah and it has helped provide Hezbollah with shipments of Iranian made weapons [which] threaten the entire Middle East." Well, this month marks the twenty-first anniversary of a shipment of 508 anti-tank missiles to Iran's Ayatolla Khomeini in support of Hezbollah. Who approved that shipment? Need a hint? The shipments were approved by a group which calls itself, "The Party of God." That's right, Republican President Ronald Reagan sent the Ayatollah the weapons (and a birthday cake - no kidding!) in return for the loot to fund the illegal war against the elected government of Nicaragua. As part of the deal, Iran's operatives in Hezbollah would release the two dozen hostages they'd taken, including a Presbyterian minister, a Catholic priest, a librarian and US reporter Terry Anderson. After the arms shipment, Hezbollah released three of the hostages and over time, executed several others. With Iran's funding, the US supplied its very own terrorist group, the "contras," with weapons used in the killing of 30,000 Nicaraguans. Bonus essay question: If President Bush wants to give Israel another week to "finish the job" of wiping out those "terrorists," and their backers, shouldn't he have them finish off Ollie North?

Testifying before Congress today, Donald Rumsfeld said he has "never painted a rosy picture" about Iraq, and that "you would have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I have been overly optimistic." That's just nonsense. How about this quote from a speech Rumsfeld delivered at Johns Hopkins on Dec. 5, in which he slammed the U.S. press for being overly negative in its Iraq reporting. "[U.S. reporters] can compare Iraq as it is today to what it was three years ago: a brutal dictatorship, where the secret police would murder or mutilate a family member, sometimes in front of their children, and where hundreds of thousands of Iraqis disappeared into mass graves. From that perspective, Iraq today is on a vastly different and a greatly improved path." A vastly different path? The Baghdad morgue received 1,595 bodies last month. Last month! And that’s up 16% over May.

Global oil prices could hit $200 per barrel if the United States pursues international sanctions against Iran, an Iranian official said on Thursday. Iran's Foreign Relations Vice Minister Manuchehr Mohammadi told Venezuelan state television, "The first consequence of these sanctions would be an increase in the price of oil to around $200 per barrel." The statement comes after the United Nations on Monday demanded that Iran suspend all nuclear development within a month or face the threat of sanctions. Iran responded that it had a sovereign right to nuclear development. "Clearly Iran does not want to have sanctions imposed, so they want to convey the idea that the cost of these sanctions would be incredibly high," said Tim Evans, an Energy Analyst with Citigroup Futures Research. "While we can't rule out $200 oil, I think we can assign it a rather low probability," he said.

The 323-page multi-volume "Options for Iraqi Oil" begins with the expected dungeons-and-dragons warning: "The report is submitted on the understanding that [the State Department] will maintain the contents confidential." For two years, the State Department (and Defense and the White House) denied there were secret plans for Iraq's oil. They told us so in writing. That was the first indication the plan existed. Proving that, and getting a copy, became the near-to-pathologic obsession of the Greg Palast investigative team. The plan carries the State Department logo on the cover, Washington DC. But it was crafted in Houston, under the tutelage of the oil industry - including, we discovered, Donald Hertzmark, an advisor to the Indonesia state oil company, and Garfield Miller of Aegis Energy, advisors to Solomon Smith Barney, all hosted by the James A. Baker III Institute. we can rule out Big Oil’s desire for Iraq’s oil as the decisive motive to invade. The last thing the oil industry wanted from Iraq in 2001 was a lot more oil. Neither Saddam's affection for euro currency nor panic over oil supply 'peaking' ruffled the international oil industry. What, then, made Saddam, so easy to hug in the 1980s, unbearable in the 1990s? In the sanitary words of the Council on Foreign Relations' report, Saddam's problem was that he was a "swinger": "Tight markets have increased U.S. and global vulnerability to disruption and provided adversaries undue potential influence over the price of oil. Iraq has become a key "swing" producer, posing a difficult situation for the U.S. government. Now hold on a minute: Why is our government in a "difficult" position if Iraq is a "swing producer" of oil? The answer was that Saddam was jerking the oil market up and down. One week, without notice, the man in the moustache suddenly announces he’s going to 'support the Palestinian intifada' and cuts off all oil shipments. The result: Worldwide oil prices jump up. The next week, Saddam forgets about the Palestinians and pumps to the maximum allowed under the Oil-for-Food Program. The result: Oil prices suddenly dive-bomb. Up, down, up, down. Saddam was out of control. "Control is what it’s all about," one oilman told Greg Palast. "It's not about getting the oil, it's about controlling oil’s price." Saddam was asking for it. "It was time for a "military assessment." The Council on Foreign Relations concluded: "Saddam Hussein has demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon to manipulate oil markets. United States should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq, including military, energy, economic, and political/diplomatic assessments."

Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon's initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public rather than a reflection of the fog of events on that day, according to sources involved in the debate. Suspicion of wrongdoing ran so deep that the 10-member commission, in a secret meeting at the end of its tenure in summer 2004, debated referring the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation, according to several commission sources. Staff members and some commissioners thought that e-mails and other evidence provided enough probable cause to believe that military and aviation officials violated the law by making false statements to Congress and to the commission, hoping to hide the bungled response to the hijackings, these sources said.

Susan E. Dudley, the "Regulatory Studies Director" at the anti-regulatory think tank the Mercatus Center and a self-proclaimed "free-market environmentalist," has been nominated by the White House to "a little known but powerful post at the Office of Management and Budget." If confirmed by the Senate, Dudley will head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which "reviews major agency regulations with an eye toward reducing compliance costs, and according to critics, easing burdens on companies." Dudley and Mercatus have been "very active" on OIRA issues, notes the Wall Street Journal. "Ultimately, 14 of the 23 rules the White House chose for its 2001 'hit list' were Mercatus entries."

The video "Al Gore's Penguin Army," which belittles the threat of global warming (suggesting viewers "stop exhaling") and makes fun of the former vice-president, has a "home-made, humorous quality." Yet the filmmaker's email links him to "DCI Group, a Washington, D.C., public relations and lobbying firm whose clients include oil company Exxon Mobil," reports the Wall Street Journal. Ads promoting the penguin video appeared to people searching for "Al Gore" or "Global Warming" on the Google search engine, but these ads "were removed shortly after The Wall Street Journal contacted DCI." DCI's Tech Central Station website has also "sought to raise doubts about the science of global warming and about Mr. Gore's film." The firm "declines to say whether or not DCI made the anti-Gore penguin video," but an Exxon spokesperson said they "did not fund" and "did not approve it." What is certain is that "political operatives, public relations experts and ad agencies" are increasingly using video-sharing websites like YouTube to shape public opinion. Ogilvy & Mather "plans to post amateur-looking videos on Web sites to spare word-of-mouth buzz about Foster's beer," and AT&T has used YouTube to post videos against net neutrality.

The much-watched Democratic primary election in Connecticut is just four days away, and today Gallup has come out with a poll that finds incumbent Sen. Joseph Lieberman with his lowest ratings ever. "As a result," a Gallup report released this morning relates, "he is now more popular with Republicans than with supporters of his own party," surely not a good sign. Latest polls in Connecticut show that Lieberman now trails his opponent, Ned Lamont, who has charged that the senator is too close to the Bush administration on several issues, most notably the Iraq war. Current polls show him trailing by six points, well outside the margin of error.

Anti-poverty activists and civil rights advocates filed a lawsuit against the city of Las Vegas this week challenging an ordinance that makes it illegal to feed homeless people in public. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada filed the suit Wednesday on behalf of activists with Food Not Bombs, a grassroots anti-poverty group that provides free, vegetarian meals in hundreds of city parks across the country. Plaintiffs claim the new law, passed July 19 , violates constitutional rights to free speech, free exercise of religion, free assembly, due process of law and equal protection under the law. Las Vegas joins a growing number of cities passing laws and ordinances that target the homeless and their advocates. City councilors in Orlando, Florida also recently voted 5-2 in favor of a measure making it illegal to feed homeless people in public parks and other downtown areas. The Orlando ordinance bans dispensing food to large groups within a two-mile radius of City Hall without a permit, and limits permits to "two per user per park in a 12 month period." The ordinance states that feeding groups in public parks creates "hazards to the health and welfare of citizens, birds and animals, and is detrimental to the aesthetic atmosphere of parks." As previously reported by The NewStandard, a growing number of cities are passing laws and ordinances intended to push homeless people out of public places. In addition to anti-panhandling, anti-camping and anti-loitering ordinances, feeding programs in public parks are the latest targets. Homeless-rights advocate Michael Stoops described this trend as "a big battle in downtown American between the interests of low-income people and the interests of the business community."

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: President Bush on Thursday urged the people of Cuba to work for "democratic change" and warned that the U.S. would watch for Cuban officials who stand in the way. "We will support you in your effort to build a transitional government in Cuba committed to democracy, and we will take note of those, in the current Cuban regime, who obstruct your desire for a free Cuba," Bush said in statement issued by the White House. His secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said on CNN's "Larry King Live" that a transition in one way or another "appears to be under way" in Cuba. Bush, who left Washington Thursday for his ranch in Texas, said the United States was actively monitoring the situation in Cuba. Cuba is on heightened alert, wary of a possible invasion by US-based Cuban exiles, as US President George W. Bush called on islanders to push for democracy.

Vanity Fair reporter Michael Bronner listened to all of the 9-11 tapes. Why the 9-11 commission didn't do so as well is bizarre. Because we find out that as the tapes reveal in stark detail, parts of [Colonel Alan] Scott's and [Major General Larry] Arnold's testimony were misleading, and others simply false. At 9:16 a.m., when Arnold and Marr had supposedly begun their tracking of United 93, the plane had not yet been hijacked. In fact, NEADS wouldn't get word about United 93 for another 51 minutes. And while NORAD commanders did, indeed, order the Langley fighters to scramble at 9:24, as Scott and Arnold testified, it was not in response to the hijacking of American 77 or United 93. Rather, they were chasing a ghost. NEADS was entering the most chaotic period of the morning. So they lied to the commission. Any repercussion, or are lies SOP in today's bizarro world?

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: An Israeli air strike near Lebanon's north-eastern border with Syria has killed at least 28 people and injured 30, Lebanese officials have said. The raid hit farm workers as they loaded produce at a depot, they said. Five people also died when Israeli planes bombed bridges in mainly Christian areas north of Beirut. The continuing violence comes as the Israeli army has been told to prepare for a possible advance in what could be its deepest incursion into Lebanon for more than 20 years. This could see the army push up to the Litani river, 30km (19 miles) north of the border, in pursuit of Hezbollah.

Israel pressed the first full day of a massive new ground attack, sending 8,000 troops into southern Lebanon on Wednesday and seizing five people it said were Hezbollah fighters in a dramatic airborne raid on a northeastern town. Hezbollah retaliated with its deepest strikes yet into Israel, firing a record number of more than 160 rockets. Diplomatic efforts faltered, with France saying it will not participate in a Thursday U.N. meeting that could send troops to help monitor a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah. France, which may join or even lead such a force, said it does not want to talk about sending peacekeepers until fighting halts and the UN Security Council agrees to a wider framework for lasting peace. In a video message to Muslim leaders meeting in Malaysia, Lebanon's prime minister said Lebanon's death toll in more than three weeks of Israel-Hezbollah fighting has reached more than 900, and more than 3,000 people had been wounded, and that one million people - a quarter of the country's population - had been displaced.

Israeli forces killed five Palestinian gunmen and three civilians, including a 10-year-old boy, in the southern Gaza Strip on today as they pushed deeper into a militant stronghold, Palestinian witnesses said. Israel's offensive in the Strip it quit last year has cost at least 161 Palestinian lives, over half of them civilians. Israel expanded its assault on Lebanon Friday, launching its first major attack on the Christian heartland north of Beirut and severing the last significant road link to Syria.

Human Rights Watch, after extensive investigation, has concluded that the Israeli military is guilty of war crimes. HRW says: "Israeli forces have systematically failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians in their military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch said in report released today. The pattern of attacks in more than 20 cases investigated by Human Rights Watch researchers in Lebanon indicates that the failures cannot be dismissed as mere accidents and cannot be blamed on wrongful Hezbollah practices. In some cases, these attacks constitute war crimes."

While the IDF says it needs until the end of the week to deal Hizbullah a fatal blow, the military is prepared to remain in southern Lebanon for as long as it takes, even several months, until a multinational force takes control of the territory, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday. "The IDF knows how to operate for as long as it takes even if it means remaining in the territory for a long time," Kaplinsky told the Post during a visit to a military base along the northern border. The general said the IDF was currently working according to an operational plan in which IDF troops would push their way through southern Lebanon until the Litani River, some 40 kilometers from the border with Israel. But if necessary, he said, the IDF was prepared to travel even further northward.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Israel's three-week-old offensive in Lebanon will stop only once a robust international peacekeeping force is in place in southern Lebanon. In an interview in his Jerusalem office, Olmert also said the release of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hizbullah must be unconditional - signaling Israel does not favor a prisoner swap.

The oil spill covering 48 miles of Lebanese coastline and 6 miles of Syrian coastline may be spreading further, the United Nations says. The U.N. Environmental Program's Mediterranean Assessment Program said Thursday it is investigating reports that the oil slick may have traveled an additional 4.2 miles into Syrian waters. The agency is also ministering air and water movements to determine whether the slick could spread into the waters of other Mediterranean countries. "There is potentially huge environmental damage," Luisa Colasimone, UNEP-MAP's information officer, told United Press International. The spill stems from Israeli attacks on the Jiyyeh power utility, located on the Mediterranean Sea, 18 miles south of Beirut, on July 13 and 15. Some of the fuel remained smoldering, while the rest -- an estimated 10,000 tons of heavy fuel oil -- flowed into the Mediterranean, the Lebanese Environmental Ministry said. Initial results from an analysis conducted by the Oceanographic Centre of Cyprus show that only about 20 percent of the oil evaporated. The ministry estimates the complete cleanup operation could cost tens of millions of euros and has appealed for international assistance.

The National Security Agency is providing signal intelligence to Israel to monitor whether Syria and Iran are supplying new armaments to Hezbollah as it fires hundreds of missiles into northern Israel, according to a national security official with direct knowledge of the operation. President Bush has approved the secret program. Inside the administration, neoconservatives on Vice President Dick Cheney's national security staff and Elliott Abrams, the neoconservative senior director for the Near East on the National Security Council, are prime movers behind sharing NSA intelligence with Israel, and they have discussed Syrian and Iranian supply activities as a potential pretext for Israeli bombing of both countries, the source privy to conversations about the program says. (Intelligence, including that gathered by the NSA, has been provided to Israel in the past for various purposes.) The neoconservatives are described as enthusiastic about the possibility of using NSA intelligence as a lever to widen the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: Did Israel know it was targeting civilians in Qana, and did CNN sanitize its coverage of the Qana massacre for American consumption? It's difficult to know for sure what was aired and when in these days of 24 hour media. But best we can tell, it sure looks like CNN edited its unusually (but refreshingly) combative CNN International interview with an Israeli spokeswoman to give her the last word and to strengthen her statement. But as Robert Fisk points out, no matter what laws Hezbollah is violating by using civilians as cover, does this excuse the deliberate killing of children? "But the odd thing is the idea that for the Israeli military that somehow it's okay to kill all these children; if a missile is launched 30, 90 feet from their house, that's okay then. We've got some film to show the missiles were launched; that's okay then. I mean, did the aircraft which dropped this bomb, a guided weapon, by the way -- they knew what they were hitting [these precision guided bombs land within inches, not feet, of where they are guided-sb]. It’s a guided weapon. We know that because the computer codes have been found on the bomb fragments. Did they say, "Oh, well, then, the man who launched the missile is hiding with the children in the basement of the house we're going to hit? Is it the case now that if you happen to live in a house next to where someone launches a missile, you are to be sentenced to death? Is that what Israel thinks the war is about? You know, you have to realize that last time the massacre occurred at Qana in 1996, when they killed 106 refugees who were sheltering in the then-UN base that was there -- it doesn't exist anymore, but it did then -- more than half of them children, again. They said that missiles had been fired from within the UN base. It turns out that they were fired from half a mile away." You can view the clip seen by CNN International viewers, and then compare it with the version seen by CNN U.S. viewers.

While You Were Glued To Faux News: A bill approved last week in the House of Representatives promises to raise the federal minimum wage, but one obscure provision has some worried that the purported wage hike actually amounts to a backdoor tax increase for millions of low-income workers. To curry votes in the House, Republican leaders tacked a minimum-wage increase onto the Estate Tax and Extension of Tax Relief Act of 2006, which aims to shrink taxes on the estates of wealthy deceased people. The bill would incrementally bring the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour by 2009. But a new analysis by the progressive Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reveals that the last section of the bill specifically strips away existing wage protections from the country's tipped workers. The so-called "Tipped Wage Fairness" provision would invalidate any state law that "excludes all of a tipped employee's tips from being considered as wages in determining if [the] employee has been paid the applicable minimum wage rate." In other words, the measure would extinguish state-level laws that entitle waitresses, barbers, cab drivers and other workers to a minimum wage regardless of what they make in tips.

As a sign of its desperation to fill the ranks, the U.S. Army has begun training the oldest recruits in its history, the result of a concerted effort to fill ranks depleted during the Iraq war. In June, five months after it raised the enlistment age limit from 35 to just shy of 40, the Army raised it to just under 42. To accommodate the older soldiers, the Army has lowered the minimum physical requirements needed to pass basic training. The first group of older recruits is going through basic training here. So far, only five people 40 and older - and 324 age 35 and older - have enlisted, Army records show. The Army also hopes to attract more recruits by offering shorter active-duty periods for some recruits, signing bonuses and bonuses for soldiers who persuade others to join.

For years, organized labor has worked hard to raise the minimum wage, while business groups have campaigned to block such a change. This week in the Senate, however, the AFL-CIO is pushing to kill the wage increase while practically the entire business lobby is demanding that it pass. The reversal is the product of election-year politics and clever - critics say devious - legislative packaging that has been dubbed the "trifecta." In the same bill, senators are being asked to raise the minimum wage (the liberals' goal), cut the estate tax (the conservatives' objective) and approve a laundry list of popular, though narrowly targeted, tax breaks. "The sides have flipped," said Peter R. Orszag, an economics scholar at the Brookings Institution. Prodded by moderate Republicans eager to undercut criticism by Democrats that GOP economic programs overwhelmingly favor the rich, the House approved the package last week, including a three-year phased-in boost in the nation's minimum allowable hourly wage to $7.25 from the current $5.15. It would be the first increase in the minimum wage in nine years. The Senate intends to vote on the package this week, but the outcome is too close to call, lawmakers from both parties agree. Several Republican committee chairmen are unhappy with how the House GOP leadership stitched together the bill, and they may raise objections on the floor. But the biggest obstacle to passage is the strong opposition from Democratic leaders and their labor-union allies to the estate tax provision, which would permanently reduce the federal levy on estates left by the wealthiest Americans. Labor officials say that their opposition is a matter of economic and social justice. They also say that reduced revenue from estate tax relief could lead to cuts in federal programs for the poor, such as food stamps.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: The Bush administration wants a new system for trying terror suspects to let prosecutors withhold classified evidence from the accused, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Wednesday, holding to a hard line on detainee policy despite concerns by senators and military lawyers. "We must not share with captured terrorists the highly sensitive intelligence that may be relevant to military commission proceedings," Gonzales told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Gonzales said detainee legislation also should permit hearsay and coerced testimony, if deemed "reliable" by a judge. These approaches are not permitted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ, which is used for military courts-martial. The administration's plans have sounded alarms in the military's legal corps and on Capitol Hill, who say the UCMJ is a tried-and-true body of law that is well-regarded around the world.

On behalf of ten immigrants in California, two civil rights groups are suing the federal government for unreasonable delays in their applications to become US citizens. The plaintiffs, all registered as permanent residents, have successfully completed their applications and naturalization exams, but the US Citizen and Immigrant Services (CIS) has yet to grant them citizenship because the FBI has not completed background checks on them. "Plaintiffs have been robbed of their statutory right to naturalize solely because of the bureaucratic failings and callous inaction of two federal agencies," the lawsuit reads. The plaintiffs hail from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, India, Egypt, Sudan, and Lebanon. "Regardless of whether this delay is due to incompetence or discrimination, the ordeal for law-abiding and patriotic residents has to end," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in a statement.

Journalist blogger Josh Wolf was jailed for contempt of court after refusing to give a grand jury film footage of a street protest. The New York Times reports he claimed his "right as a journalist to shield his sources" and compared him to disgraced Times journalist Judith Miller who was jailed for protecing her source in the Valerie Plame scandal, Dick Cheney's indicted chief of staff Scooter Libby. Josh Wolf appears to be the first online journalist jailed for protecting sources. The San Francisco Bay Guardian reports that "In addition to the National Lawyers Guild, Wolf has received assistance from the Society of Professional Journalists. The ACLU and the French organization Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press both filed amicus briefs on Wolf’s behalf." Meanwhile, Wolf's website on August 1 had this appeal: "Josh is in jail and this is his mom!. ... I don’t have any other information at this time, but his lawyer is planning to file an appeal to the federal 9th circuit court. That filing alone costs almost $500, so if you can donate any little bit helps with the expenses of legal counsel and money for Josh while in jail."

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: Hiring slowed in July as employers added just 113,000 new jobs, propelling the unemployment rate to a five-month high of 4.8 percent and providing fresh evidence that companies are growing cautious amid high energy prices. The latest snapshot Friday from the Labor Department added to the evidence from a variety of economic barometers that the economy is slowing. That raised hopes among investors and some economists that the Federal Reserve can take a breather next week from its rate-raising campaign and leave interest rates alone. On Wall Street, stocks moved sharply higher. The Dow Jones industrials gained 54 points and the Nasdaq was up 15 in morning trading. The tally of new jobs last month was weaker than the 124,000 added in June and was the lowest total since May, when payrolls grew by 100,000. "Businesses are guarded as they see a downshifting of economic growth, rising energy prices and higher interest rates," said Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics. The civilian unemployment rate jumped from 4.6 percent in June to 4.8 percent in July, matching the jobless rate in February. The last time the unemployment rate was higher was in December, at 4.9 percent.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Military prosecutors and investigators probing the killing of three Iraqi detainees by U.S. troops in May believe the unit's commanders created an atmosphere of excessive violence by encouraging "kill counts" and possibly issuing an illegal order to shoot Iraqi men. At a military hearing Wednesday on the killing of the detainees near Samarra, witnesses painted a picture of a brigade that operated under loose rules allowing wanton killing and tolerating violent, anti-Arab racism. Some military officials believe that the shooting of the three detainees and the killing of 24 civilians in November in Haditha reveal failures in the military chain of command, in one case to establish proper rules of engagement and in the other to vigorously investigate incidents after the fact. "The bigger thing here is the failure of the chain of command," said a Defense Department official familiar with the investigations. As allegations of U.S. troop misconduct in Iraq have mounted, the military's defenders have maintained that most were isolated incidents and that officers and investigators working within the military justice system had succeeded in ferreting out the truth.

While sectarian violence has left Iraq teetering on the edge of civil war, another problem has grown like a cancer. "Corruption in Iraq is endemic. We call it a pandemic," said Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general to Iraq who today told a Senate hearing that the country is losing $4 billion a year to corruption. Iraqi investigators have launched 1,400 investigations in their country, targeting billions lost to bribery and fraud by government officials. An Iraqi judge recently convicted a senior defense ministry official of accepting $400,000 in bribes. And, according to the inspector general, one recent poll found that one-third of Iraqis said they had to pay bribes to get basic services. "It is a story of mistakes made - of plans that [were] either poorly conceived or overwhelmed by ongoing violence," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, during the hearing, "and of waste, greed and corruption that drained dollars that should have been used to build schools and health clinics "

Two top Pentagon commanders said Thursday that spiraling violence in Baghdad could propel Iraq into outright civil war, using a politically loaded term that the Bush administration has long avoided. The generals said they believe a full-scale civil war is unlikely. Even so, their comments to Congress cast the war in more somber hues than the administration usually uses, and further dampened lawmakers' hopes that troops would begin returning home in substantial numbers from the widely unpopular war in time for this fall's elections. "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war," Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton called Thursday for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, hours after excoriating him at a public hearing over what she said was a "failed policy" in Iraq. "I just don't understand why we can't get new leadership that would give us a fighting chance to turn the situation around before it's too late," the New York Democrat told the Associated Press. "I think the president should choose to accept Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation." Clinton confronted Rumsfeld directly on Iraq and Afghanistan earlier in the day, and said his answers left her convinced he should go.

Evidence collected on the deaths of 24 Iraqis in Haditha supports accusations that U.S. Marines deliberately shot the civilians, including unarmed women and children, a Pentagon official said Wednesday. Agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service have completed their initial work on the incident last November, but may be asked to probe further as Marine Corps and Navy prosecutors review the evidence and determine whether to recommend criminal charges, according to two Pentagon officials who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity. The decision on whether to press criminal charges ultimately will be made by the commander of the accused Marines’ parent unit, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, Calif. That currently is Lt. Gen. John Sattler, but he is scheduled to move to a Pentagon assignment soon; his successor will be Lt. Gen. James Mattis.

A Marine Corps sergeant under investigation in connection with the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha is accusing Rep. John P. Murtha of defaming him in public comments about the case. Lawyers for Frank D. Wuterich, 26, argue in a suit filed Wednesday in federal court that Murtha falsely accused Wuterich "of cold-blooded murder and war crimes" - although they acknowledged during a news conference that Murtha named Wuterich's squad, but not Wuterich personally, when speaking with reporters. Murtha, D-Pa., issued a statement Wednesday saying he doesn't blame Wuterich for "lashing out." "When I spoke up about Haditha, my intention was to draw attention to the horrendous pressure put on our troops in Iraq and to the cover-up of the incident," said Murtha, a 16-term congressman who was campaigning for re-election Wednesday in his hometown of Johnstown, Pa. The suit maintains that Pentagon officials "who have briefed or leaked information to Mr. Murtha deliberately provided him with inaccurate and false information" and that the congressman subsequently "has made repeated statements... that are defamatory" to Wuterich and his fellow Marines.

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: A record-breaking U.S. heat wave that has killed more than 150 people nationwide in the past two weeks claimed two more victims on Thursday just as relief was due. The heat, which has moved east from California, also prompted record electricity demand and continued to force New York businesses to dim their Times Square billboards as part of a citywide conservation effort. "We have had more record-breaking heat today, a lot of it in New York state," National Weather Service meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said. All three of the New York City area's major airports reported August 3 records of 99 to 100 F (38 C). Baltimore, at 100 F, and Bridgeport, Connecticut, at 97 F (36 C), were among other Northeast cities breaking records, Feltgen said. "The relief is coming on down. Boston will feel it tomorrow, New York will feel it tomorrow, Philadelphia will begin to feel it later tomorrow and we will begin to feel it in Washington and Baltimore tomorrow night and certainly on Saturday," he said.

Heat waves like those that have scorched Europe and the United States in recent weeks are becoming more frequent because of global warming, say scientists who have studied decades of weather records and computer models of past, present and future climate. While it is impossible to attribute any one weather event to climate change, several recent studies suggest that human-generated emissions of heat-trapping gases have produced both higher overall temperatures and greater weather variability, which raise the odds of longer, more intense heat waves.

For the past year Lyme Regis, on England's southern coast, made famous as a setting for Jane Austen's novel "Persuasion" and John Fowles's "The French Lieutenant's Woman," has been in the grip of gut-wrenching engineering works. In a bid to hold back the waves, Lyme has embarked on a 20 million pounds ($37 million) program to double the length of rock armor at the end of the ancient Cobb harbor, put more sand and shingle on the beach and stabilize the sea front. The work has been noisy, dirty and disruptive but Mayor Ken Whetlor reckons the town has no choice. "You have to put up with that if you want to save your town," he said. "With the forecasts of rising sea levels, the defenses we had in place would not have lasted the course. The decision was either to save this heritage coast or let it go." The government may be investing to defend notable coastal towns like Lyme, Brighton, Blackpool, Bournemouth and Scarborough but Environment Minister Ian Pearson argues it is unrealistic to try and maintain the status quo everywhere. Such a selective approach angers home owners in Happisburgh and other small places, who fear they will be left without compensation if their houses tumble into the waves.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said that if he remains in power after the November elections, there will be no action on global warming for the entire 110th Congress, according to Energy and Environment Daily. Energy and Environment Daily: "Continued Republican House and Senate majorities would likely mean more of the same on climate. House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said he would oppose global warming mandates if Republicans control the 110th Congress. 'I think the information is not adequate yet for us to do anything meaningful,' he said."

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: It's unfortunate that after receiving a federal grand jury subpoena, Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) declined to mention it to her Senate campaign staff. But it appears she also declined to share it with the Speaker of the House -- and that's a violation of House rules. As we've seen most recently in the case of Rep. Bob Ney's (R-OH) heavily-subpoenaed office (wham, bam, thank you and ma'am), any representative or staffer receiving a subpoena concerning any work-related issue must disclose it, and an announcement is subsequently published in the Congressional Record. It's called "House Rule VIII," and it's cited in just about every disclosure. Yet a search of the Record turns up no mention of a subpoena for Harris. "The rule's pretty clear," Andrew Herman, a Washington, D.C. defense lawyer who specializes in congressional ethics and investigations, told me. "I don't think this is a close question. She got subpoenaed, they're investigating, it's her obligation" to disclose the matter to the House leadership. A spokesman in her Capitol Hill office referred my questions to Harris' Florida campaign staff. There, a spokeswoman took a message and promised to look into the matter. My call to the office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) wasn't immediately returned.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:36:46 PM

Wed, Aug 02 2006

Day Of The Pilgrimage

Today was a dry-season kind of day, rare enough during the rainy season, but certainly welcome when they do occur. I really enjoyed the sunshine, and took full advantage of it, spending some time out wandering around in the garden. Two local fellows came by and spent some time fishing in the pond, leaving with a bag full of sardinas (small tetra fish) after about a half hour of fishing. They were enjoying the 84 degree day too. Even last night's low was moderate, at 72.

I didn't get much work done today, other than answering a lot of email that has been accumulating. In spite of the good weather, I haven't much felt up to it, as I have been having a certain amount of angina lately, and have not wanted to push things. I did manage to get some calking done that I had been putting off, in order to keep some ants off of the front porch.

This is a good day to not be out driving on the roads and highways of Costa Rica, as you're apt to run down one of the millions of religious pilgrims, known as "romeros" out on the nation's roads. The annual pilgrimage to the only basilica in Costa Rica is on, and today is the last day. The pilgrimage to visit "La Negrita" (literally, the Little Black One), the patron saint of Costa Rica, is an annual event here, and it is estimated that two million pilgrims make the journey, mostly on foot walking and a few even crawling on their knees, to Cartago, about 13 miles east of San Jose. They come from all over the country, and even some of the neighboring countries. The icon is a small carving of Mary and the infant Jesus carved into black basalt, and there is a miracle story surrounding it, hence the reverence it is shown. Its golden reliquary is the principal object in the altar in the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles in Cartago, where the pilgrims are headed to pray during one of the many masses which are held to accommodate the faithful.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday directed about 3,500 U.S. troops in Iraq to stay up to four months past their scheduled departure date, boosting U.S. forces in an attempt to curb unrelenting violence in Baghdad. The move, involving the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Wainwright in Alaska, is the latest sign that any significant reduction in the size of the 130,000-strong U.S. force in Iraq is unlikely soon. It comes after President George W. Bush said on Tuesday after meeting visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that more U.S. and Iraqi troops would be deployed in Baghdad from elsewhere in Iraq to try to curb mounting sectarian violence. An average of 100 people a day have died in attacks between Iraqi factions in the past few weeks, raising fears of all-out civil war. The Pentagon said Rumsfeld approved a request by Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, to extend the year-long tour of the brigade, which has operated primarily in the Mosul area in northern Iraq, by up to 120 days. A senior defense official said most of the brigade is expected to operate in the Baghdad area, moving from relatively calm northern Iraq into a capital beset with car bombs, suicide bombers and kidnappings. By extending troops due to depart, the military, as it has done periodically during the 3-year-old war, will temporarily increase the overall size of the U.S. force by lengthening the overlap between newly arriving units and those heading out.

A piece of legislation sponsored by Democrats in the House of Representatives seeks to withdraw authorization for President George W. Bush to make war in Iraq. The Iraq War Powers Repeal Act of 2006, H.R. 5875, was introduced on July 25 by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a Democrat of California. The bill employs the rationale that since President Bush declared "mission accomplished" in May 2003, the US has been engaged in an occupation, not a war, which Congress never authorized. Woolsey's bill has garnered 22 co-sponsors, but appears to have little momentum. The Congresswoman expressed her hope that two Republicans, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, and Rep. Walter Jones, Jr., of North Carolina would sign on to the bill. But key members of the House Democratic Leadership are backing other resolutions to end the Iraq War, such as the phased withdrawal proposal RAW STORY reported on yesterday.

Carlyle Group, the US buy-out fund which counts many administration officials as officers or major investors, is planning an investment push into the Middle East with a dedicated fund of up to $1bn, in spite of the mounting spiral of violence there. It has hired Korn Ferry, the executive headhunter, to recruit a senior fund manager to spearhead the expansion - the first of its kind in the region. Carlyle hopes to launch the fund before the end of the year and is thought to be looking at creating a hybrid private equity fund that would also allow it to put money into listed securities in the Middle East. It will also look at investing in fledgling companies and taking controlling stakes in more mature enterprises. The fund is expected to focus on investments in the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council - which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - as well as North Africa. International private equity groups have been keen to invest in the region to expand their opportunities to gain access to the huge sums pouring into the Gulf because of record oil prices.

A growing number of moderate Republicans and former Bush administration officials are alarmed by what they call Condoleezza Rice's "uneven-handed diplomacy" in the Middle East. Critics include Richard Haass, head of policy and planning at the State Department during the first Bush term and Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state. However, after months of disillusionment, America’s neo-conservatives have fallen in love again with the Bush administration because of its support for Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon. Neo-conservative criticism reached a peak after Ms Rice, secretary of state, offered conditional talks to Iran in late May on its nuclear programme. But their attacks on Mr Bush ceased after 12 July, when Israel launched its military campaign against Hizbollah. "This is exactly the right strategy, which you could call 'Don't just do something, stand there [while Israel continues its military campaign],' said David Frum, a former speechwriter to George W. Bush, who helped draft the president's 2002 'Axis of Evil' address.

The Bush administration may have broken over two dozen federal laws and regulations -- some of them multiple times -- according to an unreleased report from the House Judiciary Committee Democrats. "The misconduct I have found is not only serious, but widespread," reads a draft summary of the report by Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI): "The laws implicated by the Administration’s actions include federal laws against making false statements to congress [sic]; federal laws and international treaties prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; federal laws concerning retaliating against witnesses and other government employees; Executive Orders concerning leaking and other misuse of intelligence; federal regulations and ethical requirements governing conflicts of interest; the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; communications privacy laws; the National Security Act; and the Fourth Amendment."

Las Vegas City marshals blocked a radio personality from feeding homeless people at a City Hall park Monday, and issued summonses to a television news crew covering a publicity protest against a ban on "mobile soup kitchens." Three people were arrested and seven were issued summonses at two parks, city officials said, including a reporter and a cameraman ticketed for trespassing while covering the protest for KLAS-TV, the CBS affiliate in Las Vegas. Beth Monk, a KKLZ-FM radio morning show personality, became the first person to receive a summons under a new city law that makes feeding the homeless a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $1,000 and six months in jail. "The idea was to go out there and show the mayor this ordinance makes no sense whatsoever," said Monk, 24, a traffic reporter and radio comedy team sidekick who has engaged in publicity stunts including mud wrestling on the job. Monk said city marshals confiscated food and water she set on a cement wall at Frank Wright Park - a patch of green wedged between a downtown bus terminal, a historic post office building and Las Vegas City Hall. She was threatened with arrest if she did not leave.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The New Zealand Privacy Commissioner is trying to find out if any New Zealand financial transactions are being monitored as part of American "counter-terrorism" measures. A British lobby group has complained to privacy commissioners worldwide that CIA agents and U.S. Treasury officials are sifting bank data. The American agencies are accused of looking at transactions sent via an international network that deals with banks all over the world. The commissioner, Marie Shroff, says it is not known if any New Zealand transactions are involved. But she says the agencies might not have been breaking the law because the Privacy Act can allow monitoring in relation to law enforcement activities.

While the rest of the world is signing on to the international land mine treaty, the Pentagon is expected to make a decision soon to produce a munition called "Spider" with a controversial feature that turns it into an antipersonnel mine. "The United States shouldn't be making and using weapons that can't discriminate between a soldier and a civilian," said Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. "The U.S. should be moving closer to the community of nations that have banned antipersonnel mines, not farther away." The United States has not produced antipersonnel mines since 1997, exported them since 1992, or used them since 1991. However, the United States retains the right to produce antipersonnel mines and is not among the 151 countries that have joined the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines. The U.S. currently stockpiles 10.4 million antipersonnel mines, the world's third-biggest arsenal. The Victim-Activated Landmine Abolition Act of 2006 would prohibit the procurement of landmines or other weapons that are designed to be victim-activated.

President George W. Bush said on Monday he sees Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a threat to undermining democracy but not a military threat. Chavez has threatened to shut his government-owned U.S.-based refiners and sell oil to other nations if Washington decided to cut diplomatic ties, a prospect that Washington has not suggested it would do. Bush told Fox News Channel's "Neil Cavuto" that Chavez' threat is an "indication that we've got to make sure we've got a wise energy policy in the United States" and repeated his desire to wean the country from its dependency on foreign oil. As for whether he sees Chavez as a threat to the United States, Bush said: "No, not a military threat. We've got a very strong military and we can deal with any threat to the homeland there is. And will if we have to. But, no, I don't view him as a threat. I view him as a threat of undermining democracy."

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: There were no Hezbollah rockets and no Hezbollah militants in the village of Qana that was leveled by the Israelis on Sunday night, according to village residents and Red Cross workers stationed in the area. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert claimed there were "hiding places for rockets inside the village and the village itself is a safe haven for those who launch rockets." Israeli media mouthpieces have repeatedly tried to portray Israel's rampant war crimes as a right to self-defense, even in light of mounting atrocities and the deliberate targeting of aid workers, ambulances, UN observers, and women and children who slept in their beds and never woke up. "There were no Hezbollah rockets fired from Qana - this was the justification given by the Israelis for bombing the shelter and again carrying out a massive bombardment all that night long and well into the next day of that entire village," Dahr Jamail told the Alex Jones Show. Jamail is a Christian Lebanese American independent journalist who has worked for the Guardian, the Independent, and the Sunday Herald. "They claim that it was Hezbollah's fault, that they were forced to murder these innocent people because Hezbollah continues to fire rockets into Israel. I spoke with two residents at the scene of the bombing, two people who were nearby, who lived in the village and they said of course there were no Hezbollah rockets fired from this village because when Hezbollah does that, all of the villagers clear out immediately because people are well aware that once those rockets are fired, Israel is going to retaliate with a massive air strike on the entire area. So no rockets were fired according to the residents there."

The deaths of dozens of civilians in an Israel Air Force attack on the southern Lebanese village of Qana marked a significant diplomatic turning point against Israel, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Tuesday. The foreign minister said that following the events in Qana, Israel's scope for political maneuvering had been reduced, as was the amount of European support Israel is receiving for its operation in Lebanese soil. Livni said this change was exemplified in the "problematic" Russian and French stance towards Israel. She said that despite the pictures of civilian casualties coming from Qana of it was important not to stray from implementing UN decision 1559. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel on Tuesday urged Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to establish a state commission of inquiry into the killings at Qana.

Israeli forces thrust into Lebanon on Tuesday in an expansion of their offensive, pounding villages and meeting fierce resistance from Hizbollah. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has rejected international calls for an immediate halt to hostilities, said he saw signs of movement toward a ceasefire and that Hizbollah had suffered heavy losses - comments that appeared to prepare the ground for an end to fighting. The comments came just before Hizbollah launched the most intensive barrage of missiles from southern Lebanon in a single day since the war began. European Union foreign ministers called for an immediate end to hostilities, watering down demands for an immediate ceasefire at the insistence of Britain and other close U.S. allies. A joint statement adopted at a rare August crisis meeting of the 25-nation bloc said: "The Council calls for an immediate end to hostilities to be followed by a sustainable ceasefire." Britain and Germany, backed by The Netherlands, had rejected the proposal drafted by Finland, the current EU president. At least 620 people, the vast majority civilians, have been killed in Lebanon. The health minister put the toll at 750 including bodies buried under rubble. Fifty-one Israelis have been killed, of whom 24 were civilians. Olmert rejected international pressure for a ceasefire, and Trade Minister Eli Yishai told army radio Tuesday that "at the end of the 48 hours, the air force will continue to operate with all its power and all of its forces." Israel has said the halt entered into effect at 2300 GMT Sunday, meaning that it runs out at 2:00 am Wednesday (2300 GMT Tuesday), though observers on the ground, including BBC reporters, said they could see little difference in the intensity of air attacks. With time running out, thousands of people streamed out of the Mediterranean city of Tyre, whose population had swollen to 100,000 by refugees from villages inland. By Tuesday, only about 15,000 remained. An acute fuel shortage could hinder their flight as the UN reported that Lebanon has only two or three days of fuel left and said it was working urgently to persuade Israel to give safe passage to supply ships.

Late last night, the Israeli security cabinet approved a major expansion of its ground offensive, deciding to send troops up to the Litani river, 18 miles from the Israeli border. A Lebanese government official criticised the decision, saying Israel was repeating the same mistakes it had made in the past 30 years by invading the area. "This will not help [Israel] achieve the security that it is looking for," he said. "Security and stability can only be achieved by an Israeli withdrawal from occupied Lebanese territories, not by expanding the occupation." An Israeli cabinet minister, Meir Sheetrit, today admitted Israel could not destroy Hizbullah's rocket capabilities with air and ground forces but a senior colleague, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, said the aim was to create a Hizbullah-free zone in the south before an international force took over. "I reckon the time required for the [army] to complete the job, and by that I mean that the area in which we want the international force to deploy is cleansed of Hizbullah, will take around 10 days to two weeks," he said. The Israeli Security Cabinet last week rejected a call from military leaders to widen the Lebanon offensive but authorized a call-up of about 15,000 reserve soldiers. There was no immediate explanation for the reversal. Reuters, quoting Israel Radio, reported 15,000 reservists would be called up, but it is not clear whether those troops are the ones already authorized or extra troops. Other developments on Monday also pointed to a lengthening of the 20-day-old conflict as well.

Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon announced on Israeli army radio Thursday night, "All those in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah." Using rhetoric that set the stage for justifying the collective punishment of the Lebanese people in southern Lebanon, Ramon added, "In order to prevent casualties among Israeli soldiers battling Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon, villages should be flattened by the Israeli air force before ground troops move in." He rationalized his statements by saying that Israel had given the civilians of southern Lebanon ample time to leave the area; thus, anyone who remained could be considered a supporter of Hezbollah. So of course by his definition, everyone in southern Lebanon supports Hezbollah. Such statements belie the fact that many of the people living in southern Lebanon are Christians, and have no dogs in this fight. Or at least they didn't until now.

Meanwhile, the FAIR organization reminds us that Hezbollah's attacks on Israel, though deplorable, did not spring from a vacuum. Drawing on an Alexander Cockburn column, FAIR notes that within the last two months, Israeli attacks on suspected militants ended up killing almost two dozen innocent Lebanese and Palestinian women and children. Cockburn: "Let’s go on a brief excursion into pre-history. I’m talking about June 20, 2006, when Israeli aircraft fired at least one missile at a car in an attempted extrajudicial assassination attempt on a road between Jabalya and Gaza City. The missile missed the car. Instead it killed three Palestinian children and wounded 15. Back we go again to June 13, 2006. Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a van in another attempted extrajudicial assassination. The successive barrages killed nine innocent Palestinians." Terrorism? Indeed.

Termed a "child killer" and "scoundrel" by Arab Members of the Knesset during an appearance at an emergency Knesset session Monday, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel must not agree to an immediate cease-fire, but rather expand and strengthen its attacks on Hizbullah. Peretz's speech was interrupted dozens of times, and three Arab MKs - Ibrahim Sarsour and Taleb a-Sanaa (United Arab list) and Jamal Zahalka (Balad) - were eventually ejected from the session by Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik. Sarsour called Peretz a murderer and a child killer. Zahalka said he was a liar and a warmonger. Itzik said she was giving the three the "gift" of throwing them out, since they had plainly sought to cause a stir with their own constituency. She threatened to eject Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List) as well, but calmed him down after reminding him that he is a deputy Knesset speaker and that it would be undignified for him to find himself thrown out.

The Bush administration claimed progress Tuesday toward establishing an international peacekeeping force for Lebanon but said no quick cease-fire seemed likely in the three-week-old war between Israel and Hezbollah. In New York, United Nations officials announced that nations willing to contribute troops to a peacekeeping force would meet on Thursday. An earlier meeting scheduled for Monday was scrapped after France said there was no point talking about peacekeepers with the war continuing. The Bush administration provided little detail about what progress might be occurring. The White House said an immediate halt to the bloody fighting "doesn't seem to be in the cards." "Neither side is headed that way," said presidential spokesman Tony Snow. "What the president is working on and what our allies are working on are providing those conditions for a sustainable cease-fire."

While You Were Glued To Faux News: The lawyer President Bush picked to replace a racially divisive nominee on a Southern appeals court would "turn back the clock" on civil rights, the American Bar Association charged yesterday. Michael Wallace got a unanimous "not qualified" rating by the bar association after Bush tapped him in February to replace Charles Pickering on the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans. If Wallace - a Clinton impeachment adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and clerk to the late Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist - is confirmed, "it will be like 1965, not 2006," one lawyer told the bar association. Wallace declined to comment yesterday, but a colleague called the charges "totally ridiculous." "The law will not get in his way," said a judge quoted in the report by lawyer Kim Askew.

In an interview with the Washington Times published yesterday, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) promised to privatize Social Security: Q: "Where does Social Security reform stand?" A: "I just met with Congressman [Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican], a few minutes ago with his SAFE Commission [formed to fix the entitlement programs]. In 1990 when I first ran for Congress, I talked about the need to reform these big entitlement programs because the sooner we began the process, the easier it would be to make the necessary changes so that these programs were sustainable for the long term. - If I'm around in a leadership role come January, we’re going to get serious about this." Privitization plans championed by Boehner and others would sharply cut guaranteed benefits and are opposed by the overwhelming majority of Americans. Nevertheless, Boehner is just the latest prominent conservative to reaffirm his commitment to privatize Social Security in the months and years to come.

Diebold Watch: "This may be the worst security flaw we have seen in touch screen voting machines," says Open Voting Foundation president, Alan Dechert. Upon examining the inner workings of one of the most popular paperless touch screen voting machines used in public elections in the United States, it has been determined that with the flip of a single switch inside, the machine can behave in a completely different manner compared to the tested and certified version. "Diebold has made the testing and certification process practically irrelevant," according to Dechert. "If you have access to these machines and you want to rig an election, anything is possible with the Diebold TS -- and it could be done without leaving a trace. All you need is a screwdriver." This model does not produce a voter verified paper trail so there is no way to check if the voter's choices are accurately reflected in the tabulation.

"Overall, this election was handled in such a way that we have no reason for confidence in the results," famed election attorney Paul Lehto said of California's 50th Congressional District special election between Francine Busby and Brian Bilbray. In an exclusive interview with RAW STORY on Sunday, July 30, Lehto revealed plans to file a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court on Monday, July 31 against the County of San Diego, Registrar of Voters Mikel Haas, and Brian Bilbray. Bilbray, a Republican, was sworn into office with thousands of ballots still uncounted before the election was officially certified. According to the official machine count (tallied on Diebold optical scanners and touchscreens), Bilbray nosed out Busby by a 78,341 to 71,146 margin. Bilbray replaced Randy 'Duke' Cunningham, who resigned after pleading guilty to bribery and is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Does the federal government need to know whether you aced Aristotelian ethics but had to repeat introductory biology? Does it need to know your family's financial profile, how much aid you received and whether you took off a semester to help out at home? The Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education thinks so. In its first draft report, released in late June, the commission called for creation of a tracking system to collect sensitive information about our nation's college students. Its second draft, made public last week, softens the name of the plan, but the essence of the proposal remains unchanged. Whether you call it a "national unit records database" (the first name) or a "consumer-friendly information database" (the second), it is in fact a mandatory federal registry of all American students throughout their collegiate careers - every course, every step, every misstep. Once established, it could easily be linked to existing K-12 and workforce databases to create unprecedented cradle-to-grave tracking of American citizens. All under the watchful eye of the federal government. Don't you feel safer now?

Cathy Berta is a retired elementary schoolteacher. At 66, she's also a member of Progressive Action for the Common Good of the Quad Cities. When she heard that Vice President Cheney was coming to Davenport, Iowa, on July 17, she decided to heed the group's protest call. "I knew it was going to be extremely hot that day, but I said I'm going to take a stand," she recalls. She joined about 120 people along River Road next to the Mississippi, and they marched part way toward the home where Cheney was doing a fundraiser for the Republican House candidate, Mike Whalen. Berta was carrying a sign that said: "No, You Can't Have My Rights, I'm Still Using Them." And she was also holding a little American flag on a stick. But the police wouldn't let her, or anyone else, carry the flags. "I'm going to have to take your stick," one officer told her, she says. She describes him as "very courteous, and very embarrassed." "I said, 'I know you're just doing your job,' and he just kind of nodded," she says. Berta says she went along with the request because she wanted to keep the protest positive. "Had we resisted, there would have been a really ugly picture in the paper," she says. "It was absolutely ridiculous," she says. "Talk about overkill."

Republicans Believe In Bipartisan Cooperation: At 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, the House of Representatives passed a bill that links a $2 increase in the minimum wage to a dramatic cut of the estate tax for millionaires. A few hours earlier, Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) went on the House floor to brag about this ploy, which has little chance of passing the Senate. Wamp said to his opponents, "I know why you're so mad and why you say things you don't really mean. It's because you have seen us really outfox you on this issue tonight."

Republican Policies Make America More Secure: More than two-thirds of the Army National Guard's 34 brigades are not combat ready, mostly because of equipment shortages that will cost up to $21 billion to correct, the top National Guard general said Tuesday. Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum spoke to a group defense reporters after Army officials, analysts and members of Congress disclosed that two-thirds of the active Army's brigades are not ready for war. The budget won't allow the military to complete the personnel training and equipment repairs and replacement that must be done when units return home after deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan, they say. "I am further behind or in an even more dire situation than the active Army, but we both have the same symptoms, I just have a higher fever," Blum said. One Army official acknowledged Tuesday that while all active Army units serving in the war zone are "100 percent" ready, the situation is not the same for those at home. "In the continental United States, there are plenty of units that are rated at significantly less than a C-1 [fully ready] rating," said Lt. Col. Carl S. Ey. "Backlogs at the depots, budget issues and the timeliness of receiving funds to conduct training are all critical to the Army's ability keep their force trained, ready and at the highest readiness level possible." Once a taboo subject for the military, often buried deep in classified documents, readiness levels - generally ranked from C-1 (the best) to C-4 (the worst) are now being used as weapons themselves to force money out of Congress and the administration. And while Army officials still won't specify how many units are at which levels, they are being more open about the overall declining state of readiness.

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: More than 14,000 seals, sea lions and dolphins have landed sick or dead along the California shoreline in the last decade. So have more than 650 gray whales along the West Coast. In Maine two years ago, 800 harbor seals, all adults with no obvious injuries, washed up dead, and in Florida the carcasses of hundreds of manatees have been found in mangrove forests and on beaches. The surge in mortality has coincided with what Florida wildlife pathologist Greg Bossart calls a "pandemic" of toxic algae and bacteria. Although the algae have been around for eons, they have bloomed with extraordinary intensity along the Pacific coast for the last eight years. The blooms are part of a worldwide pattern of oceanic changes that scientists attribute to warming waters, excessive fishing, and a torrent of nutrients unleashed by farming, deforestation and urban development. The explosion of harmful algae has caused toxins to move through the food chain and concentrate in the dietary staples of marine mammals. For the last 25 years, the federal government has tracked a steady upswing in beach strandings and mass die-offs of whales, dolphins and other ocean mammals on US coasts. Although some of the deaths defy easy explanation, telltale biotoxins have turned up in urine, blood, brains and other tissue. Sometimes the toxins kill animals outright, such as the manatees found dead in Florida, blood streaming from their noses. In other cases, they kill slowly by promoting tumor growth or compromising immune systems, leaving marine mammals vulnerable to parasites, viruses or bacteria. Scientists believe the episodic die-offs of bottlenose dolphins along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts that began in the late 1980s may stem from toxic algae that weaken the animals and enable a virus related to canine distemper to attack the lungs and brain. Sea turtles in Hawaii have been found with fist-sized tumors growing out of their eyes and mouths and behind their flippers. Scientists say the growths are the result of a papilloma virus and an ancient microorganism called Lyngbya majuscula, which appears as a hairy weed that has been spreading in tropical and subtropical waters. The tumors doom the turtles by inhibiting their ability to see, eat or swim. As they watch the oceans disgorge more dead and dying creatures, scientists have come to a disquieting realization: The proliferation of algae, bacteria and other microbes is making the oceans less hospitable to advanced forms of life - those animals most like humans.

Swimming has been banned along sections of the Italian coastline because of blooms of toxic algae, a report said Tuesday. Officials last Friday halted swimming from beaches near the northern Italian city of Genoa when a 60-year-old man had to be hospitalized, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. Such high concentrations of Ostreopsis ovata -- a type of algae that release neurotoxins into the air -- sent more than 200 people to Genoa-area hospitals during a similar incident last year. The people became ill after swimming in the algae or inhaling toxins carried to the beach by winds, ANSA said. Earlier this month, authorities banned swimming at the resort of Fregene, near Rome. Those who ignore the prohibition face fines.

The vast Amazon rainforest is on the brink of being turned into desert, with catastrophic consequences for the world's climate, alarming 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 alarming news comes in the midst of a heatwave gripping Britain and much of Europe and the United States. Temperatures in the south of England reached a July record of 36.3C on Tuesday. And it comes hard on the heels of a warning by an international group of experts, led by the Eastern Orthodox " pope" Bartholomew, last week that the forest is rapidly approaching a " tipping point" that would lead to its total destruction. 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. When Dr Dan Nepstead started the experiment in 2002 ­ by covering a chunk of rainforest the size of a football pitch with plastic panels to see how it would cope without rain ­ he surrounded it with sophisticated sensors, expecting to record only minor changes. The trees managed the first year of drought without difficulty. In the second year, they sunk their roots deeper to find moisture, but survived. But in year three, they started dying. Beginning with the tallest the trees started to come crashing down, exposing the forest floor to the drying sun. By the end of the year the trees had released more than two-thirds of the carbon dioxide they have stored during their lives, helping to act as a break on global warming. Instead they began accelerating the climate change.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Less than a year after a conservative Republican majority on the State Board of Education adopted rules for teaching science containing one of the broadest challenges in the nation to Darwin's theory of evolution, moderate Republicans and Democrats are mounting a fierce counterattack. They want to retake power and switch the standards back to what they call conventional science. The Kansas election is being watched closely by both sides in the national debate over the teaching of evolution. In the past several years, pitched battles have been waged between the scientific establishment and proponents of what is called intelligent design, which holds that nature alone cannot explain life�s origin and complexity.

Amid the often hostile rhetoric that pierces South Dakota’s closely watched abortion debate, a new survey shows that more residents of the largely conservative state oppose a ban on the pregnancy-ending procedure than support it, though that would change if exceptions for cases involving rape and incest were allowed. According to the statewide poll, conducted for the Argus Leader and KELO-TV in Sioux Falls, 47 percent of voters polled would vote to reject the ban, compared with 39 percent who would vote to keep it. Another 14 percent were undecided. Support for the current form of the abortion ban came equally from men and women and matched the statewide 39 percent. The political breakdown showed only 23 percent of Democrats support the proposed law, while 51 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of independents back it.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: At 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, the House of Representatives passed a bill that links a $2 increase in the minimum wage to a dramatic cut of the estate tax for millionaires. A few hours earlier, Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) went on the House floor to brag about this ploy, which has little chance of passing the Senate. Wamp said to his opponents, "I know why you're so mad and why you say things you don't really mean. It's because you have seen us really outfox you on this issue tonight."

In response to a July 20 speech on "Islamic fascism" by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), a commentary appeared on the Al Jazeerah website with the tagline "Don't ask Santorum to 'apologize,' folks. Vote Democratic." That led a host of conservative blogs to gawk loudly. Did an infamous Arab television network just endorse Santorum's Democratic rival, Bob Casey Jr.? Could this be the manna from the heavens Santorum would need to turn around his campaign for re-election, and close Casey's double-digit lead? Conservatives prayed hard. Santorum's increasingly desperate campaign pushed the story to a reporter from the Allentown Morning Call, and Santorum himself repeated the claim on the July 27 edition of Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor. One problem. the Morning Call reporter determined that Al Jazeera, the news network, didn't write the commentary. Instead, it was Al Jazeerah, a site launched by Dr. Hassan A. El-Najjar, a professor at Dalton State College, in Dalton, Ga. Santorum hasn't apologized for his mis-statement. Santorum's spokeswoman, Virginia Davis, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that it doesn't make a difference. "We thought we should share these kind of sentiments." And as far as I can tell, O'Reilly hasn't corrected the mistake, either.

When Sen. Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum (R., Pa.) encouraged everyone in state politics to help the Green Party earn a spot on the November ballot, at least one group answered the call: Santorum donors. Fourteen Santorum supporters gave $40,000 to fund a petition drive that has allowed Carl Romanelli to collect about 100,000 voter signatures to qualify for the Senate race. That's 33,000 more signatures than required, and double what independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader gathered here in 2004. But Romanelli and the Green Party of Luzerne County, which collected the money, might have violated federal election law in the process. In his latest campaign-finance reports, Romanelli listed $66,000 as an in-kind contribution from the Green Party. Such donations cannot exceed $5,000, said Ian Stirton, a Federal Election Commission spokesman, who spoke generally about election law and not about this specific case. Romanelli said if he and the Green Party didn't follow federal rules, it wasn't intentional. "Do I have a team of lawyers at my disposal? No," Romanelli said last night as he drove to Philadelphia to collect petitions to submit by today's deadline. "We were trying to honestly disclose where our help came from when, in fact, it was activity of the party and didn't need to be disclosed on the Senate side." Romanelli made no excuses for Santorum's donor support, but denied coordination. "Both Republicans and Democrats have this notion that, if Greens are in the race, Democrats lose votes," said Romanelli, a railroad-industry consultant from the Wilkes-Barre area. "If that was going to motivate someone to contribute, I am fine with that."

Gov. Mitt Romney has apologized for referring to the troubled Big Dig construction project as a "tar baby" during a fundraiser with Iowa Republicans, saying he didn't know anyone would be offended by the term some consider a racial epithet. In a speech Saturday, Romney, a Republican considering a run for president in 2008, acknowledged he took a big political risk in taking control of the project after a fatal tunnel ceiling collapse, but said inaction would have been even worse. "The best thing politically would be to stay as far away from that tar baby as I can," he told a crowd of about 100 supporters in Ames, Iowa. Black leaders were outraged at his use of the term, which dates to the 19th century Uncle Remus stories, referring to a doll made of tar that traps Br'er Rabbit. It has come to be known as a way of describing a sticky mess, and has been used as a derogatory term for a black person.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:50:32 AM
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