Letters From Exile

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

Sat, Sep 30 2006

Back In Town, Back In Business

I am resuming blogging today, after being off-line for a week for a trip to Granada, Nicaragua. The trip was successful. My apologies to those of you who have been loyal readers of this blog for so long. Hopefully, this should be the last of these trips, and the blog should be reliable from now on.

The weather yesterday was bright and sunny, all the way from Granada, down the Pacific coast to Canas, and inland to Arenal, and I can attest to that from having been there. Temperatures have been moderate, 73 overnight and 83 here today. Granada is experiencing one of its driest rainy seasons in recent memory, as is much of Guanacaste in Costa Rica and including Arenal. The lake level still hasn't recovered, and unless the weather changes, which is unlikely, it won't rise significantly. Bad news for Costa Rica, as low water levels mean low electricity production - and Costa Rica and the region generally are growing increasingly short of power.

The trip to Granada was a good one, with only one hitch. When I arrived in Liberia, Costa Rica, I went to my usual hotel to get a room for the night, and was refused, even though I have been a regular customer, and have never caused them a problem. I was told that the hotel was booked up - which I do not for a minute believe. The hotel depends primarily on the backpacker tourist trade, and right now, the tourist season is at its lowest ebb. Just why I was refused, I do not know, but I harbor some private theories. In any event, the next day, I got on a bus and headed for Granada.

The border crossing was one of the fastest I have experienced. The bus was the first to the border in the morning, so the formalities went quickly - I walked right up to the immigration clerk, and was stamped out. On the Nicaraguan side, things were equally fast, and the customs inspection, which normally takes the longest, was handled in about twenty minutes for the whole bus. I arrived in Granada well before noon. The hotel there was glad to see me and gave me a room with a view of the cathedral across the street. Normally, I would have stayed on the other side as it is a bit quieter, but that part of the hotel was undergoing renovation of the roof.

It was an interesting process - the roof is a layer of cane, with some zinc roof sheets over that, and then a layer of clay roof tiles, of the colonial style, just lain on top, with no wire to hold them. A crew of four men pitched them off of the roof one at a time, caught them, piled them on the lawn. They then replaced the cane, sprayed the new cane underlayment with insecticide, and put down new roof sheets. And finally, the tiles were pitched back up, one at a time, and put them back in place. The whole process took three days for about 200 square meters of roof. Very labor intensive, and it makes for a hugely heavy roof, but one that is reasonably durable, handsome, looks very traditional, and requires no skilled labor to install. They're also quite durable - I am told this one should last thirty to fifty years. They're seen all over Granada.

The return trip on Friday morning was uneventful, and went smoothly. We arrived at the border at about 7 AM, and were done with formalities by 9:30, and I was off the bus in Canas and waiting for a local bus by 11:30. I caught a bus at noon, which connected directly to a bus to Arenal, and was home by 1:30 in the afternoon - the quickest return trip I have done. The house was in good shape, and does not appear to have been entered during my absence. I didn't do much after getting home, other than to retrieve my things from the secured storage and put the house back together - and promptly collapse into a long night's sleep.

While in Granada this week, I observed that the power cuts across Nicaragua are less frequent and shorter-lived than when I was there in July. It appears that President Balanos' promise to allow Union Fenosa a 30% rate increase has had the desired effect. The bad news is that Nicaraguans are already paying 21.4 cents U.S. per kilowatt-hour for notoriously unreliable service, one of the highest rates in the hemisphere. Most people in Nicaragua are already paying around $200 per month for their electricity, even without air conditioning, which in that climate, is badly needed. If I were to live there, I would get solar panels, a gas stove, fridge and air conditioner, and go off-grid for sure.

Not to suggest that things aren't going to get tough in Costa Rica over the next few years, either. There are several disturbing trends here that have me concerned. For years, power consumption in Costa Rica has been rising much faster than production, and at the end of this year, the trend lines will cross. Already, ICE is buying surplus power from Panama, and Panama's available surplus is also diminishing. Second, ICE is going to be privatized when CAFTA goes into effect, and that means that it will be forced by market forces to do what Fenosa has already done in Nicaragua - build oil-fired plants because they're the fastest and cheapest to build. That means that Costa Rica's already stretched foreign exchange reserves are going to be further strained to buy oil to generate power - by much more than they need to be, given Costa Rica's abundant resources of wind, hydro and geothermal reserves. Listening to the free-market neo-liberal B.S. coming out of Washington is going to come at a very high price to Costa Rica, just as it already has to Nicaragua and El Salvador.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that would provide congressional authorization for President George W. Bush's warrantless domestic spying program but subject it to new rules. With a court battle waging over the program's legality, the House, controlled by Bush's fellow Republicans, approved the measure on a largely party-line vote of 232-191, and sent it to the Senate for needed concurrence. The Senate, however, has been unable to agree on such legislation, preventing Bush from getting a final measure to sign into law before members of Congress go home to campaign for the November 7 elections. That had been a top Republican goal. With both parties bickering over who can best protect America, the bill outlines when and how a president can order warrantless surveillance. The president would be permitted to do so, for example, after an "armed attack," "terrorist attack" or when the president deems there is an "imminent threat." Largely along party lines, the House passed the bill (H.R.6166) yesterday which would give both the president and government interrogators greater leeway in their handling of suspected terrorists. The passage follows weeks of negotiations (mostly between GOP senators and the Bush Administration) concerning the rights of detainees in the U.S. War on Terror. The Senate is likely to consider the bill soon, and all indications are that it is headed for passage. Last week, the bill looked as good as dead after three GOP senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee - John Warner (R-Va.), John McCain, (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) "refused to go along with President Bush’s wishes. Bush had sought to re-define the government’s interpretation of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which bans "outrages upon personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment." Doing so, he argued, would provide U.S. officers greater leeway, in terms of the methods it could use to interrogate "enemy combatants." The administration also requested the right to withhold evidence from suspects, as well as the freedom to hold defendants in custody without an explanation for why detention was necessary (denying them habeas corpus protection). One of its effects would be to provide impunity to administration officials for their part in authorizing torture. Additionally, "hidden in the fine print are provisions which grant the administration authority to maintain permanent records on innocent U.S. citizens, granting the administration new authority to demand personal records without court review, and terminating any and all legal challenges to unlawful wiretapping," said Rep. John Conyers, top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, seen on Hannity and Colmes, defended the human rights abuses in the legislation. He said, "The American people will get it. We don't want (enemy combatants) to have everyday rights of American civilians right here."

"Checks and balances" has a nice ring. But it's a currency that doesn't go a long way in Washington today. The Military Commissions Act of 2006, of MCA, passed by the House and Senate in a 263-158 party-line vote, is a wholesale assault on the idea of a limited government under law. It will be taken by the Bush Administration as a blank check to torture, to detain indefinitely without just cause, and to trample the values that win America respect in the world. From tomorrow, counter-terrorism is the "land of do as you please" for the President and the wise men of the Defense Department -- those savants who brought you Iraq, the gift that keeps on giving (at least if you're a jihadist). The MCA comprehensively assaults two ideas: The idea of checking executive power by laws. And the idea of a separate branch of government ensuring those limits are respected. These are the basic tools of accountability. The MCA frontally attacks both of these -- although only time will tell whether it succeeds. How does the Military Commissions Act assail checks and balances? Consider the key issues of detention and torture. Here's how the Addington play for detention power will work. The opening definition of the Act describes elaborately what an "unlawful enemy combatant" is. Why? The term is a neologism. The laws of war do not use or define this term. Indeed, it is a mutation of a phrase used in a subordinate clause of a 1942 Supreme Court opinion. Nothing else in the Act directly turns on this definition--although only an "alien unlawful enemy combatant" can be subject to trial by military commission. So why bother with the elaborate definition? And why extend the definition to U.S. citizens as well as non-citizens? Back in 2004, the Supreme Court, in the now well-known Hamdi v. Rumsfeld decision, stated that an "enemy combatant" captured in hostilities could be held for the duration of those hostilities. The Court made very clear it was talking about only the limited context of the ground war in Afghanistan, not some amorphous and unending "war on terror." But Addington et al. will, however, take Hamdi's sanction of detention--and extend it far, far beyond Hamdi. It will be a detention power that applies anywhere and anytime. The second way is -- if it's even possible -- more dangerous: You are designated an enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal -- the Potemkin proceedings jerry-rigged at Guantánamo -- or you are designated by "another competent tribunal" created by the Defense Secretary. It's the latter that catches in the throat, because the MCA does not define what Rumsfeld's "competent tribunal" must look like. Rummy himself with the always-fair-and-impartial Addington? Five Syrian torturers (like the ones to whom the U.S. sent the hapless Canadian Maher Arar)? A bunch of guys who flip coins for your liberty? Sure, why not? The MCA doesn't stop the executive from using any of these, provided Rumsfeld gave them power and hence made them "competent."

On September 26, 2006, attorneys for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) determined that what appears to be the final version of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 could allow the government to detain the attorneys themselves as 'enemy combatants.' CCR Legal Director Bill Goodman said: "This ominously broad definition of enemy combatants would mean that almost anyone who actively opposes the President or the government could be locked up indefinitely. This bill makes a mockery of the rule of law." The current version of the Military Commissions redefines an "unlawful enemy combatant" (UEC) so broadly that it could include anyone who organizes a march against the war in Iraq. The bill defines a UEC as "a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States" or anyone who "has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense of the United States." The definition makes no reference to citizenship and therefore could be read to include any number of individuals, including: * CCR attorneys and other habeas counsel, Federal Public Defenders and military defense counsel for detainees at Guantánamo Bay. * Any person who has given $5 to a charity working with orphans in Afghanistan that turns out to be associated in some fashion with someone who may be a member of the Taliban.

Could Karl Rove's promised pre-election October surprise come in the form of Osama bin Laden's dead carcass and a propaganda coup for the universally abhorrent war on terror? Recent indications suggest the final nail in the coffin for this CIA poster child might be just around the corner. In late 2002, nationally syndicated radio talk show host Alex Jones was told by a source close to the Bush family that bin Laden was already dead and that the body had been handed over after an agreement with the bin Laden family. The source said bin Laden was on ice and his death would be announced only right before the 2004 election. Perhaps fearing fallout at the brazen transparency of this PR trick, Rove settled for a mere campaign endorsement from bin Laden's videotape release and it was enough to give Bush the four point swing he needed to reclaim the Oval Office. John Kerry blamed the late intervention for his defeat, Walter Kronkite accused Karl Rove of personally orchestrating it. George W. Bush later attributed his victory to the tape. We are already witnessing the wheels of propaganda begin to turn in anticipation of a major announcement of Bin Laden's death. Newsmax columnist Ronald Kessler cited Republican insiders as the source of the leak that Rove intends on pulling a rabbit out of the hat to guarantee another Republican sweep this November. Rove didn't predict an October surprise - he "promised" one. News reports over the weekend have strongly introduced the premise into the minds of the public that bin Laden may now have bitten the dust. A leaked secret French foreign intelligence document concluded that the Saudis thought bin Laden was dead, a claim later denied. Reuters reports today that the Taliban say bin Laden is "alive and well."

Tom Ridge, the former and first head of the federal Department of Homeland Security, took after Democratic Senate candidate Jon Tester on Wednesday, saying his call to repeal the federal Patriot Act is "ludicrous." Ridge, who said he was asked by former Republican Montana Gov. Marc Racicot to share his views with Montana reporters, said Tester's recent call to repeal the Patriot Act is "unfathomable, almost inexplicable." Tester, a Big Sandy farmer and current president of the Montana Senate, is challenging U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont. In a debate with Burns in Butte on Saturday, Tester said he wants to repeal the act, which he said puts in jeopardy the individual freedoms that make America unique. If those freedoms are sacrificed, then the terrorists will have won, he said.

In New Mexico, public-private prison hybrids - paid for by the state and run by corporations - are making a few people rich and a lot of people unhappy. While New Mexico's landscape may make the state the Land of Enchantment, its rapidly growing rates of incarceration have been utterly disenchanting. What's worse, New Mexico is at the top of the nation's list for privatizing prisons; nearly one-half of the state's prisons and jails are run by corporations. According to Edwin Bender, executive director of the Institute on Money in State Politics, private prison companies strongly favor giving to states with the toughest sentencing laws - in essence, the ones that are more likely to come up with the bodies to fill prison beds. Those states, adds Bender, are also the ones most likely to have passed "three-strikes" laws. Those laws, first passed by Washington state voters in 1993 and then California voters in 1994, quickly swept the nation. They were largely based on "cookie-cutter legislation" pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), some of whose members come from the ranks of private prison companies. Florida leads the pack in terms of private prison dollars, with its candidates and political parties receiving almost 20 percent of their total contributions from private prison companies and their affiliates. Florida already has five privately owned and operated prisons, with a sixth on the way. It's also privatized the bulk of its juvenile detention system. Texas and New Jersey are close behind.

Veteran US journalist Bob Woodward has claimed that the true extent of insurgent attacks in Iraq has been hidden by the administration. He makes the claim in a book, State of Denial, due to be released on Monday. Mr Woodward has had better access to policymakers in the Bush White House than any other writer. In a preview interview he also revealed that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has become a frequent adviser to President Bush. State of Denial is a follow up to earlier volumes on the Bush White House which have contained a vivid detail of who said what to whom but have been largely uncritical of the President. Indeed, they have been recommended as essential reading by Bush supporters. This book appears to be much more challenging, with Bob Woodward making at least one eye-catching and politically damaging claim that the true extent of the violence in Iraq is being hidden. "Now, there's public and then there's private, but what do they do with the private - they stamp it secret. No-one's supposed to know," Mr Woodward said. He added that the insurgents knew how effective they were - but the US public did not. So the only reason to keep it a secret is to deceive the American public.

A memo received by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shortly after becoming National Security Advisor in 2001 directly contradicts statements she made to reporters yesterday. "We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda," Rice told a reporter for the New York Post on Monday. "Big pieces were missing," Rice added, "like an approach to Pakistan that might work, because without Pakistan you weren't going to get Afghanistan." Rice made the comments in response to claims made Sunday by former President Bill Clinton, who argued that his administration had done more than the current one to address the al Qaeda problem before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. She stopped short of calling the former president a liar. However, RAW STORY has found that just five days after President George W. Bush was sworn into office, a memo from counter-terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke to Rice included the 2000 document, "Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al-Qida: Status and Prospects." This document devotes over 2 of its 13 pages of material to specifically addressing strategies for securing Pakistan's cooperation in airstrikes against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Despite his much-publicized pronouncements about not supporting dictators and hosting them in the White House, Smirkey has praised his guest and Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, for transforming the former Soviet republic into a 'free nation'. After talks between the two leaders in Washington, Mr Bush thanked his guest for backing US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and combating "extremism". But economic ties between the US and oil-rich Kazakhstan topped the agenda. US concerns over Kazakhstan's human rights record did not come up when the two leaders appeared before reporters. In Kazakhstan, the media is controlled by the state and since the country achieved independence in December 1991 no election has been seen as free or fair. The BBC's Jonathan Beale in Washington says the US has been willing to overlook complaints about Mr Nazarbayev's autocratic rule and human rights abuses.

The White House ignored an urgent warning in September 2003 from a top Iraq adviser who said that thousands of additional American troops were desperately needed to quell the insurgency there, according to a new book by Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter and author. The book describes a White House riven by dysfunction and division over the war. The warning is described in "State of Denial," scheduled for publication on Monday by Simon & Schuster. The book says President Bush’s top advisers were often at odds among themselves, and sometimes were barely on speaking terms, but shared a tendency to dismiss as too pessimistic assessments from American commanders and others about the situation in Iraq. As late as November 2003, Mr. Bush is quoted as saying of the situation in Iraq: "I don't want anyone in the cabinet to say it is an insurgency. I don't think we are there yet." Vice President Cheney is described as a man so obsessed with finding proof that his claim about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was accurate, that, in the summer of 2003, his aides were calling the chief weapons inspector, David Kay, with specific satellite coordinates as the sites of possible caches. None resulted in any finds.

Last week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have forced large companies to provide health coverage to their employees. Schwarzenegger said the bill was a misguided way to solve the state’s healthcare problems. The Fair Share Health Care bill would have required businesses with 10,000 or more employees in the state to spend 8 percent of their payroll on healthcare coverage for workers, or contribute to a state healthcare fund instead. Schwarzenegger argued the bill would "do little more than lead to expensive legal challenges." His decision follows a July court decision that struck down a similar bill in Maryland. Advocates argued the bill would have helped recapture some of the cost of healthcare for low-wage workers whose employers provide no coverage, and who cannot afford it themselves.

"We all knew it would come to this, didn't we?" a Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial asks, of a new offer by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) to pay Nevada to accept nuclear waste at the controversial Yucca Mountain storage facility. NEI's offer is $25 million per year, which would double "once the first waste shipment arrives." After calling Yucca Mountain a "boondoggle," with "audit after audit" revealing "glaring flaws in the scientific models created to demonstrate the project's long-term viability," the newspaper slams NEI's offer as too low. "The standard for paying off a state's population was set by the Alaska Permanent Fund, which collects fees and taxes from oil and mineral exploration and production and offers qualifying residents an annual dividend," it states. This year, Alaska residents received more than $1,100 each; NEI's offer translates to a measly $10 per Nevada resident. In other news, a new poll paid for by NEI and conducted by a former NEI employee found that "nearly seven of 10 Americans favor nuclear energy and 68 percent support building a new reactor at the existing nuclear power plant closest to where they live."

The New York Times is editorializing strongly against the interrogation bill described above. "There is not enough time to fix these bills, they say, especially since the few Republicans who call themselves moderates have been whipped into line, and the Democratic leadership in the Senate seems to have misplaced its spine. If there was ever a moment for a filibuster, this was it. We don't blame the Democrats for being frightened. The Republicans have made it clear that they'll use any opportunity to brand anyone who votes against this bill as a terrorist enabler. But Americans of the future won't remember the pragmatic arguments for caving in to the administration. They'll know that in 2006, Congress passed a tyrannical law that will be ranked with the low points in American democracy, our generation's version of the Alien and Sedition Acts."

Billionaire financier George Soros said on Thursday the war in Iraq has undermined U.S. leadership in the world, mocking the concept that peace and democracy could be achieved through war. "The idea that you can introduce democracy via military force is a non-starter," Soros told a gathering at the Council on Foreign Relations. "We have lost the moral high ground." The currency arbitrageur-turned-philanthropist donated millions of dollars to Democrats in the 2004 presidential election in an unsuccessful effort to defeat President George W. Bush. More generally, he has used his influence and money to speak out on key political issues. Soros, who is promoting a book lambasting U.S. Middle East policy, said the resentment generated in the Arab world by the bloody conflict in Iraq more than offsets any possible benefits gleaned from efforts to open the country's political process.

A watchdog group is accusing Wal-Mart of declaring war against organic farmers. A report released by The Cornucopia Institute, an organic farming watchdog, claims that Wal-Mart is cheapening the value of the organic label by sourcing products from giant factory-farms and Third World countries, such as China. "The Institute's white paper, 'Wal-Mart Rolls Out Organic Products - Market Expansion or Market Delusion?,' concludes that Wal-Mart is poised to drive down the price of organic food by inventing a 'new' organic - food from corporate agribusiness, factory farms, and cheap imports of questionable quality," states a press release issued by Cornucopia.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Human rights activists in Morocco are demanding that the government acknowledge the existence of secret US detention centers on Moroccan soil. It is believed the US has interrogated suspects in a number of countries via the practice known as renditions. Earlier this month President Bush admitted that such prisons did exist but gave no further details. In a recent press conference, Justice Minister Mohamed Bouzoubaa denied any knowledge of such jails in Morocco. In a forest a few miles outside Rabat is a place called Temara, a complex of buildings that belong to the Moroccan intelligence services. But it is here that human rights organizations say prisoners who have nothing to do with crimes in Morocco are subjected to torture. The Moroccan government has so far refused to acknowledge that it houses such a detention centre. Morocco is on a list of eight countries, most of whom are European, accused of accommodating the CIA-run interrogation centers. Morocco has declared itself an ally of the United States in its so-called war on terror but in doing so it risks being alienated from other African countries as well as alienating a large proportion of its own people.

A British lawyer who represents detainees at Guantanamo Bay yesterday claimed he was threatened with internment at the notorious camp by a US military officer. Clive Stafford-Smith told the Guardian that the US military claimed he had incited inmates to commit suicide and go on hunger strike. Mr Stafford-Smith says the US has been repeatedly interrogating one of his clients to try to get him to implicate him in three suicides. Mr Stafford-Smith has made at least eight visits to the camp, situated on Cuban land occupied by the US, to consult with several detainees he represents. He said the alleged intimidation reached a peak last summer during a mass hunger strike. In August 2005, he said, "a military lawyer took me into a cell and said it would be for me, as he alleged I was behind the hunger strike. They have been making stuff up about the clients and now they are making it up about me." A revolt among prisoners led to three killing themselves this summer, which human rights groups described as an act of desperation. But Rear Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the detention facilities, described the suicides as an act of "asymmetric warfare" designed to tarnish America's image. Mr Stafford-Smith vowed to return to the base: "I'm planning to go back to Guantanamo. I can't stop representing my clients based on these threats."

The US Senate has overwhelmingly endorsed the building of a fence along part of the border with Mexico, in an effort to curb illegal immigration. The bill was approved by a vote of 80-19 - with leading Democrats such as Hillary Clinton joining the Republican majority that had proposed the measure. The bill must be reconciled with a similar move passed in the House of Representatives last week. Mexico has said the fence will badly affect relations with the US.

The Belgian-based consortium known as SWIFT, which handles money transfers among banks, violated European privacy regulations when it turned over confidential transaction information to the Central Intelligence Agency and other American agencies, Belgium's privacy protection commission concluded today. "It has to be seen as a gross miscalculation by Swift that it has, for years, secretly and systematically transferred massive amounts of personal data for surveillance without effective and clear legal basis and independent controls in line with Belgian and European law," the commission wrote today in its report. Swift, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, has come under scrutiny for secretly cooperating with a Bush administration program meant to trace the flows of money among suspected terrorists and their supporters. American analysts were permitted to sift through confidential data on millions of transactions without obtaining specific warrants or subpoenas. Administration officials have defended the secret program, which began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington. But critics in Europe have argued that it improperly put American security interests ahead of European civil liberties.

Canadian officials on the Great Lakes are worried about a plan to arm U.S. Coast Guard vessels and allow live-fire training exercises, a report says. Mike Bradley, the mayor of Sarnia, Ontario, told the Windsor Star there has been no threat of Canadian invasion of the United States since the War of 1812 ended, and there has never been a hint that the Great Lakes might be used by terrorists. Bradley also finds the Coast Guard's use of the term "safety zone" for a live-fire area ironic. "They'll have dozens of safety zones where guns will be fired on a regular basis across the waters of the Great Lakes," Bradley said. "They're using terrorism as an excuse." Joe Comartin, who represents the Windsor area in Parliament, said the United States can arm its Coast Guard as it wishes -- but does not have the right to discharge those weapons on lakes it shares with Canada. Comartin and Bradley worry about the risk to recreational boaters and commercial shipping and the environmental effect, the report said. Lead is already a problem in the lakes. Local boaters say the U.S. Coast Guard must do a better job sharing information about a proposal to create machine-gun ranges on the Great Lakes, including one about 10 miles north of the mouth of Irondequoit Bay. For starters, the Coast Guard should schedule a public hearing in Rochester, said Sam Zucco, president of the Genesee Charter Boat Association. "I'd like to see a meeting here because we have a lot of concerns that are justified," Zucco said. "We know so little about it."

The United States has denied a visa to prominent Swiss Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, saying Tuesday that the man had contributed to a terrorist group. "He was denied a visa... for providing material support to a terrorist organization," US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters, referring to US immigration law. McCormack refused to give details. Ramadan has charged that he was excluded for "ideological" reasons, according to The New York Times. McCormack however denied that was the reason for the rejection. Ramadan, 44, had applied for a work visa in 2004 after he was hired to teach at the Catholic University of University of Notre Dame in the US state of Indiana. He had to withdraw from the post after the US first granted, then denied him the visa because of "new information" that "came to light" at the time, McCormack said.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Israel has modified plans to assassinate Hezbollah's chief Hassan Nasrallah and plans to complete its withdrawal from south Lebanon by the end of next week. Daily Maariv reported Friday that the Israeli government has pressed for Nasrallah's assassination for several weeks, a move opposed by the military intelligence department. At present, the government has agreed to refrain from assassinating Nasrallah "at least in the next months," the paper added. The decision to postpone Nasrallah's possible slaying for the time being was advised by military intelligence after the cessation of hostilities in line with Security Council Resolution 1701, on the grounds that the international community will not accept or tolerate such an act. Intelligence projections estimated that Nasrallah's assassination would renew the war, and that renewed hostilities would be more brutal than those seen during the 34-day war which began July 12. Nevertheless, the Israeli government ordered security agencies to continue preparations for assassinating Nasrallah, and only reversed its order last Friday, the paper said.

It could take between eight to 14 months to fix a Gaza Strip power plant destroyed in an Israel Air Force strike in late June, and to restore full electrical power to the region. Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem has accused the Israel Defense Forces of war crimes for bombing the plant, which has left many areas of the Gaza Strip without full electrical power the last three months. Electricity in many areas is cut off for half of the day, severely hampering hospitals, the water supply and sewage systems, B'Tselem said in a report. An IAF aircraft struck the power plant on June 28. The attack came at the start of a major IDF offensive in Gaza following the abduction of an IDF soldier and the killing of two others by Palestinian militants linked to Hamas. "B'Tselem determines that the bombing of the power plant was illegal and defined as a war crimes in International Humanitarian Law, as the attack was aimed at a purely civilian object," according to the report. "There was no apparent military basis for the action and it seems that its intention was to satisfy a desire for revenge." Israel could have, instead of taking such drastic military action, cut off the electric supply to Gaza through the Israel Electric Corporation although this would have been illegal as well, the group said. B'Tselem demanded that the government open an investigation into the bombing of the plant.

U.N. Human Rights director Jan Egeland (et. al.) writing in Le Figaro: "Gaza constitutes a time bomb. Some 1.4 million people, mostly children, are piled up in one of the most densely populated regions of the world, with no freedom of movement, no place to run, and no space to hide. Virtually without external access since June, Gaza is experiencing a rise in poverty, unemployment, penury, and despair. Sadly, that which Gaza most needs today is precisely what it lacks the most: hope... Since the Israeli operation "Summer Rain" began end-June in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli Defense Forces soldier, one Israeli soldier has been killed. During the same period, 235 Palestinians have been killed, including 46 children. Every loss of human life must be deplored. But there is no doubt that the response, measured in terms of civilian victims, is disproportionate. For the Palestinians, as for the Israelis, the consequences of the confrontations of the summer are devastating, just as they are pernicious to the perspectives for peace in this troubled region. Access by air, sea, and land has been virtually cut off for Gaza. The movements of goods and peoples have practically ceased. Supplies of electricity and water, interrupted by Israeli Defense Forces attacks on electric power stations, is irregular and insignificant. Civilian infrastructures have been affected. Gaza today remains dependent on outside sources for its food and commercial supplies. Hygienic conditions are deteriorating, while access to potable water is inadequate. With a Palestinian economy in continuous freefall, we must expect a more severe deterioration in sanitary conditions."

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A federal judge in Idaho has ruled that former attorney general John D. Ashcroft can be held personally responsible for the wrongful detention of a U.S. citizen arrested as a "material witness" in a terrorism case. U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge, in a ruling issued late Wednesday, dismissed claims by the Justice Department that Ashcroft and other officials should be granted immunity from claims by a former star college football player arrested at Dulles International Airport in 2003. Attorneys for the plaintiff in the civil suit, Abdullah al-Kidd, said the decision raises the possibility that Ashcroft could be forced to testify or turn over records about the government's use of the material witness law, a cornerstone of its controversial legal strategy after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Justice Department officials did not respond to telephone messages yesterday seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Ashcroft also did not respond to requests for comment. Robin Goldfaden, one of Kidd's attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the case "could be the launching point for more fully documenting how the government is misusing the material witness statute."

Catapulting The Propaganda: The proof that media consultants abuse their clients, according to Doug Bailey, founder of The Hotline political news service and former Republican consultant, is the sheer volume of airtime they advise candidates to purchase now. The number of times each political ad airs has risen exponentially over the years - a phenomenon other consultants confirm - and in Bailey's mind, for no valid strategic reason. He's convinced that bloated ad buys flow directly from the consultants' pecuniary interests. A study by the Center for Public Integrity found that in the 2003-2004 presidential election cycle, candidates for national office, party committees and independent "527" political groups spent more than $1.78 billion on campaign consultants, 67 percent of which went to media consultants who handle ads. The silver-haired Bailey says that with each passing year, he sees an escalation in volume of political advertising, which is measured and priced in the television business according to "rating points." "In the seventies, a campaign that bought 500 gross rating points a week in a market was considered to be either on the verge or having crossed the line [of] too much," he says during an interview in the third-floor lunchroom down the hall from his office at the Watergate. "And yet today, in the closing weeks of any contested campaign, it's not unusual for campaigns to be buying 3,000 gross rating points. Which is just a massive, massive buy." And why? "Because consultants earn more money, the more ads that are bought," he says. To put the numbers in perspective, a 500-point buy means the entire viewing audience will see a commercial - on average - five times in one week. A 3,000-point buy means viewers - in theory - will see it an average of 30 times.

Al-Qaida's second-in-command has branded George Bush a "lying failure" and urged Christians to convert to Islam in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI's recent remarks about the Islamic faith. In a video message released yesterday, the Egyptian-born doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri asked: "Bush, oh failure and liar, why can't you be courageous for once and confront your people and tell them the truth about your losses in Iraq and Afghanistan? "Why don't you tell them how many million of citizens of America and its allies you intend to kill in search of the imaginary victory and in breathless pursuit of the mirage towards which you are driving your people's sons in order to increase your profits?" Zawahiri also taunts Mr Bush for failing to dismantle al-Qaida after the arrests of key members of the group such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the US. "Bush you are a lying failure and a charlatan. It has been three-and-a-half years [since the arrests] ... What happened to us? We have gained more strength and we are more insistent on martyrdom," the Egyptian militant leader said. The consequences of the US invasion of Iraq are currently the subject of intense public debate.

Faced with the results of decades of disastrous foreign policies, including invasions, interventions and constant meddling, the U.S. State Department, which has been widely criticized for ineffectual public diplomacy, recently announced its new "Global Cultural Initiative." It's a joint effort "to educate Americans and participating nations about other cultures," reports PR Week. U.S. PR czar Karen Hughes explained, "Public diplomacy isn't just the work of government... Every American who travels abroad or welcomes a foreign visitor can be an ambassador for America." As part of the initiative, the Kennedy Center will send U.S. performance artists overseas, including to Pakistan. The American Film Institute will showcase U.S. and foreign filmmakers at festivals. The National Endowment for the Arts will organize literary exchanges between the U.S. and Pakistan, Russia and other countries. The National Endowment for the Humanities will recruit foreign teachers for U.S. seminars. The State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which leads the new initiative, has seen its budget triple since 2001, to $4.5 million for 2006.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: The United States edition of the October 2, 2006 issue of Newsweek features a radically different cover story from its International counterparts. The cover of International editions, aimed at Europe, Asia, and Latin America, displays in large letters the title "LOSING AFGHANISTAN," along with an arresting photograph of an armed jihadi. The cover of the United States edition, in contrast, is dedicated to celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz and is demurely captioned "My Life in Pictures." The International cover story begins: "You don't have to drive very far from Kabul these days to find the Taliban. In Ghazni province's Andar district, just over a two-hour trip from the capital on the main southern highway, a thin young man, dressed in brown and wearing a white prayer cap, stands by the roadside waiting for two NEWSWEEK correspondents..." The United States cover story begins: "Annie Leibovitz is tired and nursing a cold, and she' s just flown back to New York on the red-eye from Los Angeles, where she spent two days shooting Angelina Jolie for Vogue. Like so many of her photo sessions, there was nothing simple about it. 'I talked with Angelina before the shoot,' says Leibovitz, who's famous for her preparation. 'She felt like she was coming back from having the baby and she felt very sexy and ready to go.'... There were 50 people on the set, and racks of clothes from the New York spring collections to be tried and styled."

Diebold Watch: Top Diebold corporation officials ordered workers to install secret files to Georgia’s electronic voting machines shortly before the 2002 elections, at least two whistleblowers are now asserting, Atlanta Progressive News has learned. Former Diebold official Chris Hood told his story concerning the secret "patch" to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., for Kennedy's second article on electronic voting in this week’s Rolling Stone Magazine. Hood's claims corroborate a second whistleblower who spoke with Black Box Voting and Wired News in 2003. "With the primaries looming, [Chief of Diebold’s Election Division] Urosevich was personally distributing a "patch," a little piece of software designed to correct glitches in the computer program," Rolling Stone Magazine reported. "We were told that it was intended to fix the clock in the system, which it didn't do," Hood told Rolling Stone. "The curious thing is the very swift, covert way this was done. It was an unauthorized patch, and they were trying to keep it secret from the state," Hood told Rolling Stone. "We were told not to talk to county personnel about it. I received instructions directly from Urosevich. It was very unusual that a president of the company would give an order like that and be involved at that level," Hood told Rolling Stone. The "patch" was applied to about 5,000 polling places in Fulton and DeKalb Counties in 2002, Rolling Stone reported. Hood did not immediately return a text message from Atlanta Progressive News and his voicemail was not operational. The second whistleblower, Rob Behler, was contracted to work with Diebold in the lead up to the 2002 Elections. Two patches were applied in June and July 2002 respectively while Behler worked in the Diebold warehouse; another patch was applied in August 2002 after Behler left the warehouse, Wired News reported. "Behler said Diebold programmers posted patches to a file-transfer-protocol site for him and his colleagues to apply to the machines," Wired News reported.

The United States Of America, A Third-World Nation: Most fresh spinach in the United States is "as safe as it was" before a nationwide E. coli outbreak, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said, revising a two-week-old consumer warning. The warning now covers only specific brands packaged on certain dates. Consumers should continue avoiding spinach recalled earlier this month by Natural Selection Foods LLC of San Juan Bautista and four companies that it supplied, said Kevin Reilly, deputy director of prevention services for the California health department. A week ago, the FDA had said it was safe to eat spinach grown anywhere outside of three Salinas Valley counties, and some stores began restocking. Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer of the agency's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said Friday that only spinach that had already been recalled shouldn't be eaten. Other spinach "is as safe as it was before this event," Acheson said.

A US doctors' group sued seven leading fast-food chains including McDonald's and Burger King over their use of a "dangerous carcinogenic" in grilled chicken. The Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) filed suit in California "to compel the restaurants to warn unsuspecting consumers" through in-store posters and menu messages. The group said every sample of grilled chicken products from the seven national chains "tested positive for a dangerous carcinogenic compound called PhIP" during analysis at an independent laboratory. PhIP is one of a group of carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are found in grilled meats. In 2005, the US government officially added HCAs to its list of cancer-causing agents, the doctors' group said. "Grilled chicken can cause cancer, and consumers deserve to know that this supposedly healthy product is actually just as bad for them as high-fat fried chicken," PCRM president Neal Barnard said in a statement.

Conservatives Believe In Freedom Of Religion: The American Civil Liberties Union has sued a Tennessee school, claiming that it has crossed the line by allowing "Praying Parents" to proselytize. In legal papers, the ACLU says Lakeview Elementary School in Mount Juliet also marked National Day of Prayer by getting students to design posters and pick prayer buddies, and gave stickers that said "I prayed" to those who participated, the Nashville Tennessean reported. Non-praying students were left feeling "disfavored and isolated," the suit said. The ACLU filed its suit representing the parents of a boy who attended kindergarten at the school last year. The group says the school not only endorses Christianity but a particular variety of Christianity. Many parents appear to support the school. Parent Cindy Davison told the Tennessean that her family moved to Mount Juliet partly because of the school. "As far as the curriculum and the environment and the staff, it's as close to a private school as you can get," she said. "I believe that goes along with the Christian theme they have."

Conservative Rule Builds A Strong America: The typical double-income family is worse off financially than ever, a study released Thursday said, warning that few Americans have saved enough to brace for financial setbacks. Middle-class families are struggling to pay for a home, health insurance, transportation and their children's college with wages that have not kept pace with higher prices, according to the study by a think tank headed by a former top aide to President Bill Clinton. The middle class's financial condition has been a key issue ahead of the November elections, as Democrats warn that this group is fast losing economic ground amid skyrocketing prices and tax cuts that offer them little benefit.

Dan DiMicco, chief executive officer of U.S. steel maker Nucor Corp., railed against U.S. trade policy during a speech at the Union Club in Cleveland on Thursday, saying the time is now to reverse a trend that has aided other countries, namely China, while hurting U.S. manufacturers. He said the concept of free trade practiced by the United States is a myth because we allow other countries to manage trade to their advantage, creating an uneven playing field. "We are a slave to theory in the face of reality," DiMicco said. "...In short, we have lost our minds." His speech was the first in a series titled "Perspectives on American Manufacturing" to be sponsored by nonprofit WIRE-Net, a support group for West Side manufacturers, and the Northeast Ohio Campaign for American Manufacturing. The erosion of manufacturers is hurting Nucor's customer base. DiMicco touched on several instances in which he believes the U.S. government has failed its own manufacturers. One glaring example is the lack of forceful action as China manipulates its currency, making Chinese goods at least 25 percent cheaper than U.S. goods as a result.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: Battered U.S. consumers, faced with weak income growth and rising inflation, trimmed their spending in August by the largest amount in nearly a year. The Commerce Department reported Friday that consumer spending, after adjusting for inflation, dropped by 0.1 per cent last month, the first decline since a 0.3 per cent fall in September 2005, a month when business activity was disrupted by Hurricane Katrina. Incomes, reflecting lacklustre gains in employment, rose by just 0.3 per cent in August, the weakest performance in nine months. Core inflation, which excludes energy and food, was up a worrisome 2.5 per cent, compared with a year ago, the biggest year-over-year increase in more than a decade. The new report underscored how much the economy is slowing this year as consumers have been battered by record-high gasoline prices and a cooling housing market. Falling home prices are making Americans more cautious about spending money because they feel less wealthy. The overall economy grew at an annual rate of just 2.6 per cent in the April-June quarter, the government reported Thursday, and the new report on consumer spending indicates that growth will likely slow even more in the current quarter.

News From Smirkey's Wars: There's a second damning Iraq report floating around the intelligence community. At least, that's according to Rep. Jane Harman (CA), the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee. At an event this morning, Harman disclosed the existence of a classified intelligence community report that gives a grim assessment of the situation in Iraq, and called for it to be shared with the American public - before the November elections. The report has not been shared with Congress, although sources say a draft version may have circulated earlier this summer. It is a separate report from the one revealed by major news outlets Sunday, which is said to conclude that the war in Iraq has made the U.S. less secure from terrorist threats.

A new WPO poll of the Iraqi public finds that seven in ten Iraqis want US-led forces to commit to withdraw within a year. An overwhelming majority believes that the US military presence in Iraq is provoking more conflict than it is preventing and there is growing confidence in the Iraqi army. If the US made a commitment to withdraw, a majority believes that this would strengthen the Iraqi government. Support for attacks on US-led forces has grown to a majority position - now six in ten. Support appears to be related to a widespread perception, held by all ethnic groups, that the US government plans to have permanent military bases in Iraq. The poll was conducted for WorldPublicOpinion.org by conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland and was fielded by KA Research Ltd. / D3 Systems, Inc. Polling was conducted September 1-4 with a nationwide representative sample of 1,150 Iraqi adults. A large majority of Iraqis - 71% - say they would like the Iraqi government to ask for US-led forces to be withdrawn from Iraq within a year or less. Given four options, 37 percent take the position that they would like US-led forces withdrawn - within six months - while another 34 percent opt for "gradually withdraw[ing] US-led forces according to a one-year timeline." Twenty percent favor a two-year timeline and just 9 percent favor "only reduc[ing] US-led forces as the security situation improves in Iraq."

A new congressional analysis shows the Iraq war is now costing taxpayers almost $2 billion a week, or $12 million an hour. That's nearly twice as much as in the first year of the conflict three years ago and 20 percent more than last year - as the Pentagon spends more on establishing regional bases to support the extended deployment and scrambles to fix or replace equipment damaged in combat. The upsurge occurs as the total cost of military operations at home and abroad since 2001, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will top half a trillion dollars, according to an internal assessment by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service completed last week. The spike in operating costs - including a 20 percent increase over last year in Afghanistan, where the mission now costs about $370 million a week - comes even though troop levels in both countries have remained stable. The reports attribute the rising costs in part to a higher pace of fighting in both countries, where insurgents and terrorists have increased their attacks on US and coalition troops and civilians.

"Under a broad new set of laws criminalizing speech that ridicules the government or its officials, some resurrected verbatim from Saddam Hussein's penal code, roughly a dozen Iraqi journalists have been charged with offending public officials in the past year," reports Paul von Zielbauer. "Three journalists for a small newspaper in southeastern Iraq are being tried ... for articles last year that accused a provincial governor, local judges and police officials of corruption. ... On Sept. 7, the police sealed the offices of Al Arabiya, a Dubai-based satellite news channel, for what the government said was inflammatory reporting. And the Committee to Protect Journalists says that at least three Iraqi journalists have served time in prison for writing articles deemed criminally offensive. ... In May, a court in ... Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, sentenced two journalists ... to six-month suspended jail terms for an article claiming that a Kurdish official had two telephone company employees fired after they cut his phone service for failing to pay his bill."

"Everyone is kind of groping around in the dark," says New York Times Baghdad correspondent Dexter Filkins on his return from reporting in Iraq. Despite employing 70 Iraqi staffers, the civil war there (Filkins doesn't hedge - "Yeah, sure" it's a civil war) has meant the Times cannot safely access stories. Its own five correspondents primarily spend their time pasting together reports by the Iraqi staff, protected by a small army of 45 security guards, armored cars, and belt-fed rooftop machine guns. "Nobody trusts anybody anymore. There's no law, and the worst people with guns are in charge." The Iraqi reporters know that if their association with the Times is revealed they may pay with their lives, Filkins told the Committee to Protect Journalists at a September 14, 2006, talk in Manhattan where he is preparing to serve a U.S. fellowship. His advice to other reporters thinking about covering Iraq: "Don't go." Filkins said that the U.S. military is similarly hamstrung in getting quality information: soldiers rarely leave their bases and don't interact much with average Iraqis. Ninety-eight percent of Iraq, including Baghdad, is too dangerous for reporters to cover, he said.

The U.S. Congress on Friday moved to block the Bush administration from building permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq or controlling the country's oil sector, as it approved $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The restrictions included in a record $447 billion military funding bill were a slap at the administration, and Republicans have stripped them out of legislation in the past. Democrats and many Republicans say the Iraqi insurgency has been fueled by perceptions the United States has ambitions for a permanent presence in the country. The administration has downplayed prospects for permanent military bases in Iraq, but lawmakers have called on Smirkey to make a definitive statement that the United States has no such plans.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: A judge who struck down a Dover, Penn., school board's decision to teach intelligent design in public schools said he was stunned by the reaction, which included death threats and a week of protection from federal marshals. Pennsylvania U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III told an audience in Lawrence Tuesday that the case illustrated why judges must issue rulings free of political whims or hopes of receiving a favor. In a 139-page decision last year, Jones ruled that the Dover school board intended to promote religion when it instituted a policy requiring students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. He ruled that it is unconstitutional to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.

From the American Prospect magazine website: "President Bush's speech yesterday got tons of attention for its attack on Dems, but there was another key moment that's passed unnoticed. Bush again used the phrase "just a comma" to describe the Iraq war. From the speech: "We're going to help the Iraqi people. Remember, 12 million of them voted in elections last December. That probably seems like a decade ago to you, but when the history is finally written, it will be just a comma. Twelve million people stood up in the face of assassins and car bombers and said, we want to be free." Bush's repetition of the phrase suggests that it is a calculated one, and we may be hearing it again and again between now and November. But what does it mean? As this blog noted the other day, Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher did some digging and found that Bush was likely alluding to comedienne Gracie Allen's famous quip, "never place a period where God has placed a comma." Why would Bush quote this line from a comedienne? Because the phrase has become a widely quoted part of current Christian teaching. As best as I can determine from reading a bunch of religious web sites, the phrase "never place a period where God has placed a comma" appears to mean that God is in control, that even if humans want to control events, or say something conclusive about them, or have the last word about them, it won't matter, because God is 'still speaking.'"

A Rhode Island lesbian couple won approval from a judge to marry in Massachusetts, paving the way for the first legal wedding of a same-sex couple from outside the only U.S. state where gay marriage is allowed. Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Thomas E. Connolly ruled that the wedding of Wendy Becker and Mary Norton, of Providence, Rhode Island, could go forward because their home state has no laws specifically banning same-sex marriages. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a 2008 Republican presidential hopeful, has sought to prevent out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying in Massachusetts. Conservative Christian groups have expressed concern that such marriages would turn the liberal New England state into America's gay-marriage capital, a Las Vegas for same-sex weddings.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Scientists have uncovered evidence that levels of the greenhouse gas methane will rise sharply in the next few years, warming the planet faster than previously expected. The new data from an international team of scientists has revealed that while methane levels began to level off in the 1990s, emissions from human activity started to climb again before the end of the last century. Phillipe Bousquet at the Laboratory of Sciences of Climate and the Environment in Paris joined scientists from the US, Australia, the Netherlands and South Africa to examine methane levels in the atmosphere from the early 1980s using a network of 68 ground-based tracking stations around the world. The upturn in man-made emissions was masked by a drop in the methane released naturally from wetlands, caused by unusually dry weather. Writing in the journal Nature today, the scientists raise fears that inevitably wetter weather will return the wetlands to their normal state in the next three to five years, boosting the amount of methane in the atmosphere by 10m tonnes a year. Although methane levels are 200 times lower than the most widespread greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, molecule for molecule, it is 20 times more effective at retaining heat in the atmosphere. They discovered that methane levels fell from nearly 12 parts per billion in the 1980s to four parts per billion in the 1990s. But their calculations show that the slowing of emissions was only partly to do with strict limits imposed on industry. Since 1999, levels of methane from human activity have been rising in Asia, consistent with a surge in coal usage in China. "The bad news is that the slowdown in global methane emissions in the past few decades was only temporary," said Jos Lelieveld, director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany.

From the AP: "The Bush administration has blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday." As ThinkProgress points out, this is the third time in less than a week we’ve heard such accusations. AP: "The Bush administration has blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday. The possibility that warming conditions may cause storms to become stronger has generated debate among climate and weather experts, particularly in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. In the new case, Nature said weather experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - part of the Commerce Department - in February set up a seven-member panel to prepare a consensus report on the views of agency scientists about global warming and hurricanes." The Bush administration has no plans to ease its opposition to national limits on greenhouse gas output despite talk that a change may be under consideration, a White House spokeswoman said on Thursday. "The president has said continually said that one of reasons he doesn't like a mandated cap is because it has the potential to move jobs overseas and hurt the economy," said Kristin Hellmer, spokeswoman for James Connaughton, the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Growing concerns about global warming have prompted California, Arizona and seven Northeastern states to take steps to bypass President George W. Bush and set their own greenhouse limits. Bush pulled out of the 163-nation Kyoto Protocol on global warming in 2001, saying it would hurt the economy and unfairly left rapidly developing countries like China and India without limits on emissions. A national cap on emissions would mean heavy industries in the United States, the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases, might have to make big decisions, like investing in alternative energy or clean-burning natural gas. Hellmer said Bush is sticking with his 2002 plan calling for voluntary reductions, with an eye to trimming greenhouse emissions intensity -- or emissions per unit of economic output of the U.S. economy -- by 18 percent by 2012. "If we're not meeting (the emissions intensity) goal, (Bush) has always said he will look at new policies and new ideas," Hellmer said. "But now we are on track to meet that goal." Critics of Bush's voluntary greenhouse plan say it is too lenient to industry, especially as overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have risen 13 percent since 1990. A source who has worked in the energy profession for decades told Reuters he was approached in New York last month by a team containing White House staff that was exploring the use of national regulations on greenhouse emissions. The source, who declined to be named, said the team, led by an official at the Department of Energy, was weighing the benefits of three ways to regulate several sources of greenhouse emissions. "It's certainly nothing to do with Kyoto," the source said.

Scandals Du Jour: In a scandal guaranteed to anger parents, a prominent House Republican has resigned after the revelation that he exchanged raunchy electronic messages with a teenage boy, a former congressional page. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., who is single, apologized Friday for letting down his family and constituents. Foley has long marketed himself as a protector of children from sexual predation. In 2003, he became an outspoken critic of a summer nudist camp for children. An amendment by Foley to change federal sex offender laws became part of the Adam Walsh Child Safety and Protection Act of 2006. Once his resignation letter was read to the House late Friday afternoon, Republicans spent the night trying to explain - six weeks before congressional elections - how this could have happened on their watch. Near midnight, they engineered a vote to let the House ethics committee decide whether an investigation is needed. Among the Republican explanations during the night: * The congressional sponsor of the page, Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., said he was asked by the youth's parents not to pursue the matter, so he dropped it. * Alexander said that before deciding to end his involvement, he passed on what he knew to the chairman of the House Republican campaign organization, Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y. Reynolds' spokesman, Carl Forti, said the campaign chairman also took no action in deference to the parents' wishes. * Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., chairman of the Page Board that oversees the congressional work-study program for high schoolers, said he did investigate but Foley falsely assured him he was only mentoring the boy. Pages are high school students who attend classes under congressional supervision and work as messengers. * The spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert, Ron Bonjean, said the top House Republican had not known about the allegations. Shimkus said he learned about them in late 2005. Just as Shimkus' explanation was released, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California proposed to the House that its ethics committee investigate and make a preliminary report in 10 days. She demanded to know who knew of the messages, whether Foley had other contacts with pages and when the Republican leadership was notified of Foley's conduct. Instead, majority Republicans engineered a vote to allow the ethics panel to decide whether there should even be an investigation.

Contrary to Smirkey's claim that the White House had little contact with Jack Abramoff, the House Government Reform Committee has released hundreds of new emails from Jack Abramoff's lobbying firm pertaining to his and his associates' contacts with Administration officials. In an email exchange subject-lined "were you able to whack mccain's wife yet?" Ralph Reed and Jack Abramoff discuss derailing the nomination of a woman named Angela Williams to an Interior post. Williams was up for head of the Office of Insular Affairs in the Department of the Interior, which has authority over decisions affecting the Northern Mariana Islands, an Abramoff client. With the White House's help, Abramoff's effort was successful. Ralph Reed emailed Abramoff, "talked to rove about this and I think I killed it." On MSNBC's Countdown, Lawrence O'Donnell provided early analysis of the Abramoff report. Keith Olbermann asked O'Donnell how this report may affect public opinion prior to November's midterm elections, and O'Donnell concluded: "Abramoff is now the way you spell the word 'scandal' in Washington, DC. The public doesn't know a great deal about Abramoff but they know he's bad. They know he's a criminal. They're certainly aware that he's, in effect, pleading guilty and is going to end up in jail. And now, this is a picture that says, not only did he have access -- which I think the public was vaguely aware that he had presidential access, White House access -- he had the run of the place.

House leaders have suspended a multimillion-dollar wireless communications license that federal prosecutors say was corruptly awarded to a Dulles telecommunications firm by Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) in exchange for gifts from lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The award of the license was one of a series of acts that Ney said he performed for Abramoff in exchange for campaign contributions, expensive meals, luxury travel and sports tickets. Ney agreed this month to plead guilty to corruption charges and is set to enter his plea Oct. 13. The license to install antennas for cellular and wireless telephones in House office buildings was awarded in 2002 to MobileAccess, formerly known as Foxcom Wireless, which was based in Israel. The company, now based in Vienna, Va., later paid Abramoff $280,000 in lobbying fees and donated $50,000 to a charity operated by Abramoff that paid for a golf junket to Scotland for Ney.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Liberal bloggers in New Hampshire busted an aide to Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) who was trolling on such blogs as Blue Granite, NH-02 Progressive and others. Bass' office admitted culpability to HOH and said the staffer would be "appropriately disciplined." The unnamed aide to Bass - who, like many others in his party, faces a tough re-election fight - was routinely trolling liberal New Hampshire political blogs calling himself "IndyNH" and more commonly "IndieNH," pretending to be a progressive. Finally, after noticing that lots of things he said just didn't add up, a couple of the bloggers traced IndieNH's IP address to the House of Representatives. And they thought, "How many offices in the U.S. House would be interested in one race in New Hampshire?" The answer: Very few. Probably only one. Laura Clawson, who runs the Blue Granite blog and writes as "Miss Laura," told HOH that she and another blogger easily traced IndieNH’s IP address to the House server. They could even see the searches Mr. or Ms. IndieNH was doing to gather opposition research on Bass' challenger, Paul Hodes (D).

A Catholic priest in the US is under arrest and another is on the run after being accused of stealing millions of dollars from their parishioners. Monsignor John Skehan, 79, was charged with grand theft, as Florida police searched for Father Francis Guinan. The two men are suspected of stealing a total of $8.6 million from their Palm Beach church and funding a lavish life of property, holidays and gambling. A lawyer for Monsignor Skehan said the figures were "over-sensationalised". Court documents contained few details about where the $8.6m went, Associated Press news agency reported. Monsignor Skehan served at St Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church for about 40 years and was succeeded at the church three years ago by Father Guinan. Monsignor Skehan used funds skimmed from the congregation to buy property, Florida law department officials said.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), who famously suggested the U.S. wouldn't have "all these problems" had Strom Thurmond been elected President, said today that the religious differences among Iraqis makes the conflict very difficult for him to understand: "It's hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what’s wrong with these people," he said. "Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion? Why do they hate the Israelis and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me." Speaking shortly after a meeting with President Bush and Vice President Cheney, Lott added that Iraq wasn’t among the White House's priorities. No, none of that," Lott told reporters after the session when asked if the Iraq war was discussed. "You’re [the media] the only ones who obsess on that. We don't and the real people out in the real world don’t for the most part."

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO), the lead sponsor of the constitutional ban on gay marriage in the House, spoke this weekend at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit. Musgrave declared that gay marriage "is the most important issue that we face today." She told the audience that "when you’re in a cultural war like this, you have to respond with equal and hopefully greater force if you want to win," and warned that the future is grim "if gay marriage is not banned." You can watch the video here if you can stand the unbridled hate.

Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, who has gotten into hot water before for comments seen as disparaging various groups, remarked Thursday on the number of Italian-Americans at the Federal Aviation Administration. The Montana senator, facing a tough re-election fight against Democrat Jon Tester, was heading an aviation subcommittee hearing of the Commerce Committee when two FAA officials, Michael Cirillo and Nicholas Sabatini, introduced themselves as witnesses. "I'm wondering if that's all they're hiring," Burns said of the federal agency. Burns campaign spokesman Jason Klindt said the senator was just kidding around with the two Italian-Americans.

Republican Representative Russell Pearce is not known for being soft-spoken on the illegal immigration issue. But his latest interview on a Phoenix radio station has really turned some heads. During an interview on "Morning Edition" on KJZZ, 91.5 FM, Pearce said he would support bringing back a controversial program dubbed "Operation Wetback." The program called for the mass deportation of illegal immigrants in the mid 1950s. Hispanic community leader Roberto Reveles called the comments "outrageous" and says Pearce's support of such a policy shows his fear and loathing of illegal immigrants. Pearce defended his comments, accusing immigration activists of supporting "lawbreakers. In reference to using the term "wetback," Pearce says he was saying it in a historical context.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:23:20 AM

Sun, Sep 24 2006

On Hiatus Again

Once again, this blog will be going on hiatus. I am traveling and will not be able to access the blog to continue during that time. I regret the inconvenience, but promise to resume as soon as I return in about a week. If you are an RSS user, you can put the RSS feed in your reader and be alerted automatically as soon as I resume.

Weather has been mixed - reminding me very much of a rainy season about to peter out - three months ahead of normal. The days have been brilliant and sunny with some spectacular sunsets, though not as warm as one might expect, but for the last several nights there has been intermittent rain on and off all night. So if you're going to have a rainy season, this is the way to have it - bright sunny days that allow you to get things done outside, but rainy nights that keep the vegetation watered. Temperatures have been about ideal, too, running 71 at night and 83 in the day. Couldn't ask for nicer. Wish it were like this all year.

Today is the second day of the annual horse ride around Lake Arenal. Hundreds of horsemen from all over Costa Rica (and a few from neighboring countries) have been in town this weekend, partying and having a great time, as Arenal is one stop on the circuit of the lake. It's just a friendly ride, not really a race, and that is why it takes two days to complete. I have studiously avoided the commotion, as I am not a big fan of partying, and so have stayed home and endured some of the noise from the parties in town, though they haven't been particularly bad this time.

I heard this morning from a friend that one of the bars that is among the worst offenders for loud disco music is being pursued by a neighbor - and that might cool their jets a bit. Won't break my heart any - at least for the few weeks I have left living in this house. Just wish it had happened two years ago.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: In focusing solely on Hugo Chavez's characterization of Bush as the devil, the mainstream media have succeeded in aiming attention away from the Venezuelan President's most salient point made during his UN speech - CIA control of terror cells around the world and their protection of plane bomber Luis Posada. According to documents released by the George Washington University's National Security Archive, and verified by the BBC, Luis Posada Carriles was a CIA agent and on the payroll from the 1960s until mid-1976. Posada was part of an anti-Cuban terror cell called Commanders of United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU), led by another CIA operative Orlando Bosch. From the mid-1970's Posada and Bosch instigated a reign of terror that spanned seven countries, carrying out over 50 bombings and political assassinations - including the October 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane as it took off from Barbados, killing 73 innocent people on board. All at the behest of the current President's father and then CIA Director George H.W. Bush. Posada and Bosch were arrested and jailed in Venezuela but promptly escaped in 1985 when money from Miami, funneled in by fellow terrorist Gaspar Jimenez Escobedo, was used to bribe prison guards. The two were then transported by terrorist handler and Cuban expatriate Felix Rodriguez to El Salvador to link up with Oliver North and the Iran-Contra conspiracy, supplying Contras against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Two years later Senator Tom Harkin stated the American people "deserve a full accounting of [then Vice President] Bush and the vice president's office and its knowledge of Luis Posada's role in the secret contra supply operation."

Congressional Democrats were skeptical on Friday of a deal negotiated by three hold-out Republican senators to rein in President George W. Bush's program to interrogate and try terrorism suspects. As Bush's fellow Republicans prepared to move the agreement through Congress next week, lawmakers checked the fine print of a compromise bill that would allow aggressive CIA interrogations of foreign suspects but require that they comply with Geneva Conventions, which ensures humane treatment of prisoners of war. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the deal "a substantial improvement" over Bush's plan, but said it still had "a number of problems." But Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, derided it for using "legal mumbo jumbo to obscure the fact that the CIA will continue to be allowed to use torture and will actually be insulated from legal liability for previous acts of torture."

A recently retired key CIA analyst has some harsh words for the Bush administration's policies in the Middle East. Dr. Emile Nakhleh spent 15 years in the CIA and retired in June as the Director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, "the intelligence community's premier group dedicated to the issue of political Islam." Harper’s Ken Silverstein scored the first interview with Nakhleh since leaving the CIA. Some key excerpts: On Iraq: "I have come to believe that our presence is part of the problem and that we should begin to seriously devise an exit strategy. There's a civil war in Iraq and our presence is contributing to the violence. We’ve become a lightning rod - we’re not restricting the violence, we’re contributing to it. Iraq has galvanized jihadists; our presence is what is attracting them. We need to get out of there." On Bush's campaign for democracy: "We’ve lost a generation of goodwill in the Muslim world. The President’s democratization and reform program for the Middle East has all but disappeared, except for official rhetoric. Because of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and other abuses we have lost on the concepts of justice, fairness and the rule of law, and that’s the heart of the American idea." On what to do in Iran: "I think it would be detrimental to our long-term interests to ignore the Iranian reality and let ourselves be blinded by our dislike for the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The growing influence of Hezbollah, and its leader Hasan Nasrallah, across the region and within the Sunni street, and the growing regional influence and reach of Iran, are two new realities that we should recognize and engage. Iran’s nuclear issue is as much a failure of the nonproliferation approach as it is one of belligerence. Here too, I think, creative policies of engagement are called for and are possible."

The aroma of fruit has soured for farmers and growers in California who have to toss out their crops because of too few pickers. Enhanced border enforcement kept many illegal Mexican migrant workers out of California this season, straining the states' decreasing seasonal farm labor pool, The New York Times said Friday. Seasonal worker shortages also have been reported in Washington and New York. Growers are frustrated with government leaders, the Times said, whether at the statehouse or in Congress. They are angered at Congress' inability to pass guest-worker legislation, which would create a new temporary-resident status for seasonal farm workers with the opportunity to become permanent residents. California growers last week rallied in front of the Capitol in Sacramento, expressing their anger by carrying baskets of fruit. Stepped-up border enforcement is one factor in the reduced seasonal labor pool, the Times said. Another factor is the availability of better-paying, more stable jobs for workers who choose not to re-enter Mexico between seasons.

The U.S. government approved new air pollution standards Thursday, promising "cleaner air to all Americans," but health and environmental groups said the revised rules are too weak to protect against lung disease and other pollution-related ailments. Meanwhile, groups that represents U.S. electric power companies -- one key source of the particle pollution addressed by the standards -- said the new rules were too stringent. Stephen Johnson, who heads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, told reporters: "Today EPA is issuing the most health-protective national air quality standards in our nation's history." The new standards will reduce premature deaths, heart attacks and hospital stays for people with heart and lung disease and bring health benefits valued at between $20 billion and $160 billion a year, Johnson said. Daily standards for the amount of particles in the air were strengthened by nearly 50 percent, he said. Previously, U.S. law allowed 65 micrograms of soot particles per cubic meter of air; the new rules call for a limit of 35 micrograms. That reduction was less than what was sought by a broad coalition of environmental and health organizations, and a panel of EPA's own scientific advisers. EPA's decision to keep annual standards for soot particles at the same levels they have been since 1997 -- 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air -- drew the ire of environmentalists, who had sought to have these strengthened. "EPA's action is truly breath-taking in ignoring the dangerous impact of particulate pollution on Americans' hearts and lungs," Dr. John Balbus, health program director of the group Environmental Defense, said in a statement.

The Census Bureau collects the most personal information about Americans, from how much money they earn and where they spend it to how they live and die. It's all confidential - as long as no one steals it. Lost or stolen from the Census Bureau since 2003 are 217 laptop computers, 46 portable data storage devices and 15 handheld devices used by survey takers. Although the number of people affected isn't known, the Commerce Department reports that passwords, encryptions and other safeguards were in place. Nothing so far indicates a misuse of any information. "The department takes very seriously these high instances of missing laptops, as well as potential breaches of personal identity data," Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez said Thursday in response to an internal review of Commerce Department computers. "All of the equipment that was lost or stolen contained protections to prevent a breach of personal information," he said in a statement. "The amount of missing computers is high, but fortunately, the vulnerability for data misuse is low."

The political party affiliation of dozens of Riverside and San Bernardino County (CA) voters was switched to Republican without their knowledge during recent GOP-funded registration drives already under scrutiny for producing incomplete and other suspicious voter-registration cards, a new review of the records found. An analysis of voter records by The Press-Enterprise reveals problems with registration cards collected in late 2005 and early 2006. The unauthorized party changes, which number at least 37, are greater than the handful identified by county election offices in recent months. Meanwhile, the months-long investigations by the state and the San Bernardino County district attorney's office into suspicious voter registrations have yet to produce any criminal charges. Last week, the office of San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos gave its investigation results to the secretary of state's office. Officials declined to say if the district attorney's six-month inquiry uncovered any suspected fraud.

"An analysis by the Department of Homeland Security found 272 chemical plants nationwide at which an attack or accident could affect at least 50,000 people and an additional 3,400 plants at which more than 1,000 people were at risk," reports the New York Times. Moreover, "the Bush administration, the chemical industry, Democrats, Republicans and environmentalists" agree that "voluntary measures put into place by the industry after the 2001 terrorist attacks are not enough." So why is there a "fierce struggle" in Congress over industry oversight language for the Homeland Security budget bill? Strong lobbying by the chemical industry, which is claiming "that Democrats and environmentalists are trying to hijack what had been an antiterrorism matter and use it to advance their own agenda," which they say includes reducing use of highly toxic chemicals. The Hill profiles lobbyists on chemical security issues, including from such industry mainstays as the American Chemistry Council and American Petroleum Institute.

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Drown The Bush Compound: The Natural Resources Council of Maine this week released "one of the most complete depictions ever done of the potential impacts on Maine's coastline from rising sea levels due to global warming." Using the latest available science, NRCM's analysis shows that coastal businesses, homes, wildlife habitat, transportation systems, and some of the state's most treasured places are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise. One "treasured place" in extreme risk is the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport.

The United States Of America, A Third-World Nation: U.S. officials searching for the source of an E. coli outbreak that may have killed three people said on Friday they had found "situations of concern" at farms and food processing plants in California but cleared spinach grown elsewhere in the country. The investigation centers on nine farms in three California counties, and the outbreak may signal a need for tighter regulation -- especially in California's crop-rich Salinas Valley, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration official said Thursday. The Food and Drug Administration said 166 people in 25 states had been sickened in the outbreak, with one death. State health officials reported a 2-year-old boy from Idaho and an 86-year-old woman from Maryland had died and said they suspected E. coli from spinach was to blame. FDA officials could not confirm that link. Federal and state officials were inspecting nine farms in California's Salinas Valley, where the outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 is suspected to have originated. "There are some situations of concern, may I say, that would warrant some possible correction in the near future," Mark Roh, acting regional food and drug director for the FDA's Pacific Region, told reporters, but declined to give details. Roh and Dr. David Acheson of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition said inspectors were looking at 10 fields representing six growers in California's Salinas Valley, looking for evidence of contaminated water, equipment or other signs of poor hygiene. "All the farms that we have been visiting have been linked somehow to the illnesses," Roh said.

While many communities are disarming residents, if a proposed ordinance passes in Greenleaf, Idaho that would be a violation of city code. The rural Canyon County town of Greenleaf is considering an ordinance that would recommend every head of household own a gun and ammunition and be trained to use them.

Rats Fleeing The U.S.S. Bush: A trend of local, below-the-radar party-switches is undercutting Republicans as they face the sternest challenge in a decade to one-party control of Congress and several state legislatures. Such party-switching by elected officials often indicates that the label they are shedding has lost appeal and foreshadows poor performance at the polls. Some recent switchers are exiting GOP ranks with a bang. Distorted priorities, the federal deficit and the Iraq war are common themes in their announcements. And in a direct swipe at the far-right ideology that has become a governing credo in the Bush years, they cite intolerance in the party as the chief reason for leaving. "The moderate Republican has been pushed aside for the extreme right wing," Oklahoma state Senator Nancy Riley told the Associated Press in August, when she became a Democrat. Riley represents a district in suburban Tulsa and has served as minority whip in a chamber that her former party was looking to take over in the fall election. She announced her defection after years of what she described as "abhorrent" treatment by Republican leaders who suffer a "lack of compassion for people."

Religious conservatives voiced frustration on Friday with Republican Party leaders and their failure to push key social initiatives through the U.S. Congress and said it could hurt voter turnout in November's elections. At a "Values Voters Summit" sponsored by leading religious conservative groups, some activists said President George W. Bush and Republican leaders showed too much pragmatism and too little concern for issues like abortion, immigration and banning gay marriage.

Republicans Believe In Equal Enforcement Of The Law: First of all, where's the IRS? If they're going to investigate a Pastor that gives an anti-war sermon that's in conflict with all the good little Jerry Falwells - then they should look into the Family Research Council and it's voter registration drive? Secondly, The GOP and their pundits can no longer claim that Ann Coulter does not speak for them. From the FRC's publicity: "Tony Snow is confirmed to speak on Friday, September 22 from 2:35 p.m. to 2:55 p.m. in the Regency Ballroom. FRC Action President Tony Perkins and co-sponsors Dr. James C. Dobson, Gary Bauer and Don Wildmon will also be joined by Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, Bill Bennett, Governor Mitt Romney, Sens. George Allen and Sam Brownback, Governor Mike Huckabee, Reps. Mike Pence and Marilyn Musgrave and many more."

News From Smirkey's Wars: A United Nations official who recently called for NATO forces in Afghanistan to help combat the sharply expanding opium trade says the country is becoming increasingly unstable. VOA's Dan Robinson reports on remarks to U.S. lawmakers by Antonio Maria Costa, head of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime. The comments to the House International Relations Committee come less than one week before Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai meets with President Bush at the White House. Noting Karzai's warning last year that either Afghanistan destroys opium or opium will destroy Afghanistan, Costa says the country is dangerously close to the second option. "Foreign pressures are making Afghanistan the turf for proxy wars," said Antonio Maria Costa. "The country is being destabilized by an inflow of insurgents, and weapons and money and intelligence. There is collusion from neighboring countries and this is a problem in itself." Calling counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics two fronts in the same war, Costa repeats his call for NATO to be actively engaged in the fight against the opium trade.

Grim new milestone: U.S. combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan now equal the 2,973 lives lost during the Sept. 11 attacks. Also, the number of civilians slain in Iraq in the last month reached an unprecedented level: 6,599 dead. And, oh yeah: Not only are U.S. troop levels in Iraq unlikely to decrease any time soon, but U.S. commanders say even more troops are needed.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: The Bush administration's top housing official temporarily blocked a federal contract with a Massachusetts firm because of its political affiliation and for personal reasons, senior U.S. Housing and Urban Development aides told investigators. HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, a member of President George W. Bush's Cabinet, also urged aides to favor friends of Bush when awarding contracts, a report by the agency's inspector general said. The report cited the sworn testimony of Jackson's aides including his chief of staff, Camille Pierce, a lawyer who has worked for Jackson on and off since the 1980s.

In what may have been a violation of ethics rules, Congressman Charlie Norwood (R-GA) issued a press release yesterday slamming pro-immigrant groups and their supporters in Congress, RAW STORY has learned. In a letter dated yesterday and on official House of Representatives letterhead, Norwood went so far as to call on voters to elect out of office any member of congress who failed to support a bill that would empower different law enforcement groups to work in concert to arrest and deport illegal immigrants. But House Administration rules prohibit congressmen and senators from using their legislative offices to conduct electioneering activities. Members of the House Administration committee did not immediately respond to an email and call for comment. The National Council of La Raza, (NCLR) the main group targeted by Norwood, issued a rejoinder demanding an apology and requesting that he reimburse the U.S. Treasury for any misused funds.

Republican leaders are calling on Congressman Bob Ney to resign immediately, reports Thursday's Roll Call. "With three weeks still left before Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) officially pleads guilty to a pair of federal charges, House Republican leaders on Wednesday stepped up their public calls for the embattled lawmaker to resign from the chamber immediately," writes Susan Davis. "While House Majority Leader John Boehner (R) remained reluctant to pressure his fellow Ohioan to step down from his post - and Democrats so far have stopped short of pushing an expulsion resolution on the House floor - Boehner’s fellow leaders were far more definitive in their statements," the article continues.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:54:00 AM

Fri, Sep 22 2006

California Versus Pura Vida Driving

The dryest rainy season in years continues in Arenal. Other than a brief but intense thunderstorm this afternoon, the weather was hot, dry, and mostly sunny all day long. Last night was a different story, however, as a long, steady rain pelted the area through most of the night. The rain was welcome - it was rain that was needed, as there has been too little lately to keep everything adequately watered. The bright sunny weather brought with it some moderate temperatures, though, with an afternoon high of only 83, in spite of all the sun, and an overnight low of 70.

But it wasn't bright and sunny all over the country, however. My newly arrived friend made a quick trip this morning to the embassy in San Jose to get some documents legalized, and by the time he was on his way back a few hours later, the area near San Ramon had suffered a horrendous thunderstorm. He indicated that there were no fewer than five landslides onto the pavement, which had traffic reduced to a single lane on the Interamerican Highway - the busiest route in the country. He said he waited in line for as long as an hour in some places. One tree, a huge old forest tree, had slid down the slope entirely upright, and remained there, in the middle of the highway, fully upright as if it had been growing there all along.

When he got to San Ramon, he visited a ferreteria (hardware store) for a couple of items he had forgotten when we were in town on Wednesday, and was taken to the basement for checking the selection for what he needed - only to find workers in the basement bailing water off the floor. It was four inches deep. Well, he got what he needed, and resumed the journey, only to find heavy, pea-soup fog when going over the Continental Divide, through the town of Los Angeles Sur - the town where I lived for my first six months in the country. Now he can understand why the locals call that place "La Penitencia" - and why I was so very glad to move out of there.

In spite of the adventurous trip, he made it back to Arenal in remarkably good time - which tells me he drove rather fast as I have seen him do so often. During my trip with him on Wednesday, I tried to tactfully (and sometimes not-so-tactfully) warn him that his California freeway driving habits will likely get him killed here - as he almost got us killed when he approached a traffic-choked one-lane bridge Wednesday evening at dusk, at a high rate of speed. He skidded to a stop in just a nick of time, barely avoiding a collision with the right-hand bridge rail as well as oncoming traffic by skidding to a complete stop only about ten feet in front of it. But like most newbies, he won't listen, he knows better, he figures he's a "great" driver - and like most California drivers, he follows too closely, passes everything in sight whether he needs to or not, and does sixty or more down these narrow, potholed, often traffic-choked secondary roads with single-lane bridges, blind curves, and yawning, gaping potholes that are often not visible from more than a few car lengths away - and cause drivers he's following to suddenly brake violently or swerve unpredictably.

Love the man dearly - but I can only hope he survives his adjustment to Pura Vida driving. I'll keep you posted.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Do you ever hear or read something that seems so unlikely that you think to yourself, "It must be my medication?" And then you realize it's true and it's not your medication? And then once you actually sort through the data, you conclude that it's likely time to go on medication? House Republicans are quietly attempting to take a first legislative step to make evangelical Christianity our first state religion. The critical $500 billion defense budget has stalled in the House because the Republicans managed to slip in a "mischievous" little amendment that they thought no one would notice. In direct violation of the Constitution, House Republicans drafted legislative language that would elevate Christian evangelical preachers to the status of official government chaplains above all other religions, including non-evangelical Christians. This obscure little amendment is intended to give evangelical chaplains the exclusive right to preside over all secular military ceremonies. The New York Times reports that the Pentagon and ecumenical chaplain groups objected to this amendment, but the controlling Republicans nonetheless wrote it into the budget and have been stubbornly defending it. Their view is that our troops should be led by the one true faith at the exclusion of all others. Theocracy in action - and your public servants at work.

Torture in Iraq may be worse now than it was under Saddam Hussein, with militias, terrorist groups and government forces disregarding rules on the humane treatment of prisoners, the U.N. anti-torture chief said Thursday. Manfred Nowak, the U.N. special investigator on torture, made the remarks as he was presenting a report on detainee conditions at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay as well as to brief the U.N. Human Rights Council, the global body's top rights watchdog, on torture worldwide. Reports from Iraq indicate that torture "is totally out of hand," he said. "The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein." Nowak added, "That means something, because the torture methods applied under Saddam Hussein were the worst you could imagine." Some allegations of torture were undoubtedly credible, with government forces among the perpetrators, he said, citing "very serious allegations of torture within the official Iraqi detention centers." "You have terrorist groups, you have the military, you have police, you have these militias. There are so many people who are actually abducted, seriously tortured and finally killed," Nowak told reporters at the U.N.'s European headquarters. "It's not just torture by the government. There are much more brutal methods of torture you'll find by private militias," he said. A report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq's Human Rights office cited worrying evidence of torture, unlawful detentions, growth of sectarian militias and death squads, and a rise in "honor killings" of women. Iraq's government, set up in 2006, is "currently facing a generalized breakdown of law and order which presents a serious challenge to the institutions of Iraq" such as police and security forces and the legal system, the U.N. report said, noting that torture was a major concern.

The Bush administration had to empty its secret prisons and transfer terror suspects to the military-run detention center at Guantanamo this month in part because CIA interrogators had refused to carry out further interrogations and run the secret facilities, according to former CIA officials and people close to the program. The former officials said the CIA interrogators' refusal was a factor in forcing the Bush administration to act earlier than it might have wished. When Mr Bush announced the suspension of the secret prison program in a speech before the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, some analysts thought he was trying to gain political momentum before the November midterm congressional elections. The administration publicly explained its decision in light of the legal uncertainty surrounding permissible interrogation techniques following the June Supreme Court ruling that all terrorist suspects in detention were entitled to protection under Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions. But the former CIA officials said Mr Bush's hand was forced because interrogators had refused to continue their work until the legal situation was clarified because they were concerned they could be prosecuted for using illegal techniques. One intelligence source also said the CIA had refused to keep the secret prisons going. Senior officials and Mr Bush himself have come close to admitting this by saying CIA interrogators sought legal clarity. But no official has confirmed on the record how and when the secret program actually came to an end.

According to two conservative websites, White House political strategist Karl Rove has been promising GOP insiders that there will be an "October surprise" before the midterm elections. "In the past week, Karl Rove has been promising Republican insiders an 'October surprise' to help win the November congressional elections," reports Ronald Kessler for Newsmax. A few weeks ago, another conservative publication, The American Spectator, reported that White House staffers had "been talking up the possibilities of an 'October Surprise' or two leading into the mid-term elections." "They say the President feels confident he can still play a role in the election, that he intends to campaign hard for Republicans, and that on the policy front, there are a couple of issues that can be used as wedges along the way," according to a column written by "The Prowler." Rove is not saying what the October surprise will be. Asked if he would elaborate and give his thinking about the coming elections, Rove told NewsMax that his take largely parallels what RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman said in a Sept. 5 NewsMax story. As for the October Surprise, Rove said, "I'd rather let the balance [of plans for the elections] unroll on its own."

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton joined a chorus of critics of Bush administration proposals for treating suspected terrorists, saying it would be unnecessary and wrong to give broad approval to torture. In an interview with National Public Radio aired on Thursday, Clinton said any decision to use harsh treatment in interrogating suspects should be subject to court review. "You don't need blanket advance approval for blanket torture," Clinton said. Clinton was president during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and attacks on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and on the USS Cole, all linked to al Qaeda. Critics accused him of doing too little to contain a growing threat of terrorism. Clinton's successor, President George W. Bush, wants Congress to narrowly define prisoner protections under the Geneva Conventions and allow a program of CIA interrogations and detentions that critics have said amount to torture. The White House denies the program involves torture. The U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down Bush's original plan. Clinton warned against circumventing international standards on prisoner treatment, citing U.S. abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

A liberal church that has been threatened with the loss of its tax-exempt status over an anti-war sermon delivered just days before the 2004 presidential election said Thursday it will fight an IRS order to turn over documents on the matter. "We're going to put it in their court and in a court of law so that we can get an adjudication to some very fundamental issue here that we see as an intolerable infringement of rights," Bob Long, senior warden of All Saints Church, told The Associated Press. He said the church's 26-member vestry voted unanimously to resist IRS demands for documents and an interview with the congregation's rector by the end of the month. The church's action sets up a high-profile confrontation between the church and the IRS, which now must decide whether to ask for a hearing before a judge, who would then decide on the validity of the agency's demands.

Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. a Republican, has been named in yet another voting rights lawsuit, this time over allegations that his office has denied thousands of low-income residents their right to register to vote or to change their registration addresses. The National Voting Rights Institute filed the suit in federal court Thursday on behalf of two low-income residents and the anti-poverty group ACORN. The suit also names Barbara Riley, director of Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services (DJFS). Plaintiffs allege that Blackwell and Riley violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. Also known as the Motor Voter Act, the federal law requires states to provide voter-registration opportunities at departments of motor vehicles, as well as at all public-assistance offices and offices that serve people with disabilities. Federal and state law requires such offers to be written and explicit. Plaintiff Carrie Harkless, a 28-year-old mother of one and resident of Lorain, visited the Ohio DJFS numerous times since 2004, but said she was never offered the opportunity to register to vote or to change her voter-registration address, which the 1993 Act requires. Likewise, Cleveland resident Tameca Mardis, a mother of three, has been using DJFS offices since 2001, shortly after she became eligible to vote. She also alleges no one informed her she could register to vote.

Aerospace and defense giant Boeing Co. has won a multibillion-dollar contract to revamp how the United States guards about 6,000 miles of border in an attempt to curb illegal immigration, congressional sources said yesterday. Boeing's proposal relied heavily on a network of 1,800 towers, most of which would need to be erected along the borders with Mexico and Canada. Each tower would be equipped with a variety of sensors, including cameras and heat and motion detectors. The company's efforts would be the basis of the government's latest attempt to control U.S. borders after a series of failures. The contract, part of the Secure Border Initiative and known as SBInet, will again test the ability of technology to solve a problem that lawmakers have called a critical national security concern. This time, the private sector is being given an unusually large say in how to do it. "The administration has spent $429 million of the taxpayer's money to try and secure our borders with two already-abandoned border security programs," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss). He expressed concern that the same thing will happen to SBInet.

Many initial estimates by the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the cost of repairing thousands of water-logged buildings, cracked pipes and crumbling streets in hurricane-staggered Louisiana were way too low - and some reconstruction projects are being held up because of it. Some local governments say they cannot legally or financially hire contractors and get on with the work, because they fear they will be saddled with repair costs that won't be reimbursed by Washington. The FEMA estimates were made as part of a federal program under which local governments make repairs at their own expense, then ask for reimbursement from the federal government. The low-ball estimates were done by sometimes-inexperienced estimators hurriedly hired and trained by FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which struck last summer and fall. Often, the estimates were based on the much-cheaper, pre-storm costs of labor and equipment. "We want our fair share," said Cary Grant, New Orleans' assistant chief administrative officer for budget. "We're grossly underfunded." Statewide, local and state officials have identified 17,000 projects that could be eligible for federal reimbursement. State officials said many of the initial estimates on those projects are way off. In many cases, the disparities are staggering. At one recreation center in New Orleans, for example, FEMA estimated repairs would cost $312,000; the city says it actually will cost more like $1.4 million. The few bids St. Bernard Parish have received for repair work have come back two or three times higher than FEMA's estimates, said Chris Merkl, the parish's public works director.

An academic has claimed that a decline in reported rape of 85% in the past 25 years can be tied to an increase in pornography consumption. In a study for Northwestern University's Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series titled "Porn Up Rape Down," Anthony D'Amato, a Leighton Professor of Law at Northwestern University, argues that the proliferation of pornography has lead to a sharp decline in rape across the United States. According to a 2005 National Crime Victimization Survey, the national rate of rape decreased from 2.5 to 0.5 for every thousand people over a 30-year span from 1973 to 2003. The explanations offered include less lawlessness associated with crack cocaine, women being taught to avoid unsafe situations, that more potential rapists are already in prison for other crimes, and sex education classes telling boys that "no means no." In "Porn Up Rape Down," D'Amato compiled data from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. In 2001, the four states with the lowest per capita access to the Internet were Arkansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, and West Virginia. The four with the highest per capita Internet access were Alaska, Colorado, New Jersey, and Washington. When compared to Disaster Center's figures for forcible rape for the years 1980 and 2000, the four states with the lowest Internet access showed a 53% aggregate per capita increase in rape, while the four states with the highest Internet access showed a 27% decrease in incidence of rape.

At a news conference after his spirited address to the United Nations on Wednesday, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela expressed one regret: not having met that icon of the American left, the linguist Noam Chomsky, before his death. Yesterday, a call to Mr. Chomsky's house found him very much alive. In fact, he was struggling through "10,000 e-mails" he had received since the remarks by Mr. Chavez, who urged Americans to read one of Mr. Chomsky's books instead of watching Superman and Batman movies, which he said "make people stupid." At 77, Mr. Chomsky has joined the exclusive club of luminaries, like the actor Abe Vigoda and Mark Twain, who were reported dead before their time, only to contradict the reports by continuing to breathe. "I continue to work and write," he said, speaking from his house in Lexington, Mass. Mr. Chavez, while addressing world leaders at the United Nations, flagged "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance," which Mr. Chomsky published in 2003, as a must-read. Mr. Chomsky said he was glad that Mr. Chavez liked his book, but he would not describe himself as flattered.

For the first time, the richest 400 tycoons in the US all have a personal wealth of at least $1 billion, Forbes magazine has reported. Microsoft boss Bill Gates kept top spot for a 13th consecutive year with investment guru-turned-philanthropist Warren Buffett in second place. Casino and hotel owner Sheldon Adelson has leapt from 15th to third ranking. The rich list as a whole is worth $1.25 trillion, compared with $1.13 trillion a year ago, Forbes said. Four of the top 10 came from the Wal-Mart owning Walton family.

Television stations in Montana have been warned that an advertisement produced by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee containing statements made by Republican Senator Conrad Burns may be inappropriate for television. The warning came from the Montana Broadcaster's Association, Congressional Quarterly is reporting. One station, KTVQ, pulled the ad after one viewing. The station manager told Congressional Quarterly he was "absolutely appalled" that someone had found the ad to be appropriate for television. The ad included statements made by Burns, including the phrase "piss poor" and the Senator's claim that a firefighter hadn't "done a goddamned thing," during a now-infamous July encounter at a Montana airport. Burns is in a closely contested race for reelection against Democratic opponent John Tester.

The Motion Picture Association of America on Thursday unveiled its latest tool in the war on movie piracy: a pair of DVD-sniffing Labrador Retrievers named Lucky and Flo. The MPAA, which represents the major U.S. movie studios in government and legal affairs, claims the illegal copying of movies and television shows on DVDs and other media cost them more than $6.1 billion in lost revenues in 2005. Of that total, about $2.4 billion was lost to copying movies to videocassettes, DVDs or video CDs. In recent years, the organization has waged a vigorous battle against global piracy. In July, for instance, the MPAA and foreign government officials wrapped up "Operation Red Card," which resulted in the seizure of some 6.7 million pirated discs in 12 countries across the Asia-Pacific region. The job for Lucky and Flo will be to sniff out optical discs in luggage or other containers, and stop the discs from getting to manufacturing plants where they can be reproduced.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Carlo de Benedetti, Calisto Tanzi, Diego Della Valle, the Benetton family... Practically the whole Italian economic "who's who" was being monitored, as well as a few politicians, journalists, and sports personalities. At the end of two years of investigation, a Milan court has ordered the arrest of 21 people, including several former managers at Telecom Italia. "In the shadow" of the country's main telecommunications group, "an espionage powerhouse without precedent in the history of our country was born," worried the the daily paper La Repubblica's director, Ezio Mauro, in an editorial yesterday entitled "Attack Against Democracy." Along with his friend Emanuele Cipriani, boss of a private detective agency, a former official responsible for security systems at Pirelli, then at Telecom Italia, Giuliano Tavaroli - considered to be at the heart of the plan - established a data bank fed by illegal wiretaps. Apart from certain employees of Telecom Italia, hundreds of personalities - in particular bankers and even shareholders of the telecoms group, such as the Benetton family - were thus illegally monitored since 1997, for a still obscure motive. "At the present state of the investigations, the purpose of these operations eludes us," admitted the Milanese magistrates, who wonder who the sponsors of this espionage were. Was the president of Telecom Italia, Marco Tronchetti Provera, who resigned last week after an argument with the government with respect to a restructuring of the group, aware of Tavaroli's activities? "In practice, Tavaroli never reported to anyone," the prosecutors say. Officially, Tavaroli "was responsible to the president only," that is, to Tronchetti Provera. For the moment, Tavaroli and Cipriani are accused of having corrupted police and officials to violate the "data banks of the Ministries of Interior, Economics, and Justice." They are also charged with "criminal conspiracy": their computer archives, "more complete than those of the police," could have served as a means of "pressure, conditioning, threat and extortion." Tavaroli's name had already appeared in similar fashion in investigations of illegal eavesdropping on candidates Alessandra Mussolini (extreme right) and Piero Marazzo (center left) during the Latium regional elections in the spring of 2005. And also within the framework of the CIA kidnapping of the radical imam Abu Omar in February 2003 in Milan. A great friend of the Italian military secret services' Number 2, Marco Mancini, Tavaroli is suspected of having supplied him with the telephone numbers of members of the Muslim community. To make the scandal even more sulfurous, an official of Telecom Italia Mobile, Adamo Bove, was discovered dead on July 21. After collaborating with the justice system, he committed suicide by throwing himself off a viaduct in a Naples suburb.

Thirty years after a Chilean-organized hit squad assassinated former Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and an American colleague on the streets of Washington, investigators here are drawing closer to implicating this country’s former dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, in the killings. But they say their efforts are being hindered by a parallel investigation in the United States that has been stalled since President Bush took office and that is withholding potentially important documents. Mr. Letelier, one of the most visible leaders of the opposition to the Pinochet dictatorship, and Ronni Karpen Moffitt were killed on Sept. 21, 1976, when a bomb planted under his car exploded as they were riding to work. Even after 9/11, the Letelier assassination remains the most audacious act of state-sponsored terrorism committed on American soil. "Every day it is clearer that Pinochet ordered my brother’s death," said Fabiola Letelier, a prominent human rights lawyer here. "But for a proper and complete investigation to take place we need access to the appropriate records and evidence."

The United States said Wednesday it was "extremely disappointed" with the coup that ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and would begin reviewing its relationship with the Southeast Asian country. US State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey, however, stopped short of saying Thaksin should be restored to power, calling on the military to quickly hold elections so the Thai people can determine their leadership. "There's no justification for a military coup in Thailand or in anyplace else," Casey said. "And we certainly are extremely disappointed by this action. It's a step backward for democracy in Thailand." Shinawatra has been widely accused of outrageous levels of corruption, human rights abuses and persecution of his political opponents. Early polls indicate the coup against him is one of the most popular in all of Thailand's history, and enjoys the support of that nation's extremely popular monarchy.

In an embarrassing turnabout, the Department of Justice backed away Wednesday from a denial by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales of responsibility for the treatment of a Canadian who was seized and rendered by American authorities in 2002. The man was deported to Syria, where he was imprisoned and beaten. Asked at a news conference on Tuesday about a Canadian commission's finding that the man, Maher Arar, was wrongly sent to Syria and tortured there, Mr. Gonzales replied, "Well, we were not responsible for his removal to Syria." He added, "I'm not aware that he was tortured." The attorney general's comments caused puzzlement because they followed front-page news articles of the findings of the Canadian commission. It reported that based on inaccurate information from Canada about Mr. Arar's supposed terrorist ties, American officials ordered him taken to Syria, an action documented in public records.

It's hard to picture Haji Nasrat Khan as an international terrorist. For a start, the grey-bearded Afghan can barely walk, shuffling along on a three-wheeled walking frame. His sight is terrible - he squints through milky eyes that sometimes roll towards the heavens - while his helpers have to shout to make themselves heard. And as for his age - nobody knows for sure, not even Nasrat himself. "I think I am 78, or maybe 79," he ventures uncertainly, pausing over a cup of green tea. Yet for three and a half years the US government deemed this elderly, infirm man an "enemy combatant", so dangerous to America's security that he was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. Arrested in early 2003, Nasrat - or "detainee 1009" as he was officially known - always insisted he was innocent. But recently his hopes started to slide and he feared dying far from his home in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Then late last month, without warning, the US military let him go. Nasrat was flown to Bagram airbase, north of Kabul, the same way he had left: blindfolded, handcuffed and with his swollen half-paralysed legs chained to the floor. His lawyer was informed of the release, by email, after Nasrat had left Guantanamo Bay. After he was handed over to Afghan officials his first act of freedom was practical and symbolic. He clambered out of his white jumpsuit and slipped into a shalwar kameez, the baggy pants and long shirts worn by most Afghans. "I felt like I was born again," he recalled with a faint smile.

Lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainee Shaker Aamer, a UK resident held by the US since 2002, filed a motion in federal district court Monday seeking Aamer's release from solitary confinement, arguing that Aamer's almost year-long isolation violates the Geneva Conventions, which require that prisoners be treated humanely. According to the court filing, Aamer has been held in solitary confinement in a 6-by-8 foot cell for 360 days, has been beaten by military guards, has been exposed to extreme hot and cold temperatures, and has become mentally unbalanced. Aamer's lawyers said that, apart from infrequent meetings with his legal team, the detainee's only contact was with the US guards running Guantanamo. A spokesman for Guantanamo insisted Monday that detainee treatment meets Geneva Convention requirements and said that detainees are not put in situations "where they do not have available human contact 24 hours a day." Also filed with the motion were declarations from his lawyers, Clive Smith and Zachary Katznelson. Families of other long-time UK residents held at Guantanamo Bay are seeking an order requiring the British government to lobby the US for the release of their relatives.

The Department of Defense must release documents containing the identities of some detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who were released or who suffered mistreatment by their handlers or other detainees, a judge ruled Wednesday. In ruling in a case brought by The Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff said the government cannot keep the names secret on the grounds that it protects the privacy of detainees. "The public interest in disclosing government malfeasance is well-established," the judge wrote in saying that the AP had demonstrated the need for the information.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said the U.S. threatened to bomb his country back to the Stone Age if he did not assist the administration's war on terrorism. The threat was delivered after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, by Richard L. Armitage, then deputy secretary of State, to Musharraf's intelligence director, the Pakistani leader told CBS' "60 Minutes" for Sunday's broadcast. Musharraf said the intelligence chief quoted Armitage as saying, "Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age." It was insulting, Musharraf said. "I think it was a very rude remark." Armitage told CNN on Thursday that he never threatened to bomb Pakistan, wouldn't say such a thing and didn't have the authority to do it. Armitage said he delivered a tough message to Pakistan, saying the Muslim nation was either "with us or against us," CNN reported. But he said he didn't know how his message had been recounted so differently to Musharraf. The White House and State Department declined to comment.

"Extraordinary Rendition" Watch: The US intelligence agents involved in wrongly kidnapping a German citizen of Arab descent could soon face warrants for their arrest. Clues to their identity have turned up from Spanish authorities and German TV journalists. Khaled al-Masri says he was wrongly kidnapped by the CIA. The case of Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent who was allegedly kidnapped and tortured in secret CIA prisons, continues to unfold. According to a report in the German press on Thursday, the US intelligence agents who wrongly abducted al-Masri might be confronted with warrants for their arrest, as details of their identities become known to German prosecutors. Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that prosecutors had received a list of names of suspected US kidnappers from Spanish officials. "We now have very specific questions for the Spanish authorities," state prosecutor August Stern told the paper. Al-Masri says he was wrongly abducted on New Year's Eve 2003 in Macedonia and detained in various secret overseas prisons often referred to as "black sites." His five month ordeal finally ended when he was dumped on an abandoned road in Albania. The list from Spain is key to pursuing al-Masri's abductors since many of the secret CIA flights stopped on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Majorca. Several US intelligence employees were there the day before al-Masri's kidnapping and were booked into a luxury hotel - albeit under fake names. However, Süddeutsche reported that the hotel's staff made copies of their passport photos, enabling them to be identified. German public broadcaster ARD also reported on Thursday that some of its journalists had been able to uncover the identities of at least three of the US agents in Spain under the aliases Eric Fain, James Fairing and Kirk James Bird, who were all on the plane transporting al-Masri. Perhaps because they were only pilots, the CIA didn't seem to go to great lengths to change their identities. All kept their real first names and all apparently work for the North Carolina firm Aero Contractors, which according to the New York Times has been heavily involved in the CIA's renditions operations.

On Sept. 6, after a long period of official no-comments, President Bush acknowledged the program's existence. But the extent of its operations has yet to be publicly disclosed. How extensive is it? Trevor Paglen, an expert in clandestine military installations, and A.C. Thompson, an award-winning journalist for S.F. Weekly, spent months tracking the CIA flights and the businesses behind them. What they found was a startlingly broad network of planes (including the Gulfstream jet belonging to Boston Red Sox co-owner Phillip Morse), shell companies, and secret prisons around the world. Perhaps the most disturbing revelation of their new book "Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights" is the collusion of everyday Americans in this massive CIA program. From family lawyers who bolster the shell companies, to an entire town in Smithfield, N.C., that hosts CIA planes and pilots, "Torture Taxi" is the story of the broad reach of extraordinary rendition, and, as Hannah Arendt coined the phrase, the banality of evil.

The United States Of America, A Third-World Nation: A 2-year-old boy in Idaho and an elderly woman in Maryland who both died from suspected E. coli infections raised to three the number of deaths related to a nationwide health scare around fresh spinach, state health officials said on Friday. Federal and state officials were inspecting nine farms in California's Salinas Valley, where the outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 is suspected to have originated, while growers pledged to help find and plug safety gaps and Democratic politicians questioned the government's oversight of food safety. Americans have been cautioned not to eat fresh spinach until the source of the outbreak has been traced. At least 157 people in 23 states have been affected, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. More than 80 have been hospitalized. "The affected products were also distributed to Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Iceland. No illnesses have been reported from these countries," the FDA said in a statement. Two-year-old Kyle Allgood, of Chubbuck died on Wednesday night at a hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, said Ross Mason, a spokesman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. "His mother or someone in the house made him a spinach smoothie," Mason said. "We're looking at the link with spinach." The child died of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a sudden kidney failure that has been associated with E. coli 0157:H7 infection, Mason said.

The worst forms of the killer tuberculosis bug have been gaining ground in the United States, alarming public health officials over imported drug-resistant strains of a disease that was mostly under control in this country. Although the number of drug-resistant TB cases in the U.S. is small compared to developing nations, health officials here warn that visitors from other countries who are unaware of their infections are bringing over the deadliest mutations. Often those with drug-resistant strains stop taking their medicine when they feel better but aren't cured. That's what happened with Pich Chhieng, 61, a teacher who was infected in his native Cambodia and carried it with him to this country. He took medication for eight months but abruptly stopped because he ran out of money and was feeling much better. Of gravest concern is so-called "extensively drug-resistant" TB, which recently killed more than 50 people in South Africa. It's been found in limited numbers in the U.S. - 74 reported cases since 1993. The strain is nearly impossible to cure because it's immune to the best first- and second-line TB drugs. It is as easily transmitted through the air as garden variety TB. Health officials here also have been jolted by a spike in a milder but still-lethal form called "multi-drug resistant" TB.

High levels of pharmaceuticals, pesticides, cleaning detergents and other chemicals have been detected by federal researchers in the Blue River Basin, located in Missouri and Kansas. The pollution affects about half of the metropolitan area of Kansas City, and researchers say urban development is largely to blame. The US Geological Survey, an arm of the Interior Department, has released a report in cooperation with Kansas City that found contamination "may be increasing" and that more investigations are needed. The 166-page report documents a study of the Blue River Basin carried out between 2000 and 2004. Development within the upper basin continues at a rapid pace, increasing the potential for toxic water quality, according to researchers. The report states that some of the chemicals examined "likely produce adverse effects" both for humans and the environment, including "direct harm to bacterial or aquatic health." E. coli bacteria, which the EPA states are "a very good predictor" of contamination in fresh waters, was also found from human, dog, bird and unknown sources in high concentrations in several parts of the basin. Samples from two streams running through Kansas City, the Blue River and Brush Creek, yielded concentrations of 380 E. coli colonies per 100 milliliters and 355 colonies per 100 milliliters respectively.

Republicans Believe In Upholding Human Rights: On Sunday, the New York Times ran an op-ed by John Yoo, the Berkeley law professor who, while working in the Justice Department, wrote a memo justifying torture. Even after the Abu Ghraib photos broke in the press, Yoo defended his position, telling one interviewer that Congress didn't have the power to - wait for the metaphor - "tie the president's hands." Bush needs to torture people, Yoo believes, not to extract intelligence but to "reinvigorate the presidency." It takes a subtle legal mind to understand what water-boarding or sleep-deprivation has to do with Bush's other power grabs -- not just claiming the right to imprison without bringing formal charges or to engage in warrantless wiretaps, but to reclassify government documents made public by previous administrations, refuse to tell Americans what advice Enron and the oil industry gave to his energy task force, and issue hundreds of signing statements that empowered him with the right not to enforce laws that have absolutely nothing to do with national security. But professor Yoo sees the bigger picture. They are all moves in a larger fight to restore balance to the three branches of government, to roll back the "supremacy" assumed by the Congress and the judiciary in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate.

Republicans Believe In Protecting Natural Resources: Environmentalists have declared victory after flattening the Bush administration's effort to revoke protections for nearly 50 million acres of wild "roadless areas." A federal district court in California yesterday restored sweeping safeguards for the country's roadless areas, which the Bush administration repealed in May 2005. In a lawsuit brought by conservation groups and several state governments, Judge Elizabeth Laporte found that the White House's substitute policy was ill-conceived and failed to comply with the federal Endangered Species and National Environmental Policy Acts. The judge ruled that the original Clinton-era "roadless rule," which barred logging, road-building and other commercial activity, embodied the government's responsibility "to protect the social and ecological values and characteristics" of roadless lands. As previously reported by The NewStandard, the Bush administration's repeal of the roadless rule touched off a cascade of lawsuits and public protests across the country. The Bush administration's substitute policy forced states to petition the Forest Service individually for specific protections - a process that several states have already begun. The judge projected that the decentralized policy would lead to bureaucratic delays and inconsistent protections for forests across state lines.

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), a nonpartisan environmental lobbying organization, today revealed four additions to its 2006 "Dirty Dozen" list. The list is meant to highlight members of Congress that the LCV believes have been compromised due to their involvement with the oil lobby. LCV President Gene Karpinski stated that the "Dirty Dozen" includes "members with some of the most anti-environmental records in Congress. Each voted to give billions in taxpayer dollars to oil companies, while voting against common sense energy solutions to help our country create a clean energy future." The LCV's latest additions include Sen. George Allen (R-VA) and Reps. Dan Boren (D-OK), J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) and Deborah Pryce (R-OH). They join previously announced Sens. Conrad Burns (R-MT), Rick Santorum (R-PA), Jim Talent (R-MO) and Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Katherine Harris (R-FL), Richard Pombo (R-CA), Charles Taylor (R-NC) and Heather Wilson (R-NM).

Republicans Believe In Helping Those Who Can't Help Themselves: Advocates for the country’s low-income healthcare system have hit a legal roadblock in their challenge to new bureaucratic hurdles Congress has imposed on Medicaid access. In a ruling announced Tuesday, a Chicago federal district court dismissed claims filed against the Department of Health and Human Services over identification requirements that critics say could severely limit people’s access to the healthcare program. The judge did indicate, however, that he would respond to a narrower claim brought on behalf of children who have been placed in foster care. The new regulations, enacted in July, require proof of citizenship status, such as birth certificates and passports, to access Medicaid. The plaintiffs, organized by the advocacy group Families USA and other public-interest organizations, had argued that many eligible people cannot produce the necessary documentation due to various factors, such as physical or mental disabilities and homelessness. But Judge Ronald Guzman struck down the plaintiffs’ main arguments, calling alleged harm "speculative." He wrote that he saw no evidence that the plaintiffs "cannot provide any proof of US citizenship and identity." Even if the individuals lacked basic forms of identification, like a birth certificate, the judge stated, they might still be able to produce other documents, like insurance or medical records.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Strains on the Army from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become so severe that Army officials say they may be forced to make greater use of the National Guard to provide enough troops for overseas deployments. Senior Army officers have discussed that analysis - and described the possible need to use more members of the National Guard - with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's senior adviser on personnel, David S. C. Chu, according to Pentagon officials. While no decision has been made to mobilize more Guard forces, and may not need to be before midterm elections, the prospect presents the Bush administration with a politically vexing problem: how, without expanding the Army, to balance the pressing need for troops in the field against promises to limit overseas deployments for the Guard. The National Guard has a goal of allowing five years at home between foreign deployments so as not to disrupt the family life and careers of its citizen soldiers. But instead it has been sending units every three to four years, according to Guard officials. The question of how to sustain the high level of forces abroad became more acute this week as General John P. Abizaid, the senior American commander in the Middle East, said that the number of troops in Iraq, currently at more than 140,000, could not be expected to drop until next spring at the very earliest. That disclosure comes amid many signs of mounting strain on active Army units. So many are deployed or only recently returned from combat duty that only two or three combat brigades - perhaps 7,000 to 10,000 troops - are fully ready to respond in case of unexpected crises, according to a senior Army general.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: An interesting confluence of apparent homo- and terror-phobia: a gay couple flying on an JFK-bound AA flight out of Paris were told that their air kissing was impermissible; when the couple inquired further, the captain threatened to divert the plane. Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American, said that the stewardesss injunction to the men was reasonable, and would have been made whether the couple was gay or straight. ?Our passengers need to recognize that they are in an environment with all ages, backgrounds, creeds, and races. We have an obligation to make as many of them feel as comfortable as possible, he said.

Standing before an enormous American flag in Mellon Arena, conservative evangelical activist James Dobson told thousands of supporters he was deeply disappointed in the nation's Republican leadership, but that the nation's future depended on re-electing them. "I have flat-out been ticked at Republicans for the past two years," he said, to some applause from a crowd that arena security estimated at around 3,000. However, he said, "This country is at a crisis point. Whether or not the Republicans deserve the power they were given, the alternatives are downright frightening." Dr. Dobson, who has built an enormous following in three decades as a Christian radio psychologist, is renowned for his ability to turn out the conservative "values voters" who tipped the last election.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Longshot U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mountjoy's claims that he served about the famed battleship Missouri during the Korean war are false, according to today's edition of the Los Angeles Times. The 74-year-old Mountjoy, who is currently in a longshot bid against Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), did serve on the heavy cruiser Bremerton, and briefly on the submarine Stickleback. However, rosters for the celebrated Missouri indicate he never served on board. The statement about the Missouri was on Mountjoy's campaign website, alongside a photo of him as a young sailor. It read: "After graduating from Monrovia-Arcadia-Duarte High School, Dick joined the Navy and served during the Korean War aboard the Battleship Missouri." The claim also was featured in a film on the website. Mountjoy, who is waging a longshot campaign against Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, blamed the "mistake" about his service on misinformation from an unknown source, dating back at least six years.

A radio advertisement running in Maryland, produced by the "National Black Republican Association," has been drawing heat for claiming that Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was really a Republican and that Democrats opposed all civil rights legislation from the 1860's to the 1960's and were responsible for starting the Ku Klux Klan. The Washington Post spoke to a University of Maryland political scientist who slammed the ad's "distortions." "It is a totally fallacious rendition of the platform of the parties because, in effect, what happened is, the two parties essentially switched ideology," Ronald Walters told the Post. A Martin Luther King Jr. biographer and a senior researcher with the Atlanta-based King Center told the Associated Press that the Reverend was non-partisan and that he never endorsed any politician from either of the parties. "I think it's highly inaccurate to say he was a Republican because there's really no evidence," King Center researcher Steve Klein told the Associated Press.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:40:46 PM

Wed, Sep 20 2006

House Is Finally Sold!

The mild, dry-season weather continues, with only brief afternoon thunderstorms to relieve the dry heat that is occurring almost every day now. During a season when the daily routine is normally rain, rain and more rain, we have been having remarkably little lately. During my trip today to San Jose (see below), we only had showers in the late afternoon around La Fortuna, and not much more than sprinkles everywhere else. There was a persistent overcast, though, that held temperatures to a mild 81 during the day, after a warm low overnight of 73.

The house is finally sold - really, and for sure this time, with it being under a sales contract with the first of the earnest money paid and resting comfortably in my bank account. No more unfulfilled promises by buyers that simply haven't come through - this time, the earnest money is in my bank account, and, after a couple of hours yesterday with the buyer at the lawyer's office hammering out the final details, the "Oferta de compravende" has been signed by both parties, and has been "protocolized" by the lawyer, making it legally binding on all parties. Assuming that the buyer comes through with all the agreed payment (and I am sure he will), I should be out of the house by late December.

Now comes the hard part. Finalizing my plans for moving elsewhere and making the arrangements. I am not certain at this point whether I will remain in Costa Rica, and if I don't, which country I will move to. But one thing is for certain - for health reasons, I cannot remain in Arenal, and for security reasons, it is very much for the best if I do not remain in Costa Rica. So I am weighing my options, and hope to arrive at a final decision in the next couple of weeks, so I can begin implementing it. We'll have to see how that goes.

In the meantime, I took a trip to San Jose today to collect the high-security deadbolt locks I had shipped in recently for the front door that I have been working on installing in this house. The buyer has decided not to install that door, so if it will fit in the doorframe of whatever house I land in, I will install it there, and if not, I will install the deadbolts on that house, so I can be assured of some resistance to lock-picking burglars, as well as overly ambitious intelligence agents. I have at least got the hard part done towards getting a house here truly secured, wherever I go, as I have some locks now that I can really trust. The trip to San Jose was with a couple of friends who were going there anyway for business of their own. We spent some time in La Uruca at a boat and fishing supply place, getting parts for the boat one of them owns, and then went to pick up my locks, which only took a few minutes, while one of them took a cab to an errand of his own. Then it was on to a spot on Paseo Colon Boulevard, where we were all to meet for the return trip. The only parking space happened to be in front of an optican's store, so I went in to see if I could get a new nosepiece for my eyeglasses, which they badly needed, and lo, and behold, to my great amazement, they had a suitable replacement. I was thrilled to have a new nosepiece installed, which is much more comfortable than the crumbling one that it replaced. When finally back home in Arenal, I opened the box in which the locks had come, and inspected them. Turns out they are the commercial version, rather than the residential version I was expecting, but that is not only OK, it is even better, as they are even more secure. They were extremely expensive, but now I know that once they are installed, I will have the most secure locks available, by the estimation of several security websites I visited. With other security measures in place, I should not have concerns about burglaries anymore. And that will be a welcome change.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Only last week, the president drew a line in the sand over his proposed interrogation rules, threatening to cancel the CIA interrogation program altogether if a trio of rebellious Republicans refused to pass his version. In a total reversal, the Bush administration has reestablished talks with the defiant senators, hoping to work out a deal and pass the stalled legislation. While no details have been divulged, the change in rhetoric was in stark contrast to last week when the two sides began counting votes and turned to the press to plead their case. And it came amid indications that Bush's plan was in increasing trouble in the both chambers of the GOP-run Congress. "We share the president’s goal of enacting legislation preserving an effective CIA program to make us safe, upholding Geneva Convention protections for our troops, and passing constitutional muster," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (news, bio, voting record) in a statement Monday. Graham, R-S.C., helped lead the charge against the administration’s bill, alongside Sens. John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and John McCain, a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist signaled yesterday that he and other White House allies will filibuster a bill dealing with the interrogation and prosecution of detainees if they cannot persuade a rival group of Republicans to rewrite key provisions opposed by President Bush. Frist's chief of staff, Eric M. Ueland, called the dissidents' bill "dead."

The former US secretary of state Colin Powell has accused the White House of pursuing policies in the "war on terror" that have put America out of step with the rest of the world. In a rare public breach with the administration, Mr Powell told an audience in Norfolk, Virginia, on Tuesday that he opposed White House plans to redefine America's commitment to sections of the Geneva convention protecting detainees from torture and degrading treatment. "We know what the president needs," Mr Powell said. "We don't want to dispute the president. But we are having trouble with the rest of the world." He added that the world looked on the US as a law-abiding society - although that had been shaken by events at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay.

Wal Mart Goes Into Politics: The nation's largest retailer and biggest employer, Wal-Mart, will begin a program next week that will provide voter registration and educational materials to the company's 1.3 million employees, the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill is reporting. The Arkansas-based company has come under fire from labor union and Democratic leaders over issues such as hourly wages, legal status of employees, and benefits given to the company's workers. Democratic politicians including Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have criticized Wal-Mart and its personnel policies. Wal-Mart representatives insist that the campaign is non-partisan.

Reversing their prior vote against a terrorist detainee bill supported by the Bush administration, the House Judiciary Committee has now voted instead to support the bill, a Congressional Quarterly article explains. "Arm-twisting by top GOP leaders" apparently lead to a change of heart by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who had earlier voted against the bill, and additional votes in favor of the bill by two GOP representatives who were absent from the first tally. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) announced the reversal hours after the original vote.

PBS newsmagazine NOW this week plans to target what producers are calling, "a stealth campaign for deep cuts in social services." The program is to examine ballot initiatives across the nation that it will characterize as deceptively-titled attempts to slash funding in health care and education. "Initiatives with titles like 'Taxpayers' Bill of Rights' and 'SOS - Stop Over Spending'" will be the focus of the segment. The program is also set to assert that one wealthy New Yorker is secretly helping to orchestrate the push by providing major funding for the nationwide initiatives. Questionable legal and campaign tactics will also be highlighted. Whether or not the program will attempt to link the "stealth campaign" to previous attempts to slash funding for public broadcasting is unknown. On Friday, the NOW website will launch a state by state guide to the propositions--and related campaign financing.

Two Tampa, Fla., teenagers were arrested after driving a stolen car through a security checkpoint outside the U.S. Central Command overseeing the Iraq war. Davaraye Mungin and Damia Bowie, both 16, were captured early Wednesday after driving onto MacDill Air Force Base, eight miles south of Tampa. Military officials said they were investigating how the boys managed to drive past the base's armed military guards, The Tampa Tribune reports. Police caught them after they crashed their stolen 2000 Chrysler Cirrus into a police cruiser, totaling both cars. Police said they shot one boy with a stun gun when he tried to run from the scene. He was not seriously injured, police said.

California sued six of the world's largest automakers over global warming on Wednesday, charging that greenhouse gases from their vehicles have caused billions of dollars in damages. The lawsuit is the first of its kind to seek to hold manufacturers liable for the damages caused by their vehicles' emissions, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer said. It comes less than a month after California lawmakers adopted the nation's first global warming law mandating a cut in greenhouse gas emissions. California has also targeted the auto industry with first-in-the-nation rules adopted in 2004 requiring carmakers to force cuts in tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks. Automakers, however, have so far blocked those rules with their own legal action - prompting one analyst to say California's lawsuit represents a way for California to pressure car manufacturers to accept the rules.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore on Monday suggested taxing carbon dioxide emissions instead of employees' pay in a bid to stem global warming. "Penalizing pollution instead of penalizing employment will work to reduce that pollution," Gore said in a speech at New York University School of Law. The pollution tax would replace all payroll taxes, including those for Social Security and unemployment compensation, Gore said. He said the overall level of taxation, would remain the same. "Instead of discouraging businesses from hiring more employees it would discourage business from producing more pollution," Gore said. Gore, a longtime environmentalist, also proposed that the United States re-join any successor to the U.N. Kyoto Protocol for curbing global warming beyond 2012.

The state of Indiana has sued the right-wing Economic Freedom Fund today, to stop it from harrassing residents with automated "robo calls" supporting a GOP congressional candidate. The suit, by Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter (R) seeks a preliminary injunction stopping the calls immediately. The Economic Freedom Fund was responsible for an unknown number of calls last week in Indiana's ninth district, attacking the Dem challenger, Baron Hill. His opponent, Rep. Mike Sodrel (R-IN), who trails Hill by nine points according to the latest polls, has denied knowing anything about the calls.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: More than 100 senior doctors today accused the UK government of colluding in war crimes by refusing to give medical aid to British residents detained at Guantanamo Bay. The doctors called for an urgent independent investigation into the medical needs of the detainees at the camp. In a letter published in The Times newspaper today, the doctors condemn the Foreign Office for its "shameful" refusal to respond to a request from the British Medical Association (BMA) to send a team of doctors to the detention camp in Cuba. The medics also criticise the failure of the Foreign Office's medical and legal panels to discuss the plight of the detainees for the reason that they are not British passport holders. Nine British citizens have been released from the camp since 2004, but at least eight men who have British residency rights are believed to still be there. "Our government's excuse is that it does not wish to set a precedent to act for British residents, rather than British citizens. We find this morally repugnant," said the letter, which was signed by 120 medical professionals. They add: "It is clear that an independent scrutiny is urgently required by physicians outside the US military. The silence of the Foreign Office is shameful and reflects the collusion of this country in a war crime."

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has launched a robust defence of Iran's nuclear program. During a visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr Chavez warned the world of dire consequences if his ally was attacked by the US. Mr Chavez has threatened to cut off oil supplies to the US if provoked. This, he explained, on top of Iran shutting off its oil exports, could send oil prices soaring to well above $100 a barrel.

Britain's leading scientists have challenged the US oil company ExxonMobil to stop funding groups that attempt to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change. In an unprecedented step, the Royal Society, Britain's premier scientific academy, has written to the oil giant to demand that the company withdraws support for dozens of groups that have "misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence." The scientists also strongly criticise the company's public statements on global warming, which they describe as "inaccurate and misleading." In a letter earlier this month to Esso, the UK arm of ExxonMobil, the Royal Society cites its own survey which found that ExxonMobil last year distributed $2.9m to 39 groups that the society says misrepresent the science of climate change. These include the International Policy Network, a thinktank with its HQ in London, and the George C Marshall Institute, which is based in Washington DC. In 2004, the institute jointly published a report with the UK group the Scientific Alliance which claimed that global temperature rises were not related to rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. "There is not a robust scientific basis for drawing definitive and objective conclusions about the effect of human influence on future climate," it said.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Buying: Israeli Military Intelligence had clear information about an impending kidnap attempt by Hezbollah shortly before the Lebanese group carried out its cross-border raid on July 12, according to an internal inquiry conducted by the Israel Defense Forces. The information - which could, if properly handled, have prevented the kidnapping of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser - was not analyzed and passed on to the troops in time, the report indicated. The IDF Spokesman's Office refused to either confirm or deny the report, saying that the issue is still being investigated by Military Intelligence (MI) and the Northern Command. The inquiry into intelligence questions is being conducted by Brigadier General Avi Ashkenazi, appointed by out-going GOC Northern Command Udi Adam. Even though his investigation is not yet completed, he is slated to present his report to Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and other senior IDF officers this week. The report will apparently focus solely on the events of July 12, and will not deal with previous, similar kidnapping incidents that were foiled.

Israel backtracked on an initial promise to pull out all its troops from south Lebanon on the eve of the Jewish New Year which starts at sundown Friday. Israeli Army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said Wednesday that after all the troops will not be back home for the holiday, due to last minute hitches. "We very much hoped it would happen by Friday, but in the dialogue we have been holding with the United Nations and the Lebanese army there are a few issues to be wrapped up," Halutz told Israel Radio. "I hope it will take place in the next few days, but it looks likely to be after the holiday," he said. Halutz and Defense Minister Amir Peretz said 24 hours earlier that the troops will be withdrawn by Jewish New Year's eve. Halutz said some 5,500 international troops taking part in the U.N. peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, UNIFIL, have arrived in Lebanon and more are expected in the next weeks. Israel set as a precondition for its total withdrawal behind the Blue Line the deployment of at least 5,000 international troops as part of the enlarged UNIFIL whose number is to be increased to 15,000.

Spin Cycle: It's almost too easy to write something castigating President Bush and Vice President Cheney for their unprecedented joint trip to Capitol Hill last week to, in the words of the Washington Post's editorial headline, "lobby for torture." They were unsuccessful last week, but the fight is far from over, and once November 7 is safely past, cleaving Republican votes from the line of a now-toxic White House will get a little harder. But still, it's too easy. Sort of like fish in a barrel. Except no gun: Maybe pour a little more water into the draining barrel, just to prolong the agony. Maybe they'll tell you something you want to hear. That, not accurate intelligence - which common sense and intelligence professionals agree is almost never produced by torture - is the whole point of the Bush push for the right to torture. It helps destroy what's left of America's moral standing in the world, sure, and granted, it exposes U.S. soldiers captured by enemies to far greater risk. It brutalizes both tortured and torturer. And it's morally despicable. But it allows Bush and his cronies to lie credibly. And that's the point. This can be seen most dramatically in several instances in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, best documented in the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. Al-Libi, an upper-level Al-Qaeda operative believed to have once run the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, was an early capture in the so-called War on Terror, handed over to the CIA by the Pakistanis and then rendered to Egypt. There, Egyptian torturers elicited from him a demonstrably preposterous statement that Iraq had been training al-Qaeda operatives in explosives and chemical weapons. This claim, in turn, was included in President Bush's key Cincinnati speech to the country on October 7, 2002, just three days before the Congress voted on the war. It was repeated by the administration numerous times during its drumbeat for war, including Colin Powell's U.N. speech of February 5, 2003.

President Bush's approval rating has risen to 44% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll conducted September 15-17, 2006. This represents his highest marks in a year. Concurrently, for the first time since December 2005, a majority of people did not say the war in Iraq was a mistake. This shift is particularly interesting in light of a Z Magazine web article that analyzes the Bush administration's recent PR push to ensure that safety from terror and staying the White House's course are viewed as one and the same. Hardly striking a moderate tone, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has accused the administration's critics of not learning "history’s lessons," while the President himself in an August 31, 2006 speech to the American Legion National Convention labeled the terrorists "successors to Fascists, to Nazis, to Communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century."

Accusing Republicans of failing to adequately monitor the conduct of the war in Iraq, Senate Democrats on Wednesday announced their own series of hearings into the failed policy. "Three years into war, the American people still don't have a clear picture of what's gone wrong in Iraq -- or how to set it right," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "We've been going backward for too long," he said. Democrats said they had invited Republicans to attend the hearings, which will start in Washington on Monday and move across the country in October and November -- before and after the November 7 congressional elections in which control of both houses are at stake.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Salon.com obtained "a large batch of emails" which show that, on climate change issues, the Bush administration was "controlling access to [government] scientists and vetting reporters," reports Paul D. Thacker. The emails are from, to or about employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Hurricane Center. "After Hurricane Katrina, NOAA press officers had to get clearance from the Department of Commerce for scientists to discuss global warming and hurricanes with the press," Thacker reports. Commerce "was happy to have a ... politically reliable NOAA hurricane researcher named Chris Landsea speak to the press. At the time, Landsea was stating publicly that global warming had little to no effect on hurricanes." Still, a Commerce communications official sent emails stressing that Landsea must be "on message" and "on his toes. Since [redacted] went off the menu, I'm a little nervous on this, but trust he'll hold the course." The Department of Commerce attempted to block a government scientist from discussing the impact of global warming on hurricanes. In the documents, a request from CNBC's On The Money for an appearance by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) scientist Tom Knutson was, for some reason, forwarded to the press office for the United States Department of Commerce and answered by Chuck Fuqua, who was previously the 2004 Republican National Convention Director of Media Operations. Mister Fuqua responded by asking the NOAA what Mr. Knutson's stance on global warming's impact on hurricanes was, specifically asking if it was consistent with that of two scientists who have claimed there is no impact on hurricanes from global warming. After being informed that Knutson believed that global warming would lead to a "very small increase in hurricane intensity" that wouldn't be felt for nearly a century, Fuqua requested that "one of the other guys" be sent. At that point, communication between Fuqua and NOAA was suspended.

A new Canadian report clears the reputation of a Canadian man who was deported by the United States to a Syrian prison where he was tortured for 10 months. In 2002, Maher Arar was mistakenly marked as a major terrorist suspect by the Canadian government. The U.S. secretly deported Arar to Syria after receiving the flawed terrorist allegations from Canada. The new report concludes that Canadian authorities were not complicit in the American decisions to detain Arar and remove him to Syria, but that those decisions were based on inaccurate and misleading information received from Canada. The report attributes the mistake to "a failure of communication." Arar has declared his relief at having his name cleared. Roger Smith of CTV News reports that, "Though the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] and CSIS [Canadian Security Intelligence Services] tried hard to nail him as a terrorist, the report says they came up with nothing."

Willem Marx, a recent graduate from Oxford, dreamed of becoming a foreign correspondent. He applied for an internship in which he would "pitch story ideas" and "interact with the local media" in Iraq. That's how the U.S. government-funded Lincoln Group advertised it. Sent off to Baghdad with virtually no training, Marx was soon packing a loaded Glock and helping buy good press for America--$3 million in cash in his apartment safe and another $16 million coming for "news," PR and advertising. Until, he writes, he could bear no more. "We were...to create something called a Rapid Response Cell... . Working in the violent cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, the journalists would be paid by Lincoln Group to report news that bolstered the U.S. military message." That included advance notice of "breaking stories" in order to ensure that the reporters would "'positively' portray events before the insurgency could put out its own account." Marx's account has stimulated a lively discussion on Alternet.org and offers an epilogue to CMD's The Best War Ever.

From Wall Street Journal's Washington Blog: "Pollsters hired by Verizon Communications Inc. presented a study today that suggests consumers overwhelmingly reject 'net neutrality' ... but they support Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens's voluminous bill that rewrites many of the nation's communications laws," writes Amy Schatz. The U.S. Senate Commerce committee, which Stevens chairs, issued a press release claiming the study shows "American voters favor video choice over onerous 'Net Neutrality' regulations." The study was conducted by the PR firm Glover Park Group, in conjunction with Public Opinion Strategies. Glover Park Group has worked for the U.S. Telecom Association and News Corporation, founding an Astroturf group for the latter. The net neutrality poll questions are leading, asking participants which is more important: "the benefits of new TV and video choice" and "lower prices for cable TV," or "barring high speed internet providers from offering specialized services ... for a fee." On MyDD, Matt Stoller compares the poll questions to, "Do you want lots of pie or would you like a kidney infection?"

Republicans Believe American Business Best Represents American Values Abroad: On the second anniversary of the murder of Maldives democracy activist Evan Naseem, supporters of democracy in the Maldives went to the London office of Hill & Knowlton, where consultant Tim Fallon handles the account for the repressive government headed by President Gayoom. "We ... asked if we could see Tim Fallon to present him with the flowers. The flowers are in memory of those people that Fallon's client has murdered, tortured and abused over the past 28 years. However, Fallon would not meet us. First we were told that he was not in the building, then we were told he is 'too busy' to see us," said Sara Mahir. On its website, Hill & Knowlton boasts that "we put in place whatever is needed to help get the end result - your success" and that their work for the Maldives government has helped "avert a possible tourism boycott."

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: US producer prices rose by just 0.1% last month as the amount spent by businesses on energy moderated after recent sharp price rises. Wholesale energy prices rose just 0.3% in August, following July's 1.3% jump, while gasoline prices fell 2.2%. Separate data published on Tuesday showed a 6% fall in house construction. Experts believe these figures, on top of recent data showing a small fall in consumer inflation, persuaded the Federal Reserve to hold interest rates. The interest rate setting body met on Wednesday, agreeing to keep rates at 5.25% for the second meeting in a row.

A leading US-based hedge fund says that volatile energy prices may cost it billions of dollars. Amaranth Advisors, said it was now "aggressively reducing" its exposure to natural gas to protect its investors. Like other investment funds, Amaranth has invested in energy and commodities to capitalize on soaring prices. However, there has been a sharp fall in energy prices on international markets during the past six weeks as concerns over oil and gas supplies have eased. US natural gas prices, called futures, have slipped 40% since August. They had risen sharply after hurricanes disrupted supplies last year.

It should only be this simple: Oil prices plunge 20 percent, leading businesses and consumers to ramp up their spending, which gives a nice jolt to the economy. That seems to be the conventional wisdom on Wall Street right now, where the pullback in energy prices is being cheered by investors. But some contrarians think that view could be missing the point. While the decline in prices will provide some relief to motorists, it also reflects the country's weakening economic outlook. In other words, any benefit from falling pump prices may be outweighed by higher interest rates and a stagnating real-estate market. Moreover, the economy did not crater in the face of soaring fuel prices - because energy costs are only a small portion of the average U.S. household budget - so why should the reverse be true? "Lower oil prices don't mean that the economy is going to improve," said David Resler, chief economist at Nomura Securities in New York.

News From Smirkey's Wars: U.S. forces are taking to collective punishment of civilians in several cities across the al-Anbar province west of Baghdad, residents and officials say. "Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar province, is still living with the daily terror of its people getting killed by snipers and its infrastructure being destroyed," Ahmad, a local doctor who withheld his last name for security purposes told IPS. "This city has been facing the worst of the American terror and destruction for more than two years now, and the world is silent." Destroying infrastructure and cutting water and electricity "for days and even weeks is routine reaction to the resistance," he said.

More than a week after NATO's top leaders publicly demanded reinforcements for their embattled mission in southern Afghanistan, only one member of the 26-nation alliance has offered more troops, raising questions about NATO's largest military operation ever outside of Europe and the goal of expanding its global reach. The plea for more soldiers and equipment to fight resurgent Taliban insurgents comes as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's forces are suffering the highest casualty rates of the nearly five-year-long conflict in Afghanistan, and as European governments are feeling stretched by the demands for troops there and in Iraq, Lebanon, the Balkans and in several African countries. "NATO's credibility and future are at stake in Afghanistan," said Pierre Lellouche, president of the French delegation in NATO's parliamentary assembly. "They can't fail, otherwise NATO will lose its credibility." "It's our most important mission, it's our first priority," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in an interview at his office here, describing the ongoing combat with the Taliban in southern Afghanistan as "the most intense battle NATO has fought in its history."

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Future Western droughts could last an average of 12 years, spanning half of the region and severely reducing Colorado River flows that supply millions of people, according to climate projections from a Boulder scientist. Eighteen of the world's most powerful computer climate models were used in the study, presented Tuesday by Martin Hoerling, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Hoerling said he was startled by his own findings. But he cautioned that his results are preliminary and have not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. "The numbers are pretty striking," he said Tuesday at a drought conference sponsored by the Geological Society of America. "Climate change is moving us in the direction of a perpetual state that is of the Dust Bowl type." The models forecast a temperature increase of 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2060 in the interior West, largely because of the buildup of heat-trapping gases emitted by fossil-fuel combustion. But little or no precipitation increase is foreseen in the West. The result: Increased evaporation and drier soils, leading to more severe and frequent droughts, Hoerling said. How severe? Some droughts could be 25 percent worse than the 1930s Dust Bowl, Hoerling said. How frequent? On average, half of the interior West will suffer from severe drought each year, he said.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Congressman Bob Ney (R-OH), who will plead guilty October 13 to charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, making false statements to cover the scheme, and violations of lobby rules, has stepped down from his House committee positions. Ney has not yet announced widely-expected plans to resign. Last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wrote a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), asking for Ney's removal. On the same day, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett called for Ney's resignation. Today, Ney followed with two letters announcing that he would immediately step down as chairman of the HUD-oversight Housing and Community Opportunity subcommittee, and abandon his post as head of the Franking Commission, which governs lawmakers' use of public money to express sometimes political opinions. Ney has dropped his bid for re-election, but it is unclear whether or not the Congressman plans to return to work before the end of his term.

Even though he voted four months ago to deny pension benefits to members of Congress convicted of a felony relating to their official duties, Rep. Bob Ney will be eligible to receive his congressional pension after he serves his prison sentence. Ney, R-Heath, has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges that he accepted free trips, meals and drinks from now-disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and gambling chips worth thousands of dollars from a Syrian businessman. Next month, a federal judge is expected to sentence him to as many as 27 months in prison. However, Ney, 52, will collect his pension because the Senate and House could not agree on a sweeping package of lobbying and ethics reforms. The House version approved in May would have prohibited lawmakers convicted of a felony relating to their official duties from receiving their pensions, but House and Senate negotiators have not agreed on a final version of the bill. Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was asked whether Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) should step down from Congress. Ney pled guilty last week to federal corruption charges, admitting to prosecutors that "he had accepted tens of thousands of dollars in illegal favors from Abramoff and from a Syrian businessman nicknamed ‘the Fat Man.’" Apparently, in Boehner’s mind, this doesn't necessarily disqualify you from serving in Congress. Boehner twice refused to answer whether Ney should step down, saying only that it was a decision Ney should make for himself.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart ran a segment last evening profiling Bleu Copas, a translator specializing in Arabic who was discharged from the United States Army. Bleu was discharged under the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which allows gays and lesbians to serve in the armed forces, but only if they remain deeply closeted. In the segment, Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones interviews Paul Cameron of the Illinois Family Institute. Cameron, a staunch opponent of gays and lesbians serving in the military responded "yes" to a statement by Jones that implied it is better to be killed in a terrorist attack than to share a shower with a gay man. Cameron also maintained that "a large proportion of male homosexuals enjoy drinking each other's urine."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:56:51 PM

Mon, Sep 18 2006

Dinner Invite

Wow, what glorious weather! Even without a hurricane out in the Caribbean, the weather is hurricane-weather, with hardly a cloud in the sky, bright sun, and of course, not a drop of rain in sight. And this time of the year, it would normally be rainy, rainy and more rainy - overcast constantly, with the weather varying only from a little rainy to a lot. Not this year. I am really getting concerned about how dry the yard is getting too - something I have never had to worry about before during the rainy season. The El Nino is apparently getting stronger daily, and driving the rain from Arenal skies. This has brought with it some abnormally warm temperatures for this time of year, with a high today of 87 and a low overnight of 72.

Well, I am enjoying some decent bread for a change. The grocery store bread here in Costa Rica is perfectly horrible, made as it is without any eggs and hardly any salt in the dough - and so I have been missing decent bread since moving to this country. But now, the German Bakery here in Arenal has started baking baguettes of the French bread style, and they are absolutely divine. And they are affordable too - the price is a dollar each for about a one-pound baguette, a bit dear, but not horribly higher than supermarket bread, but the point is that the difference in price is worth it. They are actually edible... no, they are beyond edible, they are delicious. Some of the best bread around, and among the best bread I have eaten since being in the country So I have been buying a bunch of baguettes whenever I am in town, and slicing and freezing them as soon as I get them home. When I want bread, I take the slices out of the freezer and nuke them for 20 seconds, and they're like they're fresh out of the oven. Today, I got some still warm from the oven, and with a little butter on them, that is heaven for sure. They make the best sandwiches one could hope for.

I have an invite to dinner tonight. My newly arrived friend has caught some guapote and has brought them home and filleted them. He has invited me over for dinner, and so I am going to go over there tonight and nosh on some of the best fish God ever made. He promises me they'll be a true delight, and I can hardly wait. I have a guava tree that has come down in the wind, and I am saving the wood for him to smoke some fish with, and I can't wait to try some guava-smoked guapote. I am told it is the best stuff on the planet. We'll see - and you'll get a report.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: In an echo of the intelligence wars that preceded the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a high-stakes struggle is brewing within the Bush administration and in Congress over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program and involvement in terrorism. U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials say Bush political appointees and hard-liners on Capitol Hill have tried recently to portray Iran's nuclear program as more advanced than it is and to exaggerate Tehran's role in Hezbollah's attack on Israel in mid-July. The struggle's outcome could have profound implications for U.S. policy. President Bush, who addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, has said he prefers diplomacy to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but he hasn't ruled out using military force. Several former U.S. defense officials who maintain close ties to the Pentagon say they've been told that plans for airstrikes - if Bush deems them necessary - are being updated. The leader of a Persian Gulf country who visited Washington recently came away without receiving assurances he sought that the military option was off the table, said a person with direct knowledge of the meetings. "It seems like Iran is becoming the new Iraq," said one U.S. counterterrorism official. This official and others spoke on condition of anonymity because the information involved is classified. But one facet of the dispute broke into public view in recent days. The International Atomic Energy Agency complained in an unusual letter made public on Thursday that a House intelligence committee report on Iran contains "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated information." A top official of the IAEA, which conducts nuclear inspections in Iran and elsewhere, wrote that the report exaggerated advances Tehran has made in enriching uranium, which can be used to fuel nuclear arms if made pure enough. The official, Vilmos Cserveny, said the report also falsely claimed that IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei had removed an inspector from Iran for being too aggressive.

Why we had to squander thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has introduced a new rationale for the invasion of Iraq, high gas prices. From a radio interview last week: SECRETARY RUMSFELD: The fact of the matter is - if Saddam Hussein were still in power in Iraq, he would be rolling in petrol dollars. Think of the price of oil today. He would have so much money.

The U.S. military in Iraq has imprisoned an Associated Press photographer for five months, accusing him of being a security threat but never filing charges or permitting a public hearing. AP photographer Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi citizen, was detained on April 12 after working for the AP since September 2004. The AP has not found any evidence of inappropriate contact with insurgents and and have called for him to receive due process under the Iraqi justice system, saying it is in contravention of Iraqi law and the Geneva convention. According to the AP, the military said Hussein was captured with two insurgents, one linked to al Qaeda. Said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jack Gardner in an email in May: "He has close relationships with persons known to be responsible for kidnappings, smuggling, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and other attacks on coalition forces." The military also claims that there were bomb-making materials in Hussein's apartment at the time of his arrest. Hussein denies the charge. According to the AP, the U.S. military has detained 14,000 people worldwide, with 13,000 in Iraq, most held without specific charge.

Provisions in Bush's proposed legislation for detainee interrogations and terrorism tribunals could hamper potential criminal prosecutions in some of the 17 abuse investigations from Iraq and Afghanistan pending before federal prosecutors in Virginia by retroactively changing a key law. The CIA's former assistant general counsel, a defense attorney for a veteran intelligence officer under scrutiny and outside military-law experts all said Bush's proposal could make it more difficult to obtain indictments by retroactively weakening the U.S. law against war crimes. Bush's plan would create narrower definitions for certain kinds of war crimes and backdate them to Sept. 11, 2001. The proposal seems to fit into a broader pattern of Bush administration efforts to protect interrogators working for the CIA and the Department of Defense, or to find ways to keep the 1996 War Crimes Act from applying to post-Sept. 11 actions. Another provision in Bush's proposal would require taxpayer-financed legal defenses for intelligence agents charged or sued in connection with alleged detainee abuse. Even those under investigation would get their legal bills paid under the plan, presumably including those involved in the 17 pending investigations.

The Republican donor who helped bankroll the false and salacious Swift Boat attacks on Democratic Sen. John Kerry's war record has given $5 million to a new group targeting Democratic candidates. Bob J. Perry, a Texas homebuilder with close ties to White House advisor Karl Rove and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, recently made the hefty donations to the Economic Freedom Fund, a newly created California group. The group is a so-called 527 that is not subject to conventional campaign finance restrictions and can spend unlimited amounts on election advocacy, similar to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In the 2004 presidential race, the group of Vietnam veterans made unsubstantiated allegations challenging Kerry's record of wartime heroism. So far, the new group which lists Perry as its sole donor has spent slightly more than $500,000 on television ads and mailings criticizing Democratic Reps. Jim Marshall of Georgia and Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, according to a disclosure form filed last week with the Federal Election Commission. Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter has filed a lawsuit today in Brown County Circuit Court against the same group making automated phone calls targeting Democratic congressional candidate Baron Hill. Carter also is seeking a preliminary injunction against the California-based group, Economic Freedom Fund, which is financed by Bob J. Perry, a Texas homebuilder with close ties to White House adviser Karl Rove.

Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will host a fundraiser for Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., at the mayor's Manhattan town house, Lieberman's campaign announced Sunday night. Lieberman, who lost the Democratic primary to Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont, is running for re-election as an independent, a move that has alienated many Democrats. Dan Gerstein, a spokesman for Lieberman's campaign, said the fundraiser will be held Nov. 1 and will be co-chaired another New York Republican, former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, and former Democratic New York Mayor Ed Koch. Bloomberg also will appear with Lieberman's wife, Hadassah, at an Oct. 25 fundraiser in Chicago and is hoping to do another appearance on Lieberman's behalf in Connecticut, Gerstein said.

Last week a watchdog group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released an internal memo from the EPA's Chief Financial Officer, Lyons Gray, where he calls for plans to shut down at least 20 percent of the EPA's 16 research laboratories by 2011. Gray calls for closing a minimum of 10 percent of labs by 2009 and for plans to oust top scientists, work with state and tribal groups to reduce regulatory oversight. The EPA budget has bee steadily cut by the Bush Administration over the past couple of years and the President's 2007 budget provides a billion dollars less then it did in 2003. Now they want to reduce regulatory oversight. The plan is a demonstration of the consequences of slashing budgets for government agencies charged with protecting the environment and citizens from industrial pollution and is a real indicator of the direction Republicans would like to take the country…let corporations do whatever they want and let the public be damned.

President Bush's nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations appears increasingly endangered in the Senate, prompting the administration to explore other ways to keep him in the job after his temporary appointment expires in January, officials said yesterday. The situation represents a sharp turnaround from two weeks ago, when the White House was confident it could finally push through Bolton's long-stalled nomination. But last week's surprise move by Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.) to delay a vote convinced Republicans on Capitol Hill that the nomination may be doomed, prompting a search for alternatives. Administration officials said they have not given up. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Chafee yesterday to kick off a lobbying campaign that will continue today when he returns to Washington after his hard-fought Republican primary victory in Rhode Island on Tuesday.

A secret investigation of news leaks at Hewlett-Packard was more elaborate than previously reported, and almost from the start involved the illicit gathering of private phone records and direct surveillance of board members and journalists, according to people briefed on the company's review of the operation. The effort received some degree of supervision from three officials -- Patricia C. Dunn, the company's chairwoman, along with its general counsel and another staff attorney -- but was quickly farmed out to a network of private investigative firms early last year, according to descriptions of the findings. It is still unclear how much they knew about the details.

In case you're wondering what people like Sen. John McCain and Colin Powell are fighting against in Bush's interrogation legislation, here's an account about the euphemistically-named "temperature extremes" treatment: "When the Navy SEALS would interrogate people, they were using ice water to lower the body temperature of the prisoner and they would take his rectal temperature in order to make sure that he didn't die. I didn't see this, but that's what many, many prisoners told me who came out of the SEAL Compound, and I also heard that from a guard who was working in our detention facility, who was present during an interrogation that the SEAL had done."

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Monuments in two of the world's most important heritage sites are in need of 'urgent repair' as a result of the recent assault on Lebanon, a United Nations mission to the region has discovered. A Roman tomb in Tyre and a medieval tower in Byblos have been significantly damaged by the war, the official leading a survey of Lebanese archaeological sites told The Observer late last week. Unesco, the educational, scientific and cultural arm of the United Nations, is set to announce the results of its damage assessment mission tomorrow. The survey was launched after the international archaeological community, including the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, urged the organization to investigate the effects of bombing on one of the planet's most heritage-rich countries. The head of Unesco's mission, Mounir Bouchenaki, said that the most extreme damage had been seen at the world heritage sites of Tyre and Byblos. At Tyre some of 'the finest examples of imperial Roman architecture in the world' had suffered direct damage, including the collapse of a fresco on a tomb only a few metres from the site's core. The official said that he intended to propose the commencement of urgent repair work in the area.

Catapulting The Propaganda: In a highly combative exchange with reporters, United States President George W. Bush has told reporters today that terrorists will strike the United States again. In arguing for legislation that would define US interpretation of the Geneva Conventions in a way that many would argue would allow certain forms of torture, Bush said, "I wish I could tell the American people, 'don't worry about it.' They're not coming again. But they are coming again." "Time is running out," the President concluded. Bush also struck out at comments by former Secretary of State Colin Powell regarding the moral standing of the United States' war on terror. "It's unacceptable," a visibly angered Bush told the press, "to think there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists, who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective."

The state of New York reportedly reprinted 200,000 taxpayer rebate checks to tell voters Gov. George Pataki was responsible for the refund. The first batch of checks was destroyed because it failed to give credit for the refund to the governor and state legislature, the New York Post reports learning. A copy of the first run of checks says that New York "is rebating a portion of your 2006-2007 school taxes" and directs taxpayers to the Department of Taxation and Finance Web site for more information. According to a copy of the new checks obtained by the Post, recipients are told that the rebate was "approved by Governor George Pataki and the State Legislature." A spokesman says the first batch was destroyed because the department didn't think the message adequately explained the nature of the refund. When the question of rebates was before the legislature, Pataki opposed the move.

Rats Fleeing The U.S.S. Bush: In an appearance on CBS's Face The Nation, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has offered a spirited defense of the Geneva Conventions, while disagreeing with President Bush on the approach to take with prisoner interrogations in the war on terror. Citing his twenty-two years of service in the Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps, the first term senator said, "We cannot have a great nation when we start redefining who we are under the guise of redefining our law." He stated that he was not concerned about any consequences in his home state as a result of his position on legislation under consideration by the Senate. Face The Nation host Bob Schieffer said to Graham, "This would seem to me to be a huge political risk for you. You come from a very conservative state. A state that is probably one of the strongest states for President Bush. You're taking on the president on this. I'll bet you that you get a primary opponent as a result of this." Senator Graham responded, "Well, I'm getting pounded at home by some people -- why can't you work with the president? The president wants to defend us. The CIA needs to get good information. These guys are barbarians. Why are you standing in the way? I'm not standing in the way. I share the same goals, but I'm a military lawyer. Twenty-two years as a member of the Air Force JAG Corps. When I put that uniform on, I took an obligation as a military officer. "My biggest fear is that as we try to solve these complicated legal procedures and problems that we're seen as taking shortcuts and we don't redefine the law, we redefine America in a way so we can't win this war. That's what Colin Powell is saying. That's what General Vessey's saying. It's not about my political career. America can do well without me, but we cannot do well if we're seen to abandon our principles and the rule of law."

Abstinence Programs Really Work: Following in the footsteps of Philadelphia, high school students in New York will be routinely tested for sexually transmitted diseases. The success of the program in the City of Brotherly Love is what prompted health officials in New York to launch a similar program, the New York Post reports. The Philadelphia plan began after officials witnessed an epidemic of 17,000 cases of chlamydia in 2003, more than double the number reported a decade earlier. After lawyers determined that a testing program was legal, Philadelphia began an unprecedented war against sexually transmitted diseases. It resulted in chlamydia/gonorrhea infections among girls dropping to 6 percent last year from 8 percent in 2003 while the rate among boys fell to 4 percent from 5 percent, the Post reported. In all, officials reported an infection rate drop of 24 percent among high school students over a 3-year period. "It takes the political will of those who have the power to make it happen," Melinda Salmon of the Philadelphia Health Department told the Post.

Diebold Watch: The access panel door on a Diebold AccuVote-TS voting machine - the door that protects the memory card that stores the votes, and is the main barrier to the injection of a virus - can be opened with a standard key that is widely available on the Internet. On Wednesday we did a live demo for our Princeton Computer Science colleagues of the vote-stealing software described in our paper and video. Afterward, Chris Tengi, a technical staff member, asked to look at the key that came with the voting machine. He noticed an alphanumeric code printed on the key, and remarked that he had a key at home with the same code on it. The next day he brought in his key and sure enough it opened the voting machine. This seemed like a freakish coincidence - until we learned how common these keys are. Chris's key was left over from a previous job, maybe fifteen years ago. He said the key had opened either a file cabinet or the access panel on an old VAX computer. A little research revealed that the exact same key is used widely in office furniture, electronic equipment, jukeboxes, and hotel minibars. It's a standard part, and like most standard parts it's easily purchased on the Internet. We bought several keys from an office furniture key shop - they open the voting machine too. We ordered another key on eBay from a jukebox supply shop. The keys can be purchased from many online merchants. Using such a standard key doesn't provide much security, but it does allow Diebold to assert that their design uses a lock and key. Experts will recognize the same problem in Diebold's use of encryption - they can say they use encryption, but they use it in a way that neutralizes its security benefits.

CNN explores the possibility of midterm e-vote hacks in the following video clips. In one clip, investigators demonstrate that a single hacker could use a virus to infect large numbers of electronic voting machines. The Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University has studied the security of one popular electronic voting machine produced by Diebold. The study, titled "Security Analysis of the Diebold AccuVote-TS Voting Machine", located serious security flaws "that undermine the accuracy and credibility of the vote counts". The Center for Information Technology Policy's website contains the full report, as well as a comprehensive video demonstration a Diebold Accuvote-TS voting machine hack.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: On the September 13 edition of NBC's Nightly News, host Brian Williams claimed that "[s]cientists can't say yet whether global warming is the culprit" for the recent reported ice melt in the Arctic. In a segment on "the health of our planet," Williams showed recently released NASA images of the Arctic from 2004 and from 2005 and said that the difference between the two demonstrated "an abrupt shrinkage ... equal to an area about the size of the state of Texas." Williams stated that the ice is not "shrinking that much every year," adding that "[s]cientists can't say yet whether global warming is the culprit." However, according to the scientist and author of the September 13 NASA study on the Arctic ice meltdown to which Williams was presumably referring in citing the Arctic images, new data show "the strongest evidence of global warming in the Arctic so far."

Republicans Strictly Respect The Intent Of The Law: The Florida Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that Governor Jeb Bush cannot replace a retiring appellate judge prior to January 1st when the judge's term expires and a day before Bush also leaves office. Bush cannot seek re-election due to term limits. He had asked the justices whether he could appoint a replacement for 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Richard Ervin III before January 1st. A Bush spokeswoman said the governor's lawyers were reviewing the opinion and she could not immediately comment on whether he planned to make the appointment in the final hours of his term on January 2nd or leave it to his successor.

Republicans Believe In Free, Fair, Honest And Transparent Elections: Election experts fear major problems at polls during November's election, according to a front page story in Sunday's Washington Post. "An overhaul in how states and localities record votes and administer elections since the Florida recount battle six years ago has created conditions that could trigger a repeat -- this time on a national scale -- of last week's Election Day debacle in the Maryland suburbs, election experts said," write Dan Balz and Zachary A. Goldfarb for the Post. In the Nov. 7 election, more than 80 percent of voters will use electronic voting machines, and a third of all precincts this year are using the technology for the first time. The changes are part of a national wave, prompted by the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 and numerous revisions of state laws, that led to the replacement of outdated voting machines with computer-based electronic machines, along with centralized databases of registered voters and other steps to refine the administration of elections. But in Maryland last Tuesday, a combination of human blunders and technological glitches caused long lines and delays in vote-counting. The problems, which followed ones earlier this year in Ohio, Illinois and several other states, have contributed to doubts among some experts about whether the new systems are reliable and whether election officials are adequately prepared to use them. In a polarized political climate, in which elections are routinely marked by litigation and allegations of incompetent administration or outright tampering, some worry that voting problems could cast a Florida-style shadow over this fall's midterm elections.

Republicans Respect Freedom Of Religion: The Internal Revenue Service has ordered a prominent liberal church to turn over documents and e-mails it produced during the 2004 election year that contain references to political candidates. The IRS is investigating whether All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena violated the federal tax code when its former rector, Rev. George F. Regas, delivered an anti-war sermon on the eve of the last presidential election. Tax-exempt organizations are barred from intervening in political campaigns and elections, and the church could lose its tax-exempt status. Rev. Ed Bacon received a summons Thursday ordering the church to present any politically charged sermons, newsletters and electronic communications by Sept 29. Bacon was ordered to testify before IRS officials Oct. 11. He said he will inform his roughly 3,500 congregants about the investigation at Sunday's services, and will seek their advice on whether to comply. "There is a lot at stake here," Bacon said. "If the IRS prevails, it will have a chilling effect on the practice of religion in America." An IRS spokesperson declined comment on the investigation. In a sermon two days before the 2004 election, Regas did not urge parishioners to support President Bush or challenger John Kerry but was critical of the Iraq war and Bush's tax cuts, Bacon said in an interview last November when the investigation was announced. "He explicitly said, 'I am not telling you how to vote.' That is the golden boundary we did not cross," he said.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: Record oil import costs have pushed the US current account deficit to $218.4 billion in the second quarter, a 2.4% increase on the previous period. The deficit is the broadest measure of US global trade, including investment flows and trade in goods and services. With world oil prices above $70 a barrel for much of this year, the cost of buying oil pushed import values up 2% to $463.4 billion between April and June. The deficit is equivalent to 6% of total US economic output. The second-quarter deficit exceeded analysts' forecasts of a figure of about $214 billion. The deficit in goods expanded to $210.6 billion from $208 billion the previous quarter as a healthy rise in export values to $252.8 billion was offset by the oil-driven rise in imports. The Commerce Department also revised upwards its estimate of the overall first-quarter deficit from $208.7 billion to $213.2 billion.

Executives of General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. have discussed a possible merger or alliance, the trade journal Automotive News reported Monday. Both companies declined comment. Automotive News quoted what it said were several people familiar with the talks as saying that discussions involving senior executives began in July and are not taking place now. The journal quoted one source as saying that GM Chief Financial Officer Fritz Henderson and his Ford counterpart, Don Leclair, discussed a GM-Ford alliance in August. The report comes as GM and Ford have been slashing their work forces and closing plants in efforts to reverse multibillion dollar losses. Their sales have been hurt by competition from more fuel-efficient models from Asian automakers. As the two biggest U.S. automakers, any deal would presumably face scrutiny by U.S. antitrust regulators.

Republicans Are Securing Our Borders: U.S. politicians are "crazy" if they believe their government can erect a security fence along the Canadian border in Akwesasne, a native leader said Friday. A U.S. House of Representatives study on the feasibility of putting up a state-of-the-art security fence along the Canada-U.S. border will be conducted over the course of the next 12 months. Chief Larry King of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne said there would be no circumstances under which members of his community would allow any sort of fence to be constructed on their land. "Not in this day and age," said King. "The day when the white man thought he could just come into communities such as ours and do whatever he wanted is in the past." The study is included in a bill passed earlier this week to "establish operational control over the international land and maritime borders of the United States," also known as the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Although a significant portion of the bill deals with specific areas along the U.S.-Mexico border, it calls for the Secretary of Homeland Security to conduct a study on the construction of a "state-of-the-art barrier system" along the Canadian border, including the necessity of the structure as well as its feasibility. Estimates have placed the cost of erecting a fence along the southern U.S. border, which would cover about 3,141 kilometres of terrain, at $9 billion. The Canada-U.S. border stretches about 6,400 kilometres, more than double the southern border. That could put the cost of the project at close to $20 billion. Studies have also shown border fencing already in place in areas along the southern U.S. border has not resulted in fewer migrations, but rather driven illegal aliens to more remote and dangerous areas where there are no fences.

If Northrop Grumman Corp. gets the multibillion-dollar contract to secure America's borders, the sky above the Rio Grande would be thick with drones. Cellphone maker Ericsson Inc. thinks drones are largely a waste and would focus instead on giving Border Patrol agents wireless devices capable of receiving live video. The Bush administration's multi-billion dollar plan to help secure the U.S.-Mexico border with surveillance technology is provoking skepticism in Congress and warnings from government analysts. Boeing Co. would build high-tech towers, lining the borders with 1,800 of them. For Lockheed Martin Corp., blimps are a big part of the solution. And for Raytheon Co., the key is letting agents watch incidents unfold on Google Earth. Those are the plans, anyway. The questions now are which company will win the rights to put its technology into play, and how well any of it will actually work in helping the United States gain control of its notoriously porous borders. The Department of Homeland Security is expected within days to name a winner in a competition that could permanently change the way the United States conducts surveillance, apprehension and detention operations along its northern and southern boundaries. The choice promises to lend significant insight into how the government sees the future of border security, with firms offering rival visions of how that future looks.

Privatization Solves All Problems: Heading to Baghdad airport, a fuel convoy turned into an inferno, and resulted in the largest single loss of American civilians in the Iraq war. Seven died and 26 were injured, CBS News Chief Investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports. "It could have been prevented. And it never, never should have happened to begin with," says Ray Stannard. Stannard was one of the drivers. As the truck burned, he held a friend who died in his arms. "What they did was murder," he says, "and I stick by that." But his anger is not directed at the insurgents. Instead, it's directed at his employer, Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton. "They sent these men down the road, under attack with mortars, land mines, machine guns, rifles, grenade and explosives. Knowing the army was in combat. Knowing that people were being wounded. Knowing that trucks were destroyed. And they chose to do it anyway," says Scott Allen, who represents former KBR employees now suing the company for wrongful death. In depositions obtained exclusively by CBS News, another KBR convoy leader describes what he saw just three hours before the massacre. "I can only say that the escorts for my convoy expended 2,000 rounds of ammunition in a five mile period," the leader says, adding that he informed Halliburton KBR of the attack on his convoy.

News From Smirkey's Wars: A major problem in trying to stem the violence in Baghdad is that police and security forces are rife with criminals and militia members, Edward Wong and Paul von Zielbauer will report in Sunday's edition of the New York Times. Shiite militiamen and criminals entrenched throughout Iraq’s police and internal security forces are blocking recent efforts by some Iraqi leaders and the American military to root them out, a step critical to winning the trust of skeptical Sunni Arabs and quelling the sectarian conflict, Iraqi and Western officials say. The new interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, who oversees the police, lacks the political support to purge many of the worst offenders, including senior managers who tolerated or encouraged the infiltration of Shiite militias into the police under the previous government, according to interviews with more than a dozen officials who work with the ministry and the police. No one expected a housecleaning to be easy, and some headway has been made in firing people. But despite that progress, recent difficulties reveal the magnitude of the task facing Mr. Bolani and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. When he took office in late May, Mr. Maliki said one of his top goals was to reform the Shiite-led Interior Ministry, which had, to the minority Sunni Arabs, become synonymous with government complicity in abduction, torture and killing. The ministry recently discovered that more than 1,200 policemen and other employees had been convicted years ago of murder, rape and other violent crimes, said a Western diplomat who has close contact with the ministry. Some were even on death row. Few have been fired.

NATO said Sunday that its two-week offensive in south Afghanistan was a "significant success" that had driven Taliban insurgents from their positions and opened the way for development. But violence was unabated, with suicide bombers killing three civilians and wounding six soldiers. Militants also took control of a district in the west of the country after chasing away the police, an official said, in an apparent attempt to open a new front. The developments came as the country is going through its bloodiest phase since the U.S.-led invasion ousted the hard-line Taliban from power in 2001. Lt. Gen. David Richards, head of the 20,000-strong NATO-led force in Afghanistan, said the insurgents have been forced out of the volatile former Taliban heartland, and reconstruction and development efforts there would soon begin. Alliance officials have said more than 500 militants were killed during the two-week operation, centered mainly in Panjwai, Pashmul and Zhari districts of southern Kandahar province. Two foreign military convoys in different areas came under attack from suicide bombers, a method frequently used by insurgents in Iraq.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans - restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon. To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration. O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade. Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance - but had applied for a White House job - was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting. The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration's gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation that sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: An in-your-face documentary out this weekend is raising eyebrows, raising hackles and raising questions about evangelizing to young people. Speaking in tongues, weeping for salvation, praying for an end to abortion and worshipping a picture of President Bush - these are some of the activities at Pastor Becky Fischer's Bible camp in North Dakota, "Kids on Fire," subject of the provocative new documentary, "Jesus Camp." "I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the gospel as they are in Palestine, Pakistan and all those different places," Fisher said. "Because, excuse me, we have the truth." "A lot of people die for God," one camper said, "and they're not afraid." "We're kinda being trained to be warriors," said another, "only in a funner way." The film has caused a split among evangelicals. Some say it's designed to demonize. Others have embraced it, including Fischer, who's helping promote the film. "I never felt at any point that I was exploited," Fischer said. "I think there is a push right now in a lot of evangelical churches to definitely keep the teenagers and keep the children in the faith," said Heidi Ewing, co-director of "Jesus Camp." "And this is one version of that attempt." This camp is, by many accounts, a small -- and perhaps extreme -- slice of what some say is a growing, intensifying evangelical youth movement. Over the past decade and a half, enrollment at Christian colleges is up 70 percent. Sales of Christian music are up 300 percent. Tens of thousands of youth pastors have been trained. Young people are targeted through Christian music festivals, skateboard competitions and rodeos. "This is an enormous youth movement," said Lauren Sandler, a secular, liberal feminist from New York City who spent months among the believers researching her new book, "Righteous."

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: The vast expanses of ice floating in the Arctic Sea are shrinking in winter as well as summer, most likely a result of global warming, NASA scientists said today. "This is the strongest evidence yet of global warming in the Arctic," said Josefino Comiso, a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. If the ice caps continue to melt, Comiso said, it could have very profound effects on the polar bear and other marine mammals living in the Arctic. A greater number of polar bears have been showing up in Eskimo communities in the Arctic, apparently searching for food, scientists said today. They usually hunt for seals and other marine mammals out on the sea ice, and fast when they are on land. Ian Stirling, a biologist in the Canadian Wildlife Service, and NASA scientist Claire Parkinson released results of their new study that shows that just because there are more sightings doesn't mean that there are more polar bears. The new data show that both winter and summer ice is melting faster than measured in the last 26 years. NASA has measured sea ice since 1978, compiling an average of wintertime melt. In the last two winters - 2005 and 2006 - an extra 6 percent has melted. The summer Arctic sea ice, for the past four years in a row, also has melted far more than average, based on satellite data. If the summer ice continues to melt at that rate, they said, the Arctic could be ice-free in the summer by the end of the century. Until 2005, the wintertime sea ice has been relatively stable. The winter ice is permanent, a thick multilayered cap that remains fairly constant. In contrast, in the summer, the ice is thinner, more mobile and melts at the edges every spring and freezes up again in the autumn. When Comiso saw the decline of winter sea ice in 2005, he said, "it was only one year, and I didn't think it was so serious." But these past two years were low, he said, and based on NASA data and his computer simulations, "this has a very large chance of continuing."

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has been a tireless critic of official corruption in Washington, and has now released a new report entitled "Beyond DeLay" in which they list, in order of corruptness, the 13 most corrupt members of congress, 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats. They are: 1. Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), 2. Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-CA), 3. Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL), 4. Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), 5. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO), 6. Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), 7. Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), 8. Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ), 9. Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC), 10. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), 11. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), 12. Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), 13. Sen. Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum (R-PA).

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:27:30 AM

Sat, Sep 16 2006

Dryest Rainy Season In A Long Time

The weather has been more dry season than rainy season lately, and the level of the Arenal reservoir continues to fall when it should be rising this time of year. There has been little rain at a time of the year when the rainy season usually brings almost steady rain. Not that there hasn't been lots of overcast and even occasional drizzle, but no real rain except for a brief thunderstorm this morning. Otherwise, you'd be hard pressed to say this is the rainy season. I am really concerned about what the developing El Nino will mean for the country this winter. Last week, on my last trip to Tilaran, I noticed that the lake is down another ten feet from where it was - it is now at the lowest point I have ever seen it.

The gardener was by this morning for his weekly visit, and he brought a peon with him to finish the yard work. I put him to work on cutting up the tree on the North Forty that came down in the storm a few weeks back. Rather than walk over there on the street, he actually walked around through the dense growth at the end of the pond - I honestly don't know how he got through it, but he did. In the several hours that he was here, he managed to completely reduce the tree to a few bones ready for a chain saw. He got the branches hauled to the piles of yard waste ready to burn, and if this weather continues, they should be ready to burn in a few weeks.

My new friend in town has managed to get things in order in remarkably short time - I found out that he has bought another house in town, and he has a working cell phone now, in addition to having a bank account set up. He's acquired a boat for his fishing guide business and is getting it fixed up and ready to go. I just hope there will be a reservoir left for him to go fishing in.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Smirkey fought back Friday against a Republican revolt in the Senate over torture legalization legislation and rejected warnings that the United States had lost the high moral ground to adversaries. "It's flawed logic," he snapped. Bush urged lawmakers to quickly approve legislation authorizing military tribunals and legalized torture of terror suspects in order to shield U.S. personnel from being prosecuted for war crimes under the Geneva Conventions, which set international standards for the treatment of prisoners of war. Tough interrogations have been instrumental in preventing attacks against the United States, Bush said. "Time's running out" for the legislation, he warned, with Congress set to adjourn in a few weeks. To the administration's dismay, Colin Powell, Bush's former secretary of state, has joined with the lawmakers. Powell said Bush's plan to redefine the Geneva Conventions would cause the world "to doubt the moral basis" of the fight against terror and "put our own troops at risk."

The CIA learned in late September 2002 from a high-level member of Saddam Hussein's inner circle that Iraq had no past or present contact with Osama bin Laden and that the Iraqi leader considered bin Laden an enemy of the Baghdad regime, according to a recent Senate Intelligence Committee report. Although President Bush and other senior administration officials were at that time regularly linking Hussein to al-Qaeda, the CIA's highly sensitive intelligence supporting the contrary view was apparently not passed on to the White House or senior Bush policymakers. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and two GOP colleagues on the committee disclosed this information for the first time in the panel's report on Iraq released last week. They wrote in the "additional views" section of the report that the Cabinet-level Iraqi official "said that Iraq has no past, current, or anticipated future contact with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda" and that the official "added that bin Laden was in fact a longtime enemy of Iraq."

Smirkey went to the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to prod fellow Republicans to back his plans to track, but some pressed on with a competing measure the White House rejects. Bush told reporters he had thanked the House Armed Services Committee for passing his version of the legislation to put foreign suspects on trial "in a bipartisan fashion that will give us the tools and wherewithal to protect this country." "I reminded them that the most important job of government is to protect the homeland," Bush said after privately meeting with House Republicans who are searching also for an accord on his warrantless domestic spying program. Defying Bush, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner of Virginia and fellow Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were expected to push their bill providing suspects on trial more legal rights. They say the new bill is essential to clear a possible U.S. Supreme Court challenge.

Hundreds of prison-generated products end up attached to trendy and nationally known labels like No Fear, Lee Jeans, Trinidad Tees, and other well known US companies. After deductions, many prisoners earn about $60 for an entire month of nine-hour days. In short, hiring out prisoners has become big business. And it's booming. At CMT Blues housed at the Maximum Security Richard J. Donovan State Correctional Facility outside San Diego, the highly prized jobs pay minimum wage. Less than half goes into the inmates' pockets. The rest is siphoned off to reimburse the state for the cost of their incarceration and to a victim restitution fund. The California Department of Corrections and CMT Blues owner Pierre Sleiman say they are providing inmates with job skills, a work ethic and income. In addition, he says prisoners offer the ultimate in a flexible and dependable work force. "If I lay them off for a week," said Sleiman, referring to his workers, "I don't have to worry about someone else coming and saying, 'Come work for me.'" For the tycoons who have invested in the prison industry, it has been like finding a pot of gold. They don't have to worry about strikes or paying unemployment, health or worker's comp insurance, vacation or comp time. All of their workers are full time, and never arrive late or are absent because of family problems; moreover, if prisoners refuse to work, they are moved to disciplinary housing and lose canteen privileges. Most importantly, they lose "good time" credit that reduces their sentence. The nation's prison industry now employees nearly three quarters of a million people, more than any Fortune 500 corporation, other than General Motors. Mushrooming construction has turned the industry into the main employer in scores of depressed cities and towns. A host of firms are profiting from private prisons, prison labor and services like transportation, farming and manufacturing. Critics argue that inmate labor is both a potential human rights abuse and a threat to workers outside prison walls claiming, inmates have no bargaining power, are easily exploited and once released are frequently barred from gainful employment because of a felony conviction.

Google is "eager" to work with the Republican Party and has boosted its presence in Washington, D.C., according to Roll Call. "Google, one of the fastest-growing companies in Silicon Valley, is ramping up its political clout in Washington, D.C., while taking a series of steps to court Republicans," report Tory Newmyer and Paul Kane for Roll Call. "The company is filing paperwork today to open its first-ever political action committee, and later this month, it will make an endangered GOP incumbent the beneficiary of its first-ever Washington fundraiser." "The search-engine giant this month also deepened its ties to Republicans by inking a deal with former GOP Sens. Dan Coats (Ind.) and Connie Mack (Fla.) to lobby on its behalf," the article continues.

The Federal Communications Commission ordered its staff to destroy all copies of a draft study that suggested greater concentration of media ownership would hurt local TV news coverage, a former lawyer at the agency says. The report, written in 2004, came to light during the Senate confirmation hearing for FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. received a copy of the report "indirectly from someone within the FCC who believed the information should be made public," according to Boxer spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz. Adam Candeub, now a law professor at Michigan State University, said senior managers at the agency ordered that "every last piece" of the report be destroyed. "The whole project was just stopped - end of discussion," he said. Candeub was a lawyer in the FCC's Media Bureau at the time the report was written and communicated frequently with its authors, he said. In a letter sent to Martin Wednesday, Boxer said she was "dismayed that this report, which was done at taxpayer expense more than two years ago, and which concluded that localism is beneficial to the public, was shoved in a drawer." The analysis showed local ownership of television stations adds almost five and one-half minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of "on-location" news. The conclusion is at odds with FCC arguments made when it voted in 2003 to increase the number of television stations a company could own in a single market. It was part of a broader decision liberalizing ownership rules.

Republican voters are angry, not for the first time, at big-spending politicians in Washington. This year, their wrath is aimed at their own party. The Republican-controlled Congress heads into the Nov. 7 elections having increased federal spending this year by 9 percent - the most since 1990 - to about $2.7 trillion, according to projections from the White House Office of Management and Budget. The agency estimates government spending will grow to 20.6 percent of gross domestic product in 2006 from 18.5 percent when President George W. Bush took office in 2001.

An expensive and highly-publicized September 11 ABC "docudrama" was soundly defeated in overnight Nielsen ratings by Sunday Night Football. Early indications are that the "miniseries event" actually tied a rerun of a documentary on the same subject, and barely edged out the eighteenth season premiere of The Simpsons. The New York vs. Indianapolis game earned rival NBC a 15.1/23 rating, according to overnight returns. Part one of ABC's "Path to 9/11," in comparison, earned a rating of 8.2/12--about half as many viewers. This tied a CBS repeat of a documentary, also about the September 11, 2001 attacks on America. The CBS repeat was somewhat handicapped by a half hour delay caused by an overrun of a U.S. Open Tennis match. The season opener of The Simpsons looks to have come in third with an 8.1/12, considered to be healthy for such a long-running series.

Good news: The recent sharp drop in the global price of crude oil could mark the start of a major sell-off that returns gasoline prices to lows not seen since the late 1990s - perhaps as low as $1.15 a gallon, just in time for the November elections. Philip K. Verleger, a noted energy consultant who was a lone voice several years ago in warning that oil prices would soar, now says that they appear to be poised for a dramatic plunge. Crude oil prices have fallen about $14, or roughly 17 percent, from their July 14 peak of $78.40. After falling seven straight days, they rose slightly Wednesday in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, to $63.97, partly in reaction to a government report showing fuel inventories a bit lower than expected. But the overall price drop is expected to continue, and prices could fall much more in the weeks and months ahead. Here's why. For most of the past two years, oil prices have risen because the world's oil producers have struggled to keep pace with growing demand, particularly from China and India. Spare oil production capacity grew so tight that market players feared that any disruption to oil production could create shortages. Fear of disruption focused on fighting in Nigeria, escalating tension over Iran's nuclear program, violence between Israel and Lebanon that might spread to oil-producing neighbors, and the prospect that hurricanes might topple oil facilities in the Gulf of Mexico. With fear of supply disruptions ebbing, oil prices began sliding. With oil inventories high, refiners that turn oil into gasoline are expected to cut production. As refiners cut production, oil companies increasingly risk getting stuck with excess oil supplies. There's already anecdotal evidence of oil companies chartering tankers to store excess oil. All this is turning financial markets increasingly bearish on oil. Smirkey's fearmongering isn't working anymore.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The US ambassador to Nicaragua has issued a vigorous warning to this small Central American country's electors against supporting Daniel Ortega, the veteran leftwing Sandinista leader and the frontrunner in November's presidential election. In a frank interview with the FT, Paul Trivelli said Mr Ortega was "undemocratic" and would roll back much of the advances made in recent years. This comes only a few weeks after Trivelli had complained that President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela was "meddling" in the election.

House Republicans pushed through legislation Thursday to build 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, trying to salvage part of a broader immigration bill that has stalled. "The fact that we can't do everything does not mean we should do nothing," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. The legislation passed 238-138, with 64 Democrats joining all but six Republicans in voting for the measure. It was unclear whether the Senate, which has approved 370 miles of fencing, would take up the separate House measure in the two weeks remaining before lawmakers leave to campaign for re-election. The Senate has also included $1.8 billion in a defense spending bill for building a fence.

The US on Wednesday stood alone in calling for sanctions to be imposed on Iran in connection with Tehran's refusal to halt nuclear enrichment and accused the Islamic republic of the "aggressive" pursuit of nuclear weapons. Addressing a meeting in Vienna of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), US envoy Gregory Schulte said such sanctions should "support" the current diplomatic process aimed at ending the international dispute over Iran's nuclear program. The US is alone in supporting the imposition of sanctions among the group of six nations - the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany - currently trying to broker a solution to the Iran nuclear issue.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Israel's Army dropped more than 1.2 million cluster bombs on Lebanon during the monthlong conflict, the Haaretz newspaper reported yesterday, citing an Israeli Army officer. The unidentified officer described his unit's use of the controversial bomblets during Israel's 34-day offensive as "crazy and monstrous." "We covered entire villages with cluster bombs," the newspaper quoted the commander as saying. The 1.2 million cluster bombs cited by the commander only included those bomblets dropped by a Multiple Launch Rocket System. Additional cluster bombs were fired from 155mm mortars or dropped from the air, he said. Other soldiers cited in the article said the army fired phosphorous shells to start fires in Lebanon. The Red Cross says international law prohibits the use of phosphorous against people.

It is difficult to exaggerate the economic collapse of Gaza, with the Palestinian Authority cut off from funds by Israel, the United States and the European Union after Hamas won the legislative elections on Jan. 25. Since then, the authority has paid most of its 73,000 employees here, nearly 40 percent of Gaza's work force, only 1.5 months' salary, resulting in a severe economic depression and growing signs of malnutrition, especially among the poorest children. Few here are using the United Nations grants for school. The Abu Reziqs are carefully investing the rest of their relief money. More than $20 went straight to the local grocer, Tamam said, as a down payment on the credit extended to the family, which still owes more than $200. About $11 went to buy the ingredients, including two chickens, for the couscous dish that Tamam and her daughter, Fatma, 29, are making early this morning, kneading relief agency flour in big aluminum bowls, pouring in relief agency oil, rubbing the flour over a screen to get the right consistency. The result will serve 15 people, Tamam said. "We want to feed the people who helped us with the land," she said, and some of their neighbors, even worse off than they. Gaza's situation has worsened since Palestinian gunmen, including those from Hamas, killed two Israeli soldiers and captured a third on June 25. Israel reinvaded Gaza, and has since killed more than 240 Palestinians, many of them in gun battles. An Israeli airstrike on Gaza's only electrical power plant means that most Gazans now get only 7 to 12 hours a day of electricity, at unpredictable hours, with running water largely dependent on electric pumps. Fishermen, now prevented from going more than a few hundred yards from shore by the Israeli Navy, are using hand-thrown nets from the beach to catch a few sprats and sardines. Jan Egeland, the United Nations under secretary for humanitarian affairs, said that Gaza was "a ticking time bomb." The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development warned Tuesday that the economy could shrink next year to the level of 15 years ago, and unemployment could rise to over 50 percent. The World Bank expects gross domestic product to decline by 27 percent this year.

The Israeli Cabinet is Sunday expected to commission a thorough investigation into the Lebanon War and experts say findings might shakeup the government and military. Public pressure forced a reluctant Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to appoint a judge as head of the investigative committee thereby giving it more stature and authority than he originally intended. The former president of the Tel Aviv District Court, Eliyahu Winograd, will head that committee, along with two retired major generals, Menahem Einan and Haim Nadel, Hebrew University expert on policy making Prof. Yehezkel Dror, and Law Prof. Ruth Gavison. According to the draft terms of reference, leaked to the Haaretz newspaper, the committee should "Examine, establish findings, draw conclusions and submit recommendations, as it sees fit, about the political echelon and defense establishment, with regard to all aspects of the war." The investigation should go back to the days "Hezbollah began to fortify itself along the northern border," the draft recommended. That means May 2000 when Israel withdrew unilaterally from southern Lebanon.

With Friends Like These: Pakistan's credibility as a leading ally in the war on terrorism was called into question last night when it emerged that President Pervez Musharraf's government had authorised the release from jail of thousands of Taliban fighters caught fighting coalition forces in Afghanistan. Five years after American-led coalition forces overthrew the Taliban during Operation Enduring Freedom, United States officials have been horrified to discover that thousands of foreign fighters detained by Pakistan after fleeing the battleground in Afghanistan have been quietly released and allowed to return to their home countries. Pakistani lawyers acting for the militants claim they have freed 2,500 foreigners who were originally held on suspicion of having links to al-Qa'eda or the Taliban over the past four years.The mass release of the prisoners has provoked a stern rebuke to the Musharraf regime from the American government. "We have repeatedly warned Pakistan over arresting and then releasing suspects," said a US diplomat in Islamabad. "We are monitoring their response with great concern." The Daily Telegraph tracked down and interviewed several former fighters who were part of a batch of eight foreign prisoners released last month. Burhan Ahmad, a 32-year-old Bangladeshi who has an American degree in engineering, admitted helping the Taliban against US-led forces in Afghanistan five years ago.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: During today's White House press conference, a reporter cited comments by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) - a former JAG and an opponent of the Bush’s detainee policies - claiming that the White House had placed extreme pressure on the military lawyers to sign a statement supporting legalized torture, and that the lawyers had refused to sign the initial statement crafted for them by the White House: REPORTER: "Sen. Graham is telling reporters on Capitol Hill that the White House had them in a meeting for five hours last night and tried to force them to sign a prepared statement and he said reading this JAG letter they ended up writing leaves total ambiguity on interpretation, this is Sen. Lindsey Graham. What's your response to that?" Snow acknowledged "they were asked to write a letter" but said, "if you start going into who asked whom to write letters, I don't know."

A 9/11 toxic dust whistleblower, a ground zero hero and one of the individuals influential in the release of documents proving a government cover-up that deliberately put police, firemen and rescue personnel at risk, has been raided by a New York SWAT team - who ransacked his home for three hours after he was arrested. Major Mike McCormack is a hospital technician and civil air patrol pilot who worked the ground zero site for eight days after the collapse of the twin towers. He is one of the real heroes of 9/11 and was the man who found the American flag that was later displayed as a token of unity atop the rubble. On the morning of September 12, McCormack's tenant opened the door to see half a dozen detectives outside who began asking questions and demanding to search the building. The detectives didn't have a warrant and needed McCormack's signature to conduct the search. Having nothing to hide and wanting to assist the police, McCormack signed the paper and the detectives entered the house. "Three minutes later as I'm walking out of my office with one of the detectives, I have a federal SWAT team that comes in....men in black and all of a sudden they have 9 millimeter handguns and MP5 machine guns aimed at my head," McCormack told the Alex Jones Show. McCormack was ordered to leave the building as the 15-strong Darth Vader like SWAT team members verbally abused him and commenced ransacking his house for up to three hours "like a cyclone."

The United States Of America, A Third-World Nation: Even if you wash the spinach, you still could be at risk. Sober warnings for salad lovers came from federal health officials Friday as they struggled to pinpoint a multistate E. coli outbreak that killed one person and sickened nearly 100 more. Bagged spinach - the triple-washed, cello-packed kind sold by the hundreds of millions of pounds each year - is the suspected source of the bacterial outbreak, Food and Drug Administration officials said. The FDA warned people nationwide not to eat the spinach. Washing won't get rid of the tenacious bug, though thorough cooking can kill it. Supermarkets across the country pulled spinach from shelves, and consumers tossed out the leafy green. "We're waiting for the all-clear. In the meantime, Popeye the Sailor Man and this family will not be eating bagged spinach," said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University. The Tennessee university's medical center was treating a 17-year-old Kentucky girl for E. coli infection. By Friday, the outbreak had grown to include at least 20 states: California, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Free Markets Solve All Problems: Ah, the sounds of School Year 2006-2007: the clatter of coins going down the pop machines to let loose a POWERade or an aspartame-sweetened diet soda--maybe even a bottle of juice or milk. The rip of a new box of "reduced-sugar" Fruit Loops (or Frosted Flakes or Apple Jacks) at breakfast. PR firms got in the door ahead of most school bells. As a result, parents are especially likely to see signs of the American Beverage Association's (ABA) and Kellogg's promotional efforts to brand their children's eating and drinking habits this year. Many massively-sugared soft drinks, but not their makers, have been suspended from school in 2006, the outcome of a national deal between Big Soda and the Clinton Foundation. Kellogg's PR firm, Summit Marketing, has just announced "Morning Jump-Start Breakfast Kits," headlining them: "New, Convenient Pre-Packaged Breakfast is Win-Win for Kids and Schools." Here, Kellogg's PR flack apparently means "win-win" because the schools not only get cheap vitaminized junk food, but also "vibrant, primary-colored" educational materials which feature Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam teaching math, science, and, guess what, nutrition and fitness. (There's a healthy PR confession in that sentence, since "win-win" usually refers to "wins" by the contracting parties--Kellogg's and the schools.)

Writing on her blog "Honest Medicine," Julia Schopick points out that the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) used video news releases (VNRs) to promote two studies that later proved controversial, because the authors had neglected to disclose their financial ties to pharmaceutical companies. One study concluded that pregnant women risked relapsing into depression if they stopped taking antidepressants. The January 2006 VNR on the study featured lead author Dr. Lee Cohen, who is a "longtime consultant to three antidepressant makers, a paid speaker for seven of them and has his research work funded by four drug makers," reported the Wall Street Journal. The other study found a link between severe migraines in women and cardiovascular disease. The July 2006 VNR on that study featured lead author Dr. Tobias Kurth, who "has received research funding from the makers of Bayer aspirin, Tylenol and Advil, pain relievers sometimes used to treat migraines," reported the Associated Press. "If JAMA continues to produce and disseminate VNRs ... its staff must check the financial ties of their authors prior to publication," concludes Schopick.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: Ford took drastic steps on Friday to remold itself into a smaller, more competitive company, slashing thousands of jobs and shuttering two additional plants to cut costs and fend off a financial crisis. The company announced it would cut 10,000 more white-collar positions in addition to offering buyout and early retirement packages to all of its 75,000 hourly employees. It also suspended its dividend. Wall Street seemed unimpressed. Ford's shares slumped nearly 12 percent amid disappointment that the automaker didn't do more to address rising health and pension costs, falling market share and intense competition from Asian manufacturers whose models have enthralled buyers looking for gas-sipping cars and trucks. The announcement came as Chrysler's parent said it would cut U.S. production through the end of 2006 and follows big cutbacks at General Motors earlier this year. The cuts can be traced to consumer demand shifting from trucks and sport utility vehicles to smaller, more fuel efficient cars and crossovers.

Republican Policies Build A Safe, Secure America: Earlier this week, in a Washington Post op-ed, Rich Lowry and the neo-cons' chief theoretician, William Kristol, called on the Bush administration to send more troops to Iraq. Coming one day before 62 Iraqis turned up tortured and shot in Baghdad and a couple of dozen more were blown up by car bombs, their argument that more American boots on the ground are necessary - though not sufficient - to halt the bloodbath has a compelling logic, even for many who think the war was a mistake. The only problem with Kristol and Lowry's recommendation is that it is premised on an illusion: In fact, there are no more troops to send to Iraq. That is the unmistakable message of an Army briefing making the rounds in Washington. According to in-house assessments, fully two-thirds of the Army's operating force, both active and reserve, is now reporting in as "unready" - that is, they lack the equipment, people, or training they need to execute their assigned missions. Not a single one of the Army's Brigade Combat Teams - its core fighting units - currently in the United States is ready to deploy. In short, the Army has no strategic reserve to speak of. The other key U.S. fighting force in Iraq, the Marine Corps, is also hurting, with much of its equipment badly in need of repair or replacement. In terms of ground-force readiness, the United States is in worse shape than at any time since the aftermath of Vietnam, when revelations about a "hollow" military sparked defense buildups from the Carter and then Reagan administrations.

President Bush warned defiant Republican senators yesterday that he will close down a CIA interrogation program that he credited with thwarting terrorist attacks if they pass a proposal regulating detention of enemy combatants, escalating a politically charged battle that has exposed divisions within his party. An irritated Bush, raising his voice and gesturing sharply at a Rose Garden news conference, excoriated legislation passed by a Senate panel Thursday that is intended to conform U.S. detainee practices with the Geneva Conventions. Bush insisted on legislation more specifically defining what is banned so intelligence officers would not worry about being charged with war crimes. Go ahead and shut it down, Smirkey. We'd all be better off if you did.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Iraqi security forces will dig trenches around Baghdad in an attempt to prevent insurgents and explosive-laden cars from getting into the sprawling city of six million people, the Interior Ministry said Friday. A vehicle ban curbed violence in the capital after a surge in bloodshed this week, with police reporting only two shooting deaths. But 30 more bodies of torture victims turned up, including one dismembered and thrown into the Tigris River. A U.S. soldier also was killed when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Friday, shortly after a marine died in action in Anbar province west of the capital, the U.S. command said. Baghdad saw more than 130 people slain Wednesday and Thursday, either killed in bombings or tortured and shot before being dumped on city streets, likely victims of the sectarian reprisals that have escalated in recent months. The U.S. military blames the surge in sectarian killings on Shiite and Sunni Arab death squads that roam parts of Baghdad. In the mixed northwest Hurriyah neighbourhood, leaflets thrown on its streets Friday threatened to kill 10 Sunni Arabs for every Shiite death.

Scandals Du Jour: So, right-wing columnist Robert Novak now says that Richard Armitage, Novak's initial source on the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame, wasn't just some loose-lipped gossip blurting out her name, but rather that Armitage urged Novak to write about Plame's alleged role in her husband's fact-finding trip to Niger. In a Sept. 14 column, Novak calls Armitage's depiction of their conversation in July 2003 "deceptive" for suggesting that his leaking of Plame's CIA identity was innocent and inadvertent, when Novak recalled it as intentional and even calculating. Yet, for the past two weeks, major Washington journalists have been treating Armitage's account as the gospel truth and, further, as proof that George W. Bush's White House had gotten a bum rap on the Plame-leak scandal. This misplaced "conventional wisdom" extended from the Washington Post's editorial pages to virtually every major TV chat show - and even touched off another round of personal attacks by Bush allies against Plame's husband, former US Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for having dared to stand up to the President over his false claims that Iraq sought uranium ore from Niger.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: A Republican congressman agreed to plead guilty to illegally accepting tens of thousands of dollars in trips, meals, drinks and tickets, becoming the first U.S. lawmaker convicted in the Jack Abramoff political corruption scandal, U.S. officials said on Friday. The plea deal represented a sharp reversal for Ohio Rep. Bob Ney, who had denied any wrongdoing. He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994 and abandoned his race for re-election last month as the federal investigation intensified into his links to the convicted lobbyist Abramoff.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's efforts to get his campaign finance criminal case to trial suffered another setback Wednesday as the state's highest criminal court agreed to hear arguments on reinstating a conspiracy charge against him. Last year, state District Judge Pat Priest threw out a charge of conspiracy to violate state election laws because the crime of conspiracy was added to the state law a year after DeLay's alleged activities in 2002. Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle appealed Priest's ruling. Earle and his lawyers argued that the state's conspiracy statute applied to the election code in 2002 and that the Legislature added conspiracy language to the election laws in 2003 only to erase any doubt.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:19:30 PM

Thu, Sep 14 2006

El Nino Coming To Costa Rica

Today was overcast most of the day, but with short periods of sunny weather, mostly during mid-day. But a freak thunderstorm had me scrambling to get everything disconnected - too late for one blast of lightning, but that was never followed by any others. Fortunately, no damage was done. The weather has been a bit on the warm side, though not excessively so, with an overnight low of 72 and a high today of 84.

Tomorrow is independence day. The little drummer boys and girls who have been driving me nuts all this last month will finally get to show their stuff during the parades tomorrow. Don't need to go to the parades to see their routines. I already know them by heart.

For some time, I have been musing, in this blog and elsewhere, that I had noticed that our rainy season this year has been unusually dry. Well, now I know the reason why. There is a report on the BBC news server to the effect that an El Nino is developing.

El Ninos quite simply cut off the supply of moisture to Costa Rica for months at a time. This means that the normally intense rains we get this time of year are greatly diminished or eliminated outright, as occurred during the great El Nino of 1984, when it didn't rain here in Arenal for eight months, and major forest fires broke out throughout Central America. And of equal concern is the effect that global warming is having on our climate, and how the two phenomena will interact. My suspicion is that it won't be good - predictions for global warming indicate that this region will be among the most affected on earth, with a 40 percent drying and 4-6 degree increase in temperatures. El Ninos also affect weather in the Caribbean, altering the upper air patterns that give rise to hurricanes, and that is apparently why the Atlantic hurricane season hasn't been anywhere near as bad as expected. So this winter should have some mild, pleasantly dry weather here in Arenal - as long as one does not seek to take a drink.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Anyone planning on voicing their democratic right in a fashion deemed the least bit out of line by the American armed forces, could find themselves at the business end of some nasty experimental technology. The US Air Force is apparently itching to test some nonlethal weapons such as high-power microwave devices on unruly US citizens in "crowd-control situations". High-power microwave devices should be used on American citizens in crowd-control situations before they are used on the battlefield, the Air Force secretary said Tuesday. Domestic use would make it easier to avoid questions in the international community over any possible safety concerns, said Secretary Michael Wynne. "If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation," said Wynne. "(Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press." The Air Force has funded research into nonlethal weapons, but he said the service isn't likely to spend more money on development until injury issues are reviewed by medical experts and resolved. Such devices would wildly violate (by many orders of magnitude) the Federal Communications Commission's current limits on exposure of the public to microwave radiation.

A vote for George Washington could easily be converted to a vote for Benedict Arnold on an electronic voting machine and neither the voter, nor the election officials administering the election would ever know what happened, as a result of a virus developed at Princeton University. It wouldn't require a "conspiracy theory" or a "conspiracy" at all. It could be done by a single person with just a few moments of access to the voting systems. Those new findings are detailed, and illustrated on video-tape, in a new first-of-its-kind study released today by computer scientists and security experts at Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy. The scientific study has revealed, for the first time, that a computer virus can be easily implanted on an electronic voting machine which could, in turn, result in votes flipped for opposing candidates. The virus, as well, could be written to then spread itself from one machine to the next resulting in a stolen election. The malfeasance would likely never be discovered, the scientists have said. Though the concept of stolen votes via electronic voting systems has been widely regarded as theoretically possible by experts up until now, a top-secret four-month long hands-on study of an actual touch-screen voting system, by the scientists at Princeton, has confirmed the worst nightmares of elections officials and American voters - not to mention a voting machine company known as Diebold. Working directly with a Diebold AccuVote TS touch-screen voting system, the computer scientists have been able to implant a nearly-undetectable virus onto a touch-screen voting system, managing to successfully alter a voter's ballot - after it's already been confirmed and cast - in order to flip the vote so that it is recorded for a candidate other than the one the voter had intended. According to the study's team leader, Edward W. Felten, a professor at Princeton's Department of Computer Science, the report confirms - and records in a video-taped demonstration - that such a malicious virus could be easily inserted onto a Diebold touch-screen voting system by a single individual "with just one or two minutes of unsupervised access to either the voting machine or the memory card" used with the system to store ballot definitions and vote tabulations. The virus, as programmed by the Princeton team, could then spread from one voting system to the next depending on the way the machine in use is configured, or the way in which votes are tabulated in any particular jurisdication.

Exclusive information obtained by Asia Times Online shows that Osama Bin Laden recently traveled from the South Waziristan tribal area in Pakistan to somewhere in the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nooristan, or possibly Bajour, a small tribal agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan in North-West Frontier Province. According to a witness, bin Laden traveled in a double-cabin truck with a few armed guards - not in a convoy. Apparently, this is how he now prefers to move around. Bin Laden, with a US$25 million bounty on his head, has not been sighted for some time, and he has not been seen on any new videotape since late 2004, although audio tapes purporting to be him speaking surfaced this year. At the same time, a close aide responsible for bin Laden's logistics and media relations told Asia Times Online that bin Laden had recovered from serious kidney-related ailments.

Senate Republicans blocked Democratic attempts to rein in President Bush’s domestic wiretapping program Wednesday, endorsing a White House-supported bill that would give the controversial surveillance legal status. Under pressure from the Bush administration for quick action, the full Senate could take up the measure next week. Progress on a companion bill in the House was not as tidy, in part because GOP leaders and Bush are intensely negotiating restrictions it proposes on the surveillance program. Even as the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Chairman Arlen Specter’s bill to the Senate floor on a party line vote, the same panel in the House abruptly canceled its scheduled markup. The National Security Agency went so far as to take the unusual move of sending members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee a list of "approved talking points" regarding its warrantless eavesdropping program. Some of the talking points urge Senators to imply that they have personal knowledge of plots foiled by the wiretap program, or that the Senators - seven of whom responded by writing the NSA a letter blasting the move - had other personal knowledge that the program was legal or necessary. "I have personally met the dedicated men and women of the NSA," one point reads. "The country owes them an enormous debt of gratitude for their superb efforts to keep us all secure." "It has detected plots," reads another, "that could have resulted in death or injury to Americans both at home and abroad." No examples are given in the document.

Lisa Graves, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the bill "stunning." "The administration has taken their illegal conduct in wiretapping Americans without court orders, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Constitution, and used it as springboard to not only get FISA changed to allow the Terrorist Surveillance Program, but to actually, going forward, not give protections to Americans' privacy rights," Graves said. Jim Dempsey, the policy director for the more moderate Center for Democracy and Technology, described the bill's passage out of committee as "light years or miles beyond the Patriot Act." "What started out as Sen. Specter wanting to rein in the president's program has turned on its head and is now not just a legislative ratification of the program, but an expansion of warrantless wiretapping of Americans," Dempsey said. "It would allow the NSA to turn its vacuum cleaners on even domestic phone calls and e-mails of citizens."

A key Democrat in the US House of Representatives introduced a resolution on Wednesday demanding Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resign over the conflict in Iraq. John Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the House panel for defence spending, accused Rumsfeld of misleading Americans about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, failing to properly develop post-war strategies for stabilizing the country and sending US troops into battle without proper equipment. "For the good of the country, the United States of America must restore credibility both at home and abroad and that the first step" is "immediately effecting the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld," the proposed resolution says. Rumsfeld has come under increasing pressure to step down as opposition Democrats hope to capitalize on weak public support for the conflict in Iraq in order to regain control of the House and Senate in November 7 congressional elections. "Secretary Rumsfeld has failed in managing the military response to this threat and should be replaced with someone who is capable of not only recognizing the mistakes that have been made but addressing them head on for the good of our military and our great nation," Murtha wrote in a post featured at Huffington Post.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is trying use a bill authorizing U.S. military operations, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, to prohibit people from using credit cards to settle Internet gambling debts. Frist, R-Tenn., and his aides have been meeting with other lawmakers and officials in both the House and Senate to get the measure attached to a compromise Defense Department authorization bill, according to a Senate GOP leadership aide.

U.S. and foreign veterans of the Gulf War do suffer from an array of very real problems, yet according to the Veterans Administration-sponsored report released Tuesday, there is no one complex of symptoms to suggest those veterans - nearly 30 percent of all those who served - suffered or still suffer from a single identifiable syndrome. Tuesday's report is the latest in the important series, which the VA will rely on to determine whether Gulf War veterans are eligible for special disability benefits if they are found to suffer from illnesses that can be linked to their service. Veterans can now claim those benefits only by making an undiagnosed illness claim, said Steve Robinson, a Gulf War Army veteran and government relations director for Veterans for America. "They keep saying it over and over, every year. We know that - we know that there is no single thing that made veterans sick. We know this thing is likely a combination of various exposures," Robinson said in pushing for new studies he hopes will find what ails tens of thousands of his fellow vets.

An Internet scam that's been around for awhile is suddenly making a comeback. It's known as phishing - where you get an email that takes you to a website where you're asked for personal information. In recent days in Utah, the IRS office says it is hearing from people getting an email offering them a tax refund, but what it really is all about is stealing your information for identity theft. No one usually likes to hear from the IR - if you do it seems that they are telling you you owe more in taxes - or worse, an audit. So when people get an email from the IRS telling them they are getting a refund, sometimes a big one, it's something to get excited about. Now the IRS is warning, don't take the bait - the email is not from them, but someone trying to steal your identity. Wayne Peterson, IRS Spokesperson: "We've seen a big increase in this just in the last week. This phishing email with the IRS logo, it looks official, it looks like it could come from us, it even has a link to our website, but it isn't from us."

Tom Noe, the GOP fund-raiser at the heart of Ohio's biggest political scandal in a generation, was sentenced today to 27 months in a federal prison for illegally funneling money into President Bush's re-election campaign. U.S. District Court Judge David Katz also ordered Noe to pay $136,200 in fines for sending more than $45,000 into a 2003 Bush fund-raiser by using two dozen friends and associates - including several current and former local Republican elected officials - in violation of federal election laws. Noe, 52, remains free on bond until the conclusion of his trial next month on 46 felony counts in state court related to allegations that he stole millions from a $50 million rare-coin fund that he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. Noe, a former Maumee rare-coin dealer whose large donations made him a powerful political figure, apologized in court for the scheme to give friends money to donate to Bush to fulfill his promise to generate $50,000 for a presidential fund-raiser. Noe said he arranged the scheme because "in 2003 I was pressured by Bush-Cheney officials to become a Pioneer," a name the campaign gives to people who raise $100,000.

Another NAFTA superhighway is moving state-by-state from the planning stage to the funding and construction process. As listed on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration's website, the "I-69 Corridor" is planned to connect Mexico and Canada through Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. Still, skeptics - even congressmen and senators in the nine states where the I-69 corridor will be built - continue to charge that any idea that NAFTA Super-Highways are being built are nothing more than "internet conspiracy theories." Even NASCO (North America’s SuperCorridor Coalition, Inc.) continues to be in denial, refusing to acknowledge that any NAFTA superhighways are being built. A second NASCO homepage makeover reflecting a new public relations attempt by NASCO to defuse criticism now lists a "NASCO FAQs" section.

As the Pentagon search for soldiers grows more urgent gay groups are mounting a "big push" to repeal the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, according to a front page story in Thursday's New York Times. "As the Pentagon’s search for soldiers grows more urgent, gay rights groups are making the biggest push in nearly a decade to win repeal of a compromise policy, encoded in a 1993 law and dubbed 'don’t ask, don’t tell,' that bars openly gay people from serving in the military," reports Lizette Alvarez for the Times. The push for repeal follows years of legal setbacks, as well as discord among gay rights groups about how, or even whether, to address the issue. Now, rather than rely on the courts, advocates are focusing on drumming up support in towns across the nation, spotlighting the personal stories of gay former service members and pushing a Democratic bill in the House that would do away with the policy.

The UN's nuclear watchdog has made a stinging attack on the US Congress over an "outrageous and dishonest" report on Iran's nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that the congressional report published last month contained "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated information", and that it took "strong exception" to "incorrect and misleading" claims in the report that the IAEA was covering up some of its doubts about Iran's nuclear intentions. A letter from the IAEA to Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the intelligence select committee in the house of representatives, was leaked to the Washington Post today.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Guantanamo Bay is a "shocking affront to the principles of democracy" and a violation of the rule of law, the lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, said today. The criticism from the highest-ranking official in the British legal system represents the most direct government attack yet on the US military detention camp. Despite suggestions in recent months that Guantanamo could be closed soon, the US president, George Bush, last week signalled that the camp in Cuba would remain open for the long term. Mr Bush announced that 14 terror suspects had been transferred to Guantanamo from the CIA's network of secret prisons. In a speech in Australia, Lord Falconer also attacked the use of torture. The US government has admitted using "alternative techniques" on some terror suspects, although it does not consider its interrogation methods to be torture. The techniques - described in an ABC news report last November and never denied by the US government - include enforced standing for days at a time, the confinement of naked prisoners in cold and damp cells and simulated drownings. Lord Falconer said Washington was "deliberately seeking to put the Guantanamo detainees beyond the reach of law" and that "use of torture by a state is contrary to fundamental human rights law". "Democracies can only survive where judges have the power to protect the rights of the individual," he said. Anyone familiar with the methods that the CIA has been employing, knows that Bush defended torture in his 9/11 speech. Numerous intelligence officials have leaked information about abusive tactics to the media, and former CIA detainees like German citizen Khalid el-Masri have spoken out about them. It was an ugly speech, and one made at a profoundly opportunistic moment. Most cynically of all, perhaps, was that the President justified his administration's use of "alternative" methods as part of a "struggle for freedom and liberty." We're "fighting for the cause of humanity," he reminded his audience at the speech's end, seemingly oblivious to the contradiction between means and ends.

China hopes to expand its growing economic and political clout at the Nonaligned Movement summit, influence that analysts say will come at the expense of the United States, which passed up a similar invitation to attend as an observer. Led by China's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi, the Chinese delegation plans to hold bilateral meetings with a number of Latin American countries and strengthen China's ties to the region where its trade has soared. China's imports from Latin America quintupled to $20.3 billion and exports to the region tripled to $15.4 billion from 2000 to 2004, according to the International Monetary Fund. Smirkey's people have declined to attend the summit, and a press officer at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana said it wouldn't comment on the Nonaligned Movement. That's a mistake, according to Latin America analysts who have tracked declining U.S. influence in a region where it can no longer count on the unconditional support of political leaders, even though U.S. trade remains the most powerful engine for their economies. "Bush likes to use the saying 'You're either with us or against us' and they are writing off the summit because they are non-aligned, which to them means they are not with the U.S.," said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

Six world powers abandoned attempts today to issue a joint statement criticizing Iran's nuclear defiance after China and Russia refused to endorse U.S.-backed tough language, diplomats said. The split, at a 35-nation meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board, reflected indecision on how to react to Tehran's weekend suggestion that it might temporarily suspend uranium enrichment - but only on its own terms. Russia and China have both signed off on U.N. sanctions as a way to punish Iran for its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment, which was first requested and then demanded by the U.N. Security Council.

The UN secretary general has said that most Middle East leaders regard the US-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath as a disaster for the region. Kofi Annan, speaking at a briefing following his recent tour of the region, said that the timing of any US withdrawal was now a key issue. He said some leaders wanted the US to stay in Iraq and stabilise it, while others wanted an immediate withdrawal. The White House said it disagreed with his characterisation of events in Iraq.

When Terrorists Are Ours, They're "Freedom Fighters": A US court has ruled that a Cuban terrorist wanted on terrorism charges by Cuba and Venezuela should be set free from a Texas immigration detention center. Ex-CIA operative and twice-convicted terrorist Luis Posada Carriles was held for crossing illegally from Mexico after serving time in Panama for plotting to kill Cuba's Fidel Castro. Mr. Posada Carriles faces deportation, and both Cuba and Venezuela have asked for his extradition, but it cannot be to Cuba or Venezuela under the terms of a State Dept. order. Venezuela, which says he was behind a 1976 plane bombing that killed 73 people, condemned the latest ruling. A Venezuelan government spokesman, Eric Wingerter, said the fact the ruling came on the fifth anniversary of the 11 September attacks would be particularly insulting to the families of those who died in the bombing of the Cuban airliner. Mr Posada Carriles' lawyer, Felipe Millan, said his client could be free within 30 days if a federal district judge upheld the ruling. He added that Mr Posada Carriles, 78, would join his family in Miami until the deportation was worked out. The judge did not comment on the irony of his setting free a wanted terrorist on the anniversary of 9/11.

In a last-minute plea deal, prominent Cuban exile and local real estate developer Santiago Alvarez admitted Monday he illegally stashed weapons at a Broward County, FL apartment complex and attempted to move them after federal authorities appeared at his office with a search warrant. Alvarez and co-defendant Osvaldo Mitat each pleaded guilty in Fort Lauderdale federal court to a single conspiracy charge stemming from the Nov. 18 seizure of a white fishing cooler containing machine guns, numerous firearms with serial numbers removed, an unregistered silencer and a grenade launcher. Prosecutors contended Alvarez, 65, and Mitat, 64, both staunchly anti-Castro Cuban exiles, maintained caches of weapons, including one in the Bahamas, to use in attacks on Cuba. Reached one day before jury selection was to start in their trial, the agreement specifies that the maximum prison term Alvarez and Mitat can receive is five years, far less than they could have received had they been convicted at trial. U.S. District Judge James Cohn set sentencing for Nov. 14. Prosecutors agreed to recommend a roughly four-year sentence for Alvarez and about three years for Mitat, said attorney Kendall Coffey, who represents Alvarez.

False-Flag Propaganda Operations Watch: Senior Syrian government official have accused the US of being behind Tuesday's assault on its own embassy in downtown Damascus. A Baath party official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told WorldNetDaily, "We in the government are 100 percent sure America was behind this attack, which is not the same as other attacks by Islamic groups." He explained, "Only the Americans can succeed in carrying out an attack just 200 meters from President [Bashar] Assad's residence in the most heavily guarded section of Syria." The official charged that Washington had orchestrated the attack to "prove Syria is filled with terrorists and to put us in a weak position" in order to extract political concessions. Following the attack, Bush administration officials said they hoped the incident had convinced Damascus of the dangers of Islamic terror and the need to cooperate with the West against the phenomenon. The US and several of its European allies have repeatedly demanded over the years that Damascus close down the local offices and training camps of several organizations hostile to Israel and the West. The identities of those who attacked the US embassy Tuesday have not been revealed. Three of the gunmen were killed by Syrian guards during the assault. A fourth was reportedly captured.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Dollars Are Paying For: A senior Israeli army officer resigned today, the first high-ranking figure to quit in the fallout after the war in Lebanon. Major General Udi Adam was head of Israel's Northern Command, a key role in the war with Hizbullah, but faced criticism in the press for being overly cautious and hesitant. During the 34-day conflict he was effectively sidelined when another general was appointed above him. Many Israelis are frustrated that the military failed to secure a comprehensive victory over the Hizbullah militia or retrieve the two soldiers whose capture in July triggered the conflict. Other leaders, including the head of the army, Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, and the defence minister, Amir Peretz, have suffered badly in opinion polls. Under public pressure the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, stepped up the profile of an inquiry into the war this week when he appointed a retired judge to head the investigation.

Israeli army lawyers are contesting a court decision to release senior Hamas members, some of whom have been detained since June. Lawyers for the 19 men, who include three cabinet ministers, say the appeal will be heard on Monday. The Israeli authorities seized a large number of Hamas MPs and officials after militants linked to Hamas captured a soldier and killed two others. Earlier, Israeli troops killed one Palestinian during a raid in Gaza. Medical sources said the man was a local resident who was shot in the head and chest at the entrance to his house. He bled to death because the military prevented an ambulance from entering the area, the medical sources said.

More Rats Fleeing The U.S.S. Bush: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell objects to a Bush plan which would redefine the legal definitions in Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. The reinterpretation of Common Article 3 would allow harsh interrogation techniques that, according to Powell, would "put our own troops at risk." Powell wrote a letter of support to Republican John McCain, who opposes the reinterpretation of the Geneva conventions. Republicans Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have also expressed concerns about the Bush plan. "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism," Powell wrote McCain. "To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk."

"Extraordinary Rendition" Watch: Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos has admitted Spain may have been a stopover for secret CIA flights. But he said there was no evidence any crimes were committed on Spanish soil. He was the first minister to testify before European MPs investigating claims that the CIA had ran secret jails for terror suspects in Europe. US President Bush last week admitted that the CIA had run secret jails overseas, but he did not say where they were and they were now empty, he said. The Spanish government is investigating more than 60 suspect flights, most of them passing through Palma de Mallorca and Tenerife. Mr Moratinos said US authorities had given assurances that there had been no secret passengers on board planes stopping over in Spain. However, Spanish authorities were investigating flights which could have been used to detain or fly prisoners before or after the stopovers, he said. "Our territory may have been used not to commit crimes on it but as a stopover on the way to committing crime in another country," Mr Moratinos told a European Parliamentary committee in Brussels. The minister said he would raise the issue at a meeting with EU foreign ministers on Friday.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A federal court last week halted the implementation of an Ohio law regulating groups' efforts to register voters, calling the regulations discriminatory and overly burdensome. The law, which was passed in February, requires paid voter registrars to complete a state-sponsored online training course. Workers would also be compelled to either send voter-registration forms to the state within 10 days or have voters send the applications on their own. Under the new law, workers who fail to comply could be charged with a felony. Organizations such as Project Vote, the NAACP and the American Association of People with Disabilities sued over the new rules, arguing the requirements make registering voters difficult. Groups say the requirement that either voter-registration workers or the potential voters must send in registration forms interrupts their process. Currently, many organizations collect the forms from voter-registration workers, check them over and then send them on to the state. US District Court Judge Kathleen McDonald O'Malley ruled that the training requirements were discriminatory and unfair to poor or elderly workers who may not have access to the Internet.

The United States Of America, A Third World Nation: Where you live, combined with race and income, plays a huge role in the nation's health disparities, differences so stark that a report issued Monday contends it's as if there are eight separate Americas instead of one. Asian-American women living in Bergen County, N.J., lead the nation in longevity, typically reaching their 91st birthdays. Worst off are American Indian men in swaths of South Dakota, who die around age 58 - three decades sooner. Millions of the worst-off Americans have life expectancies typical of developing countries, concluded Dr. Christopher Murray of the Harvard School of Public Health. Asian-American women can expect to live 13 years longer than low-income black women in the rural South, for example. That's like comparing women in wealthy Japan to those in poverty-ridden Nicaragua.

Its Just Black Versus White: President Bush said yesterday that he senses a "Third Awakening" of religious devotion in the United States that has coincided with the nation’s struggle with international terrorists, a war that he depicted as "a confrontation between good and evil." Bush told a group of conservative journalists that he notices more open expressions of faith among people he meets during his travels, and he suggested that might signal a broader revival similar to other religious movements in history. Bush noted that some of Abraham Lincoln’s strongest supporters were religious people "who saw life in terms of good and evil" and who believed that slavery was evil. Many of his own supporters, he said, see the current conflict in similar terms. "A lot of people in America see this as a confrontation between good and evil, including me," Bush said during a 1 1/2 -hour Oval Office conversation on cultural changes and a battle with terrorists that he sees lasting decades. "There was a stark change between the culture of the ‘50s and the ‘60s-boom-and I think there’s change happening here," he added. "It seems to me that there’s a Third Awakening."

Republicans Believe In Running A Tight Ship: Earl Devaney, the inspector general of the Department of the Interior, will give a blunt assessment of the level of ethics there in testimony to be presented to a congressional subcommittee Wednesday. "Simply stated, short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior," Devaney will tell the subcommittee, according to an advance copy of his prepared remarks obtained by ABC News. Devaney was asked to investigate a controversy that's been brewing on Capitol Hill for months over what critics call a giant giveaway to the major oil companies. The giveaway, according to the critics, stems from leases issued by the government to oil companies in the late 1990s that exempted them from paying royalties on deepwater drilling, regardless of how much profit they ultimately reaped from that exploration. The issue has taken on heightened urgency in the wake of the recent discovery of huge new oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico. The federal government could lose more than a billion dollars in royalty payments from this new source alone. Over the long term, the leases could cost the government as much as $20 billion, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.

Republicans Promote Tolerance: Republicans on Tuesday distanced themselves from campaign activities that encourage college students to "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" and shoot cardboard cutouts of leading Democrats with a BB gun or paintball gun. Democratic Chairman Howard Dean said in a letter to his Republican counterpart, Ken Mehlman, on Tuesday that such activities, reportedly put together by a GOP college organizer, "can only be described as divisive, potentially dangerous and discriminatory." The Republican National Committee said it had no connection with Morgan Wilkins, the woman accused of organizing the offbeat campaign activities at the University of Michigan. RNC spokesman Brian Jones said "the woman has no affiliation with the Republican National Committee, and we certainly condemn this kind of behavior. It's offensive and there's no place for it." He said news reports she was hired by the RNC are incorrect. Paul Gourley, chair of the College Republican National Committee, said Wilkins is an independent contractor hired to recruit students to the GOP, but he said the reported activities were not authorized. Wilkins declined to comment Tuesday night.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: US retail sales rose by just 0.2% in August, the latest sign that while the economy is continuing to expand, the rate of growth is slowing. August's figure from the Commerce Department was down from July's growth of 1.4%, but was better than the 0.1% decline predicted by Wall Street. It comes a week after the US Federal Reserve said the country had seen limited economic growth since mid-July. The Fed is happy to see economic growth slow as a means to curb inflation. In August, the Fed voted to keep US interest rates on hold at 5.25%, ending a two-year cycle of rate increases introduced to slow a rampant economy.

News From Smirkey's Wars: U.S. Commanders in Iraq have privately expressed the need for an increase of three times the number of troops currently serving in Iraq, reports Michael Ware of CNN. Officially, the military continues to say that "we have an appropriate level of force to do what we have to do within the confines of our mission." Ramadi has become a base of operations for Al Qaeda. Ware says, "Al Qaeda is almost untouched in its area of operations, and in the city of Ramadi itself, al Qaeda fighters are constantly attacking U.S. troops. Brigades sent to Ramadi are losing, on average, 100 American soldiers and Marines every year. And we don't see that abating. So, here's the heart of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and there's simply not enough troops and no strategy to combat it." Al Qaeda leadership enjoys near free reign in an area north of the Euphrates which is the size of New Hampshire. The U.S. can only deploy a few hundred troops to this area. Ware laments, "They can do nothing to hamper al Qaeda's leadership in that area."

Iraq's political process has sharpened the country's sectarian divisions, polarized relations between its ethnic and religious groups, and weakened its sense of national identity, the Government Accountability Office said Monday. In spite of a sharp increase in Sunni-Shiite violence, however, attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces are still the primary source of bloodshed in Iraq, the report found. It was the latest in a series of recent grim assessments of conditions in Iraq. But the report was unusual in its sweep, relying on a series of other government studies, some of them previously unpublicized, to touch on issues from violence and politics to electricity production. Published on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the GAO report was downbeat in its conclusions - underscoring how Iraq's deteriorating security situation threatens the Bush administration's goal of a stable and democratic regime in Baghdad.

Several NATO countries reportedly have expressed their inability to provide more troops to support the alliance's soldiers in Afghanistan. Officials of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said the alliance's request for up to 2,500 additional troops was unlikely to be met, reports the Financial Times. The request came last week from NATO military chief, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Jones. Currently, there are 20,000 NATO soldiers in Afghanistan. "We do not have the capacity to send more," a German Defense Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying. Turkey also has reportedly said it will not be able to provide more troops because of its commitment to Lebanon. Italy also is in a similar position. Some help could come from Britain and Canada, the Financial Times said.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Arctic sea ice in winter is melting far faster than before, two new NASA studies reported Wednesday, a new and alarming trend that researchers say threatens the ocean's delicate ecosystem. Arctic perennial sea ice - the kind that stays frozen year-round - declined by 14 percent between 2004 and 2005 alone, climate scientists said Wednesday, in what one expert saw as a clear sign of greenhouse warming. "It has never occurred before in the past," said NASA senior research scientist Josefino Comiso in a phone interview. "It is alarming... This winter ice provides the kind of evidence that it is indeed associated with the greenhouse effect." Scientists have long worried about melting Arcticsea ice in the summer, but they had not seen a big winter drop in sea ice, even though they expected it. For more than 25 years Arctic sea ice has slowly diminished in winter by about 1.5 percent per decade. But in the past two years the melting has occurred at rates 10 to 15 times faster. From 2004 to 2005, the amount of ice dropped 2.3 percent; and over the past year, it's declined by another 1.9 percent, according to Comiso. A second NASA study by other researchers found the winter sea ice melt in one region of the eastern Arctic has shrunk about 40 percent in just the past two years. This is partly because of local weather but also partly because of global warming, Comiso said. The loss of winter ice is bad news for the ocean because this type of ice, when it melts in summer, provides a crucial breeding ground for plankton, Comiso said. Plankton are the bottom rung of the ocean's food chain.

A leading U.S. climate researcher said Wednesday the world has a 10-year window of opportunity to take decisive action on global warming and avert a weather catastrophe. NASA scientist James Hansen, widely considered the doyen of American climate researchers, said governments must adopt an alternative scenario to keep carbon dioxide emission growth in check and limit the increase in global temperatures to 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). "I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate change ... no longer than a decade, at the most," Hansen said at the Climate Change Research Conference in California's state capital. If the world continues with a "business as usual" scenario, Hansen said temperatures will rise by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 7.2 degrees F) and "we will be producing a different planet." On that warmer planet, ice sheets would melt quickly, causing a rise in sea levels that would put most of Manhattan under water. The world would see more prolonged droughts and heat waves, powerful hurricanes in new areas and the likely extinction of 50 percent of species. Hansen, who heads NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has made waves before by saying that President Bush's administration tried to silence him and heavily edited his and other scientists' findings on a warmer world. He reiterated that the United States "has passed up the opportunity" to influence the world on global warming.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: While Republican Senator Conrad Burns flew first class, his wife was "stuck" in coach, a "salivating Democratic informant" told Roll Call. "The informant sent the information with an accompanying nasty editorial note that said, 'Guess women really are second class to him," Roll Call's "Heard on the Hill" reports. Last October, two Northwest Airlines flight attendants accused Burns of sexism after "he told one of the women she could stay at home and be a mother if she lost her job to outsourcing," Gannett News reported. Roll Call reports that Burns denied sexism in both cases and suggests that the senator "wasn’t playing the big man card taking the first-class seat while making his little woman ride in the stuffy coach seat."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:00:22 PM

Tue, Sep 12 2006

Day Long Trip To Tilaran

I regret that I was unable to produce a blog entry for yesterday as is normal; the press of personal business made the research for a blog entry unattainable. See below. Sorry for the inconvenience to those of you who have come to rely on this blog.

The weather yesterday and much of the day before was sensational - dry-season-like, with bright sun and few clouds all day long. It was a delight to be sure as was the weather this morning. But it was not to last. By noon, it had clouded over, and as I write this, the weather has closed in and is beginning to rain in the typical afternoon thunderstorm. The temperatures have been dry-season-like too, with an overnight low of 73, a high this afternoon of 86, and yesterday's high of 87.

Yesterday I was unable to spend time on research for the blog due to some circumstances beyond my control - what I expected to be a quick 3 hour trip to Tilaran ended up taking nearly all the day. I went to Tilaran with my newly-arrived friend and some of his friends, and went to the ICE office there to get his new cell phone turned on. The others with us each had places we wanted to go, including myself, as well as stopping at a soda for lunch, a bar for a drink on the way home, and so forth. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it immensely, but it ate up the whole day. By the time I got home and attended to some other business, it was too late to do a blog. Sorry `bout that.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: A positively Shigalovian plan for global re-ordering - a brutal vision of national dismemberment, forced migration, and ethnic cleansing on a gargantuan scale - was recently published in Armed Forces Journal, throwing a stark light on the mindset of the "full spectrum dominance" gang now in power in Washington. The article could perhaps be dismissed as a typical neo-con fantasy - but it has already provoked a diplomatic firestorm from the plan's intended targets, requiring a State Department intervention to dampen the flames. Ralph Peters, "Terror War" analyst and ex-military intelligence officer, is the author of the Journal piece. He has recently joined with the bold visionaries of the Project for a New American Century crowd to produce the article. That's the group made up of Bush Faction heavy hitters - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Elliot Abrams, Brother Jeb and others - who in September 2000 laid out the blueprint that George W. followed faithfully once he acquired the presidency. But although the Peters plan - like the 2000 PNAC blueprint - was ignored in the Homeland, those on the receiving end of its enforced beneficence certainly took notice - especially in Pakistan, where the shaky throne of military dictator and Bush favorite Pervez Musharraf is being rattled by separatist uprisings in several provinces. These include oil-rich Baluchistan, which makes up 42 percent of the nation's territory - not exactly a chunk they'd like to give up for Peters's reshuffle. Angry editorials in Pakistani papers denounced his piece, with one asking why Great Britain was not a target for dissolution: shouldn't Scotland and Wales be free too? Another suggested returning California and Texas to Mexico while Peters was out there redressing "unnatural" borders. The plan sparked a heated response in Turkey as well, and gave fuel to hardliners throughout the Middle East, who seized on it as confirmation of an all-out Western "war on Islam." Late last month, the US State Department was forced to issue a disavowal of the article, as Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reports. The article was the work of a private citizen and didn't reflect official government policy, said State mouthpiece Sean McCormack, who couldn't resist adding that, yes, the US was committed to sweeping change in the arc of crisis - but only because "this call [for change] comes from the Middle East itself." In other words, they're asking for it. And they are certainly getting it - in the neck. If the events of the past two months are not the work of a deliberate plan to foment mass upheaval and engineer large doses of Peter's lauded political cure-all, ethnic cleansing, the effect on the ground is the same. Pakistan is now being roiled by the killing late last month of Akbar Bugti, a prominent Baluchi leader and former government minister. His death during a raid by Pakistani military forces has set off mass protests throughout Baluchistan, where the locals have long been squeezed out of the province's oil and gas riches. A violent separatist movement has emerged in recent years, endangering plans for a major pipeline system from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Baluchistan. This unrest has also made it difficult for the US to use the province as a staging area for threatening - or attacking - Iran, which lies across Baluchistan's border. UK author Nafeez Ahmed dug up the Peters quote for his Op-Ed News article on the "Blood Borders" controversy, and it is most apt: "There will be no peace," Peters wrote in the summer of 1997. "At any given moment for the rest of our lifetimes, there will be multiple conflicts in mutating forms around the globe. Violent conflict will dominate the headlines, but cultural and economic struggles will be steadier and ultimately more decisive. The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing."

Iran offered to freeze its uranium enrichment program yesterday for eight weeks in what looked like a successful tactic aimed at delaying consideration of international sanctions. In talks at the weekend in Vienna between Iran's national security chief, Ali Larijani, and the European Union's foreign policy supremo, Javier Solana, Tehran appeared to concede enough to prevent a quick move to sanctions by the UN security council. Washington is pressing for a swift decision on sanctions after Tehran failed to meet the terms of a security council resolution requiring it to freeze its uranium enrichment activities in order to resume negotiations with the west, Russia and China. The weekend talks in Vienna were seen as a final chance to avert a bigger confrontation. But EU officials said yesterday that there would be further talks as a result of the weekend session. Both sides talked up the positive aspects, suggesting that the Iranians had given way enough to avoid any prompt resort to sanctions. Mr Larijani said the talks had resulted in "a common point of view on many issues," and Mr Solana agreed that they had been "worth it" and "positive." The upbeat talk contrasted with meetings in recent weeks described by diplomats as a dialogue of the deaf.

On Friday, September 8, just forty-eight hours before ABC planned to air its so-called "docudrama," The Path to 9/11, Robert Iger, CEO of ABC's corporate parent, the Walt Disney Company, was presented with incontrovertible evidence outlining the involvement of that film's screenwriter and director in a concerted right-wing effort to blame former President Bill Clinton for allowing the 9/11 attacks to take place. Iger told a source close to ABC that he was "deeply troubled" by the information and claimed he had no previous knowledge of the institutional right-wing ties of The Path to 9/11's creators. He reportedly said that he has commenced an internal investigation to verify the role of the film's creators in deliberately advancing disinformation through ABC. After stating that she was "looking into" my questions about the production of The Path to 9/11, ABC Vice President of Media Relations Hope Hartman declined to comment on this story. The "docudrama" aired as scheduled.

President George W. Bush hopes to revive his plan to overhaul the U.S. Social Security retirement program if his Republican party keeps control of the Congress in the November midterm elections, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday. Despite polls suggesting Democrats have their best chance in years to regain control of the House of Representatives, Bush told the newspaper in an interview he was confident a power shift was "not going to happen." "I just don't believe it," he said, adding that if Republicans prevail at the polls, next year might be a good time to reintroduce the effort to reshape Social Security because he could "drain the politics out of the issue." Bush was forced to abandoned his 2005 push to add private accounts to the retirement program, in part because of concerns among Republicans that the unpopular plan would jeopardize their chances in this year's elections. Some Democrats have emphasized the Social Security reform plan in their campaign to oust Republican incumbents in November, contending it would inject too much risk into the program and push the government deeper into debt.

CIA officers have signed up in growing numbers for a government-reimbursed, private insurance plan that would pay their civil judgments and legal expenses if they are sued or charged with criminal wrongdoing, according to current and former intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the program. The new enrollments reflect heightened anxiety at the CIA that officers may be vulnerable to accusations they were involved in abuse, torture, human rights violations and other misconduct, including wrongdoing related to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They worry that they will not have Justice Department representation in court or congressional inquiries, the officials said. The anxieties stem partly from public controversy about a system of secret CIA prisons in which detainees were subjected to harsh interrogation methods, including temperature extremes and simulated drowning. The White House contends the methods were legal, but some CIA officers have worried privately that they may have violated international law or domestic criminal statutes.

Legislation put forward by the Bush administration this week would legalize the same torture techniques recently banned by the Army. By selectively interpreting the Geneva Conventions, the legislation would allow CIA operatives and even the Army, should it decide to revert to previous rules, to conduct interrogations using unsavory methods. According to the New York Times: "The proposal is in the last 10 pages of an 86-page bill devoted mostly to military commissions, and it is a tangled mix of cross-references and pregnant omissions. But legal experts say it adds up to an apparently unique interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, one that could allow C.I.A. operatives and others to use many of the very techniques disavowed by the Pentagon, including stress positions, sleep deprivation and extreme temperatures. "It’s a Jekyll and Hyde routine," Martin S. Lederman, who teaches constitutional law at Georgetown University, said of the administration’s dual approaches.

According to a counterterrorism official, the Osama bin Laden "trail" has become "stone cold," The Washington Post reports in Sunday's edition. "The clandestine U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years," write Dana Priest and Ann Scott Tyson. "Nothing from the vast U.S. intelligence world - no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image - has led them anywhere near the al-Qaeda leader, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials." "'The handful of assets we have have given us nothing close to real-time intelligence'" that could have led to his capture, said one counterterrorism official, who said the trail, despite the most extensive manhunt in U.S. history, has gone 'stone cold,'" the article continues. Priest and Tyson also report that "Pakistan has grown increasingly reluctant to help the U.S. search."

Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) resignation will mean changes in Republican party leadership - which may hinge on the reelection campaign of Senator Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum (R-PA), Roll Call reports. Santorum is currently locked in a tight race with challenger Bob Casey, and it is widely believed that the two-term Senator is among the most vulnerable in the current election cycle.Santorum, widely viewed as the party's most vulnerable incumbent this cycle, is hoping to move up a rung to become Majority Whip, while Kyl is hoping to advance into Santorum's current job as the No. 3 Republican next cycle. Kyl is seen as a fairly safe bet for another term, but Santorum's return is far less secure, and many believe the would-be Whip may well lose his bid for a third term. If Santorum were to lose his re-election bid, Republican Senators and aides alike predict a major chain reaction that would alter nearly all the leadership elections later this fall. "You are looking at a major domino effect," one Senate Republican staffer said.

Mayor Richard Daley vetoed an ordinance Monday that would have required mega-retailers to pay their workers more than other employers after some of the nation's largest stores including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. warned the measure would keep them from opening their doors within the city's limits. Supporters said the measure would guarantee employees a "living wage," but in a letter to City Council members released Monday, Daley said the ordinance would drive businesses from the city.

A survey by Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has suggested that 1-in-10 people who choose "no religion" on a poll also name a place they go to worship. Researchers said 10 percent of those who chose "no religion" from a list of 40 choices listed a place of worship in a separate question, leading them to believe the number of secular Americans is lower than previously believed, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. The secular population in the United States had previously been thought to be about 14 percent, the Post said, but the Baylor researchers said discounting those who listed worship locations puts the number closer to 10.8 percent -- about 10 million people less. The survey also found that 45.6 percent of respondents believe the federal government "should advocate Christian values" and that number grows to 74.5 percent among believers in an authoritarian version of God, USA Today reported. A total 75.3 percent of those polled said they believe their families will get in to heaven, and 69.3 percent said the same about their close friends.

Legal battles have erupted in many states over voter identification laws that an Ohio State University professor says mark the latest election practices battle. Conservative groups in states including Arizona, Missouri, Georgia, Indiana, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Wisconsin have pushed for rules requiring voters to present photo IDs at the polling place, The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday. "With voter ID and registration, this is where the current battles over election practices are now being fought," said Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University law professor and publisher of election-law blog Equal Vote. Provisions have passed in Arizona, Missouri and New Mexico, but they face legal opposition from liberal groups who claim the rules will disenfranchise thousands of Democratic Party voters, the Times said. A federal judge rejected challenges to a similar law in Indiana, saying opponents failed to prove the measure was too burdensome. However, a Georgia law was suspended by a judge ahead of elections in July. Opponents of the measures point out that seniors, minorities and students -- all of which typically lean Democratic -- are the most likely to be disenfranchised by the laws.

Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest over the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies, GOP officials said. The National Republican Congressional Committee, which this year dispatched a half-dozen operatives to comb through tax, court and other records looking for damaging information on Democratic candidates, plans to spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what officials described as negative ads. The hope is that a vigorous effort to "define" opponents, in the parlance of GOP operatives, can help Republicans shift the midterm debate away from Iraq and limit losses this fall. The first round of attacks includes an ad that labeled a Democratic candidate in Wisconsin "Dr. Millionaire" and noted that he has sued 80 patients.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Dramatic evidence that America is involved in illegal mercenary operations in east Africa, and knew in advance of the plans of private U.S. companies to breach international law, has emerged in a string of confidential emails seen by The Observer. The leaked communications between US private military companies suggest the CIA had knowledge of the plans to run covert military operations inside Somalia - against UN rulings. The emails, dated June this year, reveal how US firms have been planning undercover missions in support of President Abdullahi Yusuf's transitional federal government - founded with UN backing in 2004 - against the Supreme Islamic Courts Council - a radical Muslim militia which took control of Mogadishu, the country's capital, also in June promising national unity under Sharia law. Evidence of foreign involvement in the conflict would not only breach the UN arms embargo but could destabilise the entire region. One email dated Friday, 16 June, is from Michele Ballarin, chief executive of Select Armor - a US military firm based in Virginia. Ballarin's email was sent to a number of individuals including Chris Farina of the Florida-based military company ATS Worldwide. Ballarin said: 'Boys: Successful meeting with President Abdullay Yussef [sic] and his chief staff personnel in Nairobi, Kenya on Tuesday ... where he invited us to his private hotel suite flacked by security detail ... He has appointed is chief of presidential protocol as our go to during this phase.' She refers to one 'closed-door meeting' with a senior UN figure and mentions there are 'a number of Brit security firms' also looking to get involved. Ballarin claimed she has been given 'carte blanche' to use three bases in Somalia 'and the air access to reach them'.

The US military has aggravated detention conditions following the alleged suicide of three inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison, the lawyer of three Bahraini prisoners has said. "During our recent trip to Guantanamo, Eisa Al Murbati said that since the deaths of three detainees in June, the military has been very harsh with the prisoners," Joshua Bryan-Colangelo said yesterday. "He reported that Immediate Response Teams (IRTs), composed of five soldiers in riot gear, are called to subdue detainees for even the slightest perceived violation of the rules. He also said that the rules change often and without notice," according to the statement sent by the New-York based lawyer and relayed to Gulf News by rights activist Nabeel Rajab. "For example, one day, Al Murbati saw a fellow detainee praying. During the prayer, the detainee was told by a guard to move the sleeping mat in the detainee's cell. The detainee did not respond immediately because he was praying. For this reason, an IRT soldier took the detainee to isolation cell," the lawyer said. On another occasion, a detainee who did not speak English, touched a soldier's arm and pointed at shackles that the guard had put on him to show that the shackles were too tight. The guard said that the detainee had tried to attack him and the detainee was sent to isolation.

Malaysia is waiting for information from the United States about the detention of two Malaysian terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay prison, the foreign minister said. "We have asked for details, but until now we have not got it," Syed Hamid Albar was quoted as saying by the national news agency Bernama late Saturday. Sayed Hamid said the information was being sought through the Malaysian Embassy in Washington. He didn't say when the request was made or what specific information the government is seeking. Ministry officials could not be reached Sunday. Washington disclosed the names of the two suspects - Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, also known as Lillie, and Mohammed Farik Bin Amin, better known as Zubair - on Wednesday. They were among 14 men - described as prominent terrorism suspects - transferred from secret CIA prisons to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for trials, the administration said. It was the first time Washington had revealed that Malaysians were being held at secret CIA prison camps in connection with al-Qaida related terrorist activities.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Lebanon has incurred unprecedented economic losses in a short period of time as a result of the Israel-Hezbollah war in July and August. A report prepared by leading Lebanese bank Audi Bank indicated that Lebanon -- which was heading for significant economic growth before the outbreak of war on July 12 -- sustained huge material, human and economic losses, the like of which had not been seen since 1990, when the 15-year civil strife came to an end. The report estimated the losses of the economic sector at 40 percent of GDP, and the direct damage incurred by the Israeli war and an almost two-month-long blockade at $3.6 billion. It said the decline in annual growth was calculated at 6.5 percent, whereas growth was expected to be around five percent before the war, compared with zero percent growth in 2005. The report estimated the amount of Lebanese pounds converted to U.S. dollars during the month-long war at $2.4 billion. It said the volume of bank deposits in dollars increased from 72 percent before the war to 76 percent.

Israel has said the Palestinian national unity government is insufficient, and the country will not resume contact with the PA under its auspices. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas-led government, have agreed to form a new administration of national unity based on the political program outlined in the so-called "Prisoners' Document." Israeli daily Haaretz said Tuesday Tel Aviv will engage in "political arms wrestling" against the projected Palestinian unity government, "with the aim of pressuring it to accept Israel's three conditions of recognizing the Jewish state and previous agreements signed with the Palestinians and renounce violence." The paper quoted an official political source as saying "if the Palestinian government does not accept clearly and outright the conditions, we will not conduct negotiations with it or resume transferring tax incomes" which Israel levies on behalf of the Palestinians in line with a mutual accord. The source said Israel dreads a possible international recognition of the Palestinian unity administration before the latter accepts Israel's conditions.

An Israeli military court has ordered the release of a number of detained Hamas officials and MPs. However, the men will remain behind bars for at least 48 hours pending an appeal by the Israeli military authorities against the court's ruling. Israel arrested dozens of Hamas members following the capture of a soldier by Palestinian militants in late June. Hamas, which leads the Palestinian government, is illegal in Israel and regarded as a terrorist organization. In one case, an Israeli court charged the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Abdel Aziz Dweik, with being a member of the militant group Hamas.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: Michael Gerson, a key aide and speechwriter for President Bush until this summer, will soon join the Washington Post as op-ed columnist, the paper announced today. Gerson will start in January with a twice-weekly column that will also be syndicated. Later, in an online chat at the paper's Web site, Howard Kurtz noted concerns about Gerson's independence, but pointed out that the Post has a number of liberal columnists. "Mike is well-known as an eloquent writer and provocative thinker, and I'm thrilled he's decided to do this," said editorial page editor Fred Hiatt in a statement. "I'm sure that, with other recent additions such as Eugene Robinson and Ruth Marcus, Mike will contribute to the liveliness, thoughtfulness and unpredictability of our op-ed page."

Spin Cycle: U.S. officials, seeking a way to measure the results of a program aimed at decreasing violence in Baghdad, aren’t counting scores of dead killed in car bombings and mortar attacks as victims of the country’s sectarian violence. In a distinction previously undisclosed, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said Friday that the United States is including in its tabulations of sectarian violence only deaths of individuals killed in drive-by shootings or by torture and execution. That has allowed U.S. officials to boast that the number of deaths from sectarian violence in Baghdad declined by more than 52 percent in August over July.

Lonelygirl15 appears to be an innocent, home-schooled 16-year-old, pouring her heart out for her video camera in the privacy of her bedroom. But since May, her brief posts on the video-sharing site YouTube and the social networking hub MySpace have launched a Web mystery eagerly followed by her million-plus viewers: Who is this sheltered ingenue who calls herself "Bree," and is she in some sort of danger - or, worse, the tool of some giant marketing machine? No one has publicly come forward to lay claim to her work, but she is starting to look as connected in Hollywood as any starlet. Three lonelygirl15-obsessed amateur Web sleuths set up a sting using tracking software that appears to show that e-mails sent from a lonelygirl15 account came from inside the offices of the Beverly Hills-based talent agency Creative Artists Agency. The apparent CAA link takes its place alongside other tantalizing pieces of evidence that lonelygirl15 is not who she claims to be: a copyright for the name obtained by an Encino lawyer, and a plot line that, leading speculation suggests, will turn out to be the lead-in to a horror movie’s marketing campaign.

When Tim Russert asked Dick Cheney on Sunday if, knowing that Saddam did NOT have weapons of mass destruction, if Cheney would still have gone into Iraq, he said "Yes" and went on: "The world is better off because Saddam Hussein is in jail instead of in power in Baghdad. It was the right thing to do and if we had it to do over again, we'd do exactly the same thing." Note that Cheney dated Saddam's WMD use at 1991. Russert also called him on his other infamous comment, the old "insurgency in its last throes" comment, which Cheney admitted was - what's that word? - oh yeah, WRONG but with barely a breath spun it as a good thing, based on Iraqis embracing democracy and being willing to "step up and take on the responsibility for their own fate." Tricky Dick also claimed that debate in the U.S. encourages the insurgents. U.S. allies in Afghanistan and Iraq "have doubts" America will finish the job there. "And those doubts are encouraged, obviously, when they see the kind of debate that we've had in the United States," Cheney said. "Suggestions, for example, that we should withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq simply feed into that whole notion, validates the strategy of the terrorists." He insisted Iraq had a relationship with the al-Qaeda terror network despite acknowledging Saddam Hussein was not involved in the 9/11 attacks on US targets. "We've never been able to confirm a connection between Iraq and 9/11," Vice-President Dick Cheney, but insisted that a connection with Al-Qaeda was "different issue".

George Bush last night admitted that Saddam Hussein had no hand in the 9/11 terror attacks, but he asked Americans to support a war in Iraq that he said was the defining struggle of our age. "I am often asked why we are in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks," Mr Bush said. "The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat. My administration, the Congress, and the United Nations saw the threat - and after 9/11, Saddam's regime posed a risk that the world could not afford to take.

Condoleezza Rice has maintained "there were ties between Iraq and al-Qaida. Now, are we learning more now that we have access to people like Saddam Hussein's intelligence services? Of course we're going to learn more."

A recent poll tells us that only 14% of Americans feel safer now than they did five years ago. Seventy-nine percent expect another attack on U.S. soil within the next year, and 60% think it's likely in the next few months. Four out of five say that "we will always have to live with the threat of terrorism," though only one in five admits to being "personally very concerned about an attack" in his or her own area. A Florida woman captured the prevailing mood when she told a reporter: "When I stop to think about it, I don't feel very safe. But then again, on a day-to-day basis, I feel fine." As Rep. Peter King, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, put it: "It's like we live in two parallel existences."

Privatization and Free Enterprise Solve All Problems: While New Mexico's landscape may make the state the Land of Enchantment, its rapidly growing rates of incarceration have been utterly disenchanting. What's worse, New Mexico is at the top of the nation's list for privatizing prisons; nearly one-half of the state's prisons and jails are run by corporations. Supposedly, states turn to private companies to cope better with chronic overcrowding and for low-cost management. However, a closer look suggests a different rationale. A recent report from the Montana-based Institute on Money in State Politics reveals that during the 2002 and 2004 election cycles, private prison companies, directors, executives and lobbyists gave $3.3 million to candidates and state political parties across 44 states. According to Edwin Bender, executive director of the Institute on Money in State Politics, private prison companies strongly favor giving to states with the toughest sentencing laws--in essence, the ones that are more likely to come up with the bodies to fill prison beds. Those states, adds Bender, are also the ones most likely to have passed "three-strikes" laws. Those laws, first passed by Washington state voters in 1993 and then California voters in 1994, quickly swept the nation. They were largely based on "cookie-cutter legislation" pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), some of whose members come from the ranks of private prison companies. Florida leads the pack in terms of private prison dollars, with its candidates and political parties receiving almost 20 percent of their total contributions from private prison companies and their affiliates. Florida already has five privately owned and operated prisons, with a sixth on the way. It's also privatized the bulk of its juvenile detention system. Texas and New Jersey are close behind.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: The U.S. balance of trade deficit grew 5 percent in July to $68 billion, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. July exports of $120 billion were offset by imports of $188 billion resulting in a goods and services deficit that was $3.2 billion more than the $64.8 billion in June. July exports were $1.3 billion less than June exports of $121.2 billion. July imports were $1.9 billion more than June imports of $186.1 billion. Economists had expected the deficit to increase to slightly more than $65 billion. Despite the overall increase in the gap between what the US imports and exports, its politically sensitive deficit with China declined slightly in July to $19.6 billion. However, the deficit with China is still on track to exceed last year's $202bn record level. Meanwhile, China's trade surplus with the rest of the world reached a record $18.8bn (£10bn) in August, beating both July's $14.6bn record and analysts' forecasts. The figure, released by the official Xinhua news agency, will intensify the debate about whether China's currency, the yuan, is undervalued. Some of China's trading partners, especially the US, have argued China keeps the yuan low to boost exports. The latest figure brings China's 2006 global trade surplus to $95.6bn so far.

Republican Policies Build Respect And Admiration For America Abroad: The United States remains the most popular destination for foreign students, but its share of the competitive international education market has fallen to 22 percent from 25 percent in four years, a study said on Tuesday. The decline in U.S. market share fell as the number of foreign university students enrolled around the world grew 41 percent to 2.7 million between 2000 and 2004, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said. In its annual Education at a Glance survey, the OECD said the declining U.S. share was matched by rises of one percent or more in foreign student market share in New Zealand, France and South Africa. "Worldwide competition for highly skilled workers is strong, and international students are increasingly regarded as a source of highly skilled immigrants by some OECD countries," the report said.

Republicans Believe In Honest, Open And Transparent Government: What if such intelligence secrets aren't about today's terrorist threats? What if it's about the antiwar activities of a British rock star during the Vietnam War? That's precisely what's at issue in a Freedom of Information Act suit pending before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case of John Lennon's FBI files illustrates the federal government's obsession with secrecy, which it justifies with appeals to national security. Lennon's story, told in the documentary "The U.S. vs. John Lennon," opening this week in Los Angeles, revolves around his plans to help register young people to vote in the 1972 presidential election, when President Nixon was running for reelection and the war in Vietnam was the issue of the day. Lennon wanted to organize a national concert tour that would combine rock music with antiwar protests and voter registration. Nixon found out about the plan, and the White House began deportation proceedings against Lennon. It worked: Lennon never did the tour, and Nixon was reelected. Along the way, the FBI spied on and harassed Lennon - and kept detailed files of its work. The bulk of them were released in 1997 under the Freedom of Information Act after 15 years of litigation. But the agency continues to withhold 10 documents in Lennon's FBI file on grounds that they contain "national security information provided by a foreign government." The name of the foreign government remains classified, though it's probably not Afghanistan. The FBI has argued that "disclosure of this information could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the national security, as it would reveal a foreign government and information provided in confidence by that government." U.S. District Judge Robert Takasugi rejected this argument in 2004 and ordered the documents released. The FBI is appealing that decision.

Republicans Believe Business Leaders Are Moral Examples To Be Emulated: A Congressional committee on Monday asked Hewlett-Packard Co. to turn over records related to the company's possibly illegal investigation of media leaks, as the company's board planned to meet again to discuss the fate of embattled Chairwoman Patricia Dunn. The request came as part of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee's ongoing investigation into "pretexting" - the practice of impersonating a person in order to access their personal information. The practice is a common one among private investigators - but tests the limits of California and other state laws, as prosecutors believe it violates laws covering identity theft and unauthorised access to computer data. In a statement, Ms Dunn apologised for the techniques used. "Unfortunately, the investigation, which was conducted with third parties, included certain inappropriate techniques," she said. "These went beyond what we understood them to be, and I apologize that they were employed." Last week, Ms Dunn said she had no idea of the tactics to which private investigators would resort, adding she was "appalled" that journalists had been targeted. Board member George Keyworth was identified as the source of the leak. Mr Keyworth stated that he had leaked information but refused to step down, despite being asked to. As a penalty, HP barred him from seeking re-election to the board.

News From Smirkey's Wars: The commander of the U.S. Marine force in Iraq on Tuesday denied his troops had lost control of the vast province they patrol, after newspapers reported his intelligence chief had written a bleak report. A division led by U.S. Marines has faced some of the highest casualty rates in Iraq patrolling the vast western desert of Anbar, Iraq's biggest province and a center of the Sunni insurgency. The Washington Post reported that officials who have seen a study by the Marines' top intelligence officer in Iraq say he described the situation in the province as lost. Iraq's Shi'ite-led government holds no sway there and the strongest political movement is the Iraq branch of al Qaeda, it concluded. The Post said it was the first time a senior U.S. officer had filed such a pessimistic assessment from Iraq, and described it as having had an impact among policymakers in Washington.

The fifth anniversary of September 11 finds Afghanistan in a deepening crisis. Security is deteriorating in most parts of the country, due to Taliban insurgency and general lawlessness. Economic development is largely stalled in the south and moving very slowly in the north. Kabul is mired in corruption and layer upon layer of dysfunctional bureaucracy. Bribery is so rampant that even sections of the government have to bribe each other to get simple tasks accomplished. Most disturbing is the deteriorating security environment, which was punctuated by a massive suicide car bomb that ripped into a US convoy on September 8, a mere 300 yards from the US Embassy and just in front of the main monument honoring the Mujahadeen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was killed by al Qaida two days before the attack on the World Trade Center in New York. The suicide attack killed two US soldiers, destroying their vehicle and sixteen Afghan civilians. Dozens more were wounded.

Iran offered on Tuesday to help establish security and stability in Iraq after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki held talks in Tehran on his first official visit to the Islamic Republic. Maliki's aides said he would tell fellow Shi'ite Islamist leaders in Iran that Tehran should not interfere in Iraqi affairs, a message likely to please Washington which accuses Iran of backing militants fighting U.S. troops in Iraq. But Maliki and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave few details about their talks on Tuesday, except to say that the two neighbors which fought a bloody war in the 1980s had agreed to cooperate in political, economic and security fields. "We will give our full assistance to the Iraqi government to establish security in (Iraq). Strengthening security in Iraq means strengthening security and stability in the region," Ahmadinejad told a joint news conference after their meeting. Maliki, speaking through a Persian translator, said: "This visit will be useful for cooperation between Iran and Iraq, in all political, security and economic fields." The two sides signed an agreement covering these areas.

After enduring two major assaults, Fallujah is under threat from U.S. forces again, residents say. "They destroyed our city twice and they are threatening us a third time," 52-year-old Ahmed Dhahy told IPS in Fallujah, the Sunni-dominated city 50km west of Baghdad. "They want us to do their job for them and turn in those who target them," he said. Dhahy, who lost 32 relatives when his father's house was bombed by a U.S. aircraft during the April 2004 attack on the city, said the U.S. military had threatened it would destroy the city if resistance fighters were not handed over to them. "Last week the Americans used loudspeakers on the backs of their tanks and Humvees to threaten us," Dhahy said. Residents said the U.S. forces warned of a "large military operation" if fighters were not handed over. A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said he had no reports of such action. Fallujah was heavily bombed in April 2004 and again in November that year. The attacks destroyed 75 percent of city infrastructure and left more than 5,000 dead, according to local non-governmental groups. But following the heavy assaults, resistance fighters have continued to launch attacks against U.S. and official Iraqi forces in the city. Fallujah remains under tight security, with the U.S. military using biometric identification, full body searches and bar-coded ID's for residents to enter and leave their city. "The Iraqi resistance has not stopped for a single day despite the huge U.S. army activities," a city police captain speaking on condition of anonymity told IPS.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: A study by 19 U.S. and European scientists finds greenhouse gases, not natural cycles, are causing warmer oceans that produce more powerful hurricanes. "Clearly, this is a result of the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere," study co-author Tom Wigley, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., told ABC News. "The work that we've done kind of closes the loop here." The weather experts used 22 computer climate models to examine the Atlantic and Pacific oceans' tropical regions where tropical cyclones, or hurricanes, are born. The climate scientists found temperatures in those areas have increased an average of between a half degree Fahrenheit and 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit, during the last century. The study says humans are most likely to blame for at least 67 percent of that warming, ABC reported, and the scientists expect hurricanes will become even stronger as the oceans continue to warm. The U.S. Department of Energy-funded study appears in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Millions of Africans are at risk because of climate change, with rising global temperatures expected to lead to increased disease, drought and hunger, South Africa's environment minister warned Monday. Marthinus van Schalkwyk said that 40 percent of African borders were formed by river channels and so even moderate declines in rainfall risked heightening conflicts over scarce water resources. Van Schalkwyk said that Africa was especially vulnerable to global warming because it had fewer coping mechanisms than wealthier parts of the world. "The cost will be counted not only by environmentalists, but also by economists, doctors, subsistence farmers and fisher folk," he told the opening session of a conference of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "The cost will be measured not only in U.S. dollars and species loss, but in human mortality and morbidity, in millions of African lives at risk," he said. Some 200 scientists are attending the U.N. sponsored working group meeting to try to finalize a report on the world's vulnerability and scope to adapt to climate change. The report, due to be published next year, is expected to provide the most authoritative assessment to date of the impact of global warming.

Australia will be one of the first major casualties of the climate crisis, former US vice-president Al Gore has warned. In Sydney for the Australian premiere of An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary on the threat of global warming, Mr Gore said the phenomenon "threatens the future of human civilisation, and Australia, in many ways, is more at risk than any other nation". Australia was particularly vulnerable to water shortages, changed rainfall patterns and an increase in fires and cyclones. But Mr Gore will not meet John Howard to express those worries while on his 36-hour stay in Australia. Instead he will talk to the Prime Minister by phone. "I like him, he's a friend. I disagree with him on this issue but I hope he'll see the movie," Mr Gore said of Mr Howard. "If he's sceptical about the science you should all ask him why, because there has never been a stronger scientific consensus than on this one."

The fight for space on Spain's beaches looks set to grow fiercer over the next four decades as the sand starts to disappear under a rising sea that also threatens to flood beach-side homes, according to a Spanish environment ministry report. Spain's beaches are expected to shrink by an average of 15 metres (50 feet) by 2050 as global warming causes sea levels to creep up while stronger waves and currents eat away at the coastline. In some of the worst hit resorts, unprotected beaches could vanish altogether while salt water washes into holiday homes, the authors warn. "I wouldn't buy a house in La Manga," said the report's coordinator, Professor Raúl Medina, referring to an area in the south-eastern region of Murcia popular with British holiday-home buyers. "It is a bad investment because I doubt that my children would be able to use it," he told the newspaper El País. Global warming is melting the icecaps and raising sea levels around Spain by 2.5mm a year. By 2050 that will mean a 12cm-15cm rise, with northern Spain's Atlantic coast suffering most. The Mediterranean coast, where many resorts already have to truck in sand each spring, will lose an average of around 10 metres of beach by 2050. Hotel owners in the southern Costa del Sol have already asked for permission to bring in their own sand as beaches begin to shrink. The report also recommends that sea walls be raised in some Spanish ports and that planning permits for beach-side buildings take into account the changing shape of the coastline.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Vice President Dick Cheney will be attending a fundraiser for Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-NY) in late September, today's issue of Roll Call reports. The Vice President and Kuhl have each earned a measure of infamy for incidents involving firearms. Cheney accidentally shot his hunting partner Harry Whittington in the face earlier this year, while according to divorce records obtained by RAW STORY, Kuhl once bullied his wife with shotguns. The San Francisco Chronicle noted in a 2004 article that Kuhl had past run-ins with the law, including an arrest in 1997 for drunken driving. Kuhl's license was suspended for six months: "Kuhl-Peterson filed for divorce in late 1998, charging that Kuhl "endangered (her) mental and physical well-being and rendered it unsafe and improper for the parties to continue to reside together." After Kuhl was arrested in 1997 for drunken driving, he refused his wife's requests "to attend counseling to deal with his excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages," she said in the papers. As a result of that arrest, Kuhl had his driver's license suspended for six months. He launched his congressional campaign bid by publicly discussing the arrest." Widely reported divorce records showed that Kuhl, currently running for his second term, pulled not one but two shotguns on his wife during a 1994 dinner party at their home. Kuhl's ex-wife also described him as an abusive drunk who "hustled women." Cheney, the man who may always be remembered for accidentally shooting his good friend on a hunting trip, has agreed to do a private photo-op at a Sept. 22 fundraiser for Kuhl in Rochester, N.Y. And, yes, you guessed it, Kuhl is considered vulnerable this year. As one Democratic operative told HOH, "I can't tell what Cheney likes best about him - Kuhl's penchant for rubber-stamping the president or for combining beer with firearm use."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:17:57 AM

Sat, Sep 09 2006

The Ugly Americans

The weather has been on and off rainy-season/dry-season for the last two days. Yesterday there were several hours of sun, and this morning, when I got up, I thought it was going to be a hurricane-weather day. But it was not to be. By noon, the skies clouded over and we began to have some rain intermittently through the afternoon. No serious thunderstorms, but just a little rain now and again. This has been the dryest rainy season here I can remember. Temperatures have been moderate too, with an overnight low of 72 and a high of 83.

I had a very welcome and interesting visit last night from my recently-arrived friend, after his return from the beach at Flamingo for several days, his first since moving here. After hearing his stories of some of what is going on there, I am sure glad I am here in a small highlands town well away from all the nonsense for the most part. Besides the weather, which he said was unbearably hot and bug-ridden, the drugs, the crime, the perfidy by all the foreigners, mostly Ugly Americans, is absolutely appalling. I can begin to see why the anti-gringo sentiment in Costa Rica is building - I am surprised only that they have remained as tolerant of us as they are. And I can sure see why the Ticos are growing increasingly resentful of all the gringos who come down here with a hidden agenda - other than enjoying a little pura vida in their "golden" years. Real estate scam artists and shady developers, business schemers, people on the run from the law in the U.S. for a wide variety of reasons, full-time drug-sodden party animals who have no respect for local values, and no sense of a responsibility to the people in whose country they are living, makes me embarrassed to call myself an American. They are among the reasons why I am embarrassed to present my passport anymore. Maybe I need to go to some place where the gringos aren't. Some place far, far away where they haven't yet had experience with Ugly Americans.

On the good news side of the equation: Another gasoline price reduction, the second in as many weeks. This time, "Super" drops to US$3.78 per gallon, "Regular" to US$3.59 per gallon, and diesel remains unchanged. This represents a significant drop in the price of gasoline, which was at US$4.17 for "Super" and US$3.99 per gallon at the beginning of August. That means it is now $4.83 cheaper to fill a 45 liter tank with "Regular."

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Though the Bush Administration's official budget lists the national debt and deficit as being incredibly high, they are actually far worse than reported, according to Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN). But don't just take his word for it, even if Cooper is a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Law graduate. The following figures appear in the official U.S. Financial Report, released by the Treasury Department: * The true national debt is $49 trillion, not the $8.3 trillion Bush reported. - That's $156,000 for every citizen, or $375,000 for every working American - This figure has more than doubled in the past five years - We paid $327 billion last year on interest alone. * The true 2005 deficit was $760 billion, not the $318.5 billion Bush reported - This is 6.2% of the GDP, not 2.6%. * It's all getting worse. What accounts for the huge discrepancy? Unlike businesses, the government uses "cash" instead of "accrual" accounting. This means that the government does not report future spending promises like Medicare and Social Security, or even future spending guarantees like veterans' benefits and federal employee pensions. "Cash accounting tells you what's in your bank account. Accrual accounting tells you what's in your bank account and what's on your credit card statement," Cooper told BuzzFlash in an interview. "Whether you're promising to buy a road or something at Target, you need to know what you promised to buy. That should be a binding obligation of the government. We've made a world of promises to folks that we need to keep." But wait, there's more! The U.S. Financial Report does not mention that if Medicare and Social Security are factored into the equation (which the Treasury Department did not), the true deficit was actually a whopping $3.3 trillion last year, over ten times more than Bush claims. And when Social Security projections are adjusted to reflect current life expectancies instead of the old 75-year mark, Cooper said the true national debt is "probably closer to $65 trillion."

The director of ABC's controversial "Path to 9/11" docudrama has ties to an evangelical Christian group whose goals include "transform[ing] Hollywood from the inside out," according to research by readers of prominent blogs. "Path" director David L. Cunningham is also involved in "The Film Institute," an offshoot of the Hawaii-based global evangelical group, Youth With a Mission. One goal of Cunningham's Film Institute is to "fast-track" students from a digital film program associated with the YWAM organization into positions "within the film industry, not to give them jobs, but so that they can begin to impact and transform Hollywood from the inside out," according to a cached version of page from a YWAM Web site. The original appears to have been moved or deleted. The digital filmmaking program at YWAM's University of Nations appears to provide Cunningham's institute with its interns. The school's Web site encourages potential students, "If you are serious about allowing the Lord to use either your professional background in film and television, or your God-given desire to learn, don't miss this opportunity. Apply today!" Referring to the controversial docudrama Path to 9/11, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is calling on ABC/Disney to reveal "who funded this $40 million dollar slanderous propaganda," in a DNC press release received by RAW STORY. "It's deeply disappointing that ABC would put something on the air that has been proven to have factual inaccuracies about one of the most important events in our nation's history," said Dean in the press release. "ABC should not air this distortion of history."

In conjunction with the September 10 premiere of ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11 - a six-hour "docudrama" reportedly based on the findings of the 9-11 Commission Report - ABC has teamed up with Scholastic to create a "Discussion Guide for the Classroom" to urge high school teachers nationwide to "[e]ncourage your students and their families to watch The Path to 9/11 and use the accompanying" discussion guide as part of their lesson plan. ABC and Scholastic have reportedly sent out letters to 100,000 high school teachers informing them of the miniseries and accompanying discussion guide. A Media Matters for America review of The Path to 9/11 "resource sheets" and "discussion guide[s]" provided to teachers has found that the material omits critical information regarding the Bush administration's pre-Iraq war weapons of mass destruction claims; falsely suggests a tie between Iraq and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; gives upbeat accounts of reportedly dire conditions on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan; suggests that military responses to Osama bin Laden by the Clinton administration could have "hinder[ed] the U.S. stance on the war on terror"; and asks students to debate whether the media "hinder our national security."

A group of leading American historians today sent a letter to Mr. Robert Iger of ABC. Stressing the significance of the "traumatic" events of 9/11, the signers of this letter are calling on Mr. Iger to stand up for responsible media treatments of such important historical moments and withdraw the program from circulation. The growing list of signatories will be updated at openlettertoabc.blogspot.com. The text of the letter follows: " Dear Robert Iger: We write as professional historians, who are deeply concerned by the continuing reports about ABC's scheduled broadcast of "The Path to 9/11." These reports document that this drama contains numerous flagrant falsehoods about critical events in recent American history. The key participants and eyewitnesses to these events state that the script distorts and even fabricates evidence into order to mislead viewers about the responsibility of numerous American officials for allegedly ignoring the terrorist threat before 2000. The claim by the show's producers, broadcaster, and defenders, that these falsehoods are permissible because the show is merely a dramatization, is disingenuous and dangerous given their assertions that the show is also based on authoritative historical evidence. Whatever ABC's motivations might be, broadcasting these falsehoods, connected to the most traumatic historical event of our times, would be a gross disservice to the public. A responsible broadcast network should have nothing to do with the falsification of history, except to expose it. We strongly urge you to halt the show's broadcast and prevent misinforming Americans about their history. Sincerely..."

The miniseries about the events leading to the Sept. 11 attacks is "terribly wrong" and ABC should correct it or not air it, former Clinton administration officials demanded in letters to the head of ABC's parent company. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, Clinton Foundation head Bruce Lindsey and Clinton adviser Douglas Band all wrote in the past week to Robert Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Co., to express concern over "The Path to 9/11." "The content of this drama is factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate and ABC has a duty to fully correct all errors or pull the drama entirely. It is unconscionable to mislead the American public about one of the most horrendous tragedies our country has ever known."

James Bamford, an author and journalist who has written about security issues, appeared on MSNBC to discuss "The Path to 9/11." Bamford revealed that an FBI agent who worked as a consultant to the film quit halfway through production of the mini-series because he believed the writers and producers were "making things up." BAMFORD: "It’s made-up. This is fiction. This is not real. One of my friends actually was a consultant to this production - an FBI agent who worked on 9/11. He quit halfway through because he thought they were making things up."

Quote of the week. Bush, in an Oval Office interview with Katie Couric: "The hardest part of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror..." Why should that be so tough? Sure, Iraq didn’t have WMD, wasn't harboring terrorists, and had nothing to do with 9/11, but... OK, maybe it should be kind of tough. BUSH: "Well, I mean that a defeat in Iraq will embolden the enemy and will provide the enemy - more opportunity to train, plan, to attack us. That’s what I mean. There - it's - you know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror." There's no evidence Saddam Hussein had a relationship with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Al-Qaida associates, according to a Senate report on prewar intelligence on Iraq. Democrats said the report undercut President Bush's justification for going to war. The declassified document being released Friday by the Senate Intelligence Committee also explores the role that inaccurate information supplied by the anti-Saddam exile group the Iraqi National Congress had in the march to war.

A 2001 memo reveals then New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani re-opened sections of downtown Manhattan weeks after the 9/11 attacks despite knowing the air was toxic. The New York Post published a CBS News report that said the city's Department of Environmental Protection was overruled by the mayor after it said it was "uncomfortable" with the idea of reopening the area to the public. "The mayor (Rudy Giuliani) is under pressure from building owners... to open more of the city," a Health Department official wrote in Oct. 6, 2001. The memo's release came as New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the body was preparing to allocate millions of dollars to a treatment program for downtown residents who became ill after breathing polluted air at Ground Zero, the Post said. The decision followed a Mount Sinai Medical Center report that said 70 percent of emergency workers had developed respiratory problems after Sept. 11, 2001. The two devastating memos, written by the U.S. and local governments, show they knew. They knew the toxic soup created at Ground Zero was a deadly health hazard. Yet they sent workers into the pit and people back into their homes. One of the memos, from the New York City health department, dated Oct. 6, 2001, noted: "The mayor's office is under pressure from building owners ... in the Red Zone to open more of the city." The memo said the Department of Environmental Protection was "uncomfortable" with opening the areas but, "The mayor's office was directing the Office of Emergency Management to open the target areas next week." "Not only did they know it was unsafe, they didn't heed the words of more experienced people that worked for the city and E.P.A.," said Joel Kupferman, with the group Environmental Justice Project. Another part of the memo noted: "The E.P.A. has been very slow to make data results available and to date has not sufficiently informed the public of air quality issues arising from this disaster." "Unfortunately, it doesn't surprise me," said health protestor Yuichi Tamamo.

The American Red Cross said money it makes selling blood will help cover the latest in a series of multimillion-dollar government fines. The Food and Drug Administration ordered the Red Cross on Friday to pay $4.2 million for violating blood-safety laws. The record fine is on top of $5.7 million the Red Cross already has been assessed by the FDA since a court settlement reached in 2003. The latest fine is for violations that include failing to reject donors who had traveled to malarial areas and allowing blood and related products to be distributed without proper testing, said Margaret Glavin, the FDA's associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. The FDA stressed it had no evidence of serious health consequences resulting from the violations and that the nation's blood supply remains safe. The Red Cross provides nearly half the nation's blood supply, selling blood products to health facilities.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The Nicaraguan National Attorney's Office confirmed Wednesday the beginning of a judicial investigation against the US International Republican Institute (IRI), after an ostensible violation of the electoral law, as Nicaragua moves towards presidential elections later this year. Magistrates accused that entity representing the Republican Party of the United States, of manipulation of political material and use of stamps of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) without official consent. According to Paul Trivelli, Washington's ambassador to Managua, the IRI's interference was carried out in compliance with "old manuals" approved by the CSE. However, the electoral institution issued a release elucidating that the US body is illegally training delegates from the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance [one of the far-right political parties] and the Sandinista Renovation Movement [a moderate leftist political party]. Foreign interference in Nicaraguan elections is a serious violation of the law, as it is in nearly all countries, and is considered subversion. Nicaraguan Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) legislator Wilfredo Navarro said Friday the US International Republican Institute (IRI) is trying to confuse Nicaraguan voters. The IRI is supposed to have a non-governmental character, but it seeks to affect the Nov 5 Nicaraguan presidential elections Navarro told local radio. As reported by Mexican daily La Jornada, the IRI is seen by political organizations as an agency of the US Embassy to support Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) candidate Eduardo Montealegre.

The Bush administration's Office of Cuba Broadcasting paid 10 journalists here to provide commentary on Radio and TV Martí, which transmit to Cuba government broadcasts critical of Fidel Castro, a spokesman for the office said Friday. One was paid $175,000 for hosting shows on the US-funded channels TV and Radio Marti, the paper says. The group included three journalists at El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language sister newspaper of The Miami Herald, which fired them Thursday after learning of the relationship. Pablo Alfonso, who reports on Cuba for El Nuevo Herald, received the largest payment, almost $175,000 since 2001. Other journalists have been found to accept money from the Bush administration, including Armstrong Williams, a commentator and talk-show host who received $240,000 to promote its education initiatives. But while the Castro regime has long alleged that some Cuban-American reporters in Miami were paid by the government, the revelation on Friday, reported in The Miami Herald, was the first evidence of that. In addition to Mr. Alfonso, the journalists who received payment include Wilfredo Cancio Isla, who writes for El Nuevo Herald and received about $15,000 since 2001; Olga Connor, a freelance reporter for the newspaper who received about $71,000; and Juan Manuel Cao, a reporter for Channel 41 who got $11,000 this year from TV Martí, according to The Miami Herald, which learned of the payments through a Freedom of Information Request. When Mr. Cao followed Mr. Castro to Argentina this summer and asked him why Cuba was not letting one of its political dissidents leave, Mr. Castro called him a "mercenary" and asked who was paying him. The answer, of course, was Smirkey. Al Tompkins, who teaches ethics at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, called it a conflict of interest for journalists to accept payment from any government agency. "It's all about credibility and independence," Mr. Tompkins said. "If you consider yourself a journalist, then it seems to me it's an obvious conflict of interest to take government dollars."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has sought to bolster ties with the United States since she took office, rebuked Washington on Saturday for sanctioning secret CIA prisons used to interrogate terror suspects. "The use of such prisons is not compatible with my understanding of the rule of law," Merkel said in Berlin. President Bush admitted this week the CIA had run detention centers at secret overseas locations, months after reports surfaced that the intelligence agency had used Europe as a hub to shuttle suspects around for interrogation. Merkel said even in the fight against terrorism, such means did not justify the ends and that other solutions must be found. "(Instead) we must find answers to how we can combat terrorists effectively without calling our fundamental principles and beliefs in question," she said.

The CIA and US diplomats are meeting with opposition factions to train them to obstruct the presidential elections, according to statements by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday. Addressing supporters in Maracaibo, Zulia State, Chavez branded hopefuls of the opposition as candidates of the empire of Mister Devil, as he dubbed US President George W Bush. "Candidates of the empire have begun visiting Miami, receiving money and instructions, and secretly holding talks with the gringos there," he said. Chavez, candidate for reelection of the Fifth Republic Movement and 20 political organizations, said he knows where they "meet with the devil´s envoys, officials of the CIA and the gringo embassy" in Caracas.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Three weeks after a cease-fire ended Israel's monthlong war against Hezbollah guerrillas, Israel is increasingly concerned that government officials and army officers traveling abroad could face war crimes charges, a Foreign Ministry official said Monday. A special legal team is preparing to provide protection for officers and officials involved in the 34-day conflict in Lebanon, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

Spin Cycle: Saddam Hussein regarded al-Qaida as a threat rather than a possible ally, a Senate report says, contradicting assertions President Bush has used to build support for the war in Iraq. Released Friday, the report discloses for the first time an October 2005 CIA assessment that before the war, Saddam's government "did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward" al-Qaida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or his associates. Saddam told U.S. officials after his capture that he had not cooperated with Osama bin Laden even though he acknowledged that officials in his government had met with the al-Qaida leader, according to FBI summaries cited in the Senate report. "Saddam only expressed negative sentiments about bin Laden," Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi leader's top aide, told the FBI. The report also faults intelligence gathering in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion. As recently as an Aug. 21 news conference, Bush said people should "imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein" with the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction and "who had relations with Zarqawi."

This seems to be a helluva week for confirming BushCo malfeasance that we on the left have been talking about for months or even years. President Bush's speech about moving some high-profile terrorists to Gitmo was also an admission that, yes, our government has been running secret CIA prisons. Here's another body blow: Long before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld forbade military strategists to develop plans for securing a post-war Iraq, the retiring commander of the Army Transportation Corps said Thursday. In fact, said Brig. Gen. Mark Scheid, Rumsfeld said "he would fire the next person" who talked about the need for a post-war plan.

Rats Fleeing The U.S.S. Bush: President Bush's support proved insufficient to push a bill authorizing his warrantless wiretapping program through the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday. Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis. spoke against the bill for about a quarter of the panel's two-hour meeting and offered four amendments. Feingold, a possible presidential candidate, said Specter's bill would give the White House too much power to eavesdrop without a warrant in some circumstances. "The president has basically said: I'll agree to let a court decide if I'm breaking the law if you pass a law first that says I'm not breaking the law," Feingold said. "That won't help re-establish a healthy respect for separation of powers. It will only make matters worse."

The man who showed utter contempt for the U.N. will probably be America's ambassador to the world no longer, reports The Washington Note's well-placed Steve Clemons. The Note: "Several well-placed sources close to the Bolton nomination process have reported to me that the Bolton confirmation process is now dead. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is 'highly unlikely' to reconsider Bolton's confirmation again as things now stand. One insider reported, as far as the Committee is concerned, 'we consider the confirmation over. It's dead.'" Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, did not explain why the vote on whether to send Bolton's nomination to the full Senate was removed from the day's agenda and did not say if or when it would be taken up again.

The Senate passed legislation Thursday night that would create a massive, Google-like searchable database to track federal spending. The legislation (S 2590), which aims to create more transparency in exactly who gets how much federal money, passed by a voice vote after both Republican and Democratic senators dropped their objections to it. The bill had widespread support in the Senate and became something of a cause célèbre in the blogosphere, where liberal and conservative bloggers united in trying to figure out which senator had placed an anonymous "hold" blocking the legislation for the past month.

Republican Policies Build A Strong Economy: US consumer borrowing grew at its slowest pace in four months in July, Federal Reserve figures show. Consumer credit grew $5.54bn, against forecasts of a $7.5bn rise, after surging by a revised $14.11bn in June. The latest increase left consumer debt - which excludes mortgages and other loans secured on property - at a record $2.35 trillion. A sharp drop in credit card spending, which slowed to 3.4% during the month from 13.4% in June, led the slowdown. Elsewhere lending to buy cars also slowed, growing by just 2.5% during the period against growth of 4% a month earlier.

Privatization And Deregulation Solve All Problems: Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root charged millions to the government for recreational services never provided to U.S. troops in Iraq, including giant tubs of chicken wings and tacos, a widescreen TV, and cheese sticks meant for a military Super Bowl party, according to a federal whistle-blower suit unsealed Friday. Instead, the suit alleges, KBR used the military's supplies for its own football party. Filed last year in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by former KBR employee Julie McBride, the lawsuit claims the giant defense contractor billed the government for thousands of meals it never served, inflated the number of soldiers using its fitness and Internet centers, and regularly siphoned off great quantities of supplies destined for American soldiers. McBride was hired by KBR in 2004 as a "morale, welfare and recreation" coordinator at Camp Fallujah, a Marine installation about 35 miles west of Baghdad. She was fired the next year after making several complaints about KBR's accounting practices, the suit says, and was kept under guard until she was escorted to an airplane and flown out of the country. Halliburton denied McBride's allegations.

Republicans Conserve Our Natural Resources: A federal judge issued a preliminary ruling on Thursday that temporarily blocks the U.S. administration's plan to allow oil development in the sensitive wetlands near vast Teshekpuk Lake in Arctic Alaska. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to properly consider the impact of oil development in areas near the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on the state's North Slope region, U.S. District Court Judge James Singleton said. The marshy tundra that lies between Teshekpuk Lake, the biggest inland water body in Arctic Alaska, and the Arctic Ocean is prized for both its wildlife and its petroleum potential.

A bill to crank up penalties for the nation's two most polluted air regions - both in California - was introduced Thursday in the Senate by Congress' biggest skeptic of global warming. A week after reacting angrily to California's passage of landmark anti-global warming legislation, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., produced a bill to more than double fines on polluters who don't meet cleanup deadlines for soot and smog. States that don't submit cleanup plans could be denied federal highway funds. Democrats and environmental activists accused Inhofe, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, of retaliating against California. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office said the bill "unfairly targets" the state. Inhofe has said that manmade global warming could be "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." He called the bill the California Legislature passed last week to reduce greenhouse gases "feel-good legislation to appease liberal special interest groups." California isn't mentioned in Inhofe's bill, but it applies to areas that don't meet strict attainment standards for ozone and particulate matter. The only two areas of the country that meet that description are the Los Angeles basin and the San Joaquin Valley. Frank O'Donnell, director of Clean Air Watch, called Inhofe's move "a political stunt by the Senate's biggest champion of big polluters."

Conservatives Believe Business Leaders Are Moral Examples To Be Emulated: Telecommunications entrepreneur Walter Anderson pleaded guilty to tax evasion and fraud Friday in connection with what authorities said was the nation's largest ever criminal tax case. Anderson was indicted in 2005 on charges he evaded $200 million in federal and local taxes. Prosecutors said Anderson used offshore corporations and bank accounts to hide income from tax collectors. He pleaded guilty to two counts of tax evasion and one count of fraud Friday. He admitted hiding hundreds of millions of dollars in income from the IRS and Washington D.C. tax collectors during 1998 and 1999.

BP told U.S. lawmakers on Thursday that it could restart its giant oil field in Alaska by the end of October after rusty pipelines forced part of the field shut last month, though a former senior BP manager in Alaska refused to testify about the pipeline corrosion. U.S. Congress members chided BP executives for poor maintenance at the field, the largest in North America, calling the London-based company's policies "as rusty as its pipelines." The partial shutdown of the field in early August, helped oil prices surge to a record $78.65 a barrel. "Years of neglecting to inspect two of the most vital oil pipelines in this country is simply unacceptable," said Texas Rep. Joe Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Richard Woollam, BP's former head of corrosion management at Prudhoe Bay, asserted his right under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to refrain from giving testimony that could incriminate him. Woollam was whisked out of the hearing room by his lawyers. BP executives later told lawmakers that he had been out of his Alaska role since early 2005 after a report by the law firm Vincent and Elkins found evidence that senior managers intimidated oil field workers to keep them from blowing the whistle on shoddy maintenance practices. A source familiar with the Congressional investigation told Reuters that Woollam had only been put on leave from his job with BP in Houston on Wednesday.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: The owner of DataUSA Inc., a company that conducted political polls for the campaigns of President Bush, Sen. Joe Lieberman and other candidates, pleaded guilty to fraud for making up survey and poll results. Tracy Costin pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Costin, 46, faces a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when she is sentenced Nov. 30. As part of her plea agreement, Costin agreed to repay $82,732 to the unidentified clients for 11 jobs between June 2002 and May 2004. DataUSA is now known as Viewpoint USA. According to a federal indictment, Costin told employees to alter poll data, and managers at the company told employees to "talk to cats and dogs" when instructing them to fabricate the surveys. FBI Special Agent Jeff Rovelli said 50 percent of information compiled by DataUSA and transmitted to Bush's campaign was falsified, the Connecticut Post reported Thursday. Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Chang said on several occasions when the company was running up against a deadline to complete a job, results were falsified. Sometimes, the respondent's gender or political affiliation were changed to meet a quota, other times all survey answers were fabricated.

As Wal-Mart Stores struggles to rebut criticism from unions and Democratic leaders, the company has discovered a reliable ally: prominent conservative research groups like the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute. Top policy analysts at these groups have written newspaper opinion pieces around the country supporting Wal-Mart, defended the company in interviews with reporters and testified on its behalf before government committees in Washington. But the groups - and their employees - have consistently failed to disclose a tie to the giant discount retailer: financing from the Walton Family Foundation, which is run by the Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s three children, who have a controlling stake in the company. The groups said the donations from the foundation have no influence over their research, which is deliberately kept separate from their fund-raising activities. What’s more, the pro-business philosophies of these groups often dovetail with the interests of Wal-Mart.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 12:00:02 PM

Thu, Sep 07 2006

Gasoline Prices On The Decline

Hurricane weather again? There are no hurricanes out there, but the weather here is marginally hurricane-weather-like, with bright, sunny skies most of the day. Yesterday was a different story, with a continuation of the rainy season gloom. But with the exception of a brief but intense thunderstorm this afternoon, the weather in Arenal has been a delight - nice break from the gloom-fest of the last week. It was clear last night, too, but that didn't cause the temperature to drop as it usually does - the temperature was a modest 70 overnight, and rose to an 83 during the mostly sunny afternoon today.

A pair of prospective buyers came by the house this afternoon, a delightful couple moving down here from Central California. I was out in the garden checking things out, when they came by, asking about the house with the pond that's for sale. I showed them around and they seem to really like the place, and they seem quite interested. So maybe I'll get lucky. While I was out checking out the garden, I discovered that some plantains and five banana plants are all in fruit now, so in a month or so, I am going to have bananas coming out my ears again. It is feast or famine in the banana department. Thank goodness I can freeze them and use them for cooking.

In line with the recent trend in gasoline prices through most of the hemisphere, gasoline prices in Costa Rica are going down - and significantly. As of tomorrow, the regulated price for "Super" gasoline will drop from US$4.15 per gallon to US$3.92, "Regular" drops from US$3.96 to US$3.72, with diesel fuel remaining the same at US$2.75 per U.S. gallon. That means that filling a 45 liter tank just got US$2.78 cheaper.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Private industry and eventually government is planning to use the microphones already installed in the computers of an estimated 150 million-plus Internet active Americans to spy on their lifestyle choices and build psychological profiles which will be used for surveillance and Minority Report-style invasive advertising and data mining. Digital cable TV boxes, such as the ubiquitous Scientific Atlanta boxes, have had secret in-built microphones inside them since their inception in the late 1990's and these originally dormant devices were planned to be activated when the invasive advertising revolution arrived - 2006 marks that date. The advent of digital video recording devices such as TiVo (Sky Plus in the UK) introduced the creation of psychological algorithm profiles - databases on what programs you watched, how long you watched them for, which adverts you liked or didn't like. This information was retained by TiVo and sold to the highest bidders - an example being Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction during the 2003 Super Bowl half-time show - TiVo were able to compile lists of how many people had rewound the clip and how many times they had replayed it. Two way communications systems like OnStar also have the ability to tap into private conversations as Americans become increasingly conditioned, by means of the private sector, to having their every movement, web session and conversation tracked and catalogued by big brother. Each time a new flash application requests permission to run on newer computers, you will notice that a privacy setting box pops up asking if the particular website you are surfing can access your microphone and webcam. Though the webcam is external, the microphone is internal and is a standard feature of all new models. Now Google has gone a step further by announcing that they will use in-built microphones to listen in on user's background noise, be it television, music or radio - and then direct advertising at them based on their preferences. "Pretty soon the security industry [and government] is going to find a way to hijack the Google [technology] and use it for full on espionage," the report says.

President Bush on Wednesday acknowledged previously secret CIA prisons around the world and claimed 14 high-value terrorism suspects - including the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks - have been transferred from the system to Guantanamo Bay for trials. He said a "small number" of detainees have been kept in CIA custody including people responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 in Yemen and the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in addition to the 2001 attacks. "It has been necessary to move these individuals to an environment where they can be held secretly, questioned by experts and, when appropriate, prosecuted for terrorist acts," Bush said in a White House speech. The deputy president of Malaysia's largest opposition party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic party, condemned the CIA prisons and said Bush's acknowledgment was not surprising. "To us this is nothing new, Bush's use of military and force to act upon his agenda," said Nasharudin Mat Isa. "This latest boast of his (about CIA secret prisons abroad) will make him even more unpopular among Americans." "After years of allegations come shocking admissions of guilt by the U.S. President as to the existence of secret prisons outside the rule of law," Shami Chakrabarti, director of London-based human rights group Liberty said in a statement. Andrew Tyrie, a British lawmaker and chairman of the All Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, said he hoped Bush would in the future provide more details about the treatment of detainees at the CIA prisons. In his speech, Smirkey also pressed Congress on Thursday to approve new military tribunals to try terrorism suspects, as well as pass modifications to FISA and the War Crimes Act.

Human Rights Watch, on the President's speech: "Despite the euphemisms that Bush employed in his nationwide address this afternoon, the 'alternative set of [interrogation] procedures' that he tried to justify includes grossly abusive treatment. Detainees in the custody of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been 'disappeared,' and by numerous credible reports, tortured. While the Bush administration's announcement that it transferred 14 so-called high-value detainees from CIA to military custody is an important step forward - one that Human Rights Watch has long called for - this advance is limited by the president's stated intention of leaving the door open for future CIA detentions. 'President Bush's speech was a full-throated defense of the CIA's detention program and of the ‘alternative procedures' - read torture - that the CIA has used to extract information from detainees,' said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. 'Although the president adamantly denied that the U.S. government uses torture, the United States has used practices such as water boarding that can only be called torture.' President Bush's transfer announcement accounts for only some of the detainees thought to be in CIA custody, Human Rights Watch said. President Bush said that other former CIA detainees have been returned to their home countries for detention or prosecution, but Human Rights Watch expressed concern that some of these detainees were from countries that practice torture. In addition, the president did not rule out future secret detentions by the CIA. In his speech, President Bush claimed that useful information has been obtained using such 'alternative' techniques, but he pointedly omitted mentioning the information obtained from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, one of the first top suspects placed in CIA detention. Al-Libi was excluded from President Bush's long narrative of successful detainee captures because under 'enhanced interrogation' al-Libi reportedly told interrogators that Iraq had provided chemical and biological weapons training to al Qaeda. This information - which turned out to be entirely wrong - was used in Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations to justify war with Iraq. Sources later told ABC News that al-Libi 'had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.'"

A document cited by President Bush in his recent speech at the Capital Hilton Hotel on how to 'win the war on terror' cites conspiracy theorists as one of the wellsprings of terrorism and threatens to "address" and "diminish" the problems they are causing the government in fulfilling their agenda. On Tuesday Bush referred to the strategy paper as "an unclassified version of the strategy we've been pursuing since September the 11th, 2001," that takes into account, "the changing nature of this enemy." The document says that terrorism springs from "subcultures of conspiracy and misinformation," and that "terrorists recruit more effectively from populations whose information about the world is contaminated by falsehoods and corrupted by conspiracy theories. The distortions keep alive grievances and filter out facts that would challenge popular prejudices and self-serving propaganda." The terminology echoes President Bush's speech (video below) to the UN General Assembly on November 10th 2001 in which he stated, "Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th, malicious lies that attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists themselves, away from the guilty." This is an outright threat to the 9/11 truth movement and is meant to have a chilling effect on freedom of speech. It is also a callous reminder that the administration that has been the progenitor of the most heinous and deliberate campaign to mislead and lie to its own people is so transfixed by its own hubris that it has the temerity to accuse others of propagating deceptive information. This is the same administration that deliberately included the Niger yellow cake fraud in a state of the union speech to sell a war - knowing that the information was completely bogus.

ABC News London Correspondent Jim Sciutto: "We took an interesting phone call today from an official at the Baghdad morgue. We get these calls every day - a daily tally of the violence. But this one was particularly sobering. It turns out the official toll of violent deaths in August was just revised upwards to 1535 from 550, tripling the total. Now, we're depressingly used to hearing about deaths here, so much so that the numbers can be numbing. But this means that a much-publicized drop-off in violence in August - heralded by both the Iraqi government and the US military as a sign that a new security effort in Baghdad was working - apparently didn't exist. Operation Together Forward, the main thrust of the new strategy, involves establishing pockets of security in select neighborhoods and then slowly adding more. These latest numbers add substance to fears Together Forward creates a whack-a-mole effect: that is, secure one area and the violence will pop up somewhere else. Violent deaths now appear roughly in line with the earlier trend: 1855 in July and 1595 in June. Officials at the Baghdad morgue have no good explanation for the dramatically revised number. We’ll see what the U.S. military has to say."

The Senate on Wednesday rejected a move by Democrats to stop the Pentagon from using cluster bombs near civilian targets and to cut off sales unless purchasers abide by the same rules. On a 70-30 vote, the Senate defeated an amendment to a Pentagon budget bill to block use of the deadly munitions near populated areas. The vote came after the State Department announced last month that it is investigating whether Israel misused American-made cluster bombs in civilian areas of Lebanon. Unexploded cluster bombs - anti-personnel weapons that spray bomblets over a wide area - litter homes, gardens and highways in south Lebanon after Israel's 34-day war with Hezbollah militants. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., have long sought to keep cluster bombs from being used near concentrated areas of civilians. They say that as many as 40 percent of the munitions fail to detonate on impact - they can still can explode later - leaving innocent civilians and children vulnerable to injury or death long after hostilities have ceased.

Delayed more than a year amid criticism of the Defense Department's treatment of prisoners, the new Army Field Manual was being released Wednesday, revising one from 1992. Designed to finally bring the Army's treatment policies into conformity with the Geneva Conventions, it also explicitly bans beating prisoners, sexually humiliating them, threatening them with dogs, depriving them of food or water, performing mock executions, shocking them with electricity, burning them, causing other pain and a technique called "water boarding" that simulates drowning, said Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence. Officials said the revisions are based on lessons learned since the U.S. began taking prisoners in the war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Release of the manual came amid a flurry of announcements about U.S. handling of prisoners, which has drawn criticism from Bush administration critics as well as domestic and international allies. Pundits suggest the timing indicates that the administration is feeling the heat on its disregard of international human rights.

Military tribunals could resume at Guantanamo Bay as soon as early 2007 if Congress approves new legislation to try the detainees, the military's chief prosecutor for detainees at the base said Wednesday. The Department of Defense would have three months after the passage of the legislation to come up with new rules for the tribunals, which were struck down by the Supreme Court in June, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, told The Associated Press. "I'm expecting we will be back in court around the first of the year," the chief prosecutor said in an interview from his office in Arlington, Va.

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist, an outspoken advocate of same-sex civil unions, won the Republican nomination Tuesday to replace Gov. Jeb Bush, soundly defeating Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, a same-sex marriage foe. With 53 percent of precincts reporting, Crist had 63.5 percent of the vote, compared to 33.9 percent for Gallagher. A loud roar went up in Crist's hotel suite as he told family and supporters that the Associated Press had called the race. He will face the Democratic nominee, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis or state Sen. Rod Smith, in the Nov. 7 general election. "I am enormously grateful to the people of Florida. It's wonderful, wonderful news," Crist said. "We have to work that much harder. It's just the first half and there's a long way to go." Crist ran as someone who champions consumer causes and Bush's policies - at least when it came to crime, taxes and education. But he wasn't afraid to step out of line with the governor on some issues. He questioned Bush's decision to intervene in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case and said that he won't try to change the class-size limits that the governor tried and failed to put back on the ballot. Gallagher lost despite positioning himself to come across almost exactly the same as Bush all the way down the line, abandoning a more moderate stance on social issues he had the last time he ran for governor for far-right positions opposing all abortions, same-sex marriage, and adoption and stem cell research. He also promised to outlaw billboards for adult businesses like strip clubs.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have barred textbooks from using language that would be discriminatory to gays, saying the state's education laws already prevent discrimination. The bill's author, state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, called the veto "inexplicable." Kuehl's bill initially would have required California's social science textbooks to include the historical contributions of homosexuals, but the state Assembly amended it at her request in an effort to avoid a veto from the Republican governor. The final version of SB 1437 would have prohibited any negative portrayal of homosexuals in textbooks and other instructional material, expanding current anti-discrimination laws that apply to minorities. But in a veto message, Schwarzenegger said California's education code already prohibits discrimination in schools and says everyone is entitled to "equal rights and opportunities in our state educational institutions, regardless of their sex, ethnic group, race, national origin, religion, disability and sexual orientation."

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on Thursday pushed Pacific Rim economic partners to help save stalled world trade liberalization talks. "I can't think of anything ... that can have a more positive impact on the global economy than trade liberalization," Paulson told reporters at the start of a two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) finance ministers meeting in Vietnam. The Doha round of trade liberalization talks stalled in July after five years of stop-start negotiations. APEC, which says it accounts for 47 percent of world trade, believes it can influence the Doha round aimed at reducing trade barriers. The 21-member group also includes China, Russia, Japan and South Korea with a total market of about 2.6 billion people.

In recent years, Southern women have been some of Bush's biggest fans, defying the traditional gender gap in which women have preferred Democrats to Republicans. Bush secured a second term due in large part to support from 54 percent of Southern female voters while women nationally favored Democrat John Kerry, 51-48 percent. "In 2004, you saw an utter collapse of the gender gap in the South," said Karen Kaufmann, a professor of government at the University of Maryland who has studied women's voting patterns. White Southern women liked Bush because "he spoke their religion and he spoke their values." Now, anger over the Iraq war and frustration with the country's direction have taken a toll on the president's popularity and stirred dissatisfaction with the Republican-held Congress. Republicans on the ballot this November have reason to worry. A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that three out of five Southern women surveyed said they planned to vote for a Democrat in the midterm elections. With control of the Senate and House in the balance, such a seismic shift could have dire consequences for the GOP.

The White House funneled millions of dollars through major Republican Party contributors to Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s primary campaign in a failed effort to ensure the support of the former Democrat for the Bush administration. A senior GOP source said the money was part of Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove's strategy to maintain a Republican majority in the Senate in November. The source said Mr. Rove, together with Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, directed leading pro-Bush contributors to donate millions of dollars to Mr. Lieberman's campaign for re-election in Connecticut in an attempt that he would be a "Republican-leaning" senator. The source said that under Mr. Rove's direction, the GOP has abandoned its Senate candidate in Connecticut, Alan Schlesinger, who has dropped to about five percent in the polls. Mr. Schlesinger has failed to win the support of any national Republican and has virtually no contact with the White House.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: After Smirkey admitted the existence of secret CIA prisons, members of Europe's human rights watchdog attacked the U.S. war on terror. "Our work has helped to flush out the dirty nature of this secret war, which we learn - finally -- has been carried out completely beyond any legal framework," Rene van der Linden, parliamentary leader of the Council of Europe, said Thursday in Strasbourg, France. He added the U.S. methods of fighting terror would eventually turn the world into a less safe place. The Council of Europe, commissioned by the European Union, has in recent months investigated the existence of secret prisons, which were thought to be located mainly in Eastern Europe, but failed to find any evidence. But Bush Wednesday admitted for the first time that at least 14 individuals had been brought to Guantanamo from secret prisons. "This program has helped us to take potential mass murderers off the streets before they have a chance to kill," he said. In the wake of Bush's remarks, human rights organizations Thursday called for the exact locations of these detention facilities to be revealed. Several eastern European governments earlier denied having harbored CIA prisons. Several countries admitted that CIA airplanes had used their airfields, but said they didn't know who or what was in those planes. The CIA prison affair caused friction between Washington and European governments at the end of last year.

European lawmakers demanded on Thursday that their governments reveal the location of secret CIA prisons after U.S. President George Bush admitted Washington held terrorist suspects in jails abroad. Bush said on Wednesday the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had interrogated dozens of suspects at undisclosed overseas locations and the last 14 of those held had been sent to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. But top administration officials said the jail program would stay open. The head of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly, Rene van der Linden, said Bush's statement vindicated his body's long investigation, which had "flushed out the dirty nature of this secret war." The Council of Europe and the European Parliament both launched probes after the Washington Post reported last year that the CIA had run secret prisons and flown suspects to states where they could be tortured. EU member Poland and candidate country Romania, accused of hosting secret CIA detention centers by an investigator for Europe's chief human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, issued fresh denials, but EU lawmakers were not satisfied. "The location of these prison camps must be made public," said German lawmaker Wolfgang Kreissl-Doerfler, a member of a European Parliament committee investigating the allegations. "We need to know if there has been any complicity in illegal acts," he added.

The United States faced growing opposition on Thursday to its bid to persuade other powers to impose sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, with China urging dialogue and France signaling flexibility. Top diplomats from six major powers met in Berlin to discuss next steps after Iran ignored last month's U.N. Security Council deadline to stop nuclear enrichment work, but there was little sign the participants were close to agreeing a strategy. China and Russia are reluctant to impose sanctions and question Western accusations that Iran poses a nuclear threat. Washington wants to convince Russia and China to raise the pressure on the Islamic Republic by asking the U.N. Security Council to consider sanctions, diplomats from several countries to participate in the talks told Reuters. Some, however, expressed doubt that Washington would succeed given opposition in European capitals, Moscow and Beijing. "There is no way the U.S. is going to walk away with an agreement to impose sanctions on Iran," said an EU diplomat from a country participating in the talks. Iran insists it has a right to peaceful nuclear technology.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused opposition presidential candidates of taking orders and receiving secret funding from the U.S. government during campaigning ahead of this year's elections. Chavez on Wednesday called the opposition's presidential contenders "candidates of the empire" and said they have met with "the emissaries of the devil, with CIA officials," as well as officials from the U.S. Embassy. "They've begun to meet in secret. I know where they eat 'reina pepiada' (a typical Venezuelan dish) with the gringos," Chavez told thousands of supporters during a campaign speech in the western city of Maracaibo. Without mentioning names, he said opposition candidates have begun "to receive money - more than what they have - and not only that, to receive orders." USAID recently released 132 grant contracts to The Associated Press in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, but the government agency withheld the identities of nearly half the recipients. Officials said identifying recipients could subject them to intimidation or legal action by Venezuelan authorities. The AP has appealed, arguing that the exemption cited by USAID protects only certain individual privacy rights and is not meant to prevent the public from knowing which organizations are receiving U.S. funding.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Four U.N. independent human rights experts have arrived in Lebanon to investigate possible abuses during the recent Israeli assault on Lebanon. "The independent human rights experts will gather first-hand information, establish facts and conduct an impartial legal analysis of the persistent allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law during the recent conflict in order to make specific recommendations to the concerned authorities," the United Nations said Thursday. The experts will spend six days in the region, three days each in Lebanon and Israel. In both countries they are expected to meet with government officials and representatives of civil society as well as visit attack sites and interview witnesses. The decision to send the team followed an Aug. 11 resolution by the U.N. Human Rights Council condemning "grave Israeli violations of human rights" in Lebanon and announcing an investigation would begin. The resolution was passed by a vote of 27 to 11, with eight abstentions, during a special session of the council. A joint report on the mission will be submitted to the Council for consideration at a session to be held later this month.

Israel said it lifted its nearly two-month-long air blockade of Lebanon on Thursday but kept its naval blockade in place until international forces can take over. The lifting of the aerial blockade will bring a measure of relief to the war-stricken country and sets the first test for a U.N. peacekeeping force charged with keeping arms shipments from reaching Hezbollah. Signaling the resumption of normal air traffic, a commercial flight by the national carrier Middle East Airlines circled downtown Beirut three times at 6:04 p.m., four minutes after the embargo was over, in a ceremonial show. The flight, from Paris, then landed at Beirut's airport. As it taxied down the runway, someone in the cockpit waved a large red-and-white Lebanese flag, with its distinctive green cedar tree emblem, out a window. It was followed by a Kuwait Airways plane, which also hung a Lebanese flag out its cockpit window. "The aerial blockade has been removed. In coordination with the United Nations, the naval blockade will continue until the international naval force is in place," said Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Communists... er, Excuse Me, Terrorists Under Every Bed: Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a no-confidence vote on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as Democrats sought to keep attention on the unpopular Iraq war before November's congressional elections. Trying to stem the drag on their poll numbers caused by Iraq, Republicans denounced as a political stunt the Democrats' resolution urging President George W. Bush to replace Rumsfeld, whom they depict as a symbol of the war's failures, and to "change course in Iraq to provide a strategy for success." "The Democrat amendment may rile up the liberal base, but it won't kill a single terrorist or prevent a single attack," Senate Republican Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said of the amendment that capped growing demands from Democrats for Rumsfeld's ouster.

President Bush vowed on Tuesday to prevent al Qaeda from setting up a violent, radical Islamic empire based in Iraq, which he said was Osama bin Laden's ultimate goal. "We know what the terrorists intend to do because they've told us -- and we need to take their words seriously," Bush said in a speech liberally laced with quotes from bin Laden, architect of the September 11 attacks five years ago which killed around 3,000 people. As he sought to bolster support ahead of November elections, Bush also released a White House national strategy for combating terrorism that said Americans are safer five years after the attacks but "we are not yet safe." Delaware Democratic Sen. Joe Biden said release of the new report showed that even the White House now acknowledged its previous strategy had failed. "The president has squandered the opportunity to unite the country and the world, instead he has divided both," he said. White House officials denied Bush's speech and the report were driven by election politics. Recently, the president has returned to one of his time-tested themes, accusing Democrats of being soft on terrorism as he tries to help Republicans retain control of the U.S. Congress.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: A "terribly wrong" miniseries about events leading to the Sept. 11 attacks blame President Clinton's policies, former Clinton administration officials said in letters demanding that ABC correct it or not air it. A number of conservative media figures have leaped to the defense of the ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11, claiming that the "docudrama" - which has been widely criticized for its alleged fabrications - is "nonpartisan" and factually honest. However, initial reviews and fact-checks of the miniseries, which is scheduled to air in two parts on September 10 and 11, have shown that it twists and invents facts and storylines to create a false picture of the Clinton administration's role in failing to prevent the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, while largely ignoring Bush administration failures. The weblog Think Progress noted that the film was written and produced by Cyrus Nowrasteh, who has claimed that the film is based largely on the 9-11 Commission Report. As it turns out, he is an unabashed conservative with an activist agenda. Last year, Nowrasteh spoke on a panel titled, "Rebels With a Cause: How Conservatives Can Lead Hollywood’s Next Paradigm Shift." He has described Michael Moore as "an out of control socialist weasel," and conducted interviews with right-wing websites like FrontPageMag. As Media Matters for America and Think Progress have noted, two former Bush administration counterterrorism officials, Richard A. Clarke and Roger Cressey, have debunked some of what Cressey characterized as the "factually wrong" claims in The Path to 9/11 regarding the Clinton administration's counterterrorism efforts. ABC has gone on the defensive about it, and claims that it is fair and balanced.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A U.S. civil liberties group asked a federal judge on Tuesday to halt the contentious warrantless domestic spying program that the U.S. government claims is essential to national security. In a hearing in Manhattan federal court, lawyers for the Center for Constitutional Rights asked U.S. District Judge Gerard Lynch to stop the National Security Agency's secret telephone eavesdropping program, which was leaked to the media last year. President George W. Bush has acknowledged authorizing the NSA shortly after the September 11 attacks to monitor international phone calls and e-mails of U.S citizens without obtaining warrants. Bush said the program was aimed solely at suspected terrorists and their allies. Lawyers for the civil rights group, who filed their lawsuit in January, say the program violates freedom of speech, protections against unreasonable searches and constitutional checks on presidential power. In court on Tuesday, lawyers for the group argued that the spying program was unconstitutional because Bush did not seek approval from Congress. They said existing law requires that all such wiretaps be court approved.

Republicans Help Those Who Can't Help Themselves: New federal statistics reveal that the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons and jails has quadrupled over the past six years, Human Rights Watch said today. More than half of all prison and state inmates now report mental health problems, including symptoms of major depression, mania and psychotic disorders, according to a just-released federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report, Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates. In 1998, the BJS reported there were an estimated 283,000 prison and jail inmates who suffered from mental health problems. That number is now estimated to be 1.25 million. The rate of reported mental health disorders in the state prison population is five times greater (56.2 percent) than in the general adult population (11 percent). Women prisoners have an even higher rate of mental health problems than men: almost three quarters (73 percent) of all women in state prison have mental health problems, compared to 55 percent of men. "While the number of mentally ill inmates surges, prisons remain dangerous and damaging places for them," said Jamie Fellner, director of Human Rights Watch’s U.S. Program and co-author of a 2003 report, "Ill-Equipped: U.S. Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness." "Prisons are woefully ill-equipped for their current role as the nation’s primary mental health facilities."

Deregulation Solves All Problems: An engineering firm raised a red flag more than four years ago about BP PLC's monitoring of its Alaska oil pipelines, documents show. The draft report by Seattle's Coffman Engineers, published in November 2001, is among documents being reviewed by a federal grand jury in Anchorage that is investigating a March oil spill of more than 200,000 gallons from a pipe on the western side of the Prudhoe Bay oil field. BP shut down part of its operations at the oil field this month after leaks and corrosion in low-pressure pipe were found on the eastern side. The engineering firm's final report was significantly toned down after BP responded to the draft, the documents showed. The grand jury is looking into possible criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act, which carries penalties for negligent conduct that leads to an oil spill. Coffman also has cited corrosion problems as the cause of small leaks and other damage that triggered the partial shutdown this month. The Coffman documents were made public Friday on the Project on Government Oversight Web site by Charles Hamel, a former oil broker and a watchdog of Alaska's oil industry. In a letter sent Aug. 22 to the federal Office of Pipeline Safety, Hamel accused BP of "whitewashing" away criticism.

The government failed to ensure that recipients of terrorism-recovery loans were actually hurt by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, allowing banks to spread more than $3.7 billion in aid to whomever they wanted, Senate investigators concluded Wednesday. The Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee sharply criticized the Bush administration's primary terrorism relief loan program, saying it was so loosely managed that "conceivably every small business in the country became eligible to participate." The findings substantiate an Associated Press investigation last year that found government-backed Sept. 11 recovery loans went to small companies that weren't hurt by the attacks and didn't even know they were getting help designated for terror victims.

Enforcement of anti-pollution laws by the federal government has declined steadily and substantially since George W. Bush became president, according to US Justice Department figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Requests by federal agencies for criminal prosecution have dropped by more than half since 2000 while such referrals for civil prosecution have declined by more than a third. While the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for most of the anti-pollution enforcement, environmental prosecutions are also initiated from cases developed by other federal agencies, ranging from the US Fish & Wildlife Service to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Today's Washington Post story, Male Bass Across Region Found to Be Bearing Eggs, suggests that serious water pollution is affecting the entire Potomac river basin not just the Shenandoah river tributary described in the piece below. This underscores the consequences of the Bush administration's failure to conscientiously enforce the Clean Water Act for the past six years. Write to your local papers today. It seemed like an excellent solution to a vexing problem—turning waste into fertilizer. That's the theory, anyway, behind Sheaffer International's plan to treat concentrated waste from the Cargill Meat Solutions and Pilgrim's Pride poultry processing plants and use that wastewater to irrigate cropland. The reality is somewhat different. According to a suit filed by Waterkeeper Alliance, Shenandoah Riverkeeper and Potomac Riverkeeper, Sheaffer has committed a "multitude" of violations of the federal Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and numerous Virginia environmental laws by dumping excessive levels of major pollutants into the Chesapeake Bay and Shenandoah River. Last month's testing at three tributaries emptying into the Potomac revealed that more than 80 percent of all male smallmouth bass found were growing eggs, according to Vicki S. Blazer, a fish pathologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. At a testing site in Washington, seven of 13 male largemouth bass showed some kind of unusual feminine characteristic, Blazer told The Washington Post. Six of the seven tested positive for a protein used to produce eggs and three actually carried eggs.

Republicans Are Fair And Balanced In Awarding Defense Contracts: Earlier this year, the U.S. Army awarded one of its favored defense contractors, Raytheon, a $70 million contract to develop a new system to combat rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), which have killed nearly 40 Americans in Afghanistan and more than 130 in Iraq. The Army insists that Raytheon won the contract fair and square based on its "systems engineering expertise and the discipline which they used in analyzing requirements, threats and potential solutions." But an NBC News investigation of the contract selection process reveals that at almost every turn, Raytheon was given a significant competitive advantage over other defense contractors, including an Israeli firm whose system was extensively tested and found to be highly effective. When contacted by NBC News about this matter, Raytheon said it was not authorized to speak about how its contract was awarded and instead referred all questions to the Army. Raytheon’s contract is a small but important part of the Army’s massive modernization program called the Future Combat System (FCS), which has been under fire in Congress on account of ballooning costs and what the U.S. Government Accountability Office found are worrisome procurement practices that allow weapons manufacturers to effectively tell the Army which weapons to buy.

News From Smirkey's Various Wars: The political authorities and tribal militants have exchanged weapons and vehicles in the tribal region of North Waziristan which lies on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. The weapons swap was part of the implementation of Tuesday's peace agreement between the government and the pro-Taliban militants. Sources said that the administration returned 24 AK-47 rifles and eight pick-ups to the militants, also known as Pakistan Taliban, in Miran Shah, the regional capital. The rifles and vehicles had been seized in army operations in the restive region. An official said that six more vehicles would be returned to the militants. The militants handed over three G-3 rifles, some wireless sets, berets and badges to the authorities during the swap on Wednesday. According to the agreement, both the parties will return each other’s arms and communication equipment snatched during the operations. Tens of thousands of Pakistani troops have been fighting foreign Islamic militants and local supporters in the tribal belt. The North Waziristan peace deal calls on tribesmen to expel foreign militants and end cross-border attacks in return for a reduced military presence. Officials said that the authorities had abolished 11 new checkpoints and the army had evacuated outposts in the area. Now tribal Khasadar force and paramilitary troops were jointly manning old checkpoints in the agency, they added.

The government of Pakistan today denied it would allow Osama bin Laden to avoid capture under terms of a peace agreement it signed with Taliban leaders in the country's North Waziristan area. "If he is in Pakistan, today or any time later, he will be taken into custody and brought to justice," the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Mahmud Ali Durrani, said in a statement. The ambassador said a Pakistani military spokesman, Major General Shaukat Sultan, had been "grossly misquoted" when he told ABC News Tuesday that bin Laden would not be taken into custody "as long as one is being like a peaceful citizen." The comments were recorded in a telephone interview with ABC News.

Two international think-tanks published reports yesterday highlighting failures of US and UK policy in Afghanistan, and warned the security situation in the country was deteriorating. The Senlis Council claimed that the campaign by British forces against the Taliban had inflicted lawlessness, misery and starvation on the Afghan people. Thousands of villagers fleeing the fighting and a continuing drought, as well as farmers who have lost their livelihood with the eradication of the opium crop, were suffering dreadful conditions in refugee camps. In a separate intervention, the influential International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) said that a vital opportunity was lost when the West failed to carry out adequate reconstruction work after the 2001 war. Christopher Langton, the head of the IISS defence analysis department, also said that attempts to impose secular laws on a tribal Pashtun society, without the establishment of security, had not worked. At the same time, the war against the Taliban was being hampered because caveats imposed by some Nato countries on the mission have led to a lack of combat flexibility.

NATO's top commander of operations, General James Jones, acknowledged on Thursday the alliance had been taken aback by the level of violence in south Afghanistan and urged allies to provide reinforcements. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer joined his appeal, urging alliance members to come to the support of the British, Canadian and Dutch troops leading the fight against Islamist Taliban guerrillas in the south. "Those allies who perhaps are doing less in Afghanistan should think: Shouldn't we do more...? There are certainly a number of allies who can do more," de Hoop Scheffer told reporters in Brussels. Neither singled out individual NATO members. Diplomats say Germany, which leads the NATO mission in the relatively calm north, is under pressure to offer reinforcements for the south. A German Defense Ministry spokesman played down prospects of Berlin redeploying any of its 2,700 troops southwards, saying: "It is still the case that our focus is on the northern region."

The Taliban is making inroads in a region 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the Afghan capital of Kabul. A U.S. military official in Afghanistan said nine of 21 districts in Ghazni province "have significant Taliban influence." This development - which has caught the attention of the U.S. military in the past month - represents an important shift by the Taliban from their traditional strongholds in the south and east of the country. The Taliban have made a resurgence in southern Afghanistan, particularly where NATO troops are based. The official said the Taliban are moving around Ghazni province in units of 15 to 20 and will take over towns if no Afghan police units are around to stop them. The Taliban presence in Ghazni may be an effort by the religious militia to "show the flag near Kabul," according to the military official. Also, Ghazni sits astride the most important road in the country, the Kabul-Kandahar road.

The good news, for drug addicts at least, is that Afghanistan has just harvested its biggest opium crop ever, up a whopping 59% from last year and big enough to cover 130% of the entire world market. The street price for illegal heroin, 92% of which now comes from Afghanistan, should be way down from Bangkok to London, and for those shooting up in the back alleys of Chicago. The bad news, for the rest of us, is that in Bush-liberated Afghanistan, billions in drug profits are financing the Taliban. Remember them, the guys who harbored the Al Qaeda terrorists, who gifted us with the 9/11 attacks five years ago, that President Bush promised to eliminate? Well, it turns out that while he was distracted with Iraq, the patrons of terrorism were very much in business back where the 9/11 attack was hatched, turning Afghanistan into a narco-state that provides a lucrative source of cash for the "evildoers" Bush forgot about. The Bush administration has, for half a decade, celebrated its overthrow of the Taliban and subsequent national elections in Afghanistan, but if this is democratic nation-building then the model must be Colombia, the narco-state where the political process masks the real power held by drug lords and radical insurgents. Afghanistan is dominated not by the government in Kabul but by a patchwork of warlords, terrorist groups and drug traffickers completely addicted to the annual poppy harvest's profits.

Iraq's dominant Shiite political alliance has submitted to parliament a draft law governing the permanent division of the country into autonomous regions. "The general committee of the United Iraqi Alliance finished drafting the law of regional formations and submitted it to the leadership of the parliament for review," Shiite lawmaker Hamid Mualla al-Saadi said Wednesday. The second day of parliament since the end of its month-long recess is expected to be dominated with the review of the controversial draft law which will govern the process of dividing the country into autonomous regions. The three Kurdish provinces in the north are already autonomous and Shiite lawmakers have indicated they would like a similar federal status for the overwhelmingly Shiite southern provinces. With Iraq's oil entirely concentrated in the northern and southern region's, the proposals worry the country's Sunni Arabs, largely found in the arid and resource-poor center of the country. Kurdish and Shiite parties, however, make up two-thirds of the parliament.

The United States formally handed over "control" of Iraq's new military to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government on Thursday just as rebels unleashed a fresh wave of deadly bomb attacks on Iraqi security forces. Washington has hailed the handover as a "gigantic" milestone toward the eventual withdrawal of about 150,000 U.S.-led foreign troops in Iraq. But it coincided with a flurry of violence as insurgents, including three suicide bombers, targeted police across Baghdad in five separate strikes that killed 14 people. Attacks on Iraqi forces are common, but Thursday's barrage was notably intense. Whether by coincidence or design, the bombs showed that despite the transfer of military control, Maliki's forces have a fragile grip on the capital and will depend on U.S. firepower as they struggle to battle Sunni insurgents and communal bloodshed. While Maliki was trumpeting a new army "free of sectarianism," Iraq's sectarian faultlines were laid bare in parliament as lawmakers began looking at federalism, a potentially explosive issue in the deeply divided country.

Three years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, only one major U.S. building project in Iraq is on schedule and within budget: the massive new American "embassy" compound that is actually bigger than the entire Vatican. The $592 million facility is being built inside the heavily fortified Green Zone by 900 non-Iraqi foreign workers who are housed nearby and under the supervision of a Kuwaiti contractor, according to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report. Construction materials have been stockpiled to avoid the dangers and delays on Iraq's roads. "We are confident the embassy will be completed according to schedule (by June 2007) and on budget," said Justin Higgins, a State Department spokesman. The same cannot be said for major projects serving Iraqis outside the Green Zone, the Senate report said. Many - including health clinics, water-treatment facilities and electrical plants - have had to be scaled back or in some cases eliminated because of the rising costs of securing worksites and workers. "No large-scale, U.S.-funded construction program in Iraq has yet met its schedule or budget," the committee report said.

From the ashes of abandoned Iraqi army bases, U.S. military engineers are overseeing the building of an enhanced system of fourteen American bases designed to be permanently occupied by American forces for years. Last year, as troops poured over the Kuwait border to invade Iraq, the U.S. military set up at least 120 forward operating bases. Then came hundreds of expeditionary and temporary bases that were to last between six months and a year for tactical operations while providing soldiers with such comforts as e-mail and Internet access. Now U.S. engineers are focusing on constructing 14 "enduring bases," long-term encampments for the thousands of American troops expected to serve in Iraq for at least two years. The bases also would be key outposts for Bush administration policy advisers. As the U.S. scales back its military presence in Saudi Arabia, Iraq provides an option for an administration eager to maintain a robust military presence in the Middle East and intent on a muscular approach to seeding democracy in the region. The number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq, between 105,000 and 110,000, is expected to remain unchanged through 2006, according to military planners. "Is this a swap for the Saudi bases?" asked Army Brig. Gen. Robert Pollman, chief engineer for base construction in Iraq. "I don't know. ... When we talk about enduring bases here, we're talking about the present operation, not in terms of America's global strategic base. But this makes sense. It makes a lot of logical sense."

Al Qaeda's new leader called on Muslims to unify ranks with insurgents in Iraq, according to an audio tape aired by Al Jazeera television on Thursday. "Place your hands in our hands ... our enemy has unified his ranks, now is the time to unite," said the speaker, identified by Al Jazeera as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. Muhajir, also believed to use the name Abu Ayyub al-Masri, became the group's leader after the killing of his predecessor Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a U.S. air strike in June. He has vowed to avenge Zarqawi's killing. Al Qaeda makes up about five percent of Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgency but its suicide bombers have been responsible for some of the worst violence, often killing over 100 people in a single attack.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Global warming over the coming century could mean a return of temperatures last seen in the age of the dinosaurs and lead to the extinction of up to half of all species, a scientist said on Thursday. Not only will carbon dioxide levels be at the highest levels for 24 million years, but global average temperatures will be higher than for up to 10 million years, said Chris Thomas of the University of York. Between 10 and 99 percent of species will be faced with atmospheric conditions that last existed before they evolved, and as a result from 10-50 percent of them could disappear. "We may very well already be on the breaking edge of a wave of mass extinctions," Thomas told the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Scientists predict average global temperatures will rise by between two and six degrees centigrade by 2100, mainly as a result of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide being pumped into the air from burning fossil fuels for transport and power. "If the most extreme warming predicted takes place we will be going back to global temperatures not seen since the age of the dinosaur," Thomas said.

Global warming gases trapped in the soil are bubbling out of the thawing permafrost in amounts far higher than previously thought and may trigger what researchers warn is a climate time bomb. Methane a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide is being released from the permafrost at a rate five times faster than thought, according to a study being published Thursday in the journal Nature. The findings are based on new, more accurate measuring techniques. "The effects can be huge," said lead author Katey Walter of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks said. "It's coming out a lot and there's a lot more to come out." Scientists worry about a global warming vicious cycle that was not part of their already gloomy climate forecast: Warming already under way thaws permafrost, soil that has been continuously frozen for thousands of years. Thawed permafrost releases methane and carbon dioxide. Those gases reach the atmosphere and help trap heat on Earth in the greenhouse effect. The trapped heat thaws more permafrost and so on. Vladimir Romanovsky, geophysics professor at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, said he thinks the big methane or carbon dioxide release hasn't started yet, but it's coming. It's closer in Alaska and Canada, which only has a few hundred square miles of this type of permafrost, he said.

Climate change is exacerbating the spread of infectious diseases, according to new research. Warming temperatures are causing organisms to migrate, Professor Paul Hunter told a conference in the UK. In Europe, ocean swimmers have been infected with illnesses normally associated with warmer waters. And Professor Hunter warned not enough was being done to monitor the spread, due to the warming of the Earth, of big killers such as malaria in Africa. Professor Hunter, head of health protection at the UK's University of East Anglia, presented research tracking the movement of disease-causing organisms in Europe and North America to the Festival of Science in the UK city of Norwich. "There are already significant indications of disease burden occurring in Europe as a result of climate change," he told the conference.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Former Gov. George Ryan, who was acclaimed by capital punishment foes for suspending executions in Illinois and emptying out death row, was sentenced Wednesday to 6 1/2 years behind bars in a corruption scandal that ruined his political career. "People of this state expected better, and I let them down," the 72-year-old Ryan said in court before hearing his sentence. Federal prosecutors had asked for eight to 10 years in prison. Defense attorneys argued that even 2 1/2 years would deprive Ryan of the last healthy years of his life. "Government leaders have an obligation to stand as the example. Mr. Ryan failed to meet that standard," US District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer said. Ryan was convicted in April of racketeering conspiracy, fraud and other offenses for taking payoffs from political insiders in exchange for state business while he was Illinois secretary of state from 1991 to 1999 and governor for four years after that. The verdict capped Illinois' biggest political corruption trial in decades.

The Justice Department's congressional lobbying-and-bribery investigation is looking into whether former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's wife received money from a lobbying firm for a no-show job, recent FBI interviews indicate. The two-year investigation is examining whether lobbyist Jack Abramoff and others sought legislative favors for their clients by offering expensive meals, sports tickets, golf outings and other gifts to about a dozen lawmakers and congressional aides. In the last few weeks, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have interviewed several people at the Alexander Strategy Group lobbying firm to determine if Christine DeLay was being paid $3,200 a month - a total of $115,000 over three years - but not earning it. In a series of interviews last month, investigators questioned people who used to work at Alexander Strategy as well as people who worked in the same building as the now-defunct firm. "They wanted to know how often she came to the office? What did she do there? How long was she there?" said one person who was interviewed by the FBI. Alexander Strategy was run by a pair of Mr. DeLay's former aides: Tony Rudy, who pleaded guilty to bribery charges in March; and Edwin Buckham, who remains under investigation. The firm also shared clients with Jack Abramoff.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:06:45 AM

Tue, Sep 05 2006

Independence Day Is Approaching

More rainy season gloom. Almost without letup, the skies have been heavily overcast the last two days, even though the rain has been intermittent at best, in spite of several rather dry thunderstorms embedded in the overcast. Today, there has been a lot of thunder, but only been a few brief sprinkles, but the intense overcast has had the light levels so low I have had lights on in the house much of the day. And the intense overcast has kept the temperatures moderate, too, with an overnight low of 72 and a high today of only 80.

I know that Costa Rican Independence Day is approaching. How do I know? How can I miss it, would be a better question. For those of you who have not read my accounts of Costa Rica's unique way of celebrating its independence in past years, I'll recount for you briefly: Juan Santamaria was a ten-year old drummer boy for a rag-tag militia of farmers and ranchers which had been formed to oppose the entry into and takeover of Costa Rica by William Walker, a "filibustero" secretly in the hire of and financed by the U.S. State Department in 1856.

The plan was to take over three of the five the Central American republics and bring them into the United States as three slave states. The young Juan Santamaria played a critical role in repelling the invasion, willingly sacrificing his life in the process, and has ever since been immortalized as the principal Costa Rican national hero - the anniversary of his selfless act is celebrated each April 11 in a celebration that is bigger than independence day itself.

Well, since he was a drummer boy, that means that every little Costa Rican boy and girl wants to emulate Juan Santamaria, and beat the daylights out of a drum on every national holiday, particularly on Juan Santamaria Day and on Independence Day.

The schools encourage this display of patriotism, by forming marching drum corps to march in the local parades. Virtually every public and private school participates in this semi-annual exercise, and every afternoon for a month before either holiday, rain or shine, the little blighters are out there, beating those darned drums senseless. I live a whole kilometer away from the schools, and yet I can hear them as plainly as if they were in my own back yard, beating those drums for hours every afternoon, day in, day out. Well, September 15 is Independence Day (though the Costa Ricans didn't actually find out they lived in an independent country until almost a month later, on October 13, 1821, when the independence documents finally arrived in the mail). The drum banging will all blissfully end on September 15, for a few months at least. And Arenal can finally go back to being the quiet little country town that I moved here for.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The US War Crimes Act of 1996 makes it a felony to commit grave violations of the Geneva Conventions. The Washington Post recently reported that the Bush administration is quietly circulating draft legislation to eliminate crucial parts of the War Crimes Act. Observers on The Hill say the Administration plans to slip it through Congress this fall while there still is a guaranteed Republican majority - perhaps as part of the military appropriations bill, the proposals for Guantanamo tribunals or a new catch-all "anti-terrorism" package. Why are they doing it, and how can they be stopped? After World War II, international law protecting prisoners of war and all noncombatants was codified in the Geneva Conventions. They were ratified by the US Senate and, under Article II of the Constitution, they thereby became the law of the land. As David Cole of the Georgetown University Law Center pointed out in the August 10 issue of The New York Review of Books, the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan v. Rusmfeld "suggests that President Bush has already committed a war crime, simply by establishing the [Guantanamo] military tribunals and subjecting detainees to them" because "the Court found that the tribunals violate Common Article 3--and under the War Crimes Act, any violation of Common Article 3 is a war crime." A similar argument would indicate that top US officials have also committed war crimes by justifying interrogation methods that, according to the testimony of US military lawyers, also violate Common Article 3. Lo and behold, the legislation the Administration has circulated on Capitol Hill would decriminalize such acts retroactively. Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, told the Associated Press on August 10, "I think what this bill can do is in effect immunize past crimes. That's why it's so dangerous." Human rights attorney Scott Horton told "Democracy Now!" on August 16 that one of the purposes of the proposed legislation is "to grant immunity or impunity to certain individuals. And these are mostly decision-makers within the government."

The Bush administration has declared itself immune from whistleblower protections for federal workers under the Clean Water Act, according to legal documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result of an opinion issued by a unit within the Office of the Attorney General, federal workers will have little protection from official retaliation for reporting water pollution enforcement breakdowns, manipulations of science or cleanup failures. Citing an "unpublished opinion of the [Attorney General's] Office of Legal Counsel," the Secretary of Labor's Administrative Review Board has ruled federal employees may no longer pursue whistleblower claims under the Clean Water Act. The opinion invoked the ancient doctrine of sovereign immunity which is based on the old English legal maxim that "The King Can Do No Wrong." It is an absolute defense to any legal action unless the "sovereign" consents to be sued. The opinion and the ruling reverse nearly two decades of precedent. Approximately 170,000 federal employees working within environmental agencies are affected by the loss of whistleblower rights. "The Bush administration is engineering the stealth repeal of whistleblower protections," stated PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, who had won several of the earlier cases applying environmental whistleblower protections to federal specialists. "The use of an unpublished opinion to change official interpretations is a giant step backward to the days of the secret Star Chamber." PEER ultimately obtained a copy of the opinion under the Freedom of Information Act. At the same time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking a more extreme position that absolutely no environmental laws protect its employees from reprisal. EPA's stance would place the provisions of all major federal environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, beyond the reach of federal employees seeking legal protection for good faith efforts to enforce or implement the anti-pollution provisions contained within those laws.

President Bush once daydreamed about blasting Bill Clinton's presidential library to smithereens, according to a new book. In "How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime," former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal recounts a November 2004 visit by Bush and his political guru Karl Rove to the William J. Clinton Library in Little Rock, Ark., on the banks of the Arkansas River.

Smirkey, in an address to the Military Officers' Association, quoted extensively from bin Laden's videotaped messages and writings, and compared him to global menaces like Russia's Vladimir Lenin and Germany's Adolf Hitler. He cited in particular a letter from bin Laden to the former Taliban ruler, Mullah Omar, that coalition forces found in Afghanistan in 2002. The White House released a text of the letter. Bush said that five years after the September 11 attacks, al Qaeda wants to set up a violent, radical Islamic caliphate based in Iraq and vowed he would not let this happen on his watch.

As if that weren't quite offensive enough, Condoleezza Rice has upped the ante a bit, suggesting that opponents of the war are the moral equivalent of those who would tolerate slavery in 19th century America. Secretary of State Rice compared the Iraq war with the American Civil War, telling a magazine that slavery might have lasted longer in this country if the North had decided to end the fight early. "I’m sure there are people who thought it was a mistake to fight the Civil War to its end and to insist that the emancipation of slaves would hold," Rice said in the new issue of Essence magazine. "I know there were people who said, 'Why don’t we get out of this now, take a peace with the South, but leave the South with slaves?' " Rice said.

In spite of Smirkey's increasing number of fishing expeditions in Americans' private affairs, the number of terrorism cases brought by the U.S. government has dropped steadily in recent years and an increasing proportion are dropped due to lack of evidence, according to a new study. After bringing 355 terrorism-related cases in 2002, shortly after the September 11, 2001, hijacking attacks, the Justice Department filed only 46 cases in 2005 and 19 cases so far this year, according to an independent Syracuse University study released over the weekend. At the same time, federal prosecutors have declined an increasing percentage of cases forwarded to them by investigators, most often due to lack of evidence. U.S. attorneys rejected 91 percent of all terrorism-related cases forwarded to them so far in 2006, up from 35 percent in 2002, the report found. "Given the widely accepted belief that the threat of terrorism in all parts of the world is much larger today than it was six or seven years ago, the extent of the recent decline in prosecutions is unexpected," said the report by the school's nonpartisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

The White House has predictably rejected Democrats' calls for replacing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "It's not going to happen," presidential spokesman Tony Snow said. "Creating Don Rumsfeld as a bogeyman may make for good politics but would make for very lousy strategy at this time."

Former IL Gov. George Ryan, who is scheduled to be sentenced on corruption charges this week, is one of the least popular political figures in Illinois history. Yet even Ryan - whose very name still casts an unwelcome shadow over his party in state politics - is better liked in the state than fellow Republican George W. Bush, according to a new Post-Dispatch/KMOV-TV (Channel 4) Research 2000 poll conducted last week. That stunning comparison illustrates the president's problem in much of the country these days, as he struggles to keep Americans behind the war effort in Iraq and the "war on terror." Research 2000, a Maryland-based polling firm that works for most than 80 news outlets around the country, polled 800 likely voters in Illinois and 800 in Missouri. The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points, which means that any individual figure could be that much higher or lower. The poll found that respondents in both states are upset over Iraq, worried about terrorism and unhappy with President Bush.

A court order temporarily suspended one of the country's harshest local immigration laws on Friday, allowing civil liberties groups and local officials to prepare for an impending legal battle that could set a national precedent. The Pennsylvania District Court's order solidified an interim settlement following a complaint filed in August on behalf of a group of local residents, businesses and nonprofits in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. According to the order, the city has agreed to hold off for now on implementing an anti-immigrant ordinance that it enacted in July. The so-called Illegal Immigration Relief Act could impose unprecedented restrictions on immigrants in the city. Landlords would be fined for providing housing to undocumented immigrants. Businesses or organizations known to employ or provide job assistance to undocumented immigrants would be denied permits and contracts. The ordinance would also make English the city's official language and generally require all city documents to be in English only. Civil-liberties groups argue that the measure violates due-process and free-speech protections and would curtail the rights of both documented and undocumented immigrants. Similar legislation has been adopted or is under discussion in municipalities in California, Texas, Missouri, New Jersey,and other states.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Hitting Iran now with sanctions over its nuclear work could drive it "away from the civilized world," a Kremlin official said on Tuesday, in a hint of strong Russian opposition to punitive steps backed by Washington. China said earlier it still wanted major world powers to negotiate with Iran even after it defied a U.N. Security Council deadline of August 31 to stop enriching uranium. The Chinese and Russian stances underlined the obstacles to a U.S.-led push to consider sanctions against Iran this month in the Council, where Beijing and Moscow wield vetoes. Washington's EU allies, also hesitant about sanctions, were looking to talks this week to explore hints by Iran that it could negotiate over the extent of its nuclear fuel program, which the West fears is a disguised bid to build atom bombs.

US efforts to decimate the opium industry in Afghanistan have "hijacked" nation-building attempts in the country, and are driving support for the Taliban, a report issued today says. The highly critical study of the five years since the US-led invasion found that Afghans are starving to death despite international donor pledges and that the foreign military presence was "fuelling resentment and fear" among the local population. The report, by the Senlis Council, an international policy thinktank, said that the US-led international community had "failed to achieve stability and security" in the war-torn country and that attacks were perpetuated on a daily basis. "Prioritising military-based security, the United States' and United Kingdom's focus on counter terrorism initiatives and militaristic responses to Afghanistan's opium crisis has undermined the local and international development community's ability to respond to Afghanistan's many poverty-related challenges," the report said. "By focusing aid funds away from development and poverty relief, failed counter-narcotics policies have hijacked the international community's nation-building efforts and undermined Afghanistan's democratically elected government. Poppy cultivation is a food survival strategy for millions of Afghans, and the United States' and the United Kingdom's poppy eradication policies are fuelling violence and insecurity."

What Your Aid-To-Israel Dollars Are Paying For: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced Monday he was abandoning earlier plans to unilaterally pull Israeli troops out of the West Bank. Olmert made the remarks during a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, where he said the 34-day war with Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon had changed his thinking, the Jerusalem Post reported. Olmert said Israel had pulled out of Lebanon six years ago, and yet was attacked again, and he was abandoning such a move in the West Bank. Referring to a report in a Qatar newspaper that Israel was negotiating a deal with Palestinians to release kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Olmert said he had read about it in the newspaper, but knew nothing of such a plan, the Post said.

Doctors in Gaza are reporting what they say are unexplained injuries among the dead and wounded in operations by the Israeli military, which have killed more than 200 Palestinians in the past nine weeks. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is considering whether there is a case for an investigation into the injuries amid suspicions by the medics that the injuries were inflicted by what they claim may have been unidentified "non-conventional" weapons. Beside especially severe burning "down to the bones", the doctors say that, in other cases, internal organs have been ruptured without any obvious sign of shrapnel wounds. While a report from the Hamas-run Ministry of Health said the injuries raised the possibility Israel could be using "unprecedented" projectiles with "radiant" substances, the medics acknowledge that there is no proof so far of their claims. They also admit that the difficulty of establishing the exact cause of death is greatly exacerbated by the reluctance of most bereaved Palestinian families to allow autopsies. Dr Juma al Saqqa, the director of public relations at Shifa Hospital, said the type of injuries presented by some victims were "very strange" and added: "We think this should be studied. In some cases we have opened the abdomen and found very fragmented organs." He said this was despite X-rays showing no shrapnel lodged in the patients' bodies. He said one, unsubstantiated suggestion by sympathetic doctors consulted in Italy was that some injuries might have been caused by phosphorus. The concerns were aired at the weekend by a group of Palestinian medics during a visit to Gaza by a delegation from Physicians for Human Rights - Israel (PHR). The delegation agreed to take away fragments of tissue from the bodies of Palestinians killed during the recent military operations in Gaza for possible analysis in Israel but urged the medics to seek an international investigation.

Spin Cycle: From CNN, July 30, 1996: "Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, emerged from the meeting and said, "These are very controversial provisions that the [Clinton] White House wants. Some they're not going to get"... [Hatch] also said he had some problems with the president's proposals to expand wiretapping." So Bill Clinton, rather than just breaking the law as Bush did, decided to go to the Republican congress in 1996 and ask them for increased authority to do more eavesdropping in order to stop the terrorists - stop September 11. Senior Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, one of the GOP's top picks for the Supreme Court and a GOP committee chair, objected. The Republicans stopped President Clinton from getting all the tools he needed to stop the next September 11 - well, no, actually they opposed giving President Clinton all the tools he needed to stop the actual September 11. Could September 11 have been stopped if the GOP had given President Clinton the tools he requested to stop Osama and Mohammad Atta from killing 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington? Maybe we need to ask the Republicans up for re-election why they wanted to appease the terrorists?

The White House's claims about the notches on Bush’s literary bedpost are almost certainly false. Using lists provided by the White House, the 60 books the president is alleged to have read since January total tens of thousands of pages. (The Stranger may be fairly short, but many of the titles on the list were lengthy treatises. Kai Bird’s American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, for example, is almost 800 pages.) The boasts simply strain credulity. We’re talking about a man who, by his own admission, likes to get to bed early, insists on a two-hour midday exercise break, and reads maybe 30 pages of book text a day. He also ostensibly oversees the executive branch of government during a war. If we expand the definition of "read" to include Cliff's Notes, abridged books on tape, and skimming over a book's jacket, then maybe the claims are plausible. Otherwise, they're demonstrably ridiculous.

The Bush administration has once again stuck its head in the sand when it comes to effectively combating drug addiction in the United States. Rather than admitting that its much touted, $1.4 billion ad campaign has failed to lower drug use, the administration continues to arrogantly boasts that it is a success. As in Iraq, the administration's strategy boils down to, "That's my story and I'm sticking to it," regardless the facts. The General Accountability Office (GAO) reported to Congress last week that the $1.4 billion dollars spent by the White House drug czar since 1998 on an antiquated, naïve ad campaign "does not appear to have helped reduce drug use and instead might have convinced some youths that taking illegal drugs is normal." This assessment was echoed by another government-funded (to the tune of $43 million) study that found that the ads were ineffective.

As they prepare for a critical pre-election legislative stretch, Congressional Republican leaders have all but abandoned a broad overhaul of immigration laws and instead will concentrate on national security issues they believe play to their political strength. With Congress reconvening Tuesday after an August break, Republicans in the House and Senate say they will focus on Pentagon and domestic security spending bills, port security legislation and measures that would authorize the administration's terror surveillance program and create military tribunals to try terror suspects. "We Republicans believe that we have no choice in the war against terror and the only way to do it is to continue to take them head-on whether it is in Iraq or elsewhere," said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the majority leader. A final decision on what do about immigration policy awaits a meeting this week of senior Republicans. But key lawmakers and aides who set the Congressional agenda say they now believe it would be politically risky to try to advance an immigration measure that would showcase party divisions and need to be completed in the 19 days Congress is scheduled to meet before breaking for the election.

Republicans who were once cozy with President Bush are distancing themselves from both the president and their party in campaign ads. Consider Rep. Deborah Pryce, the fourth-ranking House Republican struggling to hold onto her seat in an evenly split district in central Ohio, near Columbus. In 2004, her campaign Web site featured a banner of her and Bush sitting together, smiling. But in her latest television ad, Pryce is described as "independent." The spot also highlights how she "stood up to her own party" and the president to support increased federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research. The Web sites of the party's candidates in the most competitive races across the country either give only a passing nod to the president or don't even mention Bush, whose popularity has been weighed down by the war in Iraq, high gas prices, economic anxieties and lingering memories of last August's Hurricane Katrina. With about nine weeks to go before the Nov. 7 election, the Bush online invisibility mirrors a strategic divide between Republicans who want to keep the congressional elections as local as possible and Democrats who want to turn the midterm vote into a national referendum on the president and his policies.

In the wake of his loss in the primary last month, U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz says he won't endorse or vote for the Republican pastor who defeated him and accused "right-wing intimidators" of running moderates like himself out of the party. That's right. Joe Schwarz - a prominent Republican from Battle Creek, who served in Michigan's legislature for years, served Michigan's 7th District in Congress, and even ran for governor in 2002 - will not vote for his party's nominee, Tim Walberg. The Detroit News article continues: " 'The far right, the religious right are driving moderates out of the party. In the end, that can only hurt because it takes a critical mass to have a successful party,' Schwarz said in his first extensive interview since losing the Aug. 8 primary to Tim Walberg. The Battle Creek physician said several friends told him they plan to leave the party after watching him be hammered on social issues and then lose in spite of endorsements by establishment Republicans including President Bush and Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. Schwarz said he could see circumstances under which he would join them.

On the September 1 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, discussing a speech by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, during which, in the words of an August 29 Associated Press article, Rumsfeld "likened critics of the U.S. war strategy to those who tried to appease the Nazis," Fox News political analyst and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) stated that he agreed with Rumsfeld's comments, adding that the comparison between Iraq war critics and Nazi appeasers was "not an insulting comment." After Gingrich said he "[e]ssentially" agreed with Rumsfeld's remarks, co-host Alan Colmes challenged Gingrich, asking: "Calling appeasers people who disagree with the Bush policy administration, comparing them to those who enabled Hitler?" Colmes called Rumsfeld's analogy "a very insulting comment ... to most of the American population, which doesn't agree with the Iraq war." Later in the segment, when Colmes challenged Gingrich's characterization of war opponents as "people who want us to cut and run in Iraq," Gingrich responded: "It's accept defeat." Guest co-host and National Review editor Rich Lowry added: "Yeah, that's exactly what it is."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider whether or not to support the nomination of John Bolton to be the US Ambassador to the United Nations this Thursday. Last year, the Republican leadership opted to send the nomination to the Senate floor without a recommendation despite holding a 10-8 majority in the committee. It remains unclear whether Bolton will meet with more or less success on Thursday. One prominent Republican on the committee who opposed Bolton's nomination the first time around, Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), said in a recent Washington Post editorial that he had changed his mind. In response to a question issued at a speech given in late July, Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE)"who sits on the committee and who voted to confirm Bolton in 2005 - voiced concerns about Bolton's leadership and stated that he was unsure how he would vote when the nomination was reviewed: "I want to revisit Mr. Bolton's performance - the United Nations is a very important institution. I think it is as important today as maybe it’s ever been, and I think America needs to have a standing there. It needs to have relationships there, and it needs to be seen not just as the biggest donor nation, but we need to do more than that - I haven't decided yet how I'll vote on Mr. Bolton"

Fair And Balanced: On the August 29 edition of his nationally syndicated radio program, Fox News host Sean Hannity sought to encourage Republican voters and candidates to ensure a Republican victory in the November midterm elections by proclaiming that "there are things in life worth fighting and dying for, and one of 'em is making sure" that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) "doesn't become the speaker." Hannity then urged his listeners to "[i]gnore the polls, ignore the media, ignore the pundits. It's 70 days to go. The end is not here yet. We still can turn this thing around."

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: A federal bankruptcy judge on Tuesday approved Delta Air Lines Inc.'s request to terminate its pilots' pension plan. Judge Adlai Hardin's decision came after a splinter group representing retired pilots formally withdrew its objection to the termination of the plan, which included an option for pilots to retire early at the age of 50 and take out half their entitlements in one lump sum payment. Delta, the nation's third-largest carrier, must still go to the federal government's pension agency, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., to officially end the plan. At that time, the PBGC will take over the plan and pay pilots reduced benefits. The change would be retroactive to Sept. 2.

California's Intel Corp. will lay off 10,500 workers to cut operating costs by $2 billion in 2007 and better compete against Advanced Micro Devices Inc. By 2008, the resulting cost savings and lowered operating expenses will reach about $3 billion annually, Intel said Tuesday. Intel's payroll will fall to about 95,000 by the end of this year, resulting from workforce reductions, attrition and previously announced actions. Then then workforce will decline to about 92,000 by the middle of 2007 -- 10,500 fewer than the company's employee population at the end of the second quarter of 2006. Severance costs will be about $200 million.

Conservative free-market gospel has it that government should butt out of the economy. To understand the devastation that philosophy has wrought in America's private pension system, check out this Malcom 'Tipping Point' Gladwell article in the New Yorker: "America's private pension system is now in crisis. Over the past few years, American taxpayers have been put at risk of assuming tens of billions of dollars of pension liabilities from once profitable companies. Hundreds of thousands of retired steelworkers and airline employees have seen health-care benefits that were promised to them by their employers vanish. General Motors, the country's largest automaker, is between forty and fifty billion dollars behind in the money it needs to fulfill its health-care and pension promises. This crisis is sometimes portrayed as the result of corporate America's excessive generosity in making promises to its workers. But when it comes to retirement, health, disability, and unemployment benefits there is nothing exceptional about the United States: it is average among industrialized countries - more generous than Australia, Canada, Ireland, and Italy, just behind Finland and the United Kingdom, and on a par with the Netherlands and Denmark. The difference is that in most countries the government, or large groups of companies, provides pensions and health insurance. The United States, by contrast, has over the past fifty years followed the lead of Charlie Wilson and the bosses of Toledo and made individual companies responsible for the care of their retirees. It is this fact, as much as any other, that explains the current crisis. In 1950, Charlie Wilson was wrong, and Walter Reuther was right."

News From Smirkey's Wars: The U.S. military has lost control over the volatile al-Anbar province, Iraqi police and residents say. The area to the west of Baghdad includes Fallujah, Ramadi and other towns that have seen the worst of military occupation, and the strongest resistance. Despite massive military operations which destroyed most of Fallujah and much of cities like Haditha and al-Qa'im in Ramadi, real control of the city now seems to be in the hands of local resistance. In losing control of this province, the U.S. would have lost control over much of Iraq. "We are talking about nearly a third of the area of Iraq," Ahmed Salman, a historian from Fallujah told IPS. "Al-Anbar borders Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, and the resistance there will never stop as long as there are American soldiers on the ground." Salman said the U.S. military is working against itself. "Their actions ruin their goal because they use these huge, violent military operations which kill so many civilians, and make it impossible to calm down the people of al-Anbar."

When the Taliban fell nearly five years ago, Lashkar Gah seemed like fertile ground for the United States-led effort to stabilize the country. For 30 years during the cold war, Americans carried out the largest development project in Afghanistan's history here, building a modern capital with suburban-style tract homes, a giant hydroelectric dam and 300 miles of canals that made 250,000 acres of desert bloom. Afghans called this city "Little America." Today, Little America is the epicenter of a Taliban resurgence and an explosion in drug cultivation that has claimed the lives of 106 American and NATO soldiers this year and doubled American casualty rates countrywide. Across Afghanistan, roadside bomb attacks are up by 30 percent; suicide bombings have doubled. Statistically it is now nearly as dangerous to serve as an American soldier in Afghanistan as it is in Iraq. Helmand's descent symbolizes how Afghanistan has evolved since the initial victory over the Taliban into one of the most troubled fronts in the fight against terrorism. The problems began in early 2002, former Bush administration, United Nations and Afghan officials said, when the United States and its allies failed to take advantage of a sweeping desire among Afghans for help from foreign countries. The Defense Department initially opposed a request by Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, and Afghanistan's new leaders for a sizable peacekeeping force and deployed only 8,000 American troops, but purely in a combat role, officials said. During the first 18 months after the invasion, the United States-led coalition deployed no peacekeepers outside Kabul, leaving the security of provinces like Helmand to local Afghans.

U.S. warplanes mistakenly fired on Canadian troops fighting Taliban forces Monday in southern Afghanistan, killing one soldier and wounding five in an operation that NATO said also has left 200 insurgents dead. A British soldier attached to NATO and four Afghans also were killed in a suicide vehicle bombing Monday in Kabul, while 16 suspected Taliban militants and five Afghan police were killed elsewhere in the country. The intense fighting comes amid Afghanistan's deadliest spate of violence since U.S.-led forces toppled the hard-line Taliban regime for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks. It also underscored the increased danger to NATO-led multinational forces since they took over control of security in the volatile south from the U.S.-led coalition last month.

Asia Times Online has learned from an operative close to the al-Qaeda leadership that Osama bin Laden languishes on a dialysis machine in South Waziristan, Pakistan, in rapidly declining health. "Sheikh [Osama] was in a poor condition when my father last visited," said the operative, who uses the name "Abdullah". Abdullah's father, known as Sheikh Ibrahim, is number two after Tahir Yuldeshev in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IUM), a group closely allied with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and operating in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan. Sheikh Ibrahim's meeting with bin Laden took place "a few weeks ago", Abdullah told Asia Times Online in an interview at the end of June in a northern Pakistani city. Abdullah had traveled there from North Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal agency on the Afghanistan border, to meet this correspondent. "He [bin Laden] asked all of us to pray for his health. For the past many months he has been on dialysis and just cannot move. My father never told me where he was when he met Osama... but he was worried about his fast-waning health." Nevertheless, said Abdullah, the al-Qaeda leadership remains in Afghanistan and still serves as the nucleus of the movement. "Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri [bin Laden's number two] is very active in Afghanistan and controlling affairs. Most of the Arab fighters left Afghanistan after the US invasion of Iraq and many went there to fight. But the main leadership of al-Qaeda continued to stay in Afghanistan," Abdullah said. "Until the end of 2003 Karachi was the focal point of all al-Qaeda, Taliban and other people who fled from Afghanistan. But constant intelligence operations forced us to leave Karachi and by the end of 2003 we reached South Waziristan, where my father joined hands with Sheikh Essa [an Egyptian] and Tahir Yuldeshev," Abdullah said.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Carbon dioxide levels are substantially higher now than at any time in the last 800,000 years, the latest study of ice drilled out of Antarctica confirms. The in-depth analysis of air bubbles trapped in a 3.2km-long core of frozen snow shows current greenhouse gas concentrations are unprecedented. The East Antarctic core is the longest, deepest ice column yet extracted. Project scientists say its contents indicate humans could be bringing about dangerous climate changes. "My point would be that there's nothing in the ice core that gives us any cause for comfort," said Dr Eric Wolff from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). "There's nothing that suggests that the Earth will take care of the increase in carbon dioxide. The ice core suggests that the increase in carbon dioxide will definitely give us a climate change that will be dangerous," he told BBC News. The Antarctic researcher was speaking at the British Association's (BA) Science Festival.

U.S. scientists say the amount of carbon taken up by plankton in the tropical Pacific annually may be as much as 2.5 billion tons less than estimates. The oceanographers say they've completed the most comprehensive survey of nutrient dynamics in the tropical Pacific Ocean. They said the difference exceeds the severe decrease in tropical Pacific productivity that accompanied the largest el nino to la nina transition on record. Michael Behrenfeld and colleagues spent 12 years gathering data from some 36,000 miles of ship transects to evaluate the growth of plankton in the region. They used the characteristics of the fluorescence produced by plankton to determine the various factors that limit plankton growth in different areas. The results indicated plankton growth is limited by the amount of iron in the water in equatorial and more southerly regions. Further north, growth is limited by nitrogen levels and grazing by tiny animals. Researchers also found satellite estimates of productivity may overestimate the amount of carbon sequestered by plankton, which releases more carbon into the atmosphere in that area than in any other ocean region in the world.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 03:42:40 PM

Sun, Sep 03 2006

Wonderful Dinner At A New Restaurant

Hurricane weather, but no hurricanes. Today was absolutely spectacular, with sun most of the day, and no real rain to speak of since last night. Yesterday was also sunny much of the day, though there were occasional brief showers. Almost like a hurricane was stirring things up out in the Caribbean, but there isn't one, though there is an "area of disturbance" that may develop into one later in the week. The temperatures have been cool, 72 overnight and 82 today, but if a hurricane develops, things will get warmer, and fast. I can't ever recall so much warm weather during the rainy season as we have had this year, but I suspect that global warming is becoming apparent here. If this keeps up, I may have to move higher in altitude.

Well, I hardly ventured out all day today, and only briefly yesterday afternoon. My only real excursion was when my friend who is settling in to his new life in Costa Rica brought by a car yesterday for my examination. This one met my standards, quite handily, and I was pleased to recommend that he buy it. It is an '89 Montero 4-door, a vehicle that has a solid reputation here, if a bit expensive to drive. I think it is ideal, however, for his fishing guide business. Luxurious, great condition, very comfortable, and runs like a top. So I think he and his wife will be very happy with it. I was pleased to see him find such a good vehicle.

In appreciation for all my help, he took me out to dinner last night, to a brand new gourmet restaurant here in town by the name of "Gingerbread." We had imported salmon with a lovely Merlot wine, Caesar salad and garlic bread as an appetizer, and a banana foster for desert. What a lovely dinner it was - the quality of food was excellent, the service was attentive, and the setting of the new restaurant was very charming. Afterward, we came back to my house where I made some coffee, and we sat on the front porch and chatted for a couple of hours. All in all, it was a lovely evening. Could not have been more enjoyable.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The crackdown on dissent has begun: U.S-born "terrorists" - as well as potential ones - are stirring the government's interest. Worried about American citizens attacking their own country, law enforcement and intelligence officials are trying to learn how and why extremist sympathizers cross a line and become operational terrorists. Intelligence officials now fear that homegrowns pose as much of a threat to the U.S. as foreign terrorists. State and local police are being enlisted to watch for signs from people who in the past would have never gotten a second look. "We want to understand the phenomena: What causes a person from being, say, extreme in views, to moving to actually committing violence?" said Charles E. Allen, chief intelligence officer at the Homeland Security Department. Little is known about how many homegrown "terrorists" are in the country - or how many sympathizers are being recruited to join their ranks. The FBI has long monitored groups that pose potential threats, from al-Qaida sympathizers to abortion clinic bombers and radical animal rights and environmental activists [as well as peace groups, anti-war activists and even Quakers].

National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC) has obtained documents revealing that to date the Executive Branch has refused congressional requests to be briefed on illegal black operations conducted by the NSA, and has denied these representatives access to relevant witnesses and documents. In this link you see various letters from members of Congress and the executive branch, with bureaucrats refusing information to the two intelligence oversight committees because the committee members do not have appropriate clearances. Of course, clearances, like classified information, are exclusively controlled by the President. So if he does not want oversight of anything he has made secret he simply refuses Congress clearance to see the material. This is the modern version of Royal Prerogative that was argued by Parliament against Charles I in 17th century England and was finally, so we thought, put to rest in the United States by the Constitution. "National security" has converted the presidency into a limited monarchy with the power to deny the people, through their elected representatives, accountability for executive actions.

The military-industrial complex may be gearing up to ethnically cleanse the entire middle east in a genocidal purge that will be a curtain raiser for world war three as preparations for a nuclear air strike on Iran remain on stand-by - absent only the monolithic staged terror attack or false-flag provocation that will justify them. Armed Forces Journal, a mouthpiece for the military-industrial complex, recently carried a strategic plan for completely redrawing the borders of the Middle East written by retired Major Ralph Peters. Peters lambastes the Neo-Cons for not having stamped enough influence (or chaos) on the middle east and calls for the use of genocide in realizing the Neo-Fascist's dream of a completely reinvented Middle East run by the same cabal currently responsible for untold war crimes In Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. "Oh, and one other dirty little secret from 5,000 years of history," writes Peters, "Ethnic cleansing works." His twisted justification is that major crises around the globe are converging and that a massive economic crash is set to occur in 2008. Two of those converging disasters are listed as global warming and peak oil.

The U.S. command in Baghdad is seeking bidders for a two-year, $20 million public relations contract that calls for monitoring the tone of Iraq news stories filed by U.S. and foreign media. Proposals, due Sept. 6, ask companies to show how they'll "provide continuous monitoring and near-real time reporting of Iraqi, pan-Arabic, international, and U.S. media," according to the solicitation issued last week. Contractors also will be evaluated on how they will provide analytical reports and customized briefings to the military, "including, but not limited to tone (positive, neutral, negative) and scope of media coverage." The contract calls for assembling a database of selected news stories and assessing their tone as part of a program to provide "public relations products" that would improve coverage of the military command's performance, according to a statement of work attached to the proposal. The request for bids comes at a time when Bush administration officials are publicly criticizing media coverage of the war in Iraq.

President Bush's recess appointment today of lawyer Paul DeCamp,to be administrator of the Wage and Hour Division at the Department of Labor drew quick fire from some Democrats, particularly those seeking to make Wal-Mart a campaign issue. Bush nominated him for the post, but the Senate hasn’t acted on the confirmation. At the law firm of Gibson Dunn, DeCamp has represented employers and defended Wal-Mart in a big employment-discrimination case. George Miller of California, senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, promptly fired off a statement: "As a lawyer, Paul DeCamp has never represented American workers in a single case. He has worked on behalf of Wal-Mart - a company with an abhorrent record of labor relations - and other companies against the interests of American workers and consumers in numerous cases. Yet he is the man that President Bush has chosen as one of the nation’s top enforcers of workplace rights".This recess appointment is one more reminder that the President does not care about making sure that workers are treated fairly on the job or enforcing laws that he doesn’t happen to like." The Labor Department unit enforces overtime, workplace discrimination and child-labor laws.

U.S. and Alaskan authorities on Thursday demanded $92.2 million from Exxon Mobil for additional environmental damages linked to the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident. The Alaska Department of Law and the U.S. Department of Justice made the demand for environmental damage not covered in a 1991 $900 million settlement with Exxon. The 1991 settlement allowed the state and federal government to seek additional damages not foreseen at the time of the settlement. The agencies had until Friday to make their demand of Exxon Mobil, the successor company to Exxon. Alaska and federal officials said in May they would seek additional damages. "This was a formal step that's required under the consent decree," said Deputy Alaska Attorney General Craig Tillery. Exxon Mobil in the past has said it does not believe there are lingering environmental damages not covered in the 1991 settlement, and is expected to contest the $92 million demand. If Exxon Mobil does fight the additional damages, the U.S. District Court for Alaska will hear the case.

It appears that the Iraqi Mobile Biological Weapons Lab mystery may have finally been solved. It may be that we can trace back the idea of a mobile BW laboratory to Scott Ritter during his tour of duty in Iraq in 1998 with UNSCOM. Ritter was trying to obtain information from the Iraqi National Congress, specifically on Iraq's intelligence agencies and WMD program. In 1998, he talked to Ahmed Chalabi about his suspicion that Saddam may have had mobile chemical or biological weapons labs, which would explain the UNSCOM's lack of success in finding any evidence. In late 1999-2000, Curveball - the brother of a top lieutenant to Ahmed Chalabi - starts talking to the German intelligence about mobile Iraqi BW labs, who forwards this information to the CIA. At the same time, Chalabi is talking to Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith about the danger of Iraq's "WMD program." So here we have a rumor started by a former U.S. marine supporting a UN inspection team, where he passes the idea to Chalabi, who passes it to German intel and U.S. defense officials, both of whom pass the story to the CIA. The agency develops graphics drawn by a U.S. contractor based on Curveball's story and might have known of the mock-up BW lab built for SOCOM, both of which "confirms" the concept that Iraqi mobile BW labs exist, which leads to SecState Powell's speech at the UN in February 2003 and the media's echo chamber agreeing with the president that there's enough evidence to go to war against Iraq. And as a bonus at the end of this short paper, Leitenberg reveals that Scott Ritter was pulled into a British intelligence op called "Operation Mass Appeal" run by MI6 in 1997. The purpose of "Operation Mass Appeal" was to leak weak and not "actionable" data about Iraq's WMD program to the media, who would fall upon it like hungry wolves and keep alive the public impression that Saddam had an active WMD program, despite the lack of official government endorsement. Leitenberg notes that the disinformation operation functioned similar to the DOD Office of Special Plans, but didn't involve disinformation regarding the Iraqi mobile BW production vehicles.

Yet another gigantic fishing expedition: The Education Department has admitted to searching through millions of student loan records on behalf of the FBI. The government says the operation, known as "Project Strike Back," was meant to uncover information on individuals allegedly related to terror investigations. The FBI defended the program, claiming intelligence suggested would-be terrorists attempted to use student loans to fund their nefarious schemes, which might finally explain Bush’s hostility to Pell Grants. The project - first disclosed by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism - is similar to cooperative, sometimes secret arrangements that the FBI made with other federal agencies to gain information about terror suspects since Sept. 11. But the idea of the government trolling through massive databases containing information on ordinary citizens has concerned privacy advocates. The sleuthing comes against a backdrop of even more aggressive moves that U.S. terror hunters have made since Sept. 11, such as monitoring phone calls without a court order. The FBI said the searches were limited and triggered by intelligence indicating that terrorists were exploiting student visa and loan programs. Neither agency would say whether any investigations resulted. The agencies said the program had been closed. The effort was reported yesterday by a graduate student, Laura McGann, at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, as part of a reporting project that focused on national security and civil liberties.

There is substantial support among U.S. Senate Democrats for a resolution demanding the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a senior Democrat said on Sunday. "I believe there is a lot of sentiment to push for such a resolution, indeed," New York Sen. Charles Schumer said on Fox News Sunday. Senate Democrats are expected to discuss this week whether to push for a vote of no confidence in Rumsfeld as part of a pre-election offensive on what they see as the Bush administration's mishandling of the Iraq war. A similar resolution against the defense secretary is being considered by House Democrats. Democrats are in the minority in the Senate and the House, meaning they would face difficulties getting such resolutions on the floor. Even if such a resolution passed, it would not be binding on President George W. Bush's administration. But the Democrats, hoping to win back control of at least one chamber in November mid-term elections, are seeking to attack the Republicans over the deteriorating security situation in Iraq three years into the U.S war there. California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer has vowed to offer a resolution calling on Bush to name a new defense secretary, saying she was outraged by Rumsfeld's comments that appeared to compare Iraq war critics to appeasers of Nazi Germany. Rumsfeld says his remarks in a speech last week were misrepresented. Schumer, chairman of the Senate Democrats' campaign committee for the November congressional elections, said the resolution would send a "very simple" message. "It says that our policies are not going well," he said. He noted that it was not just Democrats that have called for Rumsfeld to step down -- a Republican candidate for the Senate from New Jersey, Thomas H. Kean Jr., did so on Saturday.

Frustrated by inaction at the federal level, two labor unions last week asked California to issue emergency rules protecting workers from exposure to diacetyl, a chemical flavoring tied to a rare lung disease. In a petition last Wednesday, the western states’ arm of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the California State Labor Federation demanded that the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) immediately require companies that use diacetyl to control airborne levels and provide workers with respirators. The petition also calls on the agency to provide workers with information on the dangers of the chemical and asks that Cal-OSHA initiate inspections and develop a permanent rule governing diacetyl. Diacetyl is a commonly used synthetic butter flavoring. Since 2000, the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has linked diacetyl exposure to dozens of cases of an often fatal lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans. NIOSH, the workplace health and safety arm of the Centers for Disease Control, first warned of the problem in 2004 in a report on connections between diacetyl and the lung disease. NIOSH also issued an alert recommending that employers limit workers’ exposure to the chemical. Despite calls for action from NIOSH, unions, and health professionals, no federal or state bodies have stepped in with new regulations. Last month, the UFCW International and the Teamsters union petitioned the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for emergency regulations similar to those requested of Cal-OSHA. According to Cal-OSHA Reporter, acting Cal-OSHA head Len Welsh said there is no need for new standards. The agency is monitoring the estimated 30 diacetyl-using plants in the state.

With the United States Postal Service on a financial upswing, its workers are looking to leave an era of concessions behind. In negotiations that both sides hope to conclude well before current contracts expire on November 20, the four unions that represent over 99 percent of USPS workers are looking to win better wages, secure existing benefits packages, maintain job security and roll back the postal service’s use of temporary and non-career positions. As of today, the talks will take place concurrently, increasing the unions’ chances of achieving their shared goals. USPS has been doing well financially over the past couple of years. Last year, it netted 1.4 billion, according to a report by Hoover's, Inc., a financial information services company. The unions contend that after years of accepting staff cuts and outsourcing agreements with FedEx, United Parcel Services and smaller companies that helped USPS bolster its bottom line, the Service is in a position to treat its workers better.

The Transportation Security Administration has suspended the installation of trace-detection portals, the machines that detect explosives on passengers. The move comes amid criticism that the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security have been unable to develop and implement effective airport security tools. The portal problems are part of a pattern in which the federal government has been unable to move bomb-detection technologies from the laboratory to the airport successfully. While workers at the Homeland Security Department laboratory here busily build bombs to test the cutting-edge equipment, the agency still relies largely on decidedly low-tech measures to confront the threat posed by explosives at airports, particularly at checkpoints. Members of Congress and former domestic security officials blame poor management for stumbles in research, turf fights, staff turnover and under-financing. Some initiatives have also faced opposition from the airlines or been slowed by bureaucratic snarls.

Northern Iowa could have one of the nation's largest wind farms by 2008. Iowa Winds LLC wants to build a 200- to 300-megawatt farm covering about 40,000 acres in Franklin County. A county zoning board will consider approving permits for the $200 million project next month. "It's something new and renewable," said Amber Schwarck, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Falls-based company. "It's great for national security, so we can start depending on ourselves and the wind." Iowa ranks third in the nation in wind energy behind Texas and California, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The Franklin County Wind Farm would help Iowa keep pace with those states and create 30 to 40 technical jobs maintaining turbines, said Schwarck. Company officials said the farm could be the nation's largest - depending on the permits and the county's power grid infrastructure. The project would be built near Bradford and involve 193 landowners in the townships of Grant, Hamilton, Ingham, Lee, Morgan, Oakland and Reeves. But don't hold your breath or start counting your kilowatts just yet: Environmental groups are accusing the Defense Department of paralyzing the development of wind energy projects, and costing citizens the environmental benefits of clean energy in the process.

Some real family values for a change: Senate candidate Jim Webb (D) will miss the Labor Day weekend parades, picnics and speeches that open the fall campaign stretch run to be with his son, who ships out with his Marine unit to Iraq next week. Webb decided Thursday to skip the traditional holiday gatherings in Buena Vista, Covington and elsewhere that are normally must-attend events for those seeking statewide office. Marine Lance Cpl. Jimmy Webb, 24, is deploying with his unit to combat duty, and the Democratic challenger to Sen. George "Macaca" Allen (R-VA) chose to visit his son until he leaves. "I'm very proud of my son. Neither he nor I want him to be viewed differently than any of his fellow Marines. He's a tough young man and a fine Marine," Webb said in an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press.

An arbitrator ordered the Nebraska State Patrol to reinstate a trooper who was fired after his membership in the Ku Klux Klan was revealed. The decision to reinstate Robert Henderson, who was fired after admitting to membership in the KKK and posting on a message board for white supremacist group the White Knights, has sparked controversy among those who disagree with the arbitrator's ruling that the State Patrol failed to demonstrate that Henderson poses a threat to the public or the police, ABC News reported Friday. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning has filed a motion to overturn the decision. "We don't want this person on the staff (of the Nebraska State Patrol)," he said. "We don't want the agency destroyed by a racist like Bob Henderson." Unless the appeal is granted, the state of Nebraska must reinstate Henderson, who has since resigned his membership in the groups and admitted that joining was a mistake, within 60 days.

After the blogging community helped produce denials from 98 senators, spokespersons for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) finally admitted that they had placed anonymous holds preventing the Coburn-Obama-Carper-McCain earmark reform bill from reaching the floor. So why, given its broad bipartisan support, would Stevens and Byrd want to hold up this piece of legislation? According to his spokesperson, Stevens merely wanted the bill delayed until he was convinced that it would not create another unnecessary layer of government bureaucracy. There have also been indications by some that Stevens may be acting in retaliation. Last year, Coburn held up a Stevens bill concerning ocean research, arguing that it was too expensive. In addition, Coburn was a vocal opponent of the $223 million appropriation that Stevens advocated for a bridge connecting two sparsely-populated Alaskan islands (commonly known as the "Bridge to nowhere"). A spokesperson for Byrd released a statement saying the senator, "wanted time to read the legislation, understand its implications, and see whether the proposal could be improved." In the statement, it was announced that Byrd had released his hold. Stevens, however, has yet to lift his, or give any indication of when or if he will. Time is running out for the Senate to vote on the measure this year, as the chamber plans to adjourn in early October so it’s members can campaign for reelection full-time.

A new book, The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power, by Austin-based journalist James Moore and senior Dallas Morning News political reporter Wayne Slater will report Tuesday allegations of anti-semitism by President George W. Bush. "You know what I'm gonna tell those Jews when I get to Israel, don't you Herman?" a then Governor George W. Bush allegedly asked a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. When the journalist, Ken Herman, replied that he did not know, Bush reportedly delivered the punch line: "I'm telling 'em they're all going to hell." This quip never received wider media attention. The same book also reports that Karl Rove's step-father, Louis Rove, divorced his mother and lived the rest of his adult life as an openly gay man. The book also alleges that Rove held streetcorner meetings with fallen superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, knowing that all visits and phones calls to the White House were logged. Abramoff recently pleaded guilty to tax fraud and conspiring to bribe members of Congress. "When the latest sidewalk strategy session with Karl Rove had concluded, Jack Abramoff settled into the backseat of his chauffeur-driven car," Moore and Slater write on page 9. "'Like I said, everything that comes out of the White House is logged in. The phone calls he makes. The phone calls he receives. So this is just easier.'"

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Just three weeks ago, Smirkey launched an initiative to "combat international kleptocracy," the sort of high-level corruption by foreign officials that he called "a grave and corrosive abuse of power" that "threatens our national interest and violates our values." The plan, he said, would be "a critical component of our freedom agenda." Now the White House is making arrangements to host the leader of Kazakhstan, an autocrat who runs a nation that is anything but free and who has been accused by U.S. prosecutors of pocketing the bulk of $78 million in bribes from an American businessman. Not only will President Nursultan Nazarbayev visit the White House, people involved say, but he also will travel to the Bush family compound in Maine. Nazarbayev's upcoming visit, according to analysts and officials, offers a case study in the competing priorities of the Bush administration at a time when the president has vowed to fight for democracy and against corruption around the globe. Nazarbayev has banned opposition parties, intimidated the press and profited from his post, according to the U.S. government. But he also sits atop massive oil reserves that have helped open doors in Washington.

In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans last summer, residents of the Big Easy grappled with the sense that their government had abandoned them. They grimly joked that their beloved city should revert back to French rule. After all, France had swiftly come to the city’s aid in the aftermath of the storm, dispatching supplies and troops, and expressing solidarity with residents. French attempts to help the city, many argued, were far more substantial than what the United States’ own Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) did as Americans withered outside the Superdome in the bayou heat, pleaded for rescue from their rooftops, and perished in their attics. When France and dozens of other countries pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and supplies to the relief effort, their donations should have helped ease the crisis. Instead, one year after Katrina battered the Gulf Coast, none of the money given to the federal government has made its way to evacuees. With debris still choking New Orleans streets, a levee system still in need of basic upgrades (even as another hurricane season is upon us), and tens of thousands of Gulf residents still living in FEMA trailers or scattered around the country, the U.S. government has barely touched the funds donated by foreign governments. Instead, the government has handled the largest influx of foreign aid in memory with foot-dragging, clumsy bureaucracy, and money gone unspent.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Buying: THREATENED by a potentially nuclear-armed Tehran, Israel is preparing for a possible war with both Iran and Syria, according to Israeli political and military sources. The conflict with Hezbollah has led to a strategic rethink in Israel. A key conclusion is that too much attention has been paid to Palestinian militants in Gaza and the West Bank instead of the two biggest state sponsors of terrorism in the region, who pose a far greater danger to Israel’s existence, defence insiders say. "The challenge from Iran and Syria is now top of the Israeli defence agenda, higher than the Palestinian one," says an Israeli defence source. Shortly before the war in Lebanon Major-General Eliezer Shkedi, the commander of the air force, was placed in charge of the "Iranian front", a new position in the Israeli Defence Forces. His job will be to command any future strikes on Iran and Syria. The Israeli defence establishment believes that Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear programme means war is likely to become unavoidable. "In the past we prepared for a possible military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities," said one insider, "but Iran’s growing confidence after the war in Lebanon means we have to prepare for a full-scale war, in which Syria will be an important player." A new infantry brigade has been formed named Kfir (lion cub), which will be the largest in the Israeli army. "It is a partial solution for the challenge of the Syrian commando brigades, which are considered better than Hezbollah's," a military source said. There has been grave concern in Israel over a military pact signed in Tehran on June 15 between Iran and Syria, which the Iranian defence minister described as a "mutual front against Israeli threats." Israel has not had to fight against more than one army since 1973.

The United Nations has accused Israel of "shocking" and "completely immoral" behavior for dropping large numbers of cluster bombs when a ceasefire was in sight during its war with Hezbollah - more than 90% of which were dropped during the last 72 hours of the campaign, and had a 40% "dud" rate - turning the area into an instant minefield. The UN's Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, told a news briefing Israel had either made a "terribly wrong decision" or had "started thinking afterwards". Mr Egeland's claims came as the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, left Jerusalem empty-handed after Israel refused his request to end its sea and air blockade of Lebanon. "I asked the Israeli authorities to give us maps and indications of where these bombs were dropped so that we can map them to protect civilians," Annan said after talks with King Abdullah II on the latest leg of a Middle East tour. "Those kinds of weapons shouldn't be used in civilian and populated areas ... and (we need to) move very quickly to disarm them," he added at a joint news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdel Ilah Khatib. "What's shocking and, I would say, to me completely immoral, is that 90 per cent of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we [and they] knew there would be a resolution," Mr Egeland said.

A senior Bush administration official said Wednesday that if asked, the US is likely to grant Israel additional military aid to cover the costs of its recent war against Lebanon. The unnamed diplomat told The Jerusalem Post that "a request has not yet come," but if it does, "we would consider it seriously." According to Israeli officials cited by the report, Jerusalem is hoping to fold its aid request into a larger American financial package aimed at helping to rebuild war-torn southern Lebanon. The US official went on to say that Washington viewed Israel as the military victor in the recent conflict, but noted the Jewish state had lost from political standpoint. "The people in Lebanon did not understand" Israel's need to attack certain civilian infrastructures, he said, "and that allowed Hezbollah to say Israel was punishing them," which "damaged Israel politically." What Captain Clueless forgot to mention is that Israel's own defense minister said that Israel was punishing Lebanese civilians for "harboring" Hizbollah. According to diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, the Israeli government was considering asking for additional aid - one report said a request might be for $2b, an amount equal to $330 for every man, woman and child in all of Israel. There was also talk in Washington of a large-scale financial package to help rebuild southern Lebanon, in part to keep the Iranians out of the process which is already well underway with their help. Israel was apparently hoping to fold its aid request into this package. He said the US viewed Israel as the victor in the war from a military perspective, although not from a political standpoint. "Militarily, Israel did more damage to Hizbullah," he said. "Hizbullah suffered greater damage."

If Israel is so hyper-concerned about imports of weapons into Lebanon, can they explain just why are they carefully blocking Lebanese exports? Lebanon is determined to escalate pressure on Israel to lift the sea and air blockade described by officials as a "humiliating" violation of Resolution 1701. As Prime Minister Fouad Siniora urged the international community to help end the embargo at the Stockholm conference on Lebanon support, Speaker Nabih Berri called for a widespread defiance of the blockade imposed on Beirut's international airport and Lebanese ports. "I call on [Lebanon's flag carrier] Middle East Airlines and friendly countries around the world to resume regular flights and naval operations to Lebanese ports to re-establish humanitarian interaction and commercial links with Lebanon," Berri said at a rally late Thursday. "We will not accept this blockade and we will not yield to such humiliation," Berri said. Berri also announced an open-ended sit-in at the seat of parliament, from Saturday until the blockade - which is costing Lebanon $40,000 in daily economic losses - is lifted. Former Premier Selim Hoss declared Friday he is ready to be on board the first plane that defies the Israeli embargo. "We had hoped the sit-in would be staged at the airport ground and in ports instead of parliament building to be more effective," Hoss said. "We also hoped the ministers and members of parliament defy themselves the embargo by boarding planes out of Beirut airport," he said. "I am personally ready to be on board the first plane that challenges the blockade," Hoss added.

Bowing to rebels in his own Labor Party, Defense Minister Amir Peretz of Israel called today for a full independent inquiry into the recent war in Lebanon, changing his previous position and putting him publicly at odds with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Mr. Olmert, of the Kadima party, announced earlier in the week that such a state commission, appointed by the Supreme Court, was unnecessary. Instead, he announced two government-controlled investigations, one into the military's performance and one into the government's. The country's comptroller-general also will look into the preparations and performance of local government officials.

Spin Cycle: The number of Americans calling themselves Republican has fallen to its lowest level in more than two-and-a-half years. Just 31.9% of American adults now say they're affiliated with the GOP. That's down from 37.2% in October 2004 and 34.5% at the beginning of 2006. These results come from Rasmussen Reports tracking surveys of 15,000 voters per month and have a margin of sampling error smaller than a percentage point. Add it all together and the Democrats have their biggest net advantage - more than five percentage points - since January 2004. In the first month of 2006, the Democrats' advantage was just 1.6 percentage points. Last month, 32.8% of adults said they were Republicans and 36.8% identified themselves as Democrats.

Democrats enter the fall campaign with a clear edge in the high-stakes fight for control of the U.S. Congress, riding a wave of momentum that has them positioned to retake the U.S. House of Representatives and make significant gains in the Senate. President George W. Bush's low approval ratings and public dissatisfaction with the Iraq war, gas prices and the country's direction threaten Republican leadership in Congress and put Democrats within reach of victory on November 7, analysts said. "I don't think the question any longer is can Democrats win control of Congress, it's can Republicans do anything to stop it?" said Amy Walter, House analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report newsletter. "All the factors and issues are pushing so strongly against Republicans." All 435 House seats, 34 of 100 Senate seats and 36 governorships are at stake in November's election, with Democrats needing to pick up 15 House seats and six Senate seats to reclaim majorities. Strategists in both parties say the glum public mood has created a strong desire for change and given Democrats a big advantage at the traditional opening of the campaign season on Monday's Labor Day holiday. "It's too late to fix the national mood -- it's not going to be fixed," said Republican pollster Frank Luntz. "The major issues are not playing well for Republicans this year, and Republicans are not playing well with America this year." History is also with Democrats - the party holding the White House traditionally loses seats in a president's sixth year. The modern exception was 1998, when public unhappiness over the Republican-led impeachment of President Bill Clinton helped Democrats gain five House seats. "This looks like a classic sixth-year election," said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, who called the president's low approval ratings, hovering at about 40 percent, "the single best indicator for any mid-term election."

The Veterans for Freedom group will begin sponsoring television commercials early next week for Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, thanking him for his support of the war in Iraq. Veterans for Freedom is a "group" created by the same Republican Washington P.R. firm that created the "Swiftboat Veterans" group that smeared John Kerry so effectively during his ill-fated presidential campaign two years ago. The ads feature four Connecticut veterans, who look directly at the camera and appear to finish one another’s sentences, after introducing themselves as veterans of the wars. "When we were over there, it was important to know that someone had our back," one veteran says. "Like Senator Lieberman," adds a second. The ad continues with four phrases, with each veteran saying one: "No matter how complicated it got, he was there for us." "Now that we're home, we're here for him." "He stood with troops and their mission."

Presidential adviser Karl Rove criticized a federal judge's order for an immediate end to the government's warrantless surveillance program, saying 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. Karl Rove knows full well that the words he spoke in Toledo were a lie. He know that the government had the power and the Constitutional right "to listen if al Qaeda [was] calling someone in the U.S." before 9/11, just as it does now, through the very FISA secret court system that Bush's warrantless surveillance openly circumvents. Rove knows that the FISA judges require only the barest hint of possible terrorist connections (or perhaps none at all, as far as we know) to authorize such wiretaps, which they had done without a single demur thousands of times before 9/11. What's more, Rove knows that the government could initiate such wiretaps instantly, without any warrant whatsoever, and keep them running for 72 hours before seeking retroactive approval from the ever-compliant FISA court. Rove knows there is not a single imaginable circumstance in which the interception of communications involving the alleged 9/11 hijackers would have been blocked by the Congressionally-mandated, Constitutional FISA system in place before the attacks. There is no imaginable circumstance in which the communications of even remotely suspected terrorists would be blocked by FISA today. Thus Bush's warrantless surveillance program is completely unnecessary for "listening in if al Qaeda is calling someone in the U.S.," or for the monitoring of any other remotely possible terrorist threat.

New York Times columnist Frank Rich slams "Donald Rumsfeld's dance with the Nazis" in a recent speech as particularly "brazen" coming from a Defense Secretary who was once photographed shaking hands with Saddam Hussein. "Last week the man who gave us 'stuff happens' and 'you go to war with the Army you have' outdid himself," Rich writes. "In an instantly infamous address to the American Legion, he likened critics of the Iraq debacle to those who 'ridiculed or ignored' the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s and tried to appease Hitler." "Such Americans, he said, suffer from a 'moral or intellectual confusion' and fail to recognize the 'new type of fascism' represented by terrorists," Rich continues. "Presumably he was not only describing the usual array of 'Defeatocrats' but also the first President Bush, who had already been implicitly tarred as an appeaser by Tony Snow last month for failing to knock out Saddam in 1991."

The aggressive new campaign by the administration of President George W. Bush to depict U.S. foes in the Middle East as "fascists" and its domestic critics as "appeasers" owes a great deal to steadily intensifying efforts by the right-wing press over the past several months to draw the same comparison. The Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News Network and The Weekly Standard, as well as the Washington Times, which is controlled by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, and the neo-conservative New York Sun, have consistently and with increasing frequency framed the challenges faced by Washington in the region in the context of the rise of fascism and Nazism in the 1930s, according to a search of the Nexis database by IPS. All of those outlets, as well as two other right-wing U.S. magazines -- The National Review and The American Spectator -- far outpaced their commercial rivals in the frequency of their use of key words and names, such as "appeasement," "fascism", and "Hitler", particularly with respect to Iran and its controversial president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Nexis, for example, cited 56 uses of "Islamofascist" or "Islamofascism" in separate programs or segments aired by Fox News compared with 24 by CNN over the past year. Even more striking, the same terms were used in 115 different articles or columns in the Washington Times, compared with only eight in the Washington Post over the same period, according to a breakdown by Nexis. Similarly, the Washington Times used the words "appease" or "appeasement" -- a derogatory reference to efforts by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to avoid war with Nazi Germany before the latter's invasion of Poland -- in 25 different articles or columns that dealt with alleged threats posed by Ahmadinejad, compared to six in the Post and only three in the New York Times. Israel-centred neo-conservatives and other hawks have long tried to depict foreign challenges to U.S. power as replays of the 1930s in order to rally public opinion behind foreign interventions and high defence budgets and against domestic critics.

Domino Theory Redux: About halfway through an article analyzing President Bush's "striking change of tone" in his recent speeches regarding the "grim consequences of failure" in Iraq, New York Times White House Correspondent David E. Sanger also notes a "major rhetorical reversal" by Vice President Dick Cheney. President Bush "picked up on an approach that Gen. John P. Abizaid, Vice President Dick Cheney and others have refined in the past few months: a warning that defeat in Iraq will only move the battle elsewhere, threatening allies in the Middle East and eventually, Mr. Bush insisted, Americans 'in the streets of our own cities,'" writes Sanger for The Times. Sanger compares this "new approach" by the Bush Administration, apparently undertaken "to rebuild eroding support for the war," with the "domino theory" employed by a Democratic administration four decades ago to help "sell" the Vietnam conflict to the American public.

Political adviser Karl Rove's "word is no longer GOP gospel," according to a front page story in Sunday's edition of The New York Times. "Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, is struggling to steer the Republican Party to victory this fall at a time when he appears to have the least political authority since he came to Washington, party officials said," report Adam Nagourney and Jim Rutenberg for the Times. "Mr. Rove remains a dominant adviser to President Bush, administration officials say," the article continues. "But outside the White House, as President Bush's popularity has waned, and as questions have arisen among Republicans about the White House's political acumen, the party's candidates are going their own way in this difficult election season far more than they have in any other campaign Mr. Rove has overseen."

On June 23, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales held a news conference to tout the destruction of a "terrorist cell" inside the United States, hailing "our commitment to preventing terrorism through energetic law enforcement efforts aimed at detecting and thwarting terrorist acts." But court records released since then suggest that what Gonzales described as a "deadly plot" was virtually the pipe dream of a few men with almost no ability to pull it off on their own. The suspects have raised questions in court about the FBI informants' role in keeping the plan alive. The plot featured self-proclaimed militant religious leaders who referred to themselves as kings, talked of establishing their own nation inside the United States, called their headquarters an embassy and discussed plans to train their recruits to use bows and arrows. One of their quixotic notions was to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower. Batiste's father, a Christian preacher and former contractor who lives in Louisiana, told the news media after the indictment that his son was "not in his right mind" and needed psychiatric treatment.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: U.S. drivers helped to boost Big Oil's record profits more than their European counterparts, by paying more for gasoline once taxes were taken out at the pump, according to a report released on Thursday. The report from the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights also showed that profit margins were much larger for multinational oil companies' refinery operations in the United States than those located in Europe. While gasoline costs more than $5 a gallon in Europe, most of that pump price reflects taxes. In the United States, federal and state fuel taxes account for a much smaller share of the cost for gasoline. Based on retail gasoline prices in July, when taxes were taken out European drivers paid 24 cents a gallon less to fill up than their Americans, the study showed. "Thus U.S. motorists are essentially subsidizing European drivers, who pay more for taxes but substantially less into oil company profits," the report said.

"Regulators usually don't negotiate their budgets with the industries they oversee," writes Anna Wilde Mathews in the Wall Street Journal, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does. In the early 1990s, drug companies started paying the FDA millions of dollars in user fees, to speed the drug approval process. The fees "now fund more than half the agency's critical drug-review process." Industry groups and the FDA renegotiate the fees and how they're used every five years, giving drug makers "considerable input into which programs receive funding." The FDA is currently negotiating the next agreement, with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and Biotechnology Industry Organization. The industry groups are pushing for faster decisions on "labels and other conditions on approval" of new drugs, and faster review of ads voluntarily submitted to the agency. The FDA wants more funding to monitor drugs' safety following their approval.

Talk about your Motown meltdown. The full-throttle crisis afflicting General Motors has suddenly moved across town to Ford Motor Co. It's not that GM is fixed, it's just that Ford is more of a wreck at the moment. It lost $1.4 billion in the first half of the year as rising gas prices drove down sales of its SUVs and pickup trucks. What's worse, analysts don't see hot new models riding to Ford's rescue any time soon. Sure, Ford hopes its Edge wagon coming later this year will help. But this fall, the new model in Ford's showrooms is a supersize version of its already jumbo Expedition SUV. With car buyers steering clear of guzzlers like that, Ford's biggest engineering project now is coming up with a new business model that's less dependent on big gulps. The chief mechanic of that job: CEO Bill Ford Jr., 49, great-grandson of the founder. This month, Ford will roll out his second fix-it plan this year, which analysts expect to cut deeper and move faster than his earlier effort to shed 30,000 workers and 14 factories. He's also busy selling off pieces of Ford (he announced a possible deal last week to unload Aston Martin). And he's working the phones, calling Nissan-Renault's superstar CEO, Carlos Ghosn, this summer to express interest in joining forces--that is, if Ghosn's alliance talks with GM don't work out. There's also a growing chorus of critics calling for his head.

Republicans Believe Everyone Should Pay Their Share Of Taxes: The Internal Revenue Service has been auditing more high-income taxpayers but may not be effectively going after one of the biggest problems - wealthy people who evade taxes by reporting too little business income or overstating business expenses. The reason is that IRS auditors most often conduct audits of high-income taxpayers by correspondence, said a report by the Treasury office that oversees the tax collection agency's operations. In those cases, the IRS sends letters to taxpayers asking them to verify information on their returns. Fewer audits actually require high-income taxpayers - those reporting $100,000 or more in income - to sit through intensive, face-to-face examinations. Those audits could turn up more evidence of missing business income or overstated deductions for business expenses, J. Russell George, the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration, said in a new report. "These types of taxpayers and issues are difficult to examine through correspondence," the inspector's report said. By their nature, audits by letter are "less complex and issues are limited" when compared with traditional audits, it added. The IRS has increased the number of intensive face-to-face audits of wealthier taxpayers over the last few years, even though its budget has remained basically flat. Kevin Brown, who heads the IRS small business and self-employed division, agreed that intensive audits find more unreported income. "The observation is correct," he said. "We don't think we're doing enough there, and we want to do more." Both types of audits - those by mail and in person - have increased in recent years, reversing a slide in IRS tax law enforcement that started in the late 1990s.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Yep, you read right. The Texas Medical Board now requires minors seeking abortions to provide notarized parental consent forms. The Texas Medical Board has adopted rules for minors getting abortions requiring written parental consent forms that must also be notarized, officials said. The board developed the new six-page forms to implement legislation passed by state lawmakers in 2005. The law requires the written consent of a parent for an unmarried girl under 18 getting an abortion.

News From Smirkey's Various Wars: Afghanistan's opium harvest this year has reached the highest levels ever recorded, showing an increase of almost 50 percent from last year, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said Saturday in Kabul. He described the figures as "alarming" and "very bad news" for the Afghan government and international donors who have poured millions of dollars into programs to reduce the poppy crop since 2001. He said the increase in cultivation was fueled by the resurgence of Taliban rebels in the south, the country's prime opium growing region. As the insurgents have stepped up their attacks, they have also encouraged and profited from the drug trade, promising protection to growers if they worked to expand their opium operations.

For about the upteenth time, Iraqi authorities have arrested the second most senior operative in al Qaeda in Iraq, the national security adviser said Sunday. Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi, known as Abu Humam or Abu Rana, was arrested a few days ago, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie said. "We believe that al Qaeda in Iraq suffers from a serious leadership crisis. Our troops have dealt fatal and painful blows to this organization," he said. Al-Saeedi was the second most important figure in al Qaeda in Iraq after Abu Ayyub al-Masri, all-Rubaie said. Al-Masri succeeded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as head of al Qaeda in Iraq after al-Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike north of Baghdad on June 7. Al-Saeedi was "directly responsible" for the person who carried out the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February, al-Rubaie added. The bombing inflamed tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims and triggered reprisal attacks. "Al-Saeedi carried out al Qaeda's policies in Iraq and the orders of the slain al-Zarqawi to incite sectarian violence in the country, through attempting to start a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis -- but their wishes did not materialize," al-Rubaie added.

The most influential moderate Shia leader in Iraq has abandoned attempts to restrain his followers, admitting that there is nothing he can do to prevent the country sliding towards civil war. Aides say Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is angry and disappointed that Shias are ignoring his calls for calm and are switching their allegiance in their thousands to more militant groups which promise protection from Sunni violence and revenge for attacks. "I will not be a political leader any more," he told aides. "I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters." It is a devastating blow to the remaining hopes for a peaceful solution in Iraq and spells trouble for British forces, who are based in and around the Shia stronghold of Basra. The cleric is regarded as the most important Shia religious leader in Iraq and has been a moderating influence since the invasion of 2003. He ended the fighting in Najaf between Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army and American forces in 2004 and was instrumental in persuading the Shia factions to fight the 2005 elections under the single banner of the United Alliance.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Britain can expect more tropical-style rainfall as climate change gathers pace, according to research carried out by Newcastle University. Scientists said extreme conditions that are likely to lead to flooding have become more common and intense over the last 40 years. They found that rainstorms have doubled in intensity in places like eastern Scotland and north-east England. Storms are also becoming more intense in autumn, threatening flood defenses. Dr Hayley Fowler, a member of the research team, said the increased frequency of such downpours will lead to more severe flooding like those experienced in Boscastle in north Cornwall in 2004. She said: "If the trend continues, which is likely, this suggests we will have an increase in flooding over the coming years which has major implications for flood risk management."

Scandals Du Jour: Today on Fox News Sunday, Weekly Standard editor and ultra Neo-con Bill Kristol said, "Bush should pardon [former Cheney Chief of Staff Scooter] Libby. He should do it now. It would be fantastic." Libby has been charged with obstructing justice, making false statements to a grand jury and perjury. Kristol, however, asserted that Libby was only indicted because special prosecutor was "totally out of control" and "had to indict someone." He added that Libby "didn’t lie in any serious meaning of lying before a grand jury."

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: FBI agents combed the offices of six Alaska state lawmakers on Thursday as part of a criminal investigation, according to local news reports and lawmakers not targeted in the probe. State Sen. Tom Wagoner said FBI warrants showed the agents were seeking information on the states's largest oil service company, VECO, and the recently passed overhaul of state oil-production taxes. Among the lawmakers who received a warrant from the FBI was state Senate President Ben Stevens, a Republican who is the son of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, the news reports and other lawmakers said. Wagoner, who was in the Anchorage legislative office building to chair a hearing on an unrelated subject, said he learned of the searches accidentally. "I went up to see Ben Stevens and on the way I turned into Cowdery's office and I was turned away by an agent there," said Wagoner, a Republican from Kenai. He was unable to enter Stevens' office, either, he said. "There were federal agents in the hallway," he said. Executives at privately held VECO are known to be big contributors to state candidates, primarily Republicans. Chief Executive and founder Bill Allen is known to be involved with Republican affairs.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 12:42:21 PM

Fri, Sep 01 2006

Arenal Is Growing

The rainy season has resumed. Not much in the way of serious rain, just a bit now and again, but the gloom has set back in. There were a few hours of sun yesterday, but it was half-hearted, and not really serious. And the weather has cooled off a bit, back to more seasonable norms, with an overnight low of 71 and a high of 82.

The gardener came by yesterday at his usual time, but with a friend in tow, a fellow who has a good reputation as a peon (laborer) and who happens to be out of work at the moment. He was begging and pleading for something he could do, and I did have some work not completed by my neighbor, so I put him to work on that, mostly cleaning up the fallen branches on the North Forty, as well as cutting up some of the fallen trees. He got all the branches cleaned up, which was my highest priority, and one tree cut up, and about half of the other one before my gardener had completed his work, and they had to leave. He went to work on that and I left for my weekly grocery run and to visit with my friend in town.

Tracking my friend down was a bit problematic, he wasn't at home when I went to his house, and I looked all over town without success. So I went about my weekly chores, and when that was done, I headed home, stopping at his house on the way - he had just returned from town and we had a good, if somewhat shortened visit. He's arranged to buy a car, he tells me, a Mitsubishi Montero, and says he will be bringing it by on Saturday for my opinion. I hope it is in better condition than the Isuzu he brought by earlier this week.

I am hearing that a group of gringos has bought up one corner of the main intersection in town, a parcel which includes a sizeable chunk of real estate, and are planning to build a gated community with a small shopping plaza on the corner. And yet another house along the main drag has just been turned into a tourist trap, this one selling souvenirs. Well, if this development actually happens, it means that the last parcel of any size in downtown Arenal will finally be occupied. One of the planned shops, I'm told, is a full-on grocery store, complete with deli and refrigerated produce sections, and that would be welcome news. Arenal is becoming a full-on market/tourist town, and is growing like a weed. All the Ticos in town seem to be fixing up their homes with the idea of selling them at a premium to the gringos, hoping to take the money and run. Most, including me, are not desirous of seeing our little town become yet another "gringolandia," and would just as soon move away. Can't say that I blame them. I am planning to do the same thing.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: In an election, votes don't have to be counted and the results don't have to be certified for a candidate to legally take office, according to Republican attorneys defending the illegal inauguration of Brian Bilbray to the California 50th Congressional District. A motion to dismiss a congressional election challenge in California took on national implications last week when defense attorneys argued that no court has jurisdiction to intervene in an election after Congress has sworn in a member. Superior Court Judge Yuri Hofmann heard the arguments Friday on a motion to dismiss the election challenge lawsuit filed by voters seeking a full hand recount in California's 50th Congressional district. Paul Lehto, a nationally prominent election law attorney representing two voters who filed the suit, called the motion an "invitation to the Court to ratify a seizure of power" that amounts to "invading the sovereignty of a state." Republican Brian Bilbray was sworn into Congress just seven days after a special election against Democrat Francine Busby - before all ballots were counted and a full 16 days before the election was certified. On Friday, attorneys David King and Jim Chapin (representing Bilbray and San Diego Registrar of Voters Mikel Haas) argued that a lawsuit brought by two voters should be dismissed because only Congress has the power to seat or unseat its members.

The FBI has built an enormous database with more than 659 million records - including terrorist watch lists, intelligence cables and financial transactions - culled from more than 50 FBI and other government agency sources. The system is "one of the most powerful data analysis tools available" to law enforcement and "counterterrorism" agents, FBI officials said yesterday. The FBI demonstrated the database to reporters yesterday in part to address criticism that its technology was failing and outdated as the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks nears. Privacy advocates said the Investigative Data Warehouse, launched in January 2004, raises concerns about how long the government stores such information and about the right of citizens to know what records are kept and correct information that is wrong.

Bankrolled almost entirely by taxpayers, Bush is roaming far and wide on Air Force One to help Republicans retain control of Congress and capture statehouse contests in high-stakes midterm elections. In 15 months, including back-to-back fundraisers Wednesday in Arkansas and Tennessee, Bush has collected $166 million for the campaign accounts of 27 Republican candidates, the national Republican Party and its state counterparts across the country, according to the Republican National Committee. High-dollar Washington galas headlined by the fundraiser-in-chief brought in a big share of the total. The president also has scooped up campaign cash in 36 cities, travels that have taken him as near as McLean, Virginia, in the Washington suburbs, and as far as Medina, Washington, 2,800 miles to the west. All this to-and-fro presidential politicking is only expected to increase as November draws closer. And it is the federal Treasury, not the campaigns or political parties, who foot most of the travel bill. When Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, first lady Laura Bush or any federal official helps a candidate, Federal Election Commission guidelines say the campaign must reimburse the government only the equivalent of a first-class fare for each political traveler on each leg of the trip. Typically, that means paying a few hundred or at most a few thousand dollars to cover the president and a couple of aides from the White House Office of Political Affairs.

Love him or hate him, President Bush had a terrible week while trying to catch some downtime in Maine. Watching the self-immolation of the Bush Presidency is certainly a spectacularly sad show. When this week is over and opinion polls are taken, we are likely to see Bush close in on the low thirties or high twenties in terms of public support for his Presidency. The drumbeat of bad news is incessant. Consider the following: TV screens are filled with documentaries about the Federal debacle in failing to effectively respond to hurricane Katrina. The images of bodies slumped in chairs surrounded by weeping crowds seeking refuge outside the New Orleans Convention Center are searing themselves into the souls of Americans who take time to watch Spike Lee's "When the Levees Broke," or the other retrospectives provided by NBC, CBS, and ABC. I'm reminded of the old Navy saying, "you can't polish shit." Americans watching these shows also are reminded in the most graphic terms that President Bush was on vacation when his leadership was needed most. A National Geographic documentary, "The Final Report: Osama's Escape," hit the airways this week focusing on the Bush administration's failure to catch Osama bin Laden. Gary Berntsen's terrific book, JAWBREAKER recounts this debacle in detail. This was preceded by a film recounting the story of Ali Mohamad (Triple Cross), an Egyptian military officer who was a spy for bin Laden and fooled the FBI for years. "Inside 9/11" also was on. Taken together, these films paint an ugly picture of Bush's incompetence in managing the highly touted "war on terrorism."

State Department investigators have concluded that Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the head of the federal agency that oversees most government broadcasts to foreign countries and former controversial head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, improperly hired a friend on the public payroll for nearly $250,000 over two and a half years, according to a summary of their report made public this afternoon by Democratic Congressional staff members. They also said that Mr. Tomlinson, whose job puts him in charge of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, used his government office for personal business, including running a "horse racing operation" in which he supervised a stable of thoroughbreds he named after leaders from Afghanistan, including President Hamid Karzai and the late Ahmed Shah Massoud, that have raced at tracks across the United States, potentially violating federal embezzlement laws. They also said that Mr. Tomlinson repeatedly used government employees to do his personal errands and that he billed the government for more days of work than the rules permit. The State Department inspector general presented those findings in a report last week to the White House and on Monday to some members of Congress. Three Democratic lawmakers, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Representatives Howard Berman and Tom Lantos of California, requested the inquiry last year after they were approached by a whistleblower from the agency about the possible misuse of federal money by Mr. Tomlinson and the possible hiring of phantom or unqualified employees. In providing the report to the members of Congress, the State Department warned that making it public could be a violation of federal law, people who have seen the report said. Today, Mr. Berman's staff released a summary of the report. The investigation also found that Tomlinson - a former Reader's Digest editor and longtime Republican ally of White House political adviser Karl Rove - helped hire a friend as a BBG contractor without the knowledge of other board or staff members. The friend - whose name was withheld from a public summary of the investigation but whom Tomlinson identified as retired VOA employee Les Daniels - received nearly $245,000 for unspecified services over a two-year period. Tomlinson signed the invoices for these payments even though there was no documentation that the work had been completed, investigators said. That accusation is similar to one made last year by CPB's inspector general, who found that Tomlinson employed contractors without documentation, including a still-mysterious Indiana man who was paid to monitor the number of conservative and liberal guests who appeared on PBS talk shows.

Scavengers siphoning gasoline from a pipeline in the southern city of Diwaniyah caused an explosion Tuesday that killed 50 people and wounded 80, officials said. Meanwhile, a visiting Bush administration official said that Iraq's future depended on its ability to enforce the rule of law but that it must set its own legal standards. U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales spoke to reporters after a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih. Gonzales said the two discussed the use of "extraordinary measures" to deal with terrorists, criminals and prisoners. "It is sometimes a difficult decision to make, as to what is the appropriate line, what is allowed under the law, under the constitution," Gonzales said. "The path the Iraqi officials will take will be a decision made by the Iraqi government, but we emphasize the importance of the rule of law." He did not elaborate. Gonzales played a key role in drafting detention policies that many critics say led to the torture of suspected terrorists and other detainees. He wrote a 2002 Justice Department memo that narrowed the definition of torture and argued that President Bush could override anti-torture laws in some cases.

"What I am going to tell you is going to seem preposterous and unbelievable." Those are a few of the first words of a video posted on YouTube by former Lockheed Martin engineer Michael De Kort, claiming that the defense contractor had built and the Coast Guard had accepted a number of boats that fall far short of government standards and leave our national security in question. De Kort had tried going through the chain of command at Lockheed, and had contacted the government, the Coast Guard and various members of Congress, but no one seemed willing or able to help. "YouTube was my last best shot - I never wanted to do this publicly," he explained. "I had gone there to look at entertaining videos and saw that hundreds of thousands of people were visiting the site, and I thought that if there was something that was novel - maybe just the fact that I was doing it would be the story." In De Kort's video, he makes scandalous accusations about Lockheed Martin's failure to properly refit boats as part of the government's Deepwater program, which works to update and lengthen the lives of ships already in the Coast Guard's fleet.

The amount of nicotine in most cigarettes rose an average of almost 10 percent from 1998 to 2004, with brands most popular with young people and minorities registering the biggest increases and highest nicotine content, according to a new study. Nicotine is highly addictive, and while no one has studied the effect of the increases on smokers, the higher levels theoretically could make new smokers more easily addicted and make it harder for established smokers to quit. As measured using a method that mimics actual smoking, the nicotine delivered per cigarette - the "yield" - rose 9.9 percent from 1998 to 2004 - from 1.72 milligrams to 1.89. The total nicotine content increased an average of 16.6 percent in that period, and the amount of nicotine per gram of tobacco increased 11.3 percent. The study, reported by the Boston Globe, found that 92 of 116 brands tested had higher nicotine yields in 2004 than in 1998, and 52 had increases of more than 10 percent. Boxes of Doral lights, a low-tar brand made by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., had the biggest increase in yield, 36 percent. Some of this may have been the result of an increase in the total amount of tobacco put in that brand's cigarettes, one expert said. The nicotine in Marlboro products, preferred by two-thirds of high school smokers, increased 12 percent. Kool lights increased 30 percent. Two-thirds of African American smokers use menthol brands. Smokers who choose "light" brands hoping to reduce their nicotine intake are out of luck, according to the report that found for all brands tested in 1998 and 2004, there was no significant difference in the total nicotine delivered between "full flavor," "medium," "light," or "ultra-light" cigarettes. The finding means that health care providers trying to help smokers quit may have to adjust the strength of nicotine replacement therapies like nicotine patches and gums, according to Department of Public Health Associate Commissioner Sally Fogerty.

Someone had to pay to remove 3,000 dead trees in New Orleans. The trees, insisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency, couldn't have been killed by Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters because they weren't toppled to a certain angle. New Orleans would have to pay. Nonsense, city administrators argued. Brackish water swamped the city for weeks, killing the trees where they stood. Only after months of delay did FEMA relent, adding the trees' removal to the toll of the catastrophe. Through hundreds of such disputes large and small, the most costly disaster in U.S. history is fast becoming its most contentious, with appeals and disputes worth nearly a billion dollars bogging down repairs of critical public systems and delaying the return of residents. Current and former officials at all levels blame FEMA workers' inexperience with eligibility rules, weaknesses in U.S. disaster laws and inconsistent treatment by Congress for much of the wrangling. The huge scale of the storm and honest disagreement over whether federal or local taxpayers should pay the tab add to the conflict. "Disasters should be difficult to declare... But once you get them, FEMA should not worry about cutting costs," said Daniel A. Craig, who stepped down in October as head of FEMA's recovery division and is now consulting for New Orleans. "Public entities are eligible for everything they have lost due to the disaster. It is not up to FEMA to cut corners or makes sure money is saved."

The lone air traffic controller on duty the morning Comair Flight 5191 crashed had only two hours of sleep before starting work on the overnight shift, a federal investigator said Wednesday. National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said the controller had only nine hours off between work shifts Saturday. That was just enough to meet federal rules, which require a minimum of eight hours off between shifts, Hersman said. "He advised our team that he got approximately two hours of sleep," Hersman said. The controller, a 17-year veteran whose name has not been released publicly, worked from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. He came back to work at 11:30 p.m. on the same day to begin an eight-hour overnight shift.

A minority report written by Democrats on the House Homeland Security Commission claiming that America's dams and levees remain largely unprepared for natural disasters and terrorist attacks will be released today. Unfortunately, New Orleans is not the only city in the nation at great danger of flooding. The city of Sacramento, CA, could easily become the next major flood disaster. A number of factors make Sacramento a very vulnerable area for flooding. Folsom Dam, which sits above Sacramento, is ranked in the top-most bin of high-impact dams in the country, meaning that its failure would put over 50,000 people at risk, with a possible loss of life of over 4,000 and could result in over $50 billion in economic damage. In the case of Sacramento, the number of people living below the dam is over 1 million.

The nation's high school class of 2006, the first to take a new, longer version of the SAT, posted the sharpest drop in scores on the widely used college entrance exam in more than three decades, test officials said Tuesday. Leaders of the College Board, the New York nonprofit that owns the test, said the decrease was partly due to some students choosing to take the high-stakes exam just once instead of twice or more. It also said fatigue was not a factor, although many students have complained about the length of the test, which now lasts 3 hours and 45 minutes, without breaks. Critics said the size of the decline - seven points on average for the combined math and critical reading sections - raises new questions about the SAT less than a year after controversy erupted over the disclosure of scoring errors on the 2005 exam. Students planning to enter college this fall averaged 503, down five points, in critical reading, and 518, down two points, in math. The combined average score of 1,021 on the two sections was the biggest year-to-year decline since 1975.

News From The War-Drums-Beating Dept.: A UN Security Council deadline for Iran to halt uranium enrichment was set to expire Thursday with no indication that Iran will comply. In Washington, the US State Department didn't even wait for the expiration to say that the Security Council should quickly move toward adopting international sanctions if Iran does not announce that it has suspended uranium enrichment and comes clean on its nuclear activities. "We would expect that the parties would immediately begin formal discussions about a resolution that would call for sanctions," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Wednesday. The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was scheduled to report to the council on Thursday on Iran's nuclear activities, diplomats said. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the report will say that Iran has continued to enrich uranium.

News From The Anti-Pork Bill Secret-Hold: A spokesman for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) just confirmed his boss was the man behind the secret hold on the Coburn/Obama spending database bill, which has captivated a segment of the political blogging community in recent days. "Sen. Stevens does have a hold on the bill," said the spokesman, who would only speak on the condition he not be named. He added that Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) office was notified of the hold after it was placed. So Coburn's comments two weeks ago may have been duly informed. So why does Stevens say he placed the hold? Why did it take this long for him to say so? And will he lift it? Stay tuned...

TPM Muckraker: "There's a loose thread to this "secret hold" story, and it bothers us. By this morning, the dogged persistence of hundreds of bloggers and blogreaders garnered denials from 98 senators saying they did not hold up the Coburn/Obama spending transparency database bill. Only one senator, Ted "King of Pork" Stevens (R-AK), has admitted placing a hold on the bill. But do the math -- you'll find that makes 99 senators. And Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) ain't one. That's right: Byrd, whose penchant for pork would probably win him the Pork Crown if he weren't saddled with minority status, has for days declined to answer constituents and others who have asked if he put a hold on the spending database proposal, S. 2590. We have called and emailed his office and press secretary at least a half-dozen times over two days. Yesterday, we were promised a statement by the end of the day; none came. This morning, spokesman Tom Gavin continued to blame Byrd's travel schedule for the lack of response. What's more, staff in the personal and leadership offices of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have been almost uniformly mum on the issue. If Byrd placed a hold on the legislation, he would have had to notify Reid's office to do so. After several calls and conversations with numerous staffers, Reid spokesman Jon Steinberg would say for the record only that 'it's the policy of our office not to talk about holds.'"

Rats Fleeing The U.S.S. Bush: Only a few weeks ago, Representative Christopher Shays, a Republican from Connecticut, minced no words in responding to calls led by Democrats for a phased withdrawal from Iraq. "To have a timetable is absolutely foolish," he said. But now, as he faces an increasingly tough re-election battle against an antiwar Democrat, Diane G. Farrell, Mr. Shays has had an epiphany: He is proposing a timetable for a withdrawal of American troops, an idea derided by the Bush administration and many Republicans. "A lot of thought has gone into this," the congressman explained in a lengthy interview this week. "I had a lot of resistance in my own office in moving forward with this." How Mr. Shays came to this change of heart is, he says, a matter of a newfound substantive belief that Iraqis need to be prodded into taking greater control of their own destiny under the country's newly formed government. When Bush and his allies accuse those favoring such a timetable of "self-defeating pessimism," as Cheney put it this week, they risk spraying friendly fire on some of their own candidates. In an interview yesterday, Shays said the charges by Cheney and Rumsfeld are "over the top" and unhelpful. "The president should be trying to bring the country together and not trying to divide us," he said. Shays, a longtime supporter of the war who just returned from his 14th trip to Iraq and faces a tough reelection battle, said he plans to outline next month a deadline for replacing U.S. troops doing police-style patrols with Iraqi forces. But he fears the Bush administration might not be supportive. Political analysts say Republicans in other states may be feeling similar pressures. At least two other House Republicans who strongly support the war - Representative Gil Gutknecht of Minnesota and Representative Walter B. Jones of North Carolina - now embrace the idea of a timetable for withdrawal, according to strategists in both parties.

California would become the first state to impose a limit on all greenhouse gas emissions, including those from industrial plants, under a landmark deal reached Wednesday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative Democrats. The agreement marks a clear break with the Bush administration and puts California on a path to reducing its emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by an estimated 25 percent by 2020.

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson came out swinging today at an anti-war protest in Salt Lake City - demanding President Bush tell the truth about the war in Iraq. Thousands of people gathered outside the City-County Building this afternoon as the controversial mayor gave an animated speech in protest of the war and President Bush. Anderson called the war in Iraq "illegal and immoral." The mayor got a lot of cheers, but some Bush supporters also showed up. Following Anderson's speech, protesters marched a few blocks to the federal building. With their signs labeling Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld the "axis of evil," calling the Iraq war a "mission of lies" or comparing the invasion of Iraq after Sept. 11, 2001, to invading Mexico after Pearl Harbor, the estimated 1,500 to 4,000 protesters hoped their demonstration at the Salt Lake City-County Building sent a message about the reddest state in the country. For those who didn't get enough, organizers held a "Rock Against Rumsfeld" concert at Pioneer Park in the evening. Between songs, Salt Lake City singer Colin Robison challenged Rumsfeld's Tuesday speech to the American Legion. "If they [the Bush administration] lack support in Utah, my God they're in trouble," the Rev. Tom Goldsmith of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City told the lively gathering between protest songs and banner waving. At Liberty Park, about 400 people, many of them Legionnaires, held a "freedom rally" in "support" of Smirkey's war policy.

In Bush They're Trustin', But In Kansas They're Bustin': The New York Times is set to report on Tuesday that severe drought is sending much of the northern Great Plains into conditions that farmers and ranchers say are comparable to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Ranchers are turning to desperate expedients. Withered sunflower plants, normally raised for seeds and oil, are being fed to livestock. Cattle are being hauled hundreds of miles to healtheir feedlots, despite soaring fuel costs. Water is being poured in to refill natural watering holes that have gone dry. The governor of South Dakota even issued a proclamation declaring a week to pray for rain. Despite these efforts, many ranchers are being forced to sell their herds and get out of the business. At one livestock market, 37,000 cattle were sold this summer, compared with 7000 last year. The hardest-hit states, Nebraska and the Dakotas, have been hit by several dry years, a winter with little snow, and now record heat. Recent rains in some areas have been described as merely "a drip in a bucket." Even the Corn Palace of Mitchell, South Dakota, a tourist attraction normally wrapped in hundreds of thousands of ears of corn, had to announce that it would not redecorate this year due to a lack of corn.

Spin Cycle: U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar asked President Bush on Wednesday to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld following Rumsfeld's suggestion that questioning the Iraq war endangers American security. Salazar joined a chorus of Democrats repudiating Rumsfeld, who made the comments Tuesday in a speech to the American Legion in Salt Lake City. "I am deeply disturbed by the recent remarks of the secretary of defense," Salazar, D-Colo., wrote to Bush. "It is a grave insult to suggest that Americans who question Secretary Rumsfeld's mismanagement of the conflict in Iraq are somehow not fully committed to standing up to terrorism." Democrats chastised Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for questioning the historical grasp of those who criticize the Bush administration's handling of war, accusing him Wednesday of engaging in "dangerous business." Several members of Congress had been urging Rumsfeld's to resign long before he asserted to the American Legion on Tuesday that war opponents displayed the kind of thinking that delayed military action against Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany. Rumsfeld said the world faces "a new type of fascism." And he warned against repeating the pre-World War II mistake of appeasement. His speech in Salt Lake City, in which he also said administration critics suffered from "moral confusion," prompted angry reactions from Democrats hoping to win back control of Congress.

On MSNBC, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said that she had "long thought" that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's "judgment has been impaired," a day after Rumsfeld compared critics of the Bush Administration's war in Iraq to Nazi-era "appeasers." "I have long thought that the Secretary of Defense's judgment has been impaired," Rep. Pelosi told MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell. "Two and a half years ago, I called for his resignation." Pelosi called on President Bush to publicly denounce Rumsfeld's statements. "He speaks for the administration, so I can only assume that his words are the words of the president," said Pelosi. " If they are not, it behooves the president of the United States to reject this characterization of political debate in our country."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Wednesday the thought of Democrat Nancy Pelosi becoming the next leader of the House and third in line to the presidency is "frightening." "The prospect of her bringing San Francisco values and a whole attitude on foreign policy that is, I think, an attitude of weakness and appeasement and surrender, I think, would be a disaster for the country," the outspoken Republican said. Gingrich said keeping power out of the hands of Pelosi, the House Minority leader, and other Democrats is one of the reasons he was in South Carolina this week raising money for the GOP. On Wednesday, Gingrich was at a fundraiser for Ralph Norman, the White House's chosen opponent for U.S. Rep. John Spratt, the 5th District Democrat who is Pelosi's assistant minority leader. To suggest that "any Democrat is for appeasement is ridiculous" and "shows how desperate the Republicans are," Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said. "We know we have a dangerous world out there," he said, but "fear-mongering is not helpful to the situation."

Courting the neo-con and Jewish Zionist votes, embattled conservative Senator Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum (R-PA) blasted the Bush Administration today for allowing a former Iranian president to visit the United States. "I am outraged," Santorum said of the administration's approval of Mohammad Khatami's request for visa. "Mohammed Khatami is one of the chief propagandists of the Islamic Fascist regime... I believe that granting a visa to Khatami so that he can travel around the United States and mislead the American people is a mistake." Ironically, Santorum's chief complaint about Khatami's plans to speak in America is the former president's record on free speech.

President Bush in recent days has recast the global war on terror into a "war against Islamic fascism." Fascism, in fact, seems to be the new buzz word for Republicans in an election season dominated by an unpopular war in Iraq. Bush used the term earlier this month in talking about the arrest of suspected terrorists in Britain, and spoke of "Islamic fascists" in a later speech in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Spokesman Tony Snow has used variations on the phrase at White House press briefings. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, in a tough re-election fight, drew parallels on Monday between World War II and the current war against "Islamic fascism," saying they both require fighting a common foe in multiple countries. It's a phrase Santorum has been using for months. And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday took it a step further in a speech to an American Legion convention in Salt Lake City, accusing critics of the administration's Iraq and anti-terrorism policies of trying to appease "a new type of fascism." White House aides and outside Republican strategists said the new description is an attempt to more clearly identify the ideology that motivates many organized terrorist groups, representing a shift in emphasis from the general to the specific. Could it also be an attempt to draw attention away from the fact that the Bush administration is increasingly resembling a fascist dictatorship itself?

In a column posted on the website HumanEvents.com, columnist Robert Novak has given his opinion on the chances of Republicans capturing seats "in play" which are currently held by Democrats. After assessing the chances of winning those seats, Novak explains that the "first word that comes to mind is 'pitiful.'" By Novak's assessment, of fourteen races for seats which are currently held by Democrats, only one is leaning toward the GOP. Comparatively, Novak writes that forty GOP seats are "in play." Of the forty, Novak says eleven are leaning Democrat and four appear to be likely Democratic wins. If Novak's predictions are correct on Election Day, the Democrats will have a gain of fifteen seats in the House, the number needed to take control from the Republican majority. In seats held by Republicans, Novak writes that "we see a very rich environment of Democratic takeover targets."

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Two attorneys representing claimants in a lawsuit over wiretapping by the National Security Agency claim that they have sent subpoenas to the White House today. Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer, who say they represent hundreds of plaintiffs in lawsuits against Verizon, AT&T, and the US Government, will announnce today that they are serving both the Bush administration and Verizon with subpoenas. The announcement is due to arrive at 4:30 PM, outside of Verizon headquarters in New York. Mayer tells RAW STORY that the subpoenaes, directed to President George Bush, the Office of Legal Counsel, the Department of Justice, and the Chief Legal Counsel for Verizon, have already been sent, and should reach their targets tomorrow. The subpoenas come on the heels of two federal court decisions that were seen as blows to the Bush Administration warrantless spying program. Earlier this month, federal judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled the entire program unconstitutional and illegal; another federal judge in San Francisco rejected the Bush Administration's attempt to dismiss these lawsuits by claiming they breach national security.

A bill that expands President Bush's ability to wiretap American phones and conduct other forms of domestic surveillance will likely appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee next Thursday. The bill, which was written by judiciary chairman Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), and which has been widely and publicly excoriated by Democratic members of the committee, contains provisions - such as the institution of program-wide warrants, and warrants that do not expire for a year - that would weaken the strict limits that currently govern the FISA court. A statement released by the office of Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) states that Specter's bill "gives him even more power than he has asserted under his illegal NSA wiretapping program."

An architect of Iraqi descent has said he was forced to remove a T-shirt that bore the words "We will not be silent" before boarding a flight at New York. Raed Jarrar said security officials warned him his clothing was offensive after he checked in for a JetBlue flight to California on 12 August. Mr Jarrar said he was shocked such an action could be taken in the US. US transport officials are conducting an inquiry after a complaint from the US Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. JetBlue said it was also investigating the incident but a spokeswoman said: "We're not clear exactly what happened." 'Authoritarian regimes' Mr. Jarrar's black cotton T-shirt bore the slogan in both Arabic and English. He said he had cleared security at John F Kennedy airport for a flight back to his home in California when he was approached by two men who wanted to check his ID and boarding pass. Mr. Jarrar said he was told a number of passengers had complained about his T-shirt - apparently concerned at what the Arabic phrase meant - and asked him to remove it. He refused, arguing that the slogan was not offensive and citing his constitutional rights to free expression. Mr Jarrar later told a New York radio station: "I grew up and spent all my life living under authoritarian regimes and I know that these things happen. "But I'm shocked that they happened to me here, in the US." After a difficult exchange with airline staff, Mr Jarrar was persuaded to wear another T-shirt bought for him at the airport shop. "We Will Not Be Silent" is a slogan adopted by opponents of the war in Iraq and other conflicts in the Middle East. It is said to derive from the White Rose dissident group which opposed Nazi rule in Germany.

One small victory in a sea of otherwise bad news: A Vermont schoolboy was within his rights to wear a T-shirt depicting George W. Bush as a chicken and accusing him of being a former alcohol and cocaine abuser, an appeals court has ruled. Zachary Guiles' school violated the First Amendment when it ordered him to cover parts of the shirt, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said Wednesday. Guiles was a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Williamstown Middle High School in Williamstown, Vt., in May 2004 when he wore the shirt, which he had bought at an anti-war rally, to classes once a week for two months. Complaints from a fellow student and her mother who had different political views caused school officials to take a closer look. Although teachers had told the complaining student that the shirt was political speech and protected by the Constitution, the mother complained to a student support specialist, who decided images of drugs and alcohol violated the school's dress code, the appeals court said. The front of the shirt had Bush's name and the words "Chicken-Hawk-In-Chief" beneath it. Below the words was a large picture of the president's head, wearing a helmet, superimposed on the body of a chicken.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: One of the nation's most vexing public-health problems deepened last year as the number of Americans without health insurance jumped by 1.3 million to 46.6 million, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. Children accounted for 8.3 million of the uninsured, up from 7.9 million in 2004. Nearly 1 in 5 impoverished children lacked coverage in 2005, and 22 percent of Hispanic children were uninsured. The new estimates, part of an annual census survey, mark the fifth straight year that the ranks of the uninsured have increased. The new data, which show that nearly 16 percent of Americans lack health coverage, caught many by surprise because unemployment rates were fairly stable last year. "I thought we'd have a little reprieve," said Dr. Catherine Hoffman, senior researcher at the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. "But the problem doesn't seem to be abating even though the economy seemed to have settled in 2005." The spike in uninsured children, from 10.8 percent in 2004 to 11.2 percent in 2005, is the first in nearly a decade, Hoffman said. Most experts cited the cost-driven decline of employer-based health coverage and private insurance for the overall increase.

Republicans Believe In Securing The Right To Vote For Everyone: Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is set to air a segment posing the possibility that the voting rights of many Americans are under attack. A nation-wide push for laws to target voter fraud is likely to disqualify many who are legally eligible to vote, the PBS program NOW will claim in a segment tomorrow night titled, "Your right to vote -- is it under assault?" A Florida law that could have leveled enormous fines against non-partisan groups organizing voter registration drives, and a Georgia law requiring photo ID at the polls will be put under scrutiny by the program. These laws, NOW will explain, will often prevent legally eligible and registered voters from casting ballots in the upcoming elections--yet many have been approved by the Department of Justice. Minorities, the poor, the elderly and disabled are expected to be hit especially hard. "This is a concerted effort to make sure that certain people don't have the opportunity to vote, that they don't have the opportunity to participate in their own democracy," Georgia state representative Alisha Thomas Morgan will be seen telling the program.

A federal judge in Florida has blocked enforcement of a state law that could have fined only nonpartisan voter registration groups hundreds of dollars per ballot, according to a press release by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. At issue in the case, League of Women Voters v. Cobb (case no. 06-21265), was a Florida law, (Fla. Laws 2005-277, Secs. 2 and 7), that would have imposed a mandatory fine of $250 for each and every voter registration form submitted nonpartisan registration drives more than 10 days after the form was collected from a prospective voter, $500 for each registration form submitted after the passing of a registration deadline, and $5,000 for each registration form not submitted, for any reason. Political parties would have been exempted from the law. For nonpartisan groups, however, the law included a "strict liability" legal standard, meaning that no extenuating circumstance - not even destruction of an office by a hurricane - would have excused the failure to submit a registration form within the law's deadlines. "This is a win for Florida voters and a reaffirmation of the critical role civic groups play in helping tens of thousands of unregistered citizens come into the process and become voters every year," said Dianne Wheatley-Giliotti, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

News From Smirkey's Wars: A new report released today by members of MoveOn.org indicates that the United States has spent more than $300 billion on the war in Iraq. RAW STORY has obtained a copy of "The Cost of Iraq," which analyzes the cost of Iraq War; where we are, what lies ahead, and how the cost is distributed by Congressional district. Before the war started, Bush Administration officials reportedly assured members of Congress that the war would only last 6 weeks, and that Iraqi oil revenues would finance the costs. A look at the report's numbers tells a different story. The report claims that: * With the passage of the FY 2006 supplemental appropriations bill, Congress has so far appropriated about $319 billion for the war in Iraq. * A Congressional Budget Office analysis concluded that since 2003, $291 billion has been spent on the war. * The Iraqi operation has already cost far more than the 1991 Persian Gulf War- which cost about $89 billion in FY 2007 dollars, and it is now possible that the United States will ultimately spend more on U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan than it did on the Korean War.

Scandals Du Jour: Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) has announced a special election to fill the remainder of former Rep. Tom DeLay's term, according to Congressional Quarterly. The special election will allow Houston city councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs a place on the ballot, which could boost her write-in candidacy for the 22nd District seat. Republicans had struggled to get a candidate on the November ballot after DeLay resigned from the House and moved to Virginia, while Texas Democrats successfully sued to block a ballot change.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: At a fundraiser on Wednesday featuring First Lady Laura Bush, Montana's Republican Senator Conrad Burns said that "faceless" terrorists "drive taxi cabs in the daytime and kill at night." Wednesday's invitation-only reception was held at Arlin's Aircraft Hangar at Gallatin Field in Belgrade, Montana, and was closed to the public. Like Virginia's Republican Senator George Allen who recently stirred up some controversy after referring to a Democratic campaign worker as "Macaca," Burns has also made some provocative statements that some critics call racially-based. In her speech, the first lady praised Burns for talking about terrorism with "civility and respect." Burns, 71, also had to apologize after confronting members of a firefighting team at the Billings airport and telling them they had done a "piss-poor job," according to a state report. In July, the Hotshot crew had traveled 2,000 miles from Staunton, Va., to help dig fire lines for about a week around a 143-square-mile wildfire east of Billings. The latest poll conducted by Rasmussen shows Burns and Democratic challenger Jon Tester running neck and neck at 47 percent apiece.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will probably be fined a token fine and have to make up for failing to do continuing medical education that Tennessee requires of doctors with active licenses. Additional disciplinary action, such as suspending his medical license, is unlikely, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Health said Wednesday. Spokeswoman Andrea Turner said Frist, a prominent heart-lung surgeon before coming to the Senate in 1995, is expected to be fined $40 for every hour of continuing education he did not complete. He also will have to make up the missed hours of continuing education within the next six months and do an extra 10 penalty hours within the year, she said.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:04:23 PM
Copyright © 2003 - 2006, Scott Bidstrup. All rights reserved.