Letters From Exile

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

Sun, Oct 29 2006

Wedding Bells Next Week

I had a visit yesterday from a Tico neighbor who hasn't been by to see me in quite some time. I spent a good deal of time discussing with him my plans for the move and all. And then he told me why he came by - to invite me to his daughter's wedding next Saturday. That means I have to get all gussied up and go to the Catholic Church for the wedding. It will be the first time I have attended an official church ceremony in a Catholic church. Growing up as I did in a predominantly Mormon community, there was only one Catholic church in that city, and I used to pass by it on the way between my home and my own Mormon church - for many years in fact - but never once went in. In fact, I don't think I was ever even in a Catholic church until I attended a concert in one, when I moved to Salt Lake City in my mid-twenties. So it is definitely going to be a cultural experience for me.

Well, after inviting me to the wedding, he invited me up to his house for the afternoon. And I went up about one o'clock. Turns out his cat had just begun giving birth to a new batch of kittens, so I got to watch that whole process, too. They had spread an old blanket out under a bush in front of the house, and the cat had taken to it without a complaint. It is a very small cat, not much more than an adolescent cat in size, her first litter, and was having a bit of a time with it. She was cleaning up the afterbirth on the third kitten when I left.

I mentioned to my neighbor that I had heard that a couple of houses were being built on the hill above his house, and asked if they were being built by Ticos. He replied in the affirmative, and asked if I would care to walk up and see them. Since I was feeling pretty good, and my heart wasn't complaining, I said yes, and we slowly walked up the hill for a look. Turns out there were three new houses, not big but quite nice, and all were being built by the long-time owners of the property, who were replacing some fairly old shacks. There is lots of new money in Arenal these days, most of it coming from gringos moving here. And some is clearly filtering down to the locals.

Weather has continued its dry-season-like pattern, with only a few brief thunderstorms to relieve the heat and dryness. The unusual weather is nationwide, and prompted an article in the Tico Times on Friday, in which the Meteorological Institute says it is due to the El Nino, as I had surmised. They expect the El Nino to be a weak one and dissipate sometime after the first of the year, and if that happens, normal weather should resume early next year. In the mean time, it is going to be an early dry season, with below-average rainfall during the dry. In spite of the dry weather, though, the temperatures have been moderate, dropping to a 78 high today, after a 72 overnight low. Most of the preceeding days, it has been much warmer - with a high of 83 to 85, and overnight lows of 72-74.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:28:24 PM

Wed, Oct 25 2006

CAFTA Protests - A Semi-Dud Or Semi-Riot?

The paper this morning is full of news of the Central America Free Trade Agreement protests that have been taking place in San Jose on Monday and again yesterday. Protesters, mostly University of Costa Rica students, public employees union members employed by ICE and the state-owned insurance monopoly, INS, have been in the streets, protesting loudly and long about how the agreement, which has been signed but not ratified by Costa Rica, Newly installed president Oscar Arias Sanchez has reiterated his support and urged protesters to maintain the right of the citizens to navigate the streets of the capital. There has been some violence, mostly fisticuffs, but one person has died as the result of an ambulance being blocked and not allowed through to take an accident victim to the hospital.

The protestors blocked off several streets, and maintained their blockade through most of the day on each day. They had said they were going to bring the country to a halt for two days, but it didn't happen. Out here in the campo (countryside), where I live, all that is in another world. You would hardly know anything is happening if you weren't seeing it on the news each night.

In the meantime, the big mystery epidemic of disease in Panama that killed 26 people there, and put several dozen in the hospital, has finally been solved. Turns out that it was bad medicines - including a popular locally-made cough syrup had been contaminated with an industrial chemical, diethylene glycol, a highly toxic ingredient closely related to the chemical used in automotive antifreeze. The investigation showed that the contamination was apparently deliberate, and at least five people have now been arrested. More than 10,000 bottles of the medicine have been removed from store shelves in Panama, but 40,000 were produced, so the health agencies are concerned that the deaths may continue as syrup already purchased is used by people who don't know about the recall.

The election campaign up in Nicaragua is getting more heated. Daniel Ortega, the leader of the Sandinista party, and Washington's arch-nemesis, is now leading in the polls, but not by enough that he would likely win a first round. Meanwhile, Smirkey's crowd is getting really nervous about that, and is doing their best to prevent an Ortega victory. First, it was the American ambassador, Paul Trivelli, who made some comments about a month ago about how awful it was that Hugo Chavez was interfering in the elections, and, oh, by the way, you'd better not vote for the Sandinistas if you know what's good for you. Then Dan Burton, that carpetbagging right-winger congressman from Illinois came down to Nicaragua yet again (his third trip this year), and made similar comments - or should I say, threats - about how sad it would be if the Contra War were to resume. And now, just yesterday, none other than convicted felon and hero of the American right, Oliver North was in town, also making the same veiled threats about a resumption of the Contra War. What none of them seem to understand, however, is that the Nicaraguan people have the right to choose their own presidents, without American meddling, and so deeply resent the interference that they are increasingly supporting the Sandinistas just to spite the American right wing. Even the former Contra fighters have largely joined up with the Sandinistas. And as for the United States sanctimoniously giving lessons on democracy to their Ignorant Brown-Skinned Brothers To The South, it need only be pointed out that the U.S. hasn't had a free and fair national election in this century, and the one scheduled for next month doesn't look to be any better - a fact not lost on the Nicaraguans, who can - and do - read the papers, too.

My preparations for my upcoming move are proceeding apace. I have been getting some bids on the move, and the prices I have been getting (other than one) have been about what I have expected. Other than my books and electronics, I could sell most of what I have and buy new when I land wherever I land, but that is going to be a real hassle. But given the price of hauling it, I am not sure that I would be better off to keep it. Just can't bear to abandon my library, though. This would be the third time, and both times in the past, I have regretted it. So this time, I am determined to keep it, one way or another. The furniture and appliances are another matter. Those I could sell and not miss.

The weather has continued its dry-season-like pattern, with one day's exception, and that was on Sunday, when an intense tropical wave came through, and dumped rain and cold on us all day long. But now we're back to what has become the usual bright, sunny days, occasional afternoon thunderstorms, and warm temperatures. There has even been a lot of trash-burning going on around here lately, unusual for this time of year. Highs have been in the low 80's and overnight lows 72 to 73 each night.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:06:24 AM

Thu, Oct 19 2006

A Run To Canas

I made a run yesterday to Canas to buy a new tire for my SUV. The tread separation on the old one was bad enough that I figured I had best not drive on it at all, so I took it over to the gasolinera and had them put the spare on. It was a good thing I did - the separation had grown noticeably worse just in the mile I drove from my house to the gasolinera. My war plan was to get the spare put on, then drive on it to Canas for a new tire, and drive home with a stop in Tilaran for groceries. As usual, I had to wait at the gasolinera, but the wait was not inordinate - about 20 minutes. With the spare on my wheel, I drove to Canas and bought a new tire at the big Bridgestone store there. They had just the right tire, and the price was the same as last time - $99. So on it went. I drove the car into the service bay, and was the only customer in the place, so all five tire gorillas went to work on it, and had me out of there in less than ten minutes. The stop for groceries in Tilaran worked out well, though they were out of the smoked palmito cheese that I so dearly love, but otherwise, the trip went smoothly and without a hitch. I was back home by noon.

The colon, the Costa Rican unit of currency is now floating. Sort of. As of Tuesday, the central bank of Costa Rica has been allowing the currency to fluctuate in value within a certain "trading band" rather than in the fixed-rate system it has used for many years. While this has brought a certain amount of prestige to the system, it also creates uncertainty, and some observers are predicting it will only lead to further dollarization of the economy. We'll see. The first day's trading was encouraging - the currency did not hit either the floor or the ceiling, and that indicates that the central bank has the value close to right.

The weather continues its awfully dry and unusually warm (72-84 degrees) "rainy season" pattern - and now, in viewing the satellite image for the last week or so, it appears that the Intertropical Convergence Zone, the band of thunderstorms that goes around the planet and defines the "heat equator," has moved south of us, out into the Pacific. That means that the dry season is essentially here. Two to three months early. Bad news. The El Nino is already having more of an effect than the Meteorological Institute had predicted, and I can't help but wonder if the reason is that all-purpose Scapegoat For All Unusual Weather Phenomena - global warming.

Well, as promised, when something so egregious, so outrageous arises in the States that it demands a comment, I have promised to comment on it. So here goes. From the New York Times editorial page, as quoted in Truthout:

"Voters in Ohio can be forgiven if they feel they have been beamed out of the Midwest and dropped into a third-world autocracy. The latest news from the state's governor's race is that the Republican nominee, Kenneth Blackwell, who is also the Ohio secretary of state, could rule that his opponent is ineligible to run because of a technicality. We'd like to think that his office would not ultimately do that, or that if it did, such a ruling would not be allowed to stand. But the mere fact that an elected official and political candidate has the authority to toss his opponent out of a race is further evidence of a serious flaw in our democracy.

"Ted Strickland, the Democratic nominee, is leading Mr. Blackwell by as much as 28 points, according to one recent poll. In their panic, some Blackwell supporters have hit on the idea of trying to prevent the election from occurring. One of them filed a complaint alleging that Mr. Strickland, who is a member of Congress, does not live in the apartment where he is registered to vote. Mr. Strickland owns a condominium in another part of Ohio, and the complaint alleges that he actually lives there. If Mr. Strickland was not a qualified voter, he would be prohibited from running for governor.

"The complaint itself is without merit. No one disputes that Mr. Strickland lives in Ohio, or that he is registered. The only issue is which of his two homes he chose to register from, and the law gives voters with multiple homes broad discretion in choosing among them."

For those of you who don't know who Kenneth Blackwell is, he is the Secretary of State for Ohio, who, while simultaneously serving as that state's chief election officer as well as George Bush's state campaign co-chair in the 2004 election (and now the Republican candidate for governor), managed to engineer a minimum of six percentage point fraudulent vote-count shift in the election results to allow Smirkey to win Ohio - and with it, of course, the election. For this election, he has issued further regulations that skew the vote - including draconian rules on election registration drives. Can we say "conflict of interest," boys and girls? These antics are why he is running 28 points behind in the polls in a largely Republican state.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:23:15 AM

Tue, Oct 17 2006

The Hazards Of Subcontracting

I went to town today to mail some letters and pick up some medicine at the farmacia. They had the medicine I needed, and I was quite happy to get some letters mailed that have been needing to be sent since Thursday, but I couldn't because of the holiday weekend. The post office has been closed since Thursday closing, and didn't re-open till this morning. Columbus day. Here it is celebrated as Multiculture Day or some such. But whatever, it had the country pretty much shut down.

I figured on the way back home, I would run past the new Austrian Bakery to pick up some bread. I normally buy it at the German Bakery, but they are closed, as the owner is on vacation, and will be through this week. So I stopped at the Austrian Bakery to pick up some baguettes. I have bought some there before in the past, and they are OK, pretty good but not as good as the German Bakery, since they are baked in Liberia and trucked here, and are therefore not as fresh.

Well, as it turns out, the Austrian Bakery here is having its goods made by the Panaderia Alemania in Liberia. Until now, they have been OK but not really great - when the German Bakery is closed or out of stock, it has been sufficient to get by. But, in my opinion, nothing to write home about. Well, now, it turns out that the Panaderia Alemania has apparently turned to subcontracting, and the subcontractor has changed the recipe. The baguettes are now being made with the standard Costa Rican bread recipe, which omits the eggs - and that leaves the bread with a pasty, crumbly consistency and a rather weird, bland taste. No better, really, than the grocery-store bread, and certainly not worth the premium that the Austrian Bakery charges. Martha (owner of the Austrian Bakery) is in the States with some health issues - and if you're reading this, Martha, you need to get back down here and knock some heads together and get this thing sorted out. So I still have a week before the German Bakery re-opens on Monday. I can't wait. Sorry, Martha.

Arriving back home, I discovered that I have an incipient tread separation starting in one of the tires on my truck. I suspect I have hit a sharp rock or something, so I am going to have to go to the gas station and get the spare put on, then go to Canas and get a new tire. One more thing to do. One more unneeded expense.

The weather for the last few days has been continuing its dry rainy-season pattern, with almost uninterrupted sunshine. The heat has been increasing as well, with temperatures in the upper 80's the last few days, and the overnight low dropping only to 74. No rain since the day before yesterday, and that was only a brief shower during the evening. As I write this at ten in the morning, it is already 85, and headed up. Global warming arrives in Arenal.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:34:35 AM

Sat, Oct 14 2006

A Final Decision

The weather the last couple of days has continued its end-of-rainy-season regime. An increase in the trade winds, sunny skies for the most part and a lack of rain (by Arenal standards, anyway), has continued, indicating that the El Nino brewing out there in the Pacific is having its effects. No rain last night - in fact a brilliantly clear sky - is just not what we would expect this time of year. Temperatures continue to warm up a bit - it is already in the 80s as I write this at ten in the morning, and the overight low last night was 72.

Well, the results of my readership survey are in. I have made a final decision to discontinue the "More Reasons" section of this blog. The responses I have received amounted to about a third of what I was expecting and hoping to see. Most of the responses have indicated that their main focus in reading my blog is keeping up to date on what my life in exile is like, and I am grateful to you for your interest. And I pledge to continue the blog as time permits during my pending move, just without the politics. I may make a comment from time to time, or quote a particularly egregious story I run across, but it will no longer be a running feature.

Some readers, however, have suggested that I explain how it was researched and provide the sources, so readers can go there for themselves. I think that is an excellent solution, so here is an explanation of how I have been doing the research for those who wish to peruse the sources themselves.

I have taken full advantage of the power of RSS. With it, the blog research is accomplished in just a few minutes, and is done automatically, and the big, time consuming job has been simply selecting from among the hundreds of new items, excerpting them and plugging them into the blog.

For those of you who don't know what RSS is, it is a way of alerting end users to new content on a web site automatically. Many web sites, including this one, provide a special file called an "RSS feed" which lists new items on the web site and (in many cases) a brief summary of them. The file is updated each time a new item is added. The feed is then read by the end user using software called an "RSS reader" or "feed reader" - versions of which are built into both the Firebird web browser and the Thunderbird email program. I have used both, but find them inadequate and frankly rather buggy and unreliable, so I looked around for a standalone feed reader I like, and have settled on "Feed Reader," free software you can obtain at www.feedreader.com.

Once you have a feed reader installed, you need to "subscribe" to the feeds of interest. For my blog research, my feed reader is currently set up to check 29 different web sites (and checks all 29 for new content in about three minutes - that is the power of RSS!). But only a half dozen of those account for about three fourths of the items I have been including in the More Reasons section.

If you use Feedreader or a similar RSS reader, you can add the following links to your feed list and get most of the information I have been using from my more important sources. Asterisks indicate feeds that I find are particularly useful:

Citizens for Legitimate Government *

Alternet

New Standard News

Raw Story *

Truthout *

Huffington Post *

Human Rights Watch USA

Human Rights Watch International

Environmental News Network

Center For Public Integrity

The Smirking Chimp

Project For The Old American Century *

Working For Change

Truthdig *

An additional site that is highly useful but does not provide an RSS feed and therefore has to be checked manually, is TVNewsLies.org.

For activists, many of you will already recognize some of these sites, and for others, most may be new to you. But they are all good sites for uncovering the malfeasance of Smirkey and the gang, and can help you keep on top of what the mainstream media is simply not telling you.

I hope that helps. And if I can be of further assistance in helping those of you who are interested in keeping up to speed on these matters, please feel free to write, and I will offer the benefit of whatever wisdom I can provide.

Thanks again to all of you who have been loyal readers of my "More Reasons" section all these years. And I apologize for the inconvenience of no longer having this section for your perusal.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:57:31 AM

Thu, Oct 12 2006

Adventures In Vanilla

The weather has been late rainy season. Late is kinda strange, because this should be just the peak of it. But there has been little rain (except for a brief but intense thunderstorm yesterday afternoon) and for the most part, even sunny and bright, right into the evening, with grand, orange-lit thunderclouds off in the distance. Unusual for Arenal at any time of the year, but almost unheard of in the rainy season. Going days at a time with no rain in the middle of the rainy season is just not our kind of weather. The last couple of days have seen some increase in temperatures, too, with an overnight low of 73, and a high today of 85.

About a year ago, I was in a chain supermarket in Tilaran when a busload of gringo tourists was disgorged in front of the place, and most of them came in to experience a "real" Costa Rican supermarket and buy a few souvenir local food products (unbeknownst to them, that store is actually owned by none other than Wal Mart, and at least two thirds of what it sells is imported by that company from the States under local-brand labels). As I was cruising the aisles making my usual purchases, I happened on a couple of women examining a small bottle of vanilla flavoring, and wondering aloud in English if it was artificial or genuine vanilla extract. Well, it was one of the cheaper store brands, so I knew the answer before I translated the label for them - sure enough, it was ordinary, imported artificial vanilla. Ever since then, though, for some reason, I have just kept my eyes open for the real deal. I have known for some time that there are vanilla plantations here, but had no idea if it was being processed locally. Well, yesterday, I found some in the local supermarket here in Arenal, and on examination of the label, found it is not only the real deal, but is made in Costa Rica as well, and was made by a proprietary water extraction method by a 78-year old local company, and contained no alcohol. I just had to buy a bottle and give it a try - the price was right, about $3 for barely under a half liter - not much more than the imported artificial stuff.

What to try it in, that was the question. Well, I figured the obvious choice was a betido (a fresh-fruit smoothie made with milk), and so I made up a batch of my famous banana betidos. I mixed in a teaspoon and a half of the extract in the full blender, figuring that would be about what I would use of the artificial stuff - I like a lot of vanilla in things.

Wow! What a mistake that was! The flavor of the vanilla simply overwhelmed the bananas, and it was about all I could taste! Having never used real vanilla before, I had no idea what to expect, and using genuine, top quality natural extract for the first time, I was quite amazed at how powerful it is. After diluting everything down a good deal, it proved to be a wonderful addition, with a full, round flavor that the artificial stuff just doesn't have and will now become a standard ingredient for my banana betidos. Yeah, that bottle of vanilla is going with me, wherever I end up after my move. I think I have got a new best friend.

I am still considering my decision as to whether to discontinue the "More Reasons" section below. If you have not weighed in on this, please let me know right away.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The National Security Archive at George Washington University has uncovered a dirty little secret of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts: one of every four veterns of the of the Bush regime's global war on terror has filed a disability claim with the Veteran's Administration. Perhaps just as importantly, the VA stonewalled the NSA's FOIA request for nearly nine months. What do the actual numbers look like? In a release today, the NSA said: "...Only after the Archive administratively appealed the VA's 'no documents' claims and advised the VA that it was prepared to file a lawsuit did the agency manage to locate the records. One is a January 30, 2006, document: "Compensation and Pension Benefit Activity Among 464,144 Veterans Deployed to the Global War on Terror." It reports that more than 150,000 deployed Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) veterans, out of more than 560,000 veterans of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), filed disability compensation and pension benefits claims with the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)... According to Veterans for America, the newly released data suggests official estimates dramatically understate the future cost of the current Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. If the current trend continues, then VA could receive as many as 400,000 disability claims from the 1.6 million deployed active duty and reserve service members in the Global War on Terrorism..."

It seems increasingly clear that the GOP congressional leadership, eager for every safe incumbent in the House to run for re-election, looked the other way as evidence accumulated that Mark Foley had a thing for pages. Holding onto his seat became more important than confronting him over his extracurricular activities. But there's more to the story of why Foley stood for re-election this year. Yesterday, a source close to Foley explained to THE NEW REPUBLIC that in early 2006 the congressman had all but decided to retire from the House and set up shop on K Street. "Mark's a friend of mine," says this source. "He told me, 'I'm thinking about getting out of it and becoming a lobbyist.'" But when Foley's friend saw the Congressman again this spring, something had changed. To the source's surprise, Foley told him he would indeed be standing for re-election. What happened? Karl Rove intervened. According to the source, Foley said he was being pressured by "the White House and Rove gang," who insisted that Foley run. If he didn't, Foley was told, it might impact his lobbying career. "He said, 'The White House made it very clear I have to run,'" explains Foley's friend, adding that Foley told him that the White House promised that if Foley served for two more years it would "enhance his success" as a lobbyist. "I said, 'I thought you wanted out of this?' And he said, 'I do, but they're scared of losing the House and the thought of two years of Congressional hearings, so I have two more years of duty.'"

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The Court of Tegucigalpa (Honduras) charged the US company Your Solutions of buying off 142 Honduran nationals hired as security guards, who were forced to go fight in Iraq. The Human Rights Court report says the soldiers claim they were cheated by the company, since of their $1,200 dollar monthly salary, $200 were deducted for company "expenses" and another $200 supposedly sent to their families, which never arrived. Fourteen guards returning home told the Human Rights Court that the company violated their rights and lied about the true intent of their contracts. They were hired to work as private security guards in Iraq but once there, were forced to join the fighting. Due to this situation's international repercussions, a UN commission visited Honduras to interview different institutions and check on the charges. Although Honduras has not signed the Anti-Mercenary Convention, Art. 317 of its Penal Code includes the crime, hence the General Attorney's Office and Human Rights Court will sue. In addition, the UN Anti-Mercenary Group urged Honduras to keep track of such contracts because the contingent departed without institutional protection.

The creation of a special group to toughen the blockade against Cuba, announced by the US government Wednesday, has been Washington's reaction to the imminent UN condemnation of the siege against the island. The announcement, made by the federal attorney of southern Florida, added new measures are being taken involving numerous governmental agencies and other instances "to punish lawbreakers." The group is formed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Department of the Treasury, the FBI, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Commerce, the Coast Guard, and border protection units. That huge mobilization of resources, to stiffen the anti-Cuba blockade and includes threats of substantial fines and up to ten-year prison sentences, is taking place less than a month before the UN General Assembly will once again consider the issue. The new US move demonstrates that for the Bush administration, the rejection of the anti-Cuba blockade expressed by the international community at the UN clearly has little value.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Sawsan Salameh, a Palestinian from the West Bank, was thrilled to get a full scholarship from Hebrew University of Jerusalem to begin a doctorate in theoretical chemistry. But a recent move by the Israeli Army to ban new Palestinian students from Israeli universities for "security" reasons is keeping her from studying at the campus, just three kilometers, or two miles, from her home. "The first time I applied for a permit I was rejected," said Salameh, 29, a Muslim wearing a head scarf and a black denim skirt that skimmed the floor. "I was shocked, because I thought there must be some kind of mistake, so I kept trying. I kept hoping." Her situation is familiar to many Palestinians, whose freedom of movement has been limited in recent years because of the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Salameh said that after she appealed six times to the Israeli government agency that handles Palestinian affairs, she decided to turn to the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, Gisha, an Israeli group that is an advocate for Palestinian rights, submitted a petition on her behalf to the court, calling the ban illegal. "Gisha calls upon Israel not to prevent Palestinian students from studying just because they are Palestinian," the group's director, Sari Bashi, said.

Spin Cycle: With casualties rising in the Iraqi chaos abroad and the congressional page scandals at home, President Bush wants to change the subject to taxes and the economy. "Our nation has got this choice to make," he said in Macon, Ga., Tuesday at yet another Republican fundraiser: "Keep taxes low - or let the Democrats in Washington raise taxes." These are dog days for conservative Republican incumbents. The growing din of civil war in Iraq drowns out the president's tough talk about the war on terror. The Mark Foley page scandal puts a damper on the conservative indictment of licentious liberals. Stagnant wages and growing pressures on working and middle-income families make the president's celebration of the "strong economy" sound out of touch. So the president and conservative incumbents are trotting out the old staple - the threat that Democrats will raise your taxes. There are limits to the argument. With fighting escalating in Afghanistan and Iraq, with deficits still consuming the Social Security trust fund surplus and more, the president doesn't promise new tax cuts. He doesn't really say what he'll do for the economy, but merely what he's against: Democrats raising your taxes. He doesn't explain how Democrats will do that when he's armed with veto power in the White House. One problem with the argument: The conservatives in charge of Washington have already been picking the pockets of most American families. Their corporate tax and trade policies have added to the flight of good jobs abroad and the downward pressure on wages at home. Their full-bore assault on unions and opposition to the minimum wage contributes directly to a distorted economy in which profits and CEO salaries are up but workers are falling behind.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A California man who appeared in al-Qaeda propaganda videos has been charged with treason by a US court. Adam Gadahn, 28, has become the first US citizen to be charged with treason since World War II, officials said. Mr Gadahn, who is also known as Azzam al-Amriki or Azzam the American, is believed to be a fugitive in Pakistan. Previously known as Adam Pearlman, he converted to Islam as a teenager and most recently appeared in a video with al-Qaeda ideologue, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In the video released last month, he exhorted his fellow Americans to convert to Islam and said US soldiers fighting in the Iraqi and Afghan conflicts should switch sides. No Muslim, he said, should "shed tears" for Westerners killed in terrorist attacks. The indictment against Mr Gadahn said he had "knowingly adhered to an enemy of the United States... with intent to betray the United States". A deputy US attorney described the treason charge as "exceptionally severe". The charge carries penalties ranging from a five-year prison term to death. Mr Gadahn grew up on a goat farm near Los Angeles.

The United States Of America, A Third-World Nation: Cow manure from a ranch in California's Salinas Valley carries E. coli bacteria that match the strain that sickened 200 Americans and killed three, U.S. health officials said on Thursday. Samples taken from three cattle at a ranch precisely match the strain of E. coli 0157:H7 taken from patients and from bags of spinach linked to the outbreak, Dr. Kevin Reilly, Deputy Director of the Prevention Services Division at the California Department of Health told reporters. "This is a significant finding and it is the first time that we have linked an E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak to a specific ranch in the Salinas Valley," Reilly said.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: The US trade deficit widened by more than expected during August, raising concerns about the state of the world's largest economy. The deficit was $69.9 billion in August, up from July's $68 billion level, the US Commerce Department said. The deficit is on course to set a new record, totalling $784.2 billion at the end of August, 9.4% higher than a year ago. One of the main causes of the shortfall has been high oil prices, which have pushed up petroleum import costs. The total value of imports rose by 2.4% to $192.3 billion in August, while exports rose by 2.3% to $122.4 billion. During August, the politically charged trade deficit with China rose by 12.2% to a monthly high of $22bn. The is on course to top last year's record figure of $202 billion.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Africa's two highest mountains - Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya - will lose their ice cover within 25 to 50 years if deforestation and industrial pollution are not stopped, environmentalists warned Thursday. Kilimanjaro has already lost 82 percent of its ice cover over 80 years, said Fredrick Njau of the Kenyan Green Belt Movement. Mount Kenya, one of the few places near the equator with permanent glaciers, has lost 92 percent over the past 100 years. "This is a major issue because declining ice caps mean the water tap is effectively going to be turned off and that is a major concern," said Nick Nuttall from the U.N.'s Environment Program. All the evidence shows climate change is underway and Africa is the must vulnerable continent to this, he said, adding that foreign aid must address the threat of climate change.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Max Blumenthal, writing in The Nation: "Immediately after the Mark Foley scandal broke, some anti-Republican gay-rights activists composed a memo containing the names of closeted gay Republican Congressional staffers and sent it to leading Christian-right advocacy groups. The founder and chairman of one of those groups, the Rev. Don Wildmon of the American Family Association, told me he has received that memo, which he referred to simply as "The List." Based on The List's contents, Wildmon is convinced that a secretive gay "clique" boring within the Republican-controlled Congress is responsible for covering up Foley's sexual predation toward teenage male House pages. Moreover, Wildmon calls on the Republican Party leadership to promptly purge the "subversive" gay staffers. "They oughtta fire every one of 'em," Wildmon told me in his trademark Mississippi drawl. 'I don't care if they're heterosexual or homosexual or whatever they are. If you've got that going on, that subverts the will of the people; that subverts the voters. That is subversive activity. There should be no organization among staffers in Washington of that nature, and if they find out that they're there and they're a member, they oughtta be dismissed el pronto.' Wildmon claimed that an investigation by Congressional Republican leaders into the gay menace lurking in their midst will clear House Speaker Dennis Hastert of allegations that he repeatedly ignored warnings about Foley's behavior. "I think the identification of the members of the homosexual clique is going to come out," Wildmon declared. "I think it's going to come out whether or not Hastert knew what he says, and at this point I'm inclined to believe he's telling the truth. I'm beginning to think that the homosexuals shielded their former Congressman Foley and that Denny Hastert did not know the depth of what's going on up there.'"

More than five years after President Bush created the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, the former second-in-command of that office is going public with an insider’s tell-all account that portrays an office used almost exclusively to win political points with both evangelical Christians and traditionally Democratic minorities. The office's primary mission, providing financial support to charities that serve the poor, never got the presidential support it needed to succeed, according to the book. Entitled "Tempting Faith," the book is not scheduled for release until Oct. 16, but MSNBC’s "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" has obtained a copy. "Tempting Faith's" author is David Kuo, who served as special assistant to the president from 2001 to 2003. A self-described conservative Christian, Kuo's previous experience includes work for prominent conservatives including former Education Secretary and federal drug czar Bill Bennett and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 03:16:30 PM

Tue, Oct 10 2006

Oops! Servicio Suspendido!

The weather is beginning to show evidence of the end of the rainy season. Dry weather during the day, including the afternoon, with spectacular sunsets and heavy evening showers. Last night a really big thunderstorm brought a rip-snorting downpour that lasted two hours and wiped out satellite TV reception during that time. Temperatures haven't changed that much, though, with an 82 high and a 72 low.

Last night's downpour brought two roof leaks to my attention. Both appeared along troughs in the roof, and were only leaking during the heavy part of the rain, so that leads me to believe that they are being caused by moss and llianas damming up the troughs, not allowing them to drain properly It has been two years since I cleaned the moss off the roof, and it is clearly ready for it again, so that is going to be the big project in the next week or two. I fully expect that will clear the leaks. I'll keep you advised - we're heading into the ripsnorter season, so I should soon find out.

Well, I screwed up. I wasn't paying close attention to my bill-paying account, and it ran out of money. I didn't know about it until a phone outage yesterday that lasted about 8 hours, and when the phones came back on, mine didn't. When I went to dial out to the Internet to do research for today's blog entry, I got an intercept, which said in Spanish: "Esteemed, customer, your service has been temporarily suspended. Please contact ICE management regarding this matter. You may call from this phone, the call is free." That could only mean one thing - the phone bill was overdue. So I went down to the bank that pays my bills this morning, and sure enough, the account was about $16 short of enough to pay the bill, so it had gone unpaid. I put some money in the account, paid the phone bill and asked when the phone would likely be turned back on. Twenty minutes, I was told. While in town, I did a bit of grocery shopping, and when I got home, the phone was on. That is why the blog was uploaded a day late. Sorry about that.

I still need to hear from you if you have not written me already regarding the future of this blog. So far, the response has been somewhat sparse, and I so am still reconsidering my commitment to keeping this blog (or at least the More Reasons section) alive. If you haven't written yet, please take the time to write me and let me know if you are reading More Reasons, and if so, how much of it you read, and how often. This will help me determine whether the readership is broad enough to justify the rather considerable effort in putting it together.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Kellogg Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, is constructing a huge facility at an undisclosed location to hold tens of thousands of Bush's "unlawful enemy combatants." Americans are certain to be among them. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 governing the treatment of detainees is the culmination of relentless fear-mongering by the Bush administration since the September 11 terrorist attacks. Because the bill was adopted with lightning speed, barely anyone noticed that it empowers Bush to declare not just aliens, but also U.S. citizens, "unlawful enemy combatants." Bush & Co. has portrayed the bill as a tough way to deal with aliens to protect us against terrorism. Frightened they might lose their majority in Congress in the November elections, the Republicans rammed the bill through Congress with little substantive debate. Anyone who donates money to a charity that turns up on Bush's list of "terrorist" organizations, or who speaks out against the government's policies could be declared an "unlawful enemy combatant" and imprisoned indefinitely. That includes American citizens. The bill also strips habeas corpus rights from detained aliens who have been declared enemy combatants. Congress has the constitutional power to suspend habeas corpus only in times of rebellion or invasion. The habeas-stripping provision in the new bill is unconstitutional and the Supreme Court will likely say so when the issue comes before it. In his 1928 dissent in Olmstead v. United States, Justice Louis Brandeis cautioned, "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding." Seventy-three years later, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, speaking for a zealous President, warned Americans "they need to watch what they say, watch what they do."

North Korea will view US pressure to rein in its nuclear program as "a declaration of war", the isolated communist regime said today in its first official statement since announcing it had carried out a nuclear test. Separately, the country's number two leader also warned that it would conduct a second test unless Washington softened its stance. "If the US keeps pestering us and increases pressure, we will regard it as a declaration of war and will take a series of physical corresponding measures," Pyongyang's foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. "We were compelled to prove that we have nuclear weapons to prevent the increasing threat of war by the US and protect our sovereignty and survival," the statement added, saying the country was "ready for both dialogue and confrontation".

Two weeks ago? In the spring? Last fall? Try the year 2000. A spokesman for Rep. Jim Kolbe has told the Washington Post that the Arizona Republican learned six years ago that Rep. Mark Foley had engaged in inappropriate electronic exchanges with a former page. Kolbe spokeswoman Korenna Cline says that her boss personally confronted Foley about the messages at the time. If the Post's story holds up, it pretty much obliterates the timeline that House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office put out on Sept. 30 - the one that implied that House Republicans got their first hint of Foley's problems in the fall of 2005. That said, it's not clear yet whether Kolbe communicated with anyone in the House aside from Foley himself about the 2000 e-mail messages. Cline tells the Post that "corrective action" was taken in 2000, but that she doesn't know yet whether it involved anyone beyond Kolbe and Foley. It's also not yet clear how explicit the 2000 messages were - that is, if they were like the instant messages that ended Foley's career a week ago or more like the "overfriendly" e-mail messages House Republicans saw but didn't do much about over the course of the last year. A source with "direct knowledge" of Kolbe's involvement in the episode has read the messages in question to the Post, but the paper stops short of characterizing them one way or another. The Post says its source describes the messages as sexually explicit but that Cline denies that characterization.

On one night in 2002 or 2003, an allegedly inebriated Foley showed up at the pages' dorm after a 10 p.m. curfew and tried to gain entry, according to an account provided by two congressional sources, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter. Foley was turned away by a guard. It is not known if the pages were ever aware that Foley lurked outside their door, but word of the incident reached the House Clerk, who notified Foley's chief of staff, Kirk Fordham. This was not the first time that Fordham had learned of his boss's behaving, in that modern all-purpose euphemism, "inappropriately." Fordham decided that it was time to go to a higher authority, so he went to see Scott Palmer, chief of staff to the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert. That, at least, is what Fordham is prepared to tell investigators, according to a knowledgeable source who requested anonymity in discussing the probe. Palmer has already accused Fordham of dissembling, and Washington is settling in for one of its periodic melodramas of moralizing and prurience. The secret world of Mark Foley - and the denial and bumbling of the House leaders who possibly did not want to know too much about that world - is beginning to emerge in bits and pieces of lurid detail. What actually happened - from the moment that Hill staffers first became aware of Congressman Foley's unusual interest in teenage congressional pages - is the source of intrigue, finger-pointing, shock, fear and loathing on Capitol Hill and of endless fascination around the country. No wonder: the political fortunes of the Republican Party hang in the balance.

A former House page says he had sex with then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) after receiving explicit e-mails in which the congressman described assessing the sexual orientation and physical attributes of underage pages but waiting until later to make direct advances. The former page, who agreed to discuss his relationship with Foley with the Los Angeles Times on the condition that he not be identified, said his electronic correspondence with Foley began after he finished the respected Capitol Hill page program for high school juniors. His sexual encounter was in the fall of 2000, he said. At the time, he was 21 and a graduate of a rural Northeastern college.

Mike Rogers, blogACTIVE and PageOneQ.com editor and publisher, appeared Monday on FOX News' The O'Reilly Factor with host Bill O'Reilly. They discussed the effects the growing Mark Foley scandal, speculation around which O'Reilly described as "partisan nonsense." Rogers told O'Reilly that he has more members of Congress he will be reporting on as closeted and anti-gay before the election. "If the right wing thinks that homosexuality is tied to pedophilia, which we know is not true, what will they say in the next week or two when I release the names of other closeted gay memebrs of Congress in the Republican Party?" Rogers asked the host. "It's going to happen. What will their response be?" he also asked. A couple of days ago, Americablog reported rumors of another secretly gay Republican congressperson involved in scandal. John Aravosis refused to divulge the name (even in private correspondence - yes, I was nebby enough to ask), although his published piece cleverly hinted that the "mystery gay" was House Speaker Denny Hastert himself. Now, a number of web sites - and even Randi Rhodes - have reported that Hastert is indeed the man on the hot seat.

You'd think that the evangelists would understand by now that well-paid advisors brief W on which insider terms to use in order to thrill the hearts of fundamentalists. You'd think that they would notice that "their" president rarely attends religious services. Recent books have portrayed GWB as a foul-mouthed and ill-tempered bundle of resentment, likelier to say "motherfucker" than "maranatha," likelier to raise the finger than to bend the knee. Alas, most evangelicals still cling to their hallucinations of Republican piety. Maybe this revelation by Tucker Carlson - no liberal, he - will finally awaken the entranced: CARLSON: It goes deeper than that though. The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power. Everybody in... MATTHEWS: How do you know that? How do you know that? CARLSON: Because I know them. Because I grew up with them. Because I live with them. They live on my street. Because I live in Washington, and I know that everybody in our world has contempt for the evangelicals. And the evangelicals know that, and they're beginning to learn that their own leaders sort of look askance at them and don't share their values. MATTHEWS: So this gay marriage issue and other issues related to the gay lifestyle are simply tools to get elected? CARLSON: That's exactly right. It's pandering to the base in the most cynical way, and the base is beginning to figure it out.

Five state prison systems in the United States permit the use of aggressive, unmuzzled dogs to terrify and even attack prisoners in efforts to remove them from their cells, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report. The 20-page report, "Cruel and Degrading: The Use of Dogs for Cell Extractions in U.S. Prisons," publicly reveals this practice for the first time. It also shows that the practice is not only cruel, but wholly unnecessary as there are safer, more humane alternatives that corrections officers can use - and most across the country do use - to remove prisoners from their cells.

In Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, South Dakota and Utah, if a prisoner will not voluntarily leave his cell when ordered to do so, officers may bring a trained attack dog to the cell front to terrify the prisoner into compliance. If the prisoner still refuses, the dog is let into the cell to bite the prisoner. While the prisoner tries to fend off the dog, correctional officers place restraints on him and then remove him from the cell. "The entire world has seen the photo of an Abu Ghraib detainee crouched in terror before a snarling dog, but the use of attack dogs against prisoners here in the U.S. has been a well-kept secret," said Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch. "Longtime corrections professionals were appalled when we told them that guards in some states use dogs on prisoners." The state prison systems in Connecticut and Iowa frequently use dogs for cell extractions. In Utah, they have been used extremely rarely. In Delaware and South Dakota, although state corrections policies permit the use of dogs for cell extractions, prison officials say they are not in fact used for this purpose.

The tracer software that Hewlett-Packard investigators used to try to sniff out boardroom leaks sounded like it had been ripped from the pages of a bad science-fiction novel. That is, until the company began talking about it in detail at a congressional probe into the spying scandal. The technology tool the company used, called a Web bug, is designed to allow email senders to track the path a message takes, including whether a recipient opens the message and forwards it to another party. And it turns out the technology is widely used in email newsletters to track readers and also by law enforcement in investigations, security experts say. A spokesman for the California attorney general's office said that HP's use of Web bugs is not linked to the Oct. 4 charges of five people, including former HP Chairwoman Patricia Dunn and contractors, on allegations that they used false pretenses to access individuals' phone records. That case is about the practice of so-called pretexting.

Public health advocates are questioning why the federal government is continuing to permit the use of a toxic and potentially deadly insecticide contained in shampoos and lotions marketed to treat skin ailments. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in August that it was banning lindane, an organochlorine pesticide and possible human carcinogen widely produced since the 1940s, for agricultural uses. The agency said the companies making the insecticide "requested to voluntarily cancel all remaining pesticide registrations." But the insecticide, which the EPA states is "quite toxic for humans," is still approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for head lice and scabies. Despite the FDA’s own admission of multiple deaths and neurological side effects linked to the use of the pesticide by humans, the agency states that "lindane products have benefits that outweigh risks." The FDA blames some of the deaths and disabilities resulting from lindane on "product misuse." According to the FDA, up to one million prescriptions for lindane are written each year to treat new cases of head lice and scabies.

An alleged operative for Al Qaeda imprisoned for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant is saying he was tortured and forcibly medicated with "a sort of truth serum" while in a Navy brig. Jose Padilla, 35, was arrested in 2002 on suspicions that he was plotting a radioactive explosion, also known as a dirty bomb. He spent several years in a military jail in Charleston, S.C., without facing criminal charges. As legal wrangling over his fate continued, prosecutors in Miami charged him late last year with providing material support to a terrorist group and conspiring to murder, maim, and kidnap Americans abroad.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Dollars Are Paying For: The gift that keeps on giving: Twenty-one Lebanese have been killed and more than 100 wounded by unexploded Israeli bombs and bomblets dropped by Israel in the July-August war, the United Nations and Lebanese police said Sunday. As of October 3, 124 people had been killed or wounded by unexploded bombs, mostly submunitions that landed indiscriminately in civilian areas, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said. Lebanese police said that 21 people have been killed by the bomblets, including 16 civilians and five army bomb-disposal experts, since the 34-day conflict ended on August 14. On Sunday, 57-year-old Ali Khalil Arbani became the latest reported casualty after he was wounded by a bomblet as he gardened in the village of Zawtar Sharqieh in the South, losing a finger, police said.

Hizbullah will resume its military campaign unless Israel withdraws from the disputed Shebaa farms area and other pockets of territory occupied during this summer's 34-day war, Nabih Berri, the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, has warned. "If Israel does not pull out we will have to drive them out," Mr Berri, who acted as a link to the militant organisation during this summer's war with Israel, said in an interview with the Guardian. Shebaa farms has been occupied by Israel since 1967, but both Syria and Lebanon claim ownership of the land. Hizbullah will remain armed and fully operational in south Lebanon, despite the newly deployed UN forces, until Israel withdraws from all Lebanese territory and ceases its air, sea and land violations, Mr Berri said. "The Unifil presence will not hinder Hizbullah's defensive operations. The resistance doesn't need to fly its flags high to operate. It's a guerrilla movement; it operates among the people," he said. But Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, told journalists last week that the Lebanese army had clear instructions to seize any weapons found in the south. "We reiterate our respect for all those who struggled and fought in the south, but there will be no weapons in the south apart from the army's," he said. Mr Berri also expressed concern that UN forces could be involved in gathering information that could fall into the hands of Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad. "We don't want to interfere in their work, but we will be watching closely. We have to be careful, but we have a very effective intelligence service and we are used to watching for Israeli spies."

Spin Cycle: Neo-Cons have seized upon doubts about the scale of North Korea's nuclear test to craft a talking point that the blast was a dud in an attempt to conceal the hypocrisy of hyping a war with a non-nuclear Iran in the face of North Korea's open proliferation, and the fact that Kim Jong-il bought his weapons from arms networks that were protected by the Bush administration. Bill Gertz and the Washington Times, usually the first to spit out volleys of rampant fearmongering, especially concerning Iran's alleged nuclear agenda, are leading a chorus of government media mouthpieces in downplaying Sunday's underground atomic test. "U.S. intelligence agencies say, based on preliminary indications, that North Korea did not produce its first nuclear blast yesterday," writes Gertz. "The underground explosion, which Pyongyang dubbed a historic nuclear test, is thought to have been the equivalent of several hundred tons of TNT, far short of the several thousand tons of TNT, or kilotons, that are signs of a nuclear blast, the official said." The U.S. seems to be alone in its assessment that the blast was non-nuclear - with Russia even claiming the explosion was comparable to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Why are these bootlicking Neo-Con hacks, breaking from their usual feverish exaggeration of anything that makes the world more dangerous, changing the script and attempting to poo-poo North Korea's actions? The wild card of the test could potentially derail planned air strikes on Iran because, as Mike Rivero pointed out, "It will be hard for Bush to sell an invasion of Iran because it might someday make nuclear weapons when North Korea definitely has them now." The Neo-Con spin, that North Korea has not advanced to the point it claims and that the threat is diminished compared to more pressing targets of the Bush war machine, is intended to shield the hypocrisy of ignoring a nuclear-capable dictatorship that has threatened to destroy the world and fired test missiles that have hit Alaska, while obsessing about Iran, completely surrounded by U.S. client states and as much as fifteen years away from the bomb. It is also an effort to offset questions about how Kim Jong-il acquired his arsenal in the first place.

It's hard to believe that twelve years have passed since the Newt Gingrich-led Republican Revolution of 1994. In that year, GOP candidates launched a successful effort to take control of both the House and Senate, something they had not been able to accomplish in the previous forty-two years. Their campaign focused heavily on the Contract with America, a list of objectives that Republicans promised to pursue in Congress if elected into the majority. One of the key proposals of the document was the Citizen Legislature Act, a measure which would amend the Constitution to place limits on the number of terms members of both the House and Senate could serve. The argument was that career politicians become too distant from the people and need to be replaced by "citizen legislators." In a show of support for the proposed amendment, which eventually failed in the House, several GOP candidates pledged to limit their own terms (independent of any legislation forcing them to do so) if elected. Small numbers of candidates followed this trend in future elections as well. Of course, it is one thing to make a promise, and quite another to keep it. For the first ten years following the '94 campaign, slightly more than half of those with a pledge honored it when it came time to do so.

Republican campaign officials said yesterday that they expect to lose at least seven House seats and as many as 30 in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, as a result of sustained violence in Iraq and the page scandal involving former GOP representative Mark Foley. Democrats need to pick up 15 seats in the election to take back control of the House after more than a decade of GOP leadership. Two weeks of virtually nonstop controversy over President Bush’s war policy and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert’s handling of the page scandal have forced party leaders to recalculate their vulnerability and placed a growing number of Republican incumbents and open seats at much greater risk. GOP officials are urging lawmakers to focus exclusively on local issues and leave it to party leaders to mitigate the Foley controversy by accusing Democrats of trying to politicize it. At the same time, the White House plans to amplify national security issues, especially the threat of terrorism, after North Korea’s reported nuclear test, in hopes of shifting the debate away from casualties and controversy during the final month of the campaign. These efforts are aimed largely at prodding disaffected conservatives to vote for GOP candidates despite their unease. Still, GOP leaders privately said that Democrats are edging much closer to locking down a majority of House seats because a small but significant number of conservatives are frustrated with Republican governance, while independent swing voters are turning against GOP candidates. "These polls seem to suggest the public has decided to just 'throw the bums out,'" said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "These are huge, huge, numbers and they are very bad for Republicans," she said. "There is not a shred of good news in these polls for Republicans." They are all but writing off GOP open seats in Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Florida (the one previously held by Foley). Party officials said that three GOP incumbents in Indiana are trailing in private polling and that seats thought safe suddenly appear imperiled. These include the open Florida seat vacated by Rep. Katherine Harris, who is running for senator. "It is unquestionably closer than we would like," said Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.).

Suddenly, like the fierce "blue northers" that sweep across Texas each autumn, the political winds have turned bleaker for Republicans - and Smirkey's private mood has blackened accordingly... [F]riends, aides and close political allies tell the Daily News Bush is furious with his own side for helping create a political downdraft that has blunted his momentum and endangered GOP prospects for keeping control of Congress next month. Some of his anger is directed at former aides who helped Watergate journalist Bob Woodward paint a lurid portrait of a dysfunctional, chaotic administration in his new book, "State of Denial." In the obsessively private Bush clan, talking out of school is the ultimate act of disloyalty, and Bush feels betrayed from within. "He’s ticked off big-time," said a well-informed source, "even if what they said was the truth." Bush has complained, these sources said, that the scandal torpedoes furious GOP efforts to reenergize a dispirited political base - especially Christian conservatives. "There’s steam coming out of his ears over the Foley thing," someone who talks to the President regularly said. "The base is starting to get turned off again."

A story appearing in the American Spectator claims that news of then-Congressman Mark Foley's (R-FL) inappropriate communication with pages was supposed to be released by Democratic "party operatives" at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington or American Family Voices just ten days prior to the election. C.R.E.W. has contended that they received Foley emails many months ago, and turned what they had over to law enforcement, rather than passing it along to journalists. The organization plans to release a "fact sheet" detailing their account of involvement in the affair later today. "The RNC is shipping reams of information to conservative radio hosts, television commentators and bloggers," Jim VandeHei and Chris Cillizza wrote for the Post. "Those GOP talking points detail the Democratic connections of groups including the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and American Family Voices, which are working to turn the scandal into an issue with national implications." The C.R.E.W. rebuttal includes a response to these "lies" among many others: LIE: The email messages between Rep. Foley and a former page have been in CREW’s possession as far back as April. FACT: CREW received the emails on July 21, 2006 and promptly sent them to the FBI, and no one else, that same day. CREW did not discuss the email messages or their content with anyone else. The only call CREW's Executive Director Melanie Sloan made regarding the matter was to the Washington FBI agent to whom she sent the emails to confirm receipt of the messages. LIE: CREW provided the FBI with incomplete information and heavily redacted emails. CREW refused to disclose the page’s name and contact information to the FBI. FACT: The emails Ms. Sloan sent to the FBI were not edited or redacted in any way. The page's full name and email address were in the emails, as was the name and email address of the Congressional staffer to whom the page was sending the emails. LIE: The FBI investigation into Rep. Foley was hampered because CREW refused to comply with the agency's request for additional information. FACT: After CREW sent the emails to the FBI, CREW's only subsequent contact with the Bureau was one telephone call from the special agent to whom CREW had sent the material confirming that the emails were from Rep. Foley. CREW had no further contact with the FBI. According to several government officials, the FBI sent the emails to three squads: a public corruptions squad, a criminal squad and a cyber-squad. After reviewing the matter, the FBI determined that there wasn't enough evidence at the time to suggest any criminal activity and did not move forward with an investigation.

Commenting on the congressional page scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) on the October 6 broadcast of Focus on the Family, James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, declared that the Foley affair has "turned out to be what some people are now saying was a -- sort of a joke by the boy and some of the other pages" who had reportedly come forward with sexually explicit instant messages that Foley allegedly sent. Similarly, in his October 6 column, Wall Street Journal deputy editorial page editor Daniel Henninger wrote that "a rumor emerged that in fact Mark Foley had been pranked by the House pages" and then added: "It is the first plausible thing I've heard in seven days." Media Matters for America recently noted that in defense of Foley's alleged actions, Internet gossip Matt Drudge and nationally syndicated radio host Michael Savage also attempted to shift the blame to the former pages who communicated with the former congressman. On his website, Drudge has elaborated on his suggestion that at least one of the former pages was complicit.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: The world's glaciers and ice caps are now in terminal decline because of global warming, scientists have discovered. A survey has revealed that the rate of melting across the world has sharply accelerated in recent years, placing even previously stable glaciers in jeopardy. The loss of glaciers in South America and Asia will threaten the water supplies of millions of people within a few decades, the experts warn. Georg Kaser, a glaciologist at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, who led the research, said: "The glaciers are going to melt and melt until they are all gone. There are not any glaciers getting bigger any more." Loss of land-based ice is one of the clearest signals of global temperature rise, and the state of glaciers has become a key argument in the debate over climate change. Last year, New Scientist magazine published a letter from the television botanist David Bellamy, a renowned climate sceptic, which claimed that 555 of 625 glaciers measured by the World Glacier Monitoring Service have been growing since 1980. His claim was quickly discredited, but the perception that glaciers are both growing and shrinking remains.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: J. Kenneth Blackwell, the man who stole Ohio’s 2004 presidential election, was out campaigning October 4, 2006 with a man widely viewed as one of America’s leading white supremacists. Blackwell is an African-American. He is also the Republican nominee for governor of Ohio. As Secretary of State, he was the GOP point man for stealing the 2004 presidential vote that gave George W. Bush a second term. As co-chair of the state’s Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, Blackwell engineered a complex strategy of confusion, disenfranchisement and theft that mirrored what was done by Katherine Harris in Florida 2000. Harris was rewarded with a safe Congressional seat, and is now the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. Polls show Blackwell trailing between 12-20 points in his gubernatorial race, but few Ohio insiders doubt his ability to steal the necessary votes, if he can get away with it. Currently, Blackwell operatives are stressing that he’s "only 12 points down" and that they believe the race will tighten significantly by Election Day. Blackwell toured the state with Larry Pratt, author of "Armed People Victorious" which advocates the creation of militant right-wing militias. Pratt has spoken and shared platforms in the past with Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi Aryan Nation members. He was forced to take a leave of absence from Pat Buchanan’s 1996 presidential campaign over charges of white supremacist and anti-semitic views. Pratt’s 150,000-member Gun Owners of America is proudly to the right of the National Rifle Association. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Pratt says he couldn’t be a racist because he is campaigning with Blackwell, an African-American. Blackwell is "our kind of guy," says Pratt, in reference to Blackwell's support of gun owners' rights. Blackwell campaign spokesperson attorney Eric Seabrook, conceded on Sunday, October 8 to the Khari Enaharo show listeners on 98.9FM radio that Pratt was a white supremacist but, he stressed "it was all about the gun rights issue."

Stock options that Senator George "Macaca" Allen described as worthless were worth as much as $1.1 million at one point, according to a review of Senate disclosure forms and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The records appear to contradict remarks he made to the Associated Press. "I got paid in stock options which were worthless," AP quoted him as saying. Allen served as a board member of Chantilly, Virginia-based Xybernaut Corp. from 1998 until December 2000 and was awarded options on 110,000 shares during that period. His Senate financial disclosure form for 1999, required for candidates as well as officeholders, doesn't report that he owned the options. The stock options issue didn't arise during a televised debate last night between Allen, a 54-year-old Republican, and Democratic nominee Jim Webb, 60. Nevertheless, Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, said the issue poses a problem for Allen, who polls show is in a close race with Webb.

In an interview with Tim Russert, Bob Woodward has said that Dick Cheney cursed him and hung up on him after finding out about some of the content in Woodward's new book. From NBC: MR. RUSSERT: Have you spoken to the president or the vice president since this book came out? MR. WOODWARD: The vice president called me I guess as it was coming out 10 days ago. MR. RUSSERT: And? MR. WOODWARD: Well, he called to complain that I was quoting him about the meetings with Henry Kissinger that he and the president had. I had interviewed Vice President Cheney last year a couple of times at length about material I'm gathering on the Ford administration, on-the-record interviews, but he volunteered, he said, "Oh, by the way, Henry Kissinger comes in" and he, Dick Cheney, sits down with him once a month and the president every two or three months. And Cheney was upset I was quoting him. And I said, "Look, this--on-the-record doesn't have anything to do with Ford, you volunteered that." He then used a word which I can't repeat on the air. And I said, "Look, on the record is on the record," and he hung up on me. Woodward called it a "metaphor" of how the White House reacts these days to news it doesn't like.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 12:56:14 PM

Sun, Oct 08 2006

Your Input Is Needed

Our decidedly dry rainy season continues with bright sunshine this morning, and only a brief sprinkle last night. The recent string of tropical waves have long since passed, and the weather is back to its sunny best - just about the last thing you would expect this time of year. Highs have been around 83, and lows around 71.

My health is clearly on the mend, and I am glad to be up and around a bit, after being laid low by the gambu that has been going around lately. I think that the antibiotics have helped, as the rawness in my throat is gone, and I am down to just a bit of hoarseness and chest congestion. In any event, I am clearly getting over this thing.

My preparations are continuing for my move. I have not yet decided on a final destination, but have things down to two possibilities, and I may decide to do an exploratory trip before making a final decision. But neither of the possibilities includes staying here in Costa Rica.

I am frankly considering going underground after my move. That would mean the More Reasons section of this blog, at minimum, would have to end, which I regret. As my health has been poor since the assassination attempt, doing the blog has become something of a difficult burden, and where I anticipate living, I expect to have poorer Internet access than I have now. I would appreciate hearing from my readers just whether or not you would really like to see me continue with this blog, even improve it with some changes I am considering (moving the More Reasons section to an improved front page), but if I don't hear from a sufficient number of readers to justify the rather considerable effort that putting it together entails, then I will probably cut the thing off and return the blog to an occasional entry solely about life in exile. At minimum, I will have to go on hiatus for a considerable period of time during the upcoming move. I know what the "hit" statistics are, as I get that from my hosting provider, but that doesn't tell me how much of the daily entry is actually read, or how much having it available means to the individual reader. So please, if you want to see the "More Reasons" section continue, let me know. How often do you read it? How much of the More Reasons section do you actually read? If it is to continue, what changes would you like to see made?

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The Washington Times: "A former Navy intelligence officer weighs in on how the world will stop Iran from building nuclear bombs: "I really believe the Israelis are going to strike [Iran's] several uranium processing factories soon. They cannot survive a first strike. This time, unlike when they sent eight F-16s to destroy the Iraqi reactor Osirak, I think they will use the Jericho missiles and the submarine-launched, nuclear-tipped Tomahawks to do nuclear strikes. Most of the factories are 150 meters underground and too deep for bunker busters."

A new Newsweek poll reveals that a majority of Americans think that House Speaker Dennis Hastert tried to cover up the Foley scandal. And more bad news for the Republicans, Smirkey's approval rate has now dropped to thirty-three percent, a new all-time low for the Newsweek poll. For the first time since 2001, the NEWSWEEK poll shows that more Americans trust the Democrats than the GOP on moral values and the war on terror. Fully 53 percent of Americans want the Democrats to win control of Congress next month, including 10 percent of Republicans, compared to just 35 percent who want the GOP to retain power. Newsweek reports that the "Foley fiasco is jeopardizing the party’s monopoly on faith and power." "While 52 percent of Americans believe Hastert was aware of Foley’s actions and tried to cover them up, it’s part of a larger loss of faith in Republican leadership, thanks mostly to the war in Iraq," Marcus Mabry writes. "For instance, for the first time in the NEWSWEEK poll, a majority of Americans now believe the Bush administration knowingly misled the American people in building its case for war against Saddam Hussein: 58 percent vs. 36 percent who believe it didn’t." "And pessimism over Iraq is at record highs on every score: nearly two in three Americans, 64 percent, believe the United States is losing ground there; 66 percent say the war has not made America safer from terrorism (just 29 percent believe it has); and 53 percent believe it was a mistake to go to war at all, again the first time the NEWSWEEK poll has registered a majority in that camp," the article continues. Only 25 percent of Americans are satisfied with the direction of the country, while 67 percent say they are not.

President Bush’s overall approval rating, according to TIME’s poll, now stands at just 36%, down from 38% in August. Two-thirds of Americans aware of the congressional-page sex scandal believe Republican leaders tried to cover it up—and one quarter of them say the affair makes them less likely to vote for G.O.P. candidates in their districts come November. Those are among the findings of a new TIME poll conducted this week among 1,002 randomly-selected voting-age Americans.

Hundreds of people called the Bush administration's policies a crime and held up yellow police tape along a three-block stretch in front of the White House on Thursday as part of a nationwide day of protest against the president. The 500 demonstrators were among many who gathered for similar events in more than 200 cities to protest Bush on issues ranging from global warming to the war in Iraq. "We are turning the corner in bringing forward a mass movement of resistance to drive out the Bush regime," said organizer Travis Morales with the activist group World Can't Wait. Some dressed in costume, including a hooded prisoner in an orange jumpsuit, a devilish rendition of President Bush and two grim reapers. One man wore a red cheerleader outfit with "Radical" emblazoned on the jersey. Thousands of protesters clogged New York City's streets as they marched from the United Nations headquarters. Some people lay down in the middle of the street, while others carried signs saying "Expose 9/11" and "This war should be over." They also handed out fliers reading, "Drive out the Bush regime."

Vice President Dick Cheney made a quick trip into Northern Virginia yesterday to raise money for the campaign of U.S. Sen. George "Macaca" Allen. The Allen campaign did not announce the visit, made to a private home in McLean. It was announced on the vice president's daily schedule. Polls show that Cheney is one of the most unpopular politicians in the country. The home was that of Thomas L. Phillips, founder and chairman of Eagle Publishing, described on the Web site of its subsidiary, Regnery Publishing Co., as dedicated to conservative and pro-American ideals. President Bush went to Northern Virginia in August to speak at a private fundraiser for Allen. The campaign of Allen's Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, described Allen and Cheney as "two peas in a pod." "It is embarrassing that Allen has to sneak the president and vice president through the back door in Virginia," said Kristian Denny Todd, a spokeswoman for Webb.

Guards at Guantanamo Bay bragged about beating detainees and described it as common practice, a Marine sergeant said in a sworn statement obtained by The Associated Press. The two-page statement was sent Wednesday to the Inspector General at the Department of Defense by a high-ranking Marine Corps defense lawyer. The lawyer sent the statement on behalf of a paralegal who said men she met on Sept. 23 at a bar on the base identified themselves to her as guards. The woman, whose name was blacked out, said she spent about an hour talking with them. No one was in uniform, she said. A 19-year-old sailor referred to only as Bo "told the other guards and me about him beating different detainees being held in the prison," the statement said. "One such story Bo told involved him taking a detainee by the head and hitting the detainee's head into the cell door. Bo said that his actions were known by others," the statement said. The sailor said he was never punished. The statement was provided to the AP on Thursday night by Lt. Col. Colby Vokey. He is the Marine Corps' defense coordinator for the western United States and based at Camp Pendleton. Calls left for representatives at Guantanamo Bay on Friday were not immediately returned. A Pentagon spokesman declined immediate comment. Other guards "also told their own stories of abuse towards the detainees" that included hitting them, denying them water and "removing privileges for no reason." "About 5 others in the group admitted hitting detainees" and that included "punching in the face," the affidavit said. "From the whole conversation, I understood that striking detainees was a common practice," the sergeant wrote. "Everyone in the group laughed at the others stories of beating detainees." The Pentagon said Friday that it will investigate the statement that guards at Guantanamo Bay bragged about beating detainees and described it as a common practice. The Marine, a paralegal who was at the U.S. Navy station in Cuba last month, alleges that several guards she talked to at the base club said they routinely hit detainees.

At least five more Republican Congressional seats are now in serious contention, analysts said Friday, an unwelcome development for Republicans as they begin to confront a political environment further darkened for them by the Congressional page scandal. The fury over sexually charged messages sent to male teenage pages by Representative Mark Foley of Florida is undercutting Republican support among elderly voters, suburbanites and women, analysts from both parties said. More immediately - and more alarmingly for Republican strategists who have looked to the party's powerful voter turnout operation to save the party this year - there are signs that the furor is sapping the enthusiasm of a group essential to Republican victories in 2002 and 2004: religious conservatives. "The social conservatives are frustrated with what's going on," said Saulius Anuzis, the chairman of the Republican Party in Michigan, where, he said, one-third of his volunteers are social conservatives. "We have heard disappointment and disenchantment. The level of commitment isn't as fierce as it ought to be." The political uproar is playing out in races across the country and comes with Republicans already struggling against the political weight of more bad news from Iraq. The page scandal has left leaders and candidates in both parties to come up with new strategies a month from Election Day. Democrats need to capture 15 House seats to take control of Congress; until the last week or two, about 40 Republican seats had been judged in play, of which 20 had been considered highly competitive. But analysts said at least five more Republican seats, and as many as eight, that had once been considered relative long shots for Democrats had now swung firmly into play.

Lynn Sunde, an evangelical Christian, is considering what for her is a radical step. Come November, she may vote for a Democrat for Congress. Sunde, 35, manages a coffee shop and attends a nondenominational Bible church. "You're never going to agree with one party on everything, so for me the key has always been the religion issues - abortion, the marriage amendment" to ban same-sex unions, she said. That means she consistently votes Republican. But, she said, she is starting to worry about the course of the Iraq war, and she finds the Internet messages from then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) to teenage boys "pretty sickening." When she goes into the voting booth this time, she said, "I'm going to think twice.... I'm not going to vote party line as much as to vote issues." Even a small shift in the loyalty of conservative Christian voters such as Sunde could spell trouble for the GOP this fall. In 2004, white evangelical or born-again Christians made up a quarter of the electorate, and 78 percent of them voted Republican, according to exit polls. But some pollsters believe that evangelical support for the GOP peaked two years ago and that what has been called the "God gap" in politics is shrinking. A nationwide poll of 1,500 registered voters released yesterday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of white evangelicals are inclined to vote for Republican congressional candidates in the midterm elections, a 21-point drop in support among this critical part of the GOP base. Even before the Foley scandal, the portion of white evangelicals with a "favorable" impression of the Republican Party had fallen sharply this year, from 63 percent to 54 percent, according to Pew polls. In the latest survey, taken in the last 10 days of September and the first four days of October, the percentage of evangelicals who think that Republicans govern "in a more honest and ethical way" than Democrats has plunged to 42 percent, from 55 percent at the start of the year.

Wall Street has shifted its allegiance in the 2006 election cycle by donating more to Democrats than Republicans who have been the investment banks' usual benefactors, U.S. Federal Election Commission data show. Five leading firms Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Bear Stearns Companies Inc.,Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch & Co. and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. have contributed $6.2 million so far to candidates before the November elections, with about 52 percent going to Democrats. "People give ideological money and they give money to people they think are going to win," said Maurice Carroll, director of Quinnipiac University's Polling Institute in Hamden, Connecticut. "It looks like it's going to be a good year for Democrats."

In a letter sent out Friday by the Investigative Subcommittee for the House Ethics Committee, part of a probe of the House GOP leadership's handling of a scandal involving sexually explicit communications that former Congressman Mark Foley (R-Fla.) sent to teenage pages, House members are being asked to contact all current and former pages to see if they had "inappropriate communications or interactions" with anyone in the House. "In order to assist the Investigative Subcommittee with its inquiry, we also request that you contact current and former House Pages sponsored by your office for the purpose of learning whether any of those individuals had any inappropriate communications or interactions with former Representative Foley or any other Member of the House," the letter reads. "You should advise all Pages contacted that any information gained pursuant to your inquiry will be shared with the Investigative Subcommittee, and will be maintained by the Investigative Subcommittee in a confidential manner consistent with House and Committee rules," the letter continues. So far, the subcommittee has prepared forty-four subpoenas for records and testimony.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) wrote to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General’s (I.G.) office today to ask for an investigation into why the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has fabricated and disseminated a cover-up story as to why it never investigated the Foley emails sent to it by CREW. CBS News has reported that according to the FBI when CREW gave the Bureau the original set of emails from Rep. Mark Foley to a former House page, they were "heavily redacted." The FBI is also claiming that it came back to CREW and asked for more information so that it could follow up, but that CREW refused to provide anything further. Reporters from several other news organizations have repeated this allegation. The FBI is lying. On Monday, October 2, CREW sent a letter to the DOJ I.G.'s office, attaching exact copies of the emails CREW had sent to the FBI on July 21, 2006. Both the former page’s name and the person to whom the page forwarded Rep. Foley’s emails were clearly visible. Moreover, after CREW sent the emails to the FBI, CREW’s only subsequent contact with the Bureau was one telephone call from the special agent to whom CREW had sent the material confirming that the emails were from Rep. Foley. CREW had no further contact with the FBI.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's chief of staff confronted then-Rep. Mark Foley about his inappropriate social contact with male pages well before the speaker said aides in his office took any action, a current congressional staff member with personal knowledge of Foley and his behavior with pages said yesterday. The staff member said Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, met with the Florida Republican at the Capitol to discuss complaints about Foley's behavior toward pages. The alleged meeting occurred long before Hastert says aides in his office dispatched Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.) and the clerk of the House in November 2005 to confront Foley about troubling e-mails he had sent to a Louisiana boy. The staff member's account buttresses the position of Foley's onetime chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, who said earlier this week that he had appealed to Palmer in 2003 or earlier to intervene, after Fordham's own efforts to stop Foley's behavior had failed. Fordham said Foley and Palmer, one of the most powerful figures in the House of Representatives, met within days to discuss the allegations.

Pat Buchanan expressed his outrage with the Foley scandal to MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, turning the blame onto Democrats and ABC News and using a demeaning term for homosexuals in the process. His voice raised, Buchanan said to Scarborough, "We now hear that this flamer, Mr. Foley, was going after kids as early as 1998. I mean, you knew Foley. Did you know he was this kind of flamer who's after pages?" Buchanan also questioned the moral standing of prominent Democrats who have associated publicly with gays. He targeted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in particular, alleging, "Mrs. Pelosi has marched in gay pride parades with the North American Man Boy Love Association, NAMBLA, which are pedophiles that are trying to get the laws repealed for sex between men and boys. If she's been marching with pedophiles, is she credible standing up there, saying, 'I'm shocked, shocked, that some Republican is after 17 year old pages'?"

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is allowing the Army to approach White House budget officials by itself to argue for substantial increases in resources, a significant divergence from initial plans by Mr. Rumsfeld and his inner circle to cut the Army to pay for new technology and a new way of war. Mr. Rumsfeld’s current acquiescence is viewed within the Pentagon as reflecting both the reality of the Army’s needs to increase its size and repair or replace current equipment and a decision not to cross swords with the service - or with the Army’s staunchest supporters in Congress, some of whom are sharply critical of the defense secretary’s management of the war effort and have called for him to step aside. But Mr. Rumsfeld is requiring the Army to make its own case. The defense secretary has broken Pentagon precedent by allowing the Army to make its financial case directly to the president’s Office of Management and Budget, a task normally managed by the defense secretary and his staff rather than by the individual military services. The Air Force and the Navy also asked to present their budgets directly to the budget agency and the requests were granted.

U.S. Senate candidate Benjamin L. Cardin yesterday voiced a lack of confidence in Maryland's voting system and worried that the problems that plagued the primary election could discourage voters from turning out in November. "I am not convinced that they know how to run this election so that voters will not be inconvenienced to a point where they don't participate," Cardin (D) said during an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors.

Many adults in the United States believe their president was not truthful in his rationale to launch military action against Iraq, according to a poll by SRBI Public Affairs published in Time. 54 per cent of respondents think George W. Bush deliberately misled Americans to build his case for war, up six points since December. The coalition effort against Saddam Hussein’s regime was launched in March 2003. At least 2,735 American soldiers have died during the military operation, and more than 20,600 troops have been wounded in action.

One of the highest-ranking generals in the U.S. military yesterday stood by views attributed to him in a controversial new book about the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq but said it was important to understand the context in which those views were expressed. Marine Gen. James L. Jones, the U.S. commander for Europe, is quoted in "State of Denial," by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, as believing that the war in Iraq is a "debacle" and that "The Joint Chiefs have been systematically emasculated by Rumsfeld." As Marine commandant, the post he held before moving to Europe, Jones was a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The book also quotes Jones as delivering a warning about working with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, who was about to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs. "You should not be the parrot on the secretary's shoulder," Jones reportedly told Pace.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in town for a fund-raiser for Sen. Rick Santorum, had a close encounter with a large group of anti-Republican protesters as he was making his way to the Duquesne Club, Downtown in Pittsburg. It was about 4:15 yesterday when Mr. Bush met up with the protesters near the corner of Liberty and Sixth avenues. The protesters were marching to join other pickets already gathered in front of the exclusive club, a little more than a block away at 325 Sixth Ave. Protesters said Gov. Bush blew them a kiss, acknowledging the crowd of about 30 chanting pickets that was made up of United Steelworkers and members of Uprise Counter Recruitment, a tour traveling through 22 cities to support anti-war efforts. The protesters came closer. "Jeb, go home," they shouted. "It was a very tense situation. They were very close to the governor and shouting on top of him." As a precaution, the governor was ushered into a T-station supply closet and stayed there until the crowd left. No arrests were made and no citations were issued, Mr. Grove said. Mr. Bush was not injured.

Thousands of people have been mistakenly linked to names on terror watch lists when they crossed the border, boarded commercial airliners or were stopped for traffic violations, a government report said Friday. More than 30,000 airline passengers have asked just one agency - the Transportation Security Administration - to have their names cleared from the lists, according to the Government Accountability Office report. Hundreds of millions of people each year are screened against the lists by Customs and Border Protection, the State Department and state and local law enforcement agencies. The lists include names of people suspected of terrorism or of possibly having links to terrorist activity. "Misidentifications can lead to delays, intensive questioning and searches, missed flights or denied entry at the border," the report said. "Whether appropriate relief is being afforded these individuals is still an open question." When questions arose about tens of thousands of names between December 2003 and January 2006, the names were sent back to the agencies that put them on the lists, the GAO said. Half of those were found to be misidentified, the report found. In December 2003, disparate agencies with counterterrorism responsibilities consolidated dozens of watch lists of known or suspected terrorists into the new Terrorist Screening Center run by the FBI. People are considered "misidentified" if they are matched to the database and then, upon further examination, are found not to match. They are usually misidentified because they have the same name as someone in the database. People are considered "mistakenly listed" if they were put on the list in error or if they should no longer be included on the list because of subsequent events, the report said.

A Pentagon project to modify its deadliest nuclear missile for use as a conventional weapon against targets such as North Korea and Iran could unwittingly spark an atomic war, two weapons experts warned Thursday. Russian military officers might misconstrue a submarine-launched conventional D5 intercontinental ballistic missile and conclude that Russia is under nuclear attack, said Ted Postol, a physicist and professor of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Pavel Podvig, a physicist and weapons specialist at Stanford. "Any launch of a long-range nonnuclear armed sea or land ballistic missile will cause an automated alert of the Russian early warning system," Postol told reporters. The triggering of an alert wouldn't necessarily precipitate a retaliatory hail of Russian nuclear missiles, Postol said. Nevertheless, he said, "there can be no doubt that such an alert will greatly increase the chances of a nuclear accident involving strategic nuclear forces." Podvig said launching conventional versions of a missile from a submarine that normally carries nuclear ICBMs "expands the possibility for a misunderstanding so widely that it is hard to contemplate." Mixing conventional and nuclear D5s on a U.S. Trident submarine "would be very dangerous," Podvig said, because the Russians have no way of discriminating between the two types of missiles once they are launched. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the project would increase the danger of accidental nuclear war.

The city's population has dropped by nearly 60 percent since Hurricane Katrina, far more sharply than recent optimistic estimates had suggested, according to an authoritative post-storm survey released this week. The population of New Orleans is now only 187,525, well under half the pre-storm population of 454,863, according to the survey, commissioned by several state agencies. The United States Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised those who carried out the door-to-door population count this summer. "We actually knocked on doors and asked how many people lived there," said Dr. Alden Henderson of the centers. About 490 households were surveyed, and researchers went to more than 1,100 dwellings, he said. Mayor C. Ray Nagin has suggested that about half of New Orleans's former residents had returned, basing his projections partly on utility users. But the new numbers indicate that repopulation will take awhile to reach that level. "The recovery is going to be slower than we anticipated," said David Bowman, an official with the Louisiana Recovery Authority, which helped commission the survey. "It's going to take time to get the housing stock back online." The margin of error for the survey was relatively high, plus or minus 12 percentage points. The new figures also suggest that many more whites than blacks have returned to New Orleans. The white and black populations here are now separated by less than three percentage points, according to the survey - a gap much smaller than previously thought, and far less than the pre-hurricane divide, when New Orleans was 67 percent black. Whites now make up 44 percent of the population and blacks 46 percent, according to the new survey.

President Bush this week asserted that he has the executive authority to disobey a new law in which Congress has set minimum qualifications for future heads of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Congress passed the law last week as a response to FEMA's poor handling of Hurricane Katrina. The agency's slow response to flood victims exposed the fact that Michael Brown, Bush's choice to lead the agency, had been a politically connected hire with no prior experience in emergency management. To shield FEMA from cronyism, Congress established new job qualifications for the agency's director in last week's homeland security bill. The law says the president must nominate a candidate who has ``a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management" and ``not less than five years of executive leadership." Bush signed the homeland-security bill on Wednesday morning. Then, hours later, he issued a signing statement saying he could ignore the new restrictions. Bush maintains that under his interpretation of the Constitution, the FEMA provision interfered with his power to make personnel decisions. The law, Bush wrote, "purports to limit the qualifications of the pool of persons from whom the president may select the appointee in a manner that rules out a large portion of those persons best qualified by experience and knowledge to fill the office." The homeland-security bill contained measures covering a range of topics, including terrorism, disaster preparedness, and illegal immigration. One provision calls for authorizing the construction of a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border.

Spraying the bubbles from sparkling wine across the enormous gray bow of the USS George H.W. Bush, the Bush family on Saturday christened the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier named after the 82-year-old former president. "I know you join me in saying to our father, President Bush, your ship has come in," the current president said during a ceremony for the last of the Nimitz-class carriers, the CVN 77. "She is unrelenting, she is unshakable, she is unyielding, she is unstoppable," Bush said, lauding the warship's state-of-the-art design before pausing for a punch line aimed at his mother's well-known steely constitution. "As a matter of fact, probably should have been named the Barbara Bush."

Researchers for the Centers for Disease Control released a report Wednesday that found perchlorate - a toxic chemical used to produce rocket fuel - is more dangerous than originally thought. Perchlorate is one of the main synthetic ingredients defense contractors use to make rocket and missile fuel, and it has leeched into drinking-water supplies According to the Environmental Protection Agency, perchlorate has been found in drinking water in 25 states. Most contamination appears to be from manufacturing by contractors as well as usage and dumping by the military. The chemical has also been discovered in milk, as well as fruit and vegetables that have been irrigated with contaminated water. The researchers found that perchlorate lowers thyroid hormones in women who have ingested even minute amounts. Currently, the EPA does not have standards to regulate perchlorate in drinking water.

Frustrated by their government's position on the environment, climate change and stem cell research, a group of US scientists have decided to take matters into their own hands and actively promote the election of a president in 2008 who is more receptive to science. Scientists and Engineers for America plunged into politics last week with the aim of campaigning for particular candidates, starting with the 2006 mid-term elections. SEA says that "scientists and engineers have a right, indeed an obligation, to enter the political debate when the nation's leaders systematically ignore scientific evidence and analysis." SEA's main targets will be the Bush administration and the Republican leadership, says executive director Mike Brown. "[They] are the source of a lot of the problems we've identified." So far, the pitch has struck a responsive chord. Within days of the group being announced on27 September, nearly 2500 people had signed up as members. SEA's advisory board includes two of Bill Clinton's former science advisers - John Gibbons and Neal Lane - and eight Nobel laureates.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The Canadian government filed an official complaint with the United States over the treatment of Maher Arar, the Canadian the United States rendered to Syria for interrogation that included torture on the basis of false terrorism allegations. Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters that he wanted the United States to acknowledge "inappropriate conduct" and to commit that such an incident would not happen again. Maher Arar, a Canadian software engineer, was detained at New York's Kennedy Airport in 2002 because Canadian officials had asked that he be placed on a watch list. The U.S. transferred him without court approval to Syria where he was tortured and imprisoned for a year. A Canadian inquiry found that Arar should not have been on the list because he didn't do anything wrong.

Liberal Biased Media Watch: On October 5 and 6, news accounts on National Public Radio and NBC's Today uncritically reported baseless accusations by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and others that Democrats are behind the scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL). None of these accounts noted a report in The Hill newspaper that a House Republican aide provided Foley's alleged emails to the media or a statement by ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross that the sources for his initial Foley report -- to the extent they had partisan affiliations -- were Republicans, as Media Matters for America has noted. On the October 5 broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered, host Melissa Block interviewed former House ethics committee chair Joel Hefley (R-CO) about the Foley scandal. After Hefley said the ethics committee should look at whether House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's (CA) office was involved in the scandal, Block asked whether Hefley agreed that there was merit to Hastert's accusations that "these revelations are the work of Democratic operatives." She did not mention the news reports that have contradicted Hastert; Hefley admitted that while he "can't say" that the charges are true, he "think[s] it's a possibility." numerous media outlets -- including CNN, NBC, and the Associated Press -- uncritically reported House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's (R-IL) recent claims that Democratic operatives knew "all along" of Rep. Mark Foley's (R-FL) alleged behavior toward underage congressional pages and have orchestrated the ongoing scandal. But these outlets ignored a new report in The Hill that a House Republican aide provided Foley's alleged emails to the media. And they overlooked a recent statement by ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross that the sources for his initial Foley report -- to the extent they had partisan affiliations -- were Republicans. During an October 3 appearance on The Rush Limbaugh Show, Hastert entertained the theory that Democrats were behind the Foley scandal, alleging that they "put this thing forward to try to block" the Republican agenda, as Media Matters for America noted. In an October 4 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Hastert continued to push the theory that Democrats "knew about this all along."

In spite of falling ratings, Fox nonetheless remains the number one cable news station. In a few short years, it has almost entirely rewritten the rules of American television news coverage, influencing its ideological nemeses as much as its bedfellows with its penchant for presenting politics as a form of gladiatorial sport – all sound, fury and popular entertainment, in which fact and reasoned analysis are ditched in favour of outrage, anger and patriotic pride. Sometimes the spin is so dizzying it is almost funny. Back in February, Neil Cavuto's daytime show asked the question: "All-out civil war in Iraq: could it be a good thing?" Then, four days later, the same show framed the issue an entirely different way. "'Civil war' in Iraq: made up by the media?" The Fox News formula may be good for ratings, but its effect on the public has been little short of toxic. A University of Maryland poll taken six months after the Iraq invasion demonstrated that Fox News viewers were more ignorant about world affairs than any other category of news consumers, but also had a stronger belief than anyone else in how well informed they were.

The United States Of America, A Third-World Nation: An Nebraska woman has become the third person to die from an E. coli outbreak from tainted spinach that has sickened nearly 200 U.S. residents. Ruby Trautz, 81, died Aug. 31 at an Omaha hospital after eating fresh spinach contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 bacteria, CNN reported, citing the state Health and Human Services System. Two other deaths -- a Wisconsin adult and a 2-year-old Idaho boy -- have also been attributed to the outbreak. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said 199 people in 26 states had been sickened by the strain. Public health officials said it is estimated for every E. coli case reported, 20 go unreported, Dr. Patricia Griffin of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told CNN.

Republicans Believe In Fair Play And The Rule Of Law: Rick Bolanos, the Democratic candidate for Congress, filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla's campaign illegally bought at least a dozen Web sites Bolanos would have used for his campaign's online site. Bolanos told reporters that his opponent's campaign is "cybersquatting" in violation of a U.S. statute in an attempt to hurt Bolanos' campaign by making it appear Bolanos does not have a working site. "He's taken our laws and he's become a part of that corruption," Bolanos said of Bonilla, R-San Antonio. "It's a win-at-all-costs, do-whatever-you-can-to-win-a-political-campaign."

Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff intends to load up his criminal trial with information about nine national security matters, the names of foreign leaders and details about various terrorist groups, say court filings in the Valerie Plame leak case. The papers filed this week hint at what has been taking place behind closed doors as Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald tries to limit the amount of classified data that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is permitted to use at his trial in January. US District Judge Reggie Walton is asking whether classified evidence would overlap Libby's likely trial testimony. Libby's lawyers have already said he will take the witness stand to deny lying to the FBI in its investigation of the Plame leak. Even if prosecutors agreed ahead of time about the importance of "the nine national security matters" he wants to disclose, Libby would be entitled to introduce additional evidence, his lawyers wrote. In court documents, prosecutors argued that it would be "unnecessarily wasteful of time" to allow Libby to present "names of foreign leaders or government officials of other countries, or the names and histories of various terrorist groups."

Republicans Believe In Protecting Our Natural Resources: Using language that suggests they are fed up with the Bush administration, federal judges across the West have issued a flurry of rulings in recent weeks, chastising the government for repeated and sometimes willful failure to enforce laws protecting fish, forests, wildlife and clean air. In decisions in Oregon, California, Montana and Wyoming, judges have criticized the judgment, expertise and, in some cases, integrity of the federal agencies that manage natural resources on public lands. The rulings come at a time when an emerging bipartisan coalition of western politicians, hunters, anglers and homeowners has joined conservation groups in objecting to the rapid pace and environmental consequences of President Bush's policies for energy extraction on federal land.

Long considered natural gems, America’s national parks may soon serve as a different kind of treasure trove. The National Park Service is planning to open national parks, including potentially millions of acres of protected wilderness, to "bioprospecting" - a process by which private businesses extract organisms from natural habitats in the search for useful biochemicals or genetic information. The plans center on "thermophiles," organisms living in ecologically rich thermal pools and geysers, such as those found in Yellowstone National Park. Companies have for years sought to derive lucrative products using the microorganisms. Environmental organizations have in turn campaigned against such extraction as a raid of public natural resources by industrial interests. Last month, the Park Service presented a Draft Environmental Impact Statement outlining the economic and environmental implications of bioprospecting operations, and opened a public comment period that will last through mid-December. The agency only agreed to issue the assessment after public-interest groups launched a court battle in the late 1990s. According to the Edmonds Institute and the International Center for Technology Assessment, two groups that originally sued the Park Service, the organisms and enzymes derived from them can be used to create products like beer, meat tenderizers and paper. Bioprospecting could also be a boon to pharmaceutical manufacturers: Swiss drug company Hoffman-LaRoche used one type of enzyme discovered through bioprospecting to aid in its patented DNA research.

Republicans Believe In Free, Fair, Honest and Transparent Elections: A canvassing group hired by the Republican National Committee is responsible for at least 12 phony voter-registration forms found in Davidson and Williamson counties (TN), election officials said Friday. Liberty Consultants also worked in Rutherford County, where the elections administrator said he fielded calls from residents who complained canvassers with the group made them sign a petition before registering, though the 800 forms submitted by the group were legitimate. Several other Midstate county election commissions reported no contact with the group. RNC spokesman Danny Diaz confirmed Friday that his organization hired the company to register Tennesseans to vote and said it is monitoring the situation. "It's a good thing this has been brought to our attention," Diaz said. "If anyone has done any wrongdoing, they should be held responsible." Liberty Consultants workers were banned from Tennessee Wal-Marts in late August because of the group's partisan nature, namely its connection to former Arizona GOP leader and Christian Coalition activist Nathan Sproul. Sproul denied wrongdoing in 2004 when some of his former workers said they were asked not to register Democrats and reported Democrat forms were thrown away, The Associated Press reported.

In a move voting-reform advocates say could disenfranchise millions of citizens, the House of Representatives passed a bill last month that would require citizens to present government-issued photo identification to vote, such as a driver’s license. Starting in 2010, that photo ID must also prove citizenship. Voters who do not have the documentation would be able to fill out a provisional ballot, but would have to submit identification within 48 hours of casting a vote. Voting reform advocates say the bill is unfair to the millions of people who do not have driver’s licenses or access to government documentation that prove citizenship, such as birth certificates or passports. States would be required to provide photo identification for citizens who do not have it. But the progressive think tank Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said that provision does not remove the burden placed on voters who have not already obtained photo identification.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: The US economy added a measly 51,000 jobs last month, far below analyst expectations, in another signal of slowing growth. The rise in non-farm payrolls was the weakest monthly increase since October 2005, which followed Hurricane Katrina. The US economy has slowed markedly in the second half of the year, and the once red-hot housing market has cooled. This has led to speculation that the US Federal Reserve, which recently paused its two-year cycle of interest rates rises, could now cut rates next year. Experts had expected the economy to add 125,000 jobs last month but the figures, from the Department of Labor, were well below this. Nevertheless, president George W. Bush declared himself pleased on Friday with U.S. economic progress despite a Labor Department report that said U.S. employers added only 51,000 jobs in September. Bush, who is trying to help his Republican party keep control of Congress in midterm elections November 7, cited a drop in the U.S. unemployment rate to 4.6 percent as good news and said wages are going up and energy prices are falling.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: India may be able to create more than 10 million new jobs in five years from the global outsourcing business, the country's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Thursday. India accounts for about half the $40 billion in work that is sent overseas mainly by U.S. and European companies each year, providing jobs to 1.3 million people, according to India's National Association of Software and Service Companies.

News From Smirkey's Wars: A sweating man wanders into a crowd and blows himself up, leaving a dozen bodies lifeless on the street. A few blocks away, a car bomb pulverizes an armored Humvee, killing two U.S. soldiers and 14 civilians. The kind of anonymous insurgent violence that is convulsing Iraq has migrated 1,500 miles east to plague Afghanistan five years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban regime. The prospect of a second downward spiral - though so far Afghanistan isn't nearly as violent as Iraq - has experts worried that Western militaries don't have an effective strategy for these irregular wars. "One Iraq is bad enough," said Bruce Hoffman, a counterinsurgency expert at Georgetown University. "Given that our two main theaters of operations aren't going well, one has to question how well the U.S. understands counterinsurgency."

A leading Senate Republican is offering his darkest assessment to date of the situation in Iraq. Senate Armed Services chairman John Warner says the war in Iraq is "drifting sideways" without a commitment from its government to disarm militias. Warner, who recently visited the region, says the military has done what it could. He says Congress must make some "bold decisions" if, after three months, progress is not made by the Iraqis to calm ethnic violence and hasten reconstruction. The White House, caught off guard by Warner responded cautiously on Friday, with a spokeswoman for President Bush stopping short of saying outright that Mr. Bush disagreed with the assessment. "I don't believe that the president thinks that way," Dana Perino, the deputy White House press secretary, said when asked whether the president agreed with the senator, John Warner of Virginia. "I think that he believes that while it is tough going in Iraq, that slow progress is being made."

Scandals Du Jour: A key aide to presidential political strategist Karl Rove resigned Friday in the wake of congressional report that listed hundreds of contacts between disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the White House. Susan Ralston, special assistant to President Bush, submitted a resignation letter to him less than five weeks before the midterm elections. "She did not want to be a distraction to the White House at such an important time and so we have accepted her resignation," White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said. "We support her decision and consider the matter closed," Perino said. Critics have pointed to Ralston as evidence that Rove - and thus Bush - are possibly closer to Abramoff than the White House has acknowledged. Ralston was Abramoff's administrative assistant at his lobbying firm and, after Bush took office, assumed the same post with Rove. Last week's report by the U.S. House of Representatives Government Reform Committee said Rove aide Susan Ralston had passed inside White House information to Abramoff while she was also accepting his tickets to as many as nine sports and entertainment events.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former Attorney General John Ashcroft received the same CIA briefing about an imminent al-Qaida strike on an American target that was given to the White House two months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The State Department's disclosure Monday that the pair was briefed within a week after then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was told about the threat on July 10, 2001, raised new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don't remember the warning.

A U.S. Navy medic admitted on Friday taking part in the kidnap of an Iraqi civilian killed by his squad and said the murder was prompted by his patrol leader's anger at the release of a suspected "terrorist" from Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. Petty Officer Melson Bacos, 21, and the seven Marines he accompanied on an April patrol were charged with kidnapping Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, from his home, killing him and placing an AK-47 assault rifle, spent bullets and shovel next to his body to suggest he was trying to plant a roadside bomb. The killing in the town of Hamdania was one in a series of incidents in which the conduct of American troops in Iraq have damaged the country's image worldwide. Bacos told military judge Col. Steven Folsom that squad leader Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III had devised the plan to kill a different Iraqi who was "a known high-value individual whom he had detained who was later released from Abu Ghraib." "He was just mad that they kept letting him go when he was a known terrorist, sir," Bacos said. "He was detained and released three times, sir."

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Republicans nationwide have been donating funds from Mark Foley to charity at a blazing speed, apparently seeing no upside to having contributions from a scandalous sexual predator. Go figure. But the National Republican Congressional Committee, whose chairman, Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), is up to his ears in this mess, continues to have one principle that stands above all else: greed. Earlier this week, the NRCC said it hoped to get some or all of the $2.7 million Foley has left in his campaign account. Yesterday, the NRCC added that, unlike GOP candidates everywhere, it will keep the money Foley already contributed to the committee.

When President Bush signed into law on Oct. 4 a bill authorizing the construction of a 700-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the man who stood to reap the greatest political profits did not join the president in Arizona. Instead, Congressman James Sensenbrenner is back in his Milwaukee district fending off a growing chorus of local critics who claim he is also reaping financial profits from the very immigration policies he has championed. Immigration rights advocates, the congressman's Democratic opponent and some constituents are pointing to Sensenbrenner's investments in companies they say are generating profits from the labor of undocumented immigrants. They also say the congressman stands to benefit from investments in companies contracted by the federal government to provide services he has proposed as part of his immigration reform legislation -- such as building massive immigrant detention centers or providing surveillance systems to monitor immigrants near the border. An analysis of companies identified in Sensenbrenner's most recent financial disclosure forms (2005) reveals that the congressman has invested in companies that have directly hired or subcontracted with employers who hire undocumented workers.

Six weeks after urging voters to elect only "tried and true" Christians, Senate candidate Katherine Harris is questioning her opponent's faith by saying he "votes completely contrary" to Christian principles. In an interview published by a Christian news service, Harris said incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson "claims to be a Christian" but supports policies "completely contrary to what we say we believe." In the item, Harris did not identify specific policies, but she has blasted Nelson for supporting abortion rights and for opposing a proposed constitutional amendment that would have outlawed gay marriage. Nelson is a nondenominational Christian who was baptized Baptist. He grew up attending Baptist and Episcopal churches and joined First Presbyterian Church after moving to Orlando last year, according to spokesman Bryan Gulley. He has served as chairman and vice chairman of the National Prayer Breakfast and, when in Washington, attends weekly prayer breakfasts with other elected officials. When he flew on the space shuttle in 1986, he took a Bible with him.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:05:41 PM

Fri, Oct 06 2006

Interesting News Of The Region

The last couple of days have actually been seasonable for a change, though the rains have been light. With the exception of a heavy but brief thunderstorm this afternoon, the weather has been roughly seasonable. Morning gloom, afternoon tentatively sunny, and evening rains. Highs have been around 82, and the overnight low was a remarkably warm 74.

Not much going on around the house; I have been laid low with this galloping gambu thing I have been fighting off. The erythromycin seems to have been making a difference, and the very next day, the edge was off of the pain in my throat, and today I feel considerably better, though still a bit nauseous and weak.

Big news yesterday is that Costa Rica is preparing to float its currency, the "colon." The Costa Rican central bank has announced that as of today, they may, at any time between now and the end of the year, begin to float the colon within certain trading "bands" to bring the currency more in line with its true value, and prevent the slow disliquidation of the central bank in supporting the colon by means of maintaining a slow schedule of devaluation. Holders of large amounts of colones, such as retail store chains, casinos, etc., are all holding their breath to see what the colon will do in terms of value, but most financial observers up north are saying that the central bank and the Costa Rican economy are both pretty well prepared for this, and the colon should not change dramatically in value.

There's a mystery disease making the rounds in Panama, and it has killed 17 people so far, with ten others on the mend. It causes partial paralysis, fever and diarrhea, and seems to be particularly dangerous for people in their 60's, or who have diabetes, kidney failure or high blood pressure. Apparently, those who survive it end up with neurological damage. No one seems to know what it is, and so far, it has not made an appearance in Costa Rica, but officials here are watching closely for it. It does not appear to be highly contagious, and appears to be associated with two public hospitals in Panama City. The U.S. Center For Disease Control is already on the case.

The Meteorological Institute of Costa Rica has issued its first advisory for the brewing El Nino. They are saying that some parts of the country could see increased rainfall, and others, drought. The usual pattern for Arenal is drought in El Nino years. They're concerned for the agricultural areas, particularly export crops, which could suffer a great deal. As a result, the agricultural production ministry has announced it has formed a committee to develop plans to deal with the situation.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Why are we not surprised by this? 60 Minutes, in collaboration with the National Security News Service, has obtained the secret list used to screen airline passengers for terrorists and discovered it includes names of people not likely to cause terror, including the president of Bolivia, people who are dead and names so common, they are shared by thousands of innocent fliers. Steve Kroft's investigation, in which an ex-FBI agent who worked on its al Qaeda task force says the list of 44,000 names is ineffective, will be broadcast this Sunday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m. ET/PT. The former FBI agent, Jack Cloonan, knew the list that was hastily assembled after 9/11, would be bungled. "When we heard the name list or no-fly list - the eyes rolled back in my head, because we knew what was going to happen," he says. "They basically did a massive data dump and said, 'Okay, anybody that's got a nexus to terrorism, let's make sure they get on the list,'" he tells Kroft. The "data dump" of names from the files of several government agencies, including the CIA, fed into the computer compiling the list contained many unlikely terrorists. These include Saddam Hussein, who is under arrest, Nabih Berri, Lebanon's parliamentary speaker, and Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia. It also includes the names of 14 of the 19 dead 9/11 hijackers. But the names of some of the most dangerous living terrorists or suspects are kept off the list. The 11 British suspects recently charged with plotting to blow up airliners with liquid explosives were not on it, despite the fact they were under surveillance for more than a year.

A federal judge in Detroit rejected the government's request to dismiss an ACLU lawsuit challenging the constitutionally of the controversial USA Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism measure Congress enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. U.S. District Judge Denise Hood issued the ruling without fanfare Friday, nearly three years after promising a speedy decision in the case. Congress amended the act in March, well after the hearing before Hood in December 2003. Hood said in a 15-page decision that the American Civil Liberties Union's clients - six Muslim groups that provide religious, medical, social and educational services to Muslims and people of Arab descent - established that they have been harmed or threatened by Section 215 of the law. The U.S. Justice Department said it was studying the decision and had no comment Tuesday. Michigan ACLU Executive Director Kary Moss said she was satisfied with the decision. "She confirmed what we've said all along, that our clients are suffering concrete harm as a result of the Patriot Act," Moss said of Hood's ruling. "Even though we think the act fails to comply with the Constitution, we believe our legal challenge and advocacy in Congress has fixed some of the worst problems."

President Bush, again defying Congress, says he has the power to edit the Homeland Security Department's reports about whether it obeys privacy rules while handling background checks, ID cards and watchlists. In the law Bush signed Wednesday, Congress stated no one but the privacy officer could alter, delay or prohibit the mandatory annual report on Homeland Security department activities that affect privacy, including complaints. But Bush, in a signing statement attached to the agency's 2007 spending bill, said he will interpret that section "in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch." White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said it's appropriate for the administration to know what reports go to Congress and to review them beforehand. "There can be a discussion on whether to accept a change or a nuance," she said. "It could be any number of things." The American Bar Association and members of Congress have said Bush uses signing statements excessively as a way to expand his power. The Senate held hearings on the issue in June. At the time, 110 statements challenged about 750 statutes passed by Congress, according to numbers combined from the White House and the Senate committee. They include documents revising or disregarding parts of legislation to ban torture of detainees and to renew the Patriot Act.

The House ethics committee opened an expansive investigation into the unfolding page sex scandal Thursday, approving nearly four dozen subpoenas for witnesses and documents as House Speaker Dennis Hastert held his ground against pressure to resign. "I'm deeply sorry this has happened and the bottom line is we're taking responsibility," Hastert, R-Ill., told at a news conference outside his district office. "Ultimately, the buck stops here," the speaker said of the controversy enveloping the House, former Republican Rep. Mark Foley and the page program, a venerable institution almost as old as the Congress itself. Hastert was abruptly changing the tactics he has followed since the scandal broke last week in the wake of the disclosures and Foley's resignation. Foley since has entered an alcohol rehabilitation facility in Florida. As recently as Wednesday, Hastert had blamed Democrats for the scandal and insisted he had done nothing wrong. The committee's chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said a newly formed subcommittee's investigation "will go wherever our evidence leads us." Asked if embattled Hastert was among those subpoenaed, Hastings would not comment. Hastings said the subpoenas cover lawmakers and staff as well as appointed officers of the House. Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said the speaker has not received a subpoena from the ethics committee but was willing to testify. "If the ethics committee asks him to, of course," Bonjean said.

Three more former congressional pages have come forward to reveal what they call "sexual approaches" over the Internet from former Congressman Mark Foley. The pages served in the classes of 1998, 2000 and 2002. They independently approached ABC News after the Foley resignation through the Brian Ross & the Investigative Team's tip line on ABCNews.com. None wanted their names used because of the sensitive nature of the communications. "I was seventeen years old and just returned to [my home state] when Foley began to e-mail me, asking if I had ever seen my page roommates naked and how big their penises were," said the page in the 2002 class. The former page also said Foley told him that if he happened to be in Washington, D.C., he could stay at Foley's home if he "would engage in oral sex" with Foley. The page told ABC News he was interviewed this week by FBI agents who had a six-page list of questions about Foley and the exchanges. The second page who talked with ABC News, a graduate of the 2000 page class, says Foley actually visited the old page dorm and offered rides to events in his BMW. "His e-mails developed into sexually explicit conversations, and he asked me for photographs of my erect penis," the former page said. The page said Foley maintained e-mail contact with him even after he started college and arranged a sexual liaison after the page had turned 18. The third page interviewed by ABC News, a graduate of the 1998 page class, said Foley's instant messages began while he was a senior in high school. "Foley would say he was sitting in his boxers and ask what I was wearing," the page said. "It became more weird, and I stopped responding," the page said.

An Atlanta man told a local television station and newspaper that former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley sent him sexually suggestive messages after he served as a congressional page 10 years ago. Tyson Vivyan, 26, of Buckhead told WAGA-TV in a Wednesday interview that Foley began sending him instant messages about a month or two after his nine-month stint as a page ended in June 1997 Vivyan told the station that when he was a congressional page in 1996 and 1997 he barely spoke to Foley. But after he left the program - when he was 17 years old - Vivian says they had contact via e-mail about things he says where inappropriate. "He somehow got ahold of my online identity on AOL and began sending me sexually illicit ims," Vivyan said in the TV interview. Vivyan said he became upset when he learned that the messages were from Foley. "The fact that here is a member of Congress soliciting some type of a sexual relationship from a minor," he said. "The conversations he started were almost sexual in nature," Vivyan said in a separate interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I would try to steer it to things he was doing on (Capitol) Hill."

In 1995, male House pages were warned to steer clear of a freshman Republican from Florida, who was already learning the names of the teenagers, dashing off notes, letters and e-mails to them, and asking them to join him for ice cream, according to a former page. Mark Beck-Heyman, now a graduate student in clinical psychology at George Washington University, and more than a dozen other former House pages said in interviews and via e-mail that Rep. Mark Foley was known to be extraordinarily friendly in a way that made some of them uncomfortable. Beck-Heyman, who was a Republican page and is now a Democrat, said the attention was "weird," and he provided a handwritten letter that Foley sent him after the page left Washington to return home to California. The note suggested that they get together during the Republican National Convention in San Diego in 1996.

A longtime chief of staff to disgraced former representative Mark Foley (R-Fla.) approached House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's office three years ago, repeatedly imploring senior Republicans to help stop Foley's advances toward teenage male pages, the staff member said yesterday. The account by Kirk Fordham, who resigned yesterday from his job with another senior lawmaker, pushed back to 2003 or earlier the time when Hastert's staff reportedly became aware of Foley's questionable behavior concerning teenagers working on Capitol Hill. It raised new questions about Hastert's assertions that senior GOP leaders were aware only of "over-friendly" e-mails from 2005 that they say did not raise alarm bells when they came to light this year."The fact is, even prior to the existence of the Foley e-mail exchanges, I had more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest levels of the House of Representatives, asking them to intervene when I was informed of Mr. Foley's inappropriate behavior," said Fordham, who was Foley's chief of staff for 10 years.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert's political career was hanging in the balance yesterday, with the Speaker admitting: "If I thought it could help the party, I would consider it." In the last 48 hours Mr Hastert has been attacked by Republicans worried about keeping their seats. Democrats have already begun to use the Foley scandal in TV ads. "We have to do something different, more dramatic," congressman Ray LaHood told reporters. "This is a political mess and what we have done so far is not working. Somebody has to take responsibility for this. It is on our watch." Hastert, however, rejected calls by conservative groups for his resignation. The speaker said he didn't believe that he would undermine the GOP's prospects in the Nov. 7 midterm elections.

"I said I haven't done anything wrong, obviously," Hastert said. The momentum for Mr Hastert's departure gathered pace on Tuesday, when his deputy, the House majority leader, John Boehner, told a radio station in Ohio that he believed the Speaker had had primary responsibility to deal with Mr Foley when he first learned of his activities. "I believe I talked to the Speaker and he told me it had been taken care of," Mr Boehner said. "And my position is [that] it's in his corner, it's his responsibility."

House Republican candidates will suffer massive losses if House Speaker Dennis Hastert remains speaker until Election Day, according to internal polling data from a prominent GOP pollster, FOX News has learned. "The data suggests Americans have bailed on the speaker," a Republican source briefed on the polling data told FOX News. "And the difference could be between a 20-seat loss and 50-seat loss." Most GOP lawmakers have stood by Hastert, pending a full airing of the facts in his handling of the Mark Foley affair, in which the former Florida representative was caught exchanging salacious messages with teen pages in Congress. The new polling data, however, suggests that many voters already have made up their minds. The GOP source told FOX News that the internal data had not been widely shared among Republican leaders, but as awareness of it spreads calculations about Hastert's tenure may change. The source described the pollster who did the survey as "authoritative," and said once the numbers are presented, it "could change the focus" on whether the speaker remains in power.

President Bush's frequent use of signing statements to assert that he has the power to disobey newly enacted laws is "an integral part" of his "comprehensive strategy to strengthen and expand executive power" at the expense of the legislative branch, according to a report by the non partisan Congressional Research Service. In a 27-page report written for lawmakers, the research service said the Bush administration is using signing statements as a means to slowly condition Congress into accepting the White House's broad conception of presidential power, which includes a presidential right to ignore laws he believes are unconstitutional. The "broad and persistent nature of the claims of executive authority forwarded by President Bush appear designed to inure Congress, as well as others, to the belief that the president in fact possesses expansive and exclusive powers upon which the other branches may not intrude," the report said.

As communities look to make their schools safer, a Wisconsin state lawmaker announces a plan that's raising plenty of eyebrows. Representative Frank Lasee wants to make it legal for teachers and other staff to carry guns. The Republican realizes his proposal is extreme. But, he says it's a concept that has worked well in other countries, like Israel and Thailand, so why not Wisconsin? Lasee came up with the idea following the recent string of school shootings. "When you can make someone think twice about doing something like that or be very concerned about 'Gee, I don't know what classroom is going to have someone who's armed and who may return fire' I think that's a good thing," says Lasee. "I'm just thinking this is not a reasonable, workable idea," says William Reis. The superintendent of the Middleton–Cross Plains School District says police liaison officers patrol the school buildings, which is common in many larger districts.

Revelations that the US government had been in possession of footage released on Sunday depicting alleged Al-Qaeda hijackers and Osama Bin Laden since 2001 and evidence that the footage itself was filmed by security agencies, went unquestioned by the media - who blindly towed the official line that the tape was released by Al-Qaeda. This is smoking gun proof that the U.S. government is staging the release of alleged Al-Qaeda tapes and it demands an immediate Congressional investigation. Segments of the video that were interspersed with footage of the "laughing hijackers," Jarrah and Atta, showing Bin Laden giving a speech to an audience in Afghanistan on January 8 2000, were culled from what terror experts describe as surveillance footage taken by a "security agency." This explains the lack of a soundtrack in the video and the fact that the tape does not focus solely on Bin Laden but pans around and shows the attendees in the audience. Furthermore, film of the Bin Laden speech, reported by the dominant media as new footage, was previously broadcast in the UK docudramaThe Road to Guantanamo, which was first seen on British television nearly seven months ago in March. News reports over the weekend contained the admission that the U.S. government had been in possession of the footage since 2002, while others said it was found when the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, and yet it was still bizarrely reported that the tape, bearing all the hallmarks of having been filmed and edited by undercover US intelligence and having admittedly been in US possession for five years, was released over the weekend by Al-Qaeda.

The White House is in full panic mode trying to find a way to spin the now-admitted fact that George Tenet did indeed brief Condi Rice on July 10, 2001 about the terror threat posed by Al Qaeda. The latest damage control approach has been to claim that the report was "nothing new". So how come when then-Attorney General John Ashcroft heard the same warning a week later, he immediately stopped flying commercial aircraft? Christy Hardin Smith at FDL runs down a bunch of the story of the July 10, 2001 terror briefing Condi somehow failed to remember. She also touches on the fact that George Tenet gave the same warning to John Ashcroft exactly a week later. It seems to me that we ought to be asking whether that story has anything to do with this one, dated July 26, 2001: "Fishing rod in hand, Attorney General John Ashcroft left on a weekend trip to Missouri Thursday afternoon aboard a chartered government jet, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart. In response to inquiries from CBS News over why Ashcroft was traveling exclusively by leased jet aircraft instead of commercial airlines, the Justice Department cited what it called a "threat assessment" by the FBI, and said Ashcroft has been advised to travel only by private jet for the remainder of his term."

A California appeals court upheld on Thursday the state's ban on same-sex marriage, reversing a lower court's judgment against a voter-approved law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. "The Legislature and the voters of this state have determined that 'marriage' in California is an institution reserved for opposite-sex couples, and it makes no difference whether we agree with their reasoning," the California Court of Appeal held. "We may not strike down a law simply because we think it unwise or because we believe there is a fairer way of dealing with the problem." The decision stalls, at least temporarily, efforts to overturn California's ban on gay marriage. But gay activists said they will appeal to the California Supreme Court.

The state that gave the world butterfly ballots and the hanging chad is headed for a new battle over whether and how voters should be told that disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley has dropped out of the Florida congressional race. Foley, a six-term Republican congressman, resigned his office and checked into an alcohol rehab center last week after copies of his overly friendly messages to teen-age male congressional pages set off a scandal that could threaten his party's majority in Congress. Rules prohibit taking Foley's name off the ballot so close to the November 7 election. So the Republicans' replacement nominee, Joe Negron, asked election supervisors to post signs at the polls telling voters that ballots cast for Foley will actually go to Negron. Democrats cried foul, contending that such a notice is tantamount to posting a partisan political advertisement inside voting stations, which is not allowed. "What they're attempting to do is electioneering communications, which is illegal because you can't do that within 100 feet of a polling place," said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Mark Bubriski.

US President George W Bush has signed a controversial bill into law that will pay for a 700-mile fence (1,125km) fence along the border with Mexico. The barrier, equipped with hi-tech surveillance equipment, will be built in areas where many illegal immigrants cross over into the United States. Mr Bush has also suggested a temporary guest worker programme to allow immigrants to work legally in the US. But Republican congressmen have argued against the idea. They said it would be an amnesty that would give illegal immigrants a route to citizenship. Under the new law, around $1.2bn will be spent over the coming year on the border, which will be built on remote and inhospitable border areas in the south west of the country.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The UK was unable to take back British residents held at Guantanamo Bay because of impossible conditions demanded by the US, the Lord Chancellor said last night. Speaking in Washington, Lord Falconer said the Government "could not legally deliver" on the terms for their release. The deal reportedly came with the pre-condition that the prisoners were kept under 24-hour surveillance if set free in the UK. Yesterday, the Government came under increasing pressure to help set free the men, but said that, as foreign nationals, it was up to their governments to apply for their release from the controversial detention centrer. Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said Britain had "a moral obligation" towards those held while Amnesty International called Britain's position "shameful". Details of a deal to free the British residents being turned down by the UK emerged in documents obtained by the Guardian. The documents are understood to have been submitted by top Government officials for a judicial review into the decision, made by then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, not to apply for the men's release.

"We have an explosion. We are descending immediately. We have fire on board!" the co-pilot of the Cuban airliner radioed the Barbados control tower before his crippled DC-8 plunged into the Caribbean sea on Oct. 6, 1976. The recording of Tomas Rodriguez's last words is repeatedly played on Cuban TV 30 years later as a reminder of an act of terrorism that the United States, applying double standards, prefers to sweep under the carpet. Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative and one of the two anti-Castro Cuban exiles accused of plotting the bomb attack from Caracas, has been held in Texas since May, 2005 for illegally sneaking into the United States. But Havana expects the man it labels "Latin America's bin Laden" to soon walk free because he has become a political hot potato for the Bush administration. The US Justice Department has blocked the release of Carriles, wanted by Venezuela and Cuba in connection with a plane bombing. The department opposed a court ruling that anti-Castro activist Luis Posada Carriles should be freed from a Texas detention centre pending deportation. A department spokeswoman said he might abscond and pose a security risk. The Cuban plane exploded over Barbados in 1976, killing all 73 people on board - including Cuba's entire fencing team. The bombing occurred exactly 30 years ago and Cuba is holding a remembrance ceremony on Friday. Mr Posada - a former CIA operative - is being held in the US for crossing illegally from Mexico after serving time in Panama for plotting to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro. He faces deportation, but it won't be to Cuba or Venezuela allegedly because of fears he might face torture. No other country has been willing to accept him. Venezuela wants to try Mr Posada - who was born in Cuba but has Venezuelan citizenship - in connection with the bombing of the plane, which was flying to Cuba from Caracas.

The US and the European Union have struck a new deal for sharing airline passenger data. The new interim agreement will replace a deal struck down by the European Court of Justice in May, that allowed the US access to 34 pieces of data on each passenger. The US has sought information about air travellers since the 9/11 attacks. EU officials described the deal, which came after nine hours of negotiations by video conference, as a "very important result" for the EU. The previous deal lapsed on 1 October when both sides failed to agree on terms for a renewal. The new accord will expire at the end of July 2007. Negotiations over a permanent deal will begin during an EU diplomatic visit to Washington in November. Justice ministers from across the EU are scheduled to meet later on Friday to discuss the deal, which could be formally approved next week. EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said new mechanisms had been agreed to distribute data from airlines to the US. This new agreement will provide a possibility of giving passenger data to the US authorities while guaranteeing sufficient data protection. US officials will now only be able to access data by having information "pushed" from airline computer systems. Previously the US could "pull" data from the systems whenever it was needed.

Last month's attack on the U.S. embassy in Damascus was planned in Saudi Arabia and the four Syrians who carried it out had no links to al Qaeda, a government investigation said on Thursday. Three of the four assailants, 31-year-old Abdel Raouf Saleh, Bilal Saleh, 25, and Samir Saleh, also 25, were close relatives who followed the teachings of a preacher in Saudi Arabia where they had worked, the Interior Ministry report said. They started preparing for the operation in 2004, according to the report. "An investigation into the attack has been concluded. The group planned to blow an embassy door, storm the compound and kill whoever was inside. It had no links with extremist organisations outside Syria," the report said. "They attended lessons by a Saudi man of religion. Their extremism deepened due to the political situation shaking the region and U.S. bias toward Israel."

Why Moving To Canada Is Not The Answer: Canadian Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day rejected accusations Thursday that American FBI agents are illegally crossing the border into Canada. Day played down concerns about an audit by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that says FBI agents have visited Canada without proper clearance from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa. U.S. State Department rules require that all government employees obtain clearance from the American ambassador to a foreign country before travelling there on official business. The March 2004 audit by the bureau's inspector general says some FBI travellers to Canada had "failed to request country clearances" between October 2001 and April 2003, and that there was no evidence of approvals in a number of other cases. The report says bureau agents in Buffalo were given blanket clearance to pursue routine investigations up to 80 kilometres into Canada, but adds the U.S. Embassy was aware of the practice. New Democrat MP Joe Comartin asked the Conservative government what it plans to do about a foreign security agency operating on Canadian soil without permission. "They did it illegally," Comartin charged in the House of Commons. Day told the House that "everything that is done on Canadian soil relating to security and safety investigations is done in accordance with our laws."

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: Israel, under pressure from the United States, agreed to marginally loosen restrictions at Gaza's border crossing with Egypt on Thursday, but did not make any longer-term commitment to keep the frontier open. In a statement after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice left Jerusalem to continue a regional tour, the State Department said Israel agreed to open Rafah crossing at "regular intervals" during the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The statement did not specify what those intervals would be or how long they would last. "We are encouraged by this decision, the first step toward restoration of normal operations at the crossing," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters traveling with Rice. Rafah has been closed for much of this year, and has been open for only 12 days since an Israeli soldier was captured by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid on June 25th. Rice, who personally brokered a deal with Israel in November last year to try to keep Gaza's border crossings open, had pressed Israeli leaders on the issue during extensive talks in an effort to secure at least some success in her two-day visit.

Fair And Balanced: Fox News just can't resist the temptation to refer to the disgraced Republican former congressional representative from Florida, Mark Foley, as a Democrat. Here is a screenshot taken from Fox News on Wednesday.

The United States Of America, A Third World Nation: As federal agents launched a criminal investigation into two produce companies involved in the contaminated spinach outbreak, Idaho health officials confirmed the death of a 2-year-old boy Sept. 20 was caused by tainted spinach. "This confirms what we suspected for quite some time," said Ross Mason, a spokesman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. "Confirming that, though, was important information and will help us in the future if we have similar situations." The boy, who would have turned 3 in December, died in Salt Lake City after developing a type of kidney failure caused by E. coli. Health officials had to wait for the results of genetic testing on the bacteria to determine whether his illness was from fresh spinach.

Republicans Believe In Protecting Our Natural Resources: A government study blamed the Bush administration, not lawsuits by environmentalists, for adding to the cost of a logging project in which the government spent $11 million to salvage less than $9 million in timber from a wildfire. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said the administration's decision to dramatically increase logging, coupled with the size of the fire and the complexity of environmental laws, led to delays. The so-called "Biscuit fire" burned almost 500,000 acres in Oregon and California in 2002, making it largest wildfire in the lower 48 states since 1997. The Bush administration and its Republican allies contended that lawsuits filed by environmentalists led to the increased costs. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who directs US forest policy, said the report released Wednesday demonstrated the need for a new law sponsored by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., to speed up logging of burned forests and tree planting after storms and wildfires. "The pattern of litigation-related delays associated with this project bears poignant witness to the need for congressional action on Greg Walden's post-catastrophic restoration bill, as the president called for in Los Angeles," Rey said. The bill would order that federal forests hit by disasters larger than 1,000 acres be restored within months, rather than years, before insects and rot set in, diminishing the commercial value of fire-killed timber. President Bush urged Congress to pass the bill during a visit Tuesday to Southern California, where a giant wildfire about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles was extinguished after nearly a month. "I believe Congress needs to pass further law that will enable us to restore forests once they've been burned," Bush said.

Federal lawmakers Wednesday criticized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for not moving faster to determine whether "intersex" fish in the Potomac River and its tributaries signal the presence of pollutants that might be harmful to humans. At a House Government Reform Committee hearing, lawmakers and environmental groups expressed alarm at a survey last year by the U.S. Geological Survey that found an unusually high number of male smallmouth and largemouth bass with female sexual characteristics. They also worried that the presence of egg-bearing males at locations in Washington, Maryland and Virginia could be a sign that something is dangerously amiss. "Fish are like canaries in the coal mine," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. It is not clear what is causing the changes, though a combination of chemical pollutants is suspected. The reaction could be triggered by estrogen from birth control pills and human waste that makes its way into the waterways from sewage treatment plants, or manmade chemicals in pesticides and cosmetics.

Republicans Believe In Helping Those Who Can't Help Themselves: In a move that has alarmed local officials and advocates for people with AIDS, the state ordered New York City's welfare agency to sharply increase the rent contribution it requires from about 2,200 poor adults who live in government-subsidized buildings and have HIV or AIDS. The change, which city officials disclosed yesterday at a meeting with advocacy groups, means that most of the people in the program will be paying more than half their income - which comes entirely from federal assistance - toward rent. "I am very concerned," said Verna Eggleston, the commissioner of the city's Human Resources Administration, who recalled how hard it was to find housing for poor people with AIDS in the early years of the epidemic, in the 1980's. The roughly 2,200 people who will be affected by the increase make up about one-third of those who receive housing services through the HIV/AIDS Services Administration, part of Ms. Eggleston's agency. Nearly all of the 2,200 adults receive either Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, federal programs that help disabled people. Most of them used to be homeless and now live in buildings that offer medical services.

Republicans Believe Business Leaders Are Moral Examples To Be Emulated: Former Hewlett-Packard Co. Chairwoman Patricia Dunn surrendered to authorities Thursday, a day after she and four others were charged in HP's ill-fated investigation to ferret out the source of boardroom leaks. Dunn, 53, who initiated the probe that has shaken Silicon Valley's largest and oldest technology company, made a brief appearance in Santa Clara County Superior Court to sign a promise to return on Nov. 17 for her arraignment. She declined an onlooker's request for an autograph as she exited the courthouse and hopped into a chauffeur-driven sedan for the short trip to the county sheriff's office, where she was fingerprinted, photographed, booked and released. Neither Dunn nor an attorney representing her, S. Raj Chatterjee, would comment Thursday afternoon. She was charged Wednesday along with former HP chief ethics officer Kevin Hunsaker and three investigators - Ronald DeLia, Matthew DePante and Bryan Wagner.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: There is fresh evidence, if any more were needed, that excessive borrowing during the Bush years will make the nation poorer. For most of the past five and a half years, interest rates have been low, allowing the government to borrow more and more - to cut taxes while fighting two expensive wars - without having to shoulder higher interest payments. That's over now. For the first time during President Bush's tenure, the government's interest bill is expected to rise in 2006, from $184 billion in 2005 to $220 billion this year, up nearly 20 percent. That increase - $36 billion - makes interest the fastest-growing component of federal spending, and continued brisk growth is likely. According to projections by Congress's budget office, the interest bill will grow to $249 billion in 2007, and $270 billion in 2008. All of that is money the government won't have available to spend on other needs and priorities. And much of it won't even be recycled back into the United States economy. That's because borrowing from foreign countries has exploded during the Bush years. In 2005, the government paid about $77 billion in interest to foreign creditors in China, Japan and elsewhere. And that's not the worst of it. While foreign investors were putting up most of the $1.5 trillion the federal government has borrowed since 2001, they were also snapping up hundreds of billions of dollars in private sector securities, transactions that have been a big source of the easy money that allowed Americans to borrow heavily against their homes. The result, as The Wall Street Journal reported last week, is that for the first time in at least 90 years, the United States is now paying noticeably more to foreign creditors than it receives from its investments abroad. That is a momentous shift. It means that a growing share of America's future collective income will flow abroad, leading to a lower standard of living in the United States than would otherwise have been achieved. Americans deserve better than this financial mess.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Shiite militiamen are using Baghdad hospitals as a sectarian killing ground to attack Sunni Muslims, CBS News reported Thursday. Since December, the Iraqi Ministry of Health has been run by Health Minister Ali al-Shameri, a devoted follower of Moqtada al-Sadr, the anti-U.S. Shiite cleric who controls the Mehdi guerrilla group. Almost every day in Baghdad, bound corpses showing signs of torture are found scattered around the city, and they are taken to hospitals before being assigned a number and shipped to the morgue. One hospital worker who did not want to be identified said she witnessed Mehdi members in action when a man brought his dead brother to the hospital. "They asked him if he knew who the killers were and he said 'yes.' They shot him right there," she told CBS. Shameri, however, denied any Mehdi presence within his ministry. "I am ready now, and in the future, to receive investigation teams and journalists to get into any place they want and see whether the Medhi army are there or not," he said. "They will find only doctors, nurses, pharmacy staff and labs and they would find nothing else."

Iraqi authorities have taken a brigade of up to 700 policemen out of service and put members under investigation for "possible complicity" with death squads following a mass kidnapping earlier this week, the U.S. military said Wednesday. The Iraqi police officers were decommissioned following a kidnapping Sunday when gunmen stormed a frozen food plant in the Amil district, abducted 24 workers and shot two others. The bodies of seven of the workers were found hours later but the fate of the others remains unknown.

A solid majority of American soldiers returning from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan say that U.S. armed forces are stretched too thin, according to a poll released yesterday by a veterans group. VoteVets.org, a group headed by an Army reservist based near Pittsburgh, found that 63 percent of veterans of both conflicts describe the Army and Marine Corps as "overextended," while many soldiers also complained about encountering emotional and physical problems when they came back from active duty. "We hope that this poll is a wake-up call for Congress," said Jon Soltz, who served in Iraq in 2003 and is now a captain with a reserve unit at the Charles E. Kelly Support Facility in Oakdale and chairman of VoteVets. At a news conference in Washington yesterday, Mr. Soltz was joined by Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO commander and one-time Democratic presidential candidate, who said the federal government isn't providing sufficient resources to support the troops on the battlefield. It's a charge that Army officials hotly deny, pointing toward huge expenditures for body armor, fortified transport vehicles and expanded mental health programs. Last week, Congress approved a $447 billion defense spending bill for 2007, including $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States has about 150,000 troops deployed in both countries.

The U.S. military and Iraqi government denied reports on Thursday that al Qaeda's leader in Iraq had been killed in a raid but said DNA tests would be conducted on bodies recovered after the attack to make sure. Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, flew in to Baghdad amid the confusion on an unannounced mission to meet the national unity government she helped forge earlier this year but which is still struggling to curb sectarian violence. Dismissing claims by several Iraqi politicians that Abu Ayyub al-Masri and several associates were killed in a U.S. airstrike this week, U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson said: "We believe he is still alive." Masri, an Egyptian who is also known as Abu Hamza al- Muhajir, assumed the leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq after Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi died in a U.S. airstrike in June. "There was a raid recently where we thought he may have been among those killed, but now we think it is highly unlikely," Johnson told Reuters. "We are going to rule out the possibility altogether by doing DNA tests."

Armed Shiite groups have threatened to kill Palestinian refugees living in Baghdad if they do not leave Iraq within 72 hours, Human Rights Watch charged. The organization said it had urged the Iraqi government and the U.S.-lead coalition to investigate the alleged threats and improve security for Palestinians in Iraq. Human Rights Watch said it had obtained a new leaflet bearing the name of the Al-Bayt Revenge Brigade -- Rapid Response Units, warning that "there is no place for Palestinians in the Iraq of Ali, Hassan, and Hussain." The names refer to three Shiite imams. Virtually all Palestinians are Sunni Muslim, HRW said. The leaflet also warns that "our swords can reach necks" and urges Palestinians to leave within 72 hours. Baghdad residents told HRW that trucks with loudspeakers passed through the al-Dura neighborhood Sept. 25 and Sept. 30, issuing death threats against Palestinians.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Gary Bauer says it's a sign of the sickness on the political left that several high-profile Hollywood personalities, college professors, and even members of Congress would endorse the efforts of a far-left group calling for the overthrow of the Bush administration. The group calls itself the Alliance for Global Justice. Beside supporting the return of the communist Sandinistas to power in Nicaragua, the organization has taken out full-page newspaper ads that read: "The world can't wait! Drive out the Bush regime!" The ad claims that "regime" is "setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come" -- and calls for people to take off work and school to participate in massive protest rallies across the country today. See the full-page ad [PDF] Pro-family activist and American Values president Gary Bauer believes the Alliance's ad border on treason. "If that's not treasonous, I don't know what is," he says, "because the ad comes very close to directly advocating violence or some other activity other than voting." The former presidential candidate says Christians need to see the ad to understand what would happen should they decide to stay home and not vote. In fact, Bauer wishes he could show the ad to every church in America.

Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves. At an unusual series of leadership meetings in 44 cities this fall, more than 6,000 pastors are hearing dire forecasts from some of the biggest names in the conservative evangelical movement.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: The world's top polluting nations were told Wednesday to prepare for decades of weather turmoil, even if they act now to curb emissions and pursue green energy sources. Environment and energy ministers meeting in the Mexican city of Monterrey vowed to work faster to control global warming as scientists told them each year wasted in curbing greenhouse gas emissions would cost them dearly. Yet even if countries froze emission levels tomorrow, the world still faces 30 years of floods, heatwaves, hurricanes and coastal erosion, the British government's chief scientific advisor David King, said. King - who considers global warming a bigger threat than terrorism - said rich nations must help the developing world prepare for a weather shift that could put millions of lives at risk. "We've got 30 years of climate change ahead of us even if we stop right now. Were persuading countries they have to adapt to the changes that are ahead of them," King told Reuters at the meeting of top greenhouse gas emitting countries. "Because we've raised the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere so quickly, the earth's climate system is falling behind. This is way in excess of anything the planet has known, probably for 45 million years," he said.

For those who love New England's mild summer weather, scientists have some advice: enjoy it while you can. If greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current course, Massachusetts may feel more like sultry South Carolina by century's end, researchers said Wednesday in a report on clear signs of global warming in the U.S. Northeast. The region, comprising nine of the 50 U.S. states, is critical, since it alone is the world's seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, just behind the entire nation of Germany and ahead of all of Canada, said Cameron Wake, a University of New Hampshire climate scientist and a co-author of the report. "While we've been tracking global climate change from a scientific perspective, the way that we're going to experience this is on a regional and local level," Wake said by telephone. "So it's really important to perform these kinds of regional analyses around the globe. because some of the global signals in fact might be amplified locally." A two-year study by the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment group found that, if emissions go unchecked, the U.S. Northeast could see a rise in average summer temperatures of more than 12 degrees F by 2100. However, the report stressed that even a 3 percent annual reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide would be enough to substantially lower the amount of warming and its effects.

As many as half the world's species may face extinction by 2100 because of pollution, climate change, human population growth and other influences, a renowned scientist dubbed "the father of biodiversity" told an audience here. Edward O. Wilson spoke Wednesday to a Montana State University crowd estimated at more than 2,000 after he came to Bozeman to accept the George R. Stibitz Computer and Communications Pioneer Award. The award by the American Computer Museum of Bozeman and MSU's computer science department was in recognition of Wilson's promotion of an electronic "Encyclopedia of Life" to store information about every species on Earth. Wilson, a Harvard University professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, has done pioneering research in biology and developed a field known as sociobiology, which seeks to link behavior in humans and animals to their evolutionary heritage. Steps to prevent the broad loss of species can be undertaken and the 21st century ultimately may become known as "the century of the environment," Wilson said. He has been seeking to recruit religious fundamentalists as allies in a push for environmental protection.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, falsely argued on "Hardball" that homosexual men are likelier to abuse children than heterosexuals. With comments like this, one might argue conservatives are likelier to abuse gays, not to mention the truth. From the October 3 edition of Hardball: MATTHEWS: OK, tough question: Should the Republican Party nominate gay men or gay women for public office? Is that a problem with you per se, just per se? PERKINS: Per se? I think that this - there’s an indication, there’s clear research that shows that homosexual men are more likely to abuse children than straight men. And when it comes to government, yes, I have a concern that any type of sexual deviancy is a problem. And I think - I’m not pointing this strictly at homosexuality. I think this is a problem of dropping all sexual restraints in our society, and this is what it leads to. I mean, our kids not even being safe in the halls of government. Is that the America that moms and dads want for their children? I don’t think it is.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:34:12 AM

Wed, Oct 04 2006

Not Feeling So Hot

The weather is still a bit unsettled after a tropical wave has moved through the isthmus and left chilly weather, lots of rain and even some fog in its wake. Yesterday was a mostly foggy day, with the fog lifting only in the late afternoon, and leaving behind periods of rain all night. No fog today, but lots of periods of brief rain, with the overcast only breaking up in the late afternoon. The moderate temperatures were welcome, with an 81 this afternoon, following an overnight low of 71. More of this to come - the weather map shows tropical waves lined up all the way across South America, the Atlantic, even to West Africa. So there will be periods of this damp, chilly weather for a couple of weeks.

Today has been pretty much a day of misery. After being pretty much confined to the house yesterday because of chest pain related to my heart condition, I was looking forward to getting out today, but it wasn't to be. Rather than get outside to collect the remains of a ham radio antenna that came down in the wind last night (which I have decided not to put back up, because its performance hasn't been all that worthwhile), I have been pretty much stuck on the couch today. Seems that a sore throat which I picked up during my trip to Granada last week has not gone away as they normally do, but today decided to flare up rather badly. I checked the back of my throat, and sure enough, it was covered in pustules, so I headed straight for the farmacia this afternoon and got some erythromycin. They only had 500 mg. tablets, but they were not coated, so I can cut them in half and take my usual dose that way. They weren't all that expensive - about $3 for a week's worth, and if that doesn't do it, I'll have to go see a doc. So I am taking it easy, as I don't feel all that red hot, and that is why the blog is a bit short tonight.

The new gasoline price takes effect tonight, and the reduction brings the price of regular down to $3.47 for "regular." A welcome relief. Just in time for a planned trip to Tilaran.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States Gay sex with children, underage drinking, gross e-mails and IMs, Congress, the Republicans, Macaca, rehab - you were probably thinking there was no possible way this story could get better. Oh ye of little faith, how about a heaping helping of Scientology? Foley sent his "Gone to Detox Mansion" fax from Clearwater, Florida. Are there any rehab joints there that aren't run by Scientology? Remember, that's the same cult that says they can 'cure' homosexuality. Clearwater is known as the town Scientology built - or at least the town Scientology almost completely redeveloped. Clearwater is also home to Narconon, L. Ron Hubbard's homemade rehab program. And it turns out Foley was no stranger in Clearwater. At a 2003 Scientology meeting, Foley gave a speech and was photographed happily accepting leatherbound copies of Dianetics and The Way to Happiness. In 1999, Foley joined three other Scientology-friendly politicians in condemning Germany for outlawing Scientology - German law is very strict about cults, because of previous problems. The Clearwater Scientologists also held a fund-raiser for Foley's aborted Senate run; he dropped out after the gay thing was mentioned. And on Friday, the Creative Loafing blog in Tampa reported that Foley attended a Scientology gala in Los Angeles five years ago. When disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley announced he was entering rehab for treatment of alcoholism and "other behavioral problems," some of those who have known him for years were shocked and suspicious, saying they rarely saw him drink. Another longtime friend, though, agreed that Foley had a drinking problem, and a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction noted that it's not unusual for alcoholics to hide their drinking. Among the skeptics, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a former colleague, said on Fox News Channel: "I don't buy this at all. I think this is a phony defense. The fact is, I think he's responsible for what he did here and I think it's a gimmick."

The House page scandal engulfing former Rep. Mark Foley and House Republican leaders enters its sixth day with Speaker Dennis Hastert working to hold onto his job and the GOP rank and file worried that the pre-election drip, drip of damaging political news isn't over yet. The daily disclosures about Foley's salacious Internet exchanges with former teenage congressional pages has GOP lawmakers and conservative activists fearing the foibles of other politicians may be exposed. "People are very, very concerned," Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., said Tuesday night. "I think there are going to be more disclosures."

Another disclosure: A third figure in the page scandal threatening to the envelop House Speaker Dennis Hastert suggested Wednesday the speaker knew of an inappropriate e-mail that Rep. Mark Foley sent to a Louisiana boy before the matter became public. Rep. Rodney Alexander (news, bio, voting record), R-La., the congressman who sponsored the page at the heart of the furor, said Hastert "knew about the e-mails that we knew about," including one in which Foley asked the page to send his picture. The speaker has said he was not aware of the e-mails when they were discussed with his staff. The No. 2 House Republican, Rep. John Boehner (news, bio, voting record) of Ohio, and House GOP campaign chairman Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, said they had spoken with Hastert about a complaint concerning a former page from Louisiana last spring, after Alexander told them about it. Hastert's position did not change after Alexander's comments. "The speaker's staff knew about this; the speaker didn't," said his spokesman, Ron Bonjean.

More disclosures: Two Florida newspapers as well as Fox News who were leaked copies of the e-mail with the Louisiana boy last year defended their decision not to run stories. Both The St. Petersburg Times and The Miami Herald were given copies of the e-mail, as were other news organizations, including Fox News. "Our decision at the time was... that because the language was not sexually explicit and was subject to interpretation, from innocuous to 'sick,' as the page characterized it, to be cautious," said Tom Fiedler, executive editor of the Herald. "Given the potentially devastating impact that a false suggestion of pedophilia could have on anyone, not to mention a congressman known to be gay, and lacking any corroborating information, we chose not to do a story." Hastert called on any person who was aware of the 2003 instant messages to speak to law enforcement authorities. He said no Republican leader in Congress was aware of those exchanges until Friday, when ABC News reported it had questioned Foley about them. A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said it had obtained copies of Foley's e-mails to the 16-year-old former page in late July and immediately gave them to the FBI. "They (the e-mails) should have raised a red flag over at the FBI," said Melanie Sloan, the group's executive director and a former prosecutor specializing in sex crimes. The group on Monday asked the Justice Department's inspector general to investigate why Foley's e-mails were not pursued.

Dale Kildee, the Democratic member of the House Page Board, released a strongly worded statement expressing outrage that he had not been informed about the emails at any point after Republicans on the board had been made aware of them: "I was outraged to learn that the House Republican leadership kept to itself the knowledge of Mr. Foley's despicable behavior toward the House pages."

On Friday afternoon, a strategist for Rep. Mark Foley tried to cut a deal with ABC's Brian Ross. The correspondent, who had dozens of instant messages that Foley sent to teenage House pages, had asked to interview the Florida Republican. Foley's former chief of staff said the congressman was quitting and that Ross could have that information exclusively if he agreed not to publish the raw, sexually explicit messages. "I said we're not making any deals," Ross recalls. He says the Internet made the story possible, because on Thursday he posted a story on his ABC Web page, the Blotter, after obtaining one milder e-mail that Foley had sent a 16-year-old page, asking for a picture. Within two hours, former pages had e-mailed Ross and provided the salacious messages. The only question then, says Ross, was "whether this could be authenticated."

A passing statement in an instant message conversation with a teenage page might provide investigators with a damning piece of evidence suggesting criminal behavior in the case of former congressman Mark Foley (in fact, it is possibly a 3rd degree felony in Florida). That instant message conversation from 2003 contains the following exchange: Teen: "whered ya go this afternoon" (sic) Maf54: "I am in pensecola-had to catch a plane." Foley told the boy that he was chatting from a Pensecola hotel room on campaign business, although he hadn't officially announced his intent to run for reelection to the House, yet. In 2004, Foley won with 68 percent of the vote. Over the course of several pages of dialogue, that conversation became extraordinarily graphic, and included several direct references to masturbation techniques and frequency, discussion of the child's penis size, and even the congressman's explicit interest in sexual contact with the boy.

The US House of Representatives has approved a resolution ordering an immediate ethics probe into the behavior of Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), Roll Call is reporting. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) offered the resolution, which was passed 410-0 in a late Friday session. Foley resigned from Congress earlier today after inappropriate and potentially illegal contacts with an underaged male page were revealed. Writers John Bresnahan and Susan Davis at Roll Call also indicate that Foley was "interviewed about some of those contact by the chairman of the House Page Board and the Clerk of the House last year." As for the ethics probe, the committee has ten days to report its findings to the House, per the article.

In a hailstorm of unfavorable publicity over a House sex scandal and the war in Iraq, President Bush and his party have lost the political initiative at a critical point in the midterm election campaign, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. The survey shows that by 41%-18%, Americans say recent news developments have made them less favorable toward continued Republican control of Congress; by 34%-23% they called themselves more favorably inclined toward Democratic control. It also shows a decline in Mr. Bush's job approval rating to 39% from 42% earlier this month. Even more problematic for Republicans' campaign positions, the survey shows that a 46% plurality of Americans now believes the war in Iraq is hurting the nation's ability to win the war against terrorism. That's up from 32% earlier this month when Americans were nearly evenly divided over whether the war was helping, hurting or not making a difference in the war on terrorism. In September 2004, as the nation prepared to re-elect George W. Bush and a Republican majority in Congress, the GOP had pulled just about even with Democrats in terms of party affiliation. At that time, 37.9% of Americans considered themselves Democrats while 37.3% considered themselves Republicans. That was the GOP’s best performance of 2004 and reflected a net gain of three percentage points in six months. This time around, the trends are heading in the opposite direction. During September 2006, 37.0% consider themselves Democrats and just 32.2% identify with the GOP. That’s a net advantage of 4.8 percentage points for the Democrats and presents a much different political environment from the last election cycle. Not only that, this time around, it’s the Democrats who are gaining ground. They’ve gained a net three percentage points since the beginning of 2006.

A U.S. Senate confirmation vote to formalize John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has ground to a halt, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has wound up in a 9-9 deadlock over confirming Bolton, who has served without confirmation since August 2005 under a presidential recess appointment. Until last week, it appeared Bolton was on his way to confirmation but Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., announced he was not prepared to vote for Bolton, as he dislikes the administration's -- and Bolton's -- pro-Israel policy. Chaffee's U-turn, along with all eight of the Democrats on the committee created the stalemate, the report said. With Congress in recess for midterm elections, Bolton is once again in political limbo and the newspaper said part of the reason is he has not been able to throw off his close association with the "our-way-or-the-highway" approach for foreign policy in the first Bush term.

Spin Cycle: Republicans have been conducting a behind-the-scenes campaign to redirect attention away from themselves. Within 24 hours of Foley's resignation, GOP aides and Republican political operatives began pushing a story that Brian Smoot - who was Louisiana Rep. Rodney Alexander's chief of staff before the lawmaker switched parties to the GOP in 2004 - might have been involved in leaking the e-mails to reporters. The GOP operatives have been making the argument to a host of reporters that the leaker, by sitting on the e-mails, acted in a way that could enrage voters. The reality is that it was apparently Republican Party sources that leaked the emails to ABC News

Fair And Balanced: Just amazing. Fox's O'Reilly Factor just covered the Mark Foley (R-FL) issue in two different segments, one of them with a page who says he received communications from Foley, and another with Ann Coulter. Never mind the content of either segment for now. Incredibly, during a total of three different cutaways to video footage of Foley, he was labelled at the bottom of the screen eachtime as "(D-FL)"! Three different times. In two different segements. Each cutaway about 15 seconds or more. Showing Foley as a DEMOCRAT. Amazing. See the video here.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A Denver-area man filed a lawsuit today against a member of the Secret Service for causing him to be arrested after he approached Vice President Dick Cheney in Beaver Creek this summer and criticized him for his policies concerning Iraq. Attorney David Lane said that on June 16, Steve Howards was walking his 7-year-old son to a piano practice, when he saw Cheney surrounded by a group of people in an outdoor mall area, shaking hands and posing for pictures with several people. According to the lawsuit filed at U.S. District Court in Denver, Howards and his son walked to about two-to-three feet from where Cheney was standing, and said to the vice president, "I think your policies in Iraq are reprehensible," or words to that effect, then walked on. Ten minutes later, according to Howards' lawsuit, he and his son were walking back through the same area, when they were approached by Secret Service agent Virgil D. "Gus" Reichle Jr., who asked Howards if he had "assaulted" the vice president. Howards denied doing so, but was nonetheless placed in handcuffs and taken to the Eagle County Jail. The lawsuit states that the Secret Service agent instructed that Howards should be issued a summons for harassment, but that on July 6 the Eagle County District Attorney's Office dismissed all charges against Howards. The lawsuit filed today alleges that Howards was arrested in retaliation for having exercised his First Amendment right of free speech, and that his arrest violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful seizure.

A Homeland Security data-mining program which will crawl the Internet looking for potential threats to the country has come under Congressional scrutiny for a lack of privacy protection, cost controls and program guidelines. Members of the House Appropriations Committee and House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcomittee have directed the Homeland Security Inspector General to investigate the Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE) program, one of twelve data mining programs currently in use or under development by Homeland Security. ADVISE is a "technology framework" which can integrate information and facts from many different types and sources of data and can be tailored to specific areas of interest. In its prototype stage, it will "incorporate chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive threat and effects data," according to an Inspector General’s report released last month.

The United States of America, A Third-World Nation: California officials have discovered E. coli in cattle feces on pastures near farms being investigated as possible sources of spinach contaminated with the bacteria, which caused a nationwide outbreak of food poisoning, a state health officer said Tuesday. State investigators have obtained eight samples of cattle feces testing positive for E. coli. The samples are being retested to see if their bacteria strain matches the strain in 193 cases of food poisoning, including one confirmed fatality last month, linked to tainted spinach, said Kevin Reilly, a deputy director at the California Department of Health Services. "We probably won't have results for another couple of days," Reilly told reporters in a telephone conference call. California investigators are looking into a number of scenarios for how spinach from their state may have become contaminated with E. coli, Reilly said. The outbreak has been traced to spinach processed in California. The bacteria could have been transmitted by irrigation water, fertilizer, farm equipment or workers, livestock and wild animals, or it could have contaminated the spinach inside processing plants, during transport or on store shelves.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: Job cuts soared last month, topping the 100,000 mark for the first time since last January. Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas says it's the second straight month of increased job cuts, topping the August tally by 54 percent and the level of a year ago by 40 percent. The increase was led by the auto industry, which announced nearly 34,000 cuts. That was dominated by suppliers who are starting to feel the effects of the production cutbacks at Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler. There were also sizable increases in the telecommunications and housing industries. So far this year employers have announced more than 639,000 job cuts, a drop of 18 percent from a year ago.

Republicans Believe In Protecting Workers' Rights: The National Labor Relations Board ruled today that a range of professionals are now deemed "supervisors" and thus lose all protections under labor law. That means if they say a positive thing about unions, their bosses are free to fire them at will. Here are the dynamics when large numbers of workers are declared to be supervisors-- it means that friends in the workplace immediately are turned into enemies as supervisors are told to spy on their friends or lose their jobs. Instead of a union being about workers challenging the power of top management, it is turned into an internal workplace civil war. But divide and conquer, pitting people against each other based on race, ethnicity, gender and now menial distinctions in authority on the shopfloor are the tools of the trade for the corporate right wing.

Republicans Believe In Protecting Natural Resources: Pollution experts have "serious scientific concerns" that newly unveiled U.S. air quality standards may pose risks to human health and welfare, according to a letter made public Tuesday. The experts, all charter members of a key advisory panel to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, questioned the agency's decision to keep annual standards for fine soot particles at the same level they have been since 1997. The panel's scientists, along with a broad range of environmental and health groups, had sought to lower the amount of soot permissible, citing research that showed health risks from even small amounts over the course of a year. "There is clear and convincing evidence that significant adverse human-health effects occur in response to short-term and chronic particulate matter exposures at or below 15 micrograms per cubic meter (of air), the level of the current annual... standard," the experts wrote in a Sept. 29 letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. Johnson announced the decision to leave this standard unchanged on Sept. 21, saying it offered "cleaner air to all Americans," and would 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.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Iraqi authorities have taken a brigade of up to 700 policemen out of service and put members under investigation for "possible complicity" with death squads following a mass kidnapping earlier this week, the U.S. military said Wednesday. Meanwhile, a series of bombs went off in rapid succession in a shopping district in a mainly Christian neighborhood of Baghdad, killing 16 people and wounding 87, police said. The dead were among 26 people killed in attacks across Iraq.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Drought threatening the lives of millions will spread across half the land surface of the Earth in the coming century because of global warming, according to new predictions from Britain's leading climate scientists. Extreme drought, in which agriculture is in effect impossible, will affect about a third of the planet, according to the study from the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research. It is one of the most dire forecasts so far of the potential effects of rising temperatures around the world - yet it may be an underestimation, the scientists involved said yesterday. The findings, released at the Climate Clinic at the Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth, drew astonished and dismayed reactions from aid agencies and development specialists, who fear that the poor of developing countries will be worst hit. "This is genuinely terrifying," said Andrew Pendleton of Christian Aid. "It is a death sentence for many millions of people. It will mean migration off the land at levels we have not seen before, and at levels poor countries cannot cope with." One of Britain's leading experts on the effects of climate change on the developing countries, Andrew Simms from the New Economics Foundation, said: "There's almost no aspect of life in the developing countries that these predictions don't undermine - the ability to grow food, the ability to have a safe sanitation system, the availability of water. For hundreds of millions of people for whom getting through the day is already a struggle, this is going to push them over the precipice."

Sea ice in the Arctic last month melted to its second lowest monthly minimum in the 29-year record of satellite measurements. Scientists at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Colorado said the total surface area covered by sea ice during September was smaller than in any previous year apart from 2005, when it reached an all-time record minimum. And it was only a sudden change to cool and stormy weather in August that prevented another record low being set this September, they said. "At this rate, the Arctic Ocean will have no ice in September by the year 2060," said Julienne Strove, one of the NSIDC's research scientists. The Arctic sea ice floats on the ocean and its surface coverage varies naturally in line with seasonal temperature changes, with an absolute minimum in summer occurring around mid-September. However, rising temperatures have seen a steady long-term decline in sea ice during the summer months, with little recovery during the Arctic winter. Summer sea ice across the entire Arctic has been dwindling steadily since satellite measurements began in 1977. But since 2002 scientists have detected a noticeable acceleration in the rate of summer loss, which they believe is caused by global warming.

A German-led international team of scientists has confirmed previously reported Arctic warming trends. "Compared to last summer, the water that flows from the Norwegian Sea to the Arctic has been an average 0.8 degrees Celsius warmer this summer," said expedition leader Ursula Schauer of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany. "This is in addition to the last two years already having been warmer than the previous 20 from which we have regular measurements." During the expedition, biologists also discovered zooplankton species from the Norwegian Sea that were previously unrecorded in the northern latitudes. Joined by researchers from the University of Bremen and the Polish Institute of Oceanology, the scientists tracked warm waters along the sea ice margin between Greenland and Spitsbergen in a quest to understand the climate change observed during the past decade in the Arctic. Previous measurements indicated the occurrence of several strong warm pulses during the past decade. A combination of that and similar data has, for the first time, enabled reconstruction of an Atlantic heat pulse through the Norwegian Sea and far into the inner Arctic over several years.

Wildfires across the country have burned a record number of acres this year, and with the scorched land comes a record bill, a federal official said Tuesday. The U.S. Forest Service's firefighting efforts for fiscal year 2006, which ended Sept. 30, cost more than $1.5 billion, at least $100 million over budget, said Mark Rey, the Agriculture Department undersecretary for natural resources and the environment. To pay for the fires, money was transferred from other programs that had surpluses, including a reforestation program, said Kent Connaughton, the Forest Service comptroller. The wildfire season is not over yet, but so far more than 15,515 square miles, or 9.93 million acres, have burned in the Lower 48 states, Rey said. That is the most since at least 1960, when the Boise-based National Interagency Fire Center began keeping reliable records. The previous record was in 2005, when more than 8.6 million acres burned. The average of the past 10 years has been 4.9 million acres. The 2006 tab compares with $690 million spent in 2005 and $726 million in 2004, Forest Service spokesman Dan Jiron said.

One of the world's most prominent business leaders has expressed his fears over the "daunting" challenge of preventing dangerous climate change. Rick Samans, head of the Davos-based World Economic Forum, said the global effort to tackle the problem was beginning 10-15 years late. He said politicians had to act fast and set targets to cut CO2 emissions. Mr Samans made his comments at a conference of the world's top 20 polluting nations in Mexico. "We are behind the curve, there is no doubt that we should have acted 10 or 15 years ago," he told BBC News. He added that businesses needed much more certainty about emissions targets before committing to investing billions of pounds in clean technology. "It is very difficult to make a decision about a very expensive piece of equipment that you expect to last up to 50 years if one does not have a sense of the cost of that equipment," Mr Samans said. He suggested that the delegates were also frustrated by the slow pace of progress, but expressed a degree of optimism that clean technology could be quickly adopted if governments sent out the right signals. "Having said that, it is not too late because human experience suggests we have underestimated the impact of technological change.

Despite optimism earlier this year that the ozone hole was stabilising and might even have begun to repair itself, scientists at the European Space Agency report that 2006 saw record losses of ozone over the south pole. Data from ESA's Envisat satellite show that although the area of the ozone hole (this year, 28m square kilometres) is not quite as large as it was in 2000, some 40 million tonnes of ozone were lost during the southern hemisphere winter. This is one million tonnes greater than the previous record from 2000. The loss is calculated by combining the area of the hole with the depth of the ozone layer. The depth is measured in Dobson units, which describes the thickness of the layer directly over the location being measured, ESA explains. This year saw the ozone approach the thinnest it has ever been, around 100 dobson units, approaching the record of 1998.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: A Loganville, Ga., mother has argued before a state officer that books in the Harry Potter series should be banned from Gwinnett County public schools. Laura Mallory stated her case to the state Board of Education hearing officer after appealing a decision of the school district to keep the popular books on library shelves, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday. Mallory claimed the fantasy books about a school for wizards feature protagonists who lie, cheat and steal without consequences. She also claims the books promote Wicca, a church of witchcraft. "When my children are at school, I'm trusting them to the teachers and that school," Mallory said. "They are my most precious things in the entire world to me. I surely don't want them indoctrinated into a religion whose practices are evil."

Predictably, some right-wing Christian groups have started directly blaming homosexuality for advances made toward minors by then-Congressman Mark Foley, particularly following claims yesterday by the former lawmaker's attorneys that he had been molested by clergy. National Clergy Council President, Rev. Rob Schenck issued a statement on Monday, focusing on swift intervention on behalf of the young people affected. "There is no justification whatsoever," Schenck told the media, "that would excuse a person in power preying on vulnerable young people." Concerned Women for America on the same day issued a release that appeared to refer to homosexuality indirectly while implying that calls for toleration are part of an attempt to lower the age of consent for sexual activity with minors. "Not all 'diversity' should be accepted," an unnamed CWA spokesperson said, "and not all conduct or beliefs should be 'tolerated'... Americans know that some lifestyles, such as aberrant sexual behavior, are just too damaging and dangerous to individuals, and that society and children especially should be protected from them." Today, the rhetoric intensified, with two groups blaming homosexuality for the scandal. Jason Jones, public relations director for Human Life International, issued a statement using the Foley matter to condemn not just homosexuality, but abortion and contraception, as well. "Homosexuality," Jones writes, "is every bit a part of the culture of death as is abortion and contraception... Foley's actions were that of [a] homosexual predator, not a pedophile. Homosexuals reproduce sexually by molesting children."

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: The GOP candidate for Vermont’s lone Congressional seat has suffered a setback after a staffer was found to have lifted material for her website from other politicians. Congressional hopeful Martha Rainville is now backtracking from some of her policy statements after a Vermont blogger discovered the material Rainville used came from the websites of U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), and Rick O’Donnell, a Republican candidate for a House seat in Colorado’s Seventh District.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:02:17 AM

Mon, Oct 02 2006

Busy Getting Ready To Move

The unusually dry rainy-season weather has continued, with only a brief interruption for a quick rip-snorter in the late afternoon that had me scrambling to get everything shut down and disconnected for lightning protection. But otherwise, the weather has been heavily overcast, but no rain at all. So far, it looks like the El Nino continues to intensify, and the developing drought that it brings is going to be a problem. A tropical wave has been moving across the area slowly, and it has brought the heavy overcast with a slight decrease in temperatures, with 71 overnight and a 78 high in the afternoon. It has been almost chilly.

I have been busy preparing to move, and so have not been paying a lot of attention to what has been going on around town. But had a quick visit with some of my friends the day I got back, and caught up on some of the local gossip. I was out of town when the gardener came by last Friday, and he needed to be paid, but I wasn't around to do it. So he came by tonight, and I settled up with him. He said he is planning a trip to Liberia and couldn't wait till Friday to get paid.

There's been a fourth decrease in the price of gasoline, this time while I was in Nicaragua, and I haven't checked the prices so I can't report them to you. But this decrease included diesel fuel, so it is finally coming down, too. Good news, especially for the Nicaraguans, who have really seen a hit to their foreign exchange reserves.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: A Republican staff member warned Congressional pages five years ago to watch out for Congressman Mark Foley, according to a former page. Matthew Loraditch, a page in the 2001-2002 class, told ABC News he and other pages were warned about Foley by a supervisor. Loraditch, the president of the Page Alumni Association, said the pages were told "don't get too wrapped up in him being too nice to you and all that kind of stuff." Staff members at the House clerk's office did not return phone calls seeking comment. Some of the sexually explicit instant messages that led to Foley's abrupt resignation Friday were sent to pages in Loraditch's class. Pages report to either Republican or Democratic supervisors, depending on the political party of the member of Congress who nominated them for the page program. Loraditch says the some of pages who "interacted" with Foley were hesitant to report his behavior because "members of Congress, they've got the power." Many of the pages were hoping for careers in politics and feared Foley might seek retribution. Loraditch runs the alumni association for the US House Page Program and he is deeply concerned about the future effects this scandal could have on a program that he sees as a valuable educational experience for teens. It has emerged that House Speaker Dennis Hastert was told about some of the e-mails months ago by congressman Thomas Reynolds, chairman of the Republican national congressional committee, who failed to pursue the matter. The scandal has rocked Capitol Hill and left the Republican Party scrambling to limit the damage just weeks before the congressional elections, where they face losing their majority. "Congressman Reynolds's inaction in the face of such a serious situation is very troubling and raises important questions about whether there was an attempt to cover up criminal activity involving a minor to keep it from coming to light before election day," said Karen Finney, spokesman for the Democratic national committee. It emerged that several other members of the Republican leadership - including the House majority leader, John Boehner - also knew of the messages. Congressman Foley's web page showing the children he was allegedly "protecting" as a congressman "interested" in the issue, has mysteriously gone blank. Surprise, surprise.

The GOP staff knew Foley was a problem the year before, they warned the pages in 2001. Yet GOP Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), chairman of the page board, the next year is acknowledging that Foley was still permitted to spend "a lot of time" with the pages. In the name of God, why? Oh, but it gets worse. Foley then gets up in front of Shimkus and tells a special little story of how he took one male page to a private dinner in downtown Washington, DC. Put the page in his BMW and "cruised" - Foley's word - to dinner. And now for the kicker. Foley told the kid he had to get permission from his mom and he had to notify the Clerk of the House, Jeff Trandahl, the Republican staffer who works for Republican Speaker of the House Denny Hastert (R-IL). You'll also recall that Trandahl is the Clerk who joined Shimkus in 2005 to talk to Foley about the creepy email exchange with the first child who got this scandal started. Why did Shimkus let Foley spend so much time with the pages after GOP staff already knew Foley had a "page problem"? Did the Clerk of the House approve of this dinner? Did Shimkus? Clearly Foley had no fear in the kid going to Clerk and asking for permission - so Foley seemed to think the Clerk wouldn't mind. And clearly Foley had no fear in telling the story in front of Shimkus, so he obviously didn't think Shimkus would mind either. Shimkus then introduces Foley.

The scandal involving Congressman Foley and a teenaged Capitol Hill page is nothing more than "naughty emails", says White Press Secretary Tony Snow. In the linked video, Snow seems to be playing down the Foley scandal, telling reporters, "Yeah, look, I hate to tell you but it's not always pretty up there on Capitol Hill. There have been other scandals, as you know, that have been more than simply naughty emails." Snow's "naughty emails" remark occurs around 5:28 into the video.

A former UK government adviser has warned it is "only a matter of time" before BP or Shell faces a bid from a Russian state-owned group such as Gazprom which could threaten western oil supplies. Professor Peter Odell, an energy economist, says ExxonMobil is also vulnerable to a Chinese takeover as the large UK and American stock-listed oil groups lose their influence in global markets. "A Chinese bid for Exxon and/or Chevron and/or a Russian bid for Shell and/or BP, backed by funds provided by the wealthy member countries of Opec seem likely to be only a matter of time. "With the 'majors' gone there will be concern in the main OECD countries for the future security of supplies," he said in an unpublished speech to Opec ministers in Vienna last month. Professor Odell, who was an adviser to Tony Benn, the UK energy minister in the late 1970s and has since worked for a host of different foreign governments, said he was not being alarmist or deliberately controversial. "Latest figures show the western oil majors are losing their leadership of the global oil system and now have only 9% or 10% of the world's reserves. They appear unable to win new production rights except as minority partners in state-run systems," Mr Odell says. The Russian gas group Gazprom is keen to expand its sphere of influence outside its home country and told the Guardian earlier this year it would like to buy a British energy company. The treatment by Russian officials of Shell at Sakhalin-2 and BP on the Siberian Kovykta field has also been interpreted as the Kremlin manoeuvring in the energy sector for political ends. Professor Odell foresees a return to state-owned companies in the west too, along the lines of Norway's Statoil and Austria's OMV which have also been expanding fast. He predicts a "new British National Oil Corporation, a revived Petro-Canada and a deprivatised Total in France and Belgium". The publicly quoted companies such as Shell and BP have not helped their own plight in the eyes of those countries with expanding needs for oil, says Professor Odell, a Briton who currently works at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. He believes western oil companies have endangered their own survival by skimping on investment and using their cash for share buybacks and "extortionate" executive remuneration packages.

The U.S. Treasury Department warned charities on Friday to be sure they are not even indirectly funding activities that build support for terrorist organizations, making explicit reference to groups with Arab or Islamic connections. "The Treasury has maintained an open and robust dialogue with the charitable community, notably the Arab-American and Islamic-American community, on how to best safeguard charitable giving from misuse by terrorists," the Treasury said in a statement. In an annex to the guidelines, the department for the first time cautioned that charitable activities could build public support for terrorist groups, even if they don't channel funds to terrorist organizations. "Terrorist abuse also includes the exploitation of charitable services and activities to radicalize vulnerable populations and cultivate support for terrorist organizations and activities," the Treasury said.

Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and John Kerry (D-MA) introduced a resolution urging state and local governments to have back-up systems in place on election day to ensure that every eligible voter who wants to vote is able to, according to a press release. "The Senators’ Sense of the Senate resolution notes the difficulties that voters in many states have experienced with new voting technology and urges states to do whatever is necessary to ensure that voters are actually able to cast a vote on November 7, 2006, including providing emergency paper ballots in the event of a voting machine failure," states the press release.

Hitting the book stores today is the latest blockbuster, Bob Woodward's "State of Denial." And next week is a new biography "Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell." "State of Denial," as the Daily News has reported, skewers the Bush White House as riven with jealousies and rivalries that ignored warnings over Iraq, with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld at the center of the infighting. Hawks will be holding their breath as they await Powell's version of his battles with Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney over planning the Iraq war, and Powell's infamous UN presentation of flawed evidence claiming to prove Saddam Hussein had WMD. In recent weeks there has been a parade of tell-alls critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war, its planning and its aftermath. Among the most recent tomes were damning titles like "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," about life in Baghdad's Green Zone; "Hubris," detailing planning screwups before the war; "Fiasco;" "The One Percent Doctrine" and "The Looming Towers."

According to Bob Woodward's new book, two months before 9/11 then-CIA Director George Tenet warned Condoleezza Rice of an imminent Al Qaeda attack but the national security advisor brushed him off. A witness to the private meeting related Tenet's frustration over the exchange: "The only thing we didn't do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head." The book says that Mr. Tenet hurriedly organized the meeting - calling ahead from his car as it traveled to the White House - because he wanted to "shake Rice" into persuading the president to respond to dire intelligence warnings that summer about a terrorist strike. Mr. Woodward writes that Mr. Tenet left the meeting frustrated because "they were not getting through to Rice." The disclosures took members of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission by surprise last week. Some questioned whether information about the July 10 meeting was intentionally withheld from the panel. In interviews Saturday and today, commission members said they were never told about the meeting despite hours of public and private questioning with Ms. Rice, Mr. Tenet and Mr. Black, much of it focused specifically on how the White House had dealt with terrorist threats in the summer of 2001.

In February 2001, seven months before 9/11, George Tenet, then the director of the CIA, testified before Congress and told lawmakers that the single greatest threat to the United States was Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network, according to a little known copy of Tenet's Congressional testimony. During his report to Congress, Tenet eerily described a scenario that seven months later would become a grim reality. "Terrorists are also becoming more operationally adept and more technically sophisticated in order to defeat counter-terrorism measures. For example, as we have increased security around government and military facilities, terrorists are seeking out "softer" targets that provide opportunities for mass casualties," Tenet said, according to a transcript of his testimony. "Employing increasingly advanced devices and using strategies such as simultaneous attacks, the number of people killed ... Usama bin Ladin and his global network of lieutenants and associates remain the most immediate and serious threat. Since 1998, Bin Ladin has declared all U.S. citizens legitimate targets of attack. As shown by the bombing of our embassies in Africa in 1998 and his Millennium plots last year, he is capable of planning multiple attacks with little or no warning." But instead of heeding the CIA's warnings about al-Qaeda, the Bush administration brushed it off, and instead turned its attention toward Iraq, claiming Saddam Hussein was stockpiling a cache of weapons of mass destruction that threatened the security of the United States and Iraq's neighbors in the Middle East, and urged Tenet's CIA to find the evidence to support the administration's agenda.

In June 2005, two senior national security officials in the Bush administration came together to propose a sweeping new approach to the growing problems the United States was facing with the detention, interrogation and prosecution of terrorism suspects. In a nine-page memorandum, the two officials, Gordon R. England, the acting deputy secretary of defense, and Philip D. Zelikow, the counselor of the State Department, urged the administration to seek Congressional approval for its detention policies. They called for a return to the minimum standards of treatment in the Geneva Conventions and for eventually closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The time had come, they said, for suspects in the 9/11 plot to be taken out of their secret prison cells and tried before military tribunals. The recommendations of the paper, which has not previously been disclosed, included several of the major policy shifts that President Bush laid out in a White House address on Sept. 6, five officials who read the document said. But the memorandum's fate underscores the deep, long-running conflicts over detention policy that continued to divide the administration even as it pushed new legislation through Congress last week on the handling of terrorism suspects. When the paper first circulated in the upper reaches of the administration, two of those officials said, it so angered Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that his aides gathered up copies of the document and had at least some of them shredded. "It was not in step with the secretary of defense or the president," said one Defense Department official who, like many others, would discuss the internal deliberations only on condition of anonymity. "It was clear that Rumsfeld was very unhappy."

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Talks between the United States and the European Union on sharing confidential airline passenger information have broken down, according to the EU. But officials say there will be no disruption to transatlantic flights. After 9/11, US authorities demanded that airlines should provide personal passenger data for all inbound flights. But the subsequent US-EU agreement was ruled illegal by the highest European court in May of this year. Saturday was the deadline for a new deal. A European Commission spokesman said that a legal black hole could be created by the lack of agreement. "There is no agreement. There is a legal vacuum as of midnight tonight," EU Transport Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said on Saturday. As a result, airlines refusing to provide passenger lists to the U.S. may lose landing rights in the U.S., but those that do risk facing legal action under EU member states' data protection legislation. But Mr Todd told BBC television that attempts to resolve the deadlock would continue.

What Your Aid-To-Israel Tax Dollars Are Paying For: A U.N. panel investigating the July deaths of four U.N. military observers in Lebanon says Israel will not allow interviews with tactical operations officers. The U.N. board of inquiry appointed to investigate an attack on the patrol camp at Khiam, Lebanon, July 25, said Friday "Israeli authorities have accepted full responsibility for the incident and apologized to the United Nations for what they say was an 'operational level' mistake," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said through his chief spokesman, Stephane Dujarric. However, the board, established by the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, "did not have access to operational or tactical level Israeli Defense Force commanders involved in the incident and was therefore unable to determine why the attacks on the U.N. position were not halted despite repeated demarches (representations) to the Israeli authorities." He said U.N. personnel, both in the field and at U.N. headquarters, issued the pleas. Immediately after the attack with an 11,000 pound, precision-guided, aerial bomb, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed "deep sorrow."

Israel's pull-out from south Lebanon, 81 days after the outbreak of its war against Hezbollah, was slammed as incomplete by Lebanese politicians. Hezbollah warned that confrontation with the Jewish state may be renewed if Israeli troops failed to leave the Lebanese part of al-Ghajar village, on the border with Israeli-occupied Syrian territory, the only area still occupied by Israel after its thrust into south Lebanon during the 34-day war. Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Kassem was quoted as saying Monday "a basic matter is still pending regarding the border, notably Israel's persisting occupation of al-Ghajar, in addition to the Shabaa Farms and Kfar Shouba Hills and some controversial border points." "We will not tolerate this and have the right to confront it at the timing and with the way we choose," Kassem added. Parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the Shiite Amal Movement, said full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701, which halted the war, calls for Israel's withdrawal behind the Blue Line drawn by the United Nations in 2000, which includes al-Ghajar. "Resolution 1701 could not be considered to be fully implemented without withdrawal from al-Ghajar," Berri said, adding the Lebanese army was deployed in the south with the backing of UNIFIL's international troops, "depriving Israel of any pretext" not to withdraw behind the Blue Line.

Judicial Independence Death Watch: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is defending President Bush's anti-terrorism tactics in multiple court battles, has warned federal judges not to substitute their personal views for the president's judgments in wartime. He said the Constitution makes the president commander in chief and the Supreme Court has long recognized the president's pre-eminent role in foreign affairs. "The Constitution, by contrast, provides the courts with relatively few tools to superintend military and foreign policy decisions, especially during wartime," the attorney general told a conference on the judiciary at Georgetown University Law Center. "Judges must resist the temptation to supplement those tools based on their own personal views about the wisdom of the policies under review," Gonzales said.

Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says Supreme Court decisions are "so clearly at variance with the national will" should be overridden by the other branches of government. What I reject, out of hand, is the idea that by five to four, judges can rewrite the Constitution, but it takes two-thirds of the House, two-thirds of the Senate and three-fourths of the states to equal five judges," Gingrich said during a Georgetown University Law Center conference on the judiciary.

The United States Of America, A Third-World Nation: Fresh spinach is safe to eat in the United States because all E. coli-tainted spinach has been recalled, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday. But the FDA said serious concerns remained because so many outbreaks of food poisoning in fresh greens such as spinach and lettuce have been traced to California farms. The current outbreak, which dates back to mid-August and hit 26 states, may have killed as many as three people and put 97 in the hospital. "The spinach that is going to come on to the market next week or whenever is going to be as safe as it was before this outbreak," Acheson said. "But... there are some longer-term issues that need to be addressed." The outbreak had been traced to fresh spinach processed by San Juan Bautista, California-based Natural Selection Foods LLC. The company said Thursday that the FDA had found no contamination by toxic bacteria at two plants and that they were bacteria-free. Acheson denied this. "I don't know who gave them this information but it is incorrect," he said. "The information I have here is that the Natural Selections facility is still under investigation." He said all the spinach implicated in the E. coli outbreak had been traced to Natural Selection Foods. Many of the bags had been sold under the Dole brand name. Acheson said food growers and processors will have to change some of their practices, although it is not yet clear which ones. "The FDA and the state of California have previously expressed serious concerns with continuing outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with the consumption of fresh and fresh-cut lettuce and other leafy greens," Acheson said.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: Government data suggests that for most Americans, there has been no economic recovery, and financial security is fast becoming a fantasy, according to recent analyses by public-interest groups. In a study released last week, economists with the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) reported that pay for middle-income Americans has stagnated over the past fifteen years - a period during which the cost of necessary goods and services has risen. This combination has led to a decrease in savings that puts an ever-growing chunk of US workers at risk of falling into poverty should medical or other emergencies arise. In inflation-adjusted dollars, between 2000 and 2005, family income for the middle fifth of households fell over 3 percentage points, or about $1,570, while the lowest-income tier of households saw declines of 7.5 percentage points. Meanwhile, the cost of food, housing, transportation and health care have grown, according to Labor Department statistics studied in the report. Most middle-income families, defined in the study as those making between $18,500 and $88,030 in 2004 dollars, are in fact unable to afford emergencies of any type. Fewer than one in five such families have even three months’ worth of savings to handle economic calamities. That proportion is down more than 10 percentage points since 2001.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Since the start of US aggressions in Afghanistan and Iraq, roughly 70 thousand men, women, and children had been detained and in many cases tortured. Of the 35,000 detained in Iraq, only 638, or roughly 2%, were ever tried for any crime. The rest were either quietly let go or died in custody. A document leaked a year ago from sources with a conscience at US Central Command (CENTCOM) indicated that this total of 35,000 does not even represent the full count of people detained, nor does it address every single US facility around the world or the additional extraordinary renditions we have engaged in.

A revolt is brewing among our retired Army and Marine generals. This rebellion - quiet and non-confrontational, but remarkable nonetheless - comes not because their beloved forces are bearing the brunt of ground combat in Iraq but because the retirees see the US adventure in Mesopotamia as another Vietnam-like, strategically failed war, and they blame the errant, arrogant civilian leadership at the Pentagon. The dissenters include two generals who led combat troops in Iraq: Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack Jr., who commanded the 82nd Airborne Division, and Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who led the First Infantry Division (the "Big Red One"). These men recently sacrificed their careers by retiring and joining the public protest. In late September Batiste, along with two other retired senior officers, spoke out about these failures at a Washington Democratic policy hearing, with Batiste saying Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was "not a competent wartime leader" who made "dismal strategic decisions" that "resulted in the unnecessary deaths of American servicemen and women, our allies and the good people of Iraq." Rumsfeld, he said, "dismissed honest dissent" and "did not tell the American people the truth for fear of losing support for the war."

Congress on Friday authorized an additional $70 billion in emergency funds to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through early next year, including nearly $24 billion for the Army and Marine Corps to repair and replace worn-out equipment. The new funding provides more than $2 billion for the military's efforts to defeat the roadside bombs, or "improvised explosive devices," that are the leading cause of deaths among U.S. troops in Iraq.

When the Kurdish President, Massoud Barzani, banned the Iraqi flag from being flown on top of public buildings in Kurdistan this month, the Iraqi Kurds took a further symbolic step towards de facto independence. He justified the ban by saying "so many pogroms and mass-killings were committed in its name". The Iraqi Kurds are not seeking statehood, calculating that this is not now in their interests, but they want a degree of autonomy that amounts almost to the same thing. "If there is no federal solution there is no hope for this country," Mr Barzani told The Independent in his mountain-top headquarters in Salahudin overlooking the Kurdish capital, Arbil. Mr Barzani's refusal to allow the Iraqi flag to be hoisted was sharply criticised by politicians in Baghdad. The Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, produced a bizarre endorsement of his national emblem saying: "Not only the Kurds were slaughtered under this flag, but many Iraqis were slain under this flag. Iraq was slain under this flag."

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: "Keep the 'Art' in 'Smart' and 'Heart,'" Sydney McGee had posted on her Web site at Wilma Fisher Elementary School in this moneyed boomtown that is gobbling up the farm fields north of Dallas. But Ms. McGee, 51, a popular art teacher with 28 years in the classroom, is out of a job after leading her fifth-grade classes last April through the Dallas Museum of Art. One of her students saw nude art in the museum, and after the child’s parent complained, the teacher was suspended. Although the tour had been approved by the principal, and the 89 students were accompanied by 4 other teachers, at least 12 parents and a museum docent, Ms. McGee said, she was called to the principal the next day and "bashed."

On the early Sunday morning of May 18, 2003, the high priests of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, owner of the Washington Times and Religious Right enigma, gathered over a grave near Jerusalem to hold a funeral for the Christian cross. They had been touring the Middle East in the name of peace. They proposed Moon's teachings as the glue for Jews and Muslims, bewildering locals, and they held briefings on Mideast policy for the State Department, or so they claimed. They networked with politicians. And steam gathered for a big, big finale. They buried the cross because it was Satan's icon, Moon said, cleaving Jew from gentile, Christian from Muslim. Moon demanded a new symbol that everyone could agree on: the Crown of Glory. In February and March, 2004, on Capitol Hill, U.S. politicians would attend two ceremonies celebrating this gospel, the last climaxing with the selfsame Crown Of Glory lowered onto the Times owner's head. A surprising figure wrote a song especially for the campaign, according to the Reverend's flock. That's U.S. senator, Christian recording artist, devout Mormon and longtime Moon friend, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: 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.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: A report released in June by the Department of Justice's Inspector General, Glenn Fine, contained what may have been be the first references of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's strong ties to White House Political Director Ken Mehlman, but it was only today that the extent of that relationship was revealed. Melhman is now the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. The June report said that Abramoff was receiving information about the U.S. territories in the Pacific - Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas - directly from White House information "recommended" to be given to Abramoff by Mehlman. Both territories were clients of Abramoff lobbying firm. The IG report says White House political official Leonard Rodriguez told investigators he had "kept Abramoff aware of information relevant to Guam... at the behest of Ken Mehlman," the White House Political Director, who "recommended or suggested that I reach out to make Jack aware of issues related to Guam." But the House Government Reform Committee report released today says Abramoff and his team reached out themselves to the White House Office of Political Affairs some 17 times. Six times, Abramoff’s team had direct contact with Mehlman. The report says, on Oct. 9, 2002, Abramoff e-mailed Mehlman to seek an endorsement from President Bush for Republican candidates running in Guam. Within two weeks, Susan Ralston, an aide to Karl Rove, e-mailed Abramoff: "Ken asked me to let you know that he has the quote to be approved for your Guam candidates." Abramoff also vigorously lobbied the White House to back Benigne Fitial, a garment plant operator and newspaper publisher who was running for governor in the Northern Marianas under the banner of a third party known as the "Covenant Party."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:29:14 AM
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