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Undernews For April 12, 2008

Undernews For April 12, 2008

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Nobody loves me but my mama -- and she may be jivin' too. -- BB King



WASH POST President Bush said Friday that he was aware his top national security advisers had discussed the details of harsh interrogation tactics to be used on detainees. Bush also said in an interview with ABC News that he approved of the meetings, which were held as the CIA began to prepare for a secret interrogation program that included waterboarding, or simulated drowning, and other coercive techniques.

"Well, we started to connect the dots, in order to protect the American people" by learning what various detainees knew, Bush said in the interview at the presidential ranch here. "And yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."

The remarks underscore the extent to which the top officials were directly involved in setting the controversial interrogation policies.

Bush suggested in the interview that no one should be surprised that his senior advisers, including Vice President Cheney, would discuss details of the interrogation program. "I told the country we did that," Bush said. "And I also told them it was legal. We had legal opinions that enabled us to do it."



JAMES RIDGWAY, MOTHER JONES A private security company organized and managed by former Secret Service officers spied on Greenpeace and other environmental organizations from the late 1990s through at least 2000, pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings. According to company documents provided to Mother Jones by a former investor in the firm, this security outfit collected confidential internal recordsdonor lists, detailed financial statements, the Social Security numbers of staff members, strategy memosfrom these organizations and produced intelligence reports for public relations firms and major corporations involved in environmental controversies.

In addition to focusing on environmentalists, the firm, Beckett Brown International (later called S2i), provided a range of services to a host of clients. According to its billing records, BBI engaged in "intelligence collection" for Allied Waste; it conducted background checks and performed due diligence for the Carlyle Group, the Washington-based investment firm; it provided "protective services" for the National Rifle Association; it handled "crisis management" for the Gallo wine company and for Pirelli; it made sure that the Louis Dreyfus Group, the commodities firm, was not being bugged; it engaged in "information collection" for Wal-Mart; it conducted background checks for Patricia Duff, a Democratic Party fundraiser then involved in a divorce with billionaire Ronald Perelman; and for Mary Kay, BBI mounted "surveillance," and vetted Gayle Gaston, a top executive at the cosmetics company (and mother of actress Robin Wright Penn), retaining an expert to conduct a psychological assessment of her. Also listed as clients in BBI records: Halliburton and Monsanto. . .
BBI, which was headquartered in Easton, Maryland, on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, worked extensively, according to billing records, for public-relations companies, including Ketchum, Nichols-Dezenhall Communications, and Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin. At the time, these PR outfits were servicing corporate clients fighting environmental organizations opposed to their products or actions. Ketchum, for example, was working for Dow Chemical and Kraft Foods; Nichols-Dezenhall, according to BBI records, was working with Condea Vista, a chemical manufacturing firm that in 1994 leaked up to 47 million pounds of ethylene dichloride, a suspected carcinogen, into the Calcasieu River in Louisiana.

Like other firms specializing in snooping, Beckett Brown turned to garbage swiping as a key tactic. BBI officials and contractors routinely conducted what the firm referred to as "D-line" operations, in which its operatives would seek access to the trash of a target, with the hope of finding useful documents. One midnight raid targeted Greenpeace. One BBI document lists the addresses of several other environmental groups as "possible sites" for operations: the National Environmental Trust, the Center for Food Safety, Environmental Media Services, the Environmental Working Group, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, an organization run by Lois Gibbs, famous for exposing the toxic dangers of New York's Love Canal. For its rubbish-rifling operations, BBI employed a police officer in the District of Columbia and a former member of the Maryland state police. . .

On September 26, Jay Bly, a former Secret Service agent working for S2i, sent an email to Tim Ward, the former Maryland state trooper on the payroll:
Received a call from Ketchum yesterday afternoon re three sites in DC. It seems Taco Bell turned out some product made from bioengineered corn. The chemicals used on the corn have not been approved for human consumption. Hence Taco Bell produced potential glow-in-the-dark tacos. Taco Bell is owned by Kraft. The Ketchum Office, New York, has the ball. They suspect the initiative is being generated from one of three places:

1.Center for Food Safety, 7th & Penn SE

2.Friends of the Earth, 1025 Vermont Ave (Between K & L Streets)

3.GE Food Alert, 1200 18th St NW (18th & M)

#1 is located on 3rd floor. Main entrance is key card. Alley is locked by iron gates. 7 dempsters [sic] in alley - take your pick.

#2 is in the same building as Chile Embassy. Armed guard in lobby & cameras everywhere. There is a dumpster in the alley behind the building. Don't know if it is tied to bldg. or a neighborhood property. Cameras everywhere.

#3 is doable but behind locked iron gates at rear of bldg.


RAW STORY Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake told two Democratic senators his department will not help injured veterans register to vote before the 2008 election. "VA remains opposed to becoming a voter registration agency pursuant to the National Voter Registration Act, as this designation would divert substantial resources from our primary mission," Peake said in an April 8th letter to Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA) acquired by Steven Rosenfeld at Alternet.

Peake refers to a 1993 law that allows government departments to engage in voter registration efforts, Rosenfeld says. What this means is that many injured veterans still in VA hospitals who can't find means to register outside of their facilities will effectively lose their right to vote. Wounded veterans who have moved must re-register at their "new addresses" or file for absentee ballots in order to participate in the presidential and other elections.

Peake defends the decision by saying that a court recently ruled the VA's limits on "partisan political activities" "does not on its face violate [veterans'] First Amendment' rights," Rosenfeld notes, without articulating how registering veterans is a partisan activity.


PETER S. GOODMAN, NY TIMES In the summer of 1996, President Bill Clinton delivered on his pledge to “end welfare as we know it.” Despite howls of protest from some liberals, he signed into law a bill forcing recipients to work and imposing a five-year limit on cash assistance.

As first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton supported her husband’s decision, drawing the wrath of old friends from her days as an advocate for poor children. Some accused the Clintons of throwing vulnerable families to the winds in pursuit of centrist votes as Mr. Clinton headed into the final stages of his re-election campaign. . .

Mrs. Clinton’s opponent in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Barack Obama, said in an interview that the welfare overhaul had been greatly beneficial in eliminating a divisive force in American politics.

Mrs. Clinton, now a senator from New York, rarely mentions the issue as she battles for the nomination, despite the emphasis she has placed on her experience in her husband’s White House.

But now the issue is back, pulled to the fore by an economy turning down more sharply than at any other time since the welfare changes were imposed. With low-income people especially threatened by a weakening labor market, some advocates for poor families are raising concerns about the adequacy of the remaining social safety net. . .

Mrs. Clinton expressed no misgivings about the 1996 legislation, saying that it was a needed - and enormously successful - first step toward making poor families self-sufficient.

“Welfare should have been a temporary way station for people who needed immediate assistance,” she said. “It should not be considered an anti-poverty program. It simply did not work.”. . .

Mr. Obama called the resulting law “an imperfect reform.” Like Mrs. Clinton, he called for an expansion of government-provided health care, child care and job training to assist women making the transition from welfare to work - programs he says he helped expand in Illinois as a state senator.

Asked if he would have vetoed the 1996 law, Mr. Obama said, “I won’t second guess President Clinton for signing.”. . .

“If there is no national controversy about welfare reform, we paid an awfully high price,” said Peter Edelman, a law professor at Georgetown University who has known Mrs. Clinton since her college days, and who quit his post as assistant secretary of social services at the Department of Health and Human Services in protest after Mr. Clinton signed the measure. “They don’t acknowledge the number of people who were hurt,” Mr. Edelman said. “It’s just not in their lens. It was predictably bad public policy.”

Forcing families to rely on work instead of government money went well from 1996 to 2000, when the economy was booming and paychecks were plentiful, economists say. Since then, however, job creation has slowed and poverty has risen. The current downturn could be the first serious test of how well the changes brought about by the 1996 law hold up under sharp economic stress. . .

Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of Children’s Defense Fund, an activist group that had given Mrs. Clinton her first job, blasted the Clintons as betraying the poor, opening a rift that Mrs. Clinton called “sad and painful.” Mrs. Edelman’s husband, Peter, quit his administration post.

In the years that followed, the number of those on welfare rolls plummeted by more than 60 percent. . . In recent years, however, low-skilled women have struggled. The percentage of poor single mothers neither working nor drawing cash assistance surged from under 20 percent before the welfare overhaul to more than 30 percent in 2005, according to the Congressional Research Service. During the same period, the number of children in poverty rose to 12.8 million from 11.6 million, according to census data.


INDEPENDENT, UK Britain is witnessing the dawn of a new era of rail travel as an unprecedented demand for environmentally friendly transport encourages people to take more train journeys than at any time since the Second World War. Figures released yesterday revealed that the number of miles traveled on the rail network reached a record-breaking peacetime high of 30.1 billion during 2007, capping a huge rise in popularity in which passenger numbers have increased every year for the past 13 years.

The rise in passenger miles, documented by the Association of Train Operating Companies, indicates a boom in demand for rail transport at a time when the threat of climate change is encouraging more people to find greener ways of moving around.

George Muir, director general of Atoc, described the resurgence of train use as astonishing. "We knew that we were growing but it was only when we looked at the graph that we realized how sudden that growth was," he said. "If you take out the war years, for much of the past 80 years passenger miles have hovered around the 20 billion mark, but within the past 10 years it has grown dramatically.". . .

Tim Leunig, a historian from the London School of Economics who helped compile the figures, said current trends meant passenger miles were likely to continue breaking records "time and time and time again" as demand increases. A White Paper last year estimated that Britain would need to double its rail capacity by 2030 to meet demand.


RALPH NADER Once again, former President Jimmy Carter is to be commended for taking the initiative toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The announcement that he will meet next week in Damascus with Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas, is consonant with a poll by the leading Israeli newspaper - Haaretz - that found 64 percent of Israelis favor direct talks with Hamas. Only 28 percent were opposed.

Both United Nations and European Union officials have demanded that the Israeli government lift the siege or blockade which is severely depriving Palestinian civilian families of needed medicine, food, electricity, clean water, fuel and other critical life-saving supplies and materials. Gaza has become the world's largest prison with 1.5 million inmates - many sick or dying - making that tiny enclave a major humanitarian crisis that invites moral and political denunciation by world leaders.

In addition, during the hostilities over the past year, Palestinians have suffered at least 300 civilian casualties to every Israeli civilian casualty.

The major party Presidential candidates - McCain, most offensively for one who says he stands against individual and collective torture - and Clinton and Obama - distanced themselves from Carter's forthcoming initiative.

McCain, renewing his fealty to Washington's Puppet Show, condemned Carter's move, while Clinton and Obama declared they disagreed with Carter.


PETER NICHOLAS, LOS ANGELES TIMES Fourteen months into a campaign that has the feel of a movement, Sen. Barack Obama has collided with the gritty political traditions of Philadelphia, where ward bosses love their candidates, but also expect them to pay up. The dispute centers on the dispensing of "street money," a long-standing Philadelphia ritual in which candidates deliver cash to the city's Democratic operatives in return for getting out the vote.

Flush with payments from well-funded campaigns, the ward leaders and Democratic Party bosses typically spread out the cash in the days before the election, handing $10, $20 and $50 bills to the foot soldiers and loyalists who make up the party's workforce. It is all legal -- but Obama's people are telling the local bosses he won't pay. . .

Obama's posture confounds neighborhood political leaders sympathetic to his cause. They caution that if the senator from Illinois withholds money that gubernatorial, mayoral and presidential candidates have willingly paid out for decades, there could be defections to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. And the Clinton campaign, in contrast, will oblige in forking over the money, these ward leaders predict.

"We've heard directly from the Obama organizer who organizes our ward, and he told us it's an entirely volunteer organization and that I should not expect to see anything from the Obama campaign other than ads on TV and the support that volunteers are giving us," said Greg Paulmier, a ward leader in the northwest part of the city.

Neither the Clinton nor the Obama campaign would say publicly whether it would comply with Philadelphia's street money customs. But an Obama aide said Thursday that it had never been the campaign's practice to make such payments. . .

Carol Ann Campbell, a ward leader and Democratic superdelegate who supports Obama, estimated that the amount of street money Obama would need to lay out for election day is $400,000 to $500,000. . .

Peter Wilson, a ward leader from West Philadelphia, said: "Most of the ward leaders, we live in a very poor area, and people look forward to election days. . . . People are astute. They know the Obama campaign has raised millions of dollars."

Street money is an enduring political practice in Philadelphia and cities including Chicago, Baltimore, Newark and Los Angeles. . .

A famous scene played out at a Democratic committee meeting during the 1980 presidential primary. Vice President Walter F. Mondale came to Philadelphia hoping to boost support for President Carter, then in a tough nomination fight with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Mondale made his pitch, touting Carter's record on human rights and the economy.

In an interview Thursday, Mondale picked up the story from there: "I finished my remarks, and the first person who stood up said: 'Where's the money?' And I think he was talking about street money."

Dryly, Mondale added: "That was not the subject of my talk."

Before the 2002 state elections, a reporter watched two practitioners of the street-money arts in action: Campbell and U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady, a ward leader and chair of Philadelphia's Democratic committee.

Brady was sitting in his campaign office with two of his political lieutenants. He reached into a desk drawer at one point and pulled out a $50 bill -- street money. Brady tore it in two and gave each man a half. Then the men made a bet: Whoever pulled in the most Democratic votes that day from his precincts would get both halves.

The night before that vote, Campbell, sitting at a kitchen table in a retirement community in West Philadelphia, spent hours passing out street money to various Democratic committee people. She kept receipts, working with stacks of cash. Campbell would give $10 to local teenagers assigned to put leaflets in doorways. And she paid out $100 to each of the committee people in her jurisdiction. . .

Garry Williams, a ward leader based in north-central Philadelphia, said that he had not heard directly that the Obama campaign was withholding money. But he said payment would be needed. Workers who are in the field for Obama on April 22 will put in days stretching from 12 to 16 hours, he said.

"It's our tradition," Williams said. "You don't come to someone's house and change the rules of someone's house. That's just respect."


HELEN W. GUNNARSSON, ILLINOIS BAR JOURNAL "The United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world," said the Pew Center on the States, in a report released February 28. . . Even more disturbing than these numbers is the report's conclusion: all that money, and all of those nonproductive person-hours in jail cells, are doing nothing to reduce the crime rate. Instead, the authors say, throwing people in jail is simply "saddling cash-strapped states with soaring costs they can ill afford and failing to have a clear impact either on recidivism or overall crime."

Given this dismal conclusion, interest in alternatives to traditional prosecutions and incarceration is understandably increasing. The Pew Center report cites diversion programs for nonviolent offenders with drug addictions or mental illnesses, also known as specialty courts, therapeutic courts, or problem-solving courts, as among the promising alternatives to jail time for Treating the underlying cause. . .

in 1993, [Greg Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation] said, a community court was created in Manhattan to address quality of life crimes such as prostitution, drug possession, and vandalism. Instead of jailing nonviolent offenders, the court worked with community organizations to require restitution of the offenders.

Simultaneously, Berman said, the court used its resources to link the offenders with services such as drug treatment, mental health treatment, job training, and counseling in the hopes that in addressing offenders' underlying problems, they would curb recidivism. Statistics showed that these problem-solving courts were highly successful in achieving compliance with their orders, improving local perceptions of the justice system, and reducing recidivism, Berman said.

Today, there are thousands of problem-solving courts in the country. Most, if not all, are part of state criminal court systems, including community courts, drug courts, mental health courts, and domestic violence courts. . .

The Illinois Association for Drug Court Professionals lists 26 counties in Illinois with drug courts. Cook County has multiple sites with drug courts. . . Peoria County State's Attorney Kevin Lyons reports that he is participating in the planning stages for a mental health court in his county, which also boasts a domestic violence court. And Tazewell County began a pretrial diversion program through its state's attorney's office in 1974, long before the term "therapeutic jurisprudence" was coined. . .

Lake County's drug court and one-year-old mental health court, officially known as Therapeutic Intensive Monitoring court, provide a good illustration of how specialty courts work. . .

Team members meet every week to review the files of the TIM or drug court subjects, and all share information and ideas to craft appropriate, individualized treatment plans for each subject. Additionally, participants receive the benefit of services from outside professionals who may include the county jail doctor, a private therapist or counselor, a psychiatrist or psychologist, a job placement counselor, and/or a linkage worker who helps subjects find and participate in other community programs to meet their needs. . .

Offenders must . . . be amenable to treatment in order to be accepted into TIM or drug court. "Someone who denies a need for treatment, says she won't take her meds, or doesn't want to be labeled" won't want to be in TIM court - nor would she be accepted into the program, says Bishop. "Acceptance of responsibility is an element of participation in the program. Denial won't work.". . .

TIM or drug court subjects spend far more time in court than do offenders in traditional criminal courts. Initially, they're required to appear every week in court. As they show that they can comply with the specialty court team's requirements, the time between court appearances lengthens, first to every other week, then once a month. . .

Participants who violate the specialty court's orders or restrictions suffer consequences that are agreed on by the court team. Says Fabbri, "Violations are usually addressed incrementally." Someone may spend a weekend in jail, for example, he says. "Consequences will be a lot swifter and more severe than regular probation violations. These people are on our radar screen more and see the judge more.". . .

Mark Kammerer, a psychotherapist by training who's director of treatment programs for the Narcotics Prosecutions Bureau of the Cook County State's Attorney, confirms . . . hopes for specialty court graduates. In a memo . . Kammerer cites encouraging statistics for Cook County's drug court graduates.

Kammerer first compared the criminal activity of the 443 drug court graduates . . . in the year prior to entering drug court to the year following graduation and found that felony arrests decreased by 92 percent, total arrests decreased by 83 percent, and 87 percent had no felony arrests at all. Further, felony convictions decreased by 86 percent, total convictions decreased by 80 percent, and 91 percent had no felony convictions at all. 91 percent of the graduates had no drug crime convictions and 93 percent had no felony drug crime convictions. . .

Kammerer comments on a similarity between the drug and mental health court populations: "If these people could have gotten their problems under control - could have broken the vicious cycle - by themselves, they would have by now. With the support and coercion of the court, people who couldn't do it on their own can do it." Specialty courts, he says, "are addressing specific issues that the criminal justice system has not been able to address."


GERSHOM GORENBERG, PROSPECT What would happen if Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal gave an interview and nearly no one in the West listened? Well then, it would be possible for the Israeli government and the Bush administration to continue with dead-end policies for dealing with the Islamic movement that rules Gaza, without anyone asking questions about failed strategic assumptions.

Meshaal is the Damascus-based head of Hamas' political bureau, its main leadership body. While his precise relationship with the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, is unclear, Meshaal is normally described as Hamas' leader. Last week he gave an interview to Al-Ayyam, a pro-Fatah Palestinian daily. In it, he stressed that he's still committed to the Palestinian unity agreements of 2006, the basis for last year's short-lived Hamas-Fatah power- sharing deal in the Palestinian Authority. He reiterated that he would accept a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 boundaries -- that is, alongside Israel, not in place of it -- though without any commitment to recognize Israel formally.

Put differently, Meshaal was saying that his organization is willing to accept the reality of Israel, even if it is not happy about doing so. He's ready for Hamas to rejoin a unity government with Fatah -- reuniting Gaza and the West Bank -- and to be a silent partner while Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas of Fatah negotiates peace. He has not become a dove, but he is sidling his way toward being a pragmatic hawk. At the least, Meshaal's stance is reason for his adversaries to weigh a renewal of Palestinian unity as an alternative to siege of Gaza.

The Meshaal interview got brief coverage in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, and was picked up by an Italian news agency. In English language press it was barely covered. That's a shame. Asked by Al-Ayyam reporter Abdelrayuf Arnaout if Hamas sought to eradicate Israel, Meshaal answered: "We are committed to the political platform on which we agreed with the other Palestinian forces and in convergence with Arab position" - meaning the Arab League proposal for full peace with Israel, based on the pre-1967 lines. "All the international parties," Meshaal said, should treat this as the Hamas position, and not "search in the minds of peoples" for their feelings.


PROGRESS REPORT A report released this week by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Women's Voices. Women Vote details the difficulties single women face in today's economy. Forty percent make under $30,000 a year, less than married people or single men. Of 12.2 million single-parent households in the United States, more than 10 million are headed by single women.

Single women still suffer unequal pay. They make only 56 cents to the married man's dollar. Overall, women's median wages pay only 77 cents for every dollar men earn. Even after last year's minimum wage raise -- the first in a decade -- an employee working 40 hours a week at minimum wage only earns $15,080, barely above the poverty line for a family of two ($14,000) and under the poverty line for a family of three ($17,600).

Improving access to higher education will also help single women close the wage gap; currently, 84 percent of single mothers do not have a college degree. Just yesterday, the Washington Post reported that nearly 50 student lenders -- 12 percent of the market -- "have stopped issuing federally guaranteed loans in recent weeks because of paralysis in the credit markets," making it harder for single women to afford college.

With over 35 percent of children born to single women in 2005, single women have a large stake in their children's future. The average cost of child care can range anywhere between $3,000 and $13,000 a year per child -- an enormous burden for struggling single women. The United States and Australia are the only industrialized countries that don't require employers to offer paid maternity leave for new mothers, though some states. The housing crisis has a disproportionate effect on single women as well, as they are more likely to be subprime borrowers. They also spend proportionally more on housing than single men. "Unmarried women need a president who will make affordable housing a priority." Finally, "More than a third -- 35 percent -- of unmarried women are over the age of 50 and face retirement on their own rather than with combined savings with a spouse," and older, single women are one of the poorest demographic groups in the United States.

Health coverage is a particularly important issue for women. Four in 10 women have a chronic condition that requires ongoing medical care -- a significantly higher rate of chronic illness than men experience. At the same time, approximately 20 percent of single women have no health coverage at all.



PALESTINIAN CENTRE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS - Weekly Report on Israeli human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory 03 - 09 Apr 2008:

- 8 Palestinians, including a child and a farmer, were killed by IOF in the Gaza Strip.

- 5 of the victims, including a child and his uncle, were killed in a series of attacks launched by IOF against the east of Gaza City in less than 5 hours.

- A Palestinian child was run down to death by an Israeli settler.

- 25 Palestinian, including 5 children, were wounded by IOF in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

- IOF conducted 30 incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank, and 7 ones into the Gaza Strip.

- IOF arrested 65 Palestinian civilians, including 7 children and a girl, in the West Bank and 10 others, including 3 children, in the Gaza Strip.

- IOF razed at least 125 donums [31 acres] of agricultural land.

- IOF damaged a number of civilian facilities in the northeast of Gaza City.

- IOF raided a number of charities and NGOs in Ramallah and al-Bireh.

- IOF raided and searched a number of charities, mosques and shops in Qalqilya, and closed 4 charities.

- The fuel crisis in the Gaza Strip has escalated.

- 6 Palestinian civilian were arrested by IOF at military checkpoints in the West Bank.

- 2 Israeli settlers attacked a Palestinian family near Nablus.

Summary: Israeli violations of international law and humanitarian law seriously escalated in the OPT, especially in the Gaza Strip, during the reporting period (3 – 9 April 2008):


Nostalgic moments from the Clinton years

PROGRESSIVE REVEW, 1999 The Drudge Report says that the Utah ski vacation blowup between Bill and Hillary Clinton was the result of Mrs. Clinton viewing the Juanita Broaddrick interview during the trip:

"According to the insider, Mrs. Clinton viewed the video of the Dateline interview late in the evening after Bill and Chelsea had gone to sleep. She was so enraged at what she saw that she stormed into Bill's bedroom, picked up an antique lantern and threw it at her sleeping husband! A screaming match ensued. Chelsea overheard the argument and broke down crying and later told her father that she had wished he wasn't there. The vacation was quickly cut short."

Meanwhile the Clintons managed to get together long enough to go to church and hear their minister quote from Corinthians: "Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not envious. . . It bears all things, believes all things, endures all things," adding, however, that this "doesn't mean love is a sucker for anyone's version of the truth."



METAEFFICIENT Costa Rica is a country rich with renewable energy. In fact, it gets about 99% of all its electrical energy from clean sources, and it’s aiming to be the first country to become carbon neutral. Some of Costa Rica’s energy sources include geothermal energy, the burning of sugarcane waste and other biomass, solar and wind energy. However, the largest source of energy is hydroelectricity - its hydroelectric dams provide more than 82% of the country’s electricity.

But the electric needs of Costa Rica are increasing, and the government now wants to build new dams that would displace indigenous villages and flood valuable habitats. Local environmental groups are opposing the construction of new hydroelectric dams.

Also, Costa Rica’s efforts to minimize its own contributions to global warming have made it especially vulnerable to climate changes caused by other countries. The reason is rain. Even a tiny shift in rainfall patterns could leave the country without enough water to meet its growing demand for electricity. And scientists say climate change is likely to have a significant effect on rainfall.



INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE Thanks to a dogged airline passenger, some zealous security guards and a three-year legal battle, Europe's travelers will soon find out whether a tennis racket really is a dangerous weapon. The fight waged by the Austrian passenger, who had been ordered from a plane before takeoff because of his sports equipment, forced the European Commission on Thursday to agree to publish a secret list of banned items for air passengers.

The commission's pledge followed unusually blunt criticism of EU aviation security laws from a senior legal adviser at the European Union's top court.

The case arose from an episode in September 2005, when Gottfried Heinrich was stopped at the security control of Vienna-Schwechat Airport because his carry-on baggage contained tennis rackets. . .

Thursday's opinion refers to the rackets as "allegedly prohibited items," leaving open the possibility that the tennis racket ban was an interpretation of a catch-all phrase.

EU legislation lays down minimum security standards but allows the national authorities to implement stricter policies at specific airports. That is why passengers in some locations are, for example, asked to remove their shoes, while in many airports they are not.

The criticism of the EU policy came in an opinion from an advocate general Eleanor Sharpston, a legal adviser to the European Court of Justice. . . The adviser said the error was so big that EU rules on aircraft security should be declared "non-existent."

While not the final word, in the majority of cases, judges of the court follow the advice of the advocate general. So closely was the case watched that written comments were submitted by the Czech, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Polish and Swedish governments.


THE CALIFORNIA & NATIONAL NURSES ASSN claims that the SEIU is targeting its members to try to force them into the union. "SEIU's behavior, sending swarms of staff to threaten women in their homes, is especially disgraceful, and another illustration of their contempt for a predominantly female profession that they treat as chattel in so much of their activity, including trying to force RNs into his union," said executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro. "Roving bands of SEIU staff, four or five at a time, arrived on the doorsteps of at least two female board members in Southern California Thursday, with video cameras to film their abusive exploits. Debbie Cuaresma, RN, was confronted by five SEIU staffers chanting they were "from another union and another state, 'who harassed her and her daughter. Margie Keenan, RN saw four SEIU staff members arrive at her door, yelling epithets and screaming at her. Both called the police; the SEIU staff ran off before the police arrived.' Subsequently, Keenan learned that SEIU staff had first showed up in her nursing unit at Long Beach Memorial Hospital searching for her, and asking a co-worker where to find her.
'I was home alone. Four people were staring at me through the window. When they saw me they started screaming and trying to scare me. I called the police and they ran off,' said Keenan.

"Union membership is about collective democracy. Nurses decide they need a union and then choose the union of their choice," Cuaresma said. "We will continue to give voice on behalf of our patients and we will never be intimidated in our struggle to defend our ratios and our hard-won benefits. Stern should rethink his strategy - he will not intimidate me or the CNA."

Also on Thursday, CNA/NNOC obtained a letter from an SEIU staffer who resigned in disgust with the behavior of SEIU International and quoted a top SEIU official bragging of plans "targeting ten to fifteen C.N.A. bargaining units."



DAILY GREEN State and federal agents have killed 1,465 buffalo in one of America's last herd of bison this year, the largest toll in Yellowstone National Park since the 19th Century, according to GAO figures quoted by the NRDC. Here's how NRDC described the issue: "In the coming weeks, Yellowstone buffalo will make their annual migration westward to calving grounds where they can find food and safely birth new calves. Many will head to the Horse Butte peninsula, located outside of Yellowstone’s western border in Montana. Typically, state and federal officials have attempted to aggressively force the animals back into the park for fear of potential disease transmission to cattle. This 'hazing' of the animals has created some ugly and unfortunate situations with calves being trampled by the startled stampede. ... Horse Butte is a wildlife rich peninsula, mainly on the Gallatin National Forest, extending over 10,000 acres from the border of Yellowstone National Park to Hebgen Lake, just outside West Yellowstone, Montana." NRDC called this technique "brutal and unnecessary," and called on the governor of Montana and the federal government to enact a moratorium.

DAILY GREEN Air pollution decreases the potency of the chemical messages flowers emit as fragrance, according to a new University of Virginia computer model and research published in Atmospheric Environment. In short: stopping to smell the flowers used to be a lot easier, because the scent of flowers used to emanate over a wider area. Before air pollution got in the way, scent molecules from flowers could travel as far as 3,900 feet, according to co-author Jose D. Fuentes. Downwind of major cities, that number is reduced to as little as 650 feet. . . . It's a potentially vicious cycle: If the bees can't find the flowers, they won't eat well, and the fewer flowers they find, the fewer are pollinated and reproduce. . . Other studies, as well as the actual experience of farmers, have shown that populations of bees, particularly bumblebees, and butterflies have declined greatly in recent years. Fuentes and his team of U.Va. researchers, including Quinn McFrederick and James Kathilankal, believe that air pollution, especially during the peak period of summer, may be a factor.


BBC - Israel has said it will not allow a UN official appointed to investigate Israeli human rights abuses to enter the country or Palestinian territories. It said it made the decision after Richard Falk told the BBC he stood by comments he made comparing Israel's actions in Gaza to those of the Nazis. Mr Falk is due to take up his post with the UN Human Rights Council in May. The foreign ministry said it would deny Mr Falk a visa at least until a council meeting in September.


TECH CRUNCH - Gartner analysts Michael Silver and Neil MacDonald told a conference audience y that Microsoft’s Windows product is collapsing and must make radical changes to its operating system or risk becoming a has-been. They specifically pointed out the slow adoption rate by businesses - just 6% to date - and the fact that the Vista code base is so large. That means changes take years, and only high end computers can really take advantage of it anyway. For most early adopters (and all Mac users), the browser is increasingly the only operating system that matters anyway. Windows isn’t really that relevant any more just because of the increasing utility of online applications like Google Docs, which competes with Microsoft Office. Vista could be perfect and it still wouldn’t matter. The fact that it is flawed only makes the situation worse. Microsoft makes a ton of revenue on sales of software that sit on the computer. $15 billion a year for Windows alone, and another $16 billion for Office and Exchange Server in 2007. That’s 60% of Microsoft’s total revenue Microsoft isn’t a viable company without their consumer and business desktop software profits.


AP The latest round of American Airlines flight cancellations has left tens of thousands of passengers searching for alternative ways to get to their destinations, but airlines are not required to compensate passengers for canceled flights. The only time airlines legally have to provide compensation is when a passenger is bumped from an overbooked flight, according to the Department of Transportation's Aviation Consumer Protection Division. However, passengers whose schedules are significantly affected by cancellations -- such as when the only available alternate flight involves flying on a different day or includes an unplanned stopover -- are eligible for a refund in lieu of a later flight. . . Passengers who did not buy their tickets directly from the airline might have better luck finding an alternate seat by contacting their online or brick-and-mortar travel agency. American was offering travel vouchers to some inconvenienced passengers and putting some travelers in hotels.


FINANCIAL TIMES, UK The Food Standards Agency will ask food companies to withdraw six artificial food colourings voluntarily from all products by the end of next year, after concerns were raised that the additives encourage hyperactivity in children. The FSA will also press the European Union to push for a mandatory ban on the six colourings, which include allura red and sunset yellow


HUFFINGTON POST "When Senator John McCain was asked here this afternoon how he plans to balance the budget, he said that he hoped to do so by stimulating economic growth - and approvingly cited the example of President Ronald Reagan," the New York Times reports. "There was one thing he did not mention during his response: the deficit nearly tripled during the Reagan presidency, partly due to tax cuts and increases in military spending."


SLATE - The "legal tabloid" named Ron Tolkin "Court Reporter of the Day" last month after the 61-year-old Brooklyn stenographer was called upon to wrestle a rampaging criminal to the ground in open court. Tolkin jumped on defendant Victor Wright after the convicted drug felon started choking federal prosecutor Carolyn Pokorny, head of the Eastern District of New York narcotics division. The crazed Wright also tried, unsuccessfully, to slash Pokorny with a razor, but the weapon fell to the floor amid the tumult. As Tolkin subdued the assailant, with help from the defendant's lawyer and two U.S. marshals, his tape recorder picked up the scuffle. Several days later, the conscientious court reporter produced a certified transcript of the unusual proceedings.

"I told him, 'You want to try something, try it on me,' " Tolkin explained to the New York Times. "Only I wasn't that polite." Let the record show that Tolkin's precise words, as quoted in the transcript, were: "Try it on me, man, I'll kick you in the fuckin' balls" . Tolkin is also quoted in the transcript saying, "You cocksucker, get off of her. Get off of her. Get off of her. You cocksucker, get off of her" and, "Fuckin' shit. Son-of-a-bitch" Tolkin offered the court an unnecessary but gentlemanly apology for the harsh language in his transcript, much of it his own. The trial was subsequently postponed.

GAY CITY NEWS - In an email, Dr. Wan Yanhai reported that the month of March saw numerous police raids on gay gathering spots in Beijing and Shanghai, and he said that the evidence of a new pre-Olympic crackdown on gays is so widespread it is clear it is being orchestrated "at the national level." Wan is not just anybody. A former official of China's Ministry of Public Health, he was fired in 1994 for his participation in AIDS information and prevention campaigns and for his support of full equal rights for homosexuals. After being purged from the ministry, Wan founded the AIDS-fighting Aizhixing Action Project. . . The association also works for freedom of expression on the Internet and is active on behalf of LGBT rights.

BBC US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has asked for "embarrassing" travel restrictions on Nelson Mandela and South African leaders to be lifted. A bill has been introduced in the US Congress to remove from databases any reference to South Africa's governing party and its leaders as terrorists. The African National Congress was designated as a terrorist organization by South Africa's old apartheid regime. At present a waiver is needed for any ANC leaders to enter the country. "It is frankly a rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in my own counterparts - the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader, Nelson Mandela," Ms Rice told lawmakers in Washington. Last week, Howard Berman, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, who introduced the bill said it was "shameful" that the United States still treated the ANC this way.

RULES OF THUMB Napoleon's troops carried canned snails as emergency rations. Their rule was: 1,000 snails per soldier per week.



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