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Dispatches from Boulder the Damned
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Thursday, July 03, 2008



Been nice (and hot and humid) and I'm taking it easy for a while.  Probably no more till Sunday or even Monday.  

Here in Boulder the Damned, we are now faced with the afterglow of an incident in which NIST released plutonium into the environment, specifically into the environment of about twenty lab specialists working with it.  Oh, and also, it's in the drains.  Plutonium is dubiously harmful in these small amounts unless somehow ingested, at which point you're dead or next to it.

Without hesitation, the professional fear mongers and responsible nuclear hesitants are all over this, and we are again left with no clear idea how dangerous this might be.  The Feds shut down Boulder's ability to used plutonium, and nobody can really say if we're at risk.  Of course, we'll never know for years, when possible cancer upswings catch the attention of media and health professionals. It's very irritating in its predictability.  



This is scary. At the LAT, the paper reports that it will be cutting 150 jobs from the newsroom by Labor Day and will publish 15 percent fewer pages each week. The editorial downsizing, which amounts to about 17 percent of the total newsroom, is part of the latest cost-cutting effort that aims to reduce the total Times staff by 250 positions. Yes, a bloated creature in need of expense cutting, but it points out that objective news, however defined and however successful, costs money, and nobody has figured out a model that will pay for it in the new Internet world.  We take this for granted as in so much, and once it's gone......I don't see how it'll come back.



The Colombia military's movielike rescue operation that freed former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three U.S. defense contractors, and 11 Colombian soldiers and policemen who were being held hostage in the jungle by leftist rebels is getting the hot weather treatment by the media. The daring raid was years in the making as Colombian forces apparently managed to infiltrate the upper echelons of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and convinced guards to group the high-profile hostages in one location to be picked up by what were supposed to be rebel-friendly helicopters. "The operation was impeccable," Betancourt, who was kidnapped in 2002, said at a news conference. Betancourt described how the hostages had no idea what was going on until the rescue helicopter was in the air and an undercover officer turned to them and said: "We're the Colombian army. You have been liberated."

The Colombian rescue couldn't have come at a better time for President Alvaro Uribe, who lately has been engulfed in a bribery scandal. It may also be kicking sand in the biodegradation of FARC, the violent but increasingly incompetent and lax crew that let this happen.  The tale does not speak to sharp people.

It's also a tad convenient, however good for us.   The huge success of the mission is a finger in the eye for Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who had tried to position himself as the only leader able to negotiate for the release of the hostages. The rescue mission took place on the same day as Sen. John McCain was visiting the country, supposedly pure coincidence, but it seems Uribe and his aides had briefed McCain about the operation. Curious how the operation worked? The WSJ has a blow-by-blow in a separate story.

U.S. officials took pains to emphasize that the rescue mission was a Colombian-led operation, but everyone notes the United States helped with the planning and provided critical intelligence. All of which references timing, and there's the McCain aspect again. The three American citizens who were released yesterday were flown directly to San Antonio, Texas. The Northrop Grumman employees had been in captivity since 2003, when their surveillance plane crashed. I'm real glad about this, but it's a Bush Op, and there's always something serving especially in the very few that are successful.

The FARC is believed to be holding about 700 hostages, but Betancourt, who holds dual French-Colombian citizenship, was by far the most valuable. French President Nicolas Sarkozy had made her release a priority since he took office, and more than 1,000 cities and towns around the world have made her an honorary citizen. Interestingly enough, the NYT is alone in noting that Betancourt seemed healthy, a contrast to how she looked in a photograph that was widely circulated late last year.

It's a huge setback for the FARC, a group that has been fighting the government for more than 40 years but has suffered some crippling blows lately. Three of the group's top officials have died recently, hundreds are deserting every month, and one top level commander who surrendered in May said the FARC was "crumbling." The "apparent disintegration" of the FARC has led some to compare it to the Shining Path, a group that once inspired terror but now is made up of a few hundred militants involved in drug trafficking. An editorial in Colombia's El Tiempo describes yesterday's raid as the most shattering setback for the FARC and one that "inflicts an unprecedented moral blow."



A House committee has reached the conclusion that Bush administration officials knew about Hunt Oil's plan to sign an oil deal with the Kurdish regional government in Iraq and didn't object. American policy is to warn companies not to sign separate deals until Iraq passes a national oil law. In fact, the State Department had publicly said it was concerned the deal would undermine the Iraqi central government. But e-mail messages and other documents reveal that State and Commerce department officials not only knew about the impending deal and didn't object, but in some instances even seemed to welcome it. The chief executive of Hunt Oil is a major backer of President Bush and a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. No!  Who'd have thought?



McCain has made changes in the top levels of his campaign staff in what was the second personnel shakeup in a year. Yesterday, McCain put senior strategist Steve Scmidt, who once worked with Karl Rove, in charge of most day-to-day operations and diminished the role of Rick Davis, his campaign manager. The move came after weeks of handwringing by Republicans who have been complaining that McCain seems to lack a clear message to sell his candidacy to voters. Many say McCain is jumping around from issue to issue without a clear strategy and point to his three-day trip to Colombia and Mexico as a prime example of how his campaign lacks focus. The NYT notes the move is the latest sign that many who worked with Rove are gaining influence in the campaign.

Even the WSJ covers how McCain backers are finding ways to get around the campaign-finance law, which the presumptive Republican nominee helped to write, in order to catch up to Sen. Barack Obama in the money race. Stifling hypocrisy on McCain's part, and SOP for the GOP and Dems alike, but I  The paper mostly focuses on how the Republican Governors Association is recruiting big-money donors by telling them that anything they contribute will help McCain in key swing states. These types of groups are forbidden from pledging that they'll help a federal candidate with their money, but those who work at the association are telling donors that helping elect Republican governors will also be good for McCain in November. Republicans are trying to raise $120 million on McCain's behalf through the national and state parties and 527 organizations, including the governors group.



The polygamist sect that made headlines when hundreds of children were seized from the Yearning for Zion ranch has found a way to profit from all the attention. The sect has created a Web site to sell children's clothing that adheres to their strict standards "for modesty and neatness," and apparently there's been lots of interest. "The venture may have come not a moment too soon," notes the NYT. "There has not been a soul in the fashion world who has not queasily wondered which designers will cite the women of the Yearning for Zion ranch as an inspiration for their next collections."



In history, this day in 1608, the city of Quebec was founded by Samuel de Champlain. Lovely place, I recall, and lovely women.  French.

This day in 1775, Washington took command of the Continental Army at Cambridge.  There is a big archaeological dig at his boyhood home going on now.

In 1790, in Paris, the marquis of Condorcet proposed granting civil rights to women. After the general hilarity died down, the discussion moved on to whether anyone outside the room was worth shit.

Today, after Pickett's Fiasco, Stuart's exhausting Pointless Advance, the Battle of Gettysburg ended. The South had proven more inept than the North, which could have won the war that day if it had pursued the enemy with more vigor.  It had the soldiers.  Lincoln saw this and was furious.  

In 1878, John Wise flew the first dirigible in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  

This day in 1898, during the Spanish American War, a fleet of Spanish ships in Cuba's Santiago Harbor attempted to run a blockade of U.S. naval forces in a knowing suicide attack. Nearly all of the Spanish ships were destroyed in the battle that followed.

Trivia nuts, please note.  It was this day in 1901 that the Wild Bunch, led by Butch Cassidy, committed its last American robbery near Wagner, Montana. They took $65,000 from a Great Northern train.

The Pacific was no barrier after this day in 1903, when the first cable across the Pacific Ocean was spliced between Honolulu, Midway, Guam and Manila.

In 1905, Imperial Russian troops killed 6,000 in Odessa to break a general strike.



This day in 1940, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello debuted on NBC radio.

Not until this day in 1954 was food rationing ended in Great Britain, nine years after the end of World War II.

In 1962, the great Jackie Robinson became the first African American to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.Only a year later, two former secretaries of the Nation of Islam filed paternity suits against the head of their church, the honorable Elijah Muhammad. They claimed the prophet had fathered their four children. The allegations eventually cause Malcolm X to quit the NOI. All religious blowhards are alike.

In 1976, 103 hostages were rescued by an Israeli commando unit at the raid on Entebbe airport in Uganda. The hostages had been taken from an Air France jetliner.

In 1981, the Associated Press ran its first story about two rare illnesses afflicting homosexual men. One of the diseases was later named AIDS.  Um.  The other?

It was in 1988, this day, that the USS Vincennes mistook, we're told,  Iran Air flight 655 for an Iranian F-14 fighter plane, and shot it down.  It killed all 290 people aboard. Despite the surety his nation had incompetently downed a passenger airliner while operating inside Iran's territorial waters, Vice President George Bush declared a month later: "I will never apologize for the United States of America, ever. I don't care what the facts are."

Three years later, as President, Bush formally inaugurated the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008



Another tasteful religious observance from the Catholic Church. It's Feast of the Most Precious Blood, celebrating the blood shed during Christ's Passion and reassumed into His body at Resurrection. Boy, surprised Hallmark hasn't vectored in on that, and the restaurant industry.

John McCain's experience as a fighter pilot and POW do NOT qualify him for any elected post.  He's qualified by what he'd done since, but Wesley Clark is absolutely correct.  Trying to make it sound like a slam against Obama's patiotism doesn't really work, and McCain's handling of it was bozo.

Too perfect. "In a bit of irony, one of McCain's defenders was retired Col. George 'Bud' Day, a fellow prisoner of war who appeared in the Swift boat ads that disparaged the military service of 2004 Democratic nominee John F. Kerry. Democrats accused McCain and Day of hypocrisy; Day defended himself and the ads. 'The Swift boat, quote, attacks were simply a revelation of the truth. The similarity doesn't exist,' he said. 'One was about laying out the truth. This one is about attempting to cast another shadow.' "

Obama laid out his take on patriotism in an attempt to tackle head-on the persistent rumors that he is unpatriotic from the sorts who fly the Confederate flag, the symbol of treason and the source of our worst and most deadly war.

The LAT has a critical look at John McCain and his record on energy issues, saying "the Arizona senator has swerved from one position to another over the years, taking often contradictory stances on the federal government's role in energy policy." Among McCain's energy flip-flops: he used to oppose subsidies for nuclear power and now supports them; he has supported forcing automakers to build cars that run on alternative fuels while opposing the same sort of requirements for local utilities; and at times has supported offshore drilling for oil while at other times opposed it. "There is a very sporadic pattern here," said an official from the League of Conservation Voters.

McCain has gotten about $70,000 from the men behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, whom he called "dishonest and dishonorable" when they attacked John Kerry four years ago, USA Today reports.



The New York Times leads with the sad state of wounded Iraqi veterans. Think the soldiers in Walter Reed medical center have it bad? Talk to Nubras Jabar Muhammad, an Iraqi soldier who had to spend $2,100 of his own money on medical care after getting shot on checkpoint duty last year. He lost a kidney and part of his liver, and doctors ordered him to not stand for long periods, but his superiors put him back on checkpoint duty. "They told me if I keep complaining, they'll kick me out of the army," he told the Times. There are few official figures on the number of wounded Iraqi veterans (the NYT estimates it could be more than 60,000), and the officials interviewed by the paper argued that veterans were treated well. But other veterans say they've been drummed out of the military, denied pensions, and forced to use public hospitals, which are often run by rival sectarian militias. Predictable.



The Wall Street Journal covers the opening of eight Iraqi oil and natural gas fields to foreign companies, including those from the United States, Europe, Japan, Russia and China. Iraq's announcement of the opening of several oil contracts to foreign companies naturally erupted in controversy. "I do not believe that the companies should sign contracts in such a fragile political situation and confusing security situation," one Iraqi member of parliament told the Post. "America has come over here to Iraq in order to first control the oil wealth and, second, the entire economical wealth." Probably true.

Of course, the LAT notes that the regional Kurdish government in northern Iraq has already signed its own agreements, and that those companies were barred from the contracts in the rest of Iraq. The NYT, which yesterday broke the story that the State Department helped the Iraqi government draw up separate no-bid contracts that went to five Western oil companies, mentions that the announcement of those contracts, expected yesterday, was delayed. The State Department yesterday denied the NYT story, a fact the Post mentions but the NYT ignores. Where is Condi allowing photo shoots now?

"Hoping to show cohesion and progress … the Iraqi oil ministry may have accomplished the opposite. The announcement out of Baghdad was so hard to parse that a number of big foreign oil companies peppered advisers in Washington with questions trying to grasp what was being floated." From the WSJ.

A clue. Algeria's nationalist insurgency has revitalized itself by rebranding as part of al-Qaida, the NYT reports, in a 3,500-word story with an interview with the rebel group's leader. The Bush-Rice brilliance flares again.

The stock market, which has lost $2.1 trillion this year, $1.4 trillion in June alone, is not looking good and is on the verge of a bear market—a drop of 20 percent in the Dow Jones average, the 33rd such drop since 1900.

And, bringing up the rear, Africa yet again. Zimbabwe's neighbors may finally be getting tough on Robert Mugabe as the African Union summit opens in Egypt, the Post reports, while the United States is looking at U.N. sanctions.



In history, this day in 1847, our Post Office issued its first adhesive stamps.

Under cover of civil war, the conspiracy struck!  Well, in 1862, Congress established the Bureau of Internal Revenue. A year to the day later, the first day's fighting at Gettysburg began. Buford held off the Rebs, Reynolds was killed, the Feds got the high ground.

On this day in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Theodore Roosevelt and his "Rough Riders" waged a victorious assault on San Juan Hill in Cuba. Well, Kettle Hill. It's hard not to sympathize with the Spaniards.

In 1905, the USDA Forest Service was created within the Department of Agriculture. The agency was given the mission to sustain healthy, diverse, and productive forests and grasslands for present and future generations. TR.  Credit to the man, he saw that clearly.

Big day for war and vicious battles.  In 1916, the massive, stupid, and bloody Allied offensive known as the Battle of the Somme began in France. The battle was the first to use tanks and killed hundreds of thousands to no known purpose.

In 1943, the U.S. Government began automatically withholding federal income tax from paychecks. That probably saved us from becoming France.

The Bikini atoll was thrilled to host the explosion of a 20-kiloton atomic bomb this day in 1946.

In 1960, this day, Somalia gained its independence from Britain through the unification of Somaliland with Italian Somalia.

In 1966, Medicare federal insurance program went into effect.

This day in 1968, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was signed by 60 countries. It limited the spreading of nuclear material for military purposes. On May 11, 1995, the treaty was extended indefinitely.

In 1979, Sony introduced the Walkman. Yes, a big change.

This day in 1989, the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty, went into effect. It limited the production of ozone-destroying chemicals.

On the day in 1991the Warsaw Pact dissolved, Court TV began airing, corrupting the judicial process further.

A few years after doing a movie shoot at the Boulder Theater, Margaux Hemingway was found dead in her apartment in 1996. It was concluded that she had committed suicide, apparently having overdosed on Phenobarbital. Runs in the family.

In 1997, the sovereignty over Hong Kong was transferred from Great Britain to China. Britain controlled Hong Kong as a colony for 156 years.

In 1999, the U.S. Justice Department released new regulations that granted the attorney general sole power to appoint and oversee special counsels.


Monday, June 30, 2008

"Probably the last football game we'll ever get to see before the United States gets blown up by the Islamists under Obama." Yes, the Catholic Church is all class, isn't it?  This is from radio host Hugh Hewitt, speaking about the autumn's Ohio State vs USC game.

Could be worse.  In Africa, the swearing-in of Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe took place yesterday.  



The growth of al-Qaida in Pakistan - and the Bush administration's waffling over plans to give commandos greater latitude to operate in the country's tribal areas - gets big coverage in the NYT. The paper's anonymous sources say that bureaucratic squabbling in Washington has severely hampered "Operation Cannonball," the code name for efforts to hunt al-Qaida in Pakistan, where the terrorist organization has re-established its base after being smashed in Afghanistan.

Secret plans to make it easier for commandos to go after Osama Bin Laden and his top deputies have been held up over fears of alienating Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. And, according to the Times, the war in Iraq has diverted lots of resources, such as Predator drones, from the pursuit of al-Qaida in tribal areas. The upshot of all this is that the United States today faces a threat from al-Qaida comparable to the threat it faced before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.



There is skepticism about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reliance on high oil prices to keep himself afloat; rich businessmen are profiting, but rising inflation is hurting Iranian consumers' purchasing power, thereby hurting Ahmadinejad's re-election prospects. Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Iran is in the grips of a self-help craze, reports a Page One WSJ story. Iranian youth are snubbing religion in favor of New Age theories and motivational speakers. The article notes that the theocratic regime, which typically suppresses un-Islamic behavior, has so far done little to stymie the trend.

Aw. Some Vietnam veterans who served on swift boats are annoyed that thanks to the 2004 presidential election, most people associate the term "swift boat" with a nasty political smear instead of honorable military service, reports a Page One NYT story. A shame. Should have cleared that up back then and nailed O'Neill, the guy who lied to two presidents, Nixon and Reagan.

State and local governments across the United States have to scrimp and save, just like consumers. Twenty-four states are reducing services this year to cover budget deficits due to high energy prices, reports the LAT. The Times has some compelling examples. Here are three of them: A sheriff's department in Colorado can't afford car patrols, a Seattle school district is eliminating stops on school-bus routes, and state offices in Utah are moving to a four-day workweek.  

The rebuilding of the World Trade Center in New York City is going to take longer and cost more than expected. The project might be delayed by one to three years and cost overruns might total $1 billion to $3 billion. A key consequence of the delays is that the memorial portion of the project might not be completed by the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

USA Today leads with news that a high birth rate, not immigration, accounts for most of the growth of the nation's Hispanic population. I wonder if it's true, though.  Most of the Mexican women I worked with in the last few years when I was doing the dead end jobs of probation weren't interested in being baby factories.

A new design for gallon milk jugs makes the containers cheaper and easier to ship, and it keeps the milk fresher, but the NYT reports that consumers are crying about it because it makes them spill. The jug is a sign of the way changes will play out in the American economy over the next couple of decades, experts say. The benefits of the new design are so manifold that retailers are "undeterred" by consumer complaints. The trick, according to one smart person, is to tilt the jug slowly and pour slowly.

Food hoarding by at least 29 countries has contributed to increases in food prices worldwide, making it more difficult for impoverished countries to import what they need. The NYT calls the situation an acute symptom of a chronic condition.

The WP reports that the Department of Defense, "the nation's biggest polluter," is refusing to go along with orders by the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up contaminated military bases. The EPA can't sue the Pentagon as it would a private polluter, but the law is supposed to give the EPA final say in environmental disputes with other agencies.



In history, this day in 1097, the Crusaders defeated the Turks at Dorylaeum.

In 1520, after looting Tenochtitlan, Spaniards are attacked by an angry Aztec mob. Tied down by armor and treasure, they are no match for the natives and nearly half of Cortes' men lose their lives.

In 1894, Korea declared independence from China and stupidly asked for Japanese aid.

It was this day in 1908 that a huge airburst exploded over Podkamennaya Tunguska, Siberia, at 7:30 am. The blast flattened thousands of square miles of trees, and is now believed to have been caused by an asteroid or comet atmosphere explosion. It knocked down trees in a 40-mile radius and struck people unconscious 40 miles away. No ground impact was found.

This day in 1921, RCA was formed.

This is the Night of the Long Knives, when in 1934 Adolf Hitler purged the Nazi Party, destroying the SA and bringing to power the SS. The SA was led by gays, and were mere street thugs.

In 1935, fascists caused an uproar at the League of Nations when Haile Selassie of Ethiopia spoke.  "Us today, you tomorrow," he said.  True, but he was no enlightened despot himself.

This day in 1955, the U.S. began funding West Germany’s rearmament.

In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the New York Times to continue publishing the Pentagon Papers. That same day, another catastrophe for the Soviets when Soyuz 11 returned to Earth with three cosmonauts  dead inside.

It was this day in 1971 that the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Ohio became the 38th state to approve it. The amendment lowered the minimum voting age to 18.

In 2000, President Clinton signed the E-Signature bill to give the same legal validity to an electronic signature as a signature in pen and ink.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Not since the late Richard Jewell has American justice down so poorly. The Justice Department's $4.6 million settlement with Steven Hatfill, a former Army biodefense researcher who had been labeled a "person of interest" in the probe of the 2001 anthrax attacks, is pretty damned disgraceful for the DOJ. The department, which somehow didn't admit to any wrongdoing, had good reason to bury the news on a Friday, as the papers rehash the bungled investigation that never solved anything. The NYT ends its article on a comical note, retelling the story of how FBI agents ran over Hatfill's foot as he approached their surveillance car. The researcher was later given a $5 ticket for "walking to create a hazard."



The African Shit of the Century, so far, is Robert Mugabe.  Gangs of thugs loyal to President Robert Mugabe, the only candidate, drove frightened voters to the polls, collecting their personal information and threatening violence if they resisted. There are no words for this abject piece of sado-masochistic horror and spite.

The nature of Zimbabwe's election is perhaps best captured in an open letter from opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to his supporters. Addressing those who might be compelled to vote for Mugabe, he wrote: "If you need to do this to save your life, be not afraid. Do it." The LAT says some did, if only to have their fingers stained with the indelible voting ink that would save them a beating from ruling party thugs. But many others stayed away and the NYT reports that turnout was "very low, especially in the opposition's urban strongholds." Unsurprisingly, the government disagrees.

There is a day coming, Lord, when Mugabe and his thugs will pay big time.  If we hadn't been screwed up in pointless wars, perhaps we could have helped.  Although, the GOP is not tolerant of Africa.

The LAT says results are expected late Saturday. It will be interesting to see if the government tries to make the tally look realistic. The ruling party "will have to rejigger the results from the frightened masses, taking votes from themselves," a civic group leader tells the NYT, predicting that Tsvangirai will get "at least 30 percent." But Western and African nations have already condemned the government's actions and some are threatening new sanctions. Still, Mugabe seems unfazed. "Some African countries have done worse things," a state-run newspaper quoted him as saying. True.  And some European.  So what?  Where the hell is Mgibe? Where are the prancing military tunics now?  And where is my country?



The LAT leads with a report on Barack Obama's move to the center on many issues, while the WP fronts his appearance with Hillary Clinton in Unity, N.H. The LAT cites Obama's "tougher stance on Iran, mild reaction to expanded gun rights and malleable view of free trade" as proof that the candidate is moving toward the center to broaden his appeal. This is a typical move for a general-election candidate, but tougher for Obama, who carries the risk of diminishing his self-styled image as a new type of politician, based almost solely on the naivite of his supporters.

McCain, of course, is doing the same thing, but he's moving right in an attempt to court conservatives, says the Times. All this posturing makes TP sympathetic to Libertarians, some of whom complain to the NYT that the party is "fundamentally more committed to principle than electoral action."

The Obama campaign is encouraged by Hillary Clinton's willingness to stitch the Democratic Party back together. Obama's advisers hope to use both Hillary and Bill Clinton to speak to voters about the economy. The Post notes that Obama will have a distinct advantage over John McCain if he is able to consolidate the Democratic vote—many more Americans identify with the Democrats than with the Republicans. But he's not there yet. "We want Hillary!" chanted some in the New Hampshire crowd yesterday. "It's over!" a man yelled back.

Obama may also benefit from Bob Barr's candidacy on the Libertarian ticket. Earlier in the week Obama's campaign manager said a strong showing by Barr could deliver Georgia and Alaska to the Democrat. Alaska to Obama?  That's a cry for a chaser in the GOP bar. The actual Barr, meanwhile, tells the NYT that a group of Republicans have told him not to run. But should they really be so scared? Barr has raised just over $300,000 so far, and "he has yet to lease a campaign headquarters, have a fund-raiser, tape a television advertisement or hold a campaign event," says the Times.



A potential deal between the United States and Europe would allow American law enforcement and security agencies to access information about European citizens. Credit card transactions, travel histories, and Internet browsing habits might be shared, but there are still about half a dozen outstanding issues to be dealt with. Like, the reverse.

Naturally, there is bad news out of Afghanistan, where Taliban militants have regrouped and the security situation has deteriorated. The insurgency has now spread into areas previously thought to be stable. The WSJ cites a new Pentagon report (also mentioned in the Post), which is part of a "top-to-bottom review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan." NYT readers might counsel the department to look into "the Taliban's deepening penetration of Pakistan" as well.

North Korea razed the cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear facility on Friday. While video of the event was broadcast widely in the West, the NYT reports that North Korea's state news agency didn't mention the demolition.

The media is way scared of economic news.  We're long past "bear-market territory," and heading towards a Depression.  The LAT envisions "a world of $200-a-barrel oil."



In history, this day in 1635, the French colony of Guadeloupe was established in the Caribbean. Been there, and the whole Windward Island chain is gorgeous. The Brits thought those islands worth North America, by the by.

In 1778, Mary "Molly Pitcher" Hays McCauley, wife of an American artilleryman, carried water to the soldiers during the Battle of Monmouth and, supposedly, took her husband's place at his gun after he was overcome with heat.

In 1894, the U.S. Congress made Labor Day a U.S. national holiday.

Feeling the power, in 1902 our Congress passed the Spooner bill, it authorized a canal to be built across the isthmus of Panama.

It was this day in 1914 that the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and the morganic wife were assassinated by Serb nationalists in (what is now known as) Sarajevo, Bosnia. He was killed because he was so much more liberal and sharper than his uncle the Emperor that it was feared he could keep the empire together and maybe make it stronger.  It was really Servia, and the b was subbed for the v in English when war broke out and the media decided it made their put upon ally sound submissive.  Such is our world.

Five years to the day later, the Treaty of Versailles was signed ending World War I, and establishing the League of Nations.

In 1938, Congress created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to insure construction loans.

This day in 1945, MacArthur announced the end of Japanese resistance in the Philippines. He was, as usual, wrong.

In 1951, with an all black and excellent cast, "Amos ’n’ Andy" moved to CBS-TV from radio. It was one of my favorite shows growing up, and I suspect because of it was always puzzled by race. Just saying, the guy who played Andy, the big dumb but kind hearted galoot, was an early symbol.  And Kingfish was hysterical even if I didn't have clue one what was going on.  

This day in 1965, the first commercial satellite began communications service. It was Early Bird (Intelsat II), and all of a sudden the benefits and future of space and technology affected everyone..

In 1967, Israel formally declared Jerusalem reunified under its sovereignty following its capture of the Arab sector in the June 1967 war. Would it were so.

Eleven years ago today, Mike Tyson was disqualified for biting Evander Holyfield's ear after three rounds of their WBA heavyweight title fight in Las Vegas.

Eight years ago, six-year-old Elián González returned to Cuba from the U.S. with his father. The child had been the center of an international custody dispute.

In 2004, in an embarrassing ceremony, the U.S. turned over official sovereignty to Iraq's interim leadership. The event took place two days earlier than previously announced to thwart insurgents' attempts at undermining the transfer. That same day, we resumed diplomatic ties with Libya after a 24-year break.


Friday, June 27, 2008



The Supreme Court has ruled for the first time in history that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to own a gun. That would be correct, because when written, a militia kept arms at home.The justices—split along traditional ideological grounds and by a 5-4 vote—struck down the District of Columbia ban on handguns, the strictest gun-control law in the country.

The Washington Post said that it "wiped away years of lower court decisions that had held that the intent of the amendment ... was to tie the right of gun possession to militia service." The NYT says Justice Antonin Scalia's majority opinion was "his most important in his 22 years on the court." The WSJ points out that "[f]or the third time this month, a major constitutional issue was decided by a single vote—that of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the maverick conservative" who had sided with the court's liberal wing in the Guantanamo and child-rapists cases but yesterday lined up with the conservatives. I think this vote correct, and a quick review of Ruby Ridge and Waco ought to bring folks around.

The whole episode is bound up in 18th century and 19th century grammar practices, but our supposed conservative braintrust Antonin Scalia made it worse.  In his majority opinion, Scalia took pains to emphasize that the "decision, while historic, was narrow and its practical effects limited," says the Los Angeles Times. The individual right to gun ownership is not unlimited, and Scalia said the court would uphold restrictions on concealed, as well as "dangerous and unusual," weapons (um, what weapon is not dangerous? they guy is way over-rated) and laws that prohibit firearms from government buildings and schools. "Beyond that, the court did not address what types of regulations would survive legal challenges," notes USA Today's lead that says the decision "immediately cast doubt on gun restrictions nationwide." The LAT points out that yesterday's decision "brought immediate court challenges to similar laws in Chicago and San Francisco."

Advocates for gun rights praised the ruling and said the decision provides them with a clear opening to issue a variety of legal challenges to existing restrictions on the ownership of firearms. But gun-control advocates also said they were at least heartened by the fact that the court didn't dismiss all restrictions on firearms as unconstitutional. In a scathing dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens warned that yesterday's decision would likely lead to a new era of judicial involvement in an issue that is best left to elected lawmakers. In reality, though, the ruling "will have little practical impact in most of the country," says the NYT in a Page One analysis. It is likely to be felt mostly in a few urban areas that have the most restrictive gun-control laws.


In their opinions, Scalia and Stevens "went head to head in debating how the 27 words in the Second Amendment should be interpreted," notes the NYT. Stevens emphasized that the right to own a weapon exists only "in conjunction with service in a well-regulated militia," while Scalia said that the militia part of the amendment isn't meant as a limit on the pre-existing right to bear arms, on which I agree. The two also sharply disagreed on the 1939 decision that was the last time the issue was analyzed by the court and has been widely interpreted as a rejection of the individual-rights argument for possessing firearms.

The presidential candidates both quickly praised the decision, although John McCain was a bit more effusive than Sen. Barack Obama. McCain called it "a landmark victory" that brings to an end "the specious argument" that there's no individual right to gun ownership. For his part, Obama said the decision protects the rights of gun owners but also emphasized that this protection "is not absolute." Read it guys: dangerous weapons, i.e. any weapon, can be banned.

The decision involved the court's conservative wing displaying its most activist instincts. In the LAT, Erwin Chemerinsky writes that the ambiguity of the Second Amendment should have led the justices to follow precedent and allow lawmakers to decide the issue. Instead, the majority took matters into their own hands in "a powerful reminder that the conservative justices are activists when it serves their political agenda," writes Chemerinsky. In the Post, E.J. Dionne Jr. agrees and says the conservative justices once again demonstrated "their willingness to abandon precedent in order to do whatever is necessary to further the agenda of the contemporary political right." The decision serves as a good reminder "that judicial activism is now a habit of the right."



It's Election Day in Zimbabwe, and those who don't vote risk being beaten or killed, notes the NYT inside. President Robert Mugabe has refused to bow to international pressure and insisted the vote will go on as schedule even though his opponent dropped out of the race and violence has engulfed the country. Zimbabweans will likely be rounded up and taken to the polls, where many believe that if they don't vote for Mugabe they will face retribution. "If you don't show your finger that you've voted, you'll be beaten," explained opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who tells the WP that he's boycotting the elections and will "do nothing" today.

So who's going to do the beating and killing? Young men whose "life has come down to a painfully simple equation: If you don't beat your victim hard enough, you may be the next victim," reports the LAT. Mugabe's thugs have often been portrayed as ruthless villains, but the LAT talks to three who sound more like scared children than vicious killers as they describe how they want to escape but fear the militia would capture them or kill their families. They also tell the LAT that young women and girls as young as 15 are being kidnapped to serve as sex slaves for the militias. It's another must-read story from the LAT, whose reporter has been writing some of the best, most detailed accounts of the situation on the ground in Zimbabwe that manage to illustrate how regular citizens are caught in the middle of the horror.

The NYT fronts and the WSJ goes inside with interesting looks at why exactly South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, has refused to criticize Mugabe and continues to insist on mediation. The world is puzzled by Mbeki's approach, which the NYT characterizes as "walking softly, carrying no stick," but it's the result of his close personal relationship with Mugabe as well as his political convictions and a reluctance to allow the Western world to meddle in Africa's affairs. Tsvangirai has called for Mbeki to step down from his role as the region's appointed mediator.



Meanwhile, Bush's hypocrisy caves again.  He has announced that North Korea will be removed from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism - from the Axis of Evil - after Pyongyang provided long-awaited details about its nuclear efforts. Although the move is largely portrayed as symbolic, the NYT highlights that it demonstrates how Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice managed to win "a major battle" against Vice President Cheney and his allies who are none too happy about the move. THIS is a big NOTHING. Rice is simply incompetent.

The country that Bush once designated as part of the "axis of evil" provided details about its main nuclear effort, but everyone says there was lots missing from the report, particularly any information about assembled nuclear weapons. Pyongyang also provided no details about a suspected uranium-enrichment program, which has led some to speculate that perhaps North Korea will continue a secret efforts to build a nuclear weapon. Well, duh. Early-morning wire stories report that, as had been announced, North Korea destroyed a 60-foot-tall cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear plant.

Everyone notes the bad day at the stock market. Oil prices continued to increase, and the Dow Jones industrial average fell to its lowest level in almost two years. Although it seems like just yesterday that many were saying the economy would rebound in the second half of the year, there are doubts about whether that will actually happen. Financial firms continue to lose money, and consumers are highly pessimistic about the state of the economy.

The WP's Steven Pearlstein writes that no one should expect the economy to rebound in the near future. "This thing's going down, fast and hard," he writes, while noting that this downturn will be different from most because it's "a recession with an overlay of inflation." The word we're searching for is Depression. The inconvenient combination is particularly difficult for the Federal Reserve to deal with, because trying to fix one problem makes the other worse. "Don't let anyone fool you: It will be a while before things return to normal."

Starting next week, smokers won't be allowed to light up in cafes, bars, restaurants, and clubs in the Netherlands, which is pretty amazing. Is France next? Oh, wait, Euro studpidity, not always immedeately apparent, raises its head. USAT reports that while smoking a joint at a coffee shop will still be perfectly legal, smoking cigarettes will be forbidden. Naturally, people are confused, particularly since many Europeans are used to mixing a little tobacco with their marijuana. "I will have to ask, 'What's in that joint?' " one coffee shop owner said. "It's going to make it pretty difficult to enforce."



On this day in 363, the death of Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate brought an end to the Pagan Revival.

In 1693, "The Ladies' Mercury" was published by John Dunton in London on this day for the first time. It was the first women's magazine and contained a "question and answer" column that became known as a "problem page."  

In 1787, Edward Gibbon completed "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." It was published the following May, and history and Christianity have never recovered.

Here in the Land of the Free, in 1844 Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by mob in Carthage, Illinois.  They were in jail at the time. According to church legend, after Smith is shot a man raises a knife to decapitate him, but is thwarted by a thunderbolt from heaven. Heaven allowed the murder, though.  A clue.

In 1847, this day, New York and Boston were linked by telegraph wires.

In 1893, the New York stock market crashed. By the end of the year 600 banks and 74 railroads had gone out of business.

In 1929, scientists at Bell Laboratories in New York revealed a system for transmitting television pictures.

This day in 1942, the FBI announced the capture of eight Nazi saboteurs who had been put ashore from a submarine on New York's Long Island. Actually, their leader tried to surrender right off, wasn't believed, and when the fiasco looked like it would make the FBI look stupid, the leader was the only one killed.

In 1950, two days after North Korea invaded South Korea, U.S. President Truman ordered the Air Force and Navy into the Korean conflict. The United Nations Security Council had asked for member nations to help South Korea repel an invasion from the North.

This day in 1973, former White House counsel John W. Dean told the Senate Watergate Committee about an "enemies list" that was kept by the Nixon White House.

In 1998, during a live joint news conference in China U.S. President Clinton and President Jiang Zemin offered an uncensored airing of differences on human rights, freedom, trade and Tibet.

In 2002, the Securities and Exchange Commission required companies with annual sales of more than $1.2 billion to submit sworn statements backing up the accuracy of their financial reports.

Two years ago today, in Alaska's Denali National Park, a roughly 70-million year old dinosaur track was discovered. The track was form a three-toed Cretaceous period dinosaur.


Thursday, June 26, 2008



The Supreme Court has ruled that owning guns is okay and that it's unconstitutional to execute someone for raping a child. The 5-4 decision restricted the death penalty to punish murderers and those who commit crimes against the state. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that cases of child rape "may be devastating in their harm," but "they cannot be compared to murder in their severity and irrevocability."

No one has been executed for raping a child since 1964, but yesterday's 5-4 decision voids the laws in six states that allowed the death penalty to be imposed for such a crime. Two men in Louisiana are the only ones in the country currently on death row for child rape, and their sentences will now be changed to life without parole. As the NYT points out, this was the third time in six years that the Supreme Court has put a limit on the death penalty, saying that it was following the evolving standards of decency under the Eight Amendment. Both presidential candidates criticized the decision. Sen. John McCain called it "an assault on ... efforts to punish these heinous felons" while Sen. Barack Obama said he disagreed with the court's "blanket prohibition." And what is a child?  Beneath the age of consent? Like the Catholic priests who molested children, are they now up for death, should they ever be charged? Oh, not, they're not, somehow.  Alito and Scalia should explain how they'd vote in such a case.

The other big Supreme Court decision, which reduced a punitive damages award against Exxon Mobil from $2.5 billion to around $500 million, is being lost outside Greenpeace circles. The ruling brought an end to a legal battle that has been going on for almost 20 years after the Exxon Valdez spilled almost 11 million gallons of crude oil in Alaska in 1989. A majority of justices said that Exxon Mobil shouldn't have to pay more in punitive damages than what it had to pay for the actual damages. Writing for the majority, Justice David Souter said that a 1-to-1 ratio between compensatory damages and punitive damages would be appropriate.

The big question now is whether this will become a defining guideline for all punitive damages or whether it simply applies to cases involving maritime law. Exxon and business groups praised the decision, saying that it might go a long way to bring an end to the unpredictable nature of punitive damages. The LAT points out that the fact that Exxon made $40.6 billion in profits last year means that "it could pay the punitive damages with about four days' worth of profits."

The chairman of the House appropriations defense subcommittee saying that the Pentagon will have to spend more than $100 billion to replace and repair equipment. Rep. John Murtha said the failure to properly plan for a long war in Iraq means the Pentagon has neglected its equipment and now will likely have to give up hopes to increase the size of the military. Pentagon leaders are coming to the realization that they will have to make a choice between a larger military and improved equipment.



The latest from Zimbabwe is predictably depressing as African leaders continued to criticize President Robert Mugabe and called for Friday's runoff election to be postponed. Queen Elizabeth II stripped Mugabe of his honorary knighthood, long overdue, and Nelson Mandela, who barely talks about politics in public, said there's been a "tragic failure of leadership in Zimbabwe." Archbishop Desmond Tutu went even further and said Mugabe "mutated into something quite unbelievable." Approximately 300 people, many of whom were injured, gathered outside the South African Embassy to ask for asylum while the opposition leader called on the African Union and the United Nations to deploy peacekeeping troops in Zimbabwe.

Of course, Mugabe has shown no signs of caring about what the international community thinks and insists that "only God" can remove him from power. "It's time to give God a helping hand," writes Timothy Garton Ash in the LAT's op-ed page, a statement that should not be made when we live in a world of violent thugs who actually believe they are doing just that. It's a mistake to think that the only way the international community could intervene would be to invade Zimbabwe. "The choice is not either invade or do nothing," he writes. "There are hundreds of ways in which states and peoples intervene in the affairs of other states and peoples without resorting to the use of military force."



The ongoing discussions between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton on a variety of issues, including how to help the former first lady repay some of the debt left over from her campaign. Clinton will formally introduce some of her biggest donors to Obama tonight, and the two will appear together on Friday. Famous Washington lawyer Robert Barnett is helping the two camps work out the issues, but it isn't all love among the Democrats. Many Clinton supporters continue to harbor feelings of ill will toward Obama and his campaign. Primarily, some of her biggest supporters say Obama hasn't done enough to help Clinton with her debt and point out that the presumptive nominee hasn't even taken the trouble of writing a $2,300 check to her campaign in what many believe would be a strong symbolic gesture.

On the Republican side, the WP peers at Richard Davis, McCain's top campaign adviser, who has been working without pay for almost a year in what he says is a demonstration of his dedication to the presumptive nominee. But it really might just be his way of saying thanks. Davis has taken a leave from his lobbying firm, but his relationship with McCain has paid off handsomely throughout the years. Ever since he first managed a McCain campaign eight years ago, he's made quite a bit of money from companies that wanted the senator's attention and even earned a bit of cash from what the Post calls "a panoply of McCain-related entities." Davis is hardly the only McCain aide who has made money from a relationship with the senator, but his case is a great reminder of how terms like free advice and unpaid are all relative in Washington.

Many had once hoped that a campaign between Obama and McCain would bring about a new level of political discourse. But the Post's Dan Balz is clearly disappointed when he notes that the first few weeks of the general election have seen the two candidates fall into the same old habits of aggressive attacks and counterattacks that can't possibly interest anybody besides obsessive political junkies. It's still early and things might change, but it could be telling that the candidates fell back into old habits so quickly. "The question is whether the opening weeks are a true reflection of their characters and the kind of campaigns they intended to run or a temporary departure."

Only a little while ago, Republicans thought they could win over voters in congressional elections by tying Democratic lawmakers in conservative districts to Obama. But the strategy didn't work, and now a Republican senator (from Oregon, but still) has gone the other way and is touting his supposed close relationship with Obama in a campaign ad, notes the Post. Not surprisingly, Obama has been inundated with requests from Democratic congressional candidates who want the presumptive nominee to help get them elected.

Lately, McCain's campaign has taken to calling Obama the "Dr. No" of energy policy. The LAT thinks the lable might befit McCain more, particularly since he has vowed to build new nuclear plants. He does have a catchy name, but the truth is that James Bond's antagonist in the 1962 film "was something of a pioneer in nuclear energy."



In history, this day in 1483, the curious Richard III usurped himself to the English throne.

In 1541, Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish Conqueror of Peru, was murdered by his former followers.

In 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition reached the mouth of the Kansas River after completing a westward trek of nearly 400 river miles.

In 1900, the United States announced that it would send troops to fight against the Boxers in China, but really to protect and insert interests of our own.

Finally.  This day in 1917, General John "Black Jack" Pershing arrived in France with the American Expeditionary Force. Well.  Part of it's headquarters.

In 1945, the U.N. Charter was signed by 50 nations in San Francisco.

This day in 1948, the Berlin Airlift began as the U.S., Britain and France started ferrying supplies to the isolated western sector of Berlin.

In 1959, Eisenhower joined Elizabeth II in ceremonies officially opening the St. Lawrence Seaway.

In 1963, Kennedy announced "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner or, as some say, I am a pastry.) at the Berlin Wall.

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that made it illegal to distribute indecent material on the Internet.

A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers are always potentially liable for supervisor's sexual misconduct toward an employee.

In 2000, the Human Genome Project and Celera Genomics Corp. jointly announced that they had created a working draft of the human genome.

And, in 2002, WorldCom Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Somehow, it was granted.



Wednesday, June 25, 2008



New Pentagon data shows insurgent activity is on the rise in Afghanistan, a development that has led military leaders to order a review of current strategy in the country. In the first five months of the year, insurgent attacks have gotten more sophisticated and increased almost 40 percent in the eastern provinces, a region of Afghanistan that was once relatively calm and several senior Pentagon officials had frequently touted as an example of success.

While the rate of U.S. military deaths in Iraq keeps on decreasing, the opposite is true in Afghanistan, where 50 Americans have been killed in combat this year, compared with 28 who were killed in the first six months of 2007. Pentagon leaders want to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan but can't do much about that desire until there's a significant withdrawal of forces from Iraq. Although many in the Pentagon once advocated that troop reductions in Iraq should be used as an opportunity to give servicemembers more time to rest and train stateside, military planners now agree that any drawdown from Iraq will lead to an increase of forces in Afghanistan.

Problem is that no one knows when there will be further withdrawals from Iraq. In the meantime, to streamline the operations in Afghanistan, the Pentagon will propose "in the coming weeks" that all U.S. and NATO forces report to the new four-star commander in Afghanistan.



The mounting international pressure against Zimbabwe's government and its plans to go on with the presidential election on Friday have annoyed and focused the world. The president of Senegal and the leader of South Africa's ruling party both said the election should be canceled and urged both sides to sit down and work out an agreement. Southern African leaders will meet in Swaziland today to discuss the growing crisis in Zimbabwe, but there's little reason to think that President Robert Mugabe will listen to their concerns.

Mugabe continued campaigning yesterday and mocked his former rival for dropping out and seeking refuge in the Dutch Embassy. "He is frightened, frightened of the people," Mugabe said. "These are voters. They won't do you any harm." The NYT highlights that even though South Africa's ruling party called for the vote to be postponed, it also insisted that foreign diplomats should resist the urge to intervene because it "will merely deepen the crisis." Meanwhile, there were hints that even as Mugabe dismissed international pressure, he was opening the door to talks with the opposition, but only after he wins the election and can negotiate from a position of strength.

There's little doubt that Mugabe will win Friday's election, but, just in case, the violence and intimidation continue. In a must-read Page One dispatch from Harare, the LAT reports that ruling party officials are telling voters at meetings that the ballot serial numbers will allow them to know who voted for the opposition and warned that those who don't vote for Mugabe will be killed. "They said, 'Even if you run away, we'll chop the heads off whoever you leave behind at your house. We don't care if it's your children or your grandchildren,' " recalled a 60-year-old woman who was forced to go to a meeting. One man who has been attending meetings every day for two weeks said the talk of serial numbers on ballots was being repeated daily. "They will launch another operation, called Operation Elimination, where people will be disappearing," he said. "They repeat the same message over and over."



An internal Justice Department report has found officials broke the law by favoring those who didn't have ties to the Democratic Party or liberal organizations for the department's highly coveted intern and honors jobs, which are meant to be awarded on merit. The report says that senior officials attempted to figure out political affiliations of applicants through Internet searches as well as a close analysis of their essays and résumés to look for any hint of liberal bias. Although ideology can be used as a factor for political appointees, federal law prohibits it from being considered for civil-service jobs. This is the first in what many think will be a series of reports that will show how the Justice Department was politicized under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The current attorney general, Michael Mukasey, emphasized yesterday that it's "impermissible and unacceptable" to consider political affiliation when hiring career lawyers.

Congress is on the verge of approving legislation that could help thousands of homeowners avoid foreclosures. Lawmakers are eager to act as new data were released showing that home prices have plunged more than 15 percent over the past year. The "centerpiece" of the Senate's housing legislation would allow borrowers to refinance into a more affordable, fixed-rate loan that would come with a federal guarantee. The bill would also increase assistance for first-time buyers, and regulation on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be strengthened. The WP reveals the "centerpiece" was initially suggested by lobbyists for major banks. Although the banks would get less money for the loan, it also would allow them to get rid of properties, and the taxpayer would have to foot the bill if there are defaults. Around Capitol Hill, the proposal was known as the "Credit Suisse plan" before it was incorporated into the legislation.

The state of Florida has reached a tentative agreement with U.S. Sugar to buy all of the company's assets for $1.75 billion in an attempt to restore the Everglades. Under the deal, U.S. Sugar would have six years to close up shop before Florida takes over its 187,000 acres of land that it wants to return to its natural state and protect from development.

Barack Obama has a 12-point lead over rival Sen. John McCain. In a two-way race, Obama received 49 percent while McCain got 37 percent. Interestingly enough, when the independent (Ralph Nader) and Libertarian (Bob Barr) candidates are added to the list, the margin increases to 48-33 because most of their support comes from independents who would have otherwise voted Republican. The LAT notes McCain suffers from "a passion gap" since many Republicans still aren't very excited about voting for him. Most of those who supported Sen. Hillary Clinton are now supporting Obama, though 11 percent have moved over to McCain's side.

The NYT reveals that when the Environmental Protection Agency reached the conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants and must be controlled, the White House refused to open the e-mail message. Instead, the White House began a furious lobbying campaign to get the document changed. The watered-down report to be released this week makes no conclusions and simply goes over the legal and financial implications of declaring greenhouse gases a pollutant.

Chrysler will announce tomorrow that everyone who buys a 2009 model will have the option of adding wireless Internet to their vehicle. In an ironic twist of fate, the announcement will come just a few days before drivers in California and Washington will be required to use a headset when talking on a cellular phone. But, in California at least, it's unclear whether the law prohibits surfing the Web while driving.

The NYT reports that a group in San Francisco will ask voters whether the name of a water treatment plant should be changed to George W. Bush Sewage Plant. Those who came up with the plan while in a bar want to put a vote on the November ballot to provide "an appropriate honor for a truly unique president."
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This day in 1658, Aurangzeb proclaimed himself emperor of the Moghuls in India.

The Decline of America begins in 1868 when the pantywaist U.S. Congress enacted legislation granting an eight-hour day to workers employed by the Federal government.

On this day in 1876, the 7th Cavalry was walloped at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Half the battle was the famous Custer's Last Stand, while the majority of the regiment survived under fire four miles away.A year to the day later, in Philadelphia, Alexander Graham Bell demonstated the telephone for Sir William Thomson (Baron Kelvin) and Emperor Pedro II of Brazil at the Centennial Exhibition.

Ragtime.  In 1906, Pittsburgh millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw, the son of coal and railroad baron William Thaw, shot and killed Stanford White. White, a prominent architect, had a tryst with the lovely Florence Evelyn Nesbit before she married Thaw. The shooting took place at the premeire of Mamzelle Champagne in New York.

In 1910, the Mann Act, sometimes known as the White Slave Traffic Act of 1910, made it a federal crime to convey or assist in transporting women across state lines for prostitution, debauchery, or "any other immoral purpose." Mencken immediately noticed this was revenge of the rural poor over those who could so afford it, and no mention was made of men raping women on the farm. Men convicted of this heinous (if vague) statute face up to five years and a $5,000 fine for each count. Penalties are doubled if the female is underage, but men and boys are apparently not covered. Fortunately, we now know, for the clergy.

It was this day in 1917 that the first American fighting troops landed in France. "Lafayette, we are here." Unfortunately, most of our soldiers underwent basic training in France and had to used French and British artillery and weapons.  And it was not until 1918 we made a difference.  We only really fought for six months. Our Navy made even less of a mark.

It was this day in 1950 that North Korea invaded South Korea to start the the Korean War.

In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the use of unofficial non-denominational prayer in public schools was unconstitutional.

And not enforced.  In 1970, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission handed down a ruling (35 FR 7732), making it illegal for radio stations to put telephone calls on the air without the permission of the person being called.

In 1973, Erskine Childers Jr. became president of Ireland after the retirement of Eamon De Valera. His father, who wrote The Riddle in the Sands, was both an Irish and British Patriot.  Sorta.  Very interesting man.  Google him.  That same day, White House Counsel John Dean admitted that U.S. President Nixon took part in the Watergate cover-up.

In 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that male-only draft registration was constitutional.

The U.S. Congress approved $100 million in aid to the Contras fighting in Nicaragua, this day, in 1986.

A year later, Austrian President Kurt Waldheim visited Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. The meeting was controversial due to allegations that Waldheim had hidden his Nazi past.

On this day in 1996, outside the Khobar Towers near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia a truck bomb exploded. The bomb killed 19 Americans and injured over 500 Saudis and Americans.

In 1997, U.S. air pollution standards were significantly tightened by U.S. President Clinton.

I object.  In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that those infected with HIV are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act. That same day, "Windows 98" was released to the public.

Finally, in 1999 Germany's parliament approved a national Holocaust memorial to be built in Berlin.

This day in 2000, U.S. and British researchers announced that they had completed a rough draft of a map of the genetic makeup of human beings. The project was 10 years old at the time of the announcement.

 
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