Monday, July 31, 2006

As always with Congress...follow the money...

From the Information Clearing House:

Ari Berman:
AIPAC's Hold:

It's impossible to talk about Congress's relationship to Israel without highlighting AIPAC, the American Jewish community's most important voice on the Hill.

The Congressional reaction to Hezbollah's attack on Israel and Israel's retaliatory bombing of Lebanon provide the latest example of why.

[Read on...and see why Dems in Congress are supporting Bush...]


Yet ANOTHER BushCo treaty violation...

From The Guardian.UK :

US begins building treaty-breaching germ war defence centre
Julian Borger in Washington
Monday July 31, 2006
The Guardian

Construction work has begun near Washington on a vast germ warfare laboratory intended to help protect the US against an attack with biological weapon, but critics say the laboratory's work will violate international law and its extreme secrecy will exacerbate a biological arms race.
The National Biodefence Analysis and Countermeasures Centre (NBACC), due to be completed in 2008, will house heavily guarded and hermetically sealed chambers in which scientists simulate potential terrorist attacks.

To do so, the centre will have to produce and stockpile the world's most lethal bacteria and viruses, which is forbidden by the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Three years before that treaty was agreed, President Richard Nixon halted the production of US biological weapons at Fort Detrick in Maryland. The same military base is the site for the new $128m (£70m), 160,000 sq ft laboratory.

The green light for its construction was given after the September 11 attacks, which coincided with a series of still-unsolved anthrax incidents that killed five people. The department of homeland security, which will run the centre, says its work is necessary to protect the country.

"All the programmes we do are defensive in nature," Maureen McCarthy, director of homeland security research and development, told the Washington Post. "Our job is to ensure that the civilian population of the country is protected, and that we know what the threats are."

The biological weapons convention stipulates that the signatories must not "develop, produce, stockpile, or otherwise acquire or retain" biological weapons, and does not distinguish between offensive and defensive intentions.

A presentation given by Lieutenant Colonel George Korch said the NBACC would be used to apply "red team operational scenarios and capabilities" - military jargon for simulating enemy attacks.

Some analysts say the extraordinary secrecy surrounding the project will heighten suspicions of US intentions and accelerate work on similar facilities around the world.


Very interesting CIA memo..Gates to Webster...

Check this out...


Sunday, July 30, 2006

OK. Now we're outsourcing surgery...

From the LA Times:

U.S. Employers Look Offshore for Healthcare
As costs rise, workers are being sent abroad to get operations that cost tens of thousands more in the U.S.
By Daniel Yi, Times Staff Writer
July 30, 2006

After going overseas to outsource everything from manufacturing to customer services, American businesses — pressed by rising healthcare costs — are looking offshore for medical benefits as well. A growing number of employers that fund their own health insurance plans are looking into sending ailing employees abroad for surgeries that in the U.S. cost tens of thousands of dollars more.

Carl Garrett of Leicester, N.C., will fly to a state-of-the-art New Delhi hospital in September for surgeries to remove gallstones and to fix an overworn rotator cuff. His employer, Blue Ridge Paper Products Inc. of Canton, N.C., will pay for it all, including airfare for Garrett and his fiancee. The company also will give Garrett a share of the expected savings, up to $10,000, when he returns. Garrett chose to go abroad rather than have the operations locally, where he would have paid thousands of dollars in deductibles and co-pays.

"I think it is a great thing," the 60-year-old technician said. "Maybe it will drive down prices [of surgeries] here in the U.S."

Blue Ridge, which employs 2,000 and funds its own health plan, began studying the idea out of frustration with rising rates at local hospitals, company officials said. Blue Ridge's healthcare costs have doubled in the last five years, to about $9,500 a year per employee.

"The hospitals have a monopoly. They don't care, because where else are patients going to go?" said benefits director Bonnie Blackley. "Well, we are going to go to India."

Every year, tens of thousands of Americans travel abroad for cheaper tummy tucks and angioplasties. This "medical tourism" has typically been reserved for uninsured procedures or uninsured patients.

No major insurer offers such travel, but several employers that fund their own benefit programs have expressed interest, according to consultants and medical tourism agencies. No statistics are readily available on how many companies or patients have undertaken such travel.

Some medical tourism agencies are preparing to offer health insurance plans that outsource all major surgeries abroad. IndUSHealth — a medical tourism agency based in Raleigh, N.C., that Blue Ridge hired — said it was in negotiations with several companies.

Earlier this year, United Group Programs Inc., a health plan manager in Boca Raton, Fla., added a Thai hospital to its network of preferred providers. A handful of plan members have traveled to Thailand for treatment in recent months.

Arnold Milstein, chief physician at human resources consulting giant Mercer Health & Benefits, said he had been hired by three Fortune 500 companies interested in contracting with offshore hospitals. Milstein said the employers requested anonymity because they were not ready to unveil plans to their workers."This could really open up the healthcare market to foreign medical travel," said Milstein, who is based in San Francisco. "It won't just be people without insurance anymore. It could be available to just about everybody."

U.S. hospital operators say that doesn't bode well for them.

"This is not the solution," said California Hospital Assn. spokeswoman Jan Emerson. "In fact, this could make problems worse."

Hospitals must deal with rising costs just like other parts of the healthcare system, she said, and California hospitals lost $6.65 billion last year caring for the uninsured. Hospitals rely on paying, well-insured patients to keep them afloat in the face of costly government regulations and low-paying government programs like Medicare and Medicaid, she said.

Exporting the best-paying patients, she said, "will only add to the woes of the entire healthcare system."

But like other industries, healthcare is globalizing as costs rise. High drug prices have led some Americans to import prescription drugs from Canada and elsewhere. Some U.S. hospitals outsource radiology analyses to cheaper facilities in Australia and Europe.

Industry observers say that expanding health plans' provider networks to include foreign hospitals is an economic necessity and a natural progression.

But there are risks. Patients have little or no legal recourse in medical malpractice cases because of relatively weak patient-protection laws in such countries as India and Thailand, popular surgery destinations among Americans. And U.S. medical organizations and government agencies do not oversee foreign facilities.

"Foremost, surgery is a serious business," Bruce Cunningham, a plastic surgeon from Minneapolis, testified at a recent Senate hearing on medical tourism. "Patients simply cannot make informed decisions about medical care, or establish a proper physician-patient relationship, from travel brochures." Milstein, of Mercer Health & Benefits, says hospital quality is not a major worry because over the years, the same agency that accredits most American hospitals for participation in Medicare — the federally funded health plan for the elderly and disabled — has accredited 88 foreign hospitals through a joint international commission.

Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, and Apollo Hospitals in India, for example, are internationally recognized institutions. Despite the Third World conditions outside, the hospitals resemble five-star hotels and are equipped with the latest technology, American patients have reported. Many of the doctors are trained in the U.S., and visiting Americans are pampered around the clock, they have said.

Still, traveling far from home to undergo a serious surgery may not appeal to everybody.

"Some of our employees have never even been on a plane," said Blackley, Blue Ridge's benefits director. The company has not fully implemented the plan to all employees but hopes to do so in coming months, she said. Employees will be offered incentives such as waived co-pays to travel abroad for certain types of surgeries, but they will not be required to do so. Garrett will be a Blue Ridge test case, and company officials are expected to visit the facilities in India soon. "It sounds crazy," Blackley said, "but desperate times call for desperate measures."

As more companies join the ranks, the concept may not sound that extreme, Milstein said: "The perception will change gradually, as more patients go through the experience."The savings can be sizable.

A coronary artery bypass surgery costs about $6,500 at Apollo Hospitals in India, Milstein estimated. The average price in California is $60,400.Some health plans in California, such as Blue Cross of California and Health Net, have insurance plans with approved providers in Mexico. The plans offer lower premiums but are limited to those living near the border.

United Group, the health insurance manager that recently added Bangkok's Bumrungrad Hospital to its provider network, offers low-premium insurance called a Mini-Med plan that covers basic medical treatment but only a few major procedures. Surgery coverage for Mini-Med's 20,000 subscribers is capped at about $3,000, said Jonathan Edelheit, United Group's vice president of sales. By going to Bangkok, subscribers may be able to afford a surgery that would have been prohibitively expensive in the U.S.

Along similar lines, a Malibu-based start-up, PlanetHospital, hopes to create a health insurance plan that covers primary care in the U.S. but major procedures in foreign hospitals."America has the best medical treatment," said founder Rupak Acharya. "Problem is, much of it is inaccessible."


Israeli strategy and tactics...

From Strategic Forecasting, Inc:

Special Report: Shift in Israeli Operations

At this moment there appears to be a major shift taking place in the war. Though the scope of the operation is unclear, it appears the Israelis have shifted to a new phase of the war, focusing on broader and more intense ground operations. It could be that this is the opening phase of a broader raid-in-force against Hezbollah that might go beyond southern Lebanon. We do not know this for certain, but it does warrant alerting our readers to the possibility. Various bits of evidence point in this direction.

For example, early Sunday Israeli time, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman was quoted as saying, "We have drawn our conclusions from battles in other areas, we have learned our lesson and are about to embark on another mission. There is no intention whatsoever to occupy this region or any other -- only to arrive, to act, and when we're done, to get out."

There are reports of new areas involved in fighting and new Israeli units being engaged. For example, Israeli forces are now fighting in the area of Qana. This is a few miles southeast of Tyre and deep into southern Lebanon. We have heard that the Qana action consists of engineers, armor and infantry, indicating a more traditional combined arms effort. The engineers would be clearing mines, bulldozing fortifications and clearing roads damaged by Israeli airstrikes. Infantry would be clearing the area of anti-tank teams and opening the way for broader armored thrusts to destroy rear infrastructure and isolate forward Hezbollah positions.

There are additional reports of engagements near and to the west of the Israeli panhandle in the Dan-Dafna-Metulla region, along with heavy artillery fire in this region. This would be the jump-off point for an attack both westward along the Litani and northward into the Bekaa Valley.

There were extensive reports of a major armored buildup in this area over the past 48 hours.

This would also explain the decision to disengage temporarily at Bent Jbail in preparation for the new phase of operations.

Interestingly, the report about Qana that we have says the attacking force is from the Nahal Division. According to Israeli media, the Galilee Division, which normally has full responsibility for the entire Lebanese border, has been given responsibility for the western half of the border, while Nahal Division has been made responsible for the eastern half. If all of this is true and the Qana fighting is being carried out by Nahal, then the action at Qana represents a drive westward from the northern panhandle rather than a northern drive from Galilee division. This is of great importance because it indicates that the armor massed in the panhandle is moving in a broad encirclement as per traditional IDF doctrine. Nahal has been moving rapidly during daylight hours. Ground operations involving the Golani Brigade were also reported in Taibe last night. If Nahal moved west, it would have passed through Taibe. If the division were planning on a move north to the Bekaa Valley, it will need Taibe. The town is in a critical location.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has canceled her visit to Lebanon. She is, however, going to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday night and return to the United States on Monday. If nothing important were happening, Rice would stick to her schedule. If the United States objected to what is happening, Israel would postpone until she left or she would be on the plane right now. Therefore, a logical conclusion is that whatever is happening makes her trip to Lebanon pointless or harmful but that she wants to signal that there is no strain in relations with Israel. If there is a major attack coming, Washington has signed off on it.

We are approaching nightfall in Israel. If this is indeed a major shift operationally -- and we simply cannot be certain at this point, in spite of pieces seeming to fall into place -- then we would expend rapid movements of Israeli forces through the night, and we should get a sense by morning, Israel time, of just how deep they expect to go. At this point, having made the decision to shift to larger-scale, more traditional operations, Israel will want to proceed as rapidly as possible for operational and diplomatic reasons. If the Israelis are going, they will be going rapidly.

It should also be noted that Israel attacked key roads and bridges along the Syrian-Lebanese border. This indicates that Israel is not intending to use those roads to attack Syria (otherwise they would have wanted them intact) but does want to protect its flank from any Syrian countermove. It is the least intrusive action Israel can take. They neither want to attack nor be attacked by Syria.

At this point, if this should take place, we will get a better sense of Hezbollah's broader capabilities. Its forward troops seemed to be extremely competent. Whether troops in other areas are equally capable remains to be seen. Also remaining to be seen is the effect of the Israeli air campaign on the militants' numbers, morale and coordination. If they are an effective fighting force, we would expect effective attacks against armored columns using anti-tank weapons and mines, and a slow evolution. If they are severely weakened, as some reports we are receiving from Lebanon say they are, the attack will be broader.

Remember that in our view Hezbollah does not expect to defeat Israel's main force, but wants to draw it into Lebanon to impose an Iraqi/Afghan style insurgency. Therefore, an apparent collapse of Hezbollah (as with the Taliban and Saddam Hussein's forces) does not necessarily mean defeat but rather can mean a shift to insurgency rather than conventional resistance. As the IDF statement makes clear, Israel does not intend to occupy and expose itself to such actions. It should also be remembered that both within and outside of Lebanon, Hezbollah has historically used terror techniques to impose penalties on enemies and shape the political environment. Hezbollah pioneered suicide bombing in Lebanon during the 1980s.

In conclusion, we do not have definitive intelligence that Israel has shifted to a radical new course. This could simply be another phase in a piecemeal operation. However, given Israeli practice in the past and political disputes within the Israeli government, we regard it as reasonable to alert our readers to the possibility of the beginning phases of a major, more traditional Israeli ground offensive designed to destroy Hezbollah in detail. We will know more clearly over the next 12 hours.

Send questions or comments on this article to


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Want to be a Navy SEAL? Now's your chance...

From San Diego Union-Tribune:

SEALs looking for ultra-athletes

Navy hires mentors to help recruiting effort
By Steve Liewer
July 29, 2006

Candidates for the Navy SEAL program traversed the cargo net part of the SEAL obstacle course at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado this week. With sweat soaking his tattered tank top, Petty Officer 1st Class David Goggins hit the finish-line tape high on the slopes of Mount Whitney. He took fifth place Tuesday in a 30-hour foot race from the floor of Death Valley.

For Goggins, a Navy SEAL based in Coronado, running a 135-mile ultra-marathon in 120-degree heat across a desert and three mountain ranges is more than an adventure.
It's a job.

“One hundred and thirty-five miles – that's a lot of time to meet people,” said Goggins, a SEAL recruiter.

He will compete in more races during the months to come. His work is part of the military's new efforts to boost significantly the ranks of special-operations forces, including the SEALs, by attracting high-endurance athletes.

The Navy Special Warfare Command figures that ultra-athletes have the physical and mental toughness to get through SEAL training's legendary Hell Week and thrive in the secretive, intensely demanding world of special ops.

“Most people would think, 'Oh my God, I couldn't run 100 miles.' I didn't even think about it because I'd been through Hell Week,” said Goggins, who also ran this week's ultra-marathon to raise scholarship money for the children of fallen SEALs.

Besides using recruiters, the SEAL outreach campaign involves print and TV advertising. Recruits who complete training can receive bonuses of up to $40,000.

This year, SEAL recruiters like Goggins are fanning out to 60 triathlons, extreme-sports events and college swimming and wrestling camps. That's compared with five such visits last year. They keep in touch with would-be SEALs, offering personal-training tips and answering questions about the military.

Recruits received instructions before the obstacle course. The SEALs must increase ranks by about 20 percent by 2010. “Our mission is to reach athletic young men, to let them know what SEALs do,” said Cmdr. Duncan Smith, who heads the SEAL recruitment office in Coronado. “We need to find people who are already living an athletic lifestyle.”

Special-operations forces seek elite fighters to take up missions often found nowhere else in the military.

Traditional military units – each with up to thousands of members – typically rely on bulky equipment and stress a highly regimented chain of command. In contrast, special-operations forces operate in self-reliant groups of 16 or fewer men who thrive on speed, stealth and teamwork. They frequently serve behind enemy lines.

Teams of SEALs and the Army's Delta Force have been heavily involved in the effort to catch Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders. Because of their critical – though largely hidden – role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has mandated a 15 percent boost in the number of special forces by 2010. The SEALs have a higher quota – an increase of about 20 percent within the same time. Rumsfeld, famously impatient with the bureaucracy of the traditional armed forces, has made the U.S. Special Operations Command the covert spear point of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Tampa, Fla.-based command oversees special-operation forces from all four armed services.

A candidate struggled through the Burma Bridge section of the course. About 80 percent of recruits wash out during SEAL training. For the SEALs, dramatically raising their public profile after decades of shadowy work can be a challenge.

“Our traditional culture has been one where we don't really want to talk or divulge much of what we do,” Smith said. “The war on terror has changed that.”

SEALs didn't do any formal recruiting until last year, said Lt. Cmdr. Tony Almon, Special Warfare/Special Operations program manager for the Navy Recruiting Command. Historically, most of their new members joined through word of mouth within the tightknit network of active-duty and retired SEALs. About half of those recruits came from the Navy and the other half from the civilian world.

Now, Smith said, the SEALs must quickly expand their 2,450-man force. Rumsfeld's quota means the SEALs need to graduate 250 to 300 SEALs annually, figuring for retirements and other departures. Last year, they had 192 new members.

For more information
To learn about the Navy SEALS, call (888) 876-7325 or visit or

About 80 percent of the candidates don't graduate from the brutal Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training camp, which is held four to five times a year on the beach at Coronado. Many of them wash out during the 120-hour Hell Week gantlet of running, swimming, push-ups and obstacle courses with almost no rest time.

SEAL commanders insist they aren't easing up on the training standards even as they try to enlarge their ranks. They're seeking to mentor incoming recruits so they're in better shape before starting the training.

In the past few months, the Navy has hired such mentors for recruiting districts nationwide. These men scour their territory for SEAL recruits, then prep them for the grueling training ahead.

“Now you can actually talk to SEALs,” said Goggins, who is working with 26 recruits he met while in Massachusetts this spring for the Boston Marathon. “You can prepare yourself a lot better.”

Even to qualify for the training camp, a recruit must finish a series of physical tests, including swimming at least 500 yards in 12½ minutes using the breast stroke or sidestroke; completing 50 sit-ups in two minutes; doing 42 push-ups in two minutes; and running 1½ miles in 11½ minutes while wearing boots and long pants.

The SEALs gained 192 new members last year but will need to graduate 250 to 300 SEALs annually to meet recruitment quotas for special forces that have been established by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Realistically, Goggins said, a candidate should be prepared to do a lot more than that.

Kevin and Shane, both SEAL candidates now training at Coronado, said they would have been grateful for mentors when the Navy was recruiting them. (According to Navy policy, the media can identify SEAL candidates only by their first names.)

Shane, 27, of Salt Lake City, heard about the SEALs from a cousin who served on the force. He had kept in shape, but nothing prepared him for the physical and mental abuse inflicted during the training camp.

“I was extremely intimidated,” he said. “I was shaking in my boots. You hear things, but you don't know.”

What can't be predicted from a weightlifting test or a time trial is whether an ultra-athlete possesses the mental strength to jump on and off a pier into the frigid Pacific Ocean for hours on end while an instructor screams at him to quit, to survive without food in a jungle infested with enemy fighters, or to kill foes in combat.

“I saw blazing fast runners who couldn't take it mentally,” Shane said.

Kevin, 24, of Norfolk, Va., agreed with that observation.

“This place exposes your weaknesses really quick,” he said.

By targeting endurance athletes, though, SEAL commanders know they are recruiting young men who have tested some of their physical and mental limits. A person who has run two days through the desert in midsummer probably has the kind of grit the SEALs need, said Lt. Taylor Clark, a spokesman for the Navy Special Warfare Command.

“You don't have to be a star athlete, but you have to have the desire,” Clark said.

Steve Liewer: (619) 498-6632;


Friday, July 28, 2006

Major corporations investigating Beijing factory...

From International Herald Tribune:

An unhappy toy story: Unrest in China
By Donald Greenlees and David Lague
International Herald Tribune
SATURDAY, JULY 29, 2006-->Published: July 28, 2006

HONG KONG Four major American companies, including Walt Disney and McDonald's, ordered an investigation Friday into allegations that a riot at a big toy supplier in the Chinese city of Dongguan had been sparked by poor wages and living conditions for 11,000 factory workers, executives at the companies confirmed.

Labor rights activists claim that pent-up frustrations over working conditions at the factory, which supplies plastic toys to several iconic American brands, including Disney, McDonald's, Mattel and Hasbro, erupted last Saturday and Sunday.

At the height of the protest, more than 1,000 workers at the factory clashed with security guards and police officers, resulting in many injuries, according to China Labor Watch, a New York-based worker rights group. It said that the police had sent riot vehicles to control the situation and that dozens of workers had been arrested.

In a statement on its Web site, China Labor Watch said that it had conducted an investigation of the factory that found that workers were typically required to work 11 hours a day, six days a week, with total overtime of up to 70 hours a month. Chinese law requires that workers not be made to work more than 40 hours a week and do no more than 36 hours of overtime a month, according to the advocacy group.

It also said that the factory's work force was paid 574 yuan, or $72, a month, "the exact minimum wage standard in Dongguan."

"Chinese workers live at the bottom of the society," Li Qiang, executive director of China Labor Watch, said in the statement. "They have no means to voice their needs or to protect their lawful rights. Workers will only stand up and fight when their situation is so miserable that they do not have any other options."

Merton, the company that owns the factory where the riot was said to have occurred, declined to comment on the allegations that working conditions and wages were inadequate. Contacted by telephone in Hong Kong, an employee of the company, who declined to give his name, said that the issue was "under investigation."

But an executive of Creata Promotions, a company that gets toys from Merton for the American retailers, said that the disturbance at the factory in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, was the result of "one disgruntled employee who was terminated."

"Apparently, that termination led to some of the employee's friends causing acts of vandalism at the plant, which required local police to respond," said Michael Lillioja, executive director of Creata.

He said that some arrests had been made. The police in Dongguan confirmed Friday that there had been an incident at the factory but said that they were unable to give further details.

Lillioja denied the allegations of China Labor Watch that there was a record of poor working conditions and salaries at the factory. He described the factory as "one of the best toy factories in the region."

Other labor rights activists said that there was increasing evidence that workers were beginning to resent the long hours, low pay and poor working environments in some Guangdong factories, the engine of China's booming export industry. This is making it difficult for some factories to recruit workers, leading to labor shortages in some areas.

"There are more signs of militancy," said Robin Munro, research director of the Hong Kong-based labor rights watchdog China Labor Bulletin, which is not affiliated with China Labor Watch.

"Many migrant workers are voting with their feet," Munro said. "They are heading to other provinces where conditions are better and they can sometimes make more money."

David Lewis, managing director of Mattel Asia Pacific Sourcing, which produces the Barbie Doll and Hot Wheels toy lines, said that investigators working for the four U.S. companies arrived at the factory in Guangdong on Friday to interview company executives and workers and uncover the cause of the riot.

"Mattel obviously takes these issues very seriously and is working with our partners here - McDonald's, Hasbro and Disney," said Lewis, who is based in Hong Kong. "We have people right now at the site investigating what is going on. We will work to resolve this in a timely manner. Our priority is that the workers are safe and have good working conditions."

McDonald's and Disney representatives in Hong Kong also expressed concern Friday over the allegations and pointed to the existence of long-established codes of conduct governing working conditions that suppliers are required to follow. All the companies said that labor audits had been carried out periodically to ensure that suppliers were meeting minimum labor standards, including compliance with local laws, fair terms of employment and safe and clean working environments.

Millions of production workers from all over China have found jobs in the factories of Guangdong Province, which borders Hong Kong, in the hope of escaping the poverty of the country's remote inland regions.

This huge pool of low-cost labor has allowed manufacturers to slash production costs.

Labor activists have run longstanding campaigns over what they have alleged are sweatshop conditions in many of these factories, including suppliers to famous Western retail brands.

The emergence of militant labor in China's industrial heartland is looming as a fresh challenge for the Chinese authorities. The ruling Communist Party is already under pressure from widespread popular unrest, mainly over corruption, land seizures and industrial pollution.

Official figures show that there were 87,000 disturbances of public order in 2005 alone.

David Lague reported from Beijing.


Good for the UN! In spite of Bolton....

From The Middle East Times...International Edition:

UN, Iraq launch development compact
AFPJuly 28, 2006

The United Nations launched Thursday a compact with Iraq aimed at reviving the war-torn nation's economy and integrating it into the global economy. Jointly chaired by the Iraqi government and the United Nations and backed by the World Bank, the International Compact with Iraq will over five years "bring together the international community and multilateral organizations to help Iraq achieve its National Vision," the UN and Iraq said in a joint statement.

"The government's vision is that five years from now, Iraq shall be a united, federal and democratic country, at peace with its neighbors and itself, well on its way to sustainable economic self-sufficiency and prosperity, and well integrated in its region in the world," the statement said.

The primary focus of the compact is "building a framework for Iraq's economic transformation and integration into the regional and global economy," it said.

The compact will be overseen by an executive committee including Iraq and UN officials, the World Bank, the IMF, and other regional financial institutions. "The executive committee will assist the [Iraq] government to formulate a strategy for economic regeneration and fundamental reforms for integrating Iraq within the regional and global communities."

Under the compact Iraq commits itself to treating all of the country's ethnic groups fairly and equally sharing its oil resources through a transparent energy sector. It also vows to fight corruption and keep to rigorous budgets.

The United Nations for its part obliges itself to help Iraq achieve these goals through its Baghdad mission and other international agencies based in Iraq. The statement also includes a cooperation agreement with the World Bank.

The compact was reached during Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki's visit to the United States and was immediately backed by Washington. "We strongly support this important initiative," US Deputy Secretary Robert Kimmitt said in a statement. Washington looks "forward to working with the Iraqi leadership, the United Nations, and other members of the permanent group to help Iraq realize its vision of a united, stable, and prosperous nation underpinned by a self-sustaining economy," Kimmitt said.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Serious intrigue in DC...spies and all...

From Rolling Stone via

James Bamford
Iran: The Next War

"Even before the bombs fell on Baghdad, a group of senior Pentagon officials were plotting to invade another country. Their covert campaign once again relied on false intelligence and shady allies. But this time, the target was Iran," writes James Bamford.

[Here's a serious hair-stander!]

McDonalds, et al...abusing Chinese laborors...

From International Herald Tribune:

1,000 workers riot at Chinese factory
Agence France-Presse
Published: July 27, 2006

BEIJING More than 1,000 workers rioted over poor working conditions at a southern China factory that produces toys for McDonald's and other firms, a U.S. labor rights group said Thursday.

The incident began last Saturday when workers at the Hengli Factory in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, protested over meager wages, lack of days off during public holidays and poor living conditions, the New York-based China Labor Watch said.

The protest began in workers' dorms and evolved into a riot that stretched into Sunday, the labor watchdog said in a statement. Many were injured and dozens of workers were arrested, according to China Labor Watch.

An official at the Hong Kong-based Merton, which owns the factory, said there had been an incident but declined to comment on the specific allegations.


Every French politician MUST have a blog....

From the International Herald Tribune:

France's mysterious embrace of blogs
By Thomas Crampton
International Herald Tribune
FRIDAY, JULY 28, 2006-->Published: July 27, 2006

PARIS Already famed for angry labor strikes and philosophical debates in smoke-filled cafés, the French have now brought these passions online to become some of the world's most intensive bloggers.

The French distinguish themselves, both statistically and anecdotally, ahead of Germans, Britons and even Americans in their obsession with blogs, the personal and public journals of the Internet age.

Just why the French have embraced blogs more than most is anyone's guess, but explanations range from technical to historical and cultural.

Sixty percent of French Internet users visited a blog in May, ahead of Britain with 40 percent and little more than a third in the United States, according to Comscore, an Internet ratings service.

Likewise, French bloggers spent more than an hour in June visiting France's top-rated blog site, far ahead of the 12 minutes spent by Americans doing the same and less than 3 minutes for Germans, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

More than three million Internet users, or more than 12 percent of those online in France, have created a blog, according a study released in June by the ratings agency Médiamétrie.

"You cannot be elected president of France without a blog," said Benjamin Griveaux, director of Web strategy for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former finance minister who in 2004 was among the first politicians to start a blog. "Blogs have not replaced traditional media, but they are absolutely necessary for every politician."

Some even harbor a faint hope that flourishing online discussions might curb the French population's penchant for taking to the streets in protest.

"With so many blogs, I'm hoping for fewer protests and strikes in Paris this fall," said Loïc Le Meur, a pioneer French blogger and European managing director of the blog-hosting company Six Apart. "If people can express themselves online, then maybe they don't need to block the streets."

French blogs stands out in other measurable ways. They are noticeably longer, more critical, more negative, more egocentric and more provocative than their U.S. counterparts, said Laurent Florès, the French-born, New York-based chief executive of CRM Metrix, a company that monitors blogs and other online conversations on behalf of companies seeking feedback on their brands.

"Bloggers in the United States listen to each other and incorporate rival ideas in the discussion," he said. "French bloggers never compromise their opinions."

They also passionately debate why they blog so much. One common explanation in the blogosphere is that there are so many French Internet surfers to begin with. Last year the number of French people online passed the halfway mark of the total population of 61 million, with 85 percent of Internet users in May using high-speed broadband at home, according to Médiamétrie.

Cultural explanations describe blogs as a natural outgrowth of the French national character.

"It is clear that in France we have very large egos and love to speak about ourselves," Le Meur said. "If you look at Germans or Scandinavians - off- line and on the Internet - they really don't talk about themselves."

Historical explanations highlight the long French experience with online communication thanks to the Minitel, a text-based computer network that France Télécom popularized in the 1980s, well before most people had heard of the Internet.

But blogs are having a greater effect on French society, said Jean-Michel Billaut, an adviser to BNP Paribas Bank on Internet issues.

"The Minitel was a classic, centrally controlled and top-down creation of the French elite," Billaut said. "Blogs have been embraced by ordinary people, and this will flip the rigid power pyramid of French society."

Like elsewhere, the grass-roots freedom of blogs has proved problematic for French companies, with activist groups and skeptical consumers taking their strong views online, said Cyril Klein, marketing director of Scanblog, a blog-monitoring firm in Paris.
"Consumers in France have few outlets to make their views heard, so blogs have become their counterpower," Klein said, citing as an example, a Web site that fights against sexist displays of women. "The difficulty for brands is that French culture encourages people to express unhappiness and criticize."

The French police prosecuted bloggers in November for coordinating riots in the Paris suburbs, and a French high school professor's blog was widely credited with swaying many French to vote against the political establishment and reject a proposed European constitution in May 2005.

And one hard-charging blogger, Christophe Grébert, faced multiple lawsuits for allegations on his blog about the local government in his Paris suburb.

But these Web logs, or online journals, are not just opposition tools. Most mainstream French politicians have now embraced blogs.

The French Socialist presidential hopeful Ségolène Royal started a blog in February that has had more than half a million visitors and 20,000 comments, and it has been credited with lifting membership of the Socialist Party. The blog includes a draft version of her political platform, which citizens are invited to comment on before it is completed.

But the French can be quirky as well as serious. One of the most popular video blogs, Bonjour America (, was started by Cyrille de Lasteyrie to explain France to foreigners - and to find a way for him to meet his hero, Clint Eastwood.

Other popular blogs include a cooking diary called C'est Moi Qui l'Ai Fait and a journal by an advertising executive called Dark Planneur.

Griveaux, the director of Web strategy for Strauss-Kahn, reckons the popularity of blogs comes down to France being a nation where each and every citizen thinks he or she should be in charge.

"We had 16 presidential candidates at the last election, and we will probably have the same number next year," Griveaux said. "Every French person wants to run the country - a blog is the next best option."


To move or not move troops into Lebanon...

From Strategic Forecasting, Inc:

Special Report: Behind the Israeli Cabinet's Decisions

After a long night of debate, the Israeli security Cabinet led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided the military campaign in south Lebanon would not be expanded, and that any modifications to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operation, such as deploying more troops, would require Cabinet approval. Israel is essentially broadcasting to the world that its political and military circles are severely divided over the current operation, and that it might have no choice but to cave in to diplomatic pressure to put an end to the fighting and draw up a cease-fire.

This might not be true to Israeli thinking, but it is certainly a message they are trying to send to Hezbollah's chain of command. Which then raises the question: Why?

Israel is likely exaggerating the extent to which the military and Cabinet are divided over how to continue in this military campaign, but a real disagreement exists between those promoting a sustained air campaign and those pushing for a ground offensive because IDF forces are getting restive. A compromise might have been reached in the July 27 Cabinet meeting to bolster the air campaign but prepare ground forces for an invasion if it becomes apparent that the Israeli air force will be unable to deliver on its own.

There could be some faith within Israel's defense circles that an air campaign will eventually pan out and succeed in undermining Hezbollah's capabilities, but such an operation takes time and costs an exorbitant amount of money, since ground troops are standing by. As support for a continued air campaign is weakening by the day, something else must be factoring into Israel's war strategy. The thought of Israel even considering scaling down its military operation at this point -- though golden news for Hezbollah -- carries devastating consequences for Israel.

If the fighting were to come to a halt over the next few days, Hezbollah would claim victory and present itself as the only Arab force capable of standing up to Israeli aggression.

Merely resisting and surviving a fight against Israel represents a major win for the Islamist militant movement and its sponsors in Iran and Syria -- something Israel, the United States and even the surrounding Arab regimes are unable to cope with. Moreover, an imminent cease-fire would allow Hezbollah to retain the capability to carry out attacks against Israel whenever the need arises.

Israel, therefore, cannot agree to a cease-fire. At the same time, the current operational tempo has not yet yielded a satisfactory outcome for Israel. Katyusha rockets continue to rain down over the northern part of the country as Israel continues its attempts to take out Hezbollah's rocket launch sites. Though Israel's massive air campaign could gradually wear down Hezbollah's offensive capabilities, it will take several weeks before any definitive results will come to light.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, is locked in its own military strategy. Hezbollah commanders have long been preparing for this battle and are ready to stand their ground for an extended period of time and draw the Israelis into bloody insurgent combat. And time does not appear to be on Israel's side.

Israel has already incurred a steady barrage of rocket attacks over the past two weeks, and the IDF experienced one of its deadliest days in ground fighting July 26, when nine soldiers were killed in a battle against Hezbollah fighters in the village of Bent Jbail. The numbers of Lebanese civilian deaths are also escalating by the day, fueling worldwide criticism of the extensive Israeli air campaign.

The United States is carefully buying Israel time to carry out its military objectives by postponing a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but political pressure on the U.S. government will mount over the next few days, following the argument that Israel cannot be given a blank check for a permanent air campaign against Lebanon. An end to the war in the next few weeks, without a dramatic improvement in effectiveness from the Israeli perspective, would leave Hezbollah in a prime position.

With this in mind, it strikes us as exceedingly peculiar that Israel, a country with a heavy track record of fighting experience despite its youth, is so intent on promoting the idea that its defense and political figures are running in circles trying to revise their military strategy while Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is brimming with confidence in his regular video appearances. It is simply not intelligent war strategy to expose your weaknesses in the midst of a major war campaign -- unless your objective is to spread disinformation to prepare for a larger surprise.

In making the decision to restrict the ground operation in southern Lebanon, the Israeli Cabinet carefully inserted a statement that said any future decisions regarding the IDF strategy would take into account "the need to prepare forces for possible developments." This nuance becomes especially critical in light of Israel's decision to call up three additional divisions of reservists July 27. The reservists are ostensibly being called up to "refresh" troops in Lebanon who have been on the battlefield for a short time, but will not be deployed until further notice.

It is difficult to see how IDF troops on the front can be relieved if the additional forces have not even been deployed, unless Israel is quietly building up its ground forces for a major assault to clear Hezbollah positions south of the Litani River.

The Israeli Cabinet also agreed to send forces up to the Aouali River -- just north of Sidon in Lebanon -- as a necessary move to destroy Hezbollah's rocket-launching platforms, according to Israeli radio. This is an extensive reach into Lebanon that would place the IDF within striking distance of the Bekaa Valley -- Hezbollah's main base of operations.

We also have received indications that reserves belonging to Israel's elite fighting force, the Golani Brigade, have already moved north up to the Bekaa Valley. Fighting on Hezbollah's turf in the Bekaa Valley will undoubtedly be the most difficult stage of Israel's military campaign. At the same time, moving ground forces into the Bekaa is also necessary for Israel to meet its objective of sterilizing Hezbollah's military capabilities.

Moving into the Bekaa Valley also complicates matters with Syria, which could very well view an Israeli push into the Bekaa as a trigger for a Syrian military response. Major smuggling routes for heroin and opium run through the Bekaa and provide a major source of income for Hezbollah forces and Alawite businessmen. Though Israel is not too worried about its ability to defeat Syrian forces, it is not interested in expanding its military campaign across Lebanon's western border into Syria for fear of the aftermath of such an attack.

The crumbling of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime would create a new set of problems that Israel is not prepared to deal with, especially while a major upset is occurring in Lebanon. At the same time, al Assad wants to get out of this conflict unscathed and in a prime negotiating position so he can demonstrate his worth in brokering a cease-fire with Hezbollah while putting the issue of the Golan Heights back on the table.

With these considerations in mind, the issue of keeping Syria in check will heavily factor into the timing of Israel's push into the Bekaa. The Bekaa is crucial to Israel's ground campaign, but will have to be dealt with carefully and will likely require more time for major ground combat. In the meantime, Israel is carefully regaining the element of tactical surprise by reducing the war to routine and strongly suggesting that its forces are getting bogged down.

Each day Israel and Hezbollah exchange fire, but no developments have dramatically changed the course of the war. While Israel may be developing an atmosphere of complacency around Hezbollah, it will launch its ground offensive when everyone least expects it. The fact that a major ground offensive is the last thing on anyone's mind does not necessarily decrease the possibility -- it increases it. The movement of troops, rather than the public statements, will only tell if we are right.

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Straight talk from Iraq troops....

From the Washington Post:

"Waiting to Get Blown Up"
By Joshua Partlow
The Washington Post
Thursday 27 July 2006

Some troops in Baghdad express frustration with the war and their mission.

Baghdad - Army Staff Sgt. Jose Sixtos considered the simple question about morale for more than an hour. But not until his convoy of armored Humvees had finally rumbled back into the Baghdad military base, and the soldiers emptied the ammunition from their machine guns, and passed off the bomb-detecting robot to another patrol, did he turn around in his seat and give his answer.

"Think of what you hate most about your job. Then think of doing what you hate most for five straight hours, every single day, sometimes twice a day, in 120-degree heat," he said. "Then ask how morale is."

Frustrated? "You have no idea," he said.

As President Bush plans to deploy more troops in Baghdad, U.S. soldiers who have been patrolling the capital for months describe a deadly and infuriating mission in which the enemy is elusive and success hard to find. Each day, convoys of Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles leave Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad with the goal of stopping violence between warring Iraqi religious sects, training the Iraqi army and police to take over the duty, and reporting back on the availability of basic services for Iraqi civilians.

But some soldiers in the 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division - interviewed over four days on base and on patrols - say they have grown increasingly disillusioned about their ability to quell the violence and their reason for fighting. The battalion of more than 750 people arrived in Baghdad from Kuwait in March, and since then, six soldiers have been killed and 21 wounded.

"It sucks. Honestly, it just feels like we're driving around waiting to get blown up, that's the most honest answer I could give you," said Spec. Tim Ivey, 28, of San Antonio, a muscular former backup fullback for Baylor University. "You lose a couple friends and it gets hard."

"No one wants to be here, you know, no one is truly enthused about what we do," said Sgt. Christopher Dugger, the squad leader. "We were excited, but then it just wears on you - there's only so much you can take. Like me, personally, I want to fight in a war like World War II. I want to fight an enemy. And this, out here," he said, motioning around the scorched sand-and-gravel base, the rows of Humvees and barracks, toward the trash-strewn streets of Baghdad outside, "there is no enemy, it's a faceless enemy. He's out there, but he's hiding."

"We're trained as an Army to fight and destroy the enemy and then take over," added Dugger, 26, of Reno, Nev. "But I don't think we're trained enough to push along a country, and that's what we're actually doing out here."

"It's frustrating, but we are definitely a help to these people," he said. "I'm out here with the guys that I know so well, and I couldn't picture myself being anywhere else."

"Never-Ending Battle"

After a five-hour patrol on Saturday through southern Baghdad neighborhoods, soldiers from the 1st Platoon sat on wooden benches in an enclosed porch outside their barracks. Faces flushed and dirty from the grit and a beating sun, they smoked cigarettes and tossed them at a rusted can that said "Butts."

The commanders in Baghdad and the Pentagon are "looking at the big picture all the time, but for us, we don't see no big picture, it's just always another bomb out here," said Spec. Joshua Steffey, 24, of Asheville, N.C. The company's commanding officer, Capt. Douglas A. DiCenzo of Plymouth, N.H., and his gunner, Spec. Robert E. Blair of Ocala, Fla., were killed by a roadside bomb in May.

Steffey said he wished "somebody would explain to us, 'Hey, this is what we're working for.'" With a stream of expletives, he said he could not care less "if Iraq's free" or "if they're a democracy."

"The first time somebody you know dies, the first thing you ask yourself is, 'Well, what did he die for?'"

"At this point, it seems like the war on drugs in America," added Spec. David Fulcher, 22, a medic from Lynchburg, Va., who sat alongside Steffey. "It's like this never-ending battle, like, we find one IED, if we do find it before it hits us, so what? You know it's just like if the cops make a big bust, next week the next higher-up puts more back out there."

"My personal opinion, I don't speak for the rest of anybody, I just speak for me personally, I think civil war is going to happen regardless," Steffey responded. "Maybe this country needs it: One side has to win. Be it Sunni, be it Shiite, one side has to win. It's apparent, these people have made it obvious they can't live in unity."

It was dark now save for one fluorescent light and the cigarette tips glowing red.

"I mean, if you compare the casualty count from this war to, say, World War II, you know obviously it doesn't even compare," Fulcher said. "But World War II, the big picture was clear - you know you're fighting because somebody was trying to take over the world, basically. This is like, what did we invade here for?"

"How did it become, 'Well, now we have to rebuild this place from the ground up,'?" Fulcher asked.

He kept talking. "They say we're here and we've given them freedom, but really what is that? You know, what is freedom? You've got kids here who can't go to school. You've got people here who don't have jobs anymore. You've got people here who don't have power," he said. "You know, so yeah, they've got freedom now, but when they didn't have freedom, everybody had a job."

Steffey got up to leave the porch and go to bed.

"You know, the point is we've lost too many Americans here already, we're committed now. So whatever the [expletive] end-state is, whatever it is, we need to achieve it - that way they didn't die for nothing," he said. "We're far too deep in this now."

"Our Biggest Fear"

The largest risk facing the soldiers is the explosion of roadside bombs, known among soldiers as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the main killer of U.S. troops in Iraq. Battalion commanders said they have made great strides clearing the main highways through their southern Baghdad jurisdiction, including the north-south thoroughfare they call Route Jackson, but insurgents continue to adapt.

"We do an action, he counters it. It's a constant tug-of-war," said Sgt. 1st Class Scott Wilmot, an IED analyst with the battalion. "From where I sit, the [number of] IEDs continually, gradually, goes up."

Each day, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers patrolling neighborhoods such as Sadiyah, al-Amil and Bayaa - an area of about 40 square miles where about half a million people live - encounter an average of one to two roadside bombs, often triggered remotely by someone watching the convoys, he said.

"Motorola radios, cellphones, garage door openers, remote-controlled doorbells. Anything that can transmit, they can, in theory, use," Wilmot said. "Anybody who thinks they're stupid is wrong."

After the bombing in February of a golden-domed Shiite shrine in Samarra, sectarian killings between rival Shiite and Sunni Muslim factions exploded, and have continued to take thousands of Iraqi lives despite a security crackdown in Baghdad that started last month. U.S. military commanders in Baghdad say the killings extend beyond sectarian motives, to include tribal rivalries, criminal activity and intra-sect gang warfare. Most of the killing takes place out of sight of the Americans, commanders said.

"At this point, it's getting a little difficult to tell which groups are responsible," said Capt. Eric Haas of Williamsburg, Va., an intelligence officer for the 2nd Battalion. "Our biggest fear is this turning into a Bosnia-Kosovo situation" where the police are allowing the slaughter to take place.

"We're definitely making progress," he added. "It's going to take some time to get there."

Into this fray, day and night, come the U.S. soldiers. Each infantryman conducts an average of 10 patrols a week, for a total of 50 to 60 grueling hours, "and it is having an effect," said the battalion's executive officer, Maj. Jeffrey E. Grable.

"Sometimes it's not obvious, the fruit of their labor," said Grable. But the patrols have "a deterrent effect on sectarian violence. Unfortunately, we just cannot be everywhere all the time."

"Only Promises"

The patrol led by Capt. Mike Comstock, 27, of Boise, Idaho - two Humvees and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle - started at 1 p.m. on Saturday. At about 15 miles per hour, the patrol passed down blighted Iraqi streets with dozens of cars waiting in gas lines, piles of smoldering trash, rubble-strewn vacant lots and gaping bomb craters.

On one stop, the patrol pulled up to the Saadiq al-Amin mosque in the Bayaa neighborhood. Some mosques in the city have stockpiled weapons and been operations centers for insurgents - used, said one officer, "like we use National Guard armories back home."

"How are you doing today, sir? A little hot?" Comstock asked Walid Khalid, 45, the second-ranking cleric of the Sunni mosque, who opened the gate wearing sandals and a white dishdasha , a traditional robe.

"Our imam was killed three weeks ago," Khalid said through an interpreter.

"This is actually the first I've heard about this," Comstock said, taking notes.

"The people around here are afraid to come here to pray on Fridays," Khalid said, going on to explain that the mosque didn't have water or electricity. He said that he was worried about corrupt Iraqi police attacking the mosque, and that he needed permits for the four AK-47 assault rifles he kept inside.

"Would it help if we brought the national police here so you could meet them?" Comstock asked.

"Maybe you guys could start building trust together."

"We would like to cooperate, but sometimes those people come to attack us, and we want to defend the mosque," Khalid said. "Inside the mosque is our border. If they cross this line, we will shoot these guys."

Comstock's patrol stopped at Bayaa homes and shops to conduct a "SWET assessment": checking the sewage, water and electricity services available to residents. Most said the sewage service was adequate, but the electricity functioned no more than four hours a day. Some said they had little running water and dumped their trash along the main streets. Inner neighborhood roads were blocked with slabs of concrete and the trunks of palm trees. The most repeated concern among residents was a lack of safety.

"I can't fix electricity or sewers all the time. We recommend projects to be done," Comstock told Muhammed Adnan, a Bayaa resident. "Patrolling your neighborhood is one thing we can do. I hope that helps."

"We just receive promises around here, nothing else," Adnan, 40, told Comstock. "Three years, just promises, and promises and promises."

Comstock wrote down the words: "only promises."


Bits & pieces....Put that shirt back on!!!

From American Progress:

Think Fast

"It sucks. Honestly, it just feels like we're driving around waiting to get blown up. That's the most honest answer I could give you," said 28-year old Army Specialist Tim Ivey, about U.S. troop morale in Iraq.

60 percent: Number of Americans who believe President Bush is not respected by foreign leaders, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll.

"Following on the heels of daily papers in Augusta, Ga., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a weekly in Greensboro, N.C., has decided to drop Ann Coulter's regular column." The paper explained reader feedback showed approval for "cutting her column at a ratio of two to one. And numbers don't lie (unless, some would say, they're being wielded by Ann Coulter)."

Exxon posted $10.36 billion in profits this quarter, the "second-largest quarterly profit ever recorded by a publicly traded U.S. company." Royal Dutch Shell pocketed $7.32 billion, a 40 percent rise from the same period last year.

In a half-hour speech to Congress yesterday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki "embraced the stance of President Bush in calling Iraq a key front in a wider battle against terrorism and in evoking the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001." Slate wonders whether the White House wrote the speech. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow acknowledged there had been "conversations" about the address within the administration.

A former Indian intelligence official said the U.S. nuclear deal with India "will allow India to produce 50 more nuclear warheads a year than it can now, by freeing up existing uranium reserves for military use." Meanwhile, the House overwhelmingly approved the deal and "rejected amendments that aimed to curb India's nuclear weapons program."

"The U.S. government's crackdown on media indecency could prevent World War Two veterans from sharing their stories in an upcoming TV documentary series by Ken Burns. ... If the expletives make it to air, they could lead to crippling fines for the offending stations as a result of a new law signed last month by President George W. Bush."

Since the Department of Homeland Security was formed in 2003, an "explosion of no-bid deals and a critical shortage of trained government contract managers have created a system prone to abuse," according to a bipartisan congressional report to be released today.

And finally: Global warming leads to more severe heat waves, and the skyrocketing temperatures have led to more shirtless men in the UK. British lawmakers are considering banning "public nudity of the middle-aged shirtless man variety." Said one official, "But one of the things that is depressing for anyone going shopping is the numbers of shaven-headed men, mainly in their 30s and 40s, who seem to think people want to see their torsos."


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Bill Clinton's psych, Greg Bear's thriller..more books & a film.....

From Publishers Lunch Weekly:


The Artist's Way author Julia Cameron's MOZART'S GHOST, about a thirty-something medium who falls for her neighbor, a concert pianist, and a mischievous ghost intrudes, helping the characters find their deeper love of themselves and each other, to Marcia Markland at Thomas Dunne Books, by Susan Raihofer at the David Black Literary Agency (NA).

Derringer Award-winning author Dave White's WHEN ONE MAN DIES, featuring New Jersey P.I. Jackson Donne, in a very nice deal, in a two-book deal, to Jason Pinter at Three Rivers Press, by Allan Guthrie at Jenny Brown Associates (World)


Hugo and Nebula-Award winner Greg Bear's near-future thriller QUANTICO that pits three young FBI agents against a home-grown terrorist who plans an attack on the world's greatest religious cities, already sold to Book-of-the-Month Club (along with Science Fiction Book Club, Quality Paperback Book Club, The Mystery Guild, The Military Book Club and American Compass Book Club), to Roger Cooper at CDS Books, by Richard Curtis at the Richard Curtis


Nobel Prize winner and author of THE PIANO TEACHER Elfriede Jelinek's GREED, set amid the mountains and small towns of southern Austria, to Amy Scholder in her first acquisition as editor-in-chief of Seven Stories, by Sam Hiyate at The Rights Factory, on behalf of Serpents Tail in London (NA)

Lloyd Jones' MISTER PIP, in which a thirteen year-old girl who has spent her entire life on a small Pacific Island narrates the story of Mr. Watts, the only white person in her village, who teaches the local children by reading Dickens' Great Expectations aloud one chapter per day, to Susan Kamil at Dial Press and Louise Dennys at Knopf Canada, by Kimberly Witherspoon and David Forrer at Inkwell Management, on behalf of Michael Heyward at Text Publishing.

Daina Chaviano's THE ISLAND OF ETERNAL LOVE, about three generations of three different families in Havana, to Megan Lynch at Riverhead, in a pre-empt, for publication in spring 2008, by Laura Dail at Laura Dail (NA). Originally published by Grijalbo in Spain, the book has sold in eight other countries.


Picture book author Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen's first novel THE COMPOUND, described as "a cross between Mosquito Coast, a code-breaking thriller, and a tell-all about the secret family lives of the unimaginably rich," about a teenage boy whose high-tech billionaire father imprisons his family in an underground mansion he has built as part of a delusion he suffers about an imminent nuclear war, and how the hero and his brother must use technology and their wits to free their family, to Liz Szabla for Feiwel and Friends, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, by Scott Mendel at Mendel Media Group (NA).Foreign and film/television:


Jenni Mills' THE FIRST ENGLISHMAN, weaving together past and present to unveil dark secrets buried in the old quarries beneath Bath, and a second novel, which follows three generations of women whose life stories are intricately tied to the archaeological mysteries of Avebury, to Clare Smith at Harper Press, for publication in May 2007, by Judith Murray of Greene & Heaton.

Foreign rights to Zoe Ferraris's debut FINDING NOUF, about a Muslim man who has his religious beliefs challenged as he tries to solve the mysterious death of his friend's sister, to Richard Beswick at Little, Brown UK by Caspian Dennis at Abner Stein, and to Belfond in France; Rizzoli in Italy; Artemis in Holland; Damm in Norway; Pendo Verlag in Germany; and Kinneret-Zmora-Dvir in Israel, by Nicki Kennedy, Sam Edenborough, and Mary Esdaile at ILA; and on behalf of Julie Barer.

The reclusive Torsten Krol's CALLISTO, for publication in May 2007, andTHE DOLPHIN PEOPLE, for publication in Spring 2008, by a writer who hasbeen in touch with his agent and editor solely through e-mail, to TobyMundy at Atlantic Books, in a very nice deal, including a third untitlednovel, by Michael Gifkins (world).

Foreign rights to Nikki Christer at Picador in Australia; rights forCallisto and The Dolphin People to Arena in Holland, in a


Blake Nelson's young-adult psychological thriller PARANOID PARK, optioned to Gus Van Sant and MK2, which Van Sant will write and direct, by Kassie Evashevski of Brillstein Grey Entertainment and Jodi Reamer of Writers House (world)


William Randolph Hearst and Andrew Carnegie biographer David Nasaw's biography on the life of Joseph P. Kennedy, with the full assistance of the Kennedy family, which will sit for interviews and make available Kennedy's complete papers, including his correspondence with family members and the men and women who shaped the contours of our history: Franklin Roosevelt, Herbert and J. Edgar Hoover, Pope Pius XII, Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Barnard, Baruch, Gloria Swanson, Harpo Marx, Hedda Hopper, Cecil B. DeMille, and Marlene Dietrich, among others, to Ann Godoff at the Penguin Press, by Andrew Wylie at The Wylie Agency (NA).

Jonathan Carr's THE WAGNER CLAN, about the dysfunctional German family and Germany's rise, fall, and resurrection since the composer Richard Wagner's birth in Leipzig in 1813, to Joan Bingham at Grove/Atlantic, by Zoe Pagnamenta at PFD New York, on behalf of Caroline Dawnay at PFD. Translation:


Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd's LETTERS FROM NUREMBERG, focusing on his father, Thomas J. Dodd, who was also a Connecticut Senator, and his time as a lead prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, including letters Dodd wrote to his wife while in Nuremberg describing history as it took place before him, to Sean Desmond at Crown, for publication in fall 2007, by Esther Newberg at ICM(world).

John Gartner's DARK HORSE: The Psychology of Bill Clinton, a look inside the mind of the most popular, perplexing, and self-destructive American President of the twentieth century using extensive interviews with friends and family, to Michael Flamini at St. Martin's, at auction, by Betsy Lerner of Dunow, Carlson & Lerner (World).

Author of THE GAY METROPOLIS and 1968 IN AMERICA Charles Kaiser's THE COST OF COURAGE: A Family Divided by the French Resistance, following the tragic true story of a family on an unpredictable journey through Nazi-occupied Paris, four German concentration camps, and the labyrinth of their emotions after WW2, and offering an inside look at how the Resistance operated, to Joan Bingham at Grove/Atlantic, by Zoe Pagnamenta at PFD New York (World).


Harvard Divinity School graduate and Fulbright fellow Stephanie Saldana's THE BREAD OF ANGELS, about her year spent in Syria, in which she almost decided to become a nun at a 1,500 year-old monastery, studied Islam with a famous female sheikh, and fell in love with a French novice monk, to Kris Puopolo for Doubleday, in a pre-empt, by Judy Heiblum at Brick House (world).Translation:


NYT science section editor James Gorman and dinosaur hunter Jack Horner's HOW TO BUILD A DINOSAUR: The New Evo-Devo Science of Life, how it is already possible to turn a chicken embryo into a dinosaur, the latest "evo-devo" science, and how it is changing everything we thought we knew about genes, to Stephen Morrow at Dutton, by Kris Dahl at ICM (NA).


Jewish targets...hard and soft....

From Strategic Forecasting, Inc:

Growing Risk for Jewish Targets?
By Fred Burton

As the Israeli campaign against Hezbollah rages on, concerns Hezbollah might resort to terrorist strikes beyond the Middle East have been growing. During the past week, we have received several reports -- of unknown credibility -- about Hezbollah activity in various parts of the world, including the United States. In response to such reports (and out of prudence), Israel has stepped up security at its diplomatic missions abroad and requested enhanced coverage from host governments.

The reports of Hezbollah activity also have caught the attention of U.S. counterterrorism officials, who are concerned about the possibility of Hezbollah strikes within the continental United States. To be clear, we have received no intelligence indicating that a strike is imminent, or that Hezbollah or its Iranian sponsors have authorized such activity.

There are significant questions to which the answers are unclear. For instance, how much control does Iran have over Hezbollah, and to what degree is the organization autonomous? And precisely what events might trigger a Hezbollah attack, with or without Iranian approval?

Of course, these same questions have been discussed in one form or another since the 1980s. While these questions are important in the geopolitical context, they are not necessarily the most crucial concerns when the issue at hand is the likelihood of attacks against Jewish or Israeli targets within the United States. We believe the threat to such targets is certainly higher today than it was a month ago, directly as a result of the situation in Lebanon -- but in the United States, the chief threat typically has come from "lone wolves" and other groups rather than from Islamist organizations such as Hezbollah.

A History of Attacks

With emotions running very high on all sides of the Israel-Hezbollah issue, it is quite possible that threats to Israeli or Jewish targets could emanate from a wide array of actors within the United States. Web sites and blogs belonging to jihadists and white supremacists have been venting outrage over Israel's military actions in Lebanon, and even many secular Muslims and anti-war/anti-globalization groups have strongly condemned Israel.

Amid such circumstances, it is difficult to say precisely what kinds of targets might be most at risk. However, it can be reasonably inferred that Israeli diplomatic targets and high-profile organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) might be listed, and that prominent Jewish citizens, Jewish-owned businesses, community organizations and religious targets face at least some degree of increased risk during these times. The history of attacks against Jewish people and targets in the United States can be quite instructive. As the following timeline shows, assailants have emerged from a variety of ideological backgrounds -- jihadists, Palestinians, white supremacists and even, in one case, a radical Jew:

Nov. 5, 1990: Meir Kahane, a controversial Jewish figure, was gunned down by El Sayyid Nosair after giving a speech in Manhattan. Several of Nosair's friends and associates were later convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the subsequent New York bomb plot case.

March 1, 1994: Rashid Baz, a Palestinian cab driver, opened fire on a group of Hasidic Jewish boys in a van on the Brooklyn Bridge. Ari Halberstam, a 16-year-old Jewish yeshiva student, was killed; several others were wounded. Baz was arrested the next day and confessed to the shooting.

Feb. 22, 1997: Children in Jacksonville, Fla., discovered a dud pipe bomb at the Jacksonville Jewish Center that had been planted by Harry Shapiro, an orthodox Jew. Investigators believe the pipe bomb was placed on Feb. 13, prior to a visit by former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

Feb. 23, 1997: Ali Abu Kamal, a Palestinian, opened fire from an observation deck of the Empire State Building and then killed himself. A Danish citizen was killed in the attack, and several others of various nationalities were wounded. A note Kamal was carrying said the attack was a punishment against the "enemies of Palestine.

June 18, 1999: White supremacist brothers Matthew and Tyler Williams set fire to three synagogues in Sacramento, Calif., causing more than $1 million in damage.

July 2-4, 1999: White supremacist Benjamin Nathaniel Smith went on a three-day shooting spree -- targeting black, Jewish and Asian people -- that started in Chicago and ended in Bloomington, Ind. Smith killed two people and injured nine before killing himself during a police pursuit.

Aug. 10, 1999: Buford O'Neal Furrow Jr. opened fire in a Jewish day care center in Los Angeles, wounding five people. He later killed a Filipino-American postal worker.

Jan. 8, 2002: Michael Edward Smith was arrested after pointing an AR-15 at a synagogue in Nashville, Tenn. Following a high-speed police chase, a search of Smith's house and other locations uncovered a cache of weapons, an anti-tank rocket, explosives and white supremacist literature.

July 4, 2002: Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, an Egyptian national who was in the United States on a green card, opened fire at the El-Al Israel Airlines ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport, killing two people and wounding four. Airline security officers shot and killed him at the scene.

April 1, 2004: Sean Gillespie threw a Molotov cocktail at Temple Bnai Israel in Oklahoma City, Okla., in an incident that was captured on film by the synagogue's surveillance camera and a home video Gillespie made.

Oct. 7, 2004: Ahmed Hassan al-Uqaily was arrested in Nashville, Tenn., after attempting to buy weapons from an undercover agent. Al-Uqaily allegedly wanted to "go jihad" and obtain an anti-tank missile with which to target a Jewish school in the Nashville area.

Clearly, a great many of these attacks have come from lone wolf assailants, rather than from traditional "terrorist" or militant organizations.

Lone Wolves

In some ways, the lone wolf threat is more difficult to counter than that posed by organized groups such as Hezbollah. To be sure, the operatives associated with Hezbollah or Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) are generally far better-trained and -equipped, but lone wolves have the great advantage of anonymity -- at least, until they act. Unlike Hezbollah members or MOIS officers, they cannot be spotted and potentially pre-empted by using surveillance.

This stems to a great extent from the surveillance methods used by those in the intelligence business. As a rule, the activities of Iranian diplomats in Western countries are watched closely, as intelligence agents try to determine which of them are, in fact, MOIS officers. The counterintelligence services of the host countries also take a keen interest in the people who meet with suspected MOIS officers. (Most operational meetings take place away from the embassy or consulate.) In the current climate, counterintelligence operations against suspected or confirmed MOIS officers would be intensified, as would efforts to identify MOIS officers who are using nonofficial cover. Thus, there are trails and activities that can be followed -- and in this way, the potential exists for any possible acts of violence to be pre-empted.

When it comes to lone wolves, however, intelligence and security services essentially are flying blind. Because these people work alone or in small cells, there is no control or handler who can be watched in efforts to identify them before they act. Furthermore, there is (by definition) very little in the way of an organization that can be penetrated by confidential informants, and few confederates who might be induced to rat the lone wolf out.

There is some reason to believe that, in a general sense, the threat of lone wolf attacks is on the rise. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. government adopted an aggressive stance on militant organizations of all stripes. With the disruption that has resulted, many jihadists and white supremacists -- using the Internet as an enabler -- are evolving toward small-cell or lone wolf approaches.

Lone wolves can be prompted to violence by a number of factors. Hatred and racism are certainly among them, but politics also frequently plays a significant role. As the Baz and Hadayet cases show, Israel's actions can trigger reactionary violence -- especially when the lone wolf perceives those actions as being unjust or brutal.

It is noteworthy that many grassroots or lone wolf actors have been drawn to the jihadist cause out of outrage and indignation over the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as their feelings on the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The actions Israel is taking now can be expected to further enflame those sentiments, and might lead to attacks by those who feel an intense need to do something about perceived aggression against fellow Muslims -- or by non-Muslims who simply harbor violent tendencies toward Jews.

Security Implications

Though the methods lone wolves use for selecting certain targets is not always clear, it is significant that the vast majority of those listed above chose "soft targets" -- venues such as synagogues and day care centers that typically lack a strong security presence. In fact, in the 1999 case, Furrow reportedly cased three Jewish institutions in the Los Angeles area before settling on the North Valley Jewish Community Center as his target. He told authorities he did not attack the first three venues because he thought security was too tight.There are clear implications here for the businesses and other organizations that potentially are at risk.

Equally clearly, there are difficult questions that must be faced, unless one dismisses out of hand the notion that any risk exists.While complete security is not a realistic goal for anyone, adequate security for Jewish organizations, companies and people in the United States requires, at the outset, an awareness that they are linked (in the minds of many) to the actions of the Israeli government and military.

It follows logically that security measures should be dialed up accordingly when the Israelis go on the offensive, or in general when tensions in the region spike visibly upward. The difficulty comes with the need to identify an end point -- a resolution that signals that it is time for a "stand-down" order on security. The problem is that there isn't one: Just as the United States has discovered with the post-Sept. 11 "terror warning" system, events and intelligence can justify a sudden move to an "elevated" threat posture, but there is no such thing as "relaxed." Americans live in a perpetual state of yellow and orange.

Translated into the business context, this becomes a nagging question of costs. Jewish organizations have a tendency to dramatically increase security following an incident such as the Sept. 11 attacks or the Furrow shooting. However, after months or years pass without an incident involving one's particular facility, security budgets frequently are scrutinized, questioned and then slashed. "Alert fatigue" takes hold at the financial level.

For security managers, the problem is made all the more difficult by the nature of the work: Unlike other types of investments, the returns on security are sensed mainly in what does not occur. But if no attack is attempted -- or a lone wolf assailant like Furrow rejects a potential target in favor of another that is less protected (particularly without anyone's knowledge) -- it is difficult to prove money has been spent wisely. It is hard to place a value on what has been prevented. Again, these are difficult questions to deal with from a business perspective, and answers can only come on a case-by-case basis.

However, the lessons of history are clear: There exists a perennial threat to Jewish targets within the United States, which is apt to tick upward during times of conflict concerning Israel. And though the threat emanates from a variety of potential actors, there is a common tactical denominator: a tendency to gravitate toward soft, unprotected targets.

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AJ & the John Wayne airport security shutdown!!!

Ed and Ginny's flying trip from Phoenix via the John Wayne airport security madness and back. Another flying trip from hell with AJ, the cat!!! Here we go:

Guys: a quick run-down on the derailments we ran into. We got derailed so many times I felt like John Kerry after the Swift Boat team got cranked.

Plan: Pick up Ginny after work and fly out to CA Friday nite--have leisurely dinner, good nights sleep, have all Sat AM to view CA coast in and around Dana Point/San Clemente, walk the beach, etc. Have early lunch with Catherine, spend afternoon with her, take her to dinner at her favorite restaurant (Peiking Dragon, off Coast Highway in Dana Point), get back to hotel early, have swim, maybe a work-out--get good night's sleep. Sunday AM, brunch with a whole crowd of crazies around "tennish to one-ish"--drive up to Mission Viejo, pick up AJ, our newest member of family (best way to do it, no Ceasarian, no college fees rolling up in 18 years). Then to Airport, fly back, get home in mid-evening, good night's sleep, back to work Monday. Uh-huh.

Actual trip. Fri: to airport for 6 PM flight, thru security, waiting at gate at 4:30 one hour before we emplane at 5:30. Crew and plane have both been re-routed to Tucson due to storms. Plane finally arrives around 7 PM, but no crew. Crew finally arrives close to 8PM. We board. Long line of planes waiting (similar problems). No storms reach Phoenix. Airport closed down. 9:15 or so, flights start again--but we are asked to deplane because too late to fly in to Orange County. Curfew is 10:30 for arrivals--we can't make that. Off plane. Re-book earliest flight next AM (6:30--warned be early, two hours, they'll be a mob waitng for cancellations. Have to be at airport around 4:30.) No food since a light lunch. Go to Park 'n Fly, get car, drive home to Mesa, stop for food at 11:30, eat and get home arround 12:30. Feed cats, find new clothes for AM, shower and to bed about 1:30, pushing 2 AM.

Up at 3:30 SAT, 1.5 hrs sleep. Dress, feed cats, drive to Fly n' Park--no openings. Jammed because of overflow from day before. Find another one nearby, more expensive, but we get in (only a few spots left). To airport. Check in. Plane is late (first one out, late!). Leave an hour late, get to Orange County, pick up rental, drive to San Clemente. (Both hotel and car were pre-booked for Friday, which we still have to pay for, although we now start on Sat.) Get to hotel at 11:30. Call Catherine, pass on lunch with her. Have a lunch next to hotel at Waffle Lady. God awful. Food is terrible. Eggs runny and tiny. Sausages turn out to be some sort of knockwurst that was made in 1941 and stockpiled somewhere in case we wanted to kill the Japs when they arrived here. Fifteen minutes of chewing a bite made it looser but still deadly. Ginny has a waffle that was used as packing material to ship auto parts from Detroit--to Europe, my guess, then to CA. Go back to hotel room, shower, clean up, change to fresh clothes and go to see Catherine around 3 PM. No nap.

Visit and dinner with Catherine, great fun--wonderful lady--all of laughing the whole time. Read her one of my stories from the Staying Sane books, which she insisted on keeping to show her daughters (whom we've met--one of whom is quite ill, unfortunately). Back to our hotel--and a great night's sleep (a good eight hours and a scoche).

Sunday AM--we followed Betty's directions to the meet at the Courtyard Plaza ("go down a long hill, or is it a short one up, actually it's up and down...about a half mile before you see a chain fence around a school, take a right...about a mile before you drive into the water, take a left..."). The Border Guards at Tijuana sent us back in the right direction, and fortunately we arrived only about ten minutes after the apointed time (of ten). I had no chance to dash in calling out, "Tennish anyone" (the "opener" I had stored up like nuts for the winter ever since we set the time), because Betty grabbed me, threw me against the wall and began whaling me once for each smartass remark I had made to her over the last year or so. This took some time. I think I got to the table around 11:15. Then we had a fantastic visit all around. I can only speak for Ginny and me, but we had a ball! Great company, wonderful stories, just a terrific time. Thanks again, all, for coming, and for those of you who couldn't come--EAT DIRT!

Off to pick up our poor traumatized cat. Poor kid had been bounced all over the place for weeks. A great cat, too, even as scared as he has been. Nice visit with the cat people and off to the Airport where the fun began again.

Checked in, went through security--all no problem. People couldn't have been nicer. One of the security men helped me get AJ back in the carrier--he had put his head under my arm and was holding on for dear life (and I heard him quote Dorothy Parker precisely, "What fresh hell is this?"). Down to the gate area, a cup of coffee and a muffin. About 45 minutes before our boarding time, buzzers, whistles, horns, announcements--everyone must evacuate the terminal, a security breach. No other info. All of us out--people on the planes, people waiting to board--ALL AIRLINES, EVERYONE, OUT.

Outside, the line waiting for clearance to get back in through security (when they give the word) is literally in the thousands. The entire outer lobby is filled with people waiting to get back in for their flights. We have a cat who is going to need water, and food, and a litter box long before we can wait out that line (hours at a minimum after the okay is given). We go to our airline, rebook for the next AM--first flight we can get on is 12:44. We did this just in time. Tons of people pushing up right after us--many panicked, surly, noisy, pushing ahead of others, a real treat.

Now, how do we find a hotel that will take our cat, and that is nearby, and not in Hell's Kitchen with broken locks on the door and roaches waiting to greet us. We know nothing about the area or where the hotels might be. We call one of the the Cat Rescue people who had been caring for AJ--a Linda. She jumps to horse, gets on her computer to find us a hotel, and comes to the airport with cat food and a litter box to take us there. We end up at the Holiday Inn for the night. Poor AJ has been subjected to all the "emergency horns and blasters," all the crowds of shoving people, and now he ends up in a hotel room for the night. We put him in the bathroom with food, water and the litter box and go down to eat some dinner. We then take a quick swim, and after that we spend half an hour--the three of us on the bathroom floor visiting and getting acquainted.

The hell with it--we let him out in the room with us for the night. He "visits" us all night--talking a blue streak, butting us to ask for petting, and by AM he is calmly sleeping at our feet. As soon as we get up, shower and start to pack--where is AJ? Under the huge king bed in the geographical center. There is about four inches from the floor to the bottom of the bed--neither of us can crawl under to get him. We finish packing, keeping AJ advised of our doings. "We're almost packed AJ--want to come out and see?" Suuuure. Once everything is ready. Ginny and I lay on each side and try to snake our arms in to meet and usher him out at the foot. He goes like a shot to the very head of the bed against the wall. Ah, the bed is on rollers and only weighs seven tons. I post Ginny at the head, and--at the foot--I pull the bed toward me. Before she can grab him, he is off to the foot of the bed (farthest point from the opening). But now we sneak down and quickly get an arm in and I've got him! I move him out from under, and pick him up into my arms. He greets me with a piteous meoww and uses all sixteen of his feet to try to get loose. (Multiply 16 times 5 for the number of claws.) Into the bathroom where we have the carrier standing on end, and--at last into the carrier head first! Zip, zip, and we are ready to depart. AJ is disgusted with us, but he settles in.

Off to the airport, check in, thru security, plane is a little late (1/2 hour for boarding) but then we are on and seated. Announcement! A problem with the cargo fire safety lights. They won't go on when tested. Crew is working on it. Can't leave if not fixed--have to know if a fire breaks out in cargo hold. (Why--so we'll have time to pray before the crash? Can't the believers wait here and let all atheists with cats fly on? No? Crap.) Interim announcements. Still working on problem. Finally, about two hours late--we are off and airborne. Rest of trip is incident free. Car park people take one look at Ginny and me as we are paying at their gate and they hand us free bottles of water. Nice touch.

Home and hearth. Between last night and today, AJ has disappeared three times and we've found him twice. He is now in some hole in some closet trying to set fire to any suitcases he sees. I'm with him. I've left matches for him at all the likely doorways.

Cheers, Ed

:))) Wrap!