"I'm saddened he's leaving" said Windham Supervisor
Pat Meehan, Chairman of the Coalition of Watershed Towns and
probably the man in the Catskills most frequently on the opposite
side of the negotiating table from Ward. "We've come a
long way in a short time under this commissioner and the progress
we've made shows. In 30 years of working in government he's
one of the most respected people I've ever known. We didn't
always agree and we've had some difficult discussions, but these
are tough issues, and whatever they were, he always said the
same thing: Œwe can work this out.'"
Ward's two and a half years as Commissioner were highlighted
by his resolution of a number of major problems for the City,
including the granting of a 5-year extension of the City's Filtration
Avoidance Waiver from the federal government, the renewal of
the 1997 Memorandum of Agreement with the Watershed Towns, a
major overhaul of water supply security in the wake of 9-11,
construction of a filtration plant for the east-of-Hudson watershed,
the recent re-valuation of the Ashokan Reservoir, and the development
of a 10-year, $17.4 billion capital construction program.
He also received both praise and criticism for his agency's
success in expanding its land acquisition program, as mandated
by the federal courts.
"He was a very outgoing, friendly person, and he did make
sure that the watershed partners had access to him" said
Alan Rosa, Executive Director of the Catskill Watershed Corporation
which locally administers over $60 million a year in program
funding from DEP, and who, like Meehan, frequently expressed
frustration over the agency's handling of issues.
For the time being, no one has a sense of what changes, if any,
Ward's departure might portend. While Mayor Bloomberg has announced
the beginning of a search for his replacement, taking over ˆ
at least on an interim basis ˆ will be DEP Deputy Commissioner
David Tweedy, a figure almost entirely unknown in the Catskill
"I think people will find Dave's an honest broker,
a straight shooter," said Ward. "This was really a
tough decision. I leave with a heavy heart. I love working with
the water supply issues and I think we've made a lot of progress."
Meanwhile, Congress recently reauthorized $105 million to protect
water quality in New York City's upstate watershed and avoid
building the filtration system that would cost an estimated
$8 billion. The funding initially was authorized in 1996, at
the same time that the city and upstate communities were negotiating
the Memorandum of Agreement that has been funding upstate development,
and giving local residents and communities the ability to meet
regulations, but to date, only $31 million from that appropriation
had been spent. Some 66 projects to enhance the quality of source
waters of the New York City water supply system were funded,
but the initial authorization expired in September 2003.
At the request of New York State, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton,
introduced legislation to reauthorize the appropriation, which
was part of the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act. Bills passed in
both the House and Senate to authorize $15 million each year
for the next seven years to continue the state's and the city's
efforts to implement the watershed agreement. The bill now awaits
President Bush's signature.
Rosa said the funding "will allow the CWC and its watershed
partners to continue research, monitoring and education efforts
that are so important to the future well-being of the city's
water supply, and of the watershed environment."
"This is a victory for all New Yorkers," state
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Erin M.
Crotty said in a statement regarding the appropriation. ŒThe
unprecedented partnership that we formed in 1997 will continue
to serve as a national model."
So much for attempts to split the memorandum for now...
The Ulster County Board of Elections will be extending their
office hours for those voters who need to cast their vote by
absentee ballot for the upcoming November 2ndth general election.
According to a recent press release, they will extend regular
hours at 284 Wall Street on Tuesdays, October 19thth and 26th,
Thursdays October 21st and 28th until 7:00PM; and on Saturday
Mornings, October 23rd and October 30th from 9:00AM until Noon.
Absentee ballot application forms are available on the county
web site at www.co.ulster.ny.us/elections. Applications
must be postmarked not later than October the 26th. For more
information, please contact the Ulster County Board of Elections
Benedictine Hospital has announced that it is experiencing a
$2.8 million budget gap, forcing it to start taking cost saving
measures. But they added that there will be no layoffs or reductions
in patient care, at least for the time being. The hospital has
started a hiring freeze, will leave some vacant jobs unfilled
and is asking all departments to look for ways to save money.
The budget shortfall, for the third quarter of 2004, is attributable
to rising costs for drugs and equipment, as well as costs related
to the construction of a cardiac catheterization lab and a $10.5
million cancer treatment center, the latter two expected to
start generating income, and reversing the current debt, by
Benedictine is a private Catholic hospital with an annual budget
of about $90 million. Neighbor and competitor Kingston Hospital
faced a more serious fiscal crisis last year when an audit revealed
a $10.9 million budget deficit. Hospital officials blamed the
shortfall on overspending by a previous administration and said
the problem was concealed from the hospital board by "sloppy
bookkeeping." Kingston Hospital responded to the crisis
by hiring a consulting firm to take over administration of the
facility, laying off some non-clinical personnel, revamping
billing procedures and instituting strict cost-cutting measures
in all departments.
In anticipation of this Thursday's October 14 County Legislature
meeting, where a resolution is expected to rescind a September
legislative action asking for full adjudication of the ongoing
Belleayre Resort proposal currently being reviewed before the
state Department of Environmental Conservation, an e-mail, fax
and phone alert has been making its way around the county, seeking
public involvement at the scheduled 6:30 p.m. meeting in Kingston.
Entitled "Belleayre Action Alert!," the missive notes
how, "the Ulster County Legislature bravely took a stand
and passed a resolution on the issues raised at the Belleayre
Resort issues conference this summer" then asks its readers
to, "First, come to the next Ulster County Legislative
meeting People DO NOT have to speak. There will be a few
people prepared to speak, who need our support in bodies."
Secondly, they ask people to, "Call, write a postcard,
fax, or email swing legislators and ask them to please support
full adjudication of all the issues."
The list of legislators to contact included, in a ranked but
unexplained order of importance, Michael Stock, the Republican
from District 2 (Woodstock, Shandaken, Denning, Hardenburg,
Saugerties), Wayne Harris, the Republican sponsor of the original
bill from District 9 (Marborough, Plattekill, Shawagunk), Brian
Hathaway, Republican from District 7 (Esopus & Rosendale),
Joan A. Every, Republican from District 7 (Esopus & Rosendale),
Jeanette Provenzano, Democrat from District 6 (City of Kingston),
Joan Feldmann, Democrat from District 4 (Towns of Kingston,
Ulster), Glenn Noonan, Republican from District 8 (Gardiner,
New Paltz and Shawagunk) and Frank Dart, a Democrat from District
6 (City of Kingston) who voted AGAINST the original resolution
that passed 27-3.
The rescinding resolution was first raised when he got a September
13 call from resort project developer Dean Gitter, who insisted
on making a presentation. Harris allowed Gitter's attorneys
to do just that, after conferring with county attorney Frank
Murray, at the September 15 meeting of the legislature's Economic
Development/ Education, Tourism and Cultural Affairs Committee
that he serves as Chairman of. The measure to rescind stalled,
along party lines, by a 3-3 vote, forcing Harris to move the
resolution to the full legislature at its October meeting.
"The amount of people showing up should be loud and clear,"
read the final statement of the e-mail making its way around
the county. "We want the adjudication of the issues!"
Inquiries as to the origins of the e-mail chain led to no definitive
sources, as of press time.
On Monday, October 4, however, Democratic councilman Paul Van
Blarcum of the Shandaken town board made an announcement of
the upcoming legislative meeting and urged people to attend,
no matter their stance on the project.
The Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency has proposed a $14.85
million budget for 2005, up 34.64 percent over the current budget,
with fees for municipalities and private haulers set to increase,
along with county taxpayers' subsidy of the agency. The operating
budget portion of the proposed budget totals $11.92 million,
up from $9.3 million this year. The balance of the spending
plan is set aside to pay off the agency's debt. Agency Executive
Director Charles Shaw attributes the increases in the budget
to higher gas prices and increases in the agency's required
contributions to the New York State Retirement system. The spending
plan calls for Ulster County to contribute $3.21 million to
the agency's budget next year, an increase of $713,176, or 28.55
percent. Two years ago, the county Legislature authorized the
agency to refinance roughly $40.4 million in debt, a move that
was to result in savings of between $880,000 and $2 million
per year during the first 10 years of the bond. Agency "tipping"
fees - those charged to haulers and municipalities to bring
their waste to the county transfer station ˆ will rise
$10 for most in the county to $80 a ton. Sewage sludge disposal
will increase by $10, to $85 a ton, and commercial haulers would
be charged $80 per ton, an increase of $5, or 6.67 percent.
State Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo, who became known
as a top elections officer in the state, a close associate of
Governor Pataki, and one of the leading Republican forces protesting
the Florida recount in 2000, has been accused of soliciting
donations from local attorneys who had cases pending in his
court, ostensibly to help pay for legal costs related to a state
investigation into judicial misconduct allegations. Legal papers
filed claim Spargo, who has been under investigation by the
state Commission on Judicial Conduct for about two years, asked
several local attorneys for donations of as much as $10,000
each to aid his "Legal Expense Fund" in November and
December 2003. Spargo has denied the allegations in various
court filings. He also has sought to have the case against him
dismissed, charging that the state Commission on Judicial Conduct
has singled him out for "partisan political and personal
Spargo also is alleged to have attempted to disrupt the Florida
recount in the contentious 2000 presidential election by taking
part in a "loud and obstructive demonstration," in
violation of judicial rules governing the political impartiality
of judges. Spargo was elected a state Supreme Court justice
in 2001 in New York's Third Judicial District, which includes
the counties of Ulster, Greene, Columbia, Sullivan, Albany,
Rensselaer and Schoharie. The term of office is 14 years, with
a salary of roughly $130,000 per year.
A civil liberties group has filed two federal lawsuits alleging
that hundreds of people were illegally arrested during the Republican
National Convention this summer. The lawsuits accuse police
of illegal mass arrests, illegally lengthy and unexplained detentions
under filthy conditions, and illegal fingerprinting of people
charged with minor offenses. The suits seek unspecified damages.
"To protect the right to protest in New York City, we must
right these wrongs," said New York Civil Liberties Union
executive director Donna Lieberman.
The lawsuits arise from two mass arrests Aug. 31, one near the
World Trade Center site and the other near Union Square. The
Manhattan district attorney's office said it would not prosecute
227 anti-war protesters arrested near the trade center site
because it could not prove protesters who were blocking traffic
intended to break the law.
Lieberman said she applauded District Attorney Robert Morgenthau
for "doing the right thing," but charged that police
have refused to concede any illegal arrests were made.
A public hearing organized by a special commission formed to
gather information on county development issues recently took
nine hours to gather input from local residents and political
leaders. Among chief gripes was the local leadership's inability
to get a grip on technological opportunities, a lack of shovel-ready
sites for development, and a series of general workforce issues
and infrastructure concerns. Held at Ulster County Community
College, the newly formed commission questioned speakers in
a fashion akin to a Senate hearing, concentrating at times about
the way those coming into the county sometimes seem to "want
to be the last in" while those who are newer bemoan the
provincialism of native Upstaters. State Senator John Bonacic
said school and property taxes are always of greatest concern
to citizens, and to control them development is needed. He suggested
that the current SEQR review process of local resort developer
Crossroads Ventures' Belleayre Resort project was "the
longest environmental process in New York state history,"
designed to kill the project. Findings from the day - combined
with public comments made beforehand and submitted through Oct.
19 to the Ulster County Development Corporation at 5 Development
Court, Kingston, N.Y. 12401, will be compiled into a report
that could help guide economic developers in the county over
the coming 12-24 months.
New voters are flooding election offices with paperwork across
the nation, registering in significantly higher numbers than
four years ago as attention to the presidential election runs
high and an array of activist groups recruit would-be voters
who could prove critical come Nov. 2. Cleveland has seen nearly
twice as many new voters register so far as compared with 2000;
Philadelphia is having its biggest boom in new voters in 20
years; and even counties in rural areas have been bringing in
temporary workers and employees from other agencies to help
process all the new registration forms. Nationwide figures aren't
yet available, but anecdotal evidence shows an upswing in many
places, often urban but some rural. Some wonder whether the
new voters - some of whom sign up at the insistence of workers
paid by get-out-the-vote organizations - will actually make
it to the polls on Election Day, but few dispute the registration
boom. Rural areas, which trend conservative and Republican,
aren't necessarily reporting the same growth as urban, more
liberal and Democratic strongholds.
A record surge of potential new voters has swamped boards of
election from Pennsylvania to Oregon, as the biggest of the
crucial swing states reach registration deadlines today. Elections
officials have had to add staff and equipment, push well beyond
budgets and work around the clock to process the registrations.
"Everything we're seeing is that there has been a tremendous
increase in voter registration," said Kay Maxwell, president
of the League of Women Voters. "In the past, we've been
enthused about what appeared to be a large number of new voters,
but this does seem to be at an entirely different level."
The big unknown is whether the new registrations will result
in higher turnout. Election officials say some of the big groups
seem to be signing up anyone on the streets to reach quotas,
with half-filled-out forms suggesting something less than true
If They Could
Opinion surveys are showing that surveys of people wishing they
could vote in American elections throughout Europe heavily favor
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. But, beyond the
numbers, conversations reveal a broad belief that the Atlantic
Ocean is wider than at any time in modern memory. From Britain
to the Baltics, many sense a sea change in sentiment toward
an America they once admired - largely linked to what they call
an arrogant contempt of others after 9-11. Many say they believe
a Republican cabal is conning an apathetic, foolish mainstream
and express outraged at our new electronic voting system in
Florida which leaves no paper record. In Britain, where Prime
Minister Tony Blair supports Bush, polls suggest a two-to-one
preference for Kerry. French Foreign Ministry officials say
privately they laugh off anti-French slurs. But they describe
a deep-seated unease with Washington, pushing them closer to
The New York State Court of Appeals is reviewing whether the
New York City Department of Environmental Protection Police
had the authority to issue speeding tickets in Delaware County
last year. Delaware County District Attorney Richard Northup
so far has failed to convince town and county judges that the
agency has law enforcement authority outside of reservoir property.
The case has now gone to the state's highest court. Critics
of the city agency issuing tickets contend its jurisdiction
is limited because residents have no ability to make leadership
changes in the government responsible for actions of the officers.
Officials with the Court of Appeals said it will be about six
months before arguments are heard and another six weeks before
a decision is made.
The dollar sharply fell in European morning trade last week
after what appeared to be a concerted attempt by US officials,
including President Bush, to talk it down. Robert McTeer, the
president of the Dallas Federal Reserve, set the ball rolling
by warning that; "Over time, there is only one way for
the dollar to go - lower". Just for good measure, Mr McTeer
also talked about the theoretical possibility of a crisis precipitating
"rapidly rising interest rates and a rapidly depreciating
dollar" if and when the wider world stops funding the US
current account deficit. Fed governor Ben Bernanke waded in
by stating that the Fed will pause in hiking interest rates
if the US economy slows. As a result the dollar fell 0.2c to
$1.2318 against the euro and 0.5c to $1.7875 against British
sterling. The dollar fell more sharply against Asian currencies,
slipping Y0.8 to Y110.33 against the yen and to Won1,147.9 against
the South Korean won and S$1.6852 versus the Singapore dollar.
Crude oil futures prices briefly hit an all-time high recently
as worries persisted over supply and unrest in key producers.
The cost for November delivery shot up as high as $50.73 a barrel
in electronic trading in advance of the opening of the New York
Mercantile Exchange where it had settled Monday at $49.91, surpassing
a previous intraday high of $50.47 a barrel set Sept. 28.
Alive & Armed
Germany's intelligence chief said recently that he believes
that Osama bin Laden is alive and continues to exert influence
in his al-Qaida terror network. August Hanning, head of Germany's
Federal Intelligence Service, said he and other intelligence
officials believe, as they have for some time, that bin Laden
is living in the Afghan-Pakistani border area. "We continue
to see traces of his activity," he said. "He tries
to organize, to motivate."
Hanning also warned that violence in Iraq risks plunging the
country into the chaos of a disintegrating "failed state"
resembling terrorist havens like pre-Sept. 11 Afghanistan. U.S.-led
airstrikes in Afghanistan ousted the Taliban in late 2001 for
harboring bin Laden and al-Qaida.A breakdown in Iraq would destabilize
the Middle East, boost Islamic terrorism worldwide and might
allow terrorists to put scientists involved in Saddam Hussein's
weapons programs to work for them, the intelligence chief added.
"The outlook is dark if this task is not mastered,"
Hanning said in a speech at a terrorism conference. "In
this case a trend like in Afghanistan or Lebanon in the past
is a very likely scenario."
Stoked by radical Islamic views inspired by bin Laden, terrorist
attacks and military action by U.S.-led troops are pushing Iraq
toward "a crossroads" that could end with peaceful
reconstruction - or chaos, he said. Hanning suggested that Western
nations are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of young
Bad CO2 Levels
A group of Japanese researchers has found that carbon dioxide
levels over the Antarctica rose by over 2.6 percent from six
years ago - the first such detection of an increase in a "greenhouse"
gas above the southern continent. Many scientists fear carbon
dioxide, produced by burning fossil fuels and other industrial
processes, may be causing global warming by trapping heat in
the Earth's atmosphere.
Takashi Yamanouchi, a professor at the National Institute of
Polar Research, said carbon dioxide from populated continents
was apparently making its way down to the atmosphere above Antartica.
"Everywhere on earth is now being polluted by carbon dioxide,"
Yamanouchi said. "That may be contributing to the expansion
of global warming although we must check whether temperatures
in the atmosphere are in fact rising."
To date, researchers in countries including Japan and the United
States had confirmed that the density of carbon dioxide on Antactica's
ground had increased but hadn't proved the same for the atmosphere,
In the name of homeland security, America's spy imagery agency
is keeping a close eye, close to home. It's watching America.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, about 100 employees of a little-known
branch of the Defense Department called the National Geospatial-Intelligence
Agency - and some of the country's most sophisticated aerial
imaging equipment - have focused on observing what's going on
in the United States. Roughly twice a month, the agency is called
upon to help with the security of events inside the United States.
Even more routinely, it is asked to help prepare imagery and
related information to protect against possible attacks on critical
sites. For instance, the agency has modified basic maps of the
nation's capital to highlight the location of hospitals, linking
them to data on the number of beds or the burn unit in each.
To secure the Ronald Reagan funeral procession, the agency merged
aerial photographs and 3D images, allowing security planners
to virtually walk, drive or fly through the Simi Valley, Calif.,
route. The agency is especially watchful of big events
or targets that might attract terrorists - political conventions,
for example, or nuclear power plants.
The agency is not interested in information on U.S. citizens,
stresses Americas office director Bert Beaulieu. Œ'We couldn't
care less about individuals and people and companies,'' he said.
Geospacial intelligence is the science of combining imagery,
such as satellite pictures, to physically depict features or
activities happening anywhere on the planet.
Americans of Muslim worship in Florida are questioning the FBI's
latest plan for conducting interviews nationwide to uncover
possible terrorist plots that could disrupt the presidential
election next month. FBI officials have been meeting with Islamic
community leaders statewide to explain a July directive from
FBI Director Robert Mueller to seek new information about suspicious
activity ahead of the Nov. 2 general election. The leaders said
they understand the need for vigilance but have reservations
about the order. "Our community is already afraid and jittery,
because there has already been several rounds of detainees and
interviews since 9-11," said Ahmed Bedier, Florida spokesman
for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "Arab-Americans
will do everything in their capacity to ensure the security
of this country," said Taleb Salhab, president of the Arab-American
Community Center of Central Florida. "However, we will
not tolerate the violation of our community's constitutional
U.S. health officials have warned of major flu shot shortages
after British health officials abruptly pulled the license of
the maker of half the U.S. vaccine just as flu season was about
to begin. American vaccine experts suggested shots this year
would likely be rationed.
British authorities suspended the license of Chiron Corp. for
three months because of problems at its vaccine manufacturing
plant in Liverpool, England, which primarily supplies the American
market. The action means the company can't supply any flu vaccine
during that time, and Chiron said it would provide no U.S. vaccine
this year. British officials didn't explain details for the
license suspension. Chiron officials said the British action
came because of broad concerns about standards at the Liverpool
factory, not just worries about the safety of already produced
Howard Pien, president and chief executive of the California-based
company, said safety tests on its vaccine were nearly complete,
safety concerns seemed to be resolvable, and the company had
been talking with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and
its British counterpart about shipping its vaccine. The company
has no obligation to recall or withdraw any vaccine, but none
has been released anywhere, and none will be this season, Chiron
Ulster County has been given an opportunity to offer disaster
relief assistance to the residents of Ulster County for relief
from damages they may have incurred during the heavy rains caused
by Hurricane Ivan. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is
accepting applications for disaster assistance from home owners,
renters and business owners for damages incurred during the
heavy rains associated with the remnants of Hurricane Ivan.
Damages must have been incurred during the period of September
16-24. Assistance is designed to supplement insurance coverage
and may include grants for basic home repairs and/or rental
assistance; U.S. Small Business Association low interest loans
for home- owners, renters and businesses, and grants for serious
disaster related needs and expenses such as appliances and furniture.
To apply, call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), 24 hours a day, 7 days
a week. The following information should be available prior
to calling: social security number, insurance information (including
policy number), information on damages, direct deposit information
and day/evening contact information. Ulster County, through
the New York State Emergency Management Office, has appealed
FEMA's denial of it's request for similar assistance for the
storm of August 30. If this appeal is successful, a similar
program will be available to residents experiencing uninsured
losses during that event. For further information, please call
the Ulster County Emergency
Management Office at 331-7000.
The governors of Illinois and Wisconsin recently launched the
first state-sponsored program to help residents buy cheaper
prescription drugs from both Europe and Canada - despite federal
laws banning prescription drug importation. The program, called
I-SaveRx, works through a Canada-based clearinghouse and claims
it can save residents 25 percent to 50 percent off U.S. retail
prices on about 100 prescription medications. The U.S. Food
and Drug Administration opposes such reimporting of prescription
drugs, saying can't guarantee the safety of drugs sold through
foreign pharmacies. But it hasn't stopped Minnesota or other
states from setting up Internet sites to help consumers buy
drugs through Canadian pharmacies. Illinois last year requested
federal approval to set up a pilot program for the state to
import drugs from Canada for state employees and retirees, but
the request was rejected. Rather than drop the idea, the state
sent teams to Europe to study the safety and feasibility of
importing prescription drugs from Ireland and United Kingdom,
as well as from Canada. Wisconsin recently joined the effort.
Under the program, consumers can go to an Internet site or call
a telephone number to be linked to the Canadian clearinghouse
administered by CanaRx, a pharmaceutical benefits manager that
operates a network of online pharmacies. That clearinghouse
will provide information on the costs in Canada, Ireland and
the United Kingdom of about 100 of the most common brand-name
drugs used to treat chronic or long-term conditions. Most generic
drugs, narcotics or drugs that can spoil during shipping will
be excluded from the program, and only refills are allowed.
Consumers must mail or have their doctor fax a completed health
profile form and signed prescription to the clearinghouse, which
will conduct an initial scan for appropriateness using the same
drug interaction software used in Illinois pharmacies. If the
prescription passes the interaction test, it will be given to
a network physician in the country from which the medication
will be dispensed. That physician will review and rewrite the
prescription for a local network pharmacy. The pharmacy will
perform a final safety check to comply with local laws and regulations
before dispensing the medication.
In a blow to the Justice Department's post-Sept. 11 powers,
a federal judge said the government's ability to conduct secret
and unchallengable searches of Internet and telephone records
violates the Constitution. U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero
struck down a USA Patriot Act provision that allowed the FBI
to gather phone and Web customer records and then barred the
service providers from ever disclosing the search took place.
While Marrero called national security of "paramount value"
and said the government "must be empowered to respond promptly
and effectively" to threats, he also called personal security
equal in importance and "especially prized in our system
of justice." Attorney General John Ashcroft replied that
the Justice Department will probably appeal. Marrero's decision
is the second time that a judge has ruled unconstitutional part
of the Patriot Act, a package of prosecution and surveillance
tools passed shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In
January, a federal judge in Los Angeles struck down a section
of the act that made it a crime to give "expert advice
or assistance" to groups designated foreign terrorist organizations.
The judge said the language was too vague, threatening First
and Fifth Amendment rights.
The Bush Bulge
Was President Bush literally channeling Karl Rove in his first
debate with John Kerry? That's the latest rumor flooding the
Internet, unleashed in the wake of an image caught by a Fox
News television camera during the Miami debate. The image shows
a large solid object between Bush's shoulder blades as he leans
over the lectern and faces moderator Jim Lehrer. Was the bulge
under his well-tailored jacket a hidden receiver, picking up
transmissions from someone offstage feeding the president answers
through a hidden earpiece? Did the device explain why the normally
ramrod-straight president seemed hunched over during much of
the debate? Bloggers are burning up their keyboards with speculation.
Check out the president's peculiar behavior during the debate,
they say. On several occasions, the president simply stopped
speaking for an uncomfortably long time and stared ahead with
an odd expression on his face. Was he listening to someone helping
him with his response to a question?
It turns out that all of the video of the debate was recorded
and sent out by Fox News, the pool broadcaster for the event.
Fox sent feeds from multiple cameras to the other networks,
which did their own on-air presentations and editing. The Bush
administration insisted on a condition that no cameras be placed
behind the candidates, the result of negotiations by both campaigns.
Yet that didn't stop Fox from setting up cameras behind Bush
Suggestions that Bush may have using this technique stem from
a D-day event in France, when a CNN broadcast appeared to pick
up ˜ and broadcast to surprised viewers ˜ the sound
of another voice seemingly reading Bush his lines, after which
Bush repeated them. Repeated calls to the White House and the
Bush national campaign office over a period of three days, inquiring
about what the president may have been wearing on his back during
the debate, and whether he had used an audio device at other
events, went unreturned.
American consumers will feel the effects of record-high crude
oil prices with winter home heating oil bills jumping about
28 percent and natural gas costs rising by 15 percent, the U.S.
government said recently. "This winter, tight global oil
markets and elevated crude oil prices are expected to result
in higher heating oil, natural gas and propane prices,"
the Energy Information Administration said in its annual winter
forecast. The average Northeast household will pay a total of
$1,223 for heating oil this winter, double the price paid three
years ago and up from $953 last year, according to the EIA.
The government's winter forecast covers October through March.
The average monthly U.S. oil price is not expected to fall below
$40 a barrel until the end of 2005, it said.
Separately, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
issued a winter forecast of colder-than-normal temperatures
in the U.S. Southeast and mid-Atlantic regions. NOAA said it
was unable to predict if the Midwest and Northeast would be
colder, warmer or average this winter. However, some private
forecasters say the coming winter will be chillier than last
year, boosting demand for heating oil and natural gas.
In Shokan, the local Mobil and a Dependable Energy gas stations
have not been accepting credit cards since May as a means of
keeping costs down for consumers.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay went on the offensive after
being chastised multiple times recent weeks by the House ethics
committee, accusing his accusers of libel and the bipartisan
panel that judged him of mistreating him. DeLay's lawyer, Ed
Bethune, sent a 33-page letter to Rep. David Dreier of California,
chairman of the House Rules Committee, saying the House should
prevent lame-duck lawmakers from filing ethics complaints. The
ethics committee admonished DeLay, the No. 2 Republican in the
House, for creating an appearance of giving contributors special
access on pending energy legislation and of using the Federal
Aviation Administration to intervene in Texas' 2003 redistricting
dispute. The ethics panel is awaiting the outcome of a campaign
finance investigation in Texas before dealing with a third allegation
in the complaint. In a separate case, the ethics committee admonished
DeLay for offering to support the House candidacy of a Michigan
lawmaker's son in return for the lawmaker's vote for a Medicare
prescription drug benefit.
British Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt has made
the government's first direct apology for using inaccurate intelligence
to justify the Iraq war. Appearing on BBC One's Question Time,
Hewitt said she was speaking on behalf of the entire Cabinet.
"All of us who were involved in making an incredibly difficult
decision are very sorry and do apologize for the fact that that
information was wrong."
It was also recently disclosed that Britain was involved in
planning for war in Iraq for at least nine months before the
nation's parliament approved military action, according to a
document apparently leaked from the Pentagon. Details from the
secret briefing paper, published in London's Evening Standard,
suggest that military commanders took part in a war planning
conference with US counterparts as early as June 2002. At the
time, Prime Minister Tony Blair was insisting that no decisions
had been taken on military action.
The New Gulf
West African oil holds great promise for companies in search
of diverse sources. But it's giving U.S. national security planners
a new Gulf to worry about: the Gulf of Guinea. Imports from
Nigeria have almost doubled in the last two years, and U.S.
companies led by ExxonMobil Corp. are beginning to produce from
new fields in the deep waters off Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea
and further south off Angola. Yet much like the Persian Gulf
countries, the Gulf of Guinea nations harbor terrorists and
insurrectionists who pose a big threat to the flow of oil, particularly
from onshore fields in Nigeria's Niger River delta. A
report done for Royal Dutch/Shell Group, which produces half
of Nigeria's oil, found more than 1,000 deaths a year from crime
and political violence in the Niger Delta, putting the region
on a par with Chechnya and Colombia.
Domestic violence groups around the country are protesting new
federal rules that require detailed information on tens of thousands
of battered women to be collected on centralized computers,
potentially making sensitive data accessible to resourceful
batterers, they say. Such information has traditionally been
kept confidential by domestic violence agencies out of concerns
that the identities and locations of the women could be discovered
by their abusers. Placing it on centralized computers would
make it accessible to a wide range of authorized and potentially
unauthorized users, the groups argue.
But the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development,
which developed the rules, says such concerns are overstated.
It contends the data bases, which are intended to provide more
detailed information about the homeless, can be made secure
against unauthorized users.
The U.S. Air Force is quietly spending millions of dollars investigating
ways to use a radical power source ˜ antimatter, the eerie
"mirror" of ordinary matter ˜ in future weapons.
The most powerful potential energy source presently thought
to be available to humanity, antimatter is a term normally heard
in science-fiction films and TV shows, whose heroes fly "antimatter-powered
spaceships" and do battle with "antimatter guns."
But antimatter itself isn't fiction; it actually exists and
has been intensively studied by physicists since the 1930s.
In a sense, matter and antimatter are the yin and yang of reality:
Every type of subatomic particle has its antimatter counterpart.
But when matter and antimatter collide, they annihilate each
other in an immense burst of energy.
The new studies include a new generation of super weapons ˜
either pure antimatter bombs or antimatter-triggered nuclear
weapons; the former wouldn't emit radioactive fallout. Another
possibility being explored are antimatter- powered "electromagnetic
pulse" weapons that could fry an enemy's electric power
grid and communications networks, leaving him literally in the
dark and unable to operate his society and armed forces.
Following an initial inquiry from The San Francisco Chronicle
this summer, the Air Force forbade its employees from publicly
discussing the antimatter research program. Still, details on
the program appear in numerous Air Force documents distributed
over the Internet prior to the ban.
Israel's unilateral plan to evacuate some occupied land and
keep the rest will indefinitely prevent a Palestinian state
with Washington's blessing, a senior Israeli official said in
an interview recently. "The significance of our disengagement
plan is the freezing of the peace process. It supplies the formaldehyde
necessary so there is no political process with the Palestinians,"
said Dov Weisglass, key adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Weisglass told Haaretz daily continuing Palestinian militant
violence was to blame for the lack of diplomacy. Palestinians
blame Israeli offensives they say frustrate cease-fire efforts
as well as Sharon's aim to keep major West Bank settlements.
"By the way the Americans read the situation, the blame
fell on the Palestinians, not on us, Arik (Sharon) grasped that
(the Palestinians) would not leave us alone ... and time was
not on our side," Weisglass said. "What I effectively
agreed to with the Americans (in talks leading to Bush's endorsement
of Œdisengagement) was that part of the settlements would
not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with
until the Palestinians turn into Finns."
Health insurance premiums for workers are rising around three
times faster than their wages, and health costs eat up a quarter
of earnings for more than 14 million Americans, according to
a new survey. And while benefits are being cut, health insurance
premiums are rising, the report from the nonprofit Families
USA found. The cost of health insurance premiums rose by nearly
36 percent on average from 2000 to 2004 in 35 states, said the
group, which bills itself as a nonpartisan watchdog on health
care issues. Average earnings rose just 12 percent over the
same time. The Families USA report found that health insurance
plans provided by employers are covering fewer health services
and workers are paying higher deductibles and copayments. "Family
health premiums paid by employers and workers rose from $7,028
in 2000 to $9,320 in 2004. The average amount paid by workers
for this coverage rose from $1,433 to $1,947 during that period
˜ an increase of 35.9 percent," the group said in
More than 60 percent of Americans get their health insurance
through an employer, according to Census Bureau statistics.
But the number of people without insurance rose last year from
43 million to 45 million and some experts say rising insurance
costs are in part to blame. Families USA said it found 85.2
million people went without health insurance for some time during
2003 and 2004.
Most of the alleged al Qaeda and Taliban inmates at the U.S.
military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are likely to be freed
or sent to their home countries for further investigation because
many pose little threat and are not providing much valuable
intelligence, the facility's deputy commander has said. The
remarks by Army Brig. Gen. Martin Lucenti in a recent edition
of London's Financial Times appeared to conflict with past comments
by U.S. military commanders who have stressed the value of the
information obtained from the detainees and the danger many
would pose if released. But the Bush Government has not yet
contradicted that statement.
The Mernie Dempster Scholarship Committee announces the creation
of, and is seeking applicants for, a scholarship to be given
to two young individuals who: 1) acted on a problem
in their community or took action to improve the lives of local
residents and 2) support the goal of individuals having the
right to make their own decisions about their reproductive lives.
Recipients of the scholarship will attend the 2005 Family Planning
Advocates of New York State annual conference, in Albany, on
Monday January 24. They will meet experienced activists,
as well as other young activists, and learn new advocacy techniques.
The scholarship includes conference registration, transportation,
meals, overnight accommodations if necessary, workshops, and
Applicants should live in or attend school in the Mid-Hudson
region; have acted upon a problem and/or has taken a stand to
correct an injustice in the region; be college-age or younger;
show initiative, courage, persistence, and motivation to act;
be pro-choice - meaning a belief that individuals have the right
to make their own decisions about their reproductive lives;
be interested in enhancing the ability to do effective community