A court has ruled the Town of Woodstock was wrong to adopt a
zoning ordinance to allow a controversial cell phone tower on
Overlook Mountain. The state Supreme Court ruling came as the
result of a lawsuit filed by the group Citizens for Responsible
Cell Tower Ordinance, which opposed a town-approved zoning amendment
that would allow cell towers in R-8 zones, where they previously
had been prohibited. Because the town didn't follow recommendations
from the Ulster County Planning Board, as required under state
General Municipal Law, it needed a "supermajority"
vote, or a majority plus one, to adopt the zoning change. The
zoning resolution was approved by a 3-2 margin, one vote short
of the "supermajority" requirement. The court ruling
nullifies the portion of the zoning change that would have allowed
GOP Flip Flop
The Ulster County legislature amended a September resolution
seeking full adjudication of issues related to the ongoing issues
conference for the proposed Belleayre Resort after a long meeting
on October 14, and substituted new wording calling for
a "thorough review." The move was approved 17-15,
with most Democrats standing for full adjudication while Republicans
supported the lesser wording. Twenty-one people spoke about
the Belleayre, with all but two opposing the softened resolution
or the resort plan itself.
The idea of rescinding the original resolution was put into
Republican legislators heads via a series of phone calls from
project developer Dean Gitter, followed by a one-sided presentation
to members of the legislature by the developers' attornies.
Legislator Hector Rodriguez, who initiated the original resolution
- which asked that a state Department of Environmental Conservation
administrative law judge fully adjudicate 12 concerns about
the resort raised by the Catskill Preservation Coalition, a
group opposed to the project ˆ said."
Some legislators said they did not fully understand the intent
of the original resolution or the meaning of the term "full
The Kingston Common Council has passed a sponsoring resolution
urging New York State Legislators to pass the Clean Money Clean
Elections bill that would reduce big-money's influence in NY
State politics by replacing private campaign contributions with
"Clean" public funds. The bill covers races for Governor,
the Senate, Assembly, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General,
and Comptroller. To conform with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling
that says money is equal to speech, candidates can run with
Clean money or not. If they opt to run with private money, they
cannot have any public money. The sponsoring resolution was
submitted to the Kingston Common Council by New York Citizens
for Clean Elections (NYCCE). In passing the resolution,
Kingston joins other municipalities across the state who have
similarly urged state legislators to pass Clean Elections, including
Ithaca, Schenectady, Woodstock, Saugerties, the Town of Olive,
the Village of New Paltz, Rensselaerville, and Thompkins County.
Clean Elections would be funded by one tenth of one percent
of the state's general fund. This would cost New Yorkers between
$3 and $5 each per election cycle. Irene Miller, President of
NYCCE, called that, "one of the very best investments tax
payers could make, because when our tax dollars no longer go
for corporate tax breaks and subsidies, our overall taxes could
Even as the state Lobbying Commission investigates a questionable
incentive clause in one of his lobbying contracts, Dennis Vacco
has signed another deal carrying huge "success fees."
The former attorney general entered into the deal about a month
ago with the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, which would reward
his lobbying firm with more than a million dollars if a Catskills
casino project is achieved.
The Seneca-Cayuga are working with Empire Resorts, owners of
Raceway, on a proposal to create a casino somewhere in Sullivan
or Ulster counties.
Success fees are illegal under the lobbying law, but loopholes
allow for such fees if the lobbying firm isn't focused on legislation.
The Temporary State Commission on Lobbying's staff recently
drafted a bill to plug that loophole and expand the definition
of lobbying to include activities aimed at influencing any official
In the second debate, President Bush asked those listening to
"forget all this talk about a draft" and never did
answer a question from the audience about how he would prevent
one˜and then cut off Charles Gibson's next question as
to why the overuse of Reservists on long deployments was not
a back-door draft.
Yet according to pundits, as well as many in the Military, the
issue of the draft deserves a fair debate based on the facts
before the election.
The main worry for young people is that beyond Iraq, Bush and
Cheney are following the neo-con plan that would involve the
invasion of still more countries, such as Syria and Iran.
A recent NY Times article stated that 36,000 medical personnel
would be taken quickly if a Medical Draft was called.
Are that many doctors and nurses needed to support an invasion
Most worrisome to those in the anti-draft movement was a Family
Circle July 13 article "Could Your Child Be Drafted?",
in which Rick Jahnkow, program coordinator of the nonprofit
Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities, noted that
'Karl Rove polled Republican members of Congress on how they
felt about the draft. They said they'd support the President.'"
Despite Family Circle's circulation of 23 million, this charge
was never refuted by the White House.
Facts are that there already is a draft law, no matter the public
vote by the House this month against instituting a new one.
Any President can go to Congress under the Military Selective
Service Act, the current registration law, and ask for re-authorization
of the Combat Draft and Medical Draft. All Congress need do
is pass a 1-page "trigger resolution" and the Combat
Draft for men 18-25 is back.
The Freedom of Information Act document on a planned Skills
Draft has been acknowledged as authentic by a Selective Service
spokesperson. And on October 19, 2004, the New York Times printed
a long article on Widmeyer Communications, a contractor
hired by the Selective Service to consult on how to discreetly
collect names and handle PR for a Medical Draft.
The Selective Service will, by early 2005, be prepared to register
about 40 million Americans for a Skills Draft and a Medical
Draft. They are right now creating the complex forms that
will track a person's skills˜every man or woman under 35˜in
a massive database for the entire country.
Eyes Have It
You've seen it in horror movies, or even in real-life at the
local museum: a painting in which the eyes of the person portrayed
seem to follow you around the room, no matter where you go.
People have described the effect as creepy or eerie, and some
have thought it supernatural. But now researchers have demonstrated
the very natural cause for this visual effect.All it takes for
the effect to work is to have the person in the painting, or
photograph, look straight ahead, said James Todd, co-author
of the study and a professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
Our visual perception takes care of the rest."
The core idea is simple: no matter what angle you look at a
painting from, the painting itself doesn't change. You're looking
at a flat surface. The pattern of light and dark remains the
same," Todd said. "We found that our visual perception
of a picture also remains largely unchanged as we look at it
from different vantage points. If a person in a painting is
looking straight out, it will always appear that way, regardless
of the angle at which it is viewed."
Governor Pataki's recent budget veto threatens the health of
New York's children, according to Donna Lawrence, Executive
Director of the Children's Defense Fund - New York.
"This $1 million veto threatens the community-based
facilitated enrollment program, which has been a nationally
recognized model of how to help families get health insurance,"
Lawrence said. "This is a small budget cut with big consequences."
While Governor Pataki's veto saves the state budget $1
million, it will cost New York $2 million in federal matching
funds. The $3 million loss is 15 percent of the entire budget
for the community-based initiative and will result in about
20,000 New Yorkers not getting the help they need next year
to enroll in, and keep, their health insurance. When families
can not afford health care they have no choice but to turn to
the most expensive alternative there is - emergency room care.
In addition, the programs will be forced to lay off highly trained
and dedicated staff.
Additionally, this year's budget reduces Medicaid eligibility
for children ages six to 18, which endangers health coverage
for as many as 77,000 children. Lack of health care can have
devastating and long-term consequences for children including
poorer school attendance and achievement.
The community-based facilitated enrollment program, which
was launched in 2000, along with the simplification and expansion
of public health insurance programs, has been a major factor
in the dramatic drop in the number of uninsured children in
New York State. The number has decreased 34 percent during
the last five years from 729,000 to 479,000, despite New York's
high unemployment rate.
State health officials have said that a preliminary investigation
into a recent spate of deaths in Kingston from a rare brain-wasting
disease related to Mad Cow Disease is not a threat to public
safety. The investigation focused on reports of five deaths
in the Mid-Hudson region linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease,
or CJD, in recent months. A state Health Department spokesman
said investigation has found that there had been two deaths
from the disease in Ulster County, one in 2003 and one in 2004,
but the presence of the disease was ruled out in a third Ulster
County case while another suspected CJD death in Ulster County
could not yet be confirmed because no autopsy was performed.
Additionally, one CJD death was actually reported in Dutchess
The state official, citing patient confidentiality laws, declined
to provide names or identifying details of any of the victims.
Of the two suspected CJD victims whose names are known, one,
Colleen Staccio, who died at Benedictine Hospital on Aug. 28,
was determined not to have had CJD following a brain autopsy
performed last week, her father, Don Genther, said. CJD was
confirmed through a brain biopsy on Richard Tobey, who died
Oct. 9, family members said.
While the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
identify the incidence of CJD as one per million people each
year, experts say the syndrome is widely under-diagnosed and
the true incidence of the disease is likely higher. Health Department
officials said that 20 to 25 cases of CJD are diagnosed each
year in New York state.
CJD is an invariably fatal brain disease whose origins remain
mysterious. In most cases, the syndrome, which causes dementia
and loss of motor function, occurs for no known reason or due
to a family history of the illness. In a few cases, CJD has
been spread through contaminated surgical instruments. CJD has
also been linked to eating beef contaminated by Mad Cow Disease.
But while the Mad Cow variant of CJD has killed more than 150
people in the United Kingdom, there has been only one case identified
in the U.S., in a Florida woman who was born and raised in England.
Singling out one child for special treatment ˜ positive
or negative ˜ can throw off an entire family, according
to Canadian researchers. In two recent studies, differential
parenting affected all the children in a family, not just the
kids getting special treatment. The greater the difference in
a child's treatment, the more adjustment problems arose.
The association was stronger when mothers treated their child
negatively, compared with lavishing them with affection at the
expense of their siblings.
The link was also stronger for aggressive-disruptive child behavior
than for depressed mood and anxiety.
Besides putting the singled-out child on the spot, the effects
rippled out to brothers and sisters. For instance, disfavored
children "may experience themselves as diminished and less
worthy of love," write the researchers.
Siblings could also resent a favored brother or sister. And
if one child is treated harshly for no good reason, brothers
and sisters might fear becoming targets themselves.
But doctors note that taking an evenhanded approach to parenting
doesn't require treating kids identically. The Canadian research
team says children can tell when their siblings are being treated
differently for a good reason, and when parents are being unfair.
At least 11 al-Qaida suspects have "disappeared" in
U.S. custody, and some may have been tortured, Human Rights
Watch said in a recent report.
The prisoners are probably being held outside the United States
without access to the Red Cross or any oversight of their treatment,
the human rights group said. In some cases, the United States
will not even acknowledge the prisoners are in custody.
The report said the prisoners include the alleged architect
of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, as well as
Abu Zubaydah, who is believed to be a close aide to Osama bin
In refusing to disclose the prisoners' whereabouts or acknowledge
the detentions, Human Rights Watch said, the U.S. government
has violated international law, international treaties and the
Geneva Convention. The group called on the government to bring
all the prisoners "under the protection of the law."
"I think the U.S. demeans itself when it adopts the philosophy
that the ends justify the means in the fight against terror,"
said Reed Brody, special counsel with Human Rights Watch.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the agency has not seen the
report and declined to comment.
A second reporter for a national publication was held in contempt
recently by a federal judge for refusing to reveal confidential
sources before a grand jury investigating the leak of an undercover
CIA officer's identity. U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan
ordered Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper jailed for up
to 18 months and the magazine fined $1,000 a day for refusing
to comply with a grand jury subpoena seeking the testimony.
Hogan suspended the jail time and fine pending the outcome of
an appeal. The ruling was nearly identical to one issued last
week by Hogan in the case of Judith Miller, a reporter for The
New York Times who is also refusing to name her sources. Miller
and Cooper, both represented by lawyer Floyd Abrams, are expected
to join together in appealing their cases on First Amendment
The investigation concerns whether a crime was committed when
someone leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame, whose
name was published by syndicated columnist Robert Novak on July
14, 2003. The column appeared after Plame's husband, former
Ambassador Joseph Wilson, wrote a newspaper opinion column criticizing
President Bush's claim that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger
- a claim the CIA had asked Wilson to check out. Wilson has
said he believes his wife's name was leaked as payback for his
Disclosure of the identity of an undercover intelligence officer
can be a federal crime, if prosecutors can show the leak was
intentional and the leaker knew about the officer's secret status.
Novak, who cited two senior administration officials as his
sources, has refused to say whether he has testified or been
subpoenaed. Prosecutors have interviewed President Bush, Vice
President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and other
current or former administration officials in the investigation.
At least five reporters have been subpoenaed.
Abrams said he expected legal filings in the appeals of both
Miller and Cooper to be completed by Nov. 10 before the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which
would then likely schedule an oral argument. That means the
CIA leak criminal investigation, which began in September 2003,
could drag on into early 2005.
Meanwhile, President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove,
spent more than two hours testifying before the same panel,
which White House spokesman Scott McClellan said showed that
Rove was ''doing his part to cooperate'' in the probe, as ordered
Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said prosecutors have assured
Rove he is not a target of the criminal investigation.'
John Kerry senior adviser Joe Lockhart issued a statement calling
on Rove and other aides to ''come clean about their role in
this insidious act. If the president sincerely wanted to get
to the bottom of this potential crime, he'd stop the White House
foot-dragging and fully cooperate with this investigation,''
Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt charged that Kerry's
campaign ''is spreading rumors and working to politicize a legal
In a widely quoted remark, Wilson said after a speech in 2003
that it might be ''fun to see Karl Rove frog-marched out of
the White House in handcuffs.'' Wilson has accused Rove of spreading
word of the Novak column to other reporters.
It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it's a bull moose hanging by
its antlers from an electrical power line in the middle of the
In one of those only-in-Alaska stories reported in the Fairbanks
Daily-Miner recently, a trophy-sized bull moose was accidentally
strung up in a power line under construction to a gold mine
southeast of Fairbanks. The moose apparently got its antlers
tangled in electrical wire before workers farther down the line
pulled the line tight about two weeks before the dangler was
discovered, still alive.
The moose was suspended 50 feet in the air when workers, recognizing
something was wrong, backtracked and found it. The moose was
alive when it was lowered to the ground but was later killed
when officials from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game decided
against tranquilizing it to remove the wires because they were
worried the moose, already stressed, would die and the meat
would not be salvageable as a result of the drugs.
A charge of passing in a no-passing zone brought by New York
City DEP officials against a county resident is expected to
be reviewed Nov. 8 by a Hurley Town Justice, with the plaintiff's
attorney joining a growing number of lawyers throughout the
sprawling Watershed region by challenging the authority of the
city police agency to issue tickets outside reservoir property.
Prosecution of the case was taken over by the county District
Attorney' Office after questions arose over jurisdiction of
the police agency, which on Nov. 25, 2003, issued a ticket for
passing another vehicle in a no-passing zone on state Route
28. A motion to dismiss the case, dealing with the question
of whether the New York City DEP has jurisdiction off city property
in Ulster County, deals with technical issues, and could end
up being precedent-setting.
District Attorney Donald A. Williams said his office would not
ordinarily become involved with traffic tickets, but that jurisdiction
of the Department of Environmental Protection Police raises
"complicated issues of law" affecting local residents.
Canadians must stop Americans from using Internet pharmacies
to raid its medicine chest or face a drug shortage, a coalition
of Canadian groups representing seniors, pharmacies and patients
has warned. The groups, claiming to represent 10 million Canadians,
or about one-third the population, called on the Canadian government
Monday to ban prescription drug exports. They argue that Canada
cannot afford to address U.S. drug shortages and soaring prescription
costs with its own stock, which are often considerably cheaper
for Americans because of government price controls.
An estimated 65 million Americans, most elderly, don't have
drug coverage or can't afford drugs in the United States. Internet
pharmacies and Canadian doctors willing to write prescriptions
for Americans send an estimated $1 billion a year in Canadian
drugs south of the border.
But Canada's health department insists Americans don't pose
a threat to the country's drug supply. For example, Health Minister
Ujjal Dosanjh said recently that he believes Canada has a surplus
of vaccine that could be provided to the United States, though
probably not enough to meet the U.S. demand.
Canada regulates drug prices as part of its national health
care system, while the market dictates pricing in the United
States. Many popular medications for chronic conditions such
as high blood pressure and high cholesterol can be bought in
Canada at less than half the U.S. price.
Earlier this month, Illinois and Wisconsin started state-sponsored
programs to help residents buy cheaper prescription drugs from
both Europe and Canada. Several states, seeing the potential
for huge savings in the costs of insuring employees, have Web
sites designed to help citizens buy Canadian medications. Also,
visitors to Canada can buy as much as three months of medication
in Canada for personal use with a U.S. prescription.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and President Bush, opposes
commercial prescription drug imports, arguing that it cannot
vouch for their safety.
Chuck Cruden of the Manitoba Society of Seniors said Canadian
doctors should be treating Canadians instead of selling their
signatures to "co-sign" American prescriptions.
"The United States is the richest country in the world,"
Cruden said. "They are more than capable of solving this
problem on their own. Canada is too small and our drug supply
is too small to solve America's problem."
Elections officials have rebuffed an attempt by a former GOP
operative to purge about 17,000 Democrats from the voter rolls
in the battleground state of Nevada, where the two presidential
candidates are in a dead heat. A local registrar of voters there
rejected a challenge filed by a former state Republican Party
chairman that claimed the Democrats should be removed from the
rolls because they were inactive voters. The registrar said
such a challenge could only be made in single precincts, and
then only if the challenger has personal knowledge that the
questioned voters are inactive.
''I don't think pulling names off a database equates to personal
knowledge,'' the registrar said after it was discovered that
Republicans had been privately purging state voting records.
Under state law, voters are placed on ''inactive status'' if
they move and don't update their addresses within 30 days of
receiving notice to do so. Their registrations are then canceled
if they don't vote in two consecutive federal elections.
Meanwhile, an Arizona consulting firm denied recently
that a group it hired to register Republicans in Nevada deliberately
tore up Democratic voter registration forms. Eric Russell, a
former employee of Voters Outreach of America, said he witnessed
a supervisor shred eight to 10 Democratic registration forms
from prospective voters. Nathan Sproul, chief executive of Sproul
& Associates, said his firm was contracted by the Republican
National Committee to register voters, but he denied Russell's
accusations that Democratic registration forms were destroyed.
A spokesman for the Nevada Secretary of State's office said
it was investigating whether any state or federal laws were
A Swedish study suggests that people who use a cell phone for
at least 10 years might increase their risk of developing a
rare benign tumor along a nerve on the side of the head where
they hold the phone. Although experiments have shown radiation
from mobile phones can affect brain cells in a lab, more relevant
studies on people have found no evidence that the phones pose
a health risk. However, experts have said that because children's
brains are developing, it may not be a good idea for youngsters
to use the phones for long periods.
The new three-year study focused on 750 Swedes who had used
cell phones for at least 10 years. In it, researchers questioned
150 patients already diagnosed with acoustic neuroma, a benign
tumor on the auditory nerve that takes several years to grow
before being diagnosed, and 600 who did not have it, about their
cell phone use. All 750 subjects had been using cell phones
for at least 10 years, nearly all early analog models that emit
more electromagnetic radiation than the digital models now on
the market. Digital phones emit radiation in pulses; the older
analog varieties emit continuous waves. Since cell phones exploded
in popularity in the late 1990s, most of those sold used digital
The risk of developing a tumor was almost double for those who
started to use phones before their diagnosis. In addition, the
tumor risk was almost four times higher on the side of the head
where the phone was held.
Acoustic neuroma tumors, which can affect hearing, occur in
less than one adult per 100,000 people annually. The tumor pushes
on the surface of the brain, but doesn't grow into the brain
Previous studies, including one by Finnish scientists in 2002,
found that electromagnetic radiation emitted by phones can affect
brain tissue, but others have said that's not the case. The
wireless industry has always maintained there is no link between
mobile phones and cancer.
The Wireless Association in Washington, D.C., a trade group
representing American cell phone manufacturers, urged more research.
The spread of HIV/AIDS is fueling a massive tuberculosis crisis
that could see one billion people infected in the next 20 years,
the U.N. has warned. A staggering 35 million people could also
die of TB in that time if its growth continues unchecked, the
World Health Organization said at the start of a two-day conference
in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa last month.
TB is the most common infection among - and the leading killer
of - people living with HIV/AIDS. TB infects an estimated 8.7
million people a year and kills 2 million a year. It is spread
by airborne bacteria that settle into the lungs and cause long-term
infection. Many people who are infected do not become ill themselves
but can spread it.
Of the estimated 25 million Africans now living with HIV, about
eight million also harbor the bacillus that causes TB. Each
year, 5-10 percent of these eight million co-infected people
develop active TB and up to four million will develop the disease
at some point in their lives, the WHO said.
The "deadly interaction" of TB and HIV threatens to
evolve into a global public health crisis and called for urgent
action to stop the co-epidemic, said Mario Raviglione, head
of the WHO fight against TB. The danger is compounded by the
appearance of drug-resistant TB strains.
Authorities' targeting of people because of their racial background
or religious affiliation is a deep-rooted problem in the United
States, with nearly 32 million people reporting they've been
racially profiled, a human rights group has said. The report
by Amnesty International USA also said at least 87 million people
˜ one in three ˜ in the United States are at high
risk of being victimized because they belong to a racial, ethnic
or religious group whose members are commonly targeted by police
for unlawful stops and searches.
Racial profiling is a growing problem as the government has
expanded its war on terror, the report said. Police, immigration
and airport security procedures are the areas where the problem
has gotten worse since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it said.
Citizens and visitors of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent,
and others who appear to be from these areas or members of the
Muslim and Sikh faiths, have become more frequent subjects of
racial profiling over the last three years. Such racial profiling
is a distraction to law enforcement and therefore, undermines
national security efforts, the report said. As police primarily
focus on Arab, Muslim and South Asian males, it said, they are
more likely to overlook terrorists who are white.
Aside from the ill-effects on victims ˜ depression and
humiliation ˜ racial profiling reinforces residential segregation,
creates fear and mistrust and engenders reluctance in reporting
crimes and cooperating with police officers, Amnesty International
State laws continue to be insufficient in addressing the problem,
according to the report. Twenty-seven states do not ban racial
profiling, the report said. Also, 46 states don't ban religious
profiling, 35 continue to allow pedestrian "stop and frisk"
searches and only six of the 15 that ban these searches use
a definition of racial profiling that can actually be enforced,
the report said.
The Supreme Court handed Democrats recently, ordering a lower
court to reconsider a Texas redistricting plan that could give
Republicans six more seats and a firmer hold on their majority
in the House. The decision won't affect next month's elections,
though any GOP gains on Nov. 2 could be wiped out later if the
plan ultimately is deemed unconstitutional.
States must redraw boundaries every 10 years to reflect population
shifts found during the census. Five appeals over the Texas
boundary-drawing pose an interesting question: Can political
leaders of a Legislature force district drawing more frequently
than once a decade, to make more seats winnable for members
of their party?
Democratic legislators twice staged walkouts from the Texas
Legislature to protest district-drawing that benefited Republican
candidates. And House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was
admonished recently by the House ethics committee for getting
In a brief order, justices threw out a victory for Texas Republican
legislators, and ordered a three-judge federal panel in Texas
to reconsider the issue. The court said that the Texas map should
be viewed again, in light of that decision.
Texas lawmakers failed to pass new maps for the state's 32 House
seats in 2001, after the census numbers were in, so a federal
court drew up a plan. Republicans took control of the Legislature
after 2002 elections and started working on another map early
in 2003. Democrats in the state House and Senate staged quorum-breaking
walkouts in an attempt to kill GOP-led bills, but the Republicans
The Texas delegation is now even at 16-16. But because of the
redrawn districts Republicans could hold up to 22 seats after
DeLay had pressed state lawmakers to redraw districts. Democrats
complained and the bipartisan House ethics committee determined
earlier this month that DeLay, the No. 2 House Republican, raised
"serious concerns" by contacting the Federal Aviation
Administration last year to help locate Democratic lawmakers
who fled to Oklahoma in an effort to thwart passage of the DeLay-engineered
A computer crash that forced a pre-election test of electronic
voting machines to be postponed was trumpeted by critics as
proof of the balloting technology's unreliability. The incident
in Palm Beach County - which is infamous for its hanging and
pregnant chads during the 2000 presidential election - did not
directly involve the touch-screen terminals on which nearly
one in three U.S. voters will cast ballots on Election Day.
But critics of the ATM-like machines said it proved how fickle
any computer-based voting system can be and highlighted the
need for touch-screens to produce paper records.
The recent public dry run had to be postponed a week because
excessive heat caused a computer server that tabulates data
from the touch-screen machines to crash. An Achille's heel of
electronic voting equipment, just like any machines whose circuits
get hot with colliding electrons, is its inability to tolerate
extreme conditions, many experts say.
Critics of paperless voting systems used in 15 Florida counties
said the incident demonstrates their pleas for a system that
includes printers on every touch-screen and produces paper records
of every ballot cast. According to technical standards for electronic
voting systems, updated in 2002, voting machines must be able
to tolerate storage temperatures ranging from minus 4 to 140
degrees Fahrenheit. They must be able to operate in "natural"
conditions and temperatures ranging from 50 to 95 degrees.
Mechanical problems during California's March primary caused
nearly half of all touch-screens in San Diego County to malfunction,
causing hundreds of precincts to open late. Heat-related troubles
have flared up in other counties. In the July primary, numerous
machines in one elementary school in Decatur, Ga., failed throughout
the day, when temperatures exceeded 90 degrees, according to
a report by poll monitors.
An executive at Sequoia Voting Systems, which provides Palm
Beach County's touch-screens but not the county office server
that crashed, called critics' fears overblown.
The Bush administration has promoted its education law with
a video that comes across as a news story but fails to make
clear the reporter involved was paid with taxpayer money. The
government used a similar approach this year in promoting the
new Medicare law and drew a rebuke from the investigative arm
of Congress, which found the videos amounted to propaganda in
violation of federal law.
The Education Department also has paid for rankings of newspaper
coverage of the No Child Left Behind law, a centerpiece of the
president's domestic agenda. Points are awarded for stories
that say President Bush and the Republican Party are strong
on education, among other factors. The news ratings also rank
individual reporters on how they cover the law, based on the
points system set up by Ketchum, a public relations firm hired
by the government.
The video and documents emerged through a Freedom of Information
Act request by People for the American Way, a citizen's group
that contends the department is spending public money on a political
agenda. The group sought details on a $700,000 contract Ketchum
received in 2003 from the Education Department.
One service the company provided was a video news release geared
for television stations. The video includes a news story that
features Education Secretary Rod Paige and promotes tutoring
now offered under law. The story ends with the voice of a woman
saying, ''In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting.'' It does
not identify the government as the source of the report. It
also fails to make clear the person purporting to be a reporter
was someone hired for the promotional video. Those are the same
features - including the voice of Karen Ryan - that were prominent
in videos the Health and Human Services Department used to promote
the Medicare law and were judged covert propaganda by the Government
Accountability Office in May.
The Education Department says the video was clearly marked as
being a product of the agency when it was given to TV stations.
Over the last four years, the Bush administration and Vice President
Dick Cheney's office have backed a series of measures favoring
a drilling technique developed by Halliburton Co., Cheney's
former employer. The technology, known as hydraulic fracturing,
boosts gas and oil production and generates $1.5 billion a year
for the company, about one-fifth of its energy-related revenue.
In recent years, Halliburton and other oil and gas firms have
been fighting efforts to regulate the procedure under a statute
that protects drinking water supplies. The 2001 national energy
policy report, written under the direction of the vice president's
office, cited the value of hydraulic fracturing but didn't mention
concerns raised by staff members at the Environmental Protection
Agency. Since then, the administration has taken steps to keep
the practice from being regulated under the Safe Drinking Water
Act, which Halliburton has said would hurt its business and
add needless costs and bureaucratic delays. An EPA study concluded
in June that there was no evidence that hydraulic fracturing
posed a threat to drinking water. However, some EPA employees
complained about the study internally before its completion,
and others have strongly criticized it publicly since its release.
One of them, an environmental engineer and 30-year EPA veteran
in Denver, recently sought whistle-blower protection in an 18-page
statement sent to the agency's inspector general and members
of Congress. The statement alleges that the study's findings
were premature, may endanger public health and were approved
by an industry-dominated review panel that included a current
Halliburton, where Cheney was chief executive from 1995 to 2000,
is the leader among three large companies providing most fracturing
services to oil and gas drilling operations around the world.
Fracturing affords access to hard-to-reach energy deposits by
forcing pressurized fluids deep into the earth, creating underground
fissures that permit oil and gas to flow toward surface wells.
Cheney, who left Halliburton in August 2000 to run for vice
president, has said he has severed all ties to the company.
Since he took office in January 2001, Cheney has received $398,548
in deferred compensation, and he will continue to receive annual
payments through 2005. He also has 433,333 options to purchase
Halliburton stock, according to financial disclosure records
filed in May 2004. But his staff has pointed to an insurance
policy that guarantees that the vice president will receive
the deferred compensation no matter how Halliburton does ˜
and to his commitment to donate any profits from the stock options
The entire Pacific Rim faces an outbreak of unprecedented proportions
as it grapples with avian influenza, which the World Health
Organization warns could develop into a pandemic unless detection
and prevention methods are improved.
Health officials raised alarm bells recently over bird flu,
which WHO officials said had claimed 28 lives in southeast Asia
this year. They argued that increased collaboration between
countries and more study was needed to combat the virus, which
resurfaced in July in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam
and China and dampened Asian demand for grain. The WHO has said
the virulent virus was circulating more widely in the region
than originally believed - particularly worrisome because humans
lack immunity to it. A huge flow of people, goods and foods
around Asia and lax animal husbandry practices have been cited
as prime concerns.
Although avian flu is very infectious in birds, it does not
spread easily among humans. There is a danger, however, that
an avian virus mixes with a human one and forms a new disease.
Malaysia, which detected three new cases in a northern state
this month, said it had strengthened infectious disease surveillance
and drawn up a rapid response plan.
It suggested countries around the region adopt a common framework
to prepare for a potential national pandemic, a representative
said. Singapore suggested wider use of vaccinations, an option
Thailand is strongly considering.
"The outbreak of Asian influenza in the region is potentially
more dangerous than SARS and we should not ignore a pandemic
arising from this," the Singapore representative said,
referring to the deadly flu-like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
Thailand was the world's fourth-largest chicken exporter until
the disease halted exports to Japan and Europe.
Watch Our Trout!
A fish known for its voracious appetite and ability to wreak
havoc on freshwater ecosystems was found in Chicago's Burnham
Harbor, alarming biologists across the nation about potential
changes to world fisheries ahead. An angler caught the 18-inch
fish and immediately thought it looked peculiar, so he posted
a picture of it on the Internet. Scientists recognized it as
a northern snakehead, a native of China, Korea and Russia. Officials
said they would scan the harbor near Lake Michigan with electronic
equipment to verify whether other northern snakeheads are present.
If so, they are concerned the fish could multiply and gobble
up native fish.
The northern snakehead can grow to more than 3 feet long and
has large teeth and a voracious appetite for other fish. It
is usually imported for food or aquariums. Scientists call it
a "frankenfish" for its ability to survive in oxygen-depleted
water, move from pond to pond and devour other fish. Chicago
imposed a ban on northern snakeheads two years ago after an
angler discovered one in Maryland. The fish have also been spotted
in Philadelphia and Wisconsin.
Have they heard, yet, about our trout?
An unexplained jump in greenhouse gases since 2002 might herald
a catastrophic acceleration of global warming if it becomes
a trend, scientists said in recent weeks. But they said the
two-year leap might be an anomaly linked, for instance, to forest
fires in Siberia or a freak hot summer in Europe in 2003 rather
than a portent of runaway climate change linked to human disruption
of the climate system.
"There have been two years where the rise of carbon dioxide
has been faster than average," said Richard Betts, Manager
for Ecosystems and Climate Impacts at Britain's Hadley Center.
"We shouldn't get alarmist about this ... If it lasted
for more than about five years you'd start to get worried,"
Carbon dioxide levels, the main gas blamed for blanketing the
planet and pushing up temperatures since the Industrial Revolution,
have risen by more than two parts per million (ppm) in the past
two years against a recent rate of about 1.5 ppm. Scientists
said the figures were confirmed at sites including Mauna Loa,
Hawaii, west Ireland and the Norwegian Arctic island of Svalbard,
about 800 miles from the North Pole. The rise was less in the
The rise in the past two years is quicker than mapped out in
U.N. projections to the year 2100 based on increased human use
of fossil fuels like coal, oil or gas. Higher temperatures could
trigger everything from desertification to rising sea levels.
A background fear is that extra human emissions, by cars, factories
and power plants, may be blunting the planet's ability to absorb
CO2. In the worst case, that could lead to a runaway warming.
U.N. scientists project that average temperatures will rise
by 3 to 11 F by 2100 because of human impact on the climate.
Temperatures have already risen since the Industrial Revolution
in tandem with a 30 percent rise in CO2 levels. The U.N.'s Kyoto
protocol, likely to come into force in coming months with Russian
help after a U.S. pullout in 2001, obliges developed nations
to cut their carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990
levels by 2008-12.
New Arms Race?
Great Britain's Tony Blairt has given an agreement in principle
to the Pentagon to station interceptor missiles on British soil.
The confidential deal goes far beyond the official position
that Britain is providing enhanced radar provision for the US
national missile defence programme.
The siting of the interceptors on British soil would represent
the most significant new military US presence in this country
since the withdrawal of cruise missiles 13 years ago.
If re-elected, President Bush has pledged to spend around $10bn
a year on realising Ronald Reagan's dream of erecting a missile
shield to protect the West from long-range attack.
Sixteen interceptor missiles are being positioned in bases in
Alaska and California this year. The intended location of the
remaining 24 is a closely guarded secret, although it is known
that the Pentagon wants to site some in Europe.
Critics of ballistic missile defence argue that it will lead
to a new arms race as nuclear-armed states build faster, more
powerful missiles to evade the defensive systems.
Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin of Russia has made his opposition
to the new arms in no uncertain terms,