Saturday, December 29, 2007

That's woman's work
Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

By Julie Carter

Chauvinist is a cowboy word. You won't hear them say it, and most likely, without a little help, they can't spell it. However, they live it with a subtlety that defies description.

In the heart and mind of a cowboy, there is a long list of things that fall under the category of “woman's work” and even if they have to be sneaky about it, they are determined to make it her job, forever.

One of the most common frailties he will portray, almost diabolically, is his inability to shop for anything that doesn't involve horses, cattle, roping or tools for his shop.

A well-traveled worldly kind of cowboy I know has navigated remote ranches, big cities that even include San Antonio, South America, Europe, Canada and Japan. He cannot possibly find the toothpaste hidden in Wal-Mart.

This results in a pitiful situation where his bride does all the shopping even if he has just made a trip to town himself.

To further this travesty, he promotes his innocent lack of understanding about shopping by offering to help unload the groceries if she'll just wait an hour while he finishes his urgent task of, oh say, riding his horse.

Meanwhile, with milk, frozen food and perishables standing by, his bride knows he'll be right along as soon as it is all safely put away.

The same principal of innocence is offered if the cowboy has his eye set on a new horse that he is sure he needs to buy for his string.

Justification comes via generosity.

He will gift his bride with one of his current horses under the auspices of her needing an upgrade. He is more than willing to part with one of his prize steeds to help her out. That leaves him one horse short, and almost magically, a replacement will appear.

Sometimes this plotted horse trade will take months because his bride is not as thrilled with the idea as he seems to be. Often it means trading off her old dependable, trustworthy horse to some needy relative who simply cannot do without him. Again, this idea is his.

The trade often involves old women or children to add to the tender nature of the generosity. Tactfully, he will make his bride feel obligated to part with the security of her old horse for the betterment of mankind.

Cowboys and computers find a love-hate relationship where he cannot possibly pull up the bank statement for reconciliation but for a couple years has been able to navigate with a knowledgeable dexterity.

The same guy that can mix complicated chemical formulas to spray brush and crops, and even fly the plane to put it on the land, will deny any ability to run a lawnmower, grocery cart, and certainly not the washing machine, dishwasher or microwave.

In the interest of full disclosure, the cowboy hero does offer some redeeming qualities. In the kitchen, he is completely willing to be in complete charge of Quality Control. Usually that entails sampling everything once, sometimes twice, most often in the case of pies.

Other valuable lessons for the cowboy's bride provided by the cowboy include:

---No matter how many exotic gourmet dishes you can make, cowboys prefer chicken fried steak, gravy, potatoes and beans to all the cuisines in the world.

---The best dessert in anybody's book is chocolate cake with gooey icing.

---You can always trust that the market will come up $20 to hit the break-even on any new set of cattle he wants to buy, trust him on that, he says.

---Always get on a fresh horse with his head in the corner so that he can't buck too hard.

---Never say to the wannabe, who might buy that unbroken colt, that his hat is on backwards.

---Always pick your spot with your back to the wind when holding herd.

Recently, this worldly braniac cowboy claimed to not to know how to put mouse D-con in the barn. Some things just are not worth the fight.

Visit Julie’s Web site and updated blog at Her book, Cowgirl Sass & Savvy, continues to bring laughs and smiles to readers everywhere.

It’s The Pitts: A Little Slow

I don't know about you but I just can't stand people who are intolerant of others. Here we were at night without any headlights, with an overweight load of bulls in the back, on a narrow and windy two lane road, going about 7 miles an hour with 27 cars behind us honking their horns like they were in a Mexican wedding!

Some people just don't have any patience.

It all started when I had a little car trouble and was forced to hitch a ride back home from a bull sale from my good friend Gary. Now, when he was a little boy Gary dreamed of owning a 1956 Chevy. He finally got one in 1996. The Chevy stock truck was a real machine too, going from zero to forty in about a week and a half. But what the heck, I needed a ride home so who was I to be choosy?

To say that the trip was slow was a bit of an understatement. Dogs were still peeing on our tires once we reached our cruising speed. Bicycles even passed us. Needless to say this did not make the ever-growing line of cars behind us very happy. Especially since there were so few places to pass. When there was a brief stretch of open road twenty cars would try to pass all at the same time. As you can easily understand, the drivers of the passing cars were shaking their fists and honking their horns as they went by. I became adept at reading their lips and they were saying cuss words that would sizzle bacon. But Gary was oblivious. He chuckled to himself, thought they were just being neighborly, honked his horn and returned the greeting.

Initially it was a real pleasure trip for us seeing how the wives weren't along. And we were making real good time too. At the rate we were going the bulls might get home before the breeding season was over. We were swapping lies and having a large time as it gradually turned pitch black outside and a gentle rain began to fall.

That's when it happened!

First the radio went dead, then the road ahead disappeared and then our windshield wipers went into the intermittent mode, this despite the fact that intermittent windshield wipers were not invented in 1956.

"I hate it when that happens," said Gary calmly.

"When what happens?" I yelled as Gary slammed on the brakes to let a tree go by.

"The darn alternator is going out again. We'll just have to go on without windshield wipers or the heater and hope we got enough juice to run the headlights. It might slow us down some though."

Meanwhile, the gentle showers turned into a downpour. I was shivering and wondered if I’d die of frostbite or in a head-on collision and I thought I should do something. I offered, "I'll hang out the window and wipe the rain off the front windshield with my handkerchief for you."

"Oh, don't bother. I can't see anyway. Forgot and left my darn glasses at home," said Gary, further instilling a great dread in me that I would not live long enough to apologize to my wife for ever criticizing her driving skills.

Despite the dim headlights every now and then Gary would actually turn when the road did. Meanwhile, the cars were really piling up behind us as we passed several turnouts. But Gary was completely oblivious. When a car would attempt to pass the drivers would lay on their horns but Gary would just laugh and honk back.

I never did really understand Gary's complacency until we arrived at our destination and I got out of the truck. As I kissed the ground I noticed on the back of Gary's 1956 Chevy stock truck was a bumper sticker that read, "Honk, if you're horny."

Scientists fleeing border, smugglers Biologist Karen Krebbs used to study bats in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the Arizona-Mexico border. Then, she got tired of dodging drug smugglers all night. "I use night-vision goggles, and you could see them very clearly" - caravans of men with guns and huge backpacks full of drugs, trudging through the desert, Krebbs said. After her 10th or 11th time hiding in bushes and behind rocks, she abandoned her research. "I'm just not willing to risk my neck anymore," she said. Across the southwestern U.S. border and in northern Mexico, scientists such as Krebbs say their work is increasingly threatened by smugglers as tighter border security pushes trafficking into the most remote areas where botanists, zoologists and geologists do their research. "In the last year, it's gotten much worse," said Jack Childs, who uses infrared cameras to study endangered jaguars in eastern Arizona. He loses one or two of the cameras every month to smugglers. Scientists, especially those working on the Mexican side of the border, have long shared the wilderness with marijuana growers and immigrants trying to enter the United States illegally. But tension is rising because of crackdowns on smugglers by the Mexican military, increased vigilance in the Caribbean Sea, new border fences, air patrols, a buildup of U.S. Border Patrol agents and a turf war between cartels. Smugglers are increasingly jealous of their smuggling routes and less tolerant of scientists poking around, researchers say. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument stopped granting most new research permits in January because of increasing smuggling activity. Scientists must sign a statement acknowledging that the National Park Service cannot guarantee their safety from "potentially dangerous persons entering the park from Mexico."....
Gun seized after Katrina? NRA wants you The National Rifle Association has hired private investigators to find hundreds of people whose firearms were seized by city police in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, according to court papers filed this week. The NRA is trying to locate gun owners for a federal lawsuit that the lobbying group filed against Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Superintendent Warren Riley over the city's seizure of firearms after the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane. In the lawsuit, the NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation claim the city violated gun owners' constitutional right to bear arms and left them "at the mercy of roving gangs, home invaders, and other criminals" after Katrina. The NRA says the city seized more than 1,000 guns that weren't part of any criminal investigation after the hurricane. Police have said they took only guns that had been stolen or found in abandoned homes. NRA lawyer Daniel Holliday said investigators have identified about 300 of the gun owners and located about 75 of them. Some of them could be called to testify during a trial, he added....
Deaths surge for law officers A record number of fatal traffic incidents and a sharp rise in shooting deaths has led to one of the deadliest years for law enforcement officers in the United States in almost two decades. With the exception of 2001, which saw a dramatic increase in deaths because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, 2007 was the deadliest year for law enforcement since 1989, according to a preliminary report being released jointly today by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and the Concerns of Police Survivors. The report lists 186 deaths as of Wednesday, up from 145 last year. Eighty-one officers have died in traffic incidents, which surpassed the record of 78 set in 2000, the report said. Shooting deaths increased from 52 to 69, a rise of about 33 percent. Texas led the nation with 22 fatalities, followed by Florida (16), New York (12) and California (11). Police fatalities have generally declined since peaking at 277 in 1974, the report says. At one time, officers were more likely to be killed in an attack than to die accidentally, but 60 percent of this year's deaths were accidental....

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Not So Hot If a scientific paper appeared in a major journal saying that the planet has warmed twice as much as previously thought, that would be front-page news in every major paper around the planet. But what would happen if a paper was published demonstrating that the planet may have warmed up only half as much as previously thought? Nothing. Earlier this month, Ross McKitrick from Canada's University of Guelph and I published a manuscript in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres saying precisely that. Scientists have known for years that temperature records can be contaminated by so-called "urban warming," which results from the fact that long-term temperature histories tend to have originated at points of commerce. The bricks, buildings, and pavement of cities retain the heat of the day and impede the flow of ventilating winds. For example, downtown Washington is warmer than nearby (and more rural) Dulles Airport. As government and services expand down the Dulles Access road, it, too, is beginning to warm compared to more rural sites to the west. Adjusting data for this effect, or using only rural stations, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states with confidence that less than 10% of the observed warming in long-term climate histories is due to urbanization. That's a wonderful hypothesis, and Ross and I decided to test it....
Lawsuit alleges countywide conspiracy The owners of Lauxmont Farms in Lower Windsor Township filed a lawsuit against York County Monday, claiming that the county commissioners' efforts to take their land by eminent domain for a park caused them financial problems. But the lawsuit goes beyond that, alleging the existence of a wide-ranging conspiracy by public officials in York County. According to the allegations, the members of the conspiracy wanted to get the Kohrs' land for considerably less-than-market value, motivated in part by personal dislike, and conducted a prolonged harassment campaign against the family that eventually drove their mother to suicide. "They're out millions of dollars," the Kohrs' lawyer, John Snyder, said in a phone interview. "They have lost a mother in this process, which they believe, and I concur with them, was a result of this process. They've lost time and opportunity and buyers, and they've had their civil rights trampled on."....

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cattlemen Seek Checkoff Changes Cattle producers in Nebraska and other states are pushing for the first significant change to the national beef checkoff program since it started more than 20 years ago. The beef checkoff program is behind the popular "Beef, It's What's for Dinner" ads that feature the distinctive voice of actor Sam Elliott. At a dollar a head, the checkoff fee pools about $80 million annually for beef promotion, research and education, among other things. But more than two decades of inflation have decreased the buying power of that dollar, say checkoff supporters. Some state chapters of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association want Congress to hike the checkoff to $2, while others want producers who pay the checkoff to vote on whether it should rise. The program remains much the same since Congress authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture to start it in the mid-1980s, according to association representative Don Ricketts. The Colorado-based group administers many of the beef checkoff dollars. "There are so many more issues today, and the dollar doesn't go as far as it used to," Ricketts said. Ricketts said that under one proposal, future hikes in the checkoff would require only a vote of those who pay the checkoff and not approval from Congress. The association plans to meet in February to vote on proposals and then lobby Congress to approve the changes....
Dutch milk suspected behind Japanese mad cow outbreaks Dutch-produced milk made from animal fat powder may have been a cause of the outbreak of mad cow disease in Hokkaido and Kanto, the agricultural ministry said in an investigative report Friday, according to a Kyodo news report. The report, based on investigations on 32 of the 33 Japanese cows that have been confirmed infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), found that it was likely that 13 of the 32 cows had been infected through milk made on animal fat powder produced by a feed plant in the Netherlands. The ministry, however, said that its conclusion is not definite, partly because Dutch and other reports deny that animal fat is a cause of BSE. The 13 cows were all born in either Hokkaido or in the Kanto region between 1995 and 1996....
Senate Slips Chicken Into COOL Farm Bill Provision The Senate added chicken to its version of the country-of-origin labeling provision in the 2007 farm bill passed late Friday, even though nearly all chicken consumed in the United States is grown domestically. "Chicken meat will be treated no differently than other cuts of meat under the law now," Majority Communications Director for the Senate Agriculture Committee Kate Cyrul told The legislative language says "whole chicken, or in part." The National Chicken Council did not oppose the amendment, spokesman Richard Lobb told "It's getting to the point that there will be some poultry imported," he said, noting the recently signed free trade agreement allows Chile to export chicken to the United States. "And there are a number of other countries in the queue that sooner or later will get authorization." Currently, "about 99.9 percent" of all chicken consumed in the United States is produced domestically. But with red meat COOL labeling on the horizon, Lobb said consumers might start wondering where the chicken they purchase came from....
A Business Plan To Advance Animal Disease Traceability Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service We are advising the public that we are making available for review and comment a Business Plan to Advance Animal Disease Traceability. The Business Plan details recommended strategies and actions to enable existing State and Federal regulated and voluntary animal health programs, industry-administered management and marketing programs, and various animal identification methods to work in harmony with the National Animal Identification System. The Business Plan is available on the Internet at
National Animal Identification System; User Guide and Additional Information Resources Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service We are advising the public that we are have prepared a revised version of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) User Guide that was originally released in draft form in November 2006. The revised User Guide contains the most current information on how the system works and how producers may participate in the NAIS. We are making the revised User Guide available for review and comment. The revised User Guide is available on the Internet at
K-State Tests Animal ID System That Might Detect Cattle Disease Thanks to research taking place at K-State's Beef Stocker Unit, modern-day cowboys could soon be using a bit of old-fashioned science to fight disease in the feedlot. Dale Blasi, a K-State professor of animal sciences and industry, is researching the effectiveness of a new radio-frequency identification ear tag that takes the animal's temperature. Elevated temperature is thought to be a precursor to the onset of disease. The tag, which is manufactured and marketed by a company called TekVet, looks like a traditional plastic identification tag, except that it has an active, battery-powered radio frequency transmitter attached to it. The tag goes on the animal's left side and has a flexible thermometer that slides down the ear canal next to the tympanic membrane. The thermometer periodically takes the calf's temperature and transmits the data to a dish located in the feed yard. The dish then transmits the temperature data to tracking software developed by the same company. Blasi said that the software can be set by temperature - normal for a cow is in the 100-102 degree range - to alert lot managers of an elevated reading. This gives workers who do visual inspections a heads up on which cows might be sick....
Congress slashes animal ID funding USDA is going to have less money than hoped for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) this year. Congress trimmed the Bush administration's budget request for NAIS in fiscal year 2008 by more than two-thirds. This past Wednesday, USDA unveiled a new business plan for the NAIS. Later that day, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Bruce Knight told Brownfield one of the reasons the new plan will work is because the Bush administration planned to fully fund the program. "Because of the importance of animal ID, we're carrying forward full speed ahead with the optimism that we will be able to garner enough funds from Congress and from carryover to be able to implement this program in a robust and full manner," Knight said. But Congress didn’t cooperate. In the omnibus spending measure passed by Congress last week, lawmakers approved just $9.75 million for the NAIS animal in fiscal year 2008, less than a third of the more than $33.2 million requested by USDA....
EU makes sheep and goat tags compulsory by end of '09 EU ministers agreed on Monday to introduce electronic tags for millions of sheep and goats across the European Union by the end of 2009, part of a strategy to prevent epidemics of contagious diseases like foot-and-mouth. Back in December 2003, the bloc's farm ministers agreed new animal tagging rules to replace a system where only flocks of sheep and herds of goats are tracked when moved from farm to farm, sold at market or sent for slaughter. But at that time, electronic tagging systems were not sufficiently advanced or developed for this to be feasible, so it was agreed that more research needed to be conducted first. After studying a European Commission assessment report of pilot projects, the ministers agreed to delay introducing compulsory tagging by two years to the end of 2009, rather than the start of January 2008. Italy and Spain voted against. Unique identifier codes are carried by the animal either on an eartag or inside its digestive tract. The identification number can then be read using either a portable or fixed electronic reader....
Austin cloning firm to propose animal registry An Austin animal cloning company is to announce plans today to build a national registry of most cloned animals in an attempt to quiet concerns from the meat and dairy industry. The registry will track the animals using a radio frequency identification and could be used by food and dairy producers to tout their products as "clone-free." Austin-based ViaGen and Iowa-based Trans Ova Genetics, two of the top animal cloning companies, are to present the plan in a conference call today. The registry is being unveiled as two pieces of legislation in Congress are being pushed that would stop the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from releasing a final assessment clearing cloned animals and their offspring as safe for the food supply. The legislation asks for more studies on the issue of milk and meat from cloned animals and is supported by Consumers Union and the Humane Society of the United States....
Family fun turns into a wolf scare for tobogganers A tobogganing trip near Fort Nelson went from fun to fright for two families after they were chased by wolves. The families were on an outing 100 kilometres east of Fort Nelson Friday when two wolves started to chase a sleighful of three children, said 36-year-old Kyle Keays, who was among the group. The children -- one aged four, and two others, both three -- were being towed along the base of a hill by an all-terrain vehicle when the wolves appeared. Keays said his wife first noticed the wolves and shouted at him to watch out. The ATV's driver, Rod Barrie, turned around and pulled the sled back toward his truck. "I looked back and I just saw the wolves coming out of the ditch," said Keays, who works in the area as a gas plant operator. The wolves were within six metres of the children when the youngsters were hustled into the truck. At that moment, Keays' Rottweiler-cross, Shadow, intercepted the lead wolf and got into a scuffle. "When Shadow saw the wolves, he immediately broke free and bee-lined down the hill to attack the lead wolf," Keays said. As Barrie swung a shovel at the wolves, they backed off, but didn't run, said Keays, who grabbed his rifle from his nearby camp. "They definitely weren't afraid," he said. "They backed off 50 feet and started circling side to side."....
Alaskans Weigh the Cost of Gold The gold mine proposed for this stunning open country might be the largest in North America. It would involve building the biggest dam in the world at the headwaters of the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery, which it would risk obliterating. Epic even by Alaskan standards, the planned Pebble Mine has divided a state normally enthusiastic about extracting whatever value can be found in its wide-open spaces. Environmentalists and commercial fishing interests have mounted a well-funded public relations campaign against the project. Mining companies are investing hundreds of millions to make it inevitable. The two sides agree only that Pebble's fate is likely to pivot on the sentiments of a few thousand local residents who would have to live beside it. The effort is led by Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Vancouver company that signed a partnership this summer with global mining giant Anglo-American to develop the site on the peninsula between Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay, 180 miles southwest of Anchorage. The joint effort will spend almost $100 million this year on exploratory drilling and consultants hired to prepare an environmental impact statement that starts the permitting process. Though the mine itself remains years from reality, the priority is hiring. So far, about one-third of the 150 people working at Pebble's local headquarters in the village of Iliamna are natives from the surrounding area. "It's all about getting the 'social license,' " said one Northern Dynasty manager, using industry jargon for obtaining permission of the local community, and speaking privately because the company authorized only Magee to be quoted. "It's not rape and pillage anymore. It can't be." By all appearances it's an uphill battle. A recent survey by Bristol Bay Native Corp., which under federal law represents 8,000 natives with roots in the area, found 69 percent oppose the mine, 57 percent "strongly." The problem is salmon. Wild sockeye course through the bay and famously surge up the rivers that converge exactly where geologists found rich deposits of gold and copper....
Questions Linger at A Utah Coal Mine Nearly five months after a thunderous cave-in at Utah's Crandall Canyon mine, the cause of the original disaster is still under investigation and the fate of the mine is officially unresolved. Six miners were caught in the Aug. 6 cave-in. Ten days later, three men were killed in another collapse while trying to tunnel through the quivering mountain to the victims. After that, the rescue effort was abandoned. The state has said it will not declare the six miners dead without bodies, but it is not clear that the six bodies can ever be recovered. The mine's co-owner, Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp., will not say whether it plans to reopen it, but such a move, which would require the approval of the Bureau of Land Management, appears unlikely. The mine does not have much coal left, and since the accident, the company has stripped it of conveyer belts, power lines and other equipment and let shafts fill with water, said James F. Kohler, a bureau official in Utah....

Hoover Planned Mass Jailing in 1950 A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty. Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons. Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The F.B.I would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau. The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote. “In order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus,” it said....
FBI Prepares Vast Database Of Biometrics The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad. Digital images of faces, fingerprints and palm patterns are already flowing into FBI systems in a climate-controlled, secure basement here. And in the coming years, law enforcement authorities around the world will be able to rely on iris patterns, face-shape data, scars and perhaps even the unique ways people walk and talk, to solve crimes and identify criminals and terrorists. The FBI will also retain, upon request by employers, the fingerprints of employees who have undergone criminal background checks so the employers can be notified if employees have brushes with the law. The increasing use of biometrics for identification is raising questions about the ability of Americans to avoid unwanted scrutiny. It is drawing criticism from those who worry that people's bodies will become de facto national identification cards. Critics say that such government initiatives should not proceed without proof that the technology really can pick a criminal out of a crowd. The use of biometric data is increasing throughout the government. For the past two years, the Defense Department has been storing in a database images of fingerprints, irises and faces of more than 1.5 million Iraqi and Afghan detainees, Iraqi citizens and foreigners who need access to U.S. military bases. The Pentagon also collects DNA samples from some Iraqi detainees, which are stored separately. The Department of Homeland Security has been using iris scans at some airports to verify the identity of travelers who have passed background checks and who want to move through lines quickly. The department is also looking to apply iris- and face-recognition techniques to other programs. The DHS already has a database of millions of sets of fingerprints, which includes records collected from U.S. and foreign travelers stopped at borders for criminal violations, from U.S. citizens adopting children overseas, and from visa applicants abroad. There could be multiple records of one person's prints....
Judge Supports Arizona Law on Immigrants A new Arizona law considered among the nation’s toughest against employers who hire illegal immigrants will go into effect on Jan. 1 after federal judges on Friday refused to block it. Both a United States district judge in Phoenix and a federal appeals court in San Francisco, ruling on separate lawsuits by business and civil rights groups, declined to stand in the way. The law calls for suspending the license of an employer found to have knowingly hired an illegal worker, and revocation for a second offense. First, Judge Neil Vincent Wake of Federal District Court in Phoenix issued a sharp defense of the rights of lawful workers and said the law would not burden businesses in the short run. Then on Friday night, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit deferred a decision on an injunction until after a hearing by Judge Wake on Jan. 16, provided a “decision is reached with reasonable promptness.”....
CIA chief to drag White House into torture cover-up storm THE CIA chief who ordered the destruction of secret videotapes recording the harsh interrogation of two top Al-Qaeda suspects has indicated he may seek immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying before the House intelligence committee. Jose Rodriguez, former head of the CIA’s clandestine service, is determined not to become the fall guy in the controversy over the CIA’s use of torture, according to intelligence sources. It has emerged that at least four White House staff were approached for advice about the tapes, including David Addington, a senior aide to Dick Cheney, the vice-president, but none has admitted to recommending their destruction. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of counterterrorism at the CIA, said it was impossible for Rodriguez to have acted on his own: “If everybody was against the decision, why in the world would Jose Rodriguez – one of the most cautious men I have ever met – have gone ahead and destroyed them?”....

Monday, December 24, 2007


Washington's Gift


December 24, 2007

There is a Christmas story at the birth of this country that very few Americans know. It involves a single act by George Washington -- his refusal to take absolute power -- that affirms our own deepest beliefs about self-government, and still has profound meaning in today's world. To appreciate its significance, however, we must revisit a dark period at the end of America's eight-year struggle for independence.

The story begins with Gen. Washington's arrival in Annapolis, Md., on Dec. 19, 1783. The country was finally at peace -- just a few weeks earlier the last British army on American soil had sailed out of New York harbor. But the previous eight months had been a time of terrible turmoil and anguish for Gen. Washington, outwardly always so composed. His army had been discharged and sent home, unpaid, by a bankrupt Congress -- without a victory parade or even a statement of thanks for their years of sacrifices and sufferings.
['General George Washington Resigning His Commission,' by John Trumbull, 1824.]
"General George Washington Resigning His Commission," by John Trumbull, 1824.

Instead, not a few congressmen and their allies in the press had waged a vitriolic smear campaign against the soldiers -- especially the officers, because they supposedly demanded too much money for back pay and pensions. Washington had done his utmost to persuade Congress to pay them, yet failed, in this failure losing the admiration of many of the younger officers. Some sneeringly called him "The Great Illustrissimo" -- a mocking reference to his world-wide fame. When he said farewell to his officers at Fraunces Tavern in New York early in December, he had wept at the sight of anger and resentment on many faces.

Congressman Alexander Hamilton, once Washington's most gifted aide, had told him in a morose letter that there was a "principle of hostility to an army" loose in the country and too many congressmen shared it. Bitterly, Hamilton added that he had "an indifferent opinion of the honesty" of the United States of America.

Soon Hamilton was spreading an even lower opinion of Congress. Its members had fled Philadelphia when a few hundred unpaid soldiers in the city's garrison surrounded the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall), demanding back pay. Congressman Hamilton called the affair "weak and disgusting to the last degree" and soon resigned his seat.

The rest of the country agreed. There were hoots of derision and contempt for Congress in newspapers from Boston to Savannah. The politicians took refuge in the village of Princeton, N.J., where they rejected Washington's advice to fund a small postwar regular army, then wandered to Annapolis.

In Amsterdam, where brokers were trying to sell shares in an American loan negotiated by John Adams, sales plummeted. Even America's best friend in Europe, the Marquis de Lafayette, wondered aloud if the United States was about to collapse. A deeply discouraged Washington admitted he saw "one head turning into thirteen."

Was there anyone who could rescue the situation? Many people thought only George Washington could work this miracle.

Earlier in the year he had been urged to summarily dismiss Congress and rule as an uncrowned king, under the title of president. He emphatically refused to consider the idea. Now many people wondered if he might have changed his mind. At the very least he might appear before Congress and issue a scathing denunciation of their cowardly flight from Philadelphia and their ingratitude to his soldiers. That act would destroy whatever shreds of legitimacy the politicians had left.

At noon on Dec. 23, Washington and two aides walked from their hotel to the Annapolis State House, where Congress was sitting. Barely 20 delegates had bothered to show up.

The general and his aides took designated seats in the assembly chamber. The president of Congress, Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania, began the proceedings: "Sir, the United States in Congress assembled are prepared to receive your communications."

Mifflin had been one of the generals who attempted to humiliate Washington into resigning during the grim winter at Valley Forge. He had smeared Washington as a puffed-up egotist, denigrated his military ability, and used his wealth to persuade not a few congressmen to agree with him. A few months later, Mifflin was forced to quit the army after being accused of stealing millions as quartermaster general.

Addressing this scandal-tarred enemy, Washington drew a speech from his coat pocket and unfolded it with trembling hands. "Mr. President," he began in a low, strained voice. "The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place; I now have the honor of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress and of presenting myself before them to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country."

Washington went on to express his gratitude for the support of "my countrymen" and the "army in general." This reference to his soldiers ignited feelings so intense, he had to grip the speech with both hands to keep it steady. He continued: "I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God and those who have the superintendence of them [Congress] to his holy keeping."

For a long moment, Washington could not say another word. Tears streamed down his cheeks. The words touched a vein of religious faith in his inmost soul, born of battlefield experiences that had convinced him of the existence of a caring God who had protected him and his country again and again during the war. Without this faith he might never have been able to endure the frustrations and rage he had experienced in the previous eight months.

Washington then drew from his coat a parchment copy of his appointment as commander in chief. "Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of action and bidding farewell to this august body under whom I have long acted, I here offer my commission and take leave of all the employments of public life." Stepping forward, he handed the document to Mifflin.

This was -- is -- the most important moment in American history.

The man who could have dispersed this feckless Congress and obtained for himself and his soldiers rewards worthy of their courage was renouncing absolute power. By this visible, incontrovertible act, Washington did more to affirm America's government of the people than a thousand declarations by legislatures and treatises by philosophers.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the greatest of these declarations, witnessed this drama as a delegate from Virginia. Intuitively, he understood its historic dimension. "The moderation. . . . of a single character," he later wrote, "probably prevented this revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish."

In Europe, Washington's resignation restored America's battered prestige. It was reported with awe and amazement in newspapers from London to Vienna. The Connecticut painter John Trumbull, studying in England, wrote that it had earned the "astonishment and admiration of this part of the world."

Washington shook hands with each member of Congress and not a few of the spectators. Meanwhile, his aides were bringing their horses and baggage wagons from their hotel. They had left orders for everything to be packed and ready for an immediate departure.

The next day, after an overnight stop at a tavern, they rode at a steady pace toward Mount Vernon. Finally, as twilight shrouded the winter sky, the house came into view beside the Potomac River. Past bare trees and wintry fields the three horsemen trotted toward the white-pillared porch and the green shuttered windows, aglow with candlelight. Waiting for them at the door was Martha Washington and two grandchildren. It was Christmas eve. Ex-Gen. Washington -- and the United States of America -- had survived the perils of both war and peace.

Mr. Fleming is the author, most recently, of "The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown" (Collins, 2007).