Saturday, July 26, 2008

Report: Bush misused Iraq intelligence

By Randall Mikkelsen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush and his top policymakers misstated Saddam Hussein's links to terrorism and ignored doubts among intelligence agencies about Iraq's arms programs as they made a case for war, the Senate intelligence committee reported on Thursday.

The report shows an administration that "led the nation to war on false premises," said the committee's Democratic Chairman, Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia. Several Republicans on the committee protested its findings as a "partisan exercise."

The committee studied major speeches by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other officials in advance of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and compared key assertions with intelligence available at the time.

Statements that Iraq had a partnership with al Qaeda were wrong and unsupported by intelligence, the report said.

It said that Bush's and Cheney's assertions that Saddam was prepared to arm terrorist groups with weapons of mass destruction for attacks on the United States contradicted available intelligence.

Such assertions had a strong resonance with a U.S. public, still reeling after al Qaeda's September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Polls showed that many Americans believed Iraq played a role in the attacks, even long after Bush acknowledged in September 2003 that there was no evidence Saddam was involved.

The report also said administration prewar statements on Iraq's weapons programs were backed up in most cases by available U.S. intelligence, but officials failed to reflect internal debate over those findings, which proved wrong."

Ford to cut white-collar expenses by 15 percent

"DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co said on Thursday it will cut expenses for its white-collar work force by 15 percent over the next two months through job cuts, attrition and other actions.

The cuts, telegraphed by Ford in May, when it warned it would not meet its long-standing goal of returning to profitability in 2009, will come as the automaker adjusts to a deeper-than-expected slump in U.S. vehicle sales, led by declines in sales of pickup trucks and SUVs.

"We told employees today we are going to cut salaried work force-related expenses by 15 percent and complete the actions by August 1," said Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans.
"This does include reductions in headcount and contract jobs, attrition and consolidation of positions," she said.

Ford, the No. 2 U.S. automaker, has about 24,300 salaried workers in North America. It warned employees in May that cuts in production would force a reduction in its salaried and hourly work force.
Salaried workers who are dismissed will be offered standard company severance packages. Ford does not disclose details of the packages.
The automaker plans to offer buyouts to union-represented hourly workers at plants where the company has excess capacity due to declining demand for specific vehicles such as trucks and SUVs.

More than 38,000 United Auto Workers union-represented workers have left Ford through buyout programs, including about 4,200 who accepted offers that wrapped up in early 2008.
Ford executives have said the sharp rise in U.S. gas prices above $3.50 per gallon triggered a permanent shift in demand to cars and crossovers and away from larger vehicles.
The company has been shifting production plans toward smaller vehicles, including introducing a Fiesta subcompact in North America in 2010 that will be built in Mexico.
(Reporting by Soyoung Kim and David Bailey, editing by Gerald E. McCormick/Jeffrey Benkoe)"

Supreme Court Backs Rights for Terror Detainees

"The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have a constitutional right to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court also said the Bush administration's system for classifying detainees as enemy combatants does not meet basic legal standards.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said, "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times." He was joined by the court's four more liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens.
This is the third time the justices have told President Bush that his plan for handling foreign terrorists violates the Constitution. This time, the president had Congress on his side. In 2006, the Republican-controlled Congress passed a law called the Military Commissions Act. It closed the courthouse doors to Guantanamo detainees and set up a new system for terrorism trials at the camp in Cuba.
The Supreme Court now says the 2006 law unconstitutionally suspended habeas corpus — a prisoner's right to challenge his detention. The ruling overturns a lower court decision that said the law was constitutional.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia each wrote a dissent on behalf of the court's more conservative bloc, which includes Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Roberts criticized his fellow justices for striking down what he called "the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants." Scalia wrote that the majority opinion "will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."
Congressional Democrats and human-rights groups hailed the decision. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy called the ruling "a stinging rebuke of the Bush administration's flawed detention policies." Vincent Warren, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many Guantanamo detainees, said, "The Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation's most egregious injustices."
On Thursday, President Bush said, "We'll abide by the court's decision. That doesn't mean I have to agree with it."

The ruling could resuscitate several court cases that have been on hold pending the high court's decision. There are nearly 200 Guantanamo detainee cases on the docket of the District Court in Washington, D.C. Those cases include claims from detainees who argue that they are being unlawfully held at the prison camp, that they are innocent, or that they were tortured during interrogations.

Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., said the court's judges will meet in the coming days to decide how to proceed. "I expect we'll call in the lawyers from both sides to see what suggestions they have for how we can approach our task most effectively and efficiently," Lamberth said.

It is not clear what impact the ruling will have on the eventual fate of detainees. President Bush and presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have all said they support shutting down Guantanamo, but there is no clear consensus on where the detainees should go. In the past, some were released without charge. Others were transferred to foreign countries. About 270 men captured in Afghanistan and Iraq are currently at the prison camp. Some have been there for more than six years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report."

Rise corruption at Mexico border

"SAN DIEGO, May 27 (UPI) -- U.S. Homeland Security (OTCBB:HSCC) officials are concerned that the growing ranks of the Border Patrol will lead to a coinciding increase in corruption.
The New York Times (NYSE:NYT) said Tuesday that the fears of individual agents working for smuggling rings has led the Department of Homeland Security to reconstitute the internal affairs unit of the Customs and Border Protection agency, and to begin subjecting recruits to lie-detector exams.

"If you can get a corrupt inspector, you have the keys to the kingdom," said FBI Agent Andrew Black, who supervises a task force focused on border corruption in the San Diego area.
The Times said increased security along the border has made it more likely that Mexican gangs will pay off a U.S. agent or even have a mole get a job with the agency.
The Times said the number of internal affairs investigations along the entire Mexican border grew from 31 in 2003 to 79 last year.

Earlier this month, a rookie border agent was arrested for allegedly carrying drugs and illegal immigrants through the San Diego border crossing. He was allegedly conspiring with his uncle. "

Day as a Hindu Monk

"There's not much traffic on First Avenue in lower Manhattan at 5:15 a.m. But in the building between a darkened tattoo shop and electronic store, a light shines bright from the second floor.
Inside is the New York City headquarters of the Interfaith League, a Hare Krishna group. A visitor is greeted with a blast of sights and sounds: Thirteen men and one woman are twirling and dancing, playing cymbals and drums and chanting Hindu tunes. Hare Krishna monks are in orange or white robes. Civilians are in business suits or jeans. They all face an altar adorned with flowers and statues of the supreme Hindu God, Krishna, and his female counterpart, Radha.
A little over an hour later, a 35-year-old monk named Gadadhara Pandit Dasa blows into a conch shell and pours a water offering. This marks the half-way point in this three-hour morning worship service, a daily celebration.

"I just can't think of a better way to start the day," he says, grinning. "It's such a devotional activity, so deeply moving for the soul, that the rest of your day is much more clear, because you've nourished the mind and soul from the morning."
Searching for Answers
Pandit – whose name means "saint"— sits cross-legged on the hardwood floor of this urban temple. He begins to chant the Hare Krishna mantra. He explains that repeating the names for Krishna is a spiritual event of sorts, allowing God to enter his soul.
"Our focus is on the sound vibration itself, because we know that sound is an incredibly powerful tool," he later explains. "It can cause avalanches, and sound, through music, can move our emotions in all different directions. The same with spiritual sound. When I'm calling out to Krishna, saying the Hare Krishna mantra — Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare Hare — Krishna is actually present there."
Pandit grew up in an observant Hindu family. He was an only child. They moved from India to California when he was 7, and as his father's business fortunes ebbed and flowed, he began asking existential questions.
In his early 20s, Pandit moved to Bulgaria to help his father with his import-export business. Unable to speak the language, he had few friends. He spent evenings alone and lonely, and one night, began reading the sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita.
"That's when it really took off for me," he recalls, "because for the first time in my spiritual life, I was being given answers."
Beyond Material Wealth
Pandit found solace in Hare Krishna explanations for Hindu beliefs: why life fluctuates (it's karma, because you reap what you sow); why reincarnation occurs (because one life may not be enough to pay off past debts); why Hinduism has thousands of gods (because Krishna is the supreme God, and lesser gods help run creation).
When Pandit returned from Bulgaria, he began studying with a monk. Then he moved in — temporarily, he thought.
"I was taking it one step at a time, one month at a time," Pandit says. "And at some point, after maybe a year or so, I said, maybe this is something I should consider. And now it's eight years later."
Pandit says initially, the questions haunted him: Can I live this way the rest of my life without income or savings for old age, fitting all my possessions in a locker? Yet he found that the material deprivations paled next to the wealth in his spiritual life and his friendships.
"I really don't feel like I'm missing anything," he says. "The deepest thing any human being looks for is relationships. That's where we get the most joy. And there's no shortage of relationships for me here."
The monks eat together, wake up together and worship together. "We spend more time together than most couples and families do," Pandit says.
Drawn to Monastic Life
By mid-morning, eight monks, ages 21 to 48, have gathered for spiritual reading and discussion. A long, narrow room serves as dining room, living room and bedroom for the men. They sleep on the hardwood floor and store their sleeping bags in lockers with all their other possessions: coat, sweaters, robes, laptop computers.
At this moment, they're each peering into their laptops, reading the Bhagavad Gita online. The day's reading concerns the pain of leaving all for the higher love for Krishna.
But why enter a monastery?
Matthew Hall, who left his Protestant family in Houston three years ago, says he was looking for peace, love and satisfaction — something that eluded his friends with good jobs and money.
"They end up with a bunch of bills, stress, a whole bunch of anxieties," Hall says. "People weren't truly satisfied. And so I figured, why should I put any endeavor in material prosperity? Let me just find a monastery and dedicate my life to spirituality, because this is what's giving me happiness."
Life in Close Quarters
Of course, it can be trying living in such close quarters. And Ari Weiss, a Jew just testing the waters of monastic life, says it can be equally trying for the monks' families.
"One of the hardest things for me is having my parents on the periphery thinking, 'Is my son a fanatic?'" he said, laughing nervously. "They love me so much, but at the same time, this question is in their mind."
His parents, of course, remember the Hare Krishna monks of the '60s and '70s, who danced in the city streets and gave away carnations at airports. Pandit says while there are about 100,000 Hare Krishna followers in the U.S., there aren't enough monks to do that now: Their ranks dwindled as young devotees traded their robes and sleeping bags for families, houses and jobs.
Generally, Pandit takes a nap in the morning. But not today: He's on lunch duty. The special today: A traditional Indian stew called kichiri, with butternut squash, broccoli, green peas and potatoes. Hare Krishnas don't eat meat.
Pandit says the way he cooks reflects his faith, right down to honoring — rather than eating — those he says are also children of God.
"If we're trying to love [God] but simultaneously causing harm and violence to his children, he's not going to be all that pleased," Pandit says. "'OK, you love my two-legged children, what about my four-legged ones?'"
Engaging the World
Nine monks and a few visitors sit in a line, cross-legged on the floor of the all-purpose room. Pandit ladles stew into their bowls. Pandit says every monk knows how to cook, clean, play musical instruments and sing. But for Hare Krishnas, he says, the most important worship is done outside, by engaging the world.
"Some people may think that a monk is somewhat reclusive — kind of isolated, in a bubble, meditating all day. But it's quite the opposite. I'm on the computer, e-mailing. I'm driving, using cell phones and using Facebook. I have my own Web site."
Facebook, he notes, is "great for connecting to college students." And that is where Pandit's calling lies: He is the first Hindu chaplain at Columbia University and New York University.
At 4:30 p.m., Pandit and fellow monk Dave Jenkins run through their checklist: rolling pins, pots and pans, flour, vegetarian stew, side dishes – everything they'll need to teach some 50 Columbia students how to cook a vegetarian meal, as Pandit does every Tuesday night.
Students begin streaming in around 6:45 p.m. — some Hindu, most not.
"Someone gave me a flyer that said, free vegetarian food, and he was obviously Hindu," says Sanali Phatak. "I was like 'Indian food! I'm going to this.'"
Cooking with Consciousness
Phatak is getting her master's at Columbia Teachers College. The first-generation Indian-American has grown close to Pandit. She attends his Bhagavad Gita study groups on Friday afternoons and says he helps her understand her faith.
"In most traditional Hindu households, you don't want to ask too racy questions," she said with a laugh, adding, "You know, 'Why is drinking looked down upon?' Your parents are like, 'Oh, drinking is just bad.' But what's the more spiritual reason for that?"
Mukund Sanghi, another regular, says his engineering background made him skeptical of his family's Hindu faith. But Pandit's rational arguments have drawn him back.
"There is a reason behind whatever he says, and it sounds so much more sane," Sanghi says. "It's practical, and yes, I can listen to him, I can talk to him. It will always be a new learning experience."
With a critical mass of about 50 students, Pandit announces that they're going to make samosas — deep-fried vegetable turnovers — and the crowd lets out a whoop. He banters with the students, commenting that one student's samosa resembles the state of California or that another's looks a little greasy. The lesson ends, but before the students can eat, they must listen to five minutes of Hindu philosophy:
"Food absorbs consciousness," he says to the polite crowd, "so when you're eating, you can ask yourself, 'Whose consciousness am I eating today?'"
Pandit knows most of these students will not convert to Hinduism. Still, he hopes to give them tools as they head into a world of achievement, stress and possible burnout.
"Prozac is not going to be the solution," Pandit says. "It's going to be spirituality. It's going to be meditation. It's going to be practice of yoga. And it's going to be connecting with God and our inner self."
At least that's what he hopes. And it's why Pandit will arrive home at 11 at night, crawl into his sleeping bag and get up at 4 the next morning for another day of worship."

Muslims Increasingly Turn to Polygamy

"Polygamy in the U.S. is not limited to remote enclaves in the West or breakaway sects once affiliated with the Mormon Church. Several scholars say it's growing among black Muslims in the inner city — and particularly in Philadelphia, which is known for its large orthodox black Muslim community.

No one knows exactly how many people live in polygamous families in the U.S. Estimates from academics researching the issue range from 50,000 to 100,000 people.
Take Zaki and Mecca, who have been married for nearly 12 years. In their late 20s, they live in the Philadelphia suburbs, have a 5-year-old son and own a real estate business.
Zaki also has something else: a second wife.
Two years ago, Mecca told her husband she wanted to study Arabic in the Middle East, which would mean a lot of time away from home. (NPR is not using any full names in this story because some of those we interviewed could be prosecuted for bigamy.)
"We were talking about it," Mecca recalls, "and the first thing that came to my mind was, 'I'm going to have to find you another wife!'"
Zaki was game. After all, he had been raised in a polygamous home in Philadelphia. Like many black Muslims, his father subscribed to an orthodox view of Islam that allows a man to marry several women. Zaki says he loved having seven siblings and four mothers, especially at dinnertime.
"I would find out who's making what that particular night. I know that this mom makes barbequed chicken better than my other mom makes fried chicken, so I'm going with the barbequed chicken tonight. Things of that nature," he says with a laugh.
Unlike Zaki, Mecca was raised by a single mother and converted from Southern Baptist to Muslim when she was 16.
Finding Another Wife
When it came to finding a second wife, Zaki said he had no one in mind, and he asked Mecca to conduct the search.
"You know, he gave me the baton, and I took it and ran with it," Mecca says.
Mecca launched a nationwide search. She found candidates by word of mouth. She scoured the Internet. Eventually, she interviewed about a dozen women.
"I had to make sure that she'd be the right fit — not just for my husband, but for our whole family," Mecca says.
But the ultimate match was right under their noses: 20-year-old Aminah, who was a friend of Zaki's younger sister. Aminah knew Mecca was looking for a second wife but thought she was too young. That is, until one night after a dinner party when Mecca pulled her aside. Mecca asked Aminah if she would consider marrying Zaki.
"And I said, 'That's funny, because I was thinking the same thing,'" Aminah says.
Zaki was the last to know the identity of the final candidate to be his bride. He could have vetoed the choice, of course, but he was delighted.
In October 2007, he and Aminah married in a religious, not civil, ceremony. Many polygamous marriages are conducted in secret and are not legally binding because state laws prohibit them.
Aminah recalls that Mecca helped prepare the wedding feast.
Aminah, who's finishing college, lives in an apartment a few miles away from Mecca's house. Zaki moves between homes on alternating nights. But every week after Friday prayers, they get together as a family.
"It can be a variety of things," Zaki says. "Going to a nice restaurant, catching a movie, going bowling, maybe seeing a concert. All kind of things."
"I always call it family date night, because it's one big date," Mecca says. "We just chill. I always look forward to it. We always have a ball, laughing, goofing around."
Treating Each Wife Equally
On a recent day, Zaki's attention is on Aminah. Riding the elevator to her penthouse apartment, he explains that it's Aminah's 21st birthday and he's taking her to New York to see a Broadway show.
"She has no idea what she's going to do today," he whispers. And so while Zaki's second wife is changing for a surprise trip, his first wife is getting the train tickets and making the arrangements.
"See, you got to work as a unit or it's very inconvenient otherwise," he laughs.
As Zaki hurries Aminah along, he says he will do something equivalent for Mecca on her birthday. Islam requires that the husband treat each wife equally. Zaki explains that doesn't mean he gives them the same things. For example, Mecca likes jewelry but Aminah doesn't.
But, he says, "If I upgrade one, then I have to upgrade the other. But the upgrade may not be the same because you have two different women with two different tastes."
They've worked out a system. Even still, why would a woman want to share her husband?
"Well, I'm looking at it more as a spiritual perspective," Mecca says. "Zaki is a blessing — just like everything else. He is a loan from God, is the way I look at it. And in my religion, if he's able and capable to [marry another wife], I wouldn't want to hold him back. So, why not?"
She acknowledges that there have been "a few bumps in the road." But she hasn't once second-guessed sharing Zaki with Aminah.
As Mecca speaks, Aminah nods in agreement.
"I might have certain feelings when my husband walks out the door and I haven't seen him all day, but I know his responsibility is not only to me. And the respect I have for my co-wife, all that plays a role in how I handle my emotions," Aminah says.
'Two, Three, Four'
Zaki believes ultimately, polygamy is good for society — especially in the inner city, where intact families are rare and many kids grow up without their fathers.
"There are a lot of blessings in it because you're helping legitimize and build a family that's rooted in values and commitment. And the children that come out of those types of relationships only become a benefit to society at large."
Many orthodox Muslims agree. You can find them on Fridays at a mosque in South Philadelphia.
The congregation that has gathered in a slim townhouse is largely African-American. The rules are orthodox, and the prayers (if not the sermon) are in classical Arabic.
Abdullah, the imam, has conducted religious ceremonies for a dozen polygamous marriages.
Abdullah says polygamy in Islam dates back to the 7th century, when battles were killing off Muslim men and leaving widows and children unprotected.
As a result, Abdullah says, the Koran specifies that a man can marry "women of your choice: two, three, four, and if you fear you cannot be just, then marry one."
"And so, a lot of scholars look at it sequentially," he says. "Two is optimum, then three, then four, then as a last resort, one!"
A Shortage of Men
And while polygamy may seem like a man's paradise, Abdullah says, often an unmarried woman initiates it.
"Sometimes a woman may be interested in a man, but he's off limits. That's not the case in Islam. Does he have four wives? No? Then he's still available."
That's how Abdullah met his second wife. A divorcee, she heard Abdullah preach a few sermons and approached his wife to ask if he would be interested in a second wife. Soon she married Abdullah and now the imam cares for two families — with 13 children and another on the way.
The single women at the mosque say polygamy is a fact of life. But it's not their first choice.
"Every woman has a preference to be the sole wife," says Aliya, echoing the sentiments of the others. Aliya is a 28-year-old single woman who is finishing up a master's degree. She says that South Philadelphia in the 21st century is a little like Arabia in the 7th century. There is a dearth of men to marry.
"We're dealing with brothers who are incarcerated — that is, unavailable," she says. "And then unfortunately, you have the AIDS and HIV crisis, where HIV has struck the African-American community disproportionately to others. So when you look at it that way, there is a shortage."
Shaheed's Story
With this numerical advantage, some men collect wives for the sex. But some men also marry out of altruism. Consider 43-year-old Shaheed, who is married to Alieah.
Fourteen years ago, his friend died. The friend's wife, Nadirah, was 30 and expecting her third child. That brought her to Shaheed's attention.
"When we came to the grave site — I remember it as if it were yesterday — what stuck out was that her demeanor was so calm," Shaheed says.
Nadirah is an elegant, contained woman. After becoming a widow, she decided the only way she would marry again was as a second wife.
"At that point in my life, I was used to being alone," she says, running her household as she liked, "as opposed to constantly being with someone and attending to someone else's needs."
She accepted Shaheed's proposal. But she quickly saw the tricky relationship was not with Shaheed. It was with his wife.
"We met, and we had dinner, and we had lunch and we went out and shopped and did different things at that point. As the marriage got closer, I think she was more apprehensive and more unnerved by the pending situation."
"I remember me telling him, 'Please don't go,'" Alieah says. "He's like 'What do you mean? The wedding is today, you're telling me not to go today?' I'm like, 'Just don't go!'"
Alieah, who is 40, says she considered Shaheed's commitment to a widow "noble." Afterward, however, she considered divorce. She eventually decided she did not want to start over. After two years of misery, Alieah says, she had a spiritual epiphany.
"I literally just got up one morning and said [to God], 'OK, this is what you want me to do. I'm going to handle it in a civil manner, and I'm going to do X, Y, Z about it,'" Alieah says. "And from that point on, it was the strangest thing, because it never bothered me anymore. I never even thought about it."
The family began to operate like a well-oiled machine and a model of polygamy in their Muslim community. Shaheed runs his own security company. Alieah teaches first grade, and Nadirah home-schools some of the family's 10 children.
"We really depend on each other," says Nadirah, who considers Alieah a friend.
What About the Heart?
There are benefits to polygamy for the wives, Nadirah says.
"She could fill something that even a husband couldn't fill. It was a cross between a sister and a friend and a co-worker," she says. "You have a cushion or a help that you didn't have before."
At first, the two families lived in separate homes. Now Shaheed, his two wives and nine of his 10 children live in one house. Each wife has a bedroom on a separate floor, but everything else is communal, including cooking and eating. Shaheed says it's not easy to treat his two very different wives equally, but he tries.
"I'm not going to be overly affectionate with this one as opposed to this one out in the open," he explains.
And what about controlling his heart when it comes to these two women?
"That's something that you can't really control," he says. "But materially, you want to do that as adequately as possible."
For her part, Alieah is philosophical about love.
"You cannot blame someone for where their heart lies."
Did she have a sense of whether her husband was falling for someone else?
She pauses.
"It really didn't matter," she eventually answers. "I just knew he had someone else in his life, and it wasn't me."
Alieah says polygamy isn't easy for either wife, though she believes it is harder on the first.
"The second wife is receiving something, where a first wife will feel that something is being taken away from her," she says. "I mean, I'm devoted to you for my whole life, but you're only devoted to half of my life."
Alieah's youngest child is 4 years old. Her oldest — a 17-year-old daughter — says she's had a happy childhood in a polygamous family. But she hopes she won't have to share her husband with anyone else."

Vindication for the Bush Critique

"As the response to former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's new book enters its second week, the focus has shifted to the messenger rather than his message.
McClellan is a flawed vessel for any serious communication. From behind the podium, he made a mockery of the press and the public's right to know, most notably by repeating non-responsive and sometimes ludicrous talking points. He has yet to persuasively explain his change of heart. And his insistence that self-deception rather than a conscious disregard for the truth was behind what he now describes as the White House's consistent lack of candor is spectacularly self-serving.
But the significance of McClellan's book is that his detailed recounting of what he saw from the inside vindicates pretty much all the central pillars of the Bush critique that have been chronicled here and elsewhere for many years now. Among them:
* That Bush and his top aides manipulated the country into embarking upon an unnecessary war on false pretenses;
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* That Bush is an incurious man, happily protected from dissenting views inside the White House's bubble of self-delusion;
* That Karl Rove's huge influence on the Bush White House erased any distinction between policy and politics, so governing became about achieving partisan goals, not the common good;
* That Vice President Cheney manipulates the levers of power;
* That all those people who denied White House involvement in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity were either lying or had been lied to;
* That the mainstream media were complicit enablers of the Bush White House and that its members didn't understand how badly they were being played.
By coming back again and again to the CIA leak story, McClellan also validates a key theme of the Bush critique: That the Plame case was a microcosm of much that was wrong with the way the Bush White House did business.
No one could have predicted that the Plame case would play such a central role in McClellan's personal conversion to Bush critic. But his eventual recognition that Rove and then-vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby had flatly lied to him when they denied any involvement in the leak, along with his sudden realization that Bush and Cheney declassified secrets when it was politically convenient, were evidently two major factors. (A third was his unceremonious firing by Chief of Staff Josh Bolten.)
McClellan's revelation that on Oct. 4, 2003, Bush and Cheney directed him to vouch for Libby's innocence once again raises the question of how the president and particularly the vice president have been able to avoid any kind of public accountability. McClellan even raises the possibility, repeatedly hinted at by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, that Cheney directed Libby to disclose Plame's identity. "

Miracle Fruit

CARRIE DASHOW dropped a large dollop of lemon sorbet into a glass of Guinness, stirred, drank and proclaimed that it tasted like a “chocolate shake.”
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Joe Fornabaio for The New York Times
HOW’S IT DO THAT? Franz Aliquo, who calls himself Supreme Commander, right, supplied miracle berries grown by Curtis Mozie, left, to party-goers in Long Island City, Queens, last weekend.

Joe Fornabaio for The New York Times
Those who attended sampled the red berries then tasted foods, including cheese, beer and brussels sprouts, finding the flavors transformed. Beer can taste like chocolate, lemons like candy. Mr. Aliquo says he holds the parties to “turn on a bunch of people’s taste buds.”
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Joe Fornabaio for The New York Times

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Nearby, Yuka Yoneda tilted her head back as her boyfriend, Albert Yuen, drizzled Tabasco sauce onto her tongue. She swallowed and considered the flavor: “Doughnut glaze, hot doughnut glaze!”
They were among 40 or so people who were tasting under the influence of a small red berry called miracle fruit at a rooftop party in Long Island City, Queens, last Friday night. The berry rewires the way the palate perceives sour flavors for an hour or so, rendering lemons as sweet as candy.
The host was Franz Aliquo, 32, a lawyer who styles himself Supreme Commander (Supreme for short) when he’s presiding over what he calls “flavor tripping parties.” Mr. Aliquo greeted new arrivals and took their $15 entrance fees. In return, he handed each one a single berry from his jacket pocket.
“You pop it in your mouth and scrape the pulp off the seed, swirl it around and hold it in your mouth for about a minute,” he said. “Then you’re ready to go.” He ushered his guests to a table piled with citrus wedges, cheeses, Brussels sprouts, mustard, vinegars, pickles, dark beers, strawberries and cheap tequila, which Mr. Aliquo promised would now taste like top-shelf PatrĂ³n.
The miracle fruit, Synsepalum dulcificum, is native to West Africa and has been known to Westerners since the 18th century. The cause of the reaction is a protein called miraculin, which binds with the taste buds and acts as a sweetness inducer when it comes in contact with acids, according to a scientist who has studied the fruit, Linda Bartoshuk at the University of Florida’s Center for Smell and Taste. Dr. Bartoshuk said she did not know of any dangers associated with eating miracle fruit.
During the 1970s, a ruling by the Food and Drug Administration dashed hopes that an extract of miraculin could be sold as a sugar substitute. In the absence of any plausible commercial application, the miracle fruit has acquired a bit of a cult following.
Sina Najafi, editor in chief of the art magazine Cabinet, has featured miracle fruits at some of the publication’s events. At a party in London last October, the fruit, he said, “had people testifying like some baptismal thing.”
The berries were passed out last week at a reading of “The Fruit Hunters,” a new book by Adam Leith Gollner with a chapter about miracle fruit.
Bartenders have been experimenting with the fruit as well. Don Lee, a beverage director at the East Village bar Please Don’t Tell, has been making miracle fruit cocktails on his own time, but the bar probably won’t offer them anytime soon. The fruit is highly perishable and expensive — a single berry goes for $2 or more.
Lance J. Mayhew developed a series of drink recipes with miracle fruit foams and extracts for a recent issue of the cocktail magazine Imbibe and may create others for Beaker & Flask, a restaurant opening later this year in Portland, Ore.
He cautioned that not everyone enjoys the berry’s long-lasting effects. Despite warnings, he said, one woman became irate after drinking one of his cocktails. He said, “She was, like, ‘What did you do to my mouth?’ ”
Mr. Aliquo issues his own warnings. “It will make all wine taste like Manischewitz,” he said. And already sweet foods like candy can become cloying.
He said that he had learned about miracle fruit while searching ethnobotany Web sites for foods he could make for a diabetic friend.
The party last week was his sixth “flavor tripping” event. He hopes to put on a much larger, more expensive affair in June. Although he does sell the berries on his blog,, Mr. Aliquo maintains that he isn’t in it for the money. (He said he made about $100 on Friday.) Rather, he said, he does it to “turn on a bunch of people’s taste buds.”
He believes that the best way to encounter the fruit is in a group. “You need other people to benchmark the experience,” he said. At his first party, a small gathering at his apartment in January, guests murmured with delight as they tasted citrus wedges and goat cheese. Then things got trippy.
“You kept hearing ‘oh, oh, oh,’ ” he said, and then the guests became “literally like wild animals, tearing apart everything on the table.”
“It was like no holds barred in terms of what people would try to eat, so they opened my fridge and started downing Tabasco and maple syrup,” he said.
Many of the guests last week found the party through a posting at Mr. Aliquo sent invitations to a list of contacts he has been gathering since he and a friend began organizing StreetWars, a popular urban assassination game using water guns.
One woman wanted to see Mr. Aliquo eat a berry before she tried one. “What, you don’t trust me?” he said.
She replied, “Well, I just met you.”
Another guest said, “But you met him on the Internet, so it’s safe.”
The fruits are available by special order from specialty suppliers in New York, including Baldor Specialty Foods and S. Katzman Produce. Katzman sells the berries for about $2.50 a piece, and has been offering them to chefs.
Mr. Aliquo gets his miracle fruit from Curtis Mozie, 64, a Florida grower who sells thousands of the berries each year through his Web site, (A freezer pack of 30 berries costs about $90 with overnight shipping.) Mr. Mozie, who was in New York for Mr. Gollner’s reading, stopped by the flavor-tripping party.
Mr. Mozie listed his favorite miracle fruit pairings, which included green mangoes and raw aloe. “I like oysters with some lemon juice,” he said. “Usually you just swallow them, but I just chew like it was chewing gum.”
A large group of guests reached its own consensus: limes were candied, vinegar resembled apple juice, goat cheese tasted like cheesecake on the tongue and goat cheese on the throat. Bananas were just bananas.
For all the excitement it inspires, the miracle fruit does not make much of an impression on its own. It has a mildly sweet tang, with firm pulp surrounding an edible, but bitter, seed. Mr. Aliquo said it reminded him of a less flavorful cranberry. “It’s not something I’d just want to eat,” he said.