President Bush is back in the United States after wrapping up his European tour. The multi-country trip was a tightly scripted affair and large demonstrations against Bush were kept far away from any of the official events. Last night, Bush met for two hours with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Bratislava, Slovakia. At a press conference after the summit, Bush criticized Russia on issues of freedom of the press, freedom of dissent and protection of minorities. The Russian press blasted Bush’s comments as hypocritical. At yesterday’s press conference, Bush made what were perhaps his most extensive comments on his view of the media. In the closing speech of his four days of meetings, Bush celebrated the upheavals in Ukraine and Georgia, where Moscow and Washington were on opposing sides. Bush also predicted similar events would take place in Belarus and in Moldova, the poorest country in Europe and the only one governed by a communist party. It goes to the polls next week.
Pope John Paul II last night underwent successful surgery to his windpipe after being rushed to the hospital for the second time in a month with what the Vatican described as "acute" respiratory difficulties. His spokesperson said the 30-minute tracheotomy was conducted without problem and his condition was described as serene and tranquil. He is breathing with the aid of a respirator, according to Italian media. The tracheotomy will prevent him from speaking for more than brief periods and may require a prolonged hospital stay. The Vatican has played down the procedure, calling the tracheotomy "elective." But outside doctors said it’s likely a result of pneumonia, which is particularly life-threatening for elderly patients with Parkinson’s.
The New York Times is reporting that ten of the 32 government drug advisers who last week endorsed continued marketing of the controversial painkillers Celebrex, Bextra and Vioxx have consulted in recent years for the makers of those very drugs. The report is based on disclosures in medical journals and other public records. If the 10 advisers had not cast their votes, the committee would have voted 12 to 8 that Bextra should be taken off the market and 14 to 8 that Vioxx should not be allowed back on the shelves. The 10 advisers with company ties voted 9 to 1 to keep Bextra on the market and 9 to 1 for Vioxx’s return. According to studies, the painkillers are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths. Eight of the 10 members told The Times that their past relationships with the drug companies had not influenced their vote. Another Brazilian Environmentalist Shot Dead
A Brazilian environmentalist has been shot dead, days after gunmen killed US nun who campaigned to protect the Amazon rain forest from loggers and ranchers vying for its natural resources. Authorities said Wednesday that Dionisio Ribeiro was shot in the head late Tuesday at the Tingua nature reserve near Rio de Janeiro. Colleagues say Ribeiro had received death threats for some time because of his efforts to stop poaching and the illegal felling of palm trees. Ribeiro’s murder follows the recent shooting deaths of Sister Dorothy Stang, an environmental activist and advocate for the poor, and Daniel Soares da Costa, an advocate of landless peasants.
The first congressional study on the impact of the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy says Hundreds of highly skilled troops, including many translators, have left the armed forces because of the Pentagon’s rules on gay men and lesbians, costing taxpayers nearly $200 million. The estimated cost was for recruiting and training replacements from 1994 through 2003 for the more than 9,400 troops discharged from the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps because of the policy. The study by the General Accountability Office was released yesterday. Congress approved "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" in 1993. It allows gay men and lesbians to serve as long as they do not disclose their sexual orientation. Of those who left, 757 held critical jobs for which the Pentagon offers re-enlistment bonuses because of their specialized nature, such as data processing technicians and translators. Many who were discharged had intelligence-related jobs. Also, 322 spoke foreign languages, including Arabic, Farsi, Korean, and Mandarin, which the Pentagon has called critical skills amid threats from terrorists. In December, 12 soldiers expelled from the military because of their sexual orientation sued the government, citing a Supreme Court ruling that state laws making gay sex a crime were unconstitutional. The Bush administration has asked a federal court to dismiss the suit.
Democratic Congressmember Maurice Hinchey of New York said he believes that President Bush’s senior advisor Karl Rove was behind the fake documents that brought down several top executives at CBS. Hinchey said "I have my own beliefs about how that happened: It originated with Karl Rove, in my belief, in the White House ... . Once they did that, then it undermined everything else about Bush’s draft dodging. ... That had the effect of taking the whole issue away." The documents in question addressed Bush’s military service in Alabama in 1972 while on leave from the Texas National Guard. Ultimately, CBS could not prove that the memos were authentic.