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White House Downplays State Dept. Opposition to Iraq Posts

The Bush administration is working to defuse a public relations fiasco over news U.S. diplomats are refusing mandatory job assignments in Iraq. On Wednesday, hundreds of Foreign Service officers denounced the plans at a town-hall meeting in Washington. Video of the meeting was released on Thursday. State Department official Rachel Schneller complained she was denied coverage for medical treatment after she returned from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rachel Schneller: "I came back [from Iraq] and was diagnosed almost immediately with post-traumatic stress disorder, and I’ve been receiving treatment for that ever since. And I think that it’s just one of those things. I mean, the more people that serve in war zones, the more people will come back with those sorts of war wounds. It’s just going to happen. It’s just one of those things. And I actually don’t regret getting treatment for it. I think it just was one of those things I had to do. But I have to say that absolutely none of the treatment I received for it came from the State Department."

Senior Foreign Service officer Jack Crotty received "sustained applause" after calling service in Iraq "a potential death sentence."

Jack Crotty: "You know, incoming is coming in every day. Rockets are hitting the Green Zone. So if you force-assign people, that is really shifting the terms of what we’re all about. It’s one thing if someone believes in what’s going on over there and volunteers, but it’s another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment. And I’m sorry, but basically that’s a potential death sentence, and you know it."

Around 50 employees will be forced to take positions in Iraq next summer. Speaking in Ireland, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice downplayed the meeting, saying: "I am very sorry that the recounting of the comments of a few people left the impression that somehow, the Foreign Service does not want to serve in Iraq. It could not be farther from the truth." In Washington, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said the administration is concerned with officials’ safety.

White House spokesperson Dana Perino: "The president understands that service in a war zone can be very difficult. It’s distressing for the families. But they should be reassured, as well, that Secretary Rice takes this issue very seriously. She’s concerned about their safety. And that is why she has worked very hard to make sure that they have all the tools that they need and the protections that they need in order to get their job done."

Bush Gives Ultimatum over Mukasey Nomination

President Bush has issued an ultimatum to Senate Democrats over the troubled nomination of attorney general hopeful Michael Mukasey. Mukasey’s confirmation is in doubt over his refusal to condemn waterboarding as a form of torture. On Thursday, President Bush said the nation would remain without a permanent attorney general if Democrats voted against Mukasey.

President Bush: "As Judge Mukasey explained in a letter to committee members, he cannot do so for several reasons. First, he does not know whether certain methods of questioning are in fact used, because the program is classified, and therefore he is in no position to provide an informed opinion. He has not been read into the program, and won’t, until he is confirmed and sworn in — won’t be, until he is confirmed and sworn in as the attorney general."

Bush was speaking before the right-wing Washington think tank the Heritage Foundation. On Thursday, Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts became the fourth Judiciary Committee member to announce that he will vote against Mukasey next week.

California Judge OKs Controversial Pesticide Spraying

In California, a judge has given the green light to a controversial pesticide spraying in Santa Cruz County. On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Paul Burdick rejected the county’s restraining order because he said it could not prove the spraying would harm the public. The chemical, Checkmate LBAM-F, will be used to halt the light brown apple moth. Checkmate’s manufacturer, Oregon-based Suterra, has refused to release the ingredients of the pesticide and petitioned the courts to keep them secret. One hundred residents on the Monterey Peninsula reported respiratory illness after a similar chemical was sprayed there in September.

Senate Approves 2nd S-CHIP Bill

On Capitol Hill, the Senate has approved a revised measure of a $35 billion expansion to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as S-CHIP. President Bush vetoed the first bill last month. The House voted to send the measure back to President Bush last week, but fell short of the two-thirds needed to override a promised veto. The bill would extend health insurance to millions of low-income children through an increase in the tobacco tax. White House spokesperson Dana Perino says Bush will veto the measure when it reaches his desk.

Product Safety Heads Took Industry-Paid Trips

Newly released documents show the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and her predecessor have taken dozens of free trips paid for by key industries the agency regulates. According to The Washington Post, acting chair Nancy Nord and the previous chairman, Hal Stratton, have taken nearly 30 trips paid for by lobbyists or manufacturers in toys, appliances and children’s furniture. Some of the trips were funded by lobby groups and lawyers accused of consumer hazards.

Rumsfeld: Muslims "Against Physical Labor"

The Bush administration is trying to distance itself from newly released comments from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during his time at the Pentagon. On Thursday, The Washington Post published excerpts of memos that Rumsfeld dubbed "snowflakes." In one entry, Rumsfeld said Middle East oil wealth had detached Muslims "from the reality of the work, effort and investment." He continued: "Too often Muslims are against physical labor, so they bring in Koreans and Pakistanis while their young people remain unemployed." White House spokesperson Dana Perino said Rumsfeld’s comments are not in line with the president’s views. The memos also show Rumsfeld was distressed by news coverage criticizing his record and the Iraq war. After several retired generals called for his resignation in April 2006, Rumsfeld ordered staffers to deflect attention from Iraq. He wrote: "Talk about Somalia, the Philippines, etc. Make the American people realize they are surrounded in the world by violent extremists." Rumsfeld also instructed Pentagon officials to write letters responding to newspaper columnists who had criticized the war.

2 Afghan Children Killed in U.S. Raid

In Afghanistan, at least three people, including two children, have been killed in an attack by Afghan and U.S. troops. A resident of Nangarhar province said the victims were all part of the same family.

Rahmat Gul: "They had wrong intelligence last night. They came, broke down the door and raided the house and have killed three people, wounded four other family members and also detained three of the family members. They could do it during the day, so why they are raiding during the night?"

Hundreds of Thousands Stranded by Mexico Floods

Rescuers are working to evacuate victims stranded by flooding described as one of Mexico’s worst natural disasters. A week of heavy rains has left 70 percent of the Gulf state of Tabasco underwater. Hundreds of thousands have been left homeless in the floods.

Hiroshima Pilot Paul Tibbets Dead at 92

And Paul Tibbets, pilot of the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, has died at the age of 92. Tibbets named his plane the Enola Gay after his mother. He remained a steadfast supporter of the bombing until his death. In 1982, the film Atomic Café compiled government propaganda footage designed to reassure Americans that the atomic bomb was not a threat to their safety. Tibbets was among those featured.

Colonel Paul Tibbets: "I have been accused of being insane, being a drunkard, being everything that you can imagine a derelict to be as a result of a guilty conscience for doing this. And as I say, no one’s ever come to my defense in that regard. I look at it this way, that my part in this thing may well have been something that, later or now, that the U.S. government might be looking at somewhat with a guilt complex. And the feeling could be that the less said about it by the United States government, the better."

He once said that he has never lost a night’s sleep over bombing Hiroshima.

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