Thursday, March 29, 2007

Dip into appetizer's vibrant flavors

By Betty Hallock
Times Staff Writer

March 28, 2007

A bright, pungent tapenade spiked with anchovies and lemon juice and long wedges of tortilla crackers studded with sesame seeds make a winning combination of appetizers.

Ciudad's house olive tapenade recently caught the attention of the Food section website producer, Tenny Tatusian.

"It was a lovely balance of flavors — the olives were somewhat tamed, but still bracing," Tatusian says. "It's a dish I'd love to serve at my next dinner party — especially alongside untamed martinis."


Black and green olive tapenade

Total time: 10 minutes

Servings: 8 to 10

Note: From Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Ciudad.

1 1/2 cups kalamata olives, pitted

1 cup California black olives, pitted

1/4 cup unstuffed green olives, pitted

1/4 cup capers

1 tablespoon minced garlic

4 anchovy fillets, unrinsed


1/2 cup high-quality olive oil

1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the olives, capers, garlic, anchovies (if using), olive oil, lemon juice and pepper, to taste, in a food processor and pulse to finely chop and combine (this will not be pur–ed; there should be some texture to the ingredients). Taste; adjust seasonings as needed. Makes slightly more than 2 cups. Serve with crackers.

Each tablespoon: 48 calories; 0 protein; 1 gram carbohydrate; 0 fiber; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 179 mg. sodium.


Chile lime crackers

Total time: 30 minutes

Servings: Makes 60 crackers

Note: From Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken.

1/4 cup sweet paprika

2 tablespoons achiote paste

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons ancho powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup olive oil

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

12 (8-inch) white or whole-wheat flour tortillas

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sweet paprika, achiote paste, cayenne pepper, ancho powder, salt, olive oil and lime juice (the ingredients will tend to separate a little bit). This makes about 1 1/2 cups chile lime mix, slightly more than needed for 12 tortillas. This will keep, refrigerated, overnight.

2. Brush about 2 teaspoons of the mixture on one side of each tortilla; the entire side should be covered up to the edge.

3. Place the chile-lime coated tortillas side by side on the baking sheets and with a pizza cutter, using an "M"-shaped motion, cut each tortilla into long triangular wedges. Bake until crispy and just starting to darken in color, about 15 minutes.

Each cracker: 48 calories; 1 gram protein; 5 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 3 grams fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 92 mg. sodium.


Seeded crackers

Total time: 20 minutes

Servings: Makes 60 crackers

Note: From Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken.

1/2 cup flax seeds

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/2 cup poppy seeds

1 egg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

12 (8-inch) white or whole wheat flour tortillas

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets. Combine the seeds in a shallow bowl or on a plate.

2. Whisk together the egg, 2 tablespoons of water, salt and pepper to make an egg wash. Brush the egg wash onto the tortillas, then dredge each tortilla in the seed mixture to coat.

3. Place the seed-coated tortillas onto the baking sheets and with a pizza cutter, using an "M"-shaped motion, cut each tortilla into long triangular wedges. Bake for 10 minutes, until crispy and lightly golden.

Each cracker: 51 calories; 2 grams protein; 6 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 2 grams fat; 0 saturated fat; 4 mg. cholesterol; 64 mg. sodium.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Global warming can't buy happiness

The pursuit of more isn't better when it means choking our planet to death.
By Bill McKibben, BILL MCKIBBEN is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and author of "Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future."
March 21, 2007

EARLIER THIS MONTH, a draft White House report was leaked to news outlets. The report, a year overdue to the United Nations, said that the United States would be producing almost 20% more greenhouse gases in 2020 than it had in 2000 and that our contribution to global warming would be going steadily up, not sharply and steadily down, as scientists have made clear it must.

That's a pretty stunning piece of information — a hundred times more important than, say, the jittery Dow Jones industrial average that garnered a hundred times the attention. How is it even possible? How, faced with the largest crisis humans have yet created for themselves, have we simply continued with business as usual?

The answer is, in a sense, all in our minds. For the last century, our society's basic drive has been toward more — toward a bigger national economy, toward more stuff for each of us. And it's worked. Our economy is enormous; our houses are enormous. We are (many of us quite literally) living large. All that more is created using cheap energy and hence built on carbon dioxide — which makes up 72% of all greenhouse gases.

Some pollutants, such as smog, decrease as we get richer and can afford things like catalytic converters for our cars. But carbon dioxide consistently tracks economic growth. As Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman concluded last year, CO2 is "the one major environmental contaminant for which no study has ever found any indication of improvement as living standards rise." Which means that if we're going to cope with global warming, we may also have to cope with the end of infinite, unrestrained economic expansion.

That sounds gloomy, but maybe not. New data suggest that we've been flying blind for many decades. We made an assumption — as a society and as individuals — that more was better. It seemed a reasonable bet, and for a while it may have been true. But in recent years economists, sociologists and other researchers have begun to question that link. Indeed, they're finding that at least since the 1950s, more material prosperity has yielded little, if any, increase in humans' satisfaction.

In the 1990s, for instance, despite sterling economic growth, researchers reported a steady rise in "negative life events." In the words of one of the study's authors, "The anticipation would have been that problems would have been down." But money, as a few wise people have pointed out over the years, doesn't buy happiness. Meanwhile, growth during the decade increased carbon emissions by about 10%.

Further, economists and sociologists suggest that our dissatisfaction is, in fact, linked to economic growth. What did we spend our new wealth on? Bigger houses, ever farther out in the suburbs. And what was the result? We have far fewer friends nearby; we eat fewer meals with family, friends and neighbors. Our network of social connections has shrunk. Do the experiment yourself. Would you rather have a new, bigger television, or a new friend?

Rebuilding those communities will be hard work — and it will start by rebuilding local economies, so that we actually need our neighbors again. Consider, for instance, food. Farmers markets are the fastest-growing part of our food economy as people discover the joys of being a "localvore." Some of those joys are culinary — fresh food tastes better, you eat with the flow of the seasons and so on. But some of those joys are emotional, too. Academics who followed shoppers found that those in farmers markets had 10 times as many conversations as those in supermarkets.

And here's what's interesting. Local food also uses about 10 times less energy than food shipped around the globe.

If we're going to do anything about that endless flow of carbon that's breaking our planet, we're also going to have to do something about our broken communities. Not just by preaching about neighborliness but by rebuilding the web of economic relationships that grows from farmers markets, or effective public transportation, or an energy grid that relies on your rooftop solar panels and my backyard windmill as much as it relies on some central power station.

More and better don't lie in the same direction anymore. And that's good news, at a moment when good news is scarce.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Buenos Aires, capital de Venezuela

Buenos Aires, capital de Venezuela
Pilar Rahola

La perplejidad. Recuerdo perfectamente el momento. Hebe de Bonafini acababa de elogiar el mundo de ETA y se despachaba a gusto contra la democracia española. Era el mismo año en que ETA asesinaba en Barcelona al político socialista Ernest Lluch (amigo de muchos de nosotros), y la larga lista de muertos inundaba nuestra ensombrecida conciencia.

Para todos los que nos habíamos educado en los movimientos contra Franco, las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo eran un referente, una especie de lucha blanca contra la maldad negra de la dictadura, y así las habíamos incorporado a nuestra mitología, sin depurar matices. Probablemente éramos víctimas de la ignorancia, acostumbrados a poner en el saco de las bondades a todos los movimientos solidarios. Pero Hebe nos despertó de golpe, como un molesto viento, frío e inesperado.

Si esa mujer representaba la lucha por las libertades, ¿cómo podía defender a una organización totalitaria que mataba a nuestros amigos, a la gente que pasaba por la calle, a cualquiera que situara en su demoníaco punto de mira? Las reivindicaciones vascas, planteadas de forma democrática, formaban parte de las causas de muchos de nosotros. Pero el terrorismo sólo era una maldad nihilista.

Desde aquel día, Hebe de Bonafini conformó el ejemplo más triste -más decepcionante- de cómo una bandera noble podía esconder auténticas maldades ideológicas. Al fin y al cabo, la izquierda reaccionaria había sido, históricamente, tan enemiga de la libertad como su homóloga de derecha, y Bonafini recuperaba esa tradición sin ningún complejo.

¿Cuántos miles de muertos, en nombre de los principios de la izquierda, en nuestra historia reciente? Y a cada muerto, su silencio, porque el mundo decidió que sólo las víctimas de las dictaduras de derecha existían.

Ahí están, en su doble asesinato, el físico y el del olvido, los millones que masacró el estalinismo, o los que murieron en las Camboyas olvidadas, o los que sufren el espantajo de la dictadura cubana.

Las víctimas de Chile, Argentina, España, tuvieron sus poetas, sus recuerdos, su memoria. Pero las víctimas de Pol Pot, de Stalin, de Fidel, no tienen quien les escriba, porque la izquierda decidió no hacer la autocrítica que la historia reclamaba.

Ahora, viendo a los D Elia pasearse por la tiranía iraní, defendiendo sus bondades incluso por encima del respeto mínimo a las víctimas de AMIA, el círculo del fascismo de izquierdas se cierra a la perfección. Sabemos que una parte de la extrema izquierda latinoamericana ya coquetea con el islamismo fundamentalista: les une el mismo odio a los valores de Occidente, y el mismo desprecio a la libertad.

Lo de Ferro, pues, con Hebe de Bonafini y su colega Luis D Elía, abrazándose al sátrapa Hugo Chávez, no resulta una sorpresa. Dios los cría y el mismo populismo demagogo los junta.

El reaccionarismo de izquierdas, tan exhibicionista como el de derechas, gusta de la escenografía y el relumbre de los focos. Tampoco es una sorpresa que Chávez plante la carpa de su circo antiyanqui en todo territorio que considere propio, confundida la persona con el cargo, y el cargo con el país.

Venezuela ya es de su propiedad, dominada la prensa, amordazado el Parlamento y perseguida la oposición. Pero incluso gozando de una notable imaginación, nunca pensé que el dominio territorial de Chávez llegaría hasta el mismo corazón porteño, como si fuera una extensión venezolana de los sueños de Bolívar.

En uno de esos lujos que la vida nos regala, tuve la ocasión de platicar unas horas con Julio María Sanguinetti, una de las cabezas más bien amuebladas de América del Sur. Dos perlas de esa mente privilegiada: "La Paz es un convento, Bogotá una universidad y Caracas un cuartel"; "los venezolanos, cuando votan, no votan al presidente de Venezuela, sino al presidente de América".

Desde ese cuartel con ínfulas imperialistas, este tipo, a medio camino entre el fascismo mussoliniano y el populismo castrista, que tiene sus posaderas asentadas en una ingente y pornográfica fortuna, pero que mantiene a su población en cotas también pornográficas de pobreza, ese Chávez parece que tiene tantas agallas como poca vergüenza.

Visto desde la distancia, su mitín en Ferro me parece un acto de colonialismo sólo imaginable en un país sin entidad, pero alucinante, en una nación que, como la Argentina, es geopolíticamente tan relevante. Viene a chillar contra el imperio, y lo hace colonizando la imagen de otro país, en un acto de imperialismo chusco que me resulta imposible entender cómo han permitido.

Desde luego, un acto así resultaría impensable en Europa. Ya sé que la Argentina respondió poco, que el Gobierno no envió a nadie, que eran menos de los que querían, pero haberlo permitido es ya, sin duda, una dejación muy seria de la soberanía de un país.

Por supuesto, la visita de Bush por América del Sur merece una mirada crítica: no en vano el gobierno norteamericano ha ignorado los problemas de la región. Pero hay un gran trecho entre la crítica severa y este acto de "freakismo" político que reúne lo mejor de la izquierda más jurásica.

Si la oposición a Bush son los amigos de Irán, las amigas de ETA y un aprendiz de dictador que dilapida la fortuna de su país, mientras crecen las diferencias sociales, Bush mejora por momentos.

No hay nada como tener enemigos de caricatura para parecer algo serio.

La autora es una periodista, escritora y filóloga española

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Immigrants' journey took a deadly turn

When a truck driver agreed to smuggle them past a Texas checkpoint, he had no idea he would usher 19 to their deaths.
By Peter H. King
Times Staff Writer

March 18, 2007

Houston — THEY started leaving the stash houses at twilight, six, seven immigrants at a time, crammed into vans, sport utility vehicles, compact cars. The smugglers dropped them in a field by a Fruit of the Loom plant outside Harlingen, Texas, deep in the Rio Grande Valley, not far from the border.

A stand of brush and scrub trees ran across the field. This was where the coyotes told them to hide and wait. In time, a truck would come along to carry them on the next leg of their journey. So they crouched in the thickets and waited, compliant.

It was hot and quite humid on this particular night, May 13, 2003. Some of the people later would recall how uncomfortable it had been in the bushes, sweating through double sets of clothes worn to avoid the added burden of luggage. Still, they were excited. They were in America now, and on the move.

Shortly after 10 p.m., a white Freightliner diesel truck, the legend "Wild Child" painted across the cab door, entered the field. The truck was pulling a 48-foot-long trailer equipped with a refrigeration unit — a "refrigerator on wheels" was how the driver described it.

Tyrone Mapletoft Williams, a 32-year-old Jamaican immigrant, routinely hauled fresh milk in this trailer from upstate New York to Texas, often returning with a load of watermelons. On this night, he was engaged in something far more lucrative than a typical milk run.

For a fee of $7,500, he had agreed to carry a load of illegal immigrants through a Border Patrol checkpoint about 45 miles up the highway. After he was underway, however, Williams would be redirected by the smugglers to Houston, a six-hour drive.

Now, lights off, the rig followed a smuggler's "rabbit car" to the hiding spot. It made a looping turn, backed toward the brush and stopped. At the rear of the trailer, someone worked a set of levers to open the twin doors. There was a whistle and a command in Spanish: Hurry, hurry. The bushes and trees came alive. Scores of men, a dozen women and one 5-year-old boy, traveling with his father, dashed for the trailer.

Williams remained in the cab, engine running. The smuggler who had recruited him — a chubby, ne'er-do-well of the border named Abelardo Flores — told Williams it was best if passengers never got a look at their driver, just in case something went wrong on the road.

Flores positioned himself on the running board beside Williams, giving him the standard instructions: Remain "cool" at the checkpoint. Tell the agent you are running empty. If caught, feign surprise and claim that the people must have sneaked on board, perhaps while you were asleep or inside a truck stop.

One thing Flores did not tell Williams was how many people were being squeezed into his trailer. There were at a minimum 74, and some who boarded put the headcount closer to 100. Still, the loading did not take long, maybe 10 minutes.

The last to board was Maria Elena Castro-Reyes, a Honduran who was headed north to join her husband in Jasper, Ind. He had paid extra on the promise she could ride up front with the driver. So she marched to the passenger side of the cab and climbed up.

She knocked on the door with her fist. Nothing happened. She was not tall enough to look through the window. She heard music coming from inside. She knocked again. She thought the music stopped, but the door did not open. The idling diesel engine revved and the cab lurched, as if the driver had dropped the truck into gear.

Only then did Castro-Reyes move to the back of the trailer. She was appalled by what she saw. The trailer was stuffed with people standing shoulder to shoulder. She refused to board. Two smugglers grabbed her.

"They told me that I could not stay here, that I had to get on," she said later. "They got me by my feet and by my hair, and they threw me in."

With that, the doors were shut and locked from the outside, sealing tight a trailer filled with too many human beings. The dying would begin before they had made it halfway to Houston.

A lesson in immigration

IN the unceasing debate over immigration, those who cross into this country illegally sometimes are criticized for coming in the "easy way," simply slipping over the border without the bother of bureaucratic process. This story is a lesson in just how uneasy, and how unsimple, such crossings can be.

Nineteen people who piled into Tyrone Williams' trailer on that May night would pay for a four-hour ride with their lives. Three and a half years later, Williams would fight for his own survival, charged with 58 federal smuggling counts, 20 of which carried potential death sentences — one for each of the dead, plus a conspiracy charge.

The trial ran from late October 2006 to mid-January. The witness list was wide-ranging: immigration agents, smugglers, truck-stop clerks, experts in the mechanics of refrigerated trailers, experts in the mechanics of death, first responders, bereaved relatives and, most riveting, survivors of the ride.

From this testimony a narrative would emerge. Though incomplete and inconsistent in many details, the story these witnesses cobbled together in court was overwhelmingly powerful and painful to absorb. It also was instructive in the dark arts of human trafficking.

At first, conditions inside the trailer had seemed "normal," many of the survivors would testify without any apparent sense of irony. Wrapped in almost perfect darkness, they could see nothing. What they experienced were sensations and sounds — the slight swaying of the trailer as it left the field and rolled onto the roadway, the jostling of shoulders and hips, sticky sweat and, within minutes, rising heat.

According to a mathematical model prepared for trial, it took only 10 minutes to reach 100% humidity inside the insulated trailer. Within 35 minutes, the heat surpassed the normal body temperature of 98.6 degrees and continued to climb. This was a critical tipping point. Now body heat generated by the passengers no longer could escape into the trailer's airspace.

"At that point," Tayfun Tezduyar of Rice University testified, "the air doesn't take the beating. It's the human body that takes the beating."

Williams' refrigerator on wheels had become a convection oven, with the passengers' own bodies acting as individual furnaces. Sweat ceased to act as a cooling agent. Instead, Tezduyar said, the passengers were "merely dripping." Moreover, with each breath they drew, they were cutting into a finite supply of oxygen, replacing it with the poisonous carbon dioxide they exhaled.

Jose Juan Roldan-Castro, a 26-year-old from Puebla, Mexico, who was headed to Iowa to join his brother, was the first to act. He swam through the mass of people until he reached the doors. He ran his hands along the edges, looking for tears in the insulating fabric. He gained a purchase and pulled at the foamlike material, tearing away a piece to expose the bracket of a taillight. He punched at the bracket with his bare hands.

"You don't care about pain," he recalled in court.

He managed to knock out the light, leaving it to dangle on a cord. This created a hole about the size of a fist. Not much air came through, but by pressing his face close, Roldan-Castro received a bit of relief. Passengers became angry with him. Somebody struck him.

"We are going to be discovered!" they shouted.

"Don't you understand?" he countered. "We are in danger here. No air is coming in. We could die."

Later, others would break out a second light, and throughout the rest of the ride jostle desperately for access to the improvised air holes.

The commotion caused by Roldan-Castro unnerved Matias Rafael Flores, a 24-year-old Honduran. He began to shout and bang against the trailer walls with a long metal cargo brace. Others on board urged him to quiet down. He ignored them.

"At no point," Flores would testify, "did I ever stop making noise."

His mother, not trusting smugglers, had slipped a Nokia cellphone into her son's pocket. She had programmed it to dial 911. About half an hour into the ride, he made his first attempt to call out. He failed to raise a signal.

By now, the passengers were stripping off blouses and shirts. Their bodies poured sweat, and the more they perspired, the more they became dehydrated. One man squeezed sweat from his shirt and tried to drink it. The 5-year-old boy was wailing.

"I was right next to him and his father," Flores said. "He was asking his father to help him take off his clothes because he was very hot."

Castro-Reyes managed to move to the boy. Her own 3-year-old son, deemed too young for the truck trip, was to be transported to Houston later in a smuggler's car. The 28-year-old mother fanned the child, cradled him, tried to calm him. She did not know his name.

"Don't cry," she told the boy. "We'll be there soon."

The boy's father, a Mexico City taxi driver, had split with his wife and was coming to live with his sister. Back home, the boy had talked excitedly about wanting to learn English and become a doctor. His name was Marco Antonio Villasenor. But to the people on the trailer he was simply "el ni–o," the little boy.

Most of the riders had been thrown together as strangers, coming from across Mexico and Central America. Castro-Reyes and her son had traveled north from Honduras in a small party of young women and men. Each had paid $3,000 for a coyote to escort them to the border. They walked and rode buses for more than a week. At one point in Mexico, federales boarded the bus to detain them. Castro-Reyes slipped them a bribe, and the immigrant party continued on.

At the border, the Hondurans made contact with a second smuggler, who was to shepherd them into the United States and on to Houston, a hub city in the illegal immigrant trade. As do so many others headed north, they crossed the Rio Grande on inner tubes. Some did not know how to swim.

Many of the people in the trailer had work waiting for them in the United States. Some were headed to Iowa meat-packing towns or to jobs in Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, California.

Doris Sulema Argueta, a 34-year-old Honduran, was bound for Miami, hoping to give her three children a better education. She had tried without success to obtain a visa before eventually making contact with a smuggler. Faviola Gonzalez-Buendia, an 18-year-old from Durango, Mexico, simply was going to see her grandmother in Houston. She giggled on the stand as she recounted her float across the Rio Grande.

Lorenzo Otero-Marquez, a 25-year-old construction worker, had gone south to see a doctor and visit his mother in Mexico, only to find himself stuck below a border more heavily secured than when he had last crossed. He paid a smuggler $1,850 to float him across the Rio Grande on a tube and guarantee him a ride in the cabin of a truck. Duped, he rode in the back with the rest.

They weren't, of course, all saints. When the case came to trial, one young man would be escorted to the witness stand by a Tennessee jailer. Two of those who died had traces of cocaine in their systems. And all of those who testified would admit, somewhat ruefully, that they had come into America as ilegales.

Nonetheless, it was in the main a typical load of immigrants that Williams pulled up U.S. Highway 77, animated with all the dreams that always have drawn immigrants to America. First, though, they would need to make it through the Border Patrol checkpoint.

Located just south of the town of Sarita, it serves the same function for the Rio Grande Valley as the San Clemente checkpoint does for Southern California: a final backstop on a main north-south highway to snag illegal immigrants who have crossed the border.

The smugglers had told their charges to remain as quiet as possible when the truck stopped. It reached the checkpoint at 11:26 p.m. As Williams fell in line, the riders who were jammed against the doors, trying to suck air through the hole, ducked as best they could so as not to be seen.

Agent Archie Buchanan, dressed in coveralls and cap, climbed up beside Williams and asked the driver where he was headed.

"Houston," Williams replied.

What was he hauling?

"I'm empty."

The agent aimed a flashlight into the sleeper compartment at the back of the cab. If Matias Flores was banging away with his load brace, as he later insisted, Buchanan did not hear it. He examined Williams' passport and wanted to know about the young woman riding beside him.

Her name was Fatima Holloway. Williams, married with his third child on the way, had met the 28-year-old a few days earlier through a mutual friend in Cleveland, a fellow Jamaican immigrant who dealt in drugs. Holloway was being paid $1,000 by this man to carry cash to a narcotics transaction in Houston.

"She's my girlfriend," Williams told the Border Patrol agent.

Satisfied, Buchanan stepped down. He had his head down, making a note on his clipboard, as the truck rolled away. The agent did not appear to notice the dangling taillight. The inspection had taken 21 seconds.

"He told me he didn't have anything in the trailer," Buchanan explained in court. "And he didn't have the refrigeration unit on. And so the story made sense to me."

There would be other missed opportunities. Just past the checkpoint, Scott Reuter, a 27-year-old waiter driving home from work, fell in behind Williams' 18-wheeler. He noticed a hand sticking out a hole in the trailer, waving what appeared to be a rag.

He tried to call 911, but his cellphone battery was dead. He trailed the truck for 10 miles before reaching his exit. From a convenience store pay phone, he reached a Kingsville police dispatcher. After a brief conversation, the dispatcher told Reuter that the truck had passed beyond the department's jurisdiction, and with a cheerful "bye!" hung up.

Not long after that, at 11:57 a.m., half an hour beyond the checkpoint, Matias Flores was able to connect on his cellphone with another law enforcement dispatcher. A recording of the call captured two people speaking over one another in different languages.

"Hello," Flores shouted in Spanish. "We are on a trailer. We are suffocating."

"What's the problem?" the dispatcher responded laconically, in English. "What's the address?"

"We are suffocating. Please."

"OK, I can't … "

"Help me."

"Sir," she demanded, "what's the address?"

Again, a rush of Spanish: "We come. We come illegal. We are coming by … "

There was a long pause. Now a male dispatcher could be heard, speaking in Spanish:

"Hi, can I help you? What do you need?"

There was no response. The call had been dropped.

In the background as Flores spoke, there had been the cacophony of agitated voices. A panic had set in. The little boy — "el ni–o" — was in deep distress. Flores and the boy's father tried to carry him to the taillight holes: "We got him as close to the holes as we could," Flores recalled. But then "people started pushing closer to the hole, and they pushed him backward."

On the trailer's corrugated metal floor, with his father crouched protectively over him, the boy slipped away. Castro-Reyes heard him cry out one last time.

"Daddy, I am dying."

And then the father screamed, and panic descended into pandemonium. Men and women pounded at the side of the trailer with fists and shoes, shouting huskily that they needed to be let out. Hoping to attract attention, others threw caps, shoes, anything that could fit, through the small holes they'd knocked in the doors after clawing away the insulation. There was fevered talk of rocking the trailer to tip it over.

"People were saying we were going to die anyway," recalled one passenger, "so we should roll it over so they would pay attention to us."

Maria Leticia Lara-Castro, a 22-year-old from Honduras, had tried to remain calm, crushed on the floor against one door of the trailer. Now she rose to her feet and tried to fight her way to one of the holes.

"I couldn't," she recalled, "because all the men were there."

So she clawed at the door lining with her fingernails.

"What I wanted to do was poke a hole in the wall of the door."

Unsuccessful and afraid, she squeezed away from the door and toward the front end of the trailer.

"The men were all shouting, " she testified, picking her words carefully, "in a very ugly way."

Up front in the cab, Fatima Holloway heard what she would describe initially as a "bumping" sound. Williams, she said, pretended not to hear. The cab's air conditioner was broken. Even with the windows down and a makeshift fan running, it was hot. And Williams was angry.

Earlier, another trucker had signaled to him that a light on his trailer was broken: "Those [expletive] people," Holloway quoted him as saying, "are [expletive] up my truck." Williams called a smuggler he knew only as Jo Jo, who worked for Abelardo Flores. He repeated what he'd told Holloway, in the same salty language.

This was Williams' second run for Flores. Two weeks earlier, the smuggler had approached Williams at a truck stop: Would he like to make a little extra money? There was a family with a broken-down car that needed a ride north. Eventually Flores let Williams know that the "family" in fact was a load of illegal immigrants, and that his pay would be $6,500.

The trucker was led to the load site outside Harlingen. What he would estimate were about 15 passengers boarded his trailer. He delivered them without difficulty to a drop site behind a motel in Robstown, about an hour north of the checkpoint. This second trip was supposed to follow the same script, but before he reached Robstown, Williams received a call on his cellphone.

"Shit," he said to Holloway, "they want me to take them to Houston."

What had been described as a 90-minute dash through the checkpoint was turning out to be a six-hour haul. And now, at 12:16 a.m., more than two hours after he started, Williams stopped at a little spot in the road called Refugio, "a ghost town," in Holloway's description.

"I got to get them some water," he told Holloway.

A gas station surveillance camera taped the driver, dressed in black jeans and a vinyl vest, purchasing several bottles of water. A few passengers would remember water being pushed through the taillight holes — not nearly enough for everybody, but enough to excite a frenzy. When he returned to the cab, Williams asked Holloway if she knew what "el ni–o" meant.

"He told me," she said, "they were sticking their hands out the back of the trailer and they were yelling 'el ni–o.' "

Holloway, who like Williams spoke no Spanish, told him she wasn't sure, but thought it had something to do with the weather in California. The truck reentered the highway and rolled on.

After Refugio, Williams seemed shaken to Holloway. He rocked in his seat and talked to himself: "He was panicky. He was very panicky…. He was coming to realize, you know, that something got to be done. He was in a panicky mode."

Several times he slowed and veered to the highway shoulder, as if searching for a place to unload: "I got to find someplace to dump this trailer," he kept saying.

Approaching death

INSIDE the trailer, the passengers were hurtling toward death, their bodies battered by heat, dehydration and a shortage of oxygen. In overlapping methods of attack, these three instruments of death would break down the kidneys, lungs, heart and brain. Along the way, they would produce pounding headaches, vomiting, bulging eyes, a maddening shortness of breath and hallucinations.

By now, most of the trailer occupants were too far gone to bang or shout. Some, spent, sunk to their knees in weariness. Others found places in the less-crowded front of the trailer to lie down and await death. Lorenzo Otero-Marquez recalled it felt "fresh" somehow on the floor. He lay in the blackness and listened to others flailing as they died, their bodies convulsed by seizures.

"You could only hear that they were dying," he testified. "They started to strike with their hands louder, and then they stopped striking."

Ana Gladis Marquez-Aguiluz also heard, and felt, these final throes: "They were hitting and some of them were kicking us — strongly, not intentionally."

In the jumble of bodies, the living sometimes became pinned under the dead. The father of the 5-year-old was kneeling over his child when he too passed away.

"Everybody was falling down," recalled Castro-Reyes. "And they were shouting that people were dying. Some of them fell on me. And I was saying, 'Get me out of here. I don't belong here. They threw me on here.' "

Dilcia Xiomara Sambrano-Molina, a 24-year-old Honduran, wondered whether she was still alive: "When I felt I wasn't there, that I was someplace else, I just yelled, to see if I was still alive. I touched the walls to see if I was still there."

Enrique Ortega-Cohate, a pudgy, sad-eyed 27-year-old, who had lived in Arizona for nine years before being arrested for drunk driving and deported, also suspected he was dead.

"It seemed to me," he testified, "that I saw a person — I'm not sure if it was walking or floating — but coming to me, all covered in white."

He experienced the sensation of rising out of his body, which by this point was entangled with a pile of others — some alive, some not — near the doors. And then water bottles came tumbling in through the hole where the taillight had been punched out, one after another.

Williams had stopped at a truck stop just south of the town of Victoria, more than halfway from Harlingen to Houston. He parked on a side road, next to a tree-studded horse pasture. Yet another camera captured the trucker's entrance into the store, time-stamped at 1:37 a.m.

"Hey, general," Williams called out to the clerk, Eloy Garcia. "Do y'all carry water?"

He would buy 30 bottles in all, making three trips from the store to the truck. He did not seem frantic, waiting patiently for change, asking Garcia about the price of potato chips. Yet there was something in his manner that seemed almost too calm, forced.

"Ai yai yai," he exclaimed at one point, rubbing his neck.

He wanted to know the name and location of the store. Cellphone records would indicate that, in between water runs, he was trying to reach the smugglers back in Harlingen. At 2:01 a.m., he sent Holloway into the store for more water.

Her first stop was the restroom. She had urinated on herself in the truck. She bought five large bottles — too big to fit through the hole. Williams demanded she to go back and buy smaller ones.

"Can I ask you a question?" Holloway said to the clerk. "Are there rattlesnakes out there?"

She was weighing her options — perhaps it was time to abandon this trucker and his strange cargo and take her chances in the Texas countryside.

Inside the trailer, Ortega-Cohate heard a voice outside the door. He did not speak English, but after nine years in Arizona had apparently absorbed a bit of the language. He rallied himself from his death visions and placed his mouth close to the hole.

"Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me, sir," he began in the most subservient tone imaginable.

"I don't have any more water," the voice answered back.

"Don't have any more water?" Ortega-Cohate repeated. "Open the door. Please. There's a guy gotta die right here."

"What? A guy that died?"

"Yes, sir."

Moments later, one of the twin doors swung open. Those passengers who could still move began to untangle themselves and stagger out, sometimes crawling over a stack of bodies. The stronger ones slipped through a wire fence and disappeared into the horse pasture.

One bolted for the store, where Holloway was completing her second purchase.

"I am thirsty, water," this man begged, squatting and contorting his body. He screamed in fevered Spanish that someone was out to kill him, and the clerk dialed 911. Williams met Holloway outside. A black bandana was wrapped around his face.

"We're out of here," he told her.

There was a loud crash as the truck pulled away. Hastily unhooking the trailer, Williams had neglected to crank down the dolly wheels that hold its nose aloft when detached. Back on the highway, they spotted a police car speeding toward the truck stop. Williams called Abel Flores, who, high on cocaine, had just closed down a Harlingen strip joint named Secrets.

"How many people did you put in my truck?" the trucker demanded of the smuggler, who only two weeks earlier had introduced him to the easy money in human trafficking.

You screwed me, man! Williams shouted. You screwed me.

He turned the truck for Houston, pounding on the steering wheel as he drove. In a few hours, he would check himself into a hospital, complaining of a case of the nerves and telling a story about how a bunch of illegal immigrants somehow had sneaked into his trailer, perhaps while he was asleep or inside a truck stop.

Next: The United States vs. Tyrone

Mapletoft Williams



A journey gone wrong

A truck driver was charged with smuggling illegal immigrants past a checkpoint in Texas. Nineteen people died during the journey, including a 5-year-old boy. How the incident unfolded:

Driver Tyrone Williams and Fatima Holloway rode in the cab of the truck.

As many as 100 people are thought to have boarded the trailer. Police recovered 18 bodies and caught 56 survivors, one of whom died later. Others are thought to have escaped.


48-foot refrigerated trailer. Interior dimensions 47 feet, 1 7/8 inches long by 8 feet, 1 1/4 inches wide.


Harlingen, about 10 p.m., May 13, 2003: As many as 100 illegal immigrants are loaded into the trailer.

Sarita: The truck stops at a Border Patrol checkpoint; the inspection lasts 21 seconds.

Robstown: The original drop site for delivering the immigrants.

Refugio: Williams buys bottles of water for the immigrants.

Victoria, 1:37 a.m.: Williams stops to buy more water. The trailer is opened. The store clerk calls police. Williams unhooks the trailer and drives away.

Houston: Police find Williams in the hospital.


Sources: ESRI, TeleAtlas; Asset Appraisal Services Inc.; U.S. vs. Tyrone Mapletoft Williams. Graphics reporting by TOM REINKEN


Monday, March 19, 2007


Whose Ox Is Gored?
The media discover the former vice president's environmental exaggerations and hypocrisy.

Monday, March 19, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

The media are finally catching up with Al Gore. Criticism of his anti-global-warming franchise and his personal environmental record has gone beyond ankle-biting bloggers. It's now coming from the New York Times and the Nashville Tennessean, his hometown paper that put his birth, as a senator's son, on its front page back in 1948, and where a young Al Gore Jr. worked for five years as a journalist.

Last Tuesday, the Times reported that several eminent scientists "argue that some of Mr. Gore's central points [on global warming] are exaggerated and erroneous." The Tenessean reported yesterday that Mr. Gore received $570,000 in royalties from the owners of zinc mines who held mineral leases on his farm. The mines, which closed in 2003 but are scheduled to reopen under a new operator later this year, "emitted thousands of pounds of toxic substances and several times, the water discharged from the mines into nearby rivers had levels of toxins above what was legal."

All of this comes in the wake of the enormous publicity Mr. Gore received after his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Oscar. The film features Mr. Gore reprising his famous sighing and lamenting how the average American's energy use is greedily off the charts. At the film's end viewers are asked, "Are you ready to change the way you live?"

The Nashville-based Tennessee Center for Policy Research was skeptical that Mr. Gore had been "walking the walk" on the environment. It obtained public records showing that for years Mr. Gore has burned through more electricity at his Nashville home each month than the average American family uses in a year--and his consumption was increasing. The heated Gore pool house alone ran up more than $500 in natural-gas bills every month.

Mr. Gore's office responded by claiming that the Gores "purchase offsets for their carbon emissions to bring their carbon footprint down to zero." But reports that Mr. Gore doesn't purchase carbon offsets with his own resources, and that they are meaningless in terms of global warming.

The offset purchases are actually made for him by Generation Investment Management, a London-based investment firm that Mr. Gore co-founded, and which provides carbon offsets as a fringe benefit to all 23 of its employees, ensuring that they require no real sacrifice on the part of Mr. Gore or his family. Indeed, their impact is also highly limited. The Carbon Neutral Co.--one of the two vendors that sell offsets to Mr. Gore's company, says that offset purchases "will be unable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions . . . in the short term."

The New York Times last week interviewed many scientists who say they are alarmed "at what they call [Mr. Gore's] alarmism on global warming." In a front-page piece in its science section, the Times headline read "From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype."

The Times quoted Don Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, as telling hundreds of experts at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America that "I don't want to pick on Al Gore. But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data." Mr. Easterbrook made clear he has never been paid by any energy corporations and isn't a Republican.

Even James Hansen, a scientist who began issuing warning cries about global warming in the 1980s and is a top adviser to Mr. Gore, concedes that his work may hold "imperfections" and "technical flaws." Other flaws are more serious, such as Mr. Gore's depiction of sea level rises of up to 20 feet, which would cause Florida and New York City to sink below the surface.

Sober scientists privately say such claims are exaggerated. They point to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that released its fourth report on global warming last month. While it found humans were the main cause of recent global warming, the report also indicated it was a very slow-moving process. On sea levels, the U.N. panel reported its s best high-end estimate of the rise in sea levels by 2100 was three feet. The new high-end best estimate is less than half the previous prediction, which was still far below Mr. Gore's 20 feet. Similarly, the new report shows that the panel's 2001 report overestimated the human influence on climate change since the Industrial Revolution by at least one-third.

In an email message to the Times, Mr. Gore defended his work as fundamentally accurate. But it's increasingly clear that far from the "consensus" on global warming we are told exists, scientists are having a broad and rich debate on many aspects of it. Nearly two decades after Mr. Gore first claimed that "we face an ecological crisis without any precedent in historic times," we don't know if that is really true.

Then there is the Gore zinc mine. Mr. Gore has personally earned $570,000 in zinc royalties from a mine his father bought in 1973 from Armand Hammer, the business executive famous for his close friendship with the Soviet Union and for pleading guilty to making illegal campaign contributions during Watergate. On the same day Al Gore Sr. bought the 88-acre parcel from Hammer for $160,000, he sold the land and subsurface mining rights to his then 25-year-old son for $140,000. The mineral rights were then leased back to Hammer's Occidental Petroleum and the royalty payments put in the names of Al Gore Jr. and his wife, Tipper.

Gore spokeswoman Kalee Kreider claims the terms of the 30-year Occidental lease agreement gave the Gores "no legal recourse" to get out of it. She said the Gores never thought about selling the land and would not comment on whether they ever tried to void the lease. "There is a certain zone of privacy once people go into private life," Ms. Kreidler said. She said critics of the arrangement should realize it should be viewed in a "1973 context, not a 2007 context. . . . There was a different environmental sensibility about all sorts of things."

But what about a 1992 context? That is the year Mr. Gore published "Earth in the Balance," in which he wrote: "The lakes and rivers sustain us; they flow through the veins of the earth and into our own. But we must take care to let them flow back out as pure as they came, not poison and waste them without thought for the future." Mr. Gore wrote that at a time when he would be collecting zinc royalties for another 11 years.

The mines had a generally good environmental record, but they wouldn't pass muster either with the standard Mr. Gore set in "Earth in the Balance" or with most of his environmentalist friends. In May 2000 the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued a "Notice of Violation" notifying the Pasminco mine its zinc levels in a nearby river exceeded standards established by the state and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. In 1996 the mine twice failed biomonitoring tests designed to protect water quality in the river for fish and wildlife. "The discharge of industrial wastewater from Outfall #001 [the Caney Fork effluent] contains toxic metals (copper and zinc)," the analysis stated. "The combined effect of these pollutants may be detrimental to fish and aquatic life."

The Gore mines were no small operations. In 2002, the year before they shut down, they ranked 22nd among all metal-mining operations in the U.S., with total toxic releases of 4.1 million pounds. A new mine operator, Strategic Resource Acquisition, is planning to reopen the mines later this year. The Tennessean reports that just last week, Mr. Gore wrote SRA asking it to work with a national environmental group as it makes its plans. He noted that under the previous operator, the mines had, according to the environmental website Scorecard, "pollution releases from the mine in 2002 [that] placed it among the 'dirtiest/worst facilities' in the U.S." Mr. Gore requested that SRA "engage with us in a process to ensure that the mine becomes a global example of environmental best practices." The Tennessean dryly notes that Mr. Gore wrote the letter the week after the paper posed a series of questions to him about his involvement with the zinc mines.

Columnist Steven Milloy recalls talking with Mr. Gore in 2006 about the 1997 Kyoto Protocol he helped negotiate as vice president. "Did we think Kyoto would [reduce global warming] when we signed it? . . . Hell no!" said Mr. Gore, according to Mr. Milloy. The former vice president then explained that the real purpose of Kyoto was to demonstrate that international support could be mustered for action on environmental issues. Mr. Gore clearly believes that the world hasn't acted with enough vigor in the decade since Kyoto, which may explain his growing use of the global-warming hype that concerns many mainstream scientists.

Mr. Gore has called the campaign to combat global warming a "moral imperative." But Mr. Gore faces another imperative: to square his sales pitches with the facts and his personal lifestyle to more align with what he advocates that others practice. "Are you ready to change the way you live?" asks Mr. Gore's film. It's time people ask Mr. Gore "Are you ready to change the way you live, as well as the way you lecture the rest of us?"

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Venezuela: guerra del despilfarro

Nada explica el boom chavista de compra de armas

Venezuela: guerra del despilfarro

Por: Julio A. Cirino (*)
Ámbito Financiero
Durante décadas los cubanos cavaron trincheras por la noche y las taparon por la mañana; al fin y al cabo, ellos tuvieron Bahía de Cochinos y si había sucedido una vez... No es el caso de Venezuela, pero igual el presidente bolivariano insiste en que su país debe estar preparado y gastar millones de dólares para rechazar la invasión que viene.

Hasta se elaboró toda una doctrina que explica no sólo para qué viene la invasión, sino cómo rechazarla. Vienen a robarse los «recursos naturales»; en el caso de Venezuela, el petróleo. ¿Cómo rechazarlos? Merced a la «guerra asimétrica» o como lo llaman los cubanos, la «guerra de todo el pueblo».

Acciones que mezclarán a las fuerzas regulares con milicias populares que desarrollarán una interminable guerra de guerrillas que va a desangrar al invasor. Es la base, más o menos mal copiada, de la nueva doctrina del Gral. Roberto Bendini para el Ejército Argentino. Sólo que en nuestro caso nos preparamos para defender el agua del potencial invasor que viene a robarla. Pero no todas son penurias para la Venezuela chavista preparándose a resistir la invasión. Las compras militares comenzaron su espiral a partir de 2004. El año siguiente, Venezuela fue el quinto comprador mundial de armas. Primero la India, por valor de 5.400 millones de dólares; segundo Arabia Saudita, con 3.400; tercera China, con 2.800; cuarto Emiratos, con 2.200 y quinto Venezuela, con 1.900 millones de dólares. (Fuente: «Military Balance 2006».)

# Primeras compras

La fiebre de compras se inició casi con timidez: unos 100.000 rifles de asalto Kalashnikov AK-103 (de los cuales ya recibió la mitad). Siguieron el mantenimiento y la repotenciación de 410 camiones fabricados por la austríaca Steyr y 300 más de la Fiat IVECO.

Para 2005, el proceso tomaba velocidad: se compraron 10 aviones de transporte CASA C-295M a España. También se compró el último modelo de radar para defensa aérea -3D- a China (la denominación técnica es JYL-1); se adquirieron tres por 150 millones de dólares más un centro de comando y control, más repuestos, entrenamiento y el leasing de un sistema de comunicación satelital.

La objeciones puestas por Estados Unidos a la transferencia de equipos militares que tuvieran componentes propios no tardó en dejar fuera del tour de compras a los mayores fabricantes de la Unión Europea, que además tienen ahora leyes bastante estrictas en cuanto al pago de comisiones por esas ventas. Los ingresos fiscales en Venezuela de los períodos 1984, Jaime Lusinchi; 1989, Carlos Andrés Pérez y Raúl Caldera, 1994, sumados totalizaron 91.000 millones de dólares. En el período 1999-2006, Hugo Chávez recibió 99.246 millones de dólares. En 2006, Rusia le entregaba a Venezuela seis helicópteros pesados MI-17v5, tres helicópteros de ataque de última generación MI-35M y un MI-26 Halo, el más grande que vuela en el mundo, capaz de levantar 20 toneladas. El costo fue de unos 130 millones de dólares.

Hay ordenado otro paquete de 38 helicópteros más que se comenzarán a recibir este año, son MI-17v5 y MI-35M por un total de 500 millones de dólares.

La «invasión» hace que por cada bolívar que se usa en el Ministerio de Interior y Justicia se gastan 112 en el de Defensa; si lo vemos en dólares per cápita en la región, México gasta 30,1; la Argentina, 43,6; Brasil, 70,7; Colombia, 134,7, y Venezuela encabeza la lista, con 155,4 dólares.

# Aviones

A finales del año pasado, en un desfile aéreo al que asistió Néstor Kirchner, se mostraron en Caracas los dos primeros interceptores Sukhoi (SU 30-MK2) comprados a Rusia en un paquete de 24 a un costo de 40 millones cada uno ( dependiendo de los opcionales), lo que totaliza unos 960 millones. Están en pleno desarrollo las conversaciones para adquirir, también de Rusia, los sistemas misilísticos antiaéreos móviles THOR-1, los más avanzados que Rusia tiene a la venta y cuyo precio aún se desconoce. El vicealmirante Armando Laguna anunció la intención de adquirir 9 submarinos de última generación, compra por la que pueden competir Alemania, Francia y también Rusia, con el Amur 950 (unos 150 millones de dólares cada uno), hasta ahora el favorito.

Monday, March 05, 2007

How Gore's massive energy consumption saves the world

March 4, 2007
BY MARK STEYN Sun-Times Columnist
Stop me if you've heard this before, but the other day the Rev. Al Gore declared that "climate change" was "the most important moral, ethical, spiritual and political issue humankind has ever faced.'' Ever. I believe that was the same day it was revealed that George W. Bush's ranch in Texas is more environmentally friendly than the Gore mansion in Tennessee. According to the Nashville Electric Service, the Eco-Messiah's house uses 20 times more electricity than the average American home. The average household consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours. In 2006, the Gores wolfed down nearly 221,000 kilowatt-hours.
Two hundred twenty-one thousand kilowatt-hours? What's he doing in there? Clamping Tipper to the electrodes and zapping her across the rec room every night? No, no, don't worry. Al's massive energy consumption is due entirely to his concern about the way we're depleting the Earth's resources. When I say "we," I don't mean Al, of course. I mean you -- yes, you, Earl Schlub, in the basement apartment at 29 Elm St. You're irresponsibly depleting the Earth's resources by using that electric washer when you could be down by the river with the native women beating your loin cloth dry on the rock while singing traditional village work chants all morning long. But up at the Gore mansion -- the Nashville Electric Service's own personal gold mine, the shining Cathedral of St. Al, Tennessee's very own Palace of Versal -- the Reverend Al is being far more environmentally responsible. As his spokesperson attempted to argue, his high energy usage derives from his brave calls for low energy usage. He's burning up all that electricity by sending out faxes every couple of minutes urging you to use less electricity.

Also he buys -- and if you're a practicing Ecopalyptic please prostrate yourself before the Recycling Bin and make the sign of the HDPE -- Al buys "carbon offsets," or "carbon credits." Or, as his spokesperson Kalee Kreider put it (and, incidentally, speaking through a spokesperson is another way Al dramatically reduces his own emissions), the Gores "also do the carbon emissions offset."

They do the Carbon Emissions Offset? What is that -- a '60s dance craze? No, it's way hotter. I mean, cooler. All the movie stars are doing it. In fact, this year's Oscar goodie-bag that all the nominees get included a year's worth of carbon offsets. Totally free. So even the stars' offsets are offset. No wonder that, when they're off the set, they all do the offset. Look at Leonardo DiCaprio: He's loaded with 'em, and the chicks think he's totally eco-cool. Tall and tan and young and lovely, the boy with carbon offsets goes walking and when he passes each one he passes goes aaaiiieeeeeeeee!

How do "carbon offsets" work? Well, let's say you're a former vice president and you want to reduce your "carbon footprint," but the gorgeous go-go Gore gals are using the hair dryer every night. So you go to a carbon-credits firm and pay some money and they'll find a way of getting somebody on the other side of the planet to reduce his emissions and the net result will be "carbon neutral." It's like in Henry VIII's day. He'd be planning a big ox roast and piling on the calories but he'd give a groat to a starving peasant to carry on starving for another day and the result would be calorie-neutral.

So in the Reverend Al's case it doesn't matter that he's lit up like Times Square on V-E Day. Because he's paid for his extravagant emissions. He has a carbon-offset trader in an environmentally friendly carbon-credits office suite who buys "carbon offsets" for Al from, say, a terrorist mastermind in a cave in the Pakistani tribal lands who's dramatically reduced his energy usage mainly because every time he powers up his cell phone or laptop a light goes on in Washington and an unmanned drone starts heading his way. So, aside from a basic cable subscription to cheer himself up watching U.S. senators talking about "exit strategies" on CNN 24/7, the terrorist mastermind doesn't deplete a lot of resources. Which means Tipper can watch Al give a speech on a widescreen plasma TV, where Al looks almost as wide as in life, and she doesn't have to feel guilty because it all comes out . . . carbon-neutral!

And, in fact, in the Reverend Al's case it's even better than that. Al buys his carbon offsets from Generation Investment Management LLP, which is "an independent, private, owner-managed partnership established in 2004 and with offices in London and Washington, D.C.," that, for a fee, will invest your money in "high-quality companies at attractive prices that will deliver superior long-term investment returns." Generation is a tax-exempt U.S. 501(c)3. And who's the chairman and founding partner? Al Gore.

So Al can buy his carbon offsets from himself. Better yet, he can buy them with the money he gets from his long-time relationship with Occidental Petroleum. See how easy it is to be carbon-neutral? All you have do is own a gazillion stocks in Big Oil, start an eco-stockbroking firm to make eco-friendly investments, use a small portion of your oil company's profits to buy some tax-deductible carbon offsets from your own investment firm, and you too can save the planet while making money and leaving a carbon footprint roughly the size of Godzilla's at the start of the movie when they're all standing around in the little toe wondering what the strange depression in the landscape is.

A couple of days before the Oscars, the Reverend Al gave a sell-out performance at the University of Toronto. "From my perspective, it is a form of religion," said Bruce Crofts of the East Toronto Climate Action Group, who compared the former vice president to Jesus Christ, both men being (as the Globe And Mail put it) "great leaders who stepped forward when called upon by circumstance." Unlike Christ, the Eco-Messiah cannot yet walk on water, but then, neither can the polar bears. However, only Al can survey the melting ice caps and turn water into whine. One lady unable to land a ticket frantically begged the university for an audience with His Goriness. As the National Post reported, "Her daughter hadn't been able to sleep since seeing ''An Inconvenient Truth.'' She claimed that seeing Mr. Gore in person might make her daughter feel better." Well, it worked for Leonardo DiCaprio.

Are eco-celebrities buying ridiculousness-emissions credits from exhausted run-of-the-mill celebrities like Paris, Britney and Anna Nicole? Ah, well. The Eco-Messiah sternly talks up the old Nazi comparisons: What we're facing is an "ecological Holocaust, and "the evidence of an ecological Kristallnacht is as clear as the sound of glass shattering in Berlin." That 221,000 kilowatt-hours might suggest that, if this is the ecological Holocaust, Gore's pad is Auschwitz. But, as his spokesperson would no doubt argue, when you're faced with ecological Holocausts and ecological Kristallnachts, sometimes the only way to bring it to an end is with an ecological Hiroshima. The Gore electric bill is the eco-atom bomb: You have to light up the world in order to save it.

©Mark Steyn 2007