- The Washington Times - Monday, December 28, 2009

IRAN

Kin of held hikers hire Iranian lawyer

The families of three Americans charged with espionage in Iran after straying over the border from northern Iraq in July said Sunday that they have secured an Iranian lawyer to try to get them released.

Iran’s judiciary has announced espionage charges against Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27. Their families say they were hiking during a vacation in Iraq and crossed the border accidentally. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has said they “entered Iran with suspicious aims.”

Independent Iranian lawyer Masoud Shafii will represent Miss Bauer, Mr. Shourd and Mr. Fattal and work for their release, the families of the three Americans said in an e-mail statement. Iran has said they will stand trial.

“We continue to hope that the Iranian authorities will release Shane, Sarah and Josh on humanitarian grounds without further delay or any need for a trial,” the families said.

SENATE

McConnell says health fight not over

The Senate’s top Republican vowed Sunday to keep battling the Democratic health care bill and expressed hope some Democrats may still turn against it.

“The bill is not law yet,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on ABC’s “This Week” program, adding that there were rumors of more Democratic defections amid unhappiness over the health care proposals. Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama switched parties on Dec. 22 and became a Republican.

“There is great unrest in the Democratic Party,” Mr. McConnell said. “The reason for that is the surveys indicate the American people are overwhelmingly opposed to have the government take over all of their health care.”

Conservative opinion leaders, including talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, have chastised Senate Republicans for not stopping the bill’s approval last week, a charge Mr. McConnell dismissed.

“Every single Republican opposed the measure. All of the procedural devices that are available to slow down a measure were employed. It didn’t pass until Christmas Eve at 7 a.m. … I’m not sure what’s to criticize about that from a conservative point of view,” Mr. McConnell said on ABC.

VICE PRESIDENT

Snow unshoveled at Biden residence

Along Washington’s Massachusetts Avenue - also known as Embassy Row - there was one long stretch where no one shoveled the nearly 2 feet of snow that covered the sidewalk after one of the fiercest winter storms in history, leaving pedestrians nowhere to walk but in the treacherous street.

That multiblock stretch was in front of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s mansion on the grounds of the Naval Observatory. Nearby embassies - those of Bolivia, South Korea, Britain, Japan, even that of the Vatican - had dutifully cleared their sidewalks, as required by law.

The Northwest Current, the weekly community newspaper for the Northwest quadrant of the District, scolded the vice president and his groundskeepers for the lapse.

“Quite aside from the safety implications of their neglect, U.S. officials should never have let themselves be upstaged in the nation’s capital by representatives of other countries,” the Current said in an editorial.

WHITE HOUSE

Winter garden uses ‘hoop houses’

With the arugula harvest over and the summer’s crops long gone, the first family has supervised the planting of a winter garden on the South Lawn of the White House, featuring what are certain to be the first “hoop houses” on such rarefied presidential soil.

Having no connection to basketball, the hoop structures are made of ribs of plastic or metal pipe covered with a layer of plastic sheeting. These makeshift greenhouses - also known as high tunnels - trap heat from the winter sun and insulate the plants from freezing.

Crops planted include spinach, lettuce, carrots, mustard greens, chard and cabbage, said White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass.

AVIATION

Lightning bursts worry scientists

Atmospheric scientists have warned the Federal Aviation Administration about high-altitude lightning bursts that can create a phenom called a terrestrial gamma ray flash.

Although the flashes are very short and extend just a few hundred feet through clouds, the researchers have told the FAA that flying near one of the events could expose airliner passengers and crew to a radiation dose equal to 400 chest X-rays - considered the maximum safe radiation exposure over a person’s lifetime.

WHITE HOUSE

Gibbs: Don’t politicize attempted attack

The White House warned political foes Sunday not to provoke a partisan tug of war over terrorism, with President Obama yet to publicly address the thwarted attack on a U.S. airliner.

The president is vacationing in Hawaii, conspicuously not commenting on television about the purported Christmas Day attempt to bring down a Northwest jet.

“The president believes strongly that this has to be a nonpartisan issue,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“This should not be a tug of war between the two political parties. I hope everyone will resolve in the new year to make protecting our nation nonpartisan - rather than what happens in Washington, devolving into politics,” he said.

Mr. Obama got a 6 a.m. Hawaii-time briefing on latest developments in the probe into the airborne terrorism bid from top national security aides, the White House said in the latest regular bulletin on his response to the crisis.

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