- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

Reporting for duty

What with all the campaign rhetoric of late about who did and did not serve in Vietnam, one of Capitol Hill’s most outspoken Democrats, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, says it’s high time this country holds the Vietnamese government accountable for its continued human rights abuses.

Legislation now before Congress, which Mrs. Jackson-Lee supports, would prohibit non-humanitarian assistance to the communist country until its regime allows freedom of political, religious, social and cultural expression.

“Right now, Vietnamese citizens are living under a repressive regime,” says the congresswoman. “They are not afforded the basic human rights to worship however they choose, speak whatever they feel, write whatever they desire and associate with whomever they wish. Many are being unfairly arrested and tried, and are being forced to serve lengthy prison sentences.

“There is evidence of under-aged youths serving in the armed forces,” she continues. “There is also evidence that there is widespread torture, excommunication and murder of those who choose to worship in non-state-approved religious organizations. Opposing political views also merit the same consequences.”

During an East Room ceremony at the White House in 1995, President Clinton announced that the United States would normalize diplomatic relations with Vietnam, standing together with Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

But the senators, Vietnam veterans both, have been criticized since for not reacting swiftly to cases of arrests, torture and murder. An Easter 2004 crackdown, according to International Christian Concern, left more than 280 Montagnard Christians in the country dead.

Good guys win

It’s about time that a federal law enforcement agency is publicly honored for preventing a domestic terrorist attack.

Realizing that Americans hear little of counterterrorism success in this country, partly for intelligence reasons, Congress is recognizing a group of “local heroes” — FBI agents from Buffalo, N.Y. — for their work in investigating and bringing to successful prosecution a U.S.-based terrorist cell known as the Lackawanna Six.

In the spring of 2001, agents learned, the six men from Lackawanna, N.Y., were recruited to a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan.

“The camp was directed by al Qaeda and included speeches given personally by Osama bin Laden,” recalls Rep. Jack Quinn, New York Republican. “The six admitted to attending the al Qaeda training camp to learn terrorists’ tactics.”

As the congressman points out, the United States might never know what harm the Lackawanna Six intended to cause Americans, but considering the most recent terrorist attacks in Bali, Indonesia, and in Madrid, “We all feel safer knowing that they are behind bars.”

Start your tractors

Washington is famous for its bountiful green parks. Perhaps one day it will be known for its bumper crops.

A new study, reports NASA headquarters in Washington, finds that warmer temperatures in “concrete jungles” like the nation’s capital cause plants to stay greener longer into the year when compared to the surrounding countryside.

As the space agency explains it, urban areas with high concentrations of buildings, roads and automobiles retain heat, creating urban heat islands. These “city climates” influence plant growing seasons up to 6 miles outside a metropolis.

The study reveals that growing seasons in 70 cities in the eastern United States were about 15 days longer than in rural areas.

“If you live in a rural area and drive regularly into the city, and if you pay attention to vegetation, you will see a difference in the growing seasons in early spring and late autumn,” said Xiaoyang Zhang, the NASA-funded study’s lead author.

Mr. Zhang finds that for every 1.8 degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature, vegetation blooms three days earlier. Thus, the higher temperatures in cities cause plants to green-up on average seven days earlier in the spring.

Similarly, the growing season in cities lasts eight days longer in the fall than the rural areas. Straw hat, anyone?

• Fans of this column will enjoy John McCaslin’s new book, “Inside the Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops and Shenanigans From Around the Nation’s Capital.”

You can purchase it through BarnesandNoble.com.

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected]

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