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Miers played role in Bush’s Guard cover up

WASHINGTON — Harriet Miers is a skilled lawyer who has worked on behalf of big business, including Microsoft and Disney. But her main qualification for a U.S. Supreme Court seat appears to be her loyal service to George W. Bush. That was certainly in evidence in 1998, when Bush was running for re-election as Texas governor while considering a run for president, and paid her $19,000 to run an internal probe of any possible trouble lurking in Bush’s National Guard service.

Not long after that, a lawsuit alleged that the Texas Lottery Commission, then chaired by Bush appointee Miers, played a role in a multi-million dollar cover-up of the scandal. It’s a murky chapter that could provide some fodder for Miers’ upcoming confirmation hearings.

According to Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, Miers and other aides quickly identified a problem in 1998 — rumors that Bush had help from his father in getting into the National Guard back in 1968.

Ben Barnes, a prominent Texas Democrat and former speaker of the Texas House, told friends he had used his influence to get Bush a Guard slot after receiving a request from Houston oilman Sid Adger. But Barnes didn’t actually speak directly to Bush Sr. and had no documents to back up his story.

At roughly the same time, Miers was also chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission. The biggest issue before her was whether to retain lottery operator Gtech, which had been implicated in a bribery scandal. Gtech's main lobbyist in Texas in the mid-1990s was Ben Barnes.

In 1997, Gtech fired Barnes, but also gave him a $23 million severance payment. Soon afterward, Gtech’s contract was renewed over two lower bidders despite the ongoing scandals.

The lawsuit involving Barnes was brought by former Texas Lottery director Lawrence Littwin, who was fired in October 1997, after five months on the job. He contended that Gtech was responsible for his dismissal. Before he reportedly settled with Gtech for $300,000, his lawyers suggested that Gtech was allowed to keep the lottery contract, which Littwin wanted to open up to competitive bidding, in return for Barnes' silence about Bush's entry into the Guard.

Iran pipeline sparks nuclear deal

SAKHALIN, Russia — Gazprom, the world's largest gas firm, is eager to participate in the construction of a $7.4 billion Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline that would bring gas from the gigantic South Pars fields in Iran to the two South Asian countries, the Press Trust of India reports.

The Russian energy giant has previously held talks with authorities in Iran and India to become involved in a consortium, to include also Indian Oil Corp and Gail (India) Ltd. that would lay the 2,000-mile pipeline.

This isn’t welcome news for the United States, which formally opposes investment in Iran’s oil and gas industry by any country. But the signing of a civil-nuclear energy cooperation deal with India last week was a U.S. attempt to wean the country from its pipeline plan, United News of India reported.

“We want Pakistan to think of other alternative sources of gas,” a highly placed U.S. State Department official told a group of visiting South Asian journalists. “But if we want this we will have to take care of energy needs of these countries and think of ways to help them.”

Getting laughs in Milosevic’s world

BERLIN – That wacky Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic has made the leap to theater with a hit show based entirely on transcripts of phone conversations originally wiretapped by the Croatian Secret Service. First staged in Vienna in November 2003, The Milosevics became a surprise hit, has had two revivals, and opens again this week at Berlin's legendary experimental Hebbel am Ufer theater

"People from Berlin saw it and they liked it and decided to present it," Yosi Wanunu, co-founder of Vienna’s Toxic Dreams theater, told Variety. "We had connections at a big festival in Belgrade, but it was clear that they were afraid to take this show. I guess this topic is still very hot there."

Wanunu first became fascinated by excerpts of the conversations printed in Harpers. "I did some research and found more and more conversations, and I knew I had to put it onstage, and I knew it had to be a sitcom," he said.

The conversations among Slobodan, wife Mira Markovic and son Marko deal with matters like the temperature of the pool, the benefits of colored contact lenses, and motherly advice. ("At night when you go to bed, you have to have slippers beside you when you go and pee.")

When confronted with yet another of Marko's get-rich schemes, Slobodan's trademark retort is, "Are you ****ing with me?"

"I thought it would be interesting to build something from the audience's knowledge of who these people are, and for many people it was kind of difficult: They couldn't believe it was real," Wanunu told Variety. "They thought I had written it, but it's totally authentic."

The conversations are played as short sketches at the taping of a weekly sitcom. Colored lights cue the audience when to laugh or applaud.

"There is a thirst to deal with political issues within subsidized cultures, but the results tend to be bland and direct and preachy," Wanunu added. "We say more than just 'Milosevic is bad' and show that politics can still be funny and entertaining."

posted October 5, 2005

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