By Lance Gay
Scripps Howard News Service
March 18, 2005
It's a post that includes a $300,000 salary, exempted by Congress from any federal or state taxes; five weeks of annual vacation ("European standards," explained a World Bank spokesman); subsidized mortgage; and admission to suburban Washington's very exclusive Bretton Woods Country Club.
The job comes with a penthouse office suite just a block from the White House _ and, of course, lavishly subsidized lunches. The perks given employees of the World Bank and its sister organization, the International Monetary Fund, have long been ridiculed by critics.
In the midst of the annual tax season, the IRS says its Web site, www.irs.gov, is averaging more than 1 million hits a day. "Just to give you a frame of reference," says Mark Everson, Uncle Sam's chief taxman, "one major search engine reported in a recent week that we were surpassed only by Paris Hilton, Clay Aiken, Pamela Anderson, Britney Spears and a poker game."
Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk has joined the blogosphere, and that's turning up the political heat in Phnom Penh.
Southeast Asia watchers picked up the king's online musings in February. But Cambodia's politicians were outraged this month when the king began posting letters on his Web site from someone called Ruom Ritt, including ribald musings on the real nature of Prince Charles' relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles and juicy observations on the personalities of Cambodia's leading politicians.
Lawmakers charge that Ruom Ritt is really the king himself, but Sihanouk says Ruom Ritt is a boyhood friend and an 80-year-old Cambodian exile living in "the shadows of Pyrenees." Sihanouk won't say exactly where this might be because he worries that Ruom Ritt would be assassinated.
The king's missives, along with those of Ruom Ritt, are posted in French, at www.norodomsihanouk.info.
The digital-TV industry is pressuring Congress to set a date for old analog TV sets to go black, and thus force Americans to get into the digital age if they want to continue to watch TV programming.
Lawmakers originally thought they could make the transition by 2006. But consumers haven't voted with their pocketbooks to embrace the new technology by buying pricy TV sets capable of translating digital messages. Many consumers don't see any advance in picture quality warranting the price, especially in smaller screens bought for dens or bedrooms.
The industry acknowledges that sales have been slow, and now predicts only 15 percent of sets in homes will be digital-ready by 2008. But the price of TV sets is declining, and digital programs are increasing. The Consumer Electronics Association says the transition would be speedier if lawmakers set a date certain for an end of analog TV transmission.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is overseeing the issue. Barton said he's willing to consider setting a date if the industry finds a way to provide some of the $4 billion to $5 billion in profits from new uses for the analog-TV-broadcast spectrum to finance the purchase of sets by those who can't afford new sets.
Both the Pentagon and American news dispatches report that it's relatively quiet in the Iraqi town of Fallujah. But that's not the breathless picture of raging warfare being broadcast by the Arabic network Al-Jazeera. The network has even broadcast charges the Pentagon has possibly resorted to using napalm.
That charge is based on refugee Abu Sabah, who told Al-Jazeera: "They used these weird bombs that put up smoke like a mushroom cloud. Then small pieces fall from the air with long tails of smoke behind them" that burned people's skin.