Not in Barton's backyard

As the House finished up its work on an energy bill yesterday, one big question came to mind: Why not tell Americans to drive less?

"Well, if you want to tell them that, go ahead," said Joe Barton, chairman of the energy and commerce committee, in response to a reporter's question. "I want to be re-elected in my district."

Barton explained his Nimby (not in my backyard) problem, saying that in the mostly suburban district he represents between Dallas and Fort Worth, people drive up to 100 miles a day to get to work. "I'm not going to tell them they can't drive."

He went on, at some length, about a recent family trip to College Station, 150 miles from his home. "Normally, it's a no-brainer," Barton said. His son, with three small children, would go in one car, and Barton in another. But this time, his son suggested they all go together.

"I thought, why do you want to go together? And it dawned on me: $2-a-gallon gasoline. A round trip in his SUV was going to cost him about 40 bucks."

"As it turned out, we took two cars," Barton confessed, because the seven people who wanted to make the trip couldn't fit in one. "But he did think about going in one car because the price had gone up."

New prescription

Canada's internet pharmacies have spoken out forcefully in recent years against attempts by US and Canadian authorities to slow the flow of cheap prescription drugs across the border. Too forcefully, perhaps.

The Canadian Internet Pharmacy Association has decided to part company with its executive director, David MacKay. Officially, the association's line is that it is restructuring to work more closely with its provincial counterparts. "Dave has done a fabulous job," says Andy Troszok, CIPA's president.

But pressure on the internet operators has grown in recent months. Canada's health minister, Ujjal Dosanjh, has threatened to prohibit exports of drugs in short supply and to ban Canadian doctors from countersigning foreign prescriptions.

Ottawa has quietly put out the message that MacKay's terrier-like tactics may make life even more difficult for the pharmacies. CIPA's provincial associations are becoming "a little more focused on diplomacy", Troszok says.

Lamy's comeback

Robert Zoellick's wishes have come true. The US deputy secretary of state recently complained about how much better he got on with Pascal Lamy, the former European trade commissioner, than his successor Peter Mandelson.

The two had handled the Boeing-Airbus aircraft subsidy dispute so much better, the outgoing US trade representative proclaimed.

So he will no doubt welcome news that Lamy was appointed on Wednesday as special adviser to Mandelson. In fact, when he recently visited Brussels, Zoellick not only described Lamy as a friend but also revealed that he had invited him to Washington to help boost his prospects of becoming the next head of the World Trade Organisation.

Still, it appears that the main purpose of the appointment was to rekindle an official relationship between the European Commission and Lamy, so Brussels could assist and provide funding for Lamy's WTO election campaign. So for the time being, Mandelson will help Lamy get on an aircraft to promote himself around the world rather than ask him to think about how to solve his own aircraft conundrum.

Springing Amlo

Prosecutors finally issued a warrant this week for Mexico City's impeached leftwing mayor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Amlo). Once under prosecution, the popular politician would be prevented from running for president.

Then two legislators for the rightwing National Action Party (PAN) of Vicente Fox, the president, said they had already paid Amlo's $180 bail so he would not have to go to jail.

According to Gabriela Cuevas, one of the deputies who paid the bail, it was an act of "good faith". Perhaps more to the point, it also deprived Amlo of the chance to turn himself into a martyr.

Amlo was ungrateful, calling his liberators "cheats, cowards and traitors".

Amlo had been hoping for the photo-opportunity from heaven of being led off to jail - a fate that also befell Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, he reminded his followers.

Observer suspects Mandela might well have paid $180 to get out of jail, had he been given the chance.

Smoked out

Observer hears a whisper from within the conclave of cardinals that elected the new Pope at the Vatican - or is it a cough?

Apparently the smoke signalling stove backfired after the decisive ballot on Tuesday.

While white smoke emerged from the Vatican chimney as planned, inside the Sistine Chapel the 114 cardinals and newly elected Pope Benedict XVI were engulfed in "a foul-smelling fog", according to the Dutch Cardinal Adrian Simonis.

Something to do with the combination of burning ballot papers, polystyrene and chemicals no doubt. The cardinal was less concerned about his own health than that of the recently restored Michelangelo fresco that adorns the chapel. The Last Judgment was caked in soot.

"I am sure the Japanese, who paid for the restoration, were not amused," the cardinal noted ruefully.

Senate relations

When asked this week whether white smoke was rising out of Congress for John Bolton, the controversial nominee to be United Nations ambassador, one Senate aide gleefully replied that the bells were not yet ringing.

The aide joked however that Bolton had already chosen his name should he be confirmed - Satanicus I.

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