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News In Brief 

by Inlander Staff

To Rake Muck - SPOKANE -- He's a muckraker of our times, a prolific, thoughtful, sometimes humorous left-wing writer, and he's coming to town.

He's Alexander Cockburn (pronounced "co-burn"), and he'll rock your world -- or at least, your view of it, speaking at Spokane Falls Community College on Saturday.

A left-winger? Why in Spokane?

"The why is, because Alexander Cockburn is probably one of the most courageous pundits working in the American media today," says Marianne Torres, secretary of the Green Party of Spokane County. "He exposes information about the kinds of things most of the mainstream media refuses to discuss."

Things like the alleged connection between CIA operatives and opium lords in Afghanistan, the subject of a new book Cockburn co-wrote, titled Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs and the Press.

The Green Party of Spokane County is tilling the political grounds by sponsoring some impressive speakers, Cockburn being one of them. The party hosted Ralph Nader last year.

What Cockburn will actually speak about Saturday is not scheduled; he often arrives with a grab-bag of ideas and subjects, from Palestine to the Amazon.

The Green Party of Spokane County claims about 150 paid members, plus numerous other supporters, says Torres.

"We're growing steadily," says Torres. Spokane "is a fairly conservative place, but the numbers of people with a progressive view have surprised me."

Cockburn will speak Saturday, May 18, at 7 pm in the SFCC Music Building. Cost: $10. Call: (509) 891-8545.

Cute Critters - PULLMAN, Wash. -- The tiny Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits have taken the first step toward restoration of a healthy population. Just last week, three litters were born in captivity at Washington State University and at the Oregon Zoo.

The rabbits are found in both Idaho and Washington, but it's especially the Washington population that has come close to extinction. Fewer than 30 are believed to live in the wild.

"Of the Washington rabbits, these are the first ever born in captivity," says David Hays, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife endangered species specialist.

The pygmy rabbit population has declined because of loss of habitat and because the tiny rodents have been genetically isolated.

"They eat a lot of sage brush and that's disappearing," says Hays. "They also need to be able to dig at least one meter down in relatively loose soil -- and that's hard to find."

Adult pygmy rabbits (Brachylagus idahoensis) fit snugly in the palm of a hand. The seven females and five males breeding in captivity were collected at an undisclosed location near Moses Lake.

The critters are tiny -- the smallest rabbits in the world -- but the bill is huge. The rabbit rehabilitation program costs about $250,000 a year, funded by state, federal and private grants.

The goal is to have around 50 pygmy rabbits in a genetically diverse, captive population before any are released.

Kaiser, Continued... - SPOKANE -- Thousands of Kaiser Aluminum workers, past and present, stand to win big under a recent ruling by an administrative judge of the National Labor Relations Board.

Judge Michael Stevenson ruled on May 10 that Kaiser's 20-month lockout of about 2,900 striking steelworkers in 1999-2000 was illegal and ordered the company to pay the workers back-pay and benefits from that period, according to NLRB documents. That amount could be more than $180 million, says the United Steelworkers of America.

Workers were striking at five Kaiser plants around the country, including the Mead and Trentwood plants, and facilities in Tacoma. But Kaiser isn't issuing the checks without a fight.

"This isn't necessarily the last word," says NLRB spokesman Dave Parker, from Washington, D.C. Kaiser could appeal the judge's order to the full NRLB board, and later to a U.S. appeals court.

In a statement Tuesday, Kaiser officials noted that labor relations officials had previously dismissed 22 of the steelworkers' 24 original allegations of unfair labor practices. It's unclear if Kaiser's declaration of bankruptcy earlier this year will affect possible awards.

Company President Jack Hockema vowed to appeal the judge's decision: "We remain confident that our position will ultimately be upheld."

The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency that governs relations between unions and private-sector employers.

If Kaiser loses its appeals and does have to pay, it will be the largest back-pay award in U.S. history.
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