Retiree Faces Prison For Killing 500 Trees

LAS VEGAS - FEBRUARY 25: Hotel-casinos on the Las Vegas Strip are seen on February 25, 2006 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images Getty Images

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In a nation whose founding president is famous for his tree chopping, you'd think there's be a little more sympathy for the likes of Douglas Hoffman.

But a jury just convicted the Nevada retiree on 10 charges in the destruction of more than 500 trees, the Los Angeles Times reports. He now faces up to 35 years in prison.

Hoffman, who had moved with his wife into an upscale retirement community just south of Las Vegas five years ago, had complained to the homeowners committee that the greenery was blocking his view of the Strip. At once point he even asked if he could swap out the rapidly growing trees marring the couple's view for shrubs. He was told no.

So he took matters into his own hands. Call it arboricide, vigilante-style. In 2004, the tops of 60 trees were lopped off. Homeowners thought it was maybe teenagers. Over the next year, more trees - some worth $1,450 - were felled. The developer hired a private security firm. Upset residents posted photos of the carnage online.

He severed some, but other he sliced just enough so that they would slowly die. In a year's time, authorities said, he wiped out more than 500 trees.

Then one November night in 2005, one resident - who just happened to be a retired sherrif's deputy - was driving home when he noticed a freshly cut tree and a figure disappear into the darkness. He grabbed a golf club and gave chase. He found Hoffman, patted him down, and found a single-blade saw under his clothes.

When authorities searched Hoffman's home, they found a seven-page screed decrying the community's landscaping. Hoffman's wife told them that her husband had whacked some branches in order to get a better view of the Strip. The subsequent foliage slaughter was Hoffman's plan to cover up his initial chopping, police said.

Hoffman's wife said her husband was too old and sick to be running around in the woods at night chopping down trees. She said the saw was something he scooped up on the side of the road.

"You murder someone, and it's OK," she said. "But you're accused of killing trees, and it's like, execute him."

Giuliani's Firm Lobbied For Bill Bush Administration Calls A Threat

When it comes to his stance on fighting terrorism, the campaigning Rudy Giuliani is so aligned with the Bush administration that he could shorten many of his speeches by simply chanting "four more years."

So it's startling to read in today's New York Times that Giuliani's law firm has been lobbying Congress on behalf of legislation that the Bush administration calls a threat to antiterrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa.

Bracewell & Giuliani was hired last year by the American wing of a dissident Ethiopian political party known as the Coalition for Unity and Democracy. The group wanted Congress to pass legislation proposing restrictions in American aid if Ethiopia does not agree to share power with opposition parties and take other steps promoting democracy.

The Bush administration supports the government of Ethiopia as a bulwark against terrorism and has characterized the legislation as a liability in that effort.

Although the Ethiopian opposition has many supporters in Congress, in part because of the existing government's reputation for repression, the administration believes that the current government is making progress towards democracy, a state department official said.

Moreover, the Bush administration is impressed by the way the current Ethiopian government has helped put the smackdown on an extremist insurgency in neighboring Somalia, where it has sent troops and worked to aid American operations against al Qaeda suspects.

Although Giuliani was not personally involved in the lobbying, his firm used his name in its pitch to win the assignment, and his clout was the reason it landed the job, said Seyoum Solomon, an Ethiopian-American from Maryland who helped negotiate the deal.

The conflict highlights how tricky it is for candidates to keep operating in the business world while the run for office, the paper suggests. At the moment, in fact, Giuliani is alone among Republican contenders for keeping his business pursuits while campaigning.

In the end, the Ethiopian opposition group ended their contract with the law firm last year, in part because the firm never delivered a meeting with Giuliani (the firm denies ever promising such a thing). Nevertheless, the legislation that the group wanted passed by a voice vote in the House of Representatives in October.

This Holiday, Consider Telecommuting

Just when you thought flying couldn't become anything more of an infernal punishment, USA Today reports that the country's six big network airlines are continuing to trim their U.S. schedules, despite strong travel demand.

This time, they're blaming the oil companies.

The airlines, which handle about two-thirds of domestic flying, are reacting to autumn's run-up in fuel prices, which can make some flight unprofitable, said William Swelbar of MIT's International Center for Air Transportation.

"With $90 oil, (airlines) have to really look in the mirror . . . to see whether the economics still make sense," he said.

American, United, Delta, Continental, Northwest and US Airways have scheduled 4.4 fewer seats for January than a year earlier, according to USA Today's analysis of flight schedules.

To trim capacity, airlines can eliminate routes, fly them less frequently or switch to smaller planes. Whatever the course, travelers face reduced options and fuller flights.

"If you have a cancellation," said Wayne Shank, deputy executive director of the Norfolk, Va. Airport, "you could be sitting there for a couple of days instead of a couple of hours."

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  • Keach Hagey

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