Editorial: What Can You Do?
Signs of the Times
The other day SOTT received an email from a popular “Activist” website soliciting funds. The message said:
Yesterday 6,613 of us contributed $389,900 towards our $3.5 million field organizing plan for the election, smashing our goal of $250,000 for the week. Amazing. This generosity gives us a great deal of hope--and we've got to keep the momentum going. Can we make it to $600,000 by Friday?
A contribution of $100 from 2,100 more of us will get us there. Can you pitch in? You can contribute by credit card or check at the link below—it takes just a minute.
Wow! In one day they were able to raise $389,900.00 !!! And they are shooting for Three and a Half MILLION? What for?
Well, for their political ads and campaigns.
We wondered just what planet the people live on who gave this kind of money? Haven't they been paying attention? Don't they know that there is absolutely NO possibility that buying political ads or backing political candidates is going to make one bit of difference?
Think about it: Bush and the Neocons have been spying illegally for over a year now, and he has the gall to brag about it and shove it in our faces, and to declare that he's going to continue. In the midst of this uproar, he even gets his court pick accepted ensuring that no legal action will ever be taken against him. And while we are on the subject, just WHO have the Neocons been spying on that were such sensitive targets that they couldn't even be bothered with getting a rubber stamp approval?
The object of the illegal spying wasn't really to target innocent Americans as the Neocons would like us all to think.
Does anyone actually think that Bush and Gang would spend their time listening in on conversations between Junior and his granny in Pakistan? Does anyone seriously think that the arrogant Karl Rove is going to waste his time on “average Americans?” Do you think he - or ANY of them - really think that there are "terrorists" in America?
Of course not. They know that the whole "terrorist threat" is manufactured. They aren't going to waste their time looking for something that they created in their sick imaginations.
So, WHO are they REALLY spying on? And why did they out themselves as Bush did just before Christmas?
Sure, we read that it was done because the NY Times was going to publish a story that they had withheld for over a year. "President George W. Bush was so desperate to stop The New York Times' secret spy program story he summoned Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Executive Editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office to try to talk them out of running it, Newsweek reported on its Web site on Monday."
That smacks of smokescreen. Does anyone really believe that if the President wanted the NY Times to keep quiet that there would be a problem? After Judy Miller? Not a chance.
The whole thing stinks of a smokescreen. So, what are they trying to hide? What are they trying to distract attention away from? As Paul Craig Roberts has written:
We have reached a point where the Bush administration is determined to totally eclipse the people. Bewitched by neoconservatives and lustful for power, the Bush administration and the Republican Party are aligning themselves firmly against the American people. Their first victims, of course, were the true conservatives. Having eliminated internal opposition, the Bush administration is now using blackmail obtained through illegal spying on American citizens to silence the media and the opposition party.
Before flinching at my assertion of blackmail, ask yourself why President Bush refuses to obey the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The purpose of the FISA court is to ensure that administrations do not spy for partisan political reasons. The warrant requirement is to ensure that a panel of independent federal judges hears a legitimate reason for the spying, thus protecting a president from the temptation to abuse the powers of government. The only reason for the Bush administration to evade the court is that the Bush administration had no legitimate reasons for its spying. This should be obvious even to a naif.[...]
The years of illegal spying have given the Bush administration power over the media and the opposition. Journalists and Democratic politicians don't want to have their adulterous affairs broadcast over television or to see their favorite online porn sites revealed in headlines in the local press with their names attached. Only people willing to risk such disclosures can stand up for the country.
So, what other journalists, congressmen, judges, various other government officials are they REALLY spying on? After all, considering the nature of these creatures that have taken over the U.S., you have to know that they are only going to expend their energy on things that will bring them the biggest rewards of money and power. The hoopla about spying on innocent Americans to ferret out terrorists is just a smokescreen; it was, purely and simply, to spy on political opponents, journalists, and to obtain material for blackmail so as to completely control the political process.
And that means that all those hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars even, that are flowing into the coffers of various “Political Action” groups are all going to waste. It's all for nothing. Nothing will change. They will spend your money, make a big show, make a good living off of it, and nothing, NOTHING, will change.
Yes indeed, the desire for change in the country is intense – 60% think America is on the wrong track.
Yes, President Bush is very unpopular. Only 39% approve of him in one poll – his polls are as bad as Nixon's were around Watergate.
No, the news isn't any better for Congress; 63% of Americans want Congress to move in a new direction. Based on very good information it seems that many members of Congress did NOT approve of the confirmation of Samuel Alito. But he was confirmed anyway with some notable Democratic switchovers! (A little domestic spying bearing fruit?)
Yes, it is true that the Republican-controlled Congress' approval ratings are at 29%, but don't think for a minute that the wheels are coming off the right-wing machine. Sure, Karl Rove is under scrutiny, Tom DeLay is under indictment and the Abramoff scandal keeps everyone titillated while the Neocon juggernaut just keeps on stomping across America.
Yes, it is true that everywhere, on all the issues, the people are rejecting the Bush/Neocon agenda from Iraq to Social Security to budget cuts, to funding the war machine, to drilling in the Arctic. But none of it makes one bit of difference to an administration that owns the media, the Intelligence agencies, the military, the Congress and now, the Supreme Court. While the pundits tell us Bush is in trouble, he continues to get his victories on the ground.
Nothing that the political activists have done or said or advertised about has made one whit of difference. Nothing. The same game is being played with Iran that was played with Iraq, and if something doesn't change in a very fundamental way very, very soon, America IS going to be embroiled in a global war that may, indeed, be the end of America.
With so many of our readers writing to us asking “What to do?”, we thought that we would make an experiment. We fought like hell against the Alito confirmation for weeks. We activated our group members, wrote letters, sent emails, made phone calls, sent FAXes, day after day after day. We blogged, we posted to internet forums, we listened to the agreement of hundreds of thousands of people who stood with us against the confirmation of Alito.
We KNOW we were having an effect because, toward the end, there WERE notable congressional reps responding to this pressure and calling for the filibuster. We don't think for a minute that they were serious, we think that rather they were giving lip-service to the idea to calm down all the activists.
The facts “on the ground” are that Alito was confirmed. He was confirmed because the Neocons OWN everything, including the Democrats. It's that simple.
As it now stands, the Republican juggernaut is unbreakable. The corruption scandals, the admitted lying, the low approval ratings, none of that makes any difference. This fall, there is absolutely NO chance of ending the Republican stranglehold on Congress. Anybody who does not see this is deluding themselves and taking you for your money. It's that simple.
As long as the Neocons own the media, the intelligence agencies, the military, the courts, congress AND the voting machines, NOTHING IS GOING TO CHANGE.
Would it make a difference if the Democrats returned to power?
MoveOn.org, the organisation who's email we cited above, is a front for the Democratic Party in the US. They serve to rally and deflect liberals who want to do something in the face of the Bush gang into doing exactly the kinds of activities that can change nothing. Their latest plan is to try and raise money to fight the Republicans in the next election. What? So that the spineless and equally corrupt Democrats, who have allowed Bush to capture the Supreme Court, illegally spy on Americans, get away with phoney commissions about 9/11, allowed the neo-cons and Israel to get away with 9/11, allowed Israel to continue its genocide of the Palestinians, who say that Bush needs to get serious about the war in Iraq and win it, who may not have received as much money from Abramoff as the Republicans, but who have their own lobbyists and slush funds, be put into power in order to improve things??? Is it really going to change anything? Is any dollar given to this cause going to be better spent than if it were thrown into a fire and burned?
You might as well imagine that Ariel Sharon going to rise from his sickbed and lead the Palestinians to a just and equitable one-state solution.
If there is no political opposition in the United States, if none of this anti-Bush busy work can have any beneficial affect, we come back to the question "What can I do?"
We receive many emails from people asking us this question. They can objectively see the situation in the United States, they understand that the Bush gang are imposing fascism, that the neo-cons and Israel were behind 9/11, that the administration lies, that the US Constitution has been torn into tiny pieces... they understand all that. So they ask us, "What can we do?"
As John Kaminski says with his usual eloquence in his article "Pain in the Brain":
Over and over I keep repeating: It doesn't matter who gets elected. All that stuff is a waste of time. America will continue to bomb and poison the world no matter who's in the White House.... The conversation on the radio show was about peace demonstrations. I commented that large peace events were nice for meeting people, but didn't accomplish anything, except reinforce the hollow illusion that we have free speech in the USA.
Indeed. Letters to the editor, peace marches, petitions, phone calls to your congressmen, these are only symbolic acts, moments when one can take a stand for the truth, doing so with no thought or anticipation to the outcome. They will change nothing... yet.
No amount of money that you give to any political organization is going to make any difference whatsoever.
That's the bad news. Activism based on the old model simply doesn't work against fascism.
Is there any good news? What does work? Can anything work? What can we DO?
We think there IS something that can be done, but it is going to require something that we talk about a lot on this website: Networking, colinearity and nonlinear dynamics. To just briefly explain, colinearity is when a lot of people are networked together, all going in the same direction. Nonlinear dynamics are the laws of physics that tell us that constantly applied pressure can keep building and building until it reaches a “popping” point when EVERYTHING shifts, and no one can know beforehand exactly when, where or how that critical mass will be reached.
We think that the solution to the problems facing America today can't yet be seen because there aren't enough people going in the same direction, all applying the pressure to the same goal/point.
That has got to change. And that can only change by a mass change of thinking. Americans needs to stop wasting energy on the wrong things and start spending it on the right things in the right way at the right time. We think that those who are sincerely working for change need to network together, to support each other not only in word and deed, but financially.
Yes, we have a plan. But like any plan, it requires funding. And unlike useless political plans, we can't reveal all the details because we want the plan to work. For those of you who have figured it out, yes, this is an information war, and we don't have the trillions of dollars that the Pentagon has to wage it. We have very limited funds, in fact.
In order to begin to implement our plan, we are going to need a lot of money. But we aren't asking you for that money, we aren't asking you for $3.25 million like certain political activist groups that don't accomplish anything. We are asking for something quite different. We are asking you to help us fund a real, significant Conscience Network. We already contribute financially to several 9-11 researchers and Activists who are struggling to stay afloat. We need to do more. Every day we see the sincere one, the ones that can't be bought off or co-opted, falling by the wayside, giving up in frustration and despair. Everyday we see the agents of COINTELPRO spreading their clever lies wrapped in truths over an ever widening sphere of influence, and those who can see, those who KNOW, are helpless. If they say a word, the small income they have will be cut off and they will have no further means of continuing to speak out.
That's how it works. First they try to buy off the sincere Truth seeker and speaker. If that doesn't work, then they try to destroy them financially. If that doesn't work, then they try to destroy your reputation. We've seen it and experienced it.
If you read these pages, it is likely to be because you get something from them. Readers of Signs of the Times and the Cassiopaea sites, as well as Laura's books, tell us how much our work means to them. You have come across this work, and it has touched you. It may even have changed you.
You know this to be true.
What if you could help us to support others of like mind, and then to help more and more people to have access to that work? And then, what if those others began to open their eyes and minds to what a true NETWORK is all about?
Up until now limited financial resources have meant that we have not been able to compete with the Pentagon COINTELPRO and Propaganda Budget. We've had to bootstrap every phase of our activity for the past eight years. You, the reader, can see the changes, the development of the site, the spreading influence and increasing readership. That has been due mostly to steady and consistent work, word of mouth advertising, and extremely positive feedback. But, it has now become clear that unless we can get make some serious moves, we will never reach those millions of people that are asking serious questions, thirsting for answers and receiving only lies and disinformation from their government and mainstream media. We won't reach them in time. And if we don't reach them in time, the rest of our plan cannot be put into effect. It all depends on a shift in mass consciousness.
Last year, we asked our readers to help to us raise the money to buy new computer and sound recording equipment in order to improve the services that we offer to our readers free. Thanks to your generosity, the Signs Team has been equipped with the necessary tools to increase our ability to give back, to reach more people, and it has caused a dramatic increase in our readership. More and more people are looking for exactly what Signs of the Times offers: a daily charting of the changing face of our world that keeps our readers abreast of essential information, the news behind the news, that may literally save their lives.
Now, more than ever, as galloping fascism stalks the world, there is a need for as many people as possible to be appraised of the reality of the world in which they live so that this knowledge can be utilised to protect themselves and those they love. It is clear that there is absolutely no chance that the mainstream media will ever provide this service to the people of the world.
It is also clear that there are plans afoot to shut down the Internet as a source of alternative news and points of view that point out the lies, that give people an accurate account of what is happening on our planet, and that demand that the will of the majority be respected. When that happens, sites like Signs of the Times will no longer be available, the information that you get today for free will not even be available if you were willing to pay. To prepare for this, we have been publishing as much of our material as possible as books. To date, we have books totalling over 4000 pages. We have plans for much more during the coming year.
But the books serve no purpose if they sit on shelves or boxed up in cartons. They need to move, they need to get out into bookstores, and from bookstores into homes. For that, we need to advertise. And that costs money. People thirsty for knowledge need the opportunity to learn about our work so that they, too, will understand the gravity of the situation we face and can see the possibility of a different way of living, of be ing.
We CAN make a difference; we just have to go about it in an altogether different way than has been tried up to this point. We need a bootstrap to the next level. That's what we are asking you for.
But we don't have much time. We need to work fast. The Darkness is falling and we need a lot of fuel to keep the lighthouse going. As Bob Dylan put, “It's not dark yet, but it's getting there”.
If every one of our daily readers could give $100.00 to help us counter the propaganda of the dark forces occupying America and open the eyes of others to the infinite possibilities of a colinear network pushing the envelope, we could create a network of Light and Truth that will shine from Sea to Shining Sea.
At this point, none of us have anything to lose anymore, except the last vestiges of our freedom. So, please, dig as deep as you can TODAY. If you can't possibly afford $100, then give what you can. It's time to Rock and Roll!
Click here to donate now!
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Editorial: Signs Economic Commentary
February 20, 2006
Gold closed at 555.20 dollars an ounce on Friday, up 0.2% from 554.20 for the week. The dollar closed at 0.8375 euros Friday, down 0.3% from 0.8401 at the end of the previous week. That puts the euro at 1.1940 dollars, compared to 1.1904 the Friday before. Gold in euros would be 464.99 euros an ounce, down 0.1% from 465.56 the week before. Oil closed at 59.88 dollars a barrel, down 3.3% from $61.84 for the week. Oil in euros would be 50.15 euros a barrel, down 3.6% from 51.95 the week before. The gold/oil ratio closed at 9.27 up 3.5% from 8.96 at the end of the previous week. In the U.S. stock market, the Dow closed at 11,115.32, up 1.8% from 10,919.05 the Friday before. The NASDAQ closed at 2,282.36, up 0.9% from 2,261.88 the week before. The yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury note closed at 4.54 down four basis points from 4.58 last Friday.
There was much optimism about the U.S. economy from mainstream analysts last week, buoyed by rising stocks and falling oil prices (down 3.3%) and, for a while, falling gold prices (gold actually ended up a bit). The hope is that fresh quarterly earnings reports from major retailers this week will keep the U.S. stock market rising:
Stocks could see 3rd week of gains
By Caroline Valetkevitch
Stock bulls will push for a third week of gains after last week's slide in oil to below $60 a barrel, but investors will be on the alert for signs of inflation and higher interest rates.
The Presidents' Day holiday-shortened week will include a rush of earnings from retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which will grab investors' attention. After this coming Tuesday's closing bell, China's leading Web search company, Baidu.com, also will report quarterly results. The reports will put the finishing touches on the fourth-quarter corporate profit picture, which analysts said has improved since January when some high-profile companies disappointed Wall Street.
Minutes on Tuesday from the Federal Reserve's January policy-setting meeting and consumer price data on Wednesday will be picked apart for further clues about the interest-rate outlook. Investors are worried signs of rising inflation will force the Fed to keep extending its long campaign of raising interest rates. The Fed has been tightening credit since June 2004 in an attempt to rein in inflation.
New Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, in congressional testimony last week, suggested that more rate increases may be needed to contain inflation. But analysts said his reassuring comments on the economy and the absence of any big surprises in his remarks helped push stocks higher.
"His testimony not only played well to Congress, but to Wall Street. So we should continue to get a little honeymoon spillover from that," said Fred Dickson, senior vice president and market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co. in Montana.
In another positive sign for higher stock prices, crude oil last week fell below $60 for the first time this year. U.S. crude for March delivery was still below that level on Friday; it settled at $59.88 a barrel, up $1.42 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
"Investors are going to go into the week feeling a little bit better about the shape of consumer spending and feeling much better about the emergence of Bernanke as he heads the Fed," Dickson said.
By Friday's closing bell, all three major U.S. stock indexes had finished the week with gains. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average rose 1.8 percent, while the broad S&P 500 advanced 1.6 percent, and the Nasdaq Composite Index gained 0.9 percent.
Oil's Drop Below $60
Forecasts of higher U.S. crude and gasoline inventories triggered the fall in oil to below $60 a barrel last Tuesday. On Wednesday, when a larger-than-expected rise in crude stockpiles was reported by the government, oil fell below $58 for the first time since late December.
Lower energy prices tend to boost stocks because they mean reduced costs for consumers and corporations.
But analysts said continued tensions between the Western powers and Iran over Iran's nuclear ambitions, as well as fighting in Nigeria, the eighth-largest crude exporter, between government forces and militants, could keep oil prices higher.
On Saturday, three American oil workers were abducted in Nigeria and the United States has called for their unconditional release. Militants stormed an offshore barge operated by U.S. oil services company Willbros Group Inc. in predawn attacks and abducted nine workers in all.
Crude hit an all-time high of $70.85 in late August after Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast.
"We don't think $60 is sustainable. We just had the warmest January in 100 years, but we're expecting colder temperatures in New York this weekend. Investors are being very short-sighted," said Philip Orlando, senior portfolio manager at Federated Investors.
"We're sitting on a geopolitical powder keg with Iran that could blow at any moment. It would not surprise us to see crude back in the $70-plus neighborhood by the end of the quarter."
Fed Minutes, Cpi And Durable Goods
The financial markets will be closed on Monday for the Presidents Day holiday.
But Wall Street will reopen on Tuesday anxiously awaiting the release of minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee meeting on January 31 -- Alan Greenspan's last.
In the week ahead, the FOMC news will be followed on Wednesday by the consumer price index and on Friday by durable goods orders. Both reports, for January's data, will shed more light on the U.S. economy's health.
"The market is hypersensitive to any clues that they can get as to what the Fed will do over the course of the tightening cycle," Orlando said.
On Friday, a report from the Labor Department showing the core Producer Price Index, excluding volatile food and energy prices, climbed 0.4 percent in January -- twice market expectations -- was a negative influence for stocks.
Economists polled by Reuters expect the overall CPI for January to rise 0.5 percent, after December's decline of 0.1 percent. They see core CPI, excluding volatile food and energy prices, up 0.2 percent in January, following December's gain of just 0.1 percent.
Orders for durable goods, which are manufactured goods like washing machines, computers and cars designed to last three years or more, are expected to drop 1.0 percent in January, according to the Reuters poll. In December, durable goods orders rose 1.8 percent. Excluding transportation, January durable goods orders are forecast to rise 0.5 percent, compared with December's gain of 1.7 percent.
From Wal-Mart To Nordstrom
Earnings will be on the watch list, too.
In the week ahead, investors will get more insight into consumer spending when earnings come in from retailers ranging from discounters to purveyors of luxury goods.
Quarterly earnings are due on Tuesday from Wal-Mart, the discount behemoth and the world's largest retailer, as well as from Federated Department Stores Inc., the parent of Macy's and Bloomingdale's, and Home Depot Inc., the world's largest home improvement retailer.
On Thursday, quarterly results are expected from Gap Inc., the largest specialty apparel chain; Nordstrom Inc., an upscale department store chain known for service and designer clothes; Kohl's Corp., a moderately priced department store chain, and Limited Brands Inc., owner of Victoria's Secret and Bath & Bodyworks stores.
They follow higher profits reported last week by J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Target Corp., which were boosted by strong holiday season sales. The fourth quarter generates the biggest portion of retailers' annual profit.
"Good news on retailers should be a sigh of relief," Dickson said
Yet, this optimism is coming at a time of record triple deficits, the hollowing out of productive capacity and the end of the asset bubble. And by productive capacity, I don't mean only industrial production. The offshoring of jobs has spread to core white collar jobs as well.
The Pace of White-Collar Outsourcing
How rapidly will outsourcing of U.S. white collar jobs proceed? The consensus bet is 300,000 a year, but it all depends on how rapidly the English-literate populations of emerging markets expand:
India's Outsourcing Industry Is Facing a Labor Shortage - New York Times
By SARITHA RAI MUMBAI, India, Feb. 16 — India's leadership in global outsourcing may be in jeopardy unless it increases its supply of skilled workers.... Experts... said Thursday that an incipient skills shortage was the biggest threat to the industry's blazing growth.... Pramod Bhasin, chief executive of Genpact, a back-office outsourcing company once owned by General Electric, set the tone when he said, “If the talent in India is scarce, we will go wherever the labor pool is available.”
Lower-cost centers like Eastern Europe and China could become serious rivals for outsourcing business from Western multinational companies.
Until now, corporations mainly looked to India to do work from customer support to writing software code to designing chips. But the supply of India's famed “skilled, low-cost, English-speaking” work force may not quite match the sizzling demand.
India's $23.4 billion outsourcing industry accounts for most of the country's software and services industry, which makes up nearly 5 percent of gross domestic product. The industry employs 1.2 million workers, has sparked a consumer revolution in India, and is accelerating at more than 30 percent a year.
On the sidelines of the Nasscom meeting, B. Ramalinga Raju, chairman of India's fourth- largest outsourcing company, Satyam Computer Services, said that India produced three million college graduates every year, including nearly 400,000 engineers. “But most of these are uncut diamonds that have to go through polishing factories, as the trade requires only polished stones,” Mr. Raju said.
In a country of 1.1 billion people, raw talent is plentiful, he said, but not all of it is market-ready.... The supply shortfall is even more acute in mid-level jobs, like software engineers. Salaries in this segment are rising an average 20 percent a year, and in some segments even 50 percent annually, compared with 5 percent annual raises for software engineers in the United States.
“The irony is that while the outsourcing industry partially fueled an economic boom amongst the middle classes, the growth has now spilled onto other areas offering ambitious young college graduates an array of job options outside of the outsourcing industry,” said M. S. Krishnan , professor of business information technology at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan....
Outsourcing companies are taking matters into their own hands to meet mid-level skills shortages by setting up vast, dedicated training centers. Tata Consultancy Services... has a large training center in Trivandrum... its nearest rival, Infosys Technologies, has a training campus in Mysore.... “At any given point in time, there are 4,000 people in the pipeline at Infosys's training center,” Mr. Krishnan said.
Many companies believe the skills deficit will only grow. “We are in the people business, and the situation will become more challenging in five years,” said Amitabh Ray, director of global delivery, IBM Global Services India....
The situation is much the same in the back-office and call center jobs: of 100 college graduates applying, only 8 are immediately employable. Another 20 require considerable training to be hired, according to Nasscom data...
The fact that the demand for Indian engineers is so strong that even a country as populous as India cannot keep up with it says a lot for the rapid pace of the gutting of higher-paid western office and professional workers. The type of shift that used to take a generation, enough time to be trained, to work for a career then retire, now takes place in less than a decade. Even India is fearing that their boom will end and their new jobs will go to lower-paid workers in China.
One reason this is important is that standard economics says that if the dollar falls in value, the trade deficit can be turned around. Yet that presupposes productive capacity in the United States that can produce goods for export. But if that capacity has been completely gutted, then there can be no rebalancing. The following is from Stephen Roach, Chief Economist of Morgan Stanley:
Global: Trade Deficits and Asset Bubbles
Stephen Roach (New York)
Most believe that the dollar holds the key to global rebalancing. Academics are especially adamant on this point, with many maintaining that it will take at least a 20-30% drop in the greenback to “fix” the US external imbalance. Yet that remedy doesn't square with the raison d'être of America's trade deficit. The problem is concentrated on the import side of the equation, driven largely by the excesses of asset-dependent consumption. That means higher real interest rates are likely to be far more important than a weaker dollar in resolving America's external imbalances.
The latest US trade report says it all. In December 2005, imports of foreign goods and services ($177.2 billion) were fully 59% larger than exports ($111.5 billion). Moreover, it turns out that a -$70.6 billion deficit on goods was cushioned by a $4.9 billion surplus on services. Within the goods component of the December trade gap, the disparity between imports ($149.6 billion) and exports ($79.0 billion) was even larger. This underscores the daunting arithmetic of a turnaround to America's external imbalance. With goods imports fully 89% larger than goods exports, even if exports grow at twice the rate of imports, the deficit on goods will remain essentially unchanged. In other words, just from an arithmetic point of view, it will be exceedingly difficult for the United States to export its way out of its trade deficit.
The export solution also suffers from an even more glaring deficiency -- the hollowing of Smokestack America. With manufacturing capacity and jobs moving steadily offshore over the past 20-plus years, the US simply lacks the wherewithal to spark an export-led turnaround in foreign trade. In all too many cases, the loss of US manufacturing prowess has been a permanent, or structural, erosion. The list of “lost industries” -- from steel and autos to textiles and even computers -- speaks of a competitive dynamic that makes it all but impossible for the US to recapture its once leading market share as an industrial powerhouse. As I noted recently, that leaves the US on the outside looking in when one of its formerly large trading partners like Japan springs back to life (see my 10 February dispatch, “Rebalancing Made in Japan?”).
I am certain there is a level of the dollar that might reverse this process. But I think it is well in excess of the 20-30% decline that many believe is the answer to America's massive trade imbalance. Given the structural tilt to the global playing field, my guess is that in order to make a meaningful difference to America's trade dynamics on both the export and import sides of the equation, the US currency would have to be sustained at an exchange rate on the order of 30-50% below present levels on a broad trade-weighted basis. And the key word here is “sustained.” A trading blip will not give US exporters the confidence -- or the economics -- they need to go back into business. Needless to say, the odds are quite low that either the US or other global authorities would accept such a dollar-collapse scenario as a palliative for America's trade deficit . Largely for those reasons, I think it is safe to conclude that a weaker dollar is not the answer for the US external imbalance.
And that takes us to the essence of the problem -- America's massive import overhang. Import fluctuations in any economy are, of course, a derivative of the cyclical ups and downs of domestic demand. But there is also an important secular overlay that is traceable to the same structural pressures noted above. On both counts, the United States qualifies as “importer extraordinaire.” The shift in the global competitive playing field leaves an increasingly hollow US economy with little choice but to rely more and more on foreign production to source internal demand. And the extraordinary burst of domestic consumer demand in recent years -- with personal consumption expenditures holding at a record 71% of GDP since early 2002 -- pushes the internal-demand underpinnings of US imports into an entirely different realm. Little wonder the US continues to lead the global import sweepstakes, with some $1.7 trillion in imports in 2005 --well in excess of dollar-based import bills of the Euro zone (US$1.5 trillion), UK ($0.5 trillion), Japan ($0.5 trillion), and China ($0.7 trillion).
In terms of fixing America's external imbalance, for reasons also noted above, I am not optimistic that the answer can be found in the structural, or competitive, angle. Instead, my sense is that the answer lies mainly in the cyclical piece of the equation -- specifically, in the asset-driven excesses of US consumption. With consumption growth running well ahead of labor income growth over the entire four years of the current economic expansion, there can be no mistaking the importance of property-driven wealth effects in closing the gap. Estimates conducted by none other than former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan put the equity extraction from residential property in excess of $600 billion in 2005 alone -- enough, by his reckoning, to have accounted for all of the decline in household saving since 1995 (see the September 2005 Federal Reserve working paper by Alan Greenspan and James Kennedy, “Estimates of Home Mortgage Originations, Repayments, and Debt on One-to-Four-Family Residences”). In short, look no further than the asset-dependent consumption binge as a major cyclical culprit behind America's import overhang.
This takes us to the most controversial piece of the debate -- the so-called real interest conundrum. In my view, led by the world's major central banks at the short end of the curve, and augmented by the conundrum at the longer end of the curve, the super-liquidity cycle has played the decisive role in taking asset markets to excess over the past decade. First with equities, then bonds, and now property, American consumers, in particular, have come to take excessive rates of asset appreciation as an entitlement. As I see it, the Federal Reserve played a critical role in fostering this outcome -- first by condoning the equity bubble in the late 1990s and then by setting up the now infamous serial-bubble syndrome by slashing its nominal policy rate to the rock-bottom 1% level once the equity bubble burst. The overall level of real interest rates was artificially depressed throughout this period -- sustaining the rise of asset-dependent consumption and a concomitant overhang of excess imports.
The Fed, of course, has attempted to normalize real interest rates over the past 18 months, but its 350 basis points of tightening at the short end of the curve has had next to no impact at the long end. Policy-related buying of dollar-denominated assets by Asian central banks has been an important, but by no means exclusive explanation of this conundrum. So has the globalization of disinflation. But for me, the bottom line is clear: If the US wants to come to grips with this imbalance, or if the world wants to address this increasingly worrisome source of instability, the answer can probably be found more in the real interest rate than in the dollar.
What Roach leaves out here is what the consequences of raising real interest rates to a sufficient level in an environment of consumer and government overindebtedness: another Great Depression.
Whatever the reason, there can be little doubt that the excesses of asset-dependent consumption lie at the heart of America's import problem -- and therefore at the heart of the world's biggest imbalance, the US trade deficit. And, of course, the saving problem is the mirror image of this statement. Lacking in domestic saving -- America's net national saving rate fell into negative territory for the first time in modern history in late 2005 -- the US has turned heavily to foreign saving in order to fill the void. And it has had to run massive current account and trade deficits to attract the foreign capital. Yet there is no free lunch. The imported saving comes at a real cost -- overly-indebted and asset-stretched American consumers, on the one hand, and a collection of US creditors that are under-consuming at home and massively overweight dollars in their rapidly growing stashes of official foreign exchange reserves. I don't buy the idea that these tensions are manifestations of a glorious new era for a dollar-centric world economy. I worry, instead, that as the liquidity cycle turns, asset-driven global imbalances are reaching the breaking point.
Yet the optimists have taken to questioning the math behind statistics that they don't want to acknowledge. Here's Brad Setser:
Is national income accounting biased against the US?
Feb 05 2006
In a fake news classic, Rob Corddry and Jon Stewart of the Daily Show once pondered how to report "the facts" when "the facts themselves were biased."
Michael Mandel seems to think the facts are biased against the US economy.
Not really the facts. National income accounting .
According to Mandel, national income accounting is biased against the US. It was designed for countries that invest heavily in factories that make things. The US in the 1920s and 1930s and above all the 1940s. Or China today.
National income accounting doesn't work for the current knowledge-driven American economy , driven by platform companies that have outsourced all the dirty work of manufacturing. Rather than obsess about all the weaknesses that US shows in the conventional national income accounts - low savings, not-so-wonderful investment, big current account deficits - we should embrace a set of new metrics designed for the Ipod (designed in California, assembled in Asia) economy.
Time and other worry warts have it all wrong, in part because it looked at the wrong measures. National income accounting understates both US investment in "knowledge" and brand equity and US "knowledge" exports.
To be fair to Michael Mandel, I am exaggerating his argument a bit for effect, and ignoring the caveats in his Business Week cover story. But he clearly thinks the "doom and gloom caucus, trade deficit division" doesn't get the new knowledge economy. Is he right?
Mandel's core argment is that the national accounts understate US investment in the knowledge economy and other intangible assets, understate savings by counting investment as consumption and fails to capture US knowledge exports.
I do not have an informed opinion on the question of whether the national accounts definition of investment is dated, and too narrow. Should some of McDonald's advertising budget be considered a long-term investment in McDonald's brand - an investment with a longer half-life than a new PC - rather than just an attempt to sell more burgers today. That would drive up US investment rates. And US savings rates, as both business investment and business savings would rise.
Maybe the US invests (and saves) more than the national income accounts show. I don't think, though, that mismeasured advertising investment changes the bottom line: the US now saves a lot less than it used to. The US savings rate may not be negative, but it still fall short of what the US needs to finance all the investment the US does.
But that's old thinking according to Mandel. The Gloom and Doom caucus - trade deficit division (I suspect most would consider me a member) misses all the fantastic profits that US firms are making exporting their know-how. It mismeasures the Ipod economy. A country that is the home of the company that owns Eurodisney, Tokyo Disney and Hong Kong Disney and profits from all the Brits lining up to get into Orlando's Disney World must be doing well ...
One caveat. Eurodisney is not my example. It belongs to the Harvard economists who conjured up dark matter . I suspect it isn't the best of all examples of US prowess abroad ...
According to Mandel, the doom and gloom caucus, trade deficit division, doesn't get the Ipod economy. It also ignores all the gains the US gets from importing human capital. Immigrants educated abroad generate large big windfall gains when they come to the US. India pays for the world class education at Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), US firms (and therefore US economy) reap the benefits.
Perhaps the trickiest and most controversial aspect of the shadow economy is how it alters our assessment of international trade. The same intangible investments not counted in GDP, such as business know-how and brand equity, are for the most part left out of foreign trade stats, too. Also largely ignored is the mass influx of trained workers into the U.S. They represent an immense contribution of human capital to the economy that the U.S. gets free of charge, which can substantially balance out the trade deficit of goods and services. "I don't know that the trade deficit really tells you where you are in the global economy," says Gary L. Ellis, chief financial officer of Medtronic Inc., a world leader in medical devices such as implantable defibrillators. "We're exporting a lot of knowledge."
I want to touch (hopefully briefly) on both parts of Mandel's arguments.
Should a country that is importing human capital also be importing savings from abroad, as Mandel argues?
Perhaps. Consider Australia in the 1800s. It imported people and capital from the British Isles. But those resources were invested in the export sector, producing wool, wheat and iron to sell back to Britain.
Taking on external debt to build up an export sector (staffed with immigrant labor) is one thing. But that is not what the US seems to be doing. The debt seems to be financing the housing sector. And lots of immigrants seem to be employed in the US service sector. Visit a restaurant kitchen in New York. Or look for domestic help ...
Still, I can see why the US might be importing capital from other advanced economies whose labor forces are forecast to fall. Though it isn't immediately obvious why Japan is financing the US rater than say emerging Asia. Or why the emerging world and its rapidly expanding urban labor force is financing the US.
…But maybe my concern is misplaced - the US isn't importing savings to build houses and a domestic services sector, but successful, global platform companies that stride the world, sucking up profits from their activities abroad that "old" metrics like the current account don't capture. That too is part of Mandel's argument.
US knowledge exports that make Intel's plants in Israel, Costa Rica, Ireland, Singapore and no doubt many other places hum. Pepsi exports knowledge to Ireland, where it now produces Pepsi concentrate for sale back to the US . OK, not that one. It is too obviously tax arbitrage. Coke does it too.
I don't buy the broader argument, at least not in full.
Mandel didn't mention the Japanese knowledge Toyota exports to its US plants. Or the German knowledge that Mercedes and BMW export to their US (and Eastern European) plants. Or the French knowledge exported in the perfume, fashion and wine businesses ...
The flow of intangibles in the global economy is not one way.
Nor do US firms capture all of the benefits of their "intangible" knowledge exports. A US firm sets up a plant in China, and teaches its employees the secrets of building cars or computer chips. And then a Chinese firm poaches its US firms' employees. This is no doubt good for economic development, as it helps increase the productivity of Chinese firms. But it makes it harder for the US to continue to reap monopoly profits on its knowledge. Or its brands.
I also don't think the current account is quite as outdated a concept as Mandel suggests.
The current account deficit is not just the trade deficit. It also includes US overseas "income" - as well as the payments the US makes on its external debt.
There are obviously enormous issues about the correct measurement of the overseas profits of US firms. But the overseas income of US firms is a big part of the US current account. Indeed, it is the income that the US gets from its firms abroad that has keep the US from making (net) interest and dividend payments on the world. Dark matter and all.
Forcing the numbers to reflect your fantasy (creating your reality) is what Enron did. And Ken Lay is still unrepentant, blaming the crash of Enron on a ‘run on the bank'. The parallels are disturbing:
Greed, Debt, Incompetence
The United States of Enron
By ROBERT BRYCE
February 15, 2006
Jeff Skilling had a vision for Enron. In February of 2001, he told the company's employees that Enron, would, within five years, “be the leading company in the world.”
World dominance was the main message that Skilling and Enron's chairman, Ken Lay, imparted to their employees in the video of that 2001 meeting, which was re-played on Wednesday morning in courtroom 9B of the federal courthouse in Houston. Forget talk that Enron was short on cash, or that the mighty juggernaut was overextended and hobbled by competitors. Ignore the doubters, like the journalists at Fortune magazine, who had, a few days earlier, published a story saying that Enron's business model was based on a “black box.” “The company is doing great,” Skilling told the Enron employees. “We've got a vision for the next century.”
It was during the playing of that video that it became clear: the Bush Administration has become Enron. World dominance.
The old rules don't apply. Machiavellian vengeance toward naysayers. Corrupt accounting. And holding all of those ingredients together: a heaping helping of hubris, a hubris that leaves no room for doubt or uncertainty.
That George W. Bush has morphed into his old pal, “Kenny Boy” Lay shouldn't be surprising. Enron was, until the 2004 campaign, Bush's biggest career patron. The intrigue lies in the myriad parallels that can be drawn between the Bush regime and the Enron regime.
On a personality level, you have the similarities between Bush and Lay: both are the detached executives who couldn't know -- or didn't bother to pay attention to -- what was happening in their operations. Lay, his defense lawyers insist, had no idea that Enron's chief financial officer, Andy Fastow, was cooking the books. Lay was in charge of the big picture. He was the public face of Enron, Mr. Outside. Never mind that Lay was a PhD. in economics who couldn't read a cash flow statement. As for Bush, neither he nor his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, can be held accountable for the torture of Iraqi prisoners that occurred at Abu Ghraib. That was done by rogue soldiers without approval from their commanders.
Both Lay and Bush have backed their subordinates, no matter how grievous their wrongdoing. In October of 2001, after Fastow's double-dealing was exposed, Lay insisted that he and the Enron board “have the highest faith and confidence in Andy and think he's doing an outstanding job as CFO.” In May of 2004, right after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Bush insisted that Rumsfeld was “doing a superb job” and that America owes him “a debt of gratitude.”
The old rules no longer apply. For Enron, it was the old rules of accounting. As Skilling once told Enron's chief accounting officer, Rick Causey, “Cash doesn't matter. All that matters is earnings.” Enron had blown up the old methods. It was operating in a new paradigm, and those who didn't understand that, well, as Skilling often put it, they just “didn't get it.”
For the Bush Administration the old rules include anachronisms like the Geneva Convention. Bush insist that he's fighting a new, stateless, enemy, and thus the “global war on terror” cannot be constrained by old treaties, old rules, or the countries that Rumsfeld calls “old Europe.” That means that “illegal enemy combatants” can be held at Guantanamo Bay, or in secret prisons in Syria, or elsewhere, for as long as Bush deems necessary.
Cheney, plays the role of Skilling. Like the monomaniacal Enron executive who never doubted that his vision for a business that would dominate global markets in everything from natural gas and electricity to paper and steel, Cheney is the true believer in America's global dominance, the one who constantly pushes against old notions that might constrain America's power. If that means torturing prisoners, no problem. As Cheney said shortly after the 9-11 attacks, the U.S. government must, “work through, sort of, the dark side.” And that means that it is “vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”
Opponents of the regime must be dealt with quickly and harshly. For Enron, that meant that stock analysts like Merrill Lynch's John Olson, who never parroted the company's rosy predictions, had to be silenced. Merrill fired Olson after Enron made its displeasure known. For the Bush regime, it meant smearing former ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame. Wilson's offense: publicly questioning the story that Iraq was trying to buy radioactive materials from Niger.
Opponents who don't follow the script are “assholes.” That was made clear in September 2000, when Bush, unaware that his microphone was on, pointed to New York Times reporter Adam Clymer and told Cheney, who was standing nearby, that Clymer was a “major league asshole.” Cheney readily agreed.
Skilling used the same term a few months later during an April 2001 conference call with analysts. When Boston hedge fund manager Richard Grubman pressed Skilling on a financial question, Skilling cut him off, and let all of the analysts and his Enron pals know that Grubman, too, was an “asshole.”
Finally, the defense strategies adopted by Bush and his cronies at Enron are exactly the same. That is: everything we did was legal. From the beginning of their trial, the attorneys for Lay and Skilling, Mike Ramsey and Dan Petrocelli, have stuck to that theme. During his opening argument, Petrocelli declared that Enron was “no house of cards…It was a wonderful company, a shining star.” Ramsey told jurors that Enron didn't fail because of the billions of dollars in accounting shenanigans, it failed because of a “market panic.”
That same tactic has been used consistently by the Bush Administration to defend the CIA's rendition of terror and the indefinite imprisonment of terrorism suspects – without charges -- in places like Guantánamo Bay. Last week, about the same time that the first prosecution witness began testifying on the stand in Houston, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, telling the senators that the secret wiretaps that Bush has authorized are legal. And why are they legal? Well, because Gonzales and the president say it's legal.
Unlike the execrable Gonzales who has yet to utter a credible word in defense of torture or wiretaps, the Enron attorneys are at least partially correct in their diagnosis of the failure of Enron. It's true that the collapse of Enron was hastened by a “market panic.” That panic was a direct result of Lay's incompetence. Lay simply did not know how much money Enron had borrowed to fund its global ambitions. Nor did he grasp just how deeply distrusted Enron was by its peer companies.
Incompetence. Huge debts. Lack of trust. Just another set of parallels for Kenny Boy and his pal, W.
Robert Bryce is the author of Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron
No matter whom they want to blame it on, the fact is Enron collapsed. Will the U.S. empire and imperial economy collapse as well? Jared Diamond, best known as the author of Guns, Germs and Steel, published another book last year, called Collapse. Diamond defines ‘collapse' as “a drastic decrease in human population size and/or political/economic/social complexity, over a considerable area, for an extended time” (Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, New York: Viking Press, 2005, p. 3).
In Collapse , he argues that societies collapse when bad decisions are made by societies in the face of threats to the basic resources on which the societies are dependent. These bad decisions result from: 1. Failure to Anticipate, 2. Failure to Perceive, 3. Rational Bad Behavior, and 4. Disastrous Values. Rational bad behavior is interesting because it has to do with the character of the society's leaders. After discussing conflicts of interest in societies, Diamond writes:
A further conflict of interest involving rational behavior arises when the interests of the decision-making elite in power clash with the interests of the rest of society. Especially if the elite can insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions, they are likely to do things that profit themselves, regardless of whether those actions hurt everybody else.
…Throughout recorded history, actions or inactions by self-absorbed kings, chiefs, and politicians have been a regular cause of societal collapses …(p.430-1)
According to Diamond, the challenges faced by today's self-absorbed leaders are these twelve environmental problems:
• At an accelerating rate, we are destroying natural habitats or else converting them to human-made habitats , such as cities and villages, farmlands and pastures, roads, and golf-courses. The natural habitats whose losses have provoked the most discussion are forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and the ocean bottom. (p. 487)
• Wild foods, especially fish and to a lesser extent shellfish, contribute a large fraction of the protein consumed by humans . In effect, this is protein that we obtain for free (other than the cost of catching and transporting the fish), and that reduces our needs for animal protein that we have to grow ourselves in the form of domestic livestock. About two billion people, most of them poor, depend on the oceans for protein. If wild fish stocks were managed appropriately, the stock levels could be maintained, and they could be harvested perpetually. Unfortunately, the problem known as the tragedy of the commons has regularly undone efforts to manage fisheries sustainably, and the great majority of valuable fisheries already either have collapsed or are in steep decline… (p. 488)
• A significant fraction of wild species, populations, and genetic diversity has already been lost, and at present rates a large fraction of what remains will be lost within the next half-century… (p. 488)
• Soils of farmlands used for growing crops are being carried away by water and wind erosion at rates between 10 and 40 times the rates of soil formation, and between 500 and 10,000 times soil erosion rates on forested land… (p. 489)
The next three problems involve ceilings—on energy, freshwater, and photosynthetic capacity. In each case the ceiling is not hard and fixed but soft: we can obtain more of the needed resource, but at increasing costs.
• The world's major energy sources, especially for industrial societies, are fossil fuels: oil, natural gas, and coal. While there has been much discussion about how many big oil and gas fields remain to be discovered, and while coal reserves are believed to be large, the prevalent view is that known and likely reserves of readily accesible oil and natural gas will last for a few more decades. This view should not be misinterpreted to mean that all of the oil and natural gas within the Earth will have been used up by then. Instead, further reserves will be deeper underground, dirtier, increasingly expensive to extract or process, or will involve higher environmental costs. (p. 490)
• Most of the world's freshwater in rivers and lakes is already being utilized for irrigation, domestic and industrial water, and in situ uses such as boat transportation corridors, fisheries, and recreation… Throughout the world, freshwater underground aquifers are being depleted at rates faster than they are being naturally replenished. (p. 490)
• It might at first seem that the supply of sunlight is infinite, so one might reason that the Earth's capacity to grow serious crops and wild plants is also infinite. Within the last 20 years, it has been appreciated that that is not the case, and that's not only because plants grow poorlyin the world's Artic regions and deserts unless one goes to the expense of supplying heat or water. More generally, the amount of solar energy fixed per acre by plant photosynthesis, hence plant growth per acre, depends on temperature and rainfall… The first calculation of this photosynthetic ceiling, carried out in 1986, estimated that humans then already used (e.g., for crops, tree plantations, and golf courses) or diverted or wasted (e.g., light falling on concrete roads and buildings) about half of the Earth's photosynthetic capacity. Given the rate of increase in human population, and especially of population impact…, since 1986, we are projected to be utilizing most of the world's terrestrial photosynthetic capacity by the middle of this century. That is, most energy fixed from sunlight will be used for human purposes, and little will be left over to support the growth of natural plant communities, such as natural forests. (pp. 490-1)
The next three problems involve harmful things that we generate or move around: toxic chemicals, alien species, and atmospheric gases.
• The chemical industry and many other industries manufacture or release into the air, soil, oceans, lakes and rivers many toxic chemicals, some of them “unnatural” and synthesized only by humans, others present naturally in tiny concentrations (e.g., mercury) or else synthesized by living things but synthesized and released by humans in quantities much larger than natural ones (e.g, hormones)… (p. 491)
• The term “alien species” refers to species that we transfer, intentionally or inadvertently, from a place where they are native to another place where they are not native…. (p. 492)
• Human activities produce gases that escape into the atmosphere, where they either damage the protective ozone layer… or else act as greenhouse gases that absorb sunlight and thereby lead to global warming. (p. 493)
The remaining two problems involve the increase in human population:
• The world's human population is growing. More people require more food, space, water, energy and other resources… (p. 494)
• What really counts is not the number of people alone, but their impact on the environment… Our numbers pose problems insofar as we consume resources and generate wastes. The per-capita impact… varies greatly around the world, being highest in the First World and lowest in the Third World. On the average, each citizen of the U.S., western Europe, and Japan consumes 32 times more resources such as fossil fuels, and puts out 32 times more wastes, than do inhabitants of the Third World. But low-impact people are becoming high-impact people for two reasons: rises in living standards in Third World countries whose inhabitants see and covet First World lifestyles; and immigration, both legal and illegal, of individual Third World inhabitants to the First World. (pp. 494-5)
Now, let's say you are a ruling psychopath, part of the pathocracy, which means you have no conscience whatsoever. But you are smart and you can see these facts. What to you would be the easiest solution? Reduce population! Do it purposefully so that you can direct the “reductions” to be in your best interests. Why would the pathocracy care to rationally steward resources to provide basics for the most amount of people when wars, genocides, and ethnic-specific weapons can not only solve the population problem but also put (or so they think) themselves on top of the world of survivors?
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Editorial: Crisis of the Republic
Signs of the Times
February 20, 2006
Jonathan Schell can write with passion. His book The Fate of the World, published during the Reagan years, was a powerful description of the madness of nuclear war. His account of nuclear winter, the aftermath of a "limited" nuclear war, a period when clouds of radioactive dust would block out the sunlight for years, turning the globe into an icey ball, has remained with me ever since.
Last week Tom Englehardt printed a column by Jonathan Schell that will appear in the March 6th issue of The Nation, a liberal US weekly. In it, Schell announced that he would end his old column, "Letter From Ground Zero", and begin a new series on "Crisis of the Republic". Mr. Schell senses the US Consitution is in danger and wishes to focus on that important question:
At the forefront of concern must be the question: Will the Constitution of the United States survive? Is the American state now in the midst of a transmutation in which the 217-year-old provisions for a balance of powers and popular freedoms are being overridden and canceled? Or will defenders of the Constitution step forward, as has happened in constitutional crises of the past, to save the system and restore its integrity?
Jonathan Schell is an intelligent and compassionate man, if his writings are any basis for judging. He sees the country which he loves changing for the worse, and he wishes to bring his skills to saving it. However, after almost four and one-half years of writing about the horrors that have come out of 9/11, Mr Schell, as so many other sincere and shocked viewers of the Bush regime, still accepts the official story that it was Osama bin Laden who pulled the trigger. If the US republic is in danger, it is in part because of good-hearted people like Mr. Schell who cannot imagine the adversary is as malevolent as it truely is and who are therefore blind to its true machinations and depravity.
Jonathan Schell's eloquent words about the crisis of the republic will come to nothing if the official story of 9/11 and the fairy tale of 19 Arab hijackers continues to be accepted by those who chronicle the crash and burn of that republic. As long as people refuse to recognise that 9/11 came from within, they will be unprepared and unable to face the true nature of the enemies of the republic they will remain incapable of defending it. Not only did this administration have foreknowledge of the attacks and allow them to happen, they were complicit in its organisation. Ever since, they have been lying and pinning the blame on Osama and the "Islamic fundamentalists".
Is it not curious the same media that bought and propagated unquestioningly the lies about Saddam's WMDs continue to buy the Big Lie? And people like Mr. Schell who know the Bush administration lied about WMD, and so many other things, refuse to consider they might also be lying about 9/11.
Why? Because they argue that it is impossible to organise a conspiracy of the scale of 9/11, or that American leaders wouldn't kill Americans. That is, they argue from preconceived notions rather than from the facts. They ignore or refuse to face the facts because accepting them means the disintegration of their world view. Truth takes a second place to preserving one's cherished beliefs.
Which is exactly why the perpetrators of 9/11, the Israelis and their supporters in Washington, can continue to get way with murder, of Afghanis, of Iraqis, of Palestinians, and, yes, even of Americans. That is why the Patriot Act was passed without debate, why Bush can spy on his countrymen illegally, why innocents can be jailed for thought crimes. That is why there is a crisis of the republic.
It is true that there are many crackpot theories about what happened on 9/11 that discredit the work of serious researchers into the question. But should we expect anything different? The perpetrators are well-schooled in the tactics of disinformation, but with a critical eye, one can see through it.
American society is being manipulated. Liberals are deceived into putting out small brush fires while the republic burns because they cannot imagine such a horror as a faked "terrorist" attack to justify all the subsequent events leading to the situation Mr Schell wishes to confront. Once more we come to a key element: the normal individual cannot put him or herself in the mindset of a psychopath. The normal individual cannot imagine the cold and calculating predatorial eye, unencumbered by empathy, compassion, or conscience. They do not know that what may be unthinkable for them is standard operating procedure for the psychopath.
People do not know about psychopaths, psycopathy, and the pathocracy. Not having these key pieces of the puzzle, they are like a child trying to do algebra without a knowledge of the multiplication tables or Christians who interpret the Bible literally. They are missing the more profound knowledge that would show the pieces in a new light, that would unlock the deeper mystery.
David Ray Griffen's The New Pearl Harbor is a lucid and objective look at the inconsistencies of the official version of 9/11. He piles up fact after fact that contradicts the accepted version. It should be rquired reading for anyone attempting to make sense of the events of the last six years. Griffen focuses uniquely on the events of 9/11. Those of you who want to understand the reasons behind the attacks might read 9/11: The Ultimate Truth by Laura Knight-Jadczyk and the editors of Signs of the Times.
A understanding of pathocrats and the pathocracy can be had from reading Andrew Lobaczewski's book Political Ponerology, a study of pathological types in power based upon his experience in Poland under communist rule. His analysis of the psychopath and the network of pathological types, who are well aware of their differences from "normal people" as Lobaczewski calls them, makes an important contribution to understanding what is happening today in the United States.
The psychopath has no conscience. Does that describe the Bush administration?
Yes, the republic is in crisis, but I fear it is much further along than Mr Schell or many other concerned Americans are willing to admit because of the inner prohibition against considering that 9/11 was not planned and carried out by Osama bin Laden.
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Editorial: Trans-Generational Terrorism
Signs of the Times
There can be little doubt that the very same Western powers that created the modern-day Middle East are now in the process of destroying it. Yet it is a constant source of amazement to us how a Middle East plan that began with then British Secretary for War Winston Churchill employing chemical weapons to 'placate' the indigenous Arab tribal population of then Mesopotamia, can have continued on so seamlessly for almost 100 years of the history of the political elite, until today, when Churchill's heir finds himself slavishly devoted to the same destructive impulse. What mechanism exists that can ensure the success of such a nefarious generation-spanning agenda?
As was the case in the 1920's, Middle Eastern leaders are well aware of the imperial and destructive nature of Western nations designs on their countries and populations. A few days ago Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, demanded the pull-out of British forces around Basra in Iraq, saying their presence was causing turmoil both in Iraq and southern Iran. His comments came amid accusations by Iran that British forces were involved in a series of bombings in southern Iran. Tony Blair dismissed these claims as an attempt to divert attention from the international campaign to curb Teheran's nuclear programme. Yet history is on the side of the Iranians.
In dismissing the call for the removal of British troops from Iraq, Blair claimed that his grunts were in Iraq not only as part of a U.N. mandate but also at the request of the Iraqi government itself. Unsurprisingly, both claims are disingenuous in the extreme. The UN mandate for a multinational 'peace-keeping' force in Iraq is currently made up of troops from the very same countries that ignored the fact that there was no UN mandate to invade Iraq in the first place and went right ahead. The fact that Kofi Annan bestowed UN status on American and British troops after the non-existent handover of power in the summer of 2004 is simply a testimony to the spinelessness of the UN. The simple fact is that the presence of British and U.S. troops in Iraq is the result of the very same imperialist designs that lead Nazi troops to be in Poland in 1939.
As for Blair's claim that an ongoing invitation has been extended by the puppet Iraqi government; there is no Iraqi government that is free to make decisions that have not been sanctioned by the U.S. and British governments. Current Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has repeatedly called for a "coalition" troop withdrawal, yet at the same time has made it clear that neither he nor any member of the Iraqi government has any power to force the British or Americans to withdraw. So much for Iraqi sovereignty. Recently, CIA asset and Ayad Allawi who used his short term as Iraqi interim prime minister in 2004 to shoot prisoners in cold-blood and who provided bogus intelligence to justify the Iraqi invasion, has been spearheading a campaign to have al-Jaafari removed as Prime Minister with talk of the need for "liberal" and inclusive governments. He made no mention of arbitrary state-sanctioned murder however.
Like Allawi then, Blair is publicly upbeat about all that he, his predecessors and his American comrades can do for Iraq, but also like Allawi, Blair makes no mention of the real form of Western control that is being exerted on the Iraqi people. For example, two days ago, one of the wealthiest bankers in Iraq, Ghalib Abdul Hussein Kubba, was kidnapped during an audacious raid that left his five bodyguards dead, murdered by single gunshots to the head in the garden of a rented villa in western Baghdad.
The Times report tells us that up to a dozen men arrived in the wealthy Baghdad suburb, sporting Iraqi security force uniforms, weapons and even night-vision goggles on their helmets. "They moved and spoke like soldiers. Only their vehicles were non-military." Not exactly the attire of the average Iraqi insurgent that the British and American governments claim as the cause of all the problems in Iraq.
A little background on Mr Kubba tells us that:
he was originally a leading figure in the southern city of Basra, Mr Kubba rose to financial prominence through canny banking deals and big-business ventures, facilitated by his strong relationship with leading Baathist figures in the regime of Saddam Hussein. People in Basra allege that he was a close friend of Uday Hussein, Saddam’s gangster son. Yet in 2003, after the regime fell, Mr Kubba was appointed head of Basra’s interim council by the British. He became the president of Basra commerce, headed many local businesses and was a leading figure in the city’s al-Fadilah Islamic party.
Mr Kubba is not the only one with links to former Baathist figures in Saddam's regime:
West turns blind eye as police put Saddam's torturers back to work
IRAQI security forces, set up by American and British troops, torture detainees by pulling out their fingernails, burning them with hot irons or giving them electric shocks, Iraqi officials say. Cases have also been recorded of bound prisoners being beaten to death by police.
In their haste to put police on the streets to counter the brutal insurgency, Iraqi and US authorities have enlisted men trained under Saddam Hussein’s regime and versed in torture and abuse, the officials told The Times. They said that recruits were also being drawn from the ranks of outlawed Shia militias.
Iraqi forces blame U.S. for death squads
Challenging recent claims that Iraqi Shia militias were running death squads in the war torn country, the leader of the Badr Brigade, a powerful Shia militia that fought the toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from exile, blamed on Sunday the U.S. errors for the chaos that has plagued Iraq.
Iraq's Sunni Arab minority has repetitively accused the country’s Shia leaders of running death squads operating from inside the Interior Ministry, run for almost a year by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).
The noticeable surge in daily bloodshed, including roadside and car bomb attacks by unknown elements dressed in officially-distributed Iraqi commando outfits has reached an alarming level.
Note that these death squads come from inside the U.S.-controlled Iraqi interior ministry. Of course, the use of covert death squads by the American and British governments to impose "democracy" is a tactic that is as old as their colonial designs on the Middle East (and many other parts of the world). Indeed, there are rumors that current US ambassador to Iraq and veteran El Salvador death squad organiser, John Negroponte is up to his old tricks.
See here for a blog dedicated to digging into the truth behind the thousands of kidnappings and assassinations going on in modern democratic, U.S.-controlled Iraq.
But employing terror tactics in modern Middle Eastern nations is best effected by those that have a long history of waging brutal wars of deception in the Arab world. Thankfully, there is one group that the Americans and British can turn to fulfill that specific need:
Israel trains US assassination squads in Iraq
Tuesday December 9, 2003
Israeli advisers are helping train US special forces in aggressive counter-insurgency operations in Iraq, including the use of assassination squads against guerrilla leaders, US intelligence and military sources said yesterday.
The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has sent urban warfare specialists to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the home of US special forces, and according to two sources, Israeli military "consultants" have also visited Iraq.
US forces in Iraq's Sunni triangle have already begun to use tactics that echo Israeli operations in the occupied territories, sealing off centres of resistance with razor wire and razing buildings from where attacks have been launched against US troops.
But to people like Blair, all of this is merely the outplaying of "democracy", and little things like the inhuman torture of hundreds of innocent men in guantanamo on the orders of Donald Rumsfeld as they 'lounge' around their holiday cells between sessions of genital electrocution are but "anomalies" that will one day have to be dealt with. Maybe.
In the meantime, there is the worldwide war of terror to be waged, and a country of 86 million people to be obliterated.
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Editorial: Correcting the Record on My Stint Writing for Counterpunch
Another Day in the Empire
Occasionally I will take note of the lunatic wanderings of the Israeli settler Steven Plaut, a so-called economics professor in Israel (no doubt teaching his Jabotinsky-inspired brood how to steal land from Palestinians), if only to correct his lies and counter his slanderous remarks about your humble blogger. For instance, since the demise of David Horowitz’s Moonbat Central blog (probably retired because the reactionaries posting there often engaged in slander and outrageous if not transparent lies instead of making actual logical arguments, thus opening Horowitz and his CIA-connected meal ticket Richard Mellon Scaife to lawsuits), Plaut has since wandered about, “guest” posting on the blog of another dispossessed Horowitzite, Rocco DiPippo. In one such recent post, Plaut claims I was “fired” from Counterpunch.
I don’t know how much CIA money Plaut received from the Horowitz operation, but when I was writing for Counterpunch I didn’t receive a penny, even after one of my articles appeared in a Counterpunch book (The Politics of Anti-Semitism). In fact, the reason I stopped submitting articles to Counterpunch was, in part, due to a remark Alexander Cockburn made about the article published in the Politics of Anti-Semitism (Amiri Baraka’s Somebody Blew Up America: Poetry as Treason?)—Cockburn had received negative comments (this apparently irked him) about documentation I cited indicating government involvement in the terrorist attacks of nine eleven, thus revealing Counterpunch’s gatekeeping function, a common enough occurrence on the foundation-funded left (according to the research of Bob Feldman and tax forms, in 1999 CP and the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity earned $178,000 from its “alternative journalism activity” and unlike “most of the other anti-conspiracist alternative media gatekeepers, IAJC/COUNTERPUNCH doesn’t appear to have received any big Establishment Foundation grants in recent years. But its vice-president, Ford Roosevelt, is a member of a Roosevelt Dynasty that possessed upper-class wealth and much political power during the 20th-century”).
I don’t know if Cockburn and crew made money on the publication of the Politics of Anti-Semitism, but if they did they sure the heck didn’t send me a check for the inclusion of my piece (in fact, I had to buy a copy of the book—the skinflints at AK Press obviously felt disobliged to the various authors, or at least this one).
Of course, since Plaut is a scurrilous liar and documented dirty trickster (stealing email lists from forums, effectuating various nasty personas in order to launch slanderous attacks on various IndyMedia open publishing venues, and other slimeball tricks) who engages in unethical behavior against his enemies—quite natural for a reactionary Jabotinsky neo-fascist to the right of the comatose Ariel Sharon—his invention of the story I was “fired” from CP is loathsome enough. The fact CP publishes dozens of writers and makes nearly $200,000 per year (according to tax forms) is almost as unethical.
However, at least Alexander Cockburn doesn’t live in Israel and advocate stealing land from Palestinians and then murdering them, as does Steven Plaut, who is actually considered an academic in this country, thus revealing that the University of California at Berkeley will hire anybody.
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Editorial: Saddam Tapes Tainted by Cherney Foundation
Another Day in the Empire
All of a sudden Saddam, or one of his groomed doubles, is talking on tape. Bush was right all along about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, or at least partially right, and there is a new shine of legitimacy on the invasion of Iraq and the murder of thousands of Iraqis who probably should have known better than to live in a country with such a perfidious dictator, a guy who messed around with weapons of mass destruction behind the back of the United Nations and the Greatest Darn Country on Earth.
“Hussein … can be heard speaking with high-ranking Iraqi officials about deceiving United Nations inspectors looking into Iraq’s weapons program, which his son-in-law, Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel, oversaw,” reports CNN. “The tapes, which U.S. officials have confirmed are authentic, are part of a much larger cache of information on the nation’s weapons programs.” No doubt these are the same officials who confirmed the Osama tapes as authentic. On the side, they sell used cars in Poughkeepsie.
Since news is now considered entertainment, we are expected to check our disbelief and suspicion at the door. However, there is one small troublesome aspect to the Saddam tapes—they were released to the public by the International Intelligence Summit, described “as a nonpartisan, nonprofit forum that promotes an exchange of ideas among members of the international intelligence community…. The summit’s main sponsor is the Michael Cherney Fund, whose Web site describes the fund’s main objective as ‘helping realize the intellectual potential of the post-Soviet emigres to Israel.’”
For the casual observer, this bit about post-Soviet émigrés and Israel may seem confusing—that is until you realize, as Bush’s adviser Philip Zelikow revealed, the invasion of Iraq was launched to “protect” Israel, not that the enfeebled nation of Iraq, suffering from more than a decade of debilitating sanctions, posed a threat to Israel with its modern high-tech weaponry, including more than 400 nukes.
On the Michael Cherney Foundation web page, Cherney is described as an “Israeli philanthropist…. who has donated more than $20 million over the last decade to anti-terror activities and studies, and support for terror victims.” It appears Cherney made his money “buying low and selling high in the chaotic and unregulated post Soviet economies in several newly independent Eastern European states,” in other words he exploited the misery imposed on the people of Eastern Europe by a gang of globalist neoliberal bankers, loan sharks, and carpetbaggers after the props were pulled out from under the Soviet Union. Some of Cherney’s pals, described as the Russian-Jewish “Oligarchs,” have “fled Russia for the protection of Israel, where defrauding Gentiles is not considered a crime,” according to Focal Point. Cherney is not allowed to enter America due to his connections to the Russian Mafia, who are in turn connected to the Russian-Jewish Oligarchs.
So tainted is the “Israeli philanthropist” Cherney, even staunch Straussian neocons are backing away from him. “In the last week both John Deutch and James Woolsey abruptly left their positions at Intelligence Summit, according to its president, John Loftus, who said their departure is part of a campaign by the directorate of national intelligence to punish him for releasing the recordings,” reports the New York Sun. “The reason both men gave for their resignations was new information they received regarding one of the summit’s biggest donors, Michael Cherney, an Israeli citizen who has been denied a visa to enter America because of his alleged ties to the Russian mafia…. The Russian businessman immigrated to Israel in 1995 after allegations in his native country swirled that he was involved with assassinations and other criminal enterprises… In 1998, he was barred from Bulgaria for an alleged plot to assassinate the son of a Cabinet minister. The information originally was passed on by Israeli law enforcement authorities, who later rescinded the claim.”
In short, the alleged Saddam tapes, supposedly revealing how Hussein attempted to hide his desire to kick start a weapons of mass destruction program (and thus lending credence to the war crimes of the Straussian neocons), are tainted by the criminal background of “one of the summit’s biggest donors, Michael Cherney,” obviously an Israeli agent proffering dubious goods even hang tough Straussian neocons back away from, smelling a rat.
Of course, the corporate media will ignore all of this and go for the lathered gusto of the Saddam tapes story, even though we know the Straussian neocons are inveterate liars and flimflam artists, predicating the Iraq invasion on a passel of fabrications and outright and often absurd lies. None of this matters because it is all beyond the intellectual capacity of the average American, unable to break out of the Borg hive mentality of corporate media as it hucksters Straussian neocon and Jabotinsky Israeli propaganda.
Meanwhile, a new propaganda campaign directed against the next target is going famously. “The World Jewish Congress has launched a campaign against Iran following the nuclear crisis and the anti-Semitic statements of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” Haaretz reported on February 10. “In its biannual gathering in Jerusalem on Thursday the WJC called on Jewish communities throughout the world to pressure their governments to act against the Iranian nuclear program and urge economic and political sanctions against Iran,” in other words attack Iran for nukes it does not have and will not have for a decade or more, according to experts not on the Israeli-Straussian neocon payroll. Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the WJC’s Policy Council, “said Jewish communities around the world must make it clear to their governments that the Iranian regime threatens not only the Jews with its utterances and nuclear activity, but all the countries in the world.”
Naturally, no mention here of the fact Israel has “200 and 500 thermonuclear weapons and a sophisticated delivery system,” as John Steinbach noted in 2003. “Since the Gulf War in 1991, while much attention has been lavished on the threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the major culprit in the region, Israel, has been largely ignored. Possessing chemical and biological weapons, an extremely sophisticated nuclear arsenal, and an aggressive strategy for their actual use, Israel provides the major regional impetus for the development of weapons of mass destruction and represents an acute threat to peace and stability in the Middle East.”
No mention as well of the established fact the Israelis encouraged the Pentagon to use “non-contaminating tactical nuclear weapons” against Iraq in 2003 (see The Third Temple’s Holy of Holies: Israel’s Nuclear Weapons, Warner D. Farr, USAF Counterproliferation Center).
“The Israeli government is preparing to use nuclear weapons in its next war with the Islamic world. Here where I live, people often talk of the Holocaust. But each and every nuclear bomb is a Holocaust in itself. It can kill, devastate cities, destroy entire peoples,” Mordechai Vanunu stated in a December, 2005, interview.
But instead of worrying about Israel and its bulging weapons of mass destruction arsenal—and its apparent desire to use nukes against its enemies, who are considered little more than cockroaches and beasts walking on two legs—we are distracted by a questionable Saddam videotape and a few comments, taken out of context and hysterically blown all out of proportion, by the anti-Zionist president of Iran.
As a “Russian oligarch,” Cherney, also known as Mikhail Chernoy, “along with several other oligarchs, cornered the Russian aluminum industry under Yeltsin in the 1990’s through bribery and murder. As he is under indictment for these crimes in Russia, he has taken refuge in Israel. Recently Cherney was indicted in Israel for money-laundering and fraudulent receiving evidence for his part in the purchase of a 20% stake in state-run phone company Bezeq. Mr. Cherney has been associated with a number of international fraudsters, including Marc Rich of the New York Bank scandal. The Cherney Foundation is seen by Israeli investigators as a public relations ruse,” according to a Colorado Congressman Bob Beauprez Q&A. Is it possible the Saddam tapes are a “public relations ruse” as well? It is curious, however, to watch Straussian neocons, infested with the lice of war crimes, run away from the likes of a scumbag such as Mikhail Chernoy, obviously a bird of a feather.
In the past, Cherney bankrolled the Jerusalem Summit, a Straussian-Jabotinsky confab held “at the King David Hotel on the first days of Sukkot, Oct. 12-14,” 2003, according to Helen Freedman, Executive Director, Americans For a Safe Israel. It should be noted that the location is appropriate, since the King David Hotel was bombed on July 22, 1946, by the Irgun terrorist and future leader of Israel, Menachem Begin, killing 91 and injuring 45. As for the Straussian and Jabotinsky luminaries in attendance, see the photos on this page. As Habib Siddiqui noted at the time, the first Jerusalem Summit was held on the “10th anniversary of the Oslo Accord” and was tasked with establishing “an international think tank that would solidify Israel’s position vis-à-vis sanctifying its illegal annexation of Jerusalem and occupation of Palestinian territories.” As if to dispel and doubts the confab was anything but a radical Jabotinsky affair, “Rabbi Benny Elon, head of the Moledet Party and Tourism Minister, unveiled [a] plan calling for the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority and recognition of Jordan as the Palestinian state, with West Bank Arabs becoming citizens of the Palestinian state in Jordan. It also called for Israeli sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and Gaza.” In short, the attendees discussed ethnic cleansing and rampant violations of international law, common enough fare in conquered Palestine.
At a subsequent summit, neocon friendly Congress critter Bob Beauprez characterized Afghanistan and Iraq as “free Arab states,” even though Afghans are not Arabs (we cannot expect the good congressman to tell the difference), and “are now a candle of hope where a short while ago, only darkness lived,” even though Iraqis resoundingly declare things were better under Saddam, even with a million and half people killed under brutal medieval sanctions (500,000 of them children).
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Lawmakers Deride Assurances on Arab Port Firm
By Will Lester
Monday, February 20, 2006; Page A07
U.S. terms for approving an Arab company's takeover of operations at six major American ports are insufficient to guard against terrorist infiltration, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said yesterday.
"I'm aware of the conditions, and they relate entirely to how the company carries out its procedures, but it doesn't go to who they hire, or how they hire people," said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.).
"They're better than nothing, but to me they don't address the underlying conditions, which is how are they going to guard against things like infiltration by al Qaeda or someone else, how are they going to guard against corruption?" King said.
King spoke in response to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's comments yesterday about conditions of the sale. King said he learned about the government's terms for approving the sale from meetings with senior Bush administration officials.
Chertoff defended the security review of Dubai Ports World of the United Arab Emirates, the company given permission to take over the port operations. Chertoff said the government typically builds in "certain conditions or requirements that the company has to agree to to make sure we address the national security concerns." But Chertoff declined to discuss specifics, saying that information is classified.
"We make sure there are assurances in place, in general, sufficient to satisfy us that the deal is appropriate from a national security standpoint," Chertoff said on ABC's "This Week."
London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. was bought last week by DP World, a state-owned business. Peninsular and Oriental runs major commercial operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.
A Miami company, Continental Stevedoring & Terminals Inc., has sued in Florida, challenging the deal. A subsidiary of Eller & Company Inc., Continental says it will become an "involuntary partner" with Dubai's government under the sale.
Lawmakers from both parties are questioning the sale as a possible risk to national security.
"It's unbelievably tone deaf politically at this point in our history," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said on "Fox News Sunday."
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), on CBS's "Face the Nation," said, "It is ridiculous to say you're taking secret steps to make sure that it's okay for a nation that had ties to 9/11, [to] take over part of our port operations in many of our largest ports. This has to stop."
At least one Senate oversight hearing is planned for later this month.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who is working on legislation to prohibit companies owned or controlled by foreign governments from running port operations in the United States, said Chertoff's comments showed him that the administration "just does not get it."
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) joined some relatives of Sept. 11 victims at a news conference to urge President Bush to personally intervene. The president "should override the agreement and conduct a special investigation into the matter," Schumer said.
Comment: So when are they going to get worried about Israeli companies handling security at US airports or tracking every phone call made in the US?
Oh, that's right. They won't. US lawmakers hostile to Israel are mostly likely being blackmailed into submission with the info gleaned from those monitored phone calls!
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U.S. Blocks Accounts Of Ohio Islamic Charity
Monday, February 20, 2006; Page A05
The Treasury Department ordered U.S. banks to freeze assets of an Ohio-based group that the government says funnels money to the militant organization Hamas.
The organization, KindHearts of Toledo, was connected with the Hamas-affiliated Holy Land Foundation and the al Qaeda-affiliated Global Relief Foundation, the Treasury Department said yesterday. The government took similar action against those groups in late 2001.
Under the government action, U.S. citizens are barred from doing business with KindHearts.
KindHearts describes itself on its Web site as a nonprofit charitable organization administering humanitarian aid to the world's poor. In the past, its officials have denied being connected to any terrorist group or individual.
KindHearts board member and Cleveland lawyer Jihad Smaili reiterated that position. "This allegation that we support Hamas is unfounded and incredible," he said.
The government said KindHearts officials have coordinated with Hamas leaders and made contributions to Hamas-affiliated organizations. The United States considers Hamas a terrorist group.
"KindHearts is the progeny of Holy Land Foundation and Global Relief Foundation, which attempted to mask their support for terrorism behind the facade of charitable giving," Stuart Levey, treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
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US lags in propaganda war: Rumsfeld
Feb 17, 2006 — By Daniel Trotta
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States lags dangerously behind al Qaeda and other enemies in getting out information in the digital media age and must update its old-fashioned methods, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Friday.
Modernization is crucial to winning the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide who are bombarded with negative images of the West, Rumsfeld told the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Pentagon chief said today's weapons of war included e-mail, Blackberries, instant messaging, digital cameras and Web logs, or blogs.
"Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but … our country has not adapted," Rumsfeld said.
"For the most part, the U.S. government still functions as a 'five and dime' store in an eBay world," Rumsfeld said, referring to old-fashioned U.S. retail stores and the online auction house, respectively.
Rumsfeld said U.S. military public affairs officers must learn to anticipate news and respond faster, and good public affairs officers should be rewarded with promotions.
The military's information offices still operate mostly eight hours a day, five or six days a week while the challenges they faces occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Rumsfeld called that a "dangerous deficiency."
Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy of the opposition Democratic Party immediately criticized Rumsfeld as missing the point.
"Clearly, we need to improve our public diplomacy and information age communication in the Muslim world," Kennedy said in a statement. "But nothing has done more to encourage increased Al Qaeda recruitment and made America less safe than the war in Iraq and the incompetent way it's been managed. Our greatest failure is our policy."
Rumsfeld lamented that vast media attention about U.S. abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq outweighed that given to the discovery of "Saddam Hussein's mass graves."
On the emergence of satellite television and other media not under Arab state control, he said, "While al Qaeda and extremist movements have utilized this forum for many years … we in the government have barely even begun to compete in reaching their audiences."
Comment: Our theme the past few days has been the media. Seems it is on Rummy's mind, too.
Our recent adventures with the article Evidence That a Frozen Fish Didn't Impact the Pentagon on 9/11 - and Neither Did a Boeing 757 give an idea of just how 24/7 the neocon propaganda machine really is. Obviously Rummy and his gang will tell us the opposite, but, then, isn't how criminals operate?
Look at the disinfo about 9/11. Look closely at how false leads for "conspiracy theorists" were planted in real time as 9/11 unfolded: the Fox News "eyewitness" who said the second plane to hit the towers was a cargo plane, the report that a strange plane landed in Cleveland. These folks are pros, yet Rummy wants us to think they are five and dimers...
See how good they are?
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White House Working to Avoid Wiretap Probe
By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 20, 2006; Page A08
At two key moments in recent days, White House officials contacted congressional leaders just ahead of intelligence committee meetings that could have stirred demands for a deeper review of the administration's warrantless-surveillance program, according to House and Senate sources.
In both cases, the administration was spared the outcome it most feared, and it won praise in some circles for showing more openness to congressional oversight.
But the actions have angered some lawmakers who think the administration's purported concessions mean little. Some Republicans said that the White House came closer to suffering a big setback than is widely known, and that President Bush must be more forthcoming about the eavesdropping program to retain Congress's good will.
The first White House scramble came on Feb. 8, before the House intelligence committee began a closed briefing on the program, which Bush began in late 2001 but which was disclosed only recently. The program allows the National Security Agency to monitor communications involving a person in the United States and one outside, provided one is a possible terrorism suspect. The administration says the program is exempt from the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which provides for domestic surveillance warrants. Many lawmakers and legal scholars disagree.
The House hearing came a day after a prominent Republican member called for an inquiry into the wiretapping program, and two days after Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales had angered some senators by defending it without providing details. On Feb. 8, House members were grumbling that the administration apparently planned to have Gonzales, joined by former NSA director Michael V. Hayden, provide the same limited briefing to the House intelligence committee.
But the White House unexpectedly announced that Gonzales and Hayden would give the 21-member committee more insight into the program's "procedural aspects." The briefing placated many members. When committee leaders later said the panel will look further into the program, they made clear it will be a controlled process rather than the freewheeling investigation some Democrats want.
The second White House flurry occurred last Thursday, as the Senate intelligence committee readied for a showdown over a motion by top Democrat John D. Rockefeller IV (W.Va.) to start a broad inquiry into the surveillance program. White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. -- who had visited the Capitol two days earlier with Vice President Cheney to lobby Republicans on the program -- spoke by phone with Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), according to Senate sources briefed on the call.
Snowe earlier had expressed concerns about the program's legality and civil liberties safeguards, but Card was adamant about restricting congressional oversight and control, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing office policies. Snowe seemed taken aback by Card's intransigence, and the call amounted to "a net step backward" for the White House, said a source outside Snowe's office.
Snowe contacted fellow committee Republican Chuck Hagel (Neb.), who also had voiced concerns about the program. They arranged a three-way phone conversation with Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).
Until then, Roberts apparently thought he had the votes to defeat Rockefeller's motion in the committee, which Republicans control nine to seven, the sources said. But Snowe and Hagel told the chairman that if he called up the motion, they would support it, assuring its passage, the sources said.
When the closed meeting began, Roberts averted a vote on Rockefeller's motion by arranging for a party-line vote to adjourn until March 7. The move infuriated Rockefeller, who told reporters, "The White House has applied heavy pressure in recent weeks to prevent the committee from doing its job."
Hagel and Snowe declined interview requests after the meeting, but sources close to them say they bridle at suggestions that they buckled under administration heat. The White House must engage "in good-faith negotiations" with Congress, Snowe said in a statement.
Roberts, reacting to Hagel and Snowe's actions, told the New York Times on Friday that he now supports bringing the NSA program under FISA's jurisdiction in some manner, a stand that could put him at odds with the administration. The White House has praised a plan by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) to draft legislation that would exempt the NSA program from FISA, while providing for congressional oversight.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that Bush "is open to ideas from Congress regarding legislation, and we've committed to working with Congress on a bill."
Comment: Brings to mind that great song by Roy Orbison, "Spying". "Spy-ay-ay-ay-ing, over you!"
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The FBI and the Myth of Fingerprints:
A "100 Per Cent Certainty"
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
and JEFFREY ST. CLAIR
February 20, 2006
Few law enforcement institutions have been so thoroughly discredited in recent years as the FBI's forensic lab. In 1997 the Bureau's inspector general of the time issued a devastating report, stigmatizing one instance after another of mishandled and contaminated evidence, inept technicians, and outright fabrication. The IG concluded that there were "serious and credible allegations of incompetence" and perjured courtroom testimony.
CounterPunch's view is that taken as a whole, forensic evidence as used by prosecutors is inherently untrustworthy. For example, for years many people went to prison on the basis of the claims of a North Carolina anthropologist, Louise Robbins. She helped send people to prison or to Death Row with her self-proclaimed power to identify criminals through shoe prints. As an excellent recent Chicago Tribune series on forensic humbug recalled, on occasion she even said she could use the method to determine a person's height, sex and race. Robbins died in 1987, her memory compromised by the conclusion of many Appeals Courts that her methodology was bosh. There have been similarly hollow claims for lip prints and ear prints, all of (added "of") them invoked by their supporters as "100 per cent reliable" and believed by juries too easily impressed by passionate invocations to 100 per cent reliable scientific data.
Of course the apex forensic hero of prosecutors, long promoted as the bottom line in reliability--at least until the arrival of DNA matching--has been the fingerprint.
Fingerprints entered the arsenal of police and prosecutors in the late nineteenth century, touted as "scientific" in the manner of other fashionable methods of that time in the identification of supposed criminals, such as phrenology. A prime salesman was Ernest Galton, Charles Darwin's cousin and a founding huckster for the bogus "science " of eugenics. Actually fingerprints, at least in modern times, found their original use in the efforts of a British colonial administrator to intimidate his Indian laborers (whose faces he could not distinguish) from turning up more than once to get paid. He'd make a great show of scrutinizing the fingerprints he insisted they daub on his ledger book. Then, as now, the use of the so-called "unique fingerprint" has been histrionic , not scientific. In 1995, so the Chicago Tribune series discovered, " one of the only independent proficiency tests of fingerprint examiners in U.S. crime labs found that nearly a quarter reported false positives, meaning they declared prints identical even though they were not--the sort of mistakes that can lead to wrongful convictions or arrests."
Decade after decade people have been sent to prison for years or dispatched to the death cell, solely on the basis of a single, even a partial print. So great is the resonance of the phrase "a perfect match" that defense lawyers throw in the towel, as judge and jury listen to the assured conclusions of the FBI's analysts who virtually monopolize the fingerprint industry in the U.S.A. Overseas, in London's Scotland Yard for example, the same mesmerizing "certainty" held sway, and still does. In the U.S.A., part of the mystique stems from the "one discrepancy rule" which has supposedly governed the FBI's fingerprint analysis. The rule says that identifications are subject to a standard of "100 per cent certainty" where a single difference in appearance is supposed to preclude identification.
The 1997 lab scandals threw a shadow over the FBI's forensic procedures as a whole and the criminal defense bar began to raise protests against prosecutorial use of latent fingerprint identification evidence, as produced by FBI procedures. In 2002 Judge Louis Pollak, in a case in Pennsylvania, initially ruled that the FBI's fingerprint matching criteria fell below new standards of forensic reliability (the Daubert standards) stipulated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Ultimately he was persuaded that the FBI's fingerprint lab had never made a mistake. In 2004, in U.S. v. Mitchell, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld these same procedures.
Now at last, in 2006, the FBI's current inspector general, Glenn Fine, has grudgingly administered what should properly be regarded as the deathblow to fingerprint evidence as used by the FBI and indeed by law enforcement generally.
The case reviewed by Inspector General Fine, at the request of U.S. Rep John Conyers and U.S. Senator Russell Feingold, concerns the false arrest by the FBI of Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer from Beaverton, Oregon.
On March 11, 2004, several bombs exploded in Madrid's subway system with 191 killed and 1,460 injured. Shortly thereafter the Spanish police discovered a blue plastic bag filled with detonators in a van parked near the Acala de Heres train station in Madrid, whence all of the trains involved in the bombing had originated on the fatal day.
The Spanish police were able to lift a number of latent prints off the bag. On March 17 they transmitted digital images of these fingerprints to the FBI's crime lab in Virginia. The lab ran the images through its prized IAFIS, otherwise known as the integrated, automated, fingerprint identification system, containing a database of some 20 million fingerprints.
The IAFIS computer spat out twenty "candidate prints", with the warning that these 20 candidates were "close non-match". Then the FBI examiners went to work with their magnifying glasses, assessing ridges and forks between the sample of 20 and the images from Spain. In a trice the doubts of the IAFIS computer were thrust aside, and senior fingerprint examiner Terry Green determined that he had found "a 100 per cent match" with one of the Spanish prints of the fourth-ranked print in the IAFIS batch of 20 close non-matches. Green said this fourth ranked print came from the left index finger of Brandon Mayfield. Mayfield's prints were in the FBI's master file, not because he had been arrested or charged with any crime, but because he was a former U.S. Army lieutenant.
Green submitted his conclusions to two other FBI examiners who duly confirmed his conclusions. But as the inspector general later noted, these examiners were not directed to inspect a set of prints without knowing that a match had already asserted by one of their colleagues. They were simple given the pair of supposedly matched prints and asked to confirm the finding. (These two examiners later refused to talk to the FBI's inspector general.)
The FBI lost no time in alerting the U.S. Prosecutor's office in Portland, which began surveillance of Mayfield with a request to the secret FISA court which issued a warrant for Mayfield's phone to be tapped on the grounds, laid out in the Patriot Act, that he was a terrorist, and therefore by definition a foreign agent.
Surreptitious tapping and surveillance of Mayfield began. On April 2, 2004, the FBI sent a letter to the Spanish police informing them that they had a big break in the case, with a positive identification of the print on the bag of detonators.
Ten days later the forensic science division of the Spanish national police sent the FBI its own analysis. It held that the purported match of Mayfield's print was "conclusively negative". (The inspector general refers to this as the "negativo Report".)
The next day, April 14, the U.S. Prosecutor in Portland became aware of the fact that the Spanish authorities were vigorously disputing the match with Mayfield's left forefinger. But by now the Prosecutor and his team were scenting blood. Through covert surveillance they had learned that Mayfield was married to an Egyptian woman, had recently converted to Islam, was a regular attendee at the Bailal mosque in Portland, and had as one of his clients in a child custody dispute an American Muslim called Jeffrey Battle. Battle, a black man, had just been convicted of trying to go to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban.
Armed, so they thought, with this arsenal of compromising detail, the U.S. Prosecutor and the FBI had no patience with the pettifogging negativism of the Spanish police. So confident were the Americans of the guilt of their prey that they never went back to take another look at the supposedly matching prints. Instead, on April 21, they flew a member of the FBI's latent print unit to Spain for on-the-spot refutation of the impertinent Madrid constabulary.
The Inspector General's report makes it clear that the FBI man returned from Spain with a false account of his reception, alleging that the Spanish fingerprint team had bowed to his superior analytic skills. The head of the Spanish team, Pedro Luis Melida-Weda, insists that his team remained entirely unconvinced. "At no time did we give our approval. We refused to validate the FBI's conclusions. We kept working on the identification."
By now either the U.S. Attorney's office or, more likely, the FBI was leaking to the press news of the pursuit of a U.S. suspect in the Madrid bombing. But they knew that the actual evidence they had on Mayfield was virtually non-existent, aside from the fingerprint. On May 6, the U.S. Prosecutor in Portland told U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones that the Spanish police had ultimately accepted the FBI's match, that Mayfield, alerted by the stories in the press about an unnamed suspect, might start destroying evidence, and that, therefore, they wanted to seize Mayfield, using the now favored charge du jour of the war on terror, claiming him to be a "material witness". Judge Jones okayed an arrest warrant.
Mayfield had no idea that the FBI had been tapping his phones and secretly rummaging through his office. The first time he became aware that he was a citizen under suspicion was on the afternoon of May 6. On that day eight FBI agents showed up at his law office, seized him, cuffed his hands behind his back, ridiculed his protestations. As they approached the door, Mayfield implored them to take the handcuffs off, saying he didn't want his clients or staff to see him in this condition. The FBI agents said derisively, "Don't worry about it. The media is right behind us."
Mayfield ended up with two federal public defenders, Steven Wax and Christopher Schatz. Like many such, these two were dedicated to their interest of their client, tireless and resourceful. Their first concern was to get Mayfield out on the Multnomah federal detention center in downtown Portland. Though jailed under an alias chosen for him by the U.S. Prosecutor, the feds had immediately leaked this alias--Randy Barker--to The Oregonian newspaper, and a guard at the jail had promptly roughed up Mayfield.
The two public defenders went before Judge Jones and asked that as a material witness he be kept under house arrest, there being scant apparent evidence against him. Judge Jones finally compelled the U.S. Prosecutor to say what evidence he had against Mayfield. A fingerprint, said the U.S. Prosecutor, withholding from the court the fact that this fingerprint was highly controversial and had been explicitly disqualified by the Spanish police.
The federal defenders questioned the imprisonment of their client, faced penalties of the utmost gravity, on the basis of a fingerprint. Judge Jones allowed as how he had sent people to prison for life on the basis of a single fingerprint. Mayfield's attorneys asked to see a copy of the allegedly matched fingerprints and have them evaluated by their own expert witness. Knowing he was on thin ice the U.S. Prosecutor refused, claiming it was an issue of national security. Under pressure from Judge Jones, himself pressured by the assiduous federal defenders, the U.S. Prosecutor finally agreed he would give the prints to an independent evaluator selected by Judge Jones.
The prints were given to Kenneth R. Moses of San Francisco, an SFPD veteran who runs a company called Forensic Identification Services which, among other things, proclaims its skills in "computer enhancement of fingerprints". It was "quite difficult", Moses said, because of "blurring and some blotting out", but yes, the FBI had it right, and there was "100 per cent certainty" that one of the prints on the blue bag in Madrid derived from the left index finger of Brandon Mayfield.
Moses transmitted this confident opinion by phone to Judge Jones on the morning of May 19. Immediately following Moses' assertion, the U.S. attorney stepped forward to confide to Judge Jones dismaying news from Madrid from the Spanish police that very morning. The news "cast some doubt on the identification". This information, he added, "was classified or potentially classified".
The prosecutors then huddled with the judge in his chambers. After 20 minutes, Judge Jones stormed back out and announced that the prosecutors needed to tell the defense lawyers what they had just told him. The prosecutor duly informed the courtroom that the Spanish police had identified the fingerprint as belonging to the right middle finger of Ouhnane Daoud, an Algerian national living in Spain. Daoud was under arrest as a suspect in the bombing. Judge Jones ordered Mayfield to be freed. The U.S. prosecutor said he should be placed under electronic monitoring, a request which the judge turned down.
Four days later, on May 24, the warrant for his detention was dismissed.
The FBI sent two of their senor fingerprint analysts to Spain on a mission to salvage the Bureau from humiliation. The two analysts did their best, returning with the claim that the fingerprint sent to the FBI by the Spanish police was of "no value for identification purposes", a claim which the inspector general later shot down by pointing that only a few weeks thereafter the FBI's latent fingerprint unit concurred with the Spanish national police lab's determination that the print on the bag matched the right middle finger of Ouhnane Daoud.
The FBI lab fought an increasingly desperate rearguard battle, eventually claiming that it had been the victim of an excessive reliance on technology. The inspector general points out that the only investigator in the FBI's lab to emerge with any credit is in fact the IAFIS computer that had stated clearly, "close, no match".
The inspector general writes the bottom line on the "science" of fingerprint matching He gets the FBI's top examiner to admit that if Mayfield had "been like the Maytag repair man" and not a Muslim convert married to an Egyptian, "the laboratory might have revisited the identification with more skepticism."
And Daoud's fingerprint match? We don't know, but if he was convicted on the basis of fingerprints alone, we would say there is grounds for an appeal.
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Who's Counting Bush's Mistakes?
By Stephen Pizzo, News for Real. Posted February 19, 2006
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best, "The louder he spoke of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons." And no administration in U.S. history has spoken louder, or as often, of its honor.
So let us count our spoons.
Emergency Management: They completely failed to manage the first large-scale emergency since 9/11. Despite all their big talk and hundreds of billions of dollars spent on homeland security over the past four years, this administration proved itself stunningly incompetent when faced with an actual emergency. (Katrina Relief Funds Squandered)
Fiscal Management: America is broke. No wait, we're worse than broke. In less than five years these borrow and spend-thrifts have nearly doubled our national debt, to a stunning $8.2 trillion. These are not your father's Republicans who treated public dollars as though they were an endangered species. These Republicans waste money in ways and in quantities that make those old tax and spend liberals of yore look like tight-fisted Scots.
This administration is so incompetent that you can just throw a dart at the front page of your morning paper and whatever story of importance it hits will prove my point.
Katrina relief: Eleven thousand spanking new mobile homes sinking into the Arkansas mud. Seems no one in the administration knew there were federal and state laws prohibiting trailers in flood zones. Oops. That little mistake cost you $850 million -- and counting.
Medicare Drug Program: This $50 billion white elephant debuted by trampling many of those it was supposed to save. The mess forced states to step in and try to save its own citizens from being killed by the administration's poorly planned and executed attempt to privatize huge hunks of the federal health safety net.
Afghanistan: Good managers know that in order to pocket the gains of a project, you have to finish it. This administration started out fine in Afghanistan. They had the Taliban and al Queda on the run and Osama bin Laden trapped in a box canyon. Then they were distracted by a nearby shiney object -- Iraq. We are now $75 billion out of pocket in Afghanistan and its sitting president still rules only within the confines of the nation's capital. Tribal warlords, the growing remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda call the shots in the rest of the county.
Iraq: This ill-begotten war was supposed to only cost us $65 billion. It has now cost us over $300 billion and continues to suck $6 billion a month out of our children's futures. Meanwhile the three warring tribes Bush "liberated" are using our money and soldiers' lives to partition the country. The Shiites and Kurds are carving out the prime cuts while treating the once-dominant Sunnis the same way the Israelis treat the Palestinians, forcing them onto Iraq's version of Death Valley. Meanwhile Iran is increasingly calling the shots in the Shiite region as mullahs loyal to Iran take charge. (More)
Iran: The administration not only jinxed its Afghanistan operations by attacking Iraq, but also provided Iran both the rationale for and time to move toward nuclear weapons. The Bush administration's neocons' threats to attack Syria next only provided more support for religious conservatives within Iran who argued U.S. intentions in the Middle East were clear, and that only the deterrent that comes with nuclear weapons could protect them.
North Korea: Ditto. Also add to all the above the example North Korea set for Iran. Clearly once a country possesses nukes, the U.S. drops the veiled threats and wants to talk.
Social Programs: It's easier to get affordable -- even free -- American-style medical care, paid for with American dollars, if you are injured in Iraq, Afghanistan or are victims of a Pakistani earthquake, than if you live and pay taxes in the good old U.S.A. Nearly 50 million Americans can't afford medical insurance. Nevertheless the administration has proposed a budget that will cut $40 billion from domestic social programs, including health care for the working poor. The administration is quick to say that those services will be replaced by its "faith-based" programs. Not so fast...
"Despite the Bush administration's rhetorical support for religious charities, the amount of direct federal grants to faith-based organizations declined from 2002 to 2004, according to a major new study released yesterday....The study released yesterday "is confirmation of the suspicion I've had all along, that what the faith-based initiative is really all about is de-funding social programs and dumping responsibility for the poor on the charitable sector," said Kay Guinane, director of the nonprofit advocacy program at OMB Watch.." (More)
The Military: Overused and over-deployed.
Former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned in a 15-page report that the Army and Marine Corps cannot sustain the current operational tempo without "doing real damage to their forces." ... Speaking at a news conference to release the study, Albright said she is "very troubled" the military will not be able to meet demands abroad. Perry warned that the strain, "if not relieved, can have highly corrosive and long-term effects on the military. (More)
With military budgets gutted by the spiraling costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration has requested funding for fewer National Guard troops in fiscal 2007 -- 17,000 fewer. Which boggles the sane mind since, if it weren't for reserve/National Guard, the administration would not have had enough troops to rotate forces in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 40 percent of the troops sent to those two countries were from the reserve and National Guard.
The Environment: Here's a little pop quiz: What happens if all the coral in the world's oceans dies? Answer: Coral is the first rung on the food-chain ladder; so when it goes, everything else in the ocean dies. And if the oceans die, we die.
The coral in the world's oceans are dying (called "bleaching") at an alarming and accelerating rate. Global warming is the culprit. Nevertheless, this administration continues as the world's leading global warming denier. Why? Because they seem to feel it's more cost effective to be dead than to force reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. How stupid is that? And time is running out.
Trade: We are approaching a $1 trillion annual trade deficit, most of it with Asia, $220 billion with just China -- just last year.
Energy: Record high energy prices. Record energy company profits. Dick Cheney's energy task force meetings remain secret. Need I say more?
Consumers: Americans finally did it last year -- they achieved a negative savings rate. (Folks in China save 10 percent, for contrast.) If the government can spend more than it makes and just say "charge it" when it runs out, so can we. The average American now owes $9,000 to credit card companies. Imagine that.
Human Rights: America now runs secret prisons and a secret judicial system that would give Kafka fits. And the U.S. has joined the list of nations that tortures prisioners of war. (Shut up George! We have pictures!)
I could go on for another 1,000 words listing the stunning incompetence of the Bush administration and its GOP sycophants in Congress. But what's the use? No seems to give a fig. The sun continues to shine in this fool's paradise. House starts were up in January. The stock market is finally back over 11,000.
But don't bother George W. Bush with any of this. While seldom right, he is never in doubt. Doubt is Bush's enemy. Worry? How can he worry when he has no doubts?
Me? Well, I worry about all the above, all the time. But in particular, I worry about coral.
Stephen Pizzo is the author of numerous books, including "Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans," which was nominated for a Pulitzer.
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From Conservatives to Brownshirts
By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS
February 18 / 19, 2006
Last week's annual Conservative Political Action Conference signaled the transformation of American conservatism into brownshirtism. A former Justice Department official named Viet Dinh got a standing ovation when he told the CPAC audience that the rule of law mustn't get in the way of President Bush protecting Americans from Osama bin Laden.
Former Republican congressman Bob Barr, who led the House impeachment of President Bill Clinton, reminded the CPAC audience that our first loyalty is to the US Constitution, not to a leader. The question, Barr said, is not one of disloyalty to Bush, but whether America "will remain a nation subject to, and governed by, the rule of law or the whim of men."
The CPAC audience answered that they preferred to be governed by Bush. According to Dana Milbanks, a member of the CPAC audience named Richard Sorcinelli loudly booed Barr, declaring: "I can't believe I'm in a conservative hall listening to him say Bush is off course trying to defend the United States." A woman in the audience told Barr that the Constitution placed Bush above the law and above non-elected federal judges.
These statements gallop beyond the merely partisan. They express the sentiments of brownshirtism. Our leader uber alles.
Only a few years ago this same group saw Barr as a conservative hero for obtaining Clinton's impeachment in the House. Obviously, CPAC's praise for Barr did not derive from Barr's stand on conservative principle that a president must be held accountable if he violates the law. In Clinton's case Barr's principles did not conflict with the blind emotions of the politically partisan conservatives demanding Clinton's impeachment.
In opposing Bush's illegal behavior, Barr is simply being consistent. But this time Barr's principles are at odds with the emotions of the politically partisan CPAC audience. Rushing to the defense of Bush, the CPAC audience endorsed Viet Dinh's Fuhrer Principle over the rule of law.
Why do the media and the public allow partisan political hacks, like Viet Dinh, to define Bush's illegal actions as a national security issue? The purpose of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is to protect national security. FISA creates a secret court to which the president can apply for a warrant even after he has initiated spying. Complying with the law in no way handicaps spying for national security purposes. The only spying handicapped by the warrant requirement is spying for illegitimate purposes, such as spying on political opponents.
There are only two reasons for Bush to refuse to obey the law. One is that he is guilty of illegitimate spying for which no warrant would be issued by the FISA court. The other is that he is using "national security" to create unconstitutional powers for the executive.
Civil libertarian Harvey Silverglate writing in the Boston Phoenix (Feb. 10-16) says that Bush's grab for "sweeping, unchecked power in direct violation of a statute would open a Pandora's box of imperial possibilities." In short, it makes the president a dictator.
For years the Republican Federalist Society has been agitating for concentrating more power in the executive. The members will say that they do not favor a dictator, just a check on the "imperial Congress" and "imperial judiciary." But they have not spelled out how the president can be higher than law and still be accountable, or, if he is only to be higher than some laws, but not other laws, and only in some circumstances, but not all circumstances, who draws the line through the law and defines the circumstances.
On February 13 the American Bar Association passed a resolution belatedly asking President Bush to stop violating the law. "We cannot allow the US Constitution and our rights to become a victim of terrorism," said bar association president Michael Grecco.
The siren call of "national security" is all the cover Bush needs to have the FISA law repealed, thus legally gaining the power to spy however he chooses, the protection of political opponents be damned. However, Bush and his Federalist Society Justice Department are not interested in having the law repealed. Their purpose has nothing to do with national security. The point on which the regime is insisting is that there are circumstances (undefined) in which the president does not have to obey laws. What those circumstances and laws are is for the regime to decide.
The Bush regime is asserting the Fuhrer Principle, and Americans are buying it, even as Bush declares that America is at war in order to bring democracy to the Middle East.
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Talking to Bush Republicans: Don't Expect Any Smart Answers
by Mary Pitt
February 20, 2006
While sitting in the waiting room of our doctor's clinic, an old friend arrived, accompanied by her daughter, and we began to chat since we had not seen each other for a while. The daughter inquired as to whether we had "signed up" for the new prescription drug progam. I answered in the negative, explaining that it is so complicated that I had not yet had time to figure it out. I had worked on it, figuring the amounts that will be "deductibles and co-payments", those amounts that would fall within the "donut hole", and adding in the projected price of the premiums which, we are given to understand, are neither stable nor predictable and may be raised by the insurance companies at any time. On the whole. with my preliminary figures, it would add to our medications expense and appears to be, in my opinion, "just another Bush boondoggle"
The response was icey! "I take it that you do not like George Bush, then!"
"I do not like his policies and I do not approve of the Iraq War," I stated. "I do not like his tax breaks for the rich and his attempted tampering with the Social Security system."
"Well," she interjected, "I just love him! He is so cute!"
I have found that this is the typical reaction of those who insist that George W. Bush is the greatest thing to happen in these United States since the invention of the automatic bread slicer. One cannot discuss issues with them on any matter. The cult of personality has taken over and he is their boy, regardless of anything that is said or done by him or anyone else. They don't know what he is doing and they don't care! They have elected him God and he can do no wrong. If one persists in discussing any policy, foreign or domestic, one cannot help but learn that soon we are met with blank stares as if we had launched into the theory of relativity. It is obvious that the average market-variety Bush supporter must be sleep-walking as they really have no idea what is going on. On cue, they are ready to parrot the Party talking points, but don't even try to involve them in a real discussion of facts.
In a recent conversation with a young person who normally refuses to even discuss anything political with me or anyone else, I mentioned that the internet is awash in stories about the possibility of a scandal involving the "outing" of an undercover CIA agent which may involve Karl Rove. His beautiful blue eyes literally glazed over as he asked, "Who is Karl Rove?" I did not bother to further confuse him with names like Tom DeLay, Scooter Libby, or John Roberts. The most radical supporters of George W. Bush are totally unfamiliar with the names of those whom he has seated in the positions of power. But then, we can hardly expect them to make the connection with names like Newt Gingrich and Ollie North, not to mention John Poindexter since they have no memory of modern history before the year 2000.
It would seem that fully a third of the voting public are unknowing and uncaring of public or world affairs. They do not really watch television news or read newspapers, learning most of their political news from behind the pulpit in church on Sunday. George W. Bush is a good Christian and we may rest assured that our nation is in good hands as he goes about the world vanquishing the evil ones and forming Christian democracies. We must not worry our innocent little minds with details or ask questions because God is blessing America and good will triumph!
Others simply look at their pay checks and, if they are among the fortunate few, they applaud the tax cuts and revel in their positions in the middle class as evidence of their worth making them better than the poor fools who are suffering poverty due to the loss of their own jobs. "Those slobs in New Orleans 'had it coming' because they didn't evacuate when they should have." "Africans are dying by the thousand because they have always been backward and they just have to grab their own bootstraps to become as capable as we are." "The Democrats are just belly-aching because Bush beat Al Gore." They can't trouble their "beautiful minds" with things like offshoring of jobs or the build-up of the Chinese miltary capacity in South America and the Caribbean. "President Bush will take care of that."
The talking points are legend but, on closer examination, they simply make no sense and serve only to hide the fact that this a nothing more than a cult of personality. Political discourse in this country has converted from discussion of issues to a team sport, "Our Guy vs. Your Guy". In the process of learning that the Bush Republicans have totally abandoned even a cursory interest in the affairs of the nation, they can, at every opportunity, recite every detail of the scandals of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and all the other alleged but unproven charges against that president before, during, and after his tenure in office.
With the exposure of the Able/Danger group, the wires are hot with their disclosures as the Republicans call all the talk shows and shout excitedly, "See? There were so WMD's! Able/Danger said so!" The poor souls are so fact-deaf that they never notice the time frame in which this knowledge was developed. It was in 1990-1, which is why the UN sent the inspectors in to make them all be destroyed. "Scott Ritter? Who's he?"
They will also deride the Democratic Party for its failure to push forward a candidate for the next presidential election or any policies in opposition to those of Mr. Bush. While they do have a point on the latter, why should a minority party bother to suggest programs and solutions to a Congress that is so heavily weighted to the other side that such ideas would die a-borning? Any leader who is put forth at this time would quickly become mired in malignant accusations, (as in the case of John Kerry and Hillary Clinton), that they could hardly be expected to be effective in campaigning. As for choosing a "leader", there appears to be no hurry since the next election is still some time away and any number of people may make themselves available. Any "turkey" who raises his head above the flock at this time is going to be beset by buckshot from both sides. Better to try to build popular support sufficient to resist the Democratic Leadership Council and their efforts to dictate whom the candidate should be.
However, we "independents" may have have a "stopper" for the Republican rants, With the Republican Party literally pulling itself apart over Constitutional interpretations, Supreme Court appointments, and the torture issues, perhaps we should turn the tables and ask them whom they prefer for a Republican candidate in 2008. Once they get over the shock of learning that there may be life after Bush, they will have much the same answer they now receive from the rest of us. The fact is that, so long as Bush&Company hold the ignorati of our country in thrall, there will be no restoration of our civil rights, no respect for law or the Constitution, and no progress in building a better, healthier, and safer nation. Meanwhile, we can only try to ameliorate the total destruction of our country as we know and love it so that there will be something left which can be rebuilt to its former glory.
The most difficult and greatest period of our history is still ahead of us.
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No Child Left Un-recruited
By Aviva Ariel, WireTap. Posted February 20, 2006.
The U.S. Army isn't exactly recruiting me and I wouldn't say that I spend time thinking of ways to avoid their courtship (despite the fact that we all know they're in dire need of a female soldier who can't even reach plates off the top shelf in her kitchen). But as I searched through the small stack of papers that arrived in the mail a few weeks before the start of my senior year at Shaker Heights High School (outside of Cleveland, Ohio), I recognized that I was witnessing something fishier than the outcome of the 2000 election.
It was a form addressed to students and their families that caught my eye, and being the investigative journalist that I am, I quickly realized the form gave me the option of prohibiting the government from obtaining my personal information through the school in accordance with a provision of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001.
Stuck inconspicuously at the end of the 670-page bill near "Physical Education Program Authorization," section 9528 -- "Armed Forces Recruiter Access to Students and Student Recruiting Information" - -outlines a new form of military access to student information that makes the bill seem more like No Child Left Un-recruited.
Commonly known as the "Opt-Out Provision," section 9528 requires schools receiving federal funding to share all students' names, telephone numbers and addresses upon military request unless students opt-out by making a written request that their information be kept from military databases. The government's justification lies in the fact that the military has just as much of a legal right to access students' "directory information" as prospective employers and college administration offices.
Needless to say, I was more shocked than Bush at an uncensored press conference. Although I've always felt the effects of NCLB on a student's education have been about as productive as our search for Osama bin Laden, this was the first time that my personal life was directly influenced by the government's legislation. My fellow students and I have all been through the agony of waking up early for the endless barrage of required state testing and witnessed the stress it puts on our administrations, but penciling in bubbles for four hours has never put our homes, our identities, our privacy on the frontlines.
According to the Resource Center for Nonviolence, schools are handling the requirement in a variety of ways, which is why the database is collecting information faster than an undercover Times reporter. My own school, being a beacon of liberal-minded folk (you'd never know we're in Ohio), provides a form sent directly to families allowing them to make the written request. But opting-out of the data exchange automatically excludes students from having their information published in the school's Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) directory.
For me, choosing whether I should opt-out was a slightly bigger dilemma than deciding between honors or Advanced Placement Calculus. There was no question I did not want to release my information to the military, but I was forced to weigh my choices. I could either free my identity into the battle ground of military recruitment tactics so that my personal information would be listed by the PTO for friends and co-workers to use when needed, or I could lock my information inside the barracks of personal privacy. One option meant that anyone in the government could reach me through a quick search in their extensive databases, the other that my phone would sit idly for the next year. (As the editor in chief of my high school newspaper and an active member or leader of numerous other activities, students and teachers need to reach me on a daily basis.)
Shaker schools district Director of Communications Peggy Caldwell, believes the administration felt students opting-out of the national database would have to also opt-out of the school directory in order to comply with the act's requirement of equal access for military recruiters and college admissions committees. "The Feds have put schools in a difficult position with this provision of NCLB. The law and procedures in this area are murky, and there are potential conflicts between NCLB, privacy laws and open records laws," she said, noting that the school is revisiting their policy before the 2006-2007 school year. "We want to honor the wishes of our students and their parents, but we also want to comply with the law and make sure students and parents are aware of the ramifications."
The conflicts stem from the basic vagueness of the legislation; the outlined system contains no defined process or procedure for opting-out -- for parents or for schools -- and many districts simply hand over information faster than Lewis Libby under interrogation, often without notifying students. And because schools have as much freedom of execution as judges in Texas, each district's methods are inconsistent. Some schools simply ignore the options and fail to inform community members about their alternatives, while others conceal the forms in rarely-read handbooks and registration paperwork. Many schools, like Shaker, force students to opt-out of other programs such as honor roll (and then what kind of bumper stickers would we proud Americans display?), playbills, athlete lists and yearbooks.
Speculation surrounding section 9528 is as varied as it is controversial. Some organizations, like Democracy Now, target falling numbers of volunteers for the military as cause for the provision. According to their website, for the first time in ten years the Army and Marines missed their recruiting targets for two consecutive months. An article by Gerry Gilmore of the American Forces Press Service announced that the Army was around 6,600 below its active duty recruitment goal of 80,000 new recruits for 2005. Deciphering the true reasoning behind the act, however, will not stop the military from accumulating thousands of students' information in their database.
Instating an "opt-in" policy that requires written consent from parents or students before information is sent to the military is one possibility for protecting students' privacy. Establishing an opt-in policy may be difficult, but it is truly the only way to prevent students and families from unknowingly releasing their private information to the military, and although it will not put a stop to the various ways that the government gets a hold of students' information (such as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a standardized test given to 2/3rds of elementary school students), it will undoubtedly make a difference in this ongoing battle between privacy and political power.
Rick Jahnkow, the program coordinator of the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities, suggests an opt-in policy to alleviate unwanted attention for students who are unwillingly added to the military database. "There would still be other ways for the military to get its message to students," he said in an e-mail interview, "but uninterested students would be spared some of the high pressure sales tactics they experience when recruiters have their individual contact information."
Currently the Student Privacy Protection Act of 2005, which would amend section 9528 to impose an opt-out policy, is circulating in the House. Congressman Sam Farr of California supports the bill that was created by fellow Representative Mike Honda because he recognizes that many families do not know they have the option of restricting military access. "I believe that our public school system should be used to teach and challenge our students, not to invade their privacy by releasing personal information without the express approval of student or parent," he said. Our wait for the national government to pass opt-in legislation, however, may drag on longer than the Iraq war. In contrast, proposing minor reforms to local school organizations will work faster than lobbyist Jack Abramoff at a White House holiday party.
The American Friends Service Committee suggests pushing for school policies that will "help protect both the school and the student from any improper release of the information." Community pressure will encourage school boards to create local policies that may eventually translate to statewide action. Ideally, schools should make the opt-out forms available and noticeable during school registration in addition to clarifying that students of any age can make their own choice.
Making opting-in or opting-out a required decision before any information is released is the easiest and most balanced option. "The law requires schools to respect such a choice but not facilitate it," the AFSC's website reasons, noting that allowing students the choice to opt-out from the military only would not violate the requirement to allow equal access to all non-school institutions.
But convincing local districts to employ reasonable policies is a war in and of itself. Arlene Inouye of MilitaryFreeSchools.org has worked to combat the opt-out legislation as a part of a broader issue of unfair military recruitment tactics. In June 2003, Inouye went to her local Board of Education after feeling that inaccessible information caused the minimal returns of opt-out forms (only 13 percent of the district's 63,000 juniors and seniors submitted the page). Her group started "Operation Opt Out," which mobilized community members to attract attention to the issue. "The students, teachers, parents got out the opt-out info in many creative ways including tabling, leafleting, doing a school news TV production, making large banners and hanging [them] in schools . . . requesting to speak to all the eleventh and twelfth grade students, [making] classroom presentations about it [and] asking the principal to make a P.A. announcement," said Inoyue, who emphasized that other programs such as Junior ROTC and the Pentagon database collection were equally if not more disturbing methods the government uses to gather students' information. "From what I've experienced . . . I don't think legislators understand the issues enough to really address it comprehensively. I think that it is the people's movement that can have the most impact."
The bottom line is that it doesn't matter if you support the military or not because whether we're war-mongers or '60s love children living in the wrong decade, we should never feel coerced into reporting our information to the army. I would say (in the spirit of our President) that you are either with the military database or you are against it, but change can and must come faster than the next presidential election. Go, now, and be all that you can be.
Aviva Ariel is currently a senior at Shaker Heights High School in Ohio. She is the editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper, The Shakerite.
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EU trio join UN call for closing Guantanamo camp
www.chinaview.cn 2006-02-20 10:44:37
WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (Xinhuanet) -- The British, French and German envoys to Washington, on Sunday joined the UN call for closing the unpopular U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte told CNN: "Guantanamo is an embarrassment, and so it has to be solved one way or the other."
Levitte made the comments during an interview alongside his British and German counterparts.
German Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger said: "The sooner it's closed, the better it will be for the image of the United States, not only as a military and political but also as a moral leader in the world."
The British envoy, Sir David Manning, said: "It's difficult to find the right line to draw between your duties as a government for security and safeguarding liberty, but it is clearly an anomaly and it needs to be dealt with."
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday urged the United States to decide on the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, saying it must be shut down " sooner or later."
"I think sooner or later there will be a need to close Guantanamo. I think it will be up to the government to decide, and hopefully to do it as soon as possible," Annan told reporters after a luncheon with Security Council members.
Annan's comments came after a UN report was released in Geneva earlier Thursday calling on Washington "to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention center and to refrain from any practice amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
Washington has rejected the UN report with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissing as "flat wrong" the calls for its closure.
About 500 terror suspects are being jailed at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, most of whom were captured during the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan in 2001, and are being held indefinitely without a trial.
Comment: Wow! What a strong condemnation!
France: "It's an embarrassment..."!
Germany: "The sooner it's closed, the better it will be for the image of the United States..."!
Uh, what about the prisoners being illegally held???? Will their "image" improve as well?
Britain: It's "An anomaly"!
With hard-hitting international condemnation like that, Bush and his cronies must be trembling in their leather and chains.
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Torture flights landed in UK, admit air controllers
By Marie Woolf, Political Editor
19 February 2006
CIA jets suspected of flying terrorist suspects to secret prisons for torture have landed at commercial British airports and received help from UK air traffic control, the authorities have admitted for the first time.
National Air Traffic Services (Nats) confirmed that three planes with CIA tail numbers have travelled through Britain "on a number of occasions".
MPs last night seized on the letter as the first formal acknowledgement that British authorities were aware that CIA flights associated with "extraordinary rendition" have travelled through UK airspace.
They said it showed that ministers could no longer claim they had no knowledge of CIA flights that have been linked to the policy of sending terrorist suspects for interrogation in countries that carry out torture.
Nats admitted it had provided a service to the flights after a number of Parliamentary questions to Transport ministers from Sir Menzies Campbell, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats.
The letter, written to Sir Menzies following orders from Transport minister Karen Buck, says that of four aircraft identified from records as having been used by the CIA, "three have received an ATC [air traffic control service] from Nats on a number of occasions in the past five years. We are not prepared to offer a number because we are not confident that such a number would be robust."
The planes are part of a ghost fleet of CIA jets that have been spotted at UK airports since 2001. Nats implies that they have travelled here frequently and may even have travelled under different call signs.
It said the flights may also have used airspace controlled by the Ministry of Defence. Defence ministers have been criticised for refusing to answer questions put down by Sir Menzies about how often the CIA jets have landed at military air bases. Defence minister Adam Ingram said "the information is not recorded centrally".
But the admission by the civil aviation service that CIA aircraft have used UK airspace is the first admission that the authorities and ministers are aware of the flights.
Tony Blair has claimed that he has no knowledge of so-called torture flights coming in and out of the country, and has refused to hold an independent public inquiry.
The flights have been associated with the practice of extraordinary rendition. which involves taking terrorist suspects to foreign prisons and secret jails in Europe. Seventy-six planes used by the CIA are believed to have made stops in Britain since 11 September 2001, at Prestwick, RAF Northolt, Luton and Glasgow.
Last night, Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said the letter was a significant admission. "It is significant that a public agency has confirmed the frequency of these flights through UK airports," he said. "More questions remain about their destination and what they contained."
Comment: A little 'rule of thumb' for genuine opposition politicians in the U.K. and U.S.: When members of the Bush and Blair governments say something, anything, you can generally safely assume that the truth is the exact opposite.
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U.S.-German Flare-Up Over Vast Nazi Camp Archives
By ROGER COHEN
Published: February 20, 2006
Tempers are flaring over a United States demand to open to scholars and researchers a huge repository of information about the Holocaust contained in the files of the International Tracing Service at Bad Arolsen, Germany.
Based in part on documents gathered by Allied forces as they liberated Nazi concentration camps, the stock of files held by the organization stretches for about 15.5 miles, and holds information on 17.5 million people. It amounts to one of the largest closed archives anywhere.
The collection is unique in its intimate personal detailing of a catastrophe, which is what makes the question of open access so delicate. The papers may reveal who was treated for lice at which camp, what ghoulish medical experiment was conducted on which prisoner and why, who was accused by the Nazis of homosexuality or murder or incest or pedophilia, which Jews collaborated and how they were induced to do so.
Since the end of World War II the Tracing Service, operating as an arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has used the files to help people trace the fates of relatives who disappeared into the murderous vortex of Nazi terror. Now, more than 60 years after the end of the war, the United States says that task is largely done and it is time to open up the archive, copy it so that it can also be stored in other countries and make it available to historians.
"The U.S. government favors opening up all records on the Holocaust," said Edward O'Donnell, the special envoy for Holocaust issues at the State Department. "Our objective is to open the archive, and we will continue to push."
But that push has met a wall of legal and procedural objections — from Charles Biedermann, the Red Cross official who has been director of the Tracing Service for two decades, and from the German and Italian governments. The atmosphere within the 11-nation international commission that oversees the operation has become poisonous.
At meetings to discuss the opening of the archive, German officials have asked whether it is really in anyone's interest to have accusations about particular Jews being murderers or homosexuals made public. Because German privacy laws are much stricter than those in the United States, German authorities are concerned that an opening could lead to lawsuits charging that personal information was handed out illegally.
Wide access to the papers could also provoke new claims for compensation.
"This is a scandal and a big scar on the image of Germany," said Sara Bloomfield, the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, which has been eager to secure copies of the files.
Paul Shapiro, the director of advanced Holocaust studies at the museum, accused Germany of "abusing efforts to achieve consensus" and "exerting a stranglehold on the process." He added, "Hiding this record is a form of Holocaust denial."
Such strong words are at odds with the generally positive tenor of German-American relations on Holocaust matters, even through negotiations as elaborate as those that led to Germany's agreement in 2000 to compensate former slave laborers of the Nazis.
Germany is outraged at the suggestion that it may be dragging its feet. "I object to the assertion that we have something to hide or are not forthcoming," said Wolfgang Ischinger, the German ambassador to the United States. "That insinuation is false."
The clash has some of its roots in the complex history and labyrinthine legal structure of the Tracing Service. Set up late in the war, it has long been administered under the terms of the 1955 Bonn Agreements, which restored German sovereignty.
That treaty says the facility must "take all reasonable steps to avoid divulging information about a person or persons which might prejudice the interests of the person or persons concerned or of their relatives."
In essence, it confines access to information to the persecuted themselves, their relatives or legal representatives. But the accord also says all of the governments in the 11-nation governing commission have the right to inspect documents. Those countries are the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece, Israel, Poland and Luxembourg.
Germany and Mr. Biedermann say that for the archives to be opened, the treaty must be amended. That requires a unanimous vote and subsequent approval of national legislatures. The process would take years even if an elusive unanimity could be secured.
"As director, I must fulfill my orders," Mr. Biedermann said. "My superior is the I.C.R.C., my ruling body the 11 governments. If they decide the records can be opened and copies given to other countries, and if the issue of legal liabilities is addressed, of course I will comply. But right now there is no mandate for historical research."
Last month, the director posted a statement, now withdrawn, on the Tracing Service's Web site, saying that handing over copies of the files to others was "neither morally nor legally justifiable at present."
The United States, while ready to work for an amendment of the Bonn Agreements, is impatient. It argues that it never ceded ownership rights of the papers at Bad Arolsen, that all 11 governments have the right to inspect them and that no absolute legal impediment exists to the immediate copying and transfer of the files.
But the German government, having already paid out more than $80 billion in reparations, is concerned that questions of legal liability be thoroughly clarified before Bad Arolsen is opened up and its files made available elsewhere.
"We have to address the question of who will be allowed to do what with this data and who will be legally responsible if somebody abuses this," Mr. Ischinger said. "There are layers of legal difficulties."
The legal issues are indeed complex. But six decades after the war, it seems clear that opening up Bad Arolsen would play a critical role in filling in the details of the vile tapestry of Nazi crimes. "We need to connect all the dots," Ms. Bloomfield said.
Besides, the Tracing Service is swamped. Its budget, provided by Germany, has been cut as part of national austerity measures. Its staff has been reduced to about 360 from more than 400. Its backlog of unanswered tracing inquiries exceeds 400,000, partly because of a wave of questions on slave-labor compensation that had to be answered. People demanding to know what happened to their relatives sometimes go years without a response.
Its process of making digitized copies of papers has been painfully slow; only 55 percent of documents have been copied electronically. This copying, a necessary prelude to any transfer of information, will take two more years, Mr. Biedermann says. That appears to be more time than the United States is prepared to wait. Last June, at a meeting in Warsaw of the 20-country Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, a statement was issued calling for "immediate steps to be taken to open the archive" at Bad Arolsen "to scholars and other researchers." It said the 11-nation international commission should "address this matter on an urgent basis."
But no urgency has been apparent, despite the fact that all 11 countries in the commission overseeing Bad Arolsen are members of the 20-nation Task Force. A meeting of lawyers from the commission is scheduled for later this month in Luxembourg. It will be followed by a gathering in May of leading officials, including Mr. O'Donnell, who made clear he would like to see a resolution of the dispute then.
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France and India in nuclear deal
Monday, 20 February 2006, 12:57 GMT
India and France have signed an agreement to pursue civilian nuclear co-operation "for peaceful purposes".
The declaration was signed following talks in Delhi between visiting French President Jacques Chirac and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The BBC's Nick Bryant says the visit comes at a particularly delicate time.
Last week France recalled a decommissioned warship heading for a ship-breaking yard in India, following environmental concerns.
The French president has also become involved in a row over a hostile bid by Indian-born billionaire Lakshmi Mittal to take over Luxembourg-based steel-maker Arcelor.
Mr Chirac said on Monday that in principle France had absolutely "nothing against a non-European taking over a European company".
"The concerns that have been expressed are entirely legitimate. I do not understand what the fuss is about," he said.
The Indian prime minister raised the issue with Mr Chirac in their talks, he said.
India and France signed nine agreements, including ones on defence, trade and tourism.
The nuclear agreement means that France will support India's attempts to gain access to nuclear fuel and civilian technology to fuel its growing energy needs.
"India's access to civilian-nuclear technology... is indeed necessary in order to drive and fuel India's economic development," President Chirac said.
"We appreciate France's support for the ongoing effort to enable full civilian nuclear energy co-operation between India and the international community," Mr Singh said at a joint news conference with Mr Chirac.
Our correspondent says a firmer and more detailed nuclear energy agreement between the two countries will have to await the outcome of talks between India and the United States over a landmark deal to supply Delhi with much needed nuclear technology.
Talks with Washington have been deadlocked over a plan to separate India's civilian and military nuclear facilities - essential for the agreement to be sealed by the US Congress.
Both sides hope to sort out their differences before US President George W Bush visits India next month.
France is also hoping to strike key defence deals with India which is in the market for 126 new warplanes, a purchase worth billions of dollars.
The French-made Mirage fighter-jet is hoping to win over its rivals from the US, Russia and Sweden.
A deal for the supply of 43 Airbus commercial aircraft to state-run Indian airlines was also signed during the visit in a deal estimated at $2.5bn.
Trade between the two countries is limited to $2.99bn according to the Confederation of Indian Industry and both sides are hoping to extend it further.
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France denies meddling in Lebanese affairs
PARIS, Feb 20, 2006 (AFP)
France on Monday rejected a Syrian accusation that it was working with anti-Syrian political forces in Lebanon in a bid to oust the country's embattled head of state.
"France does not interfere in Lebanon's internal affairs," a foreign ministry spokesman said in response to the charge, which was made by an unnamed official in the office of President Emile Lahoud.
"Its action is aimed on the contrary at stopping foreign interference in the country and allowing the Lebanese to recover their full sovereignty and independence in line with UN resolution 1559," said the spokesman, Denis Simonneau.
The official from Lahoud's office has accused French President Jacques Chirac of personally supervising a group working with the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority to push the president out of office.
Lahoud has been under severe pressure ever since Lebanese security officials close to him were arrested over the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and a UN probe accused his Syrian allies of involvement in the killing.
The anti-Syrian parliamentary majority late Thursday gave the president a month-long deadline to resign.
But Lahoud, effectively boycotted by France since his extension, has repeatedly vowed to serve out his full term.
France had already angered the president's supporters by co-sponsoring with the United States a series of Security Council resolutions critical of Syria and its Lebanese allies.
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Airbus secures $2.5bn Indian deal
Monday, 20 February 2006, 09:05 GMT
Airbus is to sell 43 passenger planes worth $2.5bn (£1.4bn) to India's state-owned airline Indian.
The deal with Airbus, which is 80% owned by the European defence group EADS and 20% by the UK's BAE Systems, comes after three years of talks.
The agreement marks the first purchase of new planes by Indian for 15 years. The carrier, formerly known as Indian Airlines, flies mainly domestic routes.
From a former monopoly position, its domestic market share has slid to 33%.
Indian has fallen behind privately-run Jet Airways, which has 43% market share and regularly wins awards for good service and food.
The deal between Indian and Airbus will be formally signed by French President Jacques Chirac and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who were meeting in Delhi on Monday.
Indian will purchase Airbus A320 and A319 planes.
Airbus chief executive Noel Forgeard described the agreement as "a great achievement" which had come to a "happy conclusion today".
A hold-up in talks last September was only cleared after Airbus lowered its price by around $75m, the Indian government said last September.
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Reference Tool On Web Finds Fans, Censors
By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 20, 2006; Page A01
BEIJING -- When access to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, was disrupted across China last October, a lanky chemical engineer named Shi Zhao called his Internet service provider to complain. A technician confirmed what Shi already suspected: Someone in the government had ordered the site blocked again.
Who and why were mysteries, Shi recalled, but the technician promised to pass his complaint on to higher authorities if he put it in writing.
"Wikipedia isn't a Web site for spreading reactionary speech or a pure political commentary site," Shi, 33, wrote a few days later. Yes, it contained entries on sensitive subjects such as Taiwan and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, but users made sure its articles were objective, he said, and blocking it would only make it harder for people in China to delete "harmful" content.
Shi was hopeful the government would agree. When the site was blocked in 2004, he had submitted a similar letter, and access had been quickly restored. Since then, the Chinese-language edition of Wikipedia had grown, broadening its appeal not only as a reference tool but also as a forum where people across China and the Chinese diaspora could gather, share knowledge and discuss even the most divisive subjects.
But today, four months after Shi submitted his letter, Wikipedia remains blocked.
The government has declined to explain its actions. But its on-again, off-again attempts to disrupt access to the site highlight the Communist Party's deep ambivalence toward the Internet: The party appears at once determined not to be left behind by the global information revolution and fearful of being swept away by it.
Officials tolerated Wikipedia at first, perhaps because it seemed to be exactly what the party had in mind when it began promoting Internet use 11 years ago -- an educational resource that could help China close its technological gap with the West, encourage innovation and boost economic growth.
But as the Chinese Wikipedia flourished, the authorities apparently came to see it as another threat to the party's control of information, and an example of an even more worrying development. The Internet has emerged as a venue for people with shared interests -- or grievances -- to meet, exchange ideas and plan activities without the party's knowledge or approval.
With 111 million people online and 20,000 more joining them every day, the landscape of Chinese cyberspace resembles a vast collection of new and overlapping communities. Although Chinese write less e-mail than Americans, they embrace the Internet's other communication tools -- bulletin boards and chat rooms, instant-messaging groups and blogs, photo-sharing and social networking sites. A popular feature of the Chinese search engine Baidu lets users chat with others who have entered the same keywords.
Studies suggest this digital interaction is changing the traditional structure of Chinese society, strengthening relations among friends, colleagues and others outside family networks. In a multinational survey, a much larger percentage of Internet users in China than anywhere else said online communication had increased their contact with people who shared their hobbies, professions and political views.
The Communist Party polices these emerging Internet communities with censors and undercover agents, and manages a Web site that it said received nearly a quarter-million anonymous tips about "harmful information" online last year. But the methods the party uses to control speech and behavior in the real world have proved less effective in cyberspace, where people get away with more, and where the government is often a step behind.
When authorities catch up, citizens often have already weakened the party's grip on public life and succeeded in expanding civil society. They have organized charity drives for rural schoolchildren and mobilized students for anti-Japanese protest marches. And they learned to work together to write an encyclopedia.
"Wikipedia is special because other places don't have this kind of discussion, at least not such an intellectual discussion. It's a place where people with different backgrounds interact," said Shi, a prolific contributor to the Chinese Wikipedia. "But that wasn't even our goal. Our goal was just to produce an encyclopedia."
Meeting of Minds
Created by volunteers who write and edit articles in a collaborative process, Wikipedia is the Web's largest reference site, and it boasts editions in more than 200 languages.
The Chinese one, launched in May 2001, was blank for more than a year before Michael Yuan, a graduate student in mathematics at Beijing University, stumbled across it in a Google search. Yuan said he was enchanted by the English edition, and saw it as "an interesting place to study, hold discussions and share the pleasure of learning and writing." When he noticed the Chinese site was empty, he set out to build it.
On Oct. 30, 2002, Yuan created the first entry, a one-sentence definition of "mathematics." He was soon joined by Sheng Jiong, a Shanghai native studying law in Singapore, who wrote on the "People's Republic of China."
In the beginning, the Chinese edition was heavy with science and technology. The Norwegian mathematician Kirsten Nygaard was added before Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China. But as months passed, people from around the world began to submit articles on a variety of subjects, including wine and cars, history and politics.
In July 2003, a prolific Hong Kong user known online as Lorenzarius sparked one of the site's first political debates with an essay urging people to avoid "China-centrism." He argued, for example, that the war that began when Japan invaded China in 1937 should be called the "Second Sino-Japanese War" instead of the "War of Resistance against Japan," as it is referred to by the party.
Most who responded posted objections, saying that almost all Chinese knew the war by its official name. But they also endorsed his larger point about trying to maintain a neutral point of view in Wikipedia's entries.
A few months later, another debate erupted over how contributors should resolve disputes on the site. Some advocated a system in which only the most active users could vote, but Sheng argued that all users should be treated equally. Lorenzarius concurred, and urged users to try to compromise and seek consensus before resorting to a vote.
To many educated in China, these governing principles of Wikipedia -- objectivity in content, equality among users, the importance of consensus -- were relatively new concepts. Yuan said he consulted the work of philosopher John Rawls and economist Friedrich Hayek to better understand how a free community could organize itself and "produce order from chaos."
"We had heard of these ideas, but they really didn't have much to do with our lives," said Yuan, now a computer programmer. "In school, we were taught an official point of view, not a neutral point of view. And we didn't learn much about how to cooperate with people who had different opinions."
In early 2004, state-run newspapers began writing positive articles about the Chinese Wikipedia, and the coverage fueled further growth. By February, more than 3,000 people had registered as users and there were more than 5,000 entries. By April, the site was getting nearly 100,000 page requests per day. By May, the number of definitions on the site had climbed past 10,000.
Then, on June 3, 2004, people in China who tried to visit Wikipedia saw an error page instead. The government had blocked the site on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Story of Tiananmen Square
The entry on the "June 4 Incident" in the Chinese Wikipedia runs nearly 20 pages, but when it first appeared in September 2003, it was just three sentences. Posted by an anonymous user, it said troops seized control of Tiananmen Square after it had become a "base camp for various hostile forces." It did not mention any deaths or student protesters' demands for democracy.
Two months later, people began to edit the article, inserting a phrase about the pro-democracy movement and mentioning that "many city residents" were killed. But the Wikipedia community seemed hesitant. A few people tried to break the silence, adding thousands of words all at once. But others deleted them immediately.
Then, four months before Wikipedia was blocked, Sheng posted a message saying he planned to overhaul the entry. Slowly, he began writing a more detailed and objective account, posting it piece by piece, starting with a chronology of the demonstrations and putting off the more sensitive subject of the massacre for later. Another user noted that foreign news media had reported that more than 1,000 people were killed.
The changes prompted debate even before Sheng finished the project. One user attacked the article as biased, arguing that foreigners had used the students at Tiananmen Square to subvert the Chinese government. Others urged caution because of the political sensitivity of the subject.
"Regarding the June 4 incident, I know very little," one person wrote. "At least for the present stability, I hope we don't make an issue of this."
Shi Zhao, the chemical engineer and frequent contributor, objected to using the famous photo showing a lone student stopping a column of tanks. "It seems the entire article has very little from China's point of view," he added. "It's basically all the Western point of view. Is this a neutral point of view?"
But after Wikipedia was blocked on the eve of the Tiananmen anniversary, Shi -- who describes himself as a supporter of the Communist Party -- was among the first to call his Internet service provider to complain. He also submitted an appeal.
Then without any explanation, the government restored access to the site.
The 19-day disruption caused Chinese Wikipedia use to drop and prompted hand-wringing in the community that built it. Some suggested that the site practice self-censorship to avoid being blocked again. But most opposed the idea on principle.
"It would have violated our policies, because Wikipedia is independent of any government," Shi said. "We aren't publishing political editorials, just providing information from a neutral point of view."
Instead of backing down, the site attracted more users, and the debates intensified as people tried to hammer out their differences on subjects such as the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, the one-child policy and even the Chinese Communist Party.
Because users hailed from Taiwan as well as the mainland, the most passionate fights were related to the status of the self-governing island. At one point, there was even talk about splitting the site in two, because residents of Taiwan and the mainland write Chinese with different sets of characters.
Technology bridged that divide. A student wrote a computer program to automatically convert text from one set to the other.
Slowly, a community was consolidating outside the party's purview, one that was learning to settle its own disputes, that crossed borders and tolerated those who contradicted the party's views, and that began organizing get-togethers in the real world as well as cyberspace.
It must have been disturbing to some in the party, which has long sought to dominate all organized social activity in China. In September 2004, the government blocked access to Wikipedia again.
Some blamed the decision on an influx of Internet users who were upset that the censors had shut down a popular university Web site. Others linked it to a message posted by a disgruntled Wikipedian on the losing side of an argument two days earlier.
"I have already called the police, and told them there is a lot of Taiwan independence, Falun Gong and other reactionary content here," the user wrote. "I even gave them many entries as examples. After a few days, they will come for an inspection. You'd better get ready. . . . Ha, ha."
'China's Voice to the World'
To the community's relief, the second block lasted only four days. Then, for more than a year, Wikipedia operated free of any government interference.
The encyclopedia flourished, passing the 40,000-entry mark in September, and the community thrived, growing more stable and mature. Users continued to discuss and write about sensitive subjects, branching into current events, but the rancor of the debates seemed to subside. When newcomers resorted to overheated language, veterans stepped in and cooled things down.
So the government's most recent decision to block Wikipedia was a deep disappointment. Shi Zhao submitted another appeal. Cui Wei, 25, a graduate student at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, wrote one, too.
"By blocking Wikipedia, we lose a chance to present China's voice to the world, allowing evil cults, Taiwan independence forces and others . . . to present a distorted image of China," he said. "We lose a chance to share academic knowledge with the world, and as users, a channel to gain information. . . .
"Such an act is no different than cutting off our tongues and shutting our eyes and ears. It is closing and locking up the country in the age of the Internet."
As the weeks passed, many concluded Wikipedia had been blocked for good.
In December, a message appeared on a Wikipedia page alleging the site had been "conducting anti-China activities under the flag of being neutral" and accusing its senior users of being "running dogs for American imperialism." Some suspected the note was posted by a government agent.
The number of people using the Chinese Wikipedia site has dropped, but devoted users are finding ways to access it. The community now boasts 45,000 registered users, most from the mainland. Among the site's 56,000 entries is one that explains how to get around the government's firewall.
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Ruling Has Canada Planting Seeds of Private Health Care
By CLIFFORD KRAUSS
Published: February 20, 2006
TORONTO, Feb. 19 — The cracks are still small in Canada's vaunted public health insurance system, but several of its largest provinces are beginning to open the way for private health care eventually to take root around the country.
Last week Quebec proposed to lift a ban on private health insurance for several elective surgical procedures, and announced that it would pay for such surgeries at private clinics when waiting times at public facilities were unreasonable.
The proposal, by Premier Jean Charest, who called for "a new era for health care in Quebec," came in response to a Supreme Court decision last June that struck down a provincial law that banned private medical insurance and ordered the province to initiate a reform program within a year.
The Supreme Court decision ruled that long waits for various medical procedures in the province had violated patients' "life and personal security, inviolability and freedom," and that prohibition of private health insurance was unconstitutional when the public health system did not deliver "reasonable services."
The decision applied directly only to Quebec, but it has generated movement for private clinics and private insurance in several provinces where governments hope to forestall similar court decisions.
Coincidentally, last week Premier Gordon Campbell of British Columbia asked in his Throne speech, the equivalent of a state of the province address, "Does it really matter to patients where or how they obtain their surgical treatment if it is paid for with public funds?"
It was a question that was almost unthinkable for a major politician to ask before last year's Supreme Court decision. Public health care insurance, where citizens go to their doctor or to the hospital for basic services paid for by taxpayers, has long been considered politically sacrosanct in Canada, and even central to the national identity.
Mr. Campbell presented his vision for a new provincial health care system that would resemble those of most of Western Europe, where the government pays for essential treatment delivered in both public and private clinics and hospitals.
Alberta's premier, Ralph Klein, recently expressed a similar goal, and his government is promising legislation to permit doctors to work simultaneously in private and public institutions and allow the building of private hospitals.
Quebec, Canada's second most populous province, after Ontario, has not decided to go that far. Forced by the court to meet a one-year deadline for a plan to change the system, Mr. Charest proposed limited but important changes.
He proposed that private insurance cover knee and hip replacements and cataract surgery. Publicly run hospitals would be allowed to subcontract to private clinics for such procedures when the hospitals were unable to deliver the services within six months. The plan is to be introduced in the provincial Legislature for passage before the summer.
"We're putting the private sector to work for the public," Mr. Charest told reporters. "We're taking a measured step in this direction."
Mr. Charest and the province's health minister, Philippe Couillard, called for an open debate, and they did not rule out more privatization in the future. Quebec already has about 50 private health clinics, far more than any other province, but doctors would remain forbidden to serve in both the private and public systems under the Charest plan.
Antonia Maioni, a McGill University political scientist who specializes in health care, said Mr. Charest had to be careful about pushing too hard for privatization because he knew unions and other liberals would resist sweeping changes.
"They are trying to stay politically afloat," Ms. Maioni said, noting Mr. Charest's low standing in opinion polls only a year or two before the next provincial elections. "The winds of change are blowing, but they are not knocking everything over."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative elected last month, did not propose a sweeping overhaul of the system in the recent national campaign. But he did favor guaranteed waiting times for services. As a free-market Conservative, he is thought to favor the Supreme Court decision and will probably try to use it to encourage changes.
The departing Liberal government opposed fundamental changes. But the new health minister, Tony Clement, is a proponent of experimentation and innovations to reduce waiting, modernize equipment and increase the supply of doctors.
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Chavez to Rice: 'Don't Mess With Me'
Sun Feb 19, 8:21 PM ET
CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chavez warned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday "not to mess" with him and said her diplomatic efforts to turn Latin American nations against Venezuela would fail.
Chavez said Washington opposes his government because Venezuela — the world's fifth largest oil exporter — was broadening petroleum and natural gas development projects with fellow Latin American countries rather than the United States.
"We are breaking the imperialist chains that bound us," Chavez said during his weekly television and radio program.
Chavez modified lyrics from a Venezuelan folk song, warning: "I sting those who rattle me, don't mess with me Condoleezza."
Relations between Caracas and Washington have been tense in recent months, with U.S. officials voicing concerns over the health of Venezuela's democracy and left-leaning Chavez threatening to cut off oil exports to the United States.
Last week, Rice said told U.S. lawmakers that the Venezuelan government posed "one of the biggest problems" in the region and that its ties to Cuba were "particularly dangerous" to democracy in Latin America.
Chavez insists his government is democratic and accuses Washington of conspiring against him. He says the United States was behind a short-lived 2002 coup, an allegation that U.S. officials reject.
Comment: Yeah, the country that elected its leader, survived a coup attempt financed by the US, and then a referendum, once again financed by the US, is a threat to democracy! This from the country that doesn't want to recognise the democratically elected government of Hamas!
Aren't things a little...obvious?
But the US media, the lapdogs of the Bush regime, don't say a word. For more on the glorious freedom of the press in the United Snakes of America, check out last weekend's podcast.
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Mexican coal mine explosion traps 65 workers
Sun Feb 19, 4:55 PM ET
MEXICO CITY - At least 65 miners were trapped inside a coal mine after an explosion in northern Mexico, authorities said, describing the situation as "critical."
Fifteen other miners were rescued from the pit and eight of them were undergoing surgery to treat injuries, said a spokesman for public security in San Juan de Sabinas, a town in Coahuila state where the mine is located.
The early morning explosion triggered an avalanche of earth and rocks that blocked the mine's exits.
"The situation is critical," the spokesman said by telephone. Dozens of troops, police and medical workers were contributing to the rescue effort, he said.
The miners' relatives have rushed to the scene of the accident, the spokesman said.
"There's a lot of people, anxious women, crying and asking about their husbands and brothers," he said.
About 95 percent of Mexico's coal reserves are in Coahuila state.
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India quarantines six as bird flu spreads faster
By Krittivas Mukherjee
February 20, 2006
MUMBAI - India began a door-to-door search for anyone with fever on Monday, quarantining six people in hospital as authorities scrambled to contain the country's first outbreak of bird flu.
In Europe, officials urged people to carry on eating poultry meat despite outbreaks of the lethal H5N1 bird flu strain, saying European Union authorities had the means available to wipe out the disease.
A string of EU countries have now confirmed H5N1 in wild birds, knocking consumer confidence in poultry meat -- especially chicken.
"We have the measures and legislation for containment and eradication of such diseases," EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou told a news conference in Brussels.
In Germany, Tornado reconnaissance warplanes and soldiers in biohazard suits were deployed to prevent the spread of bird flu after H5N1 reached the mainland.
Sixty soldiers clad in disease protection suits and gas masks disinfected vehicles on the Baltic island of Ruegen while the air force jets searched the coast for dead birds.
In Italy, where demand for chicken meat has plunged by 70 percent, 30,000 workers have been laid off in the poultry industry.
At least 11 countries have reported bird flu outbreaks over the past three weeks, an indication that the virus, which has killed at least 92 people, is spreading faster.
India's health minister, Anbumani Ramadoss, said the situation was "under control" and there were no human cases of avian flu in the country despite fears at the weekend that a farmer had succumbed to the disease.
Officials in the remote district of Nandurbar in western Maharashtra state launched a door-to-door check for people with fever, and continued a mass cull of up to half a million birds.
Six people, including three young children, with flu-like symptoms were hospitalized on Monday, joining a woman and a child who were placed in an isolation ward the previous day.
"Eight people are in isolation. We are keeping our fingers crossed," federal health secretary P.K. Hota told a news conference in New Delhi.
He said the government had stocked 100,000 courses of the antiviral drug Tamiflu and planned to source another 50,000.
South Africa also announced it would start to stockpile Tamiflu.
Egyptian officials said bird flu had spread to new parts of the country, adding to the devastation in a poultry industry which provided a vital part of Egyptians' diet.
Malaysia reported its first case of H5N1 bird flu since November 2004, with the death of 40 chickens in central Selangor state last week. But Agriculture Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the public need not worry as no human was affected.
Bird flu's relentless march into the heart of Europe from Asia continued with the virus reaching the German mainland at the weekend and Romania detecting further cases of dead poultry. Bosnia confirmed its first cases of bird flu on Monday and neighboring Croatia reported it second outbreak.
The Russian government said it planned to buy 100 million doses of vaccine to protect domestic fowl.
France gave the West African nation of Niger equipment to improve bird flu testing after H5N1 was confirmed in neighboring Nigeria.
A Reuters photographer in India's Nandurbar said health workers wearing blue overalls, anti-viral masks and goggles were culling chicken by wringing their necks or mixing chemicals in chicken feed.
Television images showed dead birds being dumped in pits covered up by heavy earthmovers. TV also reported hotels and airlines dropping chicken and eggs from menus.
On Monday, Pakistan banned poultry from its eastern and western neighbors India and
Iran, which found the disease in wild swans last week. Nepal also banned Indian poultry and Bangladesh said it had ordered a high alert along its porous border with India to prevent any poultry smuggling.
More than 200 million birds across Asia, parts of the Middle East, Europe and Africa have died of the virus or been culled.
So far, most victims of bird flu have had contact with chickens, but experts fear the virus might mutate into a strain easily passed among people, causing a pandemic in which millions could die.
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Three more bird flu cases confirmed in Bulgaria
www.chinaview.cn 2006-02-20 00:40:12
SOFIA, Feb. 20 (Xinhuanet) -- The European Union's animal health laboratory in the United Kingdom has officially confirmed three dead swans found in Bulgaria were infected with the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu, the country's agriculture and forestry ministry said on Monday.
Swans found at the Durankulak Lake in the Varna region and at aBurgas beach have tested positive for the deadly virus, the ministry said.
The veterinary authorities have already sealed off an area of 3km to 10 km away from the sites where the dead fowl were discovered, said the ministry, adding that temporary disinfection points had been established.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Radoslav Gaidarski issued a statement claiming that as of Monday, there were no registered cases of human-infected avian flu.
The system created for monitoring bird flu in fowl and humans iseffective and transparent, Gaidarski said, adding that it providedfull and timely information on the country's situation surroundingthe virus.
The minister also urged people not to trust any information that had not yet been confirmed by the government, while criticizing some local media for increasing tension with reports on cases undetermined.
According to reports from Sofia News Agency, four people have been tested for the deadly virus but all tests came out negative.
A young woman hospitalized last Friday in Bulgaria's second largest city of Plovdiv died on Monday morning after showing symptoms of bird flu.
Bulgaria's first bird flu case was reported in early February.
The H5N1 virus has killed tens of millions of birds since 2003,and there have been at least 165 confirmed cases of the strain spreading to humans, causing about 90 deaths, mostly in Asia.
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German leader warns of 'serious' outbreak as bird flu spreads
Last Updated Sun, 19 Feb 2006 21:54:21 EST
German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the situation as "serious" as bird flu reached her country's mainland, while the deadly H5N1 strain continued to spread across the globe.
On the weekend, France, India and Iran became the latest countries to report finding avian flu in birds, raising the total to 22 worldwide. Seven of these have also reported human cases and deaths.
Merkel raised the alarm on Sunday while visiting the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen, where Germany's first cases of bird flu were reported during the week.
German authorities ordered a limited cull of the island's poultry on Sunday in order to prevent the strain's spread from wild birds to domestic ones.
German troops ordered to the island to help contain the outbreak on Ruegen, where the virus has been confirmed in 18 birds.
Merkel joined local officials for an emergency meeting to discuss the outbreak of bird flu.
"The way I see it, it is serious," Merkel said. "I would like to say that there are many, many people helping out and they are doing their utmost."
Hours after the meeting, scientists confirmed that the first cases of the H5N1 strain had been confirmed in two dead birds in a northern area on the German mainland.
India conducts mass cull of birds
The H5N1 strain has killed more than 90 people and led to the cull of millions of birds since it was first detected in Southeast Asia in 2003.
Health officials are worried that the virus will mutate so that it can be spread easily from human to human, sparking a pandemic.
In related developments on Sunday:
* Farm workers and health officials in western India slaughtered more than 50,000 chickens and sprayed farms with disinfectant, a day after the country reported its first outbreak. Officials said they were also looking for any possible human cases, including by conducting house-to-house checks for any backyard poultry and anyone showing bird-flu-like symptoms.
* Egyptian authorities closed the zoo in Cairo, where some birds recently tested positive for the H5N1 strain. Health workers killed thousands of baby chicks and other domestic birds in the country.
* In France, some farmers in the southeastern Ain region began slaughtering their birds out of caution a day after officials confirmed that H5N1 was found in a wild dead duck in the region.
* The Italian Health Ministry said a wild duck and six wild swans had tested positive, bringing the country's total number of cases to 16.
* Bosnia was conducting tests on two swans thought to have died from the virus.
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Health Experts Surprised at Rapid Spread of Bird Flu
By HARI KUMAR and ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
Published: February 20, 2006
NEW DELHI, Feb. 19 — The first reports of bird flu that cropped up in recent days in widely separated countries — India, Egypt and France — highlighted the disease's accelerating spread to new territories.
International health experts have been predicting widespread dissemination of the disease for about half a year, since they concluded that it could be spread by migrating birds. But the recent acceleration has perplexed many experts, who had watched the A(H5N1) virus stick to its native ground in Asia for nearly five years.
The most alarming of the current outbreaks, if only for sheer size, were the two widely separated episodes of avian flu in India, one of which has killed 50,000 birds in poultry flocks in the last few days. The Indian government, which has long been on alert for the virus because that country is on many migration paths in Asia, began killing half a million birds in the hopes of quashing the outbreaks, officials announced Sunday.
But the most perplexing report involved the single case in France — a wild duck found dead in the suburbs of Lyon — because migratory birds from Asia that carry the virus do not normally travel there at this time of year.
"After several years in one place, why is it now moving so rapidly?" asked Dr. Samuel Jutzi, director of the Animal Production and Health Division at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. "There is a lot about this that we just don't know."
The dead duck in France, he said, was "very odd, very difficult to explain." But he added, "What is known is that the width of flyways are very broad, and there may have been a swarm that went farther westward than normal."
In Western Europe, the disease has been confined to wild migratory birds, and authorities across the Continent were taking severe measures to protect domestic poultry. Many countries are now requiring that all poultry be kept indoors to prevent mixing with potentially infected wild birds.
In recent days, a wild duck in central Italy was also found dead from the virus, the first time it had been found so far north in that country.
On the German island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea, 18 wild birds were confirmed to have the disease, bringing the total of infected birds there to 59 in the past week, mostly swans and hawks. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, visited the island on Sunday, a sign of how seriously European governments are taking the disease.
Germany is preparing to kill at least some of the 400,000 domestic birds on the island to make sure the virus does not spread into poultry flocks, local authorities said. When bird flu is detected in an area, the most effective way to control an outbreak is to kill all the birds in a surrounding area to isolate the highly infectious virus, and to ban movement of poultry in and out of the area.
But in India the disease is already in farm birds, raising more complicated issues, and the possibility that there will be human infections. Although the dreaded virus does not now readily infect humans or spread among them, more than 160 people have caught the disease worldwide, all of them people who had close contact with sick birds.
Experts are worried that A(H5N1) could acquire the ability to spread from human to human through natural processes, setting off a worldwide influenza pandemic.
Government officials in a rural district of western India on Sunday began to slaughter and inoculate roughly a million chickens, and dozens of people from the same area were dispatched to be tested, a day after test results confirmed the first outbreak of avian flu in this country.
Officials in New Delhi took pains to dismiss earlier press reports of a poultry farmer's death from suspected bird flu. The central government ordered state governments to step up surveillance efforts, urged the public to "maintain proper hygiene and sanitation," and announced that it was taking steps to increase the availability of bird flu treatment in India.
If it is not swiftly contained, bird flu could be disastrous in this country, where the population density and a feeble public health system, especially in the countryside, make it particularly vulnerable to a pandemic of this sort. India is the world's sixth-largest poultry producer, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
The poultry deaths took place in a district called Nandurbar, near the northern border of Maharashtra State. State health officials said by telephone that 68 people were being tested for the virus. Workers in the 16 poultry farms in the area, which until two days ago had exported poultry to neighboring states, had tested negative for the virus.
The home minister of India, Shivraj Patil, announced Sunday that chickens within a two-mile radius of the outbreak would be killed while others within six miles would be inoculated. A statement issued late Saturday by the central government information bureau said that the situation was "under control."
News reports on Saturday suggested that a 27-year-old poultry farmer, also in the Nandurbar area, had died of bird flu. On Sunday, the Indian government announced that "preliminary" test results had been negative.
About 50,000 poultry are reported to have died from the infection in recent days in the western state of Maharashtra. Officials were also testing for the A(H5N1) strain in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, after 1,400 birds died at a farm there.
United Nations health officials have long urged the governments of India and Egypt to be on high alert for bird flu.
But Dr. Jutzi, the United Nations health official, and other international experts added that the extent of the problem was still unclear in those two countries.
"How extensive the problem is in India is still not known," said Juan Lubroth, a senior veterinary official at the Food and Agricultural Organization, who said the United Nations first received an alert about the outbreak on Friday, and reports from India's states were still coming in.
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Animal Diseases Jumping to Humans
Feb, 20, 2006
ST. LOUIS -- Humans risk being overrun by diseases from the animal world, according to researchers who have documented 38 illnesses that have made that jump over the past 25 years.
That's not good news for the spread of bird flu, which experts fear could mutate and be transmitted easily among people.
There are 1,407 pathogens -- viruses, bacteria, parasites, protozoa and fungi -- that can infect humans, said Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Of those, 58 percent come from animals. Scientists consider 177 of the pathogens to be "emerging" or "re-emerging." Most will never cause pandemics.
Experts fear bird flu could prove an exception. Recent advances in the worldwide march of the H5N1 strain have rekindled fears of a pandemic. The virus has spread across Asia into Europe and Africa.
Controlling bird flu will require renewed focus on the animal world, including the chickens, ducks and other poultry that have been sacrificed by the tens of millions to stem the progress of the virus, experts said at a news conference late Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
"The strategy has to be looking at how to contain it in the animal world, because once you get into the human side, you're dealing with vaccines and antiretrovirals, which is a whole new realm," said Nina Marano, a veterinarian and public health expert with the National Center for Infectious Diseases.
Bird flu has killed at least 91 people -- most of them in Asia -- since 2003, according to the World Health Organization. It appears to kill about half the people it infects. However, should it mutate so it can pass from human to human, it likely will grow far less deadly, said Dr. Stanley Lemon, of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
"It is very unlikely that it would maintain that kind of case mortality rate if it made the jump," Lemon said.
Each year, one or two new pathogens and multiple variations of existing threats infect humans for the first time. That pace appears to be unsustainable in the long run because it would imply that people run the risk of being overrun, Woolhouse told reporters.
"Humans have always been attacked by novel pathogens," Woolhouse said. "This process has been going on for millennia. But it does seem to be happening very fast in these modern times."
Woolhouse argues that many of those diseases and other afflictions will not persist in humans or there is something peculiar today allowing so many of them to take root in humans.
One explanation may be the recent and wide-scale changes in how people interact with the environment in a more densely populated world that is growing warmer and in which travel is faster and move extensive, Marano said. Those changes can ensure that pathogens no longer stay restricted to animals, she added. Examples from recent human history include HIV, Marburg, SARS and other viruses.
That prospect leaves open the question of what future threats await humans.
"It always surprises us. We think that avian flu will be the next emerging disease. My guess is something else might come out before that," said Alan Barrett, of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. "It's very hard to anticipate what comes next."
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Children 'wrongly given' Ritalin
Scotland on Sunday
THOUSANDS of Scottish children, some as young as six, are wrongly being labelled hyperactive and given controversial drugs to stop anxious parents thinking they are to blame for unruly behaviour, a leading academic has warned.
Dr Gwynedd Lloyd says doctors are wrongly diagnosing ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) when many youngsters are just behaving badly as a normal part of growing up.
The Edinburgh University academic claims this is leading to "widespread abuse" of the controversial drug methylphenidate, commonly known as Ritalin, by doctors who over-rely on checklists when deciding on medication for children.
Ritalin, nicknamed the "chemical cosh", has been criticised amid claims it has dangerous side-effects, including abdominal pain, anxiety, dizziness, headaches and psychosis.
Lloyd, head of the educational studies department at Edinburgh University, claims that a lack of proper investigation by doctors and pressure from parents are leading doctors to diagnose ADHD inappropriately.
She said: "Our research shows that a lot of children are being categorised without evidence from school about their behaviour problems. There is no objective measurement for judging if ADHD is present. In many cases, decisions are being made on very general descriptions of behaviour. Some parents are even going private to get their children diagnosed."
Some 46,000 children are diagnosed as having the condition, with more than 9,000 eligible for drugs therapy, the Scottish Medicines Consortium reports. In the past year, 42,832 prescriptions were made for Scottish children with ADHD, an annual increase of 11.7%.
ADHD sufferers have difficulties with impulsiveness, lack of concentration and hyperactivity. The condition, which Lloyd accepts does exist, leads to tantrums and social clumsiness and is usually identified in early childhood.
However, in Lloyd's latest book, Critical New Perspectives On ADHD, which the child behaviour expert has written with two other academics, she argues many parents are looking for a quick fix when their child misbehaves at school.
She said: "Parents feel that the schools are blaming them when their child is behaving badly at school, but teachers do not have the time to deal with individual problems when they are teaching a class of 30 or more. Doctors think they are helping these families but they are actually clustering children together under a catch-all condition on the flimsiest evidence."
On the use of Ritalin, Lloyd added: "This kind of medication for children as young as six is crazy. Their brains are still developing and yet they are being given mind-altering drugs."
Disparities among Scottish health boards led the health standards watchdog, QIS Scotland, to launch an inquiry into Ritalin prescribing rates last year. NHS Fife is the largest single user of ADHD drugs, with 154.73 prescriptions per 1,000 population (aged six to 14) in 2004-2005. The average for Scotland in the period was 70.36.
Louise Brunton, from Glenrothes, whose son Aaron was diagnosed with ADHD six years ago, last night agreed with Lloyd that many parents wrongfully put forward ADHD as an excuse for bad behaviour.
Brunton, 34, who until recently was involved in a parents' support group, said: "Families would turn up and say that their son or daughter had ADHD, but they clearly didn't. They were just badly behaved. Some parents fail to acknowledge that their children can be bad and they are soft on discipline. It makes it harder for genuine cases of ADHD to be treated sympathetically by doctors."
Brunton, whose son was prescribed Ritalin but now uses Concerta, an alternative drug, added: "From a young age, Aaron did not have normal responses, his behaviour went well beyond misbehaving. He set fire to my old house twice and he has also flooded our home. He has no concept of danger."
However, Dr Chris Steer, a consultant paediatrician at Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy, said: "It is up to clinicians to diagnose ADHD, not academics or educationalists, but there are safeguards in place.
"The usual age for children being able to use medication [such as Ritalin] is school age. The aim is to improve their learning, not to sedate them. The drugs for ADHD have been thoroughly tested."
Eric Taylor, a professor at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, described Lloyd's views as "extreme".
He added: "ADHD is not easy to diagnose, as symptoms can be similar to other behaviour problems, but I am not aware of misdiagnosis being a problem in Scotland."
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Vaccinating For Profit - From Cradle to Coffin
by Evelyn Pringle
February 20, 2006
Due to the flooding of special education classrooms, along with the rising medical costs of treating injured children, local taxes will soon go through the roof, at which time the public will be forced to face the unthinkable truth about the poisoned generation.
And when that happens, government officials had better not even think about trying to feign ignorance because parents, scientists, and medical experts have been screaming about the epidemic in vaccine injuries, from one end of the country to the other, since the 1990s, and the fact is that lawmakers knowingly allowed it to happen.
Over the past twenty years, our government has facilitated a nationwide experiment on our country's youngest citizens via the Mandatory Childhood Vaccine Schedule, and the tragic results of the experiment can be equally credited to the joint efforts of compromised regulatory officials and politicians, and the pharmaceutical industry that stood to make billions.
In a perverse twist of fate, the vaccine program has evolved into a grand profiteering scheme, second only to the military industrial complex's war on terror fiasco. Instead of prevention, the program has resulted in an epidemic of serious health problems for an entire generation of children and at the same time, produced an infinite market expansion for the sale of other prescription drugs, for the scheme's developers.
The start of the epidemic can be traced to the late 1980s, when public health officials dramatically increased the number of vaccines, which contained the mercury-based preservative thimerosal, without taking into consideration the impact of the cumulative mercury load on developing brains of infants.
Once the mercury poisoning was discovered by the FDA in 1999, vaccine-makers claimed they were eliminating thimerosal from vaccines but they never recalled the vaccines already on the market and children continued to receive mercury in vaccines for several more years. Even today, the flu vaccine recommended for 6-month-old babies and pregnant women still contain a full dose of thimerosal.
Instead of ordering drug companies to get the preservative out of all vaccines, Congressional Republicans and President George W Bush spent much of the past 3 years working on strategies to give the pharmaceutical industry protection against lawsuits from vaccine injured children. A handful of shameless Congressional Republicans remained lurking around in the shadows for years, just waiting for the right moment to attach the protective provision to some "anti-terror" spending bill until they succeeded in December 2005.
Before the age of two in this country, children receive at least 20 injections involving twelve diseases. By the time they reach first grade, they have had at least 24 vaccinations, if they are in compliance with the CDC's 2005 Immunization Schedule.
For good reason, many parents do not want their children to receive 24 injections for diseases they have never heard of. However, government officials use every trick in the book to force them to inject these poisonous concoctions into their children, including economic sanctions for refusing to comply.
Refusing vaccination can result in citizens being denied enrollment in daycare, elementary school, and college; denial of health insurance; denial of employment; and denial of federal and state benefits for poor children including cutting off medical care under Medicaid, and food, under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
Medical professionals have been trying to get lawmaker to take notice of the health problems caused by vaccines since the 1990s. On June 14, 1999, Jane Orient, MD, Executive Director of the Associating of American Physicians and Surgeons, testified before the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources of the Committee on Government reform and said:
"Striking increases in chronic illnesses have occurred in temporal association with an increase in vaccination rates," she said. "Asthma and insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, causes of lifelong morbidity and frequent premature death, have nearly doubled in incidence since the introduction of many new, mandatory vaccines."
"There is no explanation for this increase," Orient added.
"Even more alarming," she told lawmakers, "is the huge increase in reports of autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, with devastating, life-long impacts."
"Measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, and the whole panoply of childhood diseases are a far less serious threat," Orient warned, "than having a large fraction (say 10%) of a generation afflicted with learning disability and/or uncontrollable aggressive behavior because of an impassioned crusade for universal vaccination."
About 3 years later, across the country on the West Coast, Barbara Loe Fisher, President of the National Vaccine Information Center, testified before the California Senate Committee on Childhood Immunization Mandates: Politics vs Public Health on January 23, 2002. Fisher acknowledged that the CDC, and American Academy of Pediatrics, vigorously deny that the vaccines could have anything to do with more children being chronically ill.
"Yet, the haunting question remains," she said, "if we have wiped out polio and almost eliminated measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough and other childhood diseases with vaccines - why are so many of our children stuck on sick?"
"Why are our special education classrooms so crowded that we can’t find enough money or train teachers fast enough to care for these learning disabled, hyperactive, autistic, asthmatic, diabetic, emotionally disturbed, sick children?" Fisher asked.
Since 1982, she charged, "the numbers of American children with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and asthma have doubled; diabetes has tripled; and the incidence of autism has reached epidemic proportions, increasing 200 to 600 percent in every state, marking a staggering 3400 percent increase in the prevalence of autism in our children."
Scientist have also been warning lawmakers about the vaccine injuries. Dr Mark Geier, holds a PhD in genetics, and was a researcher at the National Institutes of Health for10 years. He has studied vaccines for over 30 years. Dr. Geier and his son, David Geier, are the only independent researchers who have gained access to the Vaccine Safety Datalink database controlled by the CDC, to conduct studies on the connection between vaccines and the epidemic in neurological problems.
In a March 22, 2003 letter to Senator Hillary Clinton, the Geiers reported: "we have concluded in our studies that a causal relationship exists between mercury from thimerosal in childhood vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders."
"Our best estimates are that the thimerosal contributed to about 75% of the cases of neurodevelpmental disorders while the MMR contributed to about 15%," they said. "The remaining 10% of the cases were related to mercury in Rhogam, a shot given to Rh-negative women, and to other sources of neurotoxicity."
On June 18, 2004, Representative Dave Weldon (R-FL), a doctor by calling, was on the floor of Congress waving red flags, and literally begging Congress to recognize the seriousness of the epidemic in children with neurological disorders all over the country.
"Mr. Speaker, something dreadful is happening to our youngest generation, and we must sound the alarm and figure out what is going on with our children," he said.
He quoted the Department of Health and Human Services when explaining that one in every 167 children was being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. "Furthermore," Weldon reported, "one in 7 children is being diagnosed with either a learning disability or a behavioral disability."
On June 19, 2002, James Bradstreet, MD, Clinical Director of The International Child Development Resource Center in Florida, testified in Washington before the Government Reform Committee, and warned lawmakers about the cost of the autism epidemic back then.
"ICDRC estimates the minimal cost in present value, to care for those 420,000 existing children with autism is $1,260,000,000,000 (based on $3million/lifetime and 420,000 children affected)."
"So a little over a $1 trillion in the next 50 years would be required if we stopped creating new cases today," Bradstreet said.
"Because autism is doubling every four years, this is likely an overly conservative estimatem" he added. "The societal cost could easily be $3-4 trillion."
On June 20, 2005, Robert F Kennedy, Jr, a relatively new advocate calling for the removal of thimerosal from vaccines, appeared on the Don Imus Show on MSNBC, and warned the public that our government is allowing drug companies to ship thimerosal-containing vaccines for use on children in other countries.
"They're giving this now to kids all over the third world," Kennedy warned. "In China, autism was unknown five years ago," he said. "They started giving them American vaccines containing thimerosal and now they've got 1.8 million cases of autism," he added.
Autism is also exploding in Argentina, India, and Nigeria, Kennedy said.
"What's going to happen when our enemies around the world realize that the United State's most heralded foreign policy which is vaccinating the children of the world is poisoning the brains of developing third world children?" he warmed.
"This is just a disaster," Kennedy told Imus.
But it gets worse. Over the past 15 years, the vaccine scheme has resulted in a full-circle cycle of profits for the pharmaceutical industry. After poisoning an entire generation, drug companies are now making record profits from drugging their victims.
And the true irony of the situation is that due to their partnership with compromised officials and lawmakers, they were able to pull most of it off on the tax payer's dime. Federal and State government programs, are the largest buyers of vaccines, administered "free" beginning with pregnant women all the way up to seniors citizens in nursing homes.
The vaccine racket is raging on at full-throttle. In 2005, more vaccines were administered to infants under the age of 1 in the US than in any other country. The current immunization schedule calls for 3 doses of Hepatitis B, the first at birth, 3 doses each of DTAP, HIB, IPV, Prevnar, and one dose of flu vaccine before a child's first birthday.
The first year of childhood vaccines costs $620, and the second year costs $340, according to Pediatric Preventive Care Cost, Estimated US Average, 2005, by Patient Age, Recommendations for Preventive Pediatric Health Care (RE9939) and Recommended Childhood and Adolescent Immunization Schedule, US, 2005.
For the year 2004, the CDC reported the US birth rate to be 4,115,590. Without an industrial size calculator, it would be impossible to do the math to multiply the birth rate by the vaccine costs above. Suffice to say that the total amount represents major profits for vaccine makers especially when most of the bill is sent directly to the tax payers.
As for making money off the vaccine-injured children, between 2000 and 2003, the number of children treated for "severe behavioral conditions" related to conduct disorder and autism rose more than 60%, according to Behavior Drugs Lead in Sales for Children, New York Times, May 17, 2004.
Tax dollars are being directly funneled to the pharmaceutical industry through the damaged children. Public funds currently account for 63% of all mental health spending and Medicaid spending has risen more than 50% since 2000 to more than $300 billion per year, according to Parity-Plus: A Third Way Approach to Fix America's Mental Health System, Progressive Policy Institute, June 22, 2005; Medicaid Largest US Payer, Daily Health Policy Report, March 30, 20005.
Drug companies have also been raking in major profits from the sale of attention deficit drugs, with much of it coming from the public trough. The National Center for Health Statistics, reports that the number of children aged 3 to 17 with ADHD went from 3.3 million in 1997 to 4.4 million in 2002. Between 2000 and 2004, use of attention deficit stimulant drugs rose 56% among children, according to data compiled Medco Health Solutions, one of the largest prescription benefit managers in the nation.
According to testimony at the February 18, 2004, FDA hearing, by Dr Gianna Rigoni, of the FDA's Office of Drug Safety, a combined total of approximately 10.8 million prescriptions were dispensed for SSRI antidepressants and atypicals antipsychotics to the 1 to 17-year-old population in 2002, and children between 1 and 11-years-old, accounted for about 2.7 million of those prescriptions.
In 2004, SSRIs and antipsychotics became the third-and fourth-biggest classes of drugs in the country, with sales of $20.7 billion. And much of that cost was borne by government health-care plans, according to the July 27, 2005 Wall Street Journal.
As for the continued use of thimerosal-laced flu vaccines with infants, according to the ACIP report of July 29, 2005 / 54(RR08);1-40, actual deaths from influenza are uncommon among children with and without high-risk conditions. A study that modeled influenza-related deaths estimated that annually, an average of 92 deaths, or 0.4 deaths per 100,000, occurred among children under 5 during the 1990's.
So, are the risks associated with injecting a full dose of thimerosal into 4,115,590 six-month-old babies worth it when weighed against the benefits, if any, of flu vaccines? More and more parents think not.
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China toxic spill leaves 20,000 without water
Last Updated Mon, 20 Feb 2006 05:51:02 EST
A town of 20,000 people has been without water for at least four days after untreated toxic wastewater was flushed into a river in southern China, a state newspaper said on Monday.
The official China Daily said a power plant on the Yuexi River in Sichuan province was responsible for the pollution, which caused officials in the town of Guanyin to shut water supplies last Wednesday.
Water is being trucked in to the town but can't meet demands, said the report.
Tests were ordered after a water company official noticed the water had turned yellow last Tuesday. The water contains high levels of fluoride, nitrogen and carbolic acid, said the newspaper.
There have been no reports of sickness caused by the polluted water, said the report.
It's the latest in a series of water supply spills in China in recent months.
Earlier this month, 2,000 tons of alkaline waste spilled into the Yellow River after tanks at a chemical company collapsed.
In November, millions of people in northeastern China lost water for several days after a chemical plant exploded and sent a slick of benzene into the Songhua River.
Local authorities didn't announce the benzene leak until a week after it happened.
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Meat with suspected anthrax found at Moscow market
MOSCOW, February 20 (RIA Novosti)
Beef suspected to be infected with anthrax has been found at a Moscow market, the Agriculture Ministry said Monday.
The beef was delivered to the Kuntsevo market in the northwest of the city with a veterinary certificate from Russky Pimbur, a village in the Penza Region, about 700 kilometers (440 miles) southeast of Moscow.
The meat raised suspicions about anthrax before it went on sale. It was sent to a veterinary laboratory and tested positive for anthrax bacilli.
The market underwent disinfection and vaccination of livestock is currently under way in Russky Pimbur.
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Better Late Than Never Dept:
A Half-Dozen Questions About 9/11 They Don't Want You to Ask
February 18 / 19, 2006
The events of September 11, 2001 evoke painful memories, tinged with a powerful nostalgia for the way of life before it happened. The immediate tragedy caused a disorientation sufficient to distort the critical faculties in the direction of retrospectively predictable responses: bureaucratic adaptation, opportunism, profiteering, kitsch sentiment, and mindless sloganeering.
As 9/11, and the report of the commission charged to investigate it, fade into history like the Warren Commission that preceded it, the questions, gaps, and anomalies raised by the report have created an entire cottage industry of amateur speculation--as did the omissions and distortions of the Warren Report four decades ago. How could it not?
While initially received as definitive by a rapturous official press, the 9/11 Report has been overtaken by reality, not only because of unsatisfying content--like all "independent" government reports, it is fundamentally an apology and a coverup masquerading as an exposé--but because we now know more: more about the feckless invasion of Iraq, more about the occupation of Afghanistan and the purported hunt for Osama bin Laden, more about the post-9/11 stampede to repeal elements of the Bill of Rights, more about the rush to create the Department of Homeland Security, an agency to "prevent another 9/11," which, in retrospect, is plainly about cronyism, contracts, and Congressional boodle.
Many of the amateur sleuths of the 9/11 mystery have based their investigations on microscopic forensics regarding the publicly released video footage, or speculations into the physics of impacting aircraft or collapsing buildings. But staring too closely at the recorded traces of subatomic phenomena involved in a one-time event can deceive us into finding the answer we are looking for, as Professor Heisenberg once postulated. Over 40 years on, the Magic Bullet is still the Magic Bullet: improbable, yes, but not outside the realm of the possible.
But there is surprisingly little discussion of the basic higher-order political factors surrounding 9/11, factors that do not require knowledge of the melting point of girder steel or the unknowable piloting abilities of the presumed perpetrators. Let us proceed, then, in a spirit of detached scientific inquiry, to ask questions the 9/11 Commission was unprepared to ask.
1. Who is Osama bin Laden, and where did he come from?
On this point, the report retreats into obfuscation. While acknowledging that he had something to do with resisting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the report suggests, without explicitly so stating, that the links between Osama and the United States were practically nonexistent. This will not parse: until the present Global War on Terrorism, the CIA's operation against the Red Army in Afghanistan was the biggest and most expensive covert operation in the agency's history. The 9/11 Report provides no convincing documented refutation of Osama's links with the CIA, given that the agency was running a major war in which he was a participant. Similarly, the report's authors did not plumb the informal U.S. government connections with the same Saudi government whose links with the bin Laden family could have provided a cut-out for any CIA-Osama relationship. 
2. When were Osama's last non-hostile links with the U.S. government?
Consistent with its view of Osama's relationship with the CIA during the anti-Soviet enterprise, the 9/11 Report ignores the possibility that he may have had a continuing relationship with the U.S. government, particularly with its intelligence services. The report brushes this hypothesis aside with a footnote to the effect that both the CIA and purported second-ranking al Qaeda figure Ayman al Zawahiri deny a relationship. 
One may doubt the veracity of Langley's denials of a relationship with Osama bin Laden and his associates, given the lack of truthfulness of its earlier statement to the Warren Commission about not having had a relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald. Or in alleging that an employee named "Mr. George Bush" whom the agency cited in its reporting of the events of 22 November 1963 was a completely different person from the George Bush who subsequently became the 41st U.S. president, after serving as Director of Central Intelligence.
Likewise, Mr. Zawahiri's assertion of not having received a penny of CIA funds deserves the searchlight of skeptical scrutiny. What the report describes as Zawahiri's "memoir" is actually a broadside published in a London-based newspaper in December 2001, i.e., after the events of 9/11. It was obviously intended as a call to the Muslim faithful for a holy war against the infidel desecrator of the holy places; would such a person, conscious of the need to gain recruits in a war of pure faith against the Great Satan, have confirmed having been on the payroll of his principal enemy? It is no more likely than for the current President of the United States, in drawing parallels between the war in Iraq and World War II, to advert to the fact that his grandfather's bank was seized by the U.S. government in 1942 for illicit trading with the Third Reich.
Indeed, U.S. intelligence agencies have had, purely as a function of their charters, relationships with most of the world's scoundrels, con-men, and psychopaths of the last 70 years: from Lucky Luciano and the Gambino Mob, to Reinhard Gehlen and Timothy Leary, to the perpetrators of the massacre of 500,000 people in Indonesia in 1965, to the Cuban exiles who blew up an airliner in 1976 , to such shady characters as Ahmed Chalabi and his friend "Curveball." Among such a gallery of murderous kooks, bin Laden and his cohorts do not especially stand out.
More dispositive than these speculations, however, are the very real connections between Washington and Islamic jihadists in the Balkans throughout the 1990s. The report hints at this relationship by mentioning the presence of charity fronts of bin Laden's "network" in Zagreb and Sarajevo. In fact, the U.S. government engaged in a massive covert operation to infiltrate Islamic fighters, many of them veterans of the Afghan war, into the Balkans for the purpose of undermining the Milosevic government. The "arms embargo," enforced by the U.S. military, was a cover for this activity (i.e., using military force to keep prying eyes from seeing what was going on).
A key Washington fixer for the Muslim government of Bosnia was the law firm of Feith and Zell. Yes, Douglas Feith, one of the principal conspirators involved in launching the Iraq war under the banner of opposing Islamic terrorism, was a proponent of introducing Islamic terrorists into South Eastern Europe. Do the "Islamofascists" of pseudo-conservative demonology accordingly seem less like satanic enemies and more like puppets dangling from an unseen hand? Or perhaps the analogy is incorrect: more like a Frankenstein's Monster that has slipped the control of its creator.
3. How did the President of United States React to the August 6 2001 Presidential Daily Brief?
Although the August 6 PBD had been mentioned in the foreign press since 2002, it did not come to the attention of official Washington until then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice impaled herself upon the hook of 9/11 Commission member Richard Ben Veniste's artful line of questioning in mid-2004. Blurting out the title of the PBD, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," she let the cat out of the bag--or perhaps not. Having opened Pandora's Box, the commissioners displayed no troublesome curiosity about its contents.
What concrete measures did the president take after receiving perhaps the most significant strategic warning that any head of state could have hoped to receive about an impending attack on his country? Did he alert the intelligence agencies, law enforcement, the Border patrol, the Federal Aviation Administration, to comb through their current information and increase their alert rates? Did the threat warning of the PBD (granted that it did not reveal the tail numbers of the aircraft to be hijacked), in combination with the numerous threat warnings from other sources  elicit feverish activity to "protect the American people?" Not that we can observe.
So what was the actual response of the U.S. government? Here the 9/11 Report exhibits autism. As nearly as we can determine from contemporaneous bulletins, the president massacred whole hecatombs of mesquite bushes and large-mouthed bass, perfected his golf swing, and hosted various captains of industry in the rustic repose of Crawford, Texas. In other words, he presided over the most egregious example of Constitutional nonfeasance since the administration of James Buchanan allowed Southern secessionists to take possession of the arms in several federal arsenals. The 9/11 Commission's silence on this point is an abundant demonstration of its role as an apologist, rather than a dispassionate truth-teller.
The testimony of federal officials about what they did up to and during the attacks is telling, in so far as the false and misleading statements of witnesses provide clues. Ms. Rice, her tremulous voice betraying nervousness, averred, against the plain evidence of the public record and common sense, that a PBD stating that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike within the borders of the United States was too ambiguous to take any action.
Likewise, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft may have perjured himself when he denied under oath that acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard came to him on July 5, 2001 with information of terrorist plots--information that the Attorney General "did not want to hear about anymore," as NBC News reported on June 22, 2004. It might be considered a matter of Ashcroft's word against Pickering's, except for the fact that Pickering had a corroborating witness.
4. Who wrote the script for the rhetorical response to 9/11?
The smoke was still rising from the rubble of the World Trade Center complex and the Pentagon when the unanimous and universal cry erupted in government circles, and was relentlessly amplified by the media, that this was "war," not a criminal act of terrorism. How very convenient that this war, declared against a diffuse and stateless entity, would trigger long-sought legal authorities and constitutional loopholes which would not apply in the case of a criminal act.  Torture, domestic spying, selective suspension of habeas corpus, all the unconstitutional monsters whose implications are only clear four years after the event, all slipped into immediate usage with the rhetorical invocation of war.
This was not merely war, it was unlimited war, both in the sense of total war meant by General Ludendorff (civilian rights being trivial), and in the sense of lacking a comprehensible time span. "A war that will not end in our lifetimes," said Vice President Cheney on Meet the Press on the very Sunday following the attacks. How could he be so sure during the fog of uncertainty following the strike?
If bin Laden and his followers were merely a limited number of fanatics living in Afghan caves, as we were assured at the time, why did the Bush administration relentlessly advance the meme that a decades-long war was inevitable? Could not a concerted intelligence, law-enforcement, and diplomatic campaign, embracing all sovereign countries, have effectively shut down "al Qaeda" within a reasonable period of time--say, within the period it took to fight World War II between Pearl Harbor and the Japanese surrender?
Four years on, Vice President Cheney, doing a plausible imitation of the radio voice of The Shadow, continues to publicly mutter, in menacing tones of the lower octaves, that the war on terrorism  is a conflict that will last for decades.  This at the same time as the junior partner of the ruling dyarchy, the sitting president, is giving upbeat speeches promising victory in the war on terrorism (i.e., Iraq, the Central Front on the War on Terrorism) against a papier maché backdrop containing the printed slogan "Strategy for Victory."
It is curious that no one--not the watchdogs of the supposedly adversary media, nor the nominal opposition party in Washington, nor otherwise intelligent observers--has remarked on this seeming contradiction: victory is just around the corner, yet the war will last for decades. Quite in the manner of the war between Eastasia and Oceania in 1984.
In earlier times, this contradiction would have seemed newsworthy, if not scandalous. Suppose President Roosevelt had opined at the Teheran Conference that the Axis would be defeated in two years. Then suppose his vice president had at the same time traveled about the United States telling his audiences that the Axis would not be defeated for decades. An American public not yet conditioned by television would at least have noticed, and demanded some explanation.
So question number 4 concludes with a question: why does the U.S. government hive so firmly to the notion of a long, drawn-out, indeterminate war, when Occam's Razor would suggest the desirability of presenting a clear-cut victory within the span of imagination of the average impatient American--a couple of years at most? Or is endless war the point?
5. Why did the mysterious anthrax attacks come and go like a wraith?
For those in immediate proximity to the events, the September 11attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were frightening in the extreme, but they had not the slow accumulation of dread that the anthrax scare of October 2001 presented. Far more than any anomaly concerning 9/11 itself, the anthrax mystery is the undecoded Rosetta Stone of recent years.
The anthrax attacks were the most anomalous terrorist attacks in history: clever, successful, unpunished, causing five deaths and a billion dollars' damage. Yet never repeated. This alone makes them remarkable in the annals of criminal activity, but there is more--the intended victims (at least those with an official position) were warned in writing of their peril in sufficient detail that they could take steps to administer an antidote. Is this characteristic of terrorist attacks by "al Qaeda," or by any known Middle Eastern terrorist group?
Except for the ambiguous first attack (which killed a National Enquirer photo editor), all the deaths resulting from the anthrax plot were incidental--mail handlers and innocent recipients of mail which had been contaminated by proximity to the threat letters. Evidently the West Jefferson anthrax strain was more powerful and had greater accidental effects than the plotters had intended.
But what did the plotters intend, if they did not will the deaths of the addressees of their anthrax letters? It was pure coincidence, perhaps, that the anthrax scare was at its height, producing psychosomatic illness symptoms among members of Congress and staffers, just as the USA PATRIOT Act was wending its way through the legislative process. This measure, which originated among the same Justice Department lawyers who legally opined that torture was wholesome, was rammed through the Congress after enactment of the authorization of the use of force in Afghanistan. Why is this sequence significant?
The then-majority leader of the U.S. Senate, Tom Daschle, wrote a curious op-ed in the Washington Post four years after the events just described. . In attempting to refute the administration's allegation that it had been granted plenary wiretap powers in the Afghanistan authorization, he stated that he and his Senatorial confreres explicitly rejected an administration proposal to authorize an effective state of war within the borders of the United States itself.
Given the administration's repeatedly demonstrated refusal to accept any limitation on its powers, it is logical that the rebuff on the war powers authorization was followed by the prompt submittal of the Justice Department's draft of the PATRIOT Act, containing many of the domestic authorities the Bush White House had sought in the use of force legislation. How doubly coincidental that two of the limited number of addressees of the threat letters should have been the offices of Daschle himself, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, then-chairman of the committee of jurisdiction over the PATRIOT Act.
Needless to say, the measure was passed by an even more comfortable margin than that enjoyed by the 1933 Enabling Law in the Reichstag.  Notwithstanding buyer's remorse exhibited by many members of Congress, and current efforts to amend its more onerous provisions, it appears we are saddled with the main burdens of its edicts in perpetuity.
How the government placed this perpetual burden on its citizens is bound up with the mysterious anthrax scare of October 2001, an outrage that, unlike 9/11, does not even merit an official explanation. No one has been charged.
6. Why did Osama bin Laden escape?
"Wanted, dead or alive!" "We'll smoke 'em out of their caves!" All Americans know the feeling of righteous retribution that attended the hunt for Osama bin Laden in the autumn and winter of 2001. Yet, suddenly, it fizzled out and became subsumed in attacking Iraq and its oilfields.
We know the explanation. Somehow, bin Laden escaped in the battle of Tora Bora, because "the back door was open." Only after the invasion of Iraq, more than a year later, was there general acknowledgement that resources intended for Afghanistan had been diverted to the buildup for Iraq. The public was lead to believe that supplemental appropriations for Afghanistan were siphoned into the Iraq project beginning about mid-2002.
But the strange apathy about Osama's whereabouts began sooner than that. In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, then-Senate Intelligence Committee Bob Graham states the following:
"I was asked by one of the senior commanders of Central Command to go into his office [this presumably means the CENTCOM Commander, GEN Tommy Franks. Underlings do not summon senior Senators into their offices]. We did, the door was closed, and he turned to me, and he said, 'Senator, we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq.' This is February of 2002 [emphasis added]. 'Senator, what we are engaged in now is a manhunt not a war, and we are not trained to conduct a manhunt.'"
Senator Graham elaborates on this matter in his book, Intelligence Matters, on page 125:
"At that point, General Franks asked for an additional word with me in his office. When I walked in, he closed the door. Looking troubled, he said, 'Senator, we are not engaged in a war in Afghanistan.' "'Excuse me?" I asked. "'Military and intelligence personnel are being redeployed to prepare for an action in Iraq,' he continued. 'The Predators are being relocated. What we are doing is a manhunt. We have wrapped ourselves too much in trailing Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. We're better at being a meat axe than finding a needle in a haystack. That's not our mission, and that's not what we are trained or prepared to do.'"
In the first excerpt, the military officer might be ambivalent about the change in mission, merely saying that the U.S. military is supposedly not trained for conducting manhunts. The second excerpt provides more substance, suggesting that Franks himself agrees that looking for Osama bin Laden is a mug's game ("We have wrapped ourselves too much in trailing Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.")
There we have it: as early as February 2002, the U.S. government was pulling the plug. Or was it even earlier? Gary Berntsen, a former CIA officer, says in his book Jawbreaker that his paramilitary team tracked bin Laden to the Tora Bora region late in 2001 and could have killed or captured him if his superiors had agreed to his request for an additional force of about 800 U.S. troops. But the administration was already gearing up for war with Iraq and troops were never sent, allowing bin Laden to escape.
Now, Berntsen is a typical Langley boy scout who buys into most of the flummery about the war on terrorism; but it is precisely for that reason that his testimony is worthwhile. Here is no ideological critic of the Bush administration and its foreign policies--on the contrary, he shares many of its assumptions. Like fellow Agency alumnus Michael Scheuer, he has experienced the cognitive dissonance of dealing with the administration's policies at first hand, and wishes to report on his findings.
Is it plausible that the United States Military, disposing of 1.4 million active duty troops and a million reservists, could not scare up 800 additional troops to capture what was then characterized as a fiend in human form? Perhaps the then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, explained it best in a CNN interview on 6 April 2002, well after the hunt for bin Laden had apparently been concluded:
"Well, if you remember, if we go back to the beginning of this segment, the goal has never been to get bin Laden." 
What can one conclude from this series of questions? If the 9/11 mystery is like other great, mysterious events--such as the Kennedy assassination--the course is probable. For a year or two, raw emotion over the event forecloses inquiry; for the next several years after that, the public's attention wanes, and the desire to forget the painful memory predominates.
In a decade or so, though, some debunker will bring new facts into the public arena for the edification of those Americans, then in late middle age, who will view 9/11 as an intellectual puzzle: far from the urgent concerns of their daily lives.
Many people may, by that time, accept that the official explanation is bunk, and suspect that the government had once again tricked the American public, those ever-willing foils in the eternal Punch-and-Judy show. But the majority will neither know nor care about obscure international relationships during a bygone era.
In 1939, the English author Eric Ambler wrote a brilliant and now-disregarded novel whose theme was that the political events culminating in World War II were indistinguishable from the squalid doings of ordinary criminals. Let us quote from that novel, The Mask of Dimitrios:
"A writer of plays said that there are some situations that one cannot use on the stage; situations in which the audience can feel neither approval, sympathy, nor antipathy; situations out of which there is no possible way that is not humiliating or distressing and from which there is no truth, however bitter, to be extracted. . . . All I know is that while might is right, while chaos and anarchy masquerade as order and enlightenment, these conditions will obtain."
Werther is the pen name of a Northern Virginia-based defense analyst. Werther can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Bob Woodward's 1987 book Veil describes the informal connections between personages in the U.S. government and the Saudi government, including the ubiquitous Prince Bandar. A tête á tête
between CIA director William Casey and the Prince supposedly resulted in a false-flag "terrorist" bombing in Beirut to retaliate against the bombing of the Marine barracks there in 1983. Regrettably, the dead were mainly civilians.
 9/11 Commission Report, 23rd footnote to chapter two, page 467.
 This is the case of Cuban "freedom fighter" Luis Posada Carriles, who is suspected of sending the jet-borne Cuban Olympic fencing team to Valhalla in order to express his opposition to Fidel Castro. The incumbent administration, otherwise so steadfastly opposed to international terrorism, has been resistant to extraditing Mr. Posada --no doubt the administration is casting an eye on Florida's electoral votes.
 To include the Phoenix Memo, FBI agent Colleen Rowley's urgent bulletins from Minnesota, tips from foreign intelligence agencies, warnings from the Federal government to its high-ranking government placemen not to fly by commercial airliner, the contemporaneously noted presence of art students-cum-Mossad agents within two blocks of 9/11 operative Mohammed Atta, and other indicators.
 Long sought by Messrs. Cheney and Rumsfeld, whose formative and traumatic experiences in the executive branch were shaped by their revulsion against attempts by Congress, the federal bench, and the American people, to restrain Richard M. Nixon's assertion that the Constitution does not apply to a sitting president.
 The phrase "war on terrorism" is, as many people have commented, a somewhat hazy conception, being a war on a tactic, much as if FDR had declared war on naval aviation after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Significantly, the popular mind has contracted this phrase into "the war on terror," an even more illogical coinage. If the U.S. government is truly at war against a mental state that gives rise to ill-defined dread, it should disestablish itself forthwith, to the benefit of our rights, our bank balances, and our physical safety.
 "Cheney Warns of Decades of War," BBC, 6 October 2005.
 "Power We Didn't Grant," by Sen. Tom Daschle, Washington Post, 23 December 2005.
 The Enabling Law passed the Reichstag by a vote of 444-94, whereas the PATRIOT Act passed the House by a margin of 357-66, and the Senate by a vote of 98-1. Curiously, the Enabling Law was supposed to sunset in four years: on April Fool's Day, 1937, precisely paralleling the four-year expiration of many of the PATRIOT Act's provisions. Perhaps the eerie similarity reflects the influence of Nazi legal scholar Carl Schmitt on neoconservative lawyers of the Bush administration like David S. Addington, John Yoo, and Viet Dinh.
 News transcript: Gen. Myers Interview with CNN TV, http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2002/t04082002_t407genm.html
Comment: Well, the folks at CounterPunch are finally asking some questions about what really happened on 9/11. About time. Mind you, they are going about it in what might be described as a careful way, surely designed not to shock their readership. They don't want to get bogged down in the forensic investigations.
Will this turn into a snowball? Will the US left finally get its head out of its dogma and start looking at the facts, rather than their a priori assumptions about "conspiracy"?
Stay tuned, folks!
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In audiotape, Osama bin Laden vows never to be captured alive
22:41:26 EST Feb 19, 2006
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Osama bin Laden promised never to be captured alive and declared the U.S. had resorted to the same "repressive" tactics used by Saddam Hussein, according to an audiotape purportedly by the al-Qaida leader that was posted Monday on a militant website.
The tape appeared to be a complete version of one that was first broadcast Jan. 19 on Al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite channel, in which bin Laden offered the United States a long-term truce but also said his al-Qaida terror network would soon launch a fresh attack on American soil.
"I have sworn to only live free. Even if I find bitter the taste of death, I don't want to die humiliated or deceived," bin Laden said.
In drawing the comparison to American military behaviour in Iraq to that of Saddam, the speaker said:
"The jihad is continuing with strength, for Allah be all the credit, despite all the barbarity, the repressive steps taken by the American army and its agents, to the extent that there is no longer any mentionable difference between this criminality and the criminality of Saddam."
With the implied criticism of Saddam, bin Laden appeared to be denying assertions by the United States that the former Iraqi leader had ties to al-Qaida - ties that were given as one rationale for invading Iraq.
The tape's release in January came days after a U.S. air strike in Pakistan that was targeting bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, and reportedly killed four leading al-Qaida figures, including possibly al-Zawahri's son-in-law. There was no mention of the attack on the segments that were broadcast.
In the full tape that was posted Monday, bin Laden engaged in renewed propaganda, mocking President George W. Bush's aircraft carrier declaration in April 2003 that major conflict in Iraq had ended.
Speaking directly to the American people, the speaker said:
"You can rescue whatever you can from this hell. The solution is in your hands, if their (U.S. troops') situation matters to you at all."
The initial excerpts had been the first tape from the al-Qaida leader in more than a year - the longest period without a message since the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackings in the United States.
The CIA last month authenticated the voice on the initial recording as that of bin Laden, an agency official told The Associated Press at the time. The al-Qaida leader is believed to be hiding in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Comment: We wrote about the first excerpts from this tape when they surfaced in January:
As a parting shot, Osama tells the world:
"We were patient in fighting the Soviet Union with simple weapons for 10 years and we bled their economy and now they are nothing."
Perhaps Osama ran out of tape before he could expand on this comment and share with the world the fact that the "simple weapons" that were used by Islamic Islamic fighters (including Osama) during the Russian-Afghan war in the 1980's were provided by the CIA. Had he been given a chance, Osama might even have revealed that, since then, "al-Qaeda" has been nothing but a CIA covert operation designed to create the reality of a "war on terror".
Well, the CIA voice programme for producing Osama tapes is back, and he still doesn't discuss who supplied him with his "simple arms". But while reading about the bad boy of Islam's latest pronouncements [sic], keep in mind this passage on the control of the press:
11. In the third rank we shall set up our own, to all appearance, opposition, which, in at least one of its organs, will present what looks like the very antipodes to us. Our real opponents at heart will accept this simulated opposition as their own and will show us their cards.
12. All our newspapers will be of all possible complexions -- aristocratic, republican, revolutionary, even anarchical - for so long, of course, as the constitution exists .... Like the Indian idol "Vishnu" they will have a hundred hands, and every one of them will have a finger on any one of the public opinions as required. When a pulse quickens these hands will lead opinion in the direction of our aims, for an excited patient loses all power of judgment and easily yields to suggestion. Those fools who will think they are repeating the opinion of a newspaper of their own camp will be repeating our opinion or any opinion that seems desirable for us. In the vain belief that they are following the organ of their party they will, in fact, follow the flag which we hang out for them.
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Afghan cartoon protesters threaten to join al Qaeda
By Dawood Wafa
Mon Feb 20, 2006 11:43 AM ET162
JALALABAD, Afghanistan - Hundreds of Afghan students shouted support on Monday for Osama bin Laden and threatened to join al Qaeda during a protest against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.
In an attempt to cool the controversy after a weekend of rioting in countries including Nigeria, where 28 people were killed, and Libya, where 11 died, Pope Benedict said the world's religions and their symbols had to be respected.
Pakistan's main Islamist alliance vowed to broaden its campaign with more protests targeted at the U.S. and Pakistani presidents.
The protest in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad passed off without violence. Students gathered at the university campus chanted "Death to Denmark", "Death to America" and "Death to France", a witness said.
They also shouted support for al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahri.
Shouting "Death to Karzai", they demanded President Hamid Karzai close the embassies of Denmark, the United States and France and expel their forces from Afghanistan.
"If they abuse the Prophet of Islam again we will all become al Qaeda," the students shouted.
Two weeks ago in Afghanistan, at least 10 people were killed in several days of protests over the cartoons but violent demonstrations there have largely petered out.
The cartoons, first published in a Danish newspaper last year and reprinted in European papers, have sparked worldwide protests by Muslims who believe it is blasphemous to depict the Prophet.
In a speech to the new Moroccan ambassador to the Vatican, the Pope said: "In order to promote peace and understanding between peoples and mankind it is both vital and urgent that religions and their symbols are respected and that believers are not the object of provocations that wound their religious feelings."
"However, intolerance and violence can never be justified as a response to any offence, because it is a response that is incompatible with the sacred principles of religion," he added.
Some 56 people have been killed and at least 280 injured in the protests, half of them in northern Nigeria. In the deadliest protests this weekend, at least 28 people died in riots in two Muslim states in northern Nigeria.
A Red Cross official said on Monday the death toll from the riots in Maiduguri, where 21 people were killed, could rise further as some of the 207 people hurt were in critical condition. Troops patrolled the capital of the northeastern state of Borno to prevent further violence.
About a dozen churches, 200 shops, 50 houses and 100 vehicles were razed or vandalized by protesters in Maiduguri who ran wild after police fired teargas to disperse them.
Protests continued on Monday. In the Hindu kingdom of Nepal, about 5,000 Muslims marched through the western town of Nepalgunj and presented a memorandum to the chief bureaucrat of the town. "Punish the cartoonist," some of them shouted.
MORE PAKISTAN PROTESTS
Pakistan's main Islamist alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), said on Monday it would broaden its campaign. Five people died in protests in Pakistan last week.
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, president of the MMA, was held under house arrest in Lahore at the weekend to prevent him leading a rally in the capital Islamabad on Sunday.
After his release on Monday he called publication of the cartoons in European newspapers "part of the clash of civilizations led by (U.S. President George W.) Bush".
"Therefore our movement is against Bush as well as against Mush," he told a news briefing, referring to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in Bush's war on terrorism.
A countrywide protest is planned for Friday, another in Lahore on Sunday and a nationwide general strike on March 3.
Further protests are planned and could coincide with a visit to Pakistan by Bush, expected in early March, although no dates for that visit have yet been announced.
Last week, a Pakistani Muslim cleric and his followers offered rewards amounting to over $1 million for anyone who killed Danish cartoonists who drew the Prophet caricatures. The cartoonists are under police protection.
Denmark and Norway on Monday condemned the bounty. "It's murder and murder is also forbidden by the Koran," Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said.
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Indonesian Muslims attack U.S. Embassy
Last Updated Sun, 19 Feb 2006 16:16:51 EST
The United States has labelled violent protests against cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad "thuggery" after hundreds of Muslims tried to storm the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta on Sunday.
They threw stones and brandished wooden sticks in an attempt to break through the gates.
Protesters also set fire to U.S. flags and a poster of U.S. President George W. Bush and smashed the windows of a guard outpost.
A protest organizer said Muslims in Jakarta were singling out the U.S. because they believe Washington has fostered anti-Islam sentiments "through the issue of terrorism."
After the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten printed the caricatures in September, other western papers, mostly in Europe, followed suit, citing freedom of expression.
The Danish cartoons, including one showing Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a lit fuse, have set off protests – some violent – around the world.
In Pakistan, security forces sealed off roads in the capital of Islamabad on Sunday to block a planned mass demonstration. They also fired tear gas and gunshots to chase off protesters.
In Istanbul, Turkey, tens of thousands marched and chanted slogans against the U.S., Israel and Denmark.
Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the Prophet, favourable or otherwise, to prevent idolatry.
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Israel halts payments to Palestinians, rules out contact with Hamas
17:37:52 EST Feb 19, 2006
JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel branded the Palestinian government a "terrorist authority" Sunday and halted the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money after Hamas took control of the Palestinian parliament.
But the Israeli government held off on adopting even more drastic measures recommended by security officials, mindful of possible international reaction.
The sanctions came as the Palestinian militant group worked to consolidate its power and form a government, nominating one of its more pragmatic leaders, Ismail Haniyeh, to be the new prime minister.
Also Sunday, Israeli troops killed four Palestinians in two separate incidents.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, was scheduled to meet Haniyeh in Gaza on Monday and formally ask him to assemble a cabinet, a task Haniyeh would have five weeks to complete. Haniyeh said Hamas would begin talks with possible coalition partners Monday.
The group, which calls for the destruction of Israel and has carried out scores of deadly suicide bombings against Israelis, trounced Abbas' corruption-riddled Fatah party in Jan. 25 elections, winning 74 of 132 parliament seats.
Israel and western countries demanded the group renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist, but Hamas resisted pressure to moderate. The group took control of the Palestinian legislature when the new parliament was sworn in Saturday.
"The PA is - in practice - becoming a terrorist authority," acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his cabinet at the beginning of its meeting Sunday. "Israel will not hold contacts with a government in which Hamas takes part."
The cabinet decided to stop the transfer of the roughly $55 million US a month it collects in taxes and tariffs on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The order did not specify when the payments would stop, but government spokesman Asaf Shariv said the next payment, scheduled for early March, "won't take place."
Army radio quoted Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz saying the cutoff would be reviewed each month.
The Palestinian Authority relies on that money to help pay the salaries of roughly 140,000 government employees, including about 57,000 in the security forces.
Should the government, the Palestinians' largest employer, be forced to lay off tens of thousands of workers, it would lead to increased chaos and poverty in Palestinian towns throughout the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian experts estimate that the Palestinian budget shortfall is about $1 billion a year, and the Israel-collected funds would cover about half of that.
However, the cabinet held back from adopting far harsher proposals made by Israeli security officials, including a recommendation to seal off the Gaza Strip from Israel, barring thousands of Palestinian labourers from entering Israel and eliminating all trade with the impoverished area.
Israel's acting foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, said the government did not want to worsen the daily lives of Palestinians or cause an international backlash against Israel.
But she warned that "Israel will take a number of additional politically significant steps regarding the Palestinian Authority." She did not elaborate.
Mofaz told Israel TV the government could freeze work on the construction of a seaport and airport in Gaza.
The cabinet also decided to ask the international community to stop giving money to the Palestinians, though it said humanitarian aid should continue.
Abbas criticized reaction to the Hamas ascension to power. "We chose in free elections that the whole world witnessed were free and fair," he told reporters in Gaza. "We can't say we will or not accept the results."
Abbas said cuts in aid are already being felt. "We are in real financial crisis," he said. "We hope we can overcome it month by month."
Hamas condemned the cabinet decision and said it was political posturing ahead of Israel's own election March 28. Haniyeh said he was hopeful his future government would be able to find new sources of funding.
Haniyeh criticized Israel for what he called "collective punishment." He told Al-Jazeera TV, Israel should instead "deal with reality on the basis that there are people who are looking for rights, a state, return (of refugees), freedom and dignity."
The head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, said Sunday that Arab governments were considering providing the money to make up for the frozen transfers from Israel. Arab governments have not been among the top donors to the Palestinian Authority in the past, and some have failed to give pledged funds.
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'Palestinians Will Get a Lot Thinner'
By Gideon Levy
The team, headed by the prime minister's advisor Dov Weissglas and including the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, the director of the Shin Bet and senior generals and officials, convened for a discussion with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on ways to respond to the Hamas election victory. Everyone agreed on the need to impose an economic siege on the Palestinian Authority, and Weissglas, as usual, provided the punch line: "It's like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won't die," the advisor joked, and the participants reportedly rolled with laughter.
The recommendation for a "diet," along with the edicts Israel is poised to impose on the Palestinian people, should have aroused a hue and cry among Israeli society.
The Hamas team had not laughed so much in a long time. The team, headed by the prime minister's advisor Dov Weissglas and including the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, the director of the Shin Bet and senior generals and officials, convened for a discussion with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on ways to respond to the Hamas election victory. Everyone agreed on the need to impose an economic siege on the Palestinian Authority, and Weissglas, as usual, provided the punch line: "It's like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won't die," the advisor joked, and the participants reportedly rolled with laughter. And, indeed, why not break into laughter and relax when hearing such a successful joke? If Weissglas tells the joke to his friend Condoleezza Rice, she would surely laugh too.
But Weissglas' wisecrack was in particularly poor taste. Like the thunder of laughter it elicited, it again revealed the extent to which Israel's intoxication with power drives it crazy and completely distorts its morality. With a single joke, the successful attorney and hedonist from Lilenblum Street, Tel Aviv demonstrated the chilling heartlessness that has spread throughout the top echelon of Israel's society and politics. While masses of Palestinians are living in inhumane conditions, with horrifying levels of unemployment and poverty that are unknown in Israel, humiliated and incarcerated under our responsibility and culpability, the top military and political brass share a hearty laugh a moment before deciding to impose an economic siege that will be even more brutal than the one until now.
The proposal to put hungry people on a diet is accepted here without shock, without public criticism; even if only said in jest, it is incomparably worse than the Danish caricature. It reflects a widespread mood that will usher in cruel, practical measures. If until now one could argue that Israel primarily demonstrated insensitivity to the suffering of the other and closed its eyes (especially the stronger classes, busy with their lives of plenty) while a complete nation was groaning only a few kilometers away, now Israel is also making jokes at the expense of the other's suffering.
This was not the first joke or contribution by Weissglas to the racist and lord-like public discourse vis-a-vis the Palestinians. His true face was already revealed about a year and a half ago in the famous interview with Ari Shavit in Haaretz, when he stated,"And we educated the world to understand that there is no one to talk to. And we received a no-one-to-talk-to certificate ... The certificate will be revoked only when this-and-this happens - when Palestine becomes Finland." This was the peak of cynicism: The man who was involved up to his neck in the Annex Research affair - the shell company for channeling huge contributions to the prime minister - is conditioning negotiations with the Palestinians on transforming them into the country ranked as least corrupt in a survey in which Israel was ranked in the unenviable 26th place.
The recommendation for a "diet," along with the edicts Israel is poised to impose on the Palestinian people, should have aroused a hue and cry among Israeli society. Even if we put aside the awful political inanity of pushing Hamas into a corner instead of giving it a chance to change its ways, and even if we ignore the fact that Israel plans to confiscate tax revenues that do not belong to it, the policy of the Kadima government raises questions about its humanity. Where do we get the right to abuse an entire people this way? Is it only because of our great power and the fact that the U.S. allows us to run wild and do whatever we want?
We stopped talking about morality a long time ago - after all, we are not living in Finland. Still, it would be good to ask: What country would dare to exacerbate the living conditions (which are so miserable in any case) of the residents of a territory under its occupation? What was the sin of the 4,000 lucky people from Gaza whom Israel still allowed to work within its borders, and to whom it is now closing the gates? Did the decision-makers call to mind the sight of these downtrodden people, crowded and humiliated at the Erez crossing on their way home from an exhausting day of work? More than half of all Palestinians are already living in poverty according to the last United Nations report, published in December. Last year, 37 percent had difficulties obtaining food and 54 percent of the residents of the "liberated" Gaza Strip cut back the amount of food they consume. Child mortality rose by 15 percent and the average unemployment rate reached 28 percent. To travel in the West Bank, the Palestinians have to traverse no fewer than 397 checkpoints and, in addition to this, Israel now wants to wield an even heavier hand.
If there is still a staying obstacle, it is only the constraint of image: Israel fears the spread of hunger only because of the world's reaction and not because of the bestiality it entails. Nonetheless, politicians here are competing with a range of extreme proposals, including cutting off electricity and water and abandoning millions of innocent residents. Is this also election spin? Is this what the Israeli voter wants?
What you see from there is truly not what you see from here: From the posh restaurants where Weissglas and his colleagues from the Hamas team dine, from the sophisticated road system on which they race along in their official vehicles, from the splendid concert halls and frequent trips abroad - you cannot see the suffering. From there, it is easy to impose more edicts with the flick of a tongue, without considering their frightful implications in the miserable alleyways of Jenin and ruined huts of Rafah. From there you can even joke about it.
Comment: There can be little doubt that Israel is shaping up to do to the Palestinians what Hitler did to Jews 60 years ago. But we suspect that the abovementioned Israeli politicians would just laugh at that too.
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Abbas warns of financial 'crisis' after Israel cracks down
Last Updated Sun, 19 Feb 2006 19:38:53 EST
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says the organization is facing a "real financial crisis," hours after the Israeli cabinet approved tough sanctions against the Palestinian government.
On Sunday morning, Israel's government decided to withhold millions of dollars in tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority. It also adopted other strict measures a day after the swearing in of a Palestinian government dominated by Hamas, which has a charter provision calling for the destruction of Israel.
Abbas warned that financial support had already begun to decrease to the Palestinian Authority, after Hamas crushed Abbas's long-dominant Fatah party in the Jan. 25 election.
"Unfortunately the pressures have begun and the support and the aid started to decrease. ...Therefore we are currently in a real financial crisis," Abbas told reporters in Gaza City.
Abbas confirmed that the United States asked the Palestinian Authority to return $50 million US in aid to ensure it does not reach Hamas. The European Union, which is the biggest donor to the Palestinian Authority, has threatened to stop funding unless Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist, renounces violence and abides by peace accords.
Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States and other countries. The group has carried out about 60 suicide bombings and other attacks against Israelis since 2000, but has been observing the informal ceasefire forged between Israel and the Palestinians in early 2005.
Israel halts funds, denouncing 'terrorist authority'
Israel's acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said the Palestinian government would be forming a "terrorist" regime dedicated to Israel's destruction, before his cabinet voted in favour of the sanctions.
"It is clear that with a majority for Hamas in parliament and with the formation of a government under the leadership of Hamas, the Palestinian Authority will become a de facto terrorist authority," Olmert said.
"And Israel cannot accept this."
The cabinet halted the monthly transfer of about $50 million US in tax and customs revenue that it collects each month at a Gaza border crossing and transfers to the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian government relies on the money to help pay the salaries of about 140,000 government workers. About a third of them work in the security forces.
Israel also decided to:
* Tighten security at the border crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
* Ban the transfer of weapons and military equipment to Palestinian security forces.
* Withhold from Hamas parliamentarians the special privileges that Israel usually gives to Palestinian officials, allowing them to travel easily between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
* Pressure foreign donors to stop all financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.
However, the Israeli cabinet ministers did not adopt a harsh measure urged by security officials, which would have sealed off the Gaza Strip and blocked the flow of goods between Israel and Palestinian territories.
Olmert said Israel did not want to unduly punish the Palestinian people and would allow humanitarian aid to continue.
Abbas expected to ask Haniyeh to form cabinet
The sanctions are to take effect when the new Palestinian cabinet is set up.
Abbas was scheduled to meet on Monday with Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip. On Sunday, Hamas formally nominated Haniyeh as its top choice for prime minister.
Abbas was expected to formally ask Haniyeh to form a cabinet, a process expected to take several weeks.
Both Abbas and Haniyeh on Sunday criticized some countries' crackdown after Palestinian voters handed 74 of the 132 parliament seats to Hamas and only 43 to Fatah.
"We are a free people. We've had democratic elections," Haniyeh told a news conference.
Comment: Last week we ran articles describing discussions between the US and Israel on bringing down the new Palestinian government through economic suffocation. These reports were immediately denied.
As the final line in this report says, "We are a free people. We've had democratic elections". But the United States and Israel are not interested in democracy.
While Yasser Arafat remained alive, Sharon insisted that they couldn't negotiate with a "terrorist", never mind Sharon's own violent past. Nothing changed after Arafat's assassination. The election of Hamas was a godsend for Israel because now it can continue denouncing the Palestinians as "terrorists" and continue to refuse any compromise or negoiation. All the while, they will continue on with their genocide and theft of Palestinian land while the world watches and does nothing.
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Why is Israel against Russia's meeting with Hamas leaders?
RIA Novosti commentators Marianna Belenkaya, Artur Gabdrakhmanov
The Arab world welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to invite Hamas leaders to Moscow. But Israeli politicians say the Russian initiative "aims to give international legitimacy to a terrorist group."
Israel's negative reaction was predictable. But what stands behind it? Is it honest indignation or what?
"This initiative is a real knife in the back," said Israel's Education Minister Meir Sheetrit. "What would Moscow say if we invited Chechen representatives to Jerusalem in response?"
But it would not be right to compare the Chechen and the Palestinian situations, if only because Chechnya is part of Russia, which the international community recognizes, while the Palestinian territory is occupied by Israel, as proceeds from UN Security Council resolutions.
The Israeli minister also forgets that Hamas has come to power in legitimate elections. The Palestinian people voted for it and gave it the right to form the government. The international community has indirectly recognized this right by accepting the results of the elections. Moscow is offended when other states receive people who have lost the right to represent the interests of Chechens or have never had this right. Chechnya has a legitimate parliament and president who are the only ones with the right to speak on behalf of the Chechen people who have elected them.
President Putin invited Hamas leaders to Moscow only after the organization won the parliamentary elections. His initiative cannot undermine the legitimacy of the Palestinian government or the stability of Palestine, unlike the actions of those who receive Chechen bandits in their capitals.
Hamas's victory is a fact that cannot be denied without denying also the results of the elections.
Israeli politicians accuse Moscow of acting contrary to the latest statement made by the Quartet of international intermediaries (Russia, the United States, the UN and the European Union). This statement on the results of the Palestinian elections was adopted in London on January 30. Israelis like to mention it, though in the past they preferred to ignore such documents, let alone the UN Security Council resolutions that run counter to Israel's interests. Moreover, Israel accepted the Roadmap for the Middle East settlement with 14 reservations. According to the Israeli interpretation of the latest statement by the Quartet, Moscow has no right to receive Hamas leaders.
In fact, the January 30 statement by the Quartet did not aim to boycott Hamas and did not even mention it. It says "future assistance to any new Palestinian government would be reviewed by donors against that government's commitment to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap." Note the word "would" where Israel sees "must."
Moreover, there is no yardstick to judge Palestinians' actions because the new Palestinian government has not been formed yet. And there are no grounds for accusing Russia of betraying the Quartet. Russian diplomats said after President Putin had made public his initiative that talks with Hamas would be held within the framework of the Quartet's decisions and would aim, in part, to ensure the safety of Israel.
Therefore, Israeli hysterics over the Russian initiative can be explained only with internal political considerations. It is not clear, though, why those who denounce the Russian initiative say nothing about Hamas's talks with Egypt, or about Turkey's idea of mediating between Hamas and Israel. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has been to Egypt to discuss the regional situation with President Hosni Mubarak and to send Israel's demands to Hamas via Egypt. Why cannot Moscow act as an intermediary then?
One possible reason is that the Quartet, including the U.S. and the EU, will judge the prospects of dialogue with Hamas by the results of the Moscow talks. If Russian diplomats convince their American and European colleagues that dialogue is possible, it will become more difficult for Israel to neglect its obligations to Palestinians.
Israel does not mention that on January 30, the Quartet reminded the sides "of their obligations under the Roadmap to avoid unilateral actions which prejudice final status issues." This warning is directed primarily at Israel, which is pursuing a unilateral policy, which allows it to formalize ownership of disputed territories, under the pretext that it does not have a negotiating partner in Palestine. The international community would silently agree to this only if it admits that dialogue with Hamas is impossible.
And one more question: Why did the Israeli government talk with Fateh, which ruled Palestine before the elections, but denies this right to Hamas? The Fateh's militant branch is more active than Hamas's paramilitary groups, which mostly respect the truce agreement.
This does not mean that the international community should forgive Hamas for the terrorist attacks it had committed in the past. Russia makes no difference between the attacks in Moscow, Tel Aviv, London, New York or any other part of the world. It has never approved of such forms of political struggle, and it will discuss this issue with the Palestinian delegation. But if there is a chance that Hamas would abandon terror, why not use it? We could not imagine 20 years ago that Israelis would negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose core is the Fateh party, but it has done it.
Moscow understands Israel's apprehension of Hamas. But the world should see that isolation would force Hamas to become more radical. If the West denies its assistance to it, it will seek other sponsors who would give money for terror, not creation. So far, the international community has a chance to influence Hamas's future policy. Changes may be slow or may not happen at all, but this does not mean we should stop trying. This is what Russia is doing - trying to lead the Middle East crisis out of the current deadlock.
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Iraq Bombings Kill 24 People
By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. ambassador to Iraq warned Iraqi politicians Monday they risk a loss of American support if they do not establish a genuine national unity government, saying the United States will not invest its resources in institutions run by sectarians.
Meanwhile, at least 24 people, including an American soldier, were killed by bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere. Two Macedonian contractors were freed by kidnappers four days after they were abducted in Basra, a British official said without giving further details.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad delivered his blunt warning during a rare press conference after signs that talks on a new government following the December elections were not going well because of sharp differences among the country's Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political parties.
Failure to establish a unity government that includes a strong role for Sunni Arabs would fail to undermine the Sunni-dominated insurgency and throw into question U.S. plans for a phased withdrawal of the 138,000 American troops here.
Khalilzad said that overcoming the sectarian and ethnic divide requires a government of national unity, which is "the difference between what exists now and the next government." The outgoing government is dominated by Shiites and Kurds.
Khalilzad told the Shiites that the key security Defense and Interior ministries must be in the hands of people "who are nonsectarian, broadly acceptable and who are not tied to militias."
The ambassador reminded the Iraqis that the United States has spent billions to build up Iraq's police and army and "we are not going to invest the resources of the American people and build forces that are run by people who are sectarian."
Sunni Arabs accuse the Shiite-led Interior Ministry of human rights abuses and using Shiite militias against Sunni civilians under the cover of fighting the insurgency. Shiites deny the charge and say they must control security forces to protect Shiites against attacks by Sunni religious extremists.
Khalilzad cited the need for compromise, especially in the Defense and Interior ministries. He said ministers in those posts must be those "who are nonsectarian, broadly accepted and who are not tied to militias."
Otherwise, he warned that "Iraq faces the risk of warlordism that Afghanistan went through for a period." Khalilzad was born in Afghanistan and served as U.S. envoy there.
Several Shiite parties are believed to control armed militias, some of which date back to the
Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s when many Iraqi Shiites fled to Shiite-dominated Iran. On the other hand, most of the insurgents are Sunnis. Kurds maintain the biggest armed force — the peshmerga — which they maintain is the legitimate security force of their autonomous government in the north.
Shiites and Kurds dominate the ranks of the Iraqi army and police, although the United States is stepping up efforts to recruit Sunnis into those institutions.
A coalition of Shiite religious parties won 130 of the 275 seats in the new parliament. Although they have agreed in principle to a unity government, Shiite leaders insist their showing in the Dec. 15 election gives them the democratic right to control key levers of the new government.
A Kurdish alliance won 53 seats and two Sunni Arab blocs together took 55 seats — a major increase over Sunni representation in the outgoing parliament.
Iraqis have until mid-May to form a new government, but U.S. and Iraqi officials warn the process could take longer because of political differences.
Control of the security ministries is only one of several major differences standing in the way of a political agreement. Shiites insist that Sunni Arab parties work actively against the insurgency. Sunnis insist on drawing a difference between "legitimate resistance" to foreign occupation and terrorism that targets civilians.
Shiites, who comprise about 60 percent of the population, are reluctant to surrender power won at the ballot box to Sunni Arabs, who dominated political life here during
Saddam Hussein's regime. Sunni Arabs insist that programs to purge Saddam's supporters from public life be limited and not used to deprive Sunnis of a future in Iraq.
Kurds zealously guard the self-rule they have enjoyed since 1991, and many of them want to expand their autonomous region to oil centers around Kirkuk, claimed by Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen.
As the country faces political deadlock, violence rages.
The U.S. command said the American soldier was killed Monday by a roadside bomb southeast of Karbala, about 50 miles southeast of Baghdad. The soldier's name was not released pending notification of kin.
In Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt on a bus Monday in the Shiite district of Kazamiyah, killing 12 people and injuring 15, police said. Earlier, a bomb exploded next to tea stalls near Liberation Square, killing at least four day laborers and wounding 14, police said.
In Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, a suicide attacker blew himself up in a restaurant packed with policemen eating breakfast, killing at least five people and wounding 21, including 10 policemen, officials said.
Two more civilians died when a car bomb exploded in Madain southeast of Baghdad, police said. Eleven people, including three women, were injured.
The freed Macedonians worked for the Ecolog cleaning company at Basra International Airport and were abducted Thursday. Their kidnappers had demanded a $1 million ransom from their employers, but it was unclear if any money had been paid.
The British official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed their released.
More than 250 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq, including American reporter Jill Carroll, who was abducted Jan. 7 in Baghdad. At least 39 have been killed.
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British troops executed unarmed Iraqi
Michael Smith, The Sunday Times
February 19, 2006
AN UNARMED Iraqi shot dead in one of the most controversial incidents of the Iraq war is suspected to have been the victim of an execution by British soldiers angry at the death of their sergeant.
An army investigation into the case, potentially one of the most damaging allegations against British troops to emerge from the war, has allegedly repeatedly been stalled by senior officers, including one of the army’s most respected generals.
But a Metropolitan police investigation is understood to have confirmed the initial suspicions of army investigators that, despite being disabled by machinegun fire, the Iraqi was shot at point-blank range.
Zahir Zabti Zaher was killed in the same incident in which Sergeant Steven Roberts died near al-Zubayr, southwest of Basra, on March 24, 2003, three days into the war. The incident became notorious when it emerged that equipment shortages had left Roberts without any body armour.
The Crown Prosecution Service is still considering whether to take the case to court, with two soldiers facing possible murder charges and one a charge of manslaughter.
The new allegations of an "execution" explain an angry exchange of letters in November 2004 between Geoff Hoon, the former defence secretary, and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, over alleged attempts by senior officers to block an investigation.
Goldsmith was so concerned over the implications of the case that he took it out of the hands of the military and gave it to the Met and the civilian courts system.
Goldsmith wanted Major-General Peter Wall and other senior officers to be interviewed by the Met over what he said was evidence of "a concerted attempt by the chain of command to influence and prevent an investigation into this matter".
Goldsmith was "extremely angry" when Hoon refused to allow Wall to be interviewed by police, one defence source said last week. More than a year later he has still not been interviewed.
The role of officers in the case goes to the heart of the attorney-general’s concerns over the lack of independence of the military police, who remain part of the army command structure and can pursue investigations only with the agreement of military commanders.
Although officers and soldiers work very closely together during military operations, officers have been charged in only one of the six investigations into alleged breaches of the Geneva conventions by British troops in Iraq.
That was in the case of Baha Musa, an Iraqi hotel worker who died in the custody of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment. After Goldsmith’s intervention Colonel Jorge Mendonca, the battalion’s then commanding officer, and Major Michael Peebles, an Intelligence Corps interrogator, were charged with neglect.
The army Special Investigations Branch (SIB) inquiry into the killings of Roberts and Zaher was repeatedly blocked by senior officers from the very start, defence sources close to the original investigation alleged. A three-man team from 61 Section SIB sent to al-Zubayr found large numbers of spent British cartridge cases but no evidence that any Iraqis had fired any weapons. They spoke to soldiers and Iraqi witnesses to piece together what happened.
Roberts and his men from 2nd Royal Tank Regiment were in three Challenger 2 tanks manning a checkpoint just outside the the small town of al-Zubayr. They had been on the road for four days with little sleep. There was apprehension about the next phase of the battle and the possibility of paramilitary Saddam Fedayeen units operating in civilian clothes.
Roberts and his men were approached by a group of Iraqi civilians apparently angry at being prevented from going into the town. Zaher came up to the checkpoint and appeared agitated.
Roberts dismounted from his tank to try to calm him down. But Zaher threw a stone at Roberts and then another. At some point — Iraqi eyewitnesses claimed on orders from Roberts — a soldier on one of the tanks opened fire on Zaher with its 7.62 coaxial machinegun, inadvertently shooting Roberts as well.
The initial evidence suggested that, while Roberts died in the burst of machinegun fire, Zaher did not, even though his torso was riddled with bullets and one arm was virtually severed from his body.
"There were a number of suspicious markers," one source said. But the SIB team was ordered by senior commanders to release Zaher’s body to his family, interview the soldiers as witnesses rather than as suspects, and treat the shooting of Roberts as "a tragic death in war".
As the news of the death of Roberts emerged, attention focused on the way in which he had been ordered to hand back the ceramic plates in his body armour.
In an audio diary recorded for his wife in the days before he died, Roberts had complained that they were going to war without the equipment they needed and that it was "disgraceful" that they had "absolutely nothing". His wife Samantha lambasted Hoon.
The death of Zaher had disappeared from view. But when the warrant officer in charge of the investigation, WO2 Phil Jackson, returned to Germany, he reported back to his immediate boss, Lieutenant-Colonel Graham Taylor, the commanding officer of SIB (Germany).
Taylor pulled strings to have the case reopened in Iraq, where SIB officers recovered Zaher’s body and an examination found that it was not the machinegun bullets that had killed him. It was two pistol shots to his head as he lay helpless on the ground.
"That evidence was very clear," a source close to the investigation said. "He died from two pistol shots to the head. There were clear grounds to suspect an execution, ie murder. You don’t do that to a prisoner."
Army sources have since claimed that Zaher had "Rasputin-like" strength and that Roberts fired his pistol at the Iraqi. But the source said this could not explain the head shots that would have killed Zaher instantly, meaning he would not have been hit by the machinegun fire at chest height.
Taylor went to Wall, who was general officer commanding 1 (UK) Armoured Division, and told him the decision not to investigate initially was flawed and the case now had to be reinvestigated properly.
Wall told Taylor there was no need to investigate. But Taylor was determined that the matter should be investigated and kept going back to Wall to explain why. Eventually, in September 2003, Wall wrote to the army’s most senior legal adviser, known as brigadier advisory, and asked him if SIB officers under his command could order an investigation against his express wishes. Sources say he was told not to block it any longer.
Goldsmith told Hoon that despite "clear advice", there was correspondence showing senior officers still "intervening to prevent investigations" by the SIB for a further five months.
Wall says in a statement he remains confident that he "acted in accordance with the interests of justice and appropriate care" for the soldiers under his command.
The Ministry of Defence declined to comment.
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Basra cuts co-operation with British over beating video
Last Updated Sun, 19 Feb 2006 17:22:43 EST
The municipal government of a southern Iraqi city has suspended co-operation with British forces because of a video that appears to show British soldiers abusing Iraqi civilians.
The council in Basra announced its decision on Sunday, a week after a newspaper released the video and published photographs that seem to show British soldiers beating youths with batons in southern Iraq in 2004.
Another council in the area has made a similar move, which means British troops can expect little official co-operation in most of the parts of southern Iraq that they are supposed to monitor.
The Basra council was expected to send letters to the police service and other civic organizations Tuesday calling for them to stop working with British troops.
It has told its employees that they could lose their jobs if they work with the British.
However, Britain's Defence Secretary John Reid said less than .05 per cent of the nearly 100,000 British soldiers who have served in Iraq have been involved in "sustainable allegations of mistreatment of civilians."
"I insist we put it in proportion," he said.
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Bombing of Baghdad 'linked to UK radiation rise'
Feb 20 2006
By Drew Morris Daily Post Correspondent
THE "shock and awe" bombing campaign in Iraq caused radiation levels in Britain to rocket, according to a controversial report by a Liverpool University academic.
Chris Busby claims "uranium aerosols" from the Middle East were blown across Europe, contaminating populations thousands of miles away.
Mr Busby, a fellow of the department of human anatomy and cell biology, compiled the report after uncovering the radiation figures through freedom of information laws.
The results were detected from testing stations at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Aldermaston, Berkshire, and four other stations in the area.
Mr Busby's report found higher levels were recorded at the five sites nine days after the start of the Iraq conflict on March 19, 2003.
It says that weather conditions at the time recorded a northbound airflow from Iraq which also resulted in substantial deposits of sand from the Sahara Desert being dumped on British soil.
Mr Busby, who is a founding member of the Green Audit environmental group, says the findings are proof that uranium from munitions was carried to Britain by wind currents.
He believes official claims that the uranium is not harmful are misleading.
Mr Busby said: "The point is that it is radioactive.
"If you contaminate enough people, even at a low risk then clearly it is going to have an effect on them.
"It is contrary to human rights to contaminate whole populations with a substance that could potentially harm their health."
Government experts have dismissed the report, saying the findings are a coincidence which probably came from a local source such as a power station.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence said: "It is not sensible to suggest that depleted uranium from munitions in Iraq can be detected around Aldermaston or anywhere else in the UK.
"There is simply no feasible transport mechanism, weather or otherwise, for this to happen."
However, Mr Busby says his findings refute this claim.
He said: "This report puts uranium weapons into the category of indiscriminate effect, the military maintains the weapons are only effective within 10 miles of their target. Clearly this is nonsense.
"The whole point is that this is not a local phenomenon, it's a global phenomenon and the radiation will affect the whole of the British Isles."
The "shock and awe" onslaught brought Baghdad to its knees in one of the most fearsome assaults witnessed by mankind.
British and US planes dropped more than 1,500 bombs on the Iraqi capital in the first day of the campaign, overwhelming Saddam's forces with a display of devastating might.
Hundreds of thousands of munitions coated with depleted uranium were fired.
Depleted uranium is valued for its ability to punch through armoured vehicles.
The vapour from the depleted uranium settles as a radioactive dust which some critics believe causes cancer.
However, the Government says the danger is short-lived and the substance is relatively harmless.
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Navy Counsel Issued Warning On Torture
Monday, February 20, 2006; Page A03
The Navy's general counsel warned Pentagon officials two years before the Abu Ghraib prison scandal that circumventing international agreements on torture and detainees' treatment would invite abuse, according to a published report.
Legal theories granting the president the right to authorize abuse despite the Geneva Conventions were unlawful, dangerous and erroneous, then-General Counsel Alberto J. Mora advised officials in a secret memo. The 22-page document was obtained by the New Yorker for an article in its Feb. 27 issue.
A Pentagon spokeswoman said yesterday that she had not read the magazine article.
The July 7, 2004, memo recounted Mora's 2 1/2 -year effort to halt a policy that he feared would authorize cruelty toward terrorism suspects.
It also indicates that some lawyers in the Justice and Defense departments objected to the legal course the administration undertook, according to the report.
Mora said Navy intelligence officers reported in 2002 that military-intelligence interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were engaging in escalating levels of physical and psychological abuse rumored to have been authorized at a high level in Washington.
"I was appalled by the whole thing," Mora told the magazine. "It was clearly abusive and it was clearly contrary to everything we were ever taught about American values."
Mora said he thought his concerns were being addressed by a special group set up by the Pentagon. But he discovered in January 2003 that a Justice Department opinion had negated his arguments with what he described as "an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the president's commander in chief authority."
When the first pictures from the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib appeared in the press in spring 2004, Mora said, he felt stunned and dismayed that what he had warned against had taken place, and in a different setting than Guantanamo Bay.
Mora retired this year and now is a general counsel for Wal-Mart.
A U.N. report issued last week called for the United States to close its prison at Guantanamo Bay. In response, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld rejected accusations of torture or abuse and said the detention facility is well-run.
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What if Cheney had Apologized for Iraq?
Monday, February 20, 2006
Satire alert for the humorless. What would it have looked like if Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney had apologized for Iraq the way he apologized for shooting a hunting buddy?
[Imaginary] Transcript of Vice President Dick Cheney's interview Wednesday with Brit Hume of Fox News Channel, as released by the White House. Cheney addresses his illegal invasion of Iraq on false pretences, resulting in tens of thousands of dead.
Question: Mr. Vice President, how are the Iraqis?
Answer: Well, the good news is they are doing very well today. I talked to their leaders yesterday after they discovered how many we had killed and tortured . . . But we've stopped the very worst torture, so the reporting today is very good.
Q: How did you feel when you heard about that?
A: Well, it's a great relief. But I won't be, obviously, totally at ease until there is no torture and no one dies from US bombing raids. They are at home. They'll be in turmoil apparently, for a few more years. And the problem, obviously, is that there's always the possibility of complications in a population reduced to a very bad situation by years of sanctons.
Q: How long have you known about Iraq?
A: I first encountered it during the Gulf War, and 2003 was the first time I'd actually attacked the country.
Q: Would you describe Iraq as a close friend, friendly acquaintance, what?
A: No, I knew absolutely nothing about the place.
Q: Tell me what happened?
A: Well, basically, we were conducting an invasion late in the day ...
Q: Describe the setting.
A: It's in south Iraq near Kuwait, wide open spaces, a lot of brush cover, fairly shallow. But it's wild Iraqi conscripts. It's some of the best conscript hunting anyplace in the region. I've gone there, for years. ...
Q: How many?
A: Oh, probably 100,000 troops. We weren't all together . . .
Q: There was just two of you then?
A: Just two of us at that point. The guide or outrider between us, and of course, there's this entourage behind us, all the cars and so forth that follow me around when I'm out there. But the Baath Army flushed and went to my right, off to the west. I turned and shot at the soldiers, and at that second, saw them standing there. Didn't know they were there ...
Q: You had pulled the trigger and you saw them?
A: Well, I saw them mown down, basically. It had happened so fast.
Q: What were the Iraqis wearing?
A: They were dressed in orange, they was dressed properly, but they were also ... There was a little bit of a gully there, so they were down a little ways before land level, although I could see the upper part of their bodies when ... I didn't see it at the time I shot, until after I'd fired. And the sun was directly behind them — that affected the vision, too, I'm sure.
But the image of Iraq falling is something I'll never be able to get out of my mind. I started a war, and there's Iraqis falling in the thousands. And it was, I'd have to say, one of the worst days of my life, at that moment.
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Iran to accept Russian proposal
www.chinaview.cn 2006-02-20 12:32:59
TEHRAN, Feb. 19 (Xinhuanet) -- Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said here on Sunday that Iran would accept a Russian compromise proposal aimed to defuse the current Iranian nuclear tension after it was amended into a comprehensive offer.
"Russia's nuclear proposal will serve Iran's interests if it turns into a comprehensive offer by holding talks and including complimentary terms and conditions," Mottaki was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying.
Mottaki said that the Russian proposal should be negotiated to "help clarify some of its aspects and study more elements," adding that Iran welcomed any initiative or effort for securing the country's legal rights while dispersing the international concerns over its nuclear program.
Noting Moscow's recent call for Iran's re-suspension of uranium enrichment work, Mottaki stressed that Iran would never accept any preconditions for talks.
Russia proposed last December that the two countries establish a joint venture in Russia to enrich uranium for Iran. Tehran termed the offer as incomplete but not negative, expressing determination to enrich uranium on the Iranian soil.
An Iranian delegation will leave for Moscow later on Sunday to discuss the compromise proposal with Russian officials. Meanwhile, Mottaki will head for Brussels, Belgium, to hold talks with European diplomats over the rising nuclear tension.
The European Union (EU), broker of the Iranian nuclear issue for more than two years, has expressed willingness to accept the Russian proposal.
The nuclear negotiations between Iran and the EU were paralyzed after Tehran defiantly resumed nuclear research work on Jan. 10 and sent ambiguous messages on the Russian proposal.
The tension further escalated as Iran recently resumed small-scale uranium enrichment and prohibited the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) snap inspections, a retaliative move against the UN nuclear watchdog's decision on Feb. 4 to report Iran's nuclear case to the UN Security Council.
Uranium enrichment is the key step for constructing nuclear fuel cycle, but highly enriched uranium can be used for building nuclear weapons.
The United States accuses Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons, and the European Union also holds that Iran's full mastery of nuclear fuel cycle technology would possibly lead to military usage.
Iran, however, rejects the allegation as politically motivated, insisting that its nuclear program is fully peaceful and aimed at meeting rising domestic demand for electricity.
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Iran to pursue atomic research despite Russian plan
Mon Feb 20, 2006
MOSCOW - Iran vowed on Monday to pursue its nuclear research even if talks in Moscow produce agreement on a Russian compromise aimed at keeping bomb-grade enriched uranium out of the Islamic Republic's hands.
There was no word on the outcome of closed-door Kremlin talks between Russian and Iranian officials on Moscow's offer to enrich uranium on Iran's behalf for use in power stations. A Russian source said the two sides would meet again on Tuesday.
"It is too early to talk about results. The negotiations are continuing," Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
The United States and the European Union trio of France, Britain and Germany -- the countries pressing Iran hardest on its nuclear program -- have welcomed the Russian plan.
But U.S. and other officials are skeptical, saying Tehran is keeping the Russian offer on the table to buy time.
"The Iranians will try to throw sand in everybody's eyes, as they have for the last three years," the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said of the Moscow talks. "We'll see what results," he told reporters in New York.
In Brussels, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki insisted his country would press ahead with nuclear research even if it accepts the Russian proposal.
"If we reach some compromise ... (on the Russian proposal), we continue our cooperation from where we are now. That is, the research department will continue its activity," he said.
Iran says it needs atomic power for electricity, not bombs.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Mottaki had made no new proposals to EU officials.
"The substantive position (of Iran) has not changed," he told reporters, urging Tehran to shift its stance before Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), reports on Iran's nuclear activities on March 6.
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Iran's nuclear power
When I've written in the recent past about Iran, I haven't had the slightest hesitation to say that Iran has the right to develop nuclear power or nuclear weapons. But I admit I didn't fully understand why they were so keen on nuclear power. This article is extremely enlightening on that point. Here's a sentence which describes what I probably thought of as their main motive: "Iranians view the development of nuclear energy as a hallmark of modernization and national pride." But the truth is, there are more concrete reasons as well:
Iranians point out that nuclear energy makes profound economic sense for their nation. The nuclear energy program aims to use the nation's own uranium resources.
More important, nuclear energy development would allow Iran to husband its natural gas resources that are currently being exhausted for electricity generation, but that could much more profitably be exported to growing industrial markets such as China and India.
And, don't you know it, the self-interest of the United States plays a role too. Not now, of course, but historically:
Indeed, the United States supported Iran's switching over to nuclear energy under our ally Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in good part so that Iran's oil and natural gas would be preserved.
Iranians, annoyed that that history is being ignored, correctly note that "nuclear technology transfer" was encouraged by both American government and American industry in the 1970s. President Gerald Ford offered Iran a full nuclear fuel cycle in 1976, and American nuclear plant manufacturers touted their wares at exhibitions and trade fares in Tehran.
Although it isn't as much of a mystery to anyone who understands the concepts of "national sovereignty," the article also sheds light on why Iran would not be amenable to allowing nuclear enrichment programs to be based in another country (Russia):
One of the reasons for this failure was the flawed partnership between the shah's government and the West. European and American industry was happy to cooperate with Iran in industrialization schemes, but these programs never provided Iran with the capacity for basic manufacturing [Ed. note: this is of course, no accident, but the essence of imperialism]. Industrial operations were largely turnkey assembly facilities designed to supply goods for internal Iranian consumption, with no possibility for export.
For this reason, Tehran's leaders began working with the Soviet Union and Japan in the 1970s to develop the basic industries they felt Iran needed to be a successful state. They developed a steel mill with the Soviet Union in Isfahan at enormous public cost and a petroleum refinery with Mitsui.
That history helps explain why Tehran is resisting a plan, suggested by Britain, Germany and France, that would allow Iran to have nuclear plants if Russia conducts the process to provide the enriched uranium to run the reactors and then repossesses the spent fuel rods.
That would alleviate outside fears that Iran would misuse its energy program to create nuclear weapons, but it smacks of the neo-colonial "assembly industry" so despised by the revolutionary forces in 1978-79.
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Georgia denies bases option for U.S. operation against Iran
TBILISI, February 20 (RIA Novosti)
Georgia's top military officer denied a media report Monday that the United States was considering using military bases in Georgia for a possible attack on Iran.
"This is utterly absurd," said Levan Nikoleishvili, the chief of the General Staff.
The report appeared Monday in Israel's Jerusalem Post newspaper, which cited an anonymous source in the Georgian government as saying that Georgia, to the northwest of Iran, could give the U.S. access to its airbases and other facilities if it decided to press ahead with action.
According to the paper, the country could agree to such a scenario despite the threat of retaliatory action from Iran, which recently agreed to supply the South Caucasus republic with natural gas, unrest among Georgia's Muslim minority and a further deterioration in relations with Russia.
Georgia has already accepted considerable U.S. military aid and President Mikheil Saakashvili is known for his Western views and desire to take the country into NATO.
Rumors that the U.S. was holding talks with Georgia and Azerbaijan on establishing a military alliance appeared in late 2004 but were immediately scotched by Tbilisi and Baku, Jerusalem Post said.
The Jerusalem Post report came against the backdrop of an escalating crisis around Iran's controversial nuclear programs. Although Tehran has consistently said that it only wants to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes, the United States, Israel and members of the European Union have accused it of pursuing a covert weapons program. Washington has suggested that military action to end Iran's nuclear ambitions has not been ruled out, as both President George Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have said Iran must be prevented from developing nuclear weapons.
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Winter storms, frigid temperatures hit across US
Monday, February 20, 2006;
ROCHESTER, New York -- Utility crews worked Sunday to restore power to thousands of homes and businesses from Michigan to Maine following a weekend winter storm, while slick roads and heavy winds were blamed for several deadly accidents.
At least four deaths were reported in the Northeast, while at least three people were killed in accidents on icy roads in Arkansas over the weekend.
Trees toppled by the wind killed two motorists in New York and one in Massachusetts. Another was killed near Rochester when his vehicle slammed into a truck rig whose driver had stopped to clear storm debris from his windshield.
As far south as Texas, ice and freezing rain canceled dozens of flights over the weekend at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, including 85 American Airlines flights, according to a company spokesman.
Little Rock, Arkansas, had a Sunday morning low of 18. Farther west, Alliance, Nebraska, bottomed out at 8 below, the National Weather Service said.
In the Upper Midwest, the 8 a.m. reading of 2 below zero at Duluth, Minnesota, combined with 17 mph wind for a wind chill of 23 below.
A reading of 18 below was recorded in Allagash, Maine, while temperatures dipped to a low of 10 degrees in Rochester and wind of up to 17 mph made it feel like almost 10 below zero, weather service said.
The fierce wind, including a 143 mph gust recorded on Vermont's Stratton Mountain on Friday, knocked out power and toppled trees, which were blamed for four deaths in the Northeast.
Utility officials in New York expected to have crews working through the week to restore power to the 31,500 customers still without electricity Sunday. That's down from a peak of 328,000 customers three days earlier.
Several states were operating shelters, providing havens with light and heat for those without power.
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Development Raises Flood Risk Across U.S.
By ANDREW BRIDGES
Sat Feb 18, 10:30 PM ET
ST. LOUIS - Concentrated development in flood-prone parts of Missouri, California and other states has significantly raised the risk of New Orleans-style flooding as people snap up new homes even in areas recently deluged, researchers said Saturday.
Around St. Louis, where the Mississippi River lapped at the steps of the Gateway Arch during the 1993 flood, more than 14,000 acres of flood plain have been developed since then. That has reduced the region's ability to store water during future floods and potentially put more people in harm's way, said Adolphus Busch IV, a scion of the Anheuser-Busch brewing family who is chairman of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance.
Similar development has occurred around Dallas, Kansas City, Mo., Los Angeles, Omaha, Neb., and Sacramento, Calif., said Gerald Galloway, a professor of engineering at the University of Maryland.
"The half-life of the memory of a flood is very short. You can already hear it in Washington, D.C.: New Orleans where?" Galloway said of the lack of action in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina last summer.
The research was presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In California, development in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, where flood control efforts first started in the mid-1800s, represents a major risks to cities such as Stockton as they expand, said Jeffrey Mount, a professor of geology at the University of California, Davis.
"We are reinventing Katrina all over again," Mount said.
Mount estimates a two-in-three probability over the next 50 years of a catastrophic levee failure in the massive delta region east of San Francisco.
Even a moderate flood could breech the delta's levee system while a larger one, perhaps following an earthquake, would inundate the region, Mount said.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, which covers 738,000 acres, receives runoff from more than 40 percent of California. Much of the land is below sea level and relies on more than 1,000 miles of levees for protection against flooding, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
"In California, we know that we have two kinds of levees: Those that have failed and those that will fail," Mount said.
The lack of coordination among local, state and federal officials after a flood was evident with Katrina. Similarly, even before a storm hits, coordination on issues such as land use and development is a problem, Galloway said.
"Local land decisions later result in cries for federal help. Does that make sense? No," Galloway said, adding that the federal flood program was "rudderless."
Nor do efforts to guard against floods automatically reduce risks, said Nicholas Pinter, a professor of geology at Southern Illinois University.
Pinter said as much as 85 percent of the Mississippi in St. Louis is confined behind levees, which have raised flood levels 10 feet to 12 feet higher than they were just a century ago. That parallels the situation in New Orleans, which suffered catastrophic flooding when levees failed in the wake of Katrina.
Bolstering levees may lure more people onto flood plains, Mount said. In California, the modest investment required to shore up a levee protecting farmland can result in a dramatic increase in the value of that land, Mount said. That in turn increases the likelihood a farmer will sell out to developers, ushering in the construction of houses on what had been flood plain.
"You actually spur development. It's a self-fulfilling process," Mount said.
In the St. Louis area, there has been an estimated $2.2 billion in new construction on land that was under water in the 1993 flood, Pinter said. New Orleans probably will not be immune to that same lack of foresight, he said.
"If you want to look at what probably — unfortunately — will happen in New Orleans in the next 10 years, look at what has happened in St. Louis in the last decade," Pinter said.
The weather situation, too, may worsen, said Anthony Arguez, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"As the climate warms, we expect more extreme precipitation events. That means what once might have been a 100-year flood might be a 50-year flood," Arguez said.
Norbert Schwartz, director of the mitigation division of the
Federal Emergency Management Agency's Chicago office, did not dispute that there has been a "substantial" amount of construction on lands abutting levees across the United States.
But he said the national flood insurance program saves $100 billion in potential flood costs each year.
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Bush's Chat With Novelist Alarms Environmentalists
By MICHAEL JANOFSKY
The New York Times
February 19, 2006
WASHINGTON - One of the perquisites of being president is the ability to have the author of a book you enjoyed pop into the White House for a chat.
Over the years, a number of writers have visited President Bush, including Natan Sharansky, Bernard Lewis and John Lewis Gaddis. And while the meetings are usually private, they rarely ruffle feathers.
Now, one has.
In his new book about Mr. Bush, "Rebel in Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush," Fred Barnes recalls a visit to the White House last year by Michael Crichton, whose 2004 best-selling novel, "State of Fear," suggests that global warming is an unproven theory and an overstated threat.
Mr. Barnes, who describes Mr. Bush as "a dissenter on the theory of global warming," writes that the president "avidly read" the novel and met the author after Karl Rove, his chief political adviser, arranged it. He says Mr. Bush and his guest "talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement."
"The visit was not made public for fear of outraging environmentalists all the more," he adds.
And so it has, fueling a common perception among environmental groups that Mr. Crichton's dismissal of global warming, coupled with his popularity as a novelist and screenwriter, has undermined efforts to pass legislation intended to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas that leading scientists say causes climate change.
Mr. Crichton, whose views in "State of Fear" helped him win the American Association of Petroleum Geologists' annual journalism award this month, has been a leading doubter of global warming and last September appeared before a Senate committee to argue that the supporting science was mixed, at best.
"This shows the president is more interested in science fiction than science," Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said after learning of the White House meeting. Mr. O'Donnell's group monitors environmental policy.
"This administration has put no limit on global warming pollution and has consistently rebuffed any suggestion to do so," he said.
Not so, according to the White House, which said Mr. Barnes's book left a false impression of Mr. Bush's views on global warming.
Michele St. Martin, a spokeswoman for the Council on Environmental Quality, a White House advisory agency, pointed to several speeches in which Mr. Bush had acknowledged the impact of global warming and the need to confront it, even if he questioned the degree to which humans contribute to it.
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Born Believers? UA Researcher Examines Biological Bases for Religious Belief
University of Arkansas
Monday, February 20, 2006
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Jesse Bering, a cognitive psychologist in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas, has created one of the first experimental programs in the world that brings together three previously unconnected areas: cognitive science, evolutionary theory and existential psychology.
His most recent research will soon be published in the American Psychology Association's flagship journal, Developmental Psychology. Another more general article on Bering's work, "The Cognitive Psychology of Belief in the Supernatural," has just been published in the March-April issue of American Scientist. Numerous media have cited Bering's research, including The London Times and Science & Theology News.
In fall 2005, he served as an international fellow of the newly formed Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen's University, Belfast, Ireland, a research center with a strong focus on cognition and religion.
In his research, Bering is studying the natural psychological bases for religious belief. He examines the fundamental question "Is God all in your head?" from an evolutionary perspective.
In 1996, Bering was a student on an anthropology fellowship. He spent the summer studying a 450-pound silverback gorilla named King, who had been trained to entertain audiences by climbing atop a 20-gallon drum three times a day and belly dancing for a head of lettuce.
Bering found himself wondering what King would think of God - or if he thought of God at all.
"We tend to think that the answers to the biggest mysteries in life are somewhere 'out there' in the mysterious universe, when really it's the peculiar way our brains have evolved over the past several hundred thousand years that compels us to ask questions such as 'why am I here?' or 'what happens after I die?' in the first place," Bering said.
He recently conducted an experiment with children from 3 to 7 years old to see how they perceived unexpected events. He told each child that "Princess Alice," a friendly magic princess who could make herself invisible, would help them play a game in which they guessed which one of two boxes held a hidden ball. Bering designed the game so a picture would fall unexpectedly to the ground and a table lamp would flash on and off during the experiment.
Bering found that the oldest children were the most likely to believe that Alice was communicating with them, while the youngest simply shrugged their shoulders. Bering concluded that the three-year-olds were better scientists than the older children since they gave more plausible reasons for the unexpected events. The reason: the younger children had yet to develop the critical psychological ability to see such events as omens or symbols.
"It's a bit of a leap," Bering said, "but we can imagine how these capacities play out in the real world when people reason about the symbolic 'meaning' of, say, natural disasters." Bering cites the remarks of New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, who suggested that Hurricane Katrina was God's wake-up call to African Americans about rampant urban violence.
Bering asks "Just as canine teeth evolved to help people rip the flesh off bones, could a belief in God have evolved to help people tear off bits of meaning from an otherwise meaningless existence?" While the physical human body evolved by natural design - developing opposable thumbs and bipedal posture - has the human mind borne the thumbprint of evolution as well?
If one day everyone developed autism or otherwise lost the ability to think about other minds, church attendance would hit an all-time low, Bering argues. The reason: a key ingredient for a belief in God, Bering believes, is "an innate disposition to see others as thinking, feeling beings, just like the self."
As a graduate student, he developed an unusual taste for existential writers such as Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, and Friedrich Nietzshe. It occurred to him that the focus of these authors' works - meaninglessness, death, and the existence of God - had been ignored by mainstream cognitive science.
"I'd spent the last four years working with chimpanzees, and though most researchers in the field were telling us that there was only a matter of degree between chimpanzee and human minds, it was hard for me to believe that apes pondered their existence at any level," he said. "I wanted to know why human minds were strangely saddled with these heavy ideas of meaning and death and God; I was convinced it was something fundamentally unique to the way our minds had evolved since we last shared a common ancestor with chimpanzees several million years ago."
More than other sciences, Bering believes cognitive science has the potential to teach us how we all truly fit as individual souls in this world.
"We may not like the answers that Darwinian natural selection provides," Bering said, "but that doesn't make them any less true."
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There's something fishy about human brain evolution
Forget the textbook story about tool use and language sparking the dramatic evolutionary growth of the human brain. Instead, imagine ancient hominid children chasing frogs. Not for fun, but for food.
According to Dr. Stephen Cunnane it was a rich and secure shore-based diet that fuelled and provided the essential nutrients to make our brains what they are today. Controversially, according to Dr. Cunnane our initial brain boost didn't happen by adaptation, but by exaptation, or chance.
"Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists usually point to things like the rise of language and tool making to explain the massive expansion of early hominid brains. But this is a Catch-22. Something had to start the process of brain expansion and I think it was early humans eating clams, frogs, bird eggs and fish from shoreline environments. This is what created the necessary physiological conditions for explosive brain growth," says Dr. Cunnane, a metabolic physiologist at the University of Sherbrooke in Sherbrooke, Quebec.
The evolutionary growth in hominid brain size remains a mystery and a major point of contention among anthropologists. Our brains weigh roughly twice as much as our similarly sized earliest human relative, Homo habilis two million years ago. The big question is which came first – the bigger brain or the social, linguistic and tool-making skills we associate with it?
But, Dr. Cunnane argues that most anthropologists are ignorant or dismissive of the key missing link to help answer this question: the metabolic constraints that are critical for healthy human brain development today, and for its evolution.
Human brains aren't just comparatively big, they're hungry. The average newborn's brain consumes an amazing 75-per cent of an infant's daily energy needs. According to Dr. Cunnane, to fuel this neural demand, human babies are born with a built-in energy reservoir – that cute baby fat. Human infants are the only primate babies born with excess fat. It accounts for about 14 per cent of their birth weight, similar to that of their brains.
It's this baby fat, says Dr. Cunnane, that provided the physiological winning conditions for hominids' evolutionary brain expansion. And how were hominid babies able to pack on the extra pounds? According to Cunnane their moms were dining on shoreline delicacies like clams and catfish.
"The shores gave us food security and higher nutrient density. My hypothesis is that to permit the brain to start to increase in size, the fittest early humans were those with the fattest infants," says Dr. Cunnane, author of the book Survival of the Fattest, published in 2005.
Unlike the prehistoric savannahs or forests, argues Dr. Cunnane, ancient shoreline environments provided a year-round, accessible and rich food supply. Such an environment was found in the wetlands and river and lake shorelines that dominated east Africa's prehistoric Rift Valley in which early humans evolved.
Dr. Cunnane points to the table scrap fossil evidence collected by his symposium co-organizer Dr. Kathy Stewart from the Canadian Museum of Nature, in Ottawa. Her study of fossil material excavated from numerous Homo habilis sites in eastern Africa revealed a bevy of chewed fish bones, particularly catfish.
More than just filling the larder, shorelines provided essential brain boosting nutrients and minerals that launched Homo sapiens brains past their primate peers, says Dr. Cunnane, the Canada Research Chair in Brain Metabolism and Aging.
Brain development and function requires ample supplies of a particular polyunsaturated fatty acid: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is critical to proper neuron function. Human baby fat provides both an energy source for the rapidly growing infant grey matter, and also, says Dr. Cunnane, a greater concentration of DHA per pound than at any other time in life.
Aquatic foods are also rich in iodine, a key brain nutrient. Iodine is present in much lower amounts from terrestrial food sources such as mammals and plants.
It was this combination of abundant shoreline food and the "brain selective nutrients" that sparked the growth of the human brain, he says.
"Initially there wasn't selection for a larger brain," argues Dr. Cunnane. "The genetic possibility was there, but it remained silent until it was catalyzed by this shore-based diet."
Dr. Cunnane acknowledges that for the past 20 years he's been swimming upstream when it comes to convincing anthropologists of his position, especially that initial hominid brain expansion happened by chance rather than adaptation.
But, he says, the evidence of the importance of key shoreline nutrients to brain development is still with us – painfully so. Iodine deficiency is the world's leading nutrient deficiency. It affects more than a 1.5 billion people, mostly in inland areas, and causes sub-optimal brain function. Iodine is legally required to be added to salt in more than 100 countries.
Says Dr. Cunnane: "We've created an artificial shore-based food supply in our salt."
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Japanese cult guru judged fit for appeal
Last Updated Sun, 19 Feb 2006 23:09:11 EST
The former leader of a Japanese doomsday cult has been judged mentally fit to continue his appeal of a death sentence for masterminding a deadly nerve-gas attack on Tokyo's subway, state television said on Monday.
NHK television said the evaluation was made in a report from a court-appointed psychiatrist who examined Shoko Asahara, the founder of the Aum Shinrikyo cult.
Asahara was sentenced to death by hanging in 2004 after being found guilty of being responsible for the sarin gas attack, which killed 12 people and made thousands of others sick in 1995.
Asahara's lawyers had argued that the 50-year-old was mentally ill. They asked for the case to be suspended.
NHK television said the psychiatrist's evaluation could open the door for Asahara's appeal to be heard by Tokyo High Court, which is expected to uphold the death sentence.
On March 20, 1995, five cult members pierced bags of sarin – a nerve gas developed by the Nazis – on separate trains as they converged in central Tokyo's national government district.
They killed 12 people and made thousands of others sick.
The cult claimed it was a pre-emptive strike against police planning raids on the group.
The judge in the original trial concluded that Asahara plotted to spread sarin gas across Tokyo in order to "destroy the capital and build his own kingdom."
Asahara was convicted of killing 27 people in total, including former members of the cult and an anti-cult lawyer and his family.
A number of other former cult members have received death sentences for participating in the attack on the subway system.
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Actress charged in TV show scheme
Last Updated Sun, 19 Feb 2006 11:04:18 EST
A sometime actress has been charged in connection with an alleged scam to take $5.5 million US from investors for a show about the Department of Homeland Security that never existed.
Alison Heruth appeared in court Saturday after being arrested at her home in Minnesota. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said Heruth is accused of pretending to be the lead actress in the show, DHS.
Authorities say more than $5.5 million US ($6.3 million) was raised from investors who had been told the show had the endorsement of the White House. They allege the money was channeled to Heruth’s associate, Joseph Medawar.
Officials say the money was used to pay for personal expenses such as jewelry, home rentals, entertainment and car leases.
Heruth has been charged with two counts of concealing the crime and one charge of making false statements to the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service. She is out on bail and due back in court in March. Heruth faces up to 12 years in jail in convicted on all charges.
The 41-year-old woman is listed in the IMDB website as having appeared in a 2001 movie Posljednja volja, also known as The Last Will, under the name Alison Heruth-Waterbury.
Medawar is free on a $1 million bond. He had been arrested last September and charged with 34 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and other charges.
It’s alleged Medwar got at least 70 investors to buy stock in his production company and had claimed that 26 episodes of DHS were in post-production.
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Ark's Quantum Quirks
February 20, 2006
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