- Signs of the Times for Fri, 24 Feb 2006 -

Editorial: The Daily Battle Against Subjectivity

Signs of the Times
24 February 2006
If the world is the expression of those who inhabit it, the mirror of ourselves and our ways of interacting with each other, then surely the only way for the world to evolve is for its inhabitants to evolve.

Change takes place naturally, whether we wish it to or not. Look at pictures from fifty years ago, you'll see how our dress has changed, how our cars have changed, our telephones and planes and televisions. Lacking from the photos will be cell phones, iPods, and desktop and laptop computers and the other "revolutionary" advances in technology that have so shaped our current society. Go back one hundred years and you'll see horses on the streets instead of cars. A little over two hundred years and you'll find kings and queens in the place of presidents and legislative assemblies.

Such great leaps and bounds in the outer world, in the various forms of clothing in which we wrap ourselves to provide the multiple layers of shelter we need to protect ourselves from the world!

But man himself? How has he changed in fifty, one hundred, or even a thousand years?

Has he evolved at all?

There is a difference between change and evolution. The examples above are those of change. Another name for change is "progress", and "progress" is the technological and material shape-shifting of appearances. Only the outer shell moves. It is a mechanical process that has no consciousness behind it. There is no decision based upon a well-thought out choice that determines the direction of this movement. Think of that new god of our society "the free market" with its "invisible hand" that knows best and works for the improvement of the lot of us all. This deity is being imposed upon the world, in the name of neo-liberal economics, and the invisible hand hiding the tyrannical fist is refashioning all areas of our lives, one after another. Health, happiness, and family life are all being contorted to fit the economics of the bottom line. In a pathocratic turnabout, real blood is being spilt to "get us out of the red".

Somewhere, someone is undoubtedly laughing at the irony, perhaps a conscious irony, at that.

Unfortunately, mechanical changes in the world can have an affect upon the inner life. When one allows oneself to be buffeted by the mechanics of "progress", having no inner anchor, the chaotic, contentious, contradictory, and confusing environment is internalised. It is, in fact, a feedback loop, because as I said at the beginning, the world is the mirror of its inhabitants, and this mechanical and chaotic tempest began as the expression of our inner lives, of the multiplicity of voices we hear within contending to be obeyed.

In the face of this chaos, there are three choices: one can align oneself openly with chaos, which appears to be the choice of the Bush Reich and its supporters; one can choose to not choose, which is to align oneself with chaos while pretending to wipe one's hands of the decision, the apparent choice of most people on the planet; or one can choose to live, act, and BE in a way to bring order to the world. One can consciously choose to confront mechanical change by deciding to work consciously to evolve rather than change or be changed.

To choose chaos is to choose subjectivity, our own limited and filtered view of the world, shaped by our past, our traumas and their emotional sting, our needs and wishful thinking. To continue to allow our perceptions and subsequent construction of our inner world view to be determined by the chaotic outer life built upon our chaotic inner life is to throw oneself wholly into the maelstrom, to not be the subject of one's life, but to remain the object upon which life acts.

Ouspensky quotes Gurdjieff as saying:

"In speaking of evolution it is necessary to understand from the outset that no
mechanical evolution is possible. The evolution of man is the evolution of his
consciousness. And 'consciousness' cannot evolve unconsciously. The evolution of
man is the evolution of his will, and 'will' cannot evolve involuntarily. The evolution,
of man is the evolution of his power of doing, and 'doing' cannot be the result of
things which 'happen.' "

Conscious evolution demands an objective assessment of ourselves and our world. As long as we remain tied to our subjective understanding, we are lost in a dream world. We are not seeing things as they are. The first step to an objective understanding of the world is to see ourselves as we are, free from any illusion. But we all have blind spots, areas that we can only identify with the help of others. That is why we need a network, a group of individuals committed to seeing themselves and the world as clearly as possible. They help each other to root out their programmes, to identify the different small 'I's that we cannot see for ourselves.

Moreover, even if our reading instruments are well-tuned, we each have only a partial view of the world. The network of collinear individuals has a broader view of the whole, able to bring more data than any one person. The greater the number of individuals, the more objective the network's view can be.

That is the goal of the Signs page and the Quantum Future Group, to provide an environment where people who see the application of the ideas found here can work and battle their subjectivity. Our new forum and our casschat group on Yahoo are the first steps in that practice. Here, interested people can get their feet wet by exchanging with others. They can learn to apply these ideas in their own lives. They can slowly work to become conscious of their mechanical nature, of how they are acted upon by their surroundings, in order to step by step begin to make conscious choices about their future.

We receive many emails from people wondering what they can do. They feel small and impotent in the face of the horrors of the world. Our current fundraiser will raise money to help us to extend the reach of these ideas to others. For those of you who already know our sites and books, the work on the self, the work to overcome our subjective states and join with others to build a collinear network in which the creative spirit of many can be nourished and developed is the next step. We cannot change the world. It is as it is. But we each have the power to change ourselves, to evolve from mechanical beings to conscious beings. If enough of us make that choice, we will set the butterfly wings flapping, and, then, who knows what might happen?
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Editorial: Testimonies of two eyewitnesses near the bombed Dome

Signs of the Times
As with so many other events of global significance in recent years, the official story about the bombing of the Shia shrine two days ago has very quickly started to stink and reveal many inconsistencies...

From RoadsToIraq.com
Witness 1: I live in a district very near to the mosque and I will tell you exactly what I saw hours before the bombing.

There is a daily curfew in our city (Samarra) starts from 8,00 in the evening until 6,00 in the morning, in the night before the bombing and just when it's getting dark there was unusual activities by the ING (Iraqi National Guard) in the area around the mosque, I heard their cars the whole night until next day in the morning.

The Mosque Guards testimony says: Four people with ING uniforms blind folded them and set the bombs.

The witness continues, so ask I you how could the terrorists enter the area which is usually surrounded by the ING and enter the mosque then runway without being got by the police?.

Witness 2:

Witness 2 gives more detailed information and the American connection to the events before the bombing, so I made it as timeline of the events:

My name is Muhammad Al-Samarrai, I own an internet-cafe near the mosque, I sleep in my shop because I worry about my computers from thieves.

8:30 (evening) joint forces of Iraqi ING and Americans asked me to stay in the shop and don't leave the area.

9:00 (evening) they left the area.

11:00 (evening) they came back and started to patrol the area until the morning.

6:00 (next day morning) ING leave the area .

6:30 Americans leave the area .

6:40 first explosion.

6:45 second explosion.
Circumstantial evidence? Sure. But when we add in this from Kurt Nimmo:
As the "non-partisan" Council on Foreign Relations assures us, Iraqi National Guard troops are trained and fully "vetted" by the Pentagon. "National guard troops receive three weeks of formal training and then on-the-job training by working with U.S. forces," a CFR backgrounder explains.

"The National Guard has replaced the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps as the largest security force in Iraq," reports the World Tribune. "The 45,000-member force has been trained and equipped by the United States, with help from Britain and Jordan."

In short, the Iraqi National Guard is a subsidiary of the Pentagon, organized and trained to do the bidding of the Anglo-American occupation forces and their installed minions. Thus it should come as no surprise the Iraqi National Guard may play an important role in the recent bombing of the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra, according to locals.

And this from the horse's mouth:
"The only viable strategy, then, may be to correct (Iraq's) historical defect and move in stages toward a three-state solution: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south" -- Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations; from "Three-state Solution" NY Times 11-25-03
and we begin to get a picture of one giant setup that certain people have been planning for quite some time. Of course, the plan for the division of Iraq was drawn up much longer ago than November 2003 and long before the 9/11 attacks, which was an integral part of the setup. The general strategy seems to have been a two part process along the lines of:

a) formulation of long term plans for conquest and destruction of the modern day Middle East

b) creation of problems/events that would 'necessiate' the progressive implementation of the long term plan as the 'solution'.

The planners obviously went to great lengths to slowly develop and implement the plan, and all of the time, money and manpower seems to have been necessary for one purpose only - bringing the world public, i.e. you and me, along in the deception. The question is, are we going to go along with it? Are we going to believe it and thereby facilitate it?

Here's a little reminder of something you may have forgotten about to help you decide:

U.N. Finds No Nuclear Bomb Program in Iran

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2004

In its most positive assessment of Iran in two years, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported yesterday that it had found no evidence the nation had a nuclear weapons program and that Tehran's recent cooperation with the agency has been very good.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog's report, along with Europe's acceptance of a wide-ranging nuclear agreement with Tehran, capped a pivotal day for the Islamic republic's relations with the West and left little chance for the Bush administration's Iran strategy to succeed in the near term.

Speaking of setups, consider the following story from today's news:

Israel claims al Qaeda plans mega-attack

Israeli security officials assess that 2006 is the "target year" set by the global al-Qaeda network to carry out a mega-attack in the country, Israel's leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Thursday. bin laden

According to the report, Israeli intelligence authorities detected two years ago the shift in priorities of al Qaeda towards Israel, which has been "upgraded" to the rank of a major target. Recently, al Qaeda chief in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi declared his intentions to carry out an attack in Israel.

The report added Syria has been identified as a transfer point for al Qaeda members planning to carry out attacks in Jordan and Israel. It should be mentioned that on Wednesday Israeli Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinski said that "global Jihad forces" maintain regular bases in Lebanon and Jordan.

If the Israeli security forces believe that there is going to be a "mega attack" in Israel this year, then we should all take that belief very seriously indeed. The predictions of Israeli security forces have an uncanny knack for coming true - almost as if they knew exactly how, when and where the attack was going to take place...
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Editorial: Pentagon-Controlled Iraqi National Guard Implicated in Samarra Mosque Bombing

Kurt Nimmo
Another Day in the Empire
Thursday February 23rd 2006, 1:36 pm
As the "non-partisan" Council on Foreign Relations assures us, Iraqi National Guard troops are trained and fully "vetted" by the Pentagon. "National guard troops receive three weeks of formal training and then on-the-job training by working with U.S. forces," a CFR backgrounder explains. "The National Guard has replaced the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps as the largest security force in Iraq," reports the World Tribune. "The 45,000-member force has been trained and equipped by the United States, with help from Britain and Jordan." In short, the Iraqi National Guard is a subsidiary of the Pentagon, organized and trained to do the bidding of the Anglo-American occupation forces and their installed minions. Thus it should come as no surprise the Iraqi National Guard may play an important role in the recent bombing of the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra, according to locals.

Since it is unreasonable to expect Baghdad hotel-bound corporate media hacks to report anything beyond what is read from a Pentagon script inside the Green Zone, most Americans remain unaware of details implicating the Iraqi National Guard in the bombing. According to reports appearing on the humanitarian Iraqi League organization's Iraqi Rabita website and translated into English by the Iraqi blogger Baghdad Dweller (see original Arabic here and here), at least two witnesses saw "unusual activities by the ING [Iraqi National Guard] in the area around the mosque." Two mosque guards reported four men in ING uniforms had blindfolded them and planted explosives. A second witness, Muhammad al-Samarrai, the owner of an internet cafe in the area, was told to stay in his store and not leave the area. From 11 pm until 6:30 am, ten minutes before two bombs were detonated, the area surrounding the mosque was patrolled by "joint forces of Iraqi ING and Americans," according to al-Samarrai.

In addition to apparently facilitating the mosque bombing, Iraqi National Guard troops provided assistance to "more than a dozen masked Shia gunmen" attacking the Sunni al-Quds mosque in western Baghdad in the wake of the Samarra attack, according to the Times Online. In addition, "gunmen arrived [at the Maakel prison in Basra] in a fleet of cars and showed documents which claimed that they were from the Interior Ministry… and lynched at least eleven Sunni inmates, among them at least two Egyptians."

Last month, according to the Washington Post, the Iraqi Interior Ministry was implicated in the operation of death squads targeting Sunnis. Moreover, according to John Pike, an expert on classified military budgets, as cited by Robert Dreyfuss in an article for the American Prospect, a 2004 Iraqi appropriation bill contained $3 billion for paramilitary units. The "bulk of the covert money" went to "support U.S. efforts to create a lethal, and revenge-minded, Iraqi security force" and also "an Iraqi secret police staffed mainly by gunmen associated with members of the puppet Iraqi Governing Council," thus revealing the situation in Iraq is not precisely as the hand-fed corporate media would have us believe.

Of course, two eye witnesses should not be considered conclusive evidence the Pentagon puppet Iraqi National Guard is behind the mosque bombings in Samarra. However, when added to the wealth of evidence from various sources detailing the existence of a Anglo-American "counterinsurgency" program in Iraq (including the now largely forgotten and never referenced by the corporate media story of two British covert operatives caught red-handed in terrorist behavior last September) the incident should at least stir a modicum of suspicion.

Naturally, any such suspicion will go duly unnoticed by the corporate media, already in the process of blaming the "al-Qaeda movement," as James Jeffrey of the State Department characterized the perpetrators, and in the process leading the media down the preferred path, discouraging for now the absurd idea, as suggested by at least one member of the slavish corporate press, that Iran was somehow behind the bombing of the mosque containing the entombed bodies of two revered spiritual leaders of Shia Islam. "I think we should focus on al-Qaeda at this point," Jeffrey declared. "There are plenty of reasons to focus on Iran on other issues," for instance Iran's illusory nuclear weapon program, dispelled some time ago by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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Editorial: There used to be very little sectarianism in Iraq

Reader's Letters
The Herald.co.uk
February 24 2006
Iraq is a land replete with many wonders, not least of which is/was the al-Askari shrine in Samarra. Twenty years ago I was on my way to al-Hatra, a fifth-century Greek settlement (near Mosul), when I first saw the Golden Mosque in Samarra. We also climbed the famous tower with its perilously open-spiral staircase. This venerated shrine has now been detroyed, its flanking minarets still forlornly standing, thus only underlining the loss of the famous dome itself.

Samarra is a mainly Sunni town, repeat Sunni town, part of the famous "Sunni triangle", and thus, in our ignorance, an implausible site for one of the four most sacred centres of Shia pilgrimage in Iraq. Two of the 12 revered Shia imams are buried there, including the twelfth "hidden" imam. So, for more than 1000 years Sunnis have been the custodians of the resting place of the Shias' most sacred figure, who would return on the day of judgment to bring justice to the world. You'd have thought with all this so-called sectarianism, somebody would have damaged it before now.

With the help of Iraqi colleagues (and posing as a Yugoslavian Muslim) I managed to gain access to another sacred Shia place, Kadhimiya mosque in Baghdad, touching the great black catafalque at its centre. It too was recently attacked, together with sacred shrines in more exclusively Shia areas in Kerbala and Najaf, towns I visited in the course of my work. Inevitably, large numbers of Sunni mosques have now been damaged and imams killed.

Before "Shock and Awe" began we were bombarded with the mantra of: "Kurds to the north, Shia to the south and Sunni in the centre." On many occasions I tried to point out how dreadfully misleading this was since even the most cursory reading of Iraqi history (and geography) would have revealed a much more pluralised configuration of religions and tribes. In the years I spent there, in the 1980s, I was struck by how little sectarianism there was. Sunnis and Shia intermarried, as your editorial of Thursday perceptively pointed out. A Shia architect from Karada (Baghdad) had much more in common with a Sunni lawyer from Mansur (Baghdad) or a Christian shopkeeper from Mosul for that matter, than he had with a Shia farmer from Basra whose religion may have been one generation away from superstition.

Whether we like it or not, it was the reality of a strong state that brought about this secular framework and separate religious freedom – Christians, especially, were well aware of the protection this provided – and it is the collapse of that state that has unleashed the demons of sectarianism and the incubus of al Qaeda, the door to their access into Iraq made possible by Bush and Blair. Most Christians have gone.

Peter Galbraith, a senior US diplomat, tells of Bush asking in January 2003 for an explanation of Sunnis and Shia in Iraq since he did not know the difference, far less where they lived. Blair, meanwhile, was touring the world with a copy of the Koran in his pocket, as if that mattered. Small wonder then that a student's plagiarised 12-year-old thesis provided the basis for his judgment to go to war, in February 2003. To remind, war began in March 2003.

And when it was done – well, sort of – they protected the oil ministry but let the museums with their treasure houses of antiquities be sacked, antiquities which were richly symbolic of Iraqi civilisation, and indeed our own. Now it's Samarra. What next?

One might have thought that the ignoramuses, Bush and Blair, who are responsible for this might have paused for thought, expressed some humility, but hey, there they were yesterday (and today) pontificating on their War on Terror. When, indeed, will they ever learn?

Chris Walker, 21/23 Main Street, West Kilbride, Scotland

(Ed): Psychopaths can never learn morality or conscience. They simply lack the genetic 'wiring' to do so.
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Thursday, February 23, 2006
Baghdad Burning

Things are not good in Baghdad.

There was an explosion this morning in a mosque in Samarra, a largely Sunni town. While the mosque is sacred to both Sunnis and Shia, it is considered one of the most important Shia visiting places in Iraq. Samarra is considered a sacred city by many Muslims and historians because it was made the capital of the Abassid Empire, after Baghdad, by the Abassid Caliph Al-Mu'tasim.

The name "Samarra" is actually derived from the phrase in Arabic "Sarre men ra'a" which translates to "A joy for all who see". This is what the city was named by Al-Mu'tasim when he laid the plans for a city that was to compete with the greatest cities of the time- it was to be a joy for all who saw it. It remained the capital of the Abassid Empire for nearly sixty years and even after the capital was Baghdad once again, Samarra flourished under the care of various Caliphs.

The mosque damaged with explosives today is the "Askari Mosque" which is important because it is believed to be the burial place of two of the 12 Shia Imams- Ali Al-Hadi and Hassan Al-Askari (father and son) who lived and died in Samarra. The site of the mosque is believed to be where Ali Al-Hadi and Hassan Al-Askari lived and were buried. Many Shia believe Al-Mahdi 'al muntadhar' will also be resurrected or will reappear from this mosque.

I remember visiting the mosque several years ago- before the war. We visited Samarra to have a look at the famous "Malwiya" tower and someone suggested we also visit the Askari mosque. I was reluctant as I wasn't dressed properly at the time- jeans and a t-shirt are not considered mosque garb. We stopped by a small shop in the city and purchased a few inexpensive black abbayas for us women and drove to the mosque.

We got there just as the sun was setting and I remember pausing outside the mosque to admire the golden dome and the intricate minarets. It was shimmering in the sunset and there seemed to be a million colors- orange, gold, white- it was almost glowing. The view was incredible and the environment was so peaceful and calm. There was none of the bustle and noise usually surrounding religious sites- we had come at a perfect time. The inside of the mosque didn't disappoint either- elaborate Arabic script and more gold and this feeling of utter peace… I'm grateful we decided to visit it.

We woke up this morning to news that men wearing Iraqi security uniforms walked in and detonated explosives, damaging the mosque almost beyond repair. It's heart-breaking and terrifying. There has been gunfire all over Baghdad since morning. The streets near our neighborhood were eerily empty and calm but there was a tension that had us all sitting on edge. We heard about problems in areas like Baladiyat where there was some rioting and vandalism, etc. and several mosques in Baghdad were attacked. I think what has everyone most disturbed is the fact that the reaction was so swift, like it was just waiting to happen.

All morning we've been hearing/watching both Shia and Sunni religious figures speak out against the explosions and emphasise that this is what is wanted by the enemies of Iraq- this is what they would like to achieve- divide and conquer. Extreme Shia are blaming extreme Sunnis and Iraq seems to be falling apart at the seams under foreign occupiers and local fanatics.

No one went to work today as the streets were mostly closed. The situation isn't good at all. I don't think I remember things being this tense- everyone is just watching and waiting quietly. There's so much talk of civil war and yet, with the people I know- Sunnis and Shia alike- I can hardly believe it is a possibility. Educated, sophisticated Iraqis are horrified with the idea of turning against each other, and even not-so-educated Iraqis seem very aware that this is a small part of a bigger, more ominous plan…

Several mosques have been taken over by the Mahdi militia and the Badir people seem to be everywhere. Tomorrow no one is going to work or college or anywhere.

People are scared and watchful. We can only pray.

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Iraq Implements Curfew to Stem Violence

Associated Press
Feb 23, 6:00 PM (ET)

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Gunmen killed dozens of civilians Thursday and dumped their bodies in a ditch, as the government ordered a tough daytime curfew of Baghdad and three provinces to stem the sectarian violence that has left at least 114 dead since the bombing of a Shiite shrine.
Seven U.S. soldiers died in a pair of roadside bombings north of the capital, and American military units in the Baghdad area were told to halt all but essential travel to avoid getting caught up in demonstrations or roadblocks.

As the country careened to the brink of civil war, Iraqi state television announced an unusual daytime curfew, ordering people off the streets Friday in Baghdad and the nearby flashpoint provinces of Diyala, Babil and Salaheddin, where the shrine bombing took place.

Such a sweeping daytime curfew indicated the depth of fear within the government that the crisis could touch off a Sunni-Shiite civil war. "This is the first time that I have heard politicians say they are worried about the outbreak of civil war," Kurdish elder statesman Mahmoud Othman told The Associated Press.

The biggest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament announced it was pulling out of talks on a new government until the national leadership apologizes for damage to Sunni mosques from reprisal attacks.

"It is illogical to negotiate with parties that are trying to damage the political process," said Tariq al-Hashimi, a leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front.

Most of the bloodshed has been concentrated in the capital, its surrounding provinces and the province of Basra, 340 miles to the southeast.

Among the victims was Atwar Bahjat, a widely known Sunni correspondent for the Arab satellite television station Al-Arabiya.

Gunmen in a pickup truck shouting "We want the correspondent!" killed Bajhat along with her cameraman and engineer while they were interviewing Iraqis about Wednesday's destruction of the famed golden dome of the Shiite shrine Askariya in her hometown of Samarra.

Shiite and Sunni leaders again appealed for calm Thursday following the wave of attacks on Sunni mosques, and the number of violent incidents appeared to decline after the government extended the curfew.

Iraqi television said the curfew would extend until 4 p.m. Friday, preventing people from attending the week's most important Muslim prayer service. Officials feared mosques could be both a target for attacks and a venue for stirring sectarian feelings.

President Bush said he appreciated the appeals for calm, and called the shrine bombing "an evil act" aimed at creating strife.

A Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said discussions were under way to rebuild the shrine as quickly as possible because the shattered structure would serve as a "lasting provocation" until it was reconstructed. Italy announced Thursday it was offering to rebuild the dome to help battle "fanaticism."

Despite strident comments from various Iraqi leaders, U.S. officials said they believed mainstream politicians understood the grave danger facing the country and would try to prevent civil war.

"We're not seeing civil war igniting in Iraq," Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a spokesman for the U.S. command, told reporters.

Nevertheless, sectarian passions were running high.

A Shiite cleric was shot dead Thursday night in Tuz Khormato, a mostly Kurdish city 130 miles north of Baghdad, and another Sunni preacher was killed the mostly Shiite city of Hillah 60 miles south of the capital.

Two Sunni mosques were burned Thursday in Baghdad and another in Mussayib to the south, police said. A Sunni was killed when gunmen fired on a mosque in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Dozens of bodies were found Thursday dumped at sites in Baghdad and the Shiite heartland in southern Iraq, many of them with their hands bound and shot execution-style. They were believed to have been killed Wednesday night.

Although the violence appeared to be waning Thursday, the brutality did not.

The bodies of the 47 civilians, mostly men between ages 20 and 50, were found early Thursday in a ditch near Baqouba. Police said the victims - both Sunnis and Shiites - had apparently been stopped by gunmen, hauled from their cars and shot.

Fighting erupted in Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, between Sunni gunmen and militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who were guarding a mosque. Two civilians were killed and five militiamen were wounded, police Capt. Rashid al-Samaraie said.

Workers at two U.S.-funded water treatment projects in Baghdad were told to stay home Thursday to avoid trouble. American officials also ordered a lockdown in some locations within the Green Zone, home of U.S. and Iraqi government offices, after two or three mortar shells exploded, causing no casualties.

The bullet-riddled bodies of the Al-Arabiya correspondent and her two colleagues from the Wassan media company were found Thursday a few miles outside Samarra. All three were Sunni Arabs. It was unclear why they were targeted, although the station has a reputation as critical of the insurgency.

Eight Iraqi soldiers and eight civilians were killed Thursday when a bomb hidden in a soup vendor's cart detonated in Baqouba, police said. At least 20 people were wounded in the blast. In Julula, 75 miles northeast of Baghdad, a parked car exploded and killed three civilians and injured three others, police said.

Following the sectarian attacks, Shiite and Sunni leaders blamed each other for the violence, with each side portraying itself as the victim.

The Sunni clerical Association of Muslim Scholars said at least 168 Sunni mosques had been attacked, 10 imams killed and 15 abducted since the shrine attack. The Interior Ministry said it could only confirm figures for Baghdad, where it had reports of 19 mosques attacked, one cleric killed and one abducted.

Abdul-Salam al-Kubaisi, a spokesman for the Sunni association, blamed the violence on the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and other Shiite religious leaders who called for demonstrations against the shrine attack.

Al-Sadr, the Shiite radical, told Al-Jazeera television from Iran that Sunnis should join Shiites in pledging not to kill fellow Muslims to distance themselves from "takfiris" - Sunni extremists who target Shiites.

Al-Kubaisi said U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad enflamed the situation when he warned at a press conference Monday that the United States would not continue to support institutions run by sectarian groups with links to armed militias. Shiites control the Interior Ministry, which Sunnis claim operates death squads targeting them.

Shiite party leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim said Khalilzad bore some responsibility for the Samarra attack because of this warning, and al-Kubaisi said "without doubt," the ambassador's comments "mobilized all the Shiites" and "made them ready to go down to the street at any moment."

The United States considers Sunni participation in a new government vital to calming the Sunni-led insurgency so that the 138,000 U.S. troops can begin to go home this year.

Sunni leaders also boycotted a reconciliation meeting with Shiites and Kurds called by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.

After the meeting, Talabani told reporters that the participants agreed the best way to respond to Wednesday's attack was to form a unity government "whose top job should be getting the security situation under control and fighting terrorism."

"If the fire of internal strife breaks out, God forbid," Talabani said, "it will harm everyone."

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Shrine attack deals blow to anti-US unity

By Syed Saleem Shahzad Feb 24, 2006

KARACHI - Spring is only a month away, and preparations for Nauroz (the Persian new year) are well under way. In Iran this year, however, Nauroz was due to come with a deadly dimension: the start of a new phase of a broad-based anti-US resistance movement stretching from Afghanistan to Jerusalem.

Wednesday's attack on a revered shrine in Iraq could change all this.
The presence in Iran of the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as members of the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan, is well known, as is the presence of other controversial figures related to the "war on terror", such as al-Qaeda members. Security contacts have told Asia Times Online that several al-Qaeda members have been moved from detention centers to safe houses run by Iranian intelligence near Tehran.

The aim of these people in Iran is to establish a chain of anti-US resistance groups that will take the offensive before the West makes its expected move against Tehran.

Iran has been referred to the UN Security Council over its nuclear program, which the US and others say is geared towards developing nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency is due to present a final report to the Security Council next month, after which the council will consider imposing sanctions against Tehran. Many believe that the US is planning preemptive military action against Iran.

With Wednesday's attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra in Iraq, home to a revered Shi'ite shrine, the dynamics have changed overnight.

Armed men detonated explosives inside the mosque, blowing off the domed roof of the building. Iraqi leaders are trying to contain the angry reaction of Shi'ites, amid rising fears that the country is on the brink of civil war. At least 20 Sunnis have been killed already in retaliatory attacks, and nearly 30 Sunni mosques have been attacked across the country.

The potentially bloody polarization in the Shi'ite-Sunni world now threatens to unravel the links that have been established between Shi'ite-dominated Iran and radical Sunni groups from Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The blast in Samarra

Two of the 12 Shi'ite imams - Imam Ali al-Hadi, who died in AD 868, and his son, Imam Hasan al-Askari, who died in 874 - are buried at the mosque. The complex also contains the shrine of the 12th imam, Mohammed al-Mahdi, who is said to have gone into hiding through a cellar in the complex in 878, and is expected to return on Judgment Day.

Nevertheless, the sanctity of the tombs is of equal importance to Sunnis. Like the tombs of the Prophet Mohammed, Imam Ali and Imam Hussain, no self-respecting Muslim, whether Shi'ite or Sunni, would ever think of attacking such a place.

Further, the custodians of the shrine in Samarra have for many centuries been the descendants of Imam Naqi, called Naqvis, and they believe in Sunni Islam, as does the vast majority of the population of Samarra.

The present custodian is Syed Riyadh al-Kilidar, whom this correspondent met before the US attacked Iraq. Riyadh was arrested by US troops after Iraq was invaded, but released after brief detention.

The same is true of the Mosa Kazim Shrine in Baghdad, where the custodians have for many centuries been descendents of Imam Mosa Kazim. They are called Mosavis, and are Sunni Muslim. The previous custodian was Sayed Sabah bin Ibrahim al-Mosavi, whom this correspondent also met before the US invasion. He was a member of the Iraqi parliament during Saddam Hussein's era. After the US invasion he moved to Pakistan. Now the shrine is managed by Najaf Ashraf (al-Hoza).

Impact of the attack on the resistance

Both the Ansar al-Sunnah Army and the Mujahideen Shura Council - an alliance that includes Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda-affiliated group - are suspected of perpetrating the attack. Both groups have insurgents operating in Samarra, and have claimed responsibility for attacks against US and Iraqi forces there in recent weeks. No group has claimed responsibility for the Samarra attack.

Given that the sensibilities of both Shi'ites and Sunnis have been violated by the attack, the foreign factor in the Iraqi resistance could be curtailed.

At the same time, escalating sectarian strife will hamper the national resistance movement in cities such as Basra in the south and Baghdad, which have strong Shi'ite populations. People in these areas could quickly turn against what is perceived as a largely Sunni-led resistance, with a strong al-Qaeda link.

Leaders have scrambled to limit the damage. Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani immediately called for seven days of mourning following the attack, and urged Shi'ites to take to the streets in peaceful demonstrations. The cleric, who rarely appears in public, could be seen on Iraqi state television in a meeting with other leading ayatollahs.

Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who was in Lebanon as part of a regional tour, headed back to Iraq to join his supporters, who were already out in full force. Speaking to al-Jazeera television on Wednesday, Muqtada blamed all parties in the ongoing Iraq conflict for the attack. "It was not the Sunnis who attacked the shrine of Imam al-Hadi ... but rather the occupation; the Takfiris [those who accuse other Muslims of being infidels], al-Nawasib [a derogatory reference to those who declare hostilities against others] ... and the Ba'athists," he said. "We should not attack Sunni mosques. I ordered the [Imam] al-Mehdi Army to protect the Shi'ite and Sunni shrines and to show a high sense of responsibility, something they actually did."

The violence comes at a time that Iraqi leaders are trying to form a new coalition government that will bring Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds together. This process, like the resistance, is now also in jeopardy, as calls for separate, quasi-independent regions are bound to intensify.

The anti-US resistance movement had wanted to use Shi'ite Iran as the final base to link the resistance groups of this whole region. If the current volatile situation results in Shi'ites sitting on one side, and Sunnis and al-Qaeda-linked groups on the other, this is unlikely to happen.

Instead, Iraq could become a new battlefield, not only against US-led forces, but between different factions. Iran, meanwhile, would be left to deal with the West on its own.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief, Pakistan Asia Times Online. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

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Analysis: Whose Bombs Were They?

By Mike Whitney

There's no telling who was behind the bombing of the al-Askariya Mosque. There were no security cameras at the site and it's doubtful that the police will be able to perform a thorough forensic investigation.

That's too bad; the bomb-residue would probably provide clear evidence of who engineered the attack. So far, there's little more to go on than the early reports of four men (three who were dressed in black, one in a police uniform) who overtook security guards at the mosque and placed the bombs in broad daylight.

Is the bombing of the Golden Mosque the final phase of a much broader strategy to inflame sectarian hatred and provoke civil war?

"The only viable strategy, then, may be to correct (Iraq's) historical defect and move in stages toward a three-state solution: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south" -- Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations; from "Three-state Solution" NY Times 11-25-03

"We are facing a major conspiracy that is targeting Iraq's unity." --Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

There's no telling who was behind the bombing of the al-Askariya Mosque. There were no security cameras at the site and it's doubtful that the police will be able to perform a thorough forensic investigation.

That's too bad; the bomb-residue would probably provide clear evidence of who engineered the attack. So far, there's little more to go on than the early reports of four men (three who were dressed in black, one in a police uniform) who overtook security guards at the mosque and placed the bombs in broad daylight.

It was a bold assault that strongly suggests the involvement of highly-trained paramilitaries conducting a well-rehearsed plan. Still, that doesn't give us any solid proof of what groups may have been involved.

The destruction of the Samarra shrine, also known as the Golden Mosque, has unleashed a wave of retaliatory attacks against the Sunnis. Overnight, more than 110 people were reported killed by the rampaging Shia. More than 90 Sunni mosques have been either destroyed or badly damaged. In Baghdad alone, 47 men have been found scattered throughout the city after being killed execution-style with a bullet to the back of the head. The chaos ends a week of increased violence following two major suicide bombings directed against Shia civilians that resulted in the deaths of 36 people.

The public outrage at the desecration of one of the country's holiest sights has reached fever-pitch and its doubtful that the flimsy American-backed regime will be able to head-off a civil war.

It is difficult to imagine that the perpetrators of this heinous attack couldn't anticipate its disastrous effects.
Certainly, the Sunni-led resistance does not benefit from alienating the very people it is trying to enlist in its fight against the American occupation. Accordingly, most of the prominent Sunni groups have denied involvement in the attack and dismissed it as collaboration between American and Iranian intelligence agencies.

A communiqué from "The Foreign Relations Department of the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party" denounced the attack pointing the finger at the Interior Ministry's Badr Brigade and American paramilitaries.

The Ba'ath statement explains:

"America is the main party responsible for the crime of attacking the tomb of Ali al-Hadi…because it is the power that occupies Iraq and has a basic interest in committing it."

"The escalation of differences between America and Iran has found their main political arena in Iraq, because the most important group of agents of Iran is there and are able to use the blood of Iraqis and the future of Iraq to exert pressure on America. Iran has laid out a plan to embroil America in the Iraqi morass to prevent it from obstructing Iran's nuclear plans. Particularly since America is eager to move on to completing arrangements for a withdrawal from Iraq, after signing binding agreements on oil and strategy. America believes that without the participation of 'Sunni' parties in the regime those arrangements will fail. For that reason 'cutting Iran's claws' has become one of the important requirements for American plans. This is what Ambassador Zalmay spoke of recently when he declared that no sectarian would take control of the Ministries of the Interior or Defense. Similarly, America has begun to publish information that it formally kept hidden regarding the crimes of the Badr Brigade and the Interior Ministry."

Whether the communiqué is authentic is incidental; the point is well taken. The escalating violence may prevent Iraq from forming a power-sharing government which would greatly benefit the Shia majority and their Iranian allies. Many critics agree that what is taking place Iraq represents a larger struggle between the United States and Iran for regional domination.

This theory, however, is at odds with the response of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei following the bombing. Khamenei said:

"The occupation forces and Zionism, which seeing their plans dissolve, have planned this atrocity to sew hate between Muslims and fuel divisions between Sunnis and Shiites.. Do not fall into the enemy trap by attacking mosques and sacred places of your Sunni brothers ..The enemy wants nothing more than weakening of the Islamis front right as Muslims with a single voice have been protesting against the continual provocations of their enemies."

The belief that the attack was the work of American and Israeli covert-operations (Black-ops) is widespread throughout the region as well as among leftist political-analysts in the United States. Journalist Kurt Nimmo sees the bombing as a means of realizing "a plan sketched out in Oded Yinon's "A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties" (the balkanization of Arab and Muslim society and culture.) Nimmo suggests that the plan may have been carried out by "American, British or Israeli Intelligence operatives or their double-agent Arab lunatics, or crazies incited by Rumsfeld's Proactive Preemptive Operations Group (P2OG) designed to 'stimulate' terrorist reaction."

Nimmo is not alone in his judgment. Other prominent analysts including, Pepe Escobar, Ghali Hassan, AK Gupta, Dahr Jamail, and Christian Parenti all agree that the Bush administration appears to be inciting civil war as part of an exit strategy. Certainly, the Pentagon is running out of options as well as time. Numerous leaked documents have confirmed that significant numbers of troops will have to be rotated out of the theatre by summer. A strategy to foment sectarian hostilities may be the last desperate attempt to divert the nearly 100 attacks per day away from coalition troops and finalize plans to divide Iraq into more manageable statlets.

The division of Iraq has been recommended in a number of documents that were prepared for the Defense Department. The Rand Corporation suggested that "Sunni, Shiite and Arab, non-Arab divides should be exploited to exploit the US policy objectives in the Muslim world." The 2004 study titled "US Strategy in the Muslim World" was to identify key cleavages and fault-lines among sectarian, ethnic, regional, and national lines to assess how these cleavages generate challenges and opportunities for the United States." (Abdus Sattar Ghazali; thanks Liz Burbank)

This verifies that the strategy to split up Iraq has been circulating at the top levels of government from the very beginning of the occupation.

A similar report was produced by David Philip for the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) financed by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation a conservative think-tank with connections to the Bush administration and the American Enterprise Institute. According to Pepe Escobar:

"The plan would be 'sold' under the admission that the recently elected, Shi'ite dominated Jaafari government is incapable of controlling Iraq and bringing the Sunni-Arab guerillas to the negotiating table. More significantly, the plan is an exact replica of an extreme right-wing Israeli plan to balkanize Iraq-an essential part of the balkanization of the whole Middle East."

Is the bombing of the Golden Mosque the final phase of a much broader strategy to inflame sectarian hatred and provoke civil war?

Clearly, many Sunnis, Iranians, and political analysts seem to believe so. Even the Bush administration's own documents support the general theory that Iraq should be broken up into three separate pieces. But, is this proof that the impending civil war is the work of foreign provocateurs?

The final confirmation of Washington's sinister plan was issued by Leslie Gelb, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, in a New York Times editorial on 11-25-03. The CFR is the ideological headquarters for America's imperial interventions providing the meager rationale that papers-over the massive bloodletting that inevitably follow. Gelb stated:

"For decades, the United States has worshipped at the altar of a unified Iraqi state. Allowing all three communities within that false state to emerge at least as self-governing regions would be both difficult and dangerous. Washington would have to be very hard-headed and hard-hearted, to engineer this breakup. But such a course is manageable, even necessary, because it would allow us to find Iraq's future in its denied but natural past."

We should remember Gelb's statesman-like pronouncements in the months and years to come as Iraq slips further into the morass of social-disintegration and unfathomable human suffering.

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US Plotting Coup in Iran?

By Guy Dinmore in Washington
Financial Times
February 23 2006

The intelligence wing of the US marines has launched a probe into Iran's ethnic minorities at a time of heightened tensions along the border with Iraq and friction between capitals.

Iranian activists involved in a classified research project for the marines told the FT the Pentagon was examining the depth and nature of grievances against the Islamic government, and appeared to be studying whether Iran would be prone to a violent fragmentation along the same kind of fault lines that are splitting Iraq.
The research effort comes at a critical moment between Iran and the US. Last week the Bush administration asked Congress for $75m to promote democratic change within Iran, having already mustered diplomatic support at the UN to counter Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programme.

At the same time, Iran has demanded that the UK withdraw its troops from the southern Iraqi city of Basra which lies close to its border. Iran has repeatedly accused both the US and UK of inciting explosions and sabotage in oil-rich frontier regions where Arab and Kurdish minorities predominate. The US and UK accuse Iran of meddling in Iraq and supplying weapons to insurgents.

US intelligence experts suggested the marines' effort could indicate early stages of contingency plans for a ground assault on Iran. Or it could be an attempt to evaluate the implications of the unrest in Iranian border regions for marines stationed in Iraq, as well as Iranian infiltration.

Other experts affiliated to the Pentagon suggest the investigation merely underlines that diverse intelligence wings of the US military were seeking to justify their existence at a time of plentiful funding.

Lieutenant-Colonel Rick Long, a marines spokesman, confirmed that the marines had commissioned Hicks and Associates, a defence contractor, to conduct two research projects into Iraqi and Iranian ethnic groups.

The purpose was "so that we and our troops would have a better understanding of and respect for the various aspects of culture in those countries", he said. He would not provide details, saying the projects were for official use only.

Marine Corps Intelligence defines its role as focusing "on crises and predeployment support to expeditionary warfare". It also provides threat and technical intelligence assessments for the Marines.

The first study, on Iraq, was completed in late 2003, more than six months after marines spearheaded the US invasion. About 23,000 marines are still in Iraq. The Iran study was finished late last year.

Hicks and Associates is a wholly owned subsidiary of Science Applications International Corp, one of the biggest US defence contractors and deeply involved in the prewar planning for Iraq.

The Strategic Assessment Center of Hicks and Associates advertises one of its current projects as the "Impact of Foreign Cultures on Military Operations". SAIC confirmed it completed the confidential studies for the Marine Corps.

While most analysts would agree that Iran has a far stronger sense of national identity than Iraq, its ethnic mix is even more complex than its neighbour.

Different in language and divided between followers of Sunni and Shia Islam, the ethnic minorities have little coherence. At times tensions among themselves are greater than with Tehran. Iran's strongly centralised government does not release statistics on the ethnic groups that mainly inhabit sensitive border regions with Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Farsi-speaking Persians who dominate the central government are generally believed to make up a slim majority, followed by Azeris and Kurds in the north and west, Arabs in the oil-rich southwest and Baluch in the southeast.

A patchwork of Turkmen, Christian Armenians and Assyrians, Jews and tribal nomads are among many groups scattered across a country of some 68m people.

Diplomats in Washington expressed shock at the possible implications of the Marine Corps research.

The Financial Times interviewed several Iranians in the US who were invited to help. Some refused, seeing it as part of an effort to break up Iran. However several exiled politicians representing minority groups opposed to the Islamic regime did agree to take part, although they said they wanted a peaceful transition to a democratic, federal Iran and were opposed to any US military action.

Mauri Esfandiari, US representative of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan which ended its armed struggle in 1997 and is based mostly in northern Iraq, said he believed the Pentagon was acting on its long-standing distrust of CIA and State Department analysis. He thought the Pentagon was looking to counter the prevailing administration view that US support for Iran's minorities would create a disastrous backlash.

"They want to study and see if the State Department's chaos theory is a valid hypothesis," he told the FT. The US could not look to the Kurds to support an invasion as they did in Iraq, he said. "Iran will become democratic only if it is built by the Iranians. The democracy movement is strong enough to find its way without military struggle," he said.

Karim Abdian, head of the Ahvaz Human Rights Organisation which campaigns on behalf of Iranian Arabs in the south-west, said his meeting with SAIC was video-taped. He was told the report would be made public.

Questions put to him were wide-ranging -- on the ethnic breakdown of Khuzestan province on the Iraq border, populations in cities, the level of discontent, the percentage of Arabs working in the oil industry, how they were represented in the central government, and their relations and kinship with Iraqi Arabs next door.

Mr Abdian said he did not know the motives behind the survey, whether the Marines were seeking a better understanding of the region that directly affects them, or were forming a contingency plan in case they had to "enter" Iran. They were learning from the lessons of Iraq where they had not understood the ethnic dynamics, he suggested.

Mr Abdian, who says his organisation has no government funding, accused Iran of using the threat of a US invasion as a pretext to suppress ethnic grievances rather than address what he called the root causes of land confiscation and discrimination.

Exiled Iranians from various ethnic groups held a "Congress" of nationalities in London a year ago. They issued a "manifesto" for a federal, democratic Iran with separation of mosque and state. Seven organizations included Baluch, Azeris, Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

Iran has recently experienced some of the worst unrest and violence among its Kurdish and Arab populations in recent years.

Although the root causes of the unrest -- economic and cultural grievances -- are long standing, analysts in the US believe that events in Iraq – where the new constitution has embraced the concept of federalism and a Kurd has become president -- are serving as a catalyst.

Last month two bombs exploded in Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan province close to Iraq. Eight people were killed on the same day that President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad had been due to visit. Six people were killed in bombings last October. Oil installations have been attacked. Iran has repeatedly accused the UK and US of being behind the violence, using separatist Arab groups in southern Iraq to foment instability inside Iran.

"We are very suspicious of British forces' involvement in terrorist activities," Mr Ahmadi-Nejad was quoted as saying last October. He accused British troops in Iraq of "hiring terrorists for sabotage".

London and Washington have strongly denied Iran's allegations.

Tehran cannot afford to dismiss minority grievances out of hand and seeks to blame the violence on outside forces, says Bill Samii, an Iran analyst with Radio Free Europe.

"The regime can crush dissent when it is localised and relatively small," he commented."But if sporadic incidents of ethnic unrest occurred across the country simultaneously, or if such troubles coincided with labour troubles and student demonstrations then the regime would have its hands full." Given these developments, the question of Iran's minorities has aroused interest across Washington.

State Department officials met representatives of the London "Congress" in the first such talks between the Bush administration and a coalition claiming to represent Iran's minorities, participants told the FT.

Last October, the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) held a conference chaired by Michael Ledeen, a proponent of regime change in Iran. It triggered uproar among exiled opposition groups, especially Persian nationalists. Mr Ledeen called the conference "Another case for Federalism?" and denied that AEI was seeking to foment separatism.

Reuel Gerecht, also with AEI and a former CIA specialist on the Middle East, says the State Department under Condoleezza Rice, and not the Pentagon, is running Iran policy. He said State was "several steps removed" from discussing covert action and "nowhere near the point" of trying to use separatist tendencies among minorities as traction against the Tehran regime. No one knew whether that would work, he added.

However, he complimented the Pentagon for "looking down the road".

A former intelligence officer said the Marines' probe reflected the "contingency planning" mindset of the US military. Nonetheless, he said, it was important to note that the ultimate purpose of the intelligence wing was "to support effective ground military operations by the Marine Corps".

Comment: Note the comment at the beginning of the above article that:

"Iranian activists involved in a classified research project for the marines told the FT the Pentagon was examining the depth and nature of grievances against the Islamic government, and appeared to be studying whether Iran would be prone to a violent fragmentation along the same kind of fault lines that are splitting Iraq."

which seems to be suggesting that the violent fragmentation of Iraq is not the result of long-standing or 'natural' ethnic rivalries among Iraqi religious factions, but rather part of a deliberately orchestrated campaign by Pentagon "thinktanks". Then again, we already knew that.

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O'Reilly: U.S. should leave Iraq "as fast as humanly possible" because "there are so many nuts in the country"

Media Matters
Wed, Feb 22, 2006 3:53pm EST

Summary: Bill O'Reilly suggested that the United States "hand over everything to the Iraqis as fast as humanly possible" because "[t]here are so many nuts in the country -- so many crazies -- that we can't control them." O'Reilly has previously called those advocating immediate withdrawal from Iraq "pinheads" and compared them to Hitler appeasers.
During the February 20 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Bill O'Reilly suggested that the United States "hand over everything to the Iraqis as fast as humanly possible" because "[t]here are so many nuts in the country -- so many crazies -- that we can't control them." O'Reilly then claimed that the "big mistake" was actually "the crazy-people underestimation."

As Media Matters for America has documented, during a November 30, 2005, appearance on NBC's Today, O'Reilly called those advocating immediate withdrawal from Iraq "pinheads" and compared them to Hitler appeasers.

O'Reilly's comments followed his mention of a report regarding Karbala, a province in the Shiite-controlled Iraqi south. O'Reilly falsely claimed that "the mayor of Karbala ... has banned any further government dealings with the American military in his province." In fact, according to a February 20 Associated Press report, the Karbala governing council suspended contact with U.S. forces "until U.S. forces apologize" for their behavior during a recent visit to the governor's office. The Karbala provincial spokesman complained that "U.S. soldiers brought dogs inside the [governor's office] building," which was "considered an insult by the council," and "blocked roads leading to the governor's office, preventing council members and the governor from parking cars outside the building." While the AP reported the Karbala spokesman's specific complaints, O'Reilly characterized the complaints as "the mayor of Karbala" alleging that U.S. soldiers were "not behaving well."

From the February 20 broadcast of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:

O'REILLY: Somewhat of a disturbing report out of Iraq, and it's more important than it first appears. The governor of -- or the mayor of Karbala, which is a town in the south part of Iraq, Shiite-controlled, has banned any further government dealings with the American military in his province, saying that they're not behaving well.

Now, it's a small little thing, but I picked up on it, because here is the essential problem in Iraq. There are so many nuts in the country -- so many crazies -- that we can't control them. And I don't -- we're never gonna be able to control them. So the only solution to this is to hand over everything to the Iraqis as fast as humanly possible. Because we just can't control these crazy people. This is all over the place. And that was the big mistake about America: They didn't -- it was the crazy-people underestimation. We did not know how to deal with them -- still don't. But they're just all over the place.

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The CIA's Pain Project

Democracy Now!. Posted February 24, 2006.

[Editor's Note: This is an edited transcript of an interview between Amy Goodman and Alfred McCoy from Democracy Now!. It originally aired on February 17, and is available for download from DemocracyNow.org.]

Amy Goodman: A new expose gives an account of the C.I.A.'s secret efforts to develop new forms of torture, spanning half a century. It reveals how the C.I.A. perfected its methods, distributing them across the world, from Vietnam to Iran to Central America, uncovering the roots of the Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo torture scandals.

The book is called "A Question of Torture: C.I.A. Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror," and we're joined by its author, Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. We welcome you to Democracy Now! I first learned of you with your first book "The Politics of Heroin: C.I.A. Complicity in the Global Drug Trade," for which you almost died. What happened then?

Alfred McCoy: When I was researching that book in the mountains of Laos, hiking from village to village, interviewing Laotian farmers about their opium harvest, and they were telling me that they took it down to the local helicopter pad where Air America helicopters would land, Air America being a subsidiary of the C.I.A., and officers, tribal officers in the C.I.A.'s secret army would buy the opium and fly it off to the C.I.A.'s secret compound, where it would be transformed into heroin and ultimately wind up in South Vietnam.

While I was doing that research, we were ambushed by a group of C.I.A. mercenaries. Fortunately, I had five militiamen from the village with me, and we shot our way out of there, but they came quite close. Then later on, a C.I.A. operative threatened to murder my interpreter unless I stopped doing that research.

AG: How did you know they were C.I.A.?

AM: In the mountains of Laos, there aren't that many white guys. The C.I.A. ran what was called the "Army Clandestine." They had a secret army, and those soldiers that ambushed us were soldiers in the secret army. That we knew.

AG: And the contention of that book was that the C.I.A. was complicit in the global drug trade?

AM: Right. In the context of conducting covert operations around the globe, particularly in the Asian opium zone, which stretched from the Golden Triangle of Vietnam and Laos all the way to Afghanistan, that in those mountains far away from home, when the C.I.A. had to mobilize tribal armies, the only allies were warlords. When the C.I.A. formed an alliance with them, the warlords used this alliance to become drug lords, and the C.I.A. didn't stop them from their involvement in the traffic.

AG: Well, as a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, you have not stopped looking at the C.I.A., and now you've written this new book. It's called A Question of Torture: C.I.A. Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror. Give us a history lesson.

AM: Look at the most famous of photographs from Abu Ghraib, of the Iraqi standing on the box, arms extended with a hood over his head and the fake electrical wires from his arms, OK? In that photograph you can see the entire 50-year history of C.I.A. torture. It's very simple. He's hooded for sensory disorientation, and his arms are extended for self-inflicted pain. And those are the two very simple fundamental C.I.A. techniques, developed at enormous cost.

From 1950 to 1962, the C.I.A. ran a massive research project, a veritable Manhattan Project of the mind, spending over $1 billion a year to crack the code of human consciousness, from both mass persuasion and the use of coercion in individual interrogation. They tried LSD, mescaline, all kinds of drugs. They tried electroshock, truth serum, sodium pentathol. None of it worked. What worked was very simple behavioral findings, outsourced to our leading universities -- Harvard, Princeton, Yale and McGill -- and the first breakthrough came at McGill. It's in the book.

AG: Describe it.

AM: Dr. Donald O. Hebb of McGill University, a brilliant psychologist, had a contract from the Canadian Defense Research Board, which was a partner with the C.I.A. in this research, and he found that he could induce a state of psychosis in an individual within 48 hours. It didn't take electroshock, truth serum, beating or pain. He had student volunteers sit in a cubicle with goggles, gloves and headphones, earmuffs, so that they were cut off from their senses, denied sensory stimulation. Within 48 hours, they would suffer, first hallucinations, then ultimately breakdown. And if you look at many of those photographs, they show people with bags over their head.The photographs of the Guantánamo detainees look exactly like those student volunteers in Dr. Hebb's original cubicle.

The second major breakthrough that the C.I.A. had came here in New York City at Cornell University Medical Center, where two eminent neurologists under contract from the C.I.A. studied Soviet K.G.B. torture techniques. They found that the most effective K.G.B. technique was self-inflicted pain. You simply make somebody stand for a day or two. And as they stand, you tell them, "You're doing this to yourself. Cooperate with us, and you can sit down." As they stand, the fluids flow down to the legs, the legs swell, lesions form, they erupt, they suppurate, hallucinations start, the kidneys shut down.

Several of those photos you just showed, one of them with a man with a bag on his arm, his arms are straight in front of him, people are standing with their arms extended, that's self-inflicted pain. And the combination of those two techniques -- sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain -- is the basis of the C.I.A.'s technique.

AG: Who has pioneered this at the C.I.A.?

AM: This was done by Technical Services Division. Most of the in-house research involved drugs and all of the LSD experiments that we heard about for years, but ultimately they were a negative result. When you have any large massive research project, you get, you hit brick walls, you get negative results. All the drugs didn't work. What did work was this.

AG: But when you talk about the 'everyone knows the LSD experiments,' I don't think everyone knows. In fact, I would conjecture that more than 90 percent of Americans don't know that the C.I.A. was involved with LSD experiments on unwitting Americans. Can you explain what they did?

AM: As a part of this comprehensive survey of human consciousness, the C.I.A. tried every possible technique. And one of the things that they -- at the time that this research started in the 1940s, a Swiss pharmaceutical company developed LSD. Dr. Hoffman there was the man who developed it. The C.I.A. bought substantial doses, and they conducted experiments. One of the most notorious experiments was that Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, inside the agency, spiked the drinks of his co-workers, and one of those co-workers suffered a breakdown, Dr. Frank Olson. He either was pushed or jumped from a hotel here in New York City.

His son Eric Olson insists that his father was murdered by the C.I.A. He believes that his father did a tour of Europe, and he visited the ultimate Anglo-American test site, black site near Frankfurt, where they were doing lethal experiments, fatal experiments on double agents and suspected double agents, and that his father returned enormously upset by the discovery that this research was actually killing people. Olson argues his father was killed by the C.I.A., that he was pushed.

AG: And didn't they do experiments in brothels in the San Francisco area?

AM: They had two kinds of party houses. They had one in the San Francisco Bay Area, another in New York City. And what they did in San Francisco was they had prostitutes who go out to the streets, get individuals, bring them back, give them a drink, and there would be a two-way mirror, and the C.I.A. would photograph these people. They were running the brothel. They were running all of these experiments. They did that on Army soldiers through the Army Chemical Warfare Division.

AG: What did they do there?

AM: Again, they gave them LSD and other drugs to see what effect they would have.

AG: And what did the soldiers think they were getting?

AM: They were just told they were participating in an experiment for national defense.

AG: Also on prisoners, were there experiments?

AM: There were some in prisons in the United States and also the Drug Treatment Center in Lexington, Ky. The Federal Drug Treatment Center in Lexington, Ky, had this. All of this research, all this very elaborate research …

AG: On unwitting Americans?

AM: Unwitting Americans, produced nothing. What they found time and again is that electroshock didn't work, and sodium pentathol didn't work, LSD certainly didn't work. You scramble the brain. You got unreliable information. But what did work was the combination of these two rather boring, rather mundane behavioral techniques: sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain. In 1963, the C.I.A. codified these results in the so-called KUBARK Counterintelligence Manual.

If you just type the word "KUBARK" into Google, you will get the manual, an actual copy of it, on your computer screen, and you can read the techniques. Read the report. But if you do, read the footnotes, because that's where the behavioral research is. This produced a distinctively American form of torture, the first real revolution in the cruel science of pain in centuries, psychological torture, and it's the one that's with us today. It's proved to be a very resilient, quite adaptable, and an enormously destructive paradigm.

Let's make one thing clear. Americans refer to this often times in common parlance as "torture light." People who are involved in treatment tell us it's far more destructive, does far more lasting damage to the human psyche than does physical torture. As Sen. McCain said, himself, last year when he was debating his torture prohibition, faced with a choice between being beaten and psychologically tortured, I'd rather be beaten. It does far more lasting damage. It is far crueler than physical torture. This is something that we don't realize in this country.

The initial research basically developed techniques for attacking universal human sensory receptors: sight, sound, heat, cold, sense of time. That's why all of the detainees describe being put in dark rooms, being subjected to strobe lights, loud music. That's sensory deprivation or sensory assault. That was the phase one of the C.I.A. research. But the paradigm has proved to be quite adaptable.

Right at the start of the war of terror, in late 2002, Donald Rumsfeld appointed Gen. Geoffrey Miller to be chief at Guantánamo because the previous commanders at Guantánamo were too soft on the detainees. Gen. Miller turned Guantánamo into a de facto behavioral research laboratory, a kind of torture research laboratory. And under Gen. Miller at Guantánamo, they perfected the C.I.A. torture paradigm. They added two key techniques. They went beyond the universal sensory receptors of the original research. They added to it an attack on cultural sensitivity, particularly Arab male sensitivity to issues of gender and sexual identity.

And then they went further still. Under Gen. Miller, they created these things called "Biscuit" teams, behavioral science consultation teams, and they actually had qualified military psychologists participating in the ongoing interrogation, and these psychologists would identify individual phobias, like fear of dark or attachment to mother. And by the time we're done, by 2003, under Gen. Miller, Guantánamo had perfected the C.I.A. paradigm, and it had a three-fold total assault on the human psyche: sensory receptors, self-inflicted pain, cultural sensitivity, and individual fears and phobia.

AG: And then they sent Gen. Miller to, quote, "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib.

AM: In mid-2003, when the Iraqi resistance erupted, the United States found it had no intelligence assets; it had no way to contain the insurgency. The U.S. military was in a state of panic. They began sweeping across Iraq, rounding up thousands of Iraqi suspects, putting many of them in Abu Ghraib prison. At that point, in late August 2003, Gen. Miller was sent from Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib, and he brought his techniques with him. He brought a CD, and he brought a manual of his techniques. He gave them to the M.P. officers, the military intelligence officers and to Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. commander in Iraq.

In September of 2003, Gen. Sanchez issued orders, detailed orders, for expanded interrogation techniques beyond those allowed in the U.S. Army Field Manual 3452. If you look at those techniques, what he's ordering is a combination of self-inflicted pain, stress positions and sensory disorientation. If you look at the 1963 C.I.A. KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, the 1983 C.I.A. Interrogation Training Manual that they used in Honduras for training Honduran officers in torture and interrogation, and then Gen. Sanchez's 2003 orders, there's a striking continuity across this 40-year span, in both the general principles, this total assault on the existential platforms of human identity and existence.

AG: And Rumsfeld's comment, when asked if it was torture, when people were forced to stand hours on end -- that he stands at his desk?

AM: Right, he wrote that in one of his memos. When he was asked to review the Guantánamo techniques in late 2003 or early 2004, he scribbled that marginal note and said, you know, "I stand at my desk eight hours a day." He has a designer standing desk. "How come we're limiting these techniques of the stress position to just four hours?" In other words, that was a clear signal from the defense secretary. One of the problems beyond the details of these orders is torture is an extraordinarily dangerous thing. There's an absolute ban on torture for a very good reason. Torture taps into the deepest recesses, unexplored recesses of human consciousness, where creation and destruction coexist, where the infinite human capacity for kindness and infinite human capacity for cruelty coexist, and it has a powerful perverse appeal. And once it starts, both the perpetrators and the powerful who order them, let it spread, and it spreads out of control.

When the Bush administration gave those orders for techniques tantamount to torture at the start of the war on terror, I think it was probably their intention that these be limited to top al-Qaida suspects. But within months, we were torturing hundreds of Afghanis at Bagram near Kabul. A few months later in 2003, through these techniques, we were torturing literally thousands of Iraqis. You can see in those photos, beyond the details of the techniques that we've described, you can see how that once it starts, it becomes this Dantesque hell, this kind of play palace of the darkest recesses of human consciousness. That's why it's necessary to maintain an absolute prohibition on torture. There is no such thing as a little bit of torture.

AG: Professor McCoy, when you started seeing these images, the first photos that came out at Abu Ghraib, the pictures we showed of the hooded man, electrodes coming out of his fingers, standing on the box, your response?

AM: The reason I wrote this book is when that photo came out in April 2004 on CBS news, at the Times, William Safire, for example, writing in the New York Times said this was the work of creeps. Later on, Defense Secretary Schlesinger said that this was just abuse by a few people on the night shift. There was another phrase: "Recycled hillbillies from Cumberland, Maryland." In other words, this was the bad apple thesis. We could blame these bad apples. I looked at those photos, I didn't see individual abuse. What I saw was two textbook, trademark C.I.A. psychological interrogation techniques: self-inflicted pain and sensory disorientation.

AG: And that bombardment of sound is often joked about. "Oh, we played Britney Spears really loud," or whatever it is.

AM: That's one of the problems of talking about this topic in the United States. We regard all of this panoply of psychological techniques as "torture light," as somehow not really torture. We're the only country in the world that does that. The U.N. convention defines torture as the infliction of severe psychological or physical pain. The U.N. convention which bans torture in 1984 gives equal weight to psychological and physical techniques. We alone as a society somehow exempt all of these psychological techniques.

Back in the early 1990s, the United States was emerging from the Cold War, and we began this process of disarming ourselves and trying to sort of bring ourselves in line with the rest of the international community. President Clinton sent the U.N. Anti-Torture Convention to the U.S. Congress for ratification in 1994; he included four detailed paragraphs of reservation that had been drafted by the Reagan administration. He adopted them without so much as changing a semicolon. When you read those detailed paragraphs of reservation, what you realize is that the United States Congress ratified the treaty, but basically we outlawed only physical torture. Those photographs of reservation are carefully written to avoid one word in the 26 printed pages of the U.N. convention. That word is "mental." Basically, we exempted psychological torture.

AG: You wrote a piece, "Why the McCain Torture Ban Won't Work: The Bush Legacy of Legalized Torture."

AM: Most Americans think that it's over, that in December 2005, the U.S. Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act 2005, which bars all inhumane or cruel treatment. Actually, what has happened is the Bush administration fought that amendment tooth and nail; they fought it with loopholes. Vice President Cheney went to Sen. McCain and asked for a specific exemption for the C.I.A. McCain refused. The National Security Advisor went to McCain and asked for certain kinds of exemptions for the C.I.A. He refused.

So then they started amending it. Basically what happened is, through the process, they introduced loopholes. President Bush said right on Sept. 11, 2001, when he addressed the nation, "I don't care what the international lawyers say. We're going to kick some ass." Those were his words, and then it was up to his legal advisors in the White House and the Justice Department to translate his otherwise unlawful orders into legal directives, and they did it by crafting three very controversial legal principles.

One, that the president, as commander-in-chief, could override laws and treaties. Two, that there was a possible defense for C.I.A. interrogators who engage in torture, and the defenses were of two kinds. First of all, they played around with the word "severe," that torture is the infliction of severe pain. That's when Jay Bybee, who was assistant attorney general, wrote that memo in which he said, "'severe' means equivalent to organ failure," in other words, right up to the point of death. The other thing was that they came up with the idea of intentionality. If a C.I.A. interrogator tortured, but the aim was information, not pain, then he could say that he was not guilty.

The third principle, which was crafted by John Yoo, was Guantánamo is not part of the United States; it is exempt from the writ of U.S. courts. Now, in the process of passing the McCain's ban on inhumane treatment, the White House has cleverly twisted the legislation to reestablish these three key principles. In his signing statement on December 30, President Bush said …

AG: This was the statement that he signed as he signed the McCain so-called ban on torture?

AM: Right, he emailed it at 8 o'clock at night from his ranch in Crawford on December 30th, that he was signing this legislation into law. He said, "I reserve the right, as commander-in-chief and as head of the unitary executive, to do what I need to do to defend America." The next thing that happened is that McCain, as a compromise, inserted into the legislation a provision that if a C.I.A. operative engages in inhumane treatment or torture but believes that he or she was following a lawful order, then that's a defense.

So they got the second principle, defense for C.I.A. torturers. The third principle is that the White House had Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina amend McCain's amendment by inserting language into it, saying that for the purposes of this act, the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay is not on U.S. territory.

In the last month, the Bush administration has gone to federal courts and said, "Drop all of your habeas corpus suits from Guantánamo." There are 160 of them. They've gone to the Supreme Court and said, "Drop your Guantánamo case." They have, in fact, used that law to quash legal oversight of their actions.

Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!

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America's Shame: Torture in the Name of Freedom

By Der Spiegel
02/23/06 "Der Spiegel"

The new pictures from Abu Ghraib provide the most recent evidence: America's moral bank account is empty -- and it has lost the image wars. The entire Muslim world no longer trusts the world's most powerful nation.

They are photos that make your blood run cold. They take your breath away. They turn your stomach. They are photos that make you wonder what kinds of human beings would do these things to other human beings. They trigger anger, disgust and shame.
One photo shows a prisoner being sandwiched between two stretchers, like some perverse ad for a burger. In another, a disoriented detainee, his body smeared with an unidentified substance, stumbles down a prison corridor. A third image depicts a hooded man waiting helplessly on a stool, with electric cables attached to his body. There are many more -- and they all show prisoners being deliberately humiliated for their captors' amusement, men stripped naked and forced into submission. But it's not just humiliation -- the photos also depict physical pain. In one photo, an American soldier kneels on the back of a naked Iraqi prisoner, a puddle of blood indicating rough treatment. In another, a prisoner bows deeply, servant-like, in front of an American military officer: Uncle Tom's Cabin in the Middle East.

Once again, images from Abu Ghraib will burn themselves into the world's collective memory, the shocking legacy of a superpower gone astray -- icons of America's shame. They will become the images future generations most associate with the war in Iraq, just as the photo of a pro-US Saigon police chief holding his pistol to a Vietcong guerilla's temple, his finger about to pull the trigger, has become a symbol of the Vietnam War.

It's hardly relevant that the previously unpublished Abu Ghraib photos taken in 2003 -- about two dozen of them -- are merely variations on familiar themes. It also doesn't matter that at least some of the perpetrators -- absent higher-ranking officers -- have already been hauled before US military courts. Just as their predecessors, these new pictures have the power to generate a dynamic of their own -- making them the perfect propaganda tool for ideological adversaries.

Egging on the faithful

Muslims, particularly in Pakistan and Malaysia, are still incensed about the publishing of the Prophet Muhammad caricatures in European newspapers. Last Friday at least 10 people died in the Libyan city of Benghazi when police tried to stop them from storming the Italian consulate. Italian Reform Minister Roberto Calderoli had raised their ire by appearing on television in a T-shirt showing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

Governments in countries like Iran and Syria have egged on the faithful even further. Meanwhile, Europeans and Americans justifiably championed the freedom of the press as a value worth defending -- against agitators on both sides.

The impact of these new Abu Ghraib photos is only amplified by the fact that they coincide with the unrest triggered by the Danish Muhammad cartoons. In the Islamic world, the photos are seen as proof that the US military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq are little more than thinly veiled colonial expeditions conducted in the name of democracy.

From the perspective of the Middle East, the freedom and human rights the Americans profess to be bringing to an oppressed world are nothing more than a front, Washington's false alibi in pushing its agenda of globalization. And for many in the Arab world, they are merely the sinister elements of a slick and even fraudulent marketing campaign aimed at humiliating Muslims.

The crimes committed by US soldiers in the name of freedom and human rights, documented in unalterable photographs, appear to confirm the suspicion that America's true aim is something entirely different -- that the US is primarily interested in imposing its own world order and preserving its dominance.

In short, for the United States, the most powerful and influential global power ever, the images from Abu Ghraib -- and the ongoing debate over the legality of its prison camp at Guantanamo -- have produced a moral catastrophe that's likely to endure for a very long time.

Victorious images quickly overshadowed

If Washington had had its way, entirely different images would have come to symbolize the US campaign against Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein. The image of the toppling of that giant statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, for example -- the ideal symbol of the dictator's downfall. And then there was the triumphant US President George W. Bush's televised appearance on the aircraft carrier "Abraham Lincoln," a banner emblazoned with the words "Mission Accomplished" proudly and telegenically hovering in the background.

But even as the president was announcing an end to hostilities in Iraq, a bitter and brutal Iraqi insurgency was just getting under way -- a resistance that brought together former officers in Saddam's army with foreign al-Qaida fighters. The victorious images were quickly overshadowed. Even the former dictator's trial comes across as a farce these days, despite all efforts to convey the impression of law and order.

The battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqis can likely already be penciled into the loss column -- the inability to provide such basic necessities as electricity and drinking water for everyone represents a major strike against the US military. The daily suicide bombings and kidnappings mostly hit ordinary Iraqis. For many of them, life is now more difficult than it was under Saddam. The American military, too, is suffering. Losses mount almost daily; the death toll had reached 2,272 by last Friday.

And now the Americans have also lost the battle of images.

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Pentagon will release Guantanamo names

Friday, February 24, 2006

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- A federal judge ordered the Pentagon on Thursday to release the identities of hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to The Associated Press.

The move would force the government to break its secrecy and reveal the most comprehensive list yet of those who have been imprisoned there.

Some of the hundreds of detainees in the war on terror being held at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been held as long as four years. Only a handful have been officially identified.
U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff in New York ordered the Defense Department to release uncensored transcripts of detainee hearings, which contain the names of detainees in custody and those who have been held and later released. Previously released documents have had identities and other details blacked out.

The judge ordered the government to hand over the documents by March 3 after the Defense Department said Wednesday it would not appeal his earlier ruling in the lawsuit filed by the AP.

On January 23, Rakoff ordered the military to turn over uncensored copies of transcripts and other documents from more than 550 military hearings for detainees at the prison camp.

U.S. authorities are holding about 490 prisoners at Guantanamo on suspicion of having links to al Qaeda or the Taliban. Most have been held without charges since the detention center opened four years ago, prompting complaints from human rights groups and others.

"AP has been fighting for this information since the fall of 2004," said Dave Tomlin, assistant general counsel for the news organization. "We're grateful to have a decision at last that keeping prisoner identities secret is against the public policy and the law of this country."

The military has never officially released the names of any detainees except the 10 who have been charged.

Most of those that are known emerged from the approximately 400 civil suits filed on behalf of prisoners by lawyers who got their names from family or other detainees, said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which represents about 200 detainees.

"They have been very resistant to releasing the names," Ratner said. "There are still people there who don't have a lawyer, and we don't know who they are. They have disappeared."

The Defense Department earlier released transcripts after the AP filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act, but the names and other details of detainees were blacked out.

The Defense Department said it would obey the judge's order.

"The DOD will be complying with the judge's decision in this matter," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman.

Law experts said the case has wide-ranging implications.

"The government has tried to maintain Guantanamo as a black hole since they opened it," said Jonathan Hafetz of the New York University School of Law. "This is bringing it within the mainstream of the justice system and says we're not going to have secret detentions at Guantanamo."

In his ruling last month, Rakoff rejected government arguments that detainees' names from 558 transcripts should be kept secret to protect their privacy and their families, friends and associates from embarrassment and retaliation.

The judge had given the government a month to decide whether to appeal, and the U.S. solicitor general decided not to pursue the case further, said Megan Gaffney, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.

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Torture blamed for detainee deaths

From correspondents in Washington
February 23, 2006
The Australian

"People are dying in US custody and no one's being held to account," said Deborah Pearlstein, who heads the Human Rights First US law and security program.

AT least eight detainees of the roughly 100 who have died in US military custody in Iraq and Afghanistan were tortured to death, human rights lawyers said in a report released today.
"These are detainees who were beaten, suffocated or otherwise died in circumstances that meet the definition of torture that is in the federal law that bans the practice," said Hina Shamsi, a lawyer for New York-based Human Rights First and author of the report.

Analysing military documents and press accounts, Human Rights First examined 98 detainee deaths, and concluded that torture by US military personnel caused eight deaths and may have been responsible for four others.

All of the deaths have been disclosed previously.

The Pentagon said at least 108 detainees have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002, not counting those killed in insurgent mortar attacks on jail facilities.

"Critically, only half of the cases of detainees tortured to death have resulted in punishment; the steepest sentence for anyone implicated in a torture-related death has been five months in jail," the report said.

The military has said it has a policy against torture, but has acknowledged using interrogation techniques that include placing detainees in stress positions.

US soldiers at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq were also pictured sexually humiliating prisoners and menacing them with dogs.

The report said that of the 98 deaths it examined, only 12 led to punishment of any kind for US personnel.

"People are dying in US custody and no one's being held to account," said Deborah Pearlstein, who heads the Human Rights First US law and security program.

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Bush and Blair have brilliantly done Bin Laden's work for him

By Simon Jenkins
UK Times Online

Is Osama Bin Laden winning after all? Until recently I would have derided such a thought. How could a tinpot fanatic who is either dead or shut in some mountain hideout hold the world to ransom for five years? It would stretch the imagination of an Ian Fleming.

Now I am beginning to wonder. Not a day passes without some new sign of Bin Laden's mesmeric grip on the governments of Britain and America. His deeds lie behind half the world's headlines. British policy seems obsessed with one word: terrorism. The West is equivocating, writhing, slithering in precisely the direction most desired by its enemy. He must be roaring with delight.

On any objective measure, terrorism in the West is a trivial crime. True, New York and London saw outrages in 2001 and 2005 respectively. Both were the outcome of sloppy intelligence. Neither has been repeated, though of course they may be. Policing has improved and probably averted other attacks. But incidents genuinely attributable to Al-Qaeda rather than domestic grievances are comparable to the IRA and pro-Palestinian campaigns. Vigilance is important but only those with money in security have an interest in presenting Bin Laden as a cosmic threat.

Indeed if ever there were a case for collective restraint it is in response to terrorism. The word refers to a technique, usually a bomb, not an ideology. A bombing is an anarchic gesture calling for police and medical services. It becomes a political weapon only if publicised and answered with hysteria. A killing is so staged as to cause over-reaction, violent response, mass arrests and a decay of civilised values. Bin Laden's intention in 2001 was to portray the West as scared, emotionally vulnerable, over-reactive, decadent and careless of liberal values. The West has done its damnedest to prove him right.

I distrust "basket" analysis but events do sometimes rush in a certain direction. Last week alone brought new revelations of torture by American troops in Iraq. British soldiers were filmed beating demonstrators in Basra. British ministers sought new powers of detention without trial, a national identity database and impediments on free speech. A sectarian leader became prime minister of Iraq and British marines were flown to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. The United Nations demanded the closure of Guantanamo as a torture camp. The European media indulged in an orgy of finger-pointing at Muslim religious sensitivity. Muslim extremists reacted on cue.

Were I Bin Laden I could not have dreamt that the spirit of 9/11 would be so vigorous five years on. I have western leaders still parroting my motto that "9/11 alters everything" and "the rules of the game are changed". I have the Taliban resurgent, financed by Europe's voracious demand for oil and opium. I have the Pentagon and Scotland Yard paying me the compliment of a "long war" of indefinite duration. My potency is said to require more defence spending than was needed to contain the might of the Soviet Union.

There is now a voluminous literature on the politics of fear and its distorting appeal for democratic leaders (this month alone, David Runciman's admirable The Politics of Good Intentions and Peter Oborne's The Use and Abuse of Terror). The 9/11 "changes everything" mantra began as an explanation of a national trauma and a plea for sympathy. It was hijacked to validate the latent authoritarianism of democratic leaders.

America asks the world to believe itself so threatened as to require the kidnappings of foreign citizens in foreign parts, detention without legal process, the curbing of free speech and derogation from all international law. It asks the world to believe that it must disregard the Geneva conventions and employ foreign dictators to help it to torture at random. It uses the same justification for occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. The world simply refuses to agree. Only cringeing Britain appeases such actions and calls them merely "anomalous". There are madmen aplenty, but they do not constitute a war.

Even America's most robust champions plead that this is all grotesquely counter-productive. What is frightening is not the evil of much American foreign policy at present but its stupidity; the damage it does to its own objectives. What was terrifying about Soviet power in the cold war was not its mega-tonnage but the incompetence of those controlling it.

America and Britain claim the right to invade foreign countries in defiance of international law. This requires at the very least a defensible moral superiority. Americans take this supremacy as read. Moral high ground comes with apple pie and the flag. Yet this supremacy, already questioned by many Americans at home, is in chronic disrepair abroad. Young Europeans and Asians no longer remember the second world war and do not see the world Washington's way. Their belief in America' s wealth is secure. Their belief in its values and their relevance to foreign countries is evaporating, blown away by relentless American belligerence. Last year's BBC poll of 21 countries gave a majority that declared George Bush "a threat to world peace".

The result is to cripple America's effectiveness as diplomat and power broker. Take Iran. The emergence of any new nuclear power is alarming. Yet it was tolerated in Israel, India, Pakistan and Korea. Partly because of its isolation, Iran now seems certain to develop a nuclear potential. To respond by increasing that isolation and thus the paranoia of Iran's turbulent and unstable rulers is daft. The sensible realpolitik must be to give Iran no reason to turn potential into actual power, let alone to want to use it.

I doubt if there is a world leader who would nominate America as best qualified to handle Iran in its present sensitive state. The war-mongering of the neocon ascendancy - the calls for bombing and the constant listing of targets - seems to mirror the fundamentalist mullahs behind President Ahmadinejad. American policy in the Middle East is so counter-productive as to be the problem, not the solution.

In desperation British and German leaders turned last week to the new "multi-polars", Russia and China, for help with Tehran. This suggests a world moving towards new axes, seeking new leadership and distancing itself from American myopia. The spectacle is similar to the free world's isolation of the Russian Comintern in the mid-20th century.

Such a recourse is fool's gold. China and Russia are no more likely to exert sustained influence on the world stage than did Europe's fragmented diplomacy over the past quarter century. Both have trade interests in Iran and much to gain as brokers of power in the region. Neither is a substitute for America. Neither carries the moral suasion of open and competitive democracy. Both face rumbling insurgencies on their frontiers. Yet the West turns to them in its hour of need. That is the measure of America's collapse.

There never was a "terrorist threat" to western civilisation or democracy, only to western lives and property. The threat becomes systemic only when democracy loses its confidence and when its leaders are weak, as now. Terror attacks are for the police. For George Bush and Blair to demand a "long war" against Bin Laden and, by implication, a long suppression of civil liberty is ludicrous. Western civilisation is not some simpering weakling that cowers before a fanatic 's might, pleading for leaders to protect it by all means, however illegal. It has been proof against Islamic expansionism since the 17th century. It is not at risk.

The American president and the British prime minister have spent half a decade exploiting Bin Laden for political ends, in thrall to their security/industrial complex. They have relied on terrifying their electorates with new and bloodcurdling threats, with what Runciman calls "spook politics". But they will pass. The half-baked "message" laws passed by Britain's limp parliament last week will fall in disuse. The vitality of British and American democracy has always been its ability to produce antibodies when truly challenged by an internal or external menace. The West will rediscover its self-belief and restore the liberalism, properly defined as freedom, that it once exemplified to the world.

Bin Laden is not going to win and never was. But Bush and Blair are giving him an astonishing run for his money.

Comment: Again, why beat around the Bush? All sane and logical observation and analysis of the actions of Bush and Blair over the "war on terror" suggest that they themselves are the architects of it. Can't we just come out and state it as such??

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Lineup set for anti-war concert

February 23, 2006

NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan will be the guest of honor at the "Bring 'Em Home" concert at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom.
Among the performers scheduled to play March 20 are R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, Bright Eyes, Rufus Wainwright, Fischerspooner, Public Enemy's Chuck D, Devendra Banhart and Peaches, Billboard.com reported.

Sheehan will address the audience at the concert noting the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Billboard said.

Janeane Garafalo will broadcast her Air America Radio show "The Majority Report" live from the concert.

Money raised by the show will go to Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace.

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A War of Words: 'Declare' vs. 'Make' and Its Allies

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, February 23, 2006; Page A02

For generations, civics students have learned that the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. Yesterday, the man who built the legal underpinnings of the Bush administration's terrorism strategy revised the curriculum.

John Yoo, the former Justice Department official whose writings justified the administration's treatment of military prisoners and the National Security Agency eavesdropping program, announced that Congress's warmaking powers are just a figment of the "popular imagination."
"Almost all the prominent scholars who believe that Congress should play a prominent role in foreign policy look to the 'declare war' clause as the source of Congress's power," Yoo said, 10 minutes into his talk at the Heritage Foundation. "They appeal to a very common-sense reading of the declare-war clause," he continued, and "I think in the popular imagination, declaring war does seem to equate with making war or starting war."

That is, indeed, the prevailing view. But it is not Yoo's. "I don't think if you look at the constitutional text carefully that it carries that expansive reach," he asserted. "Note that the declare-war clause uses the word 'declare.' It doesn't use the word 'begin,' 'make,' 'authorize,' 'wage' or 'commence' war."

Thus did Yoo reduce Congress's warmaking authority to a ceremonial role, much like its authority to declare a national Boy Scout recognition month.

It was vintage Yoo. As a lawyer advising the White House after Sept. 11, 2001, he was the source of endless controversy. The administration view that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to terrorism detainees? It was up to Yoo. The claim that it's not torture unless it causes "physical injury such as death or organ failure"? Yoo again.

Now Yoo has returned to his academic post at the University of California at Berkeley. But top administration officials continue to cite the theories he and his colleagues developed, and his theory of an all-powerful "unitary executive" -- a notion criticized by many fellow scholars as authoritarian and monarchal -- has gained currency in, among other places, Vice President Cheney's office.

Yoo has not mellowed in his view that presidential powers are near absolute in wartime. Twice yesterday, he said the president has a "choice" about whether to follow the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- the law that, critics say, President Bush evaded by allowing warrantless wiretaps. FISA "says, 'Look, you have a choice,' " Yoo said. "If you work through FISA, then you can use the fruits of those searches in criminal prosecution." By contrast, if a president "doesn't follow FISA and still collects the information, it's doubtful it will be admitted. That's a choice presidents have to make."

Comment: Consider what Yoo is saying closely. The difference between going through FISA or not is dependent upon whther or not the president wishes to use the information obtained in a court of law.

What kind of information gotten in this manner would be useful to the president that would never be used in a court of law?

Information to blackmail politicians into refraining from criticizing the president or voting against his nominees.

Not everybody considers Bush's adherence to FISA as strictly optional. Last week, conservative commentator George Will took issue with the view that "because the president is commander in chief, he is the 'sole organ for the nation in foreign affairs.' That non sequitur is refuted by the Constitution's plain language," Will continued, saying the president cannot be selective in his duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

Yesterday, Professor Yoo sought to refute Will's "misunderstandings." It was the Supreme Court, Yoo said, that declared the president the "sole organ for the nation in foreign affairs." (Actually, the 1936 quotation Yoo cited referred to treaty negotiation, not spying or warmaking.) More to the point, Yoo, while granting that the president must faithfully execute the laws, added that this needn't apply "if Congress passes a law that is in conflict with the Constitution."

Yoo, a Korean American who immigrated as an infant, is not yet 40. With a pudgy face and a soft voice, he speaks in a measured manner that has a way of softening the extraordinary nature of many of his utterances.

He asserted that the Framers would not have given Congress warmaking powers because "the most vivid war that would have been in the memory of Framers would have been the Seven Years' War," in which hostilities predated a formal declaration of war. But that ignores the Revolutionary War, 13 years later, in which those same Framers rejected a monarchy.

One LaRouchie in the room heckled Yoo with a cry of "That was Hitler's argument!" But the others in the audience were kind to Yoo. Todd F. Graziano, a legal specialist at the conservative think tank, rose to ask if Yoo had not gone far enough in circumscribing Congress's authority.

"That is the question of a ringer," Yoo replied.

Another audience member, self-identified conservative Ed Powers, wondered whether Yoo's approach, even if legally correct, "tends to alienate the Congress and possibly the judiciary." Yoo called it "a really good question" but one he could not answer.

After the session, Powers answered his own question. "I don't really have any great objection to what Bush is doing," Powers said, but "there's no need for it" to be done without congressional oversight. Powers, evidently, spent too much time in civics class.

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The Unreal Death of Journalism

By Norman Solomon, AlterNet. Posted February 23, 2006.

Death is always in the news. From local car crashes to catastrophes in faraway places, deadly events are grist for the media mill. The coverage is ongoing -- and almost always superficial.

It may be unfair to blame journalists for failing to meet standards that commonly elude artists. For centuries, on the subject of death, countless poets have strived to put the ineffable into words. It's only easy when done badly.
Yet it's hard to think of any other topic that is covered so frequently and abysmally in news outlets. The reporting on death is apt to be so flat that it might be mistaken for ball scores or a weather report.

Pallid coverage of the dying is especially routine in U.S. news media when a war is underway and the deaths are caused by the U.S. government.

When a news report breaks through cliches to evoke realities of carnage, the result can be memorable. Here's a passage from an April 1999 story by Robert Fisk, reporting for the London-based daily Independent about a U.S.-led NATO bombing raid on a target in Yugoslavia:

"Deep inside the tangle of cement and plastic and iron, in what had once been the make-up room next to the broadcasting studio of Serb Television, was all that was left of a young woman, burnt alive when NATO's missile exploded in the radio control room. Within six hours, the [British] Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, declared the place a 'legitimate target.' It wasn't an argument worth debating with the wounded -- one of them a young technician who could only be extracted from the hundreds of tons of concrete in which he was encased by amputating both his legs. … By dusk last night, 10 crushed bodies -- two of them women -- had been tugged from beneath the concrete, another man had died in hospital and 15 other technicians and secretaries still lay buried."

Compare that account to the easy enthusiasm for NATO's air war from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote a day earlier: "It should be lights out in Belgrade: Every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted."

Or consider the contrast between Fisk's grisly account and the media jargon that the Times brought to bear on its front page that same week: "NATO began its second month of bombing against Yugoslavia today with new strikes against military targets that disrupted civilian electrical and water supplies…"

Such contrasts -- between facile journalese and human experiences of death -- are also part of the standard media terrain much closer to home. Days ago, the state of California was all set to kill Michael A. Morales in a San Quentin death chamber. But news reports told of delays after two anesthesiologists refused to participate in the lethal injection.

Public acceptance of killing thrives on abstractions. And, in turn, those abstractions (like the phrase I just used, "lethal injection") are largely facilitated by news media.

The reporting about the death penalty is usually light years from what really goes on. We're accustomed to those kinds of gaps. By the time we become adults, we've seen thousands of televised narratives -- from entertainment shows to newscasts -- that purport to depict death but actually do nothing of the sort. It's not hard to watch because so much about death is hidden from media viewers.

For those who champion death-dealing policies as solutions, whether administered by the "Department of Defense" or the "Department of Corrections," euphemisms are vital. Fog prevents acuity about what can't stand the light of day.

"Government officials don't want the American public to view the death penalty as a lethal, destructive, violent act that isn't really necessary," says Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama. "Therefore we sanitize and obscure the act of killing a person, who is no longer a threat to anyone, with protocols and procedures that are aimed at comforting the public. The problem is that intentionally killing another human being is always painful and shocking. As medical doctors, correctional staff and anyone who gets close to capital punishment quickly discover, there is no comfortable way to kill a human being who doesn't have to die."

But there are plenty of comfortable ways for news media to report on the killing of human beings.

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Victims of War Are Not To Be Seen Or Heard Or Mentioned

By Robert Weitzel
02/23/06 "ICH"

"The greatest dignity and respect you can give [victims of war] is to show the horror they suffered, the absolute gruesome horror." -War Photographer David Lesson

Joseph Bonham was an American soldier. He lost both of his arms and legs and all of his face to an artillery shell. He could not see or hear or speak. Other than that he was healthy and lucid. That was Joe's nightmare. He could be kept alive a long time.

Joe remained an anonymous torso until his head tapping was recognized as Morse code. When his message was finally understood, it was assumed he'd gone insane. Joe asked to be put on exhibit so that children and parents and teachers and politicians and preachers and patriots of every stripe could have a close-up look at war's leavings. It was the only way he could give his nightmare meaning.

Joseph Bonham's request was denied. It was not in the best interest of the country to foist him on an unsuspecting public. He died an "unknown soldier."
On March 18, 2003, two days before her son launched the invasion of Iraq, Barbara Bush appeared on Good Morning America. Our nation's "First Mother" asked Diane Sawyer, "Why should we hear about body bags and death and how many? . . . Oh, I mean, it's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that."

First Mother Bush knows her children well. When it comes to war's gallery of death and grotesqueries the big difference between Joseph Bonham and ourselves is that we choose not to see or hear or speak.

We resist and resent any reminder of the human cost of war with epithets and accusations. It is a breech of good taste. It undermines morale on the home front. It is aiding and abetting the enemy. It is unpatriotic and irrelevant. It is a waste of our beautiful minds.

In November 2004 Travis Babbitt was mortally wounded while on patrol in Baghdad. An Associated Press photographer captured his last moments on film. When the Star Ledger of Newark, N. J. and several other papers published the picture their editors were excoriated by readers who called them "cruel, insensitive, even unpatriotic."

Defending the decision to print the photograph, Star Ledger's assistant managing editor, Pim Van Hemmen wrote, "Writing a headline that 1,500 Americans have died doesn't give you nearly the impact of showing one serviceman who died."

Six months after the publication of the picture Babbitt's mother told a Los Angles Times reporter, "That is not an image you want to see like that. Your kid is lying like that and there is no way you can get there to help them. I do think it's an important thing, for people to see what goes on over there. It throws reality more in your face. And sometimes we can't help reality"

In war soldiers and civilians die gruesome deaths and suffer horrific wounds. This is reality. Pictures that capture this miserable fact are not meant to be gratuitously violent. They are merely the unvarnished truth.

Veteran war photographer, Chris Hondros, admits that many of his imagines of war are indeed horrible, but says, " . . . war is horrible and we need to understand that. I think if we are going to start a war, we ought to be willing to show the consequences of that war."

But it is not only the dying that remains invisible and unheard and never mentioned. The armless and the legless and the blind and the burned, the destroyed minds and the disfigured bodies "recovering" at Walter Reed Army Hospital remain as unknown as Joseph Bonham. The national myths and political lies that sent these casualties marching to war cannot abide their wounds.

Joseph Bonham lived in the fictional world of Dalton Trumbo's antiwar novel, "johnny got his gun." But the victims of war are flesh and blood. They have weight. Their lives are counted in years. We cannot turn them into a work of fiction and then refuse to even look at what we have written.

March 20 is the third anniversary of the start of the "The Long War" (formerly the War on Terror) in Iraq. It has cost America more than 340,650 pounds of flesh and bone and viscera, 2,838 gallons of blood, 6,813 pounds of brain matter, and 113,550 unlived years. It has cost Iraq over 18 million pounds of flesh and bone and viscera, 125,000 gallons of blood, 300,000 pounds of brain matter, and 5 million unlived years.

Imagine if we could see this . . . one picture at a time.

On January 31, 2006, Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, appeared in the gallery of the House of Representatives to hear President Bush's State of the Union address. She was manhandled, shunted from view, and arrested for wearing a t-shirt that displayed the number of American war dead and that asked, "How many more?"

Robert Weitzel lives in Middleton, WI. His essays regularly appear in The Capital Times in Madison, WI. He has also been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Skeptic Magazine, Freethought Today, and on the web sites, smirkingchimp.com and talkreason.org. He can be contacted at: debraw@chorus.net

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Blogger bares Rumsfeld's post 9/11 orders

Julian Borger in Washington
Friday February 24, 2006
The Guardian

Hours after a commercial plane struck the Pentagon on September 11 2001 the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was issuing rapid orders to his aides to look for evidence of Iraqi involvement, according to notes taken by one of them.

"Hard to get good case. Need to move swiftly," the notes say. "Near term target needs - go massive - sweep it all up, things related and not."
The handwritten notes, with some parts blanked out, were declassified this month in response to a request by a law student and blogger, Thad Anderson, under the US Freedom of Information Act. Anderson has posted them on his blog at outragedmoderates.org.

The Pentagon confirmed the notes had been taken by Stephen Cambone, now undersecretary of defence for intelligence and then a senior policy official. "His notes were fulfilling his role as a plans guy," said a spokesman, Greg Hicks.

"He was responsible for crisis planning, and he was with the secretary in that role that afternoon."

The report said: "On the afternoon of 9/11, according to contemporaneous notes, Secretary Rumsfeld instructed General Myers [the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff] to obtain quickly as much information as possible. The notes indicate that he also told Myers that he was not simply interested in striking empty training sites. He thought the US response should consider a wide range of options.

"The secretary said his instinct was to hit Saddam Hussein at the same time, not only Bin Laden. Secretary Rumsfeld later explained that at the time he had been considering either one of them, or perhaps someone else, as the responsible party."

The actual notes suggest a focus on Saddam. "Best info fast. Judge whether good enough [to] hit SH at same time - not only UBL [Pentagon shorthand for Usama/Osama bin Laden]," the notes say. "Tasks. Jim Haynes [Pentagon lawyer] to talk with PW [probably Paul Wolfowitz, then Mr Rumsfeld's deputy] for additional support ... connection with UBL."

Mr Wolfowitz, now the head of the World Bank, advocated regime change in Iraq before 2001.
But, according to an account of the days after September 11 in Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack, a decision was taken to put off consideration of an attack on Iraq until after the Taliban had been toppled in Afghanistan.

But these notes confirm that Baghdad was in the Pentagon's sights almost as soon as the hijackers struck.

Comment: Let's get real here, Baghdad was in the Pentagon's ( and more importantly, Israel's) sights long before 9/11. How much longer do we have to watch the mainstream press dither over the patently obvious? 9/11 was carried out by Israel with the complicity of the Bush government in order to facilitate the invasion of Iraq, and everything else that is yet to come.

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Pushcart bomb kills 16 Iraqis northeast of Baghdad


BAGHDAD, Feb. 23 (Xinhuanet) -- A pushcart bomb blew up near an Iraqi army foot patrol in a popular market in Baquba, some 65 km northeast of Baghdad, on Thursday, killing 16 people, an Interior Ministry source told Xinhua.

"A pushcart packed with explosives detonated near an Iraqi army foot patrol while it was passing through a busy popular market in Baquba, killing 16 people, including eight soldiers," the source said on condition of anonymity.

The blast wounded 20 others, he added.

Insurgents frequently mount attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqi forces in an attempt to cripple the U.S.-backed political process in the violence-torn country.

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Flashback: As the Hamas team laughs

Last update - 08:47 19/02/2006
By Gideon Levy

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: All I gotta say is, any country on this planet, any government on this planet, any people on this planet, that does NOT rise up in protest against the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, the genocide of the Palestinians, they then demonstrate clearly that they do NOT have a soul and they deserve whatever Global Warming is going to bring them.

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Israeli Forces Shoot Dead Five Palestinians

By Hisham Abu Taha
Palestine Chronicle

Since the army sweep of Balata began Monday, eight Palestinians have been killed by army fire, including the five shot dead yesterday.

GAZA CITY - Israeli forces killed five Palestinians and wounded at least six yesterday during a raid on the Balata refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus.

Three men belonging to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Fatah, were killed in a battle with the soldiers in the afternoon, Palestinian sources said. Witnesses said Israeli troops broke into several houses and buildings in the Al-Dahia neighborhood, converting them into lookouts.

Earlier, medics at Rafidia Hospital in Nablus said that Ebrahim Al-Saiedi, 17, and Naiem Abu Saries, 24, died from injuries received in fierce clashes with the Israeli troops at the refugee camp in the morning.

Since the army sweep of Balata began Monday, eight Palestinians have been killed by army fire, including the five shot dead yesterday. More than 50 Palestinians have been injured by live rounds and rubber-coated steel pellets, Palestinian hospital officials said.

The Israeli troops also conducted a house-to-house search during which several Palestinians were arrested. Israeli sources said two soldiers were wounded in the clashes.

Meanwhile, a senior Israeli security source said that Israel planned to pave new roads in the West Bank exclusively for Palestinians while Jewish settler vehicles would keep to the existing network.

Palestinians condemned the idea as a form of apartheid and said the initiative appeared aimed at cementing the Jewish state's hold on occupied land that they want for a state.

The Israeli source, who asked not to be named because the government has yet to finalize the road plan, said there was no intention of formally limiting Palestinian movement.

"We want to ease access to various Palestinian communities," the source said. "There is no intention of bringing about a separation of Israeli and Palestinian traffic. Palestinians will continue to make use of the roads they use today."

The source said, however, that Israelis would be banned from the future Palestinians-only roads because "we do not want them to get into a situation where their lives would be at risk."

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Israel claims al Qaeda plans mega-attack


Israeli security officials assess that 2006 is the "target year" set by the global al-Qaeda network to carry out a mega-attack in the country, Israel's leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Thursday. bin laden

According to the report, Israeli intelligence authorities detected two years ago the shift in priorities of al Qaeda towards Israel, which has been "upgraded" to the rank of a major target. Recently, al Qaeda chief in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi declared his intentions to carry out an attack in Israel.

The report added Syria has been identified as a transfer point for al Qaeda members planning to carry out attacks in Jordan and Israel. It should be mentioned that on Wednesday Israeli Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinski said that "global Jihad forces" maintain regular bases in Lebanon and Jordan.

Comment: Now that the scene has been set, all that is left to do is make the attack happen.

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How Neo-Cons Sabotaged Iran's Help on al Qaeda

Gareth Porter
IPS News

WASHINGTON, Feb 21 (IPS) - The United States and Iran were on a course to work closely together on the war against al Qaeda and its Taliban sponsors in Afghanistan in late 2001 and early 2002 -- until Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stepped in to scuttle that cooperation, according to officials who were involved at the time.

After the Sep. 11 attacks, U.S. officials responsible for preparing for war in Afghanistan needed Iran's help to unseat the Taliban and establish a stable government in Kabul. Iran had organised resistance by the "Northern Alliance" and had provided arms and funding, at a time when the United States had been unwilling to do so.

"The Iranians had real contacts with important players in Afghanistan and were prepared to use their influence in constructive ways in coordination with the United States," recalls Flynt Leverett, then senior director for Middle East affairs in the National Security Council (NSC), in an interview with IPS.

In October 2001, as the United States was just beginning its military operations in Afghanistan, State Department and NSC officials began meeting secretly with Iranian diplomats in Paris and Geneva, under the sponsorship of Lakhdar Brahimi, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Leverett says these discussions focused on "how to effectively unseat the Taliban and once the Taliban was gone, how to stand up an Afghan government".

It was thanks to the Northern Alliance Afghan troops, which were supported primarily by the Iranians, that the Taliban was driven out of Kabul in mid-November. Two weeks later, the Afghan opposition groups were convened in Bonn under United Nations auspices to agree on a successor regime.

At that meeting, the Northern Alliance was demanding 60 percent of the portfolios in an interim government, which was blocking agreement by other opposition groups. According to U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan James Dobbins, Iran played a "decisive role" in persuading the Northern Alliance delegate to compromise. Dobbins also recalls how the Iranians insisted on including language in the Bonn agreement on the war on terrorism.

The bureaucracy recognised that there was an opportunity to work with Iran not only on stabilising Afghanistan but on al Qaeda as well. As reported by the Washington Post on Oct. 22, 2004, the State Department's policy planning staff had written a paper in late November 2001 suggesting that the United States should propose more formal arrangements for cooperation with Iran on fighting al Qaeda.

That would have involved exchanging intelligence information with Tehran as well as coordinating border sweeps to capture al Qaeda fighters and leaders who were already beginning to move across the border into Pakistan and Iran. The CIA agreed with the proposal, according to the Post's sources, as did the head of the White House Office for Combating Terrorism, Ret. Gen. Wayne A. Downing.

But the cooperation against al Qaeda was not the priority for the anti-Iranian interests in the White House and the Pentagon. Investigative journalist Bob Woodward's book "Plan of Attack" recounts that Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley, who chaired an inter-agency committee on Iran policy dealing with issues surrounding Afghanistan, learned that the White House intended to include Iran as a member of the "Axis of Evil" in Bush's State of the Union message in January.

Hadley expressed reservations about that plan at one point, but was told by Bush directly that Iran had to stay in. By the end of December, Hadley had decided, against the recommendations of the State Department, CIA and White House counter-terrorism office, that the United States would not share any information with Iran on al Qaeda, even though it would press the Iranians for such intelligence, as well as to turn over any al Qaeda members it captured to the appropriate home country.

Soon after that decision, hardliners presented Iranian policy to Bush and the public as hostile to U.S. aims in Afghanistan and refusing to cooperate with the war on terror -- the opposite of what officials directly involved had witnessed.

On Jan. 11, 2002, the New York Times quoted Pentagon and intelligence officials as saying that Iran had given "safe haven" to fleeing al Qaeda fighters in order to use them against the United States in post-Taliban Afghanistan. That same day, Bush declared "Iran must be a contributor in the war against terror."

"Our nation, in our fight against terrorism, will uphold the doctrine of 'either you're with us or against us'," he said.

Officials who were familiar with the intelligence at that point agree that the "safe haven for al Qaeda" charge was not based on any genuine analysis by the intelligence community.

"I wasn't aware of any intelligence support that charge," recalls Dobbins, who was still the primary point of contact with Iranian officials about cooperation on Afghanistan. "I certainly would have seen it had there been any such intelligence. Nobody told me they were harbouring al Qaeda."

Iran had already increased its troop strength on the Afghan border in response to U.S. requests. As the Washington Post reported in 2004, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Javad Zarif brought a dossier to U.N Secretary-General Kofi Annan in early February with the photos of 290 men believed to be al Qaeda members who already been detained fleeing from Afghanistan.

Later hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees were repatriated to Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and other Arab and European countries, according to news reports.

The hardliners would complain that the Iranians did not turn over any top al Qaeda leaders. But the United States had just rejected any exchange of information with the very officials with whom it needed to discuss the question of al Qaeda -- the Iranian intelligence and security ministry.

The same administration officials told the Times that Iran was seeking to exert its influence in border regions in western Afghanistan by shipping arms to its Afghan allies in the war against the Taliban and that this could undermine the interim government and Washington's long-term interests in Afghanistan.

But in March 2002, Iranian official met with Dobbins in Geneva during a U.N. conference on Afghanistan's security needs. Dobbins recalls that the Iranian delegation brought with it the general who had been responsible for military assistance to the Northern Alliance during the long fight against the Taliban.

The general offered to provide training, uniforms, equipment and barracks for as many as 20,000 new recruits for the nascent Afghan military. All this was to be done under U.S. leadership, Dobbins recalls, not as part of a separate programme under exclusive Iranian control.

"The Iranians later confirmed that they did this as a gesture to the United States," says Dobbins.

Dobbins returned to Washington to inform key administration officials of what he regarded as an opportunity for a new level of cooperation in Afghanistan. He briefed then Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Rumsfeld personally. "To my knowledge, there was never a response," he says.

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Russia and the 'war of civilizations'

By Andrei Tsygankov
Feb 24, 2006

Russia has demonstrated a renewed activism in the Middle East and larger Muslim world. Aside from ambitious economic projects and weapons sales to India, Iran, Syria and Palestine, the Kremlin has proposed two wide-ranging and much-debated initiatives.

The first seeks to address growing suspicions of Iran's intent to obtain a nuclear bomb and to encourage Tehran to send its spent nuclear fuel to Russia. The second initiative is to open political dialogue with leaders of Hamas, who won the recent Palestinian elections but continue to refuse to renounce violence against Israel or recognize its right to exist as an independent state. Although Russia has had regular relations with Muslim nations and even sought to join the Organization of Islamic Conferences, the Kremlin's initiatives are bold new developments.
Successfully implemented, they may put Russia in a position to influence the future of regional and world politics strongly. A nuclear Iran is sure to change the security dynamics of the Middle East, and Hamas' participation in peace negotiations with Israel will clearly turn the process into something very different from the Oslo-shaped one.

Russia has also strongly condemned the recent publication in Denmark and some other European nations of cartoons satirizing the Prophet Mohammed as an "inadmissible" provocation against Muslims. Several officials shared the assessment of the situation by Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as a "global crisis" with a potential to escalate beyond the control of governments, while laying partial responsibility for such a development on the Danish government. Russian President Vladimir Putin said, "If a state cannot prevent the publication of things like this, it should at least apologize for them."

What drives Russia's new turn to the East has become a subject of wide-ranging discussions. Many observers pointed out inconsistencies in Russia's position. How can it pressure Iran if the two have so many commercial and geopolitical ties? Is it admissible to shake hands with Hamas if Russia is a member of the Quartet (including the United States, the European Union and the United Nations) and a signatory to the roadmap for peace? Why is it that Russia does not recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization if the Kremlin fights Chechen terrorists to the bitter end and refuses to enter negotiations with them? Is Moscow seeking to challenge the West's global supremacy, and is it developing Eurasian, rather than European, strategic orientation?

Finding coherent answers to these questions is all the more difficult as the Kremlin has been tight-lipped about its true motives. Putin offered a mere couple of paragraphs explaining his decision to invite Hamas to Moscow, and the Russian Foreign Ministry is yet to substantiate and elaborate on the president's vision.

We are witnessing a foreign policy that has roots in both global and domestic developments. Globally, the Kremlin has been re-evaluating its relations with the United States. Many of Russia's post-September 11, 2001, expectations have not materialized. Military cooperation in Central Asia and Afghanistan is now replaced by rivalry over controlling security space and energy resources. Instead of rebuilding Afghanistan, which is quickly becoming a new safe haven for terrorists, the US launched a war in Iraq.

It also soon became apparent that Washington's strategy of changing regimes and expanding liberty is not limited to the Middle East. The so-called Rose Revolution in Georgia in November 2003 replaced the old regime by popular protest over a rigged parliamentary election and emboldened Washington to apply the strategy elsewhere in the former Soviet region. While the military option was excluded, the emphasis was still on providing opposition with relevant training and financial resources for challenging the old regimes in power.

Moscow has responded by building stronger ties with China, condemning the colored revolutions on its periphery, and taking domestic precautions against possible encroachments on national sovereignty. The Kremlin no longer views Russia-US cooperation in the region as primarily beneficial, and it thinks US presence there invites terrorism, rather than eradicating it.

Russia's perception of the US role in the region as destructive corresponds with perceptions by many Muslims across the world, who view the US "war on terror" as a war on them. What began as a counter-terrorist operation in Afghanistan with relatively broad international support is increasingly turning into a "war of civilizations", or America's crusade against Muslims and their style of living. Instead of engaging moderate Muslims, US policies tend to isolate them and give the cards to radicals.

For instance, the new radical Islamist regime in Iran is a product of the isolationist stance adopted toward the nation by the United States over two decades. US leaders failed to engage moderate politicians such as former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami, who were clear in their intentions to put the 1979 hostage crisis behind them and normalize the relationship with the United States. With aggressive foreign policies pursued by Washington, it was only a matter of time before a large and culturally independent nation such as Iran would empower its own hardliners to respond to America's hardline policies.

The Hamas case is similar, as both the United States and Europe pursued isolationist policies and even tried to pressure Palestinian voters by threatening to cut financial aid in case of a Hamas victory. Europe recently added fuel to the fire by refusing to assume any responsibility for global protests of Muslims over publication of offensive cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. That the United States condemned their publication could not change its already-established image of an imperialist power seeking to offend Muslims. Actions, not words, shape perceptions, and it is perception that constitutes reality.

Implications of the "war of civilizations" for Russia's well-being are fundamental. For a country with 20 million to 25 million Muslims, an involvement in such a war would mean inviting fire to its own home. Russia's domestic intercultural ties are far from balanced. A growing influence of radical Islamist ideologies, rising immigration from Muslim ex-Soviet republics, and poorly conceived actions of some of Russia's local authorities in failing to build ties with Muslims create politically an explosive environment. Although the situation in Chechnya is much more stable today, Islamic radicals are succeeding in spreading violence and extremist ideology across the larger North Caucasus.

It is in this context that one should try to make sense of Russia's Eastern initiatives. They are not anti-Western and do not signal the Kremlin's return to the rhetoric of Eurasianist multipolarity and containment of the West. However, these initiatives do indicate appreciation that the "war of civilizations" between Western nations and Islam is intensifying, as well as understanding that Russia has no business participating in that war. Just as it was a tragic mistake to get involved in World War I in 1914, it would be a tragedy to have a fully hardened Western-Islamic front today and to see Russia joining it.

Russia's willingness to engage Iran and Hamas seeks to compensate for blunders of Western policies in the region, such as calls to boycott elections in Iran or clumsy attempts to pressure Palestinian voters, and to find a way out of a developing inter-civilizational confrontation. Implicitly, the new Kremlin initiatives also fully recognize that the threat of Islamic radicalism in Russia cannot be successfully confronted without reaching out to the Muslim world. Whether or not reports of Hamas' financial support for Chechen radicals are true, it is overdue for Russia to issue a clear statement that it has no plans to be a part of a new world war, but that it is willing to do everything in its power to negotiate the war's end.

Those losing sleep over Russia's new turn to the East should relax. Russia remains a European nation albeit with strong roots outside the West. This does not mean, however, that Samuel Huntington-inspired hopes of Russia joining the "civilized" West against the Eastern "barbarians" have any foundations to them (Huntington, a political scientist, wrote The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order). Russians are more likely to side with voices advocating a dialogue of civilizations.

Politicians such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Mohammed Khatami attempted to articulate humanistic and culturally pluralistic perspectives, but failed to muster support from the "only superpower". Today calls for an "inter-civilizational alliance" and "compromise" are heard again, as Russia, Turkey and Spain try to formulate an alternative to an inter-civilizational war. Until such calls are heard, strengthening a dialogue across cultures remains possible.

Andrei P Tsygankov teaches at San Francisco State University and is author of Russia's Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity (Rowman & Littlefield, forthcoming) and Whose World Order? Russia's Perception of American Ideas after the Cold War (University of Notre Dame Press, 2004), among others.

(Copyright 2006 Andrei P Tsygankov.)

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Vatican to Muslims: practice what you preach

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
Feb 23, 12:54 PM (ET)

PARIS - After backing calls by Muslims for respect for their religion in the Mohammad cartoons row, the Vatican is now urging Islamic countries to reciprocate by showing more tolerance toward their Christian minorities.

Roman Catholic leaders at first said Muslims were right to be outraged when Western newspapers reprinted Danish caricatures of the Prophet, including one with a bomb in his turban. Most Muslims consider any images of Mohammad to be blasphemous.

After criticizing both the cartoons and the violent protests in Muslim countries that followed, the Vatican this week linked the issue to its long-standing concern that the rights of other faiths are limited, sometimes severely, in Muslim countries.
Vatican prelates have been concerned by recent killings of two Catholic priests in Turkey and Nigeria. Turkish media linked the death there to the cartoons row. At least 146 Christians and Muslims have died in five days of religious riots in Nigeria.

"If we tell our people they have no right to offend, we have to tell the others they have no right to destroy us," Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's Secretary of State (prime minister), told journalists in Rome.

"We must always stress our demand for reciprocity in political contacts with authorities in Islamic countries and, even more, in cultural contacts," Foreign Minister Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo told the daily Corriere della Sera.

Reciprocity -- allowing Christian minorities the same rights as Muslims generally have in Western countries, such as building houses of worship or practicing religion freely -- is at the heart of Vatican diplomacy toward Muslim states.

Vatican diplomats argue that limits on Christians in some Islamic countries are far harsher than restrictions in the West that Muslims decry, such as France's ban on headscarves in state schools.

Saudi Arabia bans all public expression of any non-Muslim religion and sometimes arrests Christians even for worshipping privately. Pakistan allows churches to operate but its Islamic laws effectively deprive Christians of many rights.

Both countries are often criticized at the United Nations Human Rights Commission for violating religious freedoms.


Pope Benedict signaled his concern on Monday when he told the new Moroccan ambassador to the Vatican that peace can only be assured by "respect for the religious convictions and practices of others, in a reciprocal way in all societies."

He mentioned no countries by name. Morocco is tolerant of other religions, but like all Muslim countries frowns on conversion from Islam to another faith.

Iraqi Christians say they were well treated under Saddam Hussein's secular policies, but believers have been killed, churches burned and women forced to wear Muslim garb since Islamic groups gained sway after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Christians make up only a tiny fraction of the population in most Muslim countries. War and political pressure in recent decades have forced many to emigrate from Middle Eastern communities dating back to just after the time of Jesus.

As often happens at the Vatican, lower-level officials have been more outspoken than the Pope and his main aides.

"Enough now with this turning the other cheek! It's our duty to protect ourselves," Monsignor Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Vatican's supreme court, thundered in the daily La Stampa. Jesus told his followers to "turn the other cheek" when struck.

"The West has had relations with the Arab countries for half a century, mostly for oil, and has not been able to get the slightest concession on human rights," he said.

Bishop Rino Fisichella, head of one of the Roman universities that train young priests from around the world, told Corriere della Sera the Vatican should speak out more.

"Let's drop this diplomatic silence," said the rector of the Pontifical Lateran University. "We should put pressure on international organizations to make the societies and states in majority Muslim countries face up to their responsibilities."

Comment: Well, we can't really say we're surprised to learn that one of the reasons the Vatican spoke out against the Muslim cartoon row was because it could demand better treatment for Christians in Muslim countries in return.

And how about this Monsignor Velasio De Paolis: "Enough now with this turning the other cheek! It's our duty to protect ourselves!" Shouldn't the Vatican also practice what it preaches?

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Japan to Discuss Troop Deployments in Iraq

Associated Press
Thu Feb 23, 11:17 PM ET

TOKYO - Japanese defense and foreign affairs officials were to meet with their U.S., British and Australian counterparts in London on Friday to discuss troop deployments in Iraq, a Japanese Defense Agency official said.

Mainichi newspaper reported on Friday that the group would discuss the logistics, but the agency spokeswoman refused to reveal further details of the talks, saying only that no announcement was expected to emerge.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing agency protocol. The Mainichi report did not cite its sources.

Japan has some 600 troops in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah on a humanitarian mission in its largest overseas military deployment since World War II. Tokyo was a vocal backer of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Public opinion polls, however, show most Japanese oppose the mission and news reports have widely speculated that Tokyo would begin to draw down its deployment as soon as March as the British and Australian troops protecting them move out of the area.

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Saudis thwart oil refinery attack

Friday, February 24, 2006

Saudi security forces have thwarted an attempted suicide attack at an oil processing facility in eastern Saudi Arabia, Saudi security sources told CNN.

Two cars carrying an unknown number of would-be bombers tried to enter the side gate to the Abqaiq plant near Dammam, but the attackers detonated their explosives after security guards fired on them, according to statements from Saudi's interior and oil ministries.
Two guards were critically injured in the blast, according to the interior minister's spokesman.

Saudi security consultant Nawaf Obaid said the cars breached the outer security perimeter after opening fire on security guards, killing three and wounding 10, before being stopped at a second security perimeter, where they set off the explosives.

The explosions caused a "minor fire" in a nearby industrial area that was quickly brought under control, the government statements said.

The incident did not affect the facility's operations, said Saudi Oil Minister Ali bin Ibrahim al-Naimi.

The incident happened shortly after 3 p.m. (7 a.m. ET) about 1.5 km (1 mile) from the plant's main entrance, he said.

All of the would-be attackers were killed, according to Obaid and a senior Saudi security official.

Al Qaeda has long called for attacks on Saudi oil installations, accusing the country's government of selling oil to the West at cheap prices, The Associated Press said.

The group is run by the Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, who wants to topple the Saudi monarchy and replace it with an Islamic state. The Saudi authorities have said their oil facilities are well protected.

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by Benjamin Merhav
Wednesday, February 15, 2006

This article deals with an article by one of Noam Chomsky's cronies, Norman Finkelstein, but in every other way it is the continuation of the treachery of Noam Chomsky himself. Norman Finkelstein, like his mentor, is a zionist in disguise. This feature of Norman Finkelstein is more conspicuous, of course, because unlike his mentor's cover-up protection by dishonest pretences as "guru of the Left", he has never been considered such a guru.
Like the game of a shrewd peddler, who tries hard to gain his customers' trust by a display of false honesty, Noam Chomsky was able - with the help of zionist "criticism" - to gain the trust of people on the Left. Norman Finkelstein, on the other hand, has not done the self promotion propaganda work to the extent that Chomsky has done, therefore his zionist disguise is far more obvious. He has credited himself with exposing the zionist holocaust industry, yet he never exposed the collaboaration of the zionist hierarchy in the mass murder of Europe's non-zionist Jews during the 2nd ww. He purports to support the Palestinian cause yet, like his mentor, he never condemned the zionist apartheid regime of Israel, never supported the right to return of the Palestinian refugees, never supported a democratic non-racist Palestinian state all over historic Palestine. Which brings us to a very interesting article titled, Finkelstein's Boycott: A Meta-Narrative on the Ills of 'Liberal-Zionism', by Mohammed Abed, published on the 12th of February, 2006.
Analysing Norman Finkelstein's article in the Norwegian paper, Aftenposten of the 14th January,2006, Mohammed Abed arrives at the conclusion that the article is no more than the expression of 'Liberal Zionism', which is in opposition to the inalienable rights of the Arab people of Palestine. Here is the relevant part of Abed's article :

"Norman Finkelstein's recent article on the 'economic' boycott of Israel ('Why an Economic Boycott of Israel is Justified,' Aftenposten 01.14.2006) appears to take a principled moral stand against injustice in Palestine. Finkelstein's views are couched in the language and methodology of 'objective' scholarship, even if 'editorial' is a more appropriate description of the article's surface form. Consistent with the basic principles of 'semantic sleight of hand,' the article contains more than its fair share of true statements, most of them established by constant references to independent reports produced by International and Israeli human rights organizations, United Nations Resolutions, and various international treaties and conventions to which the state of Israel is a signatory. This 'scholarly' edifice creates and sustains a semantic fugue that deflects the reader's attention away from the highly controversial – if not downright false – claims that Finkelstein smuggles into the article. The author offers no arguments for these claims, and yet they contain the seed of what is, in essence, the 'liberal-Zionist' narrative about resolution of the conflict in historical Palestine. Of course the reality about 'liberal-Zionism' is that it's a contradiction in terms; Zionism is an exclusionary national movement that prevents the return of the Palestinian Refugees and exiles to their homeland on the basis that their presence would 'upset' Israel's Judeo-centric 'demographic' balance, whereas there's nothing in liberal political theory that would justify the state placing limitations on where an individual can live on the basis of nothing more than their ethnic origin. Just as the apparatus of 'scholarly' discourse can be used to legitimize claims that are morally indefensible, 'moderate' Zionists can use the language of liberal-democracy and human rights to conceal a deep ideological affinity with oppressive institutions and an unwillingness to recognize that it's in everybody's long-term interests that those institutions be dismantled."
There is only one mistake in Abed's article, and it is his definition of Zionism : "Zionism is an exclusionary national movement". Zionism is exclusionary alright, but it is not and never has been a "national movement" , simply because there is no "Jewish nation" in reality. Even anti-zionists who do not see zionism as a form of fascism - as I do - do not endorse the definition of zionism as a "national movement". Other than that, Abed's article is excellent ! Here is how Mohammed Abed goes on to expose the dishonesty of Norman Finkelstein :
"Finkelstein tells us that 'the basic terms for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict are embodied in U.N. resolution 242 and subsequent U.N. resolutions, which call for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and the establishment of a Palestinian state in these areas in exchange for recognition of Israel's right to live in peace and security with its neighbors.' The first thing to notice about this claim is its placement in the text. Rather than supporting it with an argument that takes account of all the relevant facts and applies principles the author professes to endorse in an impartial manner, the claim is strategically placed at the conclusion of four long paragraphs that express, in stock scholarly terms, Finkelstein's disapproving attitude towards Israel's policies of wanton killing of Palestinian civilians, torture, house demolition, and the 'apartheid nature' of its regime in the West Bank and Gaza. Since the fourth paragraph contains perhaps the best example of semantic sleight of hand in the entire article, I consider it in more detail below, but for the moment, we can note that nothing in the paragraphs preceding the sentence quoted above provides any support for the idea that 'embodied' in U.N. Resolution 242 are 'the basic terms for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict,' and yet the placement of this claim makes it seem as if the two-state program is the logical outcome of accepting a body of facts about judiciously selected aspects of Israel's human rights record, even though in reality, there is no more than a tenuous connection between the two. The two-state program does not naturally follow from the facts Finkelstein has chosen to highlight, appearances to the contrary, so we might wonder about the set of criteria he's using to determine what counts as an appropriate selection. If we knew this, we would have a basis for explaining why violations that seem to be relevant from a 'human rights' perspective are omitted.
The first point to note in this regard is that on reading Finkelstein's essay, one could be forgiven for thinking that Palestinians residing outside the West Bank and Gaza are not intimately invested in and directly affected by the outcome of the conflict in their homeland. Nothing is said about these invisible persons, even though it's an uncontroversial fact that displacement and exile are insufferable harms that can only be remedied by facilitating their return to Palestine. Unlike 'liberal' and 'Zionist,' there's no contradiction in supporting the right of return and also thinking that the principles of reparative justice should provide the normative basis for an international political culture, unless we believe the bizarre claim that 'right of return' is synonymous with 'throwing the Jews into the sea,' which presumably no reasonable person does. There are also no demographic, territorial, or economic impediments to materializing the return of the refugees, as scholars like Salman Abu-Sitta, Nasser Abufarha and others keep pointing out again and again. Given all this, what justification does Finkelstein have for ignoring the suffering and needs of the majority of Palestinians in the world? Their systematic expulsion from their homeland in 1948 is the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so facts about the refugees and their plight seem doubly relevant to a discussion of what program of resolution is best, on the principle that in order to resolve a conflict – as opposed to 'managing' or 'containing' it (doublespeak for 'accepting the status quo') – you must address its causes rather than blunting some of its effects."
Mohammed Abed then goes on to expose the hypocricy and dishonesty of both Finkelstein and his mentor Chomsky, who purport to support the Palestinian cause but in reality they defend the zionist aprtheid regime of Israel. Here is Abed again :
"Finkelstein does have a justification for ignoring these facts, although it's not a very good one, and it's certainly at odds with his statements in support of a just resolution in Palestine. Liberal coat of paint or not, it's a basic plank of Zionist politics to ignore aspects of the Palestinian cause that problematize the idea that Israel, conceived of as a state that privileges Jews, is an accomplished fact that cannot be challenged, even if morality requires it. It would make a mockery of the right of self-determination if the Palestinian refugees returned to live under a state that by definition excludes them. A morally adequate program of reparations would therefore include the idea that Israel should be replaced by a political system that impartially guarantees both the individual rights of its citizens and the national equality of Israeli-Jews and Palestinian Arabs in the entire territory of historical Palestine. But an arrangement of this sort is anathema to the Zionist project, and this fact explains why Finkelstein wants to rely so heavily on resolution 242 as the framework for resolving the conflict. 242 and the 'land for peace' formula leaves Israel's ethno-centric character untouched and legitimizes what in other circumstances would be forcefully condemned. One wonders how people concerned with human rights would have reacted if the United Nations called for the territorial partition of South Africa along ethnic lines so that the apartheid regime could live in 'peace and security' with its neighbors. It's difficult to think of a good reason to accept a discourse that relies so heavily on the arbitrary whims of the institution that in 1947 gave 'official' sanction to the idea that 'peace' is synonymous with ethnic separation. After all, this idea initiated the processes that eventually led Israeli forces to cleanse 800,000 Palestinians from the areas that became the state of Israel. But even if we suppose, for the sake of argument, that the United Nations is a legitimate trans-national institution and that majority opinion has anything to do with truth, we could still be forgiven for wondering why Finkelstein would be so adamant about defining the basic parameters of resolution solely in terms of 242 rather than 194 (refugee return) or any of the other resolutions on the books. It's clear from his article that he has faith in multi-lateral institutions, so what could explain this omission?
One possibility is that like his mentor Noam Chomsky, Finkelstein thinks that being 'realistic' or 'practical' about the conflict entails paying nothing more than mere lip service to the rights of the refugees. For Chomsky, 'prudence' also issues in a steadfast refusal to be involved in building a movement that transcends the shortcomings of the two-state framework, even in the face of stark evidence that – morality aside – the policies Israel is currently pursuing 'will abort any possibility of a viable Palestinian state,' to use Finkelstein's words. Chomsky's version of the 'argument from prudence' takes note of the 'international support' that exists for the two-state program but fails to mention consistent international support for the return of the refugees, at least if annual re-affirmations of 194 in the U.N. General Assembly is any indicator of the 'majority opinion' that Finkelstein and Chomsky put so much stock in. The best explanation of this selective deference is the exceptionalism that, as Noah Cohen and others have explained so clearly, propels Chomsky to resist the implementation of basic human rights in Palestine on the grounds that Israel's 'historical vulnerability' makes it unique amongst colonial nations that commit massive atrocities against the indigenous peoples they conquer. As a result, the logic goes, Israel ought to be held to a different set of standards. Perhaps the translation of 'international support' is 'deference to the opinions emanating from the corrupt centers of power [U.S. administration, Israeli government, Palestinian Authority, the amorphous 'Europeans']. After all, the governments and institutions that Chomsky derides with such vehemence in his discussions of other issues don't support the implementation of the right of return, so there's no danger that their policies will challenge Israel's status as an apartheid state.
Again, a pertinent question to ask is whether Chomsky's 'pragmatist' bent would have led him to get firmly behind the 'general will' if the international community had decided to 'come to terms' with the apartheid regime in South Africa, perhaps by accepting that 'water and oil don't mix,' hence the Blacks must be shoved into an ethnic ghetto that would nevertheless remain under the military domination of the apartheid regime. And what would he have said under the condition that the 'general will' was interpreted as being nothing more than the attitude of resistance the United States and other powerful nations displayed towards the prospect of comprehensive decolonization in South Africa? The 'record' shows that whereas Chomsky supported a boycott of the regime in South Africa, he refuses to back a similar boycott of Israel, even though both are apartheid states distinguished only by Israel's relative lack of dependence on indigenous labor, a historical means to creating lebensraum completely untainted by the original inhabitants of the land. In an attempt to make sense out of this inconsistency, Chomsky will often retreat to the even more dubious claim that, since Israeli society will never accept to have even more Arabs live amongst them, the international community should stick to the 'water and oil don't mix' formula that has repeatedly failed to yield peace, despite its ad nauseam application since the partition plan of 1947. Similarly, at one time white South African society would have rejected a life of equality with Blacks, but perhaps one can surmise that in this case, Chomsky would not have so forcefully objected to the idea that the preferences of a racist community are irrelevant to determining what kind of political arrangement international civil society should work towards, or what methods it should use to achieve this end. It seems that in all cases of injustice and resulting conflict, what matters are broad principles and the facts relevant to the application of those principles, of which facts about the whims of an oppressor society are not."(Emphasis added)

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New kind of space blast seen not far from Earth

By Reuters
February 24, 2006, 5:16 AM PST

A new kind of cosmic explosion has been spotted in Earth's celestial neighborhood, and amateur astronomers in the Northern Hemisphere might be able to see it next week, scientists reported Thursday.

The blast seemed a lot like a gamma ray burst, the most distant and powerful type of explosion known to astronomers.

But when scientists first detected it with NASA's Swift satellite on Feb. 18, the explosion was about 25 times closer and lasted 100 times longer than a typical gamma ray burst.
"This is totally new, totally unexpected," said Neil Gehrels, Swift's principal investigator. "This is the type of unscripted event in our nearby universe that we hoped Swift could catch."

The explosion originated in a star-forming galaxy about 440 million light-years away toward the constellation Aries (the Ram). A light-year is about 6 trillion miles, the distance light travels in a year.

This would be the second-closest gamma ray burst ever detected, if indeed it is one.

The burst lasted for nearly 2,000 seconds, or about 33 minutes, astronomers said in a statement. Most bursts last a few milliseconds to tens of seconds. It also was surprisingly dim.

Scientists at Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics found hints of a budding supernova, or exploding star, when they saw the afterglow from the original explosion grow brighter in optical light.

If it is a supernova, scientists will have an unprecedented view of one from start to finish.

Scientists will attempt observations with the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory. Amateur astronomers in dark skies might be able to see the explosion with a 16-inch (40-centimeter) telescope.

More information and images are available on NASA's Web site.

Comment: This, along with today's story about the new comet that was spotted in January, deserve some discussion. The possible supernova was remarkable for its closeness and duration - lasting 33 seconds. It is located right under the foot of Perseus in the constellation Aries. See here for map.

Fulcanelli, writing in Mystery of the Cathedrals, mentions Aries in this way:

“Alchemy is obscure only because it is hidden. The philosophers who wanted to transmit the exposition of their doctrine and the fruit of their labors to posterity took great care not to divulge the art by presenting it under a common form so that the layman could not misuse it. Thus because of the difficulty one has of understanding it, because of the mystery of its enigmas and of the opacity of its parables, the science has come to be shut up among reveries, illusions and chimeras. […]

“With their confused texts, sprinkled with cabalistic expressions, the books remain the efficient and genuine cause of the gross mistake that we indicate. For, in spite of the warnings... students persisted in reading them according to the meanings that they hold in ordinary language. They do not know that these texts are reserved for initiates, and that it is essential, in order to understand them, to be in possession of their secret key. One must first work at discovering this key.

“Most certainly these old treatises contain, if not the entire science, at least its philosophy, its principles, and the art of applying them in conformity with natural laws. But if we are unaware of the hidden meaning of the terms - for example, the meaning of Ares, which is different from Aries - strange qualifications purposely used in the composition of such works, we will understand nothing of them or we will be infallibly led into error.

The comet story is interesting because one of the astronomers that is referenced is one "Andrew Pearce". Now the word "Pearce" or variations of that word has been popping up in our investigations over the past several years. The clue was initially given in 1997:

A: Devour newspapers for any recent news re: Percy.

Most recently we noted that it was Percy Hospital in Paris where Yasser Arafat was taken to die.

A comment from a session around that time is interesting:

Q: Was there any symbolic meaning to the death of Arafat at Percy Hospital, with the number 11 appearing at the time

A: Like Diana, a marker.

Interestingly, through the Gaelic language we relate Percy to Perch and then to March. March 5th happens to be the day when the new-found comet makes it's closest pass to earth.

The Andrew Pearce mentioned in the news story about the comet happens to be the same person who, in 2004, made history by being the 5th person to see a comet with the naked eye in one year. Never before had 5 comets been seen with the naked eye in one year. Which sort of suggests there are more of them up there, and they are kind of closer than normal.

Then there is the following which ties together 'nicely' the ideas of comets and supernovas.

September 12, 1998

On the subject of supernovas; I have discovered that three of the supernovas of antiquity which have been discovered and time estimated by the remnants, if they were not observed, occurred in or near Cassiopeia at very interesting points in history.

A: Yes...

Q: (L) Well, one of these periods in history was around 1054. This is a very interesting time. It just so happens that there are no European records of this supernova which was recorded by the Chinese, Japanese, and perhaps even the Koreans. Yet, there are no European records. What happened to the European records?

A: Europe was in a "recovery mode" at the "time."

Q: (L) Recovery from what?

A: Loss of civilized structure due to overhead cometary explosion in 564 AD.

Q: (C) There were certain historical facts you picked up, so that doesn't make sense to me. (L) On the other hand it might, because there is some stuff from Gregory of Tours that is real bizarre.

What effect did this have on the civilized structure? Was it a direct effect in terms of material, or did it have effects on people causing them to behave in an uncivilized and barbaric way?

A: Well, the burning fragmentary shower ignited much of the land areas in what you now refer to as Western Europe. This had the results you can imagine, causing the resulting societal breakdown you now refer to as "The Dark Ages."

Q: (L) Well, it damn sure was dark. There is almost a thousand years that nobody knows anything about!

A: Check Irish or Celtic, and French or Gallic records of the era for clues. There were temporary "islands of survival," lasting just long enough for the written word to eke out.

Q: (L) Okay, when reading about the Great Nebula in Orion, there is a kite shaped area adjacent to the Horsehead Nebula. I wondered if there was any relation between this and your previous mention of kites. Are we looking at something in that particular area of the sky that is going to go supernova?

A: For supernova, look to the "foot."

Just some food for thought. :-)

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See it Now: New Comet Brightens Rapidly

By Joe Rao
SPACE.com Skywatching Columnist
posted: 24 February 2006

During the next couple of weeks skywatchers will be turning their attention to a newly discovered comet that has just swept past the Sun and will soon cruise past Earth on its way back out toward the depths of the outer solar system.

Astronomers, who attempt to forecast the future characteristics and behavior of these cosmic vagabonds, have found this new object to be a better-than-average performer.

The comet is now visible with a simple pair of binoculars, and it's also dimly visible to the naked eye if you know precisely where to look.
The discovery

The first word about this new comet (catalogued as C/2006 A1) came from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Massachusetts, which serves as the clearinghouse in the United States for astronomical discoveries. The SAO also serves in that capacity as an agency of the International Astronomical Union.

On Jan. 2, Grzegorz Pojmanski at the Warsaw University Astronomical Observatory discovered a faint comet on a photograph that was taken on New Year's Day from the Las Campanas Observatory in La Serena, Chile, as part of the All Sky Automated Survey (ASAS). A confirmation photograph was taken on Jan. 4. Later a prediscovery image of the comet dating back to Dec. 29, 2005 was also found.

Interestingly, about seven hours after Pojmanski detected the comet, another astronomer, Dr. Kazimieras Cernis at the Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astronomy at Vilnius, Lithuania, spotted it on ultraviolet images taken a few days earlier from the SOHO satellite. Despite this, however, the comet bears only Pojmanski's name.

Getting closer

A preliminary orbit for the new comet was quickly calculated. At the time of its discovery, the comet was about 113 million miles (181 million kilometers) from the Sun. But orbital elements indicated that on Feb. 22 it would be passing closest to the Sun (called "perihelion") at a distance of 51.6 million miles-not quite half the Earth's average distance from the Sun.

At the time of its discovery, the comet shone at a feeble magnitude of roughly 11 to 12, which is about 100 times dimmer than the faintest stars that can be perceived with the unaided eye. In addition, Comet Pojmanski was buried in the deep southern part of the sky, among the stars of the constellation of Indus (the Indian), and accessible only to observers in the Southern Hemisphere.

But since its discovery, the comet has steadily been progressing on a northward path.

Finally, the comet is becoming poised for visibility for Northern Hemisphere skywatchers, and it is expected to put on its best showing during the last days of February and the first week of March in the dawn morning sky.

What to expect

Preliminary predictions indicated that the comet would dutifully brighten as it approached the Sun. At perihelion, the most optimistic forecasts had Comet Pojmanski attaining a magnitude of +6.5 (generally considered the threshold of naked-eye visibility).

The comet had other plans, however, and has been increasing in brightness at a much faster pace.

On Feb. 7, Andrew Pearce, observing from Nedlands in Western Australia, caught the comet already shining at magnitude +6.4. "This comet appears to be brightening rapidly," noted Mr. Pearce, adding that a faint tail was also becoming visible. Twelve days later, the comet had brightened nearly a full magnitude, according to Mr. Pearce, reaching +5.4. On February 20, Luis Mansilla at the Canopus Observatory in Rosario, Argentina was able to see the comet in 7x50 binoculars despite interference from the Moon and haze near the horizon. He estimated its brightness at +5.3.

Currently, Comet Pojmanski is shining at around magnitude 5, which is roughly about the same brightness as the faintest star in the bowl of the Little Dipper. Sharp-eyed observers in a dark, clear sky can actually glimpse it without any optical aid.

The comet is located in the zodiacal constellation of Capricornus, the Sea Goat. Beginning Feb. 27, skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere can try locating it, very low above the horizon, somewhat south of due east about 90 minutes before sunrise. You can use Venus as a guide on this morning: the comet will be situated roughly 7 degrees to the left and slightly below the brilliant planet (the width of your fist held at arm's length and projected against the sky is roughly equal to 10 degrees).

As viewed from midnorthern latitudes, Comet Pojmanski will be positioned a little higher above the horizon each morning at the start of morning twilight. While it's only 5 degrees high on Feb. 27, this quickly improves to 10 degrees by March 2; 16 degrees by March 5 and 22 degrees (more than "two fists" up from the horizon) by March 9.

What you can see

In the early morning sky it can be readily picked up in binoculars looking like a small, circular patch of light with a bluish-white hue and an almost star-like center.

The comet will passing closest to Earth on March 5, when it be 71.7 million miles (115.4 million kilometers) away.

In small telescopes the comet's gaseous head or "coma" should appear roughly 1/6 of the Moon's apparent diameter as seen from Earth (an actual linear diameter of 209,000 miles or 335,000 kilometers). It will also likely display a short, faint narrow tail composed chiefly of ionized gases.

Well-known comet expert, John E. Bortle of Stormville, New York compares the view of Comet Pojmanski to that of an "apple on a stick; typical of dust-poor comets."

After March 5, the comet will be receding from both the Sun and Earth and rapidly fade as it heads back out into space, beyond the limits of the outer solar system.

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Flashback: Mysterious High-Energy Bursts Linked to Supernova

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
03 April 2002

Astronomers have detected signs of a supernova explosion and tied it to the output of even higher-energy radiation known as a gamma-ray burst. The discovery adds to evidence that suggests supernovae and gamma-ray bursts sometimes are linked.

Gamma-ray bursts, or GRBs as they are called, have remained largely mysterious since their discovery in the 1960s. They pack the electromagnetic output of many galaxies into a single flash that lasts seconds or less. If one occurred nearby, it could destroy life on Earth.
Most GRBs originate outside our galaxy, however. The bursts are difficult to study because of their short duration and distant origin, and researchers still are not sure what causes them.

The new study, which will be reported in the April 4 issue of the journal Nature, found hot gas containing elements such as magnesium, silicon and sulfur, which are common products of a supernova, an explosion that marks the end of a massive star's life. The gas was streaming outward from a known GRB site at one-tenth the speed of light.

James Reeves of the University of Leicester, UK, led the study. Reeves explained what he figures is going on, a scenario that other researchers have described previously:

As massive star nears the end of its life, it casts huge amounts of material into space. In a grand finale, a bubble of hot gas explodes outward. Material that's left behind is thought to collapse into a black hole. The whole mess rotates, and two jets of gamma rays and other emissions are shot out in opposite directions, along the axis of rotation.

"Eventually, the hot fireball from the [supernova] burst catches up with the dense material [previously] ejected from the massive progenitor star," Reeves said. "This material is heated up and produces the X-ray emission from those elements that we see in our observations."

Importantly, Reeves and his colleagues did not detect iron, as might have been suspected in the wake of a supernova. This is likely because there had not been enough time for iron to form via radioactive decay, he said, implying that the time between the supernova and the GRB is very short.

"The new results strengthen the link between GRBs and supernovae, and favor models where the GRB occurs within a few days after the supernova," said Herman Marshall of MIT, in writing an analysis of the paper for the journal.

The findings are supported, Marshall said, by other recent detections of iron in the X-ray afterglows of gamma-ray bursts. These earlier observations, made by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the XMM-Newton, were not conclusive on their own.

The new study used data collected by the Italian-run BeppoSAX satellite and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton.

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Flashback: Brightest Galactic Flash Ever Detected Hits Earth

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
posted: 18 February, 2005

"Had this happened within 10 light-years of us, it would have severely damaged our atmosphere and possibly have triggered a mass extinction," said Bryan Gaensler of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

A huge explosion halfway across the galaxy packed so much power it briefly altered Earth's upper atmosphere in December, astronomers said Friday.

No known eruption beyond our solar system has ever appeared as bright upon arrival.

But you could not have seen it, unless you can top the X-ray vision of Superman: In gamma rays, the event equaled the brightness of the full Moon's reflected visible light.

The blast originated about 50,000 light-years away and was detected Dec. 27. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers).

The commotion was caused by a special variety of neutron star known as a magnetar. These fast-spinning, compact stellar corpses -- no larger than a big city -- create intense magnetic fields that trigger explosions. The blast was 100 times more powerful than any other similar eruption witnessed, said David Palmer of Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of several researchers around the world who monitored the event with various telescopes.

"Had this happened within 10 light-years of us, it would have severely damaged our atmosphere and possibly have triggered a mass extinction," said Bryan Gaensler of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

There are no magnetars close enough to worry about, however, Gaensler and two other astronomers told SPACE.com. But the strength of the tempest has them marveling over the dying star's capabilities while also wondering if major species die-offs in the past might have been triggered by stellar explosions.


The Sun is a middle-aged star about 8 light-minutes from us. Its tantrums, though cosmically pitiful compared to the magnetar explosion, routinely squish Earth's protective magnetic field and alter our atmosphere, lighting up the night sky with colorful lights called aurora.

Solar storms also alter the shape of Earth's ionosphere, a region of the atmosphere 50 miles (80 kilometers) up where gas is so thin that electrons can be stripped from atoms and molecules -- they are ionized -- and roam free for short periods. Fluctuations in solar radiation cause the ionosphere to expand and contract.

"The gamma rays hit the ionosphere and created more ionization, briefly expanding the ionosphere," said Neil Gehrels, lead scientist for NASA's gamma-ray watching Swift observatory.

Gehrels said in an email interview that the effect was similar to a solar-induced disruption but that the effect was "much smaller than a big solar flare."

Still, scientists were surprised that a magnetar so far away could alter the ionosphere.

"That it can reach out and tap us on the shoulder like this, reminds us that we really are linked to the cosmos," said Phil Wilkinson of IPS Australia, that country's space weather service.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event," said Rob Fender of Southampton University in the UK. "We have observed an object only 20 kilometers across [12 miles], on the other side of our galaxy, releasing more energy in a tenth of a second than the Sun emits in 100,000 years."

Some researchers have speculated that one or more known mass extinctions hundreds of millions of years ago might have been the result of a similar blast altering Earth's atmosphere. There is no firm data to support the idea, however. But astronomers say the Sun might have been closer to other stars in the past.

A similar blast within 10 light-years of Earth "would destroy the ozone layer," according to a CfA statement, "causing abrupt climate change and mass extinctions due to increased radiation."

The all-clear has been sounded, however.

"None of the known sample [of magnetars] are closer than about 4,000-5,000 light years from us," Gaensler said. "This is a very safe distance."

Cause a mystery

Researchers don't know exactly why the burst was so incredible. The star, named SGR 1806-20, spins once on its axis every 7.5 seconds, and it is surrounded by a magnetic field more powerful than any other object in the universe.

"We may be seeing a massive release of magnetic energy during a 'starquake' on the surface of the object," said Maura McLaughlin of the University of Manchester in the UK.

Another possibility is that the magnetic field more or less snapped in a process scientists call magnetic reconnection.

Gamma rays are the highest form of radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes X-rays, visible light and radio waves too.

The eruption was also recorded by the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array of radio telescopes, along with other European satellites and telescopes in Australia.

Explosive details

A neutron star is the remnant of a star that was once several times more massive than the Sun. When their nuclear fuel is depleted, they explode as a supernova. The remaining dense core is slightly more massive than the Sun but has a diameter typically no more than 12 miles (20 kilometers).

Millions of neutron stars fill the Milky Way galaxy. A dozen or so are ultra-magnetic neutron stars -- magnetars. The magnetic field around one is about 1,000 trillion gauss, strong enough to strip information from a credit card at a distance halfway to the Moon, scientists say.

Of the known magnetars, four are called soft gamma repeaters, or SGRs, because they flare up randomly and release gamma rays. The flare on SGR 1806-20 unleashed about 10,000 trillion trillion trillion watts of power.

"The next biggest flare ever seen from any soft gamma repeater was peanuts compared to this incredible Dec. 27 event," said Gaensler of the CfA.

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Flashback: Closest Known Neutron Star Races Across Sky

09 November 2000

A relatively small, dense object racing across the sky and heading our way at more than 100 times the speed of a Concorde jet has been identified as our solar system's closest known neutron star.

The compact remains of an ancient explosion, less than 12 miles (19 kilometers) in diameter but 10 trillion times denser than steel, the neutron star zips along at roughly 240,000 miles per hour (108 kilometers per second). Most neutron stars are found in paired or binary star systems but this runaway object has broken free of its larger companion, giving astronomers a rare treat.
"The scientific importance of this object lies in the fact that the neutron star is isolated," says Frederick M. Walter of the State University of New York in Stony Brook. Walter said the object is surprisingly hot, probably due to the fact that it is relatively young and still cooling off.

"Since we know its approximate age, we can test how fast neutron stars cool off," Walter said.

The object, first spotted in 1992, was confirmed to be a neutron star in 1996. But only now has its distance from Earth been determined, using data provided by the Hubble Space Telescope. The object, also described as the corpse of a star, currently is about 200 light-years away. It is due to pass by Earth in about 300,000 years, but will safely miss by about 170 light-years.

Because the neutron star, called RX J185635-3754, is relatively nearby and all by itself, astronomers will be able to glean valuable information about star formation by studying it. Most neutron stars are hard to study as they are a billion or more light-years away.

Researchers say that RX J185635-3754 was probably shot like a cannonball when its larger companion star exploded as a supernova a million years ago. The other star, now a hot blue star, has been seen racing in another direction. Calculations show that the two were likely orbiting each other before the explosion in a configuration known as a binary star system.

The explosion would have been visible to our earthly ancestors in about 1 million B.C., scientists say. Supernova explosions are very complex and not well understood. Nor is the structure of a neutron star known in any detail.

The results were presented November 9 at a meeting of the High-Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu. A paper on the finding will be published in the Astrophysical Journal.

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What's 'Thundersnow'?


Many Wisconsin residents are reporting instances of thunder and lightning as Thursday's winter storm sweeps through the state. Is that for real?

WISC-TV meteorologist Karin Swanson has a description of this unusual weather phenomena.

Swanson said that "thundersnow" is fairly uncommon.

"This is something that occurs when we have a big snowstorm like this one," she said. "Typically, when we see/hear thundersnow, the thundersnow will be accompanied by heavy snow with high snowfall rates.

"For instance, it isn't out of the question to get a good 2 to 3 inches of snow very quickly when we have thundersnow," she said.

As for being dangerous, Swanson said, "It's just as dangerous as a summertime thunderstorm, and people should take the same types of precautions."

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Flashback! Canadian winter returns with a vengeance

CTV.ca News Staff
17 Feb 06

After a balmy January, winter is back with a vengeance. At least five people died in weather-related accidents Friday as freezing rain, wind and snowstorms battered a wide swathe of Canada.

"It is wild out there. There's a lot of misery on the weather map from coast to coast to coast," said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada.
"We'd sent out search parties looking for winter and we finally found it, and it's here, and it's beginning to bite us deep and hard."

The change in weather, from a warm Thursday with melting snow and rain to below freezing temperatures on Friday with high winds, caused the icy roads.

"The weather models all indicated it would happen more gradually and it happened a lot faster," said Sgt. Rick Lavigne of the Ottawa police. "It sort of caught us off guard."

Four die in Ontario

In Ontario, the weather brought freezing rain, ice pellets, snow and the rare winter phenomenon of thunder and lightning forecasters call "thundersnow."

A winter storm caused white-out conditions just east of Ottawa near the small town of Embrun on Highway 417. The bad road conditions caused 37 vehicles to slam into one another

Police said as many four people died, while 40 people were injured, 11 of them with serious or critical injuries. Two of the dead were a father and his young daughter.

Jason Baker was in one of the first cars involved in the pileup.

"This one was the ultimate whiteout -- a wall of snow," Baker, 27, told The Canadian Press.

Baker ran from his car as soon as he heard a loud bang. Firefighters on the scene said that may have saved his life, along with countless others who did the same.

Provincial police Const. Dana Mellon acknowledged that the number of injured could grow because of the number of vehicles involved.

"We were asking the public to try and stay off of these major highways . . .because of these blowing snow conditions, because it was just causing these whiteouts," Mellon said.

"In the span of 20 years of policing and 14 in this area, I've never seen anything like this," OPP Const. Diana Hampson told CTV News.

"The road is still closed. We'll be working well into the weekend on this crash to try and determine exactly what happened, what vehicles were involved and who was driving etc."

West of Ottawa, near Arnprior, high winds and slick roads resulted in another pileup involving 30 vehicles, where five people were left with minor injuries.

Police closed off several parts of the Trans-Canada Highway between Pembrooke, Ont. and Montreal because of various car pileups.

Air travel was also disrupted in Ottawa as 71 people were stuck on the ground in a plane for more than six hours until Air Canada decided the plane could take off.

An extreme cold weather alert was issued for Toronto Friday. High winds that reached as high as 59 km/h hit the city, causing delays at Pearson International Airport.

Toronto Hydro was flooded with calls of homes without power as powerful winds brought down power lines and uprooted mature trees.

Meanwhile, snow squalls north of Toronto made driving nearly impossible.

Car pileup in Montreal

Freezing rain and high winds caused a huge pileup on a highway 50 kilometres east of Montreal Friday afternoon. One man was killed and 40 people were injured after the chain-reaction accident involving as many as 60 cars.

Two women were seriously injured and not every one had been rescued, police spokeswoman Manon Gaignard told CP.

"People were still trapped in their vehicles," she said.

Police closed a large stretch of the busy highway between Ottawa and Montreal and didn't expect it to reopen until Sunday.

In Montreal, the wind gusts reached 110 km/h, blowing a roof off a school building, and causing a train to derail and dangle over a Montreal bridge.

Meanwhile, about 119,000 homes were left without power throughout Quebec.

On Friday, police implored people in Ontario and Quebec to stay off the icy, windy highways.

Deep freeze in the Prairies

Winter came back to the Prairies after the flow of warm air from the west stopped this week, said Environment Canada meteorologist Dale Marciski.

"That flow has stopped, and been replaced by a more northerly flow," he told CP. "It's what happens every winter, it just didn't happen when it usually does this year."

Environment Canada issued a wind-chill warning for most of southern Manitoba as overnight temperatures were expected to reach -45 C.

In Winnipeg, hundreds of car batteries wouldn't start and some people flocked to the mall to buy extra winter gear as the day's high of -23 C combined with a wind chill that felt like a bone-numbing -36 C.

The temperature in Calgary reached -20 C, while it was -50 C with the wind chill in Regina.

According to Phillips, the weather is typical for an average Canadian winter.

"All of this is a bit of a yawner from a weather point of view," said Phillips. "It's dramatic because it's so sudden."

Winds gusts of up to 90 kilometres per hour are expected to sweep across New Brunswick and the rest of Atlantic Canada as the weather system that hit Ontario and Quebec moved east.

Environment Canada is forecasting that the bitterly cold weather will remain across the country for at least the next 10 days.

U.S. storm kills two

A fierce storm also swept across the midwestern United States and into the northeast Friday, causing temperatures to dive and winds to reach as high as 124 km/h.

In western New York, temperatures dropped from close to 15 C to below freezing within several hours. High winds knocked out power to more than 200,000 homes and offices. Schools were also closed.

The winter freeze went east after battering the midwest U.S. Thursday.

About 100,000 customers in Michigan were still without power Friday after 97 km/h winds blew through the state.

Some homes and businesses are expected to be without power until Sunday.

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Holidaymaker standed after 'lightning strikes four planes'

23 February 2006

A RETIRED holidaymaker from Highgate on a birthday trip to Spain was among hundreds stranded overnight after four Ryanair plans were struck by lightning.
Michael Harrington, 60, of Stanhope Road, and his family were asked to get off the flight from Santander to Stansted on Sunday after being told the plane had been struck by lightning and needed to be checked over.

In the terminal, the family's American friends travelling to Frankfurt and a group of Italians returning to Rome were also told their flights had been delayed as a result of lightning strikes.

It later emerged another plane had been diverted because of the inward bound strikes.

But Mr Harrington said: "We couldn't believe lightning would strike Ryanair plans as opposed to anybody else."

He said the airport had released a statement putting the delay down to "operational problems within the company".

The family, including wife Mary, and children Kate, 26, who had given him the 60th birthday trip, and son Peter, 24, flew out on Monday afternoon - more than 24 hours later.

Ryanair has insisted the planes were struck by lightning and that the flights to Rome and Stansted had to be cancelled because the planes needed overnight inspection and repair.

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Phoenix Hostage Standoff Ends Peacefully

Associated Press Writer
Feb 24, 5:29 AM EST

PHOENIX -- A man accused of holding nine people hostage at gunpoint inside a National Labor Relations Board office was in FBI custody early Friday, after a seven-hour standoff ended peacefully when he released his captives unharmed, police said.
The ordeal came to a close after police met three of the man's demands, authorities said. Police said the suspect, 42-year-old George L. Curran of Chandler, asked to see his wife, requested a civil rights attorney and wanted the FBI present. He came out holding a gun to a female hostage's head, authorities said, and surrendered after seeing his wife and sister.

Curran pulled a gun during a legal proceeding and took five men and four women hostage inside a hearing room in a National Labor Relations Board office on the building's 18th floor, police said.

He was armed with a semiautomatic pistol, a revolver and a knife, they said.

Cornele Overstreet, an NLRB regional director who was not among those taken hostage, said Curran had filed a complaint with the agency about 18 months ago and his wife had filed one a few months ago. Both had been dismissed, he said.

Overstreet said Curran had been disgruntled and that the board agent who handled Curran's case had felt threatened by Curran, who had made angry statements.

"The threat wasn't, 'I'm going to kill you or beat you up.' The threat was the level of, 'You folks will get yours,'" Overstreet said.

He said the statements had been reported to federal authorities but that no charges were filed.

On Thursday, Overstreet called 911 after an office manager told him the gunman grabbed another worker and dragged her into the hearing room with a gun in his hand about 3:30 p.m. MST.

Inside the hearing room, a judge was hearing a case involving the termination of two employees from an upscale women's clothing store in suburban Scottsdale.

The hostages - five men and four women - included four federal employees: a court reporter, a judge, an attorney and a secretary.

The floors immediately above and below the hearing room were evacuated.

Hostages' relatives and co-workers waited out the ordeal at a nearby restaurant.

One woman hostage was freed before Curran's surrender and another female escaped down a stairwell after asking to go to the restroom, authorities said.

"I feel sorry for George. He's a troubled person. He seemed to have some psychological problems," Jeff Berman, one of the hostages, told reporters after he was released.

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Could Americans afford health care in next decade?

www.chinaview.cn 2006-02-23 10:21:47

BEIJING, Feb. 23 (Xinhuanet)-- Health-care spending is outpacing the growth of the American economy and will consume 20 percent of U.S. GDP by 2015, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said on Wednesday.
According to federal forecasters, by 2015 one in every five U.S. dollars will be spent on health care, for total annual health-care spending of more than $4 trillion, which will make up 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

By comparison, health-care spending accounted for about 16 percent of U.S. GDP in 2004, the latest year for which data are available, according to a study by CMS economists published in the the Feb. 22 online issue of journal Health Affairs .

National health-care spending will grow by an average 7.2 percent annually over the coming decade, 2.1 percent faster than the GDP growth. The increase is due to longer life spans, breakthroughs in medical technology and rising incomes.

Along with hitting taxpayers' wallets, the increasing cost of health-care will burden the federal budget as more people -- mostly aging baby boomers -- become eligible for coverage through Medicare (the federal health program for the elderly) and Medicaid, which covers people with low incomes.

That means that by the end of the next decade, the government will be paying about half of the nation's medical costs.

Rising incomes play a central role in rising health costs, said John Poisal, a statistician for the CMS. As people make more money, they're willing to spend more to stay healthy. That, in turn, spurs research and development of new, costly medical technologies and medications, Poisal said.

But an economist said that rising health care costs, coupled with a move by private insurers to pass on more costs to consumers, could mean that the working poor will be unable to afford health care.

"When spending on health care goes up faster than earnings ... people are priced out of the health insurance market," said Paul Ginsburg, president of the nonpartisan Center for Studying Health System Change.

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Americans work more, seem to accomplish less

By Ellen Wulfhorst
Thu Feb 23, 9:58 AM ET

NEW YORK - Most U.S. workers say they feel rushed on the job, but they are getting less accomplished than a decade ago, according to newly released research.

Workers completed two-thirds of their work in an average day last year, down from about three-quarters in a 1994 study, according to research conducted for Day-Timers Inc., an East Texas, Pennsylvania-based maker of organizational products.
The biggest culprit is the technology that was supposed to make work quicker and easier, experts say.

"Technology has sped everything up and, by speeding everything up, it's slowed everything down, paradoxically," said John Challenger, chief executive of Chicago-based outplacement consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

"We never concentrate on one task anymore. You take a little chip out of it, and then you're on to the next thing," Challenger said on Wednesday. "It's harder to feel like you're accomplishing something."

Unlike a decade ago, U.S. workers are bombarded with e-mail, computer messages, cell phone calls, voice mails and the like, research showed.

The average time spent on a computer at work was almost 16 hours a week last year, compared with 9.5 hours a decade ago, according to the Day-Timer research released this week.

Workers typically get 46 e-mails a day, nearly half of which are unsolicited, it said.

Sixty percent of workers say they always or frequently feel rushed, but those who feel extremely or very productive dropped to 51 percent from 83 percent in 1994, the research showed.

Put another way, in 1994, 82 percent said they accomplished at least half their daily planned work but that number fell to 50 percent last year. A decade ago, 40 percent of workers called themselves very or extremely successful, but that number fell to just 28 percent.

"We think we're faster, smarter, better with all this technology at our side and in the end, we still feel rushed and our feeling of productivity is down,"
said Maria Woytek, marketing communications manager for Day-Timers, a unit of ACCO Brands Corp.

The latest study was conducted among a random sample of about 1,000 people who work at least part time. The earlier study surveyed some 1,300 workers.

Expectations that technology would save time and money largely haven't been borne out in the workplace, said Ronald Downey, professor of psychology who specializes in industrial organization at Kansas State University.

"It just increases the expectations that people have for your production," Downey said.

Even if productivity increases, it's constantly outpaced by those expectations, said Don Grimme of GHR Training Solutions, a workplace training company based in Coral Springs, Florida.

"The irony is the very expectation of getting more done is getting in the way of getting more done," he said. "People are stressed out."

Companies that are flexible with workers' time and give workers the most control over their tasks tend to fare better against the sea of rising expectations, experts said.

Businesses that have moved to 24-hour operations, bosses who micro-manage and longer commutes all add to the problem, they said, while downsizing leaves fewer workers doing the work of those who left.

Finally, there's a trend among companies to measure job performance like never before, said Challenger. "There's a sense that no matter how much I do, it's never enough," he said.

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Teen Is Shot Four Times at Ore. School

Thu Feb 23, 10:05 PM ET

ROSEBURG, Ore. - A teenager shot and wounded another student at school Thursday, then fled to a restaurant, where he put the gun to his head before surrendering, police said.

The shooter, who police said was a 14-year-old freshman, was arrested shortly after the attack at Roseburg High.
The school went into lockdown after the shots were fired about 7:45 a.m.

The victim, identified as Joseph Monti, 16, was shot twice in the abdomen and once in the chest. A bullet also grazed his left elbow, said Kathleen Nickel, spokeswoman for Mercy Medical Center.

He "is doing very well, better than can be expected considering the bullet wounds," said hospital CEO Vic Fresolone. He said surgeons had repaired intestinal damage caused by the most serious of the wounds.

The suspect was not immediately identified. Sgt. Aaron Dunbar said the shooting wasn't random and the two knew each other.

"We're trying to come up with what the beef was," Dunbar said.

The boy was expected to be arraigned Friday on felony charges of attempted murder, assault, illegal use of a firearm and illegal possession of a firearm, authorities said. He was being held in juvenile detention.

A nearby elementary school in Roseburg, a former southwest Oregon timber town of about 21,000 residents, was briefly locked down as a precaution.

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After 40 Years, the First National Security Whistleblower Still Seeks Justice

By Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann
Thu, 23 Feb 2006 20:50:00 -0800

Kennedy's "Plan for a Coup in Cuba" and the Secret Service agent who knew too much

After an outstanding career in law enforcement, Abraham Bolden was appointed by John F. Kennedy to be the first African American presidential Secret Service agent, where he served with distinction. But you haven't heard about Abraham Bolden during Black History month, because after helping to prevent JFK's assassination in the weeks before Dallas, Bolden was arrested on the very day he went to Washington to tell the Warren Commission about those attempts. Caught in a maze of National Security concerns that only became clear after four million pages of JFK files were released in the 1990s, Bolden was sentenced to six years in prison, becoming America's first National Security Whistleblower.
The files released after Congress passed the JFK Act unanimously in 1992 show the massive amount of information that had been withheld from at least five Congressional investigations. Even worse, the Final Report of the JFK Board created by Congress shows that crucial files about attempts against JFK – the cases Bolden worked on – were destroyed by the Secret Service in 1995. And, a report by the government oversight group OMB Watch says that "well over one million CIA records" related to JFK's era remain unreleased, perhaps until the mandatory release date of 2017.

Bolden, now 71, can't wait that long.

Plus, the long-secret files that have been released show how keeping millions of documents secret for decades have negatively impacted US actions in dealing with Iraq, Central America, and Cuba, as well as preventing crucial intelligence failures from coming to light prior to 9/11.

On February 14, 2006, Congress held hearings about National Security Whistleblowers, aimed at improving laws to protect them from retaliation for trying to tell the truth. The witnesses who testified revealed a litany of workers being attacked by their own agencies, of documents destroyed or withheld – even from Congress – and of years of struggle to get fair hearings. This pattern began in the case of Abraham Bolden in 1964, yet most in Congress are unaware of his case. Likewise, Congress doesn't realize that not only did the Secret Service admit destroying crucial JFK documents in 1995, but that the Secret Service then failed to confirm their compliance with the JFK Act under oath, as did other agencies.

The JFK Board's Final Report detailing that was released 1998, amidst the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky affair, which may explain why it received little attention at the time. The OMB Watch report in which an official who worked with the JFK Board admitted that "well over one million CIA records" are still secret was released in the hotly contested election year of 2000, which may be why that escaped the notice of journalists and those in Congress. In addition, the major revelations in the four million JFK documents that were released in the 1990s – and continued to trickle out today – are only just now coming to light.

In today's world of instant e-mail and 24-hour news channels, many were recently amazed that Vice President Cheney was able to keep news of his shooting of another man secret for almost 24 hours.

Yet in November 1963, John and Robert Kennedy were able to keep two assassination plots against JFK that month out of the media at the time. The first was in Chicago, on November 2, 1963 – when JFK had to cancel his trip and motorcade at the last minute – and the second was during JFK's long motorcade through Tampa, Florida on November 18, 1963, just four days before Dallas. Both the Chicago and Tampa plots had many similarities to Dallas, yet they were withheld from the news media and most investigators.

Bolden was involved in investigating the Chicago plot and was informed about the similar Tampa attempt. Bolden's own testimony to a Congressional Committee about the Chicago plot was kept secret for over fifteen years, but when finally released in the 1990s, it supported other information that had emerged about the plot over the years.

Unknown to Bolden until recently, the crux of all this secrecy about the attempts to assassinate JFK in Chicago, Tampa, and Dallas were John and Robert Kennedys' "Plan for a Coup in Cuba" to overthrow Fidel Castro on December 1, 1963. The most secret operation of the Kennedy years, the CIA side of the operation was code-named AMWORLD, a term withheld from five Congressional investigations (and the Warren Commission) and declassified only in the 1990s. It appeared in print for the first time just three months ago. Using declassified files from the National Archives, we found that in the days, weeks, and months before Dallas, Robert Kennedy had a secret government committee looking at how the US could deal with the "assassination of American officials" if Castro found out about the Kennedys' coup plan, and tried to retaliate.

The thinking behind such plans – and worries that the revelation of the Kennedy coup plan could trigger another nuclear confrontation with the Soviets just a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis – was behind most of the secrecy surrounding JFK's assassination. However, key officials in agencies like the FBI, the CIA, and the Secret Service also used the excuse of National Security to withheld information that could have been embarrassing to them.

We only uncovered the Kennedys' plan with the help of almost two dozen people who worked with John and Robert Kennedy on the coup plan, their war against the Mafia, and their tragic aftermath. One of them told us that Robert Kennedy was aware of Bolden's plight, but "couldn't" do anything about it at the time – and in the context of the coup plan and the plans to protect it we had just been discussing, it was clear why. Any intervention on Bobby's part could have unraveled a veil of National Security secrecy that could have led to World War III.

Our sources and all the new documents don't show any vast conspiracy to kill JFK – they confirm what Bobby Kennedy himself came to believe, after several secret investigations by his trusted associates: that the Mafia had been behind his brother's assassination. Those Mafioso had infiltrated the Kennedys' coup plan through AMWORLD, and used the secrecy surrounding it to prevent a thorough investigation into JFK's death by pointing the blame toward Castro.

Bolden went to Washington in the Spring of 1964 to tell Warren Commission staff about the Chicago and Tampa attempts, and other Secret Service laxity, such as late night drinking bouts by the agents. News reports of the late-night drinking of Secret Service agents the night before JFK's assassination were threatening to become a major scandal, but the Secret Service couldn't reveal that the agents were blowing off steam after the stress of the recent plots against JFK in Chicago and Tampa. While Warren Commission staff had heard vague rumors of the Chicago plot, they had been told nothing about the Tampa attempt (which would continued to be withheld from the later Congressional investigations into JFK's assassination).

Bolden was arrested the day he arrived in Washington to talk to Warren Commission staff.

Bolden himself had previously arrested both of his accusers, one of whom later admitted committing perjury against Bolden. But the Chicago judge told the jury he felt Bolden was guilty, and Bolden was convicted and sentenced to six years in jail. Former Senate investigator and top Freedom of Information attorney Bud Fensterwald looked into Bolden's case and concluded that Bolden had been framed. After reviewing Fensterwald's files, we tracked down additional information about the Chicago mobster that Bolden's accusers worked for, whose gangster associate had infiltrated AMWORLD. The Mafia knew the Secret Service wouldn't defend Bolden because of his accusations of laxity, and that others in the government couldn't come to Bolden's aide because of National Security concerns.

After over forty years, Abraham Bolden is still trying to clear his name, but National Security concerns that date from 1963 still stymie his efforts. Along with another researcher, we provided written testimony about the Tampa attempt against JFK to the JFK Board in November of 1994.

But about six weeks later, in January 1995, the Board's Final Report states that the Secret Service told them they had just destroyed records covering the time of the Tampa (and Chicago) attempts. This was despite the 1992 JFK Act which required those records be preserved and released. The Secret Service also told the Board it had earlier destroyed other crucial records. And as we noted earlier, "well over one million CIA records" related to JFK's assassination still remain secret today, despite passage of the 1992 JFK Act.

Abraham Bolden paid a heavy price for trying to tell the truth about events involving the man he was sworn to protect – JFK – that became mired in National Security concerns. Bolden still lives in Chicago, and has never given up trying to clear his name. Two days after Christmas, his wife passed away unexpectedly just three days before their 49th wedding anniversary. She had remained with Bolden through it all, always sure of his innocence.

Will Abraham Bolden live to finally see the justice so long denied to him?

As Congress looks into much-needed legislation to protect today's National Security Whistleblowers, we urge to them to consider those like Bolden who risked their careers and lives to tell the truth decades ago.

It's in the interest of Congress to do so, since the four million JFK files released in the 1990s show the massive amount of information that was withheld from Congress in the 1970s and 1980s. Will no one be held responsible – or even investigated – for that? Or for the Secret Service document destruction in 1995? And how can Congress expect agencies like the CIA to keep them fully informed today, when so much has been – and continues to be – withheld?

After languishing for several years, Congress finally funded the Public Interest Declassification Board, which is scheduled to be held on February 25, 2006, which is one opportunity for some of these matters to be explored. All this secrecy has harmed – and continues to impact – American foreign policy and actions in countries ranging from Iraq to Cuba.

Each of us has a member of Congress and two Senators who can be contacted to let them know we care about these matters. Even those outside of the U.S. can make journalists and others aware of Bolden's plight and the ongoing secrecy of this government and the harm it brings to democracy.

It's the least we can do for ourselves, for history, and for a brave whistleblower like Abraham Bolden.

Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann worked together for 17 years to research and write Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK. There is more information about the book and Abraham Bolden at www.ultimatesacrificethebook.com.

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World science body slams tougher U.S. visa rules

By Reuters
February 23, 2006, 2:07 PM PST

A leading world science body denounced tougher U.S. visa policies on Thursday after its Indian-born president said he failed to get permission to enter the country on charges he was hiding information that could be used for chemical weapons.

Professor Goverdhan Mehta, 62, an internationally recognized organic chemist invited to a conference by the University of Florida, has denied the charges and said he was rejected because he could not recall details of research he did 40 years ago.
The protest from the Paris-based International Council for Science (ICSU) came only a week before President George W. Bush was due to visit India with another scientific issue--a planned civilian nuclear cooperation deal--high on the agenda.

The ICSU and the U.S. embassy in New Delhi disagreed over details of the row. The embassy said it had not denied a visa but asked Mehta for more information on his work before his application can proceed.

The ICSU said Mehta had provided it with written proof his visa was denied, and it complained that tough visa rules imposed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were keeping many foreign scientists from needed exchanges with their U.S. colleagues.

"The whole procedure is outrageous," said Carthage Smith, Deputy Executive Director of ICSU, an umbrella group of 133 national academies of science and international science unions. "He is not going to go on his knees and ask for a visa."

"Professor Mehta is a very well known scientist, but there are many lesser known scientists to whom this is happening," Smith said. "The bigger issue is important."

Smith said Mehta had been subject to "hostile treatment" at the U.S. consulate in Chennai, in southeastern India, when he applied for a visa and was asked to prove his work could not be used for chemical weapons.

"They said 'you're denied a visa,' gave him a form which says that but also says he can reapply," he said.

A U.S. embassy spokesman in New Delhi said the application had only been delayed. "He was asked for additional information and the application can be processed; it can be continued," he said.

Mehta, a former head of the Indian Institute of Science who has taught in the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Japan, said the consulate accused him of hiding information that could possibly be used for chemical weapons when he could not give details of his doctoral thesis.

"I did my Ph.D 40 years ago," he told the Deccan Herald in Bangalore, the southern Indian high-tech center where he lives. "I told them I did not remember the topic. Science has progressed and changed completely since then."

The ICSU, which has coordinated major international research programs and promoted free exchange of scientists and their data since 1931, expressed "grave concern" over the case.

"It clearly illustrates that, despite some progress, all is far from well with regards to the visa policies and associated practices for scientists wishing to enter the U.S.," he said.

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The Olympics We Missed

By Dave Zirin
February 24, 2006

Too bad NBC has botched the Winter Olympics, because there's been enough drama to satisfy even a nation of reality TV

The Winter Olympics have been to NBC what icebergs were to the Titanic. With the exception of the prime-time figure skating competition Tuesday, ratings have been subterranean, as the Torino Games have been routinely trounced by everything from American Idol to the Home Shopping Network. Thus far the network's $613 million investment looks like it would have been better spent on Betamax stock.

A question worth asking is why? The answers speak to everything that's wrong with the arrogance of television networks and the hypocrisy and jingoism at the heart of the games. Let's go through it point by point.
Moldy Nationalism: It's amazing. America has never been a more dynamic, multicultural society and the world has never been more of a global village, but NBC still treats the games as if it were 1980 and the United States were taking on the Eastern Bloc. As Florida writer Pierre Tristam wrote in his blog:

NBC covers the Olympics the way American neocons do foreign policy: The world is 95 percent America, 3 percent water, and 2 percent everything else. America's projection onto the world is mostly as an emblem of force, preferably unrivaled…. You get the sense that none but American athletes are in these competitions, just as the Bush White House gives the sense that all the world is collateral for American foreign policy. NBC has been trained for the task. The same people who brought us the Iraq war as show business and The Rescue of Jessica Lynch as truth, and who keep bringing us coverage of the White House as public relations, now bring us the Olympics as a two-week commercial for American power.

Call it the Bushwhacking of the games. Please, NBC. Rocky has retired and Ivan Drago has left the building.

Tape Delays: In the age of real-time video on the Internet, showing the games on 10-hour tape delay is as anachronistic as shoulder pads and piano-key ties. For people actually interested in the outcomes, the answers are a keystroke away. Sports are about tension. As I write this, I already know that Sasha Cohen aced the short program in figure skating. Will I tune in to the prime-time broadcast? Maybe. If it were on live, I would have watched it or taped it. But for NBC to do that would mean losing precious advertising dollars. So viewers lose the very essence of what separates sports from pro wrestling: suspense and surprise at unanticipated outcomes.

Idiotic Sports: Is your water cooler abuzz with news of the skeleton finals? What about the half-pipe? The slalom? No? Then congratulations, you don't work in an insane asylum. Most of the sports highlighted by NBC seem to have been dreamed up in corporate boardrooms to sell Mountain Dew and manufacture medals for US athletes. No one knows or cares about these sports. In Las Vegas, where you can bet on whether the Super Bowl will start on time, there is no action on these competitions.

Bode Miller: For reasons known only to members of the United States Olympic Committee, skier Miller was chosen as the person who would lead the American public to their television sets. Instead, after the publicity machine of the USOC got him on the cover of Time, Newsweek and every publication but Modern Bride, Miller emerged as a petulant brat. This would be forgivable, if he actually won -- or even medaled -- at his events. Miller not only lost, but seemed content to lose. The cardinal rule of Olympic sports is that you can be as arrogant and obnoxious as you wish, but you'd better back it up with results. Miller's stock is falling faster than Dick Cheney futures.

It's a damn shame NBC has messed up the Winter Olympics, because there has been drama a-plenty, enough to satisfy even a nation of reality TV junkies.

There was speed skater Shani Davis of Chicago becoming the first person of African descent to win an individual gold at the Winter Olympics -- amid a feud with teammate Chad Hedrick. This culminated with a stunning turn in the 1,500-meter finals when Italy's Enrico Fabris blew both out of the water and the subsequent press conference where Davis and Hedrick engaged in trash-talk icier than the Torino terrain.

There was an ice-dancing competition that looked more dangerous than crossing the track during the Daytona 500. Roman Kostomarov and Tatiana Navka of Russia won in dazzling fashion, as Kostomarov flew across the ice on one skate with Navka teetering on his knee.

And what about the mysterious raid by Italian police of the Austrian ski team, for suspected drug violation? The suspended Austrian coach Walter Mayer -- working, we now know, with cooperation from Austrian officials -- tried to sneak into Turin with a bag full of performance enhancing goodies. But Italian police were following Mayer and busted down the doors of the team's hotel room. As players threw bags out of windows and flushed steroid-masking agents down the toilet, Coach Mayer made a mad dash and was captured 250 miles from Turin after attempting to bust through a police barricade. International Olympic Committee chairman Jacques Rogge later said, "It's like being in a movie."

In other words, there have been compelling acts of athletic derring-do and personal turmoil during these games. If only the NeoCon Bellowing Corporation would have had the imagination and the backbone to fully and fairly cover what was happening, these Winter Olympics would not have been such a staggering waste of time and talent.

Dave Zirin is the author of "What's My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States." Read more of his work at Edgeofsports.com.

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'Demon-tormented' school calms down

Thursday, February 23, 2006

THE emotional turmoil at the Mumbwenge Combined School in the North, where children claimed to be terrorised by demons last year, seems to have simmered down.

Regional Education Director Josia Udjombala told The Namibian that the situation might return to normal with the help of psychologists from the Oshakati State Hospital.
He said the psychologists had already visited the school and he was waiting for their findings and recommendations.

Some pupils still have fainting spells, but the community now seems to be taking it in their stride.

"I was told from the school that those pupils who are still collapsing, do so only at the end of periods and not in the middle of the periods as in the past, an indication that the situation might return to normal now," Udjombala said.

According to the acting school principal, Magnaem Shiimi, some pupils still scream and faint, and claim to be seeing supernatural beings, but the teachers and other pupils are not as frightened of the phenomenon as before.

She said no religious groups were coming to the school in an attempt to exorcise the 'demons' anymore.

Shiimi has been acting as principal since Udjombala suspended principal Helena Makili on January 6 to allow an investigation into allegations that she had caused chaos at the school and endangered the lives of people.

Makili has been accused of allowing witchdoctors to come to the school and get involved in school matters - something that is not allowed.

Udjombala also accused Makili of allowing disorder at the school and not disciplining pupils who assaulted their schoolmates.

Some teachers, parents and children were not happy with the Director's decision and demonstrated at his Ondangwa office, demanding Makili's immediate reinstatement.

However, after Udjombala explained the reasons for the suspension, children returned to school.

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Delusion Shrouds Christian Coalition Leader

By John F. Sugg

There's no doubt that Georgia's Christian Coalition has had an impact on state politics, using litmus tests, fundraising and politicizing pulpits in an attempt to enforce theocratic orthodoxy among elected officials and judges.

And keep in mind that we're not talking about Christianity in a general sense, but one narrow interpretation of the faith that is hostile to Jesus' message of compassion and advocacy for the downtrodden.
Indeed, the Coalition's grande dame, Sadie Fields, hangs out with the leaders of the most radical of the ultra-right theocrats, the Christian Reconstructionists. She is close friends with several Reconstruction leaders, such as Gary DeMar of Powder Springs. Among other things, Reconstruction favors reinstituting slavery and segregating the races - because such institutions were condoned in the Old Testament. Which, perhaps, is one reason you seldom see a black or brown face at Christian Coalition meetings.

If there was any doubt about Fields' delusional beliefs, that doubt was dispelled at a Feb. 22 town hall meeting on immigration reform held at Clark Atlanta University. Fields and two Republican state Senate champions of punish-the-undocumented-immigrants legislation, Chip Rogers and Eric Johnson, were clearly uncomfortable in a setting where most of the audience was African-American and Hispanic.

Rogers, for example, lashed out when a Methodist minister challenged whether the proposed Senate Bill 529 reflected Christian values. Rogers railed that a person's beliefs are between that person and God. What, then, are the Republicans doing trying to enforce their twisted Christianity on the rest of the nation?

The high - or low - point of the evening belonged to Fields. After one speaker noted that when politicians target ethnic groups as scapegoats - as Hispanics are in the GOP's legislation - what often results is a rise in hate crimes.

Fields, who gets her religion from the Old Testament and not from Jesus' words, immediately proclaimed - and I'm not making this up - that: "The majority of hate crimes are against young, white males." She claimed she was quoting FBI statistics.

The audience of about 200 people sat in stunned, disbelieving silence for a minute at the absolute absurdity. Then the jeers and boos began.

Actually, the FBI reported recently that 68 percent of the race-based hate crimes were against African-Americans. Most of the rest were against Hispanics.

For the vast racism reflected in her outburst, Fields wins my nomination for the Pharisee Award.

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9 earthquakes recorded in Philippine volcano

www.chinaview.cn 2006-02-23

MANILA, Feb. 23 (Xinhuanet) -- Nine volcanic earthquakes were recorded on Thursday in Mayon volcano in Albay, 330 km south east to Manila, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS)
PHIVOLCS director Renato Solidum said in an interview that the agency recorded two minor explosions in the area Thursday morning and observed some small lava flows from Mayon's crater.

Alert level 2 has been declared Tuesday by the agency to make sure nobody enters the six-km danger zone around the Mayon Volcano.

Although PHIVOLCS has not increased the warning to level 3, Solidum said the agency is closely monitoring the volcano.

Solidum said the tests have yet to ascertain if the Mayon would erupt again.

The Mayon is the most active volcano in the country, having erupted around 50 times for the past 400 years. Its last eruption was in July 2001. Enditem

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Philippine president declares state of emergency over attempt coup

Vietnam Bridge

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Friday declared a state of emergency following an alleged coup attempt against her administration.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Arroyo signed Proclamation No. 1017 for the declaration of a State of National Emergency.
"I am declaring a state of emergency because of the clear threat to the nation," Arroyo said in a taped, nationally televised statement.

"This is my warning against those who threaten the government: the whole weight of the law will fall on your treason," Arroyo said, adding that the situation was under control.

In the declaration, Arroyo invoked Section 18, Article 7 of the Constitution that allows the President to call on the armed forces to prevent or suppress rebellion.

Arroyo said that over the past months, "elements in the political opposition had conspired with authoritarians of the extreme Left represented by the NDF-CPP-NPA (National Democratic Front-Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army) and the extreme Right, represented by military adventurists -- the historical enemies of the democratic Philippine State -- who are now in a tactical alliance and engaged in a concerted and systematic conspiracy, over a broad front, to bring down the duly constituted government elected in May 2004."
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Philippine soldiers are on stand by at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon city north of Manila Feb. 24. (Xinhua/Reuters)

Arroyo also noted that "the claims of these elements have been recklessly magnified by certain segments of the national media."

Arroyo said these series of actions were hurting the country "by obstructing governance, including hindering the growth of the economy and sabotaging the people's confidence in government."

Earlier on Friday, Presidential Chief of Staff Michael Defensor said authorities were hunting down eight to 10 civilians and military officers allegedly linked to the coup plot, including their financiers.

Defensor also said all permits to carry firearms issued to civilians nationwide have been canceled.

Emergency rule -- which allows arrests without warrants and an extension of detention without charge -- is a very sensitive issue in the Philippines after nine years of martial law under late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Comment: Coups are indeed threatening to any government, but they can be put down. Volcanoes, however, are less easily extinguished and also lead to a state of emergency being declared...

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Australian treasurer calls for Muslim hardliners to lose citizenship

Fri Feb 24, 1:21 AM ET

SYDNEY - Australian Treasurer Peter Costello, favourite to become the country's next leader, has called for Muslim extremists to be stripped of their citizenship while denouncing multiculturalism as "mushy and misguided".

The comments from Prime Minister John Howard's anointed successor have outraged Australia's Islamic minority, with leaders saying it is the latest in a stream of unfair criticism from a conservative government out to marginalise their community.
Costello demanded new citizens accept Australian laws rather than attempt to live by alternative codes such as sharia (Islamic) law, saying it was a sign of respect in the same way that taking off one's shoes before entering a mosque showed deference towards Islam.

"If you have strong objections to walking in your socks, don't enter the mosque," Costello told a function in Sydney late Thursday. "If you have strong objections to (Australian) values, don't come to Australia."

Prominent figures in the Muslim community, which numbers about 300,000 or 1.5 percent of Australia's 20 million population, said they could not understand why they were being targeted by Costello and the Howard government.

Shaken by racial rioting between white youths and Arab-Australians on Sydney's beaches last December, many Muslims have been frustrated by strong government support of the US "war on terror" and draconian counter-terrorism measures introduced after the 9/11 attacks.

Muslim leaders said their community was being further isolated by a string of criticism from government members, including Howard.

In remarks published this week ahead of his 10th anniversary in power, the prime minister criticised a minority of Muslims who "rave on about jihad" and hold extreme views "utterly antagonistic" to Australian values.

Government backbencher Danna Vale also said last week that Australians were aborting themselves "almost out of existence" and the country could become a Muslim nation within 50 years as a result. She later apologised.

Islamic Council of Victoria representative Waleed Aly said he believed there was a deliberate government attempt to scapegoat Muslims.

"It seems quite clearly calculated at marginalising a part of mainstream Australia that's been part of mainstream Australia for 50 years, but suddenly it's some sort of hideous problem," he said.

Australia has for decades had a policy of multiculturalism, offically defined as "supporting the right of each Australian to maintain and celebrate, within the law, their culture, language or religion".

But critics such as Howard believe it should place more emphasis on specific Australian cultural values.

Costello said he was surprised when attending a recent citizenship ceremony to hear a politician extoll multiculturalism's virtues by saying new citizens need not give up their culture, language, religion or love of their birth country.

"I realized that this confused, mushy, misguided multiculturalism completely underestimated the audience," he said. "Becoming a citizen of another country changes their identity."

Costello stood by his comments Friday, reiterating his view that migrants with dual citizenship who scorned Australian values should have their citizenship revoked and go to a country where they would feel more comfortable.

Howard backed him, saying Costello's comments were "fundamentally accurate" and accusing Muslim leaders of being too sensitive to criticism.

"He's not trying to stir up hostilities with Islamic people," Howard told commercial radio.

"For some to throw up their arms in horror and say that there's something wrong in even talking about this issue is ridiculous," he said.

The oppositon Labor Party said Costello's remarks were an attempt to shed his reputation as a liberal and endear himself to Howard's conservative supporters.

He succeeded in winning over Pauline Hanson, the right-wing populist who stood on a platform of anti-Asian immigration in the 1990s. She urged Costello to back up his rhetoric and expel people who refused to embrace Australia.

"If Peter Costello is wanting to be a future prime minister of this country he needs to take a tough stand on this, he needs to deal with it harshly," she told public radio.

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China rejoices after 'miracle' man snatches nation's first Olympic ski gold

Friday February 24, 3:07 PM

China rejoiced after Han Xiaopeng made history by becoming the nation's first skier to win Olympic gold with a surprise victory in the men's freestyle aerials final in Turin.

Han's win on Thursday dominated local media and headlined Central China Television's (CCTV) midday news, while a senior sporting official hailed his performance as a "miracle".
"He who made no noise before, when he makes a sound, he impresses us all," a newsreader with the state-run television station said, describing Han's triumph with a well-known ancient Chinese saying.

Images of a jubilant Han, 22, waving China's red national flag against the backdrop of the snow-covered slopes beamed into homes around the nation of 1.3 billion people.

"What was key was my psychological state, I felt particularly calm and I felt confident," Han told CCTV.

Liu Peng, director of China's General Administration of Sport and president of the Chinese Olympic Committee, called Han's performance "a miracle".

"This breakthrough is the result of many generations of people's hard work and represents many generations of people's dedication," Xinhua news agency quoted Lin as saying.

In a telegram to the Chinese Olympic team in Turin, China's General Administration of Sport and the Chinese Olympic Committee lavished Han with praise.

"It is glorious and has brought honour to the motherland and its people," said the telegram carried by the China News Service.

"We hope you will continue with the struggle in order to obtain more good results."

Web surfers across China posted notes of congratulations on Internet bulletin boards and chatrooms Friday.

"We deserve to be the winner, and this is our winner," one message posted on the popular sina.com website said.

Han, who had never won a World Cup event and was competing in his first ever final, shocked everyone by taking gold ahead of Dmitri Dashinski from Belarus and Russia's Vladimir Lebedev.

Han was second after the first jumps but his second leap -- a back-lay-double-full-full -- secured 250.77 points to edge out final jumper Dashinski.

The 22-year-old created another piece of history by becoming the youngest gold medallist in men's aerials, beating Switzerland's Andreas Schoenbaechler, who was 27 years and 295 days when he won in 1994.

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Japan erupts in joy at 'queen' Arakawa's Olympic gold

Friday February 24, 3:03 PM

Japan erupted in joy at its first ever Olympic figure skating gold medal grabbed by former world champion Shizuka Arakawa, who saved the country from a podium drought in Turin.
Workers on their way to offices in the morning rush hour snatched up extra newspaper editions describing the 24-year-old's feat as "a queen's performance" and "shining gold on ice."

Arakawa's surprise win, which took place around sunrise in the land of the rising sun, headlined the television news with public broadcaster NHK replacing its morning programming to broadcast live from Italy.

"It was a wonderful performance. That was touching," said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who said he has been short on sleep recently because he is watching the Games.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe added: "I had felt a little deserted as I thought the Olympics would be over without any medals. I want to say congratulations to Arakawa, who overcame difficulties and won the gold medal."

Wearing traditional headbands with a rising-sun design, some 60 students of Tohoku High School, Arakawa's alma mater in northern Japan, got up before dawn to cheer her as they brought a television to their classroom for live coverage.

"It was great because she did it by overcoming pressure," said Rumi Sato, a 17-year-old girl on the school's figure skating club.

Arakawa, the 2004 world champion, surged into the lead from third after the short program as she glided across the ice to Puccini's Turandot to win by a massive 7.98 point margin on Sasha Cohen of the United States, who took silver.

The medal is especially important for Japan which had deployed a major contingent to Turin but, with three days to go, was on the verge of its first medalless Winter Olympics in 30 years.

"It took so long," said Kennichi Chizuka, head of Japan's delegation to Turin. "But it's worth being patient. I was so excited. I even cried."

The dearth of medals had been even more painful as 15-year-old figure skater Mao Asada, who upset two-time world champion Irina Slutskaya of Russia in the Grand Prix in December, was three months too young to be eligible for Turin.

Japan had previously won just one Olympic medal in figure skating with the silver Midori Ito took in the women's event in Albertville in 1992.

Yumiko Sato, a 58-year-old housewife, said she woke up before the crack of dawn to watch Arakawa put on one of the finest performances of her life.

"Miss Arakawa was so beautiful. I really felt there has been a change of generation in Japanese female figure skaters both in terms of their artistic and physical styles," Sato said.

"They have become more competitive in the world," she said.

Shunnosuke Harada, 25, a bicycle courier waiting outside an office building in central Tokyo, said Arakawa's victory should be an inspiration for everyone.

"I think women are mentally strong. As I'm from the same generation as her, her winning a gold medal gives me the courage to aim higher," he said.

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Mauritania poised to produce first oil

Friday February 24, 9:11 PM

NOUAKCHOTT - Mauritania will produce its first barrel of oil later on Friday as its offshore Chinguetti field, operated by Australia's Woodside Petroleum, comes on stream, a senior state oil executive said.
"They've finished all the checks, everything is OK," Ismail Abdel Vetah, director of operations for Mauritania's national oil company SMH, told Reuters.

"They will start pumping between 1500 (GMT) and 1600."

Woodside's partners in the $530 million Chinguetti project, forecast to pump 75,000 barrels of oil per day, are Hardman Resources , BG Group , Premier Oil Plc , Roc Oil Co. Ltd. and the Mauritanian government.

The Islamic Republic, which lies on the western edge of the Sahara desert, is hoping that oil revenues will help lift its three million people out of poverty. Some two thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day.

"Our people have a lot of hope placed in oil and we sincerely intend to improve the standard of living in our country," Mauritania's oil minister Mohamed Aly Ould Sidi Mohamed said in an interview on Thursday.

He said the state expected to make $200 million a year from oil output at Chinguetti -- thought to contain up to 120 million barrels of crude -- and more once other offshore discoveries started producing.

State oil officials hope the barren nation, which straddles black and Arab West Africa, will be producing 300,000 barrels a day in three or four years time, once three other fields in the same basin as Chinguetti come on line.

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New fossil may rewrite history of mammal evolution

2006-02-22 14:25:51

NANJING -- With its forelegs upright like a dog and hind legs stretching out like a lizard, experts say a newly discovered fossil may rewrite the history of mammalian evolution.

In their joint research on mammal fossils in the western part of Northeast China's Liaoning Province, two distinct bone characteristics in the fossil of a sharp-mouthed mammal were collected by Chen Piji, a Nanjing-based researcher of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The British research journal, Nature, reported the unprecedented discovery, which is believed by some as holding the potential to change the traditional theory on the evolution of mammals.
Li Gang, one of the co-authors of the paper, said existing mammals are classified into two groups -- viviparous therians which have fully evolved bones, such as kangaroos and elephants; and oviparous monotremes, which have rather primitive bones, like lizards.

The newly discovered fossil, however, has the characteristics of both, a trait that was never observed before, said the researcher with CAS Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology.

An analysis of the fossil shows the mammal, which lived some 120 million years ago in the early Cretaceous period, was about 12 centimeters long and weighed between 15 and 20 grams. It looks very much like a gecko, but with the help of a microscope, experts saw it had straight front legs like a rat or dog, while its hind legs resemble those of a lizard, with a 90-degree angle between the thigh and calf.

Further observation also found many evolutionary discrepancies. For example, it has the teeth of a therian but shares the lumbar ribs found only in primitive mammals. It resembled a viviparous therian in the skull, upper limbs and shoulder bones but had the lumbar, pelvis and lower limbs of an ovipara.

"It's really unique," said Li. "We had never observed such traits in modern animals or any fossil we studied in the past."

Li and his colleagues have not been able to explain this peculiar phenomenon, though he guessed the mammal might have finished evolution to become a therian, but its hind legs reverted into a more primitive form in order to survive under certain circumstances.

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Magnitude 5.0 Earthquake - TAIWAN REGION

February 24, 2006

A moderate earthquake occurred at 01:55:50 (UTC) on Friday, February 24, 2006. The magnitude 5.0 event has been located in the TAIWAN REGION. (This event has been reviewed by a seismologist.)

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Quantum computer works best switched off

22 February 2006
New Scientist

Even for the crazy world of quantum mechanics, this one is twisted. A quantum computer program has produced an answer without actually running.

The idea behind the feat, first proposed in 1998, is to put a quantum computer into a "superposition", a state in which it is both running and not running. It is as if you asked Schrödinger's cat to hit "Run".
With the right set-up, the theory suggested, the computer would sometimes get an answer out of the computer even though the program did not run. And now researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have improved on the original design and built a non-running quantum computer that really works.

They send a photon into a system of mirrors and other optical devices, which included a set of components that run a simple database search by changing the properties of the photon.

The new design includes a quantum trick called the Zeno effect. Repeated measurements stop the photon from entering the actual program, but allow its quantum nature to flirt with the program's components - so it can become gradually altered even though it never actually passes through.

"It is very bizarre that you know your computer has not run but you also know what the answer is," says team member Onur Hosten.

This scheme could have an advantage over straightforward quantum computing. "A non-running computer produces fewer errors," says Hosten. That sentiment should have technophobes nodding enthusiastically.

Comment: For more on this, see Ark's paper on Quantum Zeno Effect.

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Smoking Nearly Doubles Root Canal Requirements

By Judith Groch, MedPage Today Staff Writer
Reviewed by Rubeen K. Israni, M.D.
February 23, 2006

NEW YORK - Men who smoke cigarettes are about twice as likely to require root canal treatment as those who have never smoked, according to a prospective cohort study lasting for almost three decades.

The risk for cigarette smokers increased with more years of smoking and decreased with length of abstinence, suggesting a dose-response relationship.
Cigar and pipe smoking, although linked to periodontal disease and tooth loss, was not significantly associated with root canal treatment, according to an online report to be published in the April issue of the Journal of Dental Research. The research was also presented today at a press briefing here sponsored by the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association.

The study included 811 dentate men in the VA Dental Longitudinal Study who were followed from two to 28 years. The men, ages 21 to 84 years, were not VA patients and received dental and medical care from the private sector. This may be the first longitudinal analysis of smoking as a risk factor for root canal treatment, said a team headed by Elizabeth Krall, Ph.D., M.P.H., of Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine here.

Incident root canal treatments occurred in 985 teeth among 385 subjects. The risks attributable to cigarette smoking remained statistically significant even after controlling for number of teeth affected, percentage with crowns, coronal caries, and 20% or greater alveolar bone loss. The results also held when education and brushing and flossing were included, the researchers reported.

Multivariate analyses of root canal risk at the individual tooth level yielded almost twice the risk (HR 1.9) for current cigarette use (95% CI 1.4 to 2.5). However, for current cigar and pipe smokers, the 1.3 risk was similar to that of never-smokers (95% CI 0.9 to 1.7).

Length of time spent smoking made a difference. For men who had quit smoking nine or fewer years before baseline, the risk was still almost twice as high as that for the never-smokers (HR 1.9; 95% CI=1.3 to 2.8). But among men who had quit more than nine years previously, the risks were similar to never smokers.

Among current cigarette smokers, the risks increased with length of smoking from 1.2 times greater (HR 1.2, CI=0.7 to 1.9) for smoking four or fewer years, to twice the risk (HR 2.0, CI 1.2 to 3.3) for smoking five to 12 years, and a 2.2 times greater risk (HR 2.2 CI 1.5 to 3.3) for those who smoked for more than 12 years, the researchers reported.

Smoking impairs the body's response to infection, exacerbates bone loss throughout the skeleton, induces a chronic systemic inflammatory response, and causes vascular problems, the researchers said. Any of these pathways can potentially affect the health of the tooth pulp and surrounding bone tissue. Once bacterial infection begins in the pulp and surrounding tissue, Dr. Krall said, smokers have difficulty limiting the destruction.

The study had certain limitations, she noted. Although cigar and pipe use were not related to root canal treatment in this study, periodontal disease and tooth loss were significant. It is possible that the small number of pipe/cigar smokers and the difficulty of quantifying the amount smoked may have accounted for the lack of root canal findings, she said. Risk estimates suggest a threshold effect for cigarette smokers around five years' exposure, but since cigar smokers tend to start the habit later, their tobacco exposure may be limited.

Another limitation of the study is the small (5%) number of minority subjects and the lack of women. We would expect to see the smoking and root-canal risk in women and other ethnic groups, Dr. Krall said, although absolute risk may differ and be more closely related to cigarette exposure than to demographic characteristics.

Comment: At the beginning of this article, there are some "Medpage Today Action Points":
* Explain to patients that even though this study was limited to men, similar risks are likely for women, including those exposed to second-hand smoke.

* When talking with pipe and cigar smokers, suggest that despite the limited findings in this study that show no increased risk in these patients, they may still be at risk for root canal treatment along with other periodontal risks.
As a public service to our cherished readers, we thought we would add the following "warnings":
* When talking with anyone at all, be sure to warn them that smoking is also the cause of every other major and minor illness that has ever existed and that will ever exist.

* If they object to any of your statements - which are based on studies with extraordinarily small and exclusive groups, and then later generalized to encompass the entire world - tell them that it is your expert opinion that none of the other three million different cancerous chemicals that they ingest each day has anything to do with the illnesses for which everyone blames smoking. If you own stock in a company that makes non-stick frying pans, be sure to mention that Teflon is mostly certainly not a carcinogen, and that you even recommend Teflon-coated pacifiers for babies.

* As always, push as many pharmaceuticals as you can so that you can get some nice kickbacks from your "retirement plan", aka Big Pharma.

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A Kick-Ass Science Fair Project (Don't Drink the Water)

Mike the Mad Biologist

This is a great science fair project:
Jasmine Roberts, 7th-grade student:
"My hypothesis was that the fast food restaurants' ice would contain more bacteria that the fast food restaurants' toilet water."

So Roberts set out to test her hypothesis, selecting five fast food restaurants, within a ten-mile radius of the University of South Florida.

Roberts says at each restaurant she flushed the toilet once, the used sterile gloves to gather samples.

Jasmine Roberts:
"Using the sterile beaker I scooped up some water and closed the lid."

Roberts also collected ice from soda fountains inside the five fast food restaurants. She also asked for cups of ice at the same restaurant's drive thru windows.

She tested the samples at a lab at the Moffitt Cancer Center where she volunteers with a USF professor. Roberts says the results did not surprise her.

Jasmine Roberts:
"I found that 70-percent of the time, the ice from the fast food restaurant's contain more bacteria than the fast food restaurant's toilet water."
First, a technical quibble: I think flushing might eliminate some of the bacteria in the bowl. A lot of bacteria will be living on the sides of the bowl in a layer known as a biofilm. That said, it's still pretty disgusting.

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Taste of the Future

By David Ignatius
Washington Post
Friday, February 24, 2006; A15

"Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." The acidulous wisdom of Mark Twain speaks to us across the ages, and never more than this week during the great congressional mobilization to save America's ports from the dreaded hand of Dubai.

The furor over Dubai is misplaced on so many levels, but let's start with the supposed terrorist threat. Military and CIA officials will tell you privately that the United Arab Emirates is among the most effective intelligence partners the United States has today in the Arab world. Its operatives are risking their lives to help gather information about al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. They don't advertise it, and when an operation goes bad -- such as the U-2 spy plane that crashed last June returning from Afghanistan to al-Dhafra air base -- they keep their mouths shut.
Certainly, al-Qaeda knows who the enemy is. Among the documents released last week by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point was a spring 2002 al-Qaeda warning to officials of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It accused the UAE leaders of working with the U.S. government "in order to appease the Americans' wishes which include: spying, persecution and detainments." Al-Qaeda claimed it has penetrated the UAE government, and the United States should certainly vet any UAE personnel working in the United States. But the idea that by purchasing the British company that has been managing six U.S. ports, Dubai Ports World is somehow opening the door to terrorism is, frankly, racist.

The hubbub over terrorism isn't the biggest problem with the Dubai flap. In a sense, the Bush administration had it coming, after having beaten congressional opponents over the head with the terrorism club for four years. What goes around comes around, and while it may be comical to hear a legislator accuse President Bush of having a pre-Sept. 11 mind-set, the White House made itself a fat target.

The real absurdity here is that Congress doesn't seem to realize that an Arab-owned company's management of America's ports is just a taste of what is coming. Greater foreign ownership of U.S. assets is an inevitable consequence of the reckless tax-cutting, deficit-ballooning fiscal policies that Congress and the White House have pursued. By encouraging the United States to consume more than it produces, these fiscal policies have sucked in imports so fast that the nation is nearing a trillion-dollar annual trade deficit. Those are IOUs on America's future, issued by a spendthrift Congress.

The best quick analysis I've seen of the fiscal squeeze comes from New York University professor Nouriel Roubini, in his useful online survey of economic information, rgemonitor.com. He notes that with the U.S. current account deficit running at about $900 billion in 2006, "in a matter of a few years foreigners may end up owning most of the U.S. capital stocks: ports, factories, corporations, land, real estate and even our national parks." Until recently, he writes, the United States has been financing its trade deficit through debt -- namely, by selling U.S. Treasury securities to foreign central banks. That's scary enough -- as it has given big T-bill holders such as China and Saudi Arabia the ability to punish the U.S. dollar if they decide to unload their reserves.

But as Roubini says, foreigners may decide they would rather hold their dollars in equity investments than in U.S. Treasury debt. "If we continue with our current patterns of spending above our incomes, by 2013 the U.S. foreign liabilities could be as high as 75 percent of GDP and an increasing fraction of such liabilities will be in the form of equity," he explains. "So, let us stop whining about the dangers of unfriendly foreigners owning our firms and assets and get used to it."

Here's how bad it is: The worst thing that could happen to the United States, paradoxically, would be for Arab and other foreign investors to take us at our xenophobic word and decide that America doesn't really want foreign investment. If they pulled out their money, U.S. financial markets would plummet in a crash that might make 1929 look like a sleigh ride.

Let's rashly assume that Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert, the Republican Senate and House leaders, are serious in their expressions of concern about foreign ownership of American assets. What they should do right now is begin changing the fiscal policies that are transforming the United States into a ward of the world.

I'm dreaming, of course. Such policies would mean financial sacrifice on the part of Congress and the American people. They would require political leadership instead of quick-hit news conferences. What a quaint idea, that members of Congress actually might want to solve problems rather than make headlines.

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Evidence of Children's UFO and Extraterrestrial Encounters to be Presented at a United Nations Affiliated Conference in Montreal

PR Web

Perth, Australia (PRWEB) February 22, 2006 -- A former registered nurse who has worked with hundreds of clients, including many children, will be revealing evidence of their encounters with extraterrestrial beings at an upcoming conference in Montreal, Canada.

After a decade of research as a professional counselor and clinical hypnotherapist, Australia's Mary Rodwell says that there is now enough evidence to conclude that these "beings" appear to come from other planets and other dimensions parallel to our own.

She will be making her presentation at the 31st annual conference of the International Institute of Integral Human Sciences (IIIHS) taking place in Montreal May 5th to 14th, 2006.
The IIIHS is a non-profit organization affiliated with the United Nations Department of Public Information. It serves over 10,000 general members and students from many nations towards the convergence of new sciences with spirituality and universal human values, creating inter-religious and inter-cultural understanding for world peace.

Rodwell will be one of more than 60 speakers to address the IIIHS, with other distinguished professionals such as medical doctors, psychiatrists, physicists, scientists, psychologists, spiritual leaders, and even a former NASA astronaut (www.iiihs.org).

She is a co-founder of the Australian Close Encounter Resource Network (ACERN), vice-President of Star Kids Project Ltd., founded by Dr. Richard Boylan, and the author of "Awakening: How Extraterrestrial Contact can Transform Your Life".

Rodwell says that after being involved with over 1,000 "experiencers" (alien abductees) nothing had prepared her for what she discovered.

"My clients include both adults and children who exhibit transformative changes such as telepathy, clairvoyance and healing as they become more spiritually aware and begin to operate on a multi-dimensional band of reality", says Rodwell. "In the last 10 years, clients have come to me from the U.K, North America, Europe, Russia, Japan and South America".

Rodwell also explains that part of her client's contact experiences seems to inspire them to draw complex artwork, scripts, symbols and sometimes speaking strange languages.

"An eight year old has called her downloading of information 'knowledge bombs', as complex data conveyed through mental images and concepts seem to create a heightened consciousness level", says Rodwell. "These 'Star Children' exhibit a maturity and wisdom beyond their years and often describe their connection to spirit and angelic realms".

This former registered nurse is not the only one to have noticed a change with today's children. A May 2005 USA Today article quotes James Twyman, producer of films on "Indigo Children", as saying that a new generation of special children are among us who have increased telepathic abilities and are spiritually awakened.

The name "Indigo Children" comes from a blue indigo colored aura that some people say they can see around these children, as per a January 2006 New York Times article.

ABC News' Diane Sawyers has also explored the issue of these extraordinary children in a November 2005 interview with an entire family of "Indigo Children". Sawyers said that this phenomenon was "fascinating" and was "across the country".

Rodwell explains that while many "Star Children" and "Indigo Children" have telepathic abilities, are spiritually awakened and often describe seeing "Beings of Light" (angels), the main difference is that "Star Children" have recollections of having had encounters with extraterrestrial beings and of sometimes having been on alien spaceships.

Though many medical professionals are still skeptical, in November 2003, Rodwell's work was featured in the Australian Doctor Focus Magazine, a prestigious Australian medical journal.

Rodwell is not alone with her views as a growing number of professionals in the medical community share her conclusions and have spoken publicly.

Such people include the late world-renowned Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry, Dr. John E. Mack, author of "Passport to the Cosmos". and Dr. Janet Colli, author of "Sacred Encounters – Spiritual Awakenings During Close Encounters". Dr. Colli will also speak at Montreal's IIIHS conference.

Rodwell's work continues to raise serious questions that were raised in February 2005 on ABC News by the late Peter Jennings in his two hour Primetime Special: "UFOs – Seeing is Believing".

Jennings' millions of viewers were presented with a small portion of the 150 interviews conducted by ABC in regards to the controversial and enigmatic issue of UFOs and extraterrestrial encounters. Jennings concluded that many UFOs were indeed unidentified and that questions about their origin remained unanswered.

To Rodwell, the answer is that we are being visited by extraterrestrial civilizations. Her conclusion is echoed by the former Canadian Minister of National Defense Hon. Paul Hellyer, who, in September of 2005, went public saying that UFOs were as real as the airplanes that fly over our heads, and were indeed extraterrestrial vehicles.

During a December 2005 NBC News interview with Tucker Carlson, Hellyer quoted former high level Pentagon officials as the source of his information. One of his sources includes an unnamed retired US Air Force General who spoke with him directly and confirmed that some UFOs were indeed "identified" and were piloted by extraterrestrial intelligences.

Hellyer is not the only politician who has raised the issue of UFOs. A CNN November 2002 article quoted President Clinton's former White House Chief of Staff, John Podesta, asking for the Pentagon to come clean and to declassify their UFO files.

Podesta currently supports a Coalition for Freedom of Information lawsuit against NASA asking for the declassification of their top secret files in relations to the 1965 UFO crash in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania.

Though her evidence does not include an actual UFO, Rodwell says that she has evidence from a scientific, medical, psychological, and historical perspective to support her paradigm shifting conclusion that children are being evolved and transformed on many levels through extraterrestrial encounters.

This evidence will be presented in her first Canadian presentation in Montreal May 5th-14th, 2006 at the IIIHS conference. Rodwell is available for media interviews.

Comment: Sounds like the public is being taken another step closer to being told that ET exists, one of the great manipulations of the 20th century. We are getting indications that "there is life on Mars", albeit micro. Now we'll hear that UFOs are real and they are abducting children and giving them fantastic powers: the so-called star children and indigo children.

Trouble is, there is no free lunch in this universe. You need to work for everything, including your soul, and if telephathy and other powers are dropping from the skies like pennies from the Mother Ship, you can bet the outcome isn't going to be good.

A study of anomalous pheneomenon strongly suggests that, one, there is something there and it isn't just swamp gas or people's minds playing tricks on them, and two, that it is more likely to be from another level of reality than from another planet.

Abduction, no matter the paramoralisms used to justify it, is never anything but an infringement upon the free will of the victim. Even if they give you a lollipop at the end of the visit. Evil always wears the mask of the righteous: just look at the justifications gien by the Bush Reich for their occupation of Iraq, for their curtailing of basic rights in the US, for torture, etc. They always have "good reasons".

Don't think the force behind alien abduction are any different. The pieces are being put into place to make us think our space brothers are coming to help, to save us from ourselves.

Forget it. We can only save ourselves.

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Bush's Mysterious 'New Programs'

By Nat Parry
Consortium News
February 23, 2006

Is the Pentagon building U.S.-based prison camps for Muslim immigrants? Evidence points to the possibility.

Not that George W. Bush needs much encouragement, but Sen. Lindsey Graham suggested to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a new target for the administration's domestic operations -- Fifth Columnists, supposedly disloyal Americans who sympathize and collaborate with the enemy.

"The administration has not only the right, but the duty, in my opinion, to pursue Fifth Column movements," Graham, R-S.C., told Gonzales during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Feb. 6.

"I stand by this president's ability, inherent to being commander in chief, to find out about Fifth Column movements, and I don't think you need a warrant to do that," Graham added, volunteering to work with the administration to draft guidelines for how best to neutralize this alleged threat.

"Senator," a smiling Gonzales responded, "the president already said we'd be happy to listen to your ideas."

In less paranoid times, Graham's comments might be viewed by many Americans as a Republican trying to have it both ways -- ingratiating himself to an administration of his own party while seeking some credit from Washington centrists for suggesting Congress should have at least a tiny say in how Bush runs the War on Terror.

But recent developments suggest that the Bush administration may already be contemplating what to do with Americans who are deemed insufficiently loyal or who disseminate information that may be considered helpful to the enemy. Top U.S. officials have cited the need to challenge news that undercuts Bush's actions as a key front in defeating the terrorists, who are aided by "news informers," in the words of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Detention centers

Plus, there was that curious development in January when the Army Corps of Engineers awarded Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root a $385 million contract to construct detention centers somewhere in the United States, to deal with "an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs," KBR said.

Later, the New York Times reported that "KBR would build the centers for the Homeland Security Department for an unexpected influx of immigrants, to house people in the event of a natural disaster or for new programs that require additional detention space."

Like most news stories on the KBR contract, the Times focused on concerns about Halliburton's reputation for bilking U.S. taxpayers by overcharging for sub-par services. "It's hard to believe that the administration has decided to entrust Halliburton with even more taxpayer dollars," remarked Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Less attention centered on the phrase "rapid development of new programs" and what kind of programs would require a major expansion of detention centers, each capable of holding 5,000 people. Jamie Zuieback, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined to elaborate on what these "new programs" might be.

Only a few independent journalists, such as Peter Dale Scott and Maureen Farrell, have pursued what the Bush administration might actually be thinking.

Scott speculated that the "detention centers could be used to detain American citizens if the Bush administration were to declare martial law." He recalled that during the Reagan administration, National Security Council aide Oliver North organized Rex-84 "readiness exercise," which contemplated the Federal Emergency Management Agency rounding up and detaining 400,000 "refugees," in the event of "uncontrolled population movements" over the Mexican border into the United States.

Farrell pointed out that because "another terror attack is all but certain, it seems far more likely that the centers would be used for post-911-type detentions of immigrants rather than a sudden deluge" of immigrants flooding across the border.

Vietnam-era whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg said, "Almost certainly this is preparation for a roundup after the next 9/11 for Mid-Easterners, Muslims and possibly dissenters. They've already done this on a smaller scale, with the 'special registration' detentions of immigrant men from Muslim countries, and with Guantanamo."

Labor camps

There also was another little-noticed item posted at the U.S. Army website, about the Pentagon's Civilian Inmate Labor Program. This program "provides Army policy and guidance for establishing civilian inmate labor programs and civilian prison camps on Army installations."

The Army document, first drafted in 1997, underwent a "rapid action revision" on Jan. 14, 2005. The revision provides a "template for developing agreements" between the Army and corrections facilities for the use of civilian inmate labor on Army installations.

On its face, the Army's labor program refers to inmates housed in federal, state and local jails. The Army also cites various federal laws that govern the use of civilian labor and provide for the establishment of prison camps in the United States, including a federal statute that authorizes the attorney general to "establish, equip, and maintain camps upon sites selected by him" and "make available … the services of United States prisoners" to various government departments, including the Department of Defense.

Though the timing of the document's posting -- within the past few weeks -- may just be a coincidence, the reference to a "rapid action revision" and the KBR contract's contemplation of "rapid development of new programs" has raised eyebrows about why this sudden need for urgency.

These developments also are drawing more attention now because of earlier Bush administration policies to involve the Pentagon in "counter-terrorism" operations inside the United States.

Pentagon surveillance

Despite the Posse Comitatus Act's prohibitions against U.S. military personnel engaging in domestic law enforcement, the Pentagon has expanded its operations beyond previous boundaries, such as its role in domestic surveillance activities.

The Washington Post has reported that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the Defense Department has been creating new agencies that gather and analyze intelligence within the United States.

The White House also is moving to expand the power of the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), created three years ago to consolidate counterintelligence operations. The White House proposal would transform CIFA into an office that has authority to investigate crimes such as treason, terrorist sabotage or economic espionage.

The Pentagon also has pushed legislation in Congress that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies. But some in the Pentagon don't seem to think that new laws are even necessary.

In a 2001 Defense Department memo that surfaced in January 2005, the U.S. Army's top intelligence officer wrote, "Contrary to popular belief, there is no absolute ban on [military] intelligence components collecting U.S. person information."

Drawing a distinction between "collecting" information and "receiving" information on U.S. citizens, the memo argued that "MI [military intelligence] may receive information from anyone, anytime."

This receipt of information presumably would include data from the National Security Agency, which has been engaging in surveillance of U.S. citizens without court-approved warrants in apparent violation of the Foreign Intelligence Security Act. Bush approved the program of warrantless wiretaps shortly after 9/11.

There also may be an even more extensive surveillance program. Former NSA employee Russell D. Tice told a congressional committee on Feb. 14 that such a top-secret surveillance program existed, but he said he couldn't discuss the details without breaking classification laws.

Tice added that the "special access" surveillance program may be violating the constitutional rights of millions of Americans. With this expanded surveillance, the government's list of terrorist suspects is rapidly swelling.

The Washington Post reported on Feb. 15 that the National Counterterrorism Center's central repository now holds the names of 325,000 terrorist suspects, a fourfold increase since the fall of 2003. Asked whether the names in the repository were collected through the NSA's domestic surveillance program, an NCTC official told the Post, "Our database includes names of known and suspected international terrorists provided by all intelligence community organizations, including NSA."

Homeland defense

As the administration scoops up more and more names, members of Congress also have questioned the elasticity of Bush's definitions for words like terrorist "affiliates," used to justify wiretapping Americans allegedly in contact with such people or entities.

During the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on the wiretap program, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., complained that the House and Senate Intelligence committees "have not been briefed on the scope and nature of the program."

Feinstein added that, therefore, the committees "have not been able to explore what is a link or an affiliate to al-Qaida or what minimization procedures (for purging the names of innocent people) are in place."

The combination of the Bush administration's expansive reading of its own power and its insistence on extraordinary secrecy has raised the alarm of civil libertarians when contemplating how far the Pentagon might go in involving itself in domestic matters.

A Defense Department document, entitled the "Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support," has set out a military strategy against terrorism that envisions an "active, layered defense" both inside and outside U.S. territory. In the document, the Pentagon pledges to "transform U.S. military forces to execute homeland defense missions in the … U.S. homeland."

The Pentagon strategy paper calls for increased military reconnaissance and surveillance to "defeat potential challengers before they threaten the United States." The plan "maximizes threat awareness and seizes the initiative from those who would harm us."

But there are concerns over how the Pentagon judges "threats" and who falls under the category "those who would harm us." A Pentagon official said the Counterintelligence Field Activity's TALON program has amassed files on antiwar protesters.

In December 2005, NBC News revealed the existence of a secret 400-page Pentagon document listing 1,500 "suspicious incidents" over a 10-month period, including dozens of small antiwar demonstrations that were classified as a "threat."

The Defense Department also might be moving toward legitimizing the use of propaganda domestically, as part of its overall war strategy.

A secret Pentagon "Information Operations Roadmap," approved by Rumsfeld in October 2003, calls for "full spectrum" information operations and notes that "information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP, increasingly is consumed by our domestic audience and vice versa."

"PSYOPS messages will often be replayed by the news media for much larger audiences, including the American public," the document states. The Pentagon argues, however, that "the distinction between foreign and domestic audiences becomes more a question of USG [U.S. government] intent rather than information dissemination practices."

It calls for "boundaries" between information operations abroad and the news media at home, but does not outline any corresponding limits on PSYOP campaigns.

Similar to the distinction the Pentagon draws between "collecting" and "receiving" intelligence on U.S. citizens, the Information Operations Roadmap argues that as long as the American public is not intentionally "targeted," any PSYOP propaganda consumed by the American public is acceptable.

The Pentagon plan also includes a strategy for taking over the internet and controlling the flow of information, viewing the web as a potential military adversary. The "roadmap" speaks of "fighting the net," and implies that the internet is the equivalent of "an enemy weapons system."

In a speech on Feb. 17 to the Council on Foreign Relations, Rumsfeld elaborated on the administration's perception that the battle over information would be a crucial front in the War on Terror, or as Rumsfeld calls it, the Long War.

"Let there be no doubt, the longer it takes to put a strategic communication framework into place, the more we can be certain that the vacuum will be filled by the enemy and by news informers that most assuredly will not paint an accurate picture of what is actually taking place," Rumsfeld said.

The Department of Homeland Security also has demonstrated a tendency to deploy military operatives to deal with domestic crises.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the department dispatched "heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from the Blackwater private security firm, infamous for its work in Iraq, (and had them) openly patrolling the streets of New Orleans," reported journalists Jeremy Scahill and Daniela Crespo on Sept. 10, 2005.

Noting the reputation of the Blackwater mercenaries as "some of the most feared professional killers in the world," Scahill and Crespo said Blackwater's presence in New Orleans "raises alarming questions about why the government would allow men trained to kill with impunity in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to operate here."

U.S. battlefield

In the view of some civil libertarians, a form of martial law already exists in the United States and has been in place since shortly after the 9/11 attacks when Bush issued Military Order No. 1 which empowered him to detain any noncitizen as an international terrorist or enemy combatant.

"The president decided that he was no longer running the country as a civilian president," wrote civil rights attorney Michael Ratner in the book "Guantanamo: What the World Should Know." "He issued a military order giving himself the power to run the country as a general."

For any American citizen suspected of collaborating with terrorists, Bush also revealed what's in store. In May 2002, the FBI arrested U.S. citizen Jose Padilla in Chicago on suspicion that he might be an al-Qaida operative planning an attack.

Rather than bring criminal charges, Bush designated Padilla an "enemy combatant" and had him imprisoned indefinitely without benefit of due process. After three years, the administration finally brought charges against Padilla, in order to avoid a Supreme Court showdown the White House might have lost.

But since the court was not able to rule on the Padilla case, the administration's arguments have not been formally repudiated. Indeed, despite filing charges against Padilla, the White House still asserts the right to detain U.S. citizens without charges as enemy combatants.

This claimed authority is based on the assertion that the United States is at war and the American homeland is part of the battlefield.

"In the war against terrorists of global reach, as the nation learned all too well on Sept. 11, 2001, the territory of the United States is part of the battlefield," Bush's lawyers argued in briefs to the federal courts.

Given Bush's now open assertions that he is using his "plenary" -- or unlimited -- powers as commander in chief for the duration of the indefinite War on Terror, Americans can no longer trust that their constitutional rights protect them from government actions.

As former Vice President Al Gore asked after recounting a litany of sweeping powers that Bush has asserted to fight the War on Terror, "Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is 'yes,' then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited?"

In such extraordinary circumstances, the American people might legitimately ask exactly what the Bush administration means by the "rapid development of new programs," which might require the construction of a new network of detention camps.

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If It's Sunday, It's Conservative

By Joshua Holland
February 24, 2006

A new report nails down what we knew all along: If you're a guest on a TV talk show, you're probably a conservative.

Last week, Media Matters released a study demonstrating empirically what we all knew from experience: the Sunday politics shows -- Meet the Press, This Week with George Stephanopoulos and Face the Nation -- skewed heavily towards right-wing guests. The Sunday gasbag fests influence the conventional wisdom far more than their audience -- about 10 million people per week -- would suggest. They shape the way our media frames the news, and determine who is and who is not a credible voice. Pols, reporters and other shows follow their lead.

The study, which analyzed almost 7,000 guests on the three shows during Clinton's second term and George W's first, is of course heresy to many. It directly challenged conservatives' most cherished belief that the "mainstream media" is hostile to conservatives, and that therefore, despite controlling all of the branches of government, having a stranglehold on corporate power and generally dominating the discourse on outlets like Fox and MSNBC, they are the beleaguered underdogs, the perennial victims of a pseudo-Socialist "media elite."

The central finding in the study [PDF] was that:

The balance between Democrats/progressives and Republicans/conservatives was roughly equal during Clinton's second term, with a slight edge toward Republicans/conservatives: 52 percent of the ideologically identifiable guests were from the right, and 48 percent were from the left. But in Bush's first term, Republicans/conservatives held a dramatic advantage, outnumbering Democrats/progressives by 58 percent to 42 percent.

The study's author, Paul Waldman, is a former editor of mine, a colleague on the Gadflyer blog and an occasional contributor to AlterNet's Echo Chamber. On Wednesday, I caught up with him over at Media Matters to get some followup on the study.

"Immediately, NBC blasted out a press release [on behalf of Meet the Press]," Waldman said. "What they did was they went back in their files to look up who had been on their show in the period before our study started, to the first Clinton term, to try to argue that what happened during the first Clinton term was an imbalance equivalent to the imbalance during the first Bush term."

The release, which called the Media Matters study "incomplete and misleading," didn't stand up to scrutiny. "They basically proved our point," said Waldman. "It turns out that there were more Democrats than Republicans during that period, but the imbalance was much larger during the first Bush term. So it's not just a matter of who's in power, there's something else going on."

ABC didn't respond to the study, but CBS's Vaughn Ververs jumped on Media Matters methodology on CBS's blog, the Public Eye.

Ververs wrote that "the most obvious and troubling" problem with Media Matters' methodology is "the intra-party dynamic. For example, while Media Matters says it classified former Democratic Sen. Zell Miller as a "conservative" for his role as an outspoken critic of his own party, the study also makes much of the fact that Republican Sen. John McCain has appeared 174 times in the period covered." For Ververs, McCain's not suitably obedient to the party line to qualify as a consistent conservative. "There's no doubt whatsoever that Miller supported President Bush's reelection and appeared on these programs as an advocate of his policies, particularly on the war. There's also no doubt that John McCain has built his career largely on being a "maverick" within his own party and someone the media traditionally turns to for Republican-on-Republican criticism."

He adds, "And when it comes to categorizing journalists on the panels, I'm not sure how that works. I'll certainly buy columnist Bob Novak as a conservative, but I think you'd get some real arguments from Republicans by classifying David Broder as a 'centrist.'"

Waldman concedes that it's impossible to set up a study like this without having one or two people's labels being ripe for debate. "It doesn't matter with a database this big," he says.

As for Ververs' specific examples, Waldman delivered a blistering riposte:

Your comparison of Miller to McCain can only be described as laughable. When McCain endorses a Democratic presidential candidate, delivers a blistering attack on the Republican Party from the podium of the Democratic National Convention, and writes a book-length polemic attacking the Republican Party (followed by a polemic attacking conservatism), then we can talk. Until then, he's a Republican.

As for David Broder being a liberal, that only underscores the study's point. Waldman wrote, "Here, you have inadvertently revealed just the kind of bias we worked to avoid. You might indeed 'get some real arguments' from some Republicans on categorizing Broder as a centrist, but those arguments would be ridiculous." He added: "You might also 'get some real arguments' from some Republicans claiming that George Will is a communist stooge, but that doesn't mean those arguments should be taken seriously."

Of course some of the wingnuts came out against the study. RightMarch.com -- "Patriotism in action" -- called the study "skewed" and "obviously wrong" without actually critiquing Media Matters' methodology, data or conclusions. They asked their Bushbot followers to write letters to their newspapers' editors demanding that they "report on media's left-wing bias."

One bunch that has been curiously silent is what one might call the professional liberal media bias conspiracy theorists -- the folks at the Media Research Center and Accuracy in Media. According to Waldman, "They haven't said anything, which suggests to me that they've decided that the best thing to do is ignore it."

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What The Price Of Gold May Be Telling Us

by Stephen Lendman
Feb 23 2006

Markets are often the best forecasters since their direction supposedly represents the collective wisdom of the smartest people moving them - the professionals, not the public that just goes along for the ride where they're taken. The way the dominant "players" view the future is how they decide where they want to place their financial bets. Now, however, the financial markets (stocks, bonds and other money instruments) are in a tug-of-war with the price of gold, which is typically seen as a safe haven in times of uncertainty and in the past has moved inversely with the price of equities.

Since 2003, when the Iraq war began, world equity markets have soared and still are moving up strongly except in the US where since 2004 they've gone up modestly. All are stable or rising, however, seeming to be pointing to good economic times ahead. The global bond markets seem to concur as they've been surprisingly stable as well and in the face of 14 consecutive interest rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve. The equity markets love wars because they're good for business - as long as they go well. The markets always discount the future about 6 months ahead, and today's valuations represent that view - that all is well, profits will keep rising and so will stock valuations.


If the equity and bond markets are right and the future is rosy, why then is gold also soaring after a 25 year slumber following its decline after peaking at $850 an ounce in 1980. Since early 2001 it's more than doubled in price from around $250 an ounce to around $550, and gold forecasting pundits fearlessly predict much higher valuations ahead. Amazingly the highest number I've seen is $5,000. Wow. Now that forecaster surely must also be predicting some kind of financial or other type Armageddon or worse.

I'm not an economist, Wall Street whiz or professional fearless forecaster. And I'll admit straight up I'm not sure what gold is telling us, but I have some ideas. Read on, and I'll play a mug's game laying out what I think, right or wrong. The best and brightest in the financial world do it every day, and even when they're wrong, often enough, clients pay dearly for their advice. I'll give it to you free of charge, and I may turn out to be smarter than they are, or maybe just luckier in making a good call. But, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.


Ask a gold expert what factors affect gold prices and you'll get some pretty standard answers, usually right. Gold is a global thermometer that reflects monetary, political and economic stability as well as marketplace demand for the metal itself as jewelry, investors' (including central bankers') desire to hold it for any reason or a as hedge against the uncertain value of fiat money, which is just paper currency from a government printing press that can be produced in any amount.

Governments, Wall Street and business around the world hate it when gold prices rise because it usually reflects an early warning of some kind of trouble ahead, nearly always financial. It may be signaling rising inflation or deflation as well as a general lack of confidence in fiat or paper currency. When the gold price rises sharply against a country's currency, as it has in the US, it points to trouble ahead for that country's economy and monetary policy. At least it's worked that way in the past. What's also worked is that when gold vies with an inflated paper currency (because too much of it has been printed), gold always wins. If investors lose faith in a paper currency or just have enough uncertainty about it, they usually turn to gold.

Just retired and now former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was very fond of the printing press. He must have been since he used it liberally. He doubled the money supply since 1991 and increased it over 40% since 2001. Of course, being above all else a consummate politician, he had to do it to please his constituents (Wall Street and the big banks) and especially to help George Bush and the Congress spend like drunken politicians to fund an expensive war with no end in Iraq and lots of others on the drawing board. You need big bucks for that, there's no end in sight, and the new Fed chairman will probably be just as friendly to the warmakers and make things even worse ultimately - that is, keep the printing press active enough to pay the war profiteers well and the economy moving ahead, for now at least.

Ben Bernacke, the new chairman, begins his tenure with a nickname he may live to regret - "Helicopter Ben." Now there's a dubious handle for a former distinguished academic at Princeton and now Fed chairman. He got it after his remark that he'd drop dollars from a helicopter if that was needed to stimulate the economy - meaning, of course, he'd keep the printing press running "full out" if that's what it took. Central bankers never run out of paper or ink.


I don't know, and they're a lot smarter than I am, but I'll stick my neck out. World stability changed direction after 9/11 when the Bush administration declared war on the world - at least all parts of it not subservient to US interests. The price of peace with the US is "knowing who's boss" and being respectful and obedient - just like organized crime family members are to "The Godfather." But just as mob bosses mete out punishment to disobedient underlings, so too will be the fate of any nation daring to go its own way, independent of US wishes. It'll likely see some hostile action against it - political, economic, military or all three.

The "fun and games" began for real against Afghanistan a month after 9/11 and went into overdrive against Iraq in March, 2003. Now the war drums are audible against Iran, at the head of the target country queue, with Venezuela and Syria likely next in line and other choices to be named later to follow. Despite the enormous cost (an economic boon at the outset and for a while), the Bush administration declared a "permanent state of war" and doesn't want to be accused of running out of targets. To keep the war economy going they'll always have another one at the ready.

Looking back, the price for good times that were too good or for reckless behavior that was too reckless has always been the same - the day comes when you "gotta pay the piper." That may not be this week or next month, but I'll speculate that the sharply rising gold price in the US is discounting more than the usual financial rebalancing its price action usually indicates. Ask any gold seer and they'll explain that while geopolitical events may affect the price of gold, they're never a major factor. I'll be contrarian and speculate that along with whatever other message the gold market is sending, it's also signaling concern about the geopolitical threat to peace and world stability, especially in the strategically important Middle East. High oil prices may be sending the same signal, although of late prices have stabilized and come off a bit.

My best guess is that the rising gold price may be the canary in the mine shaft warning of a growing and dangerous change in world stability reflected in investor sentiment. At times of growing economic or geopolitical tension, uncertainty or danger, gold is seen as a conservative asset or "safe haven" and a way to preserve wealth as it always has been for the past 6,000 years. That's a track record even the Dow Jones averages can't match.

There's a lot for investors to worry about now along with the new war drums beating I'll discuss below. There's the perceived threat of terrorist attacks, the continued loss of civil liberties in the West and especially in the US, the possible disruption of oil supplies, and at some point that "piper" waiting to be repaid for years of financial profligacy in the US to fund all the "adventuresomeness" and excess stimulus to keep the economy humming. And there's one other factor affecting the US dollar. Many currency experts believe the currency is in a long-term bear market that began in 2002, even though it rebounded well last year and is holding its own so far this year (a cyclical rally in a longer term secular bear market say the dollar bears). Some of the reasons given for this trend are the emergence of the euro as a competitor to the dollar in December, 2001 by the 12 European nations using it and the desire of other nations to diversify into other currencies (as well as gold). And its interesting that some Islamic nations have begun doing some bilateral commerce in gold dinars and China now has its first gold exchange. All this signals a potential or maybe likely shift away from the almighty dollar as the world's primary reserve currency.


Now to those war drums and the speculation that's now rife that the Bush administration has chosen Iran as its next target. I read about it every day as well as hear the same kind of strong administration rhetoric hostile to Iran that we heard in the run-up to the Iraq war. The demonizing campaign moved ahead further in mid-February when Secretary of State Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the US would "actively confront" Iran and asked for an extra $75 million in funding for anti-Tehran propaganda and support for opposition groups inside and outside the country. It all points to one thing. The US may launch an attack against the Iranians and do it as early as March when Iran opens a new oil bourse and begins trading in euros. Saddam did the same thing in 2000, providing the US an added reason to attack him, and other oil producing countries including Venezuela, Russia, Indonesia, Libya and Malaysia have also agreed to sell oil in euros.

The sale of oil worldwide in dollars has been a key support for the dollar and its stability through the years. The US will do whatever it takes to preserve this. If enough countries begin selling their oil in euros or other currencies (the Japanese yen is the only other possibility), it would seriously undermine the dollar and have grave consequences for the US economy. The US, and especially the Bush administration, will surely go to war to prevent this.


If the gold market and those reading this need more evidence, consider these two jarring tidbits. Last year former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter said George Bush received and signed off on orders for an aerial attack on Iran planned for last June. It didn't happen then, but former CIA officer Philip Giraldi also claims he has information that the Pentagon was ordered by Vice President Dick Cheney to draw up plans to attack Iran "to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States... (and)... As in the case of Iraq, the response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States......Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack" against them by the US.

Nervous anyone, especially those of us convinced our own government was behind or complicit in the first 9/11 attack. A number of US government officials and private "terrorism" experts are on record saying it's just a matter of when, not if, the US will be struck again. On June 6, 2003, the AP quoted a US government report saying "There is a 'high probability' that al-Qaida will attempt an attack with weapons of mass destruction in the next two years." Are we being set up to be duped again if there's a major strike against us? You know the drill by now - a major attack happens on US soil, the Bush administration and complicit corporate media hype what happened, scare the public and get them mad enough to demand retribution, they blame it on Iran claiming secret intelligence they can't reveal, and it's (nuclear) bombs away - and George Bush's approval rating skyrockets just like after 9/11, and the Republicans keep control of both houses of Congress in November.


As disturbing as another real or faked "terrorist" attack is plus a new war, consider this. Under the radar the US has been waging "nuclear war" against Iraq by using so-called depleted uranium weapons (DU) since the Gulf war in 1991. We also used them against Afghanistan in 2001 and later as well as against Serbia/Kosovo in 1999. These are radioactive and chemically toxic weapons that are banned under the Geneva and Hague Conventions, and any use of them in combat or for any purpose is a war crime.

The military loves these weapons and uses them because DU is a "dense metal" able to penetrate hard targets like tanks and structures and explode inside them. However, after exploding they also aerosolize into a fine spray of submicroscopic particles that contaminate the air, water and soil with toxic radiation. They're also swept by winds into the atmosphere and carried long distances, falling to earth along the way and contaminating vast areas far from the combat zone. The result in Iraq from the Gulf war, repeated bombings using these weapons all through the 1990s, and now with their intensive use for nearly the last 3 years, is that vast areas of the country are an irremediable, irradiated, toxic wasteland. The country is largely unsafe for human habitation forever (the radiation contamination has a half-life of 4.5 billion years) even with an end to hostilities, and there's no sign of that which only makes things even worse.

The Bush administration has now stated its intention to use so-called "mini-nukes" or "bunker-busters" as conventional weapons in any area of conflict. They're not "mini", but they sure are "nukes", about one third as powerful as a Hiroshima bomb or stronger as they can be made to any desired potency. Officially, these weapons are called "Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrators", and they work the same as other DU weapons - penetrating a designated target before exploding including those underground for protection. But since these weapons are much stronger than the ones now being used, the destruction and fallout from them will be much greater. And should they be used, it's likely that world instability will increase and cause great reverberations including in the financial and gold markets.

If the US attacks Iran, even by a "shock and awe" strike from the air only with no invasion and with so-called "mini-nukes", the Middle East may boil over even more than it now has. But there's even speculation the US will make a targeted invasion into the area known as Khuzestan, the Iranian province bordering Basra in Southern Iraq, where most of the nation's oil is located (possibly as much as 90% by some estimates). Make no mistake, the situation in Iraq is hopeless, the war is lost and the US knows it and will find a way to exit eventually even though it's now spending billions on as many as 14 permanent bases in the country. With that quagmire to resolve and with the Arab street and entire Muslim world justifiably inflamed, it's hard to imagine the US would risk making things even worse by attacking Iran. But that's what many writers and Middle East analysts are now predicting. If they're right, the very risky and uncertain fallout from it is what the gold market may be signaling as the price of the precious metal heads higher.


Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT and is in full compliance with it. The core of NPT is in Article IV which gives signatories "an inalienable right to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes" and acquire technology from other signatories to do so. That's exactly what Iran is doing as opposed to Israel which is not an NPT signatory and is known to have 200 or more nuclear bombs, a stated intent to use them if they choose, and no condemnation of this by the world community. Of course, Israel is a valued strategic ally while Iran is an "outlier", going its own way and refusing to bow to the dictates of the "Godfather" (a no-no), Israel or any other nation. It follows that launching an attack against them has nothing to do with its legal right to develop commercial nuclear power or even its right to defend itself against a hostile US and Israel by building any weapons it feels it needs. It's only about the long-term US desire for regime change in this oil rich country. As in Iraq (and also Venezuela and Syria) we want a government subservient to the US, and, of course, we want the oil - not access to it, but control of it, the profits from it and being able to decide who gets it and who does not. The plan isn't to take over Iran's exports of carpets (the finest in the world), fruit or pistachio nuts, but maybe the war hawks might want to on second thought as they're worth about $39 billion a year.


So where are we, and what's it all add up to - trouble likely, maybe big trouble down the road that may come sooner than most think. Will it, and is that what I'm predicting? I've always loved the answer Hollywood film mogul Louis B. Mayer once gave an interviewer when asked how well he thought his newest movie would do at the box office. He said he never liked making predictions, especially about the future. Louis was a lot smarter than I am, and I'll go along with him on that one. I don't know what the US, in fact, will do (or how gold and the financial markets will react) and neither does anyone else outside the power circles making these decisions. They may even be unsure themselves at this time. But my best judgment is that the gold market senses trouble and is sending an ominous message that all is not well in the world, and it's better to take cover in the traditional safest of all safe havens than risk potential big losses in the financial markets. As one market seer once said - we'll know for sure "in the fullness of time." Place your bets, and stay tuned.

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