- Signs of the Times for Wed, 08 Mar 2006 -

Editorial: More British Covert OPs in Iraq?

Joe Quinn
Signs of the Times
Last September, two of her majesty's loyal servants were arrested by Iraqi police (and then released to British forces) in the Southern Iraqi city of Basra. The two men were dresssed in full Arab garb driving a car full of explosives. They has been shooting and killing Iraqi civilians and, according to Iraqi officials, had been attempting to plant explosives. Almost immediately, it was clear that the arrest of the two men was evidence for what we have suspected for a long time - that most 'Islamic terrorism' is being orchestrated by agencies within the British, American and Israeli governments.

Today, another report has surfaced which appears to provide further evidence that the Western 'Democracies' that claim to be bringing freedom to Iraq are in fact determined to ignite a civil war in Iraq and set in motion a long-held agenda to embroil the greater Middle East in a massive and bloody war.

Britons burned to death in car after Basra gun battle

TWO British men were burned to death in their car after a shoot-out with police in Iraq yesterday. A third person in the car, also believed to be British, was wounded and rushed away from the scene, in the southern city of Basra. Police Captain Mushtaq Kadhim said Iraqi policemen and two other civilians were also wounded in the shooting.

A Foreign Office spokesman said he was aware of unsubstantiated reports of an incident involving non-Arabs. The Ministry of Defence said it was aware of reports of an incident in Basra and was making inquiries.

A ministry spokesman said no British military personnel had been involved in any incident or injured yesterday.

According to Mr Kadhim, the attack occurred about 9pm local time after a police patrol chased two suspicious cars and forced them to stop in the Jazaer neighbourhood of central Basra.

Some questions that will neither be asked nor answered by the mainstream press:

Who are these "British men" and who do they work for?

Why were they involved in a shootout with Iraqi police and why were they shooting at Iraqi civilians?

Is it merely a coincidence that these men were also arrested in the Souhern Iraqi city of Basra?

Who rushed the third man away from the scene? Where is he now?

The comment by a British ministry spokesman that no British military personnel had been involved in any incident or injured yesterday is probably an honest statement because ordinary British military personnel do not engage in, and generally have no knowledge of British covert operations designed to incite ethnic violence in Iraq. There is an entirely separate department dedicated to such nefarious activities, complete with its own budget and chain of command. Nevertheless, such activities form a central part of British American and Israeli political strategy in Iraq, as has been the case in so many other countries around the world over the past 100+ years.

In short, we can conclude that much of the so-called 'Islamic terrorism' that has been used by the American, British and Israeli governments to justify the 'war on terror' is being carried out by agents of those same governments. As we have said many times before now, if you give a war and the enemy doesn't want to fight, you must fight the war yourself on both sides. After all, it has long been understood by Western governments that armed military agression is the best way to effectively implement political foreign policies.
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Editorial: Flashback: British Government's Agent Provocateurs Exposed

Joe Quinn
Signs of the Times
There is a saying of sorts that, if you are going to do something, do it well, and given the serious consequences, nowhere is that more true than when you plan to engage in criminal activity. Today in Basra, Southern Iraq, two members of the British SAS (Special Ops) were caught, 'in flagrante' as it were, dressed in full "Arab garb", driving a car full of explosives and shooting and killing two official Iraqi policemen.

This fact, finally reported by the mainstream press, goes to the very heart of and proves accurate much of what we have been saying on the Signs of the Times page for several years.

The following are facts, indisputable by all but the most self-deluded:

Number 1:

The US and British invasion of Iraq was NOT for the purpose of bringing "freedom and democracy" to the Iraqi people, but rather for the purpose of securing Iraq's oil resources for the US and British governments and expanding their control over the greater Middle East.

Number 2:

Both the Bush and Blair governments deliberately fabricated evidence (lied) about the threat the Saddam posed to the west and his links to the mythical 'al-Qaeda' in order to justify their invasion.

Number 3:

Dressed as Arabs, British (and CIA and Israeli) 'special forces' have been carrying out fake 'insurgent' attacks, including 'car suicide bombings' against Iraqi policemen and Iraqi civilians (both Sunni and Shia) for the past two years. Evidence would suggest that these tactics are designed to provide continued justification for a US and British military presence in Iraq and to ultimately embroil the country in a civil war that will lead to the breakup of Iraq into more manageable statelets, much to the joy of the Israeli right and their long-held desire for the establishment of biblical 'greater Israel'

Coming not long after the botched London bombings carried out by British MI5 where an eyewitness reported that the floor of one of the trains had been blown inwards (how can a bomb in a backpack or on a "suicide bomber" INSIDE the train ever produce such an effect), more than anything else today's event in Basra highlights the desperation that is driving the policy-makers in the British government.

British intelligence would do well to think twice about carrying out any more 'false flag' operations until they can achieve the 'professionalism' of the Israeli Mossad - they always make it look convincing and rarely suffer the ignominy of being caught in the act and having the faces of their erstwhile "terrorists" plastered across the pages of the mainstream media.

The REAL face of "Islamic Terror" - Two SAS agents caught carrying out a false flag terror attack in Basra, Iraq September 20th 2005.

Official: British troops freed in jailbreak


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A British armored vehicle escorted by a tank crashed into a detention center Monday in Basra and rescued two undercover troops held by police, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official told CNN.

British Defense Ministry Secretary John Reid confirmed two British military personnel were "released," but he gave no details on how they were freed.

In a statement released in London, Reid did not say why the two had been taken into custody. But the Iraqi official, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity, said their arrests stemmed from an incident earlier in the day.

The official said two unknown gunmen in full Arabic dress began firing on civilians in central Basra, wounding several, including a traffic police officer. There were no fatalities, the official said.

The two gunmen fled the scene but were captured and taken in for questioning, admitting they were British marines carrying out a "special security task," the official said.

British troops launched the rescue about three hours after Iraqi authorities informed British commanders the men were being held at the police department's major crime unit, the official said.

Iraqi police said members of Iraq's Mehdi Army militia engaged the British forces around the facility, burning one personnel carrier and an armored vehicle.

Video showed dozens of Iraqis surrounding British armored vehicles and tossing gasoline bombs, rocks and other debris at them.

With one vehicle engulfed in flames, a soldier opened the hatch and bailed out as rocks were thrown at him. Another photograph showed a British soldier on fire on top of a tank.

"Many of those present were clearly prepared well in advance to cause trouble, and we believe that the majority of Iraq people would deplore this violence," Reid said. [...]

From the Washington Post

Iraqi security officials on Monday variously accused the two Britons they detained of shooting at Iraqi forces or trying to plant explosives. Photographs of the two men in custody showed them in civilian clothes.

When British officials apparently sought to secure their release, riots erupted. Iraqi police cars circulated downtown, calling through loudspeakers for the public to help stop British forces from releasing the two. Heavy gunfire broke out and fighting raged for hours, as crowds swarmed British forces and set at least one armored vehicle on fire.

Witnesses said they saw Basra police exchanging fire with British forces. Sadr's Mahdi Army militia joined in the fighting late in the day, witnesses said. A British military spokesman, Darren Moss, denied that British troops were fighting Basra police.

From China View (orginally pooled from the BBC)

Iraqi police detained two British soldiers in civilian clothes in the southern city Basra for firing on a police station on Monday, police said.

"Two persons wearing Arab uniforms opened fire at a police station in Basra. A police patrol followed the attackers and captured them to discover they were two British soldiers," an Interior Ministry source told Xinhua.

The two soldiers were using a civilian car packed with explosives, the source said. He added that the two were being interrogated in the police headquarters of Basra.

The British forces informed the Iraqi authorities that the two soldiers were performing an official duty, the source said. British military authorities said they could not confirm the incident but investigations were underway.

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Editorial: EcoEnquirer: A Waste of Cyberspace

Laura Knight-Jadczyk

Yesterday we received an email from a reader which was also sent to Mike Rivero of What Really Happened and Jeff Rense of Rense.com. The message:

Listen, in recent days you all have posted stories from the following website which is a tongue-in-cheek SPOOF. Repeat, the *ENTIRE* website is a SPOOF. Please take a brief moment to familarize yourself with this site's contents so that the next knucklehead who sends you a nonsense link doesn't sneak another HOAX onto your site and thereby further damage your credibility.


A particular favorite this week has been the transparent HOAX about the dolphins swimming north from Florida. Another favorite appears to be the SPOOF "levitating islands" in the Caribbean photographed from orbit. Please take a moment and review **ALL** of the stories posted at www.ecoenquirer.com so that when someone sends them to you you can simply sort them into the appropriate circular file.

Better yet, why doesn't Laura Knight-Jadczyk do one of her COINTELPRO expose articles on this website, and then the rest of you can link to her COINTELPRO expose of www.ecoenquirer.com and consign this website to the total obscurity it so richly deserves?

Its obvious function is to muddy the waters of alternative news reporting and create confusion.

Here is the WHOIS information:

Registrant: c/o ECOENQUIRER.COM
P.O. Box 821650
Vancouver, WA 98682 US

Registrar: 000DOM
Created on: 24-FEB-06
Expires on: 24-FEB-07
Last Updated on: 25-FEB-06

In other words, ecoenquirer.co has just sprung up like a mushroom two weeks ago. It is registered for one year. No responsible individual is listed as a contact. Just a P.O. box. If you call the phone number you get a recorded message from WHOIS Privacy asking you to send a letter to the owner's P.O. Box. This has "COINTELPRO" stamped all over it.

Be alert, idiots will be sending you links to articles on this website -- or links to websites that mirror articles from ecoenquirer.com. Jeff, I know you're very busy, but you've got to read and scrutinize more carefully before posting, Buddy, you just have to. And you have to assess the URLs to ascertain their reliability. You're the one who first posted the dolphin story and had it cycling all over the alternative net before the day was out. The same goes for the rest of you who followed Jeff's lead (whether directly or indirectly).

I would expect we'll be seeing more websites like this, on all sorts of topics, to fool and confuse people, damage the credibility of websites such as the ones you all have, and muddy public discourse to the maximum extent possible.

Yes, we published a story from the EcoEnquirer on March 6, Dolphins Discovered Fleeing Warming Tropical Waters which was sent in by a reader.

After receiving the above email, I went over to EcoEnquirer to have a better look around. I found their disclaimer which reads:

DISCLAIMER All content on this site, being a mixture of parody, satire, and lame humor, is for entertainment purposes only. If any content is found to be offensive or objectionable in any way, please accept our apologies... but we also suggest that you get a life.

...and I wondered what kind of sick people would exert the energy to create such a website that looks so professional, that touches on so many ecological issues and thus has so much potential to do good. The only conclusion is to agree with my correspondent: "I would expect we'll be seeing more websites like this, on all sorts of topics, to fool and confuse people, damage the credibility of websites such as the ones you all have, and muddy public discourse to the maximum extent possible."

As always, we ask for any readers to let us know when they find anything questionable about a source or article we publish. It's going to be more and more difficult to discern the true from the false in the coming years of darkness that has descended on our planet. We all need to stay vigilant and aware.

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Editorial: Newt Gingrich's Long Straussian War

Kurt Nimmo
Another Day in the Empire
Tuesday March 07th 2006, 9:34 pm
Man, what a windfall for Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, Bechtel, Blackwater, and other death merchants and war profiteers. Newt Gingrich believes the "Long War with the Irreconcilable Wing of Islam" (no kidding, this is what the Straussian neocons now call their mass murdering criminal behavior, formerly known as the war on terrorism) will "last as long as 70 years." Gingrich is the former Speaker of the House, neck deep in the Straussian and neolib mire-he is both a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where Bush gets his "minds," and also plays footsies over at the Council on Foreign Relations.

It is interesting to note Gingrich name-drops the late George Kennan, considered the intellectual force behind the so-called Cold War (another long term scam devised to enrich the death merchants their and associated industrial stockholders). Gingrich mentions Kennan's "Long Telegram," a response to the Soviet Union's refusal to go prone before the World Bank and the IMF, two newly conceived institutions of the emerging neoliberal order in the late 40s.

Kennan's telegram, also called the "X Article," eventually shaped NSC-68 (the National Security Act), Truman's official roll-out of the national security state and permanent war economy as devised by Paul Nitze, an oh-so profitable arrangement for the death merchants. Gingrich hankers for a newly minted NSC-68, a "compelling explanation of the Long War, the theory on how to win it, and the strategy and structures which that victory will require."

Officially formulizing a new NSC-68 will most assuredly require a few adjustments on the part of the American people, who are naturally squeamish and reluctant when it comes to generational war, as they are the ones to pay the bill and donate the lives of their sons, daughters, mothers and fathers.

However, if we really want to know what Gingrich and the Straussian neocons have in mind, it pays to get to the bottom of Kennan's political philosophy. For instance, consider the following Kennan quote from the days when he was the head of a State Department planning committee:

We have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population….We cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming, and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction.

In other words, while the Pentagon death machine is inflicting high-tech misery and enforcing bone-grinding poverty on most of the world over the next 70 or so years, the American people "will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming" and concentrate of slaughtering official enemies, beginning with the Muslims and suicidally ending with the Chinese and Russians (who happen to have a whole lot of nukes). It will take a populace that responds like an army of automatons, but what the heck-the Straussian neocons believe they can accomplish this if they successfully whip up enough fear and mix up the requisite amount of irrational xenophobia over the next fifty or sixty years.

It is a certain recipe for cataclysmic disaster-but then Leo Strauss was a demented nihilist who warped Plato's teachings and had Carl Schmitt, a Nazi jurist and philosopher of dictatorship, as a mentor, so we can expect things to turn out badly in the end, probably not a whole lot different than things turned out for the German people after their infatuation with Hitler came to a violent and bitter end.

Of course, there is one big difference-Hitler didn't have nukes.
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Editorial: Bush, Lies, and Videotape

By James Carroll
The Boston Globe
Monday 06 March 2006
But everyone knows that after the levees broke, he denied having been warned that such a thing was possible. The broadcast of the film amounted to a terrible epiphany: The president seemed caught in a lie. Grave questions had already been raised about his administration's manipulations of the truth, especially in relation to the war in Iraq. Does the truth matter in America any more?

Critics of the president (among whom I must be counted) might come to yet another swift judgment of him, finding further evidence of a disqualifying character flaw. Rumbles about impeachment can be heard, despite the unlikelihood of such an outcome, shy of still-fanciful Democratic victories in the fall elections.

But what if our concern with Bush was embedded in literature, not politics? In that case, the conflict we would care about is not the one between a public figure and his critics, but the struggle inside the man himself. Literature unfolds across an inner landscape, and on that terrain the character flaw is essential.

Indeed, the character flaw of the hero is what enables a reader or playgoer to identify with him, even while passing judgment. Last week's videotape revelation raised public questions about the president's truthfulness, but the private question - the one a man must face alone, in the crucible of conscience - is a version of the question we all must ask of ourselves.

Consider the possibilities. The fictional character - let's call him "Bush" - learns that his firm public statement about what he had been told is radically contradicted by incontrovertible evidence. What he told the nation at its moment of crisis was not true, and that contradiction is now exposed.

Learning this, in one narrative line, "Bush" might feel deeply shamed to have laid bare what he has always known was a lie. The character flaw is deception. But in another narrative line, "Bush" might be shocked to realize that, in the traumatic moments of the hurricane crisis, he had blocked all memory of the critical briefing. He hadn't consciously lied, but had constructed a new reality tailored to personal and political needs. The character flaw, in this case, is not deception, but self-deception.

Whatever "Bush" did in the past, however, the drama that matters adheres in what he does now, at the moment of being exposed. Whether "Bush" is a deceiver or a self-deceiver, the question is: What happens inside him at the terrible moment of judgment? In that instant, will he experience a transformation in awareness, as the truth of his condition shows itself? Or will he descend into a further circle of denial, deepening his predicament?

If this were a novel or a play, we would watch with a certain empathy, alert to revelations of our own inevitable implication in deception and self-deception. None of us is innocent, and it is to wrestle with that fact of our condition that we read books and buy theater tickets.

But the present American story is not a work of literature. From all appearances, the president is not a candidate for the role of "Bush" because a narrative that unfolds across the terrain of an inner life requires an inner life, and Bush shows no sign of having one.

Even a character flaw presumes a depth of character that the president seems to lack. What interior conflict can there be for a man who attributes all failures, all mistakes, all crimes to those around him, as if he himself (alone of all humans) is blameless? Where there is no capacity for shame, there is none for insight, much less transformation. Without the secret struggle against the self, there can be no drama, only pathos.

As for us, the beholders of this narrative, there can be no suspension of disbelief, no identification, and no recognition of our own fate being rescued by a confrontation with the truth. On the contrary, since this is not literature but life, there is only the increased awareness of the danger into which the world is plunged by having such a hollow creature in the position of ultimate power.
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Editorial: God: I've lost faith in Blair

Terry Jones
Wednesday March 8, 2006
The Guardian
All the signs are that the Almighty is unhappy about efforts to implicate Him in the attack on Iraq A high-level leak has revealed that God is "furious" at Tony Blair's attempts to implicate him in the bombing of Iraq. Sources close to the archangel Gabriel report him as describing the Almighty as "hopping mad ... with sanctimonious yet unscrupulous politicians claiming He would condone their bestial activities when He has no way of going public Himself, owing to the MMW agreement" (a reference to the long-established Moving in Mysterious Ways concordat). Mr Blair went public about God on Michael Parkinson's TV show. "If you have faith about these things," he said, "then you realise that judgment is made by other people. If you believe in God, it's made by God as well." As is customary with Mr Blair's statements, it's rather hard to tease out what he is actually saying; but the gist is clearly that if God didn't actually tell him to bomb Iraq, then the Almighty would certainly agree it was the right thing to do.

"If Tony Blair thinks his friendship with George W Bush is worth rubbing out a couple of hundred thousand Iraqi men, women and children, then that's something he can talk over with me later," said God. "But when he starts publicly claiming that's the way I do the arithmetic too, it's time I put my foot down!" It is well known that God has a very big foot.

A source says Gabriel has spent days trying to dissuade the Almighty from loosing a plague of toads upon the Blair family. Gabriel reminded God that Cherie and the children had nothing to do with Tony's decisions. God's response, it is reliably reported, was: "Blair says the Iraqis are lucky to have got bombed, so how can he complain if his family gets a few toads in the bath?"

The archangel is said to be ticked off with God's ability to provide glib answers without even thinking.

What has particularly incensed the Almighty is that Mr Blair made the claim on the Parkinson show. "If he'd done it on Richard and Judy I could have forgiven a lot," He is reported to have said.

The archangel reported that the Almighty has become increasingly irritated with the vogue for politicians to claim that He is behind their policies - especially if these involve killing large numbers of humans. According to Gabriel, God spake these words: "That George W Bush once had the nerve to say: 'God told me to go end the tyranny in Iraq, and I did.' Well, let me tell you I did no such thing! If I'd wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, I could have given him pneumonia. I didn't need the president of the United States to send in hundreds of heavy bombers and thousands of missiles to destroy Iraq - even though I appreciate that Halliburton needed to fill its order books."

"How do Bush and Blair think it makes me look to all those parents who have lost sons and daughters in this grubby business? Don't they know that the Muslims they're taking out worship the same Me that they do? It's a public relations disaster that ought to set Christianity back hundreds of years. Though knowing the fundamentalists, it'll probably have the reverse effect."

The archangel further revealed that he had been advised by no less a person than Alastair Campbell to warn God to keep out of politics. "But it's hard to get God to do anything He doesn't want to," sighed the archangel. "It's all to do with what He calls 'free will', though a lot of us have a problem working that one out, since He's omnipotent and omniscient."

God, the archangel says, is also disturbed by Mr Blair's remark that while religious beliefs might colour his politics, "it's best not to take it too far".

"How would he like it if I went round claiming that he gave me his full backing when I sent the tsunami last year?" UK Guardian
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Iran refuses to stop nuclear work

Wednesday, 8 March 2006, 12:55 GMT

Iran will continue its controversial nuclear research programme no matter what action the UN takes against it, one of its top officials has said.
The United States is pushing the UN to warn Iran it could "face consequences" for refusing to stop the programme.

In a harsh statement, Iran said the US was "susceptible to harm and pain. So if that is the path that the US wishes to choose, let the ball roll."

The UN Security Council could begin talks on Iran as soon as next week.

The council has the power to impose sanctions, but it is not clear that all its key members would back punitive measures.

Iran remains defiant, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying the country would not "submit to bullying".

Javad Vaidi, Iran's top delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also suggested the country could consider cutting oil exports, though he said it would not do so yet.

Iran is the world's fourth largest oil exporter. Its economy relies heavily on selling oil.

Offer rejected

The flurry of public statements on Iran came as the IAEA's head, Mohamed ElBaradei, delivered a long-awaited report into Tehran's nuclear programme.

It said the UN nuclear watchdog could not confirm Iran was not seeking nuclear weapons.

The US opposes allowing Iran to enrich any uranium, and Russia's foreign minister also rejected an Iranian compromise proposal on Wednesday.

Iran's diplomatic escalator

In an effort to head off Security Council intervention, Iran had suggested last week it might be allowed to enrich only small quantities of uranium for research purposes while importing most of its nuclear fuel from Russia.

But on a visit to Washington, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow's proposal for Iran to enrich uranium on Russian territory depended on Iran's full compliance with international demands.

The IAEA wants Iran to suspend uranium enrichment altogether.

Western powers believe Iran wants to develop nuclear arms, a claim it denies.

Tehran says it wants to develop its nuclear sector only to produce energy for civilian purposes.

Three years of negotiations between Iran and the EU have brought no significant result, and Iran resumed enrichment in January after a two-year hiatus.

Sources now say the UN Security Council could begin discussing Iran as soon as next week.

The council's likely first step would be to issue a demand that Iran stop nuclear activities by a certain deadline.

It might then issue a further warning before beginning to consider sanctions.

Compensation appeal

President Ahmadinejad gave a defiant speech to supporters as the IAEA was meeting in Vienna.

"If we put up a firm resistance, they will be defeated and humiliated by the Iranian nation's will," he said.

"The world must know that if anyone tries to violate the Iranian nation's rights, the Iranian nation will leave the blot of shame of regret on their forehead."

A day earlier he called for compensation for Iran's decision to halt its nuclear research programme for two years - without noting the decision was Tehran's own.

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US, Russia reject Iran compromise

Tuesday, 7 March 2006, 21:00 GMT

The United States and Russia have ruled out an Iranian proposal to allow Tehran to run its own small-scale uranium enrichment programme.
Iran had suggested it might be allowed to enrich small quantities of uranium for research purposes while importing most of its nuclear fuel from Russia.

However, the US opposes allowing Iran to enrich any uranium.

Speaking in Washington, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also rejected a deal.

Mr Lavrov said Moscow's proposal for Iran to enrich uranium on Russian territory depended on Iran's full compliance with the requirements of the UN nuclear agency.

The International Atomic Energy Agency wants Iran to suspend uranium enrichment altogether. Its board is currently meeting in Vienna to consider Iran's case.

It voted last month to report Iran to the UN Security Council for failing to disclose details of its nuclear activities.

'Proliferation risk'

Last week, Tehran suggested a compromise deal in which it would be allowed to enrich a small amount of uranium for research purposes, in return for accepting the Russian proposal.

However, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the only deal she backed was the original Russian proposal.

Iran's diplomatic escalator

"This is not an issue of Iran's right to civil nuclear power, it is that there needs to be a way to provide for civil nuclear power that does not have a proliferation risk," she said after talks with Mr Lavrov.

Mr Lavrov said there was "no compromise" to the Russian proposal.

Western powers believe Iran wants to develop nuclear arms, a claim it denies.

Tehran insists it has the right to develop its nuclear sector to produce energy for civilian purposes.

Three years of negotiations between Iran and the EU have brought no significant result, and Iran resumed enrichment in January after a two-year hiatus.

Compensation appeal

Earlier, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the West should compensate Iran for its suspension of nuclear research, as a way of building trust.

However, he failed to mention that Iran's suspension of uranium enrichment two years ago - the basis of his call for compensation - had been voluntary, the BBC's Frances Harrison reports from Tehran.

A senior military commander warned on Monday that the Iranian military would turn the country into a killing field for any enemy aggressor.

There is now more talk from Iranian officials of preparing people psychologically for confrontation with the West, our correspondent says.

But Iranian television has accused Western media of exaggerating the dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions, our correspondent says.

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Iranian bombshell?

Iran Focus

Bush Administration officials are readying a new intelligence briefing for council members on Tehran's weapons programs. It will rely mainly on circumstantial evidence, much of it from documents found on a laptop purportedly purloined from an Iranian nuclear engineer and obtained by the CIA in 2004. U.S. officials insist the material is strong but concede they have no smoking gun.
Bush Administration officials are readying a new intelligence briefing for council members on Tehran's weapons programs.


As the U.N. security Council prepares to debate Iran's nuclear ambitions-perhaps as early as next week-Bush Administration officials are readying a new intelligence briefing for council members on Tehran's weapons programs. It will rely mainly on circumstantial evidence, much of it from documents found on a laptop purportedly purloined from an Iranian nuclear engineer and obtained by the CIA in 2004. U.S. officials insist the material is strong but concede they have no smoking gun.

They do, however, have diagrams that they believe show components of a nuclear bomb. According to a Western diplomat familiar with the U.S. intel brief, a Farsi-language PowerPoint presentation on the laptop has "catchy graphics," including diagrams of a hollow metallic sphere 2 ft. in diameter and weighing about 440 lbs. Other documents show a sphere-shaped array of tiny detonators. No file specifically refers to a nuclear bomb, but U.S. officials say the design of the sphere-an outer shell studded with small chemical-explosive charges meant to detonate inward, which would squeeze an inner core of material into a critical mass-is akin to that of classic devices like Fat Man, the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki during World War II. "Because of the size and weight and the power source going into it and height-of-burst requirements," says the diplomat, Western experts have concluded that the design "is only intended to contain a nuclear weapon. There's no other munition which would work." A report issued last week by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says Iranian officials have dismissed a number of the laptop documents as fabricated.

Intelligence of this kind helped secure the backing of Russia and China in last month's IAEA vote to refer Iran to the Security Council. Western officials hope the new briefing will win council support for further action; most of them see no viable alternative to U.N. efforts to try to gain Iran's compliance. As a Western diplomat puts it, "There's a military option-but not a military solution."

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UN to start hearing Iran case next week

March 8, 2006

WASHINGTON - The Iran nuclear crisis will be brought to the UN Security Council next week, a top US official said.

"Iran has not met the conditions at the IAEA," Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns told the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations.

"We will therefore start a new phase of diplomacy -- action by the UN Security council starting next week."
The United States, Britain, France and Germany are seeking a referral to the UN Security Council at a meeting of the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.

Washington believes the Iranian nuclear programme is hiding efforts to make an atomic bomb. Tehran insists its research is peaceful.

"The UN Security Council is the right place to intensify the international debate on Iran's nuclear ambitions," said Burns.

"We plan a concerted approach at the UN that gradually escalates pressure on Iran. We will shine a bright spotlight on Iran's nuclear programme. We intend to participate in a vigorous international debate about Iran's nuclear ambitions."

Burns said the Security Council would make a strong statement about Iran and that if the Iranian government does not "accede to the wishes of the international community, then of course we would have to look at possible targeted sanctions, which a number of countries are already beginning to explore."

He said any sanctions "will be specifically targeted to pressure the regime and Iran's nuclear and missile programmes, rather than hurting the great majority of innocent Iranians."

Comment: Well, after all, the Bush gang DOES have a schedule to keep!

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Iran will be stopped, Cheney vows to Israeli lobbyists

Irish Sun
Tuesday 7th March, 2006

Vice President Dick Cheney has vowed unshakeable solidarity with Israel, and condemned the new Palestinian government.

Cheney made it clear Iran would not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon, described the Iranian regime as "irresponsible," and warned the United States had "all options on the table."
"The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose meaningful consequences," he said.

Cheney was addresing 5,000 pro-Israel activists from all 50 states Monday who gathered in Washington, D.C., to attend the two-day Annual Policy Conference of AIPAC, America's pro-Israel lobbyist organization, which began Sunday. The focus of the conference was "the urgency of stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons and isolating the Palestinian government, which is now controlled by the terrorist group Hamas." Additionally, AIPAC delegates had 400 lobbying appointments with members of the House and Senate who were in attendance.

The American vice president joined U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, in condemning the new Hamas-led Palestinian government. Bolton too echoed the vice-president's "unshakeable" commitment to the U.S.-Israel alliance.

"While Mr. Ahmadi-nejad, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has clearly failed his lessons in history, indulge me a moment if you will to offer him up at least one lesson on current events: our commitment to Israel's security and the alliance between the United States and Israel are unshakeable," Bolton told the conference.

Comment: Notice that AIPAC members had lobbying appointments with 400 Senators and Representatives from both parties who happened to be in attendance. Of course, we suspect that the only lobbying being done was for the AIPAC delegates to remind the members of the Senate and Congress that they were still in possession of those photos, videotapes and confidential data that the Senators and Representatives would prefer the media never hears about.

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U.S. endorsed Iranian plans to build massive nuclear energy industry

March 5, 2006
Team Liberty

In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford signed a directive that granted Iran the opportunity to purchase U.S. built reprocessing equipment and facilities designed to extract plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel.
When Gerald Ford assumed the Presidency in August 1974, the current Vice President of the United States, Richard B Cheney served on the transition team and later as Deputy Assistant to the President. In November 1975, he was named Assistant to the President and White House Chief of Staff, a position he held throughout the remainder of the Ford Administration.[1]

In August 1974, the current Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld served as Chairman of the transition to the Presidency of Gerald R. Ford. He then became Chief of Staff of the White House and a member of the President's Cabinet (1974-1975)[2] and was the Ford Administration's Secretary of Defense from 1975–1977.

The current President of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz served in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency under President Gerald Ford.[3] Wolfowitz is considered as a prominent architect of the Bush Doctrine, which has come to be identified with a policy that permits pre-emptive war against potential aggressors before they are capable of mounting attacks against the United States.

According to Washington Post Staff Writer Dafna Linzer, "Ford's team endorsed Iranian plans to build a massive nuclear energy industry, but also worked hard to complete a multibillion-dollar deal that would have given Tehran control of large quantities of plutonium and enriched uranium – the two pathways to a nuclear bomb. Either can be shaped into the core of a nuclear warhead, and obtaining one or the other is generally considered the most significant obstacle to would-be weopons builders."[4]

What the current Bush Administration is asserting, particularly through its news agency Fox News, or as I like to call it, the Fascist Opinion X-change, is that it needs to prevent Iran from achieving the exact same nuclear capabilities that President Ford and his key appointees, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz were encouraging Iran to accomplish 30 years ago. Iran, a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, is guaranteed the right to develop peaceful nuclear power programs – regardless of whether the United States approves or disapproves the politics or political leadership of that country; a point that Iran has repeated over and over again. For 30 years, Iran has proclaimed that it needs nuclear power since its oil and gas supplies are limited, just like the United States, and therefore has the legal right to produce and operate nuclear power plants. Thirty years ago, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld agreed. Today, Cheney and Rumsfeld appear to be crawling out of their skins with uncontrollable militarized lust for control of Iranian oil fields via a U.S. occupied, Iran. The NEO-CON war drumbeaters have already devised their plans for the liberation of the people again, this time Iranian people, and making things all better, just like they have done in Iraq. Scary stuff, but it is true. In preparation, the Bush Administration has primed the mainstream media so effectively that 8 out of 10 Americans believe Iran poises an immediate nuclear threat to the United States. The President's recent and risky travel to regional nuclear powers, Pakistan and India, no doubt also served as a strategic warning to those countries to prepare for the certain public backlash to be expected once the U.S. or Israel begins to drop bombs on Iran.

It is also worth noting that in 2000, the World Bank resumed making loans to Iran. As of June 30, 2004, the World Bank as made 51 loans valued at $2.6 billion to Iran. The World Bank gets its funds from the International Monetary Fund, which in turn, gets its money from member nation dues / contributions. The United States is required to contribute $37.2 billion per year into the IMF. The atrocious Federal Reserve Banking Cartel orchestrated this money scheme so that it can continue to print and loan astronomical numbers of debt notes. If the American people understood that the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Congress have been funding many activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran, most would be skeptical of the federal government's current claim that Iran's 30 year old, U.S. sanctioned, nuclear program is somehow now an immediate threat to the security of the United States. The IMF and the World Bank create just enough degrees of separation to shield the government from the people recognizing that the federal government has fed the dog well that it now claims will bite if we do not 'put it down' with a pre-emptive strike.

With Wolfowitz at the helm of the World Bank, one has to wonder if once again the Federal Reserve has positioned itself to fund both sides of a warring conflict. One thing is certain; loaning money to fund both sides of a war is a perfected craft of the member banks of the Federal Reserve, which is interested only in loan collateral and interest payments. Patriotism is not part of the equation. What is most disturbing about the relationship between the Fed, IMF, and World Bank is that the $37.2 billion the U.S. is obligated to pay to the IMF annually, is actually secured by the American taxpayer. We the People, and the ability of the U.S. Congress to confiscate our wealth through that unconstitutional apparatus referred to as a federal income tax, makes loaning money to the Islamic Republic of Iran easy because if Iran defaults on its World Bank loans, the U.S. portions of the loans work their way back to the lender of last resort, which is the U.S. Congress. When the U.S. Congress responds to failed loans and failed banking institutions, they assume responsibility for the loan amount, and pass the burden of repayment onto the American people.

Finally, but very much part of the U.S. government's charade aimed at deceiving the American people into believing that the U.S. has played no part in the development of Iran or its nuclear power programs, is the absolute economic threat that Iran poses to the global value of the U.S. dollar. Unless the U.S. intervenes, on March 20, 2006 the world will have the option of purchasing oil with euros instead of dollars through the opening of the Iranian Oil Bourse. The Iran Oil Bourse will be the third exchange in which global oil transactions will be executed. While financial analysts debate whether such an exchange operating solely in euros will have the potential to collapse the U.S. economy, the complete silence of the mainstream media regarding this most important untold story can be interpreted as a sign that this suggested economic threat is real. As the Bush Administration has proven itself to be the most dishonest, secretive presidency in the history of the United States, it has repeatedly demonstrated that the truth about its motives and agendas can only be found in what is not being reported to the American people. And if the Iran nuclear threat rhetoric is the firewall that the U.S. government is hiding the U.S. dollar global supremacy behind, than any military action in Iran will be solely on behalf of the member banks of the Federal Reserve – at the expense of American sons and daughters serving in the U.S. military and at the burden of the U.S. taxpayer who is already indebted to the federal government to the tune of $28 thousand, which is each and every American's current share of the Federal Reserve / U.S. Congress banking cartel produced national debt - $28,000 and growing faster than ever!

Here's a patriotic challenge and very American gut check for your consideration: Next time you hold your children and / or grandchildren, look them in the eye and explain to them how they are, right at this very moment, indebted to the federal government of the United States of America, to the tune of $28,000, and then ask yourself how you allowed it to happen. Sobering fact that feels better to ignore, does it not? But hell, we're spreading democracy, right? I don't think so, and hopefully soon, neither will you.

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Iran Threatens U.S. With 'Harm and Pain'

Associated Press
March 8, 2006

VIENNA, Austria - Iran threatened the United States with "harm and pain" Wednesday for its role in hauling Tehran before the
U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program.

But the United States and its European allies said Iran's nuclear intransigence left the world no choice but to ask for Security Council action. The council could impose economic and political sanctions on Iran.
The statements were delivered to the 35-member board of the
International Atomic Energy Agency, which is meeting to focus on Tehran's refusal to freeze uranium enrichment.

The White House dismissed the rhetoric out of Tehran.

"I think that provocative statements and actions only further isolate Iran from the rest of the world," White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters traveling with President Bush to hurricane-affected states in the Gulf Coast. "And the international community has spelled out to Iran what it needs to do."

America's ambassador to the United Nations - and the chief architect of U.S. policy in the Security Council once it takes up the Iran issue - said Iran's comments reflected the menace it poses.

"Their threats show why leaving a country like that with a nuclear weapon is so dangerous," he told The Associated Press in a phone call from Washington.

He classified the Iranian comments as "reflecting their determination to acquire weapons."

Comment: So let's see if we have this straight: the US threatens Iran with "harm and pain" because Bush claims Iran is developing nuclear weapons. There is no evidence to support Bush's claim, just like there was no real evidence that Saddam had WMD's before or after the invasion of Iraq. When Iran declares that it will retaliate against a US attack, its comments are splashed all over the mainstream US media as "proof" that Iran is evil. Did we miss something?

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Iran Boosts Gulf Presence With Locally Made Submarine

by Staff Writers
March 07, 2006

Iran's armed forces have deployed a new locally-built submarine in Gulf waters, state television reported Tuesday. The vessel is named the Nahang, meaning whale, and was "built by specialists in the Iranian defence ministry and has the capability to carry multipurpose weapons for different missions", Rear Admiral Sajjad Kouchaki said.
"The submarine is fully adapted to the Persian Gulf," he said, adding that the Iranian navy was pursuing a policy of deterrence in the strategic waters -- home to the world's largest oil reserves.

No further details on the submarine were given.

Last May state media announced Iran had begun producing its first locally-built submarine. At the time it was called the Ghadir, named after a Shiite religious holiday.

According to foreign military experts, Iran's inventory of submarines patrolling Gulf waters includes up to six Russian-built SSK or SSI Kilo class diesel submarines.

In recent months Israel has been dangling the threat of pre-emptive action to stop Iran's disputed nuclear energy programme -- seen as a mask for weapons development.

The United States has also refused to rule out military action against Iran.

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Drumbeat sounds familiar

UK Guardian
Simon Tisdall

US fears about Iranian nukes, discussed in Vienna yesterday, are hardly the whole story. Washington is compiling a dossier of grievances against Tehran similar in scope and seriousness to the pre-war charge-sheet against Iraq.
George Bush's explanation of his volte-face over a proposed Iran-India gas pipeline project appeared slightly disingenuous. "Our beef with Iran is not the pipeline," the US president said on Saturday after withdrawing previous objections and giving the go-ahead to Washington's new friends in Delhi. "Our beef with Iran is the fact that they want to develop a nuclear weapon."

But US fears about Iranian nukes, discussed in Vienna yesterday, are hardly the whole story. Washington is compiling a dossier of grievances against Tehran similar in scope and seriousness to the pre-war charge-sheet against Iraq. Other complaints include Iranian meddling in Iraq, support for Hamas in Palestine and Hizbullah in Lebanon, and human rights abuses.

Article continues
Mr Bush regularly urges Iranians to seize the "freedom they seek and deserve". In Tehran's ministries, that sounds like a call for regime change. He has ignored past Iranian offers of talks and tightened US economic sanctions.

Official Washington's quickening drumbeat of hostility is beginning to recall political offensives against Libya's Muammar Gadafy, Panama's Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein, which all ended in violence. Rightwing American media are urging action, deeming Iran "an intolerable threat" that is the "central crisis of the Bush presidency".

As was the case with Iraq, administration tub-thumping is influencing public opinion - notwithstanding subsequent debunking of many of its Iraq claims. Polls suggest many Americans are now convinced Iran is the new public enemy No 1. Forty-seven percent told Zogby International they favoured military action to halt its nuclear activities.

While hopes of avoiding confrontation are not yet dead, warnings by John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, that Iran could face "painful consequences" over its nuclear activities were a reminder of Mr Bush's repeated refusals to eschew armed force. Iranian officials believe the US is determined to undermine and if possible overthrow Iran's theocracy and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government - regardless of whether a nuclear compromise is reached. That helps explain Tehran's hardline negotiating stance.

They cite a US decision to spend $75m (£43m) on funding potential Iranian opposition forces, including NGOs, trade unions and human rights groups, and local language propaganda broadcasts - tactics pioneered in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine. Iran accuses the US of stirring discontent among its Kurdish, Baluch and Azeri minorities, suspicions fed by a US marine corps investigation to gauge the strength of opposition to the central government among non-Persian groups. Tehran also believes the US is using the People's Mujahideen, an anti-regime group once backed by Saddam and blamed for many terrorist attacks, for intelligence-gathering and destabilisation.

It recently demanded British troops quit Basra after linking them to unrest among Arab Iranians in Khuzestan, abutting south-east Iraq. Britain has rejected the claims.

The "EU three" - Britain, France and Germany - remain focused on the nuclear controversy rather than broader Iran-related issues. A senior British official said they would, if necessary, support "graduated" pressure on Iran via the UN security council, "possibly leading to trade restrictions or more likely, travel and financial sanctions on individuals". But the official said the Europeans "do not have a clear view of what we will do at a later stage" should Iran refuse to bend.

In the absence of a Vienna breakthrough, this lack of an agreed strategy may encourage US hawks, egged on by Israel, to seize the initiative - even at the risk of an Iraq-style split with Europe. They have been biding their time for three years. Now they want action. For starters, Mr Bolton is expected to seek a 30-day UN deadline for Iran to back down or face counter-measures.

Comment: And we all know how authentic the Iraq dossier was, don't we? Seriously, how much longer are we going to take this BS?

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Report: Israelis in Iran Hunting Nukes

Mar 06
By Hana Levi Julian

An Israeli special operations team is working undercover in Iran, according to a report Sunday in a British newspaper.

The soldiers are on a mission to prevent the Iranians from succeeding in their bid to develop a nuclear weapon. They are involved in locating uranium enrichment facilities in Iran, according to the British Sunday Times, and are currently based in neighboring northern Iraq.

The United States is supporting the move, says the paper.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an oblique reference to the operation on Sunday in his video address to the annual AIPAC conference in the U.S. He warned that Israel would not be able to stop the Iranians on its own, adding his hope that the international community, led by the U.S., would impose sanctions on Iran. He said the country is a threat to the modern world.

Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz also spoke on Sunday about the issue. He said that Iran poses a major threat to Israel, and that the verbal hostility coming out of Tehran is something that needs to be closely monitored.

He added that Iran's nuclear program is "a substantial and existential threat to the State of Israel". He also warned campaigning parties and politicians not to manipulate Israel's security situation for the election, saying the situation is a very serious matter.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, is placing more pressure on the United Nations as it becomes increasingly concerned with its delay in dealing with the matter. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton said bluntly, "The longer we wait to confront the threat Iran poses, the harder and more intractable it will become to solve."

Iran threatened Sunday to resume its large-scale uranium enrichment if the matter is referred to the UN Security Council. The International Atomic Energy Agency was to meet on Monday to decide whether to refer the issue of Iran's nuclear development program to the Council.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi criticized the U.S. for what he called a "double standard" in its dealings over nuclear development, citing a recent deal with India as proof. "The United States' approach is a form of double standards," he charged at a news conference. "It signed a contract with a country that was not a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. That is objectionable," he complained.

Comment: The Israelis are in Iran hunting for intelligence that they can twist and distort and use to justify ethnically cleansing the Middle East of its Arab population.

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Israeli pilot recalls smashing a rival's nuclear ambitions

By Matthew Gutman
3/7/2006 9:20 PM

TEL AVIV, Israel - Lt. Col. Zeev Raz tightened his grip on the controls of his F-16 and nosed the fighter jet into a dive. He patiently locked his bombsights on the dome of Iraq's nuclear reactor.

The setting sun, at Raz's back, illuminated the reactor as if by spotlight. Raz flipped a switch with his index finger and released two 2,000-pound bombs. Seven other Israeli fighter jets flying with him did the same.

In one bold action on June 7, 1981, Israel's military had left the Osiraq nuclear reactor near Baghdad in smoldering ruins and dealt a blow to Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions.
"We didn't see a single Iraqi MiG (fighter), and not a single surface-to-air missile was fired," Raz says. "The whole operation was just too perfect."

The Osiraq mission is getting renewed attention in Israel now that the United Nations Security Council is likely to take up the issue of Iran's nuclear program, setting up a possible showdown between Iran and the West.

When asked in December how far he would go to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, the Israeli military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, said "2,000 kilometers" - the approximate flying distance between Israel and key Iranian nuclear sites.

Halutz says diplomatic efforts won't thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions. "I believe that the political means that are used by the Europeans and the U.S. to convince the Iranians to stop the project will not succeed."

However, military observers say a quick, Osiraq-style Israeli strike against Iranian targets is unlikely. "We'll never see ... eight planes swooping down on Iran," Raz says. "It could never happen."

Iran and other countries in the Middle East learned lessons from the 1981 airstrike. A now-declassified CIA assessment written shortly after the attack said it would spur countries in the region to strengthen their defenses.

"The most essential condition - surprise - is lacking," Israeli military historian Martin Van Creveld says. "The Iranian sites are numerous, well-camouflaged and hardened. All this means an attack will be much more difficult to carry out."

Van Creveld says destroying some of Iran's critical infrastructure would deal a setback to its nuclear program but not destroy it. Also, he says, planning even a limited strike would require extensive intelligence.

"All the options are bad," says Raz, who retired from Israel's air force and is a defense contractor. "We must choose the least worst."

In 1981, Iraq's nuclear program was concentrated at the Osiraq site and was not well protected.

The eight F-16s sent to destroy the site dropped 16 2,000-pound bombs - 14 of which made direct hits. "It was overkill," Raz says. "We could have done it with half. But I wanted all eight planes because I wasn't sure all of them would make it there."

Six months before the mission, Raz ordered a young captain, 26-year-old Ilan Ramon, to assess the raid's chances of success. Raz says Ramon told him with a smile, "Well, we can definitely get there, but we'll have to ditch somewhere over Jordan on the way home."

According to Ramon's calculations, the only way the fighters could conserve enough fuel to make it to Osiraq and back to Israel was to jettison their external fuel tanks as soon as they were used up. But if a released tank so much as nicked one of the bombs mounted under the planes, the jet could explode.

The F-16's training manual forbade such a move, but the Israelis felt they had no choice. The plan devised by Ramon - who would eventually become an astronaut and would die in the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster - worked.

Raz had other worries. He was leading a mission that many of Israel's leaders, including Ezer Weizman, who would later become president, privately opposed. They warned it would either fail or ignite another Middle East war.

The mission became even more important in hindsight, Raz says. Had it failed, Iraq might have been able to use nuclear-tipped Scud missiles against Israel or American forces in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he says.

The U.S.-made aircraft were to arrive at Osiraq with the sun setting behind them to make it harder for Iraqi anti-aircraft gunners to see them.

As they approached the target, the jets skimmed along at less than 100 feet above the ground. The planes pulled up, then dived, releasing their bombs and reducing the facility to rubble.

"I am not a believer," Raz says. "But it seems like the mission was protected by the hand of God."

Comment: WOW! It's just like a movie! Are you excited now about the impending attack on Iran?!

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GOP senators propose NSA spying bill

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Four Senate Republicans have proposed a bill to provide what one called "very rigorous oversight" of President Bush's controversial no-warrant domestic surveillance program while also giving it the force of law.

Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, all members of the Intelligence Committee, introduced the bill late Tuesday afternoon in an effort to address criticism of the program and reach a compromise.

The White House is "OK with this approach," a spokesperson said.
The measure would create terrorist surveillance subcommittees under both the Senate and House intelligence committees to oversee the surveillance program.

The panel, meanwhile, rejected a full investigation of the program, which was acknowledged by Bush in December after it surfaced in media reports.

Bush authorized the National Security Agency shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to eavesdrop on Americans suspected of communicating with al Qaeda members overseas -- without obtaining a warrant from a special court under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

According to DeWine, the bill would allow surveillance of international calls that involve a suspected terrorist but would require a program review every 45 days.

At that time, the administration would have three options: apply for a warrant, if there is enough information to justify one; stop the surveillance; or explain to Congress why it is in the national security interest to continue the surveillance and why officials cannot apply to the FISA court for a warrant.

"What this does is it provides for a case-by-case examination and oversight by the United States Congress ... of what the executive branch is doing," DeWine said.

Critics of the surveillance program, including some leading Republicans, have said it runs afoul of FISA. Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, has said that the 1978 law "flatly prohibits any kind of electronic monitoring without a court order."

The administration has defended the program, contending that it is legal under the president's inherent authority and under a 2001 congressional authorization of the use of force against al Qaeda.

A subcommittee of seven committee members will be fully briefed on the surveillance program while the legislation is pursued, the senators said.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the Intelligence Committee's ranking Democrat, objected to that plan Tuesday, arguing the entire committee should be involved.

"Our committee has to be fully informed if we are to guide the legislative debate on this program that is fast approaching," he said, adding that Democratic members of the panel had been excluded from negotiations with the White House.

Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who chairs the panel, said his goal has been "to reach accommodation, not confrontation."

Specter: White House 'on notice'

In a closed meeting Tuesday, the committee voted to reject a request by Rockefeller for what he called "a careful and fact-based review of the National Security Agency's surveillance eavesdropping activities inside the United States."

"The committee is, to put it bluntly, basically under the control of the White House," he told reporters.

"This was an unprecedented bow to political pressure," Rockefeller said. "You can't legislate properly if we don't know what's going on."

Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, on Tuesday threatened to limit funding for the NSA program if the Bush administration does not provide more details on the matter.

"We're having quite a time in getting responses to questions as to what has happened with the electronic surveillance program," he said.

"I want to put the administration on notice and this committee on notice that I may be looking for an amendment to limit funding as to the electronic surveillance program -- which is the power of the purse -- if we can't get an answer in any other way," he said.

In response to the bill proposed Tuesday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, "We've said for several weeks we're committed to working with Congress on legislation to further codify into law the president's authority to intercept conversations between suspected al Qaeda members who are calling into or out of the U.S.

"And we believe that the legislation is generally sound, and we are eager to work with Congress.

"However, we have said before, and we remain committed to this principle, that we will not do anything that undermines the program's capabilities, or the president's authority. Generally, we are OK with this approach," Perino said.

Comment: Of course the White House was "OK with this approach". The panel rejected a full investigation of the spying program, and the Patriot Act has been renewed. In other words, Bush got everything he wanted - again. And now it looks like the Neocon/Zionist cabal is gearing up for a no holds barred attack on Iran. Why would the White House be worried??

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Senate panel rejects bid for NSA inquiry

By David Morgan
Tue Mar 7, 7:03 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Republicans on Tuesday agreed to expand oversight of President George W. Bush's domestic spying program but rejected Democratic pressure for a broad inquiry into eavesdropping on U.S. citizens.
Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the committee voted to create a new seven-member subcommittee that would scrutinize the eavesdropping under a plan approved by the White House.

The Bush administration was criticized by rights groups, Democrats and some Republicans for the surveillance program. It started after the September 11 attacks and allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without a warrant on Americans' international phone and e-mail communications while in pursuit of al Qaeda.

In addition, the White House has begun discussions with several Republican lawmakers on legislative language that could further regulate the program.

"I believe the president is prepared to sign a bill once the Congress does work its will," Roberts told reporters after a closed-door committee meeting.

"When it comes to national security, I prefer accommodation over confrontation whenever possible. We should fight the enemy. We should not fight each other."

Four Senate Republicans, all critics of the program, proposed a plan that would authorize the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without a warrant for 45 days but require the White House to justify every decision to continue beyond that timeframe.

The legislative proposal, titled the Terrorist Surveillance Act of 2006, also would force the eavesdropping program to cease after five years unless renewed by Congress.

Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio, one of the four Republicans pressing for legislation, said the proposal was backed by Roberts and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and accepted "in broad concept" by the White House.


But the Republican-controlled intelligence panel voted down a Democratic proposal for a complete investigation into the

surveillance by the National Security Agency by the full 15-member intelligence committee. Democrats complained that they had been shut out of discussions with the White House that led to the agreement.

"The committee, to put it bluntly, is basically under the control of the White House through its chairman," said a visibly frustrated Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia, ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee.

Republicans rejected suggestions that the intelligence panel was retreating from its oversight duties on the NSA program. "The scope of the subcommittee's purview will be broad, wide, deep," said Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

The committee's decision came five days after the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence agreed on a new plan to pursue oversight of the NSA program through a subcommittee that has not yet been identified.

The White House has not agreed to the new House oversight plan. Up to now, White House officials have allowed full details of the NSA program to be shared only with eight members of Congress, including the Republican chairmen and ranking Democrats of the intelligence panels in both House and Senate.

The House agreement appeared to undermine efforts by Democrats and some Republicans to seek an inquiry by the full House intelligence committee.

The White House contends that Bush has the constitutional authority to order the eavesdropping as commander-in-chief, as well as congressional approval in the form of an authorization for use of military force against al Qaeda that lawmakers enacted on September 14, 2001.

Democrats and some Republicans contend the authorization was not meant to cover warrantless domestic spying and say the NSA program may violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires the government to obtain warrants for all electronic eavesdropping inside the United States.

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Patriot Act renewal gives Bush a victory

Associated Press
March 8, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The House voted to renew the USA Patriot Act on Tuesday night, extending a centerpiece of the war on terrorism after months of political combat.

President Bush is expected to sign the legislation before 16 provisions of the 2001 law expire Friday.
The vote was 280-138 under special rules that required a two-thirds majority. Indiana's congressional delegation voted along party lines, with the Democrats voting no and Republicans voting yes. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., did not vote.

The passage marked a political victory for the president. Bush's approval ratings have suffered in recent months after revelations that he had authorized secret, warrantless wiretapping of Americans.
That issue helped fuel a two-month Senate filibuster that forced the White House to accept some new restrictions on information gathered in terrorism probes.

Republicans on Tuesday declared the legislative war won, saying the renewal of the act's 16 provisions along with new curbs on government investigatory power will help law enforcement prevent terrorists from striking.

"Intense congressional and public scrutiny has not produced a single substantiated claim that the Patriot Act has been misused to violate Americans' civil liberties," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.

Comment: Funny how, all the while Bush is described as being in political trouble, he continues to succeed in getting his way in Congress. The appointment of two reactionary, fundamentalist Christians to the Supreme Court, the Patriot Act, Bush gets what he wants in the things that are important.

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Bush's empty political piggy bank

By Gloria Borger
US News and World Report

When George W. Bush was first re-elected, he told the American people that he had an awful lot of political capital and that he intended to spend it. And, in a way, he tried–with Social Security reform, a plan that fell flat on its face.

Sixteen months later, that political piggy bank is busted. That's because an unpopular war in Iraq has driven the president's approval ratings to an all-time low.
And now he has another problem on his hands – his own Republicans. They're opposing him on, of all things, his signature issue–national security. It's a fight they're having on everything from the Dubai ports deal to the oversight of National Security Agency wiretaps. As Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told me, "I think the administration has looked at the legitimate power of the executive during a time of war and taken it to extremes."

It's interesting that Republicans would face off on national security, which is, of course, their strong suit. It makes Democrats gleeful because, according to one pollster I spoke with, any division within the GOP ranks on that issue is good for Democrats.

But there is one small problem for Democrats: They disagree about what to do about Iraq, which is the nation's greatest national security issue. So will they be able to take advantage of the GOP disarray on national security? The jury is still out–and so far, at least, the polls show that Americans trust the GOP more to manage their security and trust the Democrats more to manage their checkbooks.

Comment: The author of this piece writes as if the political system actually has a chance to right itself. Obviously, nothing could be further from the truth - just look at the huge numbers of Republicans and Democrats who voted through the renewal of the Patriot Act. Any real change will only happen if the people stand up for themselves. Until that happens, it doesn't matter one bit if Bush's "political piggy bank" is full or empty.

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Welcome to the United States of Duplicity

By Mike Whitney

03/07/06 "ICH" -- -- Bush's nuclear-summit with Prime Minister Singh was rehearsed long before he teetered off to India. That explains why the media was all atwitter over Bush's severing the last frail strands of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT); the press loves to see our Crawford-strongman rummaging through international agreements like a bull in a China shop.

Bush manages nuclear issues like a schoolboy handing out party-favors; rewarding India with one deal, offering a different one to Pakistan, and then a third for Iran.

This is how Bush has expanded America's traditional double-standards into "triple standards"; a new nadir in foreign policy.
In just days, Bush toppled long-honored safeguards for the allocation and control of fissile material, and created a "nuclear bizarre" to be exclusively regulated by the United States. His trip tells the world that global nuclear-policy will now be decided by the Pentagon big-wigs and hard-right fanatics who dominate the Bush White House.

No wonder the media was so awestruck by Bush's performance and celebrated his recklessness as "groundbreaking" or "a landmark deal". The press seems to relish the idea that America can single-handedly nudge the planet ever-closer to nuclear destruction.

Bush's deal with PM Singh allows him to provide technology and fuel to a nation that has stubbornly refused to comply with internationally-accepted standards for the supervision of nuclear material. The agreement flaunts the NPT, the IAEA, the United Nations, and the US Congress, which is the body that is supposed to ratify such pacts before they are enacted.

Instead, Bush has elected himself "the god of all things nuclear"; capriciously revamping 20 years of nuclear policy with a sweep of the hand. Why would any country sign the NPT when America claims to be the sole arbiter of its application?

Former Iranian President Muhammad Khatami has already noted the duplicity of the Bush-system. He said, "I believe that double-standards are to blame for the crisis in our region and the world, because if a rational and fair approach were pursued, all issues of contention could be resolved easily and peacefully."

How could anyone dispute that?

Bush hands out technology to a "nuclear cheater" like India while his UN ambassador, John Bolton, is busy threatening Iran with "tangible and painful consequences" for complying with the terms of NPT.

What kind of message does that send?

Bolton's blustery speech was delivered at a meeting of the powerful Jewish lobby AIPAC, where he stated that America was "beefing up defensive measures to cope with the Iranian threat".

"Beefing up defensive measures"? Will America really go to war again when the IAEA has repeatedly said that there is "no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program"?

So, what is the yardstick the administration uses to decide who gets technology and who doesn't?

Regrettably, it looks like the only principles guiding American foreign policy are cynicism and self-aggrandizement. India gets the royal treatment because it's seen as a strategic ally that will help contain China. It also promises to lift limits on foreign investment ensuring that more of America's high-paying, high-tech jobs will continue to flee the country. Pakistan has less to offer by way of market-potential, but is still a valued ally in the war on terror.

Iran, unfortunately, sits atop an ocean of oil which is coveted by American petroleum giants and guarantees that it will receive a laser-guided dose of shock-and-awe, followed by "liberation" of its vital resources.

If these aren't the Machiavellian principles that underscore Bush's foreign policy, then what are?

The administration's shortsighted approach to proliferation is dragging the world towards disaster. No one will accept this blinkered standard for regulating nukes.

The threadbare treaties that once slowed the production of nuclear weaponry have all been tossed overboard. Now development is to be decided according to the whims of Washington mandarins and their corporate colleagues.

What kind of fool would ever listen to them?

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Vermont Towns Endorse Move to Impeach Bush

Associated Press Writer
March 8, 2006, 5:05 AM EST

NEWFANE, Vt. -- In five Vermont communities, a centuries-old tradition of residents gathering in town halls to conduct local business became a vehicle to send a message to Washington: Impeach the president.

An impeachment article, approved by a paper ballot 121-29 in Newfane Tuesday, calls on Vermont's lone member of the U.S. House, independent Rep. Bernie Sanders, to file articles of impeachment against President Bush, alleging he misled the nation into the Iraq war and engaged in illegal domestic spying.

"It absolutely affects us locally," said Newfane select board member Dan DeWalt, who drafted the impeachment article. "It's our sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers, who are dying" in the war in Iraq.

At least four other Vermont towns, spurred by publicity about Newfane's resolution, endorsed similar resolutions during Tuesday's meetings: Brookfield, Dummerston, Marlboro and Putney.

In Newfane, the impeachment item came at the end of a roughly four-hour meeting that was devoted mostly to the local affairs of the town of 1,600 located in southeastern Vermont. Among the other items discussed was whether the town should fix some of its 100-year-old sidewalks.

The impeachment discussion took up more than half an hour, reflecting the intense interest in the topic and something of a division over whether the town meeting was the appropriate place to debate it.

"As a teacher I can't say to my kids that what happens on the national level doesn't affect us at the local level," Ann Landenberger told the Newfane meeting. "Would that we could all be in a cocoon, but that is not the case."

Greg Record, a local justice of the peace, criticized the amount of time and attention such advisory votes get.

"We spend more time on these things than on a million dollar budget item," said Record, who said the town is made up of people from the "far left."

Lenore Salzbrun defended Bush, saying she had close friends who died in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"I am so grateful that our president didn't just put his head in the sand ... and did go out and fight," she said.

"How many attacks have we had on the U.S. since September 11?" asked another resident, Carlton Brown. "Maybe some of the terrorists around the world are sitting up and taking notice that we're not going to be patsies."

The Bush vote is not the first time Newfane has used its town meeting forum to take a state or national stand. Last year, for example, the town went on record against the Iraq war.

Sanders issued a statement after the Newfane vote saying that although the Bush administration "has been a disaster for our country, and a number of actions that he has taken may very well not have been legal," given the reality that the Republicans control the House and the Senate, "it would be impractical to talk about impeachment."

Jim Barnett, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, said Sanders should reject the resolution: "We should not be impeaching presidents just because we disagree with them."

Comment: "Just because we disagree with them"???!!!

How abot because they are inveterate liars who have torn up the consitution, instituted torture as standard operating procedure, and organized the 9/11 attacks on their own country to justify a perrenial "war on terror"!

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Banned and Gagged

By Rose Aguilar, AlterNet. Posted March 8, 2006.

South Dakota's extreme abortion ban is in perfect accord with what the United States has been doing internationally all along.
After the recent confirmation of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, it was only a matter of time before a state like South Dakota passed a law that banned all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. South Dakota's governor, Mike Rounds, signed the ban on Monday. While the ban is a turning point for abortion politics at home, it mirrors what's already been happening overseas. Abortion rights advocates say it's time for Americans to start connecting the dots.

"Because of the constitutional guarantees embedded in the Roe v. Wade decision, Republican administrations have been unable to completely defund abortion groups in the United States, so they've taken it out on poor women in developing countries, but those policies are coming home," says Steven Sinding, an American who serves as director-general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), a London-based organization that supports the poor, underserved and marginalized in 180 countries.

The United States has funded international family planning programs since the 1960s, but in 1984, the Reagan Administration passed the Global Gag Rule, which denies U.S. Agency for International Development funding to overseas organizations that perform legal abortions with exceptions for rape and incest or to save a woman's life; provide counseling and referrals for abortion; engage in abortion-related public policy debates; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their own country.

"Americans have the right to say where their funding is going, but we find it completely unfair to be asking others not to talk about certain topics which are not liked by the American establishment," says Tewodros Melesse, director of the IPPF's Africa Region Office. "We believe the American Constitution and virtue of the American democracy exists on individual choices, on freedom and on democracy and to deny that right to others sends the wrong message."

The Clinton administration ended the Global Gag Rule in 1993 by executive order; President Bush reinstated it on his first day in office in January 2001, halting an estimated $15 million per year in funding to the IPPF after it refused to sign the rule. A number of reproductive rights groups, including Ipas, which has offices in 11 countries, have also lost funding to other organizations.

As a result, community-based health services have been curtailed and contraceptive supplies have drastically decreased. The United States stopped giving Zambia donated condoms after it refused to sign the Gag Rule, and several family planning clinics across Africa and Asia have been forced to close.

"We used to have 17 clinics; now we have nine," says Dr. Joachim Osur with IPPF member Family Health Options Kenya, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for reproductive rights in Kenya, where abortion is illegal, with an exception to save a woman's life. "We've been closing them one after another; we were hoping that someone would come to our rescue, but it never happened. After the clinics closed, fetuses were thrown in the streets. We feel the rate of abortion has gone up because women have no access to family planning."

The British Department for International Development recently announced plans to defy the U.S. government by contributing $5.3 million to the IPPF's new Global Safe Abortion Program. "That by itself does not make up for the $15 million a year we estimate we are losing as a consequence of the Global Gag Rule, but it's greatly appreciated," says Sindig. "They've [the British government] asked other European governments to join them in supporting the safe abortion fund. I anticipate it could compensate for the loss of the American money"

The program aims to provide the services and information needed to reduce the growing number of unsafe abortions worldwide. This year alone, 19 million women will face serious injury, illness or death as a consequence of abortions performed by unskilled people under unsanitary conditions. Nearly 70,000 will die. Virtually all of those women live in the poorest countries in the world, and almost every death and injury could be prevented, according to the IPPF's report, "Death and Denial: Unsafe Abortion and Poverty."

A 42-year-old Ghanaian market trader named Esinam recently told the BBC why she decided to have an illegal abortion at a back-street clinic in Accra, after becoming pregnant for the fourth time despite using birth control. "My husband and I can barely look after our three children on the little income we have. How could we afford to feed another mouth?" She was four months pregnant when she had the back-street abortion.

"Even though I realized it wasn't a proper clinic, I was still determined to go through with the termination. I had no choice," she said. After the abortion, she bled profusely, lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital. When she regained consciousness, she was told her womb was rotten and had to be removed. "I cannot have anymore children, and if I had lost any more blood, I would have died. I am very grateful to the doctor and his team at Accra's Ridge Hospital who saved my life."

Esinam was lucky she survived. In Africa, four million unsafe abortions occur each year, and more than 40 percent of the world's deaths occur on the continent due to unsafe abortions.

"We can't tell you how many of those injuries and deaths are a direct result of the Global Gag Rule. There's just no way we can accurately calculate that," says Sinding. "But we have no doubt that the curtailment of services has led directly to suffering by women both because they had pregnancies they didn't want or because they acquired sexually transmitted infections."

Sinding says the Swedish, Japanese and British governments are the world's largest international family planning donors; the German, Denmark, Norwegian and Dutch governments also make substantial contributions.

Funding from the British government prevented three clinics from closing in Ghana, where abortion is permitted to protect a woman's health and in cases of rape, incest and fetal impairment; funding from the Dutch government prevented the closure of 10 clinics in Ethiopia, where abortion laws were relaxed in 2004 to allow abortions in cases of rape and incest. The law also makes an exemption for young women who suffer from psychological stress. The anti-choice movement overseas, which is heavily funded by American organizations, unsuccessfully challenged those exceptions.

"While the current [American] administration and anti-choice groups says abortion kills life, the very precise intervention to prevent abortion is leading millions of women to abortion and killing so many babies and so many mothers," says Melesse. "Over 50 percent of the maternal deaths in Africa are linked to complications due to abortion, which are preventable."

Almost 12 years ago, at an international conference on population in Cairo, 179 countries made a commitment to greatly improve reproductive rights and decrease maternal deaths around the globe by 2015. The Bush administration's policies are making it close to impossible to meet that goal.

"If American women understood what the actions of our government means to the lives of women around the world, particularly poor women in poor countries, they couldn't in good conscience support this administration for any reason," says Sinding. "The fact is, what the Bush administration is doing to women in the developing world hasn't really penetrated the consciousness of the American electorate."

Maybe not. But as we fume about the passage of South Dakota's draconian abortion ban, soon to be headed toward its first legal challenge, it's a good time to remember that we're now facing in the U.S. what women around the world have suffered since the day Bush took office.

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Good night and get lost! Chris Matthews exhumes McCarthy


One of our favorite titles for a CD is NPR's "Driveway Moments" -- referring to stories so good you won't leave the car even when you've reached where you're going. We'd like to release a CD of some of the things we hear from time to time on conservative talk radio -- we'd call it "Drive Off the Road and Into a Ditch Moments."
(One such moment last year -- when we tuned into Glenn Beck on the way to work and heard him call many Katrina survivors "scumbags" -- touched off a series of only-in-the-blogosphere events that led to Keith Olbermann naming Beck "the worst person in the world." Heh.)

Now this.

Quickly, a confession -- we had thought some of the recent anti-Chris Matthews hysteria from our friends on the left was overblown. We thought many of the foolish things he says were the result of needing to bloviate for an hour every day, and not so much from warped political bias -- until we heard him Friday on the local Michael Smerconish show in Philly.

Ironically, the topic was the Oscars. Smerconish and Matthews -- whose brother is a GOP candidate for lieutenant governor here in Pennsylvania -- were running down the list, and they came to "Good Night and Good Luck." A casual listener might expect broadcaster Matthews -- who has pretty much the same job, if not the same gravitas, as Edward R. Murrow some fifty years later -- to praise the flick -- but think again. Here -- with an assist from Smerconish's producer, the fabulous T.C. Scornavacchi -- is what he really said (and you can listen to the actual clip here):

You know, one-sided, to some extent liberal propaganda. Because you know there Communists – I'm sorry…there were Communists in the government…I could go through the whole list – Elizabeth Bentley, Harry Dexter White, and of course Alger Hiss – there's a whole gaggle of them.

And the biggest nonsense of this sort of revisionist history is that there wasn't a Communist threat and that McCarthy was just a drunken fool. Well, he may have been a drunk – he certainly was – and he may have been unable to shoot straight, but there were lots of targets there. He just didn't hit any.

Hello, ditch.

When did Chris Matthews start channeling Ann Coulter? Yes, there was a Cold War in 1950s, and both sides had spies, and there supporters of Communism and the Soviet Union. We also were at war with the nation of Japan from 1941 to 1945, but that didn't justify internment camps for thousands of harmless Japanese-Americans.

Joe McCarthy and his ilk were never about catching the few real Communists at the higher levels of American society. It was all about creating the climate of fear necessary for a new kind of national security state -- and making a name for Joe McCarthy in the process. A lot of innocent people were hurt in the process -- including screenwriters and filmmakers who made the type of Oscar-worthy flicks that Matthews and Smerconish were yakking freely about a half-century later.

You know what Matthews' analogy is like? It's like saying that because there are some real terrorists, that invading Iraq wasn't really so bad. Oh wait, that's pretty much what Matthews' fellow and the other pundicrats have said, isn't it? (NOTE: Updated in fairness to some critical Iraq comments he made in 2003). In fact, Matthews might as well have said this:

"And the biggest nonsense of this sort of revisionist history is that there wasn't a terrorist threat and that Bush was just an ex-drunken fool. Well, he may have been a former drunk – he certainly was – and he may have been unable to shoot straight, but there were lots of targets there. He just didn't hit any.

Oh wait, that's Cheney who can't shoot straight."

Good night...and get lost!

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The conservative bubble

Tuesday, March 07, 2006
David Neiwert

One of the reasons the conservative movement has morphed into a pathological political religion is that it has managed to largely cut itself off from the real world by insulating itself from any kind of criticism whatsoever.
Criticism of right-wing programs and policies, you see, is never confronted on its own terms, but is dismissed with a wave of the ad hominem wand: it can't be right because the critics are Bad People with Bad Motives.

Recent discussions over blame-laying in the Iraq war fiasco has provided us with the latest example of the bubble (which in this case also includes a large number of liberal warhawks). It's not Bush's fault the war has gone so badly, it's his critics'.

So it has always been: Conservatives concoct a cockamamie vision of what the world ought to look like, try to force it on the rest of us -- and when it all predictably turns to shit, find a scapegoat (usually liberals).

A recent permutation of this surfaced after William F. Buckley, that conservative icon, declared the Iraq war a disaster. Responding to liberals' glee, Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom turned the blame back in their direction (via Sifu Tweety at the Poor Man).
And this is (and has been) a crucial component of the war -- one that many on the anti-war side are loathe to admit: that their constant naysaying, though it is well within their right to voice, has objectively hurt the war effort, particularly when the criticism incorporates carefully-crafted falsehoods many of the war's critics know for a fact to be objectively untrue.

I don't know if Goldstein can establish the levels of actual harm inflicted by the domestic naysaying, but I can say that a number of other "carefully crafted falsehoods" perptrated by the White House -- from claims regarding weapons of mass destruction to the Al Qaeda-Saddam link to -- were substantively harmful in that they induced the nation to go to war under false pretenses, costing so far over 2,200 soldiers' lives and thousands more innocent Iraqi civilians.

A constant drumbeat of similar falsehoods, ranging from Swift Boat smears to the bizarre distortion of a Howard Dean campaign cheer, were contrived to help Bush stay in power, and have been ceaselessly deployed to destroy any and all critics. And that was also substantively harmful. Indeed, the decision to retaliate against one of these critics by outing a CIA operative engaged in WMD anti-proliferation work almost certainly damaged our ability to contain nuclear-arms work in places like Iran.

Still, no one who raised these objections, either then or now, was credible in the eyes of guys like Goldstein because, you see, they were just Bush haters:
Most of those on the right who I've read on the subject have criticized Buckley's analysis by noting that his initial stance on the war was hardly gung ho, and his most recent conclusions seem a bit premature. But they have respected him for making the argument, knowing that his goal, from the outset, has not been to undermine efforts to democratize Iraq either out of some immense hatred for the President or out of some newfound Democratic party / progressivist fealty to foreign policy realism; in fact, it can be argued Buckley has been there all along).

Unfortunately, I don't think the same can be said for the majority of those most vocal voices on the political left.

I'm wondering if Goldstein can point to any mainstream critics of the war who actually announced their intent to undermine efforts to democratize Iraq, for instance; expressing doubt that it was possible under these circumstances isn't the same thing. How many, exactly, raised these issues by saying they did so because they hated Bush? (As for foreign-policy realism, it seems to me that real realism -- that is, a policy based in real facts and not speculation -- is what Democrats were arguing for all along.)

No, we only know that those were the critics' motives because the right told us so. That is, whenever critics on the left or center (or even the right) came up with substantive reasons for opposing the war, they were dismissed as "Bush haters." No matter, as Glenn Greenwald described in detail at Crooks and Liars, that those reasons in fact proved wholly prescient.

We saw the same kind of circular logic at work in John Hinderaker of PowerLine's recent attack on John Murtha as "nuts." When his work was fact-checked by Judd Legum at ThinkProgress, Hinderaker responded with typical churlishness:
One of the dimmest of the dimwitted left-wing web sites has tried to respond to this post. Among other things, the proprietor of this slough of ignorance has resurrected the old chestnut that Dick Cheney said in an interview that Iraq had "reconstituted nuclear weapons;" ergo, Murtha was right! This is so stupid it makes your head hurt.

Hinderaker then goes on to ostensibly demonstrate that Cheney simply misspoke in the interview. But as Legum noted subsequently:
That's right, it was a just a "slip of the tongue" made on national television four days before the war. Cheney didn't bother to correct it for six months.

Indeed, Hinderaker's response, such as it was, only covered one of Legum's multiple findings, but even that was generous, apparently -- because Bush's left-wing critics are simply to be dismissed out of hand anyway:
Sadly, I think a great many liberals are this stupid. Worse, I think that many liberals--like the proprietor of the hate site that resurrected the Cheney quote earlier today--are so far gone in hatred of President Bush that everything they say and do is said and done in bad faith. Like Jack Murtha, they have lost any ability to distinguish truth from fiction, and any desire to do so.

Moreover, Hinderarker's rant obscures the reality of what the nation was being told during the runup to the war. As John MacArthur detailed in Columbia Journalism Review, the administration began trying to convince the public that Saddam was on the verge of obtaining a nuclear device, and steadily impled that he may well have already done so, as early as September 7, 2002:
It was then that the White House propaganda drive began in earnest, with the appearance before television cameras of George Bush and Tony Blair at Camp David. Between them, the two politicians cited a "new" report from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency that allegedly stated that Iraq was "six months away" from building a nuclear weapon. "I don't know what more evidence we need," declared the president.

For public relations purposes, it hardly mattered that no such IAEA report existed, because almost no one in the media bothered to check out the story. (In the twenty-first paragraph of her story on the press conference, The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung did quote an IAEA spokesman saying, in DeYoung's words, "that the agency has issued no new report," but she didn't confront the White House with this terribly interesting fact.)

But the next day, more "evidence" suddenly appeared, on the front page of the Sunday New York Times. In a disgraceful piece of stenography, Michael Gordon and Judith Miller inflated an administration leak into something resembling imminent Armageddon: "More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today."

The key to this A-bomb program was the attempted purchase of "specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium." Mysteriously, none of those tubes had reached Iraq, but "American officials" wouldn't say why, "citing the sensitivity of the intelligence."

The nuclear-weapons claims reached a feverish level in Bush's Oct. 7, 2002, speech pitching the preparations for war, in which he warned of the threat of a "mushroom cloud" over America:
If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year. And if we allow that to happen, a terrible line would be crossed.

Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

To heighten the nuclear fearmongering, the White House even began promoting a forgery regarding a supposed deal Saddam had made with Niger to obtain the uranium:
Bush cited the uranium deal, along with the aluminum tubes, in his State of the Union Message, on January 28th, while crediting Britain as the source of the information: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." He commented, "Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide."

The clear implication of the claim was that Iraq had in fact finally obtained the means to build a nuke, and probably had done so. Indeed, while the administration danced around the question, it consistently implied that Saddam obtaining a nuke was a fait accompli. Cheney's remark was made within this context, and went uncorrected until after the invasion. Pretending that this was anything other than a "carefully crafted falsehood" is simply disingenuous.

And when Joseph Wilson, with a long record as a nonpartisan diplomat who had served both Republican and Democratic administrations with honor and skill, stepped forward to point out that the claim of a Niger uranium deal was a hoax, the administration chose to maintain its bubble by attacking him personally. He wasn't someone with credibility making a substantive charge: he was a Bush hater who had been pushed into the role as a bit of nepotism by his CIA-operative wife. Oh, oops! Did we just blow her cover?

So much for national security. Yet to listen to Bush defenders like Goldstein and Hinderaker, it was people like Wilson who were really responsible for the administration's failures in Iraq.

So it has always been with this crowd.

Paul O'Neill? Oh, he's just trying to sell a book. Nevermind that his description of Bush as incurious and insular, not to mention incompetent, played out before the nation during the Katrina disaster.

Richard Clarke? Just an embittered loser with an agenda (and a book to sell too!). Nevermind that his concern that the Iraq invasion would be a disastrous diversion from the serious pursuit of a real "war on terrorism" is proving all the more accurate every day.

Brent Scowcroft? Please. He just lives in a pre-9/11 world still.

Bruce Bartlett? Just another disgruntled ex-employee.

Nevermind that all these "Bush haters" are people who have long histories of distinguished service under Republican adminstrations, people who have real credibility on the subjects they're addressing. And all people dismissed with yet another wave of the ad hominem wand.

Perhaps, when considering whether Bush's critics "objectively hurt the war effort," it's useful to run a simple test of logic. Namely, tell us which has hurt us more:
-- An administration that ignored serious and well-founded concerns about the legitimacy of the invasion and the planning for postwar reconstruction, as well as an exit strategy, and proceeded to commit our troops to what has proven an inextricable disaster, worsened by its own outrageous incompetence.

-- The critics who raised all those concerns in the first place.

Logic, however, is incapable of puncturing an ideological bubble like this, because its structure resists it: Even good logic can be ignored because anyone proferring it is by definition a Bush hater, a Bad Person with Bad Motives.

The reality, of course, is that the motives of the critic do not delegitimize his criticism. Moreover, it's clear that the motives of many of his critics originate not with "hatred" of Bush but at well-founded opposition to his policies.

Conservatives, in order to maintain the bubble, have even begun constructing an agenda predicated on the mythology that there is no legitimacy to liberal or centrist criticism of Bush because it is constituted solely of "unhinged" Bush hatred -- even if the actual evidence for this charge is scant. So, of course, they drum up outlier incidents like the Colorado high-school teacher who ranted a lot of anti-Bush nonsense before his classroom, as though it represented the mainstream of opposition to the Bush agenda.

Perhaps even more ominously, the "Bush hater" dismissals are coming with a lot of expressions of elimination talk, suggesting that the people who are now being blamed for the dismal failure in Iraq need to "dealt with." This isn't relegated just to the fringes and radio ranters, but is even coming from leading elected Republicans.

Consider, for instance, what Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham recently told Attorney General Alberto Gonzales during the latter's Senate testimony regarding the NSA surveillance program:
During the time of war, the administration has the inherent power, in my opinion, to surveil the enemy and to map the battlefield electronically - not just physical, but to electronically map what the enemy is up to by seizing information and putting that puzzle together. And the administration has not only the right, but the duty, in my opinion, to pursue fifth column movements. And let me tell folks who are watching what a fifth column movement is. It is a movement known to every war where American citizens will sympathize with the enemy and collaborate with the enemy. And it's happened in every war.

It would not be much of a step, judging from what we are now reading from the Bush defenders, to conclude that Bush's left-wing critics comprise just such a "Fifth Column." After all, the underlying logic of the meme is that criticism of Bush has been motivated purely by a desire to harm Bush which ignores the consequent harm to the nation. If they're harming us, well, what's the harm of a little surveillance? Or, for that matter, a few mass roundups?

The conservative bubble is a problem not just because it produces a pathological brand of politics. It also dehumanizes the people living inside it, because everyone outside of it becomes, if not the enemy, then at least expendable.

But like all such bubbles, it is also doomed to founder on the sharp rocks of reality. The question is whether the rest of us will be spared the shock of the explosion.

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Have you ever been convicted of a felony?

By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Have you ever been convicted of a felony?

That question is asked throughout our lives.

By people who are interviewing us for a job.

By courts seeking jurors.

By Little League officials screening coaches.

For background checks of all kinds.

People want to know.

If you have been convicted of a felony, then it says something bad about you.

And if you have been convicted of a felony, then people generally don't want anything to do with you.

So, our advice -- don't get convicted of a felony.

But let's say we had a system where you could commit a felony, and not be convicted of a felony.

Let's say you rob a bank, and get caught robbing the bank.

And the prosecutor says to you -- okay, we can do this two ways.

You can plead guilty to the crime. And be sentenced to prison. And you would have been convicted of a felony.

And that felony will follow you the rest of your life.

Or you can just agree to go to prison, and agree to pay a fine -- and we won't convict you of the felony.

So, when you get out of prison, there won't be that black mark on your record.

And when you are asked throughout your life -- have you ever been convicted of a felony? -- you can tell the truth and say -- no.

The prosecutor gets everything the prosecutor could get with a conviction -- restitution, prison, a fine.

Except for the conviction.

Prosecutors would never accept such a system for human being criminals.

Because prosecutors believe they represent the public.

And in cases of serious crimes, they must defend the public's right to get justice.

And justice demands not only punishment but deterrence.

And deterrence demands of us that we remember for our entire lives that rules exist for a reason.

Society says, if you commit a serious crime, the conviction will follow you your whole life.

Those are the rules for human beings who commit serious crimes.

For corporate criminals, the rules have changed, in just the past couple of years.

The change is this -- a major U.S. corporation that commits a felony no longer has to plead guilty to a felony.

Instead, federal prosecutors will offer -- and the corporation will accept -- a deferred prosecution or non prosecution agreement.

And it is difficult to find a prosecutor, defense attorney, academic or politician who is not supportive of this trend.

They argue this -- a prosecutor gets everything they could get from a criminal prosecution -- fines, restitution, changing in corporate structure, cooperation against the guilty individuals -- except for the conviction.

And a conviction would threaten innocent third parties -- workers and investors. See Arthur Andersen.

So, with deferred and non prosecution agreements, you get the best of both worlds -- change within the corporation, fines paid to the government, restitution to the victim -- and few if any collateral consequences against innocent third parties.

This sea change has largely gone unnoticed in the mainstream media.

It used to be that a corporation caught committing a serious crime would be convicted of committing a serious crime.

No longer.

Under the new system, outside of a few antitrust and environmental crimes, it is highly unlikely that a major corporate criminal will be convicted of a crime in the United States.

Corporations too do not like to answer "yes" to the question -- have you ever been convicted of a felony?

They could be barred from government contracts, from the various markets. Consumers, investors and workers may shun them.

Had corporations introduced legislation in Congress to repeal corporate criminal liability, there would have been an uproar in the press.

But they have effectively repealed corporate criminal liability for big business -- through prosecutorial discretion. It is unclear what the effects of this effective repeal will be.

But to those who defend the trend, they must answer this question -- why the double standard?

Why not offer deferred prosecution and non prosecution deals to all major individual felons -- drug pushers, money launderers and muggers alike?

After all, you get all of the benefits of a criminal prosecution, without the collateral consequences.

Prison, fines, restitution.

It's just that, when you go to answer -- have you ever been convicted of a felony? -- then all of us -- individuals and corporations alike -- will be able to answer "no" with a clear conscience.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, . Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, . Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

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US envoy to Iraq: 'We have opened the Pandora's box'

Julian Borger in Washington and Ewen MacAskill
Wednesday March 8, 2006
The Guardian

The US ambassador to Baghdad conceded yesterday that the Iraq invasion had opened a Pandora's box of sectarian conflicts which could lead to a regional war and the rise of religious extremists who "would make Taliban Afghanistan look like child's play".

Zalmay Khalilzad broke with the Bush administration's generally upbeat orthodoxy to present a stark profile of a volatile situation in danger of sliding into chaos.
Mr Khalilzad told the Los Angeles Times Iraq had been pulled back from the brink of civil war after the February 22 bombing of a Shia shrine in Samarra. However, another similar incident would leave Iraq "really vulnerable" to that happening, he said. "We have opened the Pandora's box and the question is, what is the way forward?" He added that the best approach was to build bridges between religious and ethnic communities.

An opinion poll published by the Washington Post and ABC News yesterday suggested that most Americans agreed with Mr Khalilzad - with 80% saying civil war in Iraq was likely, and more than a third that it was very likely. More than half thought the US should start withdrawing its troops, although only one in six wanted all troops to be withdrawn immediately.

Hours after Mr Khalilzad made his remarks, the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld accused Iran of dispatching elements of its Revolutionary Guard to stir trouble inside Iraq. Mr Rumsfeld said: "They are currently putting people into Iraq to do things that are harmful to the future of Iraq and we know it. And it is something that they, I think, will look back on as having been an error in judgment." Mr Khalilzad's intervention comes in a week when the two top US generals in Iraq, John Abizaid and George Casey, are in Washington talking to the Pentagon and the White House about how many troops they will need to maintain stability in Iraq. With his remarks, Mr Khalilzad may have been lobbying Washington to keep as many American soldiers there as possible. The Bush administration is anxious to reduce the US military presence for political and military reasons.

Mr Rumsfeld said sectarian violence had been exaggerated by the media. When asked how that squared with Mr Khalilzad's view, he replied: "Well, he's there. He's an expert. And he said what he said. I happen to have not read it, but I am not going to try to disagree with it."

Nevertheless, it was clear yesterday that the Pentagon was anxious to limit the impact of Mr Khalilzad's remarks. "If you take it from a year ago to now, month to month, the attacks now are down compared to last year," said General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

Mr Khalilzad suggested the situation was so dangerous that without a substantial US presence, a civil war could suck in other Arab countries on the side of the Sunnis and Iran on the side of the Shias, creating conditions for a regional conflict and disrupting global oil supplies. "That would make Taliban Afghanistan look like child's play," he said.

Last night Dick Cheney, the US vice-president, stepped up pressure on Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Mr Cheney told a meeting of the Israeli lobby group, Aipac, "We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon." Mr Rumsfeld said there were 132,000 US troops in Iraq. Plans were in place to shrink the presence to about 100,000. Downing Street said yesterday no "strict timetable" had been laid down for British troops to withdraw. A Foreign Office spokesman said: "I do not think we would be quite as gloomy as Pandora's box and civil war." But if there were further big sectarian attacks, things could get very difficult, he said.

Violence continued yesterday, with 16 killed and no sign of a coalition government being formed. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Iraqi prime minister and compromise candidate of the Shia parties, said he would not be blackmailed into quitting.

A new video has been broadcast showing kidnapped British peace activist Norman Kember, 74, and two Canadian colleagues. The fourth, an American, was not shown. Bruce Kent, a friend of Mr Kember's, said: "My hopes have gone up considerably. I am very pleased that there is a picture of him only a week ago."

Comment: If things are bad in Iraq, it's Iran's fault!

The psychopath always blames the victim.

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US envoy delivers blunt view of Iraq's future

From Rupert Cornwell in Washington
The Independent
08 March 2006

America's ambassador in Baghdad has grimly acknowledged that the US invasion of Iraq three years ago had opened a "Pandora's box" that could see the country descend into full-scale civil war.

That point had not yet been reached, Zalmay Khalilzad, the envoy, told the Los Angeles Times yesterday. But "the potential is there." All it might take, he warned, was an incident similar to last month's bombing of the Shi'ite Muslim shrine in Samarra, that unleashed a wave of sectarian killings.
"Right now there's a vacuum of authority, and there's a lot of distrust," said Mr Khalilzad. He insisted that the only way forward was to continue efforts to form a government of national unity. In the meantime there was no option but for the US to keep its troops in Iraq.

The alternative was to risk the country falling apart, with rival religious extremists taking over portions of it. This in turn could bring about massive disruptions of energy supplies, as conflict engulfed the region, with Arab states backing the Sunnis and Iran throwing its weight behind the Shi'ites.

Mr Khalilzad's blunt words contrast with the efforts of the Bush administration to soothe anxieties here, and convince an ever more sceptical domestic audience that its policies are working. Only last weekend General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff was insisting that things were going "very, very well" in Iraq.

But Americans do not seem to agree. According to a new ABC/Washington Post poll, 80 per cent now believe that civil war is likely in Iraq, and almost six out of ten however said the war was not worth fighting. The sole consolation for President Bush is that Democrats are considered equally bereft of solutions to the crisis.

Mr Khalilzad's remarks were doubly striking - both for their source, and for the choice of words. Despite the continuing lack of agreement on a broad-based government, he is widely regarded as the most effective US representative so far in Baghdad, with a much deeper understanding of the country than his predecessors.

The words "Pandora's Box" also raise uncomfortable memories for US policymakers. Before the war King Abdullah of Jordan - perhaps Washington's best friend in the region - used that phrase to counsel in vain against a US attack. So too, in September 2004, did President Jacques Chirac of France, a fierce and still not entirely forgiven critic of the invasion.

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U.S. faces latest trouble with Iraqi forces: Loyalty

By Edward Wong The New York Times

BAGHDAD For much of the war in Iraq, U.S. military commanders have said their most important mission here was to prepare Iraqi security forces to take over the fight against the Sunni- led insurgency. But with the threat of full-scale sectarian strife looming larger, they are suddenly grappling with the possibility that they have been arming one side in a prospective civil war.
Now, they are making it a central goal to weed out ethnic or religious loyalties from the Iraqi forces, particularly in the police, which is controlled at the highest levels by Iranian-backed religious Shiite parties. Militiamen loyal to conservative clerics have flooded the police ranks in Baghdad and the south, and reports of uniformed death squads have risen sharply in the past year.

The U.S. military risks alienating religious Shiite leaders with its efforts, but could win some favor among recalcitrant Sunni Arabs, further drawing them into the political process. It is trying an array of possible solutions, including affirmative action programs for Sunni Arabs in police academies, firing Shiite police commanders who appear to tolerate militias and deploying 200 training teams composed of Americans who had been police officers or military policemen to Iraqi police stations around the country, even in remote and risky locations.

For example, U.S. commanders say they have ensured that a new academy class of 1,200 paramilitary recruits is virtually all Sunni, to shift from Shiite dominance. Recently, U.S. advisers in Baghdad had a Sunni replace a Shiite paramilitary commander who appeared to tolerate Shiite militiamen. The new commander purged the ranks. Now, Shiite officers in that unit no longer openly display stickers of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical cleric, on their guns or cars, the U.S. advisers say.

Several of the initiatives, like the overhauling of the sectarian makeup of some academy classes, have been going on for months but are now being done on a larger scale. Others, such as the deployment of the new police training teams, are just getting started on any significant level.

There is no quick fix, senior military officials acknowledge: Besides resistance from Shiite politicians, cleansing the police forces could take years because sectarian loyalties have become so entrenched and because police officers are rooted in their communities.

The police came under harsh criticism during the violence following the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra on Feb. 22. In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, as mobs led by Shiite militiamen attacked dozens of Sunni mosques and left hundreds dead, many police units stood aside out of confusion or sectarian loyalties, according to Iraqi witnesses. Iraqi security forces asserted their presence only after clerics called for calm.

General George Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Friday that police officers allowed militiamen through checkpoints in eastern Baghdad, where much of the violence occurred.

The Iraqi Army poses less of a problem than the police, because the U.S. military has direct operational control over it and because the Americans took more care in building it up.

The military's efforts to revamp the police are taking place alongside a strong push by the U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, to get Iraqi politicians who are forming the new government to appoint a nonsectarian figure as head of the Interior Ministry, which controls the police.

"When you're forming a government, you can't form it with any kind of sectarian element," said Major General J.D. Thurman, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, charged with controlling Baghdad. "That's got to be put aside, particularly with military forces."

Officials at the most powerful Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or Sciri, which oversees the Interior Ministry, have sharply lashed out at the Americans, arguing that the majority Shiites have the right to control security because Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated government used security forces to abduct, torture and kill Shiites on a mass scale.

"The Shiites were beheaded by the security forces before and we are not ready to be beheaded again," said Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization, Sciri's militia trained in Iran. "We can relinquish any part of the government except for the security forces."

The attempts to erase sectarianism dovetail with a broader U.S. initiative to strengthen police training by diverting more resources from mentoring the Iraqi Army. The military hopes to have 200,000 Iraqi police officers in place by early next year. The development of the police is in some ways more crucial than that of the army, because the Americans want the police to handle all security inside Iraq.

The units believed to be most plagued by militia recruitment and sectarian loyalties are the police paramilitary forces, which have a total of 17,500 fighters, the U.S. military says. The regular blue-uniformed police force numbers 89,000. But there are serious doubts about whether anyone has an accurate overall tally.

The paramilitary forces are divided three ways: the commandos, the public- order brigades and a mechanized brigade that will soon be shifted to the army.

The Interior Ministry is accused of sponsoring death squads in police or paramilitary uniforms. Khalilzad has been outspoken in his criticism of the interior minister, Bayan Jabr, and hinted last month that the Americans may withhold financing if sectarianism continues to dominate the security forces.

U.S. commanders say recent scrutiny of the public-order brigades, which were expanded after Sciri took control of the Interior Ministry in early 2005 and whose 7,700 members do light infantry duty, showed that virtually all the members were Shiites.

"When we stood them up, we didn't ask, 'Are you Sunni or are you Shia?'" Major General Joseph Peterson, the U.S. officer overseeing police training, said in an interview at a base in Taji, as he was visiting incoming soldiers assigned to advise the Iraqi police. "They ended up being 99 percent Shia. Now, when we look at that, we say, 'They do not reflect the population of Iraq.'"

No accurate census of Iraq exists, but the country is believed to be about 60 percent Shiite Arab, 20 percent Sunni Arab and 20 percent Kurdish (most Kurds are Sunni). The Americans have pushed the Interior Ministry to diversify the forces. All recruits in the public- order brigades have to go through a six- or seven-week training course, with 1,200 in each class. The Americans ensured that the last three classes enrolled greater numbers of Sunni Arabs: The first of those was 42 percent Sunni Arab, the second 92 percent Sunni and the third, which is just starting, is virtually all Sunni, Peterson said.

U.S. officers say that when they try to talk to Iraqi commanders about the religious or ethnic breakdown of the forces, the commanders tend to shy away from those conversations, as most Iraqis do, saying they prefer to think of themselves as one people rather than in terms of sect.

Colonel Gordon Davis, the top adviser to the public order brigades, said the senior commander of that force, a Shiite Arab from the old Iraqi Army, addresses the issue only with much reluctance. "'You shouldn't be talking like this,' he tells us," the colonel said in an interview at the Iraqi command base in Kadhimiya, a Baghdad neighborhood.

Davis said his advisers have no qualms about removing Iraqi commanders if it becomes evident they have sectarian loyalties.

For much of last year, the 2nd Public Order Brigade had a particularly bad reputation. It was accused by many Iraqis, especially Sunni Arabs, of torture and illegal killings. Its ranks were filled with men recruited from eastern Baghdad who were loyal to Sadr, the firebrand Shiite cleric who has led two rebellions against the Americans.

The head of the brigade was the former police chief of Nasiriya, a southern city under the sway of hard-line Shiite parties, and was "rumored to tolerate" militias, Davis said. The Americans replaced him with a Sunni Arab commander in December, who then fired 160 people below him, presumably because he suspected those men of ties to militias, the colonel said.

Davis said that having the Sunni Arab in charge proved helpful during the militia-driven violence the day of the shrine bombing. The brigade was dispatched to guard Sunni mosques around Baghdad. While the Sunni commander spoke to Sunni imams to calm them, his Shiite officers tried to placate the raging Shiite mobs.

Matthew Sherman, a former Interior Ministry adviser, though, said the commandos also have significant numbers of Shiites loyal to Sciri. Major General Adnan Thabit, a Sunni Arab, is head of the commandos in name only, he said, having ceded control to Shiite partisans. "They've just taken a more kind of political bent over the past 10 months or so," Sherman said.

David S. Cloud contributed reporting from Washington.

Comment: Well! That must come as a real shock to the American, Israeli and British governments. After all, civil war in Iraq was the LAST thing they wanted, wasn't it? I guess it just a matter of bad luck, eh?

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8,000 desert during Iraq war

By Bill Nichols, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - At least 8,000 members of the all-volunteer U.S. military have deserted since the Iraq war began, Pentagon records show, although the overall desertion rate has plunged since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Since fall 2003, 4,387 Army soldiers, 3,454 Navy sailors and 82 Air Force personnel have deserted. The Marine Corps does not track the number of desertions each year but listed 1,455 Marines in desertion status last September, the end of fiscal 2005, says Capt. Jay Delarosa, a Marine Corps spokesman.

Desertion records are kept by fiscal year, so there are no figures from the beginning of the war in March 2003 until that fall.

Some lawyers who represent deserters say the war in Iraq is driving more soldiers to question their service and that the Pentagon is cracking down on deserters.

"The last thing they want is for people to think ... that this is like Vietnam," says Tod Ensign, head of Citizen Soldier, an anti-war group that offers legal aid to deserters. (Related story: Marines hunt Vietnam-era deserters)

Desertion numbers have dropped since 9/11. The Army, Navy and Air Force reported 7,978 desertions in 2001, compared with 3,456 in 2005. The Marine Corps showed 1,603 Marines in desertion status in 2001. That had declined by 148 in 2005.

The desertion rate was much higher during the Vietnam era. The Army saw a high of 33,094 deserters in 1971 - 3.4% of the Army force. But there was a draft and the active-duty force was 2.7 million.

Desertions in 2005 represent 0.24% of the 1.4 million U.S. forces.

Opposition to the war prompts a small fraction of desertions, says Army spokeswoman Maj. Elizabeth Robbins. "People always desert, and most do it because they don't adapt well to the military," she says. The vast majority of desertions happen inside the USA, Robbins says. There is only one known case of desertion in Iraq.

Most deserters return within months, without coercion. Commander Randy Lescault, spokesman for the Naval Personnel Command, says that between 2001 and 2005, 58% of Navy deserters walked back in. Of the rest, the most are apprehended during traffic stops. Penalties range from other-than-honorable discharges to death for desertion during wartime. Few are court-martialed.

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Another Iraq story gets debunked

By Dave Zweifel

03/06/06 "Capital Times" -- -- In November 2001, just two months after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, two high-profile U.S. journalists Chris Hedges of the New York Times and Christopher Buchanan of PBS' "Frontline" were ushered to a meeting in a Beirut hotel with a man identified as Jamal al-Ghurairy, an Iraqi lieutenant general who had fled Saddam Hussein.

The high-ranking Iraqi military officer claimed he had witnessed terrorist training camps in Iraq where Islamic militants learned how to hijack airplanes. About 40 foreign nationals were based there at any given time, he said.

"We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States," he told the journalists at the meeting arranged by the Iraqi National Congress.
Reporter Hedges and producer Buchanan found Ghurairy to be very convincing, worried for his life and very insistent that his face couldn't be shown on camera. He was accompanied by a well-organized entourage.

A story appeared a couple of days later on the front page of the Times and then "Frontline" followed with a report on public television. The stories generated numerous editorials and op-ed pieces and, of course, became the topic of the week on cable talk shows.

Now, the liberal investigative magazine Mother Jones has exposed the "general" as a fake.

"The story of Saddam training foreign fighters to hijack airplanes was instrumental in building the case to invade Iraq," a detailed report in the March-April issue says. "But it turns out that the Iraqi general who told the story to the New York Times and 'Frontline' was a complete fake a low-ranking former soldier whom Ahmed Chalabi's aides had coached to deceive the media."

The Mother Jones investigator, Jack Fairweather, was even able to track down a Lt. Gen. Ghurairy in Iraq. He interviewed him in Fallujah and this Ghurairy said he had never left Iraq, nor had he ever spoken to the U.S. journalists.

According to the magazine, the Ghurairy tale was one of 108 stories the Iraqi National Congress and Chalabi, who was exiled from Iraq, planted in the American and British media between October 2001 and May 2002. Chalabi is the figure on whom the Bush administration relied for much of the Iraqi intelligence about weapons of mass destruction and Saddam's supposed connection with the 9/11 terrorists.

After the war started, the Bush neocons had a falling out with Chalabi, discovering that much of the information he had provided was fabricated. They also accused him of spying on the U.S. for neighboring Iran. He has had a resurgence in Iraq, though, and is now the deputy prime minister in the new U.S.-sponsored government and apparently back in favor with the Bush people.

He obviously had a major role in helping sell the war to the American people. Thanks to the deceptions, which a compliant American press didn't uncover, some 69 percent of the American public believed that Saddam had a role in the 9/11 attacks.

Just how hookwinked Americans were is underscored by this Mother Jones expose.

Dave Zweifel is editor of The Capital Times. E-mail: dzweifel@madison.com

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Sowing the Seeds of Delusion

by Karen De Coste

It's the same sappy, frolicsome folktale – over and over. Soldier gets sent off to fight the Empire's war. Soldier gets his limbs blown off. Soldier, however, feels he did the righteous thing – he fought for freedom! Soldier has a great attitude. Soldier is legless but happy. So it's all okay! The CNN interviewer is happy. We all should be happy. Or so we are all told by the dullard media heads.
Only this ending has a slight twist. Soldier, we are told, can't wait to get his prosthetic legs so that he can go jogging with our divine president Bush. Ahh yes, who ever thought that life could be so cheery as a result of losing one's limbs?

As I listened to this feature, on Communist Network News, I couldn't believe the carefree and upbeat nature of this presentation. Accordingly, this is perhaps the worst, most devious, most offensive kind of war propaganda: that no matter how calamitous the consequences of a murderous war, we must look on the "bright side" via the unfurling of sprightly animations. Please, dear media, do give us another gleeful feature story that reminds us how meritorious all the killing and limb shedding really is.

The story – as I listened to it over my satellite radio – came upon me like an ad blitz, and in a moment of coincidence, too. I had just popped on my XM receiver, in a parking lot, after having left a hospital in downtown Detroit. The two hours spent there were to guide my brother toward the Mother of All Decisions: to endure yet another dangerous, tormenting surgery (with less than a 30% chance of success) to save the leg, or, bring on the inevitable amputation. Somehow, that moment did not take on the attributes of a breezy, Disney-like feature story as do the innumerable instances of war mutilations. Thus I consider my brother to be an absentee from the "Amputees for Bush" club.

Yes, I shall regain my senses and come to Believe. Oh to be twenty-something, and looking forward to prosthetics made necessary by the pursuit of a democratic cause in the role of cannon fodder! After all, Hiroshima and Nagasaki "ended the war," and thus made us all very safe and happy. Those damn Japanese, like the damn Ay-rabs, are so damn immaterial anyway.

The State has perpetually enabled its concubine media to pump up the propaganda well for the furtherance of its own cause célèbre, and why not? The general masses – otherwise engaged in nighttime sitcom snigger, video things-go-boom, and unremitting mall-hopping – have provided a fertile ground for sowing the seeds of a cerebral takeover by the US Politburo.

Propaganda is, and always has been, a tool of totalitarian regimes. The ultimate goal of propaganda is the mindless obedience of human herds through the acceptance of State values, and thus affirmation of the Politburo ideology. Nazi killer Joseph Goebbels called State propaganda "background music to government policy." Goebbels, at Nuremberg in 1934, uttered the following:

Each situation brings new challenges. And each task requires the support of the people, which can only be gained by untiring propaganda that brings the broad masses knowledge and clarity. No area of public life can do without it. It is the never resting force behind public opinion. It must maintain an unbroken relationship between leadership and people. Every means of technology must be put in its service; the goal is to form the mass will and to give it meaning, purpose, and goals that will enable us to learn from past failures and mistakes and ensure that the lead National Socialist strength has given us over other nations will never again be lost.

May the bright flame of our enthusiasm never fade. It alone gives light and warmth to the creative art of modern political propaganda. Its roots are in the people. The movement gives it direction and drive. The state can only provide it with the new, wide-ranging technical means. Only a living relationship between people, movement, and state can guarantee that the creative art of propaganda, of which we have made ourselves the world's master, will never sink into bureaucracy and bureaucratic narrow-mindedness.

Creative people made propaganda and put it in the service of our movement. We must have creative people who can use the means of the state in its service.

While the media is at times "creative," more accurately, the soldiers of agitprop are sales agents for demagogy and herders of mice. The mice that make up the masses oftentimes lack the traits of self-examination and adequate literacy. Thus the catchpenny phrases, 15-second sound bites, and 2-minute highlights are carefully crafted in order to move the masses, at once, toward a chosen frame of reference. Accordingly, dissonance emerges, and all the little mice accommodate popular credo in order to reduce and mobilize conflict. It all seems so darn easy.

Ancient civilizations, such as Rome and the city-states of Greece, encouraged persuasion through learned debate and argumentation. Plato, Aristotle, the Sophists, and Cicero certainly differed in terms of their thoughts on the usefulness and role of persuasion. However, decision by persuasion, in those times, was of a different sort: more often than not it involved the rigorous use of enlightened techniques as opposed to shoddy sloganeering to fulfill instant psychological needs.

Modern media pop psychology has emerged as a herding technique of men over mice. The propaganda of soft-and-fuzzy war mutilation stories is a means to an end, the end of which is the stiffening of resolve in the face of an unjust and immoral war. Hence do the atrocities of war receive a warm spin. Those in the public hear these stories and they come to believe that if the soldier himself can find purpose in death or devastation, then they too must give in to popular song, and oblige the media masters in their quest for obedience to Leviathan.

Like the Creel Commission forcing German-Americans to kiss American flags, so does the State administrate and regulate every aspect of media – from airwaves to profanity to advertising – and thus force its minions into compliance, and eventually, loyalty. This routine kissing of the flag insures that the vanguard of the people – the Politburo – never goes without its fox in the peoples' henhouse.

And so it goes. If propaganda is background music to government policy, then war has the composer shedding traditional tonal harmony to play the banjo behind the barn at the square dance. And the mice are indeed dancing.

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Khalilzad meets al-Hakim

Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Juan Cole
Informed Comment

Reuters reports several bombs and attacks in Baghdad, as well as in Baqubah, Khalis, Kirkuk and elsewhere, leaving over a dozen dead. Significant items include the assassination of 3 members of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Militia in Baqubah; the blowing up of a Sunni shrine in Tikrit; and a mortar attack on the offices in Baghdad of the National Dialogue Council (Sunni Arab neo-Baathists). [NDC leader Salih Mutlak said last summer that you couldn't find a better party for Iraq than the Baath).
US ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad met Tuesday with the Shiite clerical leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim to discuss ways of defusing the current crisis.

Al-Hayat reports [Ar.] that leaders of the Sadr Movement met with President Jalal Talabani and other Kurdish leaders in an attempt to resolve the current crisis over the formation of a new government. Fadil al-Shara` suggested that the Kurds accept Ibrahim Jaafari as prime minister "as long as he is monitored by parliament and by the Sadr bloc."

Faraj al-Haydari of the Kurdistan Democratic Party said that the Kurdistan
Alliance position, that Jaafari must go, has not changed.

ABC News quotes retired Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, a former military commander in Bosnia-Herzegovina, on how Iraq is already in a low-intensity civil war, and how Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's continued state of denial about this is putting the US in danger:

' "We're in a civil war now; it's just that not everybody's joined in," said retired Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, a former military commander in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "The failure to understand that the civil war is already taking place, just not necessarily at the maximum level, means that our counter measures are inadequate and therefore dangerous to our long-term interest.

"It's our failure to understand reality that has caused us to be late throughout this experience of the last three years in Iraq," added Nash, who is an ABC News consultant.

Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told ABC News, "If you talk to U.S. intelligence officers and military people privately, they'd say we've been involved in low level civil war with very slowly increasing intensity since the transfer of power in June 2004."

Ayhan Simsek surveys the whole range of Turkey's concerns in Iraq. They not only include worries that Kurdistan might become independent and draw in Turkish Kurds but also fear of Iranian political Islam having an impact on Turkey itself. Turks who hold this view see Iraq as a buffer between Iran and Iraq, and fear that the buffer is breaking down.

Kofi Annan says that two things are keeping back an expansion of UN activities in Iraq: no nation will transport UN workers inside Iraq by plane, and the general violence that plagues the country. All I can say is that this is pretty pitiful.

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Eighteen bodies found in Iraq bus

Wednesday, 8 March 2006, 13:06 GMT

The bodies of 18 men who had been shot or strangled have been found in a minibus in western Baghdad, police and officials say.
A security patrol reportedly found the abandoned bus on the road between the Amiriyah and Khadra districts.

The men were found bound and blindfolded, officials said.

Iraq has suffered a rise in sectarian attacks since the bombing of a key Shia shrine in Samarra on 22 February but it is not known if this was the cause.

However, the dumping of bodies apparently executed has previously been a sign of the violence between minority Sunni Arab and majority Shia groups.

Amiriyah is a troubled suburb in west Baghdad mainly populated by Sunni Arabs.

Civil war fears

Police said the bodies had no identification papers on them. But some reports said two of the men looked like foreign Arabs.

Sources at Yarmouk Hospital told the Associated Press news agency the deaths appeared recent and that two of the victims had been shot while the others were strangled.

The men were dressed in civilian clothes and ranged from young to middle-aged.

In other violence on Wednesday:

* Two policemen are killed and five people hurt in a roadside bombing in central Baghdad

* Another roadside bomb targets a convoy of Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr in central Baghdad, killing two people, police and ministry sources say. The minister is not present

* At least two people are killed in a car bomb attack in the western town of Falluja, police say

* The US military says one of its soldiers was killed and four others wounded on Tuesday by a roadside bomb as their patrol passed in Tal Afar, north-west of Mosul.

The bombing of the shrine at Samarra and subsequent reprisals, in which more than 400 people have died, have sparked fears of civil war.

US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said on Tuesday the country remained vulnerable to insurgents' attempts to exploit the political uncertainty caused by the bombing.

"There is a concerted effort to provoke civil war," he said.

Mr Khalilzad told the Los Angeles Times the US-led invasion in 2003 had opened "the Pandora's box" of tensions in Iraq.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he did not believe a civil war was going on in Iraq, although admitted that such danger remained.

Iraq's parliament is set to sit on Sunday for the first time since the December elections.

But wrangling between Shia, Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties, particularly over the choice by the Shia-led bloc of Ibrahim Jaafari as prime minister, has cast doubt on the formation of any government of national unity.

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Weaponizing the Shark and Other Pentagon Dreams

By Tom Engelhardt

We already have "stealth" aircraft, but what about a little of the stealth that only nature can provide?

Navy Seals, move over -- here come the Navy sharks. According to the latest New Scientist magazine, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA, the blue-sky wing of the Pentagon, has set yet another group of American scientists loose to create the basis for future red-in-tooth-and-maw Discovery Channel programs. In this case, they are planning to put neural implants into the brains of sharks in hopes, one day, of "controlling the animal's movements, and perhaps even decoding what it is feeling." In their dreams at least, DARPA'S far-out funders hope to "exploit sharks' natural ability to glide quietly through the water, sense delicate electrical gradients and follow chemical trails. By remotely guiding the sharks' movements, they hope to transform the animals into stealth spies, perhaps capable of following vessels without being spotted."
So far they've only made it to the poor dogfish, "steered" in captivity via electrodes keyed to "phantom odors." As it happens though, DARPA-sponsored plans are a good deal lustier than that: Next stop, the blue shark, which reaches a length of 13 feet. Project engineer Walter Gomes of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island claims a team will soon be putting neural implants "into blue sharks and releas[ing] them into the ocean off the coast of Florida." To transmit signals to the sharks, the team will need nothing less than a network of signaling towers in the area. This has "anti-ballistic shark system" written all over it.

Actually, it's not the first time the military has invested in shark technology. As Noah Shachtman of DefenseTech.org pointed out last July, "The Navy has tapped three firms to build prototype gadgets that duplicate what sharks do naturally: find prey from the electric fields they emit." One of them, Advanced Ceramics Research, Inc., limned the project's potential benefits this way: "If developed, such a capability might allow for the detection of small, hostile submarines entering a seawater inlet, harbor or channel, or allow objects such as mines to be pinpointed in shallow waters where sonar imaging is severely compromised." And then there's that ultimate underwater dream, the Microfabricated Biomimetic Artificial Gill System, that could lead to all sorts of Navy breakthroughs, perhaps even -- if you'll excuse a tad of blue-skying on my part -- blue shark/human tracking teams, or if not that, then lots of late-night-TV Aquaman jokes.

Of course, the Navy has been in nature's waters in a big way for a while with its Marine Mammal Program in San Diego. There, it trains bottlenose dolphins as "sentries" and mine detectors. Such dolphins were "first operationally deployed" in Vietnam in 1971 and a whole Dolphin patrol (like, assumedly, the shark patrol to come) is now on duty in the Khor Abd Allah waterway, Iraq's passageway into the Persian Gulf. To the embarrassment of the Navy, a dolphin named Takoma even went "AWOL" there in 2003, soon after the invasion of Iraq began.

As Nick Turse has pointed out, DARPA funds research into weaponizing creatures that inhabit just about any environmental niche imaginable -- including bees capable of detecting explosives; "eyes" patterned after those of flies that might someday make "smart" weaponry even smarter; gecko wall-climbing and octopi concealment techniques; and electrode-controlled rats capable of searching through piles of rubble. In addition, between nature and whatever the opposite of nurture may be, there's been an ongoing military give-and-take. Consider, for instance, BigDog, highlighted in the same issue of New Scientist. Compared to a pack mule, goat, or horse, this "robotic beast of burden" is being developed by Boston Dynamics to haul over rough terrain at least 40 kilograms of supplies soldiers won't need to carry, while being able to take a "hefty kick" in the legs without crumpling to the ground.

From sharks to robots, from hacking into your nervous system to manipulating the weather, the Pentagon seems determined to exert "full spectrum dominance" especially over that top of the line primate, us. To achieve this, it sponsors blue-sky thinking with a vengeance. Nothing that moves or breathes on the planet, it seems, is conceptually beyond conscription by Uncle Sam into possible future-war scenarios.

This is undoubtedly what happens when you have an administration that considers the Pentagon the answer to all our problems and gives it a $439.3 billion budget to play with -- and that's exclusive of actual war-fighting money (which, for Iraq and Afghanistan, at an estimated $120 billion for the year, will come in supplemental requests to Congress). And remember as well that the fiscal 2007 Pentagon budget does not include the $9.3 billion the Department of Energy will put into nuclear weapons or a host of veterans-care benefits, all of which bring the budget at least close to the $600 billion range. Analyzing the 2006 budget, economist Robert Higgs estimated that all military-related outlays -- that is, the real Pentagon budget -- totaled closer to $840 billion dollars.

Even taken at face value, the 2007 budget accounts for more than half of the $873 billion in federal discretionary spending -- the funds that the President and Congress decide to spend each year. For 2007, education, the second largest discretionary budget item, amounts to just over $50 billion, a piddling sum by comparison. But there is probably no way to put any version of the Pentagon's finances into perspective. Militarily speaking, it throws other military spending on the planet into the deepest shadow. As Frida Berrigan, senior research associate at the World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center and co-author of Weapons at War 2005, points out, "The Pentagon accounts for about half the world's total military expenditures of $1.04 trillion, spending alone what the 32 next most powerful nations spend together."

The United States is also by far the planet's largest exporter of weapons and military hardware. An annual Congressional Research Service report found that, in 2004, global weapons deliveries totaled nearly $37 billion -- with the United States responsible for more than 33% of them, or $12.4 billion, and it hasn't gotten better since.

No other country puts anything like such effort, planning, and dreaming into the idea of projecting planet-spanning military power, caught so grimly in that phrase, "full spectrum dominance." To Pentagon minds this seems to mean: from 20,000 leagues down to 20 miles up (and everything that creeps, crawls, swims, or flies in between). The phrase first gained attention with the release in 2000 of the Air Force's Joint Vision 2020 statement -- a supposed look into a future world of American war-making. It's one of those terms that sticks with you -- and not just because of the full-spectrum weaponry that's now on the drawing boards, ranging from hypervelocity rod bundles meant to penetrate underground bunkers from outer space (ominously nicknamed "rods from god") to the Common Aero Vehicle (CAV), "an unmanned maneuverable spacecraft that [by 2010] would travel at five times the speed of sound and could carry 1,000 pounds of munitions, intelligence sensors or other payloads" anywhere on the planet within two hours, or that permanent base on the moon the Bush administration has called for by 2020 (and the array of Star Wars-style space-based weaponry that would ring it).

Full-spectrum dominance turns out to include even the United States where, in 2002, the Bush administration established the United States Northern Command or Northcom whose website at present has the following from a visit by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul McHale as its reassuring quote of the week: "I'm leaving with a clear sense of confidence in the vision and planning of NORTHCOM to deal with any emerging threat, whether an occurrence of pandemic flu, a 2006 hurricane ... or a terrorist attack still being planned by our adversaries."

While the Pentagon quietly begins to take over tasks that once were delegated to civilian agencies, its blue-sky weapons planning extends into the distant future. Take, for instance, the Air Force Futures Game 05, held for several days last October in the Dulles, Virginia office of consultants Booz Allen Hamilton. The exercise was dedicated to "looking at scenarios for the year 2025," especially one in which a nuclear weapon is loose in a "Middle Eastern country" and a major war is in the offing. Like many other Pentagon war-gaming exercises, this one was largely committed to confirming the usefulness of as yet nonexistent or hardly existent weaponry, especially in the areas of "space access" and "electronic warfare." According to Col. Gail Wojtowicz, Air Force division director of future concepts and transformation, the gamers were "also looking at one of the trickiest issues the Air Force or another service may have to face: what the Pentagon can do on American soil." Indeed.

Military analyst William Arkin wrote about these particular Air Force games, meant to boost "laser, high-powered microwaves, and acoustic weapons," at his Washington Post Early Warning blog. Such blue-sky exercises, he explained, advance new weapons systems (and their corporate sponsors) "along the familiar development path of boosters and patrons feeding information to war gamers who feed study participants who feed researchers who feed manufacturers. At the end of the day, it is hard to tell whether high powered microwaves and laser came into being because someone conceived it out of need or because its existence in the laboratory created the need."

To support letting inventive minds roam free outside normal frameworks is in itself an inspired idea. But I bet there's no DARPA-like agency elsewhere in the government funding the equivalent for education 2025 or health 2025 or even energy independence 2025. To have this happen, I'm afraid, you would have to transform them into Northcom war games.

Now it's true that much blue-skying may never come to be. Those U.S. Navy stealth sharks may not patrol our coasts and a good, swift enemy kick to some unexpected spot on BigDog's anatomy may fell the "creature," if budgetary or high-tech wrinkles don't do the trick first -- just as an unexpected series of low-tech blows to our full-spectrum military has left the Pentagon desperate and the Army unraveling in Iraq.

Wouldn't it be nice, though, if official blue-sky thinking didn't always mean mobilizing finances, scientists, corporations, and even the animal kingdom in the service of global death. Wouldn't it be nice to blue sky just a tad about life?

[Note: Special thanks for Pentagon facts and figures in this piece go to Frida Berrigan of the World Policy Institute's invaluable Arms Trade Resource Center. To keep up with the latest Pentagon full-spectrum dominance projects, be sure to check out Noah Shachtman's entertaining as well as useful DefenseTech website, heavily mined for this piece, and William Arkin's Washington Post Early Warning blog.]

Comment: Bush reportedly remarked to Pentagon officials, "Look, all I'm asking is that we have some frickin' sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads! Is that so hard?!"

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Elite US troops get expanded intelligence role: NYT

Tue Mar 7, 2006 11:04 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Small teams of special operations troops are being placed in a growing number of American embassies in unstable regions of the world to gather intelligence on terrorists, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

In an article on its Web site, the newspaper said the elite troops, known as "Military Liaison Elements," also plan potential missions to "disrupt, capture or kill" the terrorists.
Citing senior Pentagon officials and military officers as sources, the Times said the effort is part of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's "two-year" bid to give the military a greater intelligence role in the war on terrorism.

The paper said, however, that the effort "has drawn opposition from traditional intelligence agencies" like the CIA.

It said that small groups of the special operations personnel have been sent to more than a dozen embassies in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, where terrorists are thought to be operating, planning attacks, raising money or seeking safe haven.

The forces gather information to help plan counterterrorism missions, and help local militaries conduct counterterrorism missions, officials told the Times.

The special operations command reports to Rumsfeld and falls outside the orbit controlled by John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, the newspaper said. The teams may not arrive without the approval of the local ambassador, and the soldiers are based in embassies and are trained to avoid mishaps with local citizens.

The forces include the Army Green Berets and Rangers, the Navy Seals, the Marines and special Air Force crews that carry out the most specialized or secret missions. Their skills range from quick strikes to long-range reconnaissance in hostile territory, military training and medical care, the Times said.

But the creation of these forces "appear to have exacerbated the disorganization, even distrust, that critics in Congress and the academic world have said permeates the government's counterterrorism efforts," the Times said.

Comment: These people are there to foment terrorism, not to stop it.

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Whatever Happened to Courage?

By Charles Sullivan

03/07/06 "ICH" -- - -For me, one of the most valuable lessons taught by history is that from time to time people rise up and fight back against horrible tyranny and against impossible odds. There are many examples: Shay's Rebellion, the battle of Matewan, and the battle of Blair Mountain, the Ludlow Massacre, the Haymarket Strike and, more recently, the race wars that culminated in the 1960s. Many of these struggles, conspicuously absent from our history texts, are connected to labor disputes, when workers were forced to organize and to strike for more humane working conditions, including the eight hour work day. Massive strikes have played a significant role in the economic and social history of the U.S. Thus it is no coincidence that America has the bloodiest labor history of any industrialized nation. How a people react to oppression and injustice says much about what kind of people and, indeed, what kind of nation they are. In those responses is revealed the national character.
Throughout much of our history, so inhumane and utterly deplorable were working conditions that workers frequently had to resort to the strike-a strategy that remains labor's most effective and underutilized tool to this day. In the past, companies routinely hired armed thugs to prevent workers from meeting and organizing unions. Despite the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, workers did not have the legal right to form unions until Roosevelt's 'New Deal.' Belonging to a union could cost you everything. Not belonging to a union assured one's fate as an indentured servant of the company. The notorious Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency has a long history of terrorizing workers on behalf of the company bosses. Intimidation, threats, beatings, lynchings and shootings were commonplace during the industrial revolution. Those who demanded the eight hour work day, better wages and the right to form unions faced grave and palpable danger. Organizers often lived short but intense lives. It required courage to stand up to the company thugs and to fight for justice. Those who did were called reds and communists by their capitalist oppressors.

Even though the workplace remains the site of gross injustice and tyranny, few of us today can image the atmosphere of oppression and intimidation that once prevailed. By the grace of courageous but otherwise ordinary individuals, workers organized themselves against company tyranny; and we gained the eight hour work day, the forty hour work week, the end of child labor, better wages, vacation from work and more humane working conditions. These gains were not given through the benevolence of the company bosses-they were won through enormous self sacrifice, obtained by sweat and blood, and often through armed rebellion.

Reading accounts of American labor history causes me to marvel at the character and courage of those who fought for social and economic justice against incredible odds. Quite literally, those men and women risked their lives for one another, and many brutally oppressed women and men died for the cause of ending industrial slavery. Not only were union organizers menaced by the company goon squads, they were often beaten and killed by the police, and the National Guard. The real form of government a nation has is revealed by which side its law enforcement takes when insurrections around issues of social justice arise. Traditionally, the police and the militia have been called forth to defend the oppressors-the wealthy and the powerful-from the oppressed who demand social justice. Thus, we know beyond all doubt what kind of government we have and who runs it-a practice that continues to this day, as demonstrated in the civil rights marches of the sixties and in contemporary anti-war protests.

The most striking trait exhibited by those who risked their lives for just causes was their unflinching courage in the face of horrible oppression and colossal odds-something that is strikingly absent from the comparatively safe times of the present. What is it about the women and men who fought the Felts Detective Agency, the local police (owned by the company bosses) and the militia that is absent from the comparatively feeble protests of today? Have we as a people become too soft and comfortable? Or is it that the injustice has not yet reached our limits of tolerance? Is it that we believe the propaganda that is fomented in the print media, and over the electromagnetic airwaves that saturate our slumbering minds? Is it that we are willing to look the other way while our government perpetrates crimes against nature and humanity, so long as our material comforts are not threatened? Have we become so narrow and self serving that we no longer care about the welfare of others? Or does America no longer produce people of mettle?

Why do we tolerate the kind of government we now have? Why do we allow it to rape and plunder the earth that provides the sweet gift of life, and divvy up the profits among the rich? Why do we sit by quietly and allow the invasion and occupation of sovereign nations by the armed forces? Why do we allow our government to fleece the poor by providing eternal welfare to the rich? Why do we allow this government to represent the interest of the wealthy by neglecting the needs of the many? Why do we allow those in power to stealthily pilfer our civil rights, our hard won liberties with hardly a whimper of indignation or protest? How do we allow our government to cripple and assassinate democratic governments all over the world and call it democracy? How do we allow those in power to steal our elections without filling the streets with massive and unrelenting protests? How do we allow the practice of extraordinary rendition to occur under our watch? Why do we tolerate the intolerable while keeping a smile on our bright faces? Why do we allow the charade of the neocon agenda to continue and offer little more than token resistance? What does it take to make us angry and indignant to the point of rebellion? I could go on indefinitely.

Our predecessors in the labor and civil rights movements chose to die on their feet rather than live on their knees by bowing down to unjust authority. They would not allow themselves to be intimidated into submission even by armed goon squads under the employ of the company bosses. Not only did they stand on their own two feet, erect like real citizens-they stood for the principles that this country was supposedly founded upon. They fought and died for them. If there are no longer causes worth fighting and dying for, surely life is not worth living. As Dr. King pointed out, this is spiritual death. Are we a nation that is experiencing spiritual death?

Without courage and self sacrifice in the public interest, there can be no justice. The future will be forged by putting our professed beliefs to the test of action. What good is faith that cannot be put into action for the common good? As surely as day follows night, justice follows courage. Let each of us ask ourselves : What are we made of? What, if anything, do we stand for? There are no safe positions of neutrality. Which side are you on? Are we creating the kind of history that will make our great grandchildren proud? Is it the kind of history that will inspire them to be free; or is the kind of history that will assure their servitude to the masters of war?

It is far better to fight and die for just causes, even against impossible odds, than to live in the perceived safety of indifference and complacency that characterizes our time. Our dance of life on this earth is short. We seriously delude ourselves if we think there is safety in capitulation to unjust authority. Our spirits thirst for justice. The organizing principle of life itself is not competition-survival of the fittest; it is mutual cooperation, looking out for the welfare of others. This is what makes life worth living. The public interest is a far nobler cause than private wealth and industrial slavery.

Charles Sullivan is a photographer, social agitator, and free lance writer living in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. He welcomes your comments at earthdog@highstream.net

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The Baghdad Embassy Bonanza

By David Phinney, CorpWatch. Posted March 8, 2006

Heaping scandal upon scandal, the Kuwait company that won the contract to build the massive U.S. Embassy stands accused of using forced labor to fulfill its contracts.
A controversial Kuwait-based construction firm accused of exploiting employees and coercing low-paid laborers to work in war-town Iraq is now building the new $592-million U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Once completed, the compound will likely be the biggest, most fortified diplomatic compound in the world.

Some 900 workers live and work for First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting (FKTC) on the construction site of the massive project. Undoubtedly, they have been largely pulled from ranks of low-paid laborers flooding into Iraq from Asia's poorest countries to work under U.S. military and reconstruction projects.

Meanwhile, their boss, Wadih al-Absi jets back and forth to the United States, dreaming of magazine covers celebrating his rise to a global player in large-scale engineering and construction.

Raised in Beirut, he says he began his career much like the people he now employs -- as a laborer installing drywall. The Lebanese Christian escaped war in his home country in the late 1970s and moved to Kuwait. The Persian Gulf country welcomes, even recruits, expatriate blue-collar workers like al-Absi once was to do the grunt work and domestic chores in its booming, oil-rich economy. Today glitzy shopping malls, flashy cars and sprawling villas have become the norm and migrants make up the nearly two-thirds of this tiny desert state's 2.3 million population.

Building his own personal fortune, al-Absi, too, relies on migrant labor. His Kuwait City firm, co-owned by a member of one of Kuwait's richest and most powerful families, is one of the larger Middle East companies that collectively ship tens of thousands of cheap day laborers to Iraq's war zones where they are paid just dollars a day.

Fortune favors a few

American contractors witnessing the plight of some of these migrants at military camps around Iraq have openly complained that the Asians endure abysmal working conditions, live in cramped housing, eat poor food, and lack satisfactory medical care and safety gear.

Typically, these migrants work 12 hours a day, often seven days a week, and earn just dollars a day performing tasks considered unsuitable for U.S. war fighters. They work construction, drive trucks, run laundries, clean latrines, pick up rubbish and operate stores, dining facilities and warehouses. Without them, and the "body shop" contractors that provide such laborers, the U.S. and coalition military camps -- virtually small cities -- would shut down.

It can be a lucrative business, one that has helped trigger explosive growth of al-Absi's company where he acts as both general manager and co-owner.

Less than three years ago FKTC boasted $35 million in assets. Today, the firm has racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. contracts in Iraq, pushing the company well past the $1 billion mark. With 7,000 employees in Iraq, the company claims to be holding $800 million in construction and supply contracts directly with the Army for military camps, plus more than $300 million under Halliburton 's multibillion dollar contract to perform military logistics for the occupation forces in Iraq.

It's the kind of success that allows al-Absi to enjoy finely tailored suits with French cuff shirts, send his children to American universities and enjoy the fruits of being a newly-minted millionaire. "I love America," he says freely.

Meeting over a morning coffee last September at the posh Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, a legendary Georgetown retreat favored by pampered heads-of-state, Hollywood elite, the Rolling Stones and business executives, al-Absi's eyes widened as he talked about his company's greatest prize -- the embassy.

The new embassy

Indeed, the massive $592-million project may be the most lasting monument to the U.S. occupation in the war-torn nation. Located on a 104-acre site on the Tigris river where U.S. and coalition authorities are headquartered, the high-tech palatial compound is envisioned as a totally self-sustaining cluster of 21 buildings reinforced to 2.5 times usual standards. Some walls as said to be 15 feet thick or more. Scheduled for completion by June 2007, the installation is touted as not only the largest, but the most secure diplomatic embassy in the world.

The 1,000 or more U.S. government officials calling the new compound home will have access to a gym, swimming pool, barber and beauty shops, a food court and a commissary. In addition to the main embassy buildings, there will be a large-scale Maine barracks, a school, locker rooms, a warehouse, a vehicle maintenance garage, and six apartment buildings with a total of 619 one-bedroom units. Water, electricity and sewage treatment plants will all be independent from Baghdad's city utilities. The total site will be two-thirds the area of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Unlike most of Iraq's reconstruction, the embassy is "on time and on budget," according to a December report to U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee which calls the progress an "impressive" feat given that construction is taking place in a country besieged by war.

"Most major construction projects undertaken in Iraq since 2003 have not met these standards," writes Patrick Garvey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations staff who traveled to Baghdad in November 2005.

With the embassy making a prestigious notch on the company's belt, First Kuwaiti will step onto the world stage, al-Absi beamed. "I dream about what it means," he said. "We have become a global company."

Despite this pride, al-Absi asked to keep the embassy contract a secret until the first floors were built. The dangers of an attack are just too serious, he said. Even his personal residence had been bombed in the past. "I am all for transparency, but this is Iraq," he said.

Despite the new embassy's importance, and its rare on-schedule progress, the State Department has also resisted publicizing the contract. It was only after weeks of inquiries, that it confirmed that FKTC had been selected to construct all but the most classified portion of the project. One day after the web site FedBizOpps posted a standard public notice for the first $370-million in FTKC contracts, it yanked the announcement. Department spokesman Justin Higgins cited security concerns.

Philippino & Nepali workers

While safety is part of the reason for keeping a profile low, labor conditions for Iraq's migrant workers are nothing to boast about.

When first asked about mistreatment of FKTC's labor force last August, al-Absi threatened to sue if the allegations were published. At the time, CorpWatch was investigating the claims of Ramil Autencio and other Philippinos working for FKTC in Tikrit in late 2003 and early 2004. They claimed they were overworked, served poor food, and received less salary than what was agreed to in their contracts.

Originally recruited for employment by MGM Worldwide Manpower in the Philippines, Autencio said he had planned to work at Crown Plaza Hotel in Kuwait for $450 a month. Then his recruitment contract was sold to FKTC when he reached Kuwait where he says he was "forcibly" pressured to work in Iraq.

More recently, an October 10 story in the Chicago Tribune reported on four-dozen other Nepalese workers waiting in Kuwait for jobs on American military bases in Iraq. In September 2004, after watching television reports that 12 Nepalese hostages in Iraq executed at the hands of insurgents, they changed their minds.

A FKTC manager in Kuwait handed the panicked workers an ultimatum, reports the Tribune: either travel to Iraq to fulfill their contracts and they would be released on the streets of Kuwait City to fend for themselves. Undoubtedly, none had the resources to find their way back to Nepal.

"The company was forcing them to go to Iraq," Lok Bahadur Thapa, the former acting Nepalese ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told the Tribune.

Al-Absi, who speaks excellent English occasionally peppered with bluntness of a construction worker, denies the allegations of ill-treatment and trafficking.

"It's bullshit," he said, after emailing electronic documents apparently signed by Autencio and others agreeing to work in Iraq. "Total bullshit."

But stories of mistreatment recently prompted the U.S. State Department to join forces with the Defense Department into possible labor trafficking by Middle East firms doing business in Iraq.

"Our people are investigating the issues," said State Department spokesman Justin Higgins after U.S. Ambassador John Miller, head of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking of Persons, left for the Middle East in late January.

When CorpWatch inquired last July about widespread complaints about the poor working conditions and possible coercion of low-paid Asian laborers in Iraq working under Halliburton 's logistics contract, the Army said an investigation was underway. That inquiry began and ended with the Army raising the issues with Halliburton "for them to address with appropriate action within the terms of the contract," said Army spokeswoman Melissa Bohan in an e-mail this month.

Secretive contract

The contracts for building the largest, most-strongly fortified embassy in the world is a tale of fits and starts. From the Bush Administration's initial request for more than a billion dollars in emergency funding for the project to the selection of an inexperienced Kuwaiti firm to build it -- to even the small oversight effort is also a tale of secrecy.

Although White House had signaled Congress in early 2004 that it was planning a permanent embassy in Baghdad, it wasn't until spring 2005 that the Bush Administration formally pushed the funding request veiled as an emergency measure. The original proposal for $1.3 billion was almost three times the price of the new embassy in China.

Reeling from overcharges and costs around other Iraq contracts, Congress immediately cut the price tag for the new Baghdad project in half to $592 million and called for strict oversight. Wired with the most up-to-date technology and surveillance equipment, it will still be a super-bunker and the biggest U.S. embassy every built.

Once funding was secured last spring, the U.S. State Department quietly put the project up for competition among seven competitors -- including some of the most accomplished U.S. engineering companies. Among the bidders, Framaco, Parsons, Fluor, and the Sandi Group have established track records for building secure embassies or large-scale construction projects.

But the award went to First Kuwaiti, a company with little experience in projects on the scale envisioned for the embassy.

"First Kuwaiti got the embassy job. [It] kinda surprised everyone that a foreign company would win," said an executive of one prominent firm in an email to another, both of whom bid against First Kuwaiti.

But publicly, the losing companies simply shrugged their shoulders and buttoned their lips.

"First Kuwaiti was the lowest bidder," said Gilles Kacha, senior vice president of Framaco. The New York-based firm won a "contractor of the year award" from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for its work on the interim Baghdad embassy, but lost in the competition for the new compound.

There may also be little reason for some of the losing competitors to complain. Some, including Framaco and The Sandi Group of Washington, D.C., soon received other State Department contracts. The open-ended contracts call on the companies to work anywhere in Iraq when needed, including on the new embassy project.

The Sandi Group was given notice to prepare for some site clearing and for building temporary housing for the embassy workers, said Sandi's vice president for development, Muge Karsli. Then the order was abruptly suspended in January. "I was supposed to hear more from them in a week, but I didn't," she said matter-of-factly. "Now, it is on hold."

Bill Waldron is one contractor who will talk about the embassy project. He claims his Rocky Mountain Group lost more than $250,000 while preparing a bid to perform engineering oversight for First Kuwaiti and project inspection. Waldron said that his 25-year-old, veteran-owned Colorado company had already been given the word that his company would be the leading contender for the deal, which is why the firm spent so much effort on the proposal, including compiling a 2-inch-thick file on the company's personnel experience in Iraq -- experience that State Department contract officers said they were looking for.

Then the State Department put the job up for open bid three different times, each time with a new revision. The last solicitation was cancelled after the contracting officer went of vacation, according to Waldron.

Waldron's patience finally burst. Only after doggedly hounding the State Department for reasons why the competition had been cancelled did he find out what happened.

The contract was awarded without competition on an emergency basis to a Maryland company, Mil Vets, Waldron said. "We contacted Mil Vets and asked if they had any experience working in Iraq prior to being awarded the embassy project," Waldron said. "The answer was no."

Al-Absi, for his part, views his embassy agreement as based on merit and it is the success of his company that draws fire from his critics.

First Kuwaiti never, ever got any job without offering the best value at the lowest price," he said. "People will never criticize someone who fails."

That, says al-Absi, is a price he is willing to pay.

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Hollywood's dirty little secret

The Age

It's the scripts that pay a high price when Hollywood goes into battle. Brian Courtis looks at one of the movie world's murkier truths.

Well, we've known the rules. We've known them since Errol Flynn liberated Burma without any help from British, Australian or New Zealand forces. Churchill and a few Diggers may have been upset, but the fact is when it comes to Hollywood only the good guys win and, since we're playing with their toys, those good guys must inevitably be Americans. Never let the absurdities of history get in the way of a box-office blockbuster.

They really do not want to discuss this, of course, in Tinseltown. They still see only their heroes and our villains. And they continue to win everything alone. Remember Steven Spielberg's D-Day spectacular Saving Private Ryan? Someone simply forgot that 72,000 British and Canadian troops were also involved. And if Hollywood is to be believed, it was the Americans who captured the Enigma coding machine from a German submarine; never mind that the Brits were there and accomplished that six months before the Yanks entered the war.

Not everything has been quite so eagerly promoted. We hear less, for instance, about the effects of the powerful relationship that has grown over the years between the Pentagon and the Hollywood studios, a partnership that not only can save millions of dollars for filmmakers and produce fine recruiting propaganda for Washington, but can twist history and reality to produce the ultimate in international spin.
In Operation Hollywood, filmmaker Emilio Pacull follows up an investigative study by film industry journalist Dave Robb on the help producers have sought from the military over the years. Robb, who worked for Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, says he found himself obsessed with the minutiae of these negotiations with the boys with ships, tanks, materiel, information, bases, access to land, troops and some very real-looking fireworks.

His report, a page-by-page study of scripts submitted by the studios to the Pentagon, reveals an intriguing pattern of censorship and propaganda. For Hollywood, acceptance of this system means the difference between "full co-operation" and no co-operation. For the military, it involves maintaining an idealised image of the forces, their behaviour, their view of the world, the superiority of their form of patriotism, and for that matter, their reasons for going to war.

So why, they would argue, should the Pentagon spend its money on pacifism or promoting the darker side of the soldier's world? Why reward a Platoon when The Green Berets is what you're after?

Among those with an opinion in Operation Hollywood are Australian director Phil Noyce, Phil Strub from the US Department of Defence, historian Lawrence Suid and Joe Trento, author and president of the anti-war Public Education Centre. This, they all agree, is a world where lines, plots and nationalities are changed so that film producers can gain access to expensive military hardware.

In the 1995 James Bond movie Goldeneye, for example, the original script had a US Navy admiral betraying state secrets. This was changed to make the traitor a member of the French navy. After that the military's co-operation was forthcoming. Pacull and Robb takes us from the pedantry to the powerful in examining the changes to scripts. They list the producers and the movies that have fallen into line and show how the military's script editors work. Interestingly, it's not the censors who come under fire here quite so much as those co-operative, self-censoring filmmakers.

Still, as Robb says, in what has become ostensibly his campaign against this system, the long-term effect on generations of young Americans is an unknown. "How many of those killed in Iraq died because they joined up after they saw what was presented in a film?" How many have died as the result of unknown recruiting propaganda?

All a producer needs do for assistance, it seems, is submit five copies of his script to the Pentagon for approval, make whatever script changes the Pentagon suggests, film the script exactly as approved by the Pentagon and preview the finished product for Pentagon officials before it's shown to its broader audience. And, according to Robb, as he puts the boot firmly into Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Goldberg (Stripes), John Woo and other producers and directors, many do this gladly. It is, he insists, Hollywood's dirtiest little secret.

Not that the big screen is alone. Among the early changes we hear about is a scene from an episode of the children's television series Lassie in which a light aircraft crashing in the woods concerned the Pentagon. A change to the script was called for. The military didn't want children, the subject of its future recruitment drives, to get the idea that the US Army produced faulty equipment.

Not surprisingly, Washington will back what it sees as the positive message every time. There is enthusiasm for such gung-ho films as The Longest Day, Top Gun or, believe it or not, Pearl Harbor. There is no point talking to them about Apocalypse Now, Platoon or Dr Strangelove. As for films about the wounded and traumatised victims of war, concentration camp horror, or civilian casualties ... well, that has nothing to do with them, does it? Use your imagination, however, and make a heroic star of yet another four-star general and you will be marching step-in-step with America's medal-winning movie buffs. And be rewarded for it.

There are other ways to win the day. It would be interesting, for example, to see how the Pentagon would react to the sentimental reflections on wartime that British television so enjoys. In the escapism of Foyle's War, for example, the message is one of sacrifice and understanding. Michael Kitchen's wise old police chief, Foyle, uses wisdom, patience and tolerance in an idyllic Sussex setting against petty crimes and sabotage. This, rather than some one-sided battlefield slaughter, shows us the old values we're fighting for.

Soldiers and civilians are generally given positive treatment; blimpish landowners, politicians and generals get short shrift. This week, in They Fought In The Fields, the sweet and splendid Sam (Honeysuckle Weeks) is on the farm with a troubled gang of land girls, while her boss is out sorting spies from prisoners of war. There are few fireworks, few toys from the boys, but a gal's still gotta do what a gal's gotta do.

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Hamas terms Israel's death threat to Haneya as terrorism

www.chinaview.cn 2006-03-07 19:53:19

GAZA, March 7 (Xinhuanet) -- The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) said on Tuesday that Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's targeted killing threat to Palestinian prime minister-designate Ismail Haneya was terrorism.

"Mofaz statements represent a clear and formal terrorism," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told reporters in Gaza.
Vowing commitment to Palestinians people's rights and interests, Abu Zuhri said that Hamas would not be deterred by Israeli threats.

The Hamas spokesman made the remarks shortly after Mofaz said earlier in the day that Israel's policy of targeted killing has proven effective and would continue.

Mofaz said that if Hamas were to renew its attacks on Israel, Hamas leaders including Haneya would not be immune from the killings.

After Hamas won a parliamentary election in January with 74seats in the new Palestinian legislature, Haneya was tasked by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Feb. 21 to form the next government within five weeks.

In the past two years, two Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdelaziz al-Rantissi were killed in Israeli targeted airstrikes.

Comment: Israel calls it "targeted killing". We call it murder. It is terrorism, but you'll never hear the mainsream media calling it that. No, the "terrorists" are all Muslim, never Jews or Christians. State terrorism is twisted into being somehow legitimate.

Double-speak from the pathocrats. The double standard, one measure for those we promote, another for those we kill.

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Visit to Russia Has Broken US-Israeli Blockade - Hamas Leader

Created: 07.03.2006 10:59 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 10:59 MSK

Hamas' leader said his visit to Russia "opened the door to the entire global community," claiming in an interview published Monday that the international isolation of the militant Palestinian group was coming to an end, AP reported.

Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas political chief whose three-day visit to Moscow ended Sunday, also said that "Russia's position is completely unlike that of the West" and praised Russian officials for understanding Hamas' stance.
He was quoted as telling the daily Vremya Novostei that the visit "broke the blockade which Israel and the United States have been trying to impose on us."

"At the Russian Foreign Ministry we felt that we were being understood," he said.

Russia's invitation to Hamas, extended by President Vladimir Putin, was the first crack in an international front against the group, which has sent dozens of suicide bombers to Israel. It provoked anger in Israel and surprise among the other members of the so-called Quartet of Middle East mediators - the United States, the European Union and United Nations - which had agreed to withhold international recognition from the radical Islamic movement until it moderated its stance.

Mashaal struck an uncompromising stance right after his arrival in Moscow, saying Hamas would not discuss recognizing Israel. He later said the Jewish state must first withdraw from territories occupied in 1967 and allow the return of Palestinian refugees, among other conditions, if it wants peace.

Russia insisted that it was acting on behalf of the entire Quartet, conveying its demand to Hamas to reject violence and recognize Israel. The Russian Foreign Ministry said after the talks that Hamas promised to maintain a year-old cease-fire if Israel refrains from force.

In interviews with Russian media, Mashaal did not mention a promise to extend the cease-fire, and in a separate interview with Al-Jazeera television, he indicated the group had made no such promise.

"Is it reasonable to pressure the Palestinians to renew the truce? No. Go to Israel, exert pressure on it. It is the reason for the problem," he told Al-Jazeera.

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Give Hamas Time: Chirac

M. Ghazanfar Ali Khan
Arab News
7 March 2006

RIYADH - French President Jacques Chirac wrapped up his three-day visit to Saudi Arabia yesterday by calling on Hamas leaders to soften their stance and reject violence. Chirac also categorically rejected sanctions against the Palestinian political group that swept elections in January.

Chirac told a news conference that he was in favor of giving time to any eventual Hamas-led government to perform and deliver.

Chirac called the elections "democratic," but also called on Hamas to "recognize Israel and respect the will of the international community."
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, who also announced that a Hamas delegation would visit Riyadh within the next few days, expressed similar views on giving Hamas time to govern.

"France and Saudi Arabia have identical views in terms of giving sufficient time to the Hamas-led government," the minister said. "Saudi Arabia has put no conditions on Hamas. We are going to meet them and we hope that as a government, they will represent the interests of the Palestinian people."

Prince Saud said it was important to see what the Palestinian leadership does in its new democratic role. Saudi Arabia has joined other Gulf states in refusing to cut aid to Hamas.

The Kingdom will be the second country to receive a Hamas delegation after one visited Russia at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin.

"I do not see why we should impose sanctions when their brunt will be borne by the poor Palestinian people," said Chirac.

The French president, however, urged Hamas to meet the demands of the Middle East Quartet - comprising the United States, European Union, the United Nations and Russia - to renounce violence as a means of achieving its goals.

Chirac, who held 75-minute talks with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah again on Sunday night, was hopeful of more cooperation in defense, oil, commercial and cultural sectors. The French president also pointed out that his country supported the Kingdom's accession to the WTO.

In reply to the question about the much-publicized multibillion security deals involving the plan to sell French Rafale fighters and Miksa electronic border-monitoring systems to Saudi Arabia, Chirac said Saudi Arabia was studying the French proposals for "cooperation in defense and security".

"All of this is taking place in an excellent climate," he said.

According to reports, the proposed deal involves the purchase of 48 French fighters with an option for 48 more valued at $7.2 billion. The other potential deal involves the border-monitoring system under which French defense manufacturer Thales has proposed to supply 225 radars to the Kingdom in a staggered 12-year schedule. The sale includes a telecommunications network, reconnaissance aircraft and about 20 helicopters at a cost of $8.4 billion.

Referring to the growing commercial relations between Riyadh and Paris, Chirac said he was pleased by the contacts established between more than a dozen French businessmen accompanying him and their Saudi counterparts.

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France to start issuing biometric passports

PARIS, March 6, 2006 (AFP)

France is to start issuing biometric passports April 17, the state printing company said Monday, raising the prospect of an end to a dispute that has caused a bottle-neck for citizens travelling to the United States.
he printing company said it had formed a technological partnership with French and Dutch companies to produce the new passports within five weeks of getting a firm order from the French interior ministry.

Currently, thousands of French citizens who have had new passports issued since October last year without microchips containing facial data have had to apply for visas for travel to the United States, a process that takes several months.

Several other countries have already started issuing biometric passports which allow the bearers of 27 states -- most of them European -- to enter the United States without a visa for tourism or short-term business trips.

France's own roll-out of the new passports was held up because of a labour dispute sparked by the interior ministry's decision to ask a private company to produce the new passports instead of the state printing firm.

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U.N. expert: Cuban dissidents suffering

3/7/2006 8:32 PM

GENEVA - A U.N. human rights expert said Tuesday the number of Cuban dissidents arrested and sentenced to long terms increased in 2005, claiming "extreme tension" with the United States had played a role in hampering freedom of expression on the island.

Christine Chanet, a French jurist who is the U.N. Human Rights Commission's expert on Cuba, said in a new report that tightened U.S. sanctions have made life more difficult for Cubans in general and political opponents to President Fidel Castro in particular.

"United States laws and the funding provided for building democracy in Cuba make members of the political opposition on the island appear to be sympathetic to foreign influences and provide the Cuban authorities with an opportunity to tighten repression against them," she said.
Cuba has not allowed Chanet to visit the island since she became the commission's Cuba expert three years ago. She said her attempts to contact the government this year went unanswered.

But she said she learned from other sources that "in 2005 more people were arrested and given disproportionate sentences for expressing dissident political opinions."

U.S. officials were not immediately available to comment, but they have previously defended the embargo as a legitimate tool to "accelerate democratic change in Cuba."

Cuban officials also were not immediately available for comment.

"The extreme tension between Cuba and the United States of America has created a climate which is far from conducive to the development of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly," said Chanet.

She noted nearly 80 people were arrested and given long prison sentences in "the unprecedented wave of repression that was unleashed in March-April 2003 in Cuba" in retaliation for U.S. encouragement of the political opposition, and she names the 60 people still in prison.

But, she said, "It is impossible to ignore the disastrous and lasting economic and social effects - compounded in 2004 - of the embargo imposed on the Cuban population over 40 years ago, as well as its impacts on civil and political rights."

Tighter restrictions imposed by the United States in May 2004 have increased the scope of the embargo, Chanet said.

The United States has had economic sanctions against Cuba since President John F. Kennedy imposed them in 1963, four years after Castro came to power.

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Belmarsh 'at full stretch' with Muslims on terror charges

By David Barrett, PA
The Independent
08 March 2006

One of Britain's highest-profile jails is at "full stretch" to deal with the number of Muslim inmates facing terrorism charges, the Chief Inspector of Prisons warned today.

Anne Owers raised fears about the treatment of Muslim prisoners at Belmarsh maximum security jail in London - including the men accused of the 21 July attempted bombings.
She said prison officers did not understand Muslim inmates' social and religious behaviour.

Ms Owers also voiced concerns that four remand prisoners on terror charges were allowed to associate only in pairs and were banned from communal Friday prayers.

Another unnamed inmate facing terror charges was kept in a separate secure unit with a "dedicated group of staff", her report revealed.

The chief inspector said: "The prison's high security and special security units were at full stretch, holding among others those suspected of the failed suicide bomb attempts of July."

It is believed to be the first time the chief prisons inspector has referred to specific prisoners in a report.

About 100 of Belmarsh's 900 inmates are Muslim, with high-profile terror suspects held in the high security "jail within a jail" at the south east London site.

At the time of the inspector's visit last October, four terror suspects were held in a special secure unit in one spur of the high security unit.

They were under a "special programme" of supervised access to shared facilities, allowed to associate only in pairs and were not allowed to attend Friday prayers with others.

Nine standard-risk Category A inmates - including eight awaiting trial for the July 21 attempted bombings - were on another spur of the unit.

There was also an additional special secure unit holding one man facing terror charges.

He had a cell, a small multi-gym, separate visits suite and a dedicated group of staff, but the unit provided a "very poor quality of life", inspectors said, and called for a review of his accommodation arrangements.

In all, there were five Category A inmates classed as "exceptional risk" - the only prisoners in the country to be in this highest category.

Ms Owers said: "It is vital that prisons understand the prisoners they hold, and can assess the relationships between and within different groups of prisoners, in order to be able to manage them safely.

"We did not believe this was the case for staff in relation to Muslim prisoners at Belmarsh, in spite of the efforts of a competent and trusted imam."

Ms Owers said there was "insufficient staff understanding of (Muslims') interactions and needs".

The report said: "Managers and staff believed that some younger Muslim prisoners were intimidating others into what was essentially a gang-related, rather than religious, affiliation.

"On the other hand, young Muslim prisoners were concerned that ordinary social and religious behaviour on their part was misinterpreted by staff as being problematic."

The report went on: "Although Afro-Caribbean prisoners did not think there was overt staff racism, Muslim prisoners felt their treatment by staff had worsened since the recent terrorist incidents.

"There were reports of intimidatory behaviour within the Muslim prisoner population not coming to the attention of staff because of poor staff-Muslim prisoner relationships."

Belmarsh is a complex prison which serves as a local prison and a specialist maximum security jail, Ms Owers noted.

Overall, the prison was "making progress", she said, but she made 127 recommendations for improvement.

Prison Service director general Phil Wheatley said: "The chief inspector acknowledges some of the positive strides Belmarsh has taken since the last inspection.

"Excellent working relationships between the multi-faith chaplaincy team, staff and managers enables them to work together to ensure the diverse faiths and cultural needs of prisoners can be met.

"What is important for Belmarsh is not to be diverted by issues specific to a small number of prisoners but to concentrate on maximising the quality of life and successful resettlement for all."

He added: "The prison is undergoing a comprehensive performance improvement and review to achieve this and I am encouraged by the determination amongst staff at all levels to succeed."

Commenting on facilities for Muslim inmates, Prisons Handbook editor Mark Leech said: "Despite their alleged serious offences, these prisoners have the same rights as anyone else.

"They have not been convicted of any offences yet and we need to be vigilant that we do not create our own Guantanamo Bay inside Belmarsh prison."

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: "Belmarsh takes the issue of faith very seriously. In a prison where 17 different religious faiths are represented, great care is taken to ensure that staff are aware of the cultural and religious issues affecting prisoners.

"The multi-faith centre at Belmarsh is an excellent resource that is used and enjoyed by many prisoners and representatives of all faiths.

"The chaplaincy team includes two imams who work hard to create and maintain a positive environment for worship.

"At the time of the inspection, four Category A prisoners were considered to be an exceptional risk and were undergoing an assessment process.

"Following this rigorous risk assessment the four prisoners were allowed to take part in communal worship."

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Iranian Revolutionary Guard Infiltrating Iraq Rumsfeld

by Jim Mannion
Mar 07, 2006

Washington - US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused Iran Tuesday of sending Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces into Iraq, and warned Tehran it was "an error in judgement. They are currently putting people into Iraq to do things that are harmful to the future of Iraq, and we know it, and it is something that they will look back on as having been an error in judgement."

Pressed to elaborate, Rumsfeld said the Iranians were putting "Quds force-type people," or Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces, into Iraq.
"I don't think we could consider them religious pilgrims," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld charges come amid heightened sectarian tension inside Iraq that have raised fears of civil war. At the same time, Washington is engaged in a sharpening diplomatic confrontation with Iran over suspicions it is developing nuclear weapons.

Many Iraqi Shiite leaders, who are now locked in struggle with Sunnis and Kurds over the formation of a new government, have ties with Iran's ruling Shiite clergy that were forged in exile.

But Rumsfeld said he believed the Shia see themselves as Iraqis first.

"I think they are not going to be enamored of having help from across their border," he said.

"So it is clearly a problem. Is it a threat to their security? Is it possible some more Iraqis will be killed? Sure," he said.

General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said some improvised explosive devices and other weapons have been traced back to Iran.

"The most recent reports have to do with individuals crossing the border into Iraq," he told reporters.

Pace said he did not know whether the infiltrators had the backing of the Iranian government, nor could he say whether the flow of infiltrations is on the rise.

But Rumsfeld said that "of course" the Iranian government was behind them.

"The Iranian Revolutionary Guard doesn't go milling around willy-nilly, one would think," he said.

Rumsfeld spoke at a Pentagon press conference in which he played down the risk of a full-blown civil war but accused the media of exaggerating the violence that followed the bombing of a revered Shiite mosque February 22.

"The steady stream of errors all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq," he said.

When pressed on whether he believed the media had fallen for a disinformation campaign, Rumsfeld said, "Oh, I can't go into people's minds. All I'm doing is reporting on what we've seen."

However, the United States will wait and see before deciding on any further reductions in US forces in Iraq, which now number 132,000, he said.

"We'll let this settle down and we see where we are," Rumsfeld said.

General George Casey, the US commander in Iraq, was expected to make recommendations on force levels this month. He was scheduled to meet with President George W. Bush later this week.

"I think that these things go in bursts, and the burst has passed. And it's been handled pretty well," Rumsfeld said. "And there will be another burst at some point down the road, simply because that's the nature of that part of the world and the situation."

Comment: So, according to Rumsfeld, if there is civil war in Iraq, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the US occupation. It is because Saddam had a repressive regime and the Iranians are stoking the flames.

Trouble is, there will be people who believe, and a compliant media that does nothing to show what a pack of lies it is. Think of how outrageous these lies are. Yet the psychopath can lie like he breathes, as naturally as possible. Until people are willing to stand up for the truth and demand an end to the lies, until people's lives are affected more directly - that is, until their lives fall apart - nothing will change.

Rummy, Cheney, and much of the rest of the Bush gang have a long history of inventing threats to further their imperialist goals. See the following article...

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Flashback: Rumsfeld and Cheney Revive Their 70's Terror Playbook

By Thom Hartmann
Common Dreams
13 Feb 06

Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are at it again.

Last week, Rumsfeld told the press we should be preparing for "the Long War," saying of the war this administration has stirred up with its attack on Iraq that, "Just as the Cold War lasted a long time, this war is something that is not going to go away."

The last time Rumsfeld talked like this was in the 1970s, in response to the danger of peace presented by Richard Nixon.
In 1972, President Richard Nixon returned from the Soviet Union with a treaty worked out by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the beginning of a process Kissinger called "détente." On June 1, 1972, Nixon gave a speech in which he said:

"Last Friday, in Moscow, we witnessed the beginning of the end of that era which began in 1945. With this step, we have enhanced the security of both nations. We have begun to reduce the level of fear, by reducing the causes of fear—for our two peoples, and for all peoples in the world."

But Nixon left amid scandal and Ford came in, and Ford's Secretary of Defense (Donald Rumsfeld) and Chief of Staff (Dick Cheney) believed it was intolerable that Americans might no longer be bound by fear. Without fear, how could Americans be manipulated? And how could billions of dollars taken as taxes from average working people be transferred to the companies that Rumsfeld and Cheney - and their cronies - would soon work for and/or run?

Rumsfeld and Cheney began a concerted effort - first secretly and then openly - to undermine Nixon's treaty for peace and to rebuild the state of fear.

They did it by claiming that the Soviets had a new secret weapon of mass destruction that the president didn't know about, that the CIA didn't know about, that nobody knew about but them. It was a nuclear submarine technology that was undetectable by current American technology. And, they said, because of this and related-undetectable-technology weapons, the US must redirect billions of dollars away from domestic programs and instead give the money to defense contractors for whom these two men would one day work or have businesses relationships with.

The CIA strongly disagreed, calling Rumsfeld's position a "complete fiction" and pointing out that the Soviet Union was disintegrating from within, could barely afford to feed their own people, and would collapse within a decade or two if simply left alone.

As Dr. Anne Cahn, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency from 1977 to 1980, told the BBC's Adam Curtis for his documentary "The Power of Nightmares":

"They couldn't say that the Soviets had acoustic means of picking up American submarines, because they couldn't find it. So they said, well maybe they have a non-acoustic means of making our submarine fleet vulnerable. But there was no evidence that they had a non-acoustic system. They’re saying, 'we can’t find evidence that they’re doing it the way that everyone thinks they’re doing it, so they must be doing it a different way. We don’t know what that different way is, but they must be doing it.'

"INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Even though there was no evidence.

"CAHN: Even though there was no evidence.

"INTERVIEWER: So they’re saying there, that the fact that the weapon doesn’t exist…

"CAHN: Doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It just means that we haven’t found it."

But Rumsfeld and Cheney wanted Americans to believe there was something nefarious going on, something we should be very afraid of. To this end, they convinced President Ford to appoint a commission including their old friend Paul Wolfowitz to prove that the Soviets were up to no good.

Wolfowitz's group, known as "Team B," came to the conclusion that the Soviets had developed several terrifying new weapons of mass destruction, featuring a nuclear-armed submarine fleet that used a sonar system that didn't depend on sound and was, thus, undetectable with our current technology. It could - within a matter of months - be off the coast of New York City with a nuclear warhead.

Although Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld's assertions of this powerful new Soviet WMD was unproven - they said the lack of proof proved the "undetectable" sub existed - they nonetheless used their charges to push for dramatic escalations in military spending to selected defense contractors, a process that continued through the Reagan administration.

Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz helped re-organized a group - The Committee on the Present Danger - to promote their worldview. The Committee produced documentaries, publications, and provided guests for national talk shows and news reports. They worked hard to whip up fear and encourage increases in defense spending, particularly for sophisticated weapons systems offered by the defense contractors for whom many of these same men would later become lobbyists.

And they succeeded in recreating an atmosphere of fear in the United States, and making themselves and their defense contractor friends richer than most of the kingdoms of the world.

Trillions of dollars and years later, it was proven that they had been wrong all along, and the CIA had been right. Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Wolfowitz lied to America in the 1970s about Soviet WMDs and the Soviet super-sub technology.

Not only do we now know that the Soviets didn't have any new and impressive WMDs, but we also now know that the Soviets were, in fact, decaying from within, ripe for collapse any time, regardless of what the US did - just as the CIA (and anybody who visited Soviet states - as I had - during that time could easily predict). The Soviet economic and political system wasn't working, and their military was disintegrating.

But the Cold War was good for business, and good for the political power of its advocates, from Rumsfeld to Wolfowitz to Cheney who have all become rich in part because of the arms industry.

Today, making Americans terrified with their so-called "War On Terror" is the same strategy, run for many of the same reasons, by the same people. And by hyping it - and then invading Iraq to bring it into fruition - we may well be bringing into reality forces that previously existed only on the margins and with very little power to harm us.

Most recently we've learned from former CIA National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East and South Asia Paul Pillar that, just like in the 1970s, the CIA disagreed in 2002 with Rumsfeld and Cheney about an WMD threat - this time posed by Iraq - even as Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Wolfowitz were telling America how afraid we should be of an eminent "mushroom cloud."

We've seen this movie before. The last time, it cost our nation hundreds of billions of dollars, vastly enriched the cronies of these men, and ultimately helped bring Ronald Reagan to power. This time they've added on top of their crony enrichment program the burden of over 2200 dead American servicemen and women, tens of thousands wounded, as many as a hundred thousand dead Iraqis, and a level of worldwide instability not seen since the run-up to World War Two.

When Hilary Clinton recently noted that the only political card Republicans are any longer capable of playing is the card of fear, she was spot-on right. They're now even running radio and TV commercials designed to terrorize our children ("Do you have a plan for a terrorist attack?"), the modern reincarnation of "Duck and Cover."

Now that former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has confessed that many of the terror alerts that continually popped up during the 2004 election campaign were, as USA Today noted on 10 May 2005, based on "flimsy evidence" or were >done over his objection at the insistence of "administration officials," it's increasingly clear that the Bush administration itself is the source of much of the "be afraid!" terror inflicted on US citizens over the past 5 years.

It's time for patriotic Americans of all political affiliations, and for our media, to join with Senator Clinton, former CIA official Paul Pillar, and the many others who are pointing this out, and refuse to allow the Bush administration to inflict terror on Americans - and the world - for political gain.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address in 1932, when Americans were terrorized by the Republican Great Depression, the echoes of World War One, and the rise of Communism in Russia:

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Indeed, the best hope for the growth of democracy around the world and the survival of individual liberty in the United States is for us to turn away from Rumsfeld's and Cheney's politics of terror and fear, and once again embrace the great vision of this nation, held by her great statesmen and women from 1776 to today. Indeed, they are still among us, as we saw most recently when a brave few senators stood up to filibuster the nomination of Samuel Alito.

In this election year, we must redouble our efforts to swell their ranks, to involve ourselves in local and national political groups, and to return America to her destiny as the world's beacon of courage, liberty, and light.

Thom Hartmann [thom (at) thomhartmann.com] is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author and host of a nationally syndicated noon-3pm Eastern Time daily progressive talk show syndicated by Air America Radio. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent book is "What Would Jefferson Do?"

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Shock and Awe; the Sequel

by Mike Whitney
March 8, 2006

The Bush administration has unilaterally repealed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) by demanding that Iran cease all uranium enrichment. This action overturns the central principle of the treaty which provides states with the "inalienable right" (NPT phrase) to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Two years of intrusive inspections by the UN watchdog agency (IAEA) have never produced "any evidence of nuclear weapons programs" or any diversion of nuclear material. Nevertheless, the US insists that Iran be deprived of the same right that is afforded to every other signatory of the NPT.

What gives Washington the right to rescind an internationally-recognized treaty?
White House press secretary Scott McClellan summarized the administration's view saying, "We've made it clear as have many in the international community that the regime must suspend all enrichment activity. It cannot be allowed to pursue enrichment in any capacity on any scale that would allow the regime to develop technologies needed to develop nuclear weapons."

McClellan's comments are a clear violation of the letter and spirit of the treaty which is not intended to arbitrarily deprive any member of the advantages of nuclear technology. The administration's brazen declaration puts the onus on the 35-member board of the IAEA to reject the demands. Unfortunately, most of them are already cowed by the bullying tactics of the US.

This tells us that the system is broken and cannot be expected to provide solutions to this or any of the other pressing issues that face the world community. The "superpower model" of governance allows one party to quash agreements on global warming, nuclear proliferation, chemical-biological weapons and anything else that isn't in its narrow, subjective interests.

Will the member states cave in on these species-threatening issues too, simply to please Washington?

The Iran Daily; 3-7-06

A last minute compromise by Iran's foreign-minister left IAEA-chief Muhammad ElBaradei believing that a negotiated settlement to the nuclear standoff was possible.

"I am still very much hopeful that that in the next week or so an agreement can be reached," said ElBaradei.

The administration crushed all hope of a settlement immediately.

The US State Department dismissed Iran's concessions and pushed for a quick referral to the UN Security Council.


What's the hurry? Is the administration looking for solutions or are Pentagon planners operating on a tight timeline?

Iran's last minute compromise put Condi Rice into a frenzy; firing off a panicky phone call to ElBaradei saying, "The United States cannot support this."

Support what? Negotiation? Deliberation? Peace?

ElBaradei had merely suggested that "the standoff with Iran could be resolved in a week or so". (NY Times) He was optimistic that a deal with Russia to enrich uranium outside of Iran would allay American fears of a hidden nuclear weapons program.

Is that what made Condi so anxious?

The US reaction is instructive in many ways, and seems to indicate that Bush and Co. may have scheduled hostilities for later this month.

Certainly, the propaganda-campaign is already in full-swing with Condi, McClellan, Rumsfeld, Bolton, and Cheney all blasting-away at Iran in less than a 48 hours period.

The media smokescreen has obscured Iran's attempts to build confidence by agreeing to forgo all "industrial scale" enrichment for two years even though it is allowed under the terms of the NPT.

The strategy now is to divert attention from Iran's 'generous offer' and ratchet up the demagoguery to full-throttle.

In the meantime, the State Dept has been busy moving the goalposts to ensure that Iran will reject its final offer.

Right after ElBaradei expressed optimism about finding a solution, Undersecretary of State, Nicholas Burns, pulled the rug out from under him saying, "The United States will not support any halfway measures. That means full suspension of all nuclear activities, and a return to negotiations on that basis."

"Full suspension"? What right does the US have to ask for full suspension?

This was the first time that US officials admitted they were repealing the NPT and brushing aside the counsel of the IAEA. Burns remarks confirm that the administration is bent on torpedoing the process.

But how will Burns and Condi derail ElBaradei's efforts for peace?

Well, for starters, the State Dept will have to make outrageous, unilateral demands that are so extreme that Iran will never agree to them. That way, the media can say that Iran is "defying the international community" and forcing a referral to the Security Council.

The administration will insist that Iran agrees to a moratorium on production of enriched uranium, comply with additional "unspecified" protocols, and allow for "transparency measures" to accommodate future inspections.

Sound familiar?"

These are the same conditions that were placed on Saddam. Iran knows that the US will use these "transparency measures" to ferret through every inch of the country; rummaging through armories, military bases, palaces, barracks, private residences; anywhere that might annoy, provoke, humiliate or harass the current regime.

Then, after months of microscopically-combing through every inch of Iranian sovereign territory, the flummoxed administration will invent some shaky pretext for invasion.

True or false?

Yesterday's ham-fisted maneuverings reveal the administration's true objectives. Bush would like to conceal his attack on Iran behind a mask of international legitimacy. But even without Security Council approval the plan will move forward. The current showdown has nothing to do with "noncompliance" or imaginary nuclear weapons programs. It has everything to do with consolidating the vast resources of the Caspian Basin under the Stars and Stripes and fending off future threats to America's global domination.

Prepare for Shock-and-Awe "the Sequel" sometime in late March.

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Knee-Jerk Liars: The Legend of United Flight 93

By Ted Rall

03/07/06 "ICH" -- -- NEW YORK--On the first anniversary of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge delivered a speech at the site of the disaster in western Pennsylvania. "Faced with the most frightening circumstances one could possibly imagine," he told grieving relatives of the passengers and crewmembers aboard the fourth plane hijacked on 9/11, "they met the challenge like citizen soldiers, like Americans." He recited the now-familiar story of passengers learning by phone about the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, deciding to fight back and breaking into the cockpit--a heroic act that led to their own deaths while sparing countless others in Washington.
"The terrorists were right to fear an uprising," Ridge rhapsodized. "The passengers and crew did whatever they humanly could--boil water, phone the authorities, and ultimately rush the cockpit to foil the attack."

Ridge's boss repeatedly used United 93 to close his standard stump speech. Calling the passenger revolt "the most vivid and sad symbol of them all," George W. Bush said: "People are flying across the country on an airplane, at least they thought they were. They learned the plane was going to be used as a weapon. They got on their telephones. They were told the true story. Many of them told their loved ones goodbye. They said they loved them. They said a prayer; a prayer was said. One guy said, 'Let's roll.' They took the plane into the ground."

The legend of Flight 93 had everything a nation caught with its pants down needed to feel better about itself: guts, heroism, self-sacrifice. Best of all, it was marketable--by Hollywood and by a president willing to surf on a kind of heroism notably absent from his own life. (Theatrical release of the second "United 93" movie is scheduled to open April 28.) Lisa Beamer, widow of the passenger credited with the call-to-arms "let's roll," wrote a bestselling book by the same name, applied for a trademark on the expression, and is now working the Christianist lecture circuit.

Actually, the 9/11 Commission found, the evidence indicates that what Todd Beamer (or someone else) said was not "let's roll," but "roll it"--possibly referring to an airplane service cart the passengers may have wanted to use to break down the door into the cockpit. Too bad-. "Roll it" sounds less cinematic, and more like a book about cinematography.

The first indication that government officials were covering up the truth about United 93 came with their refusal to make public the cockpit voice recording (CVR). Releasing CVRs after a crash has long been standard practice; pilots' last, usually profane, utterances have become a cliché. Yet the FBI stonewalled victims' relatives for months after 9/11.

"While we empathize with the grieving families," assistant director John Collingwood wrote one widow, "we do not believe that the horror captured on the cockpit voice recording will console them in any way." And yet, if the tape contained inspiring proof of the passenger revolt and its success, it would have been one hell of a lot more consoling than Tom Ridge's oratory. Why not release it?

Finally, after seven months of political pressure, the FBI allowed United 93 relatives to listen to the CVR. The feds told the families not to reveal what they'd heard. "They said the information on the tapes could be possibly used in the prosecution of [alleged "20th hijacker" Zacarias] Moussaoui, and anything that we say could affect the case in a negative way," said the brother of one of the victims.

Though they studied the recording, the 9/11 Commission found zero evidence that the passenger revolt succeeded, that they made it into the cockpit and, as Bush claimed, "took the plane into the ground." Tom Kean & Co. offered only conjecture: "The hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them."

"Must have." At a time when war can be justified by waving around a bottle of fake anthrax on TV, "must have" is judged adequate proof.

Another eyebrow-raising portion of the official account of Flight 93 states that "the passengers and flight crew began a series of calls from GTE airphones and cellular phones" after the hijacking. Ever forgotten to turn off your cellphone during a flight? I have. Try it yourself: Cellular telephone calls tend to drop when you're driving at 60 miles per hour; passenger jets travel up to ten times that speed. Moreover, there's zero signal, and thus no ability to place a call, above 8,000 feet. Flight 93, en route from Newark to San Francisco at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, dropped 700 feet when it was hijacked at 9:28 am. Cell calls? Not likely.

The Bush Administration has alternately claimed that the White House, then the Capitol, and finally the White House again was the target of the Flight 93 hijackers. Sure, it's possible that the same terrorists who didn't know that New Yorkers don't start work until nine--the World Trade Center was struck at 8:42--wouldn't have thought to check Bush's schedule to find out whether he'd be home that morning. But if the White House was the objective, why not hit it first? After all, if Bush had been home when the news from New York first broke, he would have been whisked away to Dick Cheney's secret undisclosed location. If the government doesn't know what the target was, they shouldn't say that they do.

What happened to United 93? There was almost certainly a passenger uprising. Did it succeed? Probably not.

The 9/11 Commission Report says that "at some time between 10:10 and 10:15" Dick Cheney ordered the Air Force to shoot down the plane, which had turned east towards Washington. The plane had already crashed at 10:03. But the regional air traffic control center in Cleveland asked the FAA whether military fighter jets should be dispatched at flight at 9:36, giving the Air Force more than enough time to intercept before the fatal plunge into the field at Shanksville. Was United 93 shot down, despite the official story?

Local media accounts offer some evidence of that possibility. The September 13, 2001 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, for example: "In a morning briefing, State Police Major Lyle Szupinka confirmed that debris from the plane had turned up in relatively far-flung sites, including the residential area of Indian Lake [two and a half miles from the crash site]."

Flight 93 "headed down...rolled onto its back," and crashed, leaving a smoldering crater. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette again: "[Indian Lake marina employee John] Fleegle said he climbed on the roof of an abandoned cabin and tossed down a burning seat cushion that had landed there. By Wednesday morning, crash debris began washing ashore at the marina. Fleegle said there was something that looked like a rib bone amid pieces of seats, small chunks of melted plastic and checks." Seats and bones don't fly two and a half miles from a crash. Their location could indicate an initial explosion, such as that from a missile hitting a plane.

If the Air Force shot down Flight 93 to protect the capital, it was the only time on 9/11, or since, that the Bush Administration has done something to keep America safe. Whether they were concerned about being second-guessed or for the financial health of the airline industry, we'll never know. We do know that they've become knee-jerk liars, even covering up the rare occasions when they do something right. Perhaps they don't really know what happened up there. If so, they ought to say that rather than promote more fairy tales about Flight 93.

The passengers did try. The only thing that takes away from their heroism is Bush's lies. So. Now that Zacarias Moussauoi has been convicted, where's that tape?

(Ted Rall is the editor of "Attitude 3: The New Subversive Online Cartoonists," an anthology of webcartoons which will be published in May.)

Comment: And what if the reason Flight 93 was shot down was to cover up the fact that there were no "Arab terrorists" on the flight?

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Just work harder, Italian PM tells poor

John Hooper in Rome
Wednesday March 8, 2006
The Guardian

As a comforter of the poor, Silvio Berlusconi has secured a place for himself somewhere between Marie Antoinette and Norman Tebbitt.

Asked by a television interviewer what his government could do to help a worker on €1,500 (£1,000) a month, Italy's richest citizen blithely replied: "The answer of Berlusconi the businessman is: 'Try to earn more by getting on with things.'"

His response yesterday drew horrified condemnation from his centre-left opponents, but succeeded once again in diverting attention towards Italy's media-savvy prime minister as he battles to retain power. Campaigning is underway for a general election on April 9 and 10.
Mr Berlusconi told viewers of a regional television station, Telelombardia, how as a boy during the second world war he had collected waste paper in the street, and compressed it into balls that could then be resold to people who used it to light their stoves. He also reminisced about scraping together cash by helping out in a local market. Warming to the theme of salvation through self-help, he said: "When someone gave me a camera, I used it to take pictures at funerals [and] weddings. And I took portraits."

Paul Ginsborg, the historian and author of Silvio Berlusconi: Television, Power and Patrimony, said the prime minister was entitled to claim he had pulled himself up by his boot straps: "His father was the only clerk in a little bank and he certainly had tremendous difficulty finding capital in the early part of his career. He didn't come from a wealthy background, unlike Rupert Murdoch who really was born with a silver spoon in his mouth."

Mr Berlusconi has in the past described how he took fees for doing the homework of richer boys at his school in Milan. He famously worked himself through university, working at various times as a vacuum cleaner salesman and a cruise ship crooner.

With Italian output stagnant, the economy is seen as the weak point of its entrepreneur leader. But the prime minister has met hostile questioning with confident assurances that everything is going a lot better than people think.

Asked on Monday night about figures showing rising household debt, Mr Berlusconi said this just proved "the faith that families have in their own futures. It means the Italians don't think they will have problems in the future paying off debts such as a mortgage for a house."

A statement from Italy's biggest opposition party, the formerly communist Democratic Left, began by noting that the prime minister had made his comments "without blushing". It said the real scorecard after five years of government by the right was "Growth, zero; budget deficit, 4.1% [of GDP], and inflation in goods and services of between nine and 35%."

After five years in which Italy has consistently performed worse than its European partners, the economy was expected to be at centre of the election campaign. But Mr Berlusconi has succeeded in diverting the voters' attention towards other controversies.

The most recent blew up after it was revealed that the pope was to meet him in the Vatican shortly before polling day. After an outcry from the opposition, Mr Berlusconi announced late on Monday that he would not be going after all.

The right is trailing by between four and five percentage points in the opinion polls. But Prof Ginsborg said his opponents would be unwise to write him off precisely because Mr Berlusconi had pulled himself up by his boot straps. "In order to understand him, you have to see that he is quite a fighter," he said.

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Former Enron CFO Implicates Old Bosses

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 8, 2006; Page A01

HOUSTON, March 7 -- Andrew S. Fastow, the government's star witness in the Enron Corp. trial, took the stand Tuesday and testified that he concocted a massive fraud in face-to-face meetings with the company's chief executive, who both sanctioned the deals and asked him to "get me as much juice as you can."

Fastow, in a nervous but steady voice, spent most of his first six hours on the stand describing quid pro quo deals he arranged with Jeffrey K. Skilling, then Enron's chief executive. He said Skilling was so obsessed with making the company look good for Wall Street that Skilling approved of sham deals that helped the company meet its earnings targets while Fastow, then chief financial officer, personally skimmed millions of dollars off the transactions.

Near the end of the day's testimony, Fastow began talking about when former chairman Kenneth L. Lay took over the chief executive reins, a time when Fastow said "the foundation was crumbling" but Lay continued to make positive public statements about the company's prospects.

Fastow, who carefully exited the courtroom by walking past the jury instead of down the center aisle where he would have had to pass his former bosses, will continue his testimony Wednesday. Skilling and Lay face years in prison if they are convicted on multiple fraud charges in this trial. The defense lawyers have labeled Fastow a thief and a liar and have prepared a blistering cross-examination strategy designed to undermine Fastow's credibility.

Tuesday's testimony marked the first time Fastow has spoken publicly about his role in Enron's collapse, bluntly acknowledging that he got rich off of the maneuvering in the corporate suites. "I was going to scratch their back, and they were going to scratch mine," said Fastow. "I thought I was being a hero for Enron. The stock price goes up, I get a bigger bonus -- what I thought was a win-win situation."

Fastow's testimony was rich with details of meetings he had with Skilling in which the two plotted strategy, with Skilling once asking, "Can we trust her?" when Fastow described someone he was going to bring into a bogus deal. But Fastow said Skilling may never have seen a handwritten memo in which Fastow documented some of the deals; instead, Fastow directed that to Richard A. Causey, then Enron's chief accounting officer, who has already pleaded guilty.

"The whole point was these were the undocumented deals, these were the side deals," Fastow said. "It wasn't a good document to have hanging around."

Fastow said he destroyed that original document but placed a copy in a safety-deposit box along with his employment contract. He said that he was afraid of losing count of the sham deals -- and that he willingly went along with the schemes because, for him personally, "it was pretty much pure upside."

Fastow collected more than $45 million from secret partnerships set up to do deals with Enron. He forfeited nearly $24 million of that as part of a plea agreement that binds him to serve a 10-year prison term. Unlike several other cooperating witnesses, Fastow will not receive leniency from the government in the form of a reduced sentence -- a fact prosecutors drove home to the jury.

Fastow, who wore a gray suit, white shirt and gray tie, carefully avoided eye contact with either Skilling or Lay. Skilling listened intently to the testimony, pressing a pen to his mouth and sometimes exchanging words with his attorney. Lay jotted comments on a yellow legal pad. Three of Fastow's lawyers sat in the front row, beside his brother, Peter. The eight-woman, four-man jury appeared attentive through the long day and often took notes.

A former wonder boy who has since gone gray, Fastow lost his composure only when asked to describe why he was cooperating with the government. He said he accepted the plea deal for the good of his wife and two young sons. He faltered and broke into tears when he was asked about a guilty plea entered by his wife, Lea W. Fastow, who served a one-year prison term for filing a false tax return. His face reddened and he waited several beats before answering, then blamed himself for his wife's ordeal.

Fastow devised many of the structures whose disclosure helped plummet Enron into bankruptcy protection in December 2001. He was, he testified, the wizard behind Enron's "perpetual motion machine," a cycle that hid debt, inflated earnings, and kept stock prices and executive bonuses spinning upward. He also had direct contact with both Lay and Skilling, making him an important player in the government case.

But he is also prosecutors' most personally tainted witness, a man who admitted to stealing and involving his wife in fraud and who described himself Tuesday as sometimes "obnoxious" and "opportunistic."

Fastow's description of himself as a "hero" prepared to jump in and "bail out" Enron so long as the deal carried benefits for him is likely to be thrown back at him by Skilling's and Lay's lawyers. The defense also is likely to attack Fastow as a liar, trying to discredit his account of several meetings with Skilling.

In one story Tuesday, Fastow related how he told Skilling that a Brazilian power plant the executive wanted him to buy was worthless.

Skilling replied, according to the witness: "Don't worry. I'll make sure you're all right. You won't lose any money on the project."

Later, Fastow talked about another deal in which his partnerships temporarily purchased a wind farm from Enron. Fastow and his business partner, Michael J. Kopper, transferred the assets to Kopper's domestic partner, William D. Dodson, avoiding disclosure that would have been required if the men had been legally married. The ruse amused Skilling, Fastow said.

"He got a little laugh, that there was this hole, hole if you will, in the law."

Prosecutor John C. Hueston highlighted calendar entries for Fastow, Causey and then-treasurer Ben F. Glisan Jr. reflecting meetings about their agreement that Fastow would never lose money in his dealings with Enron. But Skilling's calendar entries were not produced by the government to corroborate Fastow's story.

Fastow said the partnerships themselves were legal and in many cases approved by the company's board. The defense is likely to highlight those approvals and to argue that Fastow's abuse of the partnerships was the only illegal conduct at Enron. But Fastow hastened to add that he and others hid key facts from the board and from investors, hoping to cover up the company's problems.

"At Enron, the culture was, the business practice seemed to consistently be, to do transactions that maximized the financial reporting as opposed to maximized the true economic value," he said.

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France debates legalising Internet downloads

PARIS, March 7, 2006 (AFP)

The French government and MPs prepared to do battle Tuesday over a digital copyright bill that could clear the way for the legal downloading of music and movie files from the Internet.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's centre-right government is trying to block MPs from voting to give such permission to Internet users, who would pay a small extra monthly fee to their Internet service provider for the right.
Representatives from both the ruling UMP party and the opposition benches had already voted to adopt the download fee idea in December while debating an original version of the bill.

As a result, Villepin hastily withdrew the original bill and had it slightly modified for re-submission to parliament Tuesday.

Several days of debate are scheduled before a vote due on March 14.

If the downloading fee becomes law, France would join a small number of Western countries -- among them Canada and the Netherlands -- which allow consumers to legally make copies of copyrighted digital files for private use.

Many other countries, most notably the United States, take an opposing view and have passed legislation expressly outlawing the practice.

On Monday, in a sign of the government's determination to quash the fee idea, Villepin's administration withdrew the article in the bill to which was attached the two amendments that would have legalised downloads.

The parliamentary leader of the opposition Socialists, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said the government's strong-arm tactics reeked of "panic".

The French government -- which is trying to bring its copyright laws into line with a 2001 EU directive -- modified the fines stipulated in its bill after December's vote.

The fine for a first-time offender downloading tunes or a film was reduced to 38 euros, with higher penalties for those who broke copyright protection on a commercial DVD or who made public "hacks" to get around protections.

Other articles in the bill provide for the establishment of a government body that would decide how many private copies of a digital work an individual can make and what copyright exceptions should exist for libraries, journalists and handicapped people.

Big music companies and a few famous French singers, veteran rocker Johnny Hallyday among them, are hostile to a download licence for Internet users -- expected to amount to, say, eight or 12 euros -- saying it would not nearly compensate them for the royalties they earn from more traditional music sales.

But French consumer groups -- and quite a few MPs -- counter that the Internet age has changed consumer habits, and an estimated eight to 10 million French people, out of a population of 60 million, download files anyway.

A new economic model is needed, they argue, and a download fee would provide money to artists who lose out entirely under current practices.

"The government bill is wrong to attack the private exchanges between consumers and to aim to create by decree new fines," one consumer group, UFC-Que Choisir, said in a statement.

"It is also wrong to submit the private use of works bought by consumers to a unilateral control by companies that wipes out the notion and spirit of private-use copying" up to now enshrined in French law, it added.

Both sides of the debate have acknowledged that platforms such as Apple's Music Store do provide legal downloads on a pay-per-file basis.

But they also note that such files are not always playable on a variety of machines (for instance Apple music files will only play on iPods), limiting their appeal -- and possibly even breaching French anti-competition law.

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Consumer confidence suffers further slide

By Philip Thornton, Economics Correspondent
The Independent
08 March 2006

Optimism of both consumers and the companies that serve them slumped last month, according to a pair of reports today that highlight the role business services are playing in propping up the UK economy.

Consumer confidence fell in February, the ninth drop in the past year, Nationwide building society said. Households' assessment of their current situation fell to its lowest level since the survey began in May 2004.
Meanwhile the CBI, the UK's largest employers' group, said consumer services companies saw the value and volume of the business fall over the latest three months.

This drop was in stark contrast to a surge in business for professional services firms to its strongest levels since its survey began in November 1998. It echoes official figures showing that sectors such as business and financial services were behind the acceleration in GDP in the final quarter of last year.

Ian McCafferty, the CBI's chief economic adviser, said: "The increasing divergence we are seeing in the services sector comes as no surprise. Higher household bills are now making their impact well and truly felt on those companies offering leisure and entertainment services. On the other hand, business services are more resilient and benefiting from the buoyant global activity."

Its survey showed the number of consumer-facing firms reporting a fall in business outnumbered those seeing a rise by 17 per cent. Profitability suffered its largest fall since August 2003, optimism dropped to a three-year low, and companies cut staff numbers for the second quarter in a row.

The survey comes a day after GfK, the market research company, said sales of consumer durables suffered their first fall for at least a decade in February.

Mark Thornton, a partner at Grant Thornton, the accountancy firm that sponsors the CBI survey, said it was no longer just "big ticket" goods that were suffering.

Nationwide said bad news on jobs and retail sales, plus rising fuel and energy prices, had conspired to undermine consumers' confidence. Its index fell four points to 94 in February, close to a survey low of 92.

Stuart Bernau, its executive director, said the prospect of weakening consumer spending "presented a challenge" to the Bank of England, whose Monetary Policy Committee meets today and tomorrow, and Gordon Brown, who is putting the final touches to his March Budget.

There was fresh gloom from a survey by the retail analysts FootFall, showing the number of visitors to UK shopping centres fell 0.2 per cent in the final week of February to take the annual decline to 8 per cent.

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Workers' optimism is on the rise

By Paul J. Lim

While economists are growing increasingly concerned about the state of the economy, American workers are about as optimistic as they've ever been.

A survey released this morning by the human resources and staffing firm Hudson found that employee confidence is on the rise. The Hudson Employment Index, which gauges workforce sentiment by surveying U.S. workers by telephone, rose from a reading of 102.6 in January to 108.2 last month. According to Hudson, this was among the highest readings on record.
Why are workers so ebullient? A growing number believe that their own firms are on the verge of expanding payrolls, which is always a good sign for the economy.

According to the Hudson index, 33 percent of workers believe their firms are ready to hire more staff. This represents the highest share of workers reflecting that belief since October 2004.

But it's not just the rank and file. Even among managers at private-sector firms, 45 percent now believe their employers are ready to start hiring again, up from 38 percent who thought so in January. "On the heels of a conservative start to the year, managers are feeling more comfortable putting their 2006 hiring plans in gear," says Steve Wolfe, an executive vice president for Hudson's North American operations.

"This news," he added, "along with a strong [gross domestic product], lower unemployment rates, and the growing demand for skilled labor in certain sectors such as healthcare, financial services, and [information technology], are strong indications that the economy is growing steadily."

A couple of days from now, Wall Street will get a snapshot of the employment situation when the Labor Department is scheduled to release its much-anticipated February jobs report. That report, due out on Friday morning, will reveal how many new jobs were created and update the nation's unemployment rate.

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Palestinian link could cost Rogers $1.7bn New York deal

By Oliver Duff
07 March 2006

One of Britain's leading architects, Richard Rogers, is battling to save his $1.7bn (£971m) redesign of a New York convention centre, after his connections to a pro-Palestinian protest group outraged politicians and Jewish organisations.

Lord Rogers, the architect behind the Welsh Assembly building and the Millennium Dome, was summoned to meet the chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation yesterday. The company wants him to explain his involvement in Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, revealed in The Independent last month.

He hosted a meeting of the group at his London headquarters, at which architects considered calling for a boycott of Israel's construction industry in protest at the building of the separation barrier in the Occupied Territories.

The convention centre was built in the memory of Jacob Javitz, a firm supporter of Israel who was a senator for more than 20 years. "It carries the name of someone whose legacy is contrary to such views," said Malcolm Hoenlein, of the Conference of Major Jewish Organisations.

Lord Rogers cut ties to the group last week. "I have never backed a boycott and I have never stated that I favour targeted activities," he said.

One of Britain's leading architects, Richard Rogers, is battling to save his $1.7bn (£971m) redesign of a New York convention centre, after his connections to a pro-Palestinian protest group outraged politicians and Jewish organisations.

Lord Rogers, the architect behind the Welsh Assembly building and the Millennium Dome, was summoned to meet the chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation yesterday. The company wants him to explain his involvement in Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, revealed in The Independent last month.

He hosted a meeting of the group at his London headquarters, at which architects considered calling for a boycott of Israel's construction industry in protest at the building of the separation barrier in the Occupied Territories.

The convention centre was built in the memory of Jacob Javitz, a firm supporter of Israel who was a senator for more than 20 years. "It carries the name of someone whose legacy is contrary to such views," said Malcolm Hoenlein, of the Conference of Major Jewish Organisations.

Lord Rogers cut ties to the group last week. "I have never backed a boycott and I have never stated that I favour targeted activities," he said.

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U.S. urges UAE to end its boycott of Israel

By David R. Sands and Shaun Waterman
March 2, 2006

The Bush administration said yesterday it is pressing the United Arab Emirates to drop its economic boycott of Israel -- a major sticking point in the proposed takeover of key U.S. ports by a UAE-owned firm.

A joint U.S. agency team traveled to the oil-rich Gulf kingdom last month to discuss the boycott, and a senior Commerce Department official will press Dubai again during a visit this month, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

"The United States wants to see the boycott against Israel dropped completely by everybody, and that's our position," he said.

Mr. Ereli said the talks on the boycott were part of a larger drive to nail down a bilateral free-trade agreement with the UAE.

But U.S. lawmakers said the country's participation in the Arab League boycott raises fresh questions about the deal to allow UAE-owned DP World to purchase the management contracts for New York, Baltimore and other major U.S. ports.

"Obviously, it should be a factor" in whether to approve the deal, said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who has helped rally bipartisan opposition to the Dubai deal in Congress.

"Security has to come No. 1, but [the boycott's] something that has to be weighed," he said.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, added, "I don't like the fact the UAE is a party -- whether directly or indirectly -- to a boycott, which is illegal under all kinds of international agreements, against Israel, and that it is still sticking by that."

Leading U.S. Jewish groups have long sought to end the boycott.

The boycott "is an anachronistic practice that has been used by the Arab world to unfairly isolate and stigmatize Israel," said Josh Block, a spokesman for the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "No company should be participating in the boycott."

Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote in a Feb. 28 letter to Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, "If Dubai continues its anti-Israel activity, it must be grounds for the cancellation of the deal."

It has been illegal since 1977 for U.S. companies to comply with the boycott, either by agreeing not to do business with Israel or by certifying that their products do not contain any Israeli materials. Companies are also required to report any requests for such restrictions to the Commerce Department.

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Meteorite falls in Northeast Brazil


In TABOACAL at SANTO ANTONIO DE JESUS rural area, PAULINA DE JESUS saw a huge fire ball crossing the sky. "After falling, the fire ascended about 30m into the sky" and burned a great forest area in the Atlantic Forest.

The meteorite left five holes in the land of about 2 meters in diameter.

The ANTARES Observatory, in the nearby the city of FEIRA DE SANTANA will conduct an investigation.

Translated from the Portugese by MA BN

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Magnitude 4.3 Quake - SOUTHERN IRAN

2006 March 8 12:30:56 UTC

Location: 27.803°N, 57.018°E
Depth: 23.9 km (14.9 miles) set by location program
100 km (62 miles) NE (46°) from Bandar-e Abbas, Iran
190 km (118 miles) NNE (23°) from Al Khasab, Oman
226 km (140 miles) SE (144°) from Sirjan, Iran
456 km (283 miles) NE (35°) from ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates

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Antarctic is shrinking

March 7, 2006 12:11 PM PDT

The first-ever gravity survey of the entire Antarctic ice sheet, conducted using data from the NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace), concludes the ice sheet's mass has decreased significantly from 2002 to 2005.
Antarctic Ice Sheet

Antarctic Ice Chart

This figure shows the ice mass loss in Antarctica as observed by Grace over the period 2002 to 2005 measured in cubic kilometers per year. The ice mass loss observed contributes about 0.4 millimeters (.016 inches) per year to global sea level rise.

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Girl dies of bird flu in China, UN ups campaign

Wed Mar 8, 2006 04:57 AM ETBy Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) - A nine-year-old girl has died of bird flu in China, state media said on Wednesday, as the United Nations stepped up efforts to battle the rapidly spreading virus.

The girl, China's 10th known death from bird flu, died on Monday night in the eastern province of Zhejiang, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Her death comes days after the government confirmed that a 32-year-old man had died from the H5N1 virus in the southern province of Guangdong, near Hong Kong, triggering alarm there.

"The epidemic situation is very severe. Right now is spring, when there is a high chance of bird flu outbreaks due to the frequent movement of migratory birds. This epidemic has not been effectively controlled worldwide," China's deputy agriculture minister Yin Chengjie told reporters.

The virus has spread rapidly since the beginning of February, killing birds in at least 15 new countries as it moves deeper into Europe and Africa.

Nigeria said highly pathogenic bird flu has been found in three new states, including one in the far south, indicating that the virus has spread all over Africa's most populous country despite measures to contain it.

Including the girl's case, bird flu has infected 176 people, killing 96 of them since 2003, and scientists fear it is only a matter of time before the virus mutates into a form that passes easily among people, triggering a pandemic. Millions could die and economies crippled for months.

To try to combat the growing threat, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization is to play a greater role in fighting bird flu, becoming a "global clearing house" for efforts to stem the spread of the virus, it said on Tuesday.

The United States and the European Union have backed the formation of what a senior U.S. official called an "emergency operations center" at the FAO's Rome headquarters.

Funding for the center will come from a pot of almost $2 billion pledged by wealthy nations at an international conference in Beijing in January. The United States would provide experts to help run the center and expects other nations to follow suit.

In China, the latest human deaths have raised questions over how the virus is spreading.

The 32-year-old man is the first bird flu death in an urban center in China and occurred in an area where there have been no reports of the disease in birds. He was believed to have contracted the virus at a poultry market.

The dead girl, from Anji County, had visited relatives who kept poultry, and some chickens raised there had died during at least one of her visits, Xinhua said.

"The recent cases that we've seen are cases reported in areas where no poultry outbreaks have been reported, but this does not mean that they were not exposed to infected poultry," said Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, the World Health Organization's Beijing spokeswoman.

Zhong Nanshan, director of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases, said both victims might have been infected by chickens carrying the virus but not sickened by it.

"There is a possibility there could be human cases of H5N1 in places without outbreaks of the disease in birds. That is, there could be chickens carrying the virus but which are not sick themselves and they can infect people," Zhong told reporters in Beijing.

With bird flu continuing its march into more countries, the appetite for poultry has nosedived in parts of Europe, Africa and Asia, despite politicians' publicly eating poultry and the WHO reminding people that well-cooked chicken and eggs are safe.

In India, chicken is off the menu for many even though the government says a major bird flu outbreak in poultry two weeks ago has been stamped out.

At Sadiq Sunesra's half-century-old Mumbai restaurant, not one among the dozens walking in are tempted to buy pieces of crisp roast chicken lying invitingly in a glass case.

"Just now a customer called to order a dozen dishes of chicken biryani (chicken and rice), but changed the order on a second thought," Sunesra said. "I told her to read the newspaper, which says chicken is safe to eat. But it was useless."

In the United States, food company executives say they are ready for bird flu if it arrives there.

Their plans include offering more non-poultry products in stores, double-checking with suppliers to ensure their poultry is disease-free and advising customers that cooked poultry is safe.

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Bird Flu Virus May Infect One Third of World's Population - Russian Expert

Created: 07.03.2006 15:18 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 15:44 MSK

One-third of the world's population might become infected with bird flu in a short period of time, Director of the Russian Academy of Science's Virology Research Institute Dmitry Lvov said, according to Interfax.

"Any pandemic (flu) virus appears as a result of crossing between a human virus and a bird virus. A highly pathogenic monster emerges and it can affect up to one-third of the world's population in a short period of time," he said.
The flu is a very serious infection, which has existed among birds for millions of years," he said. "In 1918, the Spanish influenza killed about 50 million people all over the world."

The history of fighting a pandemic shows that "quarantine measures are unable to hold in check the circulation of the virus," he said.

"Even a vaccine is a means of individual protection. A good vaccine can save a person not from the disease itself but from death and complications," he said.

Experts all over the world fear that H5N1 virus, which has killed more than 90 people since 2003, mostly in Asia, may mutate into a form that can pass between humans, sparking a deadly epidemic. A four-year-old boy who died in Indonesia last week, became the latest suspected bird flu victim.

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Bird flu risk to humans higher in Europe, spreading across globe

March 8, 2006

BERLIN - A German minister claimed that deadly bird flu was moving closer to infecting humans in Europe after two more cats died of the virus, while China reported its 10th human fatality.

And Albania became the latest European country to report an outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu strain, as international veterinary experts warned that the United States, Canada and Australia will probably not escape the ever-spreading disease.
China said on Wednesday that a nine-year-old girl had become the 10th person to die from bird flu, bringing the global death toll since 2003 to 96.

In Germany, Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer said late on Tuesday the discovery of the dead cats a week after the first feline infection in Germany signalled a heightened risk of infection for humans.

"This means that the virus is not confined to a single case of a mammal but has spread to several cases. Therefore, bird flu has clearly moved closer to humans," he told Bayerischer Rundfunk radio.

The two cats were found in the same area of the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen as a cat discovered dead last week, which proved to be the first mammal in Europe to be infected with the virus. The first cat is believed to have eaten infected birds.

However Germany's national veterinary laboratory, the Friedrich Loeffler Institute, said the risk of the first case of human infection in the
European Union had not risen as a result of the discovery.

The World Health Organisation has said there is no evidence that cats can be involved in the spread of the disease.

Meanwhile the deadly H5N1 bird flu that has moved from Asia to Europe and Africa will probably extend its reach into other continents, the head of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), Bernard Vallat, said Wednesday.

"The likelihood that this strain will appear in Australia is very high," Vallat said, adding that "the possibility was also very high in the United States and Canada."

The three countries "had done rather advanced analyses and they are pessimistic" about escaping bird flu contamination, he told French lawmakers during a hearing on bird flu in Paris.

Earlier this week WHO director-general Lee Jong Wook warned again of a global pandemic if the virus mutated into a form that could be easily spread between humans.

Currently, humans are believed to be contracting the virus from poultry.

The girl who died in China was from the eastern province of Zhejiang, which has not recorded any outbreak of bird flu. Reports however said she had gone to a neighbouring area to visit relatives who were keeping infected chickens.

Her death came just days after that of a man in southern China, raising fears of the virus spreading to Hong Kong.

China's vice agriculture minister Yin Chengjie warned that the country faced the danger of more outbreaks of bird flu.

"We are coming into a period where the bird flu will be highly transmissible. As the weather warms up, more wild birds will be migrating and it will be easier for the bird flu to be transmitted to a wider area," Yin said.

Albania's first case was discovered in a chicken near the coastal town of Saranda, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of the Greece, Agriculture Minister Jemin Gjana said.

Four new cases of the highly pathogenic H5 bird flu virus have been confirmed in ducks in Sweden, bringing the total number to 10, the Swedish Board of Agriculture said on Wednesday.

Researchers have however yet to determine whether the Swedish ducks died from the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, the most aggressive form of the virus that has been lethal to humans.

In Poland, authorities have isolated some 50 wild swans and placed them under observation in an aviary some 50 wild swans at Torun, in northern Poland, where three birds were found dead of the H5N1 virus.

The head of the OIE took the European Union to task for not coming through with 122 million dollars in aid for countries affected, particularly in Africa, that was promised at a bird flu China in Beijing in mid-January.

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Anti-Depressants Double Suicidal Thoughts And Actions In Children

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

BOSTON GLOBE - Antidepressants appear to double the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions in children who take them, US regulators said in a study outlining the methodology used for a 2004 report that led to warnings on drugs including Eli Lilly & Co.'s Prozac and GlaxoSmithKline's Paxil. The Food and Drug Administration first presented the findings, detailed yesterday in the Archives of General Psychiatry, to an advisory panel in September 2004. The agency followed with a requirement that makers of antidepressants warn patients and doctors. The warning led to a 20 percent drop in antidepressant prescriptions for children between March 2004 and June 2005, according to Psychiatric News, the newspaper of the American Psychiatric Association.

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Dana Reeve death draws attention to lung cancer

Updated Wed. Mar. 8 2006 8:59 AM ET
CTV.ca News Staff

The death of Dana Reeve, widow of Superman actor Christopher Reeve, has drawn new attention to a disease the kills around 19,000 Canadians every year.

Reeve passed away Monday at the age of 44. She had been battling lung cancer despite never having smoked, nor having been exposed to second-hand smoke.
Her death --just seven months after she was diagnosed with the disease -- has brought new attention to a cancer that kills more Canadians every year than breast, colorectal and prostate cancer combined.

Lung cancer specialist Dr. Yee Ung told CTV's Canada AM the disease appears to be on the rise, especially among women.

"Firstly, we know the incidence of lung cancer in women is increasing primarily in relation to smoking, but about 10 to 15 per cent of lifelong non-smokers do get lung cancer," Dr. Ung said.

Statistics show that smoking causes more than 80 per cent of lung cancer cases, but one in five women who develop lung cancer have never smoked.

Comment: Is this what the statistics really show, or do they simply assume that if a smoker gets lung cancer, it is because of smoking?

Experts are still largely mystified as to why female non-smokers are developing lung cancer. Dr. Ung said it could be related to second-hand smoke or genetic factors that make women more susceptible.

And although lung cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer, it is also difficult to diagnose and treat. Patients generally don't develop symptoms of the disease until it is too late to do much about, Ung said.

"The key is that often times the lung cancer is diagnosed unfortunately late. And once lung cancer has spread outside of the lungs we unfortunately don't have a cure for it," Ung told AM.

The best course of action, he said, is to maintain regular checkups with a doctor and immediately report any symptoms that develop, such as shortness of breath or coughing up of blood.

New cancer treatments are offering hope to some cancer patients, Ung said, allowing physicians to better diagnose the disease and improve treatment with chemotherapy, radiation and "newer targeted therapies."

But despite progress, about 60 per cent of people with lung cancer still die within the first year of being diagnosed, statistics released by the American Cancer Society reveal.

Most lung cancers occur in older people, the society says, with just three per cent affecting people under the age of 45, regardless of smoking status.

Globally, lung cancer is the world's leading killer, with more than one million new cases each year, and an equal number of deaths.

In 2006 there were about 1.2 million new cases of lung cancer and about 1.3 million deaths worldwide, the ACS says.

About 49 per cent of patients are estimated to survive when the cancer is detected before spreading outside of the lungs.

Once it has spread to the chest, the survival rate drops to 16 per cent, and once it has spread to other organs the survival rate plummets to just two per cent.

Surgery is the preferred form of treatment, but chemotherapy and radiation are also often used.

Reeve's form of lung cancer was rare and difficult to diagnose, continued Ung.

Reeve, a singer-actress, was renowned for her unwavering support of her late actor-husband, who was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident in 1996 and died in 2004.

Reeve fought for better treatments and possible cures for paralysis through the Christopher Reeve Foundation, which she led after her husband's death.

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Big Food's Bad Idea

By Jason Mark, AlterNet. Posted March 8, 2006.

The food lobby is quietly pushing a bill that would set a single national set of food labeling rules -- and eliminate local control over food safety disclosures.
Some people called it a folly of know-nothing Luddites. Others praised it as an important blow against technological hubris. But no matter where you stood on the 2004 ballot measure in California's Mendocino County that banned the cultivation of GMO crops, it's generally agreed that the initiative represented all that is best about local democracy -- citizens coming together to address an issue that's important to them. And in the Mendocino case, it was an issue that is well-made for local governance, given how intimate food is, how uniquely attached to our sense of place.

The idea of food as a local resource is now under assault [PDF] from a congressional measure that would sharply restrict the ability of states and cities to establish their own food safety standards. If the proposal becomes law, nearly all of the decisions about the quality of our food will be made in Washington. For anyone who values a measure of local control over the food we eat, this is bad news.

For 100 years -- since the 1906 establishment of the Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act -- the federal government has set most of the safety standards for the food that ends up in grocery stores and restaurants. States and cities, however, can also make rules governing food safety, and as health consciousness has increased, many local governments have passed food rules in areas that federal regulations overlook.

For example, grocery stores in California are required to post information warning pregnant women to avoid certain fish, such as swordfish, that have high levels of mercury. Minnesota candy bars must disclose if alcohol is an ingredient, and Michigan bulk foods made with sulfites have to carry an allergy warning. In Rhode Island, shellfish is required to carry a sign saying whether it's been frozen.

Consumers may appreciate these rules, but the food conglomerates and the grocery chains do not. For the food corporations, the divergent federal, state and local rules are an annoyance that complicate selling the same exact products across the entire country. Especially irritating to Big Food is California's Proposition 65, which requires that consumers be notified about ingredients known to cause cancer or birth defects. The food companies fear their operations would be further complicated if other states passed similar laws.

So the food lobby is forcefully but quietly pushing the "National Uniformity for Food Act," a bill that would annul standards like those in California and set a single set of food labeling rules. Under the proposal, states would not be able to create any food regulations that go above and beyond the national standards. Though there has been hardly any debate on the law, the House is set to vote on the legislation March 9.

Consumer groups are strongly opposed to the bill. They say the legislation would eliminate some important safeguards, and they worry that the law will end up taking away a key avenue -- state action -- for raising food safety standards. This is indeed worrisome. State rules have often had the beneficial effect of compelling food makers to improve their practices, not only in the state where the rule is enacted, but across the country. California's Prop. 65, for instance, prompted food corporations to make changes nationwide, since no company wanted to create a separate package for food sold in the most populous state. Because many companies felt it would look better to simply remove some ingredients than to say their products contained carcinogens, the law has led to the phaseout of some 750 chemicals, according to California's attorney general.

The threat to food safety is real. But there's a larger issue at stake, and that's whether we want to continue prioritizing national food production and distribution, or if we should instead be lending support to local and regional food networks that provide fresher, tastier, healthier food. Placing all review of food standards at the federal level would cement concentration in the already highly concentrated food industry. Keeping some powers at the state level would help defend the ideal that at its best food is produced locally -- close to your home, by people you know.

On this issue, Congress is going against the grain of popular taste. In the last 15 years, the local food movement has grown wildly. Tens of thousands of families have enrolled in Community Supported Agriculture programs in which they receive weekly deliveries of fresh produce from individual farms. The number of U.S. farmers markets more than doubled from 1994 to 2004, according to the USDA. The public embrace of regional foods reveals one of the biggest problems with the pending legislation: As more and more food returns to a system of local production for local consumption, the need for state and municipal food safety regulations will increase not decrease. Congress is taking a step in the wrong direction.

The very name of the food corporations' bill should raise some concerns: "Uniformity for Food" sounds like a recipe for spoiling much of the fun in eating. What we enjoy most about food is precisely that it's not uniform; variety and novelty are what give local flavors and regional cuisines their spice. If the Alabama government wants to give consumers assurance that the grits they buy meet certain nutritional standards, it should be allowed to do so.

Tonight millions of Americans will go home and ask a simple question: "What's for dinner?" The fate of the bill before Congress will play a huge role in deciding who gets to provide the answer.

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This is your life (if you are a woman)

Published: 08 March 2006
The Independent

1% of the titled land in the world is owned by women

A baby girl born in the UK is likely to live to 81 - but if she is born in Swaziland, she is likely to die at 39

70% of the 1.2 bn people living in poverty are women and children
21% of the world's managers are female

62% of unpaid family workers are female

9% of judges, 10% of company directors and 10% of top police officers in the UK are women

Women comprise 55% of the world's population aged over 60 years old and 65% of those aged over 80

£970,000 is the difference between lifetime earnings of men and women in the UK finance sector

85m girls worldwide are unable to attend school, compared with 45m boys. In Chad, just 4% of girls go to school.

700,000,000 women are without adequate food, water, sanitation, health care or education (compared with 400,000,000 men)

Women in full-time jobs earn an average 17% less than British men

Women in part-time jobs earn an average 42% less than British men

67% of all illiterate adults are women

1,440 women die each day during childbirth (a rate of one death every minute)

1 in 7 women in Ethiopia die in pregnancy or childbirth (it is one in 19,000 in Britain)

In the US, 35% of lawyers are women but just 5% are partners in law firms

In the EU, women comprise 3% of chief execs of major companies

12 is the number of world leaders who are women (out of 191 members of the United Nations)

Men directed 9 out of every 10 films made in 2004

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Digital Hype

By Norman Solomon, AlterNet. Posted March 7, 2006.

As each new season brings more waves of higher-tech digital products, I often think of Mark Twain. Along with being a brilliant writer, he was also an ill-fated investor -- fascinated with the latest technical innovations, including the strides toward functional typewriters and typesetting equipment as the 19th century neared its close.

Twain would have marveled at the standard PC that we take for granted now. But what would he have made of the intrusiveness of present-day media technology -- let alone its recurring content?
It's getting harder and harder to drive out of cell-phone range -- that is, if you really want to. And judging from scenes at countless remote locations, many people would rather not forfeit 24/7 phone access for conversations that involuntary eavesdroppers hear half of. (Virtually always, it seems, the more boring half.)

These days, mainstream media fascination with blogs and the bloggers who love them often seems to assume that the very use of the Internet enhances the content or style of what has been written. It's a seductive cyber-fantasy. Speed is useful, and so are hyperlinks and visuals-on-demand, but -- fortunately or not, depending on your point of view -- there's no digital invisible hand that can move any piece of writing very far along the road to worthwhile reading.

A central paradox of the rapid advances in media technologies is that the quantum leaps in computer hard drives and software have been accompanied by an approximately zero boost in human mental capacity -- or in what we refer to with such words as "insight," "wisdom" and "compassion." You can't visit a local mall or an online site and pull out a credit card to purchase an upgrade in gray matter or human connection.

The momentum of digital communications has conveyed a sense of inevitability. As last year's cutting-edge gizmos become old hat, resistance appears to be futile. But the question is not whether we're "pro" or "anti" technology. More pertinent are inquiries like: What's the point of all this hyper-computerized stuff? How does it relate to the most important meanings of life?

To explore the answers to such questions, even the finest desktops and search engines are unlikely to be much help. Mega-outfits like Microsoft and Google offer incredible ease and speed. When we're seeking information or images, they can do almost everything better and faster than we can -- except think and reflect, feel and create, love and mourn…

A half-century ago, there was much talk about the fear that machines would replace people in the workplace. Now, "automation" has an almost quaint ring to it. But the high premium put on speedily moving a business agenda goes back many decades. "In an age of advanced technology," Aldous Huxley foresaw, "inefficiency is the sin against the Holy Ghost."

In recent years, the corporate emphasis on the efficient use -- and, let's face it, exploitation -- of human beings has become more overbearing. By now, no one expects a big company to exhibit much loyalty to employees in the long run. And the ubiquitous presence of media technologies in the workaday world, from computer to cell phone to BlackBerry, has facilitated chronic employer demands for greater "productivity." While a new digital gizmo may serve the worker, that worker is still expected to serve management's often-insatiable drive for profits -- more efficiently than ever.

News outlets routinely provide breathless accounts of the latest digital dazzles. But precious little media attention focuses on the deeper qualities of the human experience, the content of the lightning-fast communications or the ultimate end-product. Data streams move faster than the eye can see. Information doesn't flow, it rockets. But what's it all for?

Even the most wondrous media technologies can't supply an iota of meaning. Yet the prevalent media discourse keeps equating digital breakthroughs with human breakthroughs. But that's a very dubious proposition.

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Human quadrupeds discovered in Turkey

Tue Mar 7, 7:56 AM ET

LONDON - The discovery of a Turkish family that walks on all fours could aid research into the evolution of humans.

Researchers believe the five brothers and sisters, who can walk naturally only on all fours, may provide new information on how humans evolved from four-legged hominids to walk upright.
Nicholas Humphrey, evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, told The Times the discovery opened "an extraordinary window on our past".

"I do not think they were designed to be quadrupeds by their genes, but their unique genetic make-up allowed them to be," he said.

"It has produced an extraordinary window on our past. It is physically possible, which noone would have guessed from the [modern] human skeleton."

The siblings, the subject of a new BBC documentary to be aired on March 17, suffer from a genetic abnormality that may prevent them from walking upright.

Instead, they use their palms like heels with their fingers sticking up from the ground.

The BBC said the documentary would contribute to fierce scientific debate and raised profound questions about what it is to be human.

Humphrey, who has contributed to the documentary, believes the style of walking may be a throwback to a form of behaviour abandoned by humans more than three million years ago.

Two sisters and one son have only ever walked on two hands and two feet, while another daughter and son occasionally walk on two feet.

All five are mentally retarded and have problems with language as a result of a form of underdevelopment of the brain known as cerebellar ataxia.

However Humphrey told the Times their behaviour may be partly the result of their parents tolerating the behaviour in childhood.

They are aged between 18 and 34 and live in southern Turkey, athough the makers of the documentary have not disclosed their exact location.

"They walk like animals and that's very disturbing at first. But we were also very moved by this family's tremendous warmth and humanity," Jemima Harrison of Passionate Productions told the Times.

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