Tamiflu was developed and patented in 1996 by a California biotech firm, Gilead Sciences Inc. Gilead is a NASDAQ (GILD) listed stock company which prefers to maintain a low profile in the current rush to Tamiflu. That might be because of who is tied to Gilead. In 1997, before he became US Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld was named Chairman of the Board of Gilead Sciences, where he remained until early 2001 when he became Defense Secretary. Rumsfeld had been on the board of Gilead since 1988 according to a January 3 1997 company press release.
An as-yet-unconfirmed report is that Rumsfeld while Secretary of Defense also purchased an additional stock in his former company, Gilead Sciences Inc., worth $18 million, making him one of its largest if not the largest stock owners today.
"There is high-level biological research underway in Britain and presumably also the United States to develop a genetic engineering method to make chickens and other birds 'resistant' to Avian Flu viruses."
Once again, Israeli Defense (Offense) Minister Shaul Mofaz has rattled his saber at Iran. Mofaz and the Israelis are upset because the United States has yet to shock and awe Iran and really the Jabotinskyites, well accustomed to invading and provoking their Arab neighbors, have no patience for the Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency, currently meeting in Vienna-they want Iran decimated now, no more excuses. "The Israeli approach is that the U.S. and the European countries should lead the issue of the Iranian nuclear programme to the table of the U.N. Security Council, asking for sanctions. And I hope the sanctions will be effective," Mofaz is quoted by Reuters. In other words, sanctions will not be good enough for Mofaz and the Israelis-nothing short of mass murder will suffice.
As usual, the proposed sanctions against Iran are "aimed at the regime and its nuclear and missile programmes, not the Iranian people," as Nicholas Burns, under-secretary of state, explained, according to the Financial Times. In much the same way, we are told, the United States and the United Nations imposed sanctions against Iraq and the result was Saddam lived in palaces, sold oil under the table, and 1.5 million Iraqis, 500,000 of them infants and children, died in the process, an outcome well worth the effort, according to Madeline Albright. Infants and children invariably pay for sanctions imposed against governments and Nicholas Burns knows it. Of course, as with the sanctions imposed against Iraq, Iran's oil will not be taken off the market because this would be "unthinkable at a time of high energy prices," or windfall profits for multinational oil corporations.
Naturally, sanctions come first, and then military action. "Military action against Iran is neither inevitable, nor, at this stage, likely," a USA Today op-ed would have us believe. "But if the Iraq war provides one lesson, it is this: The best way to address a foreign threat-and Iran's illegal effort to build nuclear weapons is certainly that-is through coordinated international action, difficult as that is to achieve." Of course it is likely, not that we should expect the scriveners at Gannett Co. Inc. to do five minutes of research on the Straussian neocons, who keep telling us they will take out Iran and all the other "rogue nations" on the "evil empire" roster. Recall their surprise when Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq-and also later their lame attempts to deflect blame for acting as propaganda organs. Same thing this time around, although most Americans have the memory capacity of an earth worm after a late spring frost.
Like actors following a well-drafted script-drafted some time ago by the Straussian neocons and their Jabotinsky co-conspirators-Shaul Mofaz has issued his warning Israel will act on its own (an empty threat, since only the United States has the capacity to inflict significant harm on Iran, unless Israel plans to nuke Iran), and Donald Rumsfeld accused Iran of dispatching elements of its Revolutionary Guard to stir trouble inside Iraq, as usual uncorroborated, while John Bolton told everybody there is a "a sense of urgency about Tehran's defiance of the world community," as the BBC put it.
Indeed, Iran is back on the front burner again after a short hiatus. Soon the Security Council will determine Iran's illusory nukes are real and threatening, sanctions will be forthcoming, but these of course will not be good enough for the Straussian neocons, a cabal of criminals that fully intend to shock and awe the country, kill thousands, and seriously disrupt Iranian society and culture. Iran has threatened a world of hurt-and it has the ability to do it by sinking a couple oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, the most strategically important sea route in the world. Doing so will stop dead oil deliveries from Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, as well as most of United Arab Emirates. Add to this Venezuela leader Hugo Chavez' warning that he will shut down oil imports to the United States if Bush goes "over the line" and attempts to overthrow his government, as the CIA failed to do in 2002.
As it now stands, we are but a few weeks away from total disaster-that is unless the devious plans of the Straussian neocons can be derailed and sanity returns to the White House and the Pentagon. I'm not counting on it, however, for it now appears the Security Council will do a repeat of late 2002 and early 2003. In fact, this time around, it appears at least three of the five permanent members-the United States, Britain, and France-are chomping at the bit to invade Iran. Last time around, France opposed the invasion of Iraq-and endured scorching criticism from the United States and millions of brainwashed Americans-but on this round France believes Iran's nuclear program (Iran ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1970, and since February 1992 has allowed the IAEA to inspect its nuclear facilities) is "a cover for clandestine military activity," as Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy declared last month. In other words, it will be smooth sailing for the Straussian neocons this time around.
Brace yourself for six dollar a gallon gasoline and "harm and pain," as promised by Iran. "Teheran's most overt menaces to date were repeated several times at the meeting of the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency," the UK Telegraph reports this evening. "Iranian officials declined to spell out precisely what Iran would do…. But experts say Iran's options include driving up oil prices, blocking the passage of tankers through the Gulf, stirring more chaos in Iraq, fomenting violence against Israel or promoting terrorist attacks against the West," all perfectly normal responses for a nation after it is invaded by a far superior military force determined to bounce the rubble and kill hundreds of thousands of people.
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Quoting the eloquent and infamous words of the incredibly articulate Mr. Cheney, I say, "Fuck you!" to their malignant cabal. While this nefarious faction and its loyalists may consider me a traitor, I refuse to pledge allegiance to a pack of criminals who have hijacked the government of the people of the United States. If it is treason to dissent against corrupt thieves and murderers who have shredded our sacred Constitution, I stand guilty as charged.
There are lies and there are damned lies
One of the boldest and most insidious lies propagated by the leadership of the Zionists, the Dominionists, the Religious Right, and by their whores in Washington is that the Middle East is populated primarily by Islamic extremists with an insatiable thirst for the blood of "innocent American Christians" and who are hell bent on eliminating "those poor chronic victims" illegally occupying the land of the Palestinians and committing genocide against them.
Somehow, in a twist of logic only Lewis Carroll could fully comprehend, many people in the United States have been indoctrinated to believe that our nation, which possesses the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction in the history of mankind, is the only nation to have used those weapons on a massive scale (just ask the Japanese), and bears direct and indirect responsibility for the murder of tens of millions of innocent civilians over the last century, is a benevolent super-power illuminating a beacon of hope for humanity. I readily recognize that other nations and governments have committed their share of atrocities, but I do not see them waving the Red, White and Blue, piously trumpeting platitudes about spreading freedom and democracy, and simultaneously waging pre-emptive strikes against nations which they merely "perceive to be a potential threat". Holier than thou, dost thou think? The golden chalice of the United States runneth over with putrid sanctimony.
The terror of gazing at one's own reflection
For over a year now, I have written numerous essays which have been widely published on the Internet. My primary goal has been to inspire Americans to apply the same humanitarian standards to our nation that we use to stringently and hypocritically measure other nations. I have also attempted to convince more Americans to engage in introspection and self-examination. When I began plumbing those depths about 13 years ago, I did not like what I saw. I have steadily acted to reshape my values, outlook, and decisions to align with ideals such as human rights, social justice, peace, equality, thrift, dignity, honesty, respect, and responsibility. While I have not achieved the high moral plain of a Gandhi by any means, I have become more a part of the solution than the problem.
Based on the hateful, denigrating, and sometimes threatening emails I receive from about a third of the readers responding to my essays, I conclude that my message threatens the sense of security many Americans derive from supporting the status quo. I have also determined that I am swimming upstream against an addictive torrent of vitriolic propaganda spewed by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Jonah Goldberg, and a host of others. Sorry to disappoint those of you who have told me to leave the country, kill myself, or renounce being a "traitor and a "self-hating American" (yes, they often parrot the rhetoric of the likes of Daniel Pipes), but I have no intention of moving, killing myself, or abandoning my deeply rooted antipathy for the enemies of humanity (and the Earth) who have stolen the United States from We the People.
Jesus as a commodity... and a weapon
One of the American elite's (amongst whom I include their complicit disseminators of propaganda in the mainstream media) most repulsive means of grabbing and maintaining power has been its shameless use of spiritual manipulation, a heinous form of psychological abuse. Preying on fear, insecurity, and ignorance, they have perverted true Christianity to the extent that a third of those voting for George Bush, a man as morally repugnant as Dorian Gray, were a part of the radical Religious Right.
With the help of mendacious, avaricious, and highly sophisticated hucksters like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Ted Haggard, the American plutocracy has packaged and commercialized spirituality like an Extra Value Meal at McDonald's. You want fast food salvation done the American way? Look for the Golden Crosses, zip into the drive-through, drop some donation money, and accept Christ as your savior! Forget spiritual pain or sacrifice. Jesus died to grant you a path to easy street. So be on your merry way with your Big Mac of two all beef patties and guaranteed eternity in heaven. Chase it down with an enchanting Golgotha collector's cup filled with smug certainty that you are now morally superior to the rest of humanity. Savor a side of Schadenfreude fries delightfully spiced with visions of the abject torment the "heathens" will face when Jesus the Avenger returns to Earth to smite the sinners.
Acknowledging that not all those comprising the Religious Right are created equal, and that there is a great deal of diversity amongst their beliefs and practices, there is enough commonality to conclude that the malefactors at the helm of the US have leveraged the hateful, narrow-minded beliefs of enough of these fanatics to garner sufficient support to commit egregious acts of torture, passive mass murder (New Orleans ring a bell?), massive slaughter under the guise of military intervention, and theft of public funds.
Men like Dobson shepherd their flocks to vote for bellicose champions of the wealthy because these "moral stalwarts" have pledged their undying support to a "culture of life". Despite their "devotion" to making abortion illegal, ending the use of human embryos (even those which would otherwise be discarded) for stem cell research, and denying equal rights to 5-10% of our population (gays and lesbians), the power brokers have perpetually been incapable of making good on their promises. While championing these "family values", they have mesmerized their Religious Right followers into supporting the false dichotomy of Christianity vs. Islam, an imperialistic and murderous agenda in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, and domestic policies which significantly erode the economic well-being of their radical Christian base (and the rest of us amongst the working class). Thomas Frank explored this mind-blowing phenomenon in great detail in his book, What's the Matter with Kansas.
Realize that I am not disparaging the Christian religion in general. Personally, I am a spiritual person with a belief in a Higher Power, but I am not Christian. However, I recognize that there are many rational, compassionate, and decent human beings who practice Christianity. If one reads many of my essays, one will discover that I often find myself defending Islam and its followers in my writing. I do this because they have been the victims of Western imperialism for years. I make no claim that either the Muslims or Christians are better. I am simply deeply concerned about the Western genocide and acts of imperialism committed against Islamic peoples since oil became a valued commodity. In spite of the despicable misdeeds committed in our names, we wonder why so many in the Middle East harbor such hostility against the United States and its residents. We act befuddled, violated, and validated in our belief that we are morally superior when obscenely oppressed and exploited people resort to "terrorism" in a desperate attempt to defend themselves from the mightiest military and economy in the history of the world.
I abhor the violence committed by both sides, but we are not the "good guys". The prevaricators leading our nation and writing our history have portrayed Americans as wearing the white hats for far too long. Transgressions and atrocities have been committed by many nations and people throughout history, including the United States and its leaders. Consider the most recent example in Iraq. Our occupying force has killed over 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians. This is state terrorism at its worst and it needs to end. With our resources, the United States could become a humanitarian force. Sadly, the Neocons have chosen guns over butter (using our tax dollars and a mountain of borrowed money) to a shameless degree, enraging many of us who still have a social conscience.
Do as we say, not as we do
Just as some Islamic fundamentalists wield religion as a weapon, the morally bankrupt aristocracy of the United States utilizes religion as a tool of war. Employing the power of spiritual manipulation to muster the support of their minions of extremist Christians, the authors of the Project for the New American Century mobilized enough popular support to invade a nation which had not harmed the United States, to eradicate the poor in New Orleans through passive mass murder and a Diaspora, to sell our children's future by committing to $8 trillion worth of debt to power their war machine, to cut taxes on the rich, and to increase war spending while cutting spending on programs which benefit humanity.
I hate to burst the bubble of those still deluded enough to accept the false premise (advanced by the Bush Regime) that we are a Christian nation embroiled in a modern day crusade against the followers of an Islamic religion which teaches them to hate democracy and brutally violate human rights. Here is a dose of reality. Over the last century, this "good Christian nation" and our friends in Israel have slaughtered, murdered, and tortured millions of Islamic people, both directly and indirectly (through proxy dictators). In contrast, Islamic murders of Americans, Christians and Jews are a relative drop in the bucket. Rather than "spreading freedom and democracy", Bush has the United States spreading imperialism, torture, and murder of innocent civilians. Saddam Hussein's removal from power was a mere sideshow. If the United States was so concerned with its moral obligation to remove a ruthless dictator from power, there were many others they could have targeted. It was oil, power, and increased security for our terrorist proxy occupying Palestine that motivated the United States to invade Iraq.
Speaking of concern for human rights and humanitarian intervention, when is the United States going to stop funding Israel and launch an invasion against them to stop the Palestinian genocide? When groups like Hamas have the audacity to resist oppression and murder, Americans and Israelis label them as "terrorists". Now that Hamas is the democratically elected ruling party of the PA, the United States has elected to cut its aid to the Palestinians, a people who are already wallowing in the misery of Israeli-inflicted poverty and racial extermination. (As a side note, the Israelis are able to inflict genocide on the Palestinians because of the obscene amounts of financial and military aid they receive from the United States). To add insult to injury, Israel has determined that they can once again disregard international law by withholding the Palestinian tax revenues they collect (the Palestinians' chief source of income). As is typical, the United States and its proxy are free to violate treaties, international laws, UN mandates, and humanitarian standards with impunity while applying the same laws to the rest of the world to the nth degree.
How about calling us a pluralistic nation with freedom of religion?
The notion that the United States is a Christian nation is false on numerous levels. Certainly we are heavily influenced Christianity, but to say we are a Christian nation flies in the face of the raison de' etre of America.
Consider the following:
1. According to the 1990 US Census, 91.6% of Americans were Christians. By 2000, the percentage had decreased to 85%. We 42 million "heathens" represent a pretty significant portion of the population.
2. Many of the Western Europeans who settled the original thirteen colonies fled their nations of origin to evade religious persecution and state-imposed religions.
3. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, two of our most prominent Founding Fathers, were Deists. Washington and Jefferson were not particularly religious but tended more toward Deism than Christianity.
4. Thomas Paine, whose writings were a powerful catalyst for the American Revolution, vehemently attacked Christianity in one of his polemical works and refused to embrace Christianity, even on his death-bed.
5. God is not mentioned in our Constitution. The Declaration of Independence simply mentions "Nature's God" and a "Creator", neither of which specifically imply a Christian god.
6. Per the Treaty of Tripoli, endorsed by President John Adams and ratified unanimously by the US Senate in 1797: "As the Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion..."
7. If Christians lay claim to the United States as their nation, that means they bear the sole responsibility for the evils of slavery, the virtual annihilation of the Native Americans, and the many acts of state terror perpetrated by the US military and CIA over the years.
8. In 1864, the equivalent of today's Religious Right cowed Congress into passing legislation mandating that the US begin stamping "In God We Trust" on several of our coins. Besides caving to the powerful influence of Christian fundamentalists, our federal government also recognized the psychological boost the power of Christian symbolism would give them after the blow to their authority rendered by the Civil War.
9. McCarthy-inspired anti-Communist hysteria motivated Eisenhower to sign Public Law 140 in 1956. Going forward, all US coins and paper money bore the propagandistic slogan "In God We Trust" to reassure Americans that we were better than the godless Communists. The same year, the words "under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance. It took 180 years for this Christian nation to fully embrace its identity. Or perhaps it simply took our plutocratic rulers that long to recognize the power of spiritual coercion….
As an aside, the original motto on the United States was E Pluribus Unum (Latin for "Out of many, one"), which obviously encourages more unity and cohesion than an exclusionary national motto dedicated to a god worshipped by one segment of the population. Sleeping like babies
Aside from the power of radical Christianity to subjugate the masses, this disturbing perversion of healthy spirituality does come with an added "benefit". It enables its devotees to support politicians who rob from the poor to give to the rich, who wage murderous and imperialist wars to enrich the military industrial complex, and who allow their corporate collaborators to blatantly abuse employees, consumers, and the environment. Thanks to the salve provided to their consciences by "knowing" they live in a Christian, morally superior nation (not to mention the security provided by their "guaranteed blissful after-life"), the mélange of groups and people comprising the extreme Religious Right can swear their allegiance to a group of monstrous human beings without feeling a twinge of guilt.
As many of my antagonists have pointed out, I am not without limitations (and I do not claim to be). Remaining in the United States to wage a non-violent struggle for human rights and social justice virtually assures that I will be a party to enabling the US war machine and corporatocracy in some way. Besides the fact that I pay federal taxes (fairly unavoidable for a working class family person), buy some products from grossly corrupt corporations (albeit as few as possible), and have my share of personal spiritual struggles, my other glaring sin is the hostility I harbor toward the enemies of humanity sitting atop the throne of power in our nation. However, even Jesus himself directed outrage at the money-changers and legalistic religious leaders of his day. If someone of his moral capacity directed anger at the corrupt establishment, who am I to presume I could overcome my rancor against the malevolent forces comprising the United States ruling elite? If their numerous crimes against humanity were not fanning the flames of my anger, I would no longer be breathing. My challenges are to prevent my ire from evolving into festering hatred or desire for revenge and to strive to maintain constructive anger (which motivates me to seek justice and positive change). That is a challenge to which I can rise, despite my human short-comings.
Please excuse my use of profanity above, but it felt so good to echo Cheney's choice sentiments back to him and his unwholesome cohorts. Meanwhile, send Satan a postcard on his vacation. Our imperialistic rulers do not need him to perpetrate their acts of profound moral depravity. They glide on the momentum generated by fanatical followers who believe they have the market cornered on morality and that Jesus will soon return to Earth as the ultimate WMD.
Jason Miller is a 39 year old sociopolitical essayist with a degree in liberal arts and an extensive self-education. When he is not spending time with his wife and three sons, doing research, or writing, he works as a loan counselor. He is a member of Amnesty International and an avid supporter of Oxfam International and Human Rights Watch. He welcomes responses at email@example.com or comments on his blog, Thomas Paine's Corner, at http://civillibertarian.blogspot.com/ .
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VIGILANTE: I'm not ashamed of what's going on. I think everybody has to take the focus off of, you know, Bush being on trial and the lesson was learned by the children. You are talking about 17-, 18-year-old children here. And I've got to say, from the comments of most of those kids in that class, although I don't agree with the lesson plan, myself, is the fact that they've exercised their right to free speech. And the comments the kids --
SCARBOROUGH: Wait a second. The right to free speech? They're 16-, 17-year-old kids. And the mere fact -- I mean, that's like me saying, "Well, why don't we have an experiment? And why don't we try you for the rape of a 6-year-old child? And we'll do that for a week. We'll put it in the newspapers and, hey, guess what? If people decide at the end of the week you didn't rape a 6-year-old boy, hey, it's a great learning experience." No, it's not.
VIGILANTE: But are you saying that 16- and 17-year-old kids shouldn't have the right to free speech?
SCARBOROUGH: You have been slandered by the fact that we're even trying you for the rape of a 6-year-old girl. Just like the president of the United States has been slandered for this trial. This isn't about free speech. This is about slandering the commander in chief at a time of war. And you don't see a problem with taxpayers in your community paying for that?
VIGILANTE: I pay the same taxes everybody else does. I just think that, you know, I am sworn to uphold the Constitution of America as a reservist and also as a councilman in my town. And that is the right to free speech.
SHAPIRO: Oh, boy.
VIGILANTE: And I don't think we need -- I don't think that we should censure them as government.
SCARBOROUGH: The right to free speech.
SHAPIRO: The right to free speech. I mean, I'd just like to quote Oliver Wendell Holmes and probably one of the most famous justices ever on the Supreme Court. And he said in 1892, look, there's a right to free speech, but, for instance, there's no right to be a policeman. And I think that same sentiment applies here with regard to a teacher. There's a right to free speech. There's is not a right to say whatever you want in a context being paid by the state to do a job. No one is arguing that these students can't say what they want to outside the classroom. No one's arguing they can't say what they want to inside the classroom. What we're arguing here is whether the professor, or the teacher, in this case, can pose a question in such a way as to slander the president of the United States on the taxpayer dollar.
SCARBOROUGH: No doubt about it. Thanks so much. I appreciate everybody on the panel being with us. Friends, let me tell you what I think. I think we've got a system here across America, where you've got school teachers, you've got liberal unions, you've got liberal principals. They're going in and they're polluting our children's mind, and guess who's paying them to do that. You're paying them to do that, and I'm paying them to do it. Meanwhile, you've got people sitting back like the town councilman, who are saying, "Hey, you know what? It's free speech." No, it's not free speech. It's perverse. It's completely wrong. I mean, why don't they try our Founding Fathers for crimes against African-Americans? Oh, wait. This teacher and this principal and this school district is doing that next. They're going to try our Founding Fathers for war crimes against humanity. They are a disgrace.
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NSA Tech Tracks Down Web Surfers
The NSA already knows how to find out where you're surfing from. Now, it wants to share its secret with online advertisers.
There are a couple of services that can match Internet Protocol, or IP, addresses to physical locations. But the technique isn't exactly iron-clad. Routing traffic through a server in some other country, for example, can throw these programs off the trail.
The NSA approach, "Network Geo-location Technology," is diferent, Military Information Technology magazine notes. It relies on latency, instead. By looking how long traffic on one computer takes to get to another, it can tell where that first PC is.
"The most common use of Internet geo-location technology is in the area of ad-serving. When users do a Google search, for example, the technology will show ads to them that are localized depending on their geographic location," the magazine says. "The technology is also used for on-line verification of identity. If a user is registering on-line to buy an airline ticket, for instance, and the user claims to be located in a certain place, the technology can determine whether that user is actually located there or in a different place and then either block the transaction or ask for additional verification."
The system is one of 44 technologies that the NSA is looking to sell off to businesses. Others include a "Shredder Residue Dispersion System" and an "Enhanced Beacon Recognition for Laser Communications."
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NeoCon allies desert Bush over Iraq
09 March 2006
These are the right-wing intellectuals who demanded George Bush invade Iraq. Now they admit they got it wrong. Are you listening, Mr President?
William Buckley Jnr
INFLUENTIAL CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST AND TV PUNDIT
'One can't doubt the objective in Iraq has failed ... Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an army of 130,000 Americans. Different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgement of defeat.'
AUTHOR AND LONG-TERM ADVOCATE OF TOPPLING SADDAM
'By invading Iraq, the Bush administration created a self-fulfilling prophecy: Iraq has now replaced Afghanistan as a magnet, a training ground and an operational base for jihadists, with plenty of American targets to shoot at.'
ARCH-WARMONGER AND PIVOTAL REPUBLICAN HAWK
'The military campaign and its political aftermath were both passionately debated within the Bush administration. It got the war right and the aftermath wrong. We should have understood that we needed Iraqi partners.'
PROMINENT COMMENTATOR AND INFLUENTIAL BLOGGER
'The world has learnt a tough lesson, and it has been a lot tougher for those tens of thousands of dead, innocent Iraqis ... than for a few humiliated pundits. The correct response is not more spin but a sense of shame and sorrow.'
RIGHT-WING COLUMNIST ON 'THE WASHINGTON POST' AND TV PUNDIT
'Almost three years after the invasion, it is still not certain whether, or in what sense, Iraq is a nation. And after two elections and a referendum on the constitution, Iraq barely has a government.'
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Enough of the D.C. Dems
By Molly Ivins
Mah fellow progressives, now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the party. I don't know about you, but I have had it with the D.C. Democrats, had it with the DLC Democrats, had it with every calculating, equivocating, triangulating, straddling, hair-splitting son of a bitch up there, and that includes Hillary Rodham Clinton.
I will not be supporting Senator Clinton because: a) she has no clear stand on the war and b) Terri Schiavo and flag-burning are not issues where you reach out to the other side and try to split the difference. You want to talk about lowering abortion rates through cooperation on sex education and contraception, fine, but don't jack with stuff that is pure rightwing firewater.
I can't see a damn soul in D.C. except Russ Feingold who is even worth considering for President. The rest of them seem to me so poisonously in hock to this system of legalized bribery they can't even see straight.
Look at their reaction to this Abramoff scandal. They're talking about "a lobby reform package." We don't need a lobby reform package, you dimwits, we need full public financing of campaigns, and every single one of you who spends half your time whoring after special interest contributions knows it. The Abramoff scandal is a once in a lifetime gift-a perfect lesson on what's wrong with the system being laid out for people to see. Run with it, don't mess around with little patches, and fix the system.
As usual, the Democrats have forty good issues on their side and want to run on thirty-nine of them. Here are three they should stick to:
1) Iraq is making terrorism worse; it's a breeding ground. We need to extricate ourselves as soon as possible. We are not helping the Iraqis by staying.
2) Full public financing of campaigns so as to drive the moneylenders from the halls of Washington.
3) Single-payer health insurance.
Every Democrat I talk to is appalled at the sheer gutlessness and spinelessness of the Democratic performance. The party is still cringing at the thought of being called, ooh-ooh, "unpatriotic" by a bunch of rightwingers.
Take "unpatriotic" and shove it. How dare they do this to our country? "Unpatriotic"? These people have ruined the American military! Not to mention the economy, the middle class, and our reputation in the world. Everything they touch turns to dirt, including Medicare prescription drugs and hurricane relief.
This is not a time for a candidate who will offend no one; it is time for a candidate who takes clear stands and kicks ass.
Who are these idiots talking about Warner of Virginia? Being anodyne is not sufficient qualification for being President. And if there's nobody in Washington and we can't find a Democratic governor, let's run Bill Moyers, or Oprah, or some university president with ethics and charisma.
What happens now is not up to the has-beens in Washington who run this party. It is up to us. So let's get off our butts and start building a progressive movement that can block the nomination of Hillary Clinton or any other candidate who supposedly has "all the money sewed up."
I am tired of having the party nomination decided before the first primary vote is cast, tired of having the party beholden to the same old Establishment money.
We can raise our own money on the Internet, and we know it. Howard Dean raised $42 million, largely on the web, with a late start when he was running for President, and that ain't chicken feed. If we double it, it gives us the lock on the nomination. So let's go find a good candidate early and organize the shit out of our side.
Molly Ivins writes in this space every month. Her latest book is "Who Let the Dogs In?"
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A Veteran's Letter to the President: "I Return Enclosed the Symbols of My Years of Service"
Joseph DuRocher was for 20 years the elected Public Defender of Florida's Ninth Judicial Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties. Since retirement, he's been writing and teaching law at the University of Central Florida and the Barry University School of Law. He was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy in the 1960s, serving as a Naval Aviator in the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. On Monday, Mr. DuRocher returned his Lieutenant's shoulder bars and Navy wings to President Bush, and enclosed the following letter.
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As a young man I was honored to serve our nation as a commissioned officer and helicopter pilot in the
U. S. Navy. Before me in WWII, my father defended the country spending two years in the Pacific aboard the U.S.S. Hornet (CV-14). We were patriots sworn "to protect and defend". Today I conclude that you have dishonored our service and the Constitution and principles of our oath. My dad was buried with full military honors so I cannot act for him. But for myself, I return enclosed the symbols of my years of service: the shoulder boards of my rank and my Naval Aviator's wings.
Until your administration, I believed it was inconceivable that the United States would ever initiate an aggressive and preemptive war against a country that posed no threat to us. Until your administration, I thought it was impossible for our nation to take hundreds of persons into custody without provable charges of any kind, and to "disappear" them into holes like Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram. Until your administration, in my wildest legal fantasy I could not imagine a U.S. Attorney General seeking to justify torture or a President first stating his intent to veto an anti-torture law, and then adding a "signing statement" that he intends to ignore such law as he sees fit. I do not want these things done in my name.
As a citizen, a patriot, a parent and grandparent, a lawyer and law teacher I am left with such a feeling of loss and helplessness. I think of myself as a good American and I ask myself what can I do when I see the face of evil? Illegal and immoral war, torture and confinement for life without trial have never been part of our Constitutional tradition. But my vote has become meaningless because I live in a safe district drawn by your political party. My congressman is unresponsive to my concerns because his time is filled with lobbyists' largess. Protests are limited to your "free speech zones", out of sight of the parade. Even speaking openly is to risk being labeled un-American, pro-terrorist or anti-troops. And I am a disciplined pacifist, so any violent act is out of the question.
Nevertheless, to remain silent is to let you think I approve or support your actions. I do not. So, I am saddened to give up my wings and bars. They were hard won and my parents and wife were as proud as I was when I earned them over forty years ago. But I hate the torture and death you have caused more than I value their symbolism. Giving them up makes me cry for my beloved country.
Joseph W. DuRocher
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A Very Proud Marine Mom
by Mick Youther
March 8, 2006
I've written a lot of columns about Mr. Bush's War on Iraq-first, trying to prevent it; then trying to end it. Along the way, I've been called anti-American, uninformed, stupid, a liar, an idiot, a moron, a commie, and a few things I won't repeat. It has been suggested that I leave America, and I have been accused of delighting in the death of Americans in Iraq.
Comments like these don't bother me, but the escalating violence in Iraq and the complete lack of progress in bringing the troops home is disheartening. I had begun to think, "What's the use?"-but then I got a letter from LuAnne. She described herself as "A Very Proud Marine Mom", and she wrote to thank me for writing a column she found posted on a Marine-support website. After exchanging emails, and with her permission; I would like to share some of LuAnne's feelings:
- "My son has just returned from his third deployment in Iraq. He turned 19 over there the first year, He turned 20 in Fallujah the second year, and this year my son was on the Syrian border when he turned 21. I cannot explain to anyone the paralyzing fear I had every second of every day he was there, and to be quite honest sometimes I still cry because I am so lucky he came home to us. Please continue your good work. Somehow we have got to get our boys home. Thank you again,"
- "I truly have been Blessed. I thank you for all that you do, and ask that you keep on trying to get the word out there. This country needs to hear the truth for a change."
- "...When people ask me if I think my Son is going to have to go back to Iraq, I say over my dead body!!! I mean it!! I have been writing my Congress men and women asking for help, almost begging...I get back form letters thanking me for my support of the war, which really infuriated me because I told them the whole story about my son being over there for the third time, and how he spent his past three birthdays over there, how lucky were we already that he came home each time. How much is enough?"
- "[My son] was going to stay in and make a career out of this. But the 3rd time really broke his spirit. That and I begged him to get out. I told him I would support him for the rest of his life.. .anything but that constant paralyzing fear I was in."
- "It seems like only yesterday he was there in that horrible place...Mothers still have their sons there. It has got to end."
- "My son is due to get out in June. We are all praying that it happens like it is supposed to but you never know. I am trying to stay positive that his time will be up and that this nightmare will be over."
- "My Son is still not ready to talk-only bits and pieces. I call him a lot, Even on times I probably should not do so. I just need to hear his voice."
- "I cannot begin to tell you how hard this was on my other children. We are so close it was like our heart was torn out. My youngest son had a very hard time… He was the only one in his class to have a brother over there."
- "[T]hey asked me if I had heard from my son, and I just lost it. Mostly because I had not heard from him, and so many marines were dying for what??? And the fear was just too much. I could not hold it in. …until he was home I honestly couldn't pull myself together and really came close to losing it."
- "There has to be something we can do to stop this Madness. So many lives have been totally destroyed, for one man's lies."
- "If I could say one thing that I truly mean from my heart, I would like people to know that anytime we hear that another soldier has died over there be it Marine, Army, Navy.. Every Mother and wife falls to their knees because it could be their son or husband. I still weep when I hear a soldier has died. I cannot imagine the pain."
That is a mother's love-and why this war must end. LuAnne's family is just one of hundreds of thousands of American families who have been caught up in Mr. Bush's war; and they are the lucky ones. Over 2300 families have not been so lucky. They have made the ultimate sacrifice.
President Bush often speaks about his noble cause in Iraq, and assures us that the sacrifice is worth it.
- "We don't know the course our own struggle will take, or the sacrifices that might lie ahead. We do know, however, that the defense of freedom is worth our sacrifice, we do know the love of freedom is the mightiest force of history, and we do know the cause of freedom will once again prevail. (Applause.)" --George W. Bush, 11/11/05
In fact, Mr. Bush believes we should honor the sacrifice of our troops by sacrificing some more of them:
- "These brave men and women gave their lives for a cause that is just and necessary for the security of our country, and now we will honor their sacrifice by completing their mission." --8/24/05
What this mission is, and how we will know when it is done, has become rather fuzzy. President Bush's simple-minded plan: "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." is just not good enough any longer. It has been three years, and at last count, there was not one Iraqi unit considered capable of operating on their own. The predicted "cake walk" in Iraq became "a long hard slog", and now our neoconservative masters are calling it the opening act of what they have dubbed "the Long War".
They can't even figure out how to get our troops out of Iraq, but they are already threatening to start a war with Iran, or Syria, or some other evildoer. My question is "Who do they think is going to fight all these wars?" Are they going to stop Luanne's son from getting out of the Marines and send him back to fight for a fourth time, a fifth time, a sixth time; and then what?
It is time to say "Enough!" It is time for Americans to turn off the so-called reality shows-like Survivor, and start paying attention to the real life and death survivor show that is playing every day in Iraq.
This is our country. They are our troops. It is our government. It is time to tell your representatives in Congress that the Bush Administration's insane plan to dominate the world is not worth one more American life, or limb, or drop of blood. Tell them, "It is time to bring our troops home!"
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Mein Country - Unforgivable
By Norma Sherry
8 Mar 06
If any business was run like the government of the United States it would have been out of business long ago. No business could run as a deficit without its board uprising and firing the lot that ran the business. No business would permit blatant false statements and assurances that all was well without serious repercussions. Furthermore, no customer would continue to buy products or services from a business that had a history of poor quality, or poor workmanship, or awful customer service, or a business that was reportedly running in the red and continued to do so.
So, how is it that we are so complacent? Why are we so willing to allow our elected officials to heap lie upon lie and not be accountable? If it were our children that were so dishonorable there would be hell to pay. At the very least, they'd lose their right to play their favorite game or confine them to their room where they could no longer wreck havoc.
But not so with our government and its elected officials. Nay, we seem to be long on suffering, patient beyond comprehension and errant in our condemnation for righting wrongs. There is no accountability nor are we demanding it. Why is that? Have we become comfortable with the status quo or just ignorant? Have we turned the other cheek so many times it's become an automatic reflex?
Allow me to pose some questions. What if you were up for a promotion but one of your co-workers was more than just a schmoozer. In fact, this person wanted the promotion so badly that he or she made certain that promises were made to the right people, that monies even exchanged hands. Do you think you'd sit idly by and do nothing? Hell no. Your anger would be unquenchable. You would do whatever you needed to do, or could do, to find justice. More than likely you would report this illegal wrangling to the agencies that oversee employee injustices. Some of you might even bring about a lawsuit. But one thing is for certain: you wouldn't sit still and allow your future to go down the drain.
Now, what if you were a corporation interested in participating in the rich business of rebuilding a country our country had desolated but you were not allowed to negotiate the possibility? What if the decision of who would reap the financial rewards was decided long before the ruins? Before the attacks even. What if these exceptionally lucrative contracts were assigned to bosom buddies and never even opened for bid? Would you have any recourse? Would you consider this the way business is done? I think not.
What if you were an indigent or disabled or an elderly individual who couldn't afford to buy your expensive prescription medications, but the pharmaceutical companies offered a program that gave you the ability to get your prescriptions for free? However, even though the pharmaceutical companies were exceedingly rich; rich, in fact, beyond the concept of most folk, they no longer wanted to play the role of humanitarian. So, they put their best minds to work and devised a program that would confuse and befuddle and in the end put gold back into their coffers. They created a plan – and sold it via their savvy lobbyists – to offer a drug program that on the surface would appear to be magnanimous. But, this is where the best part is, they fooled them all. No longer would they be obligated to "give" their expensive drugs, which actually cost them only pennies, to those poor folk. No! Now, they could get their just due. But, where does that leave you? Twenty-eight dollars, or eighty-four dollars, or a hundred and twenty-eight dollars is still way out of your ability to pay. You tell me, who's the winner here? Surely it's not the patient on a limited income. So, what's a little guy to do? Who is going to help him fight city hall? Not his elected official that's for sure.
What if you were a curious kinda gal or guy? You read every thing you could get your hands on. It isn't enough that you scanned the worldwide web to read what was being written and talked about all over the world in many different lifestyles and cultures, but your insatiable thirst for learning even brought you to your local library where you would take out book after book, topic upon topic. Well, low and behold, it seems your curiosity caught the attention of those who seem to know what's bad and what's good. Next thing you know there's a knock on your door and there's men in grey suits coming in your home, your private abode. "Why", you ask. "Shut up" you're told. You're taken away. To where you don't know, nor do your loved ones, or anyone who knows you for that matter. It takes a while but you find out your considered an endangerment to your country: a subversive, possibly even a terrorist or a person with terrorist connections. It appears you are deemed so because of your reading material on the worldwide web and your town library. What do you do? Who do you tell? How do you free yourself from this unwarranted imprisonment? And where oh where are the principles that our fair land was built upon?
Think these are unlikely scenarios? Think again, my dear friends. Every day in this fair land of ours our rights guaranteed, we thought, forever and ever, we thought, by our founding fathers; guaranteed to us as inalienable rights of our Bill of Rights and our Constitution. But little by little, day by day, our liberties, our precious rights are being dwindled down to a precious few.
The truth is right before our eyes if only we open them to see. The fear of seeing I know is almost too great, but if we don't before too long there will be nothing of memory to see. As we sit on our comfy couches mesmerized by the latest Survivor or Apprentice or handsome Bachelor, we are being dissolved, extinguished. Our jobs are going to China and India and Pakistan; our freedoms are being abolished; our air polluted; our waters putrefied; our forests fallen; our wildlife exterminated; our culture obliterated.
The fear so palatable that we are on the precipice of losing all that we believed was ours: our dignity, our honor, our precious freedom that I can barely breathe at all. The atrocities are piled high and wide and yet we sit comfy and watch our TV's. All the while poor innocents die horrible, starving deaths, men and women are tortured in the name of national security while agents of our land are outed for retribution on the highest order. Citizens are wiretapped, personal phone calls are listened in to, private communications are spied upon, here, at home, in the United States of America. How is this possible? How are we allowing this to happen before our very eyes? In America, in the land of the brave, business is business as usual.
The ink is dripping red, the debt growing exponentially and in numbers unfathomable and incalculable, enlisted men and women are dying needlessly, our foundation is methodically being hacked to death and we are doing nothing. We appear to believe the lies were fed. It's either that or worse: we don't care. Our children's destiny is uncertain. So, too, is their freedom, or notion of freedom. Destitution, disease, illiteracy, and incivility are commonplace. Pain and suffering, abuse, and injustice are in every neighborhood, on every block, and yet we do nothing. In America, in the land of the brave, business is business as usual.
We have but to open a newspaper or better yet search the Internet to read Katrina, Abramoff,Plame,Haliburton,NSA wiretaps,Abu Ghraib,Guantanemo Bay,EPA, US Patriot Act,Homeland Security, Dubai, US Ports,eavesdropping, Mission Accomplished,Tom DeLay, Election fraud,Chertoff,Brown,lies,deception,Weapons of Mass Destruction, Iran, Korea,Outsourcing,tax refunds,prescription drug plan, civilian spying,medical malpractice caps, AFTA,FBI, CIA, FCC, FDA,CDC, deception, lies,Sadaam Hussein,Downing Street Memo, Tony Blair, New Orleans, FEMA, levees, contribution reform, AIDS, homeless,healthcare,Osama bin Ladin, FISA,electronic surveillance, stem cell research,Roe vs Wade, corruption,lies, deception,election reform,campaign reform,WMD,abuse of power,Cheney shooting, airport security,Christian coalition,anti-abortion rights, deficit, gasoline prices, terror alert, Enron, Worldcom, conspiracy,indictments,lies,deception, corruption, The words colliding in a maelstrom of horror and a fear I fear.
Norma Sherry is an award-winning writer, co-founder of Together Forever Changing, an organization designed to enlighten and encourage citizens to fight for our liberties. She is also the producer and host of the weekly Norma Sherry Show on WQXT-TV. Norma welcomes your emails: firstname.lastname@example.org
© Norma Sherry 2006
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Radioactive Tank No. 9 comes limping home
by Bob Nichols
Across the plains of Kansas, destroyed, radioactive Abrams tanks, perched on railroad flatcars, rolled towards an uncertain future. Only one thing was certain. They would be radioactive forever. This would be their everlasting death mask. The Pentagon deceptively calls it "depleted uranium."
The Abrams tanks are constructed with a layer of radioactive uranium metal plates. The big tanks fire a giant uranium dart at 2,100 mph, much faster than an F-16 fighter aircraft, mach III to airplane pilots and very, very fast to the rest of us.
American taxpayers paid to ship the tanks to Iraq and to return them for disposal or re-building in the United States. The tanks are 12 feet wide and weigh a stout 70 tons, or 140,000 pounds.
The enduring vigorous stupidity of the U.S. military pretends that radiation is one of those things that if you can't see it, it can't hurt you. They are thoroughly delusional, of course. A National Academy of Sciences report released June 30, 2005, finds that there is no safe level of radiation. Any radiation is bad.
From America to Iraq and back, these giant radioactive hulks can only sicken and kill Americans. On top of the sheer, unrelenting stupidity of playing with radiation with unsuspecting soldiers, now the neo-con government is involving everyday Americans in their radiation madness.
The Pentagon can't even follow simple radiation hazard mitigation instructions. Their own rules and regulations have the force of law throughout the world. Yet they are ignored in the United States.
Dr. Doug Rokke
Dr. Doug Rokke is the Pentagon's former director of the U.S. Army Depleted Uranium Project. When contacted on Oct. 22, he viewed Chris Bayruh's photographs and made this statement about the radioactive tanks in Kansas: "The radioactive damaged Abrams tanks that were left unsecured on a Kansas railroad track are a perfect example of exactly how not to ship damaged radioactive equipment and how not to protect our Army's Abrams tanks from possible sabotage and compromise of classified battle systems."
On Oct. 10, prior to the discovery of the radioactive tanks, Dr. Rokke made the following statement. It is eerily predictive of what would happen in Kansas three days later. "U.S. Department of Defense officials continue to deny that there are any adverse health and environmental effects as a consequence of the manufacture, testing and/or use of uranium munitions to avoid liability for the willful and illegal dispersal of a radioactive toxic material - depleted uranium."
Dr. Rokke continued, "They [the U.S. military] arrogantly refuse to comply with their own regulations, orders and directives that require United States Department of Defense officials to provide prompt and effective medical care to all exposed individuals." (See Note 1 below.)
"They also refuse to clean up dispersed radioactive contamination of equipment as required by Army regulations." (See Note 2.)
"Specifically, they are required (see Note 3) to accomplish four things:
1) Military personnel must 'identify, segregate, isolate, secure and label all RCE' (radiologically contaminated equipment).
2) 'Procedures to minimize the spread of radioactivity will be implemented as soon as possible.'
3) 'Radioactive material and waste will not be locally disposed of through burial, submersion, incineration, destruction in place, or abandonment' and
4) 'All equipment, to include captured or combat RCE, will be surveyed, packaged, retrograded, decontaminated and released.'
"The past and current use of uranium weapons, the release of radioactive components in destroyed U.S. and foreign military equipment, and releases of industrial, medical and research facility radioactive materials have resulted in unacceptable exposures."
Dr. Rokke added, "Therefore, decontamination must be completed as required by U.S. Army Regulation 700-48 and should include releases of all radioactive materials resulting from military operations.
"The extent of adverse health and environmental effects of uranium weapons contamination is not limited to combat zones but includes facilities and sites where uranium weapons were manufactured or tested, including Vieques, Puerto Rico, Colonie, New York, and Jefferson Proving Grounds, Indiana.
"Therefore, medical care must be provided by the United States Department of Defense officials to all individuals affected by the manufacturing, testing and/or use of uranium munitions. Thorough environmental remediation also must be completed without further delay.
"I am amazed," exclaimed Dr. Rokke, "that 14 years after I was asked to clean up the initial DU mess from Gulf War I and almost 10 years since I finished the depleted uranium project, United States Department of Defense officials and many others still attempt to justify uranium munitions use while ignoring mandatory requirements.
"But beyond the ignored mandatory actions, the willful dispersal of tons of solid radioactive and chemically toxic waste in the form of uranium munitions just does not even pass the common sense test.
"Finally, continued compliance with the infamous March 1991 Los Alamos Memorandum (see Note 5) that was issued to ensure continued use of uranium munitions cannot be justified.
"In conclusion," Dr. Rokke urged, "the president of the United States, George W. Bush, and the prime minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, must acknowledge and accept responsibility for willful use of illegal uranium munitions - their own "dirty bombs" - resulting in adverse health and environmental effects."
"President Bush and Prime Minister Blair also should order:
1) medical care for all casualties,
2) thorough environmental remediation,
3) immediate cessation of retaliation against all of us who demand compliance with medical care and environmental remediation requirements,
4) and ban the future use of depleted uranium munitions," Dr. Rokke concluded.
A little old lady in tennis shoes
Leuren Moret is a world famous scientist and radiation specialist who formerly worked at the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab, where she became a whistleblower in 1991. She has spoken out about the danger of uranium munitions to humanity in more than 42 countries.
Moret has appeared in four documentaries about uranium munitions (depleted uranium). "Beyond Treason" debuted in August 2005 and won the Grand Festival Award at the Berkeley Film Festival. The newest film, "Blowin' in the Wind," was nominated during its debut the first week of November in Australia for an Academy Award.
Moret was an expert witness at the International Criminal Tribunal for Afghanistan and serves as an adviser and expert witness in court cases regarding radiation exposure. Her statement, made Oct. 24, about the dead tanks in Kansas follows:
"Sally Devlin, a little old lady in tennis shoes, went to a public meeting several years ago, held by the Air Force in Pahrump, Nevada. Two officers told the citizens of the town that the Air Force would be moving 80 old target practice tanks and tons of old depleted uranium munitions through their town.
"The radioactive bullets had been picked up off the Nellis gunnery ranges by order of the state of Nevada and were being transported to the Nevada Test Site [a nuclear weapons test site] to be buried as radioactive waste.
"When Mrs. Devlin politely asked them how they would prevent the residents of the town from being contaminated by the radioactive dust on the tanks and bullets, the officers said, 'We're wrapping them in Saran Wrap.' She told them that would be unacceptable and stopped the Air Force dead in their tracks," Moret concluded.
Whether it is Saran Wrap in Nevada or nothing at all in Kansas, the Pentagon just doesn't get it when it comes to uranium radiation dispersing weapons. It is way past time to take all their nuclear weapons and uranium munitions away from them and send them home to get real jobs. They are clearly incapable of protecting this country from all dangers, including those created by our own U.S. military.
The U.S. military shows so little regard for Americans in Kansas, one wonders what on earth they have done to Iraq. The U.S. military has distributed an estimated 8 million pounds of weaponized ceramic uranium oxide gas, aerosols and dust on a practically defenseless little country of 26 million people (see Note 6), according to an estimate by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.
What is this lethal radioactive weapon supposed to do? Why was it used? Ceramic uranium oxide gas is a genocidal weapon, for God's sake. It persists in the environment forever. In Leuren Moret's pithy words, "The Iraqis are uranium meat."
The politicians, Pentagon staff, generals, commanding officers and others responsible for this war crime must be arrested, tried, convicted and appropriately punished for their crimes against humanity.
There is another explanation
Another explanation is that the U.S. Army and other branches of the military are far from stupid. They are, in fact, the most lethal and carefully planned military in the history of the world. The extensive use of weaponized uranium oxide gas, aerosols and dust is not an accident or an oversight. They did it on purpose.
If this is true, they purposely used a genocidal weapon over at least a 15-year period. No, this is not a callous mistake of empire; it is a calculated act of genocide to weaken the oil- and gas-rich countries of Central Asia, including Iraq. Take your choice: they are either stupid or genocidal monsters.
A British group has estimated the weaponized ceramic uranium oxide will account for an additional 25 million cancers in Iraq in the next several years. There are only 26 million Iraqis to start with, minus the nearly 1.7 million killed by war or sanctions since 1991, plus some live births.
A National Academy of Sciences report released June 30, 2005, finds that there is no safe level of radiation. The committee dismissed the idea that any radiation could be harmless or beneficial.
The radioactive tanks in Kansas and Iraq are the same. They are placed there at great expense by the senior American political and military leadership, with premeditated malice. The bottom line purpose of a 140,000-pound radioactive tank is to kill people.
Uranium munitions a war crime
Dennis Kyne, noted speaker and writer, is a former drill instructor (DI) and a 15-year veteran of the Army as well as a Gulf War vet (see www.denniskyne.com). Kyne makes a point of how "hot" or radioactive the tanks in Kansas would be if they were hit by "friendly fire" to get beat up so much. They could be contaminated with as much as 30,000 times background radiation. That is what uranium munitions do to a tank, bunker or building.
Karen Parker, a prominent U.S. international human rights lawyer, says there are four rules derived from humanitarian laws and conventions regarding weapons:
1. Weapons may only be used against legal enemy military targets and must not have an adverse effect elsewhere (the territorial rule).
2. Weapons can only be used for the duration of an armed conflict and must not be used or continue to act afterwards (the temporal rule).
3. Weapons may not be unduly inhumane (the "humaneness" rule). The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 speak of "unnecessary suffering" and "superfluous injury" in this regard
4. Weapons may not have an unduly negative effect on the natural environment (the "environmental" rule).
"DU weaponry fails all four tests," Parker states. "First, DU cannot be limited to legal military targets. Second, it cannot be 'turned off' when the war is over but keeps killing.
"Third, DU can kill through painful conditions such as cancers and organ damage and can also cause birth defects, such as facial deformities and missing limbs. Lastly, DU cannot be used without unduly damaging the natural environment.
"In my view, use of DU weaponry violates the grave breach provisions of the Geneva Conventions," Parker concluded, "and so its use constitutes a war crime, or crime against humanity."
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37 million poor hidden in the land of plenty
Paul Harris in Kentucky
Sunday February 19, 2006
Americans have always believed that hard work will bring rewards, but vast numbers now cannot meet their bills even with two or three jobs. More than one in 10 citizens live below the poverty line, and the gap between the haves and have-nots is widening
The flickering television in Candy Lumpkins's trailer blared out The Bold and the Beautiful. It was a fantasy daytime soap vision of American life with little relevance to the reality of this impoverished corner of Kentucky.
The Lumpkins live at the definition of the back of beyond, in a hollow at the top of a valley at the end of a long and muddy dirt road. It is strewn with litter. Packs of stray dogs prowl around, barking at strangers. There is no telephone and since their pump broke two weeks ago Candy has collected water from nearby springs. Oblivious to it all, her five-year-old daughter Amy runs barefoot on a wooden porch frozen by a midwinter chill.
It is a vision of deep and abiding poverty. Yet the Lumpkins are not alone in their plight. They are just the negative side of the American equation. America does have vast, wealthy suburbs, huge shopping malls and a busy middle class, but it also has vast numbers of poor, struggling to make it in a low-wage economy with minimal government help.
A shocking 37 million Americans live in poverty. That is 12.7 per cent of the population - the highest percentage in the developed world. They are found from the hills of Kentucky to Detroit's streets, from the Deep South of Louisiana to the heartland of Oklahoma. Each year since 2001 their number has grown.
Under President George W Bush an extra 5.4 million have slipped below the poverty line. Yet they are not a story of the unemployed or the destitute. Most have jobs. Many have two. Amos Lumpkins has work and his children go to school. But the economy, stripped of worker benefits like healthcare, is having trouble providing good wages.
Even families with two working parents are often one slice of bad luck - a medical bill or factory closure - away from disaster. The minimum wage of $5.15 (£2.95) an hour has not risen since 1997 and, adjusted for inflation, is at its lowest since 1956. The gap between the haves and the have-nots looms wider than ever. Faced with rising poverty rates, Bush's trillion-dollar federal budget recently raised massive amounts of defence spending for the war in Iraq and slashed billions from welfare programmes.
For a brief moment last year in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina brought America's poor into the spotlight. Poverty seemed on the government's agenda. That spotlight has now been turned off. 'I had hoped Katrina would have changed things more. It hasn't,' says Cynthia Duncan, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire.
Oklahoma is in America's heartland. Tulsa looks like picture-book Middle America. Yet there is hunger here. When it comes to the most malnourished poor in America, Oklahoma is ahead of any other state. It should be impossible to go hungry here. But it is not. Just ask those gathered at a food handout last week. They are a cross section of society: black, white, young couples, pensioners and the middle-aged. A few are out of work or retired, everyone else has jobs.
They are people like Freda Lee, 33, who has two jobs, as a marketer and a cashier. She has come to the nondescript Loaves and Fishes building - flanked ironically by a Burger King and a McDonald's - to collect food for herself and three sons. 'America is meant to be free. What's free?' she laughs. 'All we can do is pay off the basics.'
Or they are people like Tammy Reinbold, 37. She works part-time and her husband works full-time. They have two children yet rely on the food handouts. 'The church is all we have to fall back on,' she says. She is right. When government help is being cut and wages are insufficient, churches often fill the gap. The needy gather to receive food boxes. They listen to a preacher for half an hour on the literal truth of the Bible. Then he asks them if they want to be born again. Three women put up their hands.
But why are some Tulsans hungry?
Many believe it is the changing face of the US economy. Tulsa has been devastated by job losses. Big-name firms like WorldCom, Williams Energy and CitGo have closed or moved, costing the city about 24,000 jobs. Now Wal-Mart embodies the new American job market: low wages, few benefits.
Well-paid work only goes to the university-educated. Many others who just complete high school face a bleak future. In Texas more than a third of students entering public high schools now drop out. These people are entering the fragile world of the working poor, where each day is a mere step away from tragedy. Some of those tragedies in Tulsa end up in the care of Steve Whitaker, a pastor who runs a homeless mission in the shadow of a freeway overpass.
Each day the homeless and the drug addicted gather here, looking for a bed for the night. Some also want a fresh chance. They are men like Mark Schloss whose disaster was being left by his first wife. The former Wal-Mart manager entered a world of drug addiction and alcoholism until he wound up with Whitaker. Now he is back on track, sporting a silver ring that says Faith, Hope, Love. 'Without this place I would be in prison or dead,' he says. But Whitaker equates saving lives with saving souls. Those entering the mission's rehabilitation programme are drilled in Bible studies and Christianity. At 6ft 5in and with a black belt in karate, Whitaker's Christianity is muscular both literally and figuratively. 'People need God in their lives,' he says.
These are mean streets. Tulsa is a city divided like the country. Inside a building run by Whitaker's staff in northern Tulsa a group of 'latch-key kids' are taking Bible classes after school while they wait for parents to pick them up. One of them is Taylor Finley, aged nine. Wearing a T-shirt with an American flag on the front, she dreams of travel. 'I want to have fun in a new place, a new country,' she says. Taylor wants to see the world outside Oklahoma. But at the moment she cannot even see her own neighbourhood. The centre in which she waits for mom was built without windows on its ground floor. It was the only way to keep out bullets from the gangs outside.
During the 2004 election the only politician to address poverty directly was John Edwards, whose campaign theme was 'Two Americas'. He was derided by Republicans for doing down the country and - after John Kerry picked him as his Democratic running mate - the rhetoric softened in the heat of the campaign.
But, in fact, Edwards was right. While 45.8 million Americans lack any health insurance, the top 20 per cent of earners take over half the national income. At the same time the bottom 20 per cent took home just 3.4 per cent. Whitaker put the figures into simple English. 'The poor have got poorer and the rich have got richer,' he said.
Dealing with poverty is not a viable political issue in America. It jars with a cultural sense that the poor bring things upon themselves and that every American is born with the same chances in life. It also runs counter to the strong anti-government current in modern American politics. Yet the problem will not disappear. 'There is a real sense of impending crisis, but political leaders have little motivation to address this growing divide,' Cynthia Duncan says.
There is little doubt which side of America's divide the hills of east Kentucky fall on. Driving through the wooded Appalachian valleys is a lesson in poverty. The mountains have never been rich. Times now are as tough as they have ever been. Trailer homes are the norm. Every so often a lofty mansion looms into view, a sign of prosperity linked to the coal mines or the logging firms that are the only industries in the region. Everyone else lives on the margins, grabbing work where they can. The biggest cash crop is illicitly grown marijuana.
Save The Children works here. Though the charity is usually associated with earthquakes in Pakistan or famine in Africa, it runs an extensive programme in east Kentucky. It includes a novel scheme enlisting teams of 'foster grandparents' to tackle the shocking child illiteracy rates and thus eventually hit poverty itself.
The problem is acute. At Jone's Fork school, a team of indomitable grannies arrive each day to read with the children. The scheme has two benefits: it helps the children struggle out of poverty and pays the pensioners a small wage. 'This has been a lifesaver for me and I feel as if the children would just fall through the cracks without us,' says Erma Owens. It has offered dramatic help to some. One group of children are doing so well in the scheme that their teacher, Loretta Shepherd, has postponed retirement in order to stand by them. 'It renewed me to have these kids,' she said.
Certainly Renae Sturgill sees the changes in her children. She too lives in deep poverty. Though she attends college and her husband has a job, the Sturgill trailer sits amid a clutter of abandoned cars. Money is scarce. But now her kids are in the reading scheme and she has seen how they have changed. Especially eight-year-old Zach. He's hard to control at times, but he has come to love school. 'Zach likes reading now. I know it's going to be real important for him,' Renae says. Zach is shy and won't speak much about his achievements. But Genny Waddell, who co-ordinates family welfare at Jone's Fork, is immensely proud. 'Now Zach reads because he wants to. He really fought to get where he is,' she says.
In America, to be poor is a stigma. In a country which celebrates individuality and the goal of giving everyone an equal opportunity to make it big, those in poverty are often blamed for their own situation. Experience on the ground does little to bear that out. When people are working two jobs at a time and still failing to earn enough to feed their families, it seems impossible to call them lazy or selfish. There seems to be a failure in the system, not the poor themselves.
It is an impression backed up by many of those mired in poverty in Oklahoma and Kentucky. Few asked for handouts. Many asked for decent wages. 'It is unfair. I am working all the time and so what have I done wrong?' says Freda Lee. But the economy does not seem to be allowing people to make a decent living. It condemns the poor to stay put, fighting against seemingly impossible odds or to pull up sticks and try somewhere else.
In Tulsa, Tammy Reinbold and her family are moving to Texas as soon as they save the money for enough petrol. It could take several months. 'I've been in Tulsa 12 years and I just gotta try somewhere else,' she says.
From Tom Joad to Roseanne
In a country that prides itself on a culture of rugged individualism, hard work and self-sufficiency, it is no surprise that poverty and the poor do not have a central place in America's cultural psyche.
But in art, films and books American poverty has sometimes been portrayed with searing honesty. John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath, which was made into a John Ford movie, is the most famous example. It was an unflinching account of the travails of a poor Oklahoma family forced to flee the Dust Bowl during the 1930s Depression. Its portrait of Tom Joad and his family's life on the road as they sought work was a nod to wider issues of social justice in America.
Another ground-breaking work of that time was James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a non-fiction book about time spent among poor white farmers in the Deep South. It practically disappeared upon its first publication in 1940 but in the Sixties was hailed as a masterpiece. In mainstream American culture, poverty often lurks in the background. Or it is portrayed - as in Sergio Leone's crime epic Once Upon A Time In America - as the basis for a tale of rags to riches.
One notable, yet often overlooked, exception was the great success of the sitcom Roseanne. The show depicted the realities of working-class Middle American life with a grit and humour that is a world away from the usual sitcom settings in a sunlit suburbia, most often in New York or California. The biggest sitcoms of the past decade - Friends, Frasier or Will and Grace - all deal with aspirational middle-class foibles that have little relevance to America's millions of working poor.
An America divided
· There are 37 million Americans living below the poverty line. That figure has increased by five million since President George W. Bush came to power.
· The United States has 269 billionaires, the highest number in the world.
· Almost a quarter of all black Americans live below the poverty line; 22 per cent of Hispanics fall below it. But for whites the figure is just 8.6 per cent.
· There are 46 million Americans without health insurance.
· There are 82,000 homeless people in Los Angeles alone.
· In 2004 the poorest community in America was Pine Ridge Indian reservation. Unemployment is over 80 per cent, 69 per cent of people live in poverty and male life expectancy is 57 years. In the Western hemisphere only Haiti has a lower number.
· The richest town in America is Rancho Santa Fe in California. Average incomes are more than $100,000 a year; the average house price is $1.7m.
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Reich: U.S. headed for 'day of reckoning'
By Elinor Mills
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
March 7, 2006, 9:35 PM PST
SAN JOSE, Calif.--The United States is headed for a "day of reckoning" as oil prices and the budget deficit remain high, consumers keep spending and not saving, wages remain stagnant, housing prices rise and the working population ages, warned Robert Reich, former Department of Labor secretary in the Clinton administration.
"The American economy is going to have to inevitably make a structural adjustment (with regard to lack of consumer savings and the budget deficit), or the entire world is going to suffer," Reich, an economist who is currently a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, said during a keynote at the IDC Directions conference here.
While the country is recovering from a recession in 2001 with decent overall economic growth and a return of information technology business, there are three storm clouds on the horizon in the next year or two, he said. They are high oil prices, a $400 billion U.S. budget deficit, and record high levels of consumer spending and record low levels of consumer savings.
Oil prices will not drop, Reich predicted, because India and China "are growing so fast that energy demands are exceeding the world's ability to supply enough oil to meet demand." Oil prices "will stay high--it's like a tax on the whole economy."
Meanwhile, Americans are living beyond their means. "We're going into hock to the rest of the world," at the rate of about $2 billion a day, mostly to Asia, he said.
Interest rates will go up and the value of the dollar, relative to other currencies, "is heading south," Reich said. "Imbalances in the global economy and borrowing from abroad, that can't go on forever. There will be a day of reckoning."
On an individual consumer level, which accounts for 70 percent of all economic transactions in the U.S., spending is high and saving is low, he said. "That giant sucking sound" that has been heard for years is made by "American consumers continuing to buy."
"American consumers are the Energizer bunnies of the global economy, but that's coming to an end," he predicted. The median wage is dropping and people have been borrowing on the equity of their homes but with housing prices starting to flatten or decline, the spending will have to stop.
"I'm moderately bullish on the economy," but people should "keep an eye on storm clouds," Reich warned.
Asked during a question-and-answer session afterward if he had found a home in Berkeley to buy, Reich said he had not but that when he did decide to purchase he would get an adjustable-rate mortgage. "It makes more sense to rent than to buy" in the Bay Area now, he said.
Reich also discussed three trends that are shaping the future of information technology opportunities: globalization, technology change and a shifting demographic in which the baby boomer generation is reaching retirement age with limited savings.
Concerns about the threat from globalization are overblown, he said. The key to countering outsourcing is to create jobs in which workers add value to products that make them more competitive. "Globalization works to our advantage if we see the opportunities," he said.
For example, Reich noted that the devices that replaced his hips during surgery several years ago were designed in France and made in Germany. "I have French designer hips," he joked.
"It's not as if there is a fixed number of IT jobs around the world so that if India gets them we won't," he said. "There are actually more IT jobs now than ever before in the United States."
Technology, not necessarily outsourcing, is displacing American workers, replacing factory and office workers with software, Reich said. Even China is losing manufacturing jobs because the number of people required to make goods is decreasing as a result of technologies that make factories more efficient, he said.
Meanwhile, the 76 million baby boomers--people born between 1946 and 1964, who are "united by their common inability to save for retirement"--are requiring more financial and medical attention, he said.
Baby boomers were unable to save as much for retirement as they had hoped because their earnings did not rise as significantly over the span of their careers as did the wages of their parents, according to Reich.
"Social Security is in relatively good shape over the next 75 years," he said. "Social Security isn't the problem. Medicare is a huge problem."
Employers will face a talent crunch as the baby boomers leave the workforce, he predicted. Companies should offer family-friendly environments to attract and keep employees, he suggested.
Information technology is particularly needed to improve efficiencies in the areas of biotech, energy and health care, which is one of the most unproductive sectors, he said.
Reich recommended that companies offer opt-out retirement 401(k) plans to encourage saving and that the government roll back the Bush administration tax cuts. The country also needs to improve its education system and teach children critical-thinking skills to ensure productivity gains and add value to products to make them competitive on an international market, he said.
"The opportunities for IT over the next decade are huge, (but) the challenges of business strategy and being whole people and staying whole people are going to be enormous."
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Everyday Low Vices
By T. A. Frank, Washington Monthly. Posted March 9, 2006.
Why should we hate Wal-Mart? One glance at the company's reliance on low wages, low-quality goods and anti-union policies gives plenty of reasons.
In the late 1940s, when Sam Walton was franchising a Ben Franklin's variety store in Newport, Ark., he had a simple but momentous idea. Like any retailer, Walton was always looking for deals from suppliers. Typically, though, a retailer who managed to get a bargain from a wholesaler would leave his store prices unchanged and pocket the extra money. Walton, by contrast, realized he could do better by passing on the savings to his customers and earning his profits through volume. This insight would form a cornerstone of Walton's business strategy when he launched Wal-Mart in 1962.
The quest for low prices came naturally to Walton: He was freakishly cheap. Although he was ranked as the richest man in the United States by the 1980s, he continued, it is said, to have his hair cut by the local barber, a $5 expense that he never supplemented with a tip. (Perhaps he wasn't satisfied.) Cost-cutting was, as one might also expect, an obsession in the Wal-Mart culture, and Walton was almost as chintzy with his executives as he was with his cashiers. On business trips, everyone, including the boss, flew coach, and hotel rooms were always shared. Even a cup of coffee at the office required a 10-cent contribution to the tin.
But coffee taxes only went so far. Walton understood that a major requirement for keeping costs down was controlling the payroll. As he would write in his 1992 autobiography, Made in America, "No matter how you slice it in the retail business, payroll is one of the most important parts of overhead, and overhead is one of the most crucial things you have to fight to maintain your profit margin." Not only did Walton prefer to hire as few people as possible, but he also dreaded paying them more than he had to. Unions were particularly feared, and Walton did everything he could to fight them, almost always successfully.
If such a regimen seems stifling, Walton's employees nevertheless accepted it. In part, it was because Walton framed his cheapness as a crusade on behalf of the lowly consumer and as a quest for a better life for all Americans. It was also because he lived an outwardly modest life, driving an old truck with his hunting dogs in the back. Mostly, it was because he had charisma. Even when Wal-Mart grew outsized, Walton made a point of keeping in touch with his employees on the ground or, as he termed them, his "associates." This would often involve flying from store to store -- Walton had a pilot's license -- for impromptu visits.
But Walton's ability to keep his staff happy also relied on a sense of when to let penny-pinching take a backseat to other priorities. In 1985, amid anxiety about trade deficits and the loss of American manufacturing jobs, Walton launched a "Made in America" campaign that committed Wal-Mart to buying American-made products if suppliers could get within 5 percent of the price of a foreign competitor. This may have compromised the bottom line in the short term, but Walton understood the long-term benefit of convincing employees and customers that the company had a conscience as well as a calculator. He also made sure to give his staff a stake in the company. In 1971, he introduced a profit-sharing plan that allowed employees to put a certain percentage of their wages towards the purchase of subsidized Wal-Mart stock. For employees who stuck around, this could mean quite a bit of money. According to a truck driver named Bob Clark, quoted in Walton's autobiography: "[Walton] said, 'If you'll just stay with me for twenty years, I guarantee you'll have $100,000 in profit sharing' … Well, last time I checked, I had $707,000 in profit sharing, and I see no reason why it won't go up again."
Equally important was Walton's ability to sell employees on the notion that working at Wal-Mart meant limitless opportunity. Here, from Fortune, is a portrait of Walton at a Saturday-morning meeting in 1989:[Walton] proposes that whenever customers approach, the associates should look them in the eye, greet them, and ask to help. Sam understands that some associates are shy, but if they do what he suggests, "It would, I'm sure, help you become a leader, it would help your personality develop, you would become more outgoing, and in time you might become manager of that store, you might become a department manager, you might become a district manager, or whatever you choose to be in the company…It will do wonders for you." He guarantees it.
And things could get downright cultish:Then, just to make sure, Sam asks the associates to raise their right hands and execute a pledge, keeping in mind that "a promise we make is a promise we keep." The pledge: "From this day forward, I solemnly promise and declare that every customer that comes within ten feet of me, I will smile, look them in the eye, and greet them, so help me Sam."
Of course, Wal-Mart's success relied on more than just charisma and thrift. Technology, in particular, put the company ahead of its competitors. Already by the 1970s, Wal-Mart was using computers to link its stores and warehouses. Sales data allowed Wal-Mart to keep track of specific items and reduce inventory miscalculations. Only years later would Kmart realize how far it had fallen behind. Throughout Walton's career, a focus on innovation of this sort would make Wal-Mart a consistent leader in efficiency.
When Walton died in 1992, the adjustment to a post-Sam environment proved difficult. Although Wal-Mart executives had emphasized for years that their company depended on a set of principles and habits more than it did on any one person, Walton's death wound up marking a fateful shift in how the company was perceived.
The first blow fell only months later when "Dateline NBC" produced an exposé on the company's sourcing practices. Although Wal-Mart's "Made in America" campaign was still nominally in effect, "Dateline" showed that store-level associates had posted "Made in America" signs over merchandise actually produced in far away sweatshops. This sort of exposure was new to a company that had been a press darling for many years, and Wal-Mart's stock immediately declined by 3 percent. While the "Dateline" flap was short-lived, Wall Street soon found other reasons to lose faith in the company. Profit margins were declining, yet David Glass, who was Wal-Mart's CEO at the time, chose to make ambitious investments in distribution, technology, and construction. Such risk-taking, while smart, scared off investors at the time, and, by 1996, Fortune was even mocking the company's "everyday low stock prices." It was no longer the feisty little chain out of Bentonville.
But it wasn't just Wal-Mart's image that began to change after Walton's death. It was also the way the company did business. Wal-Mart's new leaders took to heart one element of the founder's business philosophy -- the importance of reducing costs -- but they didn't show his intuition about the importance of making employees feel as though they had a stake in the company. They were already at a disadvantage as it was. Wal-Mart's rate of growth was impressive but slower than in its early years -- the inevitable result of becoming so big -- and this weakened the appeal of such incentives as stock ownership. But character also played a role. The company's focus on saving money was leading it to make unrealistic demands of local managers, particularly with regard to payroll, and this pressure would eventually lead to serious trouble.
For a while, though, it worked. Between 1997 and 2001, the company's stock value increased by over 500 percent, rising by 70 percent in 1997 alone. This undoubtedly helped to mollify employees who'd been unhappy with the slump earlier in the decade. Between 1996 and 1999, sales increased by 78 percent while inventory rose only 24 percent, a feat Fortune lauded as "mind-bending." Today, with $288 billion in annual revenues (more than Switzerland's GDP) and over $10 billion in profits, Wal-Mart is the world's largest corporation, according to 2005 Fortune 500 list. It operates over 5,000 stores worldwide and employs over 1.6 million people -- 1.3 million in the United States alone.
That growth has been accompanied by two distinct kinds of perceptions among the public. On the one hand, Wal-Mart has been celebrated for its business innovations, which have set a new global standard for efficiency. On the other, it has been condemned for its hard-charging business practices. One of the most prominent attacks came last November, when filmmaker Robert Greenwald released Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, a documentary that excoriated the company for its approach to unions, independent retailers, outsourcing, and wages and benefits.
Washington, too, has gotten involved. In 2003, in the run up to the primaries, Democrats began to make an issue of Wal-Mart's wages and benefits. In 2004, Rep. George Miller of California released a report called "Everyday Low Wages: The Hidden Price We All Pay for Wal-Mart." [PDF] And last year, organized labor put together two Washington-based groups: Wake Up Wal-Mart, backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and Wal-Mart Watch, supported by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Staffed by prominent veterans from the campaigns of Howard Dean and Wesley Clark, both groups are devoted to keeping the world, and Washington, informed of Wal-Mart's alleged misdeeds. For many progressives, the fight to change Wal-Mart represents a central organizing challenge for the 21st century.
There's evidence that the bad press has taken a toll on the company. A 2004 report prepared for Wal-Mart by McKinsey and Co. found that up to 8 percent of Wal-Mart customers no longer shop there because of "negative press they have heard." For the last two Christmas shopping seasons, the company has reported lower-than-expected sales. And in January, Maryland gave final approval to a "Wal-Mart bill," requiring large employers to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health benefits. Thirty other states are now considering similar bills. Developments of this sort have led the company to form a war room of political PR experts from both parties -- including Ronald Reagan's image-meister Michael Deaver, and Leslie Dach, a media consultant to Bill Clinton -- to generate more positive media coverage.
Wal-Mart's defenders argue that the chain saves lower-income workers billions through its low prices. This is undeniably true, but it's not a virtue unique to Wal-Mart. The entire sector of discount retailers -- from Target to Costco to Best Buy to Home Depot -- does much the same thing. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart's critics tend to focus on the company's low wages and paltry benefits, or its effect on small towns, or its reliance on outsourcing. But these, too, are by and large sins of the entire discount retail sector. So why pick on Wal-Mart?
The answer is that Wal-Mart really is different. In terms of annual revenue, Wal-Mart is nearly four times the size of The Home Depot, the country's second largest retailer, and almost twice the size of Target, Costco, and Sears (which includes Kmart) combined. That means the company exerts pressure on the entire sector to imitate its methods -- including its treatment of workers. That would be less worrisome if Wal-Mart's record didn't stand out within the sector. But there are strong indications that, when it comes to how it treats its employees, Wal-Mart really is worse than the rest. The company finds itself in trouble because, since the death of Sam Walton 14 years ago, something ugly has happened to the way it does business.
Work off the clock
In a comparison of Wal-Mart with its peers, the obvious place to start would be wages and benefits. But neither Wal-Mart, Target, nor Costco make public their median wage, which many economists argue is the most accurate measure of how a company pays its employees. A 2005 study [PDF] by Arindrajit Dube and Steve Wertheim of the University of California's Berkeley Labor Center, however, sheds some light. Using figures for Wal-Mart released through a sex-discrimination lawsuit, and relying for the rest of the large retail sector on numbers from the March 2005 "Current Population Survey," the study finds that Wal-Mart pays its hourly workers an average hourly wage of $9.68, while other large retailers average $11.08. (The study adjusts for the fact that Wal-Mart stores tend to be in lower-income areas.) As for health benefits, Dube and Wertheim found that Wal-Mart offers its hourly workers benefits worth 73 cents per hour, while other large retailers offer $1.
The study suggests that Wal-Mart is significantly less generous than other large retailers. In response, Wal-Mart has noted that the Berkeley Labor Center receives 10 percent of its funds from organized labor. The company instead cites a study that it commissioned from the consulting group Global Insight, which found that Wal-Mart's wages are on par with those of other retailers. But whichever study comes closer to the truth, comparisons between Wal-Mart and the large retail sector as a whole don't tell the full story. After all, discount retailers like Wal-Mart will inevitably pay less than many other large retailers, and why shouldn't they? Doing so allows them to offer lower prices. Only by focusing exclusively on other discount retailers like Costco and Target can we meaningfully compare Wal-Mart's wages and benefits to those of its competitors, but we simply lack the hard data on most other outlets to do this.
But there are myriad other ways that employers can cut costs at the expense of workers. And it's in these areas that we can gather more satisfactory information to compare Wal-Mart to its competitors. The simplest way to save money is to avoid paying people for all the hours that they've worked -- a practice called off-the-clock work. Of course, Wal-Mart can't explicitly force employees to work off-the-clock. But it can set payroll targets that are nearly impossible to achieve without doing just that. As one manager explained to The New York Times in 2002, "You got to hit the payroll budget they set for you, but if you're over, they discipline you." Plausible deniability, then, becomes essential. Workers get assigned more work than they can possibly complete on their shifts -- while being warned that overtime is out of the question. No intelligent employee would fail to get the message: Finish the job by whatever means necessary. "We worked off the clock pretty much every shift," one employee told the Times. "The manager said if our jobs were not finished, we had to clock out and finish our jobs so no overtime would show up."
Wal-Mart insists that these cases are unrepresentative of the company as a whole, and that any enterprise of their size is bound to have a few rogue managers. But the verdicts so far suggest a widespread problem. In 2000, Wal-Mart paid $50 million to settle an off-the-clock suit involving 69,000 Wal-Mart employees in Colorado. Two years later, a federal jury ordered Wal-Mart to pay back wages to 83 workers in Oregon for off-the-clock work. Some 40 similar class actions are pending, and in 2002, The New York Times reported on a "wide-ranging legal battle between Wal-Mart and employees or former employees in 28 states" over off-the-clock work. Last December, a California jury awarded $172 million to thousands of Wal-Mart employees who had been illegally denied lunch breaks.
Free-market advocates who defend the company argue that squeezing workers is an unavoidable reality of the discount retail business. But a look at the annual reports of Wal-Mart and its competitors points up a glaring difference between the companies. Target's and Costco's annual reports for 2004-2005 include no cases of off-the-clock work. Wal-Mart's lists 44 in the last 10 years.
No girls allowed
In 1986, Walton was sensing some pressure to appoint a woman to Wal-Mart's all-male board. So he offered the job to Arkansas' first lady, one Hillary Clinton, who accepted. She would later quote Walton's pitch: "I think I need a woman; would you like to be her?" Today, Wal-Mart's challenges in the field of gender equality are not so easily addressed. The company keeps its payroll costs down by paying women less than their male counterparts for performing the same work. Evidence also exists that it fails to promote women at the same rate as men.
In 2000, a female employee at a California Wal-Mart who found herself denied promotions filed a sex-discrimination suit. That case now involves nearly two million women, and, in 2004, it was certified by Judge Martin J. Jenkins, of the United States District Court in San Francisco as a class action. Discrimination is a difficult thing to prove, but the figures in the case do not look good. According to numbers compiled in 2003 by the plaintiffs, female store managers average slightly under $90,000 in annual income, while their male counterparts average slightly over $100,000. And while women make up 79 percent of the store's department heads (an hourly position), only 15.5 percent are store managers. Judge Jenkins offered a strongly-worded assessment of the evidence:
"Plaintiffs present largely uncontested descriptive statistics which show that women working at Wal-Mart stores are paid less than men in every region, that pay disparities exist in most job categories, that the salary gap widens over time, that women take longer to enter management positions, and that the higher one looks in the organization the lower the percentage of women."
Wal-Mart has argued that most of the decisions about hiring and promotion are decentralized. The plaintiffs contend, however, that a company in which headquarters chooses to regulate certain regional minutiae, such as individual store temperatures, also has the capacity to keep an eye on gender issues.
But is Wal-Mart really any different from its competitors when it comes to treating its female employees fairly? An extensive search of cases against Target doesn't turn up any similar accusations, and while Costco does face a gender discrimination class action, it involves hundreds of women, not millions. Brad Seligman, who is lead counsel on the gender discrimination cases against both Wal-Mart and Costco, stresses that, even accounting for differences in size, Wal-Mart is exceptional. "I'm the first to concede that the Costco case is nowhere in the same league as the Wal-Mart case," says Seligman. "I've done 50 class actions in my time, and Wal-Mart stands out above all of them, both in terms of the depth and pattern of discrimination and in their reaction to the charges."
We care, but not that much
Few discount retailers make it easy for workers to unionize. But it's hard to find one that has been more aggressive, brutal, and openly hostile to unions than Wal-Mart. Sam Walton faced his first major union challenge in the 1960s. Two Wal-Marts in Missouri were on the verge of organizing, and Walton called in a lawyer named John Tate to stop them. In 1989, Tate, by then an executive vice president of the company, described the events to Fortune: "I told [Walton], 'You can approach this one of two ways: hold people down, and pay me or some other lawyer to make it work. Or devote time and attention to proving to people that you care.'" Walton soon followed up with a management seminar called "We Care," began to call employees "associates," and introduced a widely-praised profit-sharing plan. Whether satisfaction or fear was at play, no union ever formed.
Since Walton's death, however, the "hold people down and pay me or some other lawyer to make it work" method appears to have gained favor. In 2000, when workers in a Jacksonville, Texas, meat-cutting department successfully voted to unionize, Wal-Mart announced two weeks later that it would be closing its meat-cutting departments nationwide and switching to pre-cut meat. Four of the employees who voted in favor of the union were fired. (The company claims that the timing was coincidental and that the dismissals were unrelated, but a National Labor Relations Board judge disagreed. Wal-Mart is appealing the case.)
A year ago, employees at a Wal-Mart tire and lube shop thought they had enough votes to unionize, but the company fired one of the likely yes-voters and transferred in six likely no-voters. Again, an administrative judge ruled that Wal-Mart's conduct had been illegal, but the goal of blocking the union had been achieved.
And in February 2005, the company announced that it would be closing a Wal-Mart in Quebec, one of only two unionized Wal-Marts in North America (the other is also in Quebec). Wal-Mart claimed the store was losing money, but it refused to release numbers.
Wal-Mart's strong-arm approach is the product of a simple cost-benefit analysis. As Thomas Cochan, a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management, explains, "we have a law that is no longer serving its basic objective of providing people with the ability to organize. The incentives are too weak to keep companies from violating the law if they don't want to comply." The National Labor Relations Board can order an employer to rehire a terminated employee and to pay back wages, but it can't impose criminal penalties or punitive damages. This is rather like telling a bank robber that the penalty for a failed heist is being required to return the money to the bank. And Wal-Mart takes full advantage of such laxity. Store managers are equipped with 56-page pamphlets titled "The Manager's Toolbox to Remaining Union Free," and representatives from the "People Division" in Bentonville are flown out at a moment's notice if there are any signs of union activity. According to a 2004 report in The Nation, stores even administer personality tests to applicants to screen out potential union sympathizers.
Although Target and Kmart both take pains to head off workers who might organize a union -- Costco, by contrast, has some unionized employees -- Wal-Mart still leads the competition. Over the past 10 years, the NLRB or its administrative law judges have determined in at least 11 cases that Wal-Mart or individual Wal-Mart stores were engaging in unfair labor practices to prevent unionization, according to the agency's website. In that same period, both Target's and Costco's records appear to have remained clean. An excerpt from one of the decisions against Wal-Mart gives a sense of the extent of the violations:The Respondent, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., its officers, agents, successors, and assigns, shall:
1. Cease and desist from
(a) Promising to remedy employee concerns in an effort to undermine support for the Union.
(b) Removing supervisors from their position in an effort to undermine support for the Union.
(c) Engaging in surveillance of the union activities of employees.
(d) Coercively interrogating employees concerning the union sympathies and support of other employees.
(e) Installing new equipment to remedy employee complaints in order to undermine support for the Union.
(f) Transferring employees into the TLE [Tire Lube and Express division] to dilute the support for the Union.
(g) Transferring employees into the TLE to remedy employee complaints about inadequate staffing in order to undermine support for the Union.
(h) Transferring employees out of the TLE in order to dilute the support for the Union.
The post-Sam era
"Sam would have been proud" is the highest tribute that can be paid at the company Walton left behind. Increasingly, though, it's also clear that what the writer Barbara Ehrenreich termed the "Cult of Sam" has played a large role in its current woes. Walton, in his day, played a hard game, but he knew when to hold back. Unions were fiercely resisted, but employees were treated respectfully. Wages were low, but people were made to feel they had a stake in the company. Bargaining with suppliers would be tough, but some holds would be barred. Walton's instincts, in short, helped to keep the company's foibles in check. Absent Walton, the redeeming features of Wal-Mart began to disappear. What remained were the relentlessness, the chauvinism, and, above all, the cheapness. As so often happens, the leader wasn't doctrinaire; but the followers are. A Fortune article from 2003 notes how, at Wal-Mart headquarters, "nothing backs up a point better than a quotation from Walton scripture."
It won't be easy for Wal-Mart to change its ways. Wake Up Wal-Mart likes to point out that Wal-Mart could raise its average wages by two dollars an hour if it raised prices by only a penny on the dollar. But Wal-Mart is led by people whose lives are devoted to coming up with ways to shave a penny -- or a half penny, or a quarter penny -- off of a dollar. Wal-Mart's chief spokesman summed up the difficulty in an interview with The New York Times. Change might be necessary, he admitted, but, "at the same time, we can't change who we are -- we can't change what makes Wal-Mart Wal-Mart."
But they may have to. Union-busting, gender discrimination, and off-the-clock work aren't innovative; they're illegal. And there are signs that the company is beginning to recognize the need for change. In a message to company managers posted on Wal-Mart's internal website and published by The New York Times in February, CEO Lee Scott wrote: "If you choose to do the wrong thing… if you choose to take a shortcut on payroll, if you choose to take a shortcut on a raise for someone, you hurt this company. And it's not unlikely in today's environment that your shortcut is going to end up on the front page of the newspaper." With any luck, Wal-Mart will work through its identity crisis and produce a company that's a model for the industry. With even more luck, Americans will begin a thoughtful debate about balancing our needs as consumers and our needs as producers. Until then, we can focus on getting Wal-Mart employers to abide by the laws we have. In many instances, that alone would be a significant improvement.
T.A. Frank is a writer in Los Angeles.
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Study warns of affordable US apartment shortage
Wed Mar 8, 2006 1:14 AM ET168By Lynn Adler
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States is rapidly losing apartments to demolition, and rent on available units is rising, pinching consumers struggling with home affordability, according to a new study released on Wednesday.
The report from Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies found evidence of growing disparities between low- and higher-income renters in getting apartments.
"We are taking one step forward and two steps back as gentrification in some neighborhoods and continued deterioration in others leads to the removal of vitally needed lower-cost rental housing," Nicolas Retsinas, director of the Joint Center, said in a statement.
About 200,000 rental units are lost each year despite programs like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit that contribute new affordable units.
"Difficulty accessing the resources needed to maintain this much needed housing too often sets off a cycle of disinvestment and demolition" of existing rental units, Retsinas said.
Median rent rose to $974 in 2004, up 33 percent from $734 10 years earlier, the study found. Monthly renter income, however, rising to $2,348, was up a mere 3 percent from $2,272 during the same period.
People with higher incomes may choose to rent for a flexible lifestyle, to avoid costs of homeownership or a volatile purchase market, or for life transitions such as divorce or job change.
Those at the bottom of the income group have little choice but to rent, the study concludes. Seventy percent of the seven million lowest-income renters pay more than half of their income for housing, leaving little for other expenses.
Minority and immigrant renter households will grow and trigger demand for more than 1.8 million rental units between 2005 and 2015, the study said. If it were not for foreign-born households, the number of renters would have fallen by more than 2 million, or 5 percent, from 1993 to 2003, instead of rising by 118,000.
Five years of record home sales and double-digit house price gains are also crimping affordability at higher income levels than in the past.
In high-cost areas such as Boston and San Francisco, the study said schoolteachers and nurses are among workers paying more than 30 percent of their income to rent a "modest" two-bedroom apartment.
Much of the nearly 3 million new rental units built between 1994 and 2003 was in fast-growing suburbs of major metropolitan areas in the South and West. Most were in the upper end of the market.
In the last decade, the divide between the haves and have-nots has accelerated, the study found. The top fifth of renter households saw a 17 percent average income gain while the bottom fifth saw little growth from 1993 to 1999 and declines afterward.
DIVIDE GROWS BETWEEN HAVES, HAVE-NOTS
"Rising land prices and density restrictions in many jurisdictions have significantly raised the long-run costs of supplying housing that the vast majority of renters can afford," the report said.
"Although the high end of the rental market is still adjusting from a period of overbuilding, it seems inevitable that developers will continue to focus on this housing market segment -- bringing little relief to the many renters with limited ability to pay," according to the report.
The report said federal funding restrictions prevent the expansion of subsidized housing. Efforts to stem losses of the rapidly deteriorating stock of privately owned low-cost rental apartments have gained little attention, the study said.
About two-thirds of all lower-income families live in privately owned rental properties, usually older, smaller multifamily buildings and single-family homes. When the units fail to generate profits, the owners often lack skills or resources to maintain the building.
"Without new policies to address these barriers to preservation, both subsidized and unsubsidized units will continue to disappear from the inventory of affordable housing," the report said.
The study also advocates looser restrictions on developing affordable, higher-density rental housing in affluent suburban communities that have greater access to top-quality schools, services and other resources.
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Passage Urged for $91B War Spending Bill
By LOLITA C. BALDOR
Thu Mar 9, 4:42 AM ET
WASHINGTON - Top military and foreign affairs leaders are making a rare joint appearance on Capitol Hill to urge swift passage of an $91 billion emergency spending bill they say is critical to continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bill's future has been threatened by a move in the House to block a Dubai-owned company from taking control of some U.S. port operations. President Bush has said he would veto the bill if such a proposal was included.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was expected to tell the Senate Appropriations Committee that the spending bill is needed to pay for helping U.S. allies develop effective anti-terrorism forces.
Nearly $6 billion is in the bill to continue developing security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Scheduled to testify with Rumsfeld were Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace and Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command.
It would be the first time those four leaders have appeared together in front of Congress since Rice joined the Cabinet in January 2005.
Questions about a variety of issues awaited the witnesses:
- Military plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.
- How the religious strife in Iraq is impeding efforts to build a unified government.
- The standoff with Iran over concerns it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
The emergency spending bill includes about $65 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as about $20 billion for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. Additional money would go to the State Department and intelligence agencies for international operations and classified activities.
The House Appropriations Committee approved the bill on a voice vote late Wednesday, after voting 62-2 to include a provision prohibiting DP World, which is run by the government of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, from holding leases or contracts at U.S. ports.
The State Department has said that Rice and the Pentagon leaders were appearing jointly before the committee, led by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., to show they are part of a common war strategy.
Cochran wants to know whether the spending measure "is sufficient to sustain success in Iraq and Afghanistan," spokeswoman Jenny Manley said. "But the conversation could be broad and not limited" to the bill.
Some lawmakers have been critical that the war is not being funded in the regular budget.
"This administration has decided to fund this war and all of its implications through emergency requests, even though we have known about the costs of the war for years," said Sen. Patty Murray (news, bio, voting record), D-Wash. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the emergency spending bill "is designed to address the incremental costs that are associated with the conduct of combat," and is "crucial to our ability to continue our combat operations in the global war on terror."
The Senate is not expected to vote on the bill until sometime in April. The House could vote next week.
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See Dick Loot
By Dahr Jamail
t r u t h o u t
8 Mar 06
Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) have been making hay in the burning Iraqi sun for years now. It is, of course, no coincidence that the man sitting as vice president played a key role with his influence in obtaining the lion's share of contracts in Iraq for the company he was CEO of prior to his self-appointed position. Yet none of this is news.
What is news, however, is that the ties that bind Cheney to Halliburton also link him to groups with even broader interests in the Middle East, which are causing civilians on the ground there, as well as in the US, to pay the price.
Cheney had much more at stake than pure altruism in making sure Halliburton/KBR obtained so many no-bid contracts in occupied Iraq. Despite his claims of not having any financial ties to Halliburton, the fact is that in both 2001 and 2002 he earned twice as much from a deferred salary from his "old" company as when he was CEO.
But that wasn't the beginning. When Cheney was US Secretary of Defense in the early 1990's under Big Bush, Halliburton was awarded the job of studying, then implementing, the privatization of routine army functions such as cleaning and cooking meals.
Following this study, when Cheney was finished with his job at the Pentagon, he scored the job as CEO of Halliburton, which he held until nominating himself for the position of Little Bush's running mate in 2000. Remember, it was Cheney who was given the task of finding a running mate for Bush. After searching far and wide across the US, Cheney ended up generously offering his own services for the job.
As if Cheney didn't already have enough conflicts of interest, it is important to note that he assisted in founding the neo-conservative think tank, the "Project for the New American Century (PNAC)," whose goal is to "promote American global leadership," which entails acquiring Iraqi oil. Complimenting this, Cheney was also part of the board of advisers to the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) along with John Bolton, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz (all PNAC members) before becoming vice president. JINSA, self-described as a "nonsectarian educational organization," does things like nominate John Bolton for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize and works to "explain the role Israel can ... play in bolstering ... the link between American defense policy and the security of Israel."
Their Mission Statement adds, "The inherent instability in the region [Middle East] caused primarily by inter-Arab rivalries and the secular/religious split in many Muslim societies leaves the future of the region in doubt. Israel, with its technological capabilities and shared system of values, has a key role to play as a US ally in the region," which happens to be quite similar to the stated goals of the PNAC for the region, but I digress.
By the end of 2002, Cheney owned at least 433,000 unexercised Halliburton stock options worth over $10 million. And that was before the invasion of Iraq, when the games really began.
In March 2003, the month the invasion began, Halliburton was awarded a no-bid contract worth $7 billion from the Pentagon. The blatant awarding of this "reconstruction" contract to Halliburton even led Representative Henry Waxman to comment, "The administration's approach to the reconstruction of Iraq is fundamentally flawed. It's a boondoggle that's enriching private contractors."
Of course the invasion and occupation of Iraq aren't only about oil.
Remember, it was Cheney himself who, at a VFW convention in August 2002, said "Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon. Just how soon, we cannot really gauge."
Cheney then, solely in the interests of protecting the American and Iraqi people of course, made sure the US would go into Iraq and take care of that nuclear trouble-maker Saddam Hussein.
Just to be safe, Halliburton was paid $40 million for providing housing and transportation for teams searching for non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. For with each contract Halliburton is and was awarded, Cheney's bank account grows.
The one place where there were remnants of a nuclear program in Iraq, albeit over 20 years before the 2003 US invasion, was the Osirak Nuclear Research Facility on the outskirts of Baghdad. US-made Israeli warplanes bombed it back on June 7, 1981, and when I visited the place in January 2004, all I found were empty warehouses which the American military wasn't concerned about enough to prevent from being looted.
Villagers in nearby al-Tuwetha, ignorant of radioactive waste stored in old drums, looted them in the chaos following the invasion and had been using them as water containers - thus irradiating the entire village.
One example of what it looks like on the ground in Iraq when Halliburton fails to fulfill its contractual obligations is the life of Adel Mhomoud. The 44-year-old beekeeper in al-Tuwetha told me, "I have cancer, and I know I'm dying. My white blood cell count is 14,000, and I don't have enough red blood cells. We are all sick; our joints ache, my hips are killing me, and my blood is bad. But nobody will help us here."
Certainly not Halliburton.
Cheney, who received no less than five military deferments during the Vietnam War despite being a supporter of that war (Sound familiar?), had shamelessly told the veterans at the VFW, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."
So that was the door Cheney took to bring Iraq his Halliburton.
And of course, once through that door, Halliburton promptly went to work.
Aside from the aforementioned awarding of no-bid contracts worth billions of US taxpayer dollars, as early as December 2003, the US Army found out Halliburton was overcharging the government $61 million for fuel transportation and $67 million for food services in Iraq. I remember being in Baghdad when this occurred - seeing the enormously long gas lines at petrol stations whilst knowing Halliburton, not only failing to provide Iraqis with their own petrol, was even charging the US taxpayer three dollars per gallon for fuel that local companies could have imported for under one dollar.
But that was barely the beginning.
Let's take a brief glance at some of the more recent Halliburton/KBR rogueries:
* 27 February 2006 - US Army decides to reimburse KBR nearly all of its disputed costs on a $2.41 billion no-bid contract to deliver fuel and repair equipment in Iraq, despite Pentagon auditors identifying over $250 million in charges as "potentially" excessive.
* 17 February 2006 - KBR executive hired to fly cargo into Iraq pleads guilty to inflating invoices by $1.14 million to cover fraudulent "war risk surcharges."
* 6 February 2006 - KBR employee in Iraq, speaking on condition of anonymity, says "We pay our locals [in Iraq] $5 to $16 dollars a day and you can see where [KBR] put it down [on the military requisition] as $60 a day." Military requisitions reveal KBR to be paying between $5-$16 per day in wages to third world laborers in Iraq whilst billing US taxpayers between $50-$80 per day.
* 30 January 2006 - Bush administration settles dispute between Pentagon and Halliburton by agreeing to pay company $199 million in disputed gasoline charges in Iraq. To date KBR has been awarded nearly $16 billion in total revenue from Iraq contracts.
* 23 January 2006 - Halliburton fails to alert American troops and civilian contractors at US base in Ramadi that their water was contaminated. Despite allegations which came from Halliburton's own water quality experts, the company denies there was a contamination problem.
* 27 December 2005 - KBR, linked to human trafficking-related concerns via its work in Iraq (such as forced prostitution and labor), Halliburton benefits from Defense Department's refusal to adopt policy barring human trafficking.
* 1 December 2005 - UPI reports KBR workers in Iraq ("third country" nationals) found to be paid as little as 50 cents an hour.
* 5 November 2005 - UN auditing board finds that US should repay Iraqi government $208 million from Iraqi oil revenue for fraudulent contracting work.
Then there is how these "policies" Halliburton is following in Iraq affect US soldiers and contractors, including its own employees.
With contracts in Iraq now worth up to $18 billion, there is nothing stopping Halliburton from abusing the lack of oversight and obvious conflict of interest between their free reign and their ties to the vice president.
An example of this is Jim Spiri, who was hired by Halliburton/KBR in January 2004 to work as a logistics coordinator. Sent to Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, he worked the flight line handling passenger movements, as Spiri had 20 years of aviation experience.
"During my time there, I assisted nightly with medevac [medical evacuations] operations and was highly respected among all military medical folks," he told me this week. "I had a good name throughout the theatre."
But problems were immediately apparent to him.
"I witnessed much alcohol abuse, in an environment where alcohol is strictly prohibited. I made note of this and reported it to my superiors, who actually were the ones abusing the system. It was obvious that the fox was guarding the hen house, so to speak."
He told me his entire flight line operation was "run in a gang-like manner" and "the work was never done in an efficient manner." Instead, according to Spiri, the motto was, "Do as little as possible for as much as you can, for as long as you can."
On February 5th of this year, while working the night shift which he had for the last two years, Spiri witnessed something that made the thought of continuing to work for KBR intolerable.
After watching a fallen soldier loaded onto a plane without the proper ceremony of honor, Spiri told me he "wrote an account of what I experienced that night." After this, "It was published, and ... all hell broke loose about 36 hours later."
Spiri was fired by KBR after writing an article detailing the event and criticizing Halliburton's policies in Iraq.
Now he wants to shine light on how KBR operates in Iraq. "What they don't want to let out is the type of workers they have over there, that it's the largest gravy train operation, it's the largest welfare system I've ever seen in my life. It's pathetic," Spiri said in a recent interview while adding that over half the people KBR employed in Iraq were "grossly under-qualified and highly over-paid."
His work entailed three people, but by the time he left there were 10 people on his team, most of whom "sat around listening to their iPod's and DVD players."
Yet firing an employee for raising awareness about corruption and his questioning of policy is minor compared to the treatment of Iraqis meted out by the company.
When I was in Amman last May, I met Ahlam al-Hassan, a young Iraqi woman who had worked for KBR in Diwaniyah.
Two gunshots by assailants who attacked her for collaborating with occupation forces left her blind, and her former employers would not return her calls or requests for assistance.
For her three months of work for KBR she was paid $475, having taken the job to support her family. "My two bosses at KBR, Mr. Jeff and Mr. Mark, were very good and gentle with me," she explained to me in Jordan, "They told me it wasn't dangerous to work for them." But after spending months in hospitals for what happened to her on her way to work, "After this, they have made no attempts to contact me."
Note that on May 31, 2004, an Army Corps of Engineers email revealed that Cheney's office "coordinated" Halliburton's multi-billion dollar Iraq contract. Cheney, like most common criminals, denied having anything to do with the no-bid contract.
More recently, on January 26th of this year, Halliburton announced that its 2005 profits were the "Best in our 86-year history," as all six of its divisions posted record results. Halliburton stock price doubled in the last year, and Dick Cheney's tax returns indicate that he earned $194,862 from his Halliburton stock in just the last year.
Loot Dick, Loot!
Is that clear enough?
All of this begs the question: Do you approve of your tax dollars being used in this fashion?
If not, then what are you willing to do about it?
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Flashback: Baghdad Embassy Bonanza
by David Phinney, Special to CorpWatch
February 12th, 2006
A controversial Kuwait-based construction firm accused of exploiting employees and coercing low-paid laborers to work in war-torn 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 US 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 US 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 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, DC.
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.
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 US 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 US 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, DC. 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 two 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."
A-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.
David Phinney is a journalist and broadcaster based in Washington, DC, whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, New York Times and on ABC and PBS. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
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Why is America so Hated By So Many?
An interview with John Perkins author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Mr. Perkins reveals the dark underside of American economic polices and how they impact the poorest nations and the indigenous peoples of the world. His book points out how these policies negatively impact us all in ways that will have far reaching influences in international relationships and world economic stability.
He discusses what an economic hit man is – their ongoing work and how they perpetrate their crimes against humanity. Mr. Perkins was an economic hit man for 10 years operating all over the world on behalf of the corporatocracy (a coalition of government, banks and corporations). He tells his personnel story of being an economic hit man, how he was sent into third world countries to pressure leaders to except huge loans that resulted in the sacrifice of health, education and jobs for their people due to the overwhelming burden of the debt. The powers of persuasion used by the ECH included everything from political bribery to assassination. He shares his growing realization of the insidious harm these actions were causing and his reasons for leaving the field. Mr. Perkins is now head of Dream Change an organization dedicated to promoting sustainable living.
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Challenging the mighty dollar
By Ramin Davoodi
It's becoming increasingly obvious that there is a looming crisis brewing over Iran. The true 'whys' and 'what's' of the issue, however, are clouded to the American public due to our modern press and to the nature of the underlying stakes involved.
What people read is that there is a growing threat of a nuclear Iran that will threaten the safety of the West. Yet, that's essentially all that is said or written on the issue. However, to critically thinking people who turn to the internet and to foreign press for their news, the brewing crisis most likely has to do with intricate issues involving our incessant dependencies, not just on oil for our transportation and industrial needs, but more importantly for the means by which our modern economic system operates in the US, UK and much of the rest of the industrialized western world (strong hint: It's not a truly "free market").
You see, control over global oil trading and pricing standards essentially underwrites the sanctity of the US dollar as a fiat (i.e. government mandated) currency for trade and investments. Were anything to threaten that delicate arrangement between control over oil pricing in particular, and our economic system in general, then there would be tectonic shifts in global finance to the detriment of the banks and energy companies that essentially dictate the means and mores of modern US-dominated geopolitics, trade and wealth creation around the world.
I use the term "detriment" because of the conspicuously Himalayan-sized US trade and fiscal deficits that are not being reconciled by our government with the nations of the world that lend their savings to the US. Meanwhile, these nations are simultaneously being forced to buy and sell oil using our weakening dollar. Something's gotta give.
Those that sense this issue is either a bit too simplistic, archaic or even far-fetched should consider that the only two oil trading systems in the world right now -- the International Petroleum Exchange (IPE) in London and the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) -- are owned by large global banks based in either the US or UK (Goldman Sachs, et al.).
It should come as no coincidence that the ownership of the oil exchanges that set the West Texas Intermediate (in the US) and the North Sea Brent Crude (in the UK) oil markers -- two markers which, in turn, determine the price of oil per barrel globally -- is in the hands of Wall Street's largest investment banks.
What does all of this have to do with Iran?
In 2004, Iran decided to do what Iraq did before it -- start the process of eventually selling its oil and natural gas in euros instead of the globally mandated US dollar. Yet, Iran is 'one-upping' Iraq by starting its own energy exchange, labeled the Iran Oil Bourse, which would rival the aforementioned exchanges in London and New York.
[It's interesting to note here that, in a particularly instructive scene in the movie "Syriana", the Saudi Prince Nasir played by Alexander Liddig retorts to Matt Damon's character 'Bryan' that, indeed, Nasir wishes to set up his own national oil exchange, along with other progressive steps necessary to improve the infrastructure of his nation. Prince Nasir's fate in the film is also understandable, in light of such ambitious yet noble yearnings.]
This oil bourse is set to float in Tehran in March 2006. Although scoffed at as wildly implausible by market analysts in the US and UK, the bourse has also been seen as potentially very lucrative for investors and nations' central banks that wish to diversify their currency holdings and energy trading reserves away from the US dollar. Upon prudent observation, and on par, the input of the latter crew outweigh the scoffings of the former (just do a Google search using the words "oil", "Iran", "bourse" and for extra kicks, "NYMEX").
Were nations such as China, Russia, India, Germany, Venezuela, Brazil and even Saudi Arabia to consider participating in trades on this bourse in Iran, it may start a 'dollar flight' effect that the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, and said select investment banks would have trouble ceasing or reversing under already agreed upon trading schemes that were set in the mid-1970s (see the new book, "Petrodollar Warfare" by William Clark for the well researched history).
Basically, our global economic system is so overleveraged, profligate and tightly wound up, that something as seemingly obscure as an energy exchange starting in Tehran can potentially unravel the whole, intricate Monetarist Ponzi Scheme (regrets to Milton Friedman, but 'the gig is up', so to speak.).
And apparently, rather than approach the issue through much-needed negotiations with other industrialized nations so as to provide a fiscal soft landing for the dollar's debts while allowing for development in certain poorer countries, our government is apparently choosing to go to war instead.
Again. Not just any war, mind you, but with a nation of near-70 million nationalistic people who we've alienated for over a generation already. A people who claim, at least in public, to want to perform the change away from oil-as-prime-energy dependence that alternative energy gurus push so heavily in the West.
Some articles that announce, speculate and outright fret about the likelihoods of such a scenario are provided below:
-- "Trading oil in euros – does it matter?", by Cóilín Nunan
-- "Iran: the next war", John Pilger
-- "Petrodollar Warfare: Dollars, Euros and the Upcoming Iranian Oil Bourse", by William Clark
-- "The Proposed Iranian Oil Bourse", by Krassimir Petrov
"Still", people claim, "that doesn't change the fact that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons." One certainly shouldn't trust the Iranian government's word on why they seek to procure nuclear technology, yet a rationalist and realist would sense that, if a major oil exporting nation wishes to launch an oil bourse that could be deemed as threatening to the US/UK-backed energy status quo, then that nation would also seek to adequately arm itself against inevitable attempts at regime change.
"Yes, but the mullahs want to wipe Israel off the map". In light of the already preexisting nuclear power inherent in Israel, Pakistan, Russia, India and obviously the US (which surrounds Iran with military bases), it doesn't make all that much sense that Iran would want nukes just so that it can conduct a first strike against another nation.
Iran's mullahs may be hardliners, but they're not suicidal, considering the riches Iran sits on. That would contradict the logic of deterrence, just as our government's building up of further tactical nuclear weapons, and recent shipping of hundreds of such "bunker busters" to Israel, contradicts the logic of anti-proliferation that Iran and others are apparently supposed to abide by. Please.
Lately, former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter and other pundits have claimed that a likely scenario will go like this: The US or Israel will attack Iran's nuclear targets, Iran will retaliate by: 1) attacking Israel, and/or 2) trying to take out key oil production areas in the Gulf, and/or 3) Iranians will blitz across the Iraqi border. Upon such retaliation, the US will then drop a nuclear weapon on Iran to halt any further aggression; as such an act did against Japan 61 years ago. [See: "Ex-U .N. inspector: Iran’s next"]
If this is the extent, more or less, of Washington's war gaming, we're in trouble, because it assumes that Russia and China, two juggernauts that are heavily invested in Iran's energy and security sectors, will not respond viscerally to prevent Iran's oil and gas from being taken from them by the US, UK and Israel. China could also use a growing quagmire with Iran as an alleyway chance to finally 'annex' Taiwan once and for all (Russia and China were conducting joint military exercises last year very close to Taiwan).
Other nations, sensing a growing nuclear catastrophe, could dump the US dollar altogether as the Federal Reserve and Treasury print currency by the metric tonnes out of thin air to feed the frenzy (which may already be in the works, as the Fed will cease revealing the M3 aggregate money figure in, of all months, March 2006.). Oil would surpass $200/barrel in the US, gold would break $1000/troy ounce and martial law would be declared in multiple nations.
All because our government refuses to renegotiate the terms under which energy commodities are priced and traded around the world, despite the clear urgency for monetary and fiscal reform.
One has to ask oneself, in an apt yet still eerie paraphrase of Bud Fox's poignant question posed to Gordon Gekko in the movie "Wall Street":
How many wars will be enough?
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Oil Heart Attack - As goes Iraq, so may go the developed world.
BY ALEXANDER ZAITCHIK
The February 27th Wild West-style dawn shootout at an Al Qaeda redoubt in East Riyadh was an appropriately dramatic coda to what was arguably the most significant terrorist act since 9/11. While the amount of blood spilled at Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq refinery was small -- two guards killed, eight workers wounded -- and the amount of oil spilled even less, the strike was at least as significant as the 2003 and 2004 public transit attacks in Madrid and London.
This is because the foiled attack poked large holes into two theories often floated out by the Saudis and optimistic oil analysts to assuage concerns over infrastructure security in the world's "Central Bank of Oil."
The first theory is that Al Qaeda would never attempt to destroy the pillars of the Saudi oil industry because it plans to take the country over one day and use petro-profits to fund global Jihad. The second is that Saudi oil facilities are completely secure -- better guarded than the Kingdom's Royal Palaces, we are told -- and hence any attempt on them would be futile. This latter theory, already weak for ignoring both airborne and WMD threats, took a blow when last week's attackers sailed through Abqaiq's first checkpoint and were able to detonate both payloads, good sized car-bombs, at the facility's gate.
That prices soon recovered from a $2 spike following news of the attack doesn't mean that Al Qaeda's imprint has disappeared from the cost of a barrel of light sweet crude, as of this writing hovering at $61. Since mid-2003, analysts have estimated that $8 - $10 of the cost of a barrel reflects a "terror premium," the result of oil sabotage in Iraq and threats by Osama bin Laden that Saudi Arabia could expect the same. Now that an Al Qaeda campaign against Saudi oil has apparently begun, that premium can be expected to rise.
Meanwhile, it may not get the headlines triggered by attacks in the Gulf, but pipeline sabotage in Iraq continues, offering a sobering lesson about what a determined few can accomplish wherever there are unprotected supply lines, which is every oil producing country in the world.
There have been 14 reported attacks on Iraq's oil infrastructure so far in 2006, bringing the total since the U.S.-led invasion to almost 300. And these are just the ones big enough for us to know about. Though one-third of Iraq's security forces and some 14,000 mercenaries now patrol Iraqi refineries and 5,000 miles of pipelines, attacks (and threats of attacks) continue to hamstring exports and punish reconstruction efforts with chronic domestic fuel shortages. The oil-rich country is bleeding its wealth into the sand along with its blood.
As goes Iraq, so may go the developed world. With surging global demand gaining on global supplies and Saudi spare capacity -- now at less than one percent of daily global demand -- quickly shrinking to nothing, the pain caused by future acts of pipeline and refinery sabotage (both in the Kingdom and elsewhere) will only sharpen.
"This is a new situation," says Gal Luft, an energy expert at the Institute of the Analysis for Global Security in Rockville, MD. "What has changed in the last year or so is that, because of the rise of China and India, the world oil market lacks liquidity and spare capacity, so any attacks on supply, any barrel of oil removed from market due to sabotage, immediately effects the market prices."
"There is a clear understanding [on the part of Islamist groups] that if you want to hit America or the West, you go after oil, which is right in their backyard," says Luft. "They don't have to go all the way to New York and deal with the INS and FBI."
That the pipeline attacks have undermined more than just the U.S. occupation in Iraq was first recognized by Osama bin Laden in an audiotape released Dec. of 2004. In the tape he called upon his followers to "focus your operations on the oil, especially in Iraq and in the Gulf, as this would mean [the West's] death."
Within 24 hours of the tape's release, five attacks were carried out on Iraqi oil facilities, with similar attacks reported in Pakistan, Sudan and Nigeria. Jihadist message boards lit up in enthusiastic agreement with the call to go for the oil jugular.
"O horses of Allah, go for a ride," reads one post translated by the Washington-based SITE Institute. "There is nothing that terrifies the Infidels more than attacking the oil sources."
Another post notes: "A small operation on an oil tanker will make the Infidels of London, Paris, Washington and Tel Aviv shake with fear."
Here these anonymous mujahadeen would seem to be correct. A growing number of analysts are admitting chills at the prospect that the kind of oil infrastructure attacks seen in Iraq will begin occurring in the Gulf with greater frequency and success. Should this happen, some say the effect would be an economic "sum of all fears."
"A handful of small attacks made against Saudi infrastructure could push oil well over $100 a barrel," says John Robb, an independent analyst and author of the forthcoming book Global Guerrillas. "Twenty or so a month will keep it there. We are about to see the rise of a shadow OPEC. The control of oil doesn't rest in the hands of the governments. It is in the hands of the guerrillas that can stop the flow."
Stopping this flow is easier than many think. As last week's news reports of the Abqaiq attack reminded us, more than half of Saudi oil reserves are found in just eight fields, nearly two-thirds of which is processed at the mega-facility in Abqaiq, near the Gulf of Bahrain. From here, the oil is shipped through two primary terminals. The larger of the two, Ras Tanura, processes a tenth of the world's oil supply daily; the other, Yanbu, is connected to Abqaiq by an unprotected 750-mile umbilical pipeline. Were a terrorist cell to hijack a few planes in Kuwait and crash them into one or more of these facilities -- soft targets all -- it could take up to 50 percent of Saudi oil off the market for at least six months, says Gal Luft.
"The nature of the Saudi oil industry is like our airport system," explains Luft. "If you take out one of the major hubs processing three to five million barrels a day, you send oil prices to an unprecedented level. Even taking one million barrels off the market would be catastrophic."
Saudi assurances about the security of their facilities sound emptier with every passing year. Al Qaeda attacks in the Kingdom have been on the rise since the invasion of Iraq, beginning with a series of May 2003 Riyadh bombings and continuing with December 2004's daring attack on the U.S. Consulate compound in Jeddah. Last week's attempted blow against Abqaiq is the logical and terrifying advance of a thick trend-line.
Even if it is possible to secure the Gulf's major fields, processing and shipping facilities, there is no way to secure the thousands of miles of aboveground pipelines that traverse Saudi Arabia as well as every major oil producing country, from Venezuela to Uzbekistan to Nigeria. The aortic imagery often found in jihadist communiques about oil -- "The artery of the life of the crusader's nation!" -- is both a strategic insight for jihad and a fair description of oil's physical role in the global economy. If the Saudi mega-refinery in Abqaiq is a giant exposed beating heart, then the world's pipelines are vast networks of soft, external veins, easily sliced with the military equivalent of a razor from the local pharmacy. "Systems sabotage is amazingly effective," says analyst John Robb. "Small attacks that cost less than $2,000 have caused billions in damages, a return on investment of 100,000 times. Most 'inside the beltway' analysts don't understand systems theory. So they focus on large scale attacks on major facilities, but these aren't necessary. As we have seen in Iraq, protecting major facilities doesn't matter if you sever the connections between them."
Not everyone agrees, of course. Kevin Rosser of Control Risks Group often plays Dr. Pangloss to the pessimists in articles about the threat to Saudi oil flow. In 2004, Rosser assured the Economist that "the golden goose is not a sitting duck." Because of the many redundancies built into the vast Saudi network, he believes any single attack could be easily absorbed without seriously disrupting the global economy.
But should Al Qaeda manage to pull off a large-scale strike at Abqaiq or Ras Tanura, there is clearly no duplicate ready to keep the oil flowing into an ever-tightening world oil market. Not even close.
Whether or not George W. Bush actually meant what he said in February's State of the Union about weaning the U.S. off foreign oil may not matter. If Al Qaeda has anything to say about it, the choice may not be ours to make, after all.
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Who Is Responsible For This Terror - Al-Qaida?
By BrkiÄ‡ Sulejman
8 Mar 06
1. 30 million people die of hunger each year
2. 800 million suffer from malnutrition
3. 500 million live in comfort
4. 5.5 billion live in conditions of want
5. 30 000 people die of hunger daily and it's 100 000 people if we include the deaths due to malnutrition (hunger)-related diseases
6. The three richest people in the world have a fortune superior to the total sum of the gross domestic products of the 49 poorest countries-a quarter of the countries in the world.
7. Of the 4.5 billion people in developing countries almost one-third of them have no access to drinking water, and one-fifth of the children don't take in enough calories or proteins
8. Three billion people - half of the planet live on less than $2 a day.
9. Since 1989, the end of the Cold war, there were 70 new wars.
10. The sum total of the wealth of the 15 richest people in the world is greater than the GNP of all the sub-Saharan African countries
11. In1960, the world's richest 20 percent earned more than 30 times as much as the poorest 20 percent.
At present, the earnings of the richest group are 82 times higher than those of the poor.
12. According to the United Nations, the wealth of the world's 225 richest individuals-less than 4 percent of the world's private wealth-would be enough to give everyone in the world access to basic needs (food, drinking water, education, health care).
13. There are more than 1 billion unemployed people around the world.
14. Three hundred million children are exploited in unprecedented conditions of brutality.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of horrors in our world in the 21 first century.
What are we, we who live in the "prosperous" and "democratic" countries, in the "civilized" (white) world doing about it? What have we done about it? What are we going to do about it? Start a war on misery?
To satisfy the basic sanitary and nutritional needs of all the people living in conditions of want, it would cost a sum equal to the amount of money spent in one year on perfumes in the United States and the European Union, and less than what they spend on ice cream.
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Syria switches to euro amid confrontation with US
Mon Feb 13, 2006
Syria has switched all of the state's foreign currency transactions to euros from dollars amid a political confrontation with the United States, the head of state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria said on Monday.
"This is a precaution. We are talking about billions of dollars," Duraid Durgham told Reuters.
The bank, which still dominates the Syrian market although private banks have been allowed to set up in the last few years, has also stopped dealing with dollars in the international foreign exchange flows of private clients.
The United States has been at the forefront of international pressure on Syria for its alleged role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri a year ago. Damascus denies involvement in the killing.
"It looks like a kind of pre-emptive action aimed at making their foreign assets safer, preventing them from getting frozen in case of any conflict," said a Middle East economist who requested anonymity.
Comment: Portent of impending U.S. economic collapse?
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Investment Needs To Double To Meet UN Goals On Water
by Staff Writers
Mar 09, 2006
Global investment in clean water and sanitation has to nearly double from present levels in order to meet the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals in these areas, a study issued here Wednesday said.
Around 30 billion dollars annually are needed, amounting to 10 billion dollars to supply potable water and 15-20 billion for sewerage, according to estimates by the World Water Council.
The UN development goal is to halve the number of people without access to clean water and sanitation by 2015 compared to a 1990 benchmark.
The report said current investment was between 14-16 billion dollars a year. This includes maintenance but does not include treatment of waste water.
The report, "Costing MDG Target 10 on Water Supply and Sanitation," was released in the run-up to the March 16-22 World Water Forum, taking place in Mexico City.
The World Water Forum, based in Marseille, southern France, gathers more than 300 organisations focussed on improving the management of water.
More than 1.2 billion people do not have access to clean water and 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation, according to the latest UN estimates.
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New EU Waste Rules May Turn Poor Countries Into Dumps
by Staff Writers
Mar 09, 2006
Prague - Czech Environment Minister Libor Ambrozek will protest in Brussels Thursday against proposed changes in EU rules which he fears will lead to poorer EU countries being used as waste dumping grounds by their richer neighbours, ministry spokeswoman Karolina Sulova said Wednesday.
Having already experienced an influx of waste shipped in lorries from Germany and dumped in the Czech Republic over the last month, Ambrozek fears that a proposed new European framework directive on waste could pave the way for systematic shipments "from economically stronger countries to weaker ones," in the future, Sulova told AFP.
EU environment ministers are due to have a general discussion about the prevention and recycling of waste and the proposed waste directive during their Thursday meeting. A decision on the directive is not expected, Sulova added.
Ambrozek is also seeking to rally neighbours Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland to take a united stand against the proposed EU waste rules at a meeting of the Visegrad four in May.
"So far there have been one or two cases of similar dumping of waste in Slovakia, I do not know about cases in Hungary and Poland," Sulova added.
Czech environmental inspectors estimate that around 15,000 tonnes of waste has been shipped from Germany and dumped in the Czech Republic over the last few weeks.
While German authorities have agreed it should be returned, administrative issues still have to be solved and in some cases adequate proof prepared before the German waste can be returned, Sulova said.
In one of the most notorious cases, waste from Germany was illegally dumped at a former farm at Libceves in north Bohemia by a Czech company, she said, adding, "It is not just the fault of the Germans."
Sulova said the influx of German waste was caused by stricter environmental legislation introduced in Germany towards the end of last year which made it a lot more financially attractive for firms to dump it across the border in the Czech Republic.
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Still Evolving, Human Genes Tell New Story
By NICHOLAS WADE
March 7, 2006
Providing the strongest evidence yet that humans are still evolving, researchers have detected some 700 regions of the human genome where genes appear to have been reshaped by natural selection, a principal force of evolution, within the last 5,000 to 15,000 years.
The genes that show this evolutionary change include some responsible for the senses of taste and smell, digestion, bone structure, skin color and brain function.
Many of these instances of selection may reflect the pressures that came to bear as people abandoned their hunting and gathering way of life for settlement and agriculture, a transition well under way in Europe and East Asia some 5,000 years ago.
Under natural selection, beneficial genes become more common in a population as their owners have more progeny.
Three populations were studied, Africans, East Asians and Europeans. In each, a mostly different set of genes had been favored by natural selection. The selected genes, which affect skin color, hair texture and bone structure, may underlie the present-day differences in racial appearance.
The study of selected genes may help reconstruct many crucial events in the human past. It may also help physical anthropologists explain why people over the world have such a variety of distinctive appearances, even though their genes are on the whole similar, said Dr. Spencer Wells, director of the Genographic Project of the National Geographic Society.
The finding adds substantially to the evidence that human evolution did not grind to a halt in the distant past, as is tacitly assumed by many social scientists. Even evolutionary psychologists, who interpret human behavior in terms of what the brain evolved to do, hold that the work of natural selection in shaping the human mind was completed in the pre-agricultural past, more than 10,000 years ago.
"There is ample evidence that selection has been a major driving point in our evolution during the last 10,000 years, and there is no reason to suppose that it has stopped," said Jonathan Pritchard, a population geneticist at the University of Chicago who headed the study.
Dr. Pritchard and his colleagues, Benjamin Voight, Sridhar Kudaravalli and Xiaoquan Wen, report their findings in today's issue of PLOS-Biology.
Their data is based on DNA changes in three populations gathered by the HapMap project, which built on the decoding of the human genome in 2003. The data, though collected to help identify variant genes that contribute to disease, also give evidence of evolutionary change.
The fingerprints of natural selection in DNA are hard to recognize. Just a handful of recently selected genes have previously been identified, like those that confer resistance to malaria or the ability to digest lactose in adulthood, an adaptation common in Northern Europeans whose ancestors thrived on cattle milk.
But the authors of the HapMap study released last October found many other regions where selection seemed to have occurred, as did an analysis published in December by Robert K. Moysis of the University of California, Irvine.
Dr. Pritchard's scan of the human genome differs from the previous two because he has developed a statistical test to identify just genes that have started to spread through populations in recent millennia and have not yet become universal, as many advantageous genes eventually do.
The selected genes he has detected fall into a handful of functional categories, as might be expected if people were adapting to specific changes in their environment. Some are genes involved in digesting particular foods like the lactose-digesting gene common in Europeans. Some are genes that mediate taste and smell as well as detoxify plant poisons, perhaps signaling a shift in diet from wild foods to domesticated plants and animals.
Dr. Pritchard estimates that the average point at which the selected genes started to become more common under the pressure of natural selection is 10,800 years ago in the African population and 6,600 years ago in the Asian and European populations.
Dr. Richard G. Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford, said that it was hard to correlate the specific gene changes in the three populations with events in the archaeological record, but that the timing and nature of the changes in the East Asians and Europeans seemed compatible with the shift to agriculture. Rice farming became widespread in China 6,000 to 7,000 years ago, and agriculture reached Europe from the Near East around the same time.
Skeletons similar in form to modern Chinese are hard to find before that period, Dr. Klein said, and there are few European skeletons older than 10,000 years that look like modern Europeans.
That suggests that a change in bone structure occurred in the two populations, perhaps in connection with the shift to agriculture. Dr. Pritchard's team found that several genes associated with embryonic development of the bones had been under selection in East Asians and Europeans, and these could be another sign of the forager-to-farmer transition, Dr. Klein said.
Dr. Wells, of the National Geographic Society, said Dr. Pritchard's results were fascinating and would help anthropologists explain the immense diversity of human populations even though their genes are generally similar. The relative handful of selected genes that Dr. Pritchard's study has pinpointed may hold the answer, he said, adding, "Each gene has a story of some pressure we adapted to."
Dr. Wells is gathering DNA from across the globe to map in finer detail the genetic variation brought to light by the HapMap project.
Dr. Pritchard's list of selected genes also includes five that affect skin color. The selected versions of the genes occur solely in Europeans and are presumably responsible for pale skin. Anthropologists have generally assumed that the first modern humans to arrive in Europe some 45,000 years ago had the dark skin of their African origins, but soon acquired the paler skin needed to admit sunlight for vitamin D synthesis.
The finding of five skin genes selected 6,600 years ago could imply that Europeans acquired their pale skin much more recently. Or, the selected genes may have been a reinforcement of a process established earlier, Dr. Pritchard said.
The five genes show no sign of selective pressure in East Asians.
Because Chinese and Japanese are also pale, Dr. Pritchard said, evolution must have accomplished the same goal in those populations by working through different genes or by changing the same genes - but many thousands of years before, so that the signal of selection is no longer visible to the new test.
Dr. Pritchard also detected selection at work in brain genes, including a group known as microcephaly genes because, when disrupted, they cause people to be born with unusually small brains.
Dr. Bruce Lahn, also of the University of Chicago, theorizes that successive changes in the microcephaly genes may have enabled the brain to enlarge in primate evolution, a process that may have continued in the recent human past.
Last September, Dr. Lahn reported that one microcephaly gene had recently changed in Europeans and another in Europeans and Asians. He predicted that other brain genes would be found to have changed in other populations.
Dr. Pritchard's test did not detect a signal of selection in Dr. Lahn's two genes, but that may just reflect limitations of the test, he and Dr. Lahn said. Dr. Pritchard found one microcephaly gene that had been selected for in Africans and another in Europeans and East Asians. Another brain gene, SNTG1, was under heavy selection in all three populations.
"It seems like a really interesting gene, given our results, but there doesn't seem to be that much known about exactly what it's doing to the brain," Dr. Pritchard said.
Dr. Wells said that it was not surprising the brain had continued to evolve along with other types of genes, but that nothing could be inferred about the nature of the selective pressure until the function of the selected genes was understood.
The four populations analyzed in the HapMap project are the Yoruba of Nigeria, Han Chinese from Beijing, Japanese from Tokyo and a French collection of Utah families of European descent. The populations are assumed to be typical of sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Europe, but the representation, though presumably good enough for medical studies, may not be exact.
Dr. Pritchard's test for selection rests on the fact that an advantageous mutation is inherited along with its gene and a large block of DNA in which the gene sits. If the improved gene spreads quickly, the DNA region that includes it will become less diverse across a population because so many people now carry the same sequence of DNA units at that location.
Dr. Pritchard's test measures the difference in DNA diversity between those who carry a new gene and those who do not, and a significantly lesser diversity is taken as a sign of selection. The difference disappears when the improved gene has swept through the entire population, as eventually happens, so the test picks up only new gene variants on their way to becoming universal.
The selected genes turned out to be quite different from one racial group to another. Dr. Pritchard's test identified 206 regions of the genome that are under selection in the Yorubans, 185 regions in East Asians and 188 in Europeans. The few overlaps between races concern genes that could have been spread by migration or else be instances of independent evolution, Dr. Pritchard said.
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Most Human Chimp Differences Due To Gene Regulation Not Genes
by Staff Writers
Mar 09, 2006
Chicago IL - The vast differences between humans and chimpanzees are due more to changes in gene regulation than differences in individual genes themselves, researchers from Yale, the University of Chicago, and the Hall Institute in Parkville, Victoria, Australia, argue in the 9 March 2006 issue of the journal Nature.
The scientists provide powerful new evidence for a 30-year-old theory, proposed in a classic paper from Mary-Claire King and Allan Wilson of Berkeley. That 1975 paper documented the 99-percent similarity of genes from humans and chimps and suggested that altered gene regulation, rather than changes in coding, might explain how so few genetic changes could produce the wide anatomic and behavioral differences between the two.
Using novel gene-array technology to measure the extent of gene expression in thousands of genes simultaneously, this study shows that as humans diverged from their ape ancestors in the last five million years, genes for transcription factors -- which control the expression of other genes -- were four times as likely to have changed their own expression patterns as the genes they regulate.
Because they influence the activity of many "downstream" genetic targets, small changes in the expression of these regulatory genes can have an enormous impact.
"When we looked at gene expression, we found fairly small changes in 65 million years of the macaque, orangutan, and chimpanzee evolution," said study author Yoav Gilad, Ph.D., assistant professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago, "followed by rapid change, along the five million years of the human lineage, that was concentrated on these specific groups of genes. This rapid evolution in transcription factors occurred only in humans."
"For 30 years scientists have suspected that gene regulation has played a central role in human evolution," said Kevin White, Ph.D., associate professor of genetics and ecology and evolution at Yale and senior author of the study. "In addition to lending support to the idea that changes in gene regulation are a key part of our evolutionary history, these new results help to define exactly which regulatory factors may be important, at least in certain tissues. This helps open the door to a functional dissection of the role of gene regulation during the evolution of modern humans."
To measure changes in gene expression from different species, White and Gilad developed the first multi-species gene array. This allowed them to compare the level of expression of more than 1,000 genes between humans, chimps, orangutans and rhesus macaques – representing about 70 million years of evolution. To make the samples comparable, the researchers studied tissue from the liver -- one of the most homogeneous sources -- from five adult males from each of the four species.
They focused their search on expression levels of two sets of genes, those that remained largely unchanged across all four species, suggesting that there was little room -- or need -- for improvement, and those that changed most dramatically, usually in the human lineage -- an indication of powerful incentives to adapt to a changing environment.
Of the 1,056 genes from all four species, 60 percent had fairly consistent expression levels across all four species. "The expression levels of these genes seem to have remained constant for about 70 million years," the authors wrote, "suggesting that their regulation is under evolutionary constraint."
Many of these genes are involved in basic cellular processes. The authors suggest that altering the regulation of these fundamental and ancient genes may be harmful. In fact, five of the 100 most stable genes have altered expression levels in liver cancer.
When they also looked for human genes with significantly higher or lower expression levels, they found 14 genes with increased expression and five with decreased expression. While only ten percent of the genes in the total array were transcription factors, 42 percent of those with increased expression in humans were. None of those with lower expression were transcription factors. This pattern, the authors note, is consistent with "directional selection."
Previous studies have found that many of these same genes have also evolved rapidly in humans, accumulating changes in their coding sequence as well as in expression rates. "Together," they add, "these findings raise the possibility that the function and regulation of transcription factors have been substantially modified in the human lineage."
This is a very efficient way to make big changes with very little effort, according to Gilad. By altering transcription factors, the entire regulatory network can change with very few mutations, increasing the impact and minimizing the risk.
"The big question," he said, "is why are humans so different? What sort of changes in the environment or lifestyle would drive such a rapid shift in the expression of genes -- in this case in the liver -- in humans and in no other primate?"
Part of the answer, he suspects, is rapid alterations in diet, probably related to the acquisition of fire and the emerging preference for cooked food. "No other animal relies on cooked food," he said. "Perhaps something in the cooking process altered the biochemical requirements for maximal access to nutrients as well as the need to process the natural toxins found in plant and animal foods."
This is just the first of a series of similar studies, said Gilad, that will look at changes in gene expression over evolutionary time. The next steps are to look at larger arrays of genes and to focus on other tissue types.
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Poll: Most people reject evolution theory
March 08, 2006
A Gallup Poll released Wednesday suggests about 53 percent of Americans rejects the theory of evolution as the explanation for the origin of humans.
Instead, they believe God created humans at one time "as is," the survey showed.
About 31 percent of respondents said they believe humans evolved, but God guided the process. Only 1.2 percent said they believe the scientific theory of evolution and "God had no part."
Researchers said people with lower levels of education, those who attend church regularly, those who are 65 or older and those who identify with the Republican Party are more likely to believe in the biblical story of the origin of humans.
The poll was conducted in September but no margin of error figures or other information was available.
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Polish archaeologist unearths Europe's most ancient graves
Mar 2, 2006
Warsaw - Five of Europe's most ancient graves, dating back 10,000 years, have been unearthed in the village of Dwreca, central Poland.
Archaeologist Marian Marciniak found the graves on the site of ancient post-glacial dunes, the Rzeczpospolita daily reported. In them, a young woman, believed aged 18 to 21, was put to rest with a baby, a child aged 5 to 7 and another aged 7 to 11.
An adult male found at the site was buried sitting upright, as if on a throne or chair.
The bodies were dressed in animal skins decorated with the teeth of wild animals and wrapped in tree bark. The remains were then placed in tombs lined with pine logs, sprinkled with powdered red ochre to symbolise blood and burned.
The burnt-out graves where then likely covered to create small mounds.
'We've been digging for 9 years, but there are still unanswered questions,' Marciniak told Rzeczpospolita of puzzling half-circles made of small bonfires researchers found near the graves.
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Caves of mystery at Huashan
IS it simply a coincidence or do certain laws of nature lie behind the phenomenon? A new mystery has recently been uncovered on the 30 degrees Northern Latitude, following upon other great mysteries such as the pyramids, Noah's ark and the Bermuda Triangle.
The new finding on this mysterious latitude is to do with the ancient Mystical Caves at Huashan, near the famous Huangshan Mountain in China's Anhui Province. Although tests on chiselled stones showed that the caves have existed for at least 1,500 years, it was only about 15 months ago that they were first discovered by a local farmer, by accident.
The neatly chiselled walls and roofs, the big pillars and stone stairs, indicate that the caves were dug by men. Yet nobody knows for what purpose the ancient people excavated them. Not a single word about the caves has ever been found among China's numerous ancient records although their size has already ranked them as the biggest ever discovered so far in China.
Altogether, 36 caves have been found among the rolling Huashan hills, near the crystal-clear Xin'an River. Two of the caves are now open to visitors. The rest are still being cleaned of the mud that has accumulated inside. According to the excavation workers, there is a high possibility that the 36 caves may be connected to one another.
Huanxi cave, with a length of 140 metres and a size of 4,800 square metres, is one of the two now open to public. After a walk of 100 metres, you find a grand hall inside the cave, with pools, pillars and small rooms on each side.
A most mysterious discovery is the slope of the cave. The inclined plane of the walls has exactly the same slope as the outside hill. Yet according to the technology of that time, how could the ancient people have managed that?
Of all the 36 caves, the biggest is the Qingliang Cave, which is known as the "Underground Palace" due to its scale and magnificent layout. With a total length of 170 metres, the cave covers a space of 12,600 square metres. The original digging-out of the cave could have produced at least 50,000 cubic metres of stone.
Inside the cave there is a stone bridge above an underground river and with stone paths leading to different halls. A two-storey stone structure is nearby where visitors have a bird's eye view of the huge cave from a balcony. No food remains were found in the cave, nor any smoking or signs of fire. But without fire how could the ancient diggers have produced light in the cave?
As there are no historical records telling why the ancient people dug the caves, a variety of guesses are made by tourists as well as by experts.
Some people hold that the ancient people dug the caves just to produce stone as, at that time, a large quantity of stone was needed to build the town. But if it was only for stone, why did they leave exquisite smoothed chisel marks on the walls and roofs?
Another hypothesis is that the caves were used to station troops. According to history texts, a large-scale peasant uprising occurred near the caves in 1120. The caves could have been the place to station soldiers.
Yet as mentioned before, the stone tests showed that the caves have a history as long as 1,500 years, so the caves were already there before the peasant uprising.
Some hold that the caves were not the project of one dynasty or one period. They might have been dug out over hundreds of years. During the initial period, they were excavated just for the stone. But later people found the caves and after further digging, they made them bigger and longer for hiding in, stationing troops or simply as stock houses. This hypothethis well explains why even the same cave has different patterns of calving and different chisel marks.
Apart from all these hypotheses, there are many other guesses - for instance the caves might have been imperial tombs. But, later for whatever reason, the caves were abandoned.
All these unanswered questions place a shroud of mystery over the caves, as well as adding more fun to the trip.
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Cassini Detects Backward Electrons On Saturn
by Staff Writers
March 8, 2006
Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany - An international research team has discovered electrons in Saturn's magetic field that are accelerating backwards - moving away from the ringed planet instead of toward it.
The team, led by Joachim Saur at the University of Cologne, found the anti-planetary electrons, as they are called, using the instruments on NASA's Cassini spacecraft, including the Low Energy Magnetospheric Measurement System, or LEMMS.
Cassini's rotation helped the researchers determine the direction, number and strength of the electrons. They compared the results with recordings of the auroras in the polar region and a global model of Saturn's magnetic field. They found that the weakest auroras, or their absence, matched up very well with the lowest point of the magnetic field lines in which electron rays were measured.
Auroras occur on Earth when electrons above the atmosphere accelerate downward toward the poles. They emit visible light - usually vivid shades of red, green, blue and yellow - when they hit the planet's upper atmosphere.
Some years ago, scientists discovered that some electrons in the polar region accelerate away from Earth - or backwards. These anti-planetary electrons do not cause the sky to light up, and scientists have been puzzled about how they originate.
Until recently it also has been unclear whether anti-planetary electrons occur elsewhere in the solar system. They have been discovered in Jupiter's powerful magnetic field, and now Saur's team has discovered them on Saturn.
The backward electrons tend to be strongly focused, with an angle of beam spread less than 10 degrees, so the researchers were able to determine the location of their source: somewhere above the polar region, but inside a maximum distance of five radii of Saturn.
Because the electron beams have been measured on Earth, Jupiter and Saturn, and because they display similar characteristics, scientists now think they must share some fundamental underlying process - something that must be researched further.
Team members Norbert Krupp, and colleagues Andreas Lagg and Elias Roussos at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, worked closely with scientists from the Institute for Geophysics and Meteorology at the University of Cologne, and the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The APS team, led by Tom Krimigis, service and coordinate the LEMMS on Cassini.
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Astronomers Find Part-Time Pulsar
by Staff Writers
March 8, 2006
Manchester, UK - Astronomers have discovered a very strange pulsar that transmits its radio signal only part of the time. The astronomers, using the 76-meter (247-foot) Lovell radio telescope at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory, found that the pulsar also seems to slow its rate of rotation by 50 percent when it is "on," compared to when it is "off."
Pulsars are dense, highly magnetized neutron stars born in supernovas. They act like cosmic lighthouses because they project rotating beams of radio waves.
"Pulsars are a physicist's dream come true, said team leader Michael Kramer. "They are made of the most extreme matter that we know of in the universe, and their highly stable rotation makes them super-precise cosmic clocks - but, embarrassingly, we do not know how these clocks work. This discovery goes a long way towards solving this problem."
Reporting Feb. 23 in Science Express, an online service of the journal Science, Kramer and colleagues said the pulsar appears normal for about a week, then "switches off" for about one month before emitting pulses again. The pulsar, called PSR B1931+24, is unique in this behavior. Because it is quiet most of the time, it has been difficult to detect -which suggests there may be many other similar objects in the universe.
"After the discovery of pulsars, theoreticians proposed that strong electric fields rip particles out of the neutron star surface into a surrounding magnetized cloud of plasma called the magnetosphere," said team member Andrew Lyne, "but for nearly 40 years, there had been no way to test whether our basic understanding was correct."
The astronomers said they were delighted when they discovered that PSR B1931+24 slows down rapidly when it is transmitting. "We can clearly see that something hits the brakes when the pulsar is on," said team member Christine Jordan.
The astronomers think the braking mechanism must be related to the radio emission and the processes creating it – such as the rotational energy carried by the wind of particles leaving the pulsar's magnetosphere. "Such a braking effect of the pulsar wind was expected but now, finally, we have observational evidence for it," said Duncan Lorimer, another team member.
Kramer said the amount of braking could be related to the number of charges leaving the pulsar magnetosphere – something that theorists had proposed 37 years ago, and the new observations matched within 2 percent. "We were really shocked when we saw these numbers on our screens," Kramer said. "Given the pulsar's complexity, we never really expected the magnetospheric theory to work so well."
Lyne called the finding "amazing," and added that, "after almost 40 years, we have not only found a new, unusual, pulsar phenomenon but also a very unexpected way to confirm some fundamental theories about the nature of pulsars."
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Cosmic 'eel' preys on spiral galaxy
# 11:06 09 March 2006
# NewScientist.com news service
# Maggie McKee
A giant space "eel" appears to be chasing after a spiral galaxy in this newly released image from the Victor M. Blanco telescope in Chile.
The eel is actually a type of small, isolated cloud of gas and dust, called a cometary globule because of its resemblance to a comet. Called CG4, it lies about 1300 light years from Earth towards the constellation Puppis, at the stern of the ship of the Argonauts (a former constellation called Argo Navis).
CG4 is a star-forming region within the Milky Way with enough material to produce several stars the size of the Sun. Its head is about 1.5 light years wide and has been sculpted into the shape of an open mouth by radiation from hot, nearby stars, whose scattered light also causes CG4 to glow.
The eel appears on the verge of devouring a spiral galaxy called ESO 257-19. But fortunately, that galaxy is safely out of reach, actually lying more than 100 million light years farther away than CG4.
The image was taken by a 64-megapixel camera on the US National Science Foundation's 4-metre Victor M. Blanco telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. It is a composite of four "colours" – blue, green, near-infrared and hydrogen-alpha, a wavelength of red light produced by warm hydrogen gas.
The composite is the 1000th image posted in the US National Optical Astronomy Observatory's online image gallery.
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Sandias Z Machine Exceeds Two Billion Degrees Kelvin
by Staff Writers
Mar 09, 2006
Sandia's Z machine has produced plasmas that exceed temperatures of 2 billion degrees Kelvin -- hotter than the interiors of stars. The unexpectedly hot output, if its cause were understood and harnessed, could eventually mean that smaller, less costly nuclear fusion plants would produce the same amount of energy as larger plants.
The phenomena also may explain how astrophysical entities like solar flares maintain their extreme temperatures.
The very high radiation output also creates new experimental environments to help validate computer codes responsible for maintaining a reliable nuclear weapons stockpile safely and securely -- the principle mission of the Z facility.
"At first, we were disbelieving," says Sandia project lead Chris Deeney. "We repeated the experiment many times to make sure we had a true result and not an 'Ooops'!"
The results, recorded by spectrometers and confirmed by computer models created by John Apruzese and colleagues at Naval Research Laboratory, have held up over 14 months of additional tests.
A description of the achievement, as well as a possible explanation by Sandia consultant Malcolm Haines, well-known for his work in Z pinches at the Imperial College in London, appeared in the Feb. 24 Physical Review Letters.
Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory.
What happened and why?
Z's energies in these experiments raised several questions.
First, the radiated x-ray output was as much as four times the expected kinetic energy input.
Ordinarily, in non-nuclear reactions, output energies are less -- not greater -- than the total input energies. More energy had to be getting in to balance the books, but from where could it come?
Second, and more unusually, high ion temperatures were sustained after the plasma had stagnated -- that is, after its ions had presumably lost motion and therefore energy and therefore heat -- as though yet again some unknown agent was providing an additional energy source to the ions.
Sandia's Z machine normally works like this: 20 million amps of electricity pass through a small core of vertical tungsten wires finer than human hairs. The core is about the size of a spool of thread. The wires dissolve instantly into a cloud of charged particles called a plasma.
The plasma, caught in the grip of the very strong magnetic field accompanying the electrical current, is compressed to the thickness of a pencil lead. This happens very rapidly, at a velocity that would fly a plane from New York to San Francisco in several seconds.
At that point, the ions and electrons have nowhere further to go. Like a speeding car hitting a brick wall, they stop suddenly, releasing energy in the form of X-rays that reach temperatures of several million degrees -- the temperature of solar flares.
The new achievement -- temperatures of billions of degrees -- was obtained in part by substituting steel wires in cylindrical arrays 55 mm to 80 mm in diameter for the more typical tungsten wire arrays, approximately only 20 mm in diameter. The higher velocities achieved over these longer distances were part of the reason for the higher temperatures.
(The use of steel allowed for detailed spectroscopic measurements of these temperatures impossible to obtain with tungsten.)
Haines theorized that the rapid conversion of magnetic energy to a very high ion plasma temperature was achieved by unexpected instabilities at the point of ordinary stagnation: that is, the point at which ions and electrons should have been unable to travel further. The plasma should have collapsed, its internal energy radiated away. But for approximately 10 nanoseconds, some unknown energy was still pushing back against the magnetic field.
Haines' explanation theorizes that Z's magnetic energies create microturbulences that increase the kinetic energies of ions caught in the field's grip. Already hot, the extra jolt of kinetic energy then produces increased heat, as ions and their accompanying electrons release energy through friction-like viscous mixing even after they should have been exhausted.
High temperatures previously had been assumed to be produced entirely by the kinetic flight and intersection of ions and electrons, unaided by accompanying microturbulent fields.
Z is housed in a flat-roofed building about the size and shape of an aging high-school gymnasium.
This work has already prompted other studies at Sandia and at the University of Nevada at Reno.
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Ark's Quantum Quirks
March 9, 2006
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Bird flu scare crashes chicken prices by 60%
ENS ECONOMIC BUREAU
Posted online: Monday, February 20, 2006 at 0020 hours IST
PUNE, FEBRUARY 19: A day after bird flu cases were reported from Nandurbar and Dhule districts, sale of chicken and poultry products in the city witnessed a sharp drop of 60-70 per cent. Though most of the traders refused to comment on the decline, some pointed out that customers stayed away from poultry products as they were waiting for a clear picture to emerge on the situation.
Small time poultry farm owners are the worst-affected as the rates dropped from Rs 35 per kg to Rs 28 per kg. ''Traders did not pick up our stock on Saturday night as they feared that rates would crash more. Farmers are facing a huge loss now as people are not willing to buy,'' Ganesh Moze, who runs a chicken farm in Lohegaon, said.
Traders and sellers spoke of a conspiracy and claimed that it was done by the multinational companies to create a scare to sell their flu vaccines. ''They have invested a lot of money into their medicines and sell it for over Rs 1,000. This is a way of selling their product,'' a shopkeeper said.
Market players also feel that the scare is aimed at discrediting the Indian poultry industry which is making its mark in the export market. ''It is a highly competitive market and these rumours are aimed at hurting the Rs 32,000-crore Indian market. The farmers will suffer the most,'' Sripad R. Maheshkar, director of United Farming Corporation, a chicken feed company said. He added that it would take at least two months for the rates to get back to normal.
Some analysts say that foreign investment in Indian stocks could be hit in the short term. ''Investors are looking at India carefully and avian flu is a risk,'' said Abheek Barua, chief economist ABN AMRO Bank.
Meanwhile,industry body National Egg Co-ordination Committee (NECC) said, independent tests conducted by them at two labs had confirmed that the birds at Navapur in Nandurbar district were affected by Ranikhet disease.
''The NECC strongly refutes the reports of bird flu and would like to assure the farmers and the public that there is no bird flu in India and there is no reason for any panic,'' NECC chairperson Anuradha Desai said.
''The farmers in Nandurbar were supposed to sell off their bird stock after 72 weeks, but the birds were kept for 90 weeks. This threatened their immunity levels and the older flock has been affected,'' Desai told The Indian Express.
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Is Avian Flu another Pentagon Hoax?
by F. William Engdahl
October 30, 2005
No sooner are indictments being handed down to Scooter Libby, the Chief of Staff of the Vice President of the United States for lies and coverup of information used deliberately to suppress the fact the Bush Administration had no 'smoking gun' to prove Saddam Hussein was building a nuclear arsenal, but a new scandal is surfacing every bit as outrageous and ultimately, likely also criminal.
Against all scientific prudence and normal public health procedure, the world population is being whipped up into a fear frenzy by irresponsible public health officials from the US Administration to WHO to the United States Centers for Disease Control. They all warn about the imminent danger that a malicious viral strain might spread from infected birds, primarily in Vietnam and other Asian centers, to contaminate the entire human species in pandemic proportions. Often the flu pandemic of 1918 which is said to have killed 18 million worldwide, is cited as an example of what 'might' lie in store for us.
On November 1, appropriately enough the day after Halloween, President Bush is scheduled to visit the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda Maryland to announce his Administration's strategy of how it will prepare for the next flu epidemic, whether from Bird Flu or some other strain. The plan has been a year in the making. On October 28 the Senate passed an $8 billion emergency funding bill to address the growing Avian Flu panic. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, in a moment of candor during the debate on the Senate bill told the press, 'If it isn't the current H5N1 virus that leads to an influenza pandemic, at some point in our nation's future, another virus will.' In the meantime taxpayer billions will have gone to a handful of pharmaceutical giants positioned to profit. None stands to reap more lucre than the Swiss-US pharmaceutical giant Roche Holdings of Basle.
The only medicine we are told which reduce the symptoms of general or seasonal influenza and 'possibly' might reduce symptoms also of Avian Flu, is a drug called Tamiflu. Today the giant Swiss pharmaceutical firm, Roche, holds the sole license to manufacture Tamiflu. Due to the media panic, the order books at Roche today are filled to overflowing. Roche recently refused a request from the US Congress to lift its exclusive patent rights to allow other drug manufacturers to produce Tamiflu with the improbable excuse that it was in effect, too complex for others to rapidly produce.
However, the real point of interest is the company in California who developed Tamiflu and gave the marketing rights to its patented discovery to Roche.
Tamiflu was developed and patented in 1996 by a California biotech firm, Gilead Sciences Inc. Gilead is a NASDAQ (GILD) listed stock company which prefers to maintain a low profile in the current rush to Tamiflu. That might be because of who is tied to Gilead. In 1997, before he became US Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld was named Chairman of the Board of Gilead Sciences, where he remained until early 2001 when he became Defense Secretary. Rumsfeld had been on the board of Gilead since 1988 according to a January 3 1997 company press release.
An as-yet-unconfirmed report is that Rumsfeld while Secretary of Defense also purchased an additional stock in his former company, Gilead Sciences Inc., worth $18 million, making him one of its largest if not the largest stock owners today.
The Secretary of Defense, the man who allegedly supported the use of contrived intelligence to justify the war on Iraq, is now poised to reap huge gains for a flu panic his Administration has done everything it can to promote. It would be useful to know whether the Pentagon's successor to Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans developed the strategy of biowarfare behind the current Avian Flu panic. Perhaps some enterprising Congressional committee might look into the entire subject of plausible conflicts of interest regarding Secretary Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld stands to make a fortune on royalties as a panicked world population scrambles to buy a drug worthless in curing effects of alleged Avian Flu. The model suggests the parallel to the brazen corruption of Halliburton Corporation whose former CEO is Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney's company has so far gotten billions worth of US construction contracts in Iraq and elsewhere. Coincidence that Cheney's closest political friend is Defense Secretary and Avian Flu beneficiary Don Rumsfeld? It is another example of what someone has called the principle of modern US corrupt special interest politics: 'Concentrate the benefits; diffuse the costs' President Bush has ordered the US Government to buy $2 billion worth of Gilead Science's Tamilflu.
GMO Chickens come home to roost
But Tamiflu conflicts are perhaps just the tip of the iceberg of the Avian Flu story. There is high-level biological research underway in Britain and presumably also the United States to develop a genetic engineering method to make chickens and other birds 'resistant' to Avian Flu viruses.
British scientists are reportedly genetically engineering chickens to produce birds resistant to the lethal strains of the H5N1 virus devastating poultry in the Far East. Laurence Tiley, Professor of Microular Virology at Cambridge University and Helen Sang of the Roslin Institute in Scotland are involved in developing 'transgenic chickens' which would have small pieces of genetic material inserted into chicken eggs to allegedly make the chickens H5N1 resistant.
Tiley told the Times of London on October 29, 'Once we have regulatory approval, we believe it will only take between four and five years to breed enough chickens to replace the entire world (chicken) population.' The real question in this dubious undertaking is which GMO giants are underwriting the research and development of GMO chickens and who will control their products. It is increasingly clear that the entire saga of Avian Flu is one whose dimensions are only slowly coming to light. What we can see so far is not at all pretty.
Global Research Contributing Editor William Engdahl is author of 'A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Pluto Press and the soon-to-be released book, 'Seeds of Destruction: The Geopolitics of Gene-ocide'. He can be contacted through his website, www.engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net.
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Avian Flu Epidemic Scare is a Hoax
Dr. Joseph Mercola
"If you have been viewing the media you must have seen the scare the media and the president are seeking to orchestrate on you and the public. According to a draft of the government's plan to fight a potentially cataclysmic pandemic this new avian super-flu could kill nearly TWO MILLION Americans.
But I nearly fell out of my seat in the airplane as I was flying back from a conference in Ft. Lauderdale when I read that in the BEST-case scenario, only 200,000 people might die.
Then they post the frightening picture from the 1918 flu epidemic to heighten the fear. It just amazes me how they can get away with this type of reporting that is so obviously manipulated by the government and drug companies to scare you into taking the flu vaccine.
The popular media continues to reinforce this unbased fear. In the editorial section of the October 17, 2005 issue of the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Henry Miller, former director of the Office of Biotechnology at the FDA, seeks to frighten the US public by telling us that the avian flu virus can jump from birds to humans and produce a fatal illness in 50% of those infected.
Ah there's the rub. 50% fatality rate sounds pretty scary to me. What Dr. Miller and the other experts fail to explain is how these numbers were derived. Did they examine everyone who contracted the avian flu and use those numbers or did they examine the sickest of the sick who had come down with the avian flu and determine the mortality from there?
Of course it was the later, and from the 60 people who have died from this in THIRD world countries we are being told that anywhere from 200,000 AT BEST to two million people at worst will die from the avian flu.
This is shody science at best and beyond belief that any reputable scientist could get away with such nonsense.
Daily Show Parody
Fortunately contemporary comedians can see right through this nonsense. Here are the links to Jon Stewart's scathing and brilliant Daily Show piece on bird flu. But I have to warn you that it may cause you to hurt yourself from laughing so hard, especially the World Health expert comments on the avian flu killing 150 million people and even funnier comment of George Bush on bird to people transmission.
Quicktime Link (106 MB) MP3 Link (6.7 MB)
What Happened to Common Sense?
The avian flu epidemic hoax reminds me just how uncommon "common sense" is. Folks where is the sound basic science here? How do they make the giant leap of faith that 60 deaths will translate to 2 million or even 200,00 deaths in the US from a virus that does NOT readily spread from birds to humans or humans to humans?
Most of the people who acquired this infection were bird handlers who were in continuous contact with these sick birds. Does anyone in their right mind envision similar circumstances in the US?
Research like this would typically be thrown in the trash if it did not strongly support some ulterior purpose.
What might the purpose of these scare tactics be you ask?
Well how about the US purchasing huge quantities of antiviral drugs and an increase in flu vaccine production along with purchasing 20 million doses of the highly questionably effective Tamiflu. Guess how much one treatment of Tamiflu costs? Give yourself a slap on the back if you guessed $100.
Donald Rumsfeld to Profit Big Time
So those 20 million doses the government has authorized will cost US Taxpayers 2 BILLION dollars.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will likely profit handsomely from the announcement the government is purchasing $2 billion of Tamiflu, the drug developed by Gilead Sciences when Rumsfeld was president of the company. He is reported to hold major portions of stock in Gilead
Not very different from his previous experience with aspartame where he was president of Searle and was able to get asparatame approved after being blocked by the FDA for more than a decade.
Now I think very few of us would mind if this drug actually worked and prevented even a few people from dying. But does it do that? Not really. About all anyone can expect from this drug is that it might make the symptoms a bit less severe. On the downside (aside from setting you back $100) Dr. Tenpenny explained in her Flu Tele Clinic last week Tamiflu can actually cause the virus to mutate into a more dangerous and potent viral strain.
Yesterday US Congress asked Roche, the maker of Tamiflu to suspend its patent and have others make it because they could not likely keep up with the demand, but of course Roche refused saying Tamiflu is hard to make and it would take another company three years to "get up to speed".
What they were really saying is they could care less about the public, what their primary focus on was to not share their windfall profits mandated by the US Congress.
Worthless Flu Shots
Of course let us not forget the flu shots which many will use get when they confuse avian flu with the regular flu. Please understand even if you believe the flu shots work, the flu shot you can now purchase is in no way shape or form designed to protect you against the flu. They are completely different strains. (Avian flu is H5N1 strain).
But rest assured the makers of flu vaccines will not lose this unusal opportunity to rape the American public of even more profits. Today we learned that those getting the flu shots may see a 25% increase in prices at clinics, doctors' offices and medical centers because of increases in the wholesale cost of the vaccines.
History Repeats Itself
Investigative journalist Ida Honorof for decades published a consumer newsletter and broadcast a regular radio program. Honorof received a first prize award from Associated Press for investigative journalism. The Los Angeles Times and other publications credited her with breaking some of the biggest horror stories of our time.
Ida Honorof wrote, "the most brazen, obscene electioneering ploy" ever and added that it was proposed by the President "and his coterie of scientific hacks, fabricated to cause pure unadulterated panic and guarantee political capital, rammed through without consideration of people's health and lives and approved by a band-wagon Congress" eager to make the nation's "health" a bipartisan concern.
The above quote was not written about the avian flu epidemic but the 5 million swine-flu vaccine program of 30 years ago. The hastily contrived program for swine flu resulted in hundreds of Guillain Barre Syndrome paralysis victims as well as countless deaths for a flu pandemic that never materialized.
The pocketbook purloining proposed by the Senate is more than 3,000 per cent greater than that of 30 years ago! Has your paycheck increased 3,000 per cent in the last 30 years?
First step for anyone caught up in this avian flu hype nonsense is to take a deep breath and relax and realize the truth here. Unless you are full time bird handler in a third world country that has a seriously challenged immune system you probably have a much better chance of wining the lottery than dying from the proposed avian flu epidemic.
Review the simple lifestyle measures I outlined earlier this year that will serve to boost your immune system to not only address any form of the flu but also other infectious illness like the cold. When you have a healthy lifestyle and follow basic steps of the Total Health program, for the most part you just don't get sick.
This is the routine surprised comment that most patients tell me after they have been on the program. The Total Health program works for me, most of my patients and can work for you. Just give it a try and let's stop enriching the drug companies for toxic alternatives that don't solve the problem.
For more information about the avian flu you can obtain the Flu Tele Clinic I did last week with Dr. Tenpenny.
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BIRD FLY? PHOOEY!
By Jon Christian Ryter
November 12, 2005
A nonexistent flu virus now tops the "worry meter" at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control. Bird flu now tops the agenda at DHHS with Secretary Tommy Thompson holding regular briefings on fighting this pandemic threat to the world as America's healthcare industry rushes to stockpile enough H5N1 vaccine to inoculate America's at risk flu population. So how many vials of bird flu vaccine will the government need to cover this pandemic threat? Maybe one. Perhaps two.
Bird flu does not exist. What does exist is the ability of the media to easily manipulate the minds of the consumers. The barons of business and overlords of industry prepared America for the theft of their wealth and the theft of their liberty through the ratification of the 16th and 17th Amendments in 1910 and the creation of the Federal Reserve on Dec. 23, 1913 by inundating the American people with propaganda through the newspaper media, suggesting to the people that the Great Depression happened because the American banking system was not elastic enough to adjust to the calamity and could not generate enough currency to protect the American investor from bankruptcy. The media also sold the American people on the notion that they should have the right to directly elect their US Senators when, in fact, the Senate did not represent the people at all. The Senate, constitutionally, represented the collective views of the States, not the people within the State. That was how power-sharing was balanced at the federal level. Because of the 17th Amendment, the unelected 4th branch of government-the bureaucracy-now controls power in Washington. True power was removed completely from the hands of the people.
The rape of the wealth of the American people was completed by FDR, who pushed the New Deal Congress to legislatively abolish the gold clause-something the Congress had no legal authority to do since all constitutional alterations must be made by the ratification of amendments to the Constitution by the States. Congressman Oscar Calloway [D-TX] noted in the March 1915 Congressional Record that a cabal of wealthy bankers and industrialists purchased the controlling interest in 179 newspapers in 1910 for the purpose of controlling public opinion in the United States. Calloway noted that the cabal reduced their holding to the 25 largest circulation newspapers in the country in 1915. From World War I on, the cabal of bankers, industrialists and barons of business who pull the strings on Capitol Hill, learned just how easily they could manipulate the public's fears and anxieties through their partnerships with the media. Bird flu is just one more scare at the tail-end of a mile-long string of health-related scares we've witnessed in this country since the banning of DDT in the 1960s over Rachel Carson's voodoo-science fantasy, SILENT SPRING in which Carson predicted the death of all the world's birds followed by an apocalyptic plague of locusts devouring all the food in the world. Following Carson's epic excursion into avian fantasy came Paul Ehrlich's classic 1962 work (utilizing 17th century science) THE POPULATION BOMB that predicted an economic Armageddon would take place in the year 2000.
Both books were heavily hawked by the Left-and by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Club of Rome, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Trust, and the UN-in thousands of newspaper and magazine articles around the world as true science-just as global warming is hawked today when only those scientists employed by the doomsayer soothsayers-roughly 13% of the scientific community-actually hold the view that global warming is real. Imaginary crises are created for one reason and one reason only: to control you. The only time you will willingly surrender your rights to government is when you are most afraid-and have been convinced that government can eliminate that which you fear.
Which is why, when the Bush Administration began hawking avian flu as a crisis-waiting-to-happen shorty after the election of 2000, DHHS Secretary Tommy Thompson became angry when the heads of several of his agencies-who were having trouble completing a "pandemic emergency plan" for a flu that does not exist-could not give him a status report on their preparations for the impending disaster from a flu virus that did not exist. Bush has asked Congress for emergency funding for H5N1-$1.2 billion for 20 million doses of an experimental H5N1 avian flu vaccine and an additional $2.8 billion in grant money for pharmaceutical companies to develop new flu vaccines (which the drug companies will retail at $15 to $25 per dose, arguing that the high price of the vaccine at retail is due to the immense cost of research-which is largely absorbed by the taxpayers-and the cost of liability insurance to protect them from frivolous lawsuits from class action lawyers. For that reason, Bush also pressed Congress to insulate the pharmaceutical industry from lawsuits. "[Protection from frivolous lawsuits] is a key issue," Robert Webster, a research scientist at St. Jude's Children's Hospital who has made a prototype H5N1 vaccine, said. "Maybe this bird flu will never happen, but the country has got to be able to make its own vaccines."
The H5N1 avian virus was first detected in Asia in 1997. Scientists believe-but have no hard evidence to support the view-that the current avian virus strain, H5N1, is close enough to the 1918 Spanish flu to cause a global flu alert. Spanish flu killed over 600 thousand in the United States alone. To date, 122 people have been affected by the H5N1 avian virus. Sixty-two poultry handlers worldwide have died after being infected by poultry carrying the virus. It must be noted that no person in the world has become infected from eating an infected bird that has been thoroughly cooked. Normal cooking kills the H5N1 virus strain- unlike the AIDS virus which is so hardy it requires temperatures in excess of 400 degrees to kill it. Two hundred million birds have been destroyed in Asia and Eastern Europe since 1997 to stem the spread of the H5N1 virus.
In the height of the 1918 pandemic, US Army Surgeon General Victor Vaughn said: "If the epidemic continues its mathematical rate of acceleration, civilization could easily disappear from the face of the Earth within a few weeks." Fearmongering, we see, is nothing new. Spanish flu ran its course in one "flu season," claiming 40 million lives throughout the world and, as stated above, 600 thousand here. Spanish flu began in the battlefields of Europe and spread throughout the world. Most of the dead were from 20 to 40 years of age. Unlike current flu strains, Spanish flu spared the young and the elderly. Researchers comparing the 1918 genome with H5N1 believe the two share some virulence factors, but that they are two completely different types of viruses since H5N1 has been contained for the eight years scientists have known about it.
Dr. Donald Burke, MD, at Johns Hopkin University said the "viral chatter" suggests something serious is just around the corner. Although there is no evidence that H5N1 can or will cross-mutate-and even more evidence to show that its had over a hundred opportunities to do so and has not-studies from the CDC, the Army's Institute of Pathology and Mt. Sinai School of Medicine suggest that all forms of flu known to man originated as an avian virus that contaminated humans and mutated into an airborne flu virus. An influenza pandemic situation occurs only when a viral strain emerges that [a] is so completely different from previously known circulating viral strains that everyone in the world is susceptible to it-if it mutates and [b] it has the capacity to be transmitted easily from person to person once it mutates. According to the CDC only three such avian viruses have occurred over the last 100 years-in 1918, 1957 and 1968.
If H5N1 mutates and becomes transmissible among humans, the scientific community speculates that the loss of human life worldwide could easily be tallied in the hundreds of millions-particularly in the Third World nations where all of the factories of the industrialized world are being relocated-and where the industrialists, bankers and barons of busines, see the "economic hope" of the world during the 21st century.
During the first week of November, 2005 President George W. Bush asked Congress for $7.1 billion to confront the "pandemic threat" as the Bush Administration promoted its massive flu preparedness plan. Bush health officials and about 400 human and veterinary health officials from the United States flew to Geneva for a 3-day UN conference focused on stopping the spread of the nonexistent flu virus. UN officials are quick to note that what "has arrived" is not the flu, but the issue.
At the UN Conference in Geneva, health officials argued that the world community needed to invest heavily in global infectious disease surveillance and scientific cooperation on the development of vaccines. In addition, the participants argued, there needed to be an international understanding with drug companies on the need to establish core principles that guarantee the availability of flu vaccines and other anti-viral drugs to the at-risk Third World countries-with donor organizations getting appropriate tax write-offs for either donating the vaccines or greatly discounting them to the at-risk nations.
In Geneva, the UN made a presentation for the establishment of a trust fund managed by the World Bank-funded by donations from the industrialized nations. The discussion centered on creating regional stockpiles of vaccines and antivirals for use by at-risk nations during any health catastrophe. What was not decided was where the stockpiles would be placed, and who would control their distribution and use. Likely, control would go to the World Health Organization under the control of Dr. David Nabarro who was recently named UN Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza.
Thompson told the media last week that the plan-396 pages of dire predictions of doom and advice on how the medical community will cope with the disaster and minimize the loss of life-was four years late. This was the report newly-installed DHHS Secretary Thompson was looking for, but didn't get, in 2001. Yet, the crisis on our doorsteps never materialized in 2001. Nor in 2002, 2003, 2004 or thus far, in 2005. From the time the H5N1 virus was discovered in 1997-8 years ago-it has not mutated into an airborne human flu virus, and is not likely to either. And humans did not mutate from monkeys.
© 2005 Jon C. Ryter - All Rights Reserved
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ELIMINATING BIRD FLU FEARS
Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, DO
December 7, 2005
10 Facts You Need to Know
The concerns about avian influenza, a.k.a. bird flu, seem to have the entire world in an uproar. More than 150 million domestic ducks and chickens have been sacrificed throughout Southeast Asia, China, Russia and Eastern Europe in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. Billions of dollars are being allocated to the development of a new "pandemic" vaccine and the stockpiling of two drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza, which are touted to "treat" the infection. The hysteria in the United States has risen to the point where President George Bush allocated resources toward preparing to use the military to enforce quarantines and perhaps even to enforce mandatory vaccination.
What is really going on? Is a pandemic going to develop that will stop all commerce for months and put an end to Western civilization as we know it? What tactics are being used to scare us into believing these measures are necessary?
A level-headed examination of 10 important facts shows that the prevailing alarmist point of view is inaccurate, irresponsible and self-serving.
1. The death rate from H5N1 infection is highly overstated.
Between Dec. 26, 2003 and Oct. 24, 2005, there were 121 confirmed H5N1 infections and, of those, 62 have reportedly died. That makes the "apparent" death rate just over 51 percent, ranking this infection among the most deadly on record. However, thousands of mild and asymptomatic cases are going undetected as detailed by Dick Thompson, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO). In an interview granted to CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy) News on March 9, 2005, Thompson said that the case-fatality rate had been overstated. Documented cases were those where the patients were sick enough to seek medical care in a hospital and, predictably, they had very poor outcomes. He concluded, "Surely others were infected and either not getting sick or not getting sick enough to seek treatment at a hospital. Factoring those into the CFR [case-fatality rate] has been impossible. We simply don't know the denominator." To illustrate, if 62 people died, but 10,000 had actually been infected, the death rate would be 0.62 percent, essentially insignificant. Therefore, without knowing how many are infected, the death rate is being highly inflated
2. The virus has barely infected humans; significantly, there has been no sustained person-to-person transmission of the infection.
Very few cases of severe human infection by H5N1 have occurred. An intensified surveillance of patients in Southeast Asia has led to the discovery of mild cases, more infections in older adults, and an increased number of "clusters cases" among family members, suggesting that "the local virus strains may be adapting to humans." In other words, humans are developing their own innate resistance to the virus. In addition, all cases have occurred via animal-to-human transmission, and there is documentation of only one confirmed case of human-to-human transmission. Without sustained transmission between humans - meaning one person spreads it to another and another, and so on - there can be no pandemic. The "hype" that, sooner or later, the H5N1 strain will mutate into a strain that can be easily passed between humans is completely unsubstantiated. Whether this will happen is nothing more than a guess because:
3. We have had "potential pandemics" before.
In February 2003, Thompson of the WHO revealed that "there have been a half dozen pandemic 'false alarms' in the last 30 years." A false alarm is an outbreak where a virus has jumped the species barrier, but has been confined to one or two people and has not been lethal.
What makes H5N1 particularly significant? Why is this virus gaining the attention of the world? The attention may be due not to its potentially lethal effects on humans, but rather to the deaths of millions of domestic birds, infected or not. Could this be about commerce? Is this a global economic crisis in the making, but not a global health crisis?
4. Tamiflu does not treat the flu and it is unknown if it will stop the spread of the infection.
Clinical trials with Tamiflu have shown that the drug reduces acute symptoms of flu by a maximum of 2.5 days, depending on the subgroup analyzed. That's it: 2.5 days. In addition, viral shedding in nasal secretions was reduced after Tamiflu had been administered. Although this would presumably lessen the exposure risk for close contacts, this theory has not been tested.
5. The virus is already becoming resistant to Tamiflu.
Recent human isolates are fully resistant to older, less expensive influenza drugs, amantadine and rimantadine. In addition, a high-level of resistance to Tamiflu has been detected in up to 16 percent of children with human influenza A (H1N1). Not surprisingly, this resistant variant has been detected recently in several patients with H5N1 infection who were treated with Tamiflu. In addition, nearly seven percent of people who are prescribed Tamiflu can't tolerate the side effect: persistent nausea. So, at nearly $100 for a course of treatment, you might want to save your money and spend it on saline nasal spray, which is at least as effective.
6. The other newly recommended drug, Relenza, isn't much better.
Relenza is a powder, which is inhaled twice a day for five days from a breath-activated plastic device called a Diskhaler. Some patients have had bronchospasm (wheezing) or serious breathing problems when they used Relenza. In fact, in January 2000, the FDA issued a warning about prescribing Relenza after some users reported deterioration of respiratory function following its inhalation. Particular concern was expressed for patients with underlying asthma or emphysema. The FDA stated that "an acute decline in respiratory function may contribute to a fatal outcome in patients with a complicated pre-existing medical history and pulmonary compromise."
7. The "seed virus" produced by the WHO and given to the vaccine manufacturers may not be the correct virus.
In February 2005, the WHO developed several H5N1 prototype vaccine strains in accordance with the requirements of national and international pharmaceutical licensing agencies for influenza vaccine production. These H5N1 prototype strains were made available to institutions and companies working to develop the pandemic vaccines. By October 2005, the WHO had evidence that the virus had evolved and is now "genetically distinguishable" - i.e., different - from the prototype strain selected for vaccine development. In what can only be described as a case study in bureaucratic thinking, the WHO, in spite of the new information, does not recommend changing the strain.
In any case, it will take another 4 to 18 months before the vaccine is ready for mass dissemination. As Nancy Cox, director of the influenza branch at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) stated, "If we don't get a good match, the vaccine will be less effective, producing illness, hospitalizations and death."  By that time, will the "vaccine virus" show any resemblance to the "pandemic virus" thought to be in circulation then? If it is appreciably different, how can mandatory vaccination be justified?
8. Who benefits the most? Big Pharma.
Millions in grants and tax incentives to develop new products. Guaranteed purchase orders from governments here and abroad. Complete product liability protection. It doesn't get any better for a product manufacturer, and in this case, all the benefits go to Chiron, Sanofi-Aventis and GlaxoSmithKline, the "big boys" in the market for making the new vaccine. With a global population of more than six billion, the market share is large enough to get their attention. Add in the financial incentives, and the developers are off and running. To add an additional layer of protection, on Oct. 18, 2005, Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) and Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced and fast-tracked a bill that would create a new agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) called the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA). This new agency would help "spur private industry to develop and manufacture medical countermeasures for bioterrorism agents and natural outbreaks." However, the dark side of S.1873, the Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 2005, is that it would exempt the pharmaceutical industry not only from liability, but would also ensure that no one would have access to data documenting medical failures or catastrophes. BARDA would be exempt from access by the Freedom of Information Act, the Federal Advisory Committee Act and parts of the Federal Acquisition Regulations. It would act in total secrecy and protection from the general public by the federal government.
Fortunately, the scientific community is standing up loudly against the formation of the new agency. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, a coalition of independent member societies and scientists, which has historically shown particular interest in public policy issues relating to science, weighed in to voice several concerns. In a letter to Chairman Burr, dated Oct. 18, 2005, the coalition's president, Bruce Bistrian, MD, PhD, wrote the following: "On behalf of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), a coalition of 23 scientific societies representing more than 65,000 scientists, I am writing to express our reservations over your recent proposal to create the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA)…." "FASEB is troubled over the impact this new agency might have on existing programs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control, particularly in an era of limited funding for domestic discretionary spending. NIH and the dozens of universities and research institutions around the country where NIH-supported research is performed already have the scientific expertise and research infrastructure in place to carry out the bioterrorism research that our nation needs. Our concern is that BARDA would duplicate, constrain or even eliminate these programs. Moreover, while implementing a 'top-down' approach to research, as described in the BARDA proposal, may be suitable for the manufacturing stage of development, we do not believe it is an appropriate substitute for hypothesis-driven basic research, which has historically led to the most important advances in biomedical science." (Emphasis added). Hopefully, other organizations and the general public will follow suit and fight to oppose this bill.
9. Who has the most to lose? The citizens of the world, particularly U.S. citizens.
The Global Pandemic Preparedness Plan is nothing more than a power grab for the government, the United Nations (UN) and the WHO. Buried deep within the WHO's plan, here is a glimpse of the ominous plans in preparation for "affected countries:"
- Activate procedures to obtain additional resources; consider invoking emergency powers.
- Activate overarching national command and control of response activities, either by formal means or de facto (close oversight of district and local activities).
- Deploy operational response teams across all relevant sectors.
Global control and UN peacekeepers may be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.
10. What you need to do
According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the avian influenza virus is easier to destroy than other influenza viruses. It appears that it is very sensitive to detergents - i.e., soap - which destroy the outer fat-containing layer of the virus. This layer is needed to enter cells of animals and, therefore, destroys the infectivity. In other words, when you have been in public places, use soap to wash your hands before touching your face.
Congress is attempting to shield Pharma completely from responsibility [Read; Senate Bill 1873: Prescription for Tyranny] and then hide the resulting problems through the fast-tracking of S.1873. Contact your senators immediately to try to stop the passage of this bill. For quick access to the bill, and what to do, go to www.nvic.org and click on "Senate Alert" at the top of the page. Don't get caught up in the hype. For daily updates and developing action plans, go to www.BirdFluHype.com and stay informed.
This article was first published on RedFlagsDaily on November 2, 2005
1, Preparing for the Next Pandemic by Michael T. Osterholm. Foreign Affairs, July/August 2005.
2, Relatives of avian flu patients have asymptomatic cases, by Robert Roos. CIDRAP News. March 9, 2005.
3, Beigel, JH. Avian influenza A (H5N1) infection in humans. N Engl J Med. Sept. 29, 2005;353(13):1374-85.
4, The Scientist-Online www.The-Scientist.com/news/20030227/04
5, Stiger, G. The treatment of influenza with antiviral drugs. CMAJ. Jan. 7, 2003;168(1):49-56. PMID: 12515786
6, Li KS, Guan Y, Wang J, et al. Genesis of a highly pathogenic and potentially pandemic H5N1 influenza virus in eastern Asia. Nature 2004;430:209-13.
7, Avian Flu Virus Showing Resistance to Tamiflu by Katrina Woznicki. MedPageToday. Sept. 30, 2005.
8, Spray used for asthma may help slow spread of infections. Asso. Press. 11-29-04.
9, FDA Public Health Advisory. Jan. 12, 2000.
10, WHO. Recommended H5N1 prototype strains for influenza pandemic vaccine development remain the same. Oct. 28, 2005.
11, Breakdowns Mar Flu Shot Program Production, distribution delays raise fears of nation vulnerable to epidemic. SF Chronicle. Sunday, Feb. 25, 2001.
12, For more information and complete version of SB 1873 go to: www.nvic.org
13, FASEB letter.
14, WHO. Pandemic Preparedness Plan. p 30.
15, FAO. Special report on Avian Influenza.
© 2005 Sherri Tenpenny - All Rights Reserved
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Bush's Fowl Play
by Jeffrey Tucker
[Posted on Wednesday, November 09, 2005]
In a classic case of News of the Weird, President Bush gave a press conference the other day to announce yet another central plan to deal with yet another disaster - this time an impending disaster, or so he claimed. It seems that some birds are catching a flu called Avian Influenza or, more commonly, the bird flu. It causes ruffled feathers and a drop in egg production. It can kill a chicken in two days flat. Scary.
The Chicken Littles at the White House got wind of this and decided to hatch a plan for dealing with the eventuality that it will wipe out whole cities inhabited by people. That's people, not birds. He wants $7.1 billion from you and me, in emergency funding no less, to protect us from the wrath of this disease, which, he says, could sweep the country and kill 1.9 million people and hospitalize another 9.9 million. Part of the money will go for "pandemic preparedness," and part will go to individual states so they can cobble together their own plans for our health and well being.
As part of this plan, there is a website, pandemicflu.gov, which is also a helpful link if you haven't so far believed a word you have read. Here you can click around and find the Mother of All Flu Reports: The National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza. Be assured that "the federal government will use all instruments of national power to address the pandemic threat." That includes FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, and a hundred other concrete palaces in DC.
In this report you will find what you must do: be "prepared to follow public health guidance that may include limitation of attendance at public gatherings and non-essential travel for several days or weeks." The government, meanwhile, will establish "contingency systems to maintain delivery of essential goods and services during times of significant and sustained worker absenteeism."
Yes, we are really supposed to believe that the government will "maintain delivery" of "essential goods and services." Your job is to sit in your house and wait. Let's just say that government has a credibility problem here.
Also, the Bush administration has a role for the military to do for the flu what it did for terrorism in Iraq: "Determine the spectrum of public health, medical and veterinary surge capacity activities that the U.S. military and other government entities may be able to support during a pandemic." Remarkable what the military can do, from spreading democracy to liberating the oppressed to curing the sick - that is, when it is not making people sick or killing them for their own good.
Just to show that this isn't merely a perfunctory line, Bush went out of his way to defend the role of the military in his press conference. "One option is the use of a military that's able to plan and move," he said. "So that's why I put it on the table. I think it's an important debate for Congress to have."
Now, should this mass-death come about, our future would be rife with many uncertainties. But one thing we can know for sure: any attempt by government to manage the crisis will add calamity to disaster. It will be 9-11 plus New Orleans plus a few other amazing failures all rolled into one.
And the worst part of government failure will present itself: rather than make a mess of its own responsibilities, the government acts to prevent people from doing what they should be doing to deal with the crisis. "Stop in the name of the law" isn't just a slogan from cop shows; it is the sum total of everything the government does.
The Bush administration, however - which is supposedly staffed by people learned in the wisdom of classical- conservative thought and informed by revelation from America's traditional religious heritage - is just darn sure that the government is the best and only means to handle a crisis such as this.
A dazzling display of absurdity and chutzpah - that's what the Bush press conference on the flu was. Even if the flu does come, and taxpayers have coughed up, the government will surely have a ball imposing travel restrictions, shutting down schools and businesses, quarantining cities, and banning public gatherings.
It's a bureaucrat's dream! Whether it will make us well again is another matter. And why should individuals on their own have no incentive to deal with disease? Why should the private sector have no reason to make cures available if they exist? Why are we to believe that the government would somehow do a better job at this level of crisis management than the private sector?
None of these questions have been asked much less answered.
So I'm reading along in The New York Times, and it casually says this: "This bird flu has infected about 120 people and killed 60. But the virus has yet to pass easily among humans, as is necessary to create a pandemic. Experts debate whether it ever will, but most believe that a pandemic flu is inevitable someday."
Well, as Roderick Long often says about such contingencies, anything can happen. Men from Mars could land in capsules and plant red weed all over the world. The question we need to ask is how likely is it and who or what should address the problem should it arise.
The World Health Organization provides a link to data about human infection. It says the following: "Although avian influenza A viruses usually do not infect humans, several instances of human infections have been reported since 1997."
So we've gone from hundreds of infections to "several." And when you look at the specifics, most were not human-to-human infections but people in closer contact with sick birds than most anyone ever is. And even among them, most patients recovered. For example: "A (H9N2) infection was confirmed in a child in Hong Kong. The child was hospitalized and recovered." In another case in Canada, infections resulted in "eye infections." Among those who did die, it was not a clear case of Avian, though the site offers the following odd phrasing: "the possibility of person-to-person transmission could not be ruled out."
For this, we get a presidential news conference? As far as I can tell, the prospect of millions dying from bird flu is pretty remote. If it does happen-and anything canhappen-why must government be involved at all? Economists might invoke a public-goods rationale: pandemic disease protection is a service that can be consumed by additional consumers at no additional cost and the beneficiaries cannot be excluded from the good once produced, and thus this service will not be produced in sufficient quantity in the private sector.
The point is so far flung that it makes a case for Randall Holcombe's theory of the theory of public goods: "it is in the best interest of the those who run the government to promote public goods theory" and so the best way to understand the theory is as a justification for the legitimacy of the programs the government wants for itself. It is a tool the government uses for its own benefit.
What about the private-sector alternative? It will manage it as well as can be expected. The price of vaccines will rise and draw more producers into the market. Businesses will establish their own rules about who can come and go. Private charities will deal with sickness. It isn't a perfect solution but it is an improvement on dispatching the Marines or having the government provide "essential goods and services."
What's more, the problem of the bird flu isn't even news, since the incidents of human infection are several years old. Why does the Bush administration choose right now to make such a big showing of its preparations for mass death by bird?
Could it be that it is running out of other pretexts for expanding power? Terrorism is getting boring, floods come only rarely, communism is long gone, the China "threat" is no longer selling, the Middle East is dull, Global Warming is just too silly, and people have gone back to ignoring most anything that comes out of Washington. Meanwhile, the regime is desperate to be liked again, and forever relive its salad days after 9-11.
That still leaves the question of why so many public health officials seem so hopped up about the bird flu, even though the data doesn't come anywhere near supporting their frenzy. The answer is buried somewhere in those gargantuan budget numbers. Someone somewhere is going to get that $8 billion, and it is not going to be you or me.
What's remarkable is how little comment the bird flu plan provoked. We seem to have reached the stage in American public opinion where hysterical frenzies by government and totalitarian plans to take away all liberties are treated as just another day. We see the president telling us to fork over billions, and we turn the channel. Was it this way in the old Soviet Union or East Germany when the state newscasts went on every night about the march of socialism? Has crisis management become the great white noise of American life?
It is a serious matter when the government purports to plan to abolish all liberty and nationalize all economic life and put every business under the control of the military, especially in the name of a bug that seems largely restricted to the bird population. Perhaps we should pay more attention. Perhaps such plans for the total state ought to even ruffle our feathers a bit.
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Mass slaughter of fowl in India after bird flu outbreak reported
The Associated Press
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2006
BOMBAY, India Wearing protective gloves and masks, health officials and farm workers slaughtered thousands of chickens in western India Sunday, a day after the country reported its first outbreak of bird flu.
Meanwhile, local officials in the Surat district near the affected area reported that a 27-year-old poultry farm owner died of bird-flu-like symptoms. However, tests had yet to confirm this. Scientists were testing several people in the area who have signs of the virus.
"At this juncture we can only suspect that the cause of his death could be bird flu. But we can confirm only after his blood report comes from the laboratory," Surat district officer Vatsala Vasudev told the Press Trust of India news agency.
However, Anees Ahmed, the state minister for animal husbandry, denied the report. "There have been no (human) deaths" from bird flu, he said.
More than 50,000 chickens have been culled in Navapur, a major poultry farming region in western Maharashtra state, since early Sunday, Ahmed told The Associated Press.
"Culling has begun," said Ahmed. "We are taking the help of farm workers also to destroy the poultry."
Heavy earth movers were being used to bury the bird carcasses, he said. Top health officials would meet with heads of some 52 big poultry farms in the area through Sunday, he said.
"They have to be told that they must begin destroying their stocks of chicken," said Ahmed.
Some 500,000 birds will be slaughtered within a 3-kilometer (1.5-mile) radius to check the spread of the virus in the area, more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of Bombay.
The virus has killed 91 people since 2003, most of them in Asia.
The government announced an aid package for affected farmers, a day after officials confirmed that at least some of the chickens, of the 30,000 that died in Navapur over the past week, were infected with the H5N1 strain.
As a precaution, authorities hospitalized eight people in the area who were suffering flu-like symptoms.
"This is just a precaution. There is no indication they have any symptoms of bird flu," said Maharashtra Chief Secretary Prem Kumar, the state"s most senior bureaucrat.
The National Institute of Virology in Pune began testing samples Sunday from the sick people, said Milind Gore, the deputy director of the institute, adding results were expected in three days.
The outbreak was likely to hit farmers hard.
India exports some US$84.4 million (E70.6 million) worth of poultry and eggs annually, mostly to Europe and Japan and the Middle East.
The past year has seen a rise in orders from these areas as countries such as Indonesia struggle to control bird flu outbreaks. Japan, too, opened its market to Indian poultry meat in November.
"Exports will suffer. There was demand because we were bird flu free," said Ajit Ranade of the Bombay Veterinary College. "Even domestic consumption will be hit, people will be scared to eat chicken."
"We are looking at a very difficult future. All of us will have to start again from scratch, and I don"t know how many of us will survive," said Ghulam Vhora, a member of a Navapur poultry farmers" association.
Also Sunday, officials in India"s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, were carrying out tests for the H5N1 strain after 1,400 birds died at a farm in the Etawah district, 250 kilometers (155.35 miles) southwest of Lucknow, the state capital.
While awaiting the results of lab tests, the state barred the import of poultry from other states and neighboring Nepal, said state animal husbandry director, B. P. Singh.
The majority of bird flu"s human victims have lived in Asia, but recent deaths have been reported in Iraq and Turkey, according to the WHO. Most of the human cases of bird flu have been through direct contact with sick birds, it says.
Scientists fear the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that passes easily between humans and spark a global flu pandemic.
Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla Ltd. has said a generic version of the drug Tamiflu - thought to be the best prevention against a pandemic - will be available in pharmaceutical stores across the country early this week.
The drug will cost 1,000 rupees (US$22; E18.5) for 10 capsules, compared to the current market price of 2,700 rupees (US$60; E50) - the recommended treatment course is two capsules a day for five days.
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Expect H5N1 virus in North America soon: UN
Last Updated Thu, 09 Mar 2006 08:38:51 EST
The dangerous H5N1 form of the bird flu virus could reach North America within six to 12 months, according to the United Nations' top avian flu preparedness official.
Dr. David Nabarro said Wednesday that wild birds will likely carry the virus from West Africa across the North Atlantic into the Arctic this spring.
Migratory birds flying south for the winter will then spread the virus into the rest of North America and eventually South America, Nabarro told a briefing in New York.
"Frankly, there will be a pandemic, sooner or later," he said. "It might be due to H5N1 or to some other influenza virus and it could start any time."
Deadly outbreak has claimed 96 lives
The deadly form of bird flu first showed up in Asia more than two years ago.
Since then, there have been 175 documented cases of the disease passing from infected birds to humans, usually in cases where people were living or working in close contact with domestic poultry.
A total of 96 people have died, mostly in Southeast Asia and China, according to a World Health Organization tally being updated daily.
If the virus mixes with a human flu virus to make it more contagious among people, the death toll could rise quickly, UN health officials have warned.
Marten confirmed to have carried H5N1
In a related development Thursday, a German lab said it had confirmed the presence of H5N1 in a stone marten, a weasel-like animal known to feed on wild birds.
The infected animal was found on the island of Ruegen in northern Germany one week ago, the Friedrich-Loeffler Institute said.
The virus has previously been detected in cats, tigers and leopards, including three cats recently found dead in Germany who were thought to have eaten the carcasses of infected wild birds. It is not known to have cropped up in any other mammal.
The Serbian agriculture minister also said the deadly form of the virus has been detected in a swan found dead in northwestern Serbia, near the border with Croatia.
Animal shelters seeing influx of cats
Meanwhile, fear of family pets picking up the virus from eating wild birds has led to a flood of abandoned cats in France as people act on what experts are describing as an "avian flu psychosis."
Gino Bardet, the manager of a shelter in Brignais, near Lyon, says 50 cats were abandoned in the past two days, more than twice the usual number.
"People have to stop bringing their cats to shelters because shelters are already overcrowded," he told CBC News. "And also, people have to come adopt cats as soon as possible."
French farm unions say poultry sales have dropped 15 per cent in the wake of news that one farm had tested positive for the virus, leading to quarantines in the region that raises the famous Bresse chickens.
France's agriculture minister has put out a statement saying the risk of catching bird flu from a domestic cat is negligible, and eating well-cooked poultry is thought to pose no risk.
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Australia given bird flu warning
March 10, 2006
PARIS: Australia, Canada and the US stand a "very high" risk of the bird flu pandemic reaching their shores, the World Organisation for Animal Health has warned.
"The probability of this strain appearing in Australia is very high. The possibility is also very high for the United States and Canada," the organisation's director-general, Bernard Vallat, told a French parliamentary commission on the disease.
Australia, the US and Canada have so far escaped the spread of the H5N1 strain of avian flu, which originated in Asia in 2003 but has since spread to the Middle East, Africa, Russia, Turkey and Europe.
Most affected countries have recorded the deadly disease only in birds, though 96 people have died in Asia and Turkey. Several cats in Germany and Austria have also been diagnosed.
Mr Vallat said detailed analyses of the widening area hit by the disease showed a "pessimistic" outlook for Australia, Canada and the US. H5N1 would probably arrive in Australia from Indonesia, he said.
The main cause of the spread of H5N1 appears to be through migrating birds.
Health officials in China, which recorded its 10th death from bird flu on Monday, have described the worldwide epidemic as "very severe".
The Deputy Agriculture Minister, Yin Chengjie, said the arrival of spring brought with it "a high chance of bird flu outbreaks due to the frequent movement of migratory birds".
"This epidemic has not been effectively controlled worldwide," he warned.
Serbia yesterday disclosed that a wild swan that died in the north-west tested positive for H5N1, the first confirmed case for the Balkan nation.
Hours earlier, Albania announced that the virus had been detected in a chicken in the Sarande coastal region.
A Belgian who returned from China last week was admitted to hospital with symptoms of bird flu, but later tested negative.
Indian health officials said they had contained a flu outbreak in poultry but the virus was still present in bird waste two weeks after the first cases had been reported.
India has culled about 500,000 birds, destroyed 1.3 million eggs and begun a mass clean-up campaign in and around the western town of Navapur.
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Jews Pray for the Immediate Disintegration of the Zionist Regime
Kavkazcenter – March 7, 2006
The anti-Zionist Jewish movement of Neturei Karta International stated that the community of Orthodox Jews have always and will constantly pray to God for the immediate and peaceful disintegration of the Zionist Regime and the Israeli state.
Neturei Karta International added, "all the Orthodox Jews world wide are upset about the recent ploys, propaganda and tensions which have been created by the West regarding the statements of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about a world free from Zionism since this is nothing more than wishing for a better world dominated by peace and calm."
"This means a true hope for a peaceful life and coexistence between the Jewish and Muslim communities following the disintegration of the Zionist Regime, the same way that it was in Palestine and all throughout the world prior to the manifestation of Zionism and establishment of the Zionist Israeli state," it added.
The anti-Zionist Jews stressed, "this is a dangerous deviation to pretend that the Iranian president is an anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic personality since president Ahmadinejad, in fact, restated what the late founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Khomeini had frequently stated, that is, Zionism is different from Judaism and while the Zionist state of Israel must be disintegrated, the Jewish communities world wide and the religion of Judaism must be respected."
Neturei Karta spokesman reiterated that the community of Orthodox Jews has always and will constantly pray to God for the immediate and peaceful disintegration of the Zionist Regime and the Israeli state, adding, "according to the religious teachings of the Torah, Jews must live in exile and avoid establishing any state in any part of the world and they must live among other nations of the world peacefully and under their sovereignty and they must remain loyal citizens wherever they live."
Neturei Karta said that the anti-Zionist Jews have always accompanied the Palestinians in their campaign against the Zionists. "We believe as long as the Israeli state exists, there will be no possibility for restoration of a sustainable peace".
The spokesman of the anti-Zionist Jewish movement of Neturei Karta stressed that the goal pursued by the delegation's visit to Iran is to show to the world that the West's propaganda against Iran aimed at convincing the world that the Islamic Republic is anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic is but a lie.
Referring to a wrong quotation published in the Tehran-based daily 'Sharq' on Sunday, Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss said, "we have just come to visit Iran in order to show to the world public opinion that the West's propaganda so implying that Iran is anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic is all a lie and that Jews are living along their Iranian brothers peacefully."
He also stated that the second goal pursued by the trip is reconfirmation of the very fact that Judaism is totally different from Zionism and that the two are completely in opposition.
Rabbi Weiss rejected Sharq's article that the visit has been arranged in order for their participation in a Tehran conference on the Holocaust and reiterated, "we have mentioned every where that the above goals constitute our motivation for visiting the Islamic Republic. We have never stated such a thing and all the media present there can testify to that, actually we have never even heard of such a conference."
Weiss and the other members of the delegation had stated in a press conference at Fars News Agency on Saturday that the goal of their visit is to show to the world that the west's propaganda against Iran is but a lie and that Zionism and Judaism are different issues.
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UNICEF: "Sad day for children of Gaza"
7 March 2006
GAZA CITY –- UNICEF said Monday was a sad day for the children of Gaza, after five were killed in conflict-related incidents.
In the first incident, two brothers, aged 14 and 15, were killed instantly when they were exposed to an unexploded device in a pond in Bereij, south of Gaza City.
Later in the day, two brothers, aged 11 and 15, and a 14-year-old boy were killed as bystanders during an air attack.
Monday's tragic incidents bring the year's death toll of Palestinian children to conflict-related violence to 11. The organization noted that yesterday's one day toll was very high at a time when overall child casualties were actually going down.
UNICEF said the events of Monday starkly illustrate the how children are impacted in many ways by the conflict. In line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child all efforts should be made to protect children from violence as well as their rights to education, health and play.
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Netanyahu would control more territory
8 Mar 06
Benjamin Netanyahu said he would move Israel's security barrier deeper inside the West Bank.
The Likud Party leader was the third of the three candidates in Israel's March 28 elections to address this year's American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of the Kadima Party and Amir Peretz of Labor both said they would cut off a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority but would seek moderates with whom to deal, and Olmert said he was ready to unilaterally withdraw from some West Bank territory. Netanyahu suggested Israel should assume control of more territory, saying a Hamas-controlled West Bank posed dangers to Israel's population centers and to Ben-Gurion Airport.
Shoulder-fired rockets "cannot and should not reach any aircraft," he said to applause Tuesday.
Netanyahu also said Hamas is irredeemably opposed to Israel, and that he hoped to topple the group from power through diplomatic isolation.
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Documents reveal Labor-Likud plans for West Bank
By Akiva Eldar
8 Mar 06
Highly confidential documents from the Ministry of Justice dating from the early 1990s, copies of which were sent to the ministers of defense, justice and housing as well as the attorney general, confirm the existence of a vast network of ties between Likud and Labor governments, and land dealers and settlers' associations, for the purpose of acquiring land in the West Bank.
The documents were presented to the High Court of Justice during the hearings for petitions submitted by residents of Bilin and the Peace Now organization against the construction of hundreds of apartments on village lands and against the route of the fence that bisects them.
In a highly confidential letter sent in November 1990 to the coordinator of activities in the territories, Plia Albeck, who was in charge of the civil department of the State Attorney's office, wrote that "because this area was apparently purchased by the Hakeren company, and it therefore hold the rights to this area and because it asked from the supervisor of government property to manage it, then this area is apparently government property," even though the senior representative of the Ministry of Justice is not convinced that Hakeren indeed purchased this land legally, and as proof thereof she inserts the word "apparently" twice, she permits the area to be declared "government property."
Albeck asks to maintain complete confidentiality claiming that the revelation of the deals may endanger the sellers' lives. It should be noted that one of the parties to this deal was land dealer Shmuel Einav, who's name was linked during Aryeh Deri's trial to a big land deal in the Har Shmuel neighborhood adjacent to Jerusalem, where Palestinian lands were obtained with the aid of falsified documents.
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U.N.: Jewish Settlers Harass Palestinians
By BRADLEY S. KLAPPER
8 Mar 06
GENEVA - Jewish settlers are terrorizing Palestinians with impunity, attacking children on their way to school and destroying farmers' trees and crops, a U.N. expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict said in a report.
John Dugard, a South African lawyer, called the withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip last summer a positive step. But the Jewish state effectively controls Gaza through targeted killings and sonic booms from warplanes flying over the region, Dugard said in a report prepared ahead of next week's annual meeting of the 53-member U.N. Human Rights Commission.
Itzhak Levanon, Israel's U.N. ambassador in Geneva, rejected Dugard's allegations as "misinformed and inaccurate."
Dugard's report "is guided by a clear political agenda, and bears little relation either to the facts or existing principles of international law," Levanon said in an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press.
Israel has previously rejected Dugard's reports on the Palestinian-Israeli dispute as being one-sided, noting that he has been assigned only to investigate violations by the Israeli side.
Dugard said settler violence has been particularly egregious in the West Bank city of Hebron. His 22-page report made no reference to Palestinian terrorism, but said Hebron settlers "terrorize the few Palestinians that have not left the old city and assault and traumatize children on the way to school."
"It seems that settlers are able to terrorize Palestinians and destroy their trees and crops with impunity," Dugard said, adding that he himself was a victim of settler abuse while visiting the city in June 2005.
Dugard prepares regular reports for the U.N.'s human rights watchdog during visits to the region, but receives no cooperation from the Israeli government.
Next week's meeting comes as U.N. member states debate replacing the discredited Human Rights Commission with a new body. The commission has been widely criticized for allowing some of the worst rights-offending countries to use their membership to shield each other from condemnation.
Dugard filed his report before Hamas won Palestinian elections in January and made no mention of the Islamic militant group, which is sworn to Israel's destruction and refuses to renounce violence.
The report "ignores the fact that the Hamas, considered as a terrorist organization by the family of nations, controls the Palestinian authority and disregards the enormous efforts done by Israel to fight this terrorism while preserving humanitarian law and human rights," Levanon said.
Dugard said Israel's actions in Gaza violated the Geneva Conventions on warfare, which forbid "all measures of intimidation or of terrorism" against civilians in time of war.
In the first three months after the Gaza withdrawal, targeted assassinations by Israeli defense forces in the territory killed 18 civilians and injured 81, in addition to killing 15 militants.
Palestinians have launched rockets from Gaza against southern Israeli towns, and Israel has retaliated with artillery fire and airstrikes.
Hamas has observed a yearlong moratorium on suicide and shooting attacks. But Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz warned Tuesday that Hamas leaders, including the incoming Palestinian prime minister, will not be immune from pinpointed Israeli killings if the group were to resume attacks.
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Security guard sentenced to 6.5 years in jail for raping, molesting Palestinian women
8 Mar 06
The Jerusalem District Court sentenced Oded Zecharia, a security guard from Ma'aleh Adumim, to six and a half years in prison after he was convicted of raping and molesting Palestinian women.
According to the sentence, Zecharia agreed to let the woman pass into Israel despite the fact that they did not have the appropriate permits, after he had forced them to have sexual intercourse with him.
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Israeli Policy of Assassination
8 March 2006
It is official. The elected leadership of the Palestinians will become targets for assassination if there is a suicide attack in Israel and Tel Aviv decides that Hamas is responsible. No evidence will be needed. Israel's defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, has said so. This chilling threat demonstrates the contempt in which Israel and Washington hold the democratic process if the result of the election does not suit them.
The world rightly condemned the 2001 slaying of hard-line Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi by PFLP militants. The Palestinian Authority was no less strident in deploring the crime but called upon Israel to stop the murders of leading Palestinians. That policy of eradicating key opponents, however, continued, culminating in the assassination of the two top Hamas leaders, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Al-Rantissi in 2004.
Now that the Israelis have stated publicly that they will, if they wish, kill Hamas politicians chosen by the electorate just six weeks ago, it will be instructive to see which Western governments, if any, denounce the policy for the international political thuggery that it is. The world ought to be looking closely also at the way that the new premier designate, Ismail Haniyeh, has been setting out his political aims, taking advantage of the invitation to visit Russia when other countries were hamstrung by their refusal to talk to Hamas. There is still no sign that Hamas will recognize Israel's right to exist until it ends the occupation nor renounce the violence which they see as a legitimate response to Israeli aggression. Such changes depend upon a corresponding agreement from the Israelis.
Meanwhile, Haniyeh is making it refreshingly clear that Palestine must no longer be used as a political football by outsiders intent purely on strengthening their own political agendas. Saddam Hussein obscenely offered to leave Kuwait if the Israelis pulled out of the West Bank and Gaza. Indonesia's Jemmah Islamia justified its crimes in the name of the plight of the Palestinians. And now Al-Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has once again tried to identify his terrorist organization's depravities with the Palestinian cause. Hamas' reaction has been to suggest Zawahiri and his partners in crime mind their own business. The Palestinian cause is no longer going to be hijacked by others. This is an act of statesmanship which demonstrates a Palestinian confidence and maturity that the outside world should take careful note of. For all the apparent complications of the Hamas election victory, the issue of Palestine may actually have become simpler. Palestinians have tried moderate, soft-talking leaders who, since Oslo, have been strung out by the Israelis and betrayed by the international community. Now maybe for the first time, Palestinians can negotiate with Israelis as equals, not oppressed supplicants. Israel of course will do what it can to avoid substantive talks by discrediting Hamas any way it can. Zawahiri's headline-grabbing intervention on Al-Jazeera might have helped them had not Hamas so swiftly and decisively rejected it.
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Islamic Jihad threatens to target Israeli leaders
Mar 8, 2006
GAZA - Islamic Jihad threatened on Wednesday to target Israeli leaders after a series of Israeli air strikes and raids killed key members of the Palestinian militant group.
"Leaders of the enemy should know that they personally are targets," Islamic Jihad said in a statement faxed to the Reuters office in Gaza.
The statement said the group had ordered all its cells to launch attacks inside Israel. It was unclear from the statement which Israeli leaders might be targeted.
An Israeli air strike on Monday killed two Islamic Jihad militants and three bystanders, including an eight-year-old boy.
Last week, the group's most senior commander in Gaza was killed by an explosion that tore through his car. Islamic Jihad blamed the Israeli army, which denied involvement.
Responsible for several recent suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel, Islamic Jihad has been a frequent target of Israeli air strikes and raids.
Monday's attack came on the eve of formal campaigning for Israel's elections on March 28 and after interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to use an "iron fist" against militants.
On Tuesday, Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel might target Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas if the Palestinian election winner resumed attacks in the Jewish state.
Hamas is forming a government after winning Palestinian parliamentary elections in January. It called Monday's air strike a "massacre". Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it was a "dangerous escalation" against the Palestinian people.
Hamas has masterminded at least 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since a Palestinian revolt erupted in 2000. But the militant group has largely abided by a truce declared last year.
© Reuters 2006.
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Magnitude 5.2 earthquake hits Gujarat
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
AHMEDABAD: A moderate earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale jolted several parts of Gujarat, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage, an official said.
According to the report of Indian Meteorological Department, "The earthquake was of moderate intensity, measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale. The epicenter of the earthquake was Rapar in the Kutch area of Gujarat."
Rapar is around 250 miles from Gujarat's main city of Ahmedabad. The quake struck just before midnight at 1825 (GMT) on Tuesday.
Residents in Ahmedabad said they were woken up by the tremors, with those living in high-rise buildings rushing out onto the streets in panic. "I thought there was a dog shaking under my bed. When I woke up finally, everyone was screaming and fleeing," said resident Palak Zaveri.
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Earthquake hits Lorca
Wed, 08 Mar 2006, 22:08
Spain - The city of Lorca has been hit by an earthquake. It happened just after 10am on Wednesday, and registered 3 on the Richter scale.
There were no injuries and no damage caused to buildings. Residents in Lorca say they heard a rumbling noise as the ground vibrated.
The earthquake was also felt in nearby La Hoya, and in Totana and Aledo. The epicentre was to the north east of Lorca and to the south west of Aledo.
An earthquake registering 4.7 on the Richter scale damaged almost a thousand houses in the Lorca area just over a year ago. It happened on 29th January 2005, and affected the small villages of La Paca and Zarcila de Ramos. There were 500 aftershocks on that occasion.
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Earthquake Jolts Turkey
9 March 2006
FOCUS News Agency
At 5.18 a.m. an earthquake was registered in Izmir region, online edition of Interhaber informs.
According to information from Seismologic Observatory in Bogazici University the epicenter of the earthquake was in the Aegean Sea and was with magnitude of 4 on the Richter scale.
The earthquake was felt in region of Izmir. There is no information of injured people and damages.
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New Orleans hospital operator has checkered past
By Drew Griffin and Kathleen Johnston
Thursday, March 9, 2006
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana -- The nation's second-largest health care company -- besieged for years by allegations of Medicare fraud and overbilling taxpayers -- now finds itself as the operator of a New Orleans hospital where some doctors and staff are under investigation for deliberately killing patients in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti is investigating what he calls "credible" allegations that patients at Memorial Medical Center were euthanized in the frantic days following the storm. Foti has told CNN he has "a very good case."
Tenet Healthcare, based in Dallas, Texas, sent a letter to CNN on Wednesday stating that it understands from the Louisiana Attorney General's Office that it is not a target of the investigation and insists that all of its Gulf Coast hospitals, including Memorial, were prepared in advance for Hurricane Katrina. But those familiar with the company's checkered history say they aren't surprised it is a Tenet hospital that is under scrutiny.
Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and who studies health policies and ethics, said Tenet has a history of promoting profits over patient care.
"I think at the end of the day, if you look at over the past 15 to 20 years of the company, you'd have to say the management has been pushing the bottom line, telling doctors to cut corners, basically saying we are going to evaluate you and promote you based on how well you make money, not on how well you take care of the patients," Caplan said.
Tenet itself was born in 1995 after a scandal over medical insurance fraud by its predecessor, National Medical Enterprises. Recently Tenet Healthcare facilities around the country have come under investigation and faced lawsuits.
In just the past four years, Tenet has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits while denying any wrongdoing. That amount includes $7 million just last month to the state of Florida to settle a billing dispute.
Many of the lawsuits alleged the company overbilled Medicare, cheating taxpayers. But there have also been allegations that some Tenet hospitals practiced bad medicine, harming patients in the process.
The company has denied all those allegations. And according to the letter it sent to CNN, Tenet says it brought in new management in 2003 and developed a new strategy to resolve all of its legal problems from the past, to resolve all pending federal investigations, and to put transparency, honesty and integrity at the forefront of everything it does.
Tenet also wrote that since new management came on board, the quality of care at its hospitals has greatly improved.
The company again denied our request for any on-camera interview by CNN.
Last year Tenet paid out $31 million in settlements to people who sued when cardiac patients at a Florida hospital claimed they suffered from post-surgical infections because of unclean conditions. Twenty cardiac patients died at this hospital.
In 2002, the FBI raided a Tenet hospital in Redding, California, in connection with its investigation into whether doctors were performing unnecessary open-heart surgery. Tenet admitted no wrongdoing but paid $60 million to settle federal and state claims and another $395 million to the 750 patients who claimed they were victims of the heart-surgery center.
Attorney Gary Cripe said things got so bad that locals joked "you didn't dare drive by Redding Hospital with a complaint of chest pains because they would pull you in and you would get surgery."
Five years ago, Cripe was hired by a doctor and minority shareholder to try to change the company's direction. Cripe even wrote a book, "Greed, Scandal and Wrongful Deaths at Tenet Healthcare Corporation," detailing the various investigations and accusing Tenet of cutting costs, cutting care and breaking rules to increase profits.
"The evidence suggests that the corporate culture is so pervasive that they may well be incapable until there is a total housecleaning of those in management that are a part that corporate culture," Cripe said.
Cripe's book came out five months before Katrina hit New Orleans. Nurses, doctors, families of patients and others have told CNN that Tenet's Memorial Medical Center was ill-equipped to handle the hurricane and its aftermath, especially when it came to evacuating patients.
Cripe and Caplan say it has been Tenet's practice over the years to deny knowledge by management of allegations of wrongdoing by hospital doctors and staff. That, they say, appears to be the case in New Orleans.
Allegations of euthanasia at Memorial first surfaced a week after the hurricane. A week later, on September 13, Memorial CEO Rene Goux sat down with CNN and denied any knowledge of the allegations even though he was inside the hospital and coordinating the evacuation.
"I was not in the health care or nursing side of it,'' Goux said. "I was in the evacuation side of it. "I'm trying to answer as honestly as I can," Goux said. "I'm not in health care. I wasn't up in those areas. If there is something that needs to be investigated I'm sure it will get done."
Since then Tenet has repeatedly refused requests for interviews. They have only issued statements saying they are cooperating with the attorney general's investigation.
An attorney for one doctor, Anna Pou, who worked inside Memorial during the hurricane, has said in court records his client is under investigation for allegations of euthanasia. But attorney Rick Simmons has told CNN Pou was not involved in any criminal misconduct.
Caplan said while he doesn't know what happened at Memorial he believes doctors can be driven to kill but only under the extreme stress of a hopeless situation.
The staff at Memorial Hospital have said that after the storm they felt abandoned, that they worried about the sporadic evacuations and that they feared looters, some of whom they watched break into a nearby credit union.
"If you get in a situation where doctors are saying under oath that I felt I couldn't save myself unless somehow I had been able to take care of my patients one way or another, then that's poor management," Caplan said. "That's culpable management. That's not responsible management."
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Bush criticizes Congress over New Orleans levees
Wed Mar 8, 2006
By Caren Bohan
NEW ORLEANS - President George W. Bush accused Congress on Wednesday of shortchanging New Orleans of about $1.5 billion in funds to rebuild levees that were breached by flood waters when Hurricane Katrina struck.
"Congress heard our message about improving the levees but they shortchanged the process by about $1.5 billion dollars," Bush said in a rare attack on members of his own party as he toured the devastated city.
"And so in order to help fulfill our promise on the levees, Congress needs to restore the $1.5 billion to make this a real commitment to inspire the good folks down here that they'll have a levee system that will encourage development and reconstruction," Bush added.
The White House in December announced it was seeking $3.1 billion to bolster flood defenses, but Congress only approved about half that amount for New Orleans with the rest going to other hurricane-related projects.
The White House's $1.5 billion levee request for Louisiana is now part of a $19.8 billion hurricane relief supplemental bill the administration has sent to Congress.
Jenny Manley, a spokeswoman for the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that although the White House had announced in a news conference it wanted the full $3.1 billion to go to New Orleans, the official request was never sent to Congress.
"I don't think the blame can be put on Congress," she said.
Bush, who was heavily criticized for the administration's sluggish initial response to the disaster, strode with his wife, Laura, through the water-damaged streets of the city's Lower Ninth ward, seeing boarded-up and abandoned houses and mounds of debris. He also toured a levee restoration project in a part of the system that suffered one of the worst breaches during the August 29 hurricane.
"EQUAL OR BETTER"
Standing at the levee site amid the clatter of construction work, Bush renewed his pledge to make the levees "equal or better" to their pre-Katrina condition ahead of the June 1 start of the new hurricane season. Some engineering experts have questioned whether the pledge is realistic and warned federal engineers that weak soil in some areas could leave the levees unsafe.
Bush's comments came as House of Representatives Republicans are in open rebellion over plans by a state-owned Arab company to manage six U.S. ports.
Comment: Nice effort by Bush to pass the buck. Nothing is being said, however, about how Bush and his cabinet fiddled (or player guitar) will New Orleans was drowning.
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Stuffing Our Kids So They Can Die First
by Julia Watson
UPI Food Writer
Mar 09, 2006
Washington - There's a global epidemic going on and we're not paying it much effective attention. By 2010 almost half the children of North and South America will be overweight. So will one in five in China and 38 percent of all children in the European Union.
Nor are children in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Egypt exempt. Obesity rates in those countries are comparable to those of fully industrialized nations.
So says a new report published by the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity.
"We have truly a global epidemic which appears to be affecting most countries in the world," states Dr. Philip James, chairman of the International Obesity Task Force, warning of the trend in an editorial in the journal.
Heart disease, stroke and other illnesses are a likely result in adulthood.
But another study, by Britain's Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, found that during their lifetime obese children are also at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Till now, type 2 has generally been found in middle-aged overweight people. But the numbers are increasing in children and still may not be fully recognized, because many parents miss early signs of diabetes in their seriously overweight children.
Another 60,000 children are believed to be suffering from the combination of high blood pressure, raised cholesterol and increased fats in the blood that contribute to the weight-related metabolic syndrome believed to be the precursor of type 2 diabetes.
We have now created globally the first generation of children who could die before their parents.
Sam Etherington, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association, has called for action to stop companies advertising junk food to children.
Referring to worldwide childhood obesity, Dr. James told the New York Times that even living in isolated areas no longer safeguarded children against abandoning traditional good eating habits.
"They're being bombarded like they are in the West to eat all the wrong foods. The Western world's food industries without even realizing it have precipitated an epidemic with enormous health consequences."
Like Etherington he says, "There needs to be a ban on all forms of marketing, not just television adverts."
What does it take to wake us up to this new plague? Have we learned nothing from the consequences of ignoring early warnings over HIV/AIDS?
Send your children to school with a salad they may not want to trade for a bag of chips. It goes well with a kebab of grilled chicken pieces that have been marinated 30 minutes in 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and sesame oil. Obviously leave out the peanuts if they are allergic to them.
-- Fresh Ginger Salad
-- 2 ounces of peeled, grated fresh ginger
-- 3/4 cup lime juice
-- 3/4 cup sugar
-- a splash of soy sauce (or more to taste)
-- 1 small head of thinly sliced green cabbage
-- 1 peeled and julienned carrot
-- generous amount of jarred, drained pickled ginger root
-- ½ cup finely crushed roasted peanuts
-- Whisk the first four ingredients together in a bowl.
-- Pour it over the next three and toss thoroughly.
-- Allow the flavors to develop for 30 minutes, then serve with the peanuts scattered over.
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Answer to AIDS Mystery Found Behind Bars
By Richard Morin
Thursday, March 9, 2006; Page A02
It is one of the most puzzling mysteries of the AIDS epidemic: Why did blacks, in little more than a dozen years, become nine times as likely as whites to contract a disease once associated almost exclusively with gay white men?
Two researchers say they found the answer in an unlikely place: prison.
Rucker C. Johnson and Steven Raphael of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley analyzed census data and a federal database containing detailed information on about 850,000 men and women who contracted AIDS between 1982 and 1996.
They discovered that the surge in black AIDS patients -- particularly women -- since the early 1980s closely tracked the increase in the proportion of black men in America's prisons, which by the 1990s had become vast reservoirs of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The percentage of prisoners who were black increased from 40 percent in 1982 to well over half in 1996, according to government data. At the same time, get-tough sentencing policies more than doubled the prison population, producing even more infected black men who passed the disease on to black women after they were released.
So powerful is the relationship between race, prison and AIDS that it almost completely explains why half of all new AIDS patients in 2002 were African Americans even though only 12 percent of the population is black; in 1982, African Americans made up less than a quarter of new AIDS cases. The link remained strong even after researchers controlled for factors associated with AIDS, including the use of crack cocaine, Raphael said.
Part of the reason for the rapid spread of AIDS among African Americans is that so many black men spend time behind bars, Johnson said. About one out of 12 black men are in jail or prison, compared with one in 100 white men; at current rates, a third of all black males born today will do time.
What explains the black-white prison gap? Raphael said the question is beyond the scope of the study, but other researchers point to poverty, a lack of opportunities, racism in the criminal justice system and the lure of the "thug life."
Whatever the cause, the AIDS gap is not going away. Other studies suggest that half of all prisoners engage in homosexual sex. But safe-sex programs, key to controlling AIDS in the gay community, are unwelcome inside prison walls.
In fact, "it's illegal to distribute condoms in prisons in all but one state" because lawmakers fear it would encourage gay sex, Johnson said.
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Shanghai Launches Clean Electricity Scheme
by Staff Writers
Mar 09, 2006
Shanghai residents can for the first time buy "clean power" after solar and wind-generated electricity was this week included in the Chinese city's power grid, the firm behind the project said Wednesday. The project by Shanghai Municipal Electricity Power company is aimed at cleaning up Shanghai's polluted environment, company spokesman Yu Qinde said.
Yu told AFP the plan had so far met with some support from the public with 460 households registering for the clean power, which went on-line on Tuesday.
It has proved less popular among companies, which had access to the clean power from January, with only 15 enterprises subscribing.
One of the reasons for low market penetration is the price.
The cost of one kilowatt hour is 1.14 yuan, or 0.53 yuan higher than electricity generated through more traditional methods such as coal fired power plants.
To qualify individual households also have to subscribe to a minimum of 120 kilowatts a year, while companies must sign for 6,000 kilowatts.
Although the scheme is in its infancy, Yu said the state-run company remained hopeful.
Shanghai, home to 17 million residents and 3,000 skyscrapers, needs 70 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually, but currently only receives about 2000-3000 kilowatts hours from natural methods.
"It's really a tiny share, but by the end of 2015 (wind) generation capacity will reach three billion kilowatt hours," said Yu.
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US demands drastic action as Iran nuclear row escalates
Ian Traynor in Vienna
Thursday March 9, 2006
The US called for extraordinary action to get to the bottom of Iran's nuclear programme yesterday as Tehran and Washington moved into confrontational mode in the long-running dispute.
The American ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Greg Schulte, called for "special inspections" by the UN nuclear teams in Iran, in effect giving them carte blanche in their detective work, at the Vienna meeting of the IAEA board that is reporting Iran to the UN security council. The mechanism has been used only once before, unsuccessfully, in North Korea 13 years ago.
Capping a long campaign to take the nuclear row to the security council, Mr Schulte said: "The time has now come for the security council to act ... It should emphasise that Iran will face consequences if it does not meet its obligations."
Iran reacted furiously, squaring up to the US and making implicit threats to use oil as a weapon against it.
"Let the ball roll," said Javad Vaeidi, the deputy head of Iran's national security council, using the words used against Iran at the weekend by the US hawk and ambassador to the UN, John Bolton.
"The United States may have the power to cause harm and pain. But it is also susceptible to harm and pain," he said.
Despite talk all week of a compromise brokered by the Russians which could have allowed all sides to save face and resume negotiations, the IAEA meeting ended with positions more entrenched - the Iranians determined to retain the uranium enrichment programme at the core of the dispute, and the Americans calling the shots in what is decided by the security council.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said yesterday that imposing sanctions on Iran would not convince it to curb its nuclear ambitions.
While the Europeans and the Americans said the security council would proceed cautiously, diplomats predicted that the dispute could escalate rapidly when it moves to New York next week.
Mr Schulte said Iran had 85 tonnes of uranium stockpiled for enrichment - enough for 10 nuclear bombs - and that it was bent on building the capacity to process the material.
A statement by Britain, France and Germany said action by the security council was inevitable. There was "no credible civil use" for the stockpile of uranium gas that can be processed into fissile material.
Resorting to special inspections would be "much more intrusive" than the IAEA's ongoing inspections in Iran, said a diplomat. But was up to the IAEA to decide.
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Israel will have to act on Iran if UN can't
By Louis Charbonneau
BERLIN - If the U.N. Security Council is incapable of taking action to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Israel will have no choice but to defend itself, Israel's defense minister said on Wednesday.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was asked whether Israel was ready to use military action if the Security Council proved unable to act against what Israel and the West believe is a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program.
"My answer to this question is that the state of Israel has the right give all the security that is needed to the people in Israel. We have to defend ourselves," Mofaz told Reuters after a meeting with his German counterpart Franz Josef Jung.
Iran denies wanting nuclear weapons and says it is only interested in the peaceful generation of electricity. It has also threatened to retaliate if Israel or the United States were to bomb any of its nuclear facilities.
In 1981, Israel bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor to prevent Saddam Hussein from getting nuclear weapons. Saddam's covert atom bomb program continued until U.N. inspectors dismantled it after the 1991 Gulf War, but the Israeli strike set progress back many years.
"The Israeli approach is that the U.S. and the European countries should lead the issue of the Iranian nuclear program to the table of the U.N. Security Council, asking for sanctions. And I hope the sanctions will be effective," Mofaz said.
Mofaz, who was born in Iran, added that Israel believed the 15-nation Security Council should grant the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N.'s Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, sweeping inspection powers so that it can smoke out any secret nuclear arms-related activities in Iran.
"We need to have very deep and large inspections within all the nuclear locations in Iran because Iran has two nuclear programs -- one is a covered one and the second is uncovered," he said.
The Iranian delegation to an IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna issued a statement earlier warning that the United States could feel "harm and pain" if the Security Council took up the issue of Tehran's nuclear fuel research and vowed never to abandon its atomic program.
At a news conference with Mofaz, Jung told reporters Germany was already discussing with the five permanent Security Council members -- Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France -- what the council could do to prevent Tehran getting the bomb.
"Everything must be done to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons," Jung said.
A senior diplomat from one of the "EU3" said earlier that the Security Council would probably begin discussing Iran next week and hoped to issue a "presidential statement" urging Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program and cooperate with the IAEA.
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Israeli Says Arrow Missile Can Hit Iranian Shihab Missiles
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Mar 09, 2006
Senior Israeli defense officials are publicly proclaiming the reliability of their Arrow anti-ballistic missile interceptor in what appears to be a clear deterrence warning to Iran not to try and launch any nuclear missile strike against the Jewish state.
The Arrow 2 anti-ballistic missile system is capable of intercepting and destroying any Iranian missiles, even were they to carry nuclear warheads, a high-ranking Israel Defense Forces officer told The Jerusalem Post.
While Iran was now Israel's most serious strategic and existential threat, Israel was sufficiently protected by the Arrow, which plays a major role in maintaining Israel's protective envelope, he said.
"We will shoot all of [Iran's missiles] down," he told the Post. "The Arrow knows how to intercept the Shihab missile."
The increased Israeli confidence follows an ambitious crash program that was undertaken last year to upgrade the Arrow, which is co-produced by Israeli Aircraft industries and Boeing.
Appearing before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last year Brig. Gen. Ilan Bitton -- head of Israel's Air Defense Forces -- admitted that while the Arrow was highly effective against the Scud missiles that make up most of Syria's arsenal, it "needed improvement" to face the challenges posed by Iran's Shihab-3.
However, in December 2005, Israel carried out a highly successful test of the upgraded Arrow-2 system against a ballistic missile configured to perform like a Shihab-3. Reflecting the success of that test, the Israeli officer it was now able to detect even a missile carrying a split warhead and armed with decoys meant to fool the anti-missile system.
Asked about the danger of the Arrow taking out a non-conventional or nuclear missile over Israel, the officer said that the incoming missile would be destroyed at such a high altitude that it would disperse and destroy its payload without causing any casualties, the Jerusalem Post said.
"There is constant pressure to always stay a step ahead of our adversaries," the officer told the paper. "They developed decoys on their missiles and we developed ways to detect the decoys and to be able to accurately strike the incoming threat."
The Arrow 2 was last tested in December and succeeded in intercepting an incoming rocket simulating an Iranian Shihab at an altitude higher than ever before tested in the previous 13 Arrow launches. While the Arrow was Israel's first line of defense against an Iranian-launched missile, air force Patriot batteries -- known for their action during the first Gulf War -- also followed incoming missiles and served as the country's back-up interception system.
Israel has at least two operational Arrow batteries, with reportedly hundreds of missiles for each battery. One is stationed at Palmahim to protect Tel Aviv and the other is at Ein Shemer near Hadera in the north, the Jerusalem Post said.
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Iran's military prepared to defend against attacks
8 Mar 06
Tehran, Iran, Mar. 08 – Iran's Defence Minister vowed on Wednesday that the country's armed forces were prepared for any foreign military aggression.
"The armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran are ready to defend the country from any threats by the enemies", Brigadier General Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said while in the western city of Khorramshahr, the official state news agency reported.
Separately, Iran, hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic would make the West regret trying to prevent it from acquiring nuclear capabilities.
"Everyone must accept and respect the Iranian nation's desire to obtain peaceful nuclear technology", Ahmadinejad said at a rally in Khorramabad.
"If anyone shows aggression to the Iranian nation's rights, Iran will wipe the dark stain of regret on their foreheads".
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'US Cannot Use Gansi Base for Iran'
By Cihan News Agency, Bishkek
March 07, 2006
Kyrgyzstan Minister of Foreign Affairs Alikbek Ceksenkulov said the United States can not use Gansi Military Base for a possible attack on Iran.
It would be a violation of the mutual covenant between the two countries if the US decides to use the Gansi Air Base, close to Manas Airport in Bishkek, against Iran. The base was built to suppress terror in Afghanistan, Ceksenkulov told BBC Monday, adding that the base should not pose a threat to any Asian countries, including Iran.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev also told Russian "Komersant" last week that America could only use Gansi for Afghanistan, not for Iran.
The President reminded the US access period would only be extended depending on the stability of Afghanistan.
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US records serious rights abuses in Iraq
Wed Mar 8, 2006
By Sue Pleming
Three years after U.S. forces invaded Iraq in part to stop human rights violations, a U.S. report said on Wednesday the country was again racked by abuses ranging from arbitrary killings and arrests to torture.
In its annual report detailing human rights abuses worldwide, the State Department said in 2005 reports increased of killings by the Iraqi government or its agents and members of sectarian militias dominated many police units.
The report did not list any abuses committed by the United States, which has come under strong international criticism for its treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and at a U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"A climate of extreme violence in which people were killed for political and other reasons continued (in Iraq)," the report said. "Police abuses included threats, intimidation, beatings, and suspension by the arms or legs, as well as the reported use of electric drills and cords and the application of electric shocks."
In Iraq on Wednesday, the bodies of 18 men -- bound, blindfolded and strangled -- were found in a Sunni Arab district of Baghdad, apparent victims of the sectarian turmoil gripping Iraq.
The global report also listed abuses among both allies and traditional foes, from close friends Saudi Arabia and Egypt to adversaries Iran, Syria and Zimbabwe.
Governments targeted in the report frequently point to abuses by the United States and lambaste the report as hypocritical, a criticism Washington brushes aside.
"We are not saying we ourselves are perfect. When we find something wrong in our own rights record, we try to fix it. But usually those who charge us with hypocrisy are putting up a smoke screen and trying to ignore the facts in the report," said a State Department official, who asked not to be named.
ABUSE IN IRAQ
President George W. Bush cites abuses by ousted President Saddam Hussein and a desire to establish democracy to justify the 2003 invasion, ordered originally to confront a threat from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, which were never found.
Bush administration officials, while acknowledging abuses in Iraq, say the new government is trying to improve conditions and that the United States is spending money helping it.
Comment: Not only did the report not list any abuses by American forces, it did not mention the fact that agents of the American government are carrying out false flag terror operations in Iraq, including the bombing of shrines and the mass murder of Iraqi civilians.
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23 Bodies Found Around Baghdad; Many of Them Handcuffed and Strangled; U.S. Soldier Killed
By ALEXANDRA ZAVIS
ABC News/Associated Press
Mar 8, 2006
A U.S. military patrol and Iraqi police discovered 23 bodies many of them handcuffed and strangled in various parts of Baghdad, authorities said Wednesday, while bombings, gunfire and other violence claimed at least seven other lives.
Among the reported deaths was a U.S. soldier who was killed by a roadside bomb Tuesday near the northwestern city of Tal Afar. Four other soldiers were wounded in the attack, the military said.
The unrelenting violence came amid a deepening political stalemate among Iraqi ethnic and religious factions that threatens the creation of a unity government U.S. officials hope can stabilize the country so foreign forces can start going home this summer. Underlining U.S. concerns, the ambassador held talks with a top Shiite leader Tuesday.
An American patrol found 18 of the bodies all males in an abandoned minibus Tuesday night on a road between two notorious west Baghdad neighborhoods. Most bore marks indicating they were hanged or strangled, and two were shot to death, said Dr. Mohanad Jawad at Yarmouk Hospital, where the bodies were lined up on stretchers in the morgue. Police believed at least two of them were foreign Arabs.
Police found the bodies of four other handcuffed and strangled men in an open field in east Baghdad on Wednesday. Another body, shot in the head, was found near a shop in an eastern suburb.
The gruesome discoveries followed a surge of sectarian violence unleashed by the Feb. 22 bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine in the central city of Samarra and reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics. Sectarian killing has diminished in recent days, but other attacks have increased, the Defense Ministry reported Tuesday.
A string of explosions Wednesday killed at least four people including two young boys in the capital, police said.
One bomb hidden under a parked car near the University of Technology detonated as police from the interior minister's protection force were driving through central Baghdad, killing two officers, police said. Five other people, including a policemen, were injured in the blast. The minister was not in the convoy at the time, police said.
Another bomb missed an American convoy on the northern outskirts of Baghdad and killed two Iraqi boys who were selling gasoline by the roadside, police said. He estimated their age at 10 or 11.
At midday, an Iraqi patrol saw four gunmen pull a man from the trunk of a car and shoot him to death in west Baghdad, police reported. They said the patrol tried to intercede, but the gunmen fired at them and fled.
The inability to agree on a broad-based government after December parliamentary elections is threatening to crush American hopes of beginning a troop pullout this summer. Washington policy holds that such a unity government would inspire sufficient loyalty from all parties to enable it to fight the raging insurgency by itself.
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari declared Tuesday he would not be "blackmailed" into abandoning his campaign for a second term despite opposition from Sunni, Kurdish and some secular Shiite leaders who have vowed not to cooperate with him.
Al-Jaafari's Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, which has the largest bloc of lawmakers, asked President Jalal Talabani on Tuesday to delay summoning parliament into session until the dispute is resolved.
Alliance members are themselves divided over al-Jaafari, who won the Shiite nomination by a single vote last month, with the backing of radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Talabani, a Kurd, had hoped to bring the dispute to a head by convening parliament on Sunday. Under the constitution, parliament is supposed to elect a new president within 15 days of its first meeting. It then has 15 more days to approve the prime minister, and 30 days after that to vote on his Cabinet.
To convene the session, Talabani needs the approval of his two vice presidents, Abdil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, and Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni. Abdul-Mahdi, al-Jaafari's main rival for the Shiite nomination, has declined to sign, for now.
An evening meeting Tuesday between the Kurdish faction in parliament and the Shiite Alliance failed to break the impasse.
Representatives of the main political blocs planned to meet at Talabani's office Thursday to discuss the standoff and decide a new date for parliament to meet.
Underscoring Washington's concerns over the deteriorating political situation, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad held a meeting with Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the powerful Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the two dominant parties in the Shiite coalition.
The two met at al-Hakim's Baghdad home Tuesday to discuss "the current political situation concerning the formation of a new government and developments related to the alliance's candidate to head the Cabinet," the SCIRI Web site reported with an accompanying photo of the session. The U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for further information.
In an interview published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, Khalilzad said the 2003 U.S. ouster of Saddam Hussein had opened a "Pandora's box" that could see the violence and turmoil now gripping Iraq turn into an all-out regional war if American troops are withdrawn too quickly.
But narrowing the differences among Iraq's Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds has become an increasingly difficult task in the aftermath of the Feb. 22 bombing of the golden domed Shiite Askariya shrine.
Sunni politicians have accused the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia loyal to firebrand cleric al-Sadr, of launching many of the revenge attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics with the blessing of the Shiite-controlled government security apparatus charges denied by the government.
In a report Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said U.S.-led coalition forces and Iraq's authorities may be violating international law by arbitrarily detaining thousands of people.
The report, which studied the situation in Iraq for the last three months, said its prison system remains a major concern and lamented that an investigation into allegations of torture in Interior Ministry jails had not been made public as promised.
As political negotiations stalled, the violence raged on.
A former brigadier in Saddam Hussein's army was shot and killed Wednesday in western Baghdad, police said.
A bomb exploded at the Basra headquarters of Iraq's South Oil Co., causing minor damage but no casualties. Crude production and exports were not affected, said Jabar Luaibi, the company's director general.
Also Wednesday, an Iraqi civilian was killed in a collision with a U.S. Bradley Fighting vehicle after failing to head warning signs to stop, the military said in a statement.
The death of the U.S. soldier that was reported Wednesday brought to at least 2,302 the number of U.S. military members who have died since the beginning of the war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians.
Bombings, mortar blasts and gunfire killed 19 people Tuesday, and police also reported finding four bullet-riddled bodies two with their eyes gouged out.
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
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50 security firm workers kidnapped in Iraq
8 Mar 06
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Gunmen in Interior Ministry commando uniforms stormed the offices of a private security company and kidnapped as many as 50 employees today, while U.S. and Iraqi patrols reported the discovery of 24 shot or garroted bodies in the capital.
Iraq's Shiite vice president, meanwhile, signed a presidential decree calling parliament into session, breaking a major logjam that had delayed the creation of a unity government that U.S. officials hope can curb the unrelenting violence so their forces can start going home in the summer.
"He signed the decree today. I expect the first session to be held on Sunday or by the end of next week at the latest," said Nadim al-Jabiri, head of one of seven Shiite parties that make up the United Iraqi Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament.
Unidentified attackers hit the al-Rawafid Security Co. at 4:30 p.m. and forced the workers into seven vehicles, including several white SUVs, said Interior Ministry Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi. The victims, including bodyguards, drivers, computer technicians and other employees, did not resist because they assumed their abductors were police special forces working for the Interior Ministry, al-Mohammedawi said.
Interior Ministry Undersecretary Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Khefaji denied any involvement by his department, saying: "It is a terrorist act."
Members of the Sunni Arab minority who dominated under ousted leader Saddam Hussein accuse the Shiite-led security forces of repeated abductions and killings under the cover of fighting the Sunni-driven insurgency. Many of Al-Rawafid employees are former members of Saddam's armed forces.
The company is one of dozens providing protection for businesses and other clients in the violence-plagued country. One of its main clients is Iraqna, a cell phone firm owned by Egyptian-giant Orascom. Its offices are in Zayouna, a volatile mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood in east Baghdad.
Bombings, gunfire and other violence claimed at least 12 other lives, Iraqi police and the U.S. military said today. Among the reported deaths was a U.S. soldier who was killed by a roadside bomb Tuesday near the northwestern city of Tal Afar. Four other soldiers were wounded in the attack, the military said.
An American military patrol found 18 of the bodies - all males - in an abandoned minibus Tuesday night on a road between two notorious mostly Sunni west Baghdad neighborhoods.
The bodies were brought to Yarmouk Hospital and lined up on stretchers for identification. Most had bruising indicating they were strangled and two were shot, said Dr. Muhanad Jawad. Police believed at least two of the men were foreign Arabs.
Police found the bodies of six more men - four of them strangled and two shot - discarded in other parts of the city.
The gruesome discoveries followed a surge of sectarian violence unleashed by the Feb. 22 bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine in the central city of Samarra and reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics. Sectarian killing has diminished in recent days, but other attacks have increased, the Defense Ministry said.
A string of explosions today killed at least six people - including two young boys - in the capital, police said.
One bomb hidden under a parked car detonated as police from the interior minister's protection force were driving through Baghdad, killing two officers and injuring another, police said. Four bystanders were injured. The minister was not in the convoy at the time.
Another roadside bomb hit a police patrol in northern Baghdad, killing two officers and injuring four others, police said.
A third one missed an American convoy on the northern outskirts of Baghdad and killed two Iraqi boys - about 10 or 11 years old - who were selling gasoline by the roadside, police said.
A car bomb targeting another U.S. convoy in north Baghdad injured five bystanders, police said. There was no immediate word on American casualties.
An Iraqi patrol saw four gunmen pull a man from the trunk of a car and shoot him to death in west Baghdad, police reported. They said the patrol tried to intercede, but the gunmen fired at them and fled.
More gunmen pulled over a school bus carrying about 25 high school girls and shot the driver in front of his terrified passengers. The wounded driver was hospitalized, police said.
Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi's signature today on an executive order opened the way for the much-delayed first session of the parliament elected Dec. 15 - and also signaled fundamental disagreement within the once-unified majority Shiite ranks.
The constitution dictates that the first meeting be held no later than Sunday, but negotiations were still under way on a specific date, said al-Jabiri, the Shiite official.
The first session had been delayed by weeks of intense political infighting and reached an impasse after Abdul-Mahdi refused to sign President Jalal Talabani's decree Monday.
The dispute centers around Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's bid for a second term, which is opposed by a coalition of Sunni Arab, Kurdish and secular Shiite politicians.
Talabani, a Kurd, has openly challenged al-Jaafari's candidacy on grounds he is too divisive and would be unable to form a government representing all Iraq's religious and ethnic factions. There was also great unease over al-Jaafari's close ties to radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr
The Shiite Alliance is itself divided over al-Jaafari's candidacy. He defeated Abdul-Mahdi by a single vote in a Shiite caucus last month, due in large part to al-Sadr's support.
Talabani had hoped to bring the dispute to a head by convening parliament Sunday. Under the constitution, parliament is supposed to elect a new president within 15 days of its first meeting. It then has 15 more days to approve the prime minister, and 30 days after that to vote on his Cabinet.
To convene the session, Talabani needed the approval of his two vice presidents. Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni who is out of the country, gave Talabani power of attorney Monday to sign on his behalf. Abdul-Mahdi initially declined, but reversed his position today.
Another key Shiite political figure, speaking anonymously because of the sensitive nature of the information, said Abdul-Mahdi had acquiesced after U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad sought the intervention of powerful Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim in breaking the stalemate during a meeting Tuesday.
Abdul-Mahdi heads the Shiite parliamentary bloc loyal to al-Hakim, who leads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Al-Jabiri, however, said the decision to sign was taken on advice today from Iraq's Federal Court, which said parliament could be convened through an alternative process if Abdul-Mahdi continued to hold out.
As political negotiations progressed, the violence raged on.
Gunmen shot and killed a Sunni imam, Sadi Mahmoud, on his way home from a mosque in west Baghdad, police said.
A former brigadier in Saddam's army was shot and killed in west Baghdad, police said. Gunmen also attacked the convoy of Interior Ministry Undersecretary Hekmet Moussa in west Baghdad, killing two bodyguards and injuring two others, police said. Moussa was not in the convoy.
A bomb exploded at the Basra headquarters of Iraq's South Oil Co., causing minor damage but no casualties. Crude production and exports were not affected, said Jabar Luaibi, the company's director general.
Also today, an Iraqi civilian was killed in a collision with a U.S. Bradley Fighting vehicle after failing to heed warnings to stop, the military said.
The death of the U.S. soldier that was reported today brought to at least 2,302 the number of U.S. military members who have died since the beginning of the war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians.
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UK Minister says Guantanamo must close to save democracy
By Andy McSmith
08 March 2006
The US camp at Guantanamo Bay should be closed before it undermines the cause of democracy worldwide, a Foreign Office minister has warned.
The remarks by Kim Howells yesterday coincided with one of the most direct appeals yet by a high-ranking American figure for British support over Guantanamo Bay's continued existence. The Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, on a visit to London, said the that camp was lawful and necessary.
Mr Howells, the minister in charge of British policy in the Middle East, warned: "Our alliance with America is based on shared values. If those shared values are seen by the rest of the world to be terribly flawed that actually undermines the cause of democracy. If Guantanamo is undermining those shared values then it should go, it should close." Mr Howells went on to claim that the US had a problem with the "time scale".
"If you closed the camp down tomorrow, what would you do with these people? Where would they go? It's a difficult one. But the central point is if it is seen to be undermining the cause of democracy and freedom, you have got to address that."
Mr Howells' comments go beyond anything said about Guantanamo Bay by Tony Blair, or by the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Mr Blair's official spokesman said yesterday: "He has always said that it is an anomaly that should be dealt with sooner rather than later, but he has equally recognised the circumstances under which it arose."
Mr Howells was speaking at a meeting in the House of Commons organised by Human Rights Watch to discuss whether governments have been "bending the rules" that forbid torture and civil rights abuses. The shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, told the same meeting: "Reports of prisoner abuse by British and American troops - however isolated - and accounts, accurate or not, of the mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition flights leading to the torture of suspects, have led to a critical erosion in our moral authority. In standing up for the rule of law, we must be careful not to employ methods that undermine it."
Mr Gonzales claimed that the 500 Guantanamo detainees included terrorist trainers, bomb makers, former bodyguards of Osama bin Laden, and potential suicide bombers. All are assessed by US authorities and given a separate, formal hearing of their case before a tribunal, with a right to appeal.
"We operate Guantanamo because there's a necessity, a need, for the United States to detain enemy combatants somewhere," he said, in a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "That was the genesis of Guantanamo. This need continues today."
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Bombs explode on Spanish roads after ETA warning
By Blanca Rodriguez
March 9, 2006
MADRID - Two bombs exploded near highways in northern Spain on Thursday after a warning that five devices had been planted by Basque separatists ETA, who have stepped up their violent campaign for independence in recent weeks.
Authorities said the explosions were quite small and there were no reports of injuries.
The bombs coincided with a regional general strike called by Batasuna -- a separatist party outlawed for its links to ETA -- to protest against the Basque government's ban on people publicly paying tribute to two ETA members who died in jail last week.
A woman telephoned the Basque road assistance group in the name of ETA to warn them about the bombs. Later, another call came through about a bomb in a post office in Lasarte, near San Sebastian.
After months of relative quiet, ETA has resumed its bombing campaign in the last few weeks, scotching hopes fanned by Spain's Socialist government that the group could be close to calling a truce.
"ETA has no political or social mileage left in the Basque country," Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso told reporters.
On Wednesday, ETA set off a bomb and injured one person outside a northern office of the strongly nationalist Falange party, a hangover from the reign of dictator Francisco Franco.
ETA has killed about 800 people since 1968 in its fight to carve out an independent Basque state straddling northern Spain and southwestern France.
The group, branded a terrorist group by the European Union and United States, has not killed anybody since 2003.
"The recent intensified bombing campaign could mean that ETA wants to show that if it lays down arms it is not because it has run out of options but that it is voluntarily renouncing violence," a spokesman for the moderate Basque party PNV told Spanish radio.
"That's the positive way of thinking about it because the more pessimistic way simply shows the terrorists have not taken on board the fact that Basques want them to abandon the armed struggle once and for all," Josu Erkoreka added.
The Madrid government has been criticized by the right-wing opposition and families of ETA victims as being too soft on the group and having contacts with them.
Last month, ETA released a statement saying "dialogue and negotiation are the only paths toward a solution of the conflict" but it stopped short of calling a ceasefire.
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China hits back at US criticism
Thursday, 9 March 2006, 06:23 GMT
Washington said in its annual rights report that China was one of the world's "most systematic" offenders.
In return Beijing urged the US to "look squarely" at its own problems, such as a high murder rate and jail population.
While China often rejects US criticism of its rights record, this exchange is especially sensitive due to President Hu Jintao's visit to the US next month.
The report issued by China's cabinet, the State Council, on Thursday listed "a multitude of cases to show the serious violations of human rights both in and outside the US," according to state news agency Xinhua.
"As in previous years, the US State Department pointed the finger at human rights situations in more than 190 countries and regions, but kept silent on the violations of human rights in the United States," the report said.
It described alleged abuses including secret surveillance, police abuse, racial discrimination and wrongful convictions.
"The United States has always boasted itself as the model of democracy, and hawked its mode of democracy to the rest of the world, but in fact, American 'democracy' is always one for the wealthy and a 'game for the rich'," it added.
In its own report, issued on Wednesday, Washington was equally scathing about Beijing's human rights record, saying it "remained poor".
The report accused the Chinese government of "serious abuses" and noted a trend towards increased "harassment, detention and imprisonment, by government and security authorities, of those perceived as threatening".
It also detailed a "significant" increase in protests and public disturbances, saying that "several incidents were violently suppressed", and accused China of increasing censorship of the internet.
But the State Department report did mention that there were "notable developments" in Chinese legal reforms, as well as greater personal freedoms and increased protection of some religious activities.
At a House of Representatives hearing on Wednesday, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian affairs Christopher Hill that that when President Hu visited Washington in April, he hoped to engage the Chinese leader "on a broad range of human rights and religious freedom topics".
The US report also singled out Burma and North Korea for criticism.
In Burma, extrajudicial killings, rape, torture and beatings of prisoners and detainees continued, the report said.
In North Korea, "extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and arbitrary detention, including many political prisoners" continued, it said.
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State department highlights its own human rights failings
By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
09 March 2006
The US State Department issued its annual report detailing human rights shortcomings around the world yesterday - and for the first time referred to its own failings in that field.
As usual, the study focuses on foreign countries, highlighting a familiar list of transgressors, headed by North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe, and Burma as well as China, where harassment and harsh treatment of people seen as threats to the government increased in 2005.
But after massive international criticism of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and other secret CIA-run detention centres, and the US practice of "extraordinary rendition" of terror suspects, the State Department has had little choice but to turn the spotlight - however briefly - closer to home.
The US, it noted, had found that "its own journey towards liberty and justice for all has been long and difficult" and was still "far from complete". The report also cited widespread abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, both client states of the US.
The most striking section deals with China, whose human rights record is described as "poor". Censorship of the press, radio, television and the internet had grown last year, as had the suppression - "at times violent" - of protests by those attempting to secure redress of grievances.
Russia too is censured for the increasing "erosion of the accountability of government leaders to the people". Just four months before the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, hosts the G8 summit in St Petersburg, the State Department singles out continuing corruption, the selective use of the law as a political weapon by the authorities and the political pressures on the judiciary.
Another target is the United Arab Emirates, at the centre of the controversy over the planned takeover of US port management operations by a Dubai company. The UAE, says the report, has no democratic institutions and no general elections. It also curtails personal liberties, as well as freedom of speech and assembly.
Pakistan, billed as a key US ally in the war on terror, also comes in for strong criticism. Its security forces routinely carried out unauthorised killings and indulged in torture and rape, the State Department said.
Comment: Given the countless reports of torture and spying employed by the Bush Regime, the State Department's "criticism" is severely muted.
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Democracy for breakfast - Twenty years after perestroika, Mikhail Gorbachev says the US needs a dose of Russian medicine
By Nick Paton Walsh
8 Mar 06
Twenty years ago, Mikhail Gorbachev unveiled perestroika and with it the beginning of the end of the cold war, forcing what was then the world's second superpower to take stock of the gap between its grand designs and crumbling infrastructure.
But as his 75th birthday passes, "Gorby" has a clear message for his former Iron Curtain adversary. "America needs its own perestroika", he said, suggesting it is the United States that now needs radical reforms and self assessment.
"The United States has not found its role after it became the only superpower. Until it gets rid of the victor's complex, it will make more mistakes. The younger Bush made a big error in Iraq."
In an interview to mark both his birthday and the 20th anniversary of the speech he made to the communist party congress announcing the first elements of perestroika, Mr Gorbachev echoed opinions broadly shared in Russian society.
He defended his cold war legacy and remained intensely suspicious of the west. He claimed British intelligence helped falsify data over weapons of mass destruction and that the invasion of Iraq was "a blow against the Security Council and international law and now we have a terrible degradation of the situation in the Middle East".
He said the biggest threat to Russia's political stability in the next two years, as a successor is sought to replace Vladimir Putin in 2008, would come from outside the country because the west wanted to keep Russia weak.
Russian officials have echoed such concerns, citing western support for non-governmental organisations as one possible way the US and EU might try to influence their domestic politics through fomenting civil dissent.
Mr Gorbachev said: "There are those - not only the US but also our closest western friends - who like to keep Russia in a semi-strangulated state. Sometimes they are ... afraid of competitors. As Russia becomes stronger suddenly our friends in the west begin to get excited.
"'Maybe they are again building an empire?' And you think this is threatening? How do you think we feel, having all these [US] military bases that are being deployed closer and closer to our borders?" he asks.
Some Russians dislike Mr Gorbachev and see him as the man who foolishly gave away the USSR's superpower status to the US, sparking a decade of economic and political chaos.
Yet on his 75th birthday last week he was congratulated by Vladimir Putin for making "the changes that allowed our country to make a decisive step towards democratic reforms". The president was not, however, invited to attend a dinner at a Moscow restaurant to mark the occasion.
At times, Mr Gorbachev voiced the same suspicions and criticisms of western policy heard from some Kremlin apparatchiks today. He heavily criticised the Bush administration's new security doctrine as "in complete contradiction to what we agreed with Reagan".
The pair historically agreed there could not be victors in nuclear war. "But now they [the US] are saying again that nuclear arms can be used as a first-strike weapon," he added.
Mr Gorbachev dismissed western criticism at how democracy is "backsliding" under Mr Putin's authoritarian rule, during which the Kremlin has replaced the election of regional governors with presidential appointment and held two elections criticised by western observers.
"All you westerners are torturing us with this question [about Russian democracy]," he said. "This is a transition from a state that is moving from totalitarianism to democracy. Democracy is not a thing that can be delivered in the morning in a cup, like a man brings coffee to his wife or mistress."
He expressed his exasperation at the west's black and white approach to Russia's democratic development. "Certainly there are some authoritarian flashbacks, some rolling back from democracy, but do you think we have to shoot ourselves because of it? Nothing can drag us back to the past. The population has felt the taste of liberty."
He said the Americans took 200 years to build their democracy, but expected Russia to do it in 200 days. "I tell the Americans: 'we are more capable than you are. I think we'll do it in 20 years - 10 times quicker than you have done'."
Speaking in the plush offices that his Gorbachev Foundation shares with a Moscow bank, he said the corrupt privatisations and currency defaults of the 1990s were the entire fault of the "Yeltsin era".
He said Mr Yeltsin left Russia to the peril of the free market, allowing a sell-off of state assets that was "simply theft. We'll deal with the consequences... for a long time in the future."
He praised Mr Putin for stabilising the situation. "He inherited chaos and disintegration everywhere," he added, referring to the increasing autonomy of Russia's regions that occurred towards the end of the 90s when Chechnya had been granted independence.
"I think that all the errors done during Putin's term would be forgotten, but never the fact that he has stopped the disintegration of the country."
Indeed, his most overt criticism of Mr Putin was for being too soft on four British diplomats accused in January of using a hi-tech transmitter hidden in a rock to spy on Russia.
"Putin decided to do nothing. I would act differently. You know we had a war with Margaret Thatcher - who could expel more spies? I let her know that I'd take it to the end."
He described the alleged spying as "impudent" and said: "Britain - you've got used to doing anything you like without being punished."
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US cigarette sales drop to 55-year low
Thu Mar 9, 2006
The number of cigarettes sold in the United States in 2005 fell to the lowest level in 55 years largely due to enforcement of marketing restrictions imposed on the tobacco industry, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) said on Wednesday.
According to federal tobacco tax figures, cigarettes sales slid 4.2 percent from 2004 levels in the largest one-year percentage decrease since 1999, the group said in a statement.
The attorneys general said 378 billion cigarettes were sold in the United States in 2005, the lowest number since 1951.
The drop continues an eight-year decline in cigarette smoking since the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) between U.S. states and the tobacco industry that settled state lawsuits over the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses, the NAAG said.
Overall, cigarette sales have plunged more than 21 percent since the agreement, which raised cigarette prices and severely restricted industry marketing practices, the organization said.
"It is not a coincidence that cigarette sales are down and fewer people are smoking. The Master Settlement Agreement was designed to protect the public and reduce cigarette consumption -- and it does just that," said Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell.
The major companies that signed the MSA are Philip Morris, a unit of Altria Group Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc.; British American Tobacco Plc's Brown & Williamson unit; and Lorillard, which trades as Carolina Group and is part of Loews Corp.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers cigarette smoking to be the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. About 440,000 people die each year from lung cancer and other diseases related to tobacco use.
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