- Signs of the Times for Mon, 13 Mar 2006 -

Editorial: The 'Why' Of The War On Terror

Joe Quinn
Signs of the Times
With American troops sinking ever further into the "Iraq quagmire", Bush's job approval ratings hitting new lows and a growing list of respectable officials using the word dictatorship in reference to the White House, the apparent plans for a U.S. attack on Iran can reasonably be taken as evidence that many members of the U.S. government have in fact gone literally, clinically insane. At the very least, anyone still in possession of the alleged human capacity for independent, critical thought is surely asking the big question:


How exactly has it served the Bush administration to bloody-mindedly continue to push forward, to this day, with a plan that over 2 years ago was already identifiable as containing the seeds of its own downfall and the trashing of America's previously good (if undeserved) image on the world stage? Is it perhaps the case that Colin Powell enjoyed being ridiculed at the U.N.? Does Donald Rumsfeld derive some satisfaction from the fact that he is considered the architect of the torture of innocent Iraqi detainees? (Actually, maybe we shouldn't go there).

Now, we all know that most governments engage in all sorts of illegal and scurillous activities, but generally they go to considerable lengths to conceal these from the general public and usually hide behind the cover of plausible excuses, for example, the 'Communist threat' that was used during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. But even in those wars, once the real goal had been achieved, the U.S. government withdrew. In the case of the 'war on terror' and the Iraq invasion, the plausible excuse of Saddam's WMDs was from the outset extremely weak, and it was always going to be just a matter of time before Bush et al were exposed as a bunch of liars. Despite this, there is not even a hint of a withdrawal from the endless 'war on terror' - quite the opposite in fact.

In looking deeply at the entire debacle then, we arrive at the tentative conclusion that there is something, some threat, that is driving the Bush administration to risk their political lives - the means to power and wealth that they live and breathe for - for very little in return.

So what is that "something"? Paradoxically, yet somehow very logically, that "something" is their political lives and the threat of a very dishonorable discharge from political life, the possibility of long jail terms and, depending on the circumstances, even execution.

To understand the why, we need to go back to that defining moment that, as we were told ad nauseum at the time, "changed the world forever".

As we have detailed in our published works, there is much evidence to suggest that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by agents of the state of Israel with the complicity of members of the Bush administration. However, contained within the 9/11 operation was a double-cross by the Israelis on the Bush administration. As a result of this double-cross, the Bush government now finds itself in the unpleasant position of being blackmailed by the Israelis and forced to accede to their demands.

To put it bluntly, Israel is now in control of American foreign policy and any American domestic policies that impact foreign policy (which means most of them). We will not understand the demented foreign and domestic policies of the Bush administration over the past 5 years until we realise that those policies are being directed by agents of the state of Israel, and that the U.S. government has no option but to obey. Of course, Israel's infiltration and control of American politics goes back much further than 9/11, but it was the 9/11 attacks that gave them unrestricted access to the bridge of the American ship of state.

Israel's agenda is a major reshaping of the political and demographic landscape of the Middle East, and all the death and destruction that such a 'vision' entails, and the U.S. military and its hardware are to be used to get the job done.

The bottom line: at least on one level, the lives of America's uniformed sons and daughters are being expended to fulfill the biblical prophecy of a 'greater Israel'. But before American citizens think that this is simply a military matter, they should realise that these insane U.S. military campaigns at the behest of Israel can only continue with the consent of the rest of the American public (all of this applies to the British public also, but perhaps to a slightly lesser extent). As the insanity and illegality of these campaigns becomes more and more obvious to Americans, the means to ensure that the they stay 'on side' and 'patriotic' become increasingly necessary.

If Americans have up until now believed that they were somehow absolved of any responsibility for the actions of their government and military simply because they took no part in government or military campaigns, they should think again. Remember what Bush said: "You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists". There is no option for fence-sitting, either you shut up and accept the progressive clamp-downs on your civil rights, which are an integral part of the 'war on terror', or you are with the 'terrorists'.

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main," wrote the poet John Donne. Every American is very much involved in the actions of their government and its military, whether they like it or not, and in fact, if any of you don't like it, you better keep it to yourself, because, while no man is an island, there is a little part of an island off the South-Eastern coast of the U.S...

So what, if anything, can be done in the face of such an apparently hopeless situation? Unfortunately we can give no definitive answer to this question, but what we can say is that the unsavory (to say the least) and very predictable final outcome of the path that America and the world is now set upon is very definitely being facilitated by the refusal of so many ordinary people to simply, and in their own consciences, admit the truth of the situation to themselves. Generally speaking, all calamities that have befallen humanity throughout history have occurred in the presence of a complete lack of awareness among the people about what was actually happening and why. Would we be in this predicament if billions of people were to begin to wake up and accept the truth about their governments, their own enslavement, both mental and physical, and its root cause? What would happen if the curtain were to be pulled back on all of the corrupt dealings that governments and international finance houses engage in on a daily basis, for all to see? Of course, the answer is that we do not know, because we are pretty sure that we, as race, have never put it to the test. Which is not to say that we cannot put it to the test, the option to do so is always there.
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Editorial: Signs Economic Commentary

Donald J. Hunt
Signs of the Times
March 13, 2006

Gold closed at 542.50 dollars an ounce on Friday, down 4.6% from $567.20 for the week. The dollar closed at 0.8396 euros Friday, up 1.1% from 0.8307 the week before. That would put the euro at 1.1910 dollars, compared to 1.2038 at the end of the previous week. Gold in euros would be 455.50, down 3.4% from 471.17 euros an ounce the week before. Oil closed at 59.96 dollars a barrel, down 6.2% from $63.67 at the close of the previous week. Oil in euros would be 50.34 euros a barrel, down 5.1% from 52.89 for the week. The gold/oil ratio closed at 9.05 up 1.6% from 8.91 at the end of the previous week. In U.S. stocks, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 11,076.34 on Friday, up 0.4% from 11,033.20 for the week, while the NASDAQ closed at 2,262.04 down 1.9% from 2,306.08. The yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury note closed at 4.76, up 8 basis points from 4.68 for the week.

A good week for the U.S. imperial economy, if the numbers are any indication. Gold and oil fell sharply and the dollar rose. But the interests of the owners and managers of the imperial economy and those of the average person in the United States have diverged. Unemployment was up last month, though the media focused on the fact that the jobs numbers for February exceeded expectations. Notice how much space the following Bloomberg article devotes to positive spin and how little space is given to the negative numbers (bolded).

February Payrolls Rise 243,000; Jobless Rate at 4.8%

March 10 (Bloomberg) -- American employers added a greater- than-expected 243,000 workers in February and incomes rose, signs the job market will bolster consumer spending and economic growth. The unemployment rate increased to 4.8 percent.

The gain in employment followed a 170,000 rise in January that was smaller than previously reported, the Labor Department said today in Washington. The jobless rate rose from 4.7 percent the previous month, the lowest level since July 2001, as more workers entered the labor force seeking jobs.

Economic growth will depend more on jobs this year as housing, a source of strength in the last four years, starts to fade, economists said. Wages in the last 12 months rose by the most in more than four years, posing a risk of higher inflation.

"The labor market is heating up," Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wachovia Corp. in Charlotte, North Carolina, said before the report. "Businesses have pushed as hard as they can in getting work out of their existing workforces and it's time to expand." The Federal Reserve "might have to raise rates more than they really want to."

Economists expected payrolls would rise by 210,000 last month following a previously reported increase of 193,000 in January, according to the median of 77 forecasts in a Bloomberg News survey. Estimates ranged from increases of 100,000 to 300,000. Economists also projected the unemployment rate would hold at 4.7 percent.

Service Jobs

Employment in service-producing industries, which include retailers, banks and government agencies, rose 198,000 last month after rising 105,000 in January, the report showed. The increase was led by education, health-care and business services jobs.

Construction employment rose 41,000 after a gain of 55,000 in January. Mining, including oil and gas industries, added 5,000 jobs.

Manufacturing lost 1,000 jobs last month, the first decline in five months. The manufacturing workweek rose to 41 hours from 40.9 in January and overtime rose to 4.6 hours from 4.5 hours.

Average weekly hours worked by production workers fell to 33.7 hours in February from 33.8 the prior month. Economists expected hours would hold at 33.8 for a sixth month, according to the Bloomberg News survey.

The bottom line is that joblessness was up, manufacturing jobs were lost, and any small pay raises were not enough to keep up with inflation.

In more bad news for the average person, interest rates including mortgage rates continued their rise and most analysts predict the Federal Reserve Board will raise interest rates again. They cite the fact that U.S. workers on average increased their pay by 3.5% last year. While that was below the rate of inflation, the people who can live on their investments and who don't depend on paychecks view the small rise in pay with alarm.

30-Year Mortgage Rates Jump to 2-Year High

By Martin Crutsinger, AP Economics Writer

Rates on 30-year mortgages jumped to the highest level in 2 1/2 years this week, driven higher by inflation worries in financial markets.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac reported Thursday that rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 6.37 percent this week, according to its weekly survey.

That was up sharply from a nationwide average of 6.24 percent last week and left 30-year rates at the highest level since they averaged 6.44 percent the week of Sept. 5, 2003.

"Stronger than expected gains in the manufacturing and service industries - coupled with higher labor costs - ignited inflation concerns, which led to the rise in mortgage rates this week," said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at Freddie Mac.

He said investors have begun to worry that the Federal Reserve, which has been raising interest rates to combat inflation, may not stop with just one or two more rate hikes but may actually boost rates three more times this year.

The rising rates have begun to cool the sizzling housing market with sales of both new and existing homes posting bigger-than-expected declines in January.

Nothaft said the housing sector, which posted record sales levels for five straight years, was shifting to a slower pace, but he predicted the decline would not be severe enough to disrupt the overall economy like the bursting of the stock market did in 2000.

"We see no signs of a bursting bubble, but rather a return to a more normal pace of activity," he said.

Some economists believe that 30-year mortgage rates could rise as high as 7 percent by the end of the year.

The Freddie Mac survey found sharp increases for all types of mortgages this week.

There are ominous signs of a real crash in real estate, despite what the AP writer said. Interest rates are designed to slow the economy, but there are other signs that the people who control the money are about to slam on the brakes. Signs of the Times published this piece from Safehaven.com on Saturday, but it is worth revisiting.

The Fed Officially Kicks Off the Next Recession

by Robert McHugh
March 12, 2006

It is official. A recession is coming. How do I know? Because this week new Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke gave an official warning to bankers about commercial real estate loans. That is always the kickoff to a recession. It is the starter's gun, the national anthem before a ballgame, the opening hymn at a church service. Here is how it works. The Fed has three official tools to control the money supply: Setting reserve requirements (telling banks how much of their deposits they cannot lend. The higher the reserve requirements, the less loans, the less money creation by the economy). The second tool is open market operations. Here they set the amount of money in the system by buying or selling securities. Third is setting the discount rate, the rate of interest banks must pay to borrow money at the Fed. Theoretically, the higher the rate, the less money banks will borrow, the less they have to lend, and the less money that is created by the banking system.

However, there is a fourth tool, a stealth tool, which has more power and impact than the other three. It is called the Federal Reserve Bank examiner. He/she is the person who goes into a bank about once a year and decides which loans are good and which are bad. Based upon their holy edict, a loan is classified in one of several categories which determines how much money the banks must set aside from earnings to reserve for possible losses. It is completely an estimation game. So the rules can and do change, based upon the whims of the examiner, taking his marching orders from the Fed Chairman. If the Fed wants the money supply to expand, then Fed examiners come in with reasonable standards for review of loans, and classify those loans with a general leaning that they will be repaid according to terms. Thus banks do not have to reserve as much for possible estimated losses and are in effect not discouraged from making more loans. When the Fed wants money supply to grow, aggressive lending standards often get passing grades. That's when you business people will see your friendly bank commercial lender more often, jawing you into that expansion project you've been thinking about, inviting you to golf outings and ball games. They want more loans. They need your expansion project.

However, once the Fed Chair sounds the alarm about commercial real estate loans, it starts an entire chain of events that ultimately and unequivocally leads to economic recession. Here's what happens. Out of the blue... those friendly back-slapping Federal Reserve examiners… show up with a scowl that droops like the golden arch. They ask for the files, a table, an outlet, a coffee pot, and the key to the little boys and girls room. About two days after they arrive, the banker knows something has changed, something serious, and he gets this knot in the pit of his stomach that will last for about three years. Examiner Margo asks for a meeting with banker Joe. She brings her supervisor to raise the fear level of the meeting. The Bank's President, Joe, brings his top commercial lender for protection of his fanny, and that lender brings his junior lender who will ultimately be the sacrificial lamb and get the ax should things blow up.

Bottom line: Margo feels that a good commercial real estate loan, paying on time, plenty of collateral, doesn't quite throw off enough cashflow on its financial statements in file, and is now suddenly rated below satisfactory. Not quite doubtful. What this means is the banker now has to set aside 20 percent of the loan in reserves for possible losses. That reduces income, and he has a big one-time hit coming to earnings this quarter.

…At the end of the day, a junior lender gets canned, the Board steps up the heat on the President to do something about this, and banker Joe and his senior lender immediately decide to stop making commercial real estate loans.

For the economy, this means a credit crunch has started. Expansion stops. Willing buyers can no longer obtain financing to buy properties. This reduces demand for properties at the exact same time bankers are encouraging these suddenly classified borrowers on their books to sell their properties and pay back the loans. This increases the supply of properties for sale at the exact wrong time, lowering prices.

But the black hole is just getting started -- just beginning to suck the economy into the abyss. What I outlined above is merely round one.

About six month later, property values have dropped from this excess of supply and lack of demand due to the curtailing of bank commercial real estate loans. This means the collateral values of the loans on the bank's books have declined.
Another Fed examination is scheduled, they are back in, and with the battle well under way, it is time for these public servants to start shooting the wounded. They are fully aware that property values have dropped, and -- ignoring the fact that they caused them to drop -- they march to the file room, grab their favorite previously classified loans, and get to work. They assign the most experienced examiners to review the classified loans while they send the rookies to find potential problems among the previously good loans. But the action is with the classified bad boys.

That loan they rated less than satisfactory because of cashflow problems the last time they were in has now deteriorated to doubtful because of the compounded affect of collateral undervaluation. That means instead of setting aside 20 percent of the loan amount into the reserve for possible losses, banker Joe must now set aside 50 percent, another big hit to earnings. He had promised the Board of Directors that last year's one-time hit for potential loan losses would be a one-time occurrence. He realizes that is not the case, and begins to wish he had become a UPS delivery man.

At the end of the day, the bank's rating has dropped, the Board is scared about Director liability, and Joe is pulling out every political favor he's accumulated among a majority of the Board to keep him around for one more year. He agrees to sacrifice the bank's Senior Lending officer, who has served as a shield the past year, not making loans, but sitting in his office, ready to be ejected for the good of banker Joe's considerable stock options portfolio and other bennies that come with holding on to a bank presidency for a decade or so. The senior lender is replaced by a credit hack, someone with no people skills, adept at strong-arming bank borrowers into paying back the money. The goal is to shrink the loan portfolio by not making new ones, using the normal cashflow from payments to reduce outstandings, and to sell at a discount or coerce partial payments from existing loan customers who were rated unsatisfactory by the Federal Reserve's finest. This means lawyers get involved, lots of lawyers, skilled at scaring borrowers into "working out" loan repayments with this new nasty bank lender. This means less money is available for potential buyers of property in the economy, more distressed sale supply hits the market, and real estate values fall even further.

It is about now that everyone recognizes a recession is well underway, led by a real estate collapse. The truth of the matter is, the rules were changed by the Fed and nobody was told until it was too late, and the economy plunges. Voters scream, a few politicians get tossed, and the phrase "credit crunch" becomes a darling of the media. It takes action by the President of the United States to haul in the Federal Reserve Chairman, and explain to him the reality of the reappointment process every four years. Suddenly, at the next bank exam, a new friendlier, examination teams shows up, drinks more coffee, has a few extra newspapers tucked next to their laptops, are asking for fewer files, complain they have to rush to another job in two weeks so won't be there as long as the last time, and leave with little fanfare. The bankers are told in the wrap-up meeting, that they've improved their loan quality, the bank's rating is boosted one grade, and all is well with the world -- end of recession.

To those who have much, more has been given, though, as the numbers of billionaires has reached new highs. These are the people who will be able to buy up all the assets of the indebted workers for pennies on the dollar.

Billionaire Bacchanalia

Edited by Luisa Kroll and Allison Fass

Making a billion just isn't what it used to be. In our inaugural ranking of the world's richest people 20 years ago we uncovered some 140 billionaires. This year the list is a record 793, up 102 from last year.

They're worth a combined $2.6 trillion, up 18% since last March. Their average net worth: $3.3 billion. Strong stock markets around the world (the U.S. being the notable exception) contributed to this surge in wealth.

…The U.S. is home to 44 new billionaires and commands nearly half of the fortunes on the roster. Bill Gates retains his title as the world's richest person for the twelfth straight year, proving that while it's getting easier to make a billion, the same can't be said for making $50 billion.

In second place is his good friend and bridge partner Warren Buffett. The Sage of Omaha is worth $42 billion this year, $2 billion less than last.

Other notables in the Top 20 include number 7, Bernard Arnault, the pope of fashion who runs LVMH and oversees its high-end brands including Louis Vuitton and Dom Perignon; and Roman Abramovich, the 39-year-old Russian oil baron who liquidated his biggest asset last year for $13 billion.

Seventy-eight women make the list, 10 more than last year, though only six are self-made including the Queen of All Media, Oprah Winfrey, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and Ebay's Meg Whitman.

Hind Hariri, daughter of slain Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who is eight months younger than Germany's Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis, is, at 22, the list's youngest member.

Twelve people return to the list including Hiroshi Mikitani, founder of Japanese Internet shopping mall Rakuten.

Thirty-nine people depart from it. Eleven of them died including John Walton, the son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton; he perished in a plane crash last June.

The other 28 fell off either because of stock drops, repercussions from dubious ethics or because we discovered they shared it with more family members (individually, they each had less than $1 billion).

High profile drop-offs include Martha Stewart, whose net worth has fallen to an estimated $500 million since she got out of jail, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, who was convicted of fraud and theft and is serving an 8-year-prison sentence in Eastern Siberia.

Where did these billionaires come from? What have they contributed to deserve such riches? Can the rise in the fortunes of the superrich really be a positive sign for the world economy? Maybe a little historical perspective is in order. Barry Grey of the World Socialist Web Site has published a two-part series this month called, "The Bush administration and the global decline of American capitalism." Grey looks at the rise of the parasitical class of supperrich in longer-term historical perspective:

At the end of the war [the Second World War], the US occupied a position of overwhelming economic supremacy. It produced the vast bulk of the world's steel, electricity, autos, etc., and it possessed almost all of the world's gold holdings. This enabled the US, through the Marshall Plan and similar measures, to subsidize an economic revival in Europe and capitalist Asia that made possible two decades of rapid growth of the world economy. The post-war boom provided the economic basis for social reform policies that dampened class antagonisms - at least in North America, Western Europe and Japan.

But the attempt of American capitalism to rebuild world capitalism inevitably ran up against contradictions lodged in the fundamental contradiction between world economy and the nation-state system. In promoting the industrial and financial revival of Europe and Japan, the US was strengthening imperialist competitors and rivals. By the 1960s, the dollar was coming under increasing pressure and countries such as Germany and Japan were gearing up to challenge American dominance in world markets - including the American market.

The social and political shock waves from these tectonic shifts in the economic foundation took increasingly explosive forms in the 1960s within the US. One need only mention the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the political assassinations that followed later in the decade, the civil rights struggles, militant wages struggles in virtually every sector of the economy, the urban riots, and the mass movement against the war in Vietnam. These social and political upheavals, in turn, acted upon and intensified the underlying economic crisis.

The erosion of American capitalism's previously hegemonic position in the world economy found definitive expression in Richard Nixon's August 15, 1971 measures. Under conditions of a run on the dollar and dwindling gold reserves in Fort Knox, Nixon ended dollar-gold convertibility, which had served as the lynchpin of the global financial arrangements established by the Bretton Woods agreements of 1944.

This was a major turning point, marking in general terms both the end of the post-war boom and the end of American industrial and financial hegemony. What followed was the oil shock of 1973-74, spiraling inflation and the deepest recession in the US since the 1930s.

Throughout the 1970s the US remained in the grip of a profound economic malaise, which was dubbed "stagflation" - a combination of slow economic growth and steep inflation. At the same time, US capitalism was facing an ever-greater challenge from its major competitors in Europe and Asia - Germany and Japan, in particular. American corporations - in steel, auto, electronics and other industries - were rapidly losing market share internationally, and within the US, foreign auto and steel imports were growing, cutting significantly into the share of the domestic market controlled by the Big Three auto companies and steel giants such as US Steel.

The American working class, despite its political subordination to the capitalist two-party system, which was enforced by the trade union bureaucracy, retained much of the militancy that attended the birth of the mass industrial unions in the sit-down strikes of the 1930s and industry-wide strikes that continued in the post-war period. There were bitter strikes throughout the 1970s, and a marked political radicalization among young workers in virtually every industry.

This militancy was connected to a whole series of social reforms and regulations on business dating back to Roosevelt's New Deal. These were generally seen, with justification, as concessions wrenched by the working class from the American ruling class. Facing a steep and obvious decline in its global economic position, stagnant growth, mounting debt, chronic inflation, falling profit rates, the US ruling elite was compelled to launch an attack on these past reforms and regulations, which in various ways placed restrictions on the operations of the capitalist market, and in that way weaken the position of the working class and undermine its militant resistance.


The first major step in this direction was the policy of deregulation, inaugurated by the Carter administration and promoted by liberals such as Senator Edward Kennedy. Targeting first mass transport industries such as commercial air travel and trucking, deregulation represented the beginning of a ruling class counteroffensive. The political and ideological premise of deregulation was the innate superiority of the market to government regulation and control.

The overthrow of the Shah and the resulting spike in oil prices in 1979 brought the economic crisis in the US to a head, leading to another major turning point with the appointment of Wall Street banker Paul Volcker to head the Federal Reserve Board. Volcker, a Democrat, launched the American version of shock therapy - hiking interest rates to unprecedented levels in order to "wring inflation out of the economy" by plunging the US into a deep recession.

This was a dramatic and highly conscious move to force the closure of plants and factories, drive up unemployment and create the conditions for a frontal assault on the past gains of the working class.

…As auto, steel, rubber, electrical and other industrial plants closed down around the country, business journals such as Business Week began openly to speak of the "deindustrialization" of America. Very rapidly, traditional industrial centers such as Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Youngstown, parts of Los Angeles were devastated by plant closures and mass layoffs. Whole cities were turned into centers of economic dislocation, poverty and misery. Hundreds of thousands, then millions of workers almost overnight found themselves without a decent-paying job.

This was the birth of the so-called "rust belt," which for the most part persists in large sections of the country. Manifested in abandoned stone and mortar and abandoned human beings was the objective decline in the world position of American capitalism.

The election of the right-wing Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980 signaled an intensification of the anti-working class offensive that had been launched under the previous, Democratic administration. "Reaganomics" became the catchphrase for a ruthless policy of union-busting, wage-cutting, the gutting of social programs, tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, and the lifting of regulations on industrial pollution, workplace health and safety and many other aspects of economic life.

Economic policy was formulated quite openly to facilitate a vast transfer of wealth from the working population to the richest and most privileged layers, on the essentially parasitic basis of a massive downsizing of industry and a sharp increase in the national debt. The stock market became more than ever the focus of personal wealth accumulation for the financial elite, and driving up share values became a central preoccupation of government economic and social policy.

The decade of the 1980s saw a return to open and violent strikebreaking, employing goon squads, private police, state repression, frame-ups and victimizations - tactics that had largely receded in the post-war period. The working class resisted, waging dozens of bitter strikes in virtually all sectors of the economy. But every struggle was betrayed by the AFL-CIO, which isolated the struggles and then exploited their defeat to repudiate the militant traditions of the past and establish corporatist relations with the employers, all the while opposing any move toward a break with the Democratic Party and an independent political party.

By the end of the decade, the American labor movement had been essentially destroyed as a social instrument of resistance to US big business.

Retrenchment, bankruptcies, parasitism

The retrenchment in basic industry and other sectors has proceeded apace, punctuated by a series of spectacular bankruptcies. Flagship companies which symbolized the power of American capitalism have disappeared: Pan American Airlines and Eastern Airlines immediately come to mind. Since the late 1990s, more than 50 US steel producers have gone into bankruptcy, including such giants as Bethlehem, LTV, Republic, National and Wheeling-Pittsburgh. The Big Three auto companies have relentlessly downsized, slashing their work forces by more than half.

One can speak of a "hollowing out" of the American economy, in which corporate profit-making and the personal enrichment of the ruling elite grew increasingly divorced from the production of useful goods and the expansion of productive facilities, and more and more bound up with speculation in stocks and bonds and other forms of essentially parasitic activity. Outright swindling, accounting fraud and other forms of corporate criminality proliferated. Investment in research and development, maintaining and improving the industrial and social infrastructure - including education, health care, even roads, bridges, ports, levees, the electrical grid, the housing stock, the environment - took a back seat.
…The elevation of the "free market" to the status of political dogma and secular religion continues to produce disastrous results. Recent years have seen a new wave of corporate bankruptcies - from United Airlines and US Air to Delphi, the world's largest auto parts maker. General Motors itself - once the world's largest corporation and symbol par excellence of American industrial might - is flirting with bankruptcy, as is Ford.

These deep-going changes have had a major impact on relations between the classes, and on the social physiognomy of the various classes within the US. The American ruling elite itself has changed. The general process of decline finds a noxious expression in the political, intellectual and even moral decay of the ruling layers. In general, the most predatory, ignorant, short-sighted and reactionary elements have risen to the top.

Further on I will refer to the current list of Forbes magazine's 400 richest Americans. For the present, I wish only to note that the current crop of multi-millionaires and multi-billionaires differ, broadly speaking, in one important respect from the robber barons who bestraddled American society a century ago. The Rockefellers, Carnegies, Fords, Edisons, Firestones who dominated economic life back then were ruthless and politically reactionary men. But they made their fortunes by overseeing the construction of industrial empires. Their names are associated with an immense development of the productive forces.

The current batch of moguls has, for the most part, no such relationship to the development of industry or productive capacity. Warren Buffett, Kirk Kerkorian, Carl Icahn, Sumner Redstone leave in their wake no industrial empires. In many cases, they and their peers made their fortunes by downsizing and asset-stripping what the robber barons had built. They are the beneficiaries of leveraged buyouts, mega-mergers and various, often esoteric, forms of speculation.

This parasitism reached new levels in the heady days of the Clinton administration, when the stock market spiraled upward and swindling and accounting fraud assumed malignant proportions. The general plundering of the American economy by the ruling elite was compounded by the wholesale plundering of companies by their own top executives.

Social inequality

The enormous concentration of wealth at the very top of American society and the growth of social inequality are part of the same process of decline, in terms of the world market, and internal decay. That American society ever more openly assumes the form of a plutocracy is a symptom not of health and vigor, but rather the opposite. The previous ability of the American ruling class - under enormous pressure from below, and certainly not without internal friction - to bring about a general rise in working class living standards and a moderation of economic disparities was an expression of economic strength and confidence in the future.

Those conditions no longer exist. There are by now hundreds of studies and thousands of statistics documenting the staggering and ever-widening chasm between the uppermost social layers and the vast majority of the American people. Large sections of the population live in a state of desperation and near destitution. But more broadly, working people and most of the professional, managerial and self-employed population have been swept up in a permanent maelstrom of economic insecurity and dislocation.

Just to cite one statistic: the New York Times recently reported that the very wealthiest Americans - some 45,000 taxpayers with incomes starting at $1.6 million, who comprise the top 0.1 percent - saw their share of the nation's income more than double since the 1970s, reaching 10 percent in the year 2000. That is a level of income concentration last seen in the 1920s.

The existence of such obscene levels of wealth and grotesque levels of inequality is noted only on occasion in the media, and even more rarely by the Democratic Party, which still claims to be the "party of the people." The mind set that prevails in ruling circles - "liberal" as well as conservative - was starkly revealed in the recent strike by transit workers in New York. Even as workers who make $50,000 a year were being roundly denounced by politicians and newspapers as greedy thugs and rats, it was reported that Wall Street was planning to hand out some $21.5 billion in year-end executive bonuses…

A snapshot of America's ruling elite

To return to the question of the changes in the composition of the American ruling elite, this is an important question that requires serious analysis. A systematic examination of this issue is beyond the scope of this report. However, I think some insight can be gleaned from a look at Forbes magazine's most recent list of the 400 richest Americans.

Restricting our consideration to the top fifty billionaires on the list, the first thing that strikes one is who is missing. There are no Fords, Rockefellers, DuPonts. No scions of the "captains of industry" who occupied such a prominent place in the Sixty Families that bestrode America's industrial and financial empire during much of the last century.

Topping the list, at $51 billion, is Microsoft's William Gates. Then comes Warren Buffett, with $40 billion. The source of his wealth is listed as Berkshire Hathaway, an investment firm. The next three positions are occupied by the heads of computer and computer-related firms. Then come five members of the Walton family, whose fortunes are based on the retail giant Wal-Mart - now the largest corporation in the world.

Outside of computers, the other industrial sector prominently represented in the top 50 list is oil and energy. Fully six of the top 50 have listed as the source of their wealth activities of an entirely speculative character: Kirk Kerkorian ($10 billion from investments and casinos), Carl Icahn ($8.5 billion from leveraged buyouts), Philip Anschultz ($7.2 billion from investments), George Soros ($7.2 billion from hedge funds), Ronald Perelman ($6 billion from leveraged buyouts) and Eli Broad ($5.5 billion from investments).

This gives some indication of the underlying decay of American capitalism. And this decline - concretely expressed in massive budget, balance of trade, and balance of payments deficits - has very real consequences for the US on the international arena. The decline in the global economic position of American capitalism has prompted the intensified turn by the ruling elite to militarism and war. Wall Street and Washington seek to use their military supremacy to offset their economic decline.

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Editorial: Rove Vows Forever War

Sunday March 12th 2006, 11:27 am
Kurt Nimmo
Karl Rove, the Donald Segretti understudy of dirty tricks and political sabotage, told the gathered at a Republican fundraiser at Bowling Green State University the administration will not pull American troops out of Iraq until victory is won, the Associated Press reports. It should be obvious the United States will never achieve "victory" in Iraq and the situation grows more dismal with each passing day, but the neocons and their operatives create their own reality and we are here to follow along. Rove is not simply preaching to the faithful in Ohio, and his avowal of "victory" in Iraq is basically a rhetorical device. Karl Rove is telling us what the neocons have in mind-a generational conflict, a Thirty Years' War, perpetual war for perpetual death merchant profit. Bush's neocons, followers of the fascist Strauss and Schmitt ideology, fully intend to not only reshape the Middle East, but American society as well.

In the perfect neocon world, the American people are completely militarized, indoctrinated, and have the "stomach" (as Robert Kagan deems it) to engage in endless, open-ended war against dehumanized others, a faceless horde of evil-doers. In order to get an idea of how this works, go out and rent Starship Troopers, a film that portrays a fascistic and militaristic future where society is obsessed with battling giant alien bugs. In the current context, Muslims are alien bugs. According to the neocon script, it is kill or be killed-or end up converted to an alien bug religion at the point of a sword or muzzle of a Kalashnikov.

As Mark Twain knew, fantastic lies are required to convince the people war is in their best interest. In the process of selling mass murder and destruction, "the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception." In America, a hundred or more years after Twain penned these words, our "grotesque self-deception" is a knee-jerk reaction and "conscience-soothing falsities" are pedaled relentlessly via the most effective propaganda medium devised to date. "The news media glorify the war and militarism," writes Charley Reese, "we get the same dose on television, in the movies and in video games. If the American people aren't careful, they will wake up one day to find out they've become a nation of mindless heel-clickers." It can be argued a large percentage of the American public are already devoted heel-clickers, that is to say eager little fascists, armchair warriors cheering on the Mobile Infantry (see Starship Troopers) as they decimate alien Muslim bugs.

In his book "Defying Hitler," the German author Sebastian Haffner writes that the political situation in Germany in the 1930s was "deliberately arranged so that the individual had no room to maneuver," one had to agree with Nazi propaganda and doctrine, remain silent (or face violence), or flee the country. In America, circa 2006, at best most Americans are sheepishly ambivalent or have, as Haffner wrote about Germany during the reign of the Nazis, "yielded and capitulated" to the dictates of the neocon Jacobins as they maneuver the nation toward a police state, a requisite domestic enforcement component of the forever war against stereotypical Muslim alien bugs.

In Ohio, Rove told us those who remain in the largely useless Democratic party and oppose the police state and its mechanisms will be exposed and roundly defeated in the coming mid-term elections. "Rove says a key issue in this year's midterm elections will be campaigning against Democrats who voted against the Patriot Act," reports the Associated Press. In essence, this will be an exercise in neocon propaganda, sending a strong message to the American people-resistance, the Borgs droned, is futile-because "elections" in America are nothing of the sort, especially in Ohio (no Republican has won the presidency without carrying the state, or stealing it by way of Diebold voting machine).

Only a handful of Democrats remain in opposition to the Bushian forever war against Muslim alien bugs (and eventually and insanely Chinese and Russian alien bugs). After the last principled Democrats have fallen, the neocons will come for the rest of us-that's what the massive NSA snoop and dossier apparatus is all about, not "al Qaeda" phone calls or email messages. Our Jean-Paul Marat and Robespierre, leaders of the Jacobins during the French Revolution, are ready to call out enemies of the state and march them to the guillotine, or at least the wilderness. Bush, as dictator rei publicae constituendae ("Dictator for the Constitution of the Republic") has unveiled his final proscription par excellence against recalcitrant Democrats.
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Former top judge says US risks edging near to dictatorship

Julian Borger in Washington
Monday March 13, 2006
The Guardian

Sandra Day O'Connor, a Republican-appointed judge who retired last month after 24 years on the supreme court, has said the US is in danger of edging towards dictatorship if the party's rightwingers continue to attack the judiciary.

In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University, reported by National Public Radio and the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Ms O'Connor took aim at Republican leaders whose repeated denunciations of the courts for alleged liberal bias could, she said, be contributing to a climate of violence against judges.

Ms O'Connor, nominated by Ronald Reagan as the first woman supreme court justice, declared: "We must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary."

She pointed to autocracies in the developing world and former Communist countries as lessons on where interference with the judiciary might lead. "It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

In her address to an audience of corporate lawyers on Thursday, Ms O'Connor singled out a warning to the judiciary issued last year by Tom DeLay, the former Republican leader in the House of Representatives, over a court ruling in a controversial "right to die" case.

After the decision last March that ordered a brain-dead woman in Florida, Terri Schiavo, removed from life support, Mr DeLay said: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behaviour."

Mr DeLay later called for the impeachment of judges involved in the Schiavo case, and called for more scrutiny of "an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president".

Such threats, Ms O'Connor said, "pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedom", and she told the lawyers in her audience: "I want you to tune your ears to these attacks ... You have an obligation to speak up.

"Statutes and constitutions do not protect judicial independence - people do," the retired supreme court justice said.

She noted death threats against judges were on the rise and added that the situation was not helped by a senior senator's suggestion that there might be a connection between the violence against judges and the decisions they make.

The senator she was referring to was John Cornyn, a Bush loyalist from Texas, who made his remarks last April, soon after a judge was shot dead in an Atlanta courtroom and the family of a federal judge was murdered in Illinois.

Senator Cornyn said: "I don't know if there is a cause and effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country ... And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence."

Although appointed by a Republican, Ms O'Connor voted with the supreme court's liberals on some divisive issues, including abortion, making her a frequent target for criticism from the right. After announcing that she intended to retire last year at the age of 75, she was replaced in February this year by Samuel Alito, who is generally regarded as being more consistently conservative.

In her speech, Ms O'Connor said that if the courts did not occasionally make politicians mad they would not be doing their jobs, and their effectiveness "is premised on the notion that we won't be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts".

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Dictatorship is the danger

Jonathan Raban
Monday March 13, 2006
The Guardian

A Reagan-appointed supreme court justice voices her fears over attacks on US democracy

Linking the words "America" and "dictatorship" is a daily staple of leftwing blogs, which thrive on the idea that Bush administration policies since 9/11 are taking the country ever closer to totalitarian rule. Liberal fears that democracy is endangered by Republicans in Congress are so widespread, so endemic to the jittery political climate in the US, that they hardly bear repeating. It'll surprise no one to learn that another voice was added to the chorus last Thursday, warning that recent attacks on the American judiciary were putting the democratic fabric in jeopardy and were the first steps down the treacherous path to dictatorship.

What is surprising - more than that, electrifying - is that the voice belonged to Sandra Day O'Connor, who retired a few weeks ago from the supreme court. O'Connor is a Republican and a Reagan nominee. Regarded as the "swing vote" on the court, she swung the presidential election to George Bush in 2000.

Equally surprising is that O'Connor's speech to an audience of lawyers at Georgetown University was attended by just one reporter, the diligent legal correspondent for National Public Radio, Nina Totenberg. No transcript or recording of the speech has been made available, so we have only Totenberg's notes to go on. But - assuming they are accurate - the notes are political dynamite.

O'Connor's voice was "dripping with sarcasm", according to Totenberg, as she "took aim at former House GOP [Republican] leader Tom DeLay. She didn't name him, but she quoted his attacks on the courts at a meeting of the conservative Christian group Justice Sunday last year when DeLay took out after the courts for rulings on abortions, prayer and the Terri Schiavo case.

"It gets worse, she said, noting that death threats against judges are increasing. It doesn't help, she said, when a high-profile senator suggests there may be a connection between violence against judges and decisions that the senator disagrees with."

Then she spoke the D-word. "I, said O'Connor, am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning. Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O'Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

Delivered by someone who was, until recently, one of the nine guardians of the US constitution, these are spine-chilling opinions, and you might have thought they'd have been all over the papers the next day. Not so. I happened to catch Totenberg's NPR report last Friday, and have been following up references to it. A cable TV talkshow and a handful of blogs have mentioned Totenberg's piece: otherwise there's been a disquieting silence, as if the former justice had laid an unsavoury egg and had best be politely ignored.

Why did O'Connor choose such a closed forum to air her thoughts? Why was Totenberg the only reporter present? The possibility that America is sliding toward dictatorship or an unprecedented form of corporate oligarchy ought to be a matter of world concern. And if O'Connor believes what she is reported to have said, surely she owes it to the world to make public the prepared text of her remarks, which so far have the dubious character of the scores of unverifiable leaks that have passed for news in the compulsively secretive world of the Bush administration. It's unsurprising that, say, Colin Powell chooses to leak rather than speak out, but when a supreme court justice prefers to whisper her fears to a coterie audience, it's hard to avoid the inference that the whisper itself speaks volumes about the imperilled democracy it purports to describe.

Death threats to judges figured importantly in O'Connor's speech, with good reason. Last year, an Illinois federal judge found her husband and mother murdered, and a Georgia state judge was shot dead in his courtroom. Within days, Senator John Cornyn of Texas mused: "I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence." DeLay, speaking of the judges who had ruled that Schiavo be allowed to die, said: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behaviour."

These are peculiar times, and when Republican politicians appear to endorse the killing of judges who make rulings of which they disapprove, it's maybe understandable that a distinguished judge like Sandra Day O'Connor, expressing views calculated to enrage Republican politicians, might sensibly look to a small podium with a weak sound system for fear of being heard too clearly by the likes of Cornyn and DeLay.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Here's a US Presidential Order (13397) to 'expand opportunities for faith-based and other community organizations and to strengthen their capacity to better meet America's social and community needs' [in homeland security]. First and foremost DHS is tasked with creating a 'Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives'. This center is supposed to be in effect no less than 45 days from the issuance of the prez order. So look for the new org on April 20th or somewhere thereabout. . . Snip from the text of the order:
Sec. 3. Responsibilities of the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In carrying out the purpose set forth in section 2 of this order, the Center shall: (a) conduct, in coordination with the WHOFBCI Director, a department-wide audit to identify all existing barriers to the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in the delivery of social and community services by the Department, including but not limited to regulations, rules, orders, procurement, and other internal policies and practices, and outreach activities that unlawfully discriminate against, or otherwise discourage or disadvantage the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in Federal programs;

(b) coordinate a comprehensive departmental effort to incorporate faith-based and other community organizations in Department programs and initiatives to the greatest extent possible;

(c) propose initiatives to remove barriers identified pursuant to section 3(a) of this order, including but not limited to reform of regulations, procurement, and other internal policies and practices, and outreach activities;

(d) propose the development of innovative pilot and demonstration programs to increase the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in Federal as well as State and local initiatives; and

(e) develop and coordinate Departmental outreach efforts to disseminate information more effectively to faith-based and other community organizations with respect to programming changes, contracting opportunities, and other agency initiatives, including but not limited to Web and Internet resources.

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American Bar Association-accuses President Bush, of violating both the Constitution and federal law.

American Bar Association

Full text American Bar Association Task Force Report

Adopted By The House Of Delegates

RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association calls upon the President to abide by the limitations which the Constitution imposes on a president under our system of checks and balances and respect the essential roles of the Congress and the judicial branch in ensuring that our national security is protected in a manner consistent with constitutional guarantees
FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association opposes any future electronic surveillance inside the United States by any U.S. government agency for foreign intelligence purposes that does not comply with the provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801 et seq. (FISA), and urges the President, if he believes that FISA is inadequate to safeguard national security, to seek appropriate amendments or new legislation rather than acting without explicit statutory authorization;

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges the Congress to affirm that the Authorization for Use of Military Force of September 18, 2001, Pub.L. No. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 § 2(a) (2001) (AUMF), did not provide a statutory exception to the FISA requirements, and that any such exception can be authorized only through affirmative and explicit congressional action;

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges the Congress to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation to determine: (a) the nature and extent of electronic surveillance of U.S. persons conducted by any U.S. government agency for foreign intelligence purposes that does not comply with FISA; (b) what basis or bases were advanced (at the time it was initiated and subsequently) for the legality of such surveillance; (c) whether the Congress was properly informed of and consulted as to the surveillance; (d) the nature of the information obtained as a result of the surveillance and whether it was retained or shared with other agencies; and (e) whether this information was used in legal proceedings against any U.S. citizen.

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges the Congress to ensure that such proceedings are open to the public and conducted in a fashion that will provide a clear and credible account to the people of the United States, except to the extent the Congress determines that any portions of such proceedings must be closed to prevent the disclosure of classified or other protected information; and

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges the Congress to thoroughly review and make recommendations concerning the intelligence oversight process, and urges the President to ensure that the House and Senate are fully and currently informed of all intelligence operations as required by the National Security Act of 1947.

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There Are Criminals, and Then There Are CRIMINALS

By Cindy Sheehan

As I lie here in bed recuperating from the injuries that I received from a federal agent and the NYPD in front of the US Mission to the UN (USUN) the other day, I have had time to reflect on the experience, the state of our union and its descent into a fascist state.

When the four of us. Missy Beattie, Rev. Patricia Ackerman, Medea Benjamin, and I, were arrested the other day, I was singled out for federal police brutality. The other three ladies were picked up, noth gingerly, though, and I was dragged across the pavement and treated very, very roughly-having both arms wrenched out from beneath me. I looked to my doctor as if I had been beaten. My daughter, Janey, asked if I had been resisting arrest, I told her if one considers going into a fetal position and saying, "Please don't hurt me anymore!" resisting, then I guess I was.
Why was I targeted for the abuse? Is it revenge for my work at exposing the lies of BushCo, of which John Bolton is a leading co-criminal? Or is it to discourage other activists from taking the same path I have taken: demanding an end to the illegal and immoral occupation of Iraq, and demanding that our freedoms be returned to us? I wish the Senate had the courage to stand up to the fascists in our government-or are the 90 who voted "Yea" to extend the Patriot Act also co-slitherers into fascism?

Neocon John Bolton has had a long and checkered career of lying and doing dirty work for the regime. In 1994 he harassed and terrified whistle-blower Melody Townsel who worked for US AID. She urged the Senate Foreign Relation Committee not to approve Bolton's nomination and she wrote in a letter to them: "John Bolton put me through hell - and he did everything he could to intimidate, malign and threaten not just me, but anybody unwilling to go along with his version of events. His behavior back in 1994 wasn't just unforgivable, it was pathological." Not only has John Bolton not been punished for this incident and other involving harassment and abuse, he was rewarded with a recess appointment to the UN when George Bush, again, circumvented our political processes.

L. Paul Bremer slunk, under the cover of darkness, out of Iraq two months after my son, Casey, was killed there with $8.8 BILLION missing from the Coalition Provisional Authority. Has L. Paul been held accountable for the missing money? No, as a matter of fact, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and is a highly paid speaker on the rubber chickenhawk Republican circuit.

Such war profiteers as Halliburton are raping the American tax payer of billions of dollars as a matter of company policy. A Halliburton whistle blower accused the company of charging us $45.00 per case of soda and ten thousand dollars a night to stay in Kuwait's finest hotels. They charge immoral prices to feed our soldiers who often complain of rotten food. Our young people even have to pay to have their laundry done by these outrageous over-chargers. Have they been punished or monetarily penalized for these crimes? No, as a matter of fact, Halliburton gets awarded more no-bid contracts in America and around the world.

A book could be written about the felonies of the Bush Crime Family and their mafia-style buddies, but I am running out of space. George Bush has committed crimes against humanity and high crimes and misdemeanors in his tenure as (P)resident of the White House. Has he been held accountable for any of this? No, he spends his nights and days comfortable and content in the fact that he is a lame duck, already rich, and knowing that Congress is spineless and he won't be impeached for his transgressions that have caused the deaths of so many thousands of people worldwide.

When we were in the cockroach and feces-decorated jail system in NYC the other night, we met some other women who felt they had to resort to crime to try to survive in BushWorld. We met intelligent young women who felt their last resort was to resort to victimless crimes. Now for their petty thefts, they will have to spend months in institutions where they are stripped of any human dignity or comfort. All of the women we met knew they broke the law and were resigned to their punishment but where is the justice in our system where all people are supposedly equal?

However, we four white, middle-class women were the lucky ones. We only had to spend one night in jail and we knew our lawyers would be there in the morning to spring us. When we were heading for court, we walked by our sisters in the holding cell and our hearts sank, because we know what it is like to spend even one night in jail. Our souls also connected with our sisters and brothers all over the world who are imprisoned in far worse conditions by the policies of BushCo and are being inhumanely tortured by these same medieval and draconian policies.

Even if John Bolton, L. Paul Bremer, George Bush, Halliburton execs, etc. ad nauseum are ever punished, we all know the conditions won't be (but should be) as harsh as those of the other people who live in subhuman conditions because of them. These people operate on the standard of having all the money and all the power and they don't care for anyone who they victimize on their way to obtaining their obscene and ill-gotten gains.

One of our so-called crimes in front of USUN was "Obstructing Governmental Administration." I say "Hell, yes! Anyone with a conscience or any moral courage should be doing everything in his/her power to obstruct the administration of the Bush government. Only massive, peaceful, non-violent resistance to his calamitous policies will be able to stem the dreadful tide!

That is why we need to stand up to the neo-fascists and take our humanity back.

While we are still able. I will stand up to them again and again, I just hope next time that they drag me by my good arm!

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FBI Grills Professor Over Support for Venezuela

March 10, 2006By ELENA SHORE

A Pomona College professor who is an outspoken critic of U.S. policy in Venezuela was questioned on March 7th by two agents from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in what he calls an act of intimidation.

The detectives visited Miguel Tinker-Salas during his office hours at about 2:40 or 2:45 pm Wednesday. They questioned him for about 20 minutes in his office at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. The detectives identified themselves but their names are being withheld at the request of the FBI.
According to Tinker-Salas, the agents told him they were interested in the Venezuelan community and concerned that it may be involved in terrorism. They asked him if he had relationships with the Venezuelan embassy or consulate, and if anyone in the Venezuelan government had asked him to speak out about Venezuela-related matters.

"They were fishing," says Tinker-Salas, "to intimidate and silence those who have a critical analysis of U.S. foreign policy."

After they left, several students outside Tinker-Salas' office told him the detectives had asked them about his background, his classes and his politics, and even took note of the cartoons on his door.

Tinker-Salas says the detectives told him this was part of a larger policy to interview people on various campuses. He does not know if other professors have been questioned. He says the agents who visited him did not interview the other Venezuelan-born professor at Pomona College.

The FBI declined to comment on the incident.

A Latin American and Chicano histories professor, Tinker-Salas believes he was targeted as a result of his outspoken politics regarding the U.S. policy toward Venezuela and Latin America. Tinker-Salas was born in Venezuela and is a U.S. citizen, having lived in the United States since high school. A noted historian and commentator on CNN en Español, he has been open about his conditional support for the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chavez and critical of the U.S. attempt to "undermine democracy" in Latin America.

According to the ACLU of Colorado, the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, which operates across the country, is violating First Amendment rights by equating nonviolent protest with domestic terrorism.

"The FBI is unjustifiably treating nonviolent public protest as though it were domestic terrorism," said Mark Silverstein, Legal Director of the Colorado ACLU, following the release of new documents obtained from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on Dec. 8, 2005.

"The FBI's misplaced priorities threaten to deter legitimate criticism of government policy while wasting taxpayer resources that should be directed to investigating real terrorists."

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Analysis: States Steadily Restricting Info

AP National Writer
Sat Mar 11, 6:14 PM ET

States have steadily limited the public's access to government information since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a new Associated Press analysis of laws in all 50 states has found.

Legislatures have passed more than 1,000 laws changing access to information, approving more than twice as many measures that restrict information as laws that open government books.

Some things your government doesn't have to tell you about:

- The safety plan at your child's school, if you live in Iowa.

- Medication errors at your grandparent's nursing home in North Carolina.

- Disciplinary actions against Indiana state employees.
The horror of the attacks spurred a wholesale re-examination of information that could put the country in danger, and the state actions roughly mirror those on the federal level. Federal agencies responded by shutting down Web sites, pulling telephone directories and rethinking everything from dam blueprints to historical records.

In statehouse battles, the issue has pitted advocates of government openness - including journalists and civil liberties groups - against lawmakers and others who worry that public information could be misused, whether it's by terrorists or by computer hackers hoping to use your credit cards. Security concerns typically won out.

The AP discovered a clear trend from the Sept. 11 attacks through legislative work that ended last year: States passed 616 laws that restricted access - to government records, databases, meetings and more - and 284 laws that loosened access. Another 123 laws had either a neutral or mixed effect, the AP found.

"What these open government laws do is break down that wall of government secrecy so that everybody knows what's going on," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "A democracy can only function if we have information. You can only have oversight of government if you have information."

Associated Press reporters in every state, often with help from their local press associations, tracked the government access bills introduced since the World Trade Center towers and
Pentagon were hit by hijacked planes.

In every state, reporters tallied bills that were proposed each year, and then examined the laws that passed. They assessed the impact of each new measure and rated it as loosening existing limits on public access to government information, restricting the limits, or neutral.

While fear of another terrorist attack drove many new proposals, it wasn't the only motivator. Concerns about identity theft, medical privacy and the vulnerability of computerized records have sparked many pieces of legislation, too.

Lawmakers say they are recalibrating the balance between information that could be used against society and what society at large needs to know.

"Since Sept. 11, we're looking at information like plans for our nuclear plants, the records of our bridges and transportation systems. All of the critical information that is out there that we don't necessarily want to put in the hands of a terrorist," said New York state Sen. Nick Spano, a Republican who had proposed tightening legislation soon after the attacks.

"It's a very difficult balance between the public's right to know and the public's right to security," Spano said. A different security measure ultimately became law, limiting access to information about infrastructure from airports to cellular phone systems. Last year, Spano authored a law that strengthened public access by setting a strict deadline for state agencies to respond to requests for information.

The give and take of a legislature usually forces changes to such bills - like a measure proposed last year in Oklahoma, where freshman state Sen. Charles Wyrick, a Democrat, sought to completely exempt the state's new Department of Homeland Security from the Open Meetings Act and Open Records Act.

"I don't know why all of a sudden the holy grail of security and safety is now closing records," Mark Thomas, head of the Oklahoma Press Association, said after the bill was introduced. "It seems to me we would be more secure if we knew what was going on around us. ... Apparently there are those in government who want to close all these records and say, 'We'll keep you safe, trust us.'"

Negotiations brought a compromise. The law that passed allowed the department to keep communications between the agency and the federal government confidential, along with security plans for private businesses.

"We had to fight that out, and basically it ended up being an equal distribution of unhappiness," Thomas said.

Still, the numerical data shows which side got more out of negotiations overall: The AP analysis of 1,023 new laws dealing with public access to government information found that more than 60 percent closed access. Just over a quarter created new avenues of access. The rest had a neutral effect, often through technical changes to existing laws.

Those laws emerged from just over 3,500 bills. Often, several legislators interested in a topic will each introduce a bill knowing that only one is likely to pass. In some states, the same legislation is introduced in both House and Senate chambers to speed action and build support.

Across more than four years, 36 states passed more restrictive laws than laws that loosened access; seven states passed more laws that eased barriers to access; seven states passed equal numbers. The analysis did not attempt to quantify the impact of larger, sweeping laws versus smaller modifications.

The AP analysis also did not study legislation prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, though observers say the changes have been obvious.

"What we see nationwide is states really backing away from their open access laws," said Fred H. Cate, an Indiana University law professor who studies privacy and technology. Security threats are real - but some lawmakers are just "taking advantage of the public security tide," he said.

The law in Iowa requires that schools draft emergency response plans, but bars them from the public. In Indiana, legislators agreed to keep disciplinary actions against state employees secret - except when they are suspended, demoted or discharged.

In North Carolina, new advisory committees set up to examine medication errors in nursing homes keep their meetings and records confidential, though the medication error rates found in separate home inspections that exceed a higher, federal standard can be accessed through the federal government.

North Carolina, like other places, also took steps to open access, requiring local and state governments to more quickly provide details about government incentive packages to lure business.

Elsewhere, Oregon opened records on child abuse in cases involving a child who is killed or seriously hurt; South Carolina lawmakers required the governor to open his cabinet meetings; California voters approved an amendment to the state constitution requiring that the state's laws on open meetings and open records be broadly interpreted. After the amendment passed, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made public his appointment calendar and those of two of his top aides.

Lately, privacy worries are starting to trump security fears.

"The great trend out there - that sweeps across any record - is privacy," said Charles Davis at the Freedom of Information Center in Missouri. "There's a push by government that every time Joe Citizen's name is mentioned in a government document, it's an inherent threat to Joe Citizen's privacy if that document is released."

Just this month, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced a new government-wide effort to target identity theft, barring access to driver's licenses, phone records and Social Security numbers. No longer, the governor said, should there be a presumption that government information is public. "That's backwards," he said.

Open government advocates disagree. The way they see it, if Pawlenty is successful, information that used to be public in Minnesota will soon be unnecessarily locked away.

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More news but less depth in US media: study

Last Updated Sun, 12 Mar 2006 15:42:44 EST
CBC Arts

A study of U.S. news media concludes that consumers have more places than ever to get their news but fewer stories are being covered and with less depth.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism made the observations in its annual State of the News Media report, which analyzes coverage in U.S. papers, television broadcasts and websites. The study was released Sunday.
The report notes as an example that Google News offered users a menu of 14,000 stories on one day that was analyzed - but the stories covered only 24 subjects.

"It's an illusion of more information but it's actually a lot of repetition," said Tom Rosenstiel, who is the project's director.

The project is supported by the Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and the Pew Charitable Trusts, an organization concerned with issues of public interest.

Its latest report says declining readership has forced news operations to cut back on journalists, noting that the number of reporters in some cities is only half of what it was 25 years earlier.

But news outlets still found it necessary to cover many of the same stories as their competitors, spreading their resources so thinly that their subjects could more easily control the flow of information, the report says.

The researchers also said cable television news outlets tended to tell a limited number of stories repeatedly. They found that only 14 per cent of radio airtime was filled with stories by reporters and most of those items focused on crime and accidents.

"The onus is increasingly on the news consumer to seek out what they should be interested in, rather than being passive," Rosenstiel said.

The research team said traditional media were putting more time into their online material with webcasts, journalists dedicated to writing original internet content and correspondents being turned into bloggers.

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Senior White House Staff May Be Wearing Down

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 13, 2006; Page A04

Andrew H. Card Jr. wakes at 4:20 in the morning, shows up at the White House an hour or so later, convenes his senior staff at 7:30 and then proceeds to a blur of other meetings that do not let up until long after the sun sets. He gets home at 9 or 10 at night and sometimes fields phone calls until 11 p.m. Then he gets up and does it all over again.

Of all the reasons that President Bush is in trouble these days, not to be overlooked are inadequate REM cycles. Like chief of staff Card, many of the president's top aides have been by his side nonstop for more than five years, not including the first campaign, recount and transition. This is a White House, according to insiders, that is physically and emotionally exhausted, battered by scandal and drained by political setbacks.
"By the time you get to year six, there's never a break . . . and you get tired," said Ed Rollins, who served five years in President Ronald Reagan's White House. "There's always a crisis. It wears you down. This has been a White House that hasn't really had much change at all. There is a fatigue factor that builds up. You sometimes don't see the crisis approaching. You're not as on guard as you once were."

To Rollins, the uproar over an Arab-owned firm taking over management of some American ports represents a classic example. Bush and his staff did not know about the arrangement approved by his administration, and after congressional Republicans revolted, issued an ineffective veto threat that only exacerbated the dispute, which climaxed with the collapse of the deal last week. "This White House would not have made this mistake two years ago," Rollins said.

Bush's problems go beyond the fatigue factor. An unpopular foreign war, high energy prices and the nation's worst natural disaster in decades have dragged his poll ratings down to the lowest level of any second-term president, other than Richard M. Nixon, in the last half-century. Lately it seems to many in the White House that they cannot catch a break -- insurgents blow up a holy shrine in Iraq, tipping the country toward civil war; Vice President Cheney accidentally shoots a hunting partner; a former top Bush adviser is arrested on theft charges.

But at a time when Bush needs his staff to be sharp to help steer past these political shoals and find ways to turn things around, he still has the same core group working since he turned his sights toward the White House. That group includes Card, deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, senior adviser Michael J. Gerson, counselor Dan Bartlett, budget director Joshua B. Bolten, press secretary Scott McClellan and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.

The succession of crisis after crisis has taken its toll. Some in the White House sound frazzled. While there are few stories of aides nodding off in meetings, some duck outside during the day so the fresh air will wake them up. "We're all burned out," said one White House official who did not want to be named for fear of angering superiors. "People are just tired."

White House officials are never genuinely away from the job. Tied to their BlackBerrys and cellular telephones, they are often called to duty even during rare vacations. Weekends are often just another workday. Hadley, for one, schedules a full day of meetings every Saturday. Card comes to the White House on days off to go bicycle riding with Bush.

While other professions demand 14-hour days and six- or seven-day weeks, few involve as much consequence, much less the intense scrutiny of the Internet age. A former Bush aide said, "You don't really realize until you're gone" just how exhausting it really is.

For the record, White House officials reject the suggestion that exhaustion has dulled their political instincts or contributed to the spate of trouble. "People work very, very hard," said White House communications director Nicolle Wallace, and "I'd be lying to say that there aren't some people on some days" who are weary. But "the other side of being here six years is incredible wisdom and steadiness and experience." Moreover, she added, "there's been enough turnover that there's new energy."

Any discussion of the fatigue factor in Republican circles invariably turns to Card, a low-key, self-effacing and well-liked Washington veteran who has been managing Bush's White House team since three weeks after the November 2000 election. Card brought considerable experience to the task, having worked in the Reagan White House, then serving President George H.W. Bush as deputy White House chief of staff and later transportation secretary.

In his current role, Card has proved to be a marathon man, capable of enduring the most brutal hours in perhaps the most brutal job in Washington for longer than anyone in modern times. Only one other person has served as White House chief of staff longer, Sherman Adams, the top aide to President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a far less frenetic, wired era. And if Card makes it to Nov. 1, he will surpass Adams's record, according to the Eisenhower library.

Card retains enormous respect inside and outside the White House, but some Republicans whisper about his judgment in the ill-fated selection of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court and the handling of Hurricane Katrina, to name two examples. Card declined to be interviewed, but has publicly dismissed concerns that his schedule has sapped his energy.

"All my life I have worked kind of this schedule," he told C-SPAN last fall. "When I was in college, I delivered newspapers early in the morning and worked at McDonald's late at night. So even when I was in high school, I would get up in the morning and get the newspapers ready for the paper boys early in the morning. So I've had this kind of lifestyle of early-to-bed and early-to-rise -- and so far seem to be doing pretty well."

Speculation among Republicans that Card would leave at the beginning of the year proved false or premature. Bush has resisted emulating Reagan, who brought in a fresh team led by Howard H. Baker Jr. when his second term was threatened by the Iran-contra scandal. Reagan and Clinton accepted Washington figures outside their own circles, and each had four chiefs of staff during their tenures. Bush emphasizes loyalty and surrounds himself mainly with people he knows.

Many Republicans were struck by the relative lack of ambition of Bush's State of the Union address, a program including alternative energy research, science education funding and health care tax breaks but nothing of the scope of last year's plan to reinvent Social Security. But some saw that as a reasonable response to the death of the Social Security effort, a recognition that it would be hard to enact dramatic domestic initiatives in a time of war. Others wondered if the White House was running out of ideas.

Grover G. Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform and an adviser to Rove, said he thinks the situation owes not to fatigue but to political realism at the White House. "What they don't have are unreasonable expectations of what can be moved through Congress," he said. "It's not a question of coming up with new ideas. Sometimes you just don't have the votes."

Comment: We can think of a place where these crooks could get the rest they deserve for many years to come.

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Mommy and Daddy

March 13, 2006
Jim Kunstler

Politics is the way we work out our collective national psychology -- if you believe in such a thing (and I do). American politics have fallen into a gothic family melodrama, and the theme is the same one being played out on the micro level all over the country: failed parenting.

The Republicans have made themselves into the Daddy Party and the Democrats have become Mommy and both are failing.
George W. Bush is our "Ward Cleaver," the very visible head of the household with no apparent duties other than being visible. The mission of the Daddy Party is pure Daddy stuff: to prevent the daughters from getting in trouble (having fun) with boys, to grub as much money as possible via mysterious corporate activities to support the family, and to defend the household if necessary. So, we get the "right-to-life" campaign (which is becoming the anti-contraception and anti-sex campaign), and the tacit support for any kind of corporate mischief in pursuit of profits in the "marketplace," and the prosecution of war against "the terrorists."

The Mommy Party wants everybody to feel good and for all outcomes to be fair, even if Mommy has to use force to make it happen. Since the Mommy Party is not afraid of appearing cultivated and is in charge of the family's education, the Mommy Party has taken defacto control of the universities, where justice and fairness are the main courses of study. Mommy's discipline there is very severe for those who cross Mommy -- ask Larry Summers over at Harvard. The men of the Mommy Party are uniformly pussy-whipped and must submit to an ideology that regards gender confusion as an achievement -- because all daddies are such losers.

The Daddy Party has entered a zone of failure both frightening and abject. Daddy has mismanaged the family finances so badly that the re-po man may take the house away. He's on a rampage against his daughters (some of whom remain romantically infatuated with Daddy and still wish to please him at all costs). He's addicted to a petroleum-based smack and refuses to consider any behavioral changes that might get him off the stuff. And he's gone and poked a stick into the largest hornets' nest in his drug dealer's 'hood."

The Mommy Party doesn't want to talk about the mismanagement of the household and its relations with other households. The Mommy Party is excessively concerned with appearances (sometimes at the expense of the truth). The Mommy Party gets around these inconveniences by focusing on everybody's feelings. The Mommy Party is like an Oprah show that never ends and resolves nothing.

Because Daddy is failing so badly, and the family anxiety level is so high, the children allied with Mommy have fantasized a dark Daddy alter-ego that they transfer their fears to. That's Vice-president Dick Cheney. Daddy's activities may be mysterious, but his alter-ego's duties are clear: to keep those corporate systems running things in the background happy and productive by any means necessary. Nobody doubts the alter-ego's power and influence in these matters. He is considered as adept as Daddy is inept. If you cross him, he might even blow your head off, so watch out.

With the Daddy Party entering what appears to be terminal failure, all eyes are now turned to the Mommy Party and its presumed figurehead, Mommy-with-a-vengence, Hillary. There is still the hope that she can carry on as the head of a single-parent family, keep the corporate flywheels spinning, and even look after the family's security from the thugs coming into the 'hood.

My own guess is that actual conditions in the household may be too far gone for even Mommy to set things right. Our situation with oil and natural gas are much more dire than the kid's realize. Dad's investments were idiotic and his portfolio is shredded. Not only is the house about to be repossessed, but the car and the home theater will be going with it. The bad 'hoods around the world are set to explode. The kids are going to have to grow up fast. Some will just go feral. Some will become Mommies and Daddies themselves, and they will try to form new households with the remnants of the old one. Maybe they can cobble together something like an American common culture out of whatever's left, and recreate some organizing principles for a family life that make sense.

Let's just hope that social services doesn't have to come in to clean up the mess.

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EXACTLY what happened on September 11, 2001 in New York is still is a mystery. Investigators say that they are just waiting for the Bush administration to fall to demand the declassification of documents that would reveal the truth about what happened that day.
For many, indications and criminal evidence are already sufficiently overwhelming regarding the complicity of the U.S. administration in the events of that fateful day, when endless hours of broadcasts on U.S. television networks showed, one million times, an image that engraved itself on humanity's memory as the Twin Towers collapsed in flames after being hit by two planes, as well as the official version of those events.

Since then, the world has been informed of what some experts are calling a fraud, because they are stating that the Twin Towers were destroyed by the U.S. administration itself to justify its current wars.

Just a few days after the dreadful event, some writers dared to hint that they did not believe the official information. They based themselves on flagrant facts; for example, the collapse of the World Trade Center occurring just as if it were a controlled demolition, referred to by highly experienced specialists.

Seasoned journalists began investigating along those same lines in order to confirm that today's world history is built on an enormous shady deal.

In February 2002 it was announced that the Pentagon had decided to enter the media business. From then on the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), discreetly created after September 11, placed news items and other material supporting U.S. interests in the international media in order to create a favorable atmosphere for U.S. military operations and to counteract opposing views, such as the one that the attacks on New York on September 11, 2001 and on London on July 7, 2005 were to be simulated ones¼

It also refuted a documentary by British director Adam Curtis titled The Power of Nightmares, an entry in the Cannes Film Festival, in which he affirms that the nightmare of international terrorism known as Al Qaeda does not exist. According to the documentary, it is just another invention of the United States, which manufactures such horrors to justify its interventions and interests.

Or to influence voters, as was the case a few days before the U.S. presidential elections, when surprise TV reports disclosed a statement by Bin Laden threatening to attack the United States. When referring to the video broadcast four days before the November 2, 2004 elections, Bush confessed that the Al Qaeda leader "didn't mean to" but had helped him to win.

In addition, U.S. investigator Michael C. Ruppert pointed to Vice President Dick Cheney as the top suspect in the September 11 attacks.

Meanwhile, in a series of conferences on Sept. 11 organized in Europe's main capitals, U.S. journalists and writers affirmed the Bush administration's responsibility for organizing the attacks, with an outcome that has enabled the stabilization of an exceptional regime in that country.

According to Andreas von Bulow, former German minister of defense and head of intelligence, in a revelation that has passed by unnoticed, the Sept. 11 attacks were the product of an undercover CIA operation, with immediate destruction of the evidence left at the sites of the events.

It is also claimed that the attack on the World Trade Center was anticipated by arms manufacturers, who are constantly asking for more money for their military budgets. According to analysts at the Rand Corporation in the United States, the Sept. 11 events were unimaginable, and constitute a revolution in terrorist acts, thus justifying the allocation of unlimited funds to combat terrorism. However, they themselves had analyzed in detail the unimaginable. Six months before the attacks, there was discussion at a U.S. Air Force Academy on the possibility of an air attack on the Twin Towers.


In addition, Stanley Hilton, who was head of the team of former U.S. presidential candidate Bob Dole, accused the U.S. government of having been involved in the attacks. Hilton said that a group of high-ranking military officers affirm that members of the government were involved in the attacks.

He believes that Bush ordered the attack with the complicity of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, and the director of the CIA.

Alex Jones, a U.S. journalist, interviewed Hilton, a lawyer, who represents the majority of the families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, who are suing the government for $ 7 billion. Today, according to a survey by Zogby, half of New York's residents believe the government was involved in the events.

Another argument of Hilton's – for which he says he has evidence – is that the plane hijackers were FBI and CIA double agents who infiltrated different Islamic groups resident in the United States. He also affirms that when the U.S. population witnessed Bush's indifference on television when the New York attacks were being explained to him, it was because the president already knew what was planned for that day.

Maneuvers by World Trade Center owners before and after the attack on the Twin Towers are similarly suspicious. Seven weeks before the attacks, Larry Abraham Silverstein, backed by a large number of investors, signed a 99-year leasing contract on those buildings. The names of those very wise investors remain a secret; seven weeks after that action, they cashed in on the colossal insurance of $3.5 billion.

Let's say that the tragedy was not what those investigators are claiming. If that is the case, it turns out that for almost a decade, more than 200 countries, headed by the United States and the United Kingdom, have been at the mercy of one single organization that acts throughout the planet at its whim, without all of the arsenals and repressive agencies of those countries being sufficient to overcome that sinister terrorist monopoly. The most astute and efficient terrorist organization in the world in humanity's entire history is supposedly in hiding in the Islamic Third World...

And to force it out of its lair, the United States and Britain have launched two wars in Middle Eastern countries and are threatening others. But four years later, after hundreds of thousands of deaths and the extraction of millions of barrels of oil, neither of them has any idea of the whereabouts of its main ringleader, Osama Bin Laden, who has not even shaven off his beard to give them the slip.

They don't even know where the "second-in-command" is after he disappeared into the Afghan mountains on a motorcycle.

Goebbels, the Nazi, used to say that if lies are repeated often enough, they become the truth. He was right, but only for a short while. In 1930 and post-1930, they could be sustained for quite some while; but the current very bombardment of information means they don't last as long.

At the very moment that the attacks took place, people who tuned into CNN might well have thought they were watching a movie when the first plane crashed. When they saw the second one, they realized that it was not a movie, and heard the announcer say off-air, very excited, that at least 50,000 people were probably in the buildings at the time. Perhaps someone remembers that. That was followed by pandemonium, shouting, etc.

When the total number of dead was given, the announcer's quote sounded very concise. How did it drop from 50,000 to 5,000, and subsequently to the final count of 3,500? What happened to the other 42,500 people? The next day, on a Spanish-language radio station, Latin American residents of New York who worked at the Twin Towers were interviewed by Uruguayan and Argentine journalists, and told them why they had not gone to work that day. Their explanations were suspiciously identical: "My boss called and said not to come in;" "I work at such-and-such a company and they told me the day before not to go in on the 11;" "a coworker called to say that he had received instructions not to go in."

Suspiciously, almost all the deaths were of maintenance and cleaning personnel. That detail alone led to the thinking that there was a cat in the bag, and later, further evidence emerged after exhaustive studies. History is full of versions aimed at preparing the terrain for an invasion; later, it was learned that the police and firefighters were banned from making statements about the events of Sept. 11.

Meanwhile, the U.S. people are living in a cloud of ignorance, and a half century will have to go by before other generations find out about the secrets kept locked away in safes by the masterminds of the crime.

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Lap Dogs of the Press

By Helen Thomas
The Nation
Friday 10 March 2006

Of all the unhappy trends I have witnessed - conservative swings on television networks, dwindling newspaper circulation, the jailing of reporters and "spin" - nothing is more troubling to me than the obsequious press during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They lapped up everything the Pentagon and White House could dish out - no questions asked.
Reporters and editors like to think of themselves as watchdogs for the public good. But in recent years both individual reporters and their ever-growing corporate ownership have defaulted on that role. Ted Stannard, an academic and former UPI correspondent, put it this way: "When watchdogs, bird dogs, and bull dogs morph into lap dogs, lazy dogs, or yellow dogs, the nation is in trouble."

The naive complicity of the press and the government was never more pronounced than in the prelude to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The media became an echo chamber for White House pronouncements. One example: At President Bush's March 6, 2003, news conference, in which he made it eminently clear that the United States was going to war, one reporter pleased the "born again" Bush when she asked him if he prayed about going to war. And so it went.

After all, two of the nation's most prestigious newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, had kept up a drumbeat for war with Iraq to bring down Dictator Saddam Hussein. They accepted almost unquestioningly the bogus evidence of weapons of mass destruction, the dubious White House rationale that proved to be so costly on a human scale, not to mention a drain on the Treasury. The Post was much more hawkish than the Times - running many editorials pumping up the need to wage war against the Iraqi dictator - but both newspapers played into the hands of the Administration.

When Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered his ninety-minute "boffo" statement on Saddam's lethal toxic arsenal on February 5, 2003, before the United Nations, the Times said he left "little question that Mr. Hussein had tried hard to conceal" a so-called smoking gun or weapons of mass destruction. After two US special weapons inspection task forces, headed by chief weapons inspector David Kay and later by Charles Duelfer, came up empty in the scouring of Iraq for WMD, did you hear any apologies from the Bush Administration? Of course not. It simply changed its rationale for the war - several times. Nor did the media say much about the failed weapons search. Several newspapers made it a front-page story but only gave it one-day coverage. As for Powell, he simply lost his halo. The newspapers played his back-pedaling inconspicuously on the back pages.

My concern is why the nation's media were so gullible. Did they really think it was all going to be so easy, a "cakewalk," a superpower invading a Third World country? Why did the Washington press corps forgo its traditional skepticism? Why did reporters become cheerleaders for a deceptive Administration? Could it be that no one wanted to stand alone outside Washington's pack journalism?

Tribune Media Services editor Robert Koehler summed it up best. In his August 20, 2004, column in the San Francisco Chronicle Koehler wrote, "Our print media pacesetters, the New York Times, and just the other day, the Washington Post, have searched their souls over the misleading pre-war coverage they foisted on the nation last year, and blurted out qualified Reaganesque mea culpas: 'Mistakes were made.'"

All the blame cannot be laid at the doorstep of the print media. CNN's war correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, was critical of her own network for not asking enough questions about WMD. She attributed it to the competition for ratings with Fox, which had an inside track to top Administration officials.

Despite the apologies of the mainstream press for not having vigilantly questioned evidence of WMD and links to terrorists in the early stages of the war, the newspapers dropped the ball again by ignoring for days a damaging report in the London Times on May 1, 2005. That report revealed the so-called Downing Street memo, the minutes of a high-powered confidential meeting that British Prime Minister Tony Blair held with his top advisers on Bush's forthcoming plans to attack Iraq. At the secret session Richard Dearlove, former head of British intelligence, told Blair that Bush "wanted to remove Saddam Hussein through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

The Downing Street memo was a bombshell when discussed by the bloggers, but the mainstream print media ignored it until it became too embarrassing to suppress any longer. The Post discounted the memo as old news and pointed to reports it had many months before on the buildup to the war. Los Angeles Times editorial page editor Michael Kinsley decided that the classified minutes of the Blair meeting were not a "smoking gun." The New York Times touched on the memo in a dispatch during the last days leading up to the British elections, but put it in the tenth paragraph.

All this took me back to the days immediately following the unraveling of the Watergate scandal. The White House press corps realized it had fallen asleep at the switch - not that all the investigative reporting could have been done by those on the so-called "body watch," which travels everywhere with the President and has no time to dig for facts. But looking back, they knew they had missed many clues on the Watergate scandal and were determined to become much more skeptical of what was being dished out to them at the daily briefings. And, indeed, they were. The White House press room became a lion's den.

By contrast, after the White House lost its credibility in rationalizing the pre-emptive assault on Iraq, the correspondents began to come out of their coma, yet they were still too timid to challenge Administration officials, who were trying to put a good face on a bad situation.

I recall one exchange of mine with press secretary Scott McClellan last May that illustrates the difference, and what I mean by the skeptical reporting during Watergate.

Helen: The other day, in fact this week, you [McClellan] said that we, the United States, are in Afghanistan and Iraq by invitation. Would you like to correct that incredible distortion of American history?

Scott: No. We are ... that's where we are currently.

Helen: In view of your credibility, which is already mired ... how can you say that?

Scott: Helen, I think everyone in this room knows that you're taking that comment out of context. There are two democratically elected governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Helen: Were we invited into Iraq?

Scott: There are democratically elected governments now in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are there at their invitation. They are sovereign governments, but we are there today.

Helen: You mean, if they asked us out, that we would have left?

Scott: No, Helen, I'm talking about today. We are there at their invitation. They are sovereign governments.

Helen: I'm talking about today, too.

Scott: We are doing all we can to train and equip their security forces so that they can provide their own security as they move forward on a free and democratic future.

Helen: Did we invade those countries?

At that point McClellan called on another reporter.

Those were the days when I longed for ABC-TV's great Sam Donaldson to back up my questions as he always did, and I did the same for him and other daring reporters. Then I realized that the old pros, reporters whom I had known in the past, many of them around during World War II and later the Vietnam War, reporters who had some historical perspective on government deception and folly, were not around anymore.

I honestly believe that if reporters had put the spotlight on the flaws in the Bush Administration's war policies, they could have saved the country the heartache and the losses of American and Iraqi lives.

It is past time for reporters to forget the party line, ask the tough questions and let the chips fall where they may.

Comment: Yeah. Sure. They fell down on the job. And none of them are touching the Motherlode, that of 9/11 - not even Helen Thomas and the gatekeepers at The Nation. Getting a little antsy is what passes for hardhitting journalism today.

It is good that Helen Thomas has the courage to confront McClellan on the generous "invitation" offered to US troops to serve as protection while the US and its cronies ransack the two countries and kill its people. But what about looking behind the smokescreen? What about lifting the veil on the crime that set it all off?

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Plame's identity, if truly a secret, was thinly veiled

Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON - The question of whether Valerie Plame's employment by the Central Intelligence Agency was a secret is the key issue in the two-year investigation to determine if someone broke the law by leaking her CIA affiliation to the news media.

Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald contends that Plame's friends "had no idea she had another life." But Plame's secret life could be easily penetrated with the right computer sleuthing and an understanding of how the CIA's covert employees work.
When the Chicago Tribune searched for Plame on an Internet service that sells public information about private individuals to its subscribers, it got a report of more than 7,600 words. Included was the fact that in the early 1990s her address was "AMERICAN EMBASSY ATHENS ST, APO NEW YORK NY 09255."

A former senior American diplomat in Athens, who remembers Plame as "pleasant, very well-read, bright," said he had been aware that Plame, who was posing as a junior consular officer, really worked for the CIA.

According to CIA veterans, U.S. intelligence officers working in American embassies under "diplomatic cover" are almost invariably known to friendly and opposition intelligence services alike.

"If you were in an embassy," said a former CIA officer who posed as a U.S. diplomat in several countries, "you could count 100 percent on the Soviets knowing."

Plame's true function likely would have been known to friendly intelligence agencies as well. The former senior diplomat recalled, for example, that she served as one of the "control officers" coordinating the visit of President George H.W. Bush to Greece and Turkey in July 1991.

After the completion of her Athens tour, the CIA reportedly sent Plame to study in Europe. According to her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Plame was living in Brussels when the couple first met in 1997.

Two years later, when Plame made a $1,000 contribution to Vice President Al Gore, she listed her employer as Brewster-Jennings & Associates, a Boston company apparently set up by the CIA to provide "commercial cover" for some of its operatives.

Brewster-Jennings was not a terribly convincing cover. According to Dun & Bradstreet, the company, created in 1994, is a "legal services office" grossing $60,000 a year and headed by a chief executive named Victor Brewster. Commercial databases accessible by the Tribune contain no indication that such a person exists.

Another sign of Brewster-Jennings' link to the CIA came from the online resume of a Washington attorney, who until last week claimed to have been employed by Brewster-Jennings as an "engineering consultant" from 1985 to 1989 and to have served from 1989 to 1995 as a CIA "case officer," the agency's term for field operatives who collect information from paid informants.

On Wednesday the Tribune left a voice mail and two e-mail messages asking about the juxtaposition of the attorney's career with Brewster-Jennings and the CIA. On Thursday, the Brewster-Jennings and CIA entries had disappeared from the online resume. The attorney never returned any of the messages left by the Tribune.

After Plame left her diplomatic post and joined Brewster-Jennings, she became what is known in CIA parlance as an "NOC," shorthand for an intelligence officer working under "non-official cover." But several CIA veterans questioned how someone with an embassy background could have successfully passed herself off as a private-sector consultant with no government connections.

Genuine NOCs, a CIA veteran said, "never use an official address. If she had (a diplomatic) address, her whole cover's completely phony. I used to run NOCs. I was in an embassy. I'd go out and meet them, clandestine meetings. I'd pay them cash to run assets or take trips. I'd give them a big bundle of cash. But they could never use an embassy address, ever."

Another CIA veteran with 20 years of service agreed that "the key is the (embassy) address. That is completely unacceptable for an NOC. She wasn't an NOC, period."

After Plame was transferred back to CIA headquarters in the mid-1990s, she continued to pass herself off as a private energy consultant. But the first CIA veteran noted: "You never let a true NOC go into an official facility. You don't drive into headquarters with your car, ever."

A senior U.S. intelligence official, who like the others quoted in this article spoke on condition of anonymity, noted that Plame "may not be alone in that category, so I don't want to suggest she was the only one. But it would be a fair assumption that a true-blue NOC is not someone who has a headquarters job at any point or an embassy job at any point."

According to Fitzgerald, the chief federal prosecutor in Chicago who was tapped to head the Plame investigation, Plame's "cover was blown" in July 2003, when columnist Robert Novak disclosed that Plame "is an agency (CIA) operative on weapons of mass destruction."

Two senior Bush administration officials, Novak said, had told him that Plame suggested sending her husband, former ambassador Wilson, to Africa to look into reports that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium ore from the nation of Niger.

Novak's column followed by eight days an op-ed article by Wilson in The New York Times recounting his failure to find any evidence of such a purchase during his visit to Niger.

Wilson was responding to President Bush's assertion in his 2003 State of the Union address, on the eve of the war with Iraq, that "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Knowingly disclosing the identity of a covert CIA operative is a violation of the federal Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

Although prosecutor Fitzgerald has yet to accuse anyone of violating that law, he won a grand jury indictment charging former vice presidential chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby with perjury and obstructing justice for allegedly making false statements under oath about how and when he learned of Plame's CIA employment, and when he told reporters.

Libby's lawyers, who now question whether Plame's CIA employment really was secret at the time Novak's column appeared, have asked a federal judge to provide them with documents that bear on that issue.

If Plame's employment was not a legitimate secret, and if the national security was not harmed by its disclosure, Libby's lawyers argue, their client would have had no motive to lie about his conversations with reporters.

Fitzgerald has told the court he does not intend to introduce evidence showing that Plame's career, the CIA's operations or the national security were harmed by the disclosure of her CIA affiliation.

Plame's lawyer, Christopher Wolf, said his client would have no comment on any aspect of her CIA career. The CIA also declined comment on any aspect of the Plame case.

Comment: The Bush protection racket is going into work to defend Libby et al from prosecution. Given that the CIA is a legalized version of the mob, we don't have any particular qualms about an agent being outed. What is curious in this case is that Plame, as the story suggests, had official links with the Agency that could be uncovered easily.

Which makes it interesting that she was the one chosen to be outed, and it fits into Citizen Spook's hypothesis that Wilson and Plame were in on it from the start.

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Bush campaign against Iran's religious leaders - Wash Post

Mon Mar 13, 2006 01:36 AM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration intends to mount a campaign against Tehran's religious leaders in its efforts to build international pressure against Iran's nuclear program, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

Board members of Stanford University's Hoover Institution, who met two weeks ago with President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and national security adviser Stephen Hadley, told the Post they had the impression that the administration had shifted to a more robust policy against the Tehran government.
"The message that we received is that they are in favor of separating the Iranian people from the regime," said Esmail Amid-Hozour, an Iranian American businessman who serves on the Hoover board.

The newspaper also said Bush, according to aides, has personally been spending more time on the Iran issue and his advisers have invited 30 to 40 specialists for consultations in recent months.

Iran, which has fought to avoid being taken to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program, suspects Bush is using the nuclear issue as a pretext for promoting a change in the Islamic republic's government.

This week the U.N. Security Council is due to take up Iran's case after the International Atomic Energy Agency sent the council a report saying it could not verify that Iran's nuclear plans were purely peaceful.


The Post also reported that the State Department created an Iran desk last week, with 10 staff working full-time on Iran, compared with only two last year. The department also is launching more training in the Farsi language and is planning an Iranian career track, which has been difficult without an embassy there.

Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns told the Post that the department will also add staff in Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates, as well as at other embassies in the vicinity of Iran, all assigned to watch Tehran. He called the new Dubai outpost the "21st century equivalent" of the Riga station in Latvia that monitored the Soviet Union in the 1930s when the United States had no embassy in Moscow.

The campaign also includes expanded Voice of America broadcasts into Iran to 4 hours a day from 1 hour currently.

Richard Haas, a former State Department policy planning director in Bush's first term, told the newspaper he believed the U.S. should try direct negotiations with Tehran, but added: "The upper hand is with those who are pushing regime change rather than those who are advocating more diplomacy."

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U.S. State Dept. Names Iran Among Worst Violators

Jim Lobe
Mar 8 2006

WASHINGTON, - Releasing the latest edition of its annual human rights "Country Reports", the U.S. State Department Wednesday named Iran and China as among the world's "most systematic human rights violators" in 2005, along with North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe, Cuba and Belarus.

In a 16-page introduction, the report also singled out the human rights performances of Syria, Sudan, Nepal, Russia and Venezuela as particularly problematic through the year, even as it praised what it called "major progress" in Iraq, as well as advances in Afghanistan, Colombia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Burundi and Liberia.

"In Iraq 2005 was a year of major progress for democracy, democratic rights and freedom," according to the introduction, citing the "steady growth of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and other civil society associations that promote human rights", as well as the holding of two elections and one constitutional plebiscite.
At the same time, however, it conceded that the country's new institutions "remained under intense strain from the widespread violence" committed by insurgents and "terrorist elements", as well as "sectarian militias and security forces" acting "independently of government authority".

The latest edition of the Country Reports, which were first mandated by Congress in 1976, covers the human rights situations of nearly 200 countries in 2005 and stretches more than 3,000 pages in length.

The publication, which is based on reporting by other governments, international and local NGOs, journalists, academics and U.S. diplomats, is widely considered the world's single most comprehensive accounting of rights conditions in specific countries.

At the same time, the report is focused almost exclusively on political and civil rights and rights to personal integrity. It generally ignores those rights contained in the U.N. Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which has never been ratified by the United States.

As in the past, this year's edition does not address rights conditions in the United States or in U.S.-controlled facilities overseas, such as detention centres at the Guantanamo Bay naval base and in Afghanistan where Washington has been holding suspects in its "war on terror" in conditions that some human-rights monitors, including several U.N. Special Rapporteurs, have said amount to "torture".

That omission has been cited by critics as evidence of hypocrisy and double standards. "This report by the U.S. government provides a thorough review of today's human rights practices around the globe, except for one glaring omission -- its own record," said William Schulz, director of the U.S. section of Amnesty International.

"The United States government considers itself a moral leader on human rights issues, but its record of indefinite and arbitrary detentions, secret 'black sites' and outsourced torture in the 'war on terror' turns it from leader to human rights violator," said Schulz.

Amnesty cited cases where suspected terrorists held by the U.S. were transferred, or "rendered", to authorities in countries, including Egypt and Jordan, that are accused in the report of routinely using torture against prisoners held for security-related offences.

"This is a serious gap," said Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights First. Several years ago, she noted, the State Department instructed drafters of the Country Reports not to include actions taken by other governments at Washington's request.

"That instruction was later withdrawn, but the absence of reporting this year on abuses in which the U.S. is implicated raises questions about whether it continues to skew reporting," she told IPS.

She added that the report's failure to name a U.S.-created anti-terrorism unit, Detachment 88, in Indonesia in an otherwise extensive section on police abuses there raised similar questions about reporting on foreign forces closely tied to the U.S.

While the Country Reports avoid comparing the rights practices of different states, the introduction often singles out specific countries, normally those with which the U.S. has hostile or ambivalent relations, for special censure.

In last year's report, for example, the introduction focused on six nations -- North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Burma -- which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had labeled "outposts of tyranny". It also sharply criticised two key allies in the "war on terror" -- Saudi Arabia, which escaped any mention in this year's introduction, and Uzbekistan, with which relations have been severely strained over past year due to a massacre by government forces of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators last May.

This year's introduction noted that Tashkent's human rights record, "already poor, worsened considerably in 2005".

But Uzbekistan was not included in the worst or six categories of rights-abusing nations -- those "in which power is concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers (that) tend to be the world's most systematic human rights violators".

Leading that group, according to the introduction, were North Korea, "which remained one of the world's most isolated countries"; Burma, "where a junta rules by diktat"; and Iran, whose "government's already poor record on human rights and democracy worsened (in 2005)" in part due to the election of a "hard-line president (who) denied the Holocaust occurred and called for the elimination of Israel".

Also included in the "most systematic" list were Zimbabwe, whose "government maintained a steady assault on human dignity and basic freedoms"; Cuba, where "the regime continued to control all aspects of life"; China, where dissidents "faced harassment, detention, and imprisonment by government and security authorities"; and Belarus, whose president "continued to arrogate all power to himself and his dictatorial regime".

A second category of countries -- those whose systematic abuses "of their own people are likely to pose threats to neighbouring countries and the international community" -- included Burma, North Korea, Iran and Syria, according to the report. It argued that the alleged interference of the latter two in the affairs of their neighbours, including support for groups that Washington deems "terrorist", were related to their purported denial of fundamental rights to their own citizens.

A third group of countries -- those that commit the most serious abuses within the context of armed conflict -- included Sudan, which Washington has charged with committing genocide in Darfur; Nepal, whose "poor human rights record worsened (in 2005) as a result of violence by both the government and Maoist insurgents"; Cote D'Ivoire; and in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia's northern Caucasus region.

A fourth group -- those "where civil society and independent media are under siege" -- included Cambodia, China, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Belarus and Russia, according to the report.

The introduction also cited countries, besides Iraq and Afghanistan, for positive developments in the course of the year.

While civil war-related abuses and official impunity persisted in Colombia, the report noted that the government's counter-insurgency operations and ongoing demobilisation of paramilitary groups had led to a reduction in killings and kidnapping.

It also said the rights situation in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa had "improved markedly" in 2005, permitting the return of tens of thousands of displaced people, particularly Burundians, to their homes.

In the same vein, it welcomed advances in Ukraine after last year's "Orange Revolution"; Indonesia, where the peace accord between the government and the Free Aceh Movement ended decades of armed conflict; Lebanon, where Syrian forces were withdrawn in the face of domestic and international pressure; and Liberia, where Africa's first elected female head of state, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, marked "a milestone in the country's transition from civil war to democracy.

Comment: Excuse us, but the extent of the "cojones" required for the U.S. government to release this report citing Iran and China as among the world's "most systematic human rights violators" in 2005, is shocking even to us.

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Why Did Bush Destroy Iraq?

By Paul Craig Roberts

Every Reason Put Forward Has Been Proven False

March 20 is the third anniversary of the Bush regime's invasion of Iraq. US military casualties to date are approximately 20,000 killed, wounded, maimed, and disabled. Iraqi civilian casualties number in the tens of thousands. Iraq's infrastructure is in ruins. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed. Fallujah, a city of 300,000 people had 36,000 of its 50,000 homes destroyed by the US military.
Half of the city's former population are displaced persons living in tents.

Thousands of Iraqis have been detained in prisons and hundreds have been brutally tortured. America's reputation in the Muslim world is ruined.

The Bush regime expected a short "cakewalk" war to be followed by the imposition of a puppet government and permanent US military bases.

Instead, US military forces are confronted with an insurgency that has denied control over Iraq to the US military. Chaos rules, and civil war may be coming on top of the insurgency.

On March 9, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the man who has been totally wrong about Iraq, told Congress that if the unprecedented violence in Iraq breaks out in civil war, the US will rely primarily on Iraq's security forces to put down civil war.

What Iraqi security forces? Iraq does not have a security force.
The Shia have a security force. The Sunnis have a security force, and the Kurds have a security force. The sectarian militias control the streets, towns and cities. If civil war breaks out, the "Iraqi security force" will dissolve into the sectarian militias, leaving the US military in the middle of the melee.

Is this what "support the troops" means?

President Bush's determination to remain in Iraq despite the obvious failure of the attempted occupation puts Bush at odds with the American public and with our troops. Polls show that a majority of Americans believe that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake and that our troops should be withdrawn. An even larger majority of the troops themselves believe they should be withdrawn.

Yet Bush, who is incapable of admitting a mistake, persists in a strategic blunder that is turning into catastrophe.

Bush's support has fallen to 34 percent.

The war's out of pocket cost to date is approximately $300 billion--every dollar borrowed from foreigners. Economic and budgetary experts have calculated that the ultimate cost of Bush's Iraq war in terms of long-term care for veterans, interest on borrowed money, and resources diverted from productive uses will be between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.

What is being achieved for this enormous sacrifice?

No one knows.

Every reason we have been given for the Iraqi invasion has proved to be false. Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.
Reports from UN weapons inspectors, top level US intelligence officials, Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill, and leaked top secret documents from the British Cabinet all make it unequivocally clear that the Bush regime first decided to invade Iraq and then looked around for a reason.

Saddam Hussein had no terrorist connection to Osama bin Laden and no role in the 9/11 attack. Hussein was a secular ruler totally at odds with bin Laden's Islamist aims. Every informed person in the world knew this.

When the original justifications for the US invasion collapsed, Bush said that the reason for the invasion was to rid Iraq of a dictator and to put a democracy in its place. Despite all the hoopla about democracy and elections, no Iraqi government has been able to form, and the country is on the brink of civil war. Some Middle East experts believe that violence will spread throughout the region.

The brutal truth is that America's responsibility is extreme. We have destroyed a country and created political chaos for no reason whatsoever.

Seldom in history has a government miscalculated as badly as Bush has in Iraq. More disturbingly, Bush shows no ability to recover from his mistake. All we get from our leader is pig-headed promises of victory that none of our military commanders believe.

Our entire government is lost in confusion. One day Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld tell us that we are having great success in training an Iraqi military and will be able to begin withdrawing our troops in a year. The next day they tell us that we will be fighting the war for decades.

Bush's invasion of Iraq was a mistake. Bush's attempt to cover up his mistake with patriotism will ultimately discredit patriotism.

America has to be big enough to admit a mistake and to bring it to an end.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: paulcraigroberts@yahoo.com

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The War Dividend: The British companies making a fortune out of conflict-riven Iraq

By Robert Verkaik
Published: 13 March 2006

British businesses have profited by at least £1.1bn since coalition forces toppled Saddam Hussein three years ago, the first comprehensive investigation into UK corporate investment in Iraq has found.

The company roll-call of post-war profiteers includes some of the best known names in Britain's boardrooms as well many who would prefer to remain anonymous. They come from private security services, banks, PR consultancies, urban planning consortiums, oil companies, architects offices and energy advisory bodies.
Among the top earners is the construction firm Amec, which has made an estimated £500m from a series of contracts restoring electrical systems and maintaining power generation facilities during the past two years. Aegis, which provides private security has earned more than £246m from a three-year contract with the Pentagon to co-ordinate military and security companies in Iraq. Erinys, which specialises in the same area, has made more than £86m, a substantial portion from the protection of oilfields.

The evidence of massive investments and the promise of more multimillion-pound profits to come was discovered in a joint investigation by Corporate Watch, an independent watchdog, and The Independent.

The findings show how much is stake if Britain were to withdraw military protection from Iraq. British company involvement at the top of Iraq's new political and economic structures means Iraq will be forced to rely on British business for many years to come.

A total of 61 British companies are identified as benefiting from at least £1.1bn of contracts and investment in the new Iraq. But that figure is just the tip of the iceberg; Corporate Watch believes it could be as much as five times higher, because many companies prefer to keep their relationship secret.

The waters are further muddied by the Government's refusal to release the names of companies it has helped to win contracts in Iraq.

Many of the companies enjoy long-standing relationships with Labour and now have a financial stake in the reconstruction of Iraq in Britain's image. Of the total profits published in the report, the British taxpayer has had to meet a bill for £78m while the US taxpayer's contribution to UK corporate earnings in Iraq is nearly nine times that. Iraqis themselves have paid British company directors £150m.

The report acknowledges that British business still lags behind the huge profits paid to American companies. But, in two fields, Britain is playing a critical and leading role.

The threat from the Iraqi insurgency means British private security companies are in great demand. Corporate Watch estimates there are between 20,000 and 30,000 security personnel working in Iraq, half of whom are employed by companies run by retired senior British officers and at least two former defence ministers.

The biggest British player, Aegis - run by Tim Spicer, the former British army lieutenant colonel who founded the security company Sandline - has a workforce the size of a military division and may rank as the largest corporate military group ever assembled, according to the report. Other private security companies have sprung up overnight to protect British and American civilians.

Britain is also playing a leading role in advising on the creation of state institutions and the business of government. PA Consulting, which has also received a contract for advising on the Government's ID cards scheme, worth around £19m, is now a key adviser in Iraq.

Adam Smith International, a body closely linked to the right-wing think-tank used by Margaret Thatcher, has been heavily involved in the foundation of the Iraqi government and continues to influence its newly formed ministries. According to the Tory MP Quentin Davies, who visited Iraq, the advisers are "reordering Iraqi government operations at the most basic level, to help restructure some of the Iraqi ministries, in fact physically restructure them, even suggesting how the minister's office should be laid out".

Another favourite of the Thatcher governments, now involved in Iraq, is Tim Bell, who ran the Tories' election campaigns in 1979, 1983 and 1987. His PR firm Bell-Pottinger has been involved in advising on the 2004 elections and a strategic campaign to promote bigger concepts such as the return of sovereignty, reconstruction, support for the army and police, minority rights and public probity.

Loukas Christodoulou, of Corporate Watch, has been monitoring British business relations with Iraq since the invasion. He says in his conclusion to our joint report: "The presence of these consultants in Iraq is arguably a part of the UK government's policy to push British firms as lead providers of privatisation support. The Department for International Development has positioned itself as a champion of privatisation in developing countries. The central part UK firms are playing in reshaping Iraq's economy and society lays the ground for a shift towards a corporate-dominated economy. This will have repercussions lasting decades."

In five years, the £1.1bn of contracts identified in the report will be dwarfed by what Britain and the US hope to reap from investments. Highly lucrative oil contracts have yet to be handed out.

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Biden: Troops Should Come Home in Summer

Associated Press Writer
March 13, 2006

WASHINGTON - The U.S. should pull troops from Iraq after this summer if the political conditions in the country do not improve, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday.

Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, who is aiming for the 2008 presidential race, said the Iraqis must have a constitution that unites fighting factions of the society or "it's game over."
"We can't want peace in Iraq more than the Iraqis want it," Biden said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We can't want it more than they want it. And if they don't step up to the ball, we're going to be gone."

Biden said if knew what he knows now when Congress voted on the Iraq war resolution, he would have opposed it. "This has been a debacle," he said.

Sen. George Allen (news, bio, voting record), R-Va., said he agrees that it is vitally important for the Iraqis elected in February's parliamentary elections to form a government. But Allen, also a presidential hopeful, said he is unwilling to set a specific deadline.

Allen said the situation among the Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis is "going tough."

"Politically, action needs to be taken," Allen said. "They need to come together and then I think there will be greater confidence on part of the people of Iraq."

Presidential adviser Karl Rove said Saturday that the Bush administration will not pull American troops out of Iraq until victory is achieved, despite the growing number of Democrats urging a withdrawal.

Abandoning Iraq now would signal to U.S. allies that America can't be trusted, Rove said during a Republican fundraiser at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

"Tyrants in the Middle East would laugh at our failed resolve," he said. "To retreat before victory would be a reckless act."

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Explosion rocks market in Shiite slum, killing at least 39

Associated Press Writer
March 12, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A suicide bomber and a car bomb ripped apart a market Sunday in a Shiite slum in Baghdad, killing at least 39 people and wounding more than 100. The carnage came shortly after Iraqi politicians decided to convene parliament three days earlier than planned, suggesting some progress in efforts to form a unity government.

The death toll in Sadr City was sure to rise as residents, many firing Kalashnikov rifles into the air, raced to and fro to collect charred corpses from among burning vehicles and shops.
Angry residents kicked the head of the suicide bomber, apparently an African, as it lay in the street of the al-Hay market in the east Baghdad neighborhood.

Smoke billowed into the air and fires continued to burn after the huge explosions, which demolished many shops.

Police Lt. Thair Mahmoud said police were trying to defuse a second explosives-laden car nearby. Four mortar rounds also reportedly slammed to earth nearby.

It was the second major attack targeting members of the Shiite majority in less than three weeks. On Feb. 22, the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in the mostly Sunni city of Samarra, triggered a wave of reprisal attacks against Sunnis that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

On March 4, Gen. John Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, predicted another such attack by terrorists trying to spark all-out sectarian conflict in the country.

''They'll find some other place that's undefended, they'll strike it and they'll hope for more sectarian violence,'' the general said after a two-day visit to Baghdad.

Across town, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad met with leaders of Iraq's main ethnic and religious blocs in a bid to broker the end of a stalemate over the formation of a unity government Washington hopes can stabilize the country so its troops can begin going home in the summer.

While moving the parliament's first session forward suggested some progress, none of those present indicated any breakthrough was made.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, stood by Shiite leader Adbul-Aziz al-Hakim and other Kurdish, Sunni Arab and secular leaders to make the announcement about the parliament, telling reporters that meetings would continue daily until there is agreement on key government positions and other issues.

Khalilzad said a permanent government needed to be in place quickly to fill the ''vacuum in authority'' at a time of continuing effort by ''terrorists to provoke sectarian conflict.''

''To deal with the threat, (there is) the need on an urgent basis to form a government of national unity,'' Khalilzad said. He added that he would be available at any time to join the political negotiations.

Al-Hakim, head of the powerful Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, agreed forming a government was imperative.

''We have to get Iraq out of the situation it is in now,'' al-Hakim said.

Separately, the U.S. Embassy issued an order prohibiting government employees from using commercial airlines leaving the capital's international airport, citing a ''recent security incident.''

Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the largest Sunni bloc and Adnan Pachachi, a secular Sunni representing Ayad Allawi, a Shiite and former prime minister, also attended the meeting at Kurdish Democratic Party headquarters in the heavily fortified Green Zone. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, was not there but met earlier Sunday with Talabani.

The issue of forming a new government appeared to take on added urgency days before key military leaders were expected to make recommendations on the withdrawal of U.S. forces in meetings later this week with President Bush in Washington.

The convening of parliament will start a 60-day clock on electing a new president, approving a prime minister and signing off on his Cabinet. The decision came just two days after Talabani issued a decree calling parliament into session for the first time since Dec. 15 elections on March 19.

The U.S. ambassador, who has expressed increasing frustration over the political bickering in recent weeks, seemed particularly eager to publicize the meeting. His office took the unusual step of announcing it in advance and inviting reporters to a photo session and news conference afterward.

Kurdish parliamentarian Mahmoud Othman indicated the timing of the session may have been due to a threat from Massoud Barzani, the president of one of two Kurdish provinces, to leave the capital if no progress was made. Barzani, leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party, also was at Sunday's meeting.

In other violence Sunday, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol on a busy street in a mostly Sunni area of the capital killed at least six people and wounded 12, police said.

Drive-by shooters killed three occupants of a car in west Baghdad, including a member of Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, police said. And a rocket landed near a house, killing one occupant and injuring two others.

In Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, gunmen ambushed and killed a police major as he headed to work, police said.

A roadside bomb also hit a police convoy in Baquouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing one patrolman and wounding four others, police said

U.S. forces also clashed with gunmen Sunday afternoon in western Baghdad, Interior Ministry Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said. An AP Television News cameraman reported that a U.S. helicopter landed nearby to remove casualties. The U.S. military had no immediate comment.

The ''warden's message'' distributed to the American community about the use of commercial airlines did not disclose the nature of the security incident that prompted the ban.

A spokesman for Royal Jordanian Airlines, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said two suspicious objects were found inside a cigarette package on the tarmac as passengers were going through a final security check before boarding a plane on Saturday. The flight left after a 3 -hour delay.

Comment: Iraqis, Shia and Sunni alike, want to live in peace with each other as they have done for many generations, yet the American, British and Israeli governments will not allow them do so and are determined to force them to fight and kill each other.

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Iraqi Shi'ite cleric calls U.S., Britain and Israel a 'Triad of Evil'

By The Associated Press

In a television interview Friday night, radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr described the United States, Israel and Britain as a "Triad of Evil".

Speaking on state-run Iraqiya television, the anti-American al-Sadr also said last month's attack on a Shi'ite shrine in the central city of Samarra was carried "in collusion with the occupiers and the Zionist Entity of Israel," meaning for the U.S. and Israel. Hundreds of Iraqis died in the subsequent sectarian violence, much of which Sunni Muslims said was the work of al-Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army.
The Triad of Evil reference was an obvious play on words U.S. President Bush used in his 2002 State of the Union address, when he labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea and "axis of evil."

Al-Sadr, whose militia launched two uprisings against U.S. troops in 2004, refused to name any group that he believed was behind the bombing of the Askariyah shrine in Samarra but hinted at members of Saddam Hussein's former regime or Sunni Muslim extremists.

"Those who carry arms could be takfiri extremists, Saddamists or others. But those who control arms are the Triad of Evil that are Israel, America and Britain," said the black-turbaned cleric during the one-hour interview.

The extremist takfiri ideology urges Sunni Muslims to kill anyone they consider an infidel, even fellow Muslims.

He said that the attacks on Sunnis that followed the Samarra explosion "were a natural reaction" by Shiites, angry over the attack on their shrine. He said he rejected any attacks on mosques of either Muslim sect, although violence after the Samarra bombing damaged many.

Al-Sadr, who was on a regional tour when the Feb. 22, bombing happened, cut short his visit and came back "in order for the country not to be pulled to street battles. I wanted to salvage the Iraqi people from these problems."

Speaking about the country's political crisis that erupted in recent days over the Shiite parliamentary bloc's nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to form a new government, al-Sadr said "I don't intervene in such small matters."

Al-Jaafari is strongly supported by al-Sadr, whose followers hold 30 seats in the 275-member parliament. The remainder of the Shiite blocs control 100 more.

"The candidate for prime minister must demand the withdrawal of the occupiers, or put a timetable for their pullout. I don't support any person who does not say that," al-Sadr declared. "What is important is that the occupiers leave because they are behind what is happening in Iraq."

"Putting a timetable on foreign troop withdrawal represents a victory for Iraqis not for terrorists," he said.

The cleric, speaking from the holy city of Najaf, said Saddam Hussein should not be tried but executed immediately. He criticized what he called American intervention in the trial and causing to take too much time.

Saddam was believed to have ordered the 1999 assassination of al-Sadr's father, Mohammed Sadiq, a top Shiite religious leader who spent years in jail under the former Iraqi leader.

"I call for the execution of Saddam," al-Sadr said. "He who did not let judicial authorities work under his rule should not be tried."

"He who shed the blood of Iraqis and Muslims easily, should have his blood shed easily," al-Sadr said.

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Attacks on Shiite slum in Baghdad threatens to re-ignite sectarian strife

17:44:23 EST Mar 12, 2006

BAGHDAD (AP) - The guarded words of hope had barely been spoken on one side of the Tigris River on Sunday before being drowned out by the thunder and terror of new bombings on the other.

The late-afternoon bloodbath - at least 44 dead and 200 wounded - at marketplaces in Sadr City, Baghdad's teeming Shiite slum, threatened to re-ignite Sunni-Shiite violence that shook Iraq for days after a holy site was bombed last month.
Sunday's attacks came just minutes after leading politicians, in an unusual all-party meeting, made a show of determination to bridge the deep divides keeping them from forming a national-unity government.

Two car bombs - one detonated by a suicide driver - and four mortar rounds overwhelmed the announcement of an early first session of parliament after the meeting brokered by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

The political leaders told reporters they would open meetings Monday in an attempt to break the deadlock on forming a unity government.

The attacks in Sadr City, quickly sealed off by Mahdi Army militiamen of the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, caused pandemonium. Residents searched wildly for survivors and ambulances and trucks hauled away charred corpses.

Sirens wailed as ambulances raced to gather the wounded. Smoke billowed into the evening sky and angry young men kicked the decapitated head of the suicide attacker, who appeared to be an African, that lay in the street.

The nature of the attack, its use of a suicide bomber, pointed to the work of "al-Qaida in Iraq" which has said it hoped to start a Shiite-Sunni civil conflict.

Dozens of market stalls and vehicles were destroyed by the explosives, which ripped through the poor neighbourhood as residents bought provisions for the evening meal.

Police said they defused a third car bomb.

Iraqis feared such an attack was coming, especially after al-Sadr's fighters stormed out the slum to take revenge on Sunni Muslims and their mosques when a bombing destroyed a major Shiite shrine Feb. 22 in Samarra, some 100 kilometres north of Baghdad. Hundreds died in the subsequent days of sectarian violence. Dozens of mosques were destroyed or damaged.

"After Sadr City's reaction to the bombing of our holy shrine in Samarra, we were expecting bombing attacks," said Amer al-Husseini, a black-turbaned cleric and aide to al-Sadr.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni Muslim group, condemned the bombings "by the enemies of our nation who don't want to see Iraqis united or living in a stable country."

In a statement, the group urged all Iraqis to co-operate "to put an end to the bloodshed that has targeted all Iraqis of all religions and sects and to speed the formation of a national-unity government."

The Sadr City bombers struck shortly after Khalilzad and leaders of Iraq's main ethnic and religious blocs announced they had agreed to move forward the first session of the new parliament to Thursday. In a bid to overcome differences on forming the next government, the leaders laid the groundwork for daily meetings.

Among the issues to be discussed in the upcoming all-party talks were the number of government positions the blocs will have, who will fill key posts and the government's program of action.

The first parliamentary session will take place three months after Dec. 15 elections and a month after the results were certified. That activates a 60-day deadline for the legislature to elect a new president, approve the nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for a second term and sign off on his cabinet.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, stood at the side of Shiite leader Adbul-Aziz al-Hakim and other Kurdish, Sunni Arab and secular leaders to make the announcement.

Khalilzad said a permanent government needed to quickly fill the "vacuum in authority" at a time of continuing effort by "terrorists to provoke sectarian conflict."

Al-Hakim, head of the powerful Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, agreed that forming a government was imperative.

"There was a determination from all the leaders to assume their responsibility to deal with this crisis. We have to get Iraq out of the situation it is in now," he said, standing outside Massoud Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party headquarters.

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As Syria's Influence in Lebanon Wanes, Iran Moves In

Published: March 13, 2006

BEIRUT, Lebanon, March 6 - Nearly a year ago, not long after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, who was twice prime minister of Lebanon, Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon, unleashing a wave of patriotism here that prompted many to say that the Lebanese might finally be able to take control of their destiny.

But the intensity of the moment and the rush of emotions eclipsed at least one important and largely unanswerable question: With Syria gone, or at least its troops gone, who would fill the power vacuum?

At the time, Iran did not appear to be the answer. But that is what is happening, according to government officials, political leaders and political analysts here.
Iran, long a powerful player in Lebanon, has been able to increase its influence, partly through its ties to the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. That has given Tehran a stronger hand to play in its confrontation with the United States and Europe over its nuclear program.

Should the nuclear showdown go badly for Iran, the government could rely on its surrogates in Lebanon as well as its influence in Iraq, or use oil for a weapon. In Lebanon, the Iranians could contribute to the kind of retribution they have promised as a payback, from a strike across the border into Israel, to a more forceful flexing that could paralyze the Lebanese government, political analysts and government officials said.

While Iran helped create, finance and train Hezbollah, it was Syria that settled scores and managed relations between Shiite factions and Palestinians throughout Lebanon. Syria was a filter between Tehran and Hezbollah, and now that Syria has been uprooted, Iran and Hezbollah can work much more closely.

Members of Hezbollah have become members of the government for the first time, magnifying the importance of the ties between Iran and the Lebanese Shiite movement.

That is the downside for the United States, and for Lebanon as well, officials here said. Unity remains elusive as Lebanon continues to be a playing field for foreign interests.

"There is without any doubt a growing Iranian influence not only in Lebanon but in the whole region," said Nassib Lahoud, a Maronite Christian who is a former ambassador to the United States and a legislator. "We are trying to build normal relations with everyone, and we refuse to turn Lebanon into a battlefield for regional and international powers."

Political leaders met here recently for what was billed as the start of a national dialogue, a chance to try to resolve long-simmering disputes. There was to be discussion about disarming militias like Hezbollah and figuring out what to do about President Émile Lahoud, a staunch ally of Syria, who has clung to his office even as his ability to govern has withered under pressure to resign.

But even before the meetings began, government officials conceded that Lebanon's ability to resolve some of its most vexing domestic conflicts would depend on decisions made in Tehran and Washington.

Charles Rizk, Lebanon's minister of justice, said that as Iran's and Hezbollah's influence grew in Lebanon, the country's hopes for unity hinged on whether Iran and the United States would at least agree to talk to each other. It is an idea, officials here acknowledge, that appears as remote as a Syria-Israel peace deal. But as a nation unusually susceptible to outside influences, officials said, that is Lebanon's reality.

"I hope that by America inaugurating a process of détente with Iran, this will reverberate into more consensus in Lebanon," Mr. Rizk said. "This is the only chance for us to solve our problems."

For years, Iran had been a kind of second lieutenant to Syria, important, influential and spiritually linked to the Hezbollah militia in a way that the Alawite leadership of Syria never could have been.

But with Syrian troops dug in, and Syrian intelligence agents running the show, Tehran's role was often more behind the scenes. In the 1980's, during the Lebanese civil war, Syria established its dominant position when it brokered a deal between the Shiite militias, Amal and Hezbollah, and settled the feuds in the Palestinian camps. After that, Iran found itself one step removed from the surrogates it helped create.

Then, suddenly, Syria found itself in retreat.

Iran saw an opportunity and began to press ahead with its established relationships in Lebanon, and with trying to build new ones. Lebanese officials and academics and religious leaders were increasingly feeling the generosity of the Iranian state, officials said, with invitations to conferences in Iran and offers of aid.

Lebanese officials say that Iran has been careful not to appear heavy-handed, so as not to alienate Sunni, Druse and Christian factions. After years under the fist of Damascus, many people here said that Iranian power was preferable because of geography - Tehran is far away - and because the Iranians appeared to be more intent on winning allegiances, not forcing them.

"Iran is omnipresent in Lebanon, not only with Hezbollah," said Ridwan al-Sayyid, an adviser to the prime minister and a professor of Islamic studies at Lebanese University. "They are strong, not like Syria, but they shape their presence in different ways. They are helping many, many organizations - Sunnis, Shias and Christians. They are benevolent."

This is not the first time that the United States has seen Iran benefit, however unintentionally, from events that were initially regarded as strengthening the Bush administration's hand. With each American military strike in the region, first against the Taliban in Afghanistan and then against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Iran has found its influence in the region grow as its enemies have been defeated by American military might, political analysts said.

"Iran now has many more cards in confronting the United States than the United States has in confronting Iran," said Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science at Cairo University.

Now it appears that Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon increases the Iranian mullah's influence. A recent political alliance between Hezbollah and Gen. Michel Aoun, leader of the largest Christian bloc in Parliament, was viewed by one political analyst with close ties to the government as a "tactical victory" for Iran.

"It's because Syria has been deflated very much, Iran is rising as a force," Mr. Rizk said.

Ahmed Fatfat, the acting interior minister, said, "I believe that Iran's role in Lebanon has become stronger, and if you look at its relationship with Hezbollah it is stronger."

What this means, officials said, is that as long as the United States and Iran are at odds Lebanon will remain, at best, in limbo. Lebanon will be unable to resolve its own domestic problems while Iran continues to try to build up its strategic position.

"If there is an Iranian-American clash, it will be played out here," Mr. Fatfat said.

Comment: Gosh darn! Wouldn't you know it! Those dreaded Iranians are moving into the vacuum in Lebanon!

Is there anypone with a neuron left firing in the US who can see through the patent manipulation of this article? A year ago, it was Syria. Now, they're gunning for Iran. Sheesh.

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CITY SHAKEN: Earthquake swarm similar to 1982

Wanganui Chronicle

A SWARM of five small earthquakes buzzed and rattled into Wanganui on Saturday morning. The five all originated in the same place, 30km south west of Wanganui and off the coast approximately due west of Marton.

New Zealand's earthquake website, www.geonet.org.nz, says they ranged from 4.5 to 3.8 on the Richter Scale, and were all 30km deep. They regularly interrupted the sleep of Wanganui and Marton residents – at 55 minutes past midnight, at 1.04am, at 3.17am, at 5.27am and finally at 10 minutes past eight in the morning.

GNS Science duty seismologist Martin Reyners said the swarm was related to another that happened in 1982 and originated at the same depth.

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Magnitude 3.0 earthquake Under Lake Erie

News Herald

A magnitude 3.0 earthquake rolled north of Mentor-on-the-Lake about 7:20 a.m. Saturday, resulting in many calls but no damage.

It also was the third such event to originate from the same general area so far this year - about three miles north of the Mentor/Mentor-on-the-Lake shoreline and about three miles under the surface of Lake Erie

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Moderate earthquake hits off northeastern Japan coast

Monday March 13, 2006
Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) - A moderate earthquake with a magnitude of 5.1 struck off the Pacific Ocean coast of northeastern Japan on Monday, the country's Meteorological Agency said. There was no immediate report of injuries and no danger of a tsunami, it said.

The quake hit at 1:15 p.m. (0415 GMT) approximately 27 kilometers (17 miles) off the coast of Ibaraki prefecture (state), the agency said. It was centered about 30 kilometers (19 miles) below the earth's surface, the agency said.

Ibaraki prefecture is approximately 100 kilometers (63 miles) northeast of Tokyo. Japan sits atop four tectonic plates and is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries.

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Strong Earthquake In Admiralty Islands

March 13, 2006

KUALA LUMPUR - A strong earthquake, measuring 6.1 on the Richter Scale, occurred in the Admiralty Islands at 4.56am Monday, the Malaysian Meteorological Services Department said.

It said the centre of the earthquake was located 3,448km Southeast of Lahad Datu, Sabah, at co-ordinates 2.8 South 148.3 East.

Based on its location and magnitude, it said, the earthquake was not expected to generate a tsunami.

Admiralty Islands is a cluster of small islands in the southwest Pacific, part of Papua New Guinea, it added.

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Moderate earthquake shakes northern Pakistan

13 Mar 2006 11:04:11 GMT
Source: Reuters

ISLAMABAD, March 13 (Reuters) - A moderate earthquake on Monday shook parts of northern Pakistan devastated by a catastrophic tremor last October, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.
The 5.2 magnitude quake had its epicentre in the Hindu Kush mountain range in Afghanistan, about 300 km (190 miles) north of the Pakistani city of Peshawar, Pakistan's Meteorological Office said.

The quake was felt in Peshawar, as well as in the towns of Dir, Chitral, Mansehra as well as the capital Islamabad, it said.

Mansehra and Islamabad both suffered damage in the catastrophic 7.6 magnitude earthquake that hit northern Pakistan on Oct. 8, killing more than 73,000 people.

More than 1,750 aftershocks have been recorded since then and meteorological officials expect more will be felt until May.

On Friday, an aftershock measuring 5.2 killed one man and injured 16 people in Pakistani Kashmir, one of the regions worst hit by the October disaster.

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Volcano in Nicaragua spews columns of gas, ash

Mar. 8 2006
Associated Press

MANAGUA, Nicaragua - Nicaraguan civil defense authorities on Wednesday warned residents about a volcano that has been shooting off columns of gas and ash.

The activity had ceased by Wednesday morning and there were no immediate plans to evacuate communities near the 5,725-foot San Cristobal volcano in the province of Chinandega, 60 miles west of the capital of Managua.

The renewed activity began Monday night and involved small explosions alternating with mini-earthquakes, civil defense official Maj. Pablo Marenco said.

"It is launching abundant columns of gas and ashes on a constant basis," he said.

He said it was not as strong as in December, when the San Cristobal spewed ash over the communities.

"But we are on constant alert," Chinandega Civil Defense Chief Carlos Caceres said. "Nothing is foreseeable."

It is part of a range of four vo

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Windstorms Batter Kansas, Missouri

Associated Press
Monday, March 13, 2006; Page A03

SEDALIA, Mo., March 12 -- Severe storms across the Midwest produced winds that knocked over airplanes, ripped roofs off homes and spawned tornadoes that killed three people.

A twister as wide as a half-mile killed a woman seeking shelter in her mobile home and displaced about 150 residents in western Missouri Sunday night, officials said. On Saturday night, a windstorm south of St. Louis killed two.
Five people were injured and two were missing after the tornado cut a path more than 16 miles wide through the town of Sedalia, said Rusty Kahrs, Pettis County presiding commissioner.

Storms rolled through northeastern Kansas earlier in the day with fierce winds that lifted a cargo container off the airfield at the Kansas City International Airport, authorities said. At the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City, Mo., some private airplanes tied down on the airfield were "spun around," spokesman Joe McBride said.

The University of Kansas in Lawrence canceled Monday's classes after 60 percent of its buildings were damaged by the storm.

The storms followed powerful tornadoes that ripped across southern Missouri and southern Illinois Saturday night. They destroyed homes along a path of more than 20 miles and killed a married couple whose pickup truck was blown off a rural road about 80 miles south of St. Louis, officials said.

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Massive wildfires scorch Texas

Last Updated Mon, 13 Mar 2006 11:29:25 EST
CBC News

At least seven people are dead and seven more injured as wildfires raced across Texas early Monday, burning an area almost half the size of Prince Edward Island.

The fires are raging through the Texas Panhandle and South Plains. They've burned roughly 268,000 hectares since they began on Sunday.
Four people were killed in a traffic pileup on a smoke-filled highway 65 kilometers east of Amarillo.

Three more people died northeast of Amarillo, including two who were caught running to escape a grass fire that destroyed their home, said local officials.

Evacuation orders were issued Sunday for at least seven towns.

"This is probably one of the biggest fire days in Texas history," said Warren Bielenberg, a spokesman for the Texas Forest Service.

The area around Amarillo has seen 76 millimetres of rain since February, about 25 millimetres below normal averages. No rain is expected in the next seven days.

A separate 28,000-hectare grass fire is burning in southeastern New Mexico, promting state officials to order 200 people to leave their homes.

Earlier this winter, wildfires in the state charred thousands of hectares and killed three people.

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Astronomer: "UFO" observed across Thailand is meteor


BANGKOK, March 13 (Xinhuanet) -- The recent sighting of what appears to be an unidentified flying object (UFO) over Thai central province of Ayutthaya has left witnesses scratching their heads over what exactly it might have been while some astronomer and experts thought it was something like a meteor.
Morakot Areeya, head of a astronomy learning center, was quotedon Monday by the Bangkok Post as saying that he saw a burning object speeding across the sky at about 6:20 p.m. (1120 GMT) on March 4 in Ayutthaya's Nakhon Si Ayutthaya district. Some other witnesses also reported they have seen the unidentified object that night.

Worawit Thanwuttibandit, a cosmic adviser to the Thai Astronomical Society, said the object might have been a large meteor.

Dr Sarun Posayajinda, deputy director-general of the National Astronomical Research Institute, said it was possible that the object was some kind of space debris which had burst into flames on entering the earth's atmosphere.

Morakot took a photograph of the object, which he first thought was an airplane that had burst into flames. However, he was surprised to see the object continue to streak across the sky in an easterly direction before disappearing from sight.

Morakot said it did not appear that the object had struck the earth, rather it had traveled almost horizontally. He said some locals felt the object may have been some form of UFO.

"It is strange because after contacting a number of local amateur radio hams, none had learnt of any air crashes in the area," Morakot said

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DPRK accuses U.S. of "fabricating misinformation" on drug trafficking

www.chinaview.cn 2006-03-13 22:12:00

PYONGYANG, March. 13 (Xinhuanet) -- The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Monday accused the United States of fabricating allegations of drug trafficking against it after a group of people from the east Asian country were acquitted of narcotics crimes in an Australian court.
"It is not a simple drug matter but a political plot hatched by the U.S. and its allies in a premeditated and deliberate manner to do harm to the DPRK and stifle it over its nuclear issue", said the official Korean Central News Agency.

Pong Su, a 3,500-ton vessel owned by a DPRK company, was seized off the southeastern coast of Australia on April 2003 by Australian law enforcement authorities. Police suspected the freighter had been used to import 250 kg of heroin to Australia. Four crew members were also detained and charged with drug smuggling.

The U.S. State Department's annual report said the Pong Su incident was "the first indication that North Korean enterprises and assets are actively transporting significant quantities of illicit narcotics" outside the country's borders."

The DPRK strongly denied the allegation, saying the U.S. was just trying to "label the DPRK an illegal state under this or that charge, it can never deceive the world."

Following a three year trial, a Victorian Supreme Court jury in Australia returned a not guilty verdict toward four officers of the ship who had been charged with aiding and abetting the importation of a commercial quantity of heroin on March 5. But the court ordered the destruction of the ship.

The KCNA on Monday demanded a formal apology and compensation from the U.S. for inflicting "not small damage upon the DPRK's ship and its crewmen," and asked the U.S. to "stop at once all its farces intended to mislead the international community."

In October, the U.S. government slapped restrictions on a Macaubank and some DPRK companies which it said had been involved in illicit activities, including counterfeiting, money laundering and financing weapons proliferation, ahead of the second phase of the fourth round of six-party talks in November.

The DPRK has denied the U.S. allegations.

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Chavez flies the flag for change

Monday 13 March 2006, 6:47 Makka Time, 3:47 GMT

The Venezuelan president has made changes to the nation's flag, changes foes reject as Hugo Chavez's personal whim.
Venezuela's National Assembly, dominated by Chavez's allies, approved the modified flag last week after he proposed changes as a tribute to Simon Bolivar, the Venezuelan-born South American liberation hero who Chavez says inspired his socialist revolution.

A small group of Chavez supporters briefly traded blows with opposition marchers protesting against the new flag, which features an eighth star, a white horse on the coat of arms galloping to the left instead of the right, a bow and arrow representing Venezuela's indigenous people and a machete to represent the labourers.

In a ceremony on the 200th anniversary of the country's flag, Chavez raised the new version at the national pantheon before attending a military parade where soldiers marched with participants in his social programmes for the poor.

Stars and gripes

"Eight stars now flutter in the wind in Venezuela, seven originals and the eighth that Simon Bolivar decreed," Chavez said. "And the white horse is now free."

The president said Bolivar decreed in 1817 that another star should be added to the flag to represent the addition of a province to Venezuela.

Since 1863, the flag has had seven stars representing the original seven provinces that rose up against Spain.

Chavez, a former soldier, was elected seven years ago and has promised a revolution for the poor in the world's fifth-largest oil exporter.

His critics at home and in Washington worry about his alliance with Cuba and say he has eroded democracy by exercising authoritarian control.

Critics call the changes to the flag a waste of money. The new flag and coat of arms is eventually to be adopted in Venezuela's currency, passports and government documents.

Opposition marches

Several hundred opposition supporters marched in Caracas to protest against the new flag. One group of demonstrators carried seven white stars and an eighth red one painted with the former Soviet hammer and sickle emblem.

Scuffles briefly broke out after Chavez loyalists hoisted the new flag along the route of the protest march and opposition supporters tried to take it down. Police quickly quelled the clashes.

Rosa de Pool, 70, a secretary participating in the opposition protest, said: "I'm here to defend my flag, you can't change those things without asking the people if they agree or not."

Lilian Luces, 54, said: "It's a whim of the president. I think it's absurd for them to put on another star and turn around the horse."

Last year Chavez dismissed the horse image on the flag as "imperialist" after his daughter asked him why it ran to the right with its head facing backward.

"The white horse is now liberated, free, vigorous, trotting toward the left, representing the return of Bolivar and his dream," Chavez said. "Long live the fatherland!"

However, the government apparently did not have time to update Chavez's presidential sash, which bore the old coat of arms with the horse galloping towards the right.

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Napoleon seeks his empire

Jason Burke
Sunday March 12, 2006
The Observer

As a growing tide of insecurity sweeps France, Nicolas Sarkozy, the maverick, right-wing politician,is as much talked about in cafes and gossip columns for his tangled private life with his 'Josephine' as his ambition to be the next President
Outside there is a very Parisian scene. A long, open boulevard, trees stripped of their leaves, a grey light on the grey facades of the 19th-century apartment blocks, and, predictably, the road beneath obscured by thousands of marchers.

The demonstration passing beneath my windows is against a new law that allows small businesses to hire young people on short-term contracts. A small enough change, you might think, certainly not something that will make a major impact on a legal framework offering far greater job security than anything in the UK or pretty much anywhere else in Europe. But enough, nonetheless, to bring several hundred thousand people on to the streets. A young communist hands out leaflets calling on everyone to fight against précarité

There is a whole lexicon of French political words for which there is no direct equivalent in English and the one most in evidence these days is précarité (precariousness, insecurity). The word is spattered across the scores of banners, and hundreds of pamphlets, and crackles out of the loudspeakers and bullhorns on the floats. And it is a good word to keep in mind for anyone interested in understanding modern France.

On the television in my office there are live pictures of the demo spliced with images from a heated debate at the National Assembly. Dominique de Villepin, the urbane French Prime Minister, is explaining the need for the new law. It is about modernising the country, he is saying. The world has changed and France must change with it. A lot of people apparently disagree with him. Beside the Prime Minister, impassive, arms crossed, in a blue suit and blue tie, is Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, and the man who, perhaps more than anyone else in the country, wants to change France.

Sarkozy is another word that anyone wanting to understand modern France needs to keep in mind. Sarkozy and précarité.

Oddly, it is Sarkozy, not de Villepin, or even the weakening President Jacques Chirac, who is the most visible politician in France these days. His short, stocky bustling form is everywhere. His immediately recognisable features, so easy to caricature that French cartoonists say they are bored of drawing him, are on posters slapped up over walls, on the front page of newspapers, on trashy talk shows and serious discussion programmes. Though most journalists in France continue to scrupulously respect the division between public and private life, Sarkozy's turbulent marriage is a topic of conversations in bistros and bars. A 'romantic novel', a thinly disguised and salacious account of his relationship with his beautiful 'soul mate' wife Cécilia, is selling tens of thousands of copies. The issue of Paris Match which revealed last summer that Cécilia was flat-hunting in New York with a 'new friend' (she had left her husband apparently because she did not want to be France's First Lady) was one of the highest-selling of 2005. Last week Cécilia, it was breathlessly reported in otherwise serious newspapers, was seen at Place Beauvau, the interior minister's official residence, confirming the couple's much-rumoured reconciliation.

Sarkozy is a phenomenon as much as a politician. He is hated and loved, feared and admired with a passion that far exceeds his actual deeds or statements. For some 'Sarko' is the only man who can save France. For others - one of the marchers outside my window actually spat on the wet Tarmac when I asked him what his opinion of 'Sarko' was - he is all that threatens the country. Yannick Noah, the former tennis star and one of the most popular men in France, has publicly said that if Sarkozy is elected President next year he will leave the country. Nobody is indifferent to Sarkozy. Somehow he has managed to push his stubby fingers deep into all the fault lines and wounds of French politics and society - and then twist hard.

Sarkozy was born in 1955 in the utterly bourgeois 17th arrondissement of Paris close to where he still lives. The second son of a wealthy Hungarian immigrant, he was largely educated privately. He is not, as some like to claim, an outsider in terms of the French political elite. Though trained as a lawyer, his first love was always politics and he started campaigning for the French conservatives at the age of 19. Socialists are few and far between in the 17th arrondissement.

In 1983, at the astonishingly young age of 28 and a year after marrying for the first time, he was elected mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine, close to where he was born in Paris. In 1984 he met Cécilia Ciganer Albeniz, then 27 and a Sorbonne-educated concert-standard pianist, part-time model and public relations specialist. In 1988 he became a deputy in the National Assembly. Five years later Cécilia left her husband, Sarkozy left his wife and in 1996 the pair were married.

Sarkozy's first taste of real media attention had come in 1993 when, as mayor of Neuilly, he had successfully negotiated with a bomb-carrying crank who was holding a nursery school hostage. The nation watched him leaving the school with a small child in his arms. I saw the images recently on a French television show devoted to 'historic moments of our times' as chosen by viewers. The young Sarkozy walks out of the school, straight towards the cameras, with the same efficient muscular strut he has now. He is the impatient man of action, sleeves rolled up, risk-taking, a player and a thinker and a fighter. As the cartoonists have got tired of drawing him, so commentators have got tired of the adjective 'Napoleonic'.

A year after the siege came Sarkozy's first real taste of power with an appointment as a junior finance minister. A few injudicious - and unlucky - political calculations left Sarkozy out of major appointments in the late 1990s and he turned his undoubted energy to building his support base in the heart of the biggest right-wing political party - the UMP - instead, eventually becoming its president. In 2002, the newly re-elected President Jacques Chirac appointed him Minister of the Interior. He has not been out of the public eye since.

Chirac, most French commentators agree, is political carrion. Sarkozy, who is 'obsessed' by the presidency according to one biographer, has made little secret of his desire to run for France's highest office. De Villepin, who has never actually contested an election, is likely to be his main rival for the right-wing vote. The latter, a part-time poet who favours a more conciliatory and aristocratic style, rarely plays the media game with the same skill as his busy rival (although during the UMP's summer conference he managed successfully to leave Sarkozy waiting at a breakfast table in full view of the TV cameras while he, stripped to the waist, finished a well-photographed swim). De Villepin does however reassure many voters. Whether the two potential candidates detest each other or, like a pair of gladiators, grudgingly respect each other's different talents is unclear.

But though his rise has been swift, little in his actual career sets Sarkozy apart from many other French politicians. Apart from the fact that he did not go to one of the major schools that groom the vast majority of the French elite and his parents were immigrants, his is a standard political man's background. It certainly does not explain why Sarko arouses such visceral loathing or admiration among his compatriots.

When I arrived in Paris six months ago, a friend told me about the bread served at breakfast in her local cafe. 'Some days it's good,' she said. 'Other days, if the baker's lost on the horses or rowed with his wife, then it isn't.' At the time I did not recognise that, very gently, she was giving me the key to understanding modern France and the modern French world-view. She was saying was what many French people feel. France is defiantly not part of the consumerist, capitalist, US-led economic and cultural wave that is engulfing the world. France is different. My friend spoke of two other elements which were new to me. She described herself as neither from left nor right but 'a republican', and spoke of the importance of a multi-polar world. The implication was that the leaders of the pole opposed to the 'Anglo-Saxons' would be the French. 'Anglo-Saxon' is another word you hear often in France. It means Anglophone, economically liberal, rampantly capitalist. It means the brutish British with their powerful economy and low taxes, their lower levels of unemployment but higher levels of poverty. It means the unsophisticated, insular, ignorant, crassly self-confident Americans who have somehow - and this is apparently an historic injustice of enormous proportions - managed to become the world's only superpower. It means a threat. It also means, of course, an overweening sense of précarité.

One of the things that struck me most on arrival in France was this sense of external threat and internal crisis, despite the fact that the nation is still quite evidently one of the most successful states of the modern world. I started counting 'crises' - the crisis of wine, of textiles, of the press, of the railways (the latter immeasurably better than the UK's shambolic, expensive and filthy system) - and then gave up. As for threats, the biggest threat of all, that which apparently menaces all that France stands for, is globalisation, something that I had largely considered as a relatively benign process that brought countries closer together. Not for many in France. The destruction of distance, the melting of frontiers, was seen by many as a potential disaster. Even the project of the European Union was seen as a sinister Anglo-Saxon led 'liberal' plot to undermine the French social model and its cultural and economic traditions. The spread of the English language was an appalling loss to the world, not a means to greater international communication.

All is thus insecure, threatened, precarious, whether jobs or a way of life. This explains, to a degree, the intensely powerful myths that surround French agriculture - even if France's future clearly lies not in producing steak and turnips but in capitalising on its incredible reserves of knowledge, thought and culture.

The latter cannot fail to impress. If you want one difference with the UK, you will find it in the general level of popular conversation. In Bobigny, in the famous Paris banlieues - the celebrated department 93, scene of so much of the trouble last autumn - I spoke to a taxi driver who, after comparing rap lyrics to those of Corneille, the classic French playwright, explained to me the history of politically engaged French songwriting since the 1940s. In a poor provincial town in eastern France, the local mayor and backbench MP talked to me about different concepts of urban planning, making rapid references to major sociologists. He, incidentally, was a Sarkozy supporter. Everywhere the general level of public conversation is several notches higher than it is across the Channel and immeasurably superior to that found across the Atlantic.

But the French love affair with words has its drawbacks. A Swiss journalist friend spoke of the 'logorrhoea' of the French, which is unfair, but does indicate the degree to which words are favoured over action. There is a strong sense that if the ideas are there, and expressed in the right words, then actions are superfluous. So, during the riots of last year, which pitted angry, unemployed, alienated, disenfranchised youth from ethnic minorities against not angry, employed, fully franchised white policemen, the refrain 'the Republic is not racist' was everywhere. This was true: the principles of the French Republic are inspiring, the institutions are impartial, the laws are stunning in the simple elegance of their justice. But there is liberté, égalité, fraternité and there is réalité. As another French friend commented: 'We are interested in pourquoi (why), the Anglo-Saxons are interested in comment (how).'

Which is where Sarkozy comes in.

The problem with talking about Sarkozy is that, despite his extraordinary media exposure, he is something of an unknown quantity. To some he is a dangerous, dictatorial demagogue without ideology. A man who described the rioters in the banlieues as 'rabble', who says he will clean out bad estates with a sand-blaster, who favours zero tolerance policing, harsh immigration policies, an extension of the powers of the President (should he hold the job) and whose power base is in the none-too-gentle world of the French hard, though not the extreme, right. His detractors, and even some of his friends, say that he is 'psychologically fragile', pointing to his wild statements around the time of his break-up with Cécilia (and his consoling relationship with a journalist). But, though some of this may be true, Sarkozy has also spoken about the need to revamp France's fundamental law of secularism to allow mosques to be funded with state money to prevent extremism. He wants to give votes to non-naturalised immigrants in local elections and has come out strongly for positive discrimination for ethnic minorities, a measure that the French left, hobbled by their adherence to Republican values and their antipathy to anything Anglo-Saxon, has opposed. He has also, his supporters say, shown a resolve and a practical intelligence that few can rival on the French political scene. 'He is not an opportunist,' Camille Servan-Schrieber, a political adviser, tells me. 'He is a pragmatist. He is interested in the best solution at the best time.'

Whether Sarkozy is the best solution to France's problems depends in part on how you view those problems. One of the debates currently obsessing the French is the supposed 'decline' of their country. In recent months there have been furious rows between the 'declinologues' and their adversaries. The message of the former is that it is about time France woke up, got rid of its antiquated and expensive social model, its ossified bureaucracy, its over-powerful trade unions and began engaging with, and competing in, a fast-changing world.

A cultural, political and economic Maginot line will be no more effective than its military predecessor, they say. Such thinking is not just limited to the right. Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Medecins sans Frontiers and popular centre-left politician, said last week that France was suffering from 'severe arthritis'. But those who oppose the declineists say they are aggressive right-wing capitalists (or left-wing sell-outs), Anglo-Saxon in attitude and sympathy, who are wrong about the state of the nation. France is not 'falling down', they say, but the sole hope of global resistance to the planetary dominance of new-liberal economics and American culture. According to them, the decline-ists are just capitalists looking to strip the French people of all the hard-fought winnings of centuries of social struggle.

And this bitter division explains - as well as his colourful personal life - the astonishing profile of Sarkozy in French society. If the hour is one in which France is declining, then Sarkozy, with his talk of a 'clean break' with the past, is the man. If France is not declining, then Sarkozy is just another ambitious, and possibly dangerous, politician who shoots from the hip. There are powerful currents in France supporting either analysis. In the coming months and years we will see which triumphs. One thing is sure: the boulevards are likely to see many more marches before the contest is resolved.

Need to know

Born Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sárközy de Nagy-Bócsa (nicknamed Sarko) on 28 January 1955 in Paris.

Position Minister of the Interior and President of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP).

He says 'Nothing will lead me astray from the path that I have chosen.'

They say 'He calls problems by their real name, and he makes promises he intends to keep.'
Stephane Rozes of the polling firm CSA

I will never forgive him. And to think that I have seen him in his boxers.'
President Jacques Chirac

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China stakes its Middle East claim

By Chietigj Bajpaee

Two regions have emerged as the most likely sources of great-power conflict in the 21st century. The first is the Middle East, which is the focal point for the US-led "war on terror". The region is important both as part of a global ideological struggle against Islamist extremism and in the quest for oil and gas resources. The second is Asia, as the rise of China presents competition for both intangible and material resources on the world stage.
On the ideological front, China's model of protecting one-party rule by improving the economic livelihood of the people and emphasizing the principles of sovereignty, non-interference and territorial integrity while calling for a multipolar international system challenges the US-led international order, which favors democracy, human rights and humanitarian intervention.

China's rapid growth, development and modernization is also proceeding in tandem with China's growing resource needs, which are placing pressure on raw material prices and fueling a global competition for certain resources, notably energy resources given China's position as the second-largest oil consumer after the United States.

However, events in these two regions are not mutually exclusive. China's growing economic influence has proceeded in tandem with a growing military capability and more proactive political and diplomatic policy on the world stage, including in the Middle East. Its policy toward the Middle East has emerged as a microcosm of its foreign policy throughout the world, being driven by a desire to maintain a stable international environment in order to focus on its internal development, forming a close bond with the developing world, gaining access to raw materials and markets, and elevating its status on the world stage.

China's relations with the Middle East

China's relations with the Middle East are rooted in China's support for anti-colonial struggles during the Cold War. Beijing's wave of diplomatic recognition with the Arab world began in 1956, with China's establishment of diplomatic relations with Egypt, and completed in 1990 when Saudi Arabia established diplomatic relations with China.

With the end of the Cold War and China's emergence as a net oil importer in 1993, China's primary interest in the Middle East has been to gain access to the region's vast oil and gas supplies. While China is trying to diversify its energy import supplies, it still depends on the Middle East for half of its oil imports, with Saudi Arabia and Iran providing about 30% of China's oil imports.

Meanwhile, numerous states in the region have agreed to invest in China's downstream infrastructure, as demonstrated in December when Kuwait signed an agreement to invest in refinery and petrochemical infrastructure in Guangdong province.

Also in December, China and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) launched an energy dialogue. In fact, many recent diplomatic initiatives by China toward the Middle East can be seen through the prism of China's growing energy needs.

For example, the visit by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz to China in January was the first by a Saudi monarch to China. This visit demonstrated the deepening relationship between the world's fastest growing source of oil demand (China) and the world's biggest oil supplier (Saudi Arabia). Since 2002, Saudi oil shipments to the US have been declining while shipments have been increasing to China. Indeed, last year Saudi Arabia was China's leading source of oil imports.

China has secured numerous energy exploration agreements with the Saudi government. For example, Sinopec has won the right to explore for natural gas in Saudi Arabia's al-Khali Basin, while Saudi Arabia has agreed to assist China in the development of its strategic petroleum reserves and upgrade China's downstream refinery capacity as demonstrated by the construction of a refinery for natural gas in Fujian province.

Sino-Saudi relations extend beyond the energy sphere. Both countries maintain close relations with Pakistan and China has sold Saudi Arabia CSS-2 "East Wind" intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Saudi Arabia has also emerged as China's leading trade partner in the region with Sino-Saudi trade amounting to US$14 billion in 2005.

A similar deepening of relations can be seen in the case of Sino-Iranian relations. While China abstained in the vote to refer Iran's nuclear ambitions to the United Nations Security Council at the meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in January, it still maintains strong relations with Iran.

When the Iran issue is discussed at the Security Council, China could employ a similar tactic to that which it employed over the issue of Sudan, which is also a significant oil supplier to China; in 2004, the Security Council was forced to water down a resolution condemning atrocities in the Darfur region to avoid a Chinese veto.

China's relations with Iran, while rooted in centuries of history from the "Silk Road" and the voyages of Zheng He, have recently blossomed as a result of China's growing energy needs. China has signed a $100 billion deal with Iran to import 10 million tons of liquefied natural gas over a 25-year period in exchange for a Chinese stake of 50% in the development of the Yahavaran oilfield in Iran. China has also expressed a desire in direct pipeline access to Iran via Kazakhstan.

Relations in the economic sphere have also continued to blossom as bilateral trade reached $9.5 billion in 2005, fueled by growing Chinese investment in Iran's infrastructure. Iran has also been drawn into China's sphere of influence by its observer status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Given the ongoing frictions between Iran and the West, Sino-Iranian relations are also a source of potential friction for Sino-US relations. For example, while China has voiced its commitment to the non-proliferation regime, Chinese companies have been the subject of numerous sanctions for the transfer of ballistic missile technologies to Iran. Since the mid-1980s, China has sold Iran anti-ship cruise missiles such as the Silkworm (HY-2), the C-801 and the C-802.

While gaining access to the region's vast energy resources is China's primary motivation for deepening relations with the region, there are a number of other factors driving China's Middle East policy. As the ideological center of the Islamic world, China has attempted to maintain good relations with the Arab world in order to get its support on the Uighur insurgency in Xinjiang autonomous region and maintain amicable relations with the 55 million Muslims residing in China.

While China's main efforts in preventing external actors from fueling the Uighur insurgency have focused on Central and South Asian states, countries in the Middle East, most notably Saudi Arabia and Iran, have also had an important role to play in quelling the insurgency given their moral and material support. Most notably, Wahabbi Islam, which is an export from Saudi Arabia, has played a significant role in the rise of extremist, fundamentalist Islam in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics on China's western borders.

In order to garner the goodwill of the region, Beijing has made numerous symbolic gestures. For example, in September 2002 Beijing appointed its first Middle East peace envoy. While this has had little significance for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it has nevertheless demonstrated China's increasing attention to the region.

Similarly, while China has maintained a low profile in the US intervention in Iraq, in May 2004 China submitted a document to the UN Security Council proposing that US-led forces withdraw from Iraq. China has also consistently called for a larger UN role in Iraq. China is deepening its economic cooperation with the region through the China-Arab Cooperation Forum and the Framework Agreement between China and the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes negotiations for a free trade zone.

While China has maintained a historically close relationship with the Arab world, including sympathizing with the Palestinian cause, it has nevertheless also pursued an increasingly close relationship with Israel in recent years. Israel is one of only a handful of countries that has never granted diplomatic recognition to Taiwan.

In recent years, Sino-Israeli relations have been fueled by China's growing dependence on Israel for arms imports and upgrades, particularly hard-to-find US-made weapons platforms. Israel is now China's second-largest supplier of weaponry after Russia. Most notably, Israel has sold China "Harpy" anti-radar drones and Python-3 air-to-air missiles.

Nevertheless, there are limits to Sino-Israeli relations given the close relationship between Israel and the US, as evinced by Israel's decision (under US pressure) to cancel the sale of the Phalcon airborne early warning radar system to China in July 2000 and its decision not to upgrade Harpy drones for China in 2004.

Potential for China-US rivalry

While China and the US are not engaged in overt competition in the Middle East, it is not difficult to envision that the region could emerge as the stage for future Sino-US rivalry. Not only are the US and China dependent on energy resources from the Middle East, but both states offer competing models for international conduct, with the Chinese model becoming increasingly popular in the region.

While the US has become more willing to engage in humanitarian intervention, preemptive action and regime change, with the Middle East emerging as the most likely candidate for the US to practice these policies, China retains a preference for a traditional Westphalian-style of conducting international relations with emphasis on non-intervention, state sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Since September 11, 2001, and the launch of the US-led "war on terror" and the Greater Middle East initiative to spread democratic principles across the Middle East, regimes in the region, including those that have traditionally maintained close relations with Washington such as Saudi Arabia, have deepened relations with Beijing in order to hedge their bets against a downturn in relations with the US.

China's relations with pariah, terrorism-sponsoring governments in the region including Iran, Libya and Syria, as well as the proliferation of ballistic missile technologies and other weapons platforms to these countries, has already created a source of tension between the US and China.

The implications of Sino-US energy competition in the Middle East extend beyond the region. At present, China has to depend on the US to patrol sea lanes through which its oil imports from the Middle East transit. Beijing is attempting to reduce this dependence by diversifying to access oil and gas imports from other regions and developing port facilities through which China can import oil by pipeline.

This "string of pearls" strategy, as it has been characterized, has been made apparent by China's development of port facilities at Gwadar in Pakistan, which is on the doorsteps of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. China has also expressed a desire to augment its blue water naval capability over the long term, which could be used to compete with the US in policing waterways in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean.


Sino-US competition in the Middle East is by no means inevitable. The Middle East may emerge as a stage for cooperation between the world's major energy consumers, including the US, China, Japan and India. This has already been seen with the joint bid by China National Petroleum Corp and India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp for energy assets in Syria, and China and India having a 50% and 20% stake respectively in the development of Yahavaran field in Iran.

The growing dependence on Middle East energy by China, India and Japan may also encourage these states to play a more proactive role in resolving long-standing disputes in the region, bringing peace and stability. China's low-key presence in the ongoing debate over the US intervention in Iraq and abstention over the vote to refer Iran to the UN Security Council also suggests that China does not seek to engage in open confrontation with the US over issues in the Middle East. There are also technical barriers to China's access to Middle East oil given that China lacks the refineries to process the heavy sour crude from the region.

Nevertheless, Chinese and US interests in the Middle East are not identical. In many ways, there has been a role reversal for the US and China on the world stage - while China had originally fueled revolutionary change through sponsoring anti-colonial struggles and communist insurgencies, it is now the US that is attempting to fuel change in the international system by rejecting international conventions (eg Kyoto Protocol, Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty) and norms (preemptive action, granting recognition to India as a nuclear power).

On the other hand, while the US has traditionally favored stability even at the cost of supporting unsavory regimes, it is now China that increasingly favors stability in the international system, even if it means supporting pariah regimes such as Myanmar, Iran, Nepal, North Korea, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe. In the Middle East, the volatile mix of long-standing disputes, great power competition and Islamist extremism create the recipe for further instability in the region.

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Donald Rumsfeld makes $5m killing on bird flu drug

By Geoffrey Lean and Jonathan Owen
Published: 12 March 2006

Donald Rumsfeld has made a killing out of bird flu. The US Defence Secretary has made more than $5m (£2.9m) in capital gains from selling shares in the biotechnology firm that discovered and developed Tamiflu, the drug being bought in massive amounts by Governments to treat a possible human pandemic of the disease.
More than 60 countries have so far ordered large stocks of the antiviral medication - the only oral medicine believed to be effective against the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease - to try to protect their people. The United Nations estimates that a pandemic could kill 150 million people worldwide.

Britain is about halfway through receiving an order of 14.6 million courses of the drug, which the Government hopes will avert some of the 700,000 deaths that might be expected. Tamiflu does not cure the disease, but if taken soon after symptoms appear it can reduce its severity.

The drug was developed by a Californian biotech company, Gilead Sciences. It is now made and sold by the giant chemical company Roche, which pays it a royalty on every tablet sold, currently about a fifth of its price.

Mr Rumsfeld was on the board of Gilead from 1988 to 2001, and was its chairman from 1997. He then left to join the Bush administration, but retained a huge shareholding .

The firm made a loss in 2003, the year before concern about bird flu started. Then revenues from Tamiflu almost quadrupled, to $44.6m, helping put the company well into the black. Sales almost quadrupled again, to $161.6m last year. During this time the share price trebled.

Mr Rumsfeld sold some of his Gilead shares in 2004 reaping - according to the financial disclosure report he is required to make each year - capital gains of more than $5m. The report showed that he still had up to $25m-worth of shares at the end of 2004, and at least one analyst believes his stake has grown well beyond that figure, as the share price has soared. Further details are not likely to become known, however, until Mr Rumsfeld makes his next disclosure in May.

The 2005 report showed that, in all, he owned shares worth up to $95.9m, from which he got an income of up to $13m, owned land worth up to $17m, and made $1m from renting it out.

He also had illiquid investments worth up to $8.1m, including in partnerships investing in biotechnology, issuing reproductions of paintings, and operating art galleries in New Mexico and Wyoming. He also has life insurance with a surrender value of up to $5m, and received up to $1m from the DHR Foundation, in which he has assets worth up to $25m, and $773,743 from the Donald H Rumsfeld Trust, in which he has assets of up to $50m.

Late last week no one at Gilead Sciences was available to comment on Mr Rumsfeld's sale of its stock. In a statement to The Independent on Sunday the Pentagon said: "Secretary Rumsfeld has no relationship with Gilead Sciences, Inc beyond his investments in the company. When he became Secretary of Defence in January 2001, divestiture of his investment in Gilead was not required by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Office of Government Ethics or the Department of Defence Standards of Conduct Office.

"Upon taking office, he recused himself from participating in any particular matter when the matter would directly and predictably affect his financial interest in Gilead Sciences."

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Three Die in N.J.Plane Fireball

March 13, 2006

Three people were killed when a private twin- engine plane crashed in flames just outside the airport in Old Bridge, N.J., last night, authorities said.

Two teenagers were seriously injured in the crash at 10.50 p.m. and were taken to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick.

"It's a pretty horrific scene," said Police Lt. Robert Weiss.

It wasn't clear if the pilot had been trying to land or had just taken off as the plane circled the airport then went down in an empty field, witnesses said.

The plane crashed near Raceway Park Speedway and not far from a residential area.

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Police Search New Jersey's 'Bermuda Triangle'

March 9th, 2006
Associated Press

Authorities call it "New Jersey's Bermuda Triangle," a watery place where people disappear, never to be seen again.

The description held true Wednesday after a 4 1/2-hour search of the sprawling Round Valley Reservoir failed to turn up any trace of six missing boaters and fishermen, some of whom were last seen in 1973.

"It would be nice to bring some closure, not only to our open cases but to the families involved," state police Detective Sgt. Jim Price said before the search began. All six men are presumed drowned.

Weather and water conditions at the reservoir were ideal this week for an expanded search: Because of infrequent snow this winter, the water level is 8 feet lower than normal, exposing an additional 30 to 90 feet of shoreline that is normally submerged.

A team of 30 state police, FBI and Bergen County Sheriff's officers fanned out on foot and in boats across the 180-foot-deep reservoir, looking for skeletal remains, clothing or other signs of the missing victims, all of whom are presumed drowned.

"It's like looking for a needle in a haystack," Price said afterward.

Since 1971, 25 people have drowned at the reservoir, said Lt. Jim McCormick, supervisor of the state police's missing persons unit.

The oldest unsolved case dates to May 4, 1973, when Thomas Trimblett, 27, of North Arlington, and Christopher Zajaczkowski of Jersey City, whose age was unknown, were fishing on the reservoir from a 12-foot aluminum boat that was later found capsized. A broken fishing pole and reel were found with the boat and two yellow life jackets and a wooden oar were found nearby.

On March 15, 1977, Craig Stier, 18, and Andrew Fasanella, 20, both of Trenton, launched a canoe from a reservoir boat ramp and were last seen paddling along the north shoreline. Four days later, their canoe was found washed ashore along with some camping gear.

On March 18, 1989, John Kubu, 37, of Rahway, and Albert Lawson, whose age and hometown were not available, failed to return from a fishing trip on the reservoir. Their 13-foot aluminum boat and various personal items were later found on the shoreline. Lawson's body was found that October; Kubu's body has not been found.

On Oct. 22, 1993, Jeffrey Moore, 27, of Ringwood, was fishing in a canoe with a friend when their vessel ran into trouble. The friend was rescued by a passing boater, who told authorities Moore drowned after the canoe took on water. Items from the boat were recovered on the shoreline.

Two search teams on Wednesday split up and fanned out to the north and south, finding 24 small bones or bone fragments and marking the location of each with a small orange flag.

The bones were examined by Donna Fontana, a forensic anthropologist with the state police, who was able to determine that each had come from an animal.

A ripped and tattered green and white baseball cap that was found wrapped around a tree branch was too damaged to be of use in the investigation, even though Trooper Bernie Borrelli said a green and white ball cap with the letters "WW" on the front had been linked to one of the missing victims.

FBI Agent Mike Scimeca determined the hat was so thoroughly damaged by the water that no traces of DNA would be present that might help identify its owner.

On two boats, specially trained cadaver-sniffing dogs were brought in to sniff for the telltale gases that decaying bodies emit. The next step will be to search sections of the reservoir with a special underwater robotic camera, Price said. That search has not yet been scheduled.

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Mystery animal killing sheep in McCone, Garfield counties

By The Associated Press

BOZEMAN -- Ranchers in McCone and Garfield counties, as well as federal wildlife officials, are hunting a wolf or wolf hybrid that has killed 35 sheep and wounded 70 others since late December.

The attacks started near Circle more than 250 miles from the nearest known wolf territory. Five sheep were killed and 15 wounded, some of which died later.

The next attack happened Jan. 10 and ended with 21 grown ewes dead and 40 injured.

In both cases, agents with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services looked at tracks and other evidence and determined domestic dogs were responsible.
On Jan. 12, four more sheep were killed and six injured, said Carolyn Sime, wolf program coordinator for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Word of the attacks spread, and ranchers began looking for a killer dog.

On Feb. 6, Jeff Skyberg, a private trapper in Circle, got a call from a rancher who said he'd spotted large dog tracks in some fresh snow.

Skyberg, who works for a local predator control district funded by ranchers, got in a small plane and followed the tracks. "When I got to the end of the tracks, it wasn't a dog," he said.

He described what looked like a wolf: a big gray animal with a straight tail. Dog or hybrid tails often curl.

He landed the plane and called state wildlife officials to find out if he could legally kill the animal. FWP officials informed him that only Wildlife Services could legally kill what could be a wolf.

"By the time Wildlife Services got there, we'd lost it," Skyberg said. "It walked off into a sagebrush coulee, and we never could find it. We were out of gas and out of time."

The animal has attacked two more times since then, killing two sheep and wounding 11.

Officials are now calling it a wolf or wolf hybrid, and ranchers and Wildlife Services are on the offensive.

Federal rules adopted in 2005 allow ranchers to kill wolves that are attacking or menacing livestock. When ranchers suffer losses, they can obtain kill permits that are good for 45 days after an attack and can be used only on their land. Four kill permits have been issued.

Wildlife Services agents stationed in Jordan also are hunting the animal, Sime said.

"There is some big canid out there killing sheep, and that's not OK," she said. "We've got to get to the bottom of that."

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Mystery "Buddha" boy goes missing

Sat Mar 11, 2006

KATHMANDU - Nepali police began hunting on Saturday for a teenaged boy who some people believe is an reincarnation of Buddha after he disappeared from the site where he had been meditating for almost 10 months.

Fifteen-year-old Ram Bahadur Bamjon has not been seen since early Saturday, said Hari Krishna Khatiwada, a district official of Bara, 150 km (95 miles) southeast of Kathmandu.

The boy had been meditating there without food or water since May. Some of his followers are also missing.

"So far we have found no trace of them," Khatiwada said.

Sitting cross-legged beneath a "pipal" tree, which is sacred to Hindus, Bomjon drew more than 100,000 people to the dense forests in southeastern Nepal.

But visitors were only allowed to see him from 50 meters (165 feet) away and the boy was hidden from public view at night behind a curtain drawn by his followers.

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Vietnamese boy has 5 kidneys: report

www.chinaview.cn 2006-03-13 13:04:51

HANOI, March 13 (Xinhuanet) -- A 14-year-old boy from Vietnam's northern region has become the first Vietnamese person having a total of five kidneys, local media reported Monday.
When treating the boy named Pham Van Thuc from northern Hai Duong province, doctors at the Viet-Duc Hospital found that he has four left kidneys and one right kidney, Labor newspaper reported. The doctors said the five kidneys are a form of congenital malformation.

Thuc, which was hospitalized for kidney treatment on Feb. 19, is recovering well. His kidneys are not supposed to be amputated.

The doctors said they have not known any documented cases of people having five kidneys in Vietnam, even in the world before, the report said.

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Solar eclipse no cause for rioting, Nigerians told

New Zealand Herald

ABUJA - The Nigerian government, anxious to avoid a repeat of riots that marked a solar eclipse in 2001, warned citizens they may suffer "psychological discomfort" during a new eclipse this month but urged them not to panic.

Information Minister Frank Nweke said an eclipse five years ago caused riots in northern Borno state because people did not know why it happened.

"Some people even felt some evil people in their communities were responsible for the eclipse," he said in a statement today aimed at reassuring Nigerians that the eclipse is expected to darken parts of the country on March 29.

"The eclipse is not expected to have any real damaging effect, only social and psychological discomforts are envisaged," Nweke said. He did not explain what the discomforts might be.

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Darwin's defender

By Tim Adams
Sunday March 12, 2006
The Observer

America's answer to Richard Dawkins is a self-confessed 'bright', his term for atheists, agnostics and defenders of Darwinism, a man who has made it his crusade to confront what he sees as the pernicious influence of the religious right in the United States.
Daniel Dennett has something of the look of those seventeenth-century puritan preachers who would talk for hours about the sins of the flesh. The gospel he has spent most of his life spreading, however, has nothing to do with supernatural vengeance; quite the opposite. His full white beard is worn more in homage to Charles Darwin than the Almighty.

When I went to see him at the little office in the corner of a quadrangle at Tufts University he has occupied for 30 years, he was examining on his computer screen the cover of his new book, Breaking the Spell. His book seeks to demonstrate that religion, chiefly Christianity, is itself a biologically evolved concept, and one that has outlived its usefulness. In America, these days, that is the most virulent form of fighting talk.

Dennett, you might say, has been working up to this. His previous bestselling books, Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Consciousness Explained, established him as America's most important and entertaining philosopher; such is the provocative content of Breaking the Spell that it earned him a reported publishing advance of a million dollars.

I had been reading Dennett's book on the plane to Boston and 36,000 feet seemed about right for its heady intelligence. He has made his polymathic career mixing rigorous science and philosophy with anecdote and storytelling; Richard Dawkins, his friend and British equivalent, routinely calls Dennett 'surpassingly brilliant'. Like Dawkins he is, too, not without a sense of mischief. He begins his latest 400-page argument against the divine, for example, by comparing the idea of religion to a tiny parasite, a lancet fluke, 'a little brain worm', that changes the behaviour of an ant, its host, in order to get itself swallowed by a sheep or a cow so it can reproduce in a bovine gut. It is not, it would be fair to say, a version of the greatest story ever told that is designed to appeal to the crusading legions of the religious right.

In the past, by detractors, he has been called a 'Darwinian fundamentalist' in that there is no area of life or experience that he believes cannot be understood in terms of natural selection. He is happy to accept the label. He has devoted his working life to showing how all of the ideals we hold most sacred - free will, individuality, justice, the soul, anything resembling an 'I' - can (and must) be explained in terms of blind genetic-preservation.

'What I have done is to show people that they have to let go of a lot of instincts they have about their minds,' he says, 'but also that when they have done that, everything is hunky dory; they have got free will, they have got consciousness and they don't need God to explain any of it.' He seems entirely comfortable with this literally soulless proposition, though he allows himself a smile when I suggest that one of his epigrams has lodged itself in my mind, or at least in a neural pathway that kids itself it is 'me' and refuses to go away: 'Not a single one of the cells that compose you knows who you are, or cares,' it says.

Dennett has worked closely with Richard Dawkins in extending the mechanics of selfish genes into the realm of thought. He talks a lot about 'memes', which are ideas seen in the context of replication. 'If you have an original idea and keep it to yourself, even if it's true, that's not a meme,' he says. 'Memes are contagious ideas. They spread from person to person. There are millions of people in this world who make their living trying to propagate memes. Everyone in advertising, everyone in public relations, everyone in religion.'

Dennett has long since fancied himself as a first-rate global meme-spreader, not least because early in his academic career he introduced the first frisbee into Britain and watched it colonise the country from the gardens of Worcester College Oxford where he first spun it into the air as a postgraduate. These days he restricts himself to sending Darwinist idea-germs into battle against the politicised viruses of creationism and 'intelligent design', both of which are still taught in some American schools. (At his own high school 50 years ago Dennett starred in a production of Inherit the Wind - as the preacher Rev Jeremiah Brown, no less - and he can't quite believe that versions of the Scopes trial are still being played out to this day in American court rooms. He thought that argument would have been won by now. 'But still, we are where we are.')

Breaking the Spell opens up a new front in this engagement. 'It just became clearer and clearer to me that there were too many presumptions in the air about the elevated status of religious presuppositions,' he says. 'I thought that wasn't right. I wanted to find out why religion still has such a hold on people.'

To fortify his beleaguered army of American rationalists, Dennett has found a new banner under which to march. Along with Dawkins, he has taken to calling himself a 'bright', which is a catch-all moniker for atheists and agnostics and materialists of all kinds. 'We brights don't believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny - or God,' he suggests. 'We disagree about many things and hold a variety of views about morality, politics and the meaning of life, but we share a disbelief in black magic - and life after death.'

Dennett has written editorial pieces in the New York Times about the brights being America's most persecuted minority these days; the godless worse than jihadists in some eyes. Is the term gaining currency?

'Well,' he says 'there was a flurry at first and then it sort of died down and people said, "Ha! It's not going to catch on." But it took the term "gay" quite a few years to catch on. So let's come back in five years and see what is happening to "bright". I think it would be good if there was a familiar novel term for people who don't believe in the supernatural. There are such negative connotations to the word atheist in that it defines an opposition. I'd like a word that stands on its own.'

Dennett does not make the comparison with gay liberation tritely. For a while now, he has cheerfully been announcing to anyone who will listen that he is bright and he is proud.

'When I came out as a bright at this wonderful conference of high-school kids up in Seattle, the effect was electrifying,' he recalls. 'Many of them came up to me afterwards and said, "Thank you! Thank you! I have never heard an adult say that before."'

The children had apparently held these private doubts about God for years, but they'd had to keep them to themselves, worried about being different, or strange. 'Let's shout it out,' Dennett exclaims. 'We're brights! We don't believe in God!'

I suggest to him that this feels, at least where Christianity is concerned, like a pointedly American battle cry, but he is not convinced.

He smooths his beard. 'That reminds me of what I used to hear when I was a graduate student in England many years ago. The civil rights movement was in full swing and people would tell me how backward America was. I didn't quite have the guts to say then: just you wait, but that's what I felt. And that is what I feel now. Maybe we are not behind this curve - maybe we are ahead of it.'

In writing his book, he says, it was very important to him to get as many believers as possible to read it. He did a seminar at Tufts where at least half of his audience was deeply religious. He sought them out, discussed the exact nature of his blasphemies. 'Of course I'm going to hurt people's feelings,' he says, 'but I don't want to offend people casually. I really want to do it on purpose.'

Dennett imagined that the book would stir up some trouble for him, and so far, oddly, the New York Times has led the charge; its reviewer, Leon Wieseltier, calling Dennett 'the sort of rationalist who gives reason a bad name' and aggressively dismissing his claims about religion as being a form of 'scientism' which is 'one of the dominant superstitions of our day'. Dennett responded by letter with typical wit and quiet anger: 'What next?' he wondered of Wieseltier's criticism 'A review that warns about the pernicious "meteorologism" that keeps scolding us about global warming, or the "economism" that has the effrontery to inform us that the gap between rich and poor is growing?"' The row has consumed blogs across America; it gives some insight into what Dennett is up against.

For the most part he has been content to get his retaliation in first. His book states, for example, that gods are the product of a nascent 'fantasy-generation impulse' and that theism is made possible by a 'gene for heightened hypnotisability' beloved of shamans. Anyone who argues otherwise is 'a protectionist'. Dennett is clearly a profoundly generous-spirited man in person, but he gives no quarter intellectually to anyone. 'The only meaning of life worth caring about,' he says, 'is one that can withstand our best efforts to understand it.'

As a younger man, Dennett took on some of the biggest beasts in the academic jungle - Stephen Jay Gould, Noam Chomsky - and has never once taken a step back. 'The thing is,' he says, 'I really don't like academic bullies, these silverbacks in whatever field who resort to bullying. Overpowering people with their prestige and rhetoric. It's an abuse of power. What I discovered early on was that you can call them out. They can't hurt you. Very good, wise people told me not to put a chapter criticising Stephen Jay Gould in a book, because he would eat me alive. I left it in and he tried to eat me alive, but he did not manage it because he was wrong.'

Dennett sees the world of the future polarising between rationalists and believers and, from the corner of his quad, watches that fracture deepening daily. When he wrote his seminal book, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, people used to ask him: why is it so dangerous? They don't ask him that any more. Dawkins wrote that people had 'evolved to be Darwinists', but some people are clearly taking a lot longer than others. Dennett puts this blip down to a 'genetic variation in lovers of mystery'. Perhaps even a majority of people, he believes, really don't like to have things explained. 'Many very intelligent people really don't want to hear how a magic trick is done; they prefer their ignorant mystification.'

It is hard to imagine anyone, I suggest, with a more robust anti-mystery gene than him, but he insists there are lots of things he does not want to know - when he is going to die, say, or which of the people he thinks of as his friends are really not his friends - as well as a handful of things he has proved himself incapable of knowing - quantum physics, how to play the violin.

Other than that, he is up to speed on almost everything, and if he is not sure, he has a formidable list of 'phone-a-friends'. He is a world-class philosopher and neuroscientist, he is a pioneer of artificial intelligence, as well as being a gifted sculptor, a virtuoso jazz pianist and an intrepid Atlantic sailor. It is, he says, the last of these though that always makes him feel most alive. I wonder if he has any intimations of immortality at all when he is out at sea, with the heavens set out above him and the wind in his sails.

'No,' he says, 'but what I do love is when it's stormy and everyone else is below decks, snug in their cabin. I'm doing my trick at the helm. I love that. The great thing about being a philosopher is that if you make a mistake, no one gets hurt. We don't need malpractice insurance. One of the things I love about sailing is that I can be in a situation that if I did not know what I know, I could be in mortal danger. I'm applying knowledge in the real world and people are safe because I know what I'm doing.'

This dominant urge to test himself, to be as expert as he can be in as many areas as he can manage, is something he believes he has inherited from his father, Daniel Dennett senior, a precociously eminent historian who specialised in the social and political history of Islam.

His father was a great academic star at Harvard before transferring to the University of Beirut to finish his PhD in the Forties. When America joined the Second World War, he was recruited to the forerunner of the CIA in the Middle East. He was killed in a plane crash while on a mission to Ethiopia in 1948 when his son was five. His influence still casts its light on Dennett, however, though he finds it hard to separate out the facts from the fiction.

'I don't really know which memories I have of him that are real any more,' he says. 'But I do know that when old friends of his have met me in adulthood, they have been in tears: they say it is uncanny; I am him. I have the same tone of voice, the same way of telling stories, the same laugh. Except that he was a historian and I am not that. I tried but I had a habit of remembering the wrong things and forgetting the right ones.'

Dennett rues the fact that his father never got to serve his country as he might have done. 'Here was a man who intimately understood the Middle East, and who was deeply interested in politics, who loved the Arab world. It would have been great to have him in the State Department for a few decades.'

It might have gone some small way to help avoiding what he sees as the current 'dark age' of foreign policy that he believes his country finds itself in. There have been bad times before - Vietnam, Watergate - but, he suggests, it is worse now because the debate is not as impassioned. 'I was in the thick of the anti-war movement in the Sixties. I'd lie awake at night thinking: how can we change things? I think the situation is terrible now, but I don't think many young people are lying awake. It seems to be harder and harder to kindle outrage.'

It is tempting, I suggest, to see his current book as a continuation of his father's legacy, a nice bit of genetic inheritance in that along the way it seeks to shed light on the histories of fundamentalism that have come to dominate the world's politics. He's not sure he would go that far, though he will concede that Breaking the Spell is his contribution to the anti-war movement.

'At the very least,' he says, 'I would certainly like people to reflect very hard on their delegation of moral authority to a few religious leaders, and to question it.'

He means, by this, religious leaders on both sides?

'President Bush certainly tries to make himself appear a religious leader and it worries me that so many people he surrounds himself with are unabashed devout people. I fear that their allegiance to their religion is much more powerful than their allegiance to their country. That scares me.'

We talk a little more about the extent to which his beliefs have been shaped by his childhood, about nature and nurture. I suggest that for someone who believes that what we think of as a self is no more than a 'trillion mindless robots dancing', he seems a very settled, inviolate kind of character, married for 40 years (with two children), and still obsessed with and excited by the areas of knowledge that interested him as a young man.

He agrees. 'Well, it's the dance that is unchanging,' he says. 'And in a certain sense, I think I haven't altered at all. I have the same set of aspirations in life, the same loves, the same weakness. As far as my work in philosophy goes, it's almost embarrassing. I look at my first book and I can see most of the ideas I've ever had are in there. I think it was partly luck. A lot of philosophers turn the crank and it all falls apart; for me I kept turning and it kept going ...'

Looking at the trajectory of his work, I suggest, from Consciousness Explained to Freedom Evolves to Breaking the Spell, he seems to have managed to do all of his thinking without being ever thrown off course by doubt or darkness. Where, I wonder, does he think that all of his profound, often thrilling, intellectual confidence comes from?

He thinks for a moment, smiles a little. 'Well, being right helps, I guess,' he says.

A life in short

Born 28 March 1942 in Boston

Education Harvard and Oxford

Career Lectured at the University of California at Irvine, then moved, in 1971, to Tufts University in Boston.

BooksBrainstorms (1978) made Dennett's reputation. Other notable works include The Mind's I (1981), Consciousness Explained (1991).

He says The first stable conclusion I reached ... was that the only thing brains could do was to approximate the responsivity to meanings that we presuppose in our everyday mentalistic discourse.'

They say 'He was very good at so many things: he was a sculptor, an expert downhill skier ... a tennis champion and had toyed with becoming a jazz musician,' Bo Dahlbohm, Swedish Institute for Information Technology.

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Statues of Egyptian Goddess Unearthed

13 March 2006

CAIRO, Egypt - An Egyptian-German archaeological team has discovered 17 statues of Sekhmet, an ancient Egyptian goddess with the head of a lioness and the body of a woman.
The statues, estimated to be about 3,000 years old, were found during restoration work on the temple of Amenhotep III, in the southern city of Luxor, Culture Minister Farouk Hosni said in a statement Sunday.

Last week, the team discovered six similar black granite statues depicting Sekhmet seated on a throne and holding the "key of life" in her left hand. Two of those statues were broken, with only the lower parts found.

The condition of the 17 statues was not revealed, though the council's chief, Zahi Hawass, said in the statement that each figure will be removed from the site for maintenance. Hosni did not say when the figures were found.

Hawass said Amenhotep III's different names and titles were delicately engraved on both sides of the statues' thrones, reflecting the advanced stage of arts during the 18th dynasty rule.

Sekhmet was considered the goddess of war and recovery, which could explain why so many similar statues were found on the same site, according to Mansour Breik, the official supervising the Luxor antiquities.

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The life of pi

Published: 13 March 2006

The United States accords pi the ultimate accolade tomorrow, its own national day. Most recall it from their school days (hazily), but here Steve Connor charts its history and celebrates a number that is irrational, transcendental ... and unique
In case it has escaped your attention, tomorrow is 14 March which, in American notation, is written 3/14. If you have a certain type of mind you will immediately notice that these digits bear a close approximation to one of the most important numbers in mathematics - pi.

Tomorrow has therefore been declared World Pi Day in honour of the mathematical constant that has beguiled and bewildered successive generations of numerate scholars since the days of ancient Babylon.

Every schoolchild is told pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. In other words, divide the distance around the edge of a circle by its diameter and you always get the same or "constant" number - pi.

It's a nice bit of trigonometry that we learn by gradual osmosis and forget by rapid diffusion. Yet its simple truth has provided mathematicians - ancient and modern - with a cornucopia of conundrums.

The first and most interesting is working out the precise value of pi. That has proved something of a challenge since the decimal places of pi can theoretically run on for ever. For the benefit of this short history of pi we can say that the value of the constant is 3.1416. A purist would of course argue that this is a gross estimation, preferring the more precise 3.14159265358979323846. Ultra-orthodox purists would add a few thousand more digits, but even they wouldn't be quite right.

A supercomputer in Tokyo once calculated pi to more than 2 billion digits. It could not, however, reach the final decimal place because as every mathematician knows, that lies somewhere beyond infinity, a place they go only in their dreams.

"The mathematics of pi is often rather pretty," explained Ian Stewart, professor of mathematics at Warwick University.

"All numbers are interesting but some are more interesting than others and pi is the most interesting of the lot," Professor Stewart said.

The whole point about pi is it is both irrational and transcendental. Irrational because it cannot be written as a simple ratio of whole numbers and transcendental because pi is living proof you cannot square a circle.

If your concentration is beginning to wander a little, then let's start from the beginning.

When the town planners of Babylon began building that ancient city, they took a keen interest in geometry. It became evident to them as early as the 20th century BC that when any circle's circumference is divided by its diameter, the result was always going to be about three. In fact they calculated a value of this ration equal to 25/8 which comes within 0.5 per cent of the true value of pi. A less exact value was given by another early reference to pi, this time in the Bible (Kings 7:23), which described a round basin with the dimensions: 10 cubits in diameter and 30 cubits in circumference.

Scholars point out that, although this gives us a neat and tidy value to pi of exactly three, it is unfortunately quite inaccurate. (This is perhaps why Professor Frink in an episode of The Simpsons managed to gain the full attention of a hall full of babbling scientists when he shouted "pi is exactly three!")

It was, in fact, an Egyptian scribe named Ahmes who gave one of the earliest and most accurate values of pi. He documented it in a Middle Kingdom papyrus scroll written around 1650BC, which was in fact a copy of an even earlier scroll. Ahmes described pi as the result of dividing 256 by 81, or 3.160.

It was however Archimedes who is credited as being the first to elevate the calculation of pi to a more theoretical discipline. It is for that reason the number is sometimes known as Archimedes' constant.

Chinese, Indian and Persian scholars all had a go at calculating the constant but it was not until 1706 that someone gave it the name we know it by today. If William Jones, a Welsh mathematician, is remembered for one thing it is his suggestion to call Archimedes's constant "pi" after the Greek letter.

But the real work on pi had still not begun. In 1761, Johann Lambert demonstrated the irrational nature of pi. In its simplest terms, that meant you could not describe the number as a simple ratio of two whole numbers. Schoolchildren are told that pi is about 22/7, but that this is only an approximation because pi defies mathematical rationality.

The second major discovery came in 1882 when Ferdinand von Lindemann proved that pi had another unusual feature: it was transcendental. In mathematical terms, it means pi is not the root of any algebraic equation with rational coefficients.

In non-mathematical terms this means pi is proof of the old adage: you cannot square a circle. In other words it is not possible with a ruler and a compass alone to find a square with exactly equal area to a given circle.

But the more elegant nature of pi has been subsumed by the all important quest to crunch its numbers. The obsession perhaps began with the German mathematician Ludolph van Ceulen who, in about 1600, computed pi to the first 35 decimal places. He was so proud of his accomplishment that he had the digits inscribed on his tombstone. A life-long obsessive called William Shanks spent 20 years calculating pi to 707 decimal places. Unfortunately, his achievement was discredited when the first digital computers found that he had made a mistake at the 528th decimal place - rendering all subsequent digits meaningless.
Kate Bush should perhaps have learnt this lesson before she decided to sing the song "Pi" on her album Aerial. Ms Bush sings each number of Pi to 150 decimal places - or at least that was her claim until a rather sad obsessive type decided to check each digit. "All was well for the first 53 decimal places but then Kate sang 'threeeee oneeee' when she should have sang 'zeeeeeeroooo' instead," said blogger Chris McEvoy.

"She recovered for the next 24 digits but then it went to hell in a handbasket when she missed out the next 22 digits completely before finishing with a precise rendition of her final 37 digits."

The infinite nature of pi has also attracted the interest of science-fiction writers, such as the great American astronomer Carl Sagan who, in his book Contact, buried a hidden signature of alien intelligence within the seemingly random digits of Pi, which have no known pattern. "It was rather naughty, because you can't in fact do this," said Professor Stewart. "You can't arrange pi to have a pattern. It was a nice little conceit on Sagan's part. In a sense a pattern within pi is not something that even God could arrange," he said.

But God or no, that hasn't stopped pi from playing a central role in other science fiction plots. In one episode of Star Trek, Spock saves the Enterprise from destruction when he orders the spacecraft's computer, which has been taken over by aliens, to calculate pi to the last digit.

Terry Pratchett milked the irrational nature of pi for all it was worth in his novel Going Postal, where a wheel has a value of pi that is precisely three. This new pi triggers a chain of events that eventually leads to the destruction of the universe.

So as tomorrow approaches, think long, infinite thoughts of the number. Think about the actual value of numbers, and the approximate near-misses we see when we calculate pi. Pi, you see, is always going to be represented by an approximation because, like all irrational numbers, its digits never really end.

And just in case you miss out on tomorrow's festivities, you'll get another chance on 22 July. This is the day - 22/7 - when European date formats permit a celebration called Pi Approximation Day.

Another Life of Pi

Pi took on an entirely different meaning - and found a new audience - when it featured in the title of a Booker Prize-winning novel in 2002. Born the son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry, India, the hero of Yann Martel's fable finds himself saddled with the name of Piscine as a result of his father's admiration for a swimming pool he once visited in Paris. The young lad, tired of being teased, changes his name to Pi before finding himself adrift for 227 days in a small boat with a tiger following a shipwreck.

Numbers across the world

By Jerome Taylor

8 Chinese culture has long placed importance on the ability of numbers to predict the future and bring luck. Eight is auspicious for the Chinese because it sounds similar to the Cantonese word for prosperous " fa" and it is considered synonymous with the transformation of bad into good. Chinese businesses will pay top money for phone numbers, number plates and addresses containing the number 8. In 2003, an airline in China paid £160,000 for the phone number 88888888.

7 The king of auspicious numbers, seven has a long and significant history. For the Abrahamic traditions, the number is of particular importance and is often referred to as the perfect number. The Old and New Testaments are littered with references to the number, while The Book of Revelations mentions it 55 times. Similarly seven is a key symbol in the Koran where it is mentioned approximately 25 times and plays a central role in forming the Islamic belief system. At the height of the Haj, Muslims circle the Ka'ba in Mecca seven times.

13 Many cultures have associated the number with bad luck but perhaps none more so than modern day America. Cities lack 13th Avenues and many buildings in the States have no 13th floor. Conspiracy numerologists are quick to point out some of the world's most notorious killers, including Jack the Ripper and Charles Manson, have 13 letters in their name.

INFINITY: The ultimate impossible number, infinity has confounded mathematicians and philosophers. In Western tradition, Aristotle was one of the first to tackle this never-ending number-crunch, making the distinction between actual infinity and potential infinity. In 1895, German mathematician Georg Cantor expanded on the various theories surrounding infinity. The earliest known reference to infinity, however, appears in the Yajurveda - one of the four sacred Hindu Vedas written between 1500BC and 500BC - and was widely discussed by Jain mathematicians at least a hundred years before Aristotle.

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Ark's Quantum Quirks

March 13, 2006



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Milosevic Last Letter Sent to Russian FM Says He Feared Poisoning

Created: 12.03.2006 17:11 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 17:11 MSK

Slobodan Milosevic sent a letter to Russia on Friday stating he had been given the wrong drugs, his lawyer quoted by Reuters said on Sunday.

Lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic, who showed a copy of the hand-written letter to journalists at the U.N. tribunal, said the former Yugoslavia president had asked the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for help, a day before he was found dead.

Tomanovic gave no further details.
On Saturday, the lawyer said Milosevic believed there were attempts to poison him in prison and asked for the autopsy to take place in Russia. Russia was a close ally of the former Yugoslavia and Milosevic's wife and brother live in the country.

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Russia Does Not Trust Milosevic Autopsy Results - Foreign Minister

Created: 13.03.2006 17:43 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 17:43 MSK

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia doesn't fully trust Milosevic's autopsy and wanted to send doctors to examine the body, agencies reported Monday.
Lavrov said Russia had been disturbed by the UN war crime tribunal's refusal to let Milosevic undergo treatment in Russia.

"In fact, they did not believe us," Lavrov was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying.

"In the situation when we weren't believed, we also have the right not to believe and not to trust those who are conducting the autopsy."

Lavrov confirmed that a team of Russian doctors was urgently flying to the Hague.

The former Yugoslavian president was found dead in his bed at the U.N. detention center on Saturday. He had been on trial since February 2002, defending himself against 66 counts of crimes, including genocide, in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. The court sessions were repeatedly interrupted by Milosevic's poor health and chronic heart condition, but he was not allowed to undergo a course of treatment in Moscow, although Russia guaranteed his comeback.

On Monday, the UN war crimes court said Milosevic died of a heart attack, but refused completely to rule out a poisoning theory as it prepared his body for release, AFP reported.

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Was Serbia a Practice Run for Iraq?

March 13, 2006

On March 11, the former Serbian leader and president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, died in his prison cell at the Hague, where he had been on trial for four years and one month for war crimes and genocide. The Serbian Socialist Party leader Zoran Andelkovic responded to the news of Milosevic's death with the following statement:

"Slobodan Milosevic, the president of the Socialist Party of Serbia and a former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia was murdered today at the Tribunal in Hague. The decision of the Tribunal to disallow Milosevic's medical treatment at the Bakunin Institute in Moscow represents a prescribed death sentence against Milosevic. Truth and justice were on his side and this is why they have used a strategy of gradual killing of Slobodan Milsosevic. The responsibility for his death is clearly with the Hague Tribunal."
A partisan accusation or the truth? Milosevic was known to be seriously ill. The Russian government promised to return Milosevic to the Tribunal after treatment. The Tribunal refused. It is easy to conclude that the case against Milosevic had collapsed and that an embarrassed US government, NATO authorities, and Hague Tribunal decided to let him die in his cell rather than admit that his guilt could not be proven even after a trial lasting four years and one month.

Milosevic was caught up in the post-Soviet era break-up of Yugoslavia. Nationalist forces broke up the Yugoslav federation. During 1991-92, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina seceded from Yugoslavia. Large Serbian minorities in Croatia and in Bosnia objected and claimed the identical right of self-determination to remain in the federation as Croats and Muslims claimed to leave it. Croatian and Bosnian Serbs organized and a war against secession began.

Milosevic could hardly remain a Serbian leader and not support the Serbs. Abraham Lincoln was canonized for invading the South to prevent its secession, but Milosevic was damned for trying to protect Yugoslavia's territorial integrity. In the end Milosevic accepted secession. In 1995 Milosevic negotiated the Dayton Agreement which ended the war in Bosnia. According to the encyclopedia, Wikipedia, "Milosevic was credited in the West with being one of the pillars of Balkan peace."

In 1998 Milosevic was confronted with a more severe problem. Armed actions by the separatist Kosovar Liberation Army, listed as a terrorist organization by the US Department of State, in the ancient Serbian province of Kosovo broke out into warfare. Milosevic was now trying to hold on to a province not of Yugoslavia but of Serbia itself, a province that had been colonized by ethnic Albanians. The Serbian population in Kosovo was outnumbered nine to one and suffered greatly at the hands of the KLA.

Milosevic, already damaged by the wars of secession that destroyed Yugoslavia, lost the media campaign waged by public relations firms hired by contending factions that spun the news that Americans received. Milosevic was demonized, and the Clinton administration had Serbia bombed by NATO forces for 78 days in the spring of 1999. Many Serbian civilians were killed by the air strikes which hit passenger trains and destroyed the Chinese embassy. In effect, the US interfered in Serbian affairs in behalf of the secession, with the result that Kosovo has been essentially ethnically cleansed of Serbs. Kosovo is apparently still considered to be a part of Serbia, but it is administered by the United Nations. Somehow, this has been presented as a great moral victory for humanity.

If the massive propaganda campaign against Milosevic had many facts behind it, he long ago would have been convicted at the Hague. What was the episode all about?

In my opinion, it was to establish the precedent, later to be employed in the Middle East, that the US government could demonize a head of state geographically distant from any legitimate "sphere of influence" and use military force to remove him. This is precisely the fate of Saddam Hussein, and the Bush regime still hopes to repeat the strategy in Iran and Syria.

The unanswered question is why does the "international community" go along with it? The numerous civilians killed by US interventions are just as dead as the ones killed by heads of state attempting to hold on to their countries. Why are the latter deaths war crimes but not the former?

As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush criticized President Clinton's intervention in Serbia and disavowed the international policeman role for the US. But as soon as Bush got in office, he plotted to invade Iraq. Why?

Americans should be very concerned that Bush still has not come clean about why he invaded Iraq. Americans should be disturbed that despite the disastrous results in Iraq, Bush still intends "regime change" in Iran and Syria.

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Slobo Can't Talk Any More

March 13, 2006

Slobodan Milosevic is characterized in the obituaries as the "Butcher of the Balkans." If that is the story you want to read about, please go to almost any other media outlet and read it again and again. Some are now suggesting that death is Milosevic's final revenge, that he "ended up cheating history" by dying before judgment was passed. But the world has already passed judgment on Milosevic and what is being cheated by his death is history itself.
What the corporate media overwhelmingly ignores in Milosevic's death is what they ignored in his life as well--his intimate knowledge of US war crimes in Yugoslavia. While Milosevic was undoubtedly a war criminal who deserved to be tried for his crimes, he was also the only man in the unique position of being able to expose and detail the full extent of the US role in the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. In fact, that is precisely what he was fighting to do at his war crimes trial when he died.

Because of the rule of victors' justice in the ad hoc tribunal system (a poor and unfair substitute for a true international court), Milosevic's case would have been the only international trial to potentially expose the details of the illegal, US-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia for 78 days in 1999. While the US-backed court consistently tried to limit Milosevic's right to speak, stripping him of his right to self-representation, Milosevic battled regularly to raise US war crimes. Sadly, with Milosevic will likely die the last hope the victims of these crimes in Yugoslavia had of getting their day (if it could even be called that) in court--a tragic and unjust reality to begin with--that speaks volumes about the twisted state of international justice.

Milosevic's cause, regardless of what one thinks of it, was a casualty of 9/11--an event that relegated him and his trial to the annals of history before it was even over. Most people in the world--with the exception of those in the Balkans where the proceedings were broadcast live, daily--probably didn't even know Milosevic was still on trial in the Hague. It became an obscure sideshow to the blood and gore unfolding constantly on the international stage.

Milosevic's death means that those who bombed Yugoslavia for 78 days beginning 7 years ago this month, killing thousands, will be, once and for all protected from any public scrutiny for their crimes. However opportunistic Milosevic may have been, he would have been one of the few people to appear at the Hague that could have--and would have--laid out these crimes in great detail. Now, there is almost certain to be no condemnation of the US bombing of Radio Television Serbia, killing 16 media workers, the cluster bombing of the Nis marketplace, shredding human beings into meat, the use of depleted uranium munitions and the targeting of petrochemical plants causing toxic and chemical waste to pour into the Danube River. There will be no condemnation of the bombing of Albanian refugees by the US or the deliberate targeting of a civilian passenger train or the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Milosevic also would have discussed how the US supports a regime in Kosovo that has systematically expelled Serbs, Romas and other ethnic minorities from their homes and burnt down scores of churches. He would have discussed the role of the US in funding and arming the Kosovo Liberation Army, which operates like a death squad and how the new prime minister of Kosovo, Agim Ceku, is a US-trained war criminal who gained infamy in both the Bosnian war and the 1999 Kosovo conflict. And Milosevic would have talked of the US interference in the Yugoslav elections in 2000 and the ultimate neoliberal takeover that was the aim of Clinton's sanctions and 78 days of bombing. In reality, it would have fallen on deaf ears, but it would have been stated for the record.

It is ironic that Milosevic's last legal battle was an attempt to compel his old friend turned nemesis Bill Clinton to testify at his trial. If successful, Milosevic would have grilled the man who was US president through the entire Yugoslav war in what would have been a fiery direct examination. Clinton and Milosevic were once pals who talked collective strategy in the 1990s. Milosevic had many damning stories to tell and, without a doubt, uncomfortable questions to ask Clinton. The judges in Milosevic's case clearly worked to keep those moments from ever happening and the US government made clear its forceful opposition to such subpoenas of US officials, even considering invading a country that would put a US official on trial. With or without Clinton, Milosevic's defense would have brought to light some serious documentation of US war crimes and he died, muzzled, before he really got started.

Little attention, therefore, has been paid to Milosevic's long-term efforts--which predated 9/11, the 1999 NATO bombing and his own trial--to expose the presence of al Qaeda in the Balkans--from Bosnia to Kosovo. With 9/11, Milosevic's talk of al Qaeda was easily dismissed as laughable, pathetic opportunism. But those who followed Milosevic's career and more importantly the events of the 1990s in Yugoslavia know it was none of those. Those allegations were based on true events the US does not want discussed in an international court. Following the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, many Mujahadeen eventually turned their sights on Yugoslavia where they went to fight alongside the Bosnian Muslims against the Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. Once again, the US and bin Laden were on the same team. To this day there are reports of training camps in Bosnia, which remains under occupation. It is also a likely training ground for future blowback.

In his opening statement, Milosevic alluded to some of the information he would introduce during his defense. "In 1998 when [Clinton envoy Richard] Holbrooke visited us in Belgrade, we told him the information we had at our disposal, that in Northern Albania the KLA is being aided by Osama bin Laden, that he was arming, training, and preparing the members of this terrorist organisation in Albania. However, they decided to cooperate with the KLA and indirectly, therefore, with bin Laden, although before that he had bombed the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania [and] had already declared war." Milosevic concluded that "one day all this will have to come to light, these links."

That, however, is unlikely and more so now that Milosevic is dead.

To be sure, there will never be indictments of these US war criminals at the Hague: Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright, Jamie Rubin, William Cohen, Sandy Berger, Richard Holbrooke and Wesley Clark. For many of Serbia's victims of US war crimes, Milosevic's trial was a "Hail Mary" pass, as awful of an historical irony as that is, aimed at someone recognizing their forgotten suffering.

It is a sad testimony to the state of international jurisprudence that after many attempts to find justice, the only hope for US victims in the Yugoslavia wars was the trial defense of a man many of those same victims despised. If there was an independent international court that was recognized and respected by the US, those responsible for bombing Yugoslavia would have been alongside Slobodan Milosevic in the docks these past years instead of having their responsibility being buried with him.

Jeremy Scahill is an independent journalist who spent extensive time reporting from Yugoslavia, including covering the 1999 US-led NATO bombing from the ground. The night Milosevic was arrested in Belgrade, Scahill was beaten by the former president's supporters outside Milosevic's residence. He has also reported from Milosevic's trial in the Hague. Scahill is currently a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. He can be reached at jeremy(at)democracynow.org

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Milosevic 'took rogue drug on purpose'

Monday 13 March 2006, 17:55 Makka Time, 14:55 GMT

Slobodan Milosevic deliberately took a drug that neutralised the effects of his heart medicine, an expert who examined his blood has said.
Donald Uges, a Dutch toxicologist, said on Monday: "I am sure he took the medicine himself because he wanted a one-way ticket to Moscow [for treatment].

"That is why he took rifampicine."

Rifampicine is a powerful antibiotic used to treat leprosy or tuberculosis. It countered the effects of Milosevic's heart medication, Uges said a day after an official autopsy concluded that the former Yugoslav president died of a heart attack.

Uges, a toxicologist of the University of Groningen, said he examined Milosevic's blood two weeks ago at the request of the Dutch doctors who wanted to know why his blood pressure was not dropping despite medication.

Sunday's autopsy pinpointed "myocardial infarction" - heart attack - as the immediate cause of death, although a tribunal spokeswoman said it was too early to rule out poisoning as claimed by his entourage and the ex-president himself in a letter revealed after his death.

The body release

Uges's comments came as the UN war crimes court in The Hague prepared to release his body.

The court said on Sunday that the body would be handed to his family, but Christian Chartier, a tribunal spokesman, was on Monday unable to say exactly when it would be released and to whom.

As of Sunday, Milosevic's widow, Mirjana Markovic, known as Mira, had not applied for a visa and was not expected in The Hague because she is wanted in Serbia under an international arrest warrant on charges of abuse of power.

She is believed to have been living in Russia along with their son Marko - who also faces arrest for attempted murder - since 2003.

The next question is where will Milosevic be buried.

Boris Tadic, the Serbian president, has ruled out a state funeral, saying such a ceremony would be "completely inappropriate" given Milosevic's role in the bloody Balkans conflicts that claimed at least 200,000 lives.

However, the government of Vojislav Kostunica, the prime minister, is under pressure from Milosevic's Socialists (SPS), whose support it needs, to give him a dignified funeral.

Poisoning claim

A legal adviser at the trial in The Hague said a medical report given to Milosevic by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) revealed high levels of an antibiotic used for leprosy or tuberculosis in his blood.

In the letter written a day before his death, Milosevic asked with the Russian foreign ministry for protection, claiming: "They would like to poison me."

Dutch NOS television reported that recent analyses had discovered "foreign substances" in his blood that neutralised the effects of the medication.

Serbian experts who attended the autopsy declared their satisfaction at how it had been conducted by Dutch pathologists.

Critics noted, however, that Milosevic was the fourth inmate to die at the ICTY detention centre in Scheveninghen, outside The Hague.

Tribual reputation

Moscow's liberal daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta said on Monday that the tribunal's reputation had been "seriously compromised". It said that "there is now little chance that Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, Bosnian Serb leaders, will be handed over to the tribunal".

Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime political leader, and Mladic, their military chief, who have been indicted by the court on similar war crimes charges, are still at large and thought to enjoy protection in Serbia.


Meanwhile, two days after his death, it was still unclear where Milosevic would be laid to rest, as his widow Mira Markovic, who is wanted on fraud charges, is believed to be in Russia.

Milosevic's legal adviser said in The Hague that he had asked the government of Serbia-Montenegro on behalf of the family for a funeral in Serbia.

The legal adviser, Zdenko Tomanovic, has also filed a request to Belgrade's district court asking it to withdraw the warrant against Markovic so she can attend the ceremony.

"The family wants a state funeral but not for him to be buried in the Alley of Great Men," he told reporters in The Hague, referring to the resting place of national luminaries in a central Belgrade cemetery.


Earlier, Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) told AFP it would try to bring down Serbia's minority coalition government if it refused to allow a funeral here.

"I told the ruling majority they cannot expect the SPS to enter parliament if Slobodan Milosevic is not buried in a dignified way in Belgrade," said Zoran Andjelkovic, a senior Socialist party official.

"By dignified, we mean that members of his family can come to the funeral and get the right to stay in Serbia and to find an adequate place at the cemetery, a place worthy of a historic person," he added.

The minority government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica depends on the support of at least 19 of the 22 Socialist deputies in the 250-seat parliament.

Milosevic son

In a related development, Milosevic's son Marko has applied at the Dutch embassy in Moscow for a visa to travel to The Netherlands, the Dutch foreign ministry said on Monday.

Press officer Dirk-Jan Vermeij said the visa would probably be issued on Monday.

Earlier on Monday a legal adviser to the former Yugoslav strongman said that he had submitted a request for the visa so that the son could recover the remains of his father, who died in his UN cell in Belgrade on Saturday.

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Red rain could prove that aliens have landed

Amelia Gentleman and Robin McKie
Sunday March 5, 2006
The Observer

The following correction was printed in the Observer's For the record column, Sunday March 12 2006

In the article below, Dr Milton Wainwright was quoted as saying that red rain lacked DNA. Dr Wainwright has asked us to make clear that currently he has no view on whether red rain contains DNA and that it is physicist Godfrey Louis who is of that view.

There is a small bottle containing a red fluid on a shelf in Sheffield University's microbiology laboratory. The liquid looks cloudy and uninteresting. Yet, if one group of scientists is correct, the phial contains the first samples of extraterrestrial life isolated by researchers.

Inside the bottle are samples left over from one of the strangest incidents in recent meteorological history. On 25 July, 2001, blood-red rain fell over the Kerala district of western India. And these rain bursts continued for the next two months. All along the coast it rained crimson, turning local people's clothes pink, burning leaves on trees and falling as scarlet sheets at some points.

Investigations suggested the rain was red because winds had swept up dust from Arabia and dumped it on Kerala. But Godfrey Louis, a physicist at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, after gathering samples left over from the rains, concluded this was nonsense. 'If you look at these particles under a microscope, you can see they are not dust, they have a clear biological appearance.' Instead Louis decided that the rain was made up of bacteria-like material that had been swept to Earth from a passing comet. In short, it rained aliens over India during the summer of 2001.
Not everyone is convinced by the idea, of course. Indeed most researchers think it is highly dubious. One scientist who posted a message on Louis's website described it as 'bullshit'.

But a few researchers believe Louis may be on to something and are following up his work. Milton Wainwright, a microbiologist at Sheffield, is now testing samples of Kerala's red rain. 'It is too early to say what's in the phial,' he said. 'But it is certainly not dust. Nor is there any DNA there, but then alien bacteria would not necessarily contain DNA.'

Critical to Louis's theory is the length of time the red rain fell on Kerala. Two months is too long for it to have been wind-borne dust, he says. In addition, one analysis showed the particles were 50 per cent carbon, 45 per cent oxygen with traces of sodium and iron: consistent with biological material. Louis also discovered that, hours before the first red rain fell, there was a loud sonic boom that shook houses in Kerala. Only an incoming meteorite could have triggered such a blast, he claims. This had broken from a passing comet and shot towards the coast, shedding microbes as it travelled. These then mixed with clouds and fell with the rain. Many scientists accept that comets may be rich in organic chemicals and a few, such as the late Fred Hoyle, the UK theorist, argued that life on Earth evolved from microbes that had been brought here on comets. But most researchers say that Louis is making too great a leap in connecting his rain with microbes from a comet.

For his part, Louis is unrepentant. 'If anybody hears a theory like this, that it is from a comet, they dismiss it as an unbelievable kind of conclusion. Unless people understand our arguments - people will just rule it out as an impossible thing, that extra-terrestrial biology is responsible for this red rain.'

Comment: Over the last few years, we have watched with interest as the powers that be via their lackey scientists and the mainstream media have slowly been prepping the public for some kind of 'revelation' about alien life, however small, on other planets in our solar system. Due to the massive evidence, which stretches back many hundreds of years, for the reality of some kind of UFO phenomenon on our planet, the very fact that we are now being subjected to a slow release of information that is obviously leading up to some kind of disclosure, makes us very suspicious about what exactly we will be told vis a vis the reality of "life out there".

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Creamy Pink Snow Covers Russian Region

Created: 13.03.2006 14:19 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 14:19 MSK, 5 hours 4 seconds ago


Creamy pink snow has covered the northern regions of Russia's Maritime territory, news agencies reported Monday.

For some reason, the snow that fell in the densely populated northern regions after a powerful cyclone had acquired a pink color of varying tints.
Experts at the local meteorology centre said sand from neighboring Mongolia was to blame for this unusual natural phenomenon.
Before it arrived in Maritime, the cyclone passed Mongolia, where sand storms had been raging in the desert.

"The winds of the cyclone embraced dust particles that colored the fallouts," the experts said.

February's yellow snowfall with a strong odor and an oily texture was observed on Russia's Far East island of Sakhalin. The color, odor and texture of the snow may have been a result of environmental pollution caused by the island's oil and natural gas industry.

However, experts do not rule out this could be caused by volcanic activity.

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Traces of alien life in Kerala rain: Report

Royden D'Souza
Wednesday, March 8, 2006

A Kerala scientist claims that the presence of alien life may have been the cause behind the red rain that occurred in the state in 2001.

Dr Godfrey Louis from the Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam revealed this fact in a research paper.

Dr Louis collected samples of rain and examined them and his results have the world of astrophysics very excited.

"It was not desert dust, but some cell-like matter of extraterrestrial origin. It could have been due to a meteor shower," he said.

What makes this finding fascinating are reports of a cell-like structure noticed during examination under an electron microscope.

Dr Louis explained interplanetary seeding and how it could have led to life on earth. He also pointed out that the red rain in Kerala could be one such example of interplanetary seeding.

His findings will now be published in a report in the journal Astrophysics and Space Science.

Comment: If it turns out that this "red rain" actually contains some kind of off-planet life forms, that fact could not possibly be more appropriate because, Kerala, where the red rain was discovered, also just happens to be one of the two alleged places that research has revealed the descendants of biology’s Adam and Eve may still be genetically alive.
EVER since the ‘Book of Life’ that unveiled the gene numbers that make up humans was revealed by geneticists a couple of years ago, new and fascinating ‘chapters’ on the origin and future of life have been added. The latest, yet ancient, story from an Indian research institute on when and how modern humans set their foot into Asia over 100,000 years ago marks another landmark in genetic study. The years of Jurassic Park-type research by the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular that took scientists on a voyage into the tribal heartland of the Andamans, Kerala and Gujarat has led to genetic blackboxes encrypted with fine details of a voyage from Africa to Asia. The research reveals that the descendants of biology’s Adam and Eve may still be genetically alive in two tribes — one in Kerala and the other in Gujarat.
One of the scientists involved in the analysis of the red rain has suggested that it could have been the result of a close pass of a comet, which is quite possible given the significant number of space rocks that have been visiting our planet of late. Of course, there is always the other possiblity that this red rain containing some kind of "alien life form" could in fact be the result of a close pass of a UFO that just happened to be dumping the contents of their space ship's toilet. Either way, the result is the same we suppose.

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Water Discovered On Saturn Moon

Mar 9, 2006

(CBS) LOS ANGELES The Cassini spacecraft has found evidence of liquid water spewing from geysers on Saturn's icy moon, Enceladus, raising the tantalizing possibility that the celestial object harbors life.

The discovery surprised scientists who are looking for signs of life in space.

"If the finding is true, it means Enceladus will join a very short list of places in this solar system that could, in theory at least, support life," says CBS News space consultant Bill Harwood.

"We previously knew of at most three places where active volcanism exists: Jupiter's moon Io, Earth, and possibly Neptune's moon Triton," said Dr. John Spencer, a Cassini scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. "Cassini changed all that, making Enceladus the latest member of this very exclusive club - and one of the most exciting places in the solar system."
Recent high-resolution images snapped by the orbiting Cassini confirmed the eruption of icy jets and giant water vapor plumes from geysers resembling frozen Old Faithfuls at Enceladus' south pole.

"We have the smoking gun" that proves the existence of water, said Carolyn Porco, a Cassini imaging scientist from the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

"The simple fact that this exists apparently in liquid form near the surface really puts Enceladus in a class by itself," Harwood said. "Aside from earth, there is nowhere in the solar system where there is liquid water so near a surface. Even Mars doesn't have reservoirs like this, as far as we know."

If Enceladus does harbor life, it probably consists of microbes or other primitive organisms capable of living in extreme conditions, scientists say.

David Morrison, a senior scientist at NASA's Astrobiology Institute, cautioned against rushing to judgment about whether the tiny moon could support life. Scientists generally agree habitats need several ingredients for life to emerge, including water, a stable heat source and the right chemical recipe.

"It's certainly interesting, but I don't see how much more you can say beyond that," Morrison said.

Scientists believe Mars and Jupiter's icy moons might have - or once had - conditions hospitable to life.

Enceladus measures 314 miles across and is the shiniest object in the solar system.

It was long thought to be cold and still. But scientists now believe it is a geologically active moon that possesses an unusually warm south pole.

The water is believed to vent from fissures in the south pole. Porco said the venting has probably been going on for at least several thousand years, potentially providing a lasting heat source.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint NASA-European Space Agency project. The spacecraft was launched in 1997 and went into orbit around Saturn in 2004, exploring its spectacular rings and many moons. Cassini made three flybys of Enceladus last year and is expected to fly within 220 miles of the moon again in 2008.

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Using terror to fight terror

Sunday February 26, 2006
The Observer

Two years ago, David Rose was the first journalist to interview the Tipton Three after their release from Guantanamo Bay. Now he applauds Michael Winterbottom's award-winning film of their ordeal - and finds out what has happened to the men since
Almost two years ago, I sat in a room for most of a day in a house in north London with three men who seemed to have achieved the impossible. Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Ruhel Ahmed, childhood friends from Tipton in the West Midlands, had just rematerialised after more than two years in the legal black hole of Guantanamo Bay, where they had been denied all contact with the world beyond the wire. Having been cleared of any involvement in terrorism by the British and US authorities, they told their story in a five-page interview for this newspaper, exposing both Guantanamo and the process that consigned them there as a horrifying mixture of incompetence and brutality.

Gaunt and hollow-eyed, their faces betrayed the stress of both their 29-month ordeal and their sudden change in circumstances. 'I just can't believe we're sitting here,' Ahmed told me. 'This time last week, we were in the cages at Guantanamo.' They had been given almost no warning they were about to be released, while the long flight home - their first experience of being unchained outside a cell since their capture - had left them jet lagged and disorientated.

Their voices were subdued, but what they said had an almost explosive force. Before their transfer to American custody, they had survived a massacre of prisoners by the Northern Alliance troops of the Afghan warlord General Rashid Dostum, who herded them and hundreds of others into sealed truck containers in which dozens suffocated and were (much later) found by US investigators in a mass grave. The first English-speaking prisoners to be freed from Guantanamo, they told of abusive interrogation sessions, of worthless false 'confessions' and frequent beatings by an 'immediate reaction force' of guards.

In the days after the story's publication, government agencies on both sides of the Atlantic did what they could to neutralise its influence. In the US, Pentagon spokesmen told reporters that the Tipton Three's claims were simply untrue. According to Steve Rodriguez, Guantanamo's chief interrogator, he and his staff had gathered intelligence so valuable that, 'We have been able as a result of information gained here to take operational actions, even military campaigns.' As the New York Times dutifully recorded, he emphatically denied 'the specific allegations of mistreatment made by prisoners recently returned to Britain'. Less than three months later, internal US administration memos confirmed that the treatment described by the three men corresponded exactly to official Pentagon policy.

In London, the spin machine chose Trevor Kavanagh, then political editor of The Sun. Sourcing his claims to the London US embassy, he wrote that two of the three Tipton men had trained to be killers at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in 2000 - ignoring the fact that MI5 had already proved that they did not leave Britain at any time that year. Kavanagh quoted an anonymous cabinet minister: 'God knows why we are bringing these people back to Britain. The best thing that could happen is that they fell out of the plane somewhere over the Atlantic.'

Now, with The Road to Guantanamo, a partly dramatised feature film directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, Rasul, Iqbal, Ahmed and the furore surrounding them are back. Due to be screened on Channel 4 on 9 March and released in cinemas and on DVD the next day, the film is provoking a familiar backlash. At a question-and-answer session following a press screening last Monday, some of the journalists present seemed intent on recycling the arguments of 2004. One put it to Winterbottom that the Tipton Three had indeed been part of al-Qaeda, and had taken part in a last-ditch firefight with the Taliban in a network of caves. Told that there was no evidence to support this allegation, he retorted that it was merely an 'alternative view'.

In 2004, when the men returned to Britain, Scotland Yard arrested them, releasing them hours later saying there were no grounds on which to charge them with any offence. Last week, however, when the three former prisoners and the actors who play them arrived at Luton airport from the Berlin Film Festival, where Winterbottom and Whitecross collected a joint best directors Silver Bear, they were detained for nearly two hours by Special Branch under the Terrorism Act. Riz Ahmed, the Oxford graduate actor and rapper who takes the role of Rasul, says the officer who questioned him 'asked me what my political views were, and what I thought about the Iraq war,' adding: 'Did you become an actor mainly to do films like this, you know, to publicise the struggles of Muslims?' Somewhat farcically, he says she followed this up with an attempt to recruit him as an informant, asking 'whether I would mind officers contacting me regularly in the future, in case I might be in a cafe and overhear someone discussing illegal activities'.

Afterwards, says Riz Ahmed, 'Rasul just said to me, "Come on, let's go and get some breakfast." For me it had been a degrading and humiliating experience. He said it happens to him every time he travels but he doesn't let it get to him. Working with him and the others has been a humbling experience. They have such strength of spirit. At the same time, they're just regular guys, standard lads, diamonds.'

Adopting the technique used by Kevin Macdonald in his film of Touching the Void, Joe Simpson's book about his escape from a mountain crevasse in Peru into which he fell after his companion was forced to cut their rope, The Road to Guantanamo intercuts interviews with each of the real Tipton Three with TV news footage and dramatised reconstructions of what happened. The result is an object lesson in the way that film can clarify and magnify a story's impact. For example, the men had described to me some of the interrogation methods they had endured at Guantanamo, such as being bound tightly in a crouching 'stress' position while chained to the floor of a chilled room for hours on end, forced all the while to listen to rap or heavy metal played at deafening volume under the flicker of strobe lights. But try as one does to convey the sense of such abuse in journalistic prose, the visceral power of hearing and seeing it on the screen is of an altogether different magnitude.

Riz Ahmed confirms how tough it was just to act it. 'Compared to what they went through, the film-makers had to soften our treatment. While we were filming together in Pakistan, Shafiq would roll up his trousers and show me the indentations still left in his ankles by shackles. I came to understand that: when you wear those chains and they press on your shins, it's agony. After a while, it became so unbearable that we had to cushion them with Tubigrips. It was the same with the interrogation stress positions. We couldn't last an hour in those positions. They had to put up with them for eight hours, till they soiled themselves with urine and excrement, not knowing when it would end.'

Winterbottom's avowed objective of 'humanising' their story, of showing through their own words how three 'ordinary British teenagers' got caught up in tumultuous, global events, also succeeds triumphantly. 'We were all told that the people in Guantanamo were the most dangerous terrorists in the world, and that's why it was necessary for America to create this bizarre extra-legal prison,' he says. 'We wanted to show the gap between what you thought people in Guantanamo would be like and the reality of meeting them, and maybe relate to them in a different way.'

The film's early scenes - notably the three men's trip to Pakistan for Iqbal's planned wedding - depict what Winterbottom aptly describes as a 'holiday from hell', a saga of buses missed and bad food, rip-offs and diarrhoea. In October 2001, shortly before the US-led attack on the Taliban regime begins, they decide to visit Afghanistan on impulse, having heard an imam urge his flock at Friday prayers to offer charitable aid to families. In the film, their journey comes across as a teenage lark (at the time, Ahmed and Iqbal were 19, and Rasul 23), a naive search for adventure. But when they reach Kabul, and giant US bombs begin landing in residential areas, it suddenly turns very serious. Until then, Iqbal tells the camera, 'we were basically just chilling out'. Now, with their lives in danger, they try to escape in a minibus taxi to Pakistan. But the driver takes them deeper into danger - to the city of Kunduz, which is about to be surrounded by the forces of General Dostum. The Tipton Three should have been four. Until then they had travelled with their friend Monir Ali. In the panic and chaos of Kunduz's capture, he disappears and has never been seen again.

Having been captured by Dostum's troops and survived both the massacre and a subsequent month of near-starvation in Shebargan prison, the men expect their handover to Americans to provide relief. Instead, it marks a further descent into a twilight world as bafflingly counterproductive as it is cruel. Winterbottom insists that the film is not anti-American, 'because there are plenty of Americans who are against Guantanamo Bay too'. It also shows instances when Americans behave with humanity and compassion: a guard who asks one of the three to perform a rap for him in Camp X-Ray and another who enters a cell at night in order to stomp a menacing tarantula while a prisoner lies asleep.

To anyone with an open mind, however, it cannot but evoke a sense of outrage at the behaviour of the world's most powerful nation and self-proclaimed custodian of legality and human rights. One also despairs at the grudging refusal to acknowledge error. After months of solitary confinement and intense interrogation, the three admit to having been present at an Afghan camp in 2000, at a meeting between Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 hijackers. In fact, as MI5 is able to demonstrate, they were in Britain at the time: Rasul had been working at the Wednesbury branch of Currys. But the US official who breaks the news that they are no longer considered to be top al-Qaeda terrorists seems unable to countenance the idea that the tortures inflicted by his colleagues might have been to blame for this fiasco. He tells the three men: 'You guys fucked up. You were belligerent and uncooperative.'

To date, says producer Andrew Eaton, the film is set to be shown in 18 countries. But as yet, although there have been expressions of interest, there is no distribution deal for the one nation where it most urgently needs to be screened - the United States. One line, barked by guards and interrogators, runs through the film repetitively - 'Shut the fuck up!' At present, it serves as an unintentional metaphor. Faced with international criticism not only for Guantanamo but other outrages, such as the 'extraordinary rendition' of terrorist suspects for torture by friendly Third World dictatorships, much of America has resolutely closed its ears. In the big East Coast papers, and in publications such as the New York Review of Books, the use of torture in the war on terror has been exposed, debated and condemned. Elsewhere, it barely seems to register: in the 2004 election, John Kerry failed to mention Guantanamo even once. Just possibly, the vivid imagery and warm characterisation of The Road to Guantanamo might begin to pierce the carapace.

At the same time, as I watched this familiar story being given such shocking and authentic new life, I could only shudder at the thought of its effect in the Muslim world. Since it opened in 2002, Guantanamo has become a rallying point, cited time and again on Islamist websites and in the Arab press as a justification for creating more suicide 'martyrs'. For two-and-a-half years, the Tipton Three's families lived in a state of anguish, unaware what their boys were supposed to have done, or whether they would ever be free. Replicated across the Muslim world, such experiences have tapped new veins of anti-American rage.

'The guy with the crewcut, the club and the crucifix, standing over the detainee in goggles and chains symbolises not only American oppression of the Third World, but also the oppression by governments friendly to America inside Muslim countries,' Dr Tim Winter, lecturer in Islamic studies at Cambridge told me after the Tipton men were freed. A senior US Defense Intelligence Agency official added: 'It's an international PR disaster. Maybe the guy who goes into Guantanamo was a farmer who got swept along and did very little. He's going to come out a fully fledged jihadist. And for every detainee, I'd guess you create another 10 terrorists or supporters of terrorism.'

Tessa Ross, head of film and drama at Channel 4, which provided the entire £1.3 million budget, admits she is 'concerned' about the possible effect on some Muslim audiences. Then neither she nor the filmmakers created Guantanamo, and arguably, until this story has been fully and widely told, its injustices will never be redressed. (Pressed by the Commons Foreign Affairs committee two weeks ago, Tony Blair refused to go further than his previous comment that the camp is merely an 'anomaly'.)

At least the Tipton Three's own stories have become happier. When they first came home, local Tipton extremists hung effigies of men in orange, Guantanamo-style boiler suits from lampposts. At Berlin, they stood on the stage with Winterbottom and Whitecross, to be given a standing ovation. 'It was a very emotional moment,' says Riz Ahmed. 'Until then, I don't think they'd realised the strength of people's empathy or support.'

'When you are first released it's hard to sleep,' Rasul told the festival audience. 'You keep hearing soldiers banging on the cells and you wake up sweating and thinking of soldiers and then you realise you're back home. But as time goes on, you have to move on and live your life.'

Since his release, he has married, as has Iqbal - to the girl he had planned to wed before his capture in 2001. The film ends with his and the other two's return last summer to the village near Faisalabad where his bride lives, to be greeted with garlands and fireworks; then comes the wedding itself, and a procession through the streets, with Iqbal dressed not in chains but a dashing ceremonial turban.

Others have been less lucky. In the summer of 2004, the case of Rasul, Iqbal and 14 others came before the US Supreme Court, which granted Guantanamo detainees the right to bring habeas corpus petitions challenging their imprisonment in American federal courts. At the end of last year, an amendment to a Congressional bill co-sponsored by Senator John McCain, possibly the next US president, once again removed it. Earlier this month, the camp authorities confirmed that they were using special 'restraint chairs' and nasal tubes, inserted and removed at each feeding, to break despairing prisoners' hunger strikes. 'Please make sure you mention those we left behind,' Rasul told me as we parted in 2004. 'There's still a lot of innocent people.' As of now, as the film reminds us as the credits roll, Guantanamo still holds 500 inmates, of whom just nine have been charged.

· The Road to Guantanamo is on C4 on 9 March. David Rose is author of Guantanamo: America's War on Human Rights, published by Faber & Faber

A detainee's view

Martin Mubanga

A joint citizen of the UK and Zambia, Martin Mubanga was in Afghanistan on 11 September 2001.

In March 2002 he was arrested in Zambia and sent to Guantanamo Bay. He spent 33 months in various camps and was one of the last four Britons released in January 2005.

What did you think of The Road to Guantanamo

It's informative and, yeah, it's a fair portrayal. I can relate to a lot of the scenes in Afghanistan. Like the bit where the prisoners' heads were covered with towels and they got beaten up - that happened to me. It brings back the hard points, the painful moments. Especially when the guys are in captivity dreaming of better days. I spent a lot of time in isolation doing that.

How accurately did it capture life in Guantanamo?

Every prisoner's story is different, but everything you see in the film did happen. And worse. So much went on there that we still don't know about. And even things like being chained to the floor with loud music on, people think that's maybe not so harsh, but at least the film gives an idea of what it's like. Just think if you have to put up with that for years. It's going to affect you, isn't it?

What was it like being a Westerner there?

I think the British generally had it easier than people from other countries. I was known as the rapper. When the guards hear you, they want to hear what you've got to say, because obviously rapping is an American thing and it shows that we're from the same culture. We may not believe the same things but we grew up watching the same films.

After a while they brought in a rule that guards should not talk to detainees.

Have you received any official apologies?

No. No, America never apologises.

Police interrogated some of the actors and subjects of the film on their way back from the Berlin Film Festival. How do you feel about that?

It just shows the hype. People still see us as these dangerous terrorists. Everyone's got their opinions about certain things, but we're no better or no worse than anyone else. We're just human.

At the end of the film, the Tipton Three talked about positive aspects of their experience. Was your experience in any way positive?

The most positive thing in the camps was that I learned some Arabic. I could go on and on about the negatives but you've got to move forward in your life and see the good things where you can. Guantanamo will always be with me, though.

Killian Fox

Gitmo's history

· The base was established in 1898, when the US took control of Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

· In 1903, the US was given a permanent lease by the Cuban government.

· In 1964 Fidel Castro ordered that the base's water supply be cut off, so the US built a desalination plant.

· In the early 1990s, HIV-positive refugees fleeing Haiti were held there.

· Terrorism suspects were first imprisoned at the base in 2002.

· In June 2005 the US announced plans to build a new $30 million detention facility at Guantanamo.

· A 2006 United Nations report called for the prison to be closed, on the grounds that its detainees have no access to justice and their treatment is tantamount to torture.

Cara Wides

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The Torture Judge

by Nat Hentoff
March 13th, 2006 12:45 AM

In a startling, ominous decision-ignored by most of the press around the country-Federal District Judge David Trager, in the Eastern District of New York, has dismissed a lawsuit by a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, who, during a stopover at Kennedy Airport on the way home to Canada after vacation, was kidnapped by CIA agents.
Arar was flown to Syria, where he was tortured for nearly a year in solitary confinement in a three-by-six-foot cell ("like a grave," he said). He became, internationally, one of the best-known victims of the CIA's extraordinary renditions-the sending of suspected terrorists to countries known for torturing their prisoners.

Released after his ordeal, Arar has not been charged with any involvement in terrorism, or anything else, by Syria or the United States. Stigmatized by his notoriety, still traumatized, unemployed, he is back in Canada, where the Canadian Parliament had opened an extensive and expensive public inquiry into his capture and torture. The United States refuses to cooperate in any way with this investigation.

Maher Arar sued for damages in federal court here (Maher Arar v. John Ashcroft, formerly Attorney General of the United States, et al.). Representing Arar for the New York–based Center for Constitutional Rights, David Cole predicts, and I agree, that if Judge Trager's ruling is upheld in an appeal to the Supreme Court, the CIA and other American officials will be told "they have a green light to do to others what they did to Arar"-no matter what international or U.S. laws are violated in the name of national security.

Following the dismissal of Arar's case by Trager (former dean of Brooklyn Law School), Barbara Olshansky (deputy legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights) underscored the significance of what Trager has done to legitimize the Bush administration's doctrine that in the war on terrorism, the commander in chief sets the rules. Said Olshansky: "There can be little doubt that every official of the United States government [involved in the torture of Maher Arar] knew that sending him to Syria was a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes, and international law . . . This is a dark day indeed."

To fathom the darkness of Trager's decision that Maher Arar has no constitutional right to due process in an American court of law for what he suffered because of the CIA, it's necessary to be aware of a decision directly on point by New York's Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 1980.

In this landmark decision, Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, David Cole points out, the appeals court decided that "the prohibition on torture was so universally accepted that a U.S. Court could hold responsible a Paraguayan official charged with torturing a dissident in Paraguay . . . The [U.S.] court declared that when officials violate such a fundamental norm as torture, they can be held accountable anywhere they are found." (Emphasis added.)

That 1980 Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision proclaimed: "The torturer has become the pirate and slave trader before him . . . an enemy of all mankind." (Emphasis added.)

The kicker is that this decision giving American courts jurisdiction over cases of official torture in other countries was reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2004 (Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain).

Now let us hear how Judge Trager justifies his dismissal of Maher Arar's suit for the atrocities he endured in Syria because of the CIA. In his decision, Trager said that if a judge decided, on his or her own, that the CIA's "extraordinary renditions" were always unconstitutional, "such a ruling can have the most serious consequences to our foreign relations or national security or both."

A judge must be silent, even if our own statutes and treaties are violated! What about the separation of powers? Ah, said Trager, "the coordinate branches of our government [executive and legislative] are those in whom the Constitution imposes responsibility for our foreign affairs and national security. Those branches have the responsibility to determine whether judicial oversight is appropriate."

Gee, I thought that the checks and balances of our constitutional system depend on the independence of the federal judiciary, which itself decides to exercise judicial review.

Judge Trager went further to protect the Bush administration's juggernaut conduct of foreign policy: "One need not have much imagination to contemplate the negative effect on our relations with Canada if discovery were to proceed in this case, and were it to turn out that certain high Canadian officials had, despite public denials, acquiesced in Arar's removal to Syria."

"More generally," Trager went on, "governments that do not wish to acknowledge publicly that they are assisting us would certainly hesitate to do so if our judicial discovery process could compromise them."

But judge, the Canadian government itself is now actively involved in an inquiry to discover, among other things, what happened to Arar, and how. And in Europe, there is a fierce controversy over whether governments there have been covertly involved in facilitating the CIA's kidnapping of terror suspects from other lands.

Is it the job of a federal judge here to protect other governments from embarrassment and eventual punishment by their own courts for helping the United States commit crimes?

And what about our own government's criminal accountability? The February 17 New York Law Journal noted that "Judge Trager said that even assuming the government had intended to remove Maher Arar to Syria for torture, the federal judiciary was in no position to hold our government officials liable for damages 'in the absence of explicit direction by Congress . . . even if such conduct violates our treaty obligations or customary international law.' " (Emphasis added.)

If independent federal judges cannot hold our government accountable, who can? Fortunately, Judge Trager is not on the Supreme Court. But look at whom George W. Bush has appointed to be our custodians of the Constitution!

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How terror attacks changed the CIA

By Gordon Corera
BBC Security Correspondent

"Gary, your orders are to find Bin Laden and his lieutenants, kill them and bring Bin Laden's head back to the United States in a cardboard box on dry ice."
Those instructions, given to agent Gary Schroen by Cofer Black, Director of the CIA's Counter Terrorist Center, two days after 11 September 2001, sent a clear message: things had changed for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Where in the 1990s, lawyers argued over whether the CIA could target Bin Laden directly for death rather than capture, now the restraints had come off.

In its 60-year history, the CIA has undergone periodic spasms and convulsions, waves of aggressive activity followed by retreat and a drawing back. But tensions remained between two of its functions - how far was it an intelligence gathering agency, and how far was it the covert arm of American presidential power?

Complex emotions

9/11 had been full of confusion at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

After watching transfixed as events unfolded on their TV screens, most staff were told to evacuate the building and go home in case they too were a target for al-Qaeda. Many of them found themselves milling around in the car park as the roads around Langley jammed with traffic.

For some officers it was a chance to reflect - wasn't this exactly the kind of event the CIA was supposed to stop? The next day, a tired-looking CIA director George Tenet addressed staff in the agency's auditorium.

Whatever the past was, the agency now had a clear mission and it was going to pursue it relentlessly. It would defeat al-Qaeda.

The emotions were complex. Amongst some, there was anger that previous opportunities to take out Osama Bin Laden has been missed.

"In a very parochial sense, I also thought the agency would get blamed for it," explains Mike Scheuer, who ran the CIA's team to track down Bin Laden from in the late 1990s.

Other officers felt the adrenalin rush at being finally being given the authority to do whatever it took.

"My personal emotion was, 'it is now officially started'," recalls Cofer Black, who would be charged with planning the initial campaign against al-Qaeda.

"The analogy would be the junkyard dog that had been chained to the ground was now going to be let go. And I just couldn't wait."

After a series of major scandals in the 1970s, the CIA had been hauled through the coals by Congress and told to clean up its act.

Assassination was formally banned, and anything that could bring on a career-ending congressional investigation was discouraged.

The attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon changed that. Cofer Black would later tell Congress after 11 September, "the gloves came off.


Four-and-a-half years later, the way in which that new, more aggressive CIA began to operate is only now becoming clear. And with it has come a growing backlash.

As the CIA's tough tactics come under growing scrutiny, even allies closest to the US are having to publicly distance themselves from its operations - even if they know far more about them than they are letting on.

As well as a less rigid line on assassinating al-Qaeda's leaders, there would also be more relaxed rules, issued at the highest levels, about what kind of "techniques" could be used by the CIA in interrogating al-Qaeda detainees, some of whom became "ghost prisoners" at secret locations.

In Europe, concerns would grow over how these prisoners were transported. The Romanian foreign minister denied his country had ever housed prisoners, but defended the need to co-operate with the US, despite all the controversy it creates.

"As for the flights, they happen. There is a cooperation between our intelligence services and it does a lot of good," he explained.

Co-operation with allies is vital, but the CIA is becoming so controversial in many countries that they are forced to distance themselves if that co-operation becomes public or goes awry.

That has been the case when it comes to rendition not only in Europe but also in Pakistan, where the government quickly distanced themselves from a CIA strike in its Bajur province in January.

The strike was targeting al-Qaeda's number two, but protests erupted in the country.

"Pakistan had no idea that the air-strike was going to take place," Pakistan's Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, told the BBC.

"Any action in our territory must be conducted by Pakistan forces."

The tactics of the CIA are coming increasingly under the spotlight and the subject of public debate. Who ordered them? Are they morally acceptable? How far are they essential tools in the fight against the most committed of opponents?

Or are they becoming counter-productive, undermining claims to the moral high-ground as well as international alliances vital to the US war on terror?

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Fatah official accuses Hamas of contacting U.S., Israel

www.chinaview.cn 2006-03-13 22:58:15

GAZA, March 13 (Xinhuanet) -- Azzam al-Ahmed, spokesman of the Fatah movement in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), on Monday accused the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) of contacting the United States and Israel.
Al-Ahmed made the accusation in Ramallah after meeting with European consuls to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), saying that Hamas is waiting for U.S. and Israeli position on forming the next Palestinian government.

He added that Israel would be comfortable with a new Hamas-led Palestinian government sharing a common goal with the Israeli government, which he said is not to revive the peace process or hold any negotiation.

"This is becoming a reality despite the differences of intentions and purposes between Hamas and Israel," said Al-Ahmed, adding with such, "it would enable Israeli Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to carry out his unilateral plans."

"Hamas political program would help Olmert to define the separation wall as Israel's permanent border," he said. "It would also enable Israel to keep control on the biggest Israeli settlements forever while pulling out from parts of the occupied West Bank."

Winning the Jan. 25 Palestinian legislative elections by a landslide, Hamas is expected to form a new government within weeks. The militant group, which calls for Israel's destruction, has been holding talks with parliament parties including the Fatah movement over the formation of a national unity government.

But Fatah, long dominant on the Palestinian political stage but defeated by Hamas in the January ballot, seems unlikely to join a Hamas-led cabinet, it was reported.

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Fatah faces US cut off if it join Hamas government

Mon Mar 13, 2006 06:22 AM ET

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Bush administration intends to curtail contacts with President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction if it joins a Hamas-led government, Western diplomatic sources said on Monday.

The warning came as senior Fatah officials held talks in Gaza with Hamas over whether to join the government being formed by the Islamic militant group, which beat Fatah in January elections.

Fatah has so far said it has no intention of joining the government unless Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, changes its political program, but talks continue.

The U.S. administration is trying to isolate the Islamic militant group following its Jan 25 election victory, hoping to pressure Hamas to renounce violence, abide by interim peace deals and recognize Israel.

Washington is concerned that by bringing in members of a faction publicly committed to a negotiated peace with Israel, Hamas could soften its international image.

In recent meetings, U.S. officials told Abbas and other senior Fatah members that Washington opposed the faction joining the new Hamas government, Palestinian officials said.

"Hamas can't whitewash its cabinet" by bringing in Fatah and other factions, said a diplomatic source.

The United States has kept alive the possibility of renewing peace efforts through direct talks with Abbas and other Fatah leaders.

But diplomatic sources said those contacts would be curtailed if Fatah joined the government led by Hamas.

Bush administration officials are barred from having direct contacts with members of Hamas, and U.S. law prohibits the United States from providing any support to the group, classified as a terrorist organization by the State Department.

Diplomatic sources said these strict restrictions on contacts and assistance would apply to Fatah and other groups which may be considering joining the governing coalition with Hamas. "If Fatah joins as an organization, it would fall into the same category," a diplomatic source said.

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Daniel Pipes Finds Comfort in Muslims Killing Muslims


One of the abiding myths about the War on Iraq is that the neocons were too stupid to realize that they would confront an unrelenting, indigenous resistance to their occupation of Iraq. Unwittingly, the story line goes, they led the U.S. into a conflict which has now produced a civil war. But this simply does not fit the facts. The neocons clearly anticipated such an outcome before they launched their war as Stephen Zunes documents in Antiwar.com:

"Top analysts in the CIA and State Department, as well as large numbers of Middle East experts, warned that a U.S. invasion of Iraq could result in a violent ethnic and sectarian conflict. Even some of the war's intellectual architects acknowledged as much: In a 1997 paper, prior to becoming major figures in the Bush foreign policy team, David Wurmser, Richard Perle, and Douglas Feith predicted that a post-Saddam Iraq would likely be "ripped apart" by sectarianism and other cleavages but called on the United States to "expedite" such a collapse anyway."
Yet the line persists that the neocons had no idea what they were getting into. This cannot be correct as they think a lot about what they do and they plan carefully. Not only is that charge absurd on the face of it, but it is arrogant on the part of those who level it. And it is the worst political mistake possible ­ underestimating your adversary.

Now the neocons are beginning to advocate for civil war in Iraq quite openly. The clearest statement of this strategy as yet comes from pre-eminent neocon and ardent Zionist Daniel Pipes. In a recent piece in the Jerusalem Post, Pipes spills the beans. He writes:

"The bombing on February 22 of the Askariya shrine in Samarra, Iraq, was a tragedy, but it was not an American or a coalition tragedy. Iraq's plight is neither a coalition responsibility nor a particular danger to the West. Fixing Iraq is neither the coalition's responsibility, nor its burden. When Sunni terrorists target Shi'ites and vice versa, non-Muslims are less likely to be hurt. Civil war in Iraq, in short, would be a humanitarian tragedy, but not a strategic one."

As ever Pipes's anti-Arab racism is simply too rabid to be hidden. If Muslims are busy killing other Muslims, then "non-Muslims" are less likely to be hurt!! What does that say about Muslim lives? And of course both Sunnis and Shia must be labeled "terrorists." Pipes is doing nothing more endorsing than the oldest of colonial strategies: Divide et impera.

Pipes envisions other "benefits" to the civil war "strategy," such as inhibiting the spread of democracy in the Middle East. Pipes again:

"Civil war will "terminate the dream of Iraq serving as a model for other Middle Eastern countries, thus delaying the push toward elections. This would have the effect of keeping Islamists from being legitimated by the popular vote, as Hamas was just a month ago."

And finally Pipes declares that a civil war "would likely invite Syrian and Iranian participation hastening the possibility of confrontation with these two states, with which tensions are already high." It is no secret that the neocons have been aching for the U.S. to strike at Iran and Syria, so here too the civil war strategy of the neocons makes good sense to them. Of course the added death and destruction is not their problem since the victims will be Muslims and some unwitting American soldiers.

There seems to be only one fly in this neocon ointment. That is, will it be possible to control the flow of oil in the midst of turmoil in Iraq. Here I suspect the neocons who put Israel first might have their differences with the oil barons, presently their allies. But the neocons have certainly given a lot of thought to that, and it probably explains why the location of the large and permanent U.S. bases in Iraq is not known. It would seem, however, that there are great uncertainties in this and it may cause some trouble among the neocons and their allies over the longer term.

The only real question is whether the civil war emerged spontaneously as Wurmser, Perle and Feith predicted or whether the Iraqis had to be goaded into it by the U.S. Given all the intrigues and mysteries in Iraq, including the bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra and the shadowy death squads and torture chambers which the U.S. claims to know nothing about, the latter seems more likely as of now. It certainly fits the civil war strategy, and it is quite reminiscent of the Iran-Iraq war in which the U.S. and Israel fanned the flames that consumed over 1 million Muslim lives

The fact is that the neocons who control U.S. strategy have no interest in preventing a civil war but only in inciting one. Sectarian tensions were virtually unknown in Iraq before the U.S. invasion. And in fact the Iraqi Shia fought loyally as Iraqis against Iranian Shia in the disastrous Iran-Iraq war. So to avoid an Iraqi civil war, the most important step is to get all the U.S. troops home and thus to terminate U.S. provocations. For it is now crystal clear that the neocon strategy is one of civil war to divide and destroy Iraq; and such a strategy amounts to a crime against humanity.

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