- Signs of the Times for Mon, 20 Mar 2006 -



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Editorial:
Signs Economic Commentary

Donald Hunt
Signs of the Times
March 20, 2006

Gold closed at 554.70 dollars an ounce on Friday, up 2.2% from $542.50 for the week. The dollar closed at 0.8203 euros at Friday's close, down 2.4% from 0.8396 euros at the end of the previous week. The euro, then closed at 1.2190 dollars, compared to $1.1910 at the end of the week before. Gold in euros would be 455.05 an ounce, down 0.1% from 455.50 the week before. Oil closed at 62.89 dollars a barrel on Friday, up 4.9% from $59.96 for the week.  Oil in euros would be 51.59 euros a barrel, up 2.4% from 50.34 the week before. The gold/oil ratio closed at 8.82, down 2.6% from 9.05 at the end of the previous week. In U.S. stocks, the Dow closed at 11,279.65 on Friday, up 1.8% from 11,076.34 at the close of the previous Friday.  The NASDAQ closed at 2,306.48, up 2.0% from 2,262.04 at the end of the week before. In U.S. interest rates, the yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury note closed at 4.67%, down 9 basis points from 4.76 at the end of the previous week.

Not too bad, all in all. Oil was up in dollar terms but still less than it was two weeks ago ($63.67/bl.). Gold is also lower than it was two weeks ago ($567.20/oz.). Why do market levels seem so normal when the underlying economic foundation seems so unstable? Could it be that military spending will take over the role of demand stimulant from consumer spending? Could it be that "the economy" will continue to look healthy while the average person sinks into servitude? While U.S. consumers are getting squeezed between lower wages and rising cost of debt and basic goods, deficit military spending is going through the roof:

U.S. War Spending to Rise 44% to $9.8 Bln a Month, Report Says
 
March 17 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan will average 44 percent more in the current fiscal year than in fiscal 2005, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said.

Spending will rise to $9.8 billion a month from the $6.8 billion a month the Pentagon said it spent last year, the research service said. The group's March 10 report cites "substantial" expenses to replace or repair damaged weapons, aircraft, vehicles, radios and spare parts.

It also figures in costs for health care, fuel, national intelligence and the training of Iraqi and Afghan security forces -- "now a substantial expense," it said.
The research service said it considers "all war and occupation costs," while the Pentagon counts just the cost of personnel, maintenance and operations.

The House approved emergency funding that includes the military spending last night by a vote of 348-71. The measure authorizes $72 billion for war costs and almost $20 billion for hurricane relief. The Senate is expected to pass it next month.

Congress already has approved $50 billion in supplemental war funding for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, after spending $100 billion last year. To date, Congress has approved about $337 billion for the wars since Sept. 11, 2001.

This extra demand stimulant provided by military spending may make up, at least for a while, the loss from things like this:

Mortgage delinquencies rise in Q4
Report comes as mortgage rates cool in latest week

By Robert Schroeder, MarketWatch
Last Update: 4:54 PM ET Mar 16, 2006

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- Consumers had greater trouble meeting their mortgage obligations in the fourth quarter, as borrowers faced higher energy prices, interest rates and continuing difficulties from Hurricane Katrina, a mortgage bankers' group said Thursday.

Delinquencies on residential properties climbed to 4.70% in the fourth quarter of 2005, up from 4.38% a year ago, according to a Mortgage Bankers Association survey. In the third quarter, delinquencies were 4.44%, the group said.

Doug Duncan, the bankers' group's chief economist, said the increase isn't surprising.

"We have been expecting an up-tick in delinquencies due to a number of factors," he said in a statement. He cited increased amounts of adjustable-rate and sub-prime mortgages, rising energy prices and climbing interest rates.

The group's report comes as mortgage-finance company Freddie Mac  released new figures showing home loans are getting cheaper.

The benchmark 30-year fixed rate mortgage average fell in the week ending Thursday, Freddie said, to 6.34% from 6.37%. The 15-year loan also fell, to 5.37% from 6%. One-year and five-year rates also fell, the company said.

The problem is that the media seems to be doing its best to frighten us with two seemingly inevitable horrible near-future events:  the U.S. attack on Iran and a Bird Flu Pandemic, both of which would ruin the world economy. There are many different things that could bring on doomsday in the near future.  Why concentrate so much on an influenza epidemic? It would only make sense if you wanted to spook the markets. Indeed, the stage seems to be set for a currency collapse for the dollar.  Just in Time supply chain techniques and global sourcing of most goods make the U.S. economy more vulnerable than ever to catastrophic shortages in key items should travel and shipping restrictions be put in place in the event of a pandemic.:

Is Business Ready for a Flu Pandemic?

By Elisabeth Rosenthal and Keith Bradsher
March 16, 2006

Rome - Governments worldwide have spent billions planning for a potential influenza pandemic: buying medicines, running disaster drills, developing strategies for tighter border controls. But one piece of the plan may be missing: the ability of corporations to continue to provide vital services.

Airlines, for instance, would have to fly health experts around the world and overnight couriers would have to rush medical supplies to the front lines. Banks would need to ensure that computer systems continued to move money internationally and that local customers could get cash. News outlets would have to keep broadcasting so people could get information that might mean the difference between life and death.

"I tell companies to use their imagination to think of all the unintended consequences," said Mark Layton, global leader for enterprise risk services at Deloitte & Touche in New York. "Will suppliers be able to deliver goods? How about services they've outsourced - are they still reliable?"

Experts say that many essential functions would have to continue despite the likelihood of a depleted work force and more limited transportation. Up to 40 percent of employees could be sick at one time.

Indeed, the return of the bird migration season has touched off new worries over how a serious outbreak could interrupt business in many parts of the world simultaneously, perhaps for months on end.

…"A pandemic flu outbreak in any part of the world would potentially cripple supply chains, dramatically reduce available labor pools," the report said. "In a world where the global supply chain and real-time inventories determine most everything we do, down to the food available for purchase in our grocery stores, one begins to understand the importance of advanced planning."

…Some of the most important planning involves not employee health, but how to continue to deliver vital services in a crisis. Time Warner's Cable News Network is making preparations to stay on the air from different locations.

"If there should be something that quarantines the production center here in Hong Kong, we could hand off to London and Atlanta," Stephen Marcopoto, president of Turner International Asia Pacific, a Time Warner unit in Hong Kong, said.

Time Warner is also working to create a mechanized cart that could automatically load tape after tape into a satellite transmission system, so it could keep stations like Cartoon Network on the air - a boon if children were homebound for months.

Nice to know we will still get cartoons. 

The skillfully choreographed Fear of Flu pandemic (Remember last summer when Bush claimed to be reading a book about the 1918 flu pandemic?  That certainly was a signal for what was to come) is taking place at a time triple deficits are increasing at a rapid rate, central banks are quietly shifting funds away from the dollar and the United States is losing control of its imperial semi-periphery in Latin America. According to Bill Van Auken:

There is no doubt a profound objective significance to the coming to power of a series of Latin American regimes that in one way or another identify with the "left" and voice opposition to US economic and political policies.

In US ruling circles there is growing disquiet over the region. Thus, the latest issue of Foreign Affairs carries an article entitled "Is Washington Losing Latin America?" Its author is one Peter Hakim, head of the Inter-American Dialogue, a big business-funded think tank that promotes Washington's version of free trade in the region.

He condemns both the Clinton and Bush administrations for benign, or not so benign, neglect toward the region, allowing "... US policy on Latin America [to] drift without much steam or direction" after a period in which he claims Latin America was headed in "the right direction."

In reality, reduced US influence in Latin America is neither merely a matter of foreign policy mistakes nor the result of subjective decisions by this or that politician. Rather, it is bound up with changes in the world economy as well as the catastrophic effects of the US-backed policies introduced during the period when Hakim claims the region was headed "in the right direction."

These changes in the world economy brought on by globalization include the relative decline in the position of US capitalism vis-à-vis Western Europe and, increasingly, as we have discussed in previous reports, China.

The Monroe Doctrine - the seminal US foreign policy of opposing any outside power extending its influence into the Western Hemisphere - has effectively become a dead letter. For nearly 200 years, successive governments in Washington invoked this doctrine as the justification for US interventions in the region and, throughout the twentieth century, for the imposition of military dictatorships to suppress the revolutionary movement of the working class. For most of that period the doctrine was embraced by national bourgeois regimes that subordinated themselves to US imperialism. This consensus has been shattered by changed economic relations.

US rivals gain economic influence

The European Union has in the course of the last decade eclipsed US capitalism as the principal source of foreign direct investment and trade in South America. The US remains first in terms of trade within the Latin American region as a whole, thanks to its close ties to Mexico under the 1993 NAFTA accord. Two-thirds of US exports to the region go to Mexico, and much of these consist of parts sent across the border to the maquiladora plants set up to exploit cheaper Mexican labor in the production of goods for the US market.

Even more disturbingly for Washington, China is playing an increasingly assertive role south of the Rio Grande. Chinese President Hu Jintao and the country's vice president, Zeng Qinghong, have made two tours of Latin America in the course of the last two years, signing trade pacts and military-to-military agreements. The region has become an increasingly important source of raw materials for China's industries. China's imports from the region have increased six-fold over the past six years and are expected to reach the $100 billion-a-year mark by the end of this decade.

To secure access to scarce strategic resources, China has pledged to invest $100 billion in the building of roads, ports and other infrastructure over the course of the next decade. Beijing is pursuing a number of major projects, including initiatives aimed at securing access to Venezuelan oil, Bolivian natural gas and key minerals.

The US Congress has held two hearings on what is perceived as a Chinese menace in this longstanding US sphere of influence and semi-colonial domination. Testifying before Congress last year, then-Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega vowed that the administration would be "attentive to any indication that economic collaboration will feed political relations that could run counter to our key objectives for the region."

In short, these changes in global economic relations mean that US capitalism is by no means the only game in town - nor in many cases the most profitable one - as far as Latin America is concerned, and the growing economic relations between the region and America's rivals have provided the region's regimes with room to maneuver that goes beyond that which was associated with the Cold War balancing act performed by many nationalist regimes between Washington and Moscow. This is one of the key material foundations of the so-called turn to the left. In some ways this trend could perhaps better be described as a turn to the euro and the yuan.

The loss of U.S. imperial control over Latin America cannot be separated from the loss of the Iraq War and the alienation of the rest of the world from U.S. policy. Around the world, the United States is despised more and feared less than it was five years ago. With the Dubai/U.S. port controversy, a new factor was added.  The economic nationalism of U.S. citizens, fueled by years of the neocon and fundamentalist demonizing of Arabs and Muslims, has provoked a reaction against the dollar (and the empire it symbolizes) in the Middle East:

Arab central banks move assets out of dollar

By Philip Thornton, Economics Correspondent
14 March 2006

Middle Eastern anger over the decision by the US to block a Dubai company from buying five of its ports hit the dollar yesterday as a number of central banks said they were considering switching reserves into euros.

The United Arab Emirates, which includes Dubai, said it was looking to move one-tenth of its dollar reserves into euros, while the governor of the Saudi Arabian central bank condemned the US move as "discrimination".

Separately, Syria responded to US sanctions against two of its banks by confirming plans to use euros instead of dollars for its external transactions.

The remarks combined to knock the dollar, which fell against the euro, pound and yen yesterday as analysts warned other central banks might follow suit.

Last week the US caused dismay after political opposition to the takeover of P&O by Dubai Ports World forced DPW to agree to transfer P&O's US port management business to a "US entity" .

The governor of the UAE central bank, Sultan Nasser al-Suweidi, said the bank was looking to convert 10 per cent of its reserves, which stand at $23bn (£13.5bn), from dollars to euros. "They are contravening their own principles," he said. "Investors are going to take this into consideration [and] will look at investment opportunities through new binoculars."

Hamad Saud al-Sayyari, the governor of the Saudi Arabian monetary authority, said: "Is it protection or discrimination? Is it okay for US companies to buy everywhere but it is not okay for other companies to buy the US?"

Syria has switched the state's foreign currency transactions to euros from dollars, the head of the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria, Duraid Durgham, said.
Last week the White House told US financial institutions to terminate all correspondent accounts involving the Commercial Bank of Syria because of money-laundering concerns. Mohammad al-Hussein, Syria's finance minister, said: "Syria affirms that this decision and its timing are fundamentally political."

The euro rose a quarter of one percentage point against the dollar to a one-week high of $1.1945, although it retreated in later trading.

Monica Fan, at RBC Capital Markets, said: "The issue is whether we will see similar attitudes taken by other Middle Eastern banks. It is a question of momentum."

In such conditions, how are we to think the dollar can maintain its value?  Brad Delong published this Plato-style dialogue last week:

Global Imbalances

Agathon: You look tired.

Kapelikos: Freshly back from the other coast. Airline load factors are just too high.

Agathon: Who were you talking to?

Kapelikos: MegaBankCorp--their investors.

Agathon: What were you talking about?

Kapelikos: The usual--global imbalances.

Agathon: And what did you say?

Kapelikos: That the global economy is unbalanced--that current patterns of trade are unsustainable--that things that are unsustainable eventually, somehow, stop. What else can you say?

Agathon: And the argument on the other side? I'm not sure I understand it.

Kapelikos: I know I don't.

Agathon: Is it roughly this? "U.S. real GDP is growing at about $400 billion a year. At a capital-output ratio of 3.5-to-1, that means $1.4 trillion of new America-located wealth each year. We can sell off $1 trillion of that every year to foreigners in order to finance our import bill. And still be richer than we were last year. What's unsustainable about that?" Is that the argument?

Kapelikos: Could be. But that's incoherent--it misses the difference between the trade deficit and the current account. Ten years down the road the current-account deficit is not $1 but $1.4 trillion--$1 trillion of net imports and $0.4 trillion of interest, rent, and profits owed on foreign-owned property here. To hold the annual current-account deficit at $1 trillion requires that the trade deficit shrink, which requires that the dollar decline, which means that foreigners investing in America are making bad decisions.

Agathon: And when do your models predict the dollar will fall?

Kapelikos: 2003.

Agathon: Three years ago?

Kapelikos: Yep.

Agathon: But as long as people believe the argument on the other side, the dollar doesn't decline, and the argument looks correct?

Kapelikos: Yep--for one more year.

Agathon: How many more years are you going to be saying, "Wait just one more year"?

Kapelikos: Until I can say, "I told you so."

Agathon: Can't you be more specific than that?

Kapelikos: Ok. How about this. International financial crises tend to come--currencies crash--when interest rates rise in the world economy's core. The Bank of Japan has just joined the ECB and the Federal Reserve in raising interest rates.

Think of the damage caused by currency crashes in recent decades in middle-level economies (Thailand, Argentina, Mexico, etc.) Imagine what the effects would be of a collapse of a currency which happens to be the world's reserve currency, in a country  which also happens to be the imperial hegemon and whose consumers drive world consumption.


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Editorial: Robert Fisk Backs Up Signs of the Times

Signs of the Times
20/03/2006

Regular readers of this site will be aware of the fact that, for about 4 years, we have been repeatedly trying to convince as many people as would listen that the "war on terror" is bogus and 9/11 was a manufactured "new pearl harbor" designed to provide the political capital for America and Israel to invade and re-shape the Middle East.

Part of this grand manipulation involves attempts by agents of the British, American and Israeli governments to provoke a "civil war" in Iraq. This provocation includes the targetted assassination of large groups of both Sunni and Shia in Iraq, the planting of car bombs in heavily populated areas and the bombings of Shia and Sunni holy sites. The blame for these atrocities is then ascribed by the aforementioned Western governments to either Sunni or Shia militia.

In a recent interview, veteran Middle East reporter, Robert Fisk, a man who has spent over 30 years living in and reporting from Middle Eastern countries, spells out that which is patently obvious, and while he draws back from naming names, we are left in no doubt about who he thinks is behind the ongoing turmoil in Iraq:

Fisk Paints a Middle East in CRISIS

ABC Australia 03/06/06

Robert Fisk says that in his three decades of reporting from the Middle East he's never seen it more dangerous, and that he's certain another major crisis, possibly even another September 11, is coming.

ELEANOR HALL: One of the Middle East's most experienced observers is warning today that we should prepare for another major catastrophe in the region.

Robert Fisk says that in his three decades of reporting from the Middle East for British newspapers, he's never seen it more dangerous, and that he's certain another major crisis, possibly even another September 11, is coming. The veteran war reporter also says he remains baffled by just who is trying to generate civil war in Iraq.

Robert Fisk is in Australia this week to promote his latest book, The Great War for Civilization, and he joined me in The World Today studio a short time ago.

Now, you've been a bit of an optimist about Iraq and civil war, but do you think what's going on now is already civil war?

ROBERT FISK: Well, it's perfect proof that somebody wants a civil war. Um, but the problem for me is that the narrative is that the Shi'ites are being attacked by the Sunnis and their mosques are being blown up and now the Shi'ites are attacking the Sunni mosques and the Shi'ites and the Sunnis are going to fight each other.

I think that's far too simple a version of events. There's never been a civil war in Iraq. Sunnis and Shi'ites, despite the fact that the Sunnis as a minority have always effectively ruled Iraq, have never had this sectarian instinct. It's not a sectarian society, it's a tribal society. People are intermarried.

You know, I was at the funeral of a Sunni and asked his brother, you know, he'd been murdered - probably by Shi'ites, I think - I asked his brother if there was going to be a civil war and he said look, I'm married to a Shi'ite. You want me to kill my wife? Why do you westerners always want civil war?

The first people to mention civil war were the occupation authorities. The Iraqis were not. Some.

ELEANOR HALL: But the Iraqis are now. I mean, Al-Jaafari's talking about civil war.

ROBERT FISK: They're not talking about civil war, they're talking about being frightened of who's doing the bombing. But, you see, we still don't know who's doing the bombings. How many names have we been given of the suicide bombers? Two out of, what, 320 suicide bombings now. Where do they come from, these people?

I mean, we keep hearing about kidnaps. In every case they were kidnapped by people, quote, "wearing police uniforms," unquote. There's a police station on the airport road, it was overrun and all the policemen executed by men wearing, quote, "army uniforms," unquote.

Now, we used to have this phenomenon in Algeria, when I was covering the Islamist government war there, and it took a while before we realised that they were policemen and they were soldiers.

In other words, they were being paid by the authorities. These were not people. there's not a huge wardrobe factory in Fallujah with, you know, 8,000 policemen's uniforms, waiting for the next suicide bomber. It's not like that. What we've got is death squads, and some of them are clearly working for government institutions within Baghdad.

ELEANOR HALL: So you're saying there are death squads, there's chaos, but it's not civil war?

ROBERT FISK: Well, it's certainly chaos, and it's certainly death squads. But I don't regard this as a civil war at the moment. As I said, somebody wants a civil war. I mean, if you really try hard and you kill enough people you may be able to produce this.

ELEANOR HALL: So somebody wants a civil war?

ROBERT FISK: Yes.

ELEANOR HALL: You must have some clues about who.

ROBERT FISK: I don't have. I have suspicions, I don't have clues. I spend a lot of time, when I'm in Baghdad, trying to find out who this is and what this is. Clearly, the Interior Ministry have been torturing people to death, and clearly the Interior Ministry have people who do operate death squads.

But you've got to remember something, that a very prominent figure in politics, and a close friend of the United States, was accused just before the first elections of executing, quote, "insurgents," unquote, in a police station, a police station I know very well. This was reported in Australia at the time.

I suspect the story is true. I think he was a murderer, and he was working for the Americans, and he was a former CIA operative, as we know. I'm not saying the CIA are doing the death squads and this is an American plot - no, I'm not. But I think that there are all kinds of tendencies and fractures within the current authorities, who all live in the green zone in the former Republican palace of Saddam, surrounded by American barbed wire and American protection.

ELEANOR HALL: What's the rationale of this though? I mean, if these people are in government, why do they want a civil war?

ROBERT FISK: I think what they want to do is to produce a situation in which their side, or their party, will control Iraq.

You've got to realise the insurgents too, most of whom but not all are Sunni, we keep seeing the insurgents as people who want to get the Americans out. But that's a very short-sighted view of it. That's our view of it.

It's quite clear the insurgents want to get the Americans out, but they want to get the Americans out so they can say afterwards, we liberated our country, we want a place in power. That is what this is about. This is about securing political power after the withdrawal of the United States.

ELEANOR HALL: What about the political negotiations that are going on at the moment though? I mean, is there no faith placed in those?

ROBERT FISK: Look, I'm sorry to sound so pessimistic, but all the political negotiations are going on within a few square acres, guarded by American tanks, from which nobody emerges. These people who are negotiating, they don't go into the streets of Baghdad, they don't see the people, they don't see the bombs.

ELEANOR HALL: But the people voted for them.

ROBERT FISK: Yes, the Shi'ites voted for them mostly.

Look, people want to vote. People would like freedom. But they'd also like freedom from us, and that we will not accept, because we want to go on controlling Iraq and making sure Iraq does what we want. We want to control the government of Iraq.

I mean, they have a democratic election, and what happens? Bush comes on the telephone and says come on, we want some unity, get moving.

ELEANOR HALL: You say the US will have to get out of Iraq, but it will need the help of Iran and Syria to do so.

ROBERT FISK: Of course, of course it will.

ELEANOR HALL: Now, how would that work?

ROBERT FISK: It'll need the help of Iran to make sure that all Shi'ite resistance to the United States ends during the withdrawal, and it'll need the help of the Syrians, who do have a lot of influence along the border with Iraq, to make sure that there is some kind of deal with the insurgents that the Americans can leave not under fire.

You see, I mean I've said this before, but the terrible equation, of course politically, from an American political point of view as well, in Iraq, is that the Americans must leave, and they will leave, and they can't leave.

And that's the equation that turns sand into blood. And that remains the case. It's very easy to invade other people's countries; it's very difficult to get out of them. It should be the other way around, but unfortunately it's not. That's how it happens.

And the Brits found that, you know, all over the Middle East. And every time, every time, every time the authorities of the occupying power say the same things - we will not talk to terrorists. The Americans say it too. And they don't read history books, because at the end of the day the Americans will have to talk to the insurgents in Iraq, and they will, they will.

ELEANOR HALL: Now, the victory for Hamas, in the Palestinian elections, how closely is the West's reaction to this being watched in the Arab world?

ROBERT FISK: With its usual cynicism, yes. It's the same old story - we demand democracy, we demand they have freedom to vote, and they vote for the wrong people, so we try to destroy the government that's been freely elected. We love democracy, providing the Muslim nations elect the people we want.

I mean, we keep hearing the Israelis will not deal with Hamas. The Israelis created Hamas. When the PLO were in Beirut, and the Israelis wanted to counteract the PLO, they urged Hamas to set up more mosques and social institutions in Gaza.

Even after Oslo a senior Israeli officer, and this was reported on the front page of The Jerusalem Post, held official talks with Hamas officials in Jerusalem. Israel won't deal with Hamas. This is just a facade of narrative, for us, the press.

There is a narrative being set down for us where there will not be negotiations, but there can be any time the Israelis want, and if they find it in their interest, they will.

ELEANOR HALL: And yet you're in no doubt that Hamas, or certain members of Hamas, are terrorists?

ROBERT FISK: Look, I don't use the word terrorist about anybody. This has become a semantically meaningless word. Look, there are people in the Hamas movement who support the murder of innocent people, yes, of course.

There are. I'm not trying to make equivalences here, but when you have an Israeli air force officer, as we did at one occasion in Gaza, who bombs a block of apartments, knowing that he will kill innocent children, as well as a man who is believed to be behind suicide bombings, what is that man? What goes on in his brain too?

ELEANOR HALL: Now, you make the point in your book about the targeted killing of Hamas leaders coming back .

ROBERT FISK: The murder. I don't say targeted killing.

ELEANOR HALL: Okay.

ROBERT FISK: The murder.

ELEANOR HALL: The killing of leaders of Hamas will come back to haunt the leaders of the West. What do you mean.

ROBERT FISK: Well, we already did have - a year and a half ago I think - the murder of an Israeli Government minister in Jerusalem.

Um, you see, once you start going for leaderships, you're opening a door that can come back at you. And the great danger is once you say, you know, we might kill Yasser Arafat, well he died of his own accord, but I mean that was constantly said, so then you open the door to someone saying well, let's kill the Israeli leadership, or let's kill the British leadership.

Once you say we're going to kill Osama Bin Laden, what does that allow him to do? He doesn't need permission of course. But what doors are you opening.

ELEANOR HALL: Aren't these doors already open?

ROBERT FISK: Oh, they've been opened now, yes.

ELEANOR HALL: But weren't they already open for people like.

ROBERT FISK: The moment we turned our back on international law and gave up on justice and wanted revenge, that was the end.

ELEANOR HALL: Now, you describe in your book, you were there for Rafiq Hariri's killing in Lebanon.

ROBERT FISK: I was 400 metres away, yes.

ELEANOR HALL: After that you write you're increasingly stunned by the growing tragedy of the Middle East. Now, I would've thought that's a big statement from someone who's been reporting from the Middle East for 30 years.

ROBERT FISK: Yes, but the Middle East has never been in such a terrible situation, it's never been so dangerous. I've never found myself going on assignments of such danger as I do now. Iraq's the worst assignment I've ever been on, ever.

I think that our hypocrisy towards the Middle East, and the ruthlessness of its own leaders, Arab leaders, has reached such a stage now that there's some kind of. I mean, some kind of explosion is going to come.

I did a CBC interview in Toronto, which I've got a copy of, three years before 2001, and I said an explosion is coming. And obviously...

ELEANOR HALL: But do you think an explosion is still coming?

ROBERT FISK: Oh yes. I don't. it doesn't have to be a real physical one like 'bang'. It might be. But something is coming. I mean, I feel it very strongly.

When I go back, when I went back for the book, I realised I was feeling it because I live there, I live in a Muslim society, I live in the Middle East, and all the people around me are Muslims.

And, clearly, living there, breathing that environment, I knew something was going to happen. And I still think something's going to happen. I don't mean September 11, but something.

ELEANOR HALL: But like what?

ROBERT FISK: Well, I mean, the Americans being driven out of Iraq is one, isn't it?

ELEANOR HALL: But if the Americans leave Iraq the suggestion is that that will create more stability there. Is that not likely to.

ROBERT FISK: Well, I hope it would, yes. Um, yeah but, you see, if the Americans leave Iraq it's an enormous blow to US military and political and strategic prestige throughout the world, there's no doubt about it.

ELEANOR HALL: So you've been warned. That's the Middle East Correspondent for the British newspaper, The Independent, Robert Fisk, who's been reporting on the Middle East for 30 years and is in Australia this week to promote his latest book, The Great War for Civilization. He was speaking to me earlier this morning.


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Editorial: Three Years...

Baghdad Burning
Riverbend

It has been three years since the beginning of the war that marked the end of Iraq's independence. Three years of occupation and bloodshed.

Spring should be about renewal and rebirth. For Iraqis, spring has been about reliving painful memories and preparing for future disasters. In many ways, this year is like 2003 prior to the war when we were stocking up on fuel, water, food and first aid supplies and medications. We're doing it again this year but now we don't discuss what we're stocking up for. Bombs and B-52's are so much easier to face than other possibilities.

I don't think anyone imagined three years ago that things could be quite this bad today. The last few weeks have been ridden with tension. I'm so tired of it all- we're all tired.

Three years and the electricity is worse than ever. The security situation has gone from bad to worse. The country feels like it's on the brink of chaos once more- but a pre-planned, pre-fabricated chaos being led by religious militias and zealots.

School, college and work have been on again, off again affairs. It seems for every two days of work/school, there are five days of sitting at home waiting for the situation to improve. Right now college and school are on hold because the "arba3eeniya" or the "40th Day" is coming up- more black and green flags, mobs of men in black and latmiyas. We were told the children should try going back to school next Wednesday. I say "try" because prior to the much-awaited parliamentary meeting a couple of days ago, schools were out. After the Samarra mosque bombing, schools were out. The children have been at home this year more than they've been in school.

I'm especially worried about the Arba3eeniya this year. I'm worried we'll see more of what happened to the Askari mosque in Samarra. Most Iraqis seem to agree that the whole thing was set up by those who had most to gain by driving Iraqis apart.

I'm sitting here trying to think what makes this year, 2006, so much worse than 2005 or 2004. It's not the outward differences- things such as electricity, water, dilapidated buildings, broken streets and ugly concrete security walls. Those things are disturbing, but they are fixable. Iraqis have proved again and again that countries can be rebuilt. No- it's not the obvious that fills us with foreboding.

The real fear is the mentality of so many people lately- the rift that seems to have worked it's way through the very heart of the country, dividing people. It's disheartening to talk to acquaintances- sophisticated, civilized people- and hear how Sunnis are like this, and Shia are like that… To watch people pick up their things to move to "Sunni neighborhoods" or "Shia neighborhoods". How did this happen?

I read constantly analyses mostly written by foreigners or Iraqis who've been abroad for decades talking about how there was always a divide between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq (which, ironically, only becomes apparent when you're not actually living amongst Iraqis they claim)… but how under a dictator, nobody saw it or nobody wanted to see it. That is simply not true- if there was a divide, it was between the fanatics on both ends. The extreme Shia and extreme Sunnis. Most people simply didn't go around making friends or socializing with neighbors based on their sect. People didn't care- you could ask that question, but everyone would look at you like you were silly and rude.

I remember as a child, during a visit, I was playing outside with one of the neighbors children. Amal was exactly my age- we were even born in the same month, only three days apart. We were laughing at a silly joke and suddenly she turned and asked coyly, "Are you Sanafir or Shanakil?" I stood there, puzzled. 'Sanafir' is the Arabic word for "Smurfs" and 'Shanakil" is the Arabic word for "Snorks". I didn't understand why she was asking me if I was a Smurf or a Snork. Apparently, it was an indirect way to ask whether I was Sunni (Sanafir) or Shia (Shanakil).

"What???" I asked, half smiling. She laughed and asked me whether I prayed with my hands to my sides or folded against my stomach. I shrugged, not very interested and a little bit ashamed to admit that I still didn't really know how to pray properly, at the tender age of 10.

Later that evening, I sat at my aunt's house and remember to ask my mother whether we were Smurfs or Snorks. She gave me the same blank look I had given Amal. "Mama- do we pray like THIS or like THIS?!" I got up and did both prayer positions. My mother's eyes cleared and she shook her head and rolled her eyes at my aunt, "Why are you asking? Who wants to know?" I explained how Amal, our Shanakil neighbor, had asked me earlier that day. "Well tell Amal we're not Shanakil and we're not Sanafir- we're Muslims- there's no difference."

It was years later before I learned that half the family were Sanafir, and the other half were Shanakil, but nobody cared. We didn't sit around during family reunions or family dinners and argue Sunni Islam or Shia Islam. The family didn't care about how this cousin prayed with his hands at his side and that one prayed with her hands folded across her stomach. Many Iraqis of my generation have that attitude. We were brought up to believe that people who discriminated in any way- positively or negatively- based on sect or ethnicity were backward, uneducated and uncivilized.

The thing most worrisome about the situation now, is that discrimination based on sect has become so commonplace. For the average educated Iraqi in Baghdad, there is still scorn for all the Sunni/Shia talk. Sadly though, people are being pushed into claiming to be this or that because political parties are promoting it with every speech and every newspaper- the whole 'us' / 'them'. We read constantly about how 'We Sunnis should unite with our Shia brothers…' or how 'We Shia should forgive our Sunni brothers…' (note how us Sunni and Shia sisters don't really fit into either equation at this point). Politicians and religious figures seem to forget at the end of the day that we're all simply Iraqis.

And what role are the occupiers playing in all of this? It's very convenient for them, I believe. It's all very good if Iraqis are abducting and killing each other- then they can be the neutral foreign party trying to promote peace and understanding between people who, up until the occupation, were very peaceful and understanding.

Three years after the war, and we've managed to move backwards in a visible way, and in a not so visible way.

In the last weeks alone, thousands have died in senseless violence and the American and Iraqi army bomb Samarra as I write this. The sad thing isn't the air raid, which is one of hundreds of air raids we've seen in three years- it's the resignation in the people. They sit in their homes in Samarra because there's no where to go. Before, we'd get refugees in Baghdad and surrounding areas… Now, Baghdadis themselves are looking for ways out of the city… out of the country. The typical Iraqi dream has become to find some safe haven abroad.

Three years later and the nightmares of bombings and of shock and awe have evolved into another sort of nightmare. The difference between now and then was that three years ago, we were still worrying about material things- possessions, houses, cars, electricity, water, fuel… It's difficult to define what worries us most now. Even the most cynical war critics couldn't imagine the country being this bad three years after the war... Allah yistur min il rab3a (God protect us from the fourth year).
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Editorial: Where's the Resistance Here on the Home Front?

By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
and JEFFREY ST. CLAIRMarch 18 / 19, 2006

Three years into the war in Iraq and now about two out of three Americans are against it, as against about one out of fifty elected politicians. In Iraq 2,315 Americans have died, and 17,100 wounded, many of them with limbs lost, some facing a lifetime in a wheel chair. Of the tens of thousands who have returned from combat to army bases or civilian life here, around 2.5 per cent are suffering from severe post traumatic stress syndrome, powder kegs, a menace to themselves and their families. There will be psychic as well as physical wreckage across America for years to come.

In Iraq, the Johns Hopkins study last September made an accounting of the full death toll wrought by the devastation of the US invasion and occupation. It concluded that "about 100,000 excess deaths" (in fact 98,000) among men, women, and children had occurred in just under eighteen months. Violent deaths alone had soared twentyfold. But, as in most wars, the bulk of the carnage was due to the indirect effects of the invasion, notably the breakdown of the Iraqi health system.

Re-working the Johns Hopkins study with the benefit of better techniques of statistical analysis Andrew Cockburn concluded here early in the New Year that on the basis of the raw sample data compiled by Iraqis for the Johns Hopkins study, the true number of dead in Iraq in consequence of the war had probably hit around 180,000, with a possibility that it had already reached as high as half a million. Of course all sets of numbers, whatever statistical analysis you accept, have been climbing steadily ever since.

This week the Pentagon announced it may be increasing its troop strength by a thousand or so.

Iraq itself is a disaster, teetering on the brink of full blown-civil war. Conditions of life in the capital and other major cities have steadily worsened across three years. As a functioning state Iraq has collapsed, the ministers in its government hastening overseas as often as they can or, when home, looting public assets while never daring to venture out of the green zone.

Mention of the "green zone", a bubble of corruption and delusion, takes us from Baghdad to Washington, and its green zone, secluded from reality, in which the Democrats now dwell.

As a political matter one would have thought that few leaders in recorded history would be more vulnerable to attack than Bush and Cheney, regarding their war in Iraq. The justifications for the attack have been exposed so many times that the lies are now taken as given, except by the Wall Street Journal editorial page, where any concession to reality is regarded as a death penalty offense.

The pretexts have been discredited; the purported aims have long since evaporated, as the present U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, concedes wanly: "We seem to have opened a Pandora's Box." Not so long ago, as Norman Solomon recently recalled on this site Chris Mathews was telling his audience on MSNBC , "We're are all neo-cons now", and then a few months later, "Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like Clinton. Women like A GUY [as] president. Check it out. I think we like having a hero as our president."

These are lonely times for Matthews, as Bush sags to the lowest presidential approval ratings in the last century. Even the women of Indiana have abandoned their guy, as his standing in that state tumbles to below 40.

Across the past year the peace movement didn't do much, so far as we could tell, but was bailed out by two great champions who changed the political picture. The first was Cindy Sheehan, who haunted the man Hugo Chavez taunts as "the king of vacations" for those crucial weeks in the late summer of 2005, outside his ranch in Texas. (Has any president ever had a worse stretch than Bush did between the founding of Sheehan's Camp Casey, through hurricane Katrina, to the exposure of the domestic spying program, with Cheney shooting one of their top funders as lagniappe.)

The second champion was Jack Murtha, the 73-year old former U.S. Marine and life-long hawk who turned on the war in a sensational press conference on the Hill in November, calling for "immediate withdrawal", and repeating that call in vigorous interviews and speeches. Murtha effortlessly swatted down the Republican libels of him and the usual devious efforts to undercut him from prime-time hawks like CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

But the subsequent fate of Sheehan's and Murtha's campaigns is highly instructive. Sheehan threatened a challenge to Senator Diane Feinstein who is running for her third term this year. Because CounterPuncher Todd Chretien has got the Green Party nomination, Sheehan thought aloud about challenging Feinstein in the Democratic Primary. Why not? Feinstein has been unwavering in her support for the war and her husband Richard Blum has made millions in war-related contracts. Sentiment against the war across the state is strong. Sheehan is well known. But then Senator Barbara Boxer intervened, and publicly pleaded with Sheehan to stand down. She did. Result? Politically speaking, Sheehan has vanished.

If any Democrat had the sort of manly credibility Matthews craves, it was surely Jack Murtha. He's a former Marine drill instructor, a war vet and, in Congress, had a proven record as paid-up member of the Military Industrial Complex with his years as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Here was no peacenik turning against the war. But the day he did, the Democratic delegation in Congress fled him, almost to the last man and woman. (As did too many on the left, who whined that somehow Murtha's withdrawal plan wasn't quite radical enough. What did they want? To have Murtha hold up the Little Red Book and swear allegiance to the memory of Mao?)

In its present form the Democratic Party has ceased to be a credible opposition. It is constitutionally incapable of confronting the Administration, on the war or anything else.

Their only strategy is to let George Bush self-destruct, as a kind of political suicide bomber. They don't care how many are killed in Iraq or how many items in the Bill of Rights Bush and Cheney tear up. They are terrified of actually doing or saying something substantive, except to taunt Mexicans crossing the border in search of work or to thump the nativist drum about Arabs owning American assets..

Is this too cruel? Surely the Democrats have some fight left in them. After all, the first edition of the Patriot Act in 2002 passed with only one No vote in the Senate. Russell Feingold's. When the second edition of the Patriot Act passed in recent weeks, there were ten votes against, one of from a former Republican,. Jeffords of Vermont. The Democrats invented a new form of "safe opposition" here. When Russ Feingold tried to lead a filibuster against the Patriot Act, his Democratic colleagues conducted "test votes" where many of them puffed up their chests and boldly said they opposed the Patriot Act. Then they came to the real vote, chests subsided and the numbers dwindled to eight.

Feingold has now introduced into the Senate a censure motion of the President, charging him with violating the law in the NSA eavesdropping. Dana Milbanke in the Washington Post had an entertaining piece last Wednesday describing the panic of Feingold's Democratic colleagues when asked for their views on his motion.

Barrack Obama of Illinois: "I haven't read it."

Ben Nelson of Nebraska: "I just don't have enough information."

John Kerry of Massachusetts: "I really can't [comment] right now."

Hillary Clinton of New York rushed past reporters shaking her head, then trying to hide behind the 4'11" Barbara Mikulski.

Charles Schumer of New York, who would normally run over his grandmother to get to a microphone: "I'm not going to comment."

Mary Landrieu of Louisiana: "Senator Feingold has a point he wants to make. We have a point that we want to make, talking about the budget."

Chris Dodd of Connecticut: "Most of us feel at best it's premature. I don't think anyone can say with any certainty at this juncture that what happened [i.e., the NSA's eavesdropping] is illegal."

In the face of this preen of yellow feathers Feingold said, "If there's any Democrat who can't say the President has no right to make up his own laws, I don't know if that Democrat really is the right candidate for president."

Right on Russ, but you know the answer already. You're in a race for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008 where you are the only candidate thus far prepared to say the President is a law breaker and that the war is illegal and should be ended immediately and the Patriot Act repealed. Why are you in this party? You come from a state which eighty years ago saw the bold stand of Robert LaFollette who broke away to form a third party. Why don't you do the same? Look at Jim Jeffords of Vermont. He broke free, defied the Republican whip is now an independent and has more stature in his state than Patrick Leahy. Be that "guy" that Mathews craves for. Jump! Someone has to seize the day.

Footnote: It looks as if the fire escape chosen by Bush to save him from those low thirties numbers is the old neocon refrain of the Iranian menace. This clashes with the official line of the pundit legions, which is that the neocons have been sent out to pasture and replaced in the corridors of power by "pragmatists". We even heard Michael Gordon of the New York Times and his co-author Bernard Trainor, while flacking their new history of the Iraq war on Amy Goodman, claim that the neocons were "on the outside" during the planning and execution of the Iraq war. That was before Goodman spoiled Gordon's day by bringing up all those WMD fantasy pieces he wrote with Judy Miller. Anyone who needs reminding on just how the neocons did it last time, the better to prepare for the next war, would do worse than keep by their hand the IHS Press compilation Neo-Conned Again, which kicks off with a contribution from your two CounterPunch editors.
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Three Years Too Many


Bush Marks Anniversary, Never Says 'War'

By NEDRA PICKLER
Associated Press
March 19, 2006

WASHINGTON - President Bush marked the anniversary of the
Iraq war Sunday by touting the efforts to build democracy there and avoiding any mention of the daily violence that rages three years after he ordered an invasion.

The president didn't utter the word "war."

"We are implementing a strategy that will lead to victory in Iraq," the president assured a public that is increasingly skeptical that he has a plan to end the fighting after the deaths of more than 2,300 U.S. troops.
Administration officials repeated the mantra that progress continues toward building a unified Iraqi government and nation.

"Now is the time for resolve, not retreat," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wrote in a column for The Washington Post. "Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis."

Yet there were acknowledgments from the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq that the situation is fragile and that he did not predict the strength of the insurgency.

"I did not think it would be as robust as it has been," Gen. George W. Casey said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "And it's something that, obviously, with my time here on the ground, my thinking on that has gained much greater clarity and insight."

Bush did not mention the insurgent attacks, the car bombs or the mounting Iraqi deaths in a two-minute statement to reporters outside the White House after returning from a weekend at Camp David. Avoiding the word "war," he called the day "the third anniversary of the beginning of the liberation of Iraq."

The president only indirectly referred to the violence when he said he spent the morning reflecting on the sacrifices made by U.S. troops. Bush said he spoke by phone earlier in the day with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and had received a positive report.

The White House is trying to remind the disapproving public of Bush's vision for Iraq with a public relations blitz. The president plans to give a series of speeches on Iraq, beginning Monday in Cleveland.

More than three-fourths of the public thinks it's likely that Iraq is headed toward civil war, according to an AP-Ipsos poll taken in early March.

And two-thirds of Americans say the U.S. is losing ground in preventing civil war in Iraq, according to a Pew Research Center poll taken in the same period. That's up from 48 percent in January.

On Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney did not express any regret for predicting in the days before the invasion that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators or his assessment 10 months ago that the insurgency was in its "last throes." On the contrary, he said the optimistic statements "were basically accurate, reflect reality."

Like Bush, Cheney touted the political progress in Iraq, pointing out that the Iraqis have met the political deadlines set for them and predicting they will form a unified government "shortly."

In an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation," Cheney flatly rejected a statement made earlier Sunday by Iraq's former interim prime minister that the increasing attacks killing dozens each day across his country can only be described as a civil war. "If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is," Ayad Allawi told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Instead, Cheney described the violence as the actions of terrorists who have "reached a stage of desperation."

"What we've seen is a serious effort by them to foment a civil war," Cheney said. "But I don't think they've been successful."

Cheney blamed the negative perception on news coverage of the daily violence instead of the progress being made toward democracy.

"There is a constant sort of perception, if you will, that's created because what's newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad," the vice president said. "It's not all the work that went on that day in 15 other provinces."

White House critics bemoaned the fact that the third anniversary of fighting ever came to pass and accused the Bush administration of incompetence.

"By any measure, in my view, we're worse off in Iraq today than we were a year ago," Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., said on CNN's "Late Edition." He cited increased deaths and violence, incomplete government services and a long path to building a consensus government.

Rumsfeld urged Americans to continue supporting the fight and said he believes history will show that the terrorists were defeated. Meanwhile, his detractors issued another round of criticism and calls for his resignation.

In a New York Times column, retired Gen. Paul D. Eaton, who was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003-2004, called the defense secretary "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically, and is far more responsible for what has happened to our important mission in Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld must step down."

Nearly three years ago Bush announced the end to major combat in Iraq.

Last week, U.S. forces launched Operation Swarmer, described by the Pentagon as the biggest air assault since April 2003. However, Casey said Sunday that he wouldn't categorize Swarmer as a major combat operation, noting that other operations had used far more troops.

"It was an operation to go out into an almost uninhabited area," Casey said. "I think, frankly, it got a little bit more hype than it really deserved because of the use of the helicopters to get the Iraqi and the coalition forces there."



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US troops to stay in Iraq for a few more years: commander

www.chinaview.cn 2006-03-20 02:10:26

WASHINGTON, March 19 (Xinhua) -- On the third anniversary of the Iraq war, the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said Sunday that U.S. troops will likely remain there for a few more years though the number will be reduced.
Appearing on TV news network NBC's "Meet the Press," Gen. George W. Casey said "a couple of more years" will be needed for the U.S. military presence in that country with "a gradually reducing coalition presence" as Iraqi security forces get more capable of dealing with the insurgency.

The general acknowledged that at the beginning of the war, the U.S. military may have had underestimated the insurgency.

He also admitted that the current situation in Iraq is fragile and will likely remain so until a new government of national unity is formed.

Casey said civil war remains a possibility because of increased sectarian tensions and violence, but he denied it will happen soon.

Echoing the Bush administration's defense of its war policy, he claimed "good progress" is being made both politically and militarily in Iraq.

Also appearing on "Meet the Press", leading congressional war critic John Murtha, a member of the House from Pennsylvania, repeated his call for redeploying U.S. troops over a six-month period to take them out of what he called a civil war.

Confronting Casey, the congressman said he did not see any progress in Iraq in terms of the slow training of security forces and the low levels of employment, fresh water, electricity and oil production.



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What Did You See at the War, Jimmy?

By Michael Slenske
Smith Magazine
17 Mar 06

"I don't harbor any ill feelings toward the Marine Corps. I learned valuable, intangible traits when I was in there-self-confidence, self-discipline. But in the back of my mind is that the reason they taught me these intangible traits was to turn me into a killer. And they succeeded."

In the wake of the James Frey debacle-and its tractor-powered disinterment of similar thinly-veiled literary hoaxes surrounding the the louche and love-starved - it's rather conspicuous (or perhaps not) that Jimmy Massey's name has failed to resurface in the broadsheets.

If you haven't heard of him, Massey, a former Marine staff sergeant who spent 12 years in the Corps before being medically discharged with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and becoming a key figure in the peace movement with Veterans For Peace, rose to infamy last November after St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Ron Harris (followed lockstep by hawkish blogger Michelle Malkin) discredited claims made by Massey in his book Kill, Kill, Kill that he'd been party to (and a participant in) war crimes during his tour in Iraq with a Combined Anti-Armor Team (CAT) platoon.

Although Harris and Co. vehemently disputed Massey's claims of killing innocent civilians on the road to Baghdad, Harris has admitted that he doesn't read French (the language in which Massey's book was published) nor was he ever directly embedded with Massey's unit. Malkin, for her part, failed to return various emails, which is telling, considering the fact that the claims made in Kill, Kill, Kill, which is also being published in Spain, were corroborated by three other Marines in Massey's platoon in interviews with the same French-American investigative journalist who ghost wrote the book with Massey.

To find out what really happened SMITH deconstructed the fog of the Iraq war with the Marines' most outspoken anti-war, war criminal.

SMITH: What made you want to write Kill, Kill, Kill?

MASSEY: When I was first diagnosed with PTSD, the psychologist suggested I write a memoir as part of the therapy. I started writing, basically just jotting down notes, and then when I got discharged from the Marine Corps, Natasha Saulnier, my ghostwriter, contacted me through Veterans For Peace. She did a couple interviews with me and asked if I wanted to write a book with her about my experiences, and it all kind of fell into place.

SMITH: How do you feel when people in the press like Ron Harris want to attack you for what you've said or what you've written?

MASSEY: Ron Harris is just covering his own behind. He knows he is just as liable for war crimes as any military member serving in Iraq.

SMITH: How so?

MASSEY: Because of his failure to do any investigative journalism into the actual incidents of the killing of civilians.

SMITH: Was he with you when this was happening?

MASSEY: No, he was never with my company. He was with Lima Company. The only time that I saw Ron Harris was after a particular incident happened at a checkpoint when he came in to do his little interview and leave back to Lima Company. It took an international incident for him to report any of the civilian casualties. It took the killing of reporters for him to finally talk about that.

SMITH: But what's the actual dispute?

MASSEY: Well, that's the thing. Ron Harris even stated that he didn't set out to dispute, he just didn't see the harshness I portray in the book. And I don't think Ron Harris has read the book either.

SMITH: So the contention is essentially whether the events you describe in the book should be labeled as normal combat procedures or war crimes.

MASSEY: I leave it up to the readers in the book. Are these war crimes or are these just fog of war? My definition of fog of war is that you're on the battlefield and out of the corner of your eye you see somebody run and you fire off a shot and you go find out it's a civilian. That's fog of war. Where I have a heartburn with it is that we actually escalated the violence by heightening the intelligence reports. We demonized the Iraqi people and we were given carte blanche to shoot first and ask questions later. I think that the truth hurts. I think when a lot of Marines read this book it's going to bring to their point of view the violations of the Geneva Conventions. Can you win a war with continued violations of the Geneva Conventions and International Law?

SMITH: So did you feel you were violating the law at the time?

MASSEY: Oh definitely, and I raised the BS flag very early on.

SMITH: And what did your fellow Marines say?

MASSEY: I was kind of treated like an outcast or rogue because they didn't like my opinions about certain situations. I became very agitated because I went up to Captain Smith [of Lima Company]. This was shortly after the red Kia incident. I told him we need to get combat engineers in here to fortify when we have these kinds of checkpoints. And his response was, "No-there's not going to be any combat engineers to come in."

SMITH: So what would you say to people who'd claim your story is a fake war story?

MASSEY: The thing is I was there. There were other members of the platoon that were there. I haven't seen one reporter that has interviewed guys who were in the book. Mainly these are just random Marines in other companies who have been interviewed. I think what is going to have to happen is that these Marines I talk about in the book are going to have to come forward or be interviewed and ask them about each particular event. Natasha Saulnier actually conducted the interviews with the Marines in the book, and they openly admit to killing civilians.

SMITH: Is this at the level of a Mai Lai incident?

MASSEY: I don't think it's to that level yet. I do think we have the propensity to head in that direction because of the military thought process and [because] we demonize the Iraqi people and treat every Iraqi as a potential terrorist. I'm very curious about Fallujah and the actual battle plans of what took place in Fallujah. I'd love to hear the civilian accounts of what happened, especially because I've been hearing that they used white phosphorous.

SMITH: Are you trying to get the book published in America?

MASSEY: If an American publishing company comes along and wants to publish it, sure. We've had a few look into it, and a few more are still looking into it, but it will published in Spain in March. We've also had a good response from the French-speaking provinces of Canada.

SMITH: What about those who'd say you were trying to make money off these events?

MASSEY: Come on, brother. You know how much I've made off this book? I made about $8,000. The reason I wrote the book was initially for therapy. I have started a PTSD foundation through Iraq Veterans Against The War called the Vets for Vets program. What I've been using are the proceeds that are going to that so that we can continue helping returning vets diagnosed with PTSD because the VA system is taking almost two years to get into the system, to get a diagnosis, to get a rating before they even start seeing a disability paycheck. These guys are living on the streets, homeless, and we still got people slapping yellow stickers on the back of their cars saying, "Support The Troops." They don't have a clue.

SMITH: What was the hardest thing for you to deal with over there? Not just the stuff you saw, but the day to day?

MASSEY: The desperation in the Iraqi people. I don't think that the Marines in my platoon had realized the devastation this country had been under. Thirteen years of sanctions, lack of medical supplies, humanitarian rations, and I knew the Iraqi people's plight because I read the history of Iraq, and I knew the US involvement with Iraq, and I was a firsthand witness. I saw American tanks in Iraqi compounds; I saw ammunition with American flags spray-painted on the ammo box. All evidence. But it was just the desperation in their eyes. They were looking at us to be liberators and provide that humanitarian support and just act humanely toward the Iraqi people and we didn't do it. We established places like Abu Ghraib; we established free-fire check zones at Marine Corps checkpoints, just crazy, crazy military blunders.

SMITH: What made you want to join the Marine Corps?

MASSEY: I came from a long line of military going all the way back to the civil war. All my kin, my family is from South Carolina, so I can trace all my roots back to here. I've had relatives that fought for the Confederacy, for the Union. My grandfather [Zachariah Roberts] was with Patton's division during World War II, and I was growing up hearing stories of what he did while he was over there. So I always had a deep sense of pride in my country.

SMITH: Did you enlist?

MASSEY: I was going to UTI [Universal Technical Institute] I was studying to become an automotive engineer, but my goal was to design new cars. But I ran out of money and so I worked in the oil fields for Cardinal Well Service in the Gulf Coast. I was a tool hand. I took a job in New Orleans doing the same thing. But being young I fell in love with Bourbon Street, and I was eventually fired, lost my apartment and became homeless. I had too much pride to go back to my mom and tell her, so I talked to a recruiter when I was in New Orleans. I called my mom [and told her] what I planned on doing. She begged me to come home, so I came home. I told her I wanted to go into the Marines, and this is what I need to do to be successful.

SMITH: Do you regret anything about your service?

MASSEY: Absolutely not. The only thing I regret … is that I did not go into the Naval Investigative Service and tell them what I saw.

SMITH: Why didn't you do that?

MASSEY: The Marine Corps told me they were doing the investigation and they were looking into what I was saying, so I was like well, "If they said they were looking into it, they were looking into it." And I didn't think I was getting discharged anytime soon.

SMITH: How do you think the support system is set up for soldiers and Marines who get "shell-shocked" over there?

MASSEY: We've got to look at the whole medical system of the military and see what their overall goal is. Lieutenant Col. Dave Grossman wrote a book called On Killing, and he talks about the psychological effects going all the way back to World War I up to the recent Gulf Invasion. He says the overall goal of the system is to get a member of the armed forces back on the battlefield. That's why they are setting up these little rehabilitation centers in Iraq. So they let them play video games, and I've seen pictures of these little camps they have, and they play video games and they have this down time. They give them psychotropic medications, antidepressants, things to help them sleep. Then they get them back to a certain level, they ship them back to their unit. But they're not getting to the real cause because the real cause-the PTSD-is a trauma that they've received while they are in country. And if you continue to keep them there that trauma continues to build and build.

SMITH: How did you feel when you came back? I've talked to other vets who say when they hear a car door slam or hear a firecracker go off they are very, very on edge.

MASSEY: I tell you what; the worst thing for me is driving. If I see a bag of garbage on the side of the road, or even if I see somebody walking, I'll just instantaneously flashback and think about IEDs. My wife doesn't let me drive anymore.

SMITH: You've been working with Cindy Sheehan. What is that like?

MASSEY: Working with Cindy is wonderful.

SMITH: What's it like on the ground in Crawford, Texas?

MASSEY: It was amazing. My life to me is certain periods where I heal and that's what I remember. PTSD, battling with it is everyday, but when I was in Crawford I didn't have to battle with it, it was like I felt a sense of camaraderie, communion, we were achieving the same goals.

SMITH: Have you met any opposition at these events?

MASSEY: Yeah, I've been on speaking engagements-one in particular was in upstate New York-where I had people actually out front protesting me being there.

SMITH: Did things get messy?

MASSEY: No, but that's the great thing: this is what the soldiers over there are fighting for is freedom of speech. I welcome those people if they want to come in and listen to what I have to say, or ask questions. I don't claim to be perfect or know everything so I welcome a healthy debate on topics. But the Marine Corps was good to me the 12 years I was in. It's not the Marine Corps' fault for being used in a negative direction; I don't harbor any ill feelings toward the Marine Corps. I learned valuable, intangible traits when I was in there-self-confidence, self-discipline. But in the back of my mind is that the reason they taught me these intangible traits was to turn me into a killer. And they succeeded.

SMITH: What was the fondest memory you had in Iraq?

MASSEY: I had a big saying while I was over there, I would come across the radio and say, "My Spiderman senses are kicking in." And that was kind of like a key to the rest of the boys to be on a heightened sense of alert. And this wonderful artist, Lance Corporal Martins, came up to me and drew this Spiderman with a Marine uniform on that had a caption that said, "My Spiderman senses are tingling." Just little stuff like that.

SMITH: And what is the day-to-day routine for you now?

MASSEY: I do a lot of work for IVAW [Iraq Veterans Against the War] so I'm heavily engaged in that and lining up different speaking engagements with various organizations throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world. I recently went to Kuala Lumpur. The prime minister of Malaysia was hosting a peace conference, and wanted a representative from IVAW and I was the chosen one. I also went to Ireland to help with the plan of getting the U.S. warplanes out of Ireland's Shannon Airport. I was on The Late Late Show [in Ireland] talking about the depleted uranium being flown through Ireland. I'm Scotch-Irish, so Ireland is my home country.

SMITH: What's the one thing we don't know about this war as the American public?

MASSEY: [Laughs] I feel … how can I put that … how do you tell a 25-year-old Iraqi that just witnessed his brother being killed at a Marine Corps checkpoint … how do you tell this young man not to become an insurgent?

SMITH: I don't know.

MASSEY: That's a question I'd like answered because I feel that's something we did. We escalated the violence by our stupidity, our lack of Middle Eastern cultural customs.

SMITH: What's a concrete example of that?

MASSEY: For one, [at checkpoints] we were sticking our fists up in the air, which is pretty much the military sign for stop. And then we would fire a warning shot as the car approached. I had this Iraqi-American woman, she came up to me, after I got done with a presentation [in America], and she said, "Wait a minute, explain to me what you were doing?" So I explained to her that we were sticking our hand in the air and firing a warning shot. She said, "Okay, don't you think that by sticking your fist in the air in a Middle Eastern country that that could possibly mean solidarity?" And I said, "Okay, I'll play devil's advocate with you, but what about the gunshot?" She said, "What do you always see Saddam Hussein doing on the television." And I was like, "Oh my god!" I travel to Iraq, go through that, to come back to the US to have this elderly Iraqi woman tell me that we were culturally fucked up.

SMITH: Were there any other things that bothered you after you returned home from Iraq?

MASSEY: I've got to bust on Harry Connick, Jr. This guy is from New Orleans. I've seen Harry Connick, Jr. play at the old Preservation Hall. This guy gets on CNN has the prime opportunity to say, "You know what? The government messed up. We were not getting the support we need to rebuild." And he blew it. When they asked him the hardball questions about how he felt, he blew it. He just kind of tiptoed and danced around it. I guess he's worried about his cell service. If that was me I would say, "Hey, come with me, walk with me down the street. I'll show you what New Orleans is like." And the celebrities are not doing it. Where are they at? What happened to the Johnny Rottens? What happened to the Dead Kennedys? That's the stuff I grew up to, the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag and The Cult. I grew up with those kind of bands, and it's just not there anymore.

SMITH: What did you think about the book and recent movie Jarhead?

MASSEY: I've got to give [author Anthony] Swofford props. I think he set out to tell a very heart-wrenching story of his indoctrination into war. I think that Swofford was censored. I could tell when I read the book that he wants to say something more here, and he wants to say something more here. You understand that Marine mentality. You can understand he was censored. Once I wrote my book and presented it to publishing companies, [and] they wanted to add things and take things out, I started to understand what he was up against. But I think Swofford did the very best of telling a gut-wrenching story, and ultimately I think his story has an anti-war statement.

SMITH: What's the ultimate goal here?

MASSEY: The ultimate goal is to end the occupation of Iraq and bring the troops home and once they're home provide support for them. That's the ultimate goal. I don't have any political ambitions-no crazy stuff like that.

Michael Slenske writes the "Back Home" column for Smith



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The central battlefield in the global resource war

By Mike Whitney
Information Clearing House
17 Mar 06

It's impossible to understand the goals of the Bush administration without looking at a map. The entire Middle East and Central Asia is referred to in military parlance as CENTCOM; the central battlefield in the global resource war. This region extends from Sudan in the south to Kazakhstan to the north; from Egypt in the west to Pakistan in the east. This is where the vast majority of the world's remaining resources lie and it will continue to be the primary area of focus for American foreign policy throughout the century.
Once we observe the sharp black outline of America's newest battlefield, the illusions of the "war on terror" are quickly dispelled. This is the geographic reality of the present conflict. The war on terror is merely public relations fluff.

A careful look at the region illustrates the crucial importance of integrating Iran into the overall plan. American industry must dominate this area if it hopes to maintain its edge on competitors in China and Europe. Iran and Syria are the unfortunate obstacles to that plan. Most of the other countries are either clients of the United States or are willing to comply without major resistance. Sudan may be the exception to this rule, but a strategy is already materializing (pushed by Ambassador John Bolton) at the UN to send in "Peacekeepers" who will carry out Washington's orders. This will place Sudan's oil and natural gas reserves under western control and divide the resources among the former colonial powers. Those who believe that "humanitarian intervention" in Sudan will reduce the suffering of the people in Darfur are sadly mistaken. We only need to look at the "liberation" of Iraq or the "Marshall Plan" in Afghanistan to realize that no attempt will be made to establish security in the hinterland. "Humanitarian intervention" is a tragic ruse invoked to disguise aggression and exploitation. We should not expect genuine aid from the international community or the many "lofty-sounding" institutions (World Bank, International Monetary Fund) that advance the exclusive interests of private industry.

The Bush master-plan cannot fully succeed without affecting regime change in Tehran and integrating Iran into the schema for regional domination. Iran has nearly 10% of the world's remaining oil as well as natural gas reserves that are second only to Russia's. Iran occupies an area that is critical to future pipeline routes that will link East to West; feeding the new giants of energy consumption in China and India. The Bush administration has no intention of allowing that wealth and power to fall into the hands of the Mullahs.

The present standoff over Iran's imaginary nuclear weapons-programs is merely a device for Washington to demonize Iran before taking military action. As IAEA Chief Mohammad ElBaradei has said repeatedly, there is "no evidence of a nuclear weapons program or the diversion of nuclear weapons material". Nevertheless, the administration has skillfully manipulated public opinion by providing a steady stream of misleading accusations which has weakened resistance for another war. The UN has played a vital role in this charade by fostering the belief that there is great uncertainty about Iran's nuclear activities, when in fact there is not.

The astonishing success of commercial media in co-opting public opinion for Washington's wars of aggression has exceeded all expectations. On any day, it is possible to find between 500 to 2,500 articles written on the topic of Iran (from different sources Reuters, AP, NY Times, Washington Post, ABC etc) written from the very same perspective, invoking the same talking points, language, buzz-words and quotes, and creating the same impression that Iran is in "noncompliance" with its treaty obligations. Without question, the corporate propaganda system is the most impressive weapon in the Pentagon's arsenal. It's clear that the administration would be incapable of pursuing its current war-strategy without the combined efforts of the corporate media.

An attack on Iran involves great risk and there is the real prospect that escalation might lead to nuclear war. As the increasingly inflammatory rhetoric indicates, however, the plan is going forward and will not be derailed by the reluctance of Congress, the thousands of protestors on the streets, or the ineffective braying at United Nations.

Those who dismiss the likelihood of an attack on Iran as "madness", fail to appreciate the true nature of fanaticism. The Bush administration is less guided by reason than it is by moral rectitude; neither plays any role in their decision-making process.

The bombing of Iran could take place some time as early as in the next two weeks or, as Condoleezza Rice likes to say, "At a time of our choosing."



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Anti-war protesters in SLC, elsewhere lament apathy

The Salt Lake Tribune
03/19/2006 3:37 AM MST

By the time the war protesters began their march Saturday morning in Salt Lake City, only about 50 people had gathered. Their numbers had swelled to about 200 by noon - and that was with a little high-tech help from a marcher who text-messaged friends to join him.

The early low turnout was discouraging to some, such as Susan Westergard of Holladay.

"There's just about more policemen here than people," said the Democratic candidate for the Utah House of Representatives in District 40, nodding to the squadron of eight motorcycle officers parked alongside 400 South. "I guess the longer the war goes on, the more people accept it."
The protesters, organized by the People for Peace and Justice of Utah, marched from Pioneer Park to a rally on the steps of the City-County Building, where they listened to songs, speeches and chants condemning the war.

It was a scene repeated across the United States and the world Saturday as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to mark today's third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

The protests, like those held to mark each of the two previous anniversaries of the March 2003 invasion, were vigorous and peaceful but far smaller than the large-scale marches that preceded the war, despite polls showing lower public support for the war than in years past and anemic approval ratings for President Bush, himself a focus of many of the protesters.

In Times Square, about 1,000 anti-war protesters rallied outside a military recruiting station, demanding that troops be withdrawn from Iraq.

Police in London said 15,000 people joined a march from Parliament and Big Ben to a rally in Trafalgar Square. The anniversary last year attracted 45,000 protesters in the city.

In Turkey, where opposition to the war cuts across all political stripes, about 3,000 protesters gathered in Istanbul, police said. "Murderer USA," read a sign in Taksim Square.

One of the biggest protests was in San Francisco, for decades a hub of anti-war sentiment. Police there estimated the crowd gathered outside City Hall at about 6,000 people. Many chanted slogans opposing Bush, and most appeared to hail from a distinctly grayer demographic than that of other protest events.

"There are not enough young people here," said Paul Perchonock, 61, a physician. "They don't see themselves as having a stake."

In his weekly radio broadcast, Bush defended the administration's record in Iraq, saying the decision to depose the regime of Saddam Hussein was "a difficult decision - and it was the right decision." He pledged to "finish the mission" despite calls for withdrawal.

In Washington, a relatively small crowd of about 300 gathered at the Naval Observatory, where Vice President Dick Cheney lives, and marched to Dupont Circle. Debbie Boch, 52, a restaurant manager from Denver, said she and two friends bought plane tickets to Washington two months ago, before the demonstration had been planned. It was the fifth protest march she had attended since the war began, she said, and among the smallest.

"It's very disappointing, especially in Washington, D.C.," she said. "You think this is the place where people come to make things happen. I'm just not sure why there aren't more people here today."

At the Salt Lake City march and rally, protesters read and commented on each other's signs, like the large image of Bush carried by Gail Davis. Under the slogan "War dead on your head," the president's face was created out of a mosaic of photographs of dead U.S. soldiers.

Davis said she joins a peace vigil every Thursday night at the Bennett Federal Building at 125 S. State St. "We're not getting too many death threats anymore," said Davis, who works at as a manager at a law office. "Nobody's tried to run over us or anything for a while."

Darian Richards, 9, marched from Pioneer Park with a sign that read: "Bring my dad home." Richard Evans' said "Welcome to 1984," a reference to George Orwell's book. Others drew upon the messages of an earlier generation of activists: "I have a dream," one sign announced over a picture of jail bars printed over the faces of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Jacob Floyd, a 22-year-old Brigham Young University student, said he was thinking of the future when he decided to attend.

"I came today because I want to tell my kids I did everything I could to stand up for what's wrong in our country right now," he said.

Floyd announced his politics on his chest, thanks to a homemade white T-shirt with the headline "They lied" over the faces of administration officials, including Bush and Cheney, and the words "They died" over a list of names of dead U.S. soldiers.

Throughout the morning, a group of eight women dressed in pink-and-black outfits occasionally broke out in chants. "Resist, resist, raise up your fist," shouted Raphael Cordray of Salt Lake, one of the "Pom Poms Not Bomb Bombs" cheerleaders. "Show 'em that you're pissed. Resist, resist, fight the capitalists."

Cordray said the group of friends, who range in age from 22 to 55, were inspired by radical cheerleading groups in other states, and used chants as a way to express their political views in a lighthearted way. "Some of the cheers we tone down for Salt Lake City," she said.



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How Operation Swarmer Fizzled: Not a shot was fired, or a leader nabbed, in a major offensive that failed to live up to its advance billing

By BRIAN BENNETT/AL JALLAM
Time
Mar 17, 2006

Four Black Hawk helicopters landed in a wheat field and dropped off a television crew, three photographers, three print reporters and three Iraqi government officials right into the middle of Operation Swarmer. Iraqi soldiers in newly painted humvees, green and red Iraqi flags stenciled on the tailgates, had just finished searching the farm populated by a half-dozen skinny cows and a woman kneading freshly risen dough and slapping it to the walls of a mud oven.
The press, flown in from Baghdad to this agricultural gridiron northeast of Samarra, huddled around the Iraqi officials and U.S. Army commanders who explained that the "largest air assault since 2003" in Iraq using over 50 helicopters to put 1500 Iraqi and U.S. troops on the ground had netted 48 suspected insurgents, 17 of which had already been cleared and released. The area, explained the officials, has long been suspected of being used as a base for insurgents operating in and around Samarra, the city north of Baghdad where the bombing of a sacred shrine recently sparked a wave of sectarian violence.

But contrary to what many many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war. ("Air Assault" is a military term that refers specifically to transporting troops into an area.) In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

The operation, which doubled the population of the flat farmland in one single airlift, was initiated by intelligence from Iraq security forces, says Lt Col Skip Johnson commander of the 187 Battallion, 3rd Combat Brigade of the 101st Airborne. "They have the lead," he said to reporters at the second stop of the tour. But by Friday afternoon, the major targets seemed to have slipped through their fingers. Iraqi Army General Abdul Jabar says that Samarra-based insurgent leader Hamad el Taki of Mohammad's Army was thought to be in the area, and Iraqi intelligence officers were still working to compare known voice recordings and photographs with the prisoners in custody.

With the Interior Ministry's Samarra commando battalion, the soldiers had found some 300 individual pieces of weaponry like mortars, rockets and plastic explosives in six different locations inside the sparsely populated farming community of over 50 square miles and about 1,500 residents. The raids also uncovered high-powered cordless telephones used as detonators in homemade bombs, medical supplies and insurgent training manuals.

Before loading up into the helicopters for a return trip to Baghdad, Iraqi and American soldiers and some reporters helped themselves to the woman's freshly baked bread, tearing bits off and chewing it as they wandered among the cows. For most of them, it was the only thing worthwhile they'd found all day.



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IRAQ: AL-SADR FORMS SHADOW GOVERNMENT IN BAGHDAD STRONGHOLD

AKI
16 Mar 06

A Kurdish source in Baghdad has told a Kurdish national daily that the Mahdi Army, the militia of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, " has set up a shadow government in Sadr City in the centre of Baghdad". The source told the Aso daily: "this group was tasked with carrying out the affairs of the city in the place of the Iraqi government and institutions." The source explained that the Mahdi Army, accused of kidnappings and sectarian killings, has transformed the rundown Sadr city into an independent district with its security forces and its own courts which do not only judge local residents but also Shiites from other areas of the capital.
The source alleged that "the health and transport ministers, which both are headed by minsiters from the Sadr faction, have been completely monopolised by followers of this movement" adding that "in Sadr City the police forces, for example the local police, take their orders from Moqtada al-Sadr and not from the interior ministry."

The Cultural Network of Iraq, an internet site which publishes news on the Shiite community, has said that "the peoples courts in Sadr City have condemned to death terrorists who carried out massacres in the city."

The former government of Iyad Allawi and the movement of al-Sadr,. who has headed two lengthly revolts against the US-led coalition forces, clashed over these courts, which have special police forces and prisons. When the authorities in Baghdad tried to close them down and disband the militias they failed.

The power of Sadr's militia and his huge constituency of loyal Shiite voters have made him a growing force in Iraq.

Gunmen wearing the old Mahdi Army uniform of black pants and black shirts - abandoned for civilian gear in recent days - are blamed for some of the worst retaliatory raids and killings in Baghdad following the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra on 22 February.



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Brzezinski calls for Iraq pull out

By KATHERINE GYPSON
UPI Correspondent
17 Mar 06

One of America's most respected elder national security statesmen called for a full pull-out from Iraq Thursday.

Delivering the keynote address at the Center for American Progress' "Iraq; Next Steps for U.S. Policy," Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former National Security advisor for President Jimmy Carter, said that "within a year we should be able to complete a course of disengagement" and withdraw from Iraq.

Brzezinski cited several reasons for withdrawal, among them the "prohibitively expensive" cost of the war and the fact that American leadership and legitimacy has been severely undermined by the insurgency and damaged credibility.
"We have to make a really cold judgement," said Brzezinski. "Would the consequence of civil war be more devastating than the consequences of staying the course?"

Iraqi Shiites and Kurds might prevail in a civil war, Brzezinski said.

"The U.S. umbrella that is designed to prevent these wars is so porous it ends up feeding them," he said.

It would take a U.S. commitment of half a million troops to make a significant difference in fighting the Iraqi insurgency, Brzezinski said. But, "We are not in a position to do this," he said.

Brzezinski also called for a new U.S. nuclear dialogue with Iran. A precedent for one already existed in the Bush administration's multi-lateral talks with North Korea on nuclear proliferation, he said.

"Surely it cannot be our deliberate intention to fuse Iranian nationalism with Iranian fundamentalism?" he said.

Brzezinski said that however long the U.S. military occupation of Iraq lasted, it was doomed to failure.

"In a war of attrition," he said, "a foreign occupier is always at a disadvantage. This is a failed occupation."

Brzezinski said Iraq had not yet collapsed into a full-scale civil war. Far from preventing such a war from breaking out, he said, the continued U.S. military occupation made one far more likely.

"This is not yet a civil war, in the sense that it is not yet a comprehensive, nation-wide collision between Shiites and Sunnis but we are unintentionally feeding it," he said.

Brzezinski suggested that the United States "ask Iraqi leaders to ask us to leave" and suggested that those Iraqi politicians who have expressed a desire for American forces to continue the occupation are exercising poor leadership.

"We are acting as though the Iraqis are our colonial wards," he said. "We are teaching them about democracy by arresting them, bombing them, by humiliating them and also helping them. It is an ambivalent course in democracy."

Brzezinski also said the president had failed to provide any serious national leadership to back up his commitment to the Iraq war and had failed to call the American people to the spirit of duty and sacrifice needed to win any real war.

"What bothers me is the packaging," Brzezinski said. He said that if the United States were truly engaged in war, then there would need to for a national mobilization involving a tax on the rich, an overall war tax and a draft. "These actions," he said, "are the basic consequences of serious engagement."

Brzezinski also hit out at President George W. Bush's newly released National Security Strategy. He called it "an erroneous version of reality."

Brzezinski urged Bush to widen his circle of advisors. "Words have consequences," he said. "The deliberate misuse of words can be dangerous and a fundamentally altered version of reality can lead to a fear-driven nation."

Other speakers at the CAP meeting called the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samara "a turning point for Iraq" and recommended a shift in U.S. priorities from institution-building to a peace process similar to the Dayton accords which sought a resolution for the Bosnia conflict in the nineteen-nineties.

Jonathan Morrow, a lawyer who worked to rebuild legal institutions in the country after the U.S. invasion said "Iraq was dealt with as a post-conflict crisis, which is quite ironic actually because the conflict was just beginning."

"The Iraqi Constitution -- for all its flaws -- is an authentic version of what Iraqis want," he said. "Iraq looks like a lot less of a disaster if you accept that there will be a loosely central government and if you focus on peace-building rather than nation-building or institution-building."

"The model is not difficult," Morrow said, "to bring all the players to the table, to build a consensus version of what peace should look like in Iraq. One of the key questions is to find someone who authentically speaks for the Sunni Arabs."

Jonathan Finer, Baghdad Correspondent for the Washington Post, said the influence of Iran in Iraq was hard to overstate, particularly in the case of Iranian Shiite clerics whose voice he called "a significant force" in Iraqi politics.

Morrow said, "We cannot expect to succeed in Iraq without involving the regional players - and that means involving Iran. You cannot pursue conflicting policies. But there do have to be priorities and that doesn't necessarily mean sacrificing security interests."

© Copyright 2006 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved



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Saddam Hussein turns the tables at US-run show trial

By Bill Van Auken
Asian Tribune
17 Mar 06

The farcical trial of Saddam Hussein staged by the Bush administration and its Iraqi puppets was thrown into chaos when the deposed Iraqi president took the witness stand Wednesday.

He used his intervention not to answer the charges laid against him in the court-whose legitimacy he has rejected from the beginning-but to speak directly to the Iraqi people, urging an end to sectarian bloodshed and a continuation of armed resistance to the US occupation of their country.

"My conscience tells me that the great people of Iraq have nothing to do with these strange and horrid acts, the bombing of the shrine of Imam Ali al-Hadi and Hassan al-Askari ... which led to the burning of mosques in Baghdad, which are the houses of God, and the burning of other mosques in other cities of Iraq," Hussein said.
He continued his address, brushing aside attempts by the tribunal's chief judge, Raouf Abdel-Rahman to silence him:

"The bloodshed that they (the US occupation authorities) have caused to the Iraqi people only made them more intent and strong to evict the foreigners from their land and liberate their country ... Let the people resist the invaders and their supporters rather than kill each other ... Oh Iraqis, men and women... those who blew up the shrine are shameful criminals."

By this time, Abdel-Rahman was shouting hysterically. "No more political speeches. We are a criminal court, a judicial court, we don't have anything to do with political issues or anything like this. Testify," he demanded.

Hussein replied, "Political issues are what brought you and me here," and continued with his prepared remarks, which faded in and out as the agitated judge repeatedly cut off his microphone. He denounced the US government as "criminals who came under the pretext of weapons of mass destruction and the pretext of democracy."

Again the judge cut him off, demanding: "You are a defendant in a major criminal case, concerning the killing of innocents. You have to respond to this charge."

In a sharp rejoinder, Hussein asked, "What about those who are dying in Baghdad? Are they not innocents? Are they not Iraqis? ... Just yesterday, 80 bodies of Iraqis were discovered in Baghdad. Aren't they innocent?"

It was at this point that the judge ordered sound and video cut off entirely, blackening the screens of televisions tuned to the trial all over Iraq. "The court has decided to turn this into a secret and closed session," he announced, ordering reporters to leave the chamber inside Baghdad's heavily fortified, US-controlled "Green Zone."

The trial had to be closed because the points made by Hussein are unassailable. The proceedings unquestionably represent a political show trial, staged by Washington in an effort to legitimize its invasion and occupation of Iraq. The court is the creation of an illegal act of aggression and its very existence constitutes a serious violation of international law, which explicitly bars occupying powers from imposing their own judicial bodies in the territories they occupy.

The court is itself merely a façade for US military control over Iraq and the continuing abrogation of the sovereignty of its people. Behind the hand-picked judges, there is a battalion of US officials and lawyers who have orchestrated the entire affair. Even the television feed that the judge ordered shut down was set up by the US cable broadcasting company, Court TV, under a contract worked out by Washington.

The more fundamental question posed by Hussein's intervention, of course is: what gives Washington the right to judge anyone for the crime of killing innocent Iraqis?

There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein, whose Baathist regime defended the interests of the Iraqi ruling elite, carried out grave crimes against the Iraqi people. But the fact remains that at the time they were committed, his actions enjoyed the backing of Washington itself, which saw Iraq as a bulwark against Iran and far preferred Hussein over a revolutionary uprising of the oppressed Iraqi masses.

Moreover, when it comes to the deaths of innocent Iraqis, those who set the policies of the US government have far eclipsed Saddam Hussein. By conservative estimates, over 100,000 Iraqis have died since the US invasion three years ago-more probable assessments put the figure at closer to a half a million.

Since the first US war against Iraq 15 years ago, the death toll from US military action and the effects of punishing economic sanctions imposed at Washington's demand numbers well into the millions. The lives of millions more have been turned into a living hell by the US military occupation.

Under these conditions, for those who carried out these policies to try the former Iraqi president on charges that he orchestrated the execution of 148 people in the wake of an assassination attempt is nothing short of obscene.

Moreover, the immediate context of the ongoing trial, as Hussein referred to, is that of an unfolding bloodbath in the streets of Baghdad and in cities and towns throughout the country. Every day sees scores if not hundreds more killed. Thousands of bodies have filled the Baghdad morgue, many of them with their hands bound and showing signs of torture and summary execution, carried out by Iraqi police-military death squads, trained and financed by the US. Other lives are claimed daily by suicide bombings and mounting sectarian violence that has brought the country to the brink of civil war. The pretense that Iraq today is a country of laws is patently absurd.

Having destroyed what remained of Iraq's shattered social infrastructure in a criminal scheme to assert its own domination over the country and its strategic oil reserves, Washington bears full responsibility for all of this carnage.

Meanwhile, the US military's own war against the Iraqi people continues unabated, as witnessed Thursday in what the Pentagon boasted was the largest air assault since the invasion three years ago. Some 1,500 airborne troops were helicoptered into several villages outside the city of Samarra. While the operation has been carried out under intense secrecy, witnesses in the city said that large explosions could be heard in the distance. Both Washington and the Iraqi regime have compared the operation to the bloody US siege of Fallujah last year.

An indication of the grim human toll exacted by such operations came Wednesday, when US forces called in tank fire and air strikes against a house near the town of Ishaqi, about 55 miles north of Baghdad. A Pentagon spokesman said that the house was believed to be harboring a "foreign fighter facilitator." According to local police, 13 people were killed in the attack, including five children between the ages of six months and 11 years, and four women.

"The killed family was not part of the resistance; they were women and children," Ahmed Khalaf, the brother of one of the victims told the Associated Press. "The Americans have promised us a better life, but we get only death."

Meanwhile, a report in the Knight-Ridder newspapers in the US, citing Pentagon data, concluded that "daily bombing runs and jet-missile launches have increased by more than 50 percent in the past five months, compared with the same period last year"-a conclusion that was confirmed by US Air Force officials. It added that, while most of the air strikes last year were carried out in the siege of Fallujah, this year has seen such bombardments in 18 Iraqi cities.

Bombs and missiles rained down on Iraqi towns and cities on at least 76 days between October 2005 and last month, according to the report. How many innocent victims have been claimed by this brutal and intense air war against a largely defenseless civilian population is unknown.

Saddam Hussein's intervention in the "Green Zone" courtroom provoked anger and discomfort within the US media, reflecting the reaction within the American ruling establishment itself. In its news account, the New York Times described the speech as an "incendiary political diatribe."

The displeasure voiced by the Times editorial Thursday was even more explicit: "The trial of Saddam Hussein should be a showcase for a better Iraq. It should clearly demonstrate that decades of secret trials and summary verdicts are giving way to a new era of transparency and the rule of law. It should be showing these things, but thus far it has fallen disappointingly short."

It described the judge's decision to shut down television broadcast, throw reporters out and go into secret session as a "self-inflicted black eye."

Instead, the newspaper declared, "Judge Abdel-Rahman should simply have gaveled him down when he refused to address the charges, and left the cameras rolling." Saddam Hussein, the editorial indicated, should be "ordered to sit down and keep his mouth shut."

Such is the fine distinction between a democratic "showcase" and an ugly imperialist show trial.

In the end, however, there is good reason to want Hussein-or anyone else who invokes the criminality of those judging him-shut up. The obvious issue raised by such charges, and implicitly by the US-orchestrated trial itself, is when will those in Washington, who have carried out a war of aggression that has cost countless thousands of Iraqi lives, be held criminally accountable?



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Cobra II - The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq

Democracy Now!
Transmission date: 03/17/06

Almost three years to the day after the war started, a new book titled "Cobra II" details the inside story of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The book is written by Michael Gordon, chief military correspondent for The New York Times, and retired Marine general Bernard Trainor.

Transcript below.
TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we're joined by both authors of Cobra II, Michael Gordon of The New York Times and Bernard Trainor, retired Marine general and former military correspondent for the Times. They join us in the studio in Washington, D.C. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Good morning.

MICHAEL GORDON: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you both with us. If you, General Bernard Trainor, can lay out what you think were the five problems with the invasion, as you lay them out in the book.

GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Well, these -- I think it can be generally stated that there were erroneous assumptions made upon which the planning floundered. The ground attack went to Baghdad in record time. However, along the way they ran into the sort of resistance that they had not expected. But if you're looking for the weak link in the process, it wasn't the operation itself, the invasion itself. It was the plan for the end of the invasion. And I use the term "plan," because a lot of people say that there wasn't any plan after Saddam's regime fell.

But there was a plan. And the plan was for the United States military to get out of Iraq as quickly as possible, turn Iraq over to a U.S.-supported Iraqi government, on the assumption that the infrastructure, both the political and economic infrastructure, would be largely intact, and that the international community, the U.N. and others, would get involved in the post-Saddam period. That was a fatally flawed assumption, and as a result, a fatally flawed plan.

So, if you're looking for the problem that emerged with the insurgency, that would be kind of the fundamental principle. There were lots of other little mistakes that went through it, which turned out to be very large mistakes: disbanding the Iraqi army, not having sufficient American forces to follow on the invasion -- as a matter of fact, cutting back on the forces that were involved in the invasion -- and all of these things closed a window of opportunity of reasonable stability that existed immediately after the fall of Baghdad. But that window of opportunity only stayed open for a short period of time, and it slammed shut, and the insurgency emerged.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Gordon, do you think the invasion itself was a mistake?

MICHAEL GORDON: Well, that's a policy judgment and a political judgment that's really beyond the scope of our book. Our book is not about whether we should or should not have gone to war. The book is about how we went to war. And one thing that our analysis and reporting shows, as General Trainor said, is in the summer of 2003 -- and I was embedded throughout this period in Baghdad then -- I think most of the U.S. military commanders there thought that there was a chance to put Iraq on a better course had we done some things differently, had we had more troops, had we had effective nation-building policies, had we not disbanded the army. And it was the combination of these errors that created an environment which allowed the insurgency to gain some traction.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Michael Gordon, your book is especially critical throughout of the role of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. You talk about a variety of ways in which he directly participated in the planning and even when troops would be deployed, micromanaged the military at a level unprecedented. Could you talk a little bit about that and why you were so critical of Secretary Rumsfeld?

MICHAEL GORDON: Well, you know, in our book, General Trainor and I, we didn't set out to do an investigation of Secretary Rumsfeld or General Franks. We just laid out the facts, and we had a lot of documents and a lot of interviews. And what the facts show is that Secretary Rumsfeld came to the Defense Department with an agenda. The agenda was to transform the American military. There's some good in that. We're not saying that's all bad by any means. But he wanted to create a force that could be basically lean and mean and carry out operations that were far smaller than, let's say, an invasion force that Colin Powell would put together. I think the force that he put together -- and he didn't actually order the generals to do it this way or that way, but he guided them, through suasion, as one of his aides put it, by asking the appropriate questions, by demanding certain briefings, by sending down papers that he wanted the generals to read.

But basically, the force that he essentially established for the invasion was adequate for the task of taking Baghdad and getting there, although there were a few hairy moments along the way, but utterly inadequate for what followed, you know, the so-called -- what the military called "Phase IV" or really the post-war operations. He was really a dominating presence. But, you know, General Franks, I'd say, was very much on the same wavelength, and the two, you know, basically collaborated to put together the plan. You know, one very interesting thing is that the joint chiefs of staff were largely marginalized in this process, and in certain respects, the National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of State Powell were pretty much cut out of it, too.

AMY GOODMAN: General Trainor, you talk about the troika -- President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Rumsfeld -- making the decisions?

GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: That's correct. That's a correct -- the three of them were joined at the hip, if I can use that expression. They all thought basically the same way, and their perceptions became reality. I think the President, I would describe it as the man who presided over the troika. I think Vice President Cheney was very influential in terms of the policy. And certainly, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was a man in charge of the execution of the policy. Everybody else was what I would describe as in the outer circle. The National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and even the neo-cons, which gained so much blame for things going wrong. But those people were -- they were in the outside of the private sanctum of the President, Vice President and Secretary of Defense. Those three thought alike and acted in unison.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But interestingly, in terms of Secretary Powell, while he wasn't as much in the loop, according to your book, it wasn't so much that he opposed going into Iraq. According to some of your, I guess, interviews with Richard Armitage, the secretary's thoughts were the invasion of Iraq should wait until President Bush's second term, after he had built more international support, and that he saw it as totally -- something totally acceptable perhaps in the second term.

GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Well, I think you have to step back and look at the situation as it existed. The international community, all the intelligence agencies were all convinced that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And this administration saw that as a threat that required preemptive action, because -- not that Saddam Hussein was going to pop a nuclear weapon or chemical weapon here in the United States -- but he saw that after 9/11, the threat of amorphous terrorism, with terrorists getting chemical, biological weapons and ultimately nuclear weapons without any national fingerprint on it. And how do you deal with something like that?

So the policy was, we have legitimate right to defend the United States. We have the responsibility to defend the United States. And in this instance, we have to preempt the Iraqis from providing the wherewithal to terrorists. And so, that convinced a lot of people. It convinced the Congress. And it convinced the average man on the street that this was something that should be done. Obviously, there were certain people that did not agree. But the fact is, the Congress supported the whole thing.

The Secretary of State's position wasn't quite as crude as you describe it, as waiting for a second election. He wanted to give diplomacy a chance. It wasn't that he was opposed to going into Iraq. It was a matter of timing. And that's what he was insisting on. See if we can't build up a coalition, whereas the troika felt that they could pretty much act independently and a coalition would follow after the defeat of Saddam Hussein.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to General Bernard Trainor, who used to the write for the Times, now is an NBC military analyst. And we're talking to Michael Gordon, chief military correspondent for The New York Times. They have written a new book. It's called Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. We'll come back to them in a minute.

To purchase an audio or video copy of this entire program, click here for our new online ordering or call 1 (888) 999-3877.



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Video: The 50 Billion Dollar Robbery - Three years after the start of the Iraq war, where has the 50 billion dollars of reconstruction money gone?"

Broadcast BBC
15 Mar 06

Following the Iraq war, billions of dollars of Iraq's money was directed to American companies to rebuild the country.

But much of it remains unaccounted for, and Peter Marshall has been investigating startling allegations of post war profiteering.




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The time for accounting - The case against the Iraq war and occupation has been entirely vindicated. It must be brought to an end

Andrew Murray
Friday March 17, 2006
The Guardian

Tony Blair's announcement that he will henceforward account only to God for the Iraq war makes perfect sense. Every secular reason he has concocted for the catastrophe has turned out to be the reverse of the truth: there were no weapons of mass destruction, we are less safe from terrorism, the Iraqi people themselves do not want us in their country. No more of his excuses for this epic man-made disaster stand an earthly chance of being believed.
As the third anniversary of the calamity draws close, the final argument used by what little remains of the brave army of pro-war punditry that set out with the prime minister in 2003 has gone belly up. Far from preventing a civil war, the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq is provoking one. It is doing so through its divide-and-rule strategy, which has entrenched and inflamed the Sunni-Shia divide beyond anything in Iraq's history, and through its refusal to afford Iraqis the unfettered exercise of national sovereignty, which is the only framework for overcoming such differences.

There is scarcely even a pretence that Iraq is permitted such sovereignty at present. Both Jack Straw and the US ambassador to Baghdad have recently been instructing the Iraqis as to what sort of government they must form - three months after the supposedly decisive national elections took place.

And all this to the accompaniment of unabated violence. Reliable estimates for violent civilian deaths under the occupation range well over 100,000. Faik Bakir, the director of the Baghdad morgue, has had to flee the country after revealing that more than 7,000 people had been killed, often after torture, by officers of the US-supervised interior ministry. The carnage continues: more families will be burying their dead this morning after yesterday's 50-warplane assault on Samarra by the US - the biggest yet and clearest possible demonstration of the occupation's brutality and failure.

It defies common sense to suppose that the only torture and degradation of civilians carried out by US and British troops has been that caught on camera at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. No wonder Iraqi local authorities now refuse to deal with the British army in the south.

The pledge that all this suffering would at least assist a solution to the Palestinian question has proved painfully hollow, with the Israelis ram-raiding a Palestinian prison in Jericho - just like British troops in Basra. But still the war junkies seem to believe one more hit - this time against Iran - will lead to the breakthrough to the docile Middle East they desire. Straw's assertion that it is "inconceivable" has found no echo in Washington or Jerusalem. Almost every Iranian agrees that aggression will consolidate support for the regime in Tehran. It will certainly cost many more lives and inflame Muslims everywhere.

None of this was unavoidable. The anti-war movement around the world has been vindicated both in its estimation of the unjustified nature of the war and the consequences of an occupation of Iraq. And Britain has reaped the consequences. Most people understand that the terrorist threat "over here" is in large measure a consequence of what we are doing "over there". The denial of that connection has damaged civil liberties and community cohesion in Britain.

This was not a war the British people wanted. This weekend protests against the prolongation of the Iraq war and its threatened extension to Iran will take place across the globe, including in Iraq. To put it in language the prime minister understands: vox populi vox dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God). The time for accounting is now.

· Andrew Murray is the chair of the Stop the War Coalition, which is organising a demonstration in London tomorrow.

apdmurray@hotmail.com

www.stopwar.org.uk



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Father who took up Iraq machine gun to avenge dead son is ready to go home

Associated Press
NewsChannel 15

AL-ASAD, Iraq It's been six months since a grieving Georgia father headed to Iraq to avenge his soldier son's death. And Joe Johnson is ready to come home.

Johnson went to Iraq after his 22-year-old son was killed in a roadside bombing. He says there were a lot of reasons for getting back in the military -- a sense of duty among them. Johnson admits he does not "really have love for Muslim people." And he says he'd be lying if didn't admit wanting some revenge for his son, Justin.

Now, after spending time manning a Humvee's gun, Johnson says he "shouldn't even have come." Johnson says he doesn't want to kill innocent people and won't be upset if he returns to Georgia without any blood on his hands.

Johnson's batallion is due to return home in mid-May.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press.




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The farcical end of the American dream - The US press is supposed to be challenging the lies of this war

By Robert Fisk
The Independent
18 Mar 06

It is a bright winter morning and I am sipping my first coffee of the day in Los Angeles. My eye moves like a radar beam over the front page of the Los Angeles Times for the word that dominates the minds of all Middle East correspondents: Iraq. In post-invasion, post-Judith Miller mode, the American press is supposed to be challenging the lies of this war. So the story beneath the headline "In a Battle of Wits, Iraq's Insurgency Mastermind Stays a Step Ahead of US" deserves to be read. Or does it?
Datelined Washington - an odd city in which to learn about Iraq, you might think - its opening paragraph reads: "Despite the recent arrest of one of his would-be suicide bombers in Jordan and some top aides in Iraq, insurgency mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi has eluded capture, US authorities say, because his network has a much better intelligence-gathering operation than they do."

Now quite apart from the fact that many Iraqis - along, I have to admit, with myself - have grave doubts about whether Zarqawi exists, and that al-Qai'da's Zarqawi, if he does exist, does not merit the title of "insurgency mastermind", the words that caught my eye were "US authorities say". And as I read through the report, I note how the Los Angeles Times sources this extraordinary tale. I thought American reporters no longer trusted the US administration, not after the mythical weapons of mass destruction and the equally mythical connections between Saddam and the international crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001. Of course, I was wrong.

Here are the sources - on pages one and 10 for the yarn spun by reporters Josh Meyer and Mark Mazzetti: "US officials said", "said one US Justice Department counter-terrorism official", "Officials ... said", "those officials said", "the officials confirmed", "American officials complained", "the US officials stressed", "US authorities believe", "said one senior US intelligence official", "US officials said", "Jordanian officials ... said" - here, at least is some light relief - "several US officials said", "the US officials said", "American officials said", "officials say", "say US officials", "US officials said", "one US counter-terrorism official said".

I do truly treasure this story. It proves my point that the Los Angeles Times - along with the big east coast dailies - should all be called US OFFICIALS SAY. But it's not just this fawning on political power that makes me despair. Let's move to a more recent example of what I can only call institutionalised racism in American reporting of Iraq. I have to thank reader Andrew Gorman for this gem, a January Associated Press report about the killing of an Iraqi prisoner under interrogation by US Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jnr.

Mr Welshofer, it transpired in court, had stuffed the Iraqi General Abed Hamed Mowhoush head-first into a sleeping bag and sat on his chest, an action which - not surprisingly - caused the general to expire. The military jury ordered - reader, hold your breath - a reprimand for Mr Welshofer, the forfeiting of $6,000 of his salary and confinement to barracks for 60 days. But what caught my eye was the sympathetic detail. Welshofer's wife's Barbara, the AP told us, "testified that she was worried about providing for their three children if her husband was sentenced to prison. 'I love him more for fighting this,' she said, tears welling up in her eyes. 'He's always said that you need to do the right thing, and sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing to do'".

Yes, I guess torture is tough on the torturer. But try this from the same report: "Earlier in the day ... Mr Welshofer fought back tears. 'I deeply apologise if my actions tarnish the soldiers serving in Iraq,' he said."

Note how the American killer's remorse is directed not towards his helpless and dead victim but to the honour of his fellow soldiers, even though an earlier hearing had revealed that some of his colleagues watched Welshofer stuffing the general into the sleeping bag and did nothing to stop him. An earlier AP report stated that "officials" - here we go again - "believed Mowhoush had information that would 'break the back of the insurgency'." Wow. The general knew all about 40,000 Iraqi insurgents. So what a good idea to stuff him upside down inside a sleeping bag and sit on his chest.

But the real scandal about these reports is we're not told anything about the general's family. Didn't he have a wife? I imagine the tears were "welling up in her eyes" when she was told her husband had been done to death. Didn't the general have children? Or parents? Or any loved ones who "fought back tears" when told of this vile deed? Not in the AP report he didn't. General Mowhoush comes across as an object, a dehumanised creature who wouldn't let the Americans "break the back" of the insurgency after being stuffed headfirst into a sleeping bag.

Now let's praise the AP. On an equally bright summer's morning in Australia a few days ago I open the Sydney Morning Herald. It tells me, on page six, that the news agency, using the Freedom of Information Act, has forced US authorities to turn over 5,000 pages of transcripts of hearings at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. One of them records the trial of since-released British prisoner Feroz Abbasi, in which Mr Abbasi vainly pleads with his judge, a US air force colonel, to reveal the evidence against him, something he says he has a right to hear under international law.

And here is what the American colonel replied: "Mr Abbasi, your conduct is unacceptable and this is your absolute final warning. I do not care about international law. I do not want to hear the words international law. We are not concerned about international law."

Alas, these words - which symbolise the very end of the American dream - are buried down the story. The colonel, clearly a disgrace to the uniform he wears, does not appear in the bland headline ("US papers tell Guantanamo inmates' stories") of the Sydney paper, more interested in telling us that the released documents identify by name the "farmers, shopkeepers or goatherds" held in Guantanamo.

I am now in Wellington, New Zealand, watching on CNN Saddam Hussein's attack on the Baghdad court trying him. And suddenly, the ghastly Saddam disappears from my screen. The hearing will now proceed in secret, turning this drumhead court into even more of a farce. It is a disgrace. And what does CNN respectfully tell us? That the judge has "suspended media coverage"!

If only, I say to myself, CNN - along with the American press - would do the same.



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Quiet disapproval in US marks war's anniversary

By Christopher Swann in Washington
FT.com
11:42 p.m. ET March 19, 2006

On the third anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, the US capital's historic protest venues were surprisingly serene on Sunday. Outside the White House tourists had their pictures taken next to a cardboard cut-out of the president, families enjoyed the sun on the Mall and several bored-looking policemen stood guard outside the vice-president's DC home. Not a placard in sight or a chant to be heard.

Americans may have turned decisively against the war in Iraq in recent months, but their change of heart has been largely expressed quietly to pollsters rather than in loud public protests. The micro-protests that have taken place around the third anniversary – including a few hundred who gathered to hear anti-war speeches in the affluent DC neighbourhood of Dupont Circle – pale by comparison with the monster demonstrations against the Vietnam war.

A clue to this curiously low-key response may be found in the bustling shopping centres. Despite the mounting cost of the war in Iraq, the economic consequences have remained relatively contained. There have been no signs of a decline in consumer confidence and no uptick in inflation.
Americans have not even been asked to stump up the cash for the war effort – at least not yet – with the administration and Congress opting for higher borrowing rather than higher taxes.

As of Friday military casualties had mounted to 2,313 killed and 17,000 wounded. This is enough to make many Americans question the conflict, but the toll still falls far short of the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam.

But the simmering concerns over the conflict have been taking a heavy toll on support for George W. Bush, dragging the president's approval ratings close to the levels of support for President Richard Nixon in the wake of Watergate.

A poll for Newsweek magazine at the end of last week showed that just 29 per cent of Americans approve of the president's handling of the war, down from 69 per cent in the months after the conflict began in March 2003. Almost 60 per cent of Americans now feel less confident that the war will come to a successful conclusion, with fears mounting that the country will slide into civil war.

The administration has launched a new campaign to rebuild support for the war. In a television interview on Sunday, Dick Cheney, the vice-president, said there was "overwhelming evidence" that the US was making progress in Iraq. Set-piece speeches are planned this week by both the president and vice-president.

Yet despite the reassurances, recent pronouncements of the president have had an uncharacteristically dour tone. In a speech over the weekend, Mr Bush acknowledged that there had been "horrific images from Iraq" and that a "tense situation" prevailed in parts of the country. He urged Americans to brace for "more fighting and sacrifice." That is not what was being predicted three years ago.



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Fewer Protest Iraq War's 3rd Anniversary

By JOSEPH B. FRAZIER
Associated Press
18 Mar 06

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Protesters marking the third anniversary of the Iraq war made their voices heard around the world, with the largest marches in London, Portland and Chicago, though in numbers that were often lower than in previous years.

About 10,000 anti-war protesters in Portland took nearly an hour to pass through downtown streets Sunday, some carrying signs that said "Impeach the Evildoer."

"It is time now for you to take back your country," said Steven DeFord, whose son, Oregon National Guard Sgt. David Johnson, 37, was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb in 2004.
In Louisiana, 200 war veterans, hurricane survivors and others gathered at the Chalmette National Cemetery to protest how the war had hurt the country's ability to help the Gulf Coast recover from last year's hurricanes.

"We attacked a country who never did anything to us," said Philadelphia resident Al Zappala, whose 30-year-old son was killed in Iraq in 2004. "He was sent to Iraq based on lies."

About 200 marched Sunday down New York's Fifth Avenue, with signs including: "Resist the War - Don't enlist." Nineteen were given summonses for disorderly conduct and released, police said. Saturday's rally drew more than 1,000 people.

Also Saturday, more than 7,000 people marched through downtown Chicago.

The protests drew crowds far short of the millions who protested the Iraq invasion in March 2003 and the anniversary in 2004.

President Bush marked the anniversary Sunday by touting the efforts to build democracy in Iraq. He avoided any mention of the continuing daily violence there and didn't utter the word "war."

"We are implementing a strategy that will lead to victory in Iraq," Bush said.

Outside the United States, protests included a 1,000-strong rally in Seoul, where demonstrators urged the South Korean government to bring their troops home.

In Malaysia's largest city, Kuala Lumpur, about 600 people protested peacefully, unlike a gathering last year when police used a water cannon to disperse demonstrators. In Tokyo, about 800 demonstrators took to the streets, after some 2,000 protested the day earlier.

In London, police said 15,000 people joined a march Saturday from Parliament and Big Ben to a rally in Trafalgar Square. The anniversary last year attracted 45,000 protesters in the city.

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, a strident Bush critic, offered some of his harshest criticisms of the U.S. president in months.

"The world is opposed to your war, Mr. Danger," Chavez said on his weekly television and radio program. He also called Bush a "coward," a "donkey" and a "drunkard."

Hundreds of anti-war protesters marched silently and carried symbolic caskets through the capital of Puerto Rico, led by the families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We wanted to do something simple, something so simple and solemn as a funeral march through our towns," said Wanda Colon, a spokeswoman for the organizers.

In Reno, Nev., some 400 anti-war protesters were greeted by about two dozen counter-demonstrators. It was a reversal from three years ago when about 200 pro-military demonstrators crashed an anti-war protest, drowning out about 150 peace activists' hymns and speeches.

Activist Cindy Sheehan, who energized the anti-war movement last summer with her monthlong protest outside Bush's Texas ranch, joined the Gulf Coast marchers in Mississippi on Friday, but left early Sunday for events in Washington.

"The support for this war has dwindled dramatically," she said. "The rest of America is on board with ending this war."

---

Associated Press writers Michelle Roberts in Chalmette, La.; Paul Burkhardt in New York; Hrvoje Hranjski in Manila, Philippines; Martin Griffith in Reno, Nev.; and Sue Leeman in London contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press.



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Iraq embroiled in 'civil war,' says former PM Allawi

Last Updated Sun, 19 Mar 2006 12:30:26 EST
CBC News

Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister of Iraq, says the increasing sectarian attacks across his country can only be described as a "civil war."

"We are losing each day an average of 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is," Allawi told BBC television on Sunday, on the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Allawi also warned that if fighting continues as it has, the country could fragment with aftershocks being felt in Europe and the United States.

"It will not only fall apart but sectarianism will spread throughout the region, and even Europe and the U.S. will not be spared the violence that results," he said.

The BBC report quoted analysts who said they viewed Allawi's comments as "political manoeuvring," as talks continue over the creation of an Iraqi government.

In the interview, Allawi – a legislator who heads the Iraqi National List, a secular alliance of Shia and Sunni politicians – said the violence in the country is moving toward "the point of no return."

The bombing of a Shia Muslim shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra on Feb. 22 spurred an increase in civil violence, as Shia and Sunni Muslims launched attacks on each other.

The bombing also further strained talks between Shia, Sunni and Kurdish legislators, who have been trying to agree on the makeup of a new government since the election in December 2005.

Cheney says militants failed to start civil war

Both U.S. and British leaders have repeatedly denied that Iraq is in a state of civil war.

U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney derided talk of civil war in Iraq during an interview with the CBS television program Face the Nation on Sunday morning.

"What we've seen is a serious effort by them to foment a civil war," Cheney said. "But I don't think they've been successful."

'It is a civil war': Democrat legislator

One of the most passionate critics of the war effort, Representative Jack Murtha – a Democrat from Pennsylvania and a respected war veteran – weighed in on the Sunday morning circuit of U.S. network news shows.

"We're caught in a civil war, however you want to look at it," he told NBC's Meet the Press. "First of all, they said there is no insurgency. Then they said it's not a civil war.

"It is a civil war. Twenty-five thousand insurgents are fighting with each other inside the country for supremacy. That's the definition of a civil war."

Bush defends war as start of Iraq's liberation

U.S. President George W. Bush, in a brief speech at the White House on Sunday, called the invasion that started three years ago the beginning of the liberation of Iraq.

He said he was encouraged by the work of Iraqi leaders to "get this government up and running." He also said his country has a strategy that will "lead to victory in Iraq and make the U.S. more secure and ensure peace for generations to come."

In a Washington Post column published on Sunday, U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argued that the insurgents "seem to recognize that they are losing in Iraq."

He added that withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq now "would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis."



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Sacrifices to Yahweh


Israeli forces to step up targeted killings: Mofaz

Xinhuanet
16 Mar 06

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz instructed forces on Thursday to step up targeted killings and anti-terror operations in the West Bank.

Mofaz told a security meeting in Tel Aviv that the Jericho operation sent a clear message to the other side that Israel will not compromise when it comes to its national security principles.

On Tuesday, Israeli forces raided Palestinian prison in the West Bank city of Jericho and took six wanted Palestinians to an Israeli prison.

Due to intelligence indicating terror groups were planning attacks against Israel, Mofaz decided that closure imposed on the West Bank over the Purim holiday would continue until the beginning of next week.

In advance of the Israeli general elections scheduled for March 28, Mofaz decided that security forces would deploy throughout the c




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Amnesty International Calls On Israel to End Settlements and Constructing Apartheid Wall

IPC+Agencies
March 16, 2006

GAZA, Palestine - Amnesty International called on Israel to end expanding settlements and constructing the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The amnesty, in a letter sent to all the Israeli candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections said," these practices are regarded as a violation of human and international laws and that settlements and the Wall are against international law and a violation for the Palestinians' basic human rights."
They also pointed out that these practices affect Palestinians' life as well as all their accommodation, health, education, and employment rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Furthermore, it called for ending all these measures at once, calling on Israel not to impose punitive measures against the Palestinian people as a reply to Hamas victory in the latest parliamentary elections, pointing out that the international law prevents Israel, as an occupation authority, from using collective punishment against Palestinians.

Moreover, the Amnesty asserted that peace and security both for Palestinians and Israelis cannot be achieved unless by respecting human rights, pointing out that violence escalated during the last five years that resulted in the loss of many Palestinians and Israelis as well as huge destruction and suffering which require a genuine and just peace as an urgent need.

The Amnesty called on all Israeli candidates to respect human rights and international law and to work against operations of extra-judicial executions against Palestinians by the IOF as well as the settlers' aggressions against Palestinians and their own properties by bringing perpetrators to justice.

The Amnesty recalled the necessity to put an end to all kinds of punitive measures against Palestinians in the occupied territories that affected the Palestinian economy and forced the Palestinians to depend on international support.

The letter urged the Israeli candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections to be committed to reinforcing protection of basic human rights in their future policies and to carry out the pre-mentioned recommendations if they win in the next elections.

Furthermore, the letter called on them to propose tangible measures to face the past issues of tension and reinforce the possibility of economic, social, and cultural rights, especially in the health, employment, and education sectors concerning the ignored minorities living in Israel such as the Arabs and immigrants who still suffer from the racial discrimination policies against them.

Finally, the Amnesty asserted that Israel must be committed to the internationally recognized rights including important conventions. Therefore, the Israeli candidates should take into consideration these rights in their future economic policy by increasing efforts to prevent all kinds of violence against women.



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Check Your Beliefs

By Charley Reese
17 Mar 06

Let's play a fantasy game to check on our belief in human rights. Let's suppose that in a mythical state, a governor announced a campaign to punish African-Americans for alleged violence.
Step one is to confiscate the land owned by African-Americans, evict them from it and use the land to build massive new subdivisions. Only white Protestant Christians may live in these subdivisions.

Step two is to connect these all-white Protestant Christian settlements to each other by a highway on which African-Americans are forbidden to drive. To facilitate control, the automobile tags for African-Americans will be a different color from the tags issued to white motorists. Checkpoints would be set up all around the state capitol to search and harass African-Americans trying to enter.

Would you support such a plan? Would you hail that mythical governor as a man of peace? Would you go to your church congregation and ask the members to send money to the occupants of these white settlements? Would you lobby the federal government to subsidize this new apartheid state in our midst?

I don't think so. I think most Americans would consider such acts an abomination, un-American and a mockery of everything both Christianity and the United States stand for.

Well, if you would condemn such acts here directed against African-Americans, why won't you condemn identical acts committed against the Palestinians by the state of Israel?

Those settlements you hear about are built on Palestinian land, and they are for Jews only. New roads that Palestinians are forbidden to use connect them. The entire West Bank is riddled with Israeli checkpoints, where innocent Palestinians are daily humiliated and harassed. A trip to a nearby village can mean waiting in line at checkpoints for hours. Palestinians have died in these lines.

After all of these humiliations, abuses, the houses destroyed, the children killed, the olive trees uprooted, how do you think Palestinians feel about Americans who support the Israelis no matter what they do to the Palestinians? Don't take my word about these abuses. Check out the Israeli human-rights organization at www.btselem.org/English.

If you cannot condemn the flagrant abuses of Palestinians by the Israeli government, then you are undoubtedly a bigot, the worst kind of racist pig who believes that Palestinians are some kind of subspecies of the human race. If you do condemn in your heart these terrible abuses, but are afraid to speak out about them, then you are a damned coward.

I listened in disgust to a congressional committee hearing on the Palestinian elections. It was all about what the Palestinians have to do. It was as if the cops, interviewing a child who had been raped by an adult, lectured the child on dressing provocatively and of being in places she should not have been in.

The Palestinians are the victims here. It is their land that is occupied. They have no army. They are at the mercy of the Israeli government. They don't have a superpower protecting them from international sanctions and supplying them with billions of dollars. The United States should be telling Israel to get out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, to dismantle its settlements and checkpoints, and to allow Palestinian refugees to return to or be compensated for the land the Israelis stole.

You want to know why we have a problem with terrorism? It's not Islamic fundamentalists or hatred of freedom. It's our support of Israel's unspeakable abuse of Palestinians. Don't blame Osama bin Laden. Blame the president, Congress, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and all the cowardly Americans who practice hypocrisy by claiming to be moral while supporting gross immorality committed against their fellow human beings in Palestine.

© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.



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Fatah stays out of Hamas cabinet

BBC
17 Mar 06

The Fatah movement of the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, has refused to join a government being formed by Hamas.

Fatah spokesman Azzam al-Ahmad said weeks of talks on Hamas' political programme had failed.
Fatah, which lost elections in January, had wanted Hamas to recognise previous Palestinian agreements with Israel.

Hamas leaders said this would mean accepting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

Hamas is expected to present its list of ministers to Mr Abbas on Saturday.

The militant group won 74 seats of the 132 contested in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January.

'Greater challenge'

Fatah is the party founded by Yasser Arafat and has dominated Palestinian politics for decades.

BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston says a Hamas-led government without Fatah may make the task of governing an even tougher challenge for the militant group.

Fatah ministers might have taken on responsibilities for dealing with Israel and the West.

The Israelis, the Europeans and the Americans all regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation, and the EU and the US are talking of cutting crucial flows of aid funding if a Hamas-led government refuses to lay down its arms and pursue peace with Israel.

At the same time, our correspondent says, there are many areas of Palestinian life that Hamas regards as being in desperate need of reform.

Carrying out some of that restructuring process might have been a little easier if Fatah were inside the government and co-operating with its programme.



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Gaza is still a prison - US-brokered agreements on Gaza are as worthless as every other lie the Palestinians have been told

Patrick O'Connor
Al-Ahram Weekly
16-22 March 2006
Issue No. 786

The media reports that the Gaza Strip is no longer under Israeli control, but two weeks ago I was blocked from entering Gaza from Egypt by Israeli agents. The day before, two French citizens were prevented from entering for a sister city project in Gaza. Israeli authorities invoked "security reasons" and false claims of links to terrorism, a typical strategy used against foreign supporters of Palestinian rights. Despite the fanfare over Israel's August "Gaza disengagement", Gaza remains a prison, with no visitors allowed.
My case provides one small example, thousands of which are repeated every day, of how the Israeli government has exploited the cover of real security concerns to continue to control Gaza, denying Palestinians freedom and trapping them in poverty. Opportunities for progress through Israel's Gaza withdrawal were squandered, and American promises on the Middle East were again shown to be empty.

In November, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced an agreement on Gaza's borders that she brokered between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority by saying, "this agreement is intended to give the Palestinian people freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives." But, as usual, the US government didn't follow up after the press conference.

The agreement specified that bus and truck links between Gaza and the West Bank would open in December and January under Israeli supervision, but in December Israel suspended these plans indefinitely. Bus links or no, Israel denies permission for "security reasons" to Gazans -- like my friend Laila, a journalist, mother, and fellow graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government -- to travel to the West Bank.

Israel also agreed to "permit export of agricultural produce from Gaza and... facilitate its speedy exit and onward movement." Instead, in January during peak harvest, Israel closed Karni, the primary commercial crossing, claiming militants were digging a tunnel in the area. After three weeks and millions of dollars of Palestinian losses, Israel re-opened Karni. No tunnel was ever found. Israel continues to close Karni regularly for "security reasons".

The agreement promised steps towards establishing a seaport and re-opening Gaza's airport. Israel has blocked progress on these fronts.

The single improvement is in movement through the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Palestinians possessing both passports and ID cards are eligible to cross through the Palestinian and Egyptian managed border. However, Israeli agents watching by video camera can raise "security reservations" about Palestinians or foreigners crossing, as they did in my case. If the PA overrides Israeli reservations, as is their right under the November agreements, Israel attacks them in the media for allowing "terrorists" into Gaza.

Some 50,000 Gaza residents who lack Israeli-approved ID cards cannot travel through Rafah, and Palestinian refugees from around the world must apply to enter Gaza. My friend Laila's husband Yassin grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon and is now completing his medical internship in the United States. Israel could deny his application to visit his wife and two- year-old son in Gaza. A senior Palestinian civil servant says that the assertion that the Palestinians control Rafah crossing is "an illusion".

Israel's Gaza withdrawal provided opportunity to improve Palestinian lives and bolster Palestinian moderates, well before Hamas's elections victory. Instead, the Israeli government maintained Gaza as a prison, and exploited the positive media surrounding the withdrawal to accelerate seizure of Palestinian West Bank land, rendering the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible.

The failures surrounding the Gaza withdrawal exemplify why Hamas won the recent Palestinians elections. During the 12-year "peace process" illegal Israeli settlements doubled, Israeli military occupation continued and poverty deepened. So Palestinians voted out Fatah, the party that managed the failed peace process.

I stayed in Al-Arish, Egypt, while waiting for the decision on my entry to Gaza. It is 30 miles from Al-Arish to the border with Gaza -- the same distance as the length of the entire Gaza Strip. Looking across the border a few weeks back, the contrast was dramatic. Around 1.4 million Palestinians are trapped in Gaza, one of the world's most densely populated places. Just across the border here in Egypt in the same sized landmass, 230,000 people, some of them Palestinians with family in Gaza, live in relative peace and prosperity.

The conflict here is driven by the imprisonment of a people -- the theft of their land and the denial of their basic rights. Israeli policies, and US complicity, are feeding desperation, and dimming hopes for achieving peace any time soon.

* The author managed humanitarian aid programmes in Gaza, 1995-98, and supported Palestinian non-violent resistance in the West Bank, 2002-05, with the International Solidarity Movement. He was imprisoned and deported from Israel after a peaceful West Bank protest in January 2005.



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The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

By John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt
LRB
17 Mar 06

For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread 'democracy' throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.
Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the 'Israel Lobby'. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.

Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli. This largesse is especially striking since Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain.

Other recipients get their money in quarterly installments, but Israel receives its entire appropriation at the beginning of each fiscal year and can thus earn interest on it. Most recipients of aid given for military purposes are required to spend all of it in the US, but Israel is allowed to use roughly 25 per cent of its allocation to subsidise its own defence industry. It is the only recipient that does not have to account for how the aid is spent, which makes it virtually impossible to prevent the money from being used for purposes the US opposes, such as building settlements on the West Bank. Moreover, the US has provided Israel with nearly $3 billion to develop weapons systems, and given it access to such top-drawer weaponry as Blackhawk helicopters and F-16 jets. Finally, the US gives Israel access to intelligence it denies to its Nato allies and has turned a blind eye to Israel's acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Washington also provides Israel with consistent diplomatic support. Since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. It blocks the efforts of Arab states to put Israel's nuclear arsenal on the IAEA's agenda. The US comes to the rescue in wartime and takes Israel's side when negotiating peace. The Nixon administration protected it from the threat of Soviet intervention and resupplied it during the October War. Washington was deeply involved in the negotiations that ended that war, as well as in the lengthy 'step-by-step' process that followed, just as it played a key role in the negotiations that preceded and followed the 1993 Oslo Accords. In each case there was occasional friction between US and Israeli officials, but the US consistently supported the Israeli position. One American participant at Camp David in 2000 later said: 'Far too often, we functioned . . . as Israel's lawyer.' Finally, the Bush administration's ambition to transform the Middle East is at least partly aimed at improving Israel's strategic situation.

This extraordinary generosity might be understandable if Israel were a vital strategic asset or if there were a compelling moral case for US backing. But neither explanation is convincing. One might argue that Israel was an asset during the Cold War. By serving as America's proxy after 1967, it helped contain Soviet expansion in the region and inflicted humiliating defeats on Soviet clients like Egypt and Syria. It occasionally helped protect other US allies (like King Hussein of Jordan) and its military prowess forced Moscow to spend more on backing its own client states. It also provided useful intelligence about Soviet capabilities.

Backing Israel was not cheap, however, and it complicated America's relations with the Arab world. For example, the decision to give $2.2 billion in emergency military aid during the October War triggered an Opec oil embargo that inflicted considerable damage on Western economies. For all that, Israel's armed forces were not in a position to protect US interests in the region. The US could not, for example, rely on Israel when the Iranian Revolution in 1979 raised concerns about the security of oil supplies, and had to create its own Rapid Deployment Force instead.

The first Gulf War revealed the extent to which Israel was becoming a strategic burden. The US could not use Israeli bases without rupturing the anti-Iraq coalition, and had to divert resources (e.g. Patriot missile batteries) to prevent Tel Aviv doing anything that might harm the alliance against Saddam Hussein. History repeated itself in 2003: although Israel was eager for the US to attack Iraq, Bush could not ask it to help without triggering Arab opposition. So Israel stayed on the sidelines once again.

Beginning in the 1990s, and even more after 9/11, US support has been justified by the claim that both states are threatened by terrorist groups originating in the Arab and Muslim world, and by 'rogue states' that back these groups and seek weapons of mass destruction. This is taken to mean not only that Washington should give Israel a free hand in dealing with the Palestinians and not press it to make concessions until all Palestinian terrorists are imprisoned or dead, but that the US should go after countries like Iran and Syria. Israel is thus seen as a crucial ally in the war on terror, because its enemies are America's enemies. In fact, Israel is a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states.

'Terrorism' is not a single adversary, but a tactic employed by a wide array of political groups. The terrorist organisations that threaten Israel do not threaten the United States, except when it intervenes against them (as in Lebanon in 1982). Moreover, Palestinian terrorism is not random violence directed against Israel or 'the West'; it is largely a response to Israel's prolonged campaign to colonise the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

More important, saying that Israel and the US are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around. Support for Israel is not the only source of anti-American terrorism, but it is an important one, and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult. There is no question that many al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are motivated by Israel's presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians. Unconditional support for Israel makes it easier for extremists to rally popular support and to attract recruits.

As for so-called rogue states in the Middle East, they are not a dire threat to vital US interests, except inasmuch as they are a threat to Israel. Even if these states acquire nuclear weapons – which is obviously undesirable – neither America nor Israel could be blackmailed, because the blackmailer could not carry out the threat without suffering overwhelming retaliation. The danger of a nuclear handover to terrorists is equally remote, because a rogue state could not be sure the transfer would go undetected or that it would not be blamed and punished afterwards. The relationship with Israel actually makes it harder for the US to deal with these states. Israel's nuclear arsenal is one reason some of its neighbours want nuclear weapons, and threatening them with regime change merely increases that desire.

A final reason to question Israel's strategic value is that it does not behave like a loyal ally. Israeli officials frequently ignore US requests and renege on promises (including pledges to stop building settlements and to refrain from 'targeted assassinations' of Palestinian leaders). Israel has provided sensitive military technology to potential rivals like China, in what the State Department inspector-general called 'a systematic and growing pattern of unauthorised transfers'. According to the General Accounting Office, Israel also 'conducts the most aggressive espionage operations against the US of any ally'. In addition to the case of Jonathan Pollard, who gave Israel large quantities of classified material in the early 1980s (which it reportedly passed on to the Soviet Union in return for more exit visas for Soviet Jews), a new controversy erupted in 2004 when it was revealed that a key Pentagon official called Larry Franklin had passed classified information to an Israeli diplomat. Israel is hardly the only country that spies on the US, but its willingness to spy on its principal patron casts further doubt on its strategic value.

Israel's strategic value isn't the only issue. Its backers also argue that it deserves unqualified support because it is weak and surrounded by enemies; it is a democracy; the Jewish people have suffered from past crimes and therefore deserve special treatment; and Israel's conduct has been morally superior to that of its adversaries. On close inspection, none of these arguments is persuasive. There is a strong moral case for supporting Israel's existence, but that is not in jeopardy. Viewed objectively, its past and present conduct offers no moral basis for privileging it over the Palestinians.

Israel is often portrayed as David confronted by Goliath, but the converse is closer to the truth. Contrary to popular belief, the Zionists had larger, better equipped and better led forces during the 1947-49 War of Independence, and the Israel Defence Forces won quick and easy victories against Egypt in 1956 and against Egypt, Jordan and Syria in 1967 – all of this before large-scale US aid began flowing. Today, Israel is the strongest military power in the Middle East. Its conventional forces are far superior to those of its neighbours and it is the only state in the region with nuclear weapons. Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with it, and Saudi Arabia has offered to do so. Syria has lost its Soviet patron, Iraq has been devastated by three disastrous wars and Iran is hundreds of miles away. The Palestinians barely have an effective police force, let alone an army that could pose a threat to Israel. According to a 2005 assessment by Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies, 'the strategic balance decidedly favours Israel, which has continued to widen the qualitative gap between its own military capability and deterrence powers and those of its neighbours.' If backing the underdog were a compelling motive, the United States would be supporting Israel's opponents.

That Israel is a fellow democracy surrounded by hostile dictatorships cannot account for the current level of aid: there are many democracies around the world, but none receives the same lavish support. The US has overthrown democratic governments in the past and supported dictators when this was thought to advance its interests – it has good relations with a number of dictatorships today.

Some aspects of Israeli democracy are at odds with core American values. Unlike the US, where people are supposed to enjoy equal rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship. Given this, it is not surprising that its 1.3 million Arabs are treated as second-class citizens, or that a recent Israeli government commission found that Israel behaves in a 'neglectful and discriminatory' manner towards them. Its democratic status is also undermined by its refusal to grant the Palestinians a viable state of their own or full political rights.

A third justification is the history of Jewish suffering in the Christian West, especially during the Holocaust. Because Jews were persecuted for centuries and could feel safe only in a Jewish homeland, many people now believe that Israel deserves special treatment from the United States. The country's creation was undoubtedly an appropriate response to the long record of crimes against Jews, but it also brought about fresh crimes against a largely innocent third party: the Palestinians.

This was well understood by Israel's early leaders. David Ben-Gurion told Nahum Goldmann, the president of the World Jewish Congress:

If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country . . . We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?

Since then, Israeli leaders have repeatedly sought to deny the Palestinians' national ambitions. When she was prime minister, Golda Meir famously remarked that 'there is no such thing as a Palestinian.' Pressure from extremist violence and Palestinian population growth has forced subsequent Israeli leaders to disengage from the Gaza Strip and consider other territorial compromises, but not even Yitzhak Rabin was willing to offer the Palestinians a viable state. Ehud Barak's purportedly generous offer at Camp David would have given them only a disarmed set of Bantustans under de facto Israeli control. The tragic history of the Jewish people does not obligate the US to help Israel today no matter what it does.

Israel's backers also portray it as a country that has sought peace at every turn and shown great restraint even when provoked. The Arabs, by contrast, are said to have acted with great wickedness. Yet on the ground, Israel's record is not distinguishable from that of its opponents. Ben-Gurion acknowledged that the early Zionists were far from benevolent towards the Palestinian Arabs, who resisted their encroachments – which is hardly surprising, given that the Zionists were trying to create their own state on Arab land. In the same way, the creation of Israel in 1947-48 involved acts of ethnic cleansing, including executions, massacres and rapes by Jews, and Israel's subsequent conduct has often been brutal, belying any claim to moral superiority. Between 1949 and 1956, for example, Israeli security forces killed between 2700 and 5000 Arab infiltrators, the overwhelming majority of them unarmed. The IDF murdered hundreds of Egyptian prisoners of war in both the 1956 and 1967 wars, while in 1967, it expelled between 100,000 and 260,000 Palestinians from the newly conquered West Bank, and drove 80,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights.

During the first intifada, the IDF distributed truncheons to its troops and encouraged them to break the bones of Palestinian protesters. The Swedish branch of Save the Children estimated that '23,600 to 29,900 children required medical treatment for their beating injuries in the first two years of the intifada.' Nearly a third of them were aged ten or under. The response to the second intifada has been even more violent, leading Ha'aretz to declare that 'the IDF . . . is turning into a killing machine whose efficiency is awe-inspiring, yet shocking.' The IDF fired one million bullets in the first days of the uprising. Since then, for every Israeli lost, Israel has killed 3.4 Palestinians, the majority of whom have been innocent bystanders; the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli children killed is even higher (5.7:1). It is also worth bearing in mind that the Zionists relied on terrorist bombs to drive the British from Palestine, and that Yitzhak Shamir, once a terrorist and later prime minister, declared that 'neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat.'

The Palestinian resort to terrorism is wrong but it isn't surprising. The Palestinians believe they have no other way to force Israeli concessions. As Ehud Barak once admitted, had he been born a Palestinian, he 'would have joined a terrorist organisation'.

So if neither strategic nor moral arguments can account for America's support for Israel, how are we to explain it?

The explanation is the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby. We use 'the Lobby' as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. This is not meant to suggest that 'the Lobby' is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues. Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them. In a 2004 survey, for example, roughly 36 per cent of American Jews said they were either 'not very' or 'not at all' emotionally attached to Israel.

Jewish Americans also differ on specific Israeli policies. Many of the key organisations in the Lobby, such as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations, are run by hardliners who generally support the Likud Party's expansionist policies, including its hostility to the Oslo peace process. The bulk of US Jewry, meanwhile, is more inclined to make concessions to the Palestinians, and a few groups – such as Jewish Voice for Peace – strongly advocate such steps. Despite these differences, moderates and hardliners both favour giving steadfast support to Israel.

Not surprisingly, American Jewish leaders often consult Israeli officials, to make sure that their actions advance Israeli goals. As one activist from a major Jewish organisation wrote, 'it is routine for us to say: "This is our policy on a certain issue, but we must check what the Israelis think." We as a community do it all the time.' There is a strong prejudice against criticising Israeli policy, and putting pressure on Israel is considered out of order. Edgar Bronfman Sr, the president of the World Jewish Congress, was accused of 'perfidy' when he wrote a letter to President Bush in mid-2003 urging him to persuade Israel to curb construction of its controversial 'security fence'. His critics said that 'it would be obscene at any time for the president of the World Jewish Congress to lobby the president of the United States to resist policies being promoted by the government of Israel.'

Similarly, when the president of the Israel Policy Forum, Seymour Reich, advised Condoleezza Rice in November 2005 to ask Israel to reopen a critical border crossing in the Gaza Strip, his action was denounced as 'irresponsible': 'There is,' his critics said, 'absolutely no room in the Jewish mainstream for actively canvassing against the security-related policies . . . of Israel.' Recoiling from these attacks, Reich announced that 'the word "pressure" is not in my vocabulary when it comes to Israel.'

Jewish Americans have set up an impressive array of organisations to influence American foreign policy, of which AIPAC is the most powerful and best known. In 1997, Fortune magazine asked members of Congress and their staffs to list the most powerful lobbies in Washington. AIPAC was ranked second behind the American Association of Retired People, but ahead of the AFL-CIO and the National Rifle Association. A National Journal study in March 2005 reached a similar conclusion, placing AIPAC in second place (tied with AARP) in the Washington 'muscle rankings'.

The Lobby also includes prominent Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, former majority leaders in the House of Representatives, all of whom believe Israel's rebirth is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda; to do otherwise, they believe, would be contrary to God's will. Neo-conservative gentiles such as John Bolton; Robert Bartley, the former Wall Street Journal editor; William Bennett, the former secretary of education; Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former UN ambassador; and the influential columnist George Will are also steadfast supporters.

The US form of government offers activists many ways of influencing the policy process. Interest groups can lobby elected representatives and members of the executive branch, make campaign contributions, vote in elections, try to mould public opinion etc. They enjoy a disproportionate amount of influence when they are committed to an issue to which the bulk of the population is indifferent. Policymakers will tend to accommodate those who care about the issue, even if their numbers are small, confident that the rest of the population will not penalise them for doing so.

In its basic operations, the Israel Lobby is no different from the farm lobby, steel or textile workers' unions, or other ethnic lobbies. There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy: the Lobby's activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For the most part, the individuals and groups that comprise it are only doing what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better. By contrast, pro-Arab interest groups, in so far as they exist at all, are weak, which makes the Israel Lobby's task even easier.

The Lobby pursues two broad strategies. First, it wields its significant influence in Washington, pressuring both Congress and the executive branch. Whatever an individual lawmaker or policymaker's own views may be, the Lobby tries to make supporting Israel the 'smart' choice. Second, it strives to ensure that public discourse portrays Israel in a positive light, by repeating myths about its founding and by promoting its point of view in policy debates. The goal is to prevent critical comments from getting a fair hearing in the political arena. Controlling the debate is essential to guaranteeing US support, because a candid discussion of US-Israeli relations might lead Americans to favour a different policy.

A key pillar of the Lobby's effectiveness is its influence in Congress, where Israel is virtually immune from criticism. This in itself is remarkable, because Congress rarely shies away from contentious issues. Where Israel is concerned, however, potential critics fall silent. One reason is that some key members are Christian Zionists like Dick Armey, who said in September 2002: 'My No. 1 priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel.' One might think that the No. 1 priority for any congressman would be to protect America. There are also Jewish senators and congressmen who work to ensure that US foreign policy supports Israel's interests.

Another source of the Lobby's power is its use of pro-Israel congressional staffers. As Morris Amitay, a former head of AIPAC, once admitted, 'there are a lot of guys at the working level up here' – on Capitol Hill – 'who happen to be Jewish, who are willing . . . to look at certain issues in terms of their Jewishness . . . These are all guys who are in a position to make the decision in these areas for those senators . . . You can get an awful lot done just at the staff level.'

AIPAC itself, however, forms the core of the Lobby's influence in Congress. Its success is due to its ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it. Money is critical to US elections (as the scandal over the lobbyist Jack Abramoff's shady dealings reminds us), and AIPAC makes sure that its friends get strong financial support from the many pro-Israel political action committees. Anyone who is seen as hostile to Israel can be sure that AIPAC will direct campaign contributions to his or her political opponents. AIPAC also organises letter-writing campaigns and encourages newspaper editors to endorse pro-Israel candidates.

There is no doubt about the efficacy of these tactics. Here is one example: in the 1984 elections, AIPAC helped defeat Senator Charles Percy from Illinois, who, according to a prominent Lobby figure, had 'displayed insensitivity and even hostility to our concerns'. Thomas Dine, the head of AIPAC at the time, explained what happened: 'All the Jews in America, from coast to coast, gathered to oust Percy. And the American politicians – those who hold public positions now, and those who aspire – got the message.'

AIPAC's influence on Capitol Hill goes even further. According to Douglas Bloomfield, a former AIPAC staff member, 'it is common for members of Congress and their staffs to turn to AIPAC first when they need information, before calling the Library of Congress, the Congressional Research Service, committee staff or administration experts.' More important, he notes that AIPAC is 'often called on to draft speeches, work on legislation, advise on tactics, perform research, collect co-sponsors and marshal votes'.

The bottom line is that AIPAC, a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on Congress, with the result that US policy towards Israel is not debated there, even though that policy has important consequences for the entire world. In other words, one of the three main branches of the government is firmly committed to supporting Israel. As one former Democratic senator, Ernest Hollings, noted on leaving office, 'you can't have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.' Or as Ariel Sharon once told an American audience, 'when people ask me how they can help Israel, I tell them: "Help AIPAC."'

Thanks in part to the influence Jewish voters have on presidential elections, the Lobby also has significant leverage over the executive branch. Although they make up fewer than 3 per cent of the population, they make large campaign donations to candidates from both parties. The Washington Post once estimated that Democratic presidential candidates 'depend on Jewish supporters to supply as much as 60 per cent of the money'. And because Jewish voters have high turn-out rates and are concentrated in key states like California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania, presidential candidates go to great lengths not to antagonise them.

Key organisations in the Lobby make it their business to ensure that critics of Israel do not get important foreign policy jobs. Jimmy Carter wanted to make George Ball his first secretary of state, but knew that Ball was seen as critical of Israel and that the Lobby would oppose the appointment. In this way any aspiring policymaker is encouraged to become an overt supporter of Israel, which is why public critics of Israeli policy have become an endangered species in the foreign policy establishment.

When Howard Dean called for the United States to take a more 'even-handed role' in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Senator Joseph Lieberman accused him of selling Israel down the river and said his statement was 'irresponsible'. Virtually all the top Democrats in the House signed a letter criticising Dean's remarks, and the Chicago Jewish Star reported that 'anonymous attackers . . . are clogging the email inboxes of Jewish leaders around the country, warning – without much evidence – that Dean would somehow be bad for Israel.'

This worry was absurd; Dean is in fact quite hawkish on Israel: his campaign co-chair was a former AIPAC president, and Dean said his own views on the Middle East more closely reflected those of AIPAC than those of the more moderate Americans for Peace Now. He had merely suggested that to 'bring the sides together', Washington should act as an honest broker. This is hardly a radical idea, but the Lobby doesn't tolerate even-handedness.

During the Clinton administration, Middle Eastern policy was largely shaped by officials with close ties to Israel or to prominent pro-Israel organisations; among them, Martin Indyk, the former deputy director of research at AIPAC and co-founder of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP); Dennis Ross, who joined WINEP after leaving government in 2001; and Aaron Miller, who has lived in Israel and often visits the country. These men were among Clinton's closest advisers at the Camp David summit in July 2000. Although all three supported the Oslo peace process and favoured the creation of a Palestinian state, they did so only within the limits of what would be acceptable to Israel. The American delegation took its cues from Ehud Barak, co-ordinated its negotiating positions with Israel in advance, and did not offer independent proposals. Not surprisingly, Palestinian negotiators complained that they were 'negotiating with two Israeli teams – one displaying an Israeli flag, and one an American flag'.

The situation is even more pronounced in the Bush administration, whose ranks have included such fervent advocates of the Israeli cause as Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, I. Lewis ('Scooter') Libby, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and David Wurmser. As we shall see, these officials have consistently pushed for policies favoured by Israel and backed by organisations in the Lobby.

The Lobby doesn't want an open debate, of course, because that might lead Americans to question the level of support they provide. Accordingly, pro-Israel organisations work hard to influence the institutions that do most to shape popular opinion.

The Lobby's perspective prevails in the mainstream media: the debate among Middle East pundits, the journalist Eric Alterman writes, is 'dominated by people who cannot imagine criticising Israel'. He lists 61 'columnists and commentators who can be counted on to support Israel reflexively and without qualification'. Conversely, he found just five pundits who consistently criticise Israeli actions or endorse Arab positions. Newspapers occasionally publish guest op-eds challenging Israeli policy, but the balance of opinion clearly favours the other side. It is hard to imagine any mainstream media outlet in the United States publishing a piece like this one.

'Shamir, Sharon, Bibi – whatever those guys want is pretty much fine by me,' Robert Bartley once remarked. Not surprisingly, his newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, along with other prominent papers like the Chicago Sun-Times and the Washington Times, regularly runs editorials that strongly support Israel. Magazines like Commentary, the New Republic and the Weekly Standard defend Israel at every turn.

Editorial bias is also found in papers like the New York Times, which occasionally criticises Israeli policies and sometimes concedes that the Palestinians have legitimate grievances, but is not even-handed. In his memoirs the paper's former executive editor Max Frankel acknowledges the impact his own attitude had on his editorial decisions: 'I was much more deeply devoted to Israel than I dared to assert . . . Fortified by my knowledge of Israel and my friendships there, I myself wrote most of our Middle East commentaries. As more Arab than Jewish readers recognised, I wrote them from a pro-Israel perspective.'

News reports are more even-handed, in part because reporters strive to be objective, but also because it is difficult to cover events in the Occupied Territories without acknowledging Israel's actions on the ground. To discourage unfavourable reporting, the Lobby organises letter-writing campaigns, demonstrations and boycotts of news outlets whose content it considers anti-Israel. One CNN executive has said that he sometimes gets 6000 email messages in a single day complaining about a story. In May 2003, the pro-Israel Committee for Accurate Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) organised demonstrations outside National Public Radio stations in 33 cities; it also tried to persuade contributors to withhold support from NPR until its Middle East coverage becomes more sympathetic to Israel. Boston's NPR station, WBUR, reportedly lost more than $1 million in contributions as a result of these efforts. Further pressure on NPR has come from Israel's friends in Congress, who have asked for an internal audit of its Middle East coverage as well as more oversight.

The Israeli side also dominates the think tanks which play an important role in shaping public debate as well as actual policy. The Lobby created its own think tank in 1985, when Martin Indyk helped to found WINEP. Although WINEP plays down its links to Israel, claiming instead to provide a 'balanced and realistic' perspective on Middle East issues, it is funded and run by individuals deeply committed to advancing Israel's agenda.

The Lobby's influence extends well beyond WINEP, however. Over the past 25 years, pro-Israel forces have established a commanding presence at the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Center for Security Policy, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). These think tanks employ few, if any, critics of US support for Israel.

Take the Brookings Institution. For many years, its senior expert on the Middle East was William Quandt, a former NSC official with a well-deserved reputation for even-handedness. Today, Brookings's coverage is conducted through the Saban Center for Middle East Studies, which is financed by Haim Saban, an Israeli-American businessman and ardent Zionist. The centre's director is the ubiquitous Martin Indyk. What was once a non-partisan policy institute is now part of the pro-Israel chorus.

Where the Lobby has had the most difficulty is in stifling debate on university campuses. In the 1990s, when the Oslo peace process was underway, there was only mild criticism of Israel, but it grew stronger with Oslo's collapse and Sharon's access to power, becoming quite vociferous when the IDF reoccupied the West Bank in spring 2002 and employed massive force to subdue the second intifada.

The Lobby moved immediately to 'take back the campuses'. New groups sprang up, like the Caravan for Democracy, which brought Israeli speakers to US colleges. Established groups like the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Hillel joined in, and a new group, the Israel on Campus Coalition, was formed to co-ordinate the many bodies that now sought to put Israel's case. Finally, AIPAC more than tripled its spending on programmes to monitor university activities and to train young advocates, in order to 'vastly expand the number of students involved on campus . . . in the national pro-Israel effort'.

The Lobby also monitors what professors write and teach. In September 2002, Martin Kramer and Daniel Pipes, two passionately pro-Israel neo-conservatives, established a website (Campus Watch) that posted dossiers on suspect academics and encouraged students to report remarks or behaviour that might be considered hostile to Israel. This transparent attempt to blacklist and intimidate scholars provoked a harsh reaction and Pipes and Kramer later removed the dossiers, but the website still invites students to report 'anti-Israel' activity.

Groups within the Lobby put pressure on particular academics and universities. Columbia has been a frequent target, no doubt because of the presence of the late Edward Said on its faculty. 'One can be sure that any public statement in support of the Palestinian people by the pre-eminent literary critic Edward Said will elicit hundreds of emails, letters and journalistic accounts that call on us to denounce Said and to either sanction or fire him,' Jonathan Cole, its former provost, reported. When Columbia recruited the historian Rashid Khalidi from Chicago, the same thing happened. It was a problem Princeton also faced a few years later when it considered wooing Khalidi away from Columbia.

A classic illustration of the effort to police academia occurred towards the end of 2004, when the David Project produced a film alleging that faculty members of Columbia's Middle East Studies programme were anti-semitic and were intimidating Jewish students who stood up for Israel. Columbia was hauled over the coals, but a faculty committee which was assigned to investigate the charges found no evidence of anti-semitism and the only incident possibly worth noting was that one professor had 'responded heatedly' to a student's question. The committee also discovered that the academics in question had themselves been the target of an overt campaign of intimidation.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all this is the efforts Jewish groups have made to push Congress into establishing mechanisms to monitor what professors say. If they manage to get this passed, universities judged to have an anti-Israel bias would be denied federal funding. Their efforts have not yet succeeded, but they are an indication of the importance placed on controlling debate.

A number of Jewish philanthropists have recently established Israel Studies programmes (in addition to the roughly 130 Jewish Studies programmes already in existence) so as to increase the number of Israel-friendly scholars on campus. In May 2003, NYU announced the establishment of the Taub Center for Israel Studies; similar programmes have been set up at Berkeley, Brandeis and Emory. Academic administrators emphasise their pedagogical value, but the truth is that they are intended in large part to promote Israel's image. Fred Laffer, the head of the Taub Foundation, makes it clear that his foundation funded the NYU centre to help counter the 'Arabic [sic] point of view' that he thinks is prevalent in NYU's Middle East programmes.

No discussion of the Lobby would be complete without an examination of one of its most powerful weapons: the charge of anti-semitism. Anyone who criticises Israel's actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle Eastern policy – an influence AIPAC celebrates – stands a good chance of being labelled an anti-semite. Indeed, anyone who merely claims that there is an Israel Lobby runs the risk of being charged with anti-semitism, even though the Israeli media refer to America's 'Jewish Lobby'. In other words, the Lobby first boasts of its influence and then attacks anyone who calls attention to it. It's a very effective tactic: anti-semitism is something no one wants to be accused of.

Europeans have been more willing than Americans to criticise Israeli policy, which some people attribute to a resurgence of anti-semitism in Europe. We are 'getting to a point', the US ambassador to the EU said in early 2004, 'where it is as bad as it was in the 1930s'. Measuring anti-semitism is a complicated matter, but the weight of evidence points in the opposite direction. In the spring of 2004, when accusations of European anti-semitism filled the air in America, separate surveys of European public opinion conducted by the US-based Anti-Defamation League and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that it was in fact declining. In the 1930s, by contrast, anti-semitism was not only widespread among Europeans of all classes but considered quite acceptable.

The Lobby and its friends often portray France as the most anti-semitic country in Europe. But in 2003, the head of the French Jewish community said that 'France is not more anti-semitic than America.' According to a recent article in Ha'aretz, the French police have reported that anti-semitic incidents declined by almost 50 per cent in 2005; and this even though France has the largest Muslim population of any European country. Finally, when a French Jew was murdered in Paris last month by a Muslim gang, tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into the streets to condemn anti-semitism. Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin both attended the victim's memorial service to show their solidarity.

No one would deny that there is anti-semitism among European Muslims, some of it provoked by Israel's conduct towards the Palestinians and some of it straightforwardly racist. But this is a separate matter with little bearing on whether or not Europe today is like Europe in the 1930s. Nor would anyone deny that there are still some virulent autochthonous anti-semites in Europe (as there are in the United States) but their numbers are small and their views are rejected by the vast majority of Europeans.

Israel's advocates, when pressed to go beyond mere assertion, claim that there is a 'new anti-semitism', which they equate with criticism of Israel. In other words, criticise Israeli policy and you are by definition an anti-semite. When the synod of the Church of England recently voted to divest from Caterpillar Inc on the grounds that it manufactures the bulldozers used by the Israelis to demolish Palestinian homes, the Chief Rabbi complained that this would 'have the most adverse repercussions on . . . Jewish-Christian relations in Britain', while Rabbi Tony Bayfield, the head of the Reform movement, said: 'There is a clear problem of anti-Zionist – verging on anti-semitic – attitudes emerging in the grass-roots, and even in the middle ranks of the Church.' But the Church was guilty merely of protesting against Israeli government policy.

Critics are also accused of holding Israel to an unfair standard or questioning its right to exist. But these are bogus charges too. Western critics of Israel hardly ever question its right to exist: they question its behaviour towards the Palestinians, as do Israelis themselves. Nor is Israel being judged unfairly. Israeli treatment of the Palestinians elicits criticism because it is contrary to widely accepted notions of human rights, to international law and to the principle of national self-determination. And it is hardly the only state that has faced sharp criticism on these grounds.

In the autumn of 2001, and especially in the spring of 2002, the Bush administration tried to reduce anti-American sentiment in the Arab world and undermine support for terrorist groups like al-Qaida by halting Israel's expansionist policies in the Occupied Territories and advocating the creation of a Palestinian state. Bush had very significant means of persuasion at his disposal. He could have threatened to reduce economic and diplomatic support for Israel, and the American people would almost certainly have supported him. A May 2003 poll reported that more than 60 per cent of Americans were willing to withhold aid if Israel resisted US pressure to settle the conflict, and that number rose to 70 per cent among the 'politically active'. Indeed, 73 per cent said that the United States should not favour either side.

Yet the administration failed to change Israeli policy, and Washington ended up backing it. Over time, the administration also adopted Israel's own justifications of its position, so that US rhetoric began to mimic Israeli rhetoric. By February 2003, a Washington Post headline summarised the situation: 'Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy.' The main reason for this switch was the Lobby.

The story begins in late September 2001, when Bush began urging Sharon to show restraint in the Occupied Territories. He also pressed him to allow Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres, to meet with Yasser Arafat, even though he (Bush) was highly critical of Arafat's leadership. Bush even said publicly that he supported the creation of a Palestinian state. Alarmed, Sharon accused him of trying 'to appease the Arabs at our expense', warning that Israel 'will not be Czechoslovakia'.

Bush was reportedly furious at being compared to Chamberlain, and the White House press secretary called Sharon's remarks 'unacceptable'. Sharon offered a pro forma apology, but quickly joined forces with the Lobby to persuade the administration and the American people that the United States and Israel faced a common threat from terrorism. Israeli officials and Lobby representatives insisted that there was no real difference between Arafat and Osama bin Laden: the United States and Israel, they said, should isolate the Palestinians' elected leader and have nothing to do with him.

The Lobby also went to work in Congress. On 16 November, 89 senators sent Bush a letter praising him for refusing to meet with Arafat, but also demanding that the US not restrain Israel from retaliating against the Palestinians; the administration, they wrote, must state publicly that it stood behind Israel. According to the New York Times, the letter 'stemmed' from a meeting two weeks before between 'leaders of the American Jewish community and key senators', adding that AIPAC was 'particularly active in providing advice on the letter'.

By late November, relations between Tel Aviv and Washington had improved considerably. This was thanks in part to the Lobby's efforts, but also to America's initial victory in Afghanistan, which reduced the perceived need for Arab support in dealing with al-Qaida. Sharon visited the White House in early December and had a friendly meeting with Bush.

In April 2002 trouble erupted again, after the IDF launched Operation Defensive Shield and resumed control of virtually all the major Palestinian areas on the West Bank. Bush knew that Israel's actions would damage America's image in the Islamic world and undermine the war on terrorism, so he demanded that Sharon 'halt the incursions and begin withdrawal'. He underscored this message two days later, saying he wanted Israel to 'withdraw without delay'. On 7 April, Condoleezza Rice, then Bush's national security adviser, told reporters: '"Without delay" means without delay. It means now.' That same day Colin Powell set out for the Middle East to persuade all sides to stop fighting and start negotiating.

Israel and the Lobby swung into action. Pro-Israel officials in the vice-president's office and the Pentagon, as well as neo-conservative pundits like Robert Kagan and William Kristol, put the heat on Powell. They even accused him of having 'virtually obliterated the distinction between terrorists and those fighting terrorists'. Bush himself was being pressed by Jewish leaders and Christian evangelicals. Tom DeLay and Dick Armey were especially outspoken about the need to support Israel, and DeLay and the Senate minority leader, Trent Lott, visited the White House and warned Bush to back off.

The first sign that Bush was caving in came on 11 April – a week after he told Sharon to withdraw his forces – when the White House press secretary said that the president believed Sharon was 'a man of peace'. Bush repeated this statement publicly on Powell's return from his abortive mission, and told reporters that Sharon had responded satisfactorily to his call for a full and immediate withdrawal. Sharon had done no such thing, but Bush was no longer willing to make an issue of it.

Meanwhile, Congress was also moving to back Sharon. On 2 May, it overrode the administration's objections and passed two resolutions reaffirming support for Israel. (The Senate vote was 94 to 2; the House of Representatives version passed 352 to 21.) Both resolutions held that the United States 'stands in solidarity with Israel' and that the two countries were, to quote the House resolution, 'now engaged in a common struggle against terrorism'. The House version also condemned 'the ongoing support and co-ordination of terror by Yasser Arafat', who was portrayed as a central part of the terrorism problem. Both resolutions were drawn up with the help of the Lobby. A few days later, a bipartisan congressional delegation on a fact-finding mission to Israel stated that Sharon should resist US pressure to negotiate with Arafat. On 9 May, a House appropriations subcommittee met to consider giving Israel an extra $200 million to fight terrorism. Powell opposed the package, but the Lobby backed it and Powell lost.

In short, Sharon and the Lobby took on the president of the United States and triumphed. Hemi Shalev, a journalist on the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv, reported that Sharon's aides 'could not hide their satisfaction in view of Powell's failure. Sharon saw the whites of President Bush's eyes, they bragged, and the president blinked first.' But it was Israel's champions in the United States, not Sharon or Israel, that played the key role in defeating Bush.

The situation has changed little since then. The Bush administration refused ever again to have dealings with Arafat. After his death, it embraced the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, but has done little to help him. Sharon continued to develop his plan to impose a unilateral settlement on the Palestinians, based on 'disengagement' from Gaza coupled with continued expansion on the West Bank. By refusing to negotiate with Abbas and making it impossible for him to deliver tangible benefits to the Palestinian people, Sharon's strategy contributed directly to Hamas's electoral victory. With Hamas in power, however, Israel has another excuse not to negotiate. The US administration has supported Sharon's actions (and those of his successor, Ehud Olmert). Bush has even endorsed unilateral Israeli annexations in the Occupied Territories, reversing the stated policy of every president since Lyndon Johnson.

US officials have offered mild criticisms of a few Israeli actions, but have done little to help create a viable Palestinian state. Sharon has Bush 'wrapped around his little finger', the former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft said in October 2004. If Bush tries to distance the US from Israel, or even criticises Israeli actions in the Occupied Territories, he is certain to face the wrath of the Lobby and its supporters in Congress. Democratic presidential candidates understand that these are facts of life, which is the reason John Kerry went to great lengths to display unalloyed support for Israel in 2004, and why Hillary Clinton is doing the same thing today.

Maintaining US support for Israel's policies against the Palestinians is essential as far as the Lobby is concerned, but its ambitions do not stop there. It also wants America to help Israel remain the dominant regional power. The Israeli government and pro-Israel groups in the United States have worked together to shape the administration's policy towards Iraq, Syria and Iran, as well as its grand scheme for reordering the Middle East.

Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was critical. Some Americans believe that this was a war for oil, but there is hardly any direct evidence to support this claim. Instead, the war was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure. According to Philip Zelikow, a former member of the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, and now a counsellor to Condoleezza Rice, the 'real threat' from Iraq was not a threat to the United States. The 'unstated threat' was the 'threat against Israel', Zelikow told an audience at the University of Virginia in September 2002. 'The American government,' he added, 'doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell.'

On 16 August 2002, 11 days before Dick Cheney kicked off the campaign for war with a hardline speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Washington Post reported that 'Israel is urging US officials not to delay a military strike against Iraq's Saddam Hussein.' By this point, according to Sharon, strategic co-ordination between Israel and the US had reached 'unprecedented dimensions', and Israeli intelligence officials had given Washington a variety of alarming reports about Iraq's WMD programmes. As one retired Israeli general later put it, 'Israeli intelligence was a full partner to the picture presented by American and British intelligence regarding Iraq's non-conventional capabilities.'

Israeli leaders were deeply distressed when Bush decided to seek Security Council authorisation for war, and even more worried when Saddam agreed to let UN inspectors back in. 'The campaign against Saddam Hussein is a must,' Shimon Peres told reporters in September 2002. 'Inspections and inspectors are good for decent people, but dishonest people can overcome easily inspections and inspectors.'

At the same time, Ehud Barak wrote a New York Times op-ed warning that 'the greatest risk now lies in inaction.' His predecessor as prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, published a similar piece in the Wall Street Journal, entitled: 'The Case for Toppling Saddam'. 'Today nothing less than dismantling his regime will do,' he declared. 'I believe I speak for the overwhelming majority of Israelis in supporting a pre-emptive strike against Saddam's regime.' Or as Ha'aretz reported in February 2003, 'the military and political leadership yearns for war in Iraq.'

As Netanyahu suggested, however, the desire for war was not confined to Israel's leaders. Apart from Kuwait, which Saddam invaded in 1990, Israel was the only country in the world where both politicians and public favoured war. As the journalist Gideon Levy observed at the time, 'Israel is the only country in the West whose leaders support the war unreservedly and where no alternative opinion is voiced.' In fact, Israelis were so gung-ho that their allies in America told them to damp down their rhetoric, or it would look as if the war would be fought on Israel's behalf.

Within the US, the main driving force behind the war was a small band of neo-conservatives, many with ties to Likud. But leaders of the Lobby's major organisations lent their voices to the campaign. 'As President Bush attempted to sell the . . . war in Iraq,' the Forward reported, 'America's most important Jewish organisations rallied as one to his defence. In statement after statement community leaders stressed the need to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction.' The editorial goes on to say that 'concern for Israel's safety rightfully factored into the deliberations of the main Jewish groups.'

Although neo-conservatives and other Lobby leaders were eager to invade Iraq, the broader American Jewish community was not. Just after the war started, Samuel Freedman reported that 'a compilation of nationwide opinion polls by the Pew Research Center shows that Jews are less supportive of the Iraq war than the population at large, 52 per cent to 62 per cent.' Clearly, it would be wrong to blame the war in Iraq on 'Jewish influence'. Rather, it was due in large part to the Lobby's influence, especially that of the neo-conservatives within it.

The neo-conservatives had been determined to topple Saddam even before Bush became president. They caused a stir early in 1998 by publishing two open letters to Clinton, calling for Saddam's removal from power. The signatories, many of whom had close ties to pro-Israel groups like JINSA or WINEP, and who included Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, William Kristol, Bernard Lewis, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, had little trouble persuading the Clinton administration to adopt the general goal of ousting Saddam. But they were unable to sell a war to achieve that objective. They were no more able to generate enthusiasm for invading Iraq in the early months of the Bush administration. They needed help to achieve their aim. That help arrived with 9/11. Specifically, the events of that day led Bush and Cheney to reverse course and become strong proponents of a preventive war.

At a key meeting with Bush at Camp David on 15 September, Wolfowitz advocated attacking Iraq before Afghanistan, even though there was no evidence that Saddam was involved in the attacks on the US and bin Laden was known to be in Afghanistan. Bush rejected his advice and chose to go after Afghanistan instead, but war with Iraq was now regarded as a serious possibility and on 21 November the president charged military planners with developing concrete plans for an invasion.

Other neo-conservatives were meanwhile at work in the corridors of power. We don't have the full story yet, but scholars like Bernard Lewis of Princeton and Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins reportedly played important roles in persuading Cheney that war was the best option, though neo-conservatives on his staff – Eric Edelman, John Hannah and Scooter Libby, Cheney's chief of staff and one of the most powerful individuals in the administration – also played their part. By early 2002 Cheney had persuaded Bush; and with Bush and Cheney on board, war was inevitable.

Outside the administration, neo-conservative pundits lost no time in making the case that invading Iraq was essential to winning the war on terrorism. Their efforts were designed partly to keep up the pressure on Bush, and partly to overcome opposition to the war inside and outside the government. On 20 September, a group of prominent neo-conservatives and their allies published another open letter: 'Even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack,' it read, 'any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.' The letter also reminded Bush that 'Israel has been and remains America's staunchest ally against international terrorism.' In the 1 October issue of the Weekly Standard, Robert Kagan and William Kristol called for regime change in Iraq as soon as the Taliban was defeated. That same day, Charles Krauthammer argued in the Washington Post that after the US was done with Afghanistan, Syria should be next, followed by Iran and Iraq: 'The war on terrorism will conclude in Baghdad,' when we finish off 'the most dangerous terrorist regime in the world'.

This was the beginning of an unrelenting public relations campaign to win support for an invasion of Iraq, a crucial part of which was the manipulation of intelligence in such a way as to make it seem as if Saddam posed an imminent threat. For example, Libby pressured CIA analysts to find evidence supporting the case for war and helped prepare Colin Powell's now discredited briefing to the UN Security Council. Within the Pentagon, the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group was charged with finding links between al-Qaida and Iraq that the intelligence community had supposedly missed. Its two key members were David Wurmser, a hard-core neo-conservative, and Michael Maloof, a Lebanese-American with close ties to Perle. Another Pentagon group, the so-called Office of Special Plans, was given the task of uncovering evidence that could be used to sell the war. It was headed by Abram Shulsky, a neo-conservative with long-standing ties to Wolfowitz, and its ranks included recruits from pro-Israel think tanks. Both these organisations were created after 9/11 and reported directly to Douglas Feith.

Like virtually all the neo-conservatives, Feith is deeply committed to Israel; he also has long-term ties to Likud. He wrote articles in the 1990s supporting the settlements and arguing that Israel should retain the Occupied Territories. More important, along with Perle and Wurmser, he wrote the famous 'Clean Break' report in June 1996 for Netanyahu, who had just become prime minister. Among other things, it recommended that Netanyahu 'focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right'. It also called for Israel to take steps to reorder the entire Middle East. Netanyahu did not follow their advice, but Feith, Perle and Wurmser were soon urging the Bush administration to pursue those same goals. The Ha'aretz columnist Akiva Eldar warned that Feith and Perle 'are walking a fine line between their loyalty to American governments . . . and Israeli interests'.

Wolfowitz is equally committed to Israel. The Forward once described him as 'the most hawkishly pro-Israel voice in the administration', and selected him in 2002 as first among 50 notables who 'have consciously pursued Jewish activism'. At about the same time, JINSA gave Wolfowitz its Henry M. Jackson Distinguished Service Award for promoting a strong partnership between Israel and the United States; and the Jerusalem Post, describing him as 'devoutly pro-Israel', named him 'Man of the Year' in 2003.

Finally, a brief word is in order about the neo-conservatives' prewar support of Ahmed Chalabi, the unscrupulous Iraqi exile who headed the Iraqi National Congress. They backed Chalabi because he had established close ties with Jewish-American groups and had pledged to foster good relations with Israel once he gained power. This was precisely what pro-Israel proponents of regime change wanted to hear. Matthew Berger laid out the essence of the bargain in the Jewish Journal: 'The INC saw improved relations as a way to tap Jewish influence in Washington and Jerusalem and to drum up increased support for its cause. For their part, the Jewish groups saw an opportunity to pave the way for better relations between Israel and Iraq, if and when the INC is involved in replacing Saddam Hussein's regime.'

Given the neo-conservatives' devotion to Israel, their obsession with Iraq, and their influence in the Bush administration, it isn't surprising that many Americans suspected that the war was designed to further Israeli interests. Last March, Barry Jacobs of the American Jewish Committee acknowledged that the belief that Israel and the neo-conservatives had conspired to get the US into a war in Iraq was 'pervasive' in the intelligence community. Yet few people would say so publicly, and most of those who did – including Senator Ernest Hollings and Representative James Moran – were condemned for raising the issue. Michael Kinsley wrote in late 2002 that 'the lack of public discussion about the role of Israel . . . is the proverbial elephant in the room.' The reason for the reluctance to talk about it, he observed, was fear of being labelled an anti-semite. There is little doubt that Israel and the Lobby were key factors in the decision to go to war. It's a decision the US would have been far less likely to take without their efforts. And the war itself was intended to be only the first step. A front-page headline in the Wall Street Journal shortly after the war began says it all: 'President's Dream: Changing Not Just Regime but a Region: A Pro-US, Democratic Area Is a Goal that Has Israeli and Neo-Conservative Roots.'

Pro-Israel forces have long been interested in getting the US military more directly involved in the Middle East. But they had limited success during the Cold War, because America acted as an 'off-shore balancer' in the region. Most forces designated for the Middle East, like the Rapid Deployment Force, were kept 'over the horizon' and out of harm's way. The idea was to play local powers off against each other – which is why the Reagan administration supported Saddam against revolutionary Iran during the Iran-Iraq War – in order to maintain a balance favourable to the US.

This policy changed after the first Gulf War, when the Clinton administration adopted a strategy of 'dual containment'. Substantial US forces would be stationed in the region in order to contain both Iran and Iraq, instead of one being used to check the other. The father of dual containment was none other than Martin Indyk, who first outlined the strategy in May 1993 at WINEP and then implemented it as director for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.

By the mid-1990s there was considerable dissatisfaction with dual containment, because it made the United States the mortal enemy of two countries that hated each other, and forced Washington to bear the burden of containing both. But it was a strategy the Lobby favoured and worked actively in Congress to preserve. Pressed by AIPAC and other pro-Israel forces, Clinton toughened up the policy in the spring of 1995 by imposing an economic embargo on Iran. But AIPAC and the others wanted more. The result was the 1996 Iran and Libya Sanctions Act, which imposed sanctions on any foreign companies investing more than $40 million to develop petroleum resources in Iran or Libya. As Ze'ev Schiff, the military correspondent of Ha'aretz, noted at the time, 'Israel is but a tiny element in the big scheme, but one should not conclude that it cannot influence those within the Beltway.'

By the late 1990s, however, the neo-conservatives were arguing that dual containment was no



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Little 8 yr old girl killed in Israeli raid

Gulf Daily News
18 March 2006

ENIN: An eight-year-old Palestinian girl was shot dead by the Israeli military in the northern West Bank last night.

Iqbar Zayed was riding in a car driven by her uncle in Yamun, east of Jenin, when she was hit, Palestinian hospital sources said.
Her uncle was wounded. The Israeli army was hunting for militants when a gunbattle erupted with Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades fighters.

Mean-while, Hamas fine-tuned its cabinet list yesterday after more moderate Palestinian factions refused to join the militant Islamist movement in a coalition.

Hamas said it would complete its government today before giving the list to President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction and other parties had wanted the surprise winner of the January 25 election to accept past interim peace deals with Israel.

Hamas leader-in-exile, Khaled Meshaal, said running the Palestinian Authority would not deflect the group from its overriding goal of pursuing a long-term struggle with Israel.

"We and the Zionists have a date with destiny. If they want a fight, we are ready for it. If they want a war, we are the sons of war. If they want a struggle, we are for it to the end," he declared.



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Just exactly who or what is anti-Semitic?

By Amiram Barkat

The situation of world Jewry is much better than Israel and the major Jewish organizations would like us to think, says historian Dr. Antony Lerman, the new director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London.

In his opinion, all of the talk in recent years about a new form of anti-Semitism that is camouflaged as criticism of Israel is nothing but pure drivel. True, he says, there are more instances in Europe of attacks on Jews by Muslim immigrants, but the problem can be easily resolved: as soon as Israel agrees to a "just solution to the Palestinian problem."

True, he says, the murderers of the young Jew in France last month chose their victim because "all of the Jews are wealthy," but he still doubts that this is enough to make the murder an anti-Semitic incident.
In general, Lerman feels that paranoia has developed around the issue of anti-Semitism, and the tendency to define anything negative that happens to a Jew as an anti-Semitic incident.

Representatives of the Jewish community in Britain, he contends, only complicate matters by insisting on public debates with public figures they consider to be anti-Semites, instead of arranging matters in the traditional and respectable manner, behind closed doors.

Lerman, 60, who until January served as director of European programs for the Rothschild family's Yad Hanadiv Foundation, previously served as director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) in the 1990s. The institute is a prestigious private think-tank: four lords of Jewish descent - Rothschild, Weidenfeld, Kalms and Haskel - are on the honorary board of directors of JPR; and the British media and governing authorities place great weight on the position adopted by the institute.

In 1999, during Lerman's first term as executive director, the institute played a major role in persuading prime minister Tony Blair to abandon his initiative to legislate a law against Holocaust denial. In 2003, the institute sparked a public debate following publication of the book "A New Anti-Semitism?", an anthology of articles related to the contention that an anti-Semitism of a new form - reflected by a tendency to attribute to the Jewish state stereotypes that were in the past attributed to Jews as individuals - had spread among what is called the "liberal elites" in Britain. Lerman, who authored one of the articles, dismissed out of hand the would-be phenomenon, and claimed that there was nothing new in anti-Semitism.

The new anti-Semitism thesis has gained some recognition in recent years in the non-Jewish European establishment. An international conference in Berlin in April 2004 stated that what was happening in the Middle East "could not justify the expression of anti-Semitism opinions." A public report submitted to the French administration in June of that year confirmed that anti-Zionism was one of the forms of expression of anti-Semitic opinions in France.

Professor Robert Wistrich of Hebrew University, a colleague and old adversary of Lerman's, charges that the man has been saying the same things for the past 15 years.

"The reality has completely changed in the past few years," says Wistrich, who heads the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, "but Lerman has not changed his opinions one whit."

In response, Lerman says, "I never claimed that anti-Semitism is not a serious problem. At the same time, I feel now, no less than in the past, that it is impossible to say that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are the same thing."

Lerman considers allegations of anti-Semitism in the British left to be absurd.

"On the extreme left there is a problem and there has been, but I find this obsession with the left rather strange," he says. "I don't believe they have great deal of influence. But people like Barry Kosmin [Lerman's predecessor at the JPR] indeed see the anti-Semitism of the left as having seeped into Liberal circles. He and Paul Igansky [who co-edited the "A New Anti-Semitism?" book] wrote an article several years ago in which they argued that the Observer newspaper was institutionally anti-Semitic.

"This seems to me to be utterly, utterly absurd, and I think there is no basis for arguing that whatsoever," says Lerman. "The Observer newspaper has been and I believe still is, a very strong supporter of Jews and of Jewish emancipation, and very much opposed to anti-Semitism. So I think you will find even among the Liberal circles certainly a degree of anti-Semitism, but nowhere near to the degree that will lead you to the conclusion that newspapers like the Observer are anti-Semitic."

Since officially taking up his post last month, Lerman has aimed his arrows at major elements in the community who have failed, he says, in representing the interests of Britain's Jews.

In an interview on BBC four weeks ago, Lerman attacked Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Britain's chief rabbi, for his use of the term 'tsunami' to describe anti-Semitism in the Muslim world. Two weeks ago, Lerman attacked the Board of Deputies, the community's umbrella organization, for having lodged the complaint against London Mayor Ken Livingstone for having told a Jewish reporter that he could have been a guard in a concentration camp. The complaint led to the mayor's suspension for two weeks, and provoked a public storm.

"My feeling in relation to the incident was that it was clearly offensive, but I question the wisdom of turning it into a major public incident," he said.

But, in effect, ever since you entered the job you have not stopped criticizing the official representatives of the community.

"I define myself as someone who tries to look at these things in a kind of pragmatic, analytic way. I'm not a natural oppositionist, my default position isn't to be anti the establishment or anti the Board of Deputies. It seems to me you need to judge things on the basis of whether they're right or wrong, whether the tactics followed are correct or not correct. And I say this with some sadness - it appears to me that quite a lot of the things that are being said by people in the establishment today, whether it's Jonathan Sachs or the Board of Deputies, are not well-considered. I don't believe they're in the best interest of the Jews of Britain. The Livingstone case could have been handled much better. The way that the Board of Deputies handled it only aggravated the situation."

Livingstone published a column last week in the Guardian, in which he charged - basing himself on Lerman - that he is not anti-Semitic, because criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism. Lerman says he has no problem with the use made of him, and that he does not believe that Livingstone is anti-Semitic.

Don't you see a problem in the fact that you are coming to the defense of a person like Livingstone at a time when the Jewish establishment is conducting a serious struggle against him?

"Why did they have to be in a struggle against him to begin with? Instead of clashing with him, they should have sought dialogue. This is a horrible tactic. It would have been possible to accomplish much more had they made contact with him behind closed doors and tried to convince him to understand the Jewish side."

In you opinion, why isn't the denial of Israel's right to exist considered anti-Semitism?

"Because if I was a Palestinian and my family had lived in Palestine for six generations, and I thought of this as my home, and somebody comes in from outside and says, "actually, this is my home and I'm going to set up a state here," I can quite understand that persons' feelings that the people who have done this and set up this state are illegitimate. If I were a Palestinian, I would say that I understand the claim of the Jews because they suffered etc., but why should it be here? They [the Jews] say it's because biblically they have an attachment but I, as a Palestinian, say, 'well my people have been here for centuries, generations - that to me is equal if not more equal than the biblical claim.' I can understand that view."

So then the statements by the Iranian president that the State of Israel should have been established in Europe are not anti-Semitic?

"I don't think it's automatically anti-Semitic, no. I can understand that kind of resentment, but I think that it's not very helpful."

Professor Wistrich and activists in the Jewish community in Britain are convinced that Lerman's conservative views on anti-Semitism and his abhorrence of public clashes comprised the primary consideration in his selection for the post at JPR.

"The reason they preferred him has to do with the traditional stand of the wealthiest and most assimilated circles in English Jewry," says Wistrich. "These are people who don't like the Jews going out into the streets and causing a confrontation, because as they see it, that endangers their own status in general British society. Lerman's views are very convenient for them."

"Goodness me," responds Lerman. "This is absolute nonsense. There is a range of views on the board. I'm pretty sure I'll be in minority as far as the board members of the JPR are concerned on the question of Ken Livingstone. When I was working for the Hanadiv Foundation, the question of anti-Semitism came up a number of times, and I don't think for a minute that Lord Rothschild agreed with my views on anti-Semitism. He is not a person who feels that anti-Semitism was exaggerated."

Since the outbreak of the Aqsa Intifada, young Muslim immigrants have become the primary factor in attacks against Jews in France and other European countries. Lerman shows a degree of understanding for the motives of the assailants.

"For Muslims it's a way of expressing their anger - I don't condone it, and I think they should find other ways of expressing their anger, but I think I can understand why they use it. But I also think that if the conflict was solved, the degree of anti-Semitism that one finds - although we don't know exactly what that degree is, but whatever degree there is - I think it would be diminished if there was a solution to the conflict."

This leads to the conclusion that Israel, as a party that bears at least partial blame for the conflict not yet being resolved, also bears indirect responsibility for Muslim anti-Semitism in Europe.

"Yes, I think that's right. Israel is a sovereign state, it has to take what actions it feels are right, but the fact of the matter is that it has consequences for Jewish communities, and some these consequences are indeed to aggravate the problem of anti-Semitism."

And what about a case such as the murder of Ilan Halimi. Is that also part of the Muslim solidarity with the Palestinians?

"To be honest, I haven't followed it very closely. What I have read is that there is some controversy surrounding the issue as to whether this should be seen as entirely an anti-Semitic incident. Clearly they picked on this person because they had this notion that Jews are wealthy, but does that make it an anti-Semitic incident? I'm not sure. As indeed in France, a number of the high-profile incidents that have happened in the last years have been rather complex.

"Take, for example, the story of the woman who claimed that she was attacked on the train by youth. At the time that caused the most extreme concern, and in the end it turned out she made it up. I think what that shows is how complex the problem is. Certainly when you are living in that kind of feudal atmosphere, you could easily get into that paranoid situation which doesn't conform to the reality of what's actually going on. It doesn't mean that there isn't a serious problem of anti-Semitism - there is, but not everything negative that happens to a Jew is anti-Semitism. That is a misuse of the word 'anti-Semitism,' it almost loses its meaning."



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Abbas to accept Hamas cabinet lineup

AlJazeera
18 March 2006

The Palestinian president will accept Hamas' cabinet line-up, but will press the group to make changes to its government agenda, which calls for resistance by any means to end Israeli occupation, aides say.

Nabil Abu Rudaina, spokesman for the president, said on Saturday that Mahmoud Abbas would not reject the cabinet because he believed he should give Hamas a chance to set up its government.

"In my view, the president is not going to reject the Hamas government because he is not willing to block a government that will win a confidence vote in parliament," said Abu Rudaina.
"He will none the less ask the new government to respect the programmes of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian National Authority as any other path will lead to isolation and the collective punishment of the Palestinian people because Hamas' programme fails to meet the demands of the international community."

"In my view, the president is not going to reject the Hamas government because he is not willing to block a government that will win a confidence vote in parliament"

Nabil Abu Rudaina,
spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas
His comments were echoed by Azzam al-Ahmad, the leader of Fatah's parliamentary bloc.

"In my view, the president is going to accept the government, although Fatah has decided neither to join it nor to give it its support in parliament, because its policies are different from ours," al-Ahmad said.

Hamas, the surprise winner of parliamentary elections in January, has refused to accept interim peace deals with Israel or to commit to seeking a negotiated settlement as demanded by Abbas.

Abbas could try to delay installation of a government until after Israel's 28 March parliamentary election.

A standoff over Hamas' government programme could trigger a constitutional crisis, Palestinian officials have said.

Hamas list completed

Hamas completed forming a Palestinian cabinet that will put loyal members of the Islamist group in charge of key ministries, including interior, foreign affairs and finance, Hamas officials said on Saturday.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said: "The cabinet is ready to be presented to President Mahmoud Abbas in a meeting to be agreed with him."

Hamas had planned to hand its cabinet lineup to Abbas on Saturday. But the meeting with the president, whose Fatah group has refused to join the Hamas-led government, was postponed to Sunday.

The Islamist resistance movement's inability to win any coalition partners and its decision to appoint its own members to the top three ministries could bolster US and Israeli efforts to isolate the new government diplomatically and economically.

Hamas spokesman Abu Zuhri said it did not plan to unveil its ministerial list publicly before presenting it to Abbas.

The delay in the meeting with Abbas could give Hamas extra time to try to find a coalition partner.

Only the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whose leader was seized this week by Israeli forces from a West Bank prison, was still considering joining the government.

Abbas' Fatah and the other factions were under heavy US pressure not to join.

Finance minister

According to sources close to the deliberations, Hamas will name Omar Abdel-Razeq, a prominent West Bank economics professor and Hamas election official, to the post of finance minister.

Abdel-Razeq, a professor at an-Najah University, led Hamas' election team for the West Bank. He was seized by Israeli forces early in January and freed three days ago, Hamas sources said.

The US and Israel have vowed not to provide any money to a Hamas-led finance ministry, which pays the salaries of about 140,000 public employees and security force members.

As many as one in four Palestinians depend on wages from the Palestinian Authority.

Donor countries could set up a trust fund that would pay salaries directly to the Authority's employees, bypassing a Hamas-led finance ministry, Western diplomats said on Friday.

Hamas sources said the group might keep Mazen Sonnoqrot, an independent, in his post as economy minister.

The foreign minister will be Mahmoud al-Zahar, a leader in Gaza whom Israel has tried to assassinate, Hamas sources said.

And another Hamas leader, Saeed Seyam, would become interior minister, with control over three Palestinian security agencies.



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Study: AIPAC works against US interests

NATHAN GUTTMAN Jerusalem Post correspondent, THE JERUSALEM POSTMar. 19, 2006

A new study, claiming that the pro-Israel lobby in America caused the United States to skew its Middle East policy in favor of Israel, is stirring controversy in the pro and anti-Israel communities in the US.

The 81-page report, written by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt for the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, argues that the pro-Israel lobby in the US managed to convince American lawmakers, officials and US public opinion to support Israel, even though this support runs counter to America's own national interests.

"The overall thrust of US policy in the region is due almost entirely to US domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the 'Israel Lobby,'" the paper writes, adding that while other lobbies have tried to affect US foreign policy, "no lobby has managed to divert US foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US and Israeli interests are essentially identical."
The academic paper, whose authors are well-known scholars in the fields of political science and government, sets out to dispute almost every argument of the pro-Israel activists in the US.

It argues that supporting Israel is not in America's best interest and furthermore, that it complicates the US's international stand and its ability to fight terror. "Israel is in fact a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states," the authors write, claiming that "The United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around." The paper also argues that the US would not be worried about Iran, Iraq and Syria, if not for its close ties with Israel.

The Harvard paper also argues that Israel is not a worthy ally for the US, that it is not a true democracy and that it uses torture methods that are against American values.

The main claim of the authors is that the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US is the reason for a biased US foreign policy in the region that favors Israel. They point to The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)'s activity in Congress and in the executive branch and talk about how it allegedly "manipulates the media" and "polices academia" in order to make sure the US maintains a pro-Israel approach. The authors add that AIPAC also uses the claim of anti-Semitism, or "the great silencer" as they refer to it, to shut off any criticism of Israel.

The paper voices the claim that pro-Israeli officials in the Bush administration, namely Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser, were behind the push for war in Iraq and that the pro-Israel lobby was a driving force in encouraging the administration to go to war against Saddam Hussein.

The research has sparked instant controversy in the US. It was distributed over the weekend through several Web sites and list serves known for their anti-Israel approach and drew harsh criticism from pro-Israel activists.

An official with a pro-Israel organization in Washington said that the authors' disagreement "is not with America's pro-Israel lobby, but with the American people, who overwhelmingly support our relationship with Israel, and with Democrats and Republicans in successive administrations and Congress, who so strongly and consistently support the special relationship between the United States and Israel."



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Abbas urged to quit, scrap government

AlJazeera
17 March 2006

Fatah officials have asked the Palestinian president to resign, dissolve the Palestinian Authority and return responsibility for the occupied territories to Israel in protest against Tel Aviv's actions.

Fatah officials said on Friday the idea of scrapping the Palestinian Authority (PA) was debated for the first time on Thursday night by the Fatah central committee, which controls Mahmoud Abbas's faction.
The discussion highlighted frustrations within Fatah, beaten by Hamas in elections in January, after Israel's seizure of a Palestinian leader in a prison raid in the West Bank this week.

A Fatah official said Abbas's aide, Tayib Abd al-Rahim, had sparked the debate in the central committee, winning support from several members.

"Abdel-Rahim said at the meeting Abbas must consider resigning and dissolving the Palestinian Authority if Israel continues with its attacks and unilateral measures," said the official, who asked not to be named.

"Why should we accept blow after blow to President Abbas whom the world claims to support?"

Abbas, who resigned once when he was prime minister under the late Yasser Arafat, and has threatened to quit since becoming president, told the central committee that he would consider the proposal, the official said.

Hamas opposition

Islamist resistance movement Hamas, which is about to form a government that Fatah and other factions have refused to join, said it opposed dissolving the PA.

Khalid Sulayman, a Hamas member of parliament, said: "This is not the right national position to take."

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, asked why Fatah members had not proposed scrapping the PA earlier when its writ was undermined by Israeli offensives in the West Bank.

"These events were more grave than what happened in Jericho," he said.

Aid groups and an international envoy have warned of the risk of chaos and violence if the PA collapses amid moves to isolate a Hamas-led government.

Tit-for-tat

Fatah officials said winding up the PA would be a protest against what they saw as efforts by Israel and the United States to sideline Abbas as a negotiating partner.

They said it would be timely because unilateral Israeli policies had already weakened the PA and dimmed hopes of achieving a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.

Many Palestinians saw Tuesday's prison raid in the West Bank city of Jericho as a deliberate attempt to humiliate Abbas and the PA.

Ehud Olmert, the interim Israeli prime minister, has said he will impose final borders if Hamas does not change course.

By withholding Palestinian tax revenues to deny funds to a Hamas-led government, Israel has also pushed the PA to seek international funds to pay public sector salaries.

Israel has accused Abbas of not fulfilling Palestinian obligations to disarm armed factions under a US-negotiated peace plan.

Israel's own commitments to freeze settlement building have not been met.

Fatah's ruling committee has never previously considered dismantling the PA created by the Palestine Liberation Organisation under the Oslo peace deals with Israel in 1994.

The original concept was to give 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza a say over their affairs until statehood.

Dissolving a body that Fatah had dominated until the election would require the PLO formally to hand responsibility for the territories back to Israel.

The PLO could then urge UN action to end Israel's occupation, advocates of the plan say.



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After weeks of Israeli closure, Gaza Strip is completely out of bread

IMEMC & Agencies - Thursday, 16 March 2006, 18:53

All of the bakeries in the Gaza Strip are closed. Dependent on imports of flour, the 1.2 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, the most crowded place on earth in terms of population to land area, are now facing an unprecedented food crisis due to Israeli closures that have prevented the import of the grain.

Completely controlled by Israeli military forces, the borders of the Gaza Strip resemble prison walls and gates around this crowded and undernourished strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea. The coastlines themselves are also tightly controlled, so that in most parts of Gaza, children spend their entire lives growing up within view of the sea, but unable to access it.
Now, with the world focusing on an Israeli attack on the Palestinian prison in Jericho, an event that many Palestinians and Israelis view as a 'publicity stunt' by Israel to garner support for the ruling Kadima Party in upcoming elections, the impoverished population of the Gaza Strip waits, ignored and forgotten, for the Israeli military to re-open their border crossing as was promised by Israeli leaders last week so that their children will not starve.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were mainly employed in Israel, prior to the current open conflict that broke out in September 2000. Since 2000, the unemployment rate has reached levels of up to 80% in some areas, making the Palestinian population more and more dependent on foreign imports and aid.

Palestinian Economic Ministry Undersecretary Mr. Nasser As'saraj confirmed that the Gaza Strip mills are empty of flour as a result of the Israeli closure of the crossings used to import this vital grain.

As'saraj confirmed Thursday that the ministry has been in contact with the Israeli and Egyptian authorities so as to have the crossings reopened so the Palestinian people will be able to import the substantial and vital food stuffs such as flour, sugar and rice.

"The Gaza Strip is facing a serious problem; there is a crisis in this regard", Saraj added.

Saraj pointed out that all bakeries in the Strip are closed because there is no flour.

Israeli authorities appeared unconcerned about the severe shortage of food in the Gaza Strip. Top advisor to the Israeli prime minister, Dov Weisglass, said recently that Palestinians should be "put on a diet", referring to the imposition of sanctions on the population as punishment for voting for the Hamas party in January's democratic election. Despite the fact that the United Nations has condemned the closure, and noted that 40% of children in the Gaza Strip suffer from malnutrition, Israeli politicians seem entirely unconcerned with the fate of the 1.2 million Gaza Palestinians -- a fate that is, at this point, entirely in their hands.



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The Israeli Raid in Jericho: The Background

By Stephen Zunes | March 17, 2006Foreign Policy In Focus

The origins of the March 14 Israeli raid of a Palestinian prison in Jericho are rooted in another Israeli raid on a Palestinian city in 2001.

On August 27 of that year, Israeli occupation forces assaulted the offices of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) with a U.S.-supplied helicopter gunship and missiles. Their target was PFLP leader Abu Ali Mustafa, who was killed instantly. The PFLP vowed to retaliate.
The PFLP, a Marxist movement notorious for engineering a spate of airline hijackings in the early 1970s, had in previous years ended its involvement in international terrorism and had returned from exile to emerge as part of the secular leftist opposition to both the Fatah-dominated Palestine Authority and the Islamist Hamas. As a legal political party, the PFLP regularly put forward candidates in Palestinian elections, though their percentage of the popular vote rarely scored better than the low single digits. The PFLP also maintained an armed militia, though--unlike Hamas and Islamic Jihad--it primarily targeted the Israeli military and police in the occupied territories rather than civilians inside Israel.

Seven weeks after the Israeli assassination of their leader, a PFLP militant assassinated Rehavam Zeevi, head of the far-right Moledet Party, who had been serving as Israeli Tourism Minister in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition government. The Moledet Party--which subsequently merged with other far right parties to form the National Alliance--is even more extremist in ideology than the PFLP, calling for the ethnic cleansing of all Palestinians from Israel and the occupied territories.

In response to Mustafa's murder, the State Department issued only a mild statement reiterating its opposition to Israel's assassination policy. In subsequent months, the Bush administration--with the encouragement of both Republican and Democratic congressional leaders--dropped even this nominal opposition and began to openly defend assassinations by Israeli death squads of suspected Palestinian militants. By contrast, President Bush personally condemned Zeevi's murder, criticized the Palestinian Authority's failure to jail the suspected assassins and PFLP leaders, and demanded that they be punished.

When Israel violently re-occupied Ramallah four months later and launched a six-week siege on Palestinian President Yasir Arafat's offices, President Bush expressed his understanding for the Israeli action--otherwise universally condemned in the international community--on the grounds that the suspected PFLP assassin and three alleged accomplices had sought refuge there. Bush noted how "these people are accused of killing a cabinet official of the Israel government. I can understand why the prime minister wants them brought to justice." He added, "They should be brought to justice if they killed this man in cold blood."

By contrast, there were no American demands to bring to justice the Israeli helicopter pilots or Israeli political and military leaders who were responsible for Mustafa's assassination. Similarly, there was no U.S. criticism of the 1988 Israeli assassination of a member of Arafat's cabinet, Defense Minister Khalid al-Wazir in Tunisia, much less a demand that those responsible for his murder be brought to justice. (An investigation by the Israeli newspaper Maariv revealed that the leader of the seaborne command center who oversaw al-Wazir's murder was Israel's then-deputy military chief Ehud Barak, who would later become Israeli prime minister, widely praised by President Bill Clinton and others as a great peacemaker.)

Arafat finally agreed to have the four PFLP militants implicated in the assassination--along with Ahmed Saadat, Mustafa's successor as PFLP leader--jailed in return for the Israelis lifting the siege, even though the Palestinian judiciary cleared him of involvement. Arafat was also forced to agree to imprison a sixth man, Palestinian Authority finance chief Fuad Shubaki, for attempting to smuggle arms from Iran. The U.S. position has been that while it is legitimate for the United States to send arms to the Israeli government to facilitate their occupation of Palestinian territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war, it is illegitimate for the Palestinians to import arms to resist the occupation.

Though the Bush administration had rejected calls from the Palestinians to dispatch U.S. peacekeeping forces to the West Bank to separate the two sides and protect civilian populations, President Bush--not trusting the Palestinian Authority to keep the six men incarcerated--insisted that American servicemen, later joined by British servicemen, be sent into the West Bank city of Jericho to help guard the prisoners.

While U.S. and British officials had complained in recent weeks of a deteriorating security climate, they did not give Palestinian officials any notice of their sudden departure on March 14. They did, however, apparently inform Israeli officials. Though there was no evidence to suggest that the departure of the foreign prison guards would lead to an imminent release of the six men, Israeli forces moved into Jericho and assaulted the prison, killing two guards and wounding two dozen others, kidnapping the six prisoners and bringing them to Israel.

The widespread Palestinian anger in response to the Israeli attack and kidnappings went well beyond those who support the PFLP's ideology or its retaliatory assassination of Zeevi. This latest violation of Palestine's limited sovereignty, with the apparent collusion of the United States--the supposed guarantor of the Oslo peace process and the detention agreement--and Great Britain deepens the sense of humiliation from the nearly 29 years of U.S.-backed Israeli occupation of the West Bank. It has weakened moderate Palestinian leaders like President Mahmoud Abbas, who has argued that the U.S.-brokered peace process offers hope for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, while strengthening Hamas and other extremists who reject the peace process and Israel's very right to exist.



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Israel's colonisation of Palestine blocking peace, says Jimmy Carter

Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Saturday March 18, 2006
The Guardian

The former US president Jimmy Carter has described Israel's "colonisation of Palestine" through expanding Jewish settlements as the single greatest obstacle to a resolution of the conflict.

Mr Carter, 81, who negotiated the 1978 Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt, wrote in the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz yesterday that Israel's actions doom any Palestinian state to a "dismal" future and will perpetuate violence across the Middle East. "The pre-eminent obstacle to peace is Israel's colonisation of Palestine," he wrote. "Israel's occupation of Palestine has obstructed a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land, regardless of whether Palestinians had no formalised government, one headed by Yasser Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas, or with Abbas as president and Hamas controlling the parliament and cabinet.

Mr Carter also questioned Israel's commitment to the US-led "road map" peace process. "Israel has officially rejected its basic premises with patently unacceptable caveats and prerequisites," he said.

He said Israel was insincere at peace negotiations during the 1990s when it offered to withdraw only a small proportion of the 225,000 settlers living in the West Bank. "Their best official offer to the Palestinians was to withdraw 20% of them, leaving 180,000 [Israelis] in 209 settlements, covering about 5% of the occupied land," he said.

"The 5% figure is grossly misleading, with surrounding areas taken or earmarked for expansion, roadways joining settlements with each other and to Jerusalem, and wide arterial swaths providing water, sewage, electricity and communications. This intricate honeycomb divides the entire West Bank into multiple fragments, often uninhabitable or even unreachable."

This week the acting Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said that if he wins this month's general election, as expected, he will annex the main settlement blocks that are home to about 80% of settlers.|

Mr Carter said Israel's unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip had left it as a "non-viable economic and political entity" and that the future of the West Bank is "equally dismal".

"Especially troublesome is Israel's construction of huge concrete dividing walls in populated areas and high fences in rural areas - located entirely on Palestinian territory and often with deep intrusions to encompass more land and settlements ...

"This will never be acceptable either to Palestinians or to the international community, and will inevitably precipitate increased tension and violence within Palestine, and stronger resentment and animosity from the Arab world against America, which will be held accountable for the plight of the Palestinians."

Hamas is expected to deliver a list of proposed cabinet ministers to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, today after the once-dominant Fatah party said it would not join the new government. The prime minister designate, Ismail Haniyeh, told CBS television that he hoped one day to sign a peace agreement with Israel. But he said Hamas would renounce violence and recognise the Jewish state only when Israel recognised "a Palestinian state within the boundaries of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem".



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AP Erases Video of Israeli Soldier Shooting Palestinian Boy

By Alison Weir
Palestine Chronicle
19 Mar 06


We discovered that an AP cameraman had filmed the entire incident. This cameraman had then followed what apparently is the usual routine.

"The trend toward secrecy is the greatest threat to democracy." - Associated Press CEO, in a speech about the importance of openness

"The official response is we decline to respond." - Associated Press Director of Media Relations, replying to questions about AP
In the midst of journalism's "Sunshine Week"--during which the Associated Press and other news organizations are valiantly proclaiming the public's "right to know"--AP insists on conducting its own activities in the dark, and refuses to answer even the simplest questions about its system of international news reporting.

Most of all, it refuses to explain why it erased footage of an Israeli soldier intentionally shooting a Palestinian boy.

AP, according to its website, is the world's oldest and largest news organization. It is the behemoth of news reporting, providing what its editors determine is the news to a billion people each day. Through its feeds to thousands of newspapers, radio and television stations, AP is a major determinant in what Americans read, hear and see--and what they don't.

What they don't is profoundly important. I investigated one such omission when I was in the Palestinian Territories last year working on a documentary with my colleague (and daughter), who was filming our interviews.

On Oct. 17, 2004 Israeli military forces invaded Balata, a dense, poverty-stricken community deep in Palestine's West Bank (Israel frequently invades this area and others). According to witnesses, the vehicles stayed for about twenty minutes, the military asserting its power over the Palestinian population. The witnesses state that there was no Palestinian resistance--no "clash," no "crossfire," not even any stone-throwing. At one point, after most of the vehicles had finally driven away, an Israeli soldier stuck his gun out of his armored vehicle, aimed at a pre-pubescent boy nearby, and pulled the trigger.

We went to the hospital and interviewed the boy, Ahmad, his doctors, family, and others. Ahmad had bandages around his lower abdomen, where surgeons had operated on his bladder. He said he was afraid of Israeli soldiers, and pulled up his pants leg to show where he had been shot previously.

In the hospital there was a second boy, this one with a shattered femur; and a third boy, this one in critical condition with a bullet hole in his lung. A fourth boy, not a patient, was visiting a friend. He showed us a scarred lip and missing teeth from when Israeli soldiers had shot him in the mouth.

This was not an unusual situation. When I had visited Palestinian hospitals on a previous trip, I had seen many such victims; some with worse injuries. Yet, very few Americans know this is going on. AP's actions in regard to Ahmad's shooting may explain why.

We discovered that an AP cameraman had filmed the entire incident. This cameraman had then followed what apparently is the usual routine. He sent his video--an extremely valuable commodity, since it contained documentary evidence of a war crime--to the AP control bureau for the region. This bureau is in Israel.

What happened next is unfathomable. Did AP broadcast it? No. Did AP place the video in safe-keeping, available for an investigation of this crime? No.

According to its cameraman, AP erased it.

We were astounded. We traveled to AP's control bureau in Israel. With our own video camera out and running, we asked bureau chief Steve Gutkin about this incident. Was the information we had been told correct, or did he have a different version? Did the bureau have the video, or had they indeed erased it. If so, why?

Gutkin, repeatedly looking at the camera and visibly flustered, told us that AP did not allow its journalists to give interviews. He told us that all questions must go to Corporate Communications, located in New York. He explained that they were on deadline and couldn't talk. I said I understood deadline pressure, and sat down to wait until they were done. When he called Israeli police to arrest us, we left.

Back in the US later, I phoned Corporate Communications and reached Director of Media Relations Jack Stokes, AP's public relations spokesman. I had conversed with Stokes before.

Over the past several years I have noticed disturbing flaws in AP coverage of Israel-Palestine: newsworthy stories not being covered, reports sent to international newspapers but not to American ones, stories omitting or misreporting significant facts, critical sentences being removed from updated reports.

I would phone AP with the appropriate correction or news alert. One time this resulted in a flawed news story being slightly corrected in updates. In a few cases stories were then covered that had been neglected. In many cases, however, I was told that I needed to speak to Corporate Communications. I would phone Corporate Communications, leave a message, and wait for a response. Most often, none came.

Several times, however, I was able to have long conversations with AP spokesman Stokes. None of these conversations, however, ever ended with AP taking any action. Some typical responses:

* The omitted story was "not newsworthy."

* The story deemed by AP editors to be newsworthy to the rest of the world--e.g. Israel's brutal imprisonment of over 300 Palestinian youths--was not newsworthy in the US (Israel's major ally).

* Burying a report of Israeli forces shooting a four-year-old Palestinian girl in the mouth was justified.

* Misreporting an incident in which an Israeli officer riddled a 13-year-old girl at close range with bullets was unimportant.

Despite this unresponsive pattern, when I learned firsthand of an AP bureau erasing footage of an atrocity, I again phoned Corporate Communications. I no longer had much expectation that AP would take any corrective action, but I did expect to receive some information. I gave spokesperson Stokes the numerous details about this incident that we had gathered on the scene and asked him the same questions I had asked Gutkin. He said he would look into this and get back to me.

After several days he had not gotten back to me, so I again phoned him. He said that he had looked into this incident, and that AP had determined that this was "an internal matter" and that they would give no response.

While I should have known better, I was again astounded. AP was blatantly violating fundamental journalistic norms of ethical behavior, and clearly felt it had the power to get away with it.

Journalism, according to the Statement of Principles of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, is a "sacred trust." It is the bulwark of a free society and is so essential to the functioning of a democracy that our forefathers affirmed its primacy in the very first amendment of the Bill of Rights.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists, one of the four major pillars of journalistic ethics is to "Be Accountable." According to SPJ's Code of Ethics:

"Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

"Journalists should:

* Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.

* Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.

* Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.

* Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.

* Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

Finally, this week, on deadline with a chapter about media coverage of Israel-Palestine, I again tried to confirm some of my facts with AP. Certainly, I felt, during "Sunshine Week" AP would respond. As part of the Sunshine campaign, AP's CEO and President Tom Curley is traveling the country giving speeches on the necessity of transparency and accountability (for government) and emphasizing "the openness that effective democracy requires."

"The trend toward secrecy," AP's president has correctly been pointing out, "is the greatest threat to democracy."

I emailed my questions to AP, talked to Stokes by phone, and again was told he would get back to me. Again, I got back to him. Then, in a surreal exchange, he conveyed AP's reply: "The official response is we decline to respond." As I asked question after question, many as simple as a confirmation of the number of bureaus AP has in Israel-Palestine, the response was silence or a repetition of: "The official response is we decline to respond."

The next day I tried phoning AP's President Curley directly. I was unable to reach Curley, since he was on the road giving his Sunshine Week speeches ("Secrecy," Curley says, "is for losers"), but I left a message for him with an assistant. She said someone would respond.

I am still waiting.

It is clearly time to go to AP's superiors. The fact is, AP is a cooperative. It is not owned by Corporate Communications spokespeople or by its CEO or even by its board of directors. It is owned by the thousands of newspapers and broadcast stations around the United States that use AP reports. These newspapers, radio and television stations are the true directors of AP, and bear the responsibility for its coverage.

In the end, it appears, the only way that Americans will receive full, unbiased reporting from AP on Israel-Palestine will be when these member-owners demand such coverage from their employees in the Middle East and in New York. As long as AP's owners remain too busy or too negligent to ensure the quality and accuracy of their Israel-Palestine coverage, the handful of people within AP who are distorting its news reporting on this tragic, life-and-death, globally destabilizing issue will quite likely continue to do so.

In the final analysis, therefore, it is up to us--members of the public--to step in. Everyone who believes that Americans have the right and the need to receive full, undistorted information on all issues, including Israel-Palestine, must take action. We must require our news media to fulfill their profoundly important obligation, and we must ourselves distribute the critical information our media are leaving out.

If we don't take action, no one else will. AP can be reached at 212-621-1500.

-Alison Weir, a former journalist is Executive Director of If Americans Knew, which is currently conducting a statistical analysis of AP's coverage of Israel-Palestine, to be released within a few months. The organization has created cards that describe AP actions for people to disseminate in their communities.



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Running the US into the Ground


The End Of Civilization

By Dave Eriqat
Countercurrents
17 Mar 06

Now, if you are the government (and I don't mean Tom "I am the federal government" DeLay), and your experts tell you that civilization as we know it is doomed, what do you do? Well, for starters, you do not tell your population of sheeple. That would precipitate panic and result in premature doom, which would consume the government along with everything else. Above all, government seeks to survive, so you would maintain the facade of normalcy for the benefit of your population while you use what time you have left to prepare, as quietly as possible, for the inescapable future.

I had a mild epiphany the other day: it's not President Bush who's living in a fantasy world, it's most of his critics who are. I'm no apologist for Bush – I neither like nor dislike him. He's no more significant to me than a fly buzzing around outside my window. So permit me to explain my reasoning.

People look at Bush's invasion of Iraq and see a miserable failure. But a failure to do what? Democratize Iraq? Eliminate Iraq's WMD arsenal? Reduce global terrorism? If those were, in fact, the reasons for invading Iraq, then the invasion would have to be classified as a failure. But what if the real reason was to secure Iraq's oil supplies, perhaps not for immediate use, and perhaps not even for use by the United States? Then the invasion of Iraq would have to be judged a success, a "mission accomplished," so to speak.

Or take Bush's seemingly irresponsible handling of the domestic economy. How can any sane person fail to understand that cutting revenue while increasing spending will produce deficits, and that those deficits cannot increase in perpetuity? Sooner or later that accumulated debt has got to have consequences. Bush appears to be acting as if there were no tomorrow. But what if there really were no tomorrow, financially speaking? In that case, the reckless economic policies of today would not only be irrelevant, but might actually be shrewd. I mean, if one knows that he is not going to have to pay back his debts tomorrow, then why not borrow money like crazy today? In fact, if civilization is coming to an end, then why not use all that borrowed money to stock up on guns and vital resources, such as oil?

Now, I'm just one person. And I've been closely studying economic, environmental, and energy issues for only a few years. And I'm no expert. Yet I've come to the conclusion – and I don't want to be a "Chicken Little" here – that civilization as we have known it for the last century is doomed. Our wasteful manner of living – heck, the sheer size of our human population – is unsustainable. Everywhere you look you can see signs of strain on the Earth, from spreading pollution of the air, water, and land, to disappearance of life in the seas, to depletion of natural resources. Something's got to give. Things simply cannot continue as they have.

If I can see this, I would guess the United States Government, what with its thousands of full time experts, probably can too. Now, if you are the government (and I don't mean Tom "I am the federal government" DeLay), and your experts tell you that civilization as we know it is doomed, what do you do? Well, for starters, you do not tell your population of sheeple. That would precipitate panic and result in premature doom, which would consume the government along with everything else. Above all, government seeks to survive, so you would maintain the facade of normalcy for the benefit of your population while you use what time you have left to prepare, as quietly as possible, for the inescapable future.

What will matter in this future? Commodities, principally energy, food, and water. Everything else is secondary. Money is far down the list in importance.

So how would you, the government, prepare for a future world in which commodities are king? By securing today as many of those commodities as possible. Hence, the U.S. government's binge of military base building throughout the commodity-rich regions of the world. What would you not worry about? Money. The only concern you might have for money is to prevent its premature demise. Hence, the smoke and mirrors used to paint a pretty but false portrait of the economy. Some will argue that the government needs more than just energy, food, and water to survive. True, but by controlling the bulk of the world's key commodities, everything else can be procured, including human labor and loyalty.

In preparing for the future demise of civilization you would also seek to increase the government's power as much and as rapidly as possible. Why? To maintain control over those increasingly precious resources, and equally important, to control people – especially your own people – by force, if necessary. Viewed in this light, the government's aggressive pursuit of power during the last five years makes perfect sense. Ironically, President Bush got it right when he reportedly referred to the now totally eviscerated United States Constitution as a "god damned piece of paper." That's really all it is anymore.

So what fantasy world are Bush's critics living in? The fantasy world in which civilization can continue as it has in the past. That we can continue to improve the standard of living of everyone in the world if we just return to a more sharing and egalitarian way of life, like that which we enjoyed between World War II and the mid 1970s. This is a fantasy. The Earth has finite limits. We are finally starting to grasp that fact with respect to oil. But oil depletion is merely the first in a series of coming crises ensuing from the finite confines of our planet. The fundamental problem – and I'm not a Malthusian – is that there are simply too many people for the Earth to sustain. This is why fish are disappearing from the oceans, why the supply of oil is unable to keep up with demand, why the globe is being deforested, why animal and plant species are going extinct, why water wars are in the offing. Perhaps if people were wiser and more willing to share, and implicitly, less greedy, we could sustain the more than six billion people on Earth, but, alas, such idealism does not describe human beings.

The one thing that has enabled the human population to grow to the immense dimensions we see today is oil, the resource facing the greatest challenge from depletion. As the oil supply diminishes, in the absence of herculean efforts to use oil more efficiently and fairly, large numbers of human beings will die off. Before then, soaring prices for oil will probably destroy the economies of the countries most dependent on the stuff, if not the entire intricately linked world economy. This is what I mean by the end of civilization. Of course life will go on. But it won't be anything like what we've been accustomed to. Life will be more like that of the Middle Ages, in which a few wealthy lords controlled all the resources and possessed all the power, and the rest of the people – the lucky ones, anyway – were veritable slaves under these lords. In many ways that state of affairs exists today, but it's unseen by all but the most observant individuals. The future I'm talking about, though, is considerably more spartan than what the worker bees enjoy today.

I believe that what we're witnessing today is the inception of a titanic and protracted competition for survival: between countries, between civilizations, between governments and their people. Moreover, I believe the Bush administration is the first to recognize this competitive future, which explains its fundamentally different – seemingly feckless – behavior compared to past administrations. Bush's favored courtiers, which include corporations, are profiting today and will become the new nobility in the coming New Middle Ages.


Truth and Distractions

The governments of the world, and the U.S. Government in particular, don't want their people to know the truth. Governments usually end up seeing themselves as entities distinct from their people, and usually end up competing against them. That is true of almost every government on Earth today, and is especially true of the U.S. Government. Keeping the truth from people helps a government achieve its goals, for if the people knew the truth they might demand that the government start actually serving them.

One way to keep the truth from people, aside from today's favored approach of simply suppressing it, is to feed them a steady diet of compelling distractions.

Elections are one such distraction. Elections arouse peoples' passions and keep them entertained for weeks or months. Elections even give people the illusion of participation, when, in fact, elections mean absolutely nothing in a country like the United States, which is run by money. Of course, elections are run by, and legitimized by governments.

Sex is another good distraction, both sex scandals and sex-related social issues. Look at how much mileage the media got out of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandals. By comparison, sexual abuses by the government's own schoolteachers outnumber those by the church, but we hear nary a word about them because they reflect negatively on the government, and the media cooperates in keeping this quiet. Sex between consenting adults, which ought to be nobody's business except the participants', also consumes our attention. Look at how much attention people pay to homosexuality. Why is that anybody else's business? It's not, obviously, but it's a great distraction from important things, such as the government's reverse-Robin Hood economic policies. The same with abortion. Abortion is a personal matter for the people involved. It's none of society's business. But government stokes the flames of debate about abortion and it consumes peoples' attention. Sexually transmitted diseases – diseases in general – are also good distractions and have the added benefit of instilling fear in the population.

Crime is a perennial distraction. Even when the crime rate is falling, the government seems to hype the crime statistics, making it seem as if you're putting your life at risk by merely setting foot outside your front door. Of course, "crime" breeds prisons, and prisons empower the government. Given the benefits of crime to the government, it comes as no surprise that the government creates crime by criminalizing harmless behavior such as using drugs or hiring a prostitute.

Religion is also a distraction. Domestically, the fashionable debate today revolves around the separation of church and state. There really ought not be any debate. The United States Constitution is unequivocal: the United States Government shall not recognize any particular religion. End of story. It does not say how states may address religion, but it does say that all powers not prohibited to the states belong to the states. In my opinion, then, if a state wants to recognize a religion, it may do so.

The "clash of civilizations" is perhaps the newest distraction, and a completely contrived one at that. The Muslim-Christian antipathy that exists today is both a religious and a cultural distraction. Decades ago, when we were affluent, we were taught to celebrate cultural diversity on our planet. Today that same diversity is touted as the explanation for the "clash of civilizations." Granted, different cultures are, well, different. But that doesn't mean that conflict must ensue, and for decades there was no conflict. Clearly, the flames of cultural conflict are being stoked. By whom? The governments of the world and the media. For example, just look at how European media companies and European governments colluded recently to provoke Muslims with those silly cartoons. Cultural conflict not only distracts the masses, but it provides governments with a credible justification to increase their power, for instance, to regulate headgear worn in schools and restrict immigration. Of course, "terrorism" is ancillary to this clash of civilizations and serves to intensify anxiety in the population. How many acts of terrorism are actually perpetrated by governments? It's impossible to say, but it's definitely more than zero, a lot more. So why does a government perpetrate an act of terrorism? To create a distraction, to increase its power, or both.

One thing all of these distractions have in common is collusion – intentional or incidental – between the government and the media. The government seems to be involved in all of these distractions to varying degrees, ranging from merely exaggerating the importance of some distractions to actively orchestrating others. And none of these distractions could successfully distract the public without the zealous participation of, and amplification by, the media. One might argue that the media is naturally drawn to report sensational news, as a moth is drawn to light, and most of these distractions qualify as sensational. But I don't think it's purely coincidental that the media relishes these stories when there is so much overlap between the agendas of the government and the corporations that comprise the "media."

Both entities seek to dominate, exploit, and control the "little people." And the little people, being xenophobic, uneducated, and fearful, are easily manipulated in a formulaic manner to help undermine their own welfare. Simply look at their support for Bush, a leader who has systematically attacked their standard of living, not to mention their liberties. All Bush had to do was push a few buttons labeled "religion," "sex," and "culture" to get them to react like Pavlovian dogs. And all this button pushing was, of course, happily assisted by the media.

Resource Competition

We humans like to think of ourselves as so much more sophisticated than "lower" animals. In affluent times and places we can afford to worry about silly things like what movies will win Oscar awards, whether our body looks good at the gym, or where we will take our next family vacation.

But our existence still depends on this fundamental equation: survival = food + water + shelter.

In leaner times, like those we're heading into, the above equation becomes sharply apparent.

Food production today is highly dependent on oil. Oil powers our farm implements, oil and natural gas are ingredients in commercial pesticides and fertilizers, and oil transports food to market. Today food travels as far as 10,000 miles from where it's produced to where it's consumed, which would be impossible without oil. Oil vastly increases agricultural productivity. So it's because of our largess of oil that the human population has been able to grow as large as it has. One might say that humans eat oil. We can, of course, produce food without oil – barring such evil manifestations as crops that are genetically engineered to require the use of petroleum-based pesticides – but without oil food production will be much lower.

Water is a resource we take for granted. We act as though there is no limit to the supplies of water, and that there are no repercussions to our profligate consumption of it. We're building cities in places without adequate water supplies – Phoenix and Las Vegas come to mind – and we're using up vast reservoirs of non-replenishable "fossil" water, such as the Ogallala Aquifer in the American Midwest. Just as we're failing to plan for economic "rainy days," we're failing to regulate our water usage to prepare for a literal lack of rainy days. We seem to think that the replenishable water supply patterns will remain unchanged, an especially optimistic expectation if the Earth's climate is truly in the midst of major change. But the water situation is even worse in some other places than in America. Water delivery is partly dependent on energy, just as food production is. It takes energy to pump water from the ground, to transport it to where it's consumed, and even to treat it. Of course, food production is vitally dependent on water.

I hardly need mention the importance of oil except to say that for the first time in history, the demand curve is passing the supply curve. Moreover, the supply curve will soon be heading downward and we'll find ourselves perpetually chasing this ever dwindling supply downhill. When demand merely exceeds supply the price of oil will increase. But when demand exceeds supply and the supply starts to diminish, then prices will really go up, enough to destroy economies or render impractical the transportation of food and water to some places. But the gap between supply and demand means more than just higher prices. It also means shortages. Those who can afford to buy oil will usually have their needs satisfied, albeit at higher cost. But those who cannot pay the price will do without. Occasionally, even those who can afford to buy oil will be forced to do without because from time to time there simply won't be any oil to buy on the global market, at any price. Imagine going to your local gas station and seeing a sign out front reading "Sorry, no gas." Imagine going to your local grocery store and seeing empty shelves because the trucks that deliver goods to the store had no diesel fuel. Imagine having to bundle up in two layers of sweaters inside your house because you have to make half your normal allotment of home heating oil last the entire winter. These hypothetical scenarios will become reality and will occur with increasing frequency as time goes on.

What's going to happen when people have to vigorously compete for food, water, and energy in order to survive? I think it's going to get vicious. My opinion of humanity holds that in the face of such adversity, it will be every man for himself. Countries will compete against countries. States will compete against states. Cities will compete against cities. Governments will even compete against their citizens. Civilization, in the sense of the word "civility," will be no more. Perhaps genetically engineered terminator seeds, depleted uranium, and exotic diseases are secretly intended to reduce the human population to alleviate resource competition.

Clearly, the U.S. invasion of Iraq is one of the opening salvos in the coming resource wars. And the U.S.'s belligerence toward Iran is undoubtedly due to Iran's possession of vast oil and natural gas resources. Bear in mind that a country need not seek control of vital resources with the intention of consuming them. The country that controls resources can use those resources either as a lever to compel other countries to behave a certain way, or to buy other resources or finished goods, such as weapons and integrated circuit chips.

The End of Money

The 1970s was the apotheosis of the "American Dream." Wedged between the preceding decade of civil unrest and the subsequent decade of recessions, rapidly rising homelessness, and mass layoffs, the 1970s was a comparatively idyllic decade. It certainly had its problems – stagflation, for instance – but even while living during that time I felt it was a special decade. Life was good; people were happy, friendly, and mellow; TV shows and movies were cheerful; civil liberties were at their peak; government power was at its lowest ebb; the country was affluent and at its peak of industrial prowess. It's not a coincidence that the tallest buildings in America were built during the 1970s. Those buildings were icons of American industry and power. Although the Vietnam War raged during the first half of the 1970s, it was in the process of winding down and came to an end by the middle of that decade. The cessation of the Vietnam War was as much a reflection of the peoples' desire to "live and let live" as it was a military defeat. Military conscription also ended in that decade, and even the cold war cooled off because of détente.

Unfortunately, what we didn't realize at the time was that we would never again have it so good. The 1970s represented a "tipping point," to use the popular vernacular, for the American Dream. That was when globalization really started to take off and when the serious decline of American industry began, the steel and auto industries being among the first casualties. Interestingly, the 1970s was also the decade of peak oil production in the United States, after which point we became increasingly reliant on imported oil, which greased our downward slide. What I didn't realize until writing this was how crucial a role President Nixon played in creating this tipping point. Nixon opened the door to trade with China, a major player in today's globalized economy. Nixon disassociated the U.S. dollar from gold, facilitating the destruction of wealth through unrelenting devaluation of the dollar. Nixon launched the war on drugs, a precursor to today's war on terror (or is it the war of terror, I can't tell?). Both the drug war and war on/of terror consume wealth in order to serve the imperial ambitions of the U.S. Government, but contribute nothing to the country's production of wealth.

The 1980s was a decade in which previously accumulated wealth was systematically extracted, mainly through the mechanism of "Merger Mania." The 1980s was a decade of marked industrial and economic decline, which was masked to a large extent by releasing into the economy some of the wealth squeezed out of these mergers, as well as by the massive accumulation of debt. The transformations of the 1980s also introduced a new component: the injection of foreign wealth into the country. Many of the assets sold in the 1980s were purchased by foreigners, especially the Japanese, a trend which accelerated toward the latter half of the decade, highlighting America's economic decline. The 1980s also marked the inception of the mythical "service economy" theory to justify the profitable exporting of American jobs. The economy is like a pyramid. Forming the foundation of this pyramid is the one true source of wealth: natural resources – the free wealth given to us by the Earth and the Sun. Mining for minerals and energy, agriculture, fishing, and forestry are the source of all other wealth. Above this foundation are industries that utilize its products. These second level industries consist primarily of manufacturers that take raw materials and produce something of greater value. Above the manufacturers are companies that serve them, including law firms, advertising agencies, shipping companies, airlines, hotels, restaurants, and even entertainment. As wealth moves up this pyramid a little wealth, constituting salaries and savings, is retained by each level in the pyramid. The myth of the service economy, the darling theory of the 1980s, is that a country could retain the top of the pyramid and outsource the base of it. During the last three decades we have transfered much of the base of this economic pyramid to countries such as China and India and indeed, initially, the money kept flowing to the top of the pyramid which remained in the United States. But after a while, a new top of the pyramid began to form in those countries where we had shipped the base of the pyramid. Witness today not only the exodus of high tech jobs to China and India, but that in those countries pure service companies, such as advertising agencies, are also starting to flourish.

The 1990s was a period of greatly accelerating globalization and economic decline for the United States, aided and abetted by such treaties as NAFTA, GATT, and the WTO. Again, this massive decline was masked by the illusion of wealth that persisted during the huge stock market bubble of the latter half of the 1990s. Like merger mania before it, the stock market bubble attracted a lot of foreign wealth. A bit more previously accumulated wealth was extracted from rising human productivity here in the United States during the 1990s.

Finally, the 2000s so far represent an era massively dependent on inflows of foreign wealth. With our previously accumulated wealth now exhausted and little means left for fundamental wealth production, about the only thing keeping the U.S. economy afloat these days is consumer spending and deficit spending by the government, both of which are financed by growing mountains of debt, which is owed to foreigners. The United States has largely been reduced to a nation of people that sell each other hamburgers, with foreigners paying the checks. Asset sales to foreigners continue as well, the failed Chinese bid for Unocal and the not-so-failed Dubai bid to run some of our seaports being prominent recent examples.

During the last thirty years in America two persistent trends are clear: the steady depletion of existing wealth and decline in the means to produce new wealth; and the steady rise of an imperial U.S. Government.

Today, the economic imbalances in the United States economy are so vast that I cannot see how they can be corrected gracefully. Even more astonishing to me is that people keep buying financial instruments like U.S. Treasury bills. Do these investors really believe they're ever going to get their money back? The national debt is so large that paying it down is nearly impossible, especially since there is no political will to either increase taxes or reduce spending. Obviously, the U.S. Government knows it cannot pay down the national debt, which is why it covertly relies on dollar devaluation to reduce the value of the national debt.

It's only a matter of time before the majority of investors in dollar-denominated financial instruments open their eyes and stop buying those assets. When that happens the dollar is doomed. The government's only recourse when it cannot borrow money will be to print dollars, which will only accelerate the dollar's demise, possibly even inducing hyperinflation along the way.

If oil prices skyrocket because of the global supply and demand relationship and harm the U.S. economy, that could accelerate the dollar's demise as well. I personally don't see how the dollar can avoid substantial devaluation, either slowly or rapidly. I hope the decline is gradual.

All of the world's government-issued currencies are in similar straits. None are firmly backed by finite, physical resources, such as gold. Consequently, all currencies have the potential to suffer from devaluation, even more so since the economies of the world's countries are so intricately linked together. If one currency abruptly collapses, especially an important one like the dollar, they could all come crashing down.

Additionally, faith in the world's currencies depends in part on globalization. The willingness of an investor in Japan to buy American dollars depends in part on the investor's expectation of a continuing economic relationship between Japan and America. But in an era where global trade is increasingly challenged by oil shortages, faith in other countries' currencies will diminish too. Countries will increasingly prefer to conduct international trade using universal mediums like gold instead of currency.

If currencies such as the dollar become worthless, even local trade may be conducted using gold or other precious metals. Such trade may, in fact, have to be conducted in black markets, since financially distressed governments will probably seek to confiscate all gold and precious metals from their citizens.

The bottom line is that government-issued currency will be a thing of the past. So how will the government continue to exist?

Acquisition of Resources

Without money or credit, government can only continue to exist through force. The United States government is particularly well endowed in this regard and has demonstrated its willingness to use force to acquire resources, and not as a last resort either.

Iraq's oil is the first such resource to be acquired by military force. Iran's oil and natural gas may well be the next. In the long run, the energy-rich regions of central Asia will also attract the hungry gaze of the U.S. Empire. Of course, other powerful, populous, and hungry countries, such as China and India, will also have designs on these energy-rich regions, which will probably result in significant wars. Oil from the Middle East will probably become so valuable that countries will have to provide a military escort for every tanker carrying oil across the ocean.

Domestically, energy will be controlled by the government. It will satisfy its needs first, corporations will have their needs satisfied second, and the populace will be forced to ration whatever is left.

Food is also critical to the government, comprised, as it is, of people. So it's logical to assume that the government will at some point take control of food production. As with energy, the government will satisfy its own food requirements first, and the populace will be left to ration whatever is left.

If water becomes a scarce or unreliable resource, then we can assume that the government will take control of that as well.

In a future where money has no value, the only way a government can retain people is by providing them with food, water, and shelter. In fact, in a future world where resource competition is the order of the day, people will probably covet a government job – as a bureaucrat, a laborer, or a soldier – simply because it will mean three square meals a day and a roof over their head.

Of course, government needs more than just food, water, and shelter. Government needs weapons, vehicles, computers, communications gear, and myriad other manufactured items. Some of these things are manufactured wholly in other countries, or depend in part on components from other countries. Without money the government cannot buy these things. But it can trade precious resources, such as oil, water, and food, for them. Some critical factories, such as domestic weapons plants, may be taken over wholesale by the government for security reasons.

Slave Labor

Government cannot operate on resources and material alone. It also needs labor. Some of that labor can be "purchased" in exchange for resources. But in order for the government to operate "profitably" it will have to employ slave labor, that is, labor it doesn't have to pay so richly for.

We already have such a precedent. Many of the two million people already incarcerated in this country are veritable slave laborers. They "earn" anywhere from twenty-five cents to one dollar per hour, often working for major American corporations. But in some cases these poor prisoners are then charged room and board for being in prison, thus wiping out their minuscule income. In effect, since they are being forced to work without making any net income, they are slaves. It does not challenge the imagination to envision future slave laborers working in factories manufacturing everything from machine guns to computers, or working on farms to produce food, returning each night to sleep in their prison cells.

The United States military is currently exploring ways to utilize civilian prisoners to satisfy the military's labor needs. It's only a matter of time before they come up with a justification for doing so.

Once the framework for utilizing slave laborers – all nice and legal, of course – is established, it's quite easy to increase the pool of potential laborers, if necessary. The government merely has to criminalize more behaviors. Caught driving your car on the "wrong" day? Three months in prison loading ammunition cartridges. Caught possessing gold coins? Six months in prison assembling computers. Caught saying "subversive" things over the telephone to your aunt? Five years on a prison farm – for the both of you – tending crops. Of course, prison sentences will likely be accompanied by asset forfeiture, that is, if you have anything the government wants. There is already a precedent today for asset forfeiture too, even for minor offenses such as hiring a prostitute or having a marijuana cigarette in your car. Heck, simply walking through an airport today with "too much" cash on your person might result in it being confiscated.

Conclusion

Although this essay has mainly been a description of the United States and its future, much of it is applicable to the world as a whole. Some other countries may well face worse times ahead because they lack the natural resources and/or military might that the United States possesses.

The goal of this essay is not to propose solutions to the many problems facing us, although there are solutions, but to explain the seemingly irrational behavior we see around the world. Viewing the world today in light of the foregoing essay, Bush's actions are understandable, even though I don't endorse them: the competitive pursuit of resources, the rolling back of civil liberties, the carefree handling of the economy.

Copyright 2006 by Dave Eriqat



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Pink Slips Abound for Prosecutors and Therapists: Humanity Suffers the Savagery of the American Empire's Post 9/11 Worldview

By Jason Miller
Information Clearing House

Karl Rove, the mastermind of Bush II's ascension to America's seat of power, is a man of great distinction. Despite his decidedly porcine features, Mr. Rove's Machiavellian lust for power, narcissistic lack of empathy, sycophantic devotion to the Bush crime family, deceitful nature, and conniving mind coalesce to leave the Prince looking like a pauper.
Remember Rove's infamous remarks concerning the 9/11 tragedy?

1. "Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." Referring to conservatives, he said that they "saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war."

2. "At the core, we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security. Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview. That doesn't make them unpatriotic-not at all. But it does make them wrong-deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong."

Powerful propaganda indeed

Both remarks have had the intended effect. Millions of indoctrinated Americans have responded in knee-jerk fashion, blindly waving the flag to support the imperialist, plutocratic, and dictatorial agenda of Rove, Bush and their fellow Zionist puppets of Israel. (Does AIPAC office out of the Black House yet?) Despite their fundamentally flawed logic, Rove's comments sowed the seeds of fear and insecurity deeply into the psyche of many Americans. Throwing critical thinking to the wind (and thus carrying out their programming), many of Bush's loyal minions vilify those who support moral principals such as universal human rights, equality, peace and social justice, labeling them as liberals, socialists, or (God forbid) Communists.

Taking their oversimplification one step further, many who still believe in the fairy tale version of America assume that each liberal must be a Democrat. Never mind that many Democrats have shown themselves to be as devoid of virtue as their Republican counterparts. Many "good Americans" are inculcated with the belief that people with "liberal" beliefs blindly support all Democrats. For those conforming to American groupthink, it is nearly impossible to deviate from the false dichotomies of conservative vs. liberal or Republican vs. Conservative. How comforting for our de facto ruling class that they can count on placid acceptance of their moral turpitude as scores of millions of Americans are too absorbed in working, consuming, and watching television to notice. Don't worry. Be happy.

Who can we scapegoat?

Someone recently asked me how the illegal occupation of Iraq has changed our nation. Since Bush and his cabal used 9/11 as a blatantly false pretense for invading Iraq, I decided to examine how the United States has changed since the WTC collapse.

In his clever sound-bites I quoted above, Rove set up yet another false dichotomy (manipulative people love to use them). According to him, we had only two choices: pursue the 9/11 perpetrators through legal channels and come to realize that our imperialistic, murderous behavior was fueling intense hatred against the United States or go to war. Taking bold legal action to capture and punish those responsible for the WTC collapse while changing our behavior to conform to international law would have made more sense than going to war against a nation which had no involvement in 9/11. However, catching the criminals and embracing legal behavior would have led to indictments against members of the Bush Regime (since substantial evidence now exists that they enabled or caused the 9/11 demolition of the WTC). Besides, respecting human rights and international law would require the current administration to scrap virtually all of their foreign and domestic policies. So, ignoring the rational option and a host of other possibilities which may or may not have made sense, our criminal government invaded Iraq.

Let's take a look and see

Let's compare and contrast "pre-9/11" and "post-9/11" America so we can sharpen the simplistic, distorted images of the two worldviews Rove (AKA Turd Blossom) sought to create with his clever propaganda. Perhaps we can discern whether or not the Bush Regime's policies and actions since September 11, 2001 have been "deeply and profoundly and consistently right".

Muslims do not have a monopoly on extremism

I want to start in my own backyard here in Kansas. The "apocalyptic" event on 9/11 sparked the fervor of the Christian extremists in our midst. Our very own Senator Brownback is making a bid for the Presidency on a platform which essentially promises to convert the United States into a theocracy. After conducting a kangaroo court, a majority of the Kansas State School Board members decided they were both erudite and righteous enough to re-write the definition of science and to open the door to introduce the "theory" of Intelligent Design in our public schools, which one of my sons attends. I feel reassured knowing that his school will teach him that merely observing the complexity of the world "proves" that there has to be an intelligent designer (translated as the Christian deity). Thankfully, he will also learn that the idea of Intelligent Design rivals the Theory of Evolution, despite the fact that Evolution is supported by years of research by thousands of scientists. And what discussion of Christian extremism would be complete without mention of Kansan Fred Phelps, a "minister" filled with hatred and venom?

(Note to Christians who actually follow the compassionate teachings of Christ and employ the mind that God gave you: it is not you whom I disparage.)

Time travel to the Gilded Age anyone?

Recently, my favorite pet store closed. My family and I frequented this "mom and pop" shop often. Their prices were a little high, but they took excellent care of their animals, carried outstanding inventory, and were friendly and knowledgeable. Unfortunately, once Petco erected one of their Big-Box stores in the same parking lot, our pet supplier was doomed. In our metro area with a population of nearly two million, there are a mere handful of small proprietors running pet stores. Thanks to Petco and other corporate behemoths, a multitude of small businesses in our city have folded during the Bush Regime.

On several occasions, my wife's cousin has told me of Wal-Mart's impact on her small home-town in Missouri. The big yellow smiley face brought frowns to most of Brookfield's inhabitants. It cost the taxpayers $300,000.00 worth of incentives to bring a "Super-Store" to town. Little did the unsuspecting residents know that they were paying to enable Wal-Mart to work its "magic", which included driving many small businesses under while offering lower wages and fewer benefits to displaced workers. Always low prices, wages and morals.

Yes, a corporatocracy is a beautiful thing. The minimum wage has not increased since 1997. The number of uninsured Americans has risen to 45 million. Such is life in the "free market" economy touted so highly by Bush and his corporate cronies. But true believers know that our president is doing what is best for the country. Marketers of the American Dream have taught them that soulless corporations (which enjoy many of the rights and few of the responsibilities of a real person) will protect the interests of the working people and consumers.

Since 9/11, Rove and the Bush Regime have steadily eroded government regulation of corporate leviathans. Spinning yarns that would make an unscrupulous salesperson blush, our ruling elites and the compliant mainstream media assure us that most CEOs, whose salaries average 400 times that of their employees and who exist to please their avaricious share-holders, are certain to make decisions which balance ethics with profit. Today's wealthy elite are too morally evolved to engage in the exploitation and passive murder of employees and consumers committed by their predecessors during the Gilded Age. They can be trusted. Post-9/11 America is a wonderful place for small business owners, consumers, and employees. Just think of Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Monsanto, the offshoring of American jobs, powerful corporate lobbyists, Nike sweatshops, the military industrial complex, union-busting, the obscene profits of drug and oil companies, and on, and on ….

Murder, mayhem, and sinister motives veiled by "noble causes"

What portrait of the world since 9/11 would be complete without considering America's invasion and colonial occupation of Iraq? The dangerous minds behind the Project for the New American Century, a think tank that outlines strategy for the United States to achieve world military domination, determined that they needed a new Pearl Harbor to launch their quest for global hegemony. 9/11 provided that catalyst. Rumsfeld, Powell and company shrewdly convinced enough Americans of Iraq's culpability for 9/11 (and that Hussein possessed WMD's) that they mustered the necessary popular support to initiate their imperialist invasion. Mark Twain himself could not have penned fiction to top the intricate, suspenseful dramas scripted by the Neocons. Defying the United Nations and violating a myriad of international laws, the United States threw off the last vestiges of benevolence by pre-emptively invading a sovereign nation (whose people it had already been passively mass murdering by the hundreds of thousands through the UN economic sanctions it orchestrated in the 1990's).

The invasion did end the sanctions, but the United States has now actively murdered tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians (anywhere from 38,000 to 250,000 depending on which report one believes---but remember: the US military "doesn't do body counts"). Iraq's infrastructure is in a shambles. Few civilians have access to water or sewage facilities. Electricity is only available for several hours a day. Oil production is well below pre-invasion levels. Chaos and civil war grip the nation. And did I mention the 2,300 Americans who joined the military to protect their country but instead wasted their lives on an ill-conceived plot to expand the American Empire? Mission accomplished, eh George?

Who needs human rights when we have a benevolent dictatorship?

Personally, I liked the pre-9/11 worldview, especially since it included a nearly intact Constitution. Alexander Hamilton would thrive in post 9/11 America, where the Bill of Rights is going the way of the Dodo. I know it is unpatriotic of me while our nation is waging a "war on terror", but I sorely miss the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Maybe I am just spoiled and idealistic, but the Patriot Act, the death of habeas corpus, denial of due process, torture, and illegal domestic spying deeply disturb me. Viewing the world through the quaint lenses of my pre-9/11 worldview, I believe that the vision of America that was born in 1789 could still become a reality. Unfortunately, under the pretext of "national security", the Bush Regime is unraveling the progress that Abolitionists, Populists, Progressives, civil rights activists, and many others made toward the ideals spelled out in our Constitution. America was evolving toward the nation Thomas Paine had envisioned. Now Paine's vision is in jeopardy of dying. The vultures of despotism are eagerly circling to greedily pick the flesh from the bones of democracy's carcass. Remember Jose Padilla, Abu Gharib, Bagram Air Base, Guantanamo Bay, illegal domestic spying, the illegal occupation in Iraq, two stolen elections, 9/11, the Reichstag Fire, the Enabling Act….

In the post-9/11 worldview, consolidation of power into the Executive Branch is necessary to protect us from the terrorists. Since it is now common knowledge amongst the Empire's loyalists that all Islamic people are terrorists, we need to entrust Bush with as much power as possible to maximize our protection. Why bother with the messy constraints of a system of checks and balances when we can have one man, particularly one the caliber of George Bush, making the decisions based on his beliefs and the directives he receives from God. Occasionally Congress raises its head and grunts an objection at Emperor George when Senators like Schumer and Clinton think it will further their political careers to show people they can flex some muscle, but most of the time our legislative branch rubber-stamps the edicts from the Black House. Bush has repeatedly demonstrated that he is a rogue with no respect for that "God-damned piece of paper" housed at the National Archives or those pansy international laws (probably written by the French). You think any self-respecting Texan is going to let those wooden-shoed, tulip tending ultraliberals at The Hague tell him what to do? Hell, he doesn't need FISA's approval to spy on Americans, let alone a bunch of "foreigners" telling him how to run his country. The sad reality is that George Bush is the world's most dangerous terrorist. His stockpile of WMDs surpasses those envisioned in Saddam Hussein's wildest imaginings, he is not afraid to use them, and he is quite adept at using them without firing them. W is the new sheriff in town. Bush only submits to one Earthly authority. Israel dictates US foreign policy when it is not too heavily engaged in its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

Hey, Big Spender…

As of 3/15/06, our national debt was $8.28 trillion and was increasing by an average of $2.1 billion per day. Prior to 9/11, the United States was less than $5.8 trillion in the red. We obviously had a pre-9/11 problem, but the Black House's post-9/11 worldview involves addressing the problem with a brilliant solution: keep borrowing more from Japan and China, continue increasing military expenditures (which already account for 60% of global military spending), advance more cut taxes for the rich, and persist in choking off social programs which benefit humanity and the environment.

Welcome to the "Third World", New Orleans!

Some of you nostalgic dreamers with a pre-9/11 worldview might remember Mardi Gras, the Big Easy, and the birth-place of jazz. You might also remember the passive mass murder committed by the Bush Regime as they did virtually nothing to prepare for Katrina, despite warnings about the inadequacies of the levees that came as early as 2001. In fact, under Bush, the federal government reduced funding intended to strengthen the levees and whittled FEMA down to a shadow of its former self. There is now video evidence that Bush received a briefing the day before Katrina struck which alerted him to the magnitude of the storm; his response was to ignore it. Apparently, he chose to act based on a post- 9/11 worldview and let local authorities contend with the storm. At least give him credit for flying over and waving at New Orleans from Air Force One after the storm had passed. And Mother Bush did pay a visit to the Astrodome to remind Americans that the Katrina evacuees were "underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." Thanks to the criminal negligence and ineptitude of our federal government (which collects the lion's share of tax money from We the People and is mandated by the Constitution to "promote the general welfare"), thousands of people are dead or missing and a major city lies in ruins. How peculiar that most of the dead and missing are poor and black. What an odd coincidence.

I owe my soul to the company store….

I yearn for the days when so many Americans hadn't traded their souls and freedom for an SUV to drive (paying big dollars for gasoline gives them self-justification for their hatred of Muslims), magnetic "Support the Troops" ribbons (at least we now have a replacement for the plastic Jesus), a McDonald's on every other corner (a scapegoat for unhealthy eating habits), Wal-Mart (to keep prices, wages, benefits, and competition low), the DHS (to play Big Brother and keep them safe), and free market capitalism (so they can keep buying more "stuff"). Yet I wonder, did a time truly exist during my adult life when massive numbers of Americans were not spiritually bereft, or was I simply one of the consumer zombies and thus unaware of the problem? I conclude it was probably the latter. Thankfully, I was able to wrest my soul free from the tenacious grip of the American Corporatocracy, and I intend to help as many as I am able to reclaim theirs.

My conclusion?

After some reflection, it would appear that America's pre-9/11 worldview was much more rational, logical, and conducive to continued human existence on this planet than the post-9/11 worldview. Karl Rove spoke of a pre-9/11 viewpoint as "deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong." If that is true, let's go back to being "wrong". I am neither Democrat nor Republican, but in this case, I cast my vote definitively on the side Mr. Rove characterized as Democrat.

As Rove mentioned, I think we need to "prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers". After all, the Bush Regime is full of criminals and sociopaths. In light of his low key yet powerful role in the Bush dynasty, let's put Mr. Rove behind bars and on the couch first. Perhaps Mr. Fitzgerald will accomplish that task in the near future.

Final Note:

In many previous essays, I have detailed numerous actions that a person with a social conscience can take to challenge the malefactors who are destroying our constitutional republic and wreaking havoc on the world. Now I am suggesting yet another. It is only a start, but it is simple and has a chance of success if enough people participate. I understand that it is easy to lapse into deep cynicism, but our democracy is on life support, not dead. If We the People exercise what is left of our Constitutional rights, there is a chance we can reclaim our nation. If we don't, we have thrown in the towel and lost.

Please click on the link below to support the Censure and Impeachment of George Bush:

http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/635

Jason Miller is a 38 year old free-lance activist writer with a degree in liberal arts. He is a husband and a father to three boys. He earns his living as an account representative for a finance company. His affiliations include Amnesty International, the ACLU and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He welcomes responses at willpowerful@hotmail.com

Copyright: Jason Miller



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Poll: 46% of Americans favor plan to censure - 42% favor Impeachment

RAW STORY
March 16, 2006

A new poll finds that a plurality of Americans favor plans to censure President George W. Bush, while a surprising 42% favor moves to actually impeach the President.

A poll taken March 15, 2006 by American Research Group found that among all adults, 46% favor Senator Russ Feingold's (D-WI) plan to censure President George W. Bush, while just 44% are opposed. Approval of the plan grows slightly when the sample is narrowed to voters, up to 48% in favor of the Senate censuring the sitting president.

Even more shocking is that just 57% of Republicans are opposed to the move, with 14% still undecided and 29% actually in favor. Fully 70% of Democrats want to see Bush censured.

More surprising still: The poll found fully 43% of voters in favor of actually impeaching the President, with just 50% of voters opposed. While only 18% of Republicans surveyed wanted to see Bush impeached, 61% of Democrats and 47% of Independents reported they wanted to see the House move ahead with the Conyers (D-MI) resolution.

The poll, taken March 13-15, had a 3% margin of error.




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Embargoes on global arms trade have been total failure, says UN

By Kim Sengupta
16 March 2006

All United Nations arms embargoes have been breached with impunity, with only a handful of the weapons traffickers responsible for the trade in death ever facing prosecution, according to a report.

Despite the UN naming hundreds of companies - including those in Britain - for allegedly violating embargoes imposed on countries engaged in bloody conflicts and repression, the system for bringing them to book has abjectly failed.
The report, by leading human rights groups, presented to the UN Security Council today, asks for urgent measures to control the proliferation, including agreement on an international arms trade treaty.

The call for reform is backed in a letter by, among others, the Nobel laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jody Williams and Oscar Arias; the former UN high commissioner for human rights Mary Robinson; the actors Helen Mirren, Christopher Ecclestone and Tony Robinson; the author and activist Arundhati Roy; Lt-Gen Romeo Dellaire, who led UN forces during the Rwanda genocide, and the Albert Schweitzer Institute.

"Today, millions of people around the world are living in fear of armed violence," the letter says. "They have good reason to be afraid. Most victims of armed violence are not uniformed soldiers, nor even fighters, but ordinary men, women and children.

"In 2006, the world can make the first step towards bringing the arms trade under control, by starting negotiations on an international arms trade treaty.

"What we are calling for is not revolutionary. It simply consolidates countries' existing and emerging obligations under international law into a universal standard for arms sales. But it has the power to save hundreds of thousands of lives."

The dossier, by Oxfam International, Amnesty International and International Action Network on Small Arms describes how companies and individuals have been involved in illicit transactions in weapons.

Four UK companies were named in UN embargo reports in the past 10 years. None are known to have faced prosecution by the British government.

The proposed treaty has the backing of 45 countries, including the UK and other members of the EU as well as Britain's Defence Manufacturers Association. However, the US, Russia and China, responsible for a large percentage of world arms exports, are yet to give support.

The report, UN Arms Embargo: An overview of the last 10 years, points out that, despite UN mandatory arms embargoes being legally binding, many member states have not made their violation a criminal offence.

UN teams policing the embargoes are given "woefully inadequate resources and time" to pursue wealthy companies with influential vested interests. There are also numerous examples of corrupt officials covering up arms transfers with the use of faked documentation.

Campaigners say the structure of embargoes and sanctions needs to be overhauled. Between 1990 and 2001, only eight of 57 conflicts, in some of the poorest countries on Earth, led to UN action and then only after widespread human rights abuse and bloodshed.

The dossier uses the example of a Serbian company, Temex, which, according to the UN, delivered nearly 210 tons of arms and ammunition to Liberia in 2002. It included "five million rounds of ammunition; 5,160 guns, 2,500 hand grenades, 6,500 mines and 350 missile launchers.

"These shipments include enough bullets to kill the entire population of Liberia ... and enough to keep an armed group of 10,000 fighters supplied for a whole year," it says.



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Animal Farm: Former top U.S. general gets $200,000-a-year board gig

Steve Hedges
Chicago Tribume

Recently retired Gen. Richard Myers, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who led the Pentagon into war with Iraq, hasn't stayed out of work long. Better_myers

Northrop Grumman, one of the nation's largest and best-known defense firms, announced Wednesday that Myers, an Air Force veteran and former fighter pilot, has joined its board of directors.


As one of 11 "non-employee" directors, Myers will earn $200,000 a year, according to a company spokesman. Half of that sum is paid to the company's 12 directors in stock.

The company will hold eight scheduled board meetings this year, two of which are conducted by phone. The Pentagon's former top general will also serve on the Northrop Grumman board's Compliance, Public Issues and Policy committee, a job that will undoubtedly make good use of his Washington experience.

"Dick Myers brings to our board outstanding leadership credentials and a deep understanding of the national security challenges facing our country today," company chairman and chief executive officer Ronald D. Sugar said in a statement. "He will be an excellent addition to our board and we look forward to benefiting from his contributions."



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The Matthews Speaking Fee Controversy

Amanda
ThinkProgress
March 15, 2006

UPDATE: On Thursday, we were contacted by MSNBC President Rick Kaplan who elaborated the blanket denial ("Totally untrue… totally") he provided to ThinkProgress pre-publication. According to Kaplan, while these groups may have paid fees for Matthews to speak, the fees did not go to Matthews directly, but to a charity of Matthews's choosing. Kaplan added that NBC policy prohibited anchors from personally accepting speaking fees and anyone who did so "would risk being fired."
ThinkProgress has learned that NBC anchor Chris Matthews has received tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for delivering speeches to corporate interest groups. Matthews's speaking engagements appear to be in direct violation of NBC's policy prohibiting its employees from accepting such fees.

Last week Dave Johnson of Seeing the Forest documented Matthews's speaking engagements, but was unable to confirm whether he was paid.

In 2002, Howard Kurtz reported in the Washington Post:

I've been critical of journalistic buckraking since the mid-1990s, when I wrote about a $30,000 speech that Sam Donaldson had given to an insurance group… The issue began to fade as a number of news organizations, including ABC and NBC, banned the practice.


Three trade associations independently confirmed to ThinkProgress that Matthews spoke for hefty fees on several occasions, as recently as last year:

- The National Venture Capital Assocation (NVCA) confirmed that Matthews spoke at its 2005 Annual Meeting. NVCA told Think Progress that it booked Matthews through the Washington Speakers Bureau and that he received a fee of approximately $35,000. He received speaking fees from NCVA on at least two other occasions.

- The National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) confirmed that Matthews spoke at its 2001 Annual Meeting. NACDS said it booked Matthews through the Washington Speakers Bureau and that he received a fee for speaking.

- The American Hospital Association (AHA) confirmed that Matthews spoke at its 2005 Annual Meeting. AHA said it booked Matthews through the Washington Speakers Bureau and that he received a fee for speaking.

In an email to ThinkProgress, MSNBC President Rick Kaplan said information that Matthews was paid to speak to outside groups was, "Totally untrue… totally." He provided no evidence to support his claim.

UPDATE: On Thursday, we were contacted by MSNBC President Rick Kaplan who elaborated the blanket denial ("Totally untrue… totally") he provided to ThinkProgress pre-publication. According to Kaplan, while these groups may have paid fees for Matthews to speak, the fees did not go to Matthews directly, but to a charity of Matthews's choosing. Kaplan added that NBC policy prohibited anchors from personally accepting speaking fees and anyone who did so "would risk being fired."



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GOP senators introduce eavesdropping bill

By Katherine Shrader
Associated Press/Boston Globe

WASHINGTON --Four Republican senators introduced a bill Thursday that they hope will end the furor over President Bush's surveillance program by writing it into law.

One of the bill's chief sponsors, Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio, said the bill requires the president to go to court as soon as possible to get approval for wiretapping and other forms of monitoring.

"It does not ... give the president a blank check," DeWine said, while authorizing "a limited, but necessary, program."

The proposal came under immediate criticism from advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU said in a statement that the bill would allow "Americans' phone calls and e-mails to be monitored for 45 days without any court oversight and makes court review after that period optional" -- in violation of the Fourth Amendment's guarantees against unreasonable searches.

"Congress cannot approve an illegal program when so many questions remain unanswered," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office. "When the rule of law has been broken by anyone, especially a president, the proper response is a full and independent investigation."

The bill would give the government up to 45 days to monitor calls and e-mails of suspected terrorists when one party is in the U.S. and the other is overseas. Like Bush's existing program, the government would not have to get court approval.

After 45 days, federal officials would have to stop the eavesdropping, get a court warrant or explain to House and Senate intelligence subcommittees why the monitoring must continue.

Joining DeWine in sponsoring the legislation are Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. The senators have working closely with the White House, which has said it generally supports their approach.

Since shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the National Security Agency has monitored the international communications of people inside the United States when their calls and e-mails are believed to be linked to al-Qaida.

The government normally has to get a court order to monitor domestic communications, but Bush signed an executive order directing the NSA to conduct the operations without a judge's approval.

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company



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US evangelicals warn Republicans

By Jamie Coomarasamy
BBC News, Washington

Prominent leaders from the Christian right have warned Republicans they must do more to advance conservative values ahead of the US mid-term elections.

Their message to Congress, controlled by Republicans, is "must do better".

Support from about a quarter of Americans who describe themselves as evangelicals was a factor in President George W Bush's two election victories.

The Republicans will need to keep them onboard if they are to retain control of Congress in November.
At a news conference in Washington, some of America's most influential conservative leaders said the current perception among evangelical Christians was that the Republican majority was not doing enough for them.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said that apart from confirming two conservative judges to the Supreme Court, "core values voters" did not feel that Congress was advancing their interests.

The leaders appear to be reflecting a growing sense of frustration among the Christian right, over what they see as a lack of legislative progress on issues such as banning same-sex marriages.

And while this was not quite a call to arms, it will cause concern in Republican circles in the run-up to the mid-terms.

Exit polls suggested that more than three-quarters of white evangelical Christians voted for President Bush in 2004.

But according to a recent opinion poll, the number of them who want Republicans to retain their Congressional majority is not much above 50%.



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For folly, billions; for survival, pennies - Bush bankrupts the nation paying for a needless war -- while cutting budgets that could protect us against catastrophes like bird flu.

By Joe Conason
Salon
17 Mar 06

Lavishing billions on war (and war profiteers) while shortchanging health is right-wing idiocy at its worst and most destructive -- and we may soon pay an intolerably high price for it.
Anyone who doubts that the priorities of government are dangerously warped should consider what is -- and isn't -- being done in Washington to cope with the potential disasters that preoccupy ordinary citizens.

We are about to begin the fourth year of a terrible, bloody and expensive invasion of a crippled country that posed no threat to us at all -- a foolish adventure that we supposedly undertook to protect ourselves from weapons that we ought to have known did not exist. Yet during those three years of war, the same officials in the White House and Congress who insisted on spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq and on tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens in America have refused to spend far smaller amounts that might begin to protect us from real dangers.

Six months after the invasion of Iraq came the discovery of the first confirmed case of "mad cow disease" on American soil. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed a third U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in a dead cow in Alabama.

As is true in so many important government agencies, the officials who oversee the safety of our food supply regulate the same industries in which they formerly worked, and in which they surely expect to work again. At the USDA, these officials predictably emphasized the "good news" about the alarming incident in Alabama, namely the advanced age of the cow, which was supposedly born before restrictions on dangerous feeding practices went into effect several years ago. Evidently they weren't quite certain about the reassuring good news, however, because the cow is about to be exhumed to ascertain how old it really was.

Whatever the age of that poor Alabama beast, the most alarming news about mad cow is that the Bush administration -- with the usual collusion of the Republican Congress -- plans to reduce testing for the disease from minimal to minuscule. From now on, the government will test approximately 40,000 of the 36 million cattle slaughtered annually in this country, or less than one-tenth of 1 percent -- a far lower percentage than in Europe, where mad cow devastated agriculture and killed 150 people, or in Japan, where officials took heed of those unhappy events.

Evidently those nations don't feel overburdened by the expense of safety testing, but here our officials try to save every penny so that we can spend as much as possible on crooked contractors in Iraq.

The mad cow embarrassment, which has so far inflicted suffering mainly on American beef exporters, fades in comparison with the government's frighteningly tardy, feeble and stingy response to the prospect of an avian flu pandemic in this country. With disease-bearing birds almost literally on the horizon, the latest advice from Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt was none too comforting: Store some cans of tuna and some boxes of crackers under your beds, he said -- and don't expect much help from the federal government if and when the pandemic strikes.

The pandemic threat, whose conceivable cost may be measured in millions of lives and trillions of dollars, has likewise been known for at least three years. The government's own top experts have been urging the Bush administration to invest in vaccines and improvements in the public health infrastructure since 2002. (Actually, the Government Accountability Office first warned of the influenza danger, and the inadequacy of federal preparation, in October 2000 and has issued five critical reports since then, according to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.) But the White House and its friends on Capitol Hill did nothing to address the problem until a few months ago. And much of what they did until then actually made matters worse -- again in the name of saving money.

By cutting public health services, a conservative trend in government that has worsened under Republican rule, all levels of government have diminished their capacity to save lives in the event of a pandemic. Although the fear of bioterrorism briefly created a countertrend, particularly during the Clinton presidency, when federal, state and local governments started to create stockpiles of medicine and equipment and perform disaster drills, the underlying situation remains poor. President Bush finally asked Congress for $7.1 billion to prepare for a possible pandemic last fall, but to date the Republican leadership has appropriated less than half that amount. Even health experts at conservative think tanks are beginning to question Congress' failure to act.

Saving what are literally pennies compared with what we squander every month in Iraq, Republicans have insisted on trimming funding from public health budgets every year. In 2005, for example, they cut $105 million in aid to local public health agencies. (To understand the appalling results of these policies, and why they have left us so vulnerable to a pandemic, consult Effect Measure, a superb blog written by anonymous public health officials.) And the Bush "plan" for dealing with a pandemic, while spending significant amounts on vaccine production, provides only $350 million for state and local preparedness, or about $70,000 for each of the nation's 5,000 local health departments. At the same time, the president's latest budget called for $130 million in cuts to state and local health agencies. There is still no real national plan to deal with a pandemic, and the official in charge of handling the problem -- a crony of former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson -- has just resigned.

Instead of cutting budgets for public health, we should be spending billions more annually, not only at home but also abroad, where disease threats can be stopped at their source. The World Bank estimates that the first year of a flu pandemic would cause at least $800 billion in global economic losses, but other estimates run into the trillions. So perhaps our "fiscal conservatives" can think of public health spending as business insurance, rather than as liberal do-gooding that merely saves lives.

Lavishing billions on war (and war profiteers) while shortchanging health is right-wing idiocy at its worst and most destructive -- and we may soon pay an intolerably high price for it.



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NYC cops used covert tactics, 'proactive arrests' at protests

By Jim Dwyer
New York Times News Service
March 17, 2006

NEW YORK -- In five internal reports made public Thursday as part of a lawsuit, New York City police commanders candidly discuss how they had successfully used "proactive arrests," covert surveillance and psychological tactics at political demonstrations in 2002, and recommend those approaches be employed at future gatherings.

Among the most effective strategies, one police captain wrote, was the seizure of demonstrators on 5th Avenue who were described as "obviously potential rioters."
The reports provide a glimpse of internal police evaluations and strategies on security and free speech issues that have provoked sharp debate between city officials and political demonstrators since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The reports also made clear what the police have yet to discuss publicly: The department uses undercover officers to infiltrate political gatherings and monitor behavior.

Indeed, one of the documents--a draft report from the department's Disorder Control Unit--proposed in blunt terms the resumption of a covert tactic that had been disavowed by the city and the federal government 30 years earlier. Under the heading of recommendations, the draft suggested, "Utilize undercover officers to distribute misinformation within the crowds."

Asked about the proposal, Paul Browne, chief spokesman for the New York Police Department, said Thursday: "The NYPD does not use police officers in any capacity to distribute misinformation."

Use of police vehicles praised

Browne also said the "proactive" arrests referred to in the report--numbering about 30--involved protesters with pipes and masks who he said presented an obvious threat.

In another report, a police inspector praised the "staging of massive amounts" of armored vehicles, prisoner wagons and jail buses in the view of the demonstrators, writing that the sight "would cause them to be alarmed."

Besides the draft report, the documents released Thursday included four final reports written by commanders to assess police performance during the World Economic Forum, which convened in New York from Jan. 31 to Feb. 4, 2002.

Security was extremely tight around Midtown Manhattan, where the delegates to the economic forum were meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria, and demonstrators were kept blocks from the hotel.

Officials spoke of violence during anti-globalism protests at other high-profile gatherings in Seattle and Genoa, Italy. But in the end, as one of the police reports noted, "the amount of confrontation and number of arrests were lower than expected."

Parts of that document and others were made public, over the objections of the city, by a federal magistrate, Gabriel Gorenstein, who said the excerpts went to the heart of a lawsuit brought by 16 people arrested at an animal-rights demonstration during the economic forum. The police said they were blocking the sidewalk and had refused to obey an order to disperse; the demonstrators said no one told them to move.

Many of the issues in the animal-rights case, which challenge broad police tactics and arrest strategies, resonate in more than 100 other lawsuits brought against the city by demonstrators who were arrested at war protests, bicycle rallies and during the Republican National Convention.

Daniel Perez, the lawyer representing the people arrested at the animal-rights demonstration, argued that the police tactics "punish, control and curtail the lawful exercise of 1st Amendment activities."

The Police Department and the city have said that preserving public order is essential to protecting the civil rights of demonstrators and bystanders.

Opponent: Files indicate policy

Perez maintains that the police documents, taken together, show a policy of pre-emptive arrests. The draft report discussed how early arrests could shape future events. "The arrests made at West 59th Street and 5th Avenue set a 'tone' with the demonstrators and their possible plans at other demonstrations," the report stated.

The same tactic is cited in another report, dated Feb. 8, 2002, and signed by Capt. Robert Bonifaci, commander of the Queens North Task Force. Bonifaci wrote, "It should be noted that a large part of the success in policing the major demonstration on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2002, was due in part to the proactive arrest policy that was instituted at the start of the march at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, and directed toward demonstrators who were obviously potential rioters."

Elaborating on the report, Browne, the police spokesman, said plainclothes officers saw a group of demonstrators put on masks as they drew near the Plaza Hotel, then take out metal pipes and try to rush police lines.

Demonstrators arrested during the economic forum were held by the police for up to 40 hours without seeing a judge--twice as long as people accused of murder, rape and robbery arrested on those same days, Perez said.

Browne said the arrests were processed as quickly as possible and that protesters were not singled out for longer detention.

The reports, which were heavily edited at the city's request, also discuss the use of undercover officers at the protests. Capt. Timothy Hardiman wrote that "the use of undercovers from narcotics provided useful information."



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The Merton file - Dissent was once a cherished American value

Editorial
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
March 18, 2006

In George W. Bush's America, it's hard not to sympathize with the folks at the Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Justice. The Pittsburgh advocacy group, which spends much of its time opposing war and violence, released federal documents this week that it says proves the FBI was spying on peace activists here.
The FBI sees it differently, saying the bureau was monitoring activities and even photographed a November 2002 leafletting by the Merton Center in Market Square because of a person already under FBI investigation. "Once that comparison was made, and determined to be of no value to the ongoing investigation," said an FBI spokesman this week, "the photos taken at the event were destroyed."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the Freedom of Information Act request last year to obtain documents on behalf of more than 150 organizations and people in 20 states, isn't comfortable with that explanation, and it shouldn't be. But it's not suing either.

The FBI's description of the Merton Center is not some crazed and concocted version from the Red Scare days. It called the group a "left-wing organization advocating, among many political causes, pacifism" and said its efforts in 2002 "focused on its opposition to the potential war with Iraq." It's the kind of boilerplate account one could find on a political Web site, so what's the fuss?

The fuss is that any group of political dissenters has a right to wonder what information is being gathered and what assessment is being placed in a federal file when the White House sees itself above the law on how to monitor other Americans. We're referring, of course, to the Bush administration's disregard for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, under which a special court must approve warrants for the National Security Agency to electronically eavesdrop on international communications by people in the United States with suspected links to terrorists.

Despite the 1978 law's clear stipulations for how the NSA should monitor such contacts, the Bush administration has espoused a cavalier, civil-liberties-be-damned attitude. Shades of J. Edgar Hoover.

Now put yourself in the shoes of a benign protest group like the Thomas Merton Center, which has been opposing American wars and criticizing administrations since the Vietnam era, and it's easy to see how a dissenter can feel uneasy. Dissent, by its nature, is unpopular, but it has come in for special attack by this administration for being anti-American and anti-democratic.

It is just the opposite.

The FBI, which has an important law enforcement role to play, may be right in its description of events. But the Bush administration's callousness toward the law casts a shadow over agencies like the FBI. It also stirs suspicions that are warranted among people who are merely exercising their constitutional right to dissent.

That's life, unfortunately, in George W. Bush's America.



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The real meaning of 9/11

By Art Hilgart
Information Clearing House
18 Mar 06

The events of 9/11/2001 were horrific for those who died and for those who experienced the day. Because it all happened at once, was televised, and occurred in the media capital of the world, it has also been taken as a turning point in world history. It was not that important.

The loss of life was a blip in the 2001 national mortality data, roughly equal to the number of AIDS deaths in New York that year and three per cent of the national number of those who die every year from medical errors and malpractice. Bush has already killed at least ten times as many innocent Iraqis and almost as many American military personnel in a war piggybacked on the "Pearl Harbor" for which he wished after taking office earlier in the year.

There is a rush to replace the World Trade Center with something or other but inaction to replace the houses of the hundreds of thousands who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina. However, "everything changed after 9/11" has become the mantra used to justify any scurrilous behavior, and that is the reason that 9/11 really is of enormous significance. It is not only a war-justifying "Pearl Harbor"; it is a "Reichstag Fire", justifying an empire-seeking police state.

The President and his cabal have used this new paradigm to make war without a declaration by Congress, to ignore international law, and to regard the Constitution and Bill of Rights as inoperative whenever the "Commander-in-Chief" so chooses. (That Bush prefers this English translation of "Der Führer" to "President" is not encouraging.)

With the aid of the media, virtually everyone in the government, Democrats not excepted, has been terrifying the public with the "terrorist threat", although there are vastly more numerous and certain threats to our life and limb. The money spent to x-ray luggage and smell shoes at airports would be better devoted to inspecting the mechanical flight worthiness of the planes. However, the Michigan woman in the small town of Paw Paw who wrote her newspaper to endorse warrantless search and seizure, would not agree- it protects her from terrorists, she believes. Just as the war on godless communism was used to justify spying on John Lennon, Martin Luther King, and Frank Sinatra, the new war on "Islamic terrorism" has already been used to snoop on environmental groups, the antiwar movement, and anyone who uses the internet.

The long run consequences of all this make 9/11 indeed devastating. Since World War Two, the military has received a huge share of the discretionary federal budget- although there has been no potential enemy with the will, the wish, or the means to invade us- and this share will now grow substantially, freezing out even more constructive domestic spending. The combination of this with economic policies favoring concentration of private wealth- and that it be untaxed- means exponentially growing deficits, which will ultimately be paid by the working class when the national debt is reduced by hyperinflation.

Our leaders' use of 9/11 has already taken away our freedom, has caused much of the civilized world to despise us, and by the commitment to permanent war against everyone who is not with us, has vitiated the present and future living standards of most Americans. Whoever was actually responsible for 9/11- and whatever their motives- it is we who have made it a victory for anyone wishing to destroy us.

Art Hilgart - Email: ahilgart@kzoo.edu



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A Collapsing Presidency - Will it take the country down with it?

by Paul Craig Roberts
March 20, 2006

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that President Bush's support among the American people has fallen to 33 percent. Even more devastatingly, the survey finds that people's most frequently used one-word description of President Bush is "incompetent."

The chief chaplain for the New York City Corrections Department told a Tucson audience that "the greatest terrorists in the world occupy the White House." Two years ago when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was suppressing demonstrations at the Republican National Convention, the chief chaplain would have been fired for his remarks, but not today.

Abroad among peoples who formerly looked to America for leadership, American atrocities in Iraq have created sympathy and support for the Iraqi resistance.
When the Bush administration gets in trouble, it turns to war, which has worked for it in the past. Thus, this past week there was live coverage of "Operation Swarmer," which occupied a solid day on CNN and Fox "News." The venerable Washington Monthly reports that the hyped "assault on Samarra" was nothing but a Potemkin operation – a set propaganda piece to demonstrate U.S. military prowess and the battle-ready "new Iraqi army," only there were no insurgents in Samarra to battle. The much-hyped "Operation Swarmer" was a photo op for TV cameras as troops fired into empty desert.

One can imagine the thoughts in Bush's mind: "Thank goodness I didn't capture bin Laden. Maybe he will strike again and bail me out."

What is going to rescue Bush? Not the Republican Party. A few Republican congressmen, such as Walter Jones, are trying to get a debate going, but Republicans believe that they are stuck to the fate of their man. There is no one within the administration to turn Bush toward diplomacy and away from coercion.

Created on the principle that "you are with us or against us," Bush's administration is all of one mind. They are all neocons. There are no real conservatives or traditional Republicans in the Bush administration. This is the first administration in my lifetime in which there is no debate. The absence of debate means there is no check on reckless and ill-advised policies and corrupt schemes.

Neocons don't believe in debate. They specialize in slandering critics and stamping out debate. Dissent is not possible within the Bush administration, because dissent is equated with treason and anti-Americanism. "You are with us or against us." Increasingly, Republicans demonize their critics as "abettors of terrorism." The Republicans' intolerance for debate makes many Americans uneasy about the real purpose of the $385 million detention camp that Halliburton is building in the U.S. for the Bush administration.

Neocons don't believe in diplomacy. They believe in coercion. Neocons denigrate diplomacy as the epitome of weakness. Neocons slap down diplomacy before it can rise. The Iranians offered talks, and neocon National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley immediately slapped down the offer as "simply a device by the Iranians to try to divert pressure that they are feeling." The Bush neocons are bent on war with Iran. They don't want any talks. In their books, neocons have demonized Muslims in the same way that the Nazis demonized Jews. Demonization makes talks impossible.

On March 17, William Rivers Pitt declared Bush to be "deranged, disconnected, and dangerous." But what else to expect from a neocon administration that declares that it creates its own reality and mocks its critics for being "reality-based"? Neocons insanely believe that American power can be used to recreate the world in America's image. Neocons are dangerous because they really believe that the U.S. can invade the Middle East, deracinate Islam, and install puppet governments.

These disconnected neocons are not shaken by facts or by results. Their evil eye falls on U.S. field commanders and CIA analysts who declare that the U.S. military is creating insurgents faster than it can kill them.

Creating your own reality means that when you cannot put down a resistance based in 5 million Iraqi Sunnis, you attack 70 million Iranians, who are allied with 15 million Shia in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Palestine.

The Bush administration is sending every signal that it is determined to go to war with Iran. Will the rest of the world block the American aggression, or will the rest of the world decide that it is in the world's best interest for the hubris-driven hegemon to exhaust itself in conflict in the Middle East?

A thank you to readers: I appreciate the support demonstrated by your anger at the neocon Web site, FrontPageMag, for slandering me. But to put a different light on the matter, let me ask you, what would you think of me if I were praised by FrontPageMag? Isn't it preferable to be denounced by the neocon brownshirts? What better secures my reputation?

Neocons are incapable of debate, because they don't believe in it. Neocons rely on disinformation and deceit to impose their agenda.

Neocons do not believe in the U.S. Constitution, civil liberties, the separation of powers, or the Geneva Conventions. According to published reports, President Bush described the Constitution as "a scrap of paper." Bush's attorney general, vice president, and secretary of defense have openly defended the Bush administration's practice of torture, violations of habeas corpus, and illegal spying. These high officials, in violation of their oath of office, have openly declared that Bush, as commander in chief, is above the law.

What American ever expected to see the safeguards against tyranny put in place by the Founding Fathers removed in the name of providing security against terrorists by a president who purports to believe in original intent?

Neocons are Jacobins. They are a foreign import and do not share our American values. Neocons are a grave danger to the United States and to the world. Neocons have led America into two gratuitous ongoing wars that cannot be won, and they are determined to lead us into more wars. It is our duty to defend our country and to oppose these evil people.



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The Torture Judge - U.S. court rules our government can break international laws to keep us safe

by Nat Hentoff
March 13th, 2006

Essentially you have a judge saying that assuming that U.S. officials sent Mr. Arar to be tortured, a judge can do nothing about it. Georgetown University law professor David Cole, New York Law Journal, February 17.
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.)
Passport Art & Culture

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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Global Chaos


Pakistan supplied American missiles to Taliban

INS
15 Mar 06

Kabul: US AND Nato forces are following up reports that the Taliban has received vital component parts for American shoulder-fired Stinger missiles from Pakistani officials enabling them to be used against helicopters in Afghanistan.

It is claimed that the missiles - originally supplied to the Afghan Mujaheddin by the US during the war against the Russians - have been fitted with new battery packs allegedly provided by the Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, in the last four months.
Western sources say they are not sure whether the supplies, needed to make the American-made missiles operational, were provided by rogue elements within the Pakistani secret service or approved at a high level.

However, the effect of rearming the Stingers could be to make Nato aircraft vulnerable at a time when Britain is carrying out the deployment of a force of almost 6,000 in southern Afghanistan.

It is believed that the battery packs had been fitted to between 18 and 20 heat-seeking Stingers which can hit targets at around 12,000 feet.

They are reported to have been handed over in the Quetta region in Pakistan, known to be used by the Taliban to launch attacks in southern Afghanistan.

US and Nato forces have carried out a series of searches along the border areas in the hunt for the missiles with one large-scale operation taking place a month ago.

No British forces were involved in the raid. It is not known whether any of the Stingers have been recovered. The Pakistan government yesterday denied accusations it was involved as "baseless".

"Pakistan has lost more security personnel in the fight against terror than any other country," a spokesman said. "We make no distinction between al-Qa'ida and the Taliban. These [allegations] are just rumours, unsubstantiated allegations and innuendo."

The Pakistan government also rejected suggestions of involvement by ISI rogue elements. "Our military and security services are disciplined forces," the spokesman said.

Reports that the batteries being fitted to the missiles began to surface at the end of last year along the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Taliban fighters have yet to successfully use anti-aircraft missiles against US and Nato forces. One American helicopter has been brought down in the conflict, but that was through the use of a rocket-propelled grenade.

However, both US and British pilots report that ground to air missiles have been fired at them. Western diplomats and military are extremely sensitive about the Stinger allegations as it comes at a time when Afghanistan and Pakistan are engaged in an escalating feud over insurgent attacks inside Afghanistan. The director of the US Defence Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Maples, recently claimed that a resurgent Taliban were now at their most powerful since the official end of the war five years ago.



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Villepin vows not to back down as unions threaten strike over French jobs plan

AFP
Sun Mar 19, 4:11 PM ET

PARIS - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin vowed not to back down on his contested youth jobs plan, the day after violent protests and as union leaders threatened to call a general strike.

Villepin called for giving his controversial First Employment Contract (CPE) "a chance", while adding that he "regretted" it was misunderstood.
"We must give the CPE a chance. A CPE completed and improved to answer everyone's concerns," Villepin said following Saturday's protests in an interview with the youth magazine Citato, which will appear this week.

Meanwhile union and student leaders had given Villepin an ultimatum of Monday afternoon to withdraw the CPE, which on Saturday brought out hundreds of thousands of opponents to the streets of Paris and other cities in at times violent demonstrations.

The march through the French capital ended in several hours of evening confrontations between riot police and masked gangs, who hurled projectiles, set cars alight and smashed shop windows and telephone booths.

Police fired tear gas and made baton charges to disperse demonstrators at the Place de la Nation in the east of the city, and later in the Latin Quarter used water cannon to break up protesters trying to pull down a metal barrier blocking access to the historic Sorbonne university.

Police said they made 167 arrests in the clashes, which were the worst since tensions over the youth jobs contract erupted two weeks ago. A total of 34 police officers and 18 demonstrators were injured, though none seriously.

The disturbances marred a day that was hailed by unions as a major success in their campaign against the CPE, and on Sunday leaders vowed to step up the pressure in the days ahead if the youth jobs contract is not withdrawn.

Campaign organisers were to meet at 5:00 pm (1600 GMT) Monday to assess the government's response, with the threat of a fresh escalation via a general strike openly brandished.

"Obviously we have to maintain the mobilisation. For it to work we need an appeal from several unions for an inter-professional strike day," Jean-Claude Mailly of Workers' Force (FO) told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

Bernard Thibault, head of the powerful General Labour Confederation (CGT), said that "if nothing moves we will propose preparing a day of general work stoppages in the coming days. Conditions are such that it should be a success."

An open-ended contract for under 26-year-olds that can be terminated without justification in the first two years, the CPE is meant to bring down France's chronically high youth unemployment rate by offering employers greater flexibility.

Conceived in the wake of last November's riots in high-immigration suburbs -- where fewer than one young person in two has a job -- it was approved by parliament ten days ago as part of a wider law on equal opportunities.

But the centre-right government has been stymied by a growing wave of opposition with unions, students and left-wing parties calling the CPE a charter for employer exploitation and a breach of France's hard-won labour rights.

Repeated street demonstrations have been accompanied by strikes and sit-ins at most of the country's 84 universities. The Sorbonne -- centre of the May 1968 uprising -- has been the scene of several nights of clashes with police after it was closed by the authorities.

Villepin was due to meet business leaders and youth groups Monday to discuss youth employment but has not indicated he will yield in pushing forward the CPE.

The parliamentary Speaker Jean-Louis Debre on Sunday criticised the union threat strike, saying that an ultimatum to withdraw a law voted in parliament was "an outrage to the Republic and to democracy."


Comment: How is it an outrage to democracy? If parliament passes a law and the people protest, then obviously the people don't agree with parliament. Keeping a law that the people don't want would be an outrage to democracy.


European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in a French radio broadcast described the reform as "unavoidable" but said it should be achieved through "dialogue, engaging all social partners."

President Jacques Chirac has urged the two sides to open talks, but an increasingly buoyant opposition says that abandonment of the CPE is a precondition for negotiations.

The conflict over the youth jobs plan has turned into Villepin's most serious crisis since he took office 10 months ago, and commentators agreed that his political future is at stake. The prime minister has been named as a possible contender to replace Chirac in next year's presidential election.

A new opinion survey by pollsters BVA to be published Monday in the daily La Depeche du Midi said 60 percent of French people want the CPE to be withdrawn, but 63 percent believe the prime minister will stick by it.

The number opposed to the CPE rises to 68 percent in the 15 to 24 age group, according to the poll, which found that 69 percent of French people consider the anti-CPE movement totally or fairly justified.



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Saddam Was Trying to Capture Zarqawi?

Juan Cole
16 Mar 06

The Bush administration repeatedly made the presence in Iraq of Abu Musab Zarqawi a pretext for invading the country and overthrowing Saddam Hussein. They implied that he was a client of Saddam and that Saddam had arranged for hospital care for him.

Newly released documents from the captured Iraqi archives show that Saddam had put out an APB for Zarqawi and was trying to have him arrested as a danger to the Baath regime!
' However, one of the documents, a letter from an Iraqi intelligence official, dated August 17, 2002, asked agents in the country to be on the lookout for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and another unnamed man whose picture was attached. '

The September 29, 2002 Denver Post paraphrased Cheney, "He said the evidence presented against Iraq will be long and persuasive, including more details of a relationship between Hussein's forces and the al-Qaeda terrorist network."



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Interview by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus Sergei Martynov to "Los Angeles Times" Newspaper

March 16, 2006, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Minsk

Los Angeles Times:

I think you are already quite aware of the article that I am pursuing. We came here because, ironically, Belarus is a pretty small country, and yet we have president of my country commenting about it. Obviously, there is something bigger at stake here. Could you comment on that?

Sergei Martynov:

To answer your question I would first say that yes, Belarus is not a large country, but it is indeed an important country, which sits at a strategic crossroads in Europe. This is one of the reasons for this attention.

And we I say "at a strategic crossroads", I have in mind a couple of things. First of all, if you, for example, take a ruler and apply it to the map from Berlin to Moscow, it will not go through Kiev, Riga or Vilnius, it will go through Belarus.
Another issue is that Belarus carries a lot of strategic transit. We carry 50% of the Russian oil exports bound for Western Europe and 20% of its European-bound gas exports.

On top of that, we are the country which has a very independent foreign policy. Not many countries afford, as you know, an independent foreign policy. When I say "independent", I mean independent from Washington, Brussels or Moscow. Foreign policy decisions of Minsk are made here in Minsk, not in other places.

We also have a very strong-minded president who is a strong personality, which attracts attention worldwide. And we have probably an unusually strong economic and social record after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which also attracts important attention because we achieve it in what may be called an unorthodox way, not according to IMF recipes.

The attention you mentioned, which is international, we welcome, to the extent that it is a benign attention. When it comes to foreign financing of political processes inside the country, we, as any other country in the world, do not welcome that. We don't welcome that in the same way as the United States does not welcome it, in fact prohibits it, according to the federal laws. So we do the same. So, benign attention, again, is welcome.

Los Angeles Times:

Do you feel that there have been attempts to influence the outcome of the election by outside forces?

Sergei Martynov:

It's correct. You need not hear it in the interview, you can read an article in the "New York Times", which says a lot about that.

Los Angeles Times:

And you are referring to the activities of the National Democratic Institute?

Sergei Martynov:

And others, among others. I refer to foreign financing of political and electoral processes in Belarus, which is inadmissible by the laws of any country. In fact, it strikes me as strange that the United States institutions which are financed by the US congress and government are engaging in activities, which is prohibited in the United States proper.

Los Angeles Times:

Basically, what they say, what these countries and organizations say, when you ask them about this, they say that "we are definitely not involved in any kind of political activity. We are, you know, supporting democratic process, promoting independent media, teaching political parties how to develop and how to campaign". Is this kind of activity prohibited as well?

Sergei Martynov:

Let us make things clear. First of all, it is unfortunately not true that some of the countries you mentioned support only a "process". They indeed made public their views on particular candidates, either expressing their dislike of a particular candidate, in this case the incumbent president, or their preference for a particular candidate from the opposition, which in itself is an interference. Which is not allowed in the normal, civilized international practice.

Secondly, activities of institutions, NGOs could be different. Let me quote from the United States law which says, "A foreign national shall not direct, dictate, control, or directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process of any person such as corporation, labor organization, political committee or political organization with regard to such person's federal or non-federal election-related activities". So, a very wide definition. Anything related to electoral activities is prohibited from foreign involvement and financing. This is exactly what institutions like National Democratic Endowment do, or try to do in Belarus.

And, thirdly, if an NGO, including an international NGO, engages in fully transparent, fully legal according to the Belarusian laws, and beneficial from the point of view of the country activities in Belarus, they are welcome to do so. This is the answer to your question.

Los Angeles Times:

You mentioned at the beginning of your first answer, in general, the sort of strategic assets and values that exist with Belarus that naturally merit the international interest. But, specifically, when George Bush says that he is attempting to advance the cause of democracy and freedom in countries like Belarus, former Yugoslavia, Iraq, the rest of the Arab world, do you really take him at his word that really what he is trying to do, or are there specific United States' interests at stake in a place like Belarus? Which is the true agenda behind this talk of democracy as this?

Sergei Martynov:

First of all, we, of course, respect the achievement of the United States in democracy over the 200 years of democracy building in your country, although I have to observe that this democracy is not flawless, to put it mildly.

You asked me about the real agenda behind that. I can assume that there can be some strategic issues, which are also pursued by the Unites States worldwide.

In particular, I could assume that speaking of this region, the United States may be interested in bringing countries of this region closer to Euro-Atlantic axis. It is public knowledge that those who are within the Euro-Atlantic axis are countries which are, to put it mildly, heavily influenced by the United States. So, probably, bringing these countries under such influence could be one of the elements, issues of this agenda you mentioned.

Secondly, I believe it is a declared goal of the United States not to allow or to prevent the emergence of an entity in the area of the former Soviet Union which will be in a position to challenge the United States. This is of course a strategic goal.

Belarus as well as Russia are countries which are working to have an important integration structure in this area. We are not trying to resurrect the former Soviet Union, it would have been stupid and unrealistic, but we would like a meaningful integration in this geography which will be and should be no less successful than integration in the west of Europe. And we have all the resources and abilities to achieve such a success. And, probably, countries like Belarus who are proponents or engines of such integration deserve special attention from Washington, which is the case with Belarus.

Los Angeles Times:

Speaking of that, it seems like this Russian-Belarus union has been something that has been talked about for quite a long time, and yet the practical progress in it has been quite minimal. How do you see this union progressing? What form could it achieve in the long run, including the talk of possibly having a single currency?

Sergei Martynov:

To start with the second part of the question about what form it could achieve, I would emphasize that Belarus is all in favor of tight and deep integration with Russia, as well as with other countries of the region. It is not only Russia. But independence and sovereignty of Belarus are non-negotiable. So, we are talking about integration of independent states, not about merging one state into another state. That's not the goal. It will not happen. Full stop.

You are not right that the union with Russia, between Belarus and Russia, did very small progress. To give you a very simple and, in my view, a very illustrative example, I would mention trade between Belarus and Russia. Belarus is trading partner number two for huge Russia, and it's only 10 million people. It's trading partner number two for Russia. We yield only to Germany. Our trade with Russia is larger than China's trade with Russia. It's about 18 billion dollars. None of the other countries of the former Soviet Union has such a trade with Russia. And this trade increased, I believe, five times over the last 10 years.

Los Angeles Times:

You are talking about the two-way trade, right?

Sergei Martynov:

It's a two-way trade. So this is a direct and very important result of this integration effort.

Other areas. We are very close to having a common tariff with Russia for third countries. We are about 90% of the way in forging uniform harmonized tariff regime as applied to third countries. And it's not only on paper, it works. And these 90% of tariffs do work already for third countries, which is a huge achievement in itself. Because, if you would look at another integration structure in this area, which is Eurasia Economic Community, then there you have the share of common tariffs of only 45%. So we are twice as large in this area as they are.

The movement of goods, people, finances, and services between Belarus and Russia is free. We have what is called the four freedoms, which is actually the goal of this union. We look now to try to achieve equal conditions for our economic agents, both Russian agents here in Belarus and Belarusian in Russia, to have equal conditions. That is our goal.

Of course, we are looking at full freedom of not only movement of people, but also equal access to health services, equal access to education, equal taxation, equal social services for citizens of both countries on the territories of each other. And we are making important advances in this respect. For example, about two months ago in Saint-Petersburg our two presidents signed four or five major agreements on equality of treatment between the citizens of two countries.

So, we are well advanced in this union, and not only on paper, not just in terms of treaties and agreements, but in real life terms. You get on a train in Minsk and you go to Moscow, and nobody asks for your passport, as you go between the two countries. It's an achievement also, and an indication of a real union.

We are also talking about the needs to have more integration in areas, above all like energy, transportation, military cooperation, and science and technology cooperation. These are areas which offer themselves as priorities in our building up of the union.

In terms of joint currency or single currency, this continues to be a goal, but, in our view, this should be like a roof on top of the house. We need first to build all the walls, and then we need to put the roof. So the currency will come as the roof, not as the foundation.

Los Angeles Times:

Obviously, the entire world's attention was fixed on Ukraine. They have an agreement, and he is probably going to come back and visit us again some time in the future. Belarus in the past has had serious conflicts with Russia over gas pricing, and it has recently undertaken discussions aimed at having reasonable price for gas, getting some kind of order. How do you see long-term energy pricing stability for Belarus, given that, at some point, most people believe that Russia is going to have to go to market pricing for its gas for everybody, and it's going to be a part of the world trade? And the fact that all those agreements for gas issue has been talked about. As I understand it has not been signed yet.

Sergei Martynov:

Of course this is a very important issue of, what you might call energy security of the country. You are right we are enjoying preferable prices for gas from Russia. For oil we pay world market prices to Russia. And, of course, we are not naïve. We do not expect that this will continue forever. It is obvious to everybody in Belarus that prices for gas will gradually increase, and at some point in the future Russia will come to trade in gas, including internally, at world prices.

For us, the major issue is not so much the price for gas as such, but the issue is whether we get gas at the same price as Russian economic agents (companies, firms).

As long as the price for gas in Moscow and Smolensk is the same as it is in Minsk, it is acceptable. And this is a reflection of what I mentioned to you before. We are working to have equal conditions for our enterprises in Belarus and Russia.

We understand that over time these prices will be going up, and up, and up. It's okay, our economy will be in a position to gradually accommodate that. Conceptually we are prepared towards that. We are working, of course, with Russia within the structure of our integration effort to have what we call "energy balances" up to year 2020, where we could see how much gas and oil we are going to get from Russia. This is also an element of security.

At the same time we work to decrease our dependency on supplies of energy from Russia. In particular, the government has set a goal in five years time to decrease our dependency on energy imports from Russia by 25% by investing in alternative sources of energy and local fuels.

Looking at the problem of energy security, we see it through the prism of a comprehensive set of measures, not just negotiating with Russia, but an overall set of measures.

Los Angeles Times:

Do you plan to sign the gas transit facility agreement with Russia?

Sergei Martynov:

There are ongoing negotiations on the gas transit facilities, and that's about all I can tell you.

Los Angeles Times:

In the long run, you know, I am not an economist, but while you have been enjoying this very beneficial trade relationship with Russia, a lot has been due to high energy prices and the fact that there is a lot of money in the Russian market to buy Belarusian goods. But the analysts that I have talked to say that is not a reliable thing to depend on in the future for two reasons.

Number one: at the moment Russia has so much money that they are able to look around the world as a shopper for goods, and the cheapest goods available at the closest looking.


Number two: oil prices do go down. They no longer have all this pricing. Belarus will be well advised to think about European markets. It raises the question of potential vulnerability of the Belarusian economy.

Sergei Martynov:

Basically your analysts are right, and if you would look at the trends in our trade, then you would observe that the ratio of exports going to Russia, on the one hand, and to the European Union, on the other hand, was consistently changing over time. Initially Russia was this big, and the European Union was this small. Last year the European Union accounted for 44% of our exports. And Russia accounted for about 40%. So there is already a balance between two markets.

By definition, if we sell to Europe successfully, it means our goods are competitive. So we are already in that market. And I could also add that we had aggressively tried to attack other markets like Southeast Asia, China, the Gulf countries, and even Latin America. Recently, we started selling agricultural machinery to Argentina. We, for example, provide about 50% of microchips to the Southeast Asia market.

So we are not only in Russia, we are in other places too. But we would very much like to continue to have a very solid presence in the Russian market. It is natural. And even if and when the Russians have less money, going back to the point of the analysts, it should be cheaper for them to buy in Belarus than to buy in the United States.

Los Angeles Times:

And one last question on Russia. When we were talking about international interest in the Ukrainian elections, Russia was very much criticized for having been perceived to have played too big of an interfering role in those elections. Have you sensed that Russia has taken anything like more than just a close interest in your elections?

Sergei Martynov:

I am not prepared to comment on the Russian or any other's position on a third country like Ukraine. In terms of our relationship with Russia, I can tell you that we have an excellent relationship between the two countries, between the two governments, and between the two presidents. Full stop.

Los Angeles Times:

This strays a little bit to the economic sphere, but it very much ties into what we were talking about, the nature of the Belarus' economy. It is said you have had very little progress in moving to the market economy. Is this still a goal of Belarus to move to the market economy?

Sergei Martynov:

You have to be clear about the terms. You say "very little progress". Progress, in my view, should be measures by issues like percentage of growth of GNP, percentage of growth in real incomes of the population, percentage of accessibility of schooling, health services, etc. All of this shows extremely important progress in Belarus over the last 15 years. And that has been achieved because we did not rush into what has been called shock therapy of the economy.

We are adepts of a different style of reform. Not just a slower reform, but a different type of reform. So in 15 years, we have achieved very important progress. We are the first country in the former Soviet Union to break through the 1990 GNP level, and we are now at 116% of 1990 GNP level, the pre-collapse level. For your information, Russia is at about 80 to 85%, with all the oil prices. Ukraine is probably at 60 to 65%, and Moldova is probably at 30 to 35%. This is to indicate what real progress means.

This does not mean that we are married in a deadlock, so to say, to this particular type of economy we have. Recently we had a major congress here in Belarus on discussing the views and concepts of the next 5 years of the country. At that congress the President indicated that the resources of this mode cannot continue forever. And we have to tap into the resources of small and medium entrepreneurship. And the government is working on exactly this now. But we are going to do it not in a shock therapy way, but in a gradual, level-headed manner, as we did before. We hope we are going to be as successful as we were before.

Los Angeles Times:

That is a small and medium entrepreneurship. What about big factories, oil refineries?

Sergei Martynov:

It's very simple. If the oil refineries which we are having now are bringing golden eggs to the country, why should we dispose of them to anyone else? One point.

Second point: if a small or middle enterprise grows into a gigantic enterprise, it's welcome to do so. The government will be happy to see it. This is our approach.

Los Angeles Times:

The tendency of large state-owned companies is usually not a mater of growth. They are usually not very efficiently run. And for the most part the conventional wisdom it that you cannot really grow an economy without investments. You have the issue of the young people who are talking about going out into the streets on Sunday, some of them, who say, "It's fine. My farther has a job at that factory, and his grandfather had a job at this factory, and my father's brother has a job at that factory. But the factory is now at full employment level, and I have a brother and a sister, and we have nowhere to go to work. How do you deal with this issue?

Sergei Martynov:

First of all, our big enterprises are growing at a very fast pace. For the last eight years, the GNP growth which is produced basically by these huge enterprises was each and every year anywhere between 6 and 10% annually, all the time. If we would look at industry, it would be 15 to 20% annually. This is more than impressive. If you would look at the pace in the United States or Europe, it would be 10 times lower.

Unemployment in Belarus is 1,5 per cent. And we are growing. We have too little working hands to fill the vacancies. So no trouble for young people to find jobs, and well-paid jobs in this country. In this country emigration is much smaller than immigration. People, including the youth, prefer to stay in this country. Other people come to live in this country, because this is a nice country. So, they need not worry about that. And they do not basically worry about that.

Real incomes grow at about 15% annually for people. Especially if this is a young educated professional, he or she will get much more than average salaries.

And we are speaking about involvement in the world, we are a very open economy. We trade with the whole of the world. If you check the ratio between our foreign trade volume and our GNP volume, and this is called the indicator of the openness of the economy, we are within the top 10 countries in Europe in openness of the economy.

We welcome foreign investment, but we do not welcome it at any price. If we would put up tomorrow one of our oil refineries for sale, there will be people queuing, probably, up to Paris and London to buy it, but we are not doing that, because it works fine. If they wish to invest in a new production in Belarus, they are welcome. And so far we were on our own very successful in raising investment for this country. What we achieved for 15 years, which I mentioned to you, we did probably 90% on our own investment.

We welcome foreign investment. But we are not going to crawl and beg for it.

Los Angeles Times:

Do you see Belarus eventually as a member of the European Union, or that's just another goal?

Sergei Martynov:

This is not a goal for the moment, because strategically speaking, the European Union cannot offer us now what our eastern vector offers us, in terms of oil, gas, prices, markets, etc.

We have a good constructive relationship with NATO. We don't believe NATO is a direct military threat to Belarus. We want to have good neighborliness relations with NATO, and NATO is in our boundaries. We cooperate with NATO on issues, which are of mutual interest via the partnership for this programme. So we have a constructive meaningful relationship to the extent which corresponds to their interests and our interests.

Los Angeles Times:

If there are demands from within the opposition and within some conservative circles in the United States, that if these elections are not fair, the international community should retaliate with economic sanctions and expanding visa ban for Belarusian officials….

Sergei Martynov:

First of all, in my view it is unnatural, to put it mildly, that well in advance of the elections, people in Washington and Brussels have already made their verdict on the elections. It's laughable.

On the sanctions issue, of course any country has the right to govern its own visa policies. But it's also strange that the EU and the United States try to limit travel of people from Belarus. What about the Helsinki commitments about the freedom of travel? Are they afraid about Belarusian officials traveling in Europe and the United States? We cannot understand that.

If they would adopt such a measure, most probably we will respond in kind. We are a nation which respects itself.

If we are talking about economic sanctions, then I can tell you these sanctions generally don't work, worldwide, nowhere. And it will hurt people. If the United States and Brussels want to hurt people, it's another story.

Los Angeles Times:

The top foreign policy issue in my nation's attention is, of course, Iran. It's well-known that the level of cooperation between Iran and Belarus increased, that, according to German intelligence, Belarus' scientists were actively helping Iran in enriching uranium. The United Nations is going to have to decide in the very near future how to handle the Iran issue. Can you tell me, what is Belarus' attitude to this?

Sergei Martynov:

A couple of things I would like to mention in this respect.

First of all, we have a very good relationship with Iran. Iran is a friendly country and an important market for us. We don't see why we should stop working in the Iranian market.

Secondly, Belarus never ever in its arms trade violated the United Nations sanctions. Iran is not under sanctions.

Thirdly, I cannot comment on any speculation, including German intelligence sources. They never report it to me.

Fourthly, Belarus is one of the major proponents and supporters, and, in fact, contributors to the non-proliferation regime in the world. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Belarus was the first of the Soviet Union nuclear heir to say that we don't want the nuclear arsenal that we had. And it was largely on our initiative that Lisbon protocol had evolved at the time. So Belarus is a major factor in non-proliferation in the world.

And, lastly, our position specifically on the Iran situation is very simple. Iran has the right to do anything which is allowed by the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Full stop.



Comment on this Article


Interview by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus Sergei Martynov to "Associated Press" News Agency

March 15, 2006, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Minsk

Associated Press:

So we will begin. I guess you have seen the questions already. To begin with, reading the Foreign Ministry's web-site I have seen that Belarus is emphasizing good relations with neighbouring countries. You are bordering many countries that are sceptical about Belarus' commitment to democracy and human rights. Does this scepticism of your neighbours impede your foreign policy, and what is Belarus doing to try to overcome this scepticism?

Sergei Martynov:

You are right in terms that one of the priorities of the Belarusian foreign policy is having good relationship with the neighbors. In fact we have a goal of having what we call a "belt of good neighborliness" around Belarus, and we believe that this belt is very much achieved.

Yes, not many but some of our neighbors have differences with us on the subjects you mentioned. But we believe that these differences largely result from the fact that these nations are members of larger alliances, which have their common foreign policy or at least aspire to have a common foreign policy. Therefore the stance of those countries is not always what you might term an independent stance.
We, of course, respect the right of any alliance to have its foreign policy, but this also remains the fact that this is a policy coming from somewhere else, not necessarily from the neighboring environment.



Another issue is that we strongly believe, and I believe this sentiment is largely shared also in all our neighboring countries, that there is an important special nature in relationship of neighbors, irrespective of differences. And of course that special relationship is dictated by geography. You don't choose your neighbors. You may choose your friends, but you don't choose your neighbors. And neighborliness presupposes a different volume of relations, which is not an abstract requirement but actually a requirement of day-to-day life of the people of neighboring countries.



And, actually, these requirements of life dictate the realities of life. And I would explain to you what I mean. With some of our neighbors, with the majority of them we have a very important trade relationship, very important for both countries. For some of these countries this relationship is even more important than it is for Belarus. For some of these countries, for example, 25 or 30 per cent of the turnover of their ports is originating from Belarus. For some of these countries 40 per cent of their railway turnover is originating in Belarus. This is a fact of life, which they cannot ignore, which their business communities cannot ignore, which their population cannot ignore. This provides jobs, profits, etc. in those countries, as well as in Belarus. So this is what you can term a "dictation of life", as it were, to continue to have important substantial good neighborly relations irrespective of ideological or other differences. And we do hope that our neighbors will all continue to be guided by those special attitudes towards requirements of life between neighbors. We very much hope that they will not play games trying to pose as a small sub-regional superpower.

Associated Press:

I like that phrase.

Sergei Martynov:

Belarus is in favor, to sum it up, of good neighborly relations with all its neighbors irrespective of whatever differences we may have on other issues.

Associated Press:

The next question sort of corresponds with I think what you were talking about some of the neighboring countries being part of alliances that may be getting their policy from elsewhere. What do you and other Belarusian diplomats tell the Western countries – the members of these alliances about their providing funding for non-governmental organizations such as pro-democracy and civil society organizations. Is Belarus content that all such funding is improper and interferes in Belarus' internal affairs or do you regard it as legitimate under certain conditions?

Sergei Martynov:

Well, actually, what we tell our partners is very simple. We tell them the Belarusian legislation on that was actually inspired if not copied from their own legislation. Legislation of any decent country prohibits foreign funding of political activities. If you would check the United States federal law on elections, you would see there a very clear-cut prohibition of any direct or indirect foreign contributions, donations or guidance related to any electoral activities at any level, or any contributions, again direct or indirect, to political parties, committees of such parties, etc. So, basically, what we have in our legislation is what the United Sates has in its legislation. It is also what coincides or is reflective of recommendations which were prepared in the Council of Europe about the funding of political parties, which also clearly prohibits foreign financing of political parties.

Now, if a non-governmental organization is having transparent activities on the territory of Belarus which fully respects the Belarusian laws and which goal and nature is acceptable to the Belarusian state, it's welcome to work. If the goals are inimical to that, then they are unwelcome guests. But this is also something which other countries including the United States have in their legislation.

Associated Press:

Well, if I may follow up on that. So it's you contention that some of the organizations in Belarus that have been receiving foreign funding are essentially acting as political parties, even if they are not political parties in name?

Sergei Martynov:

Yes. They engage in political activities, in the electoral and pre-electoral activities, which is very difficult to differentiate from activities of political parties. And, unfortunately, they are financed by foreign entities, they do publicly recognize that they are financed by foreign entities, and they are trained and guided by foreign entities, which, as I said, no decent country could agree to.

Associated Press:

Well, Belarus is a member of the OSCE, but it often appears to be at odds with the OSCE. Does Belarus intend to remain a member of the OSCE and/or try to push for changes in how the organization operates?

Sergei Martynov:

Well, there is a wrong assumption in what you stated in the beginning of your question. You said Belarus is at odds with the OSCE. Belarus cannot be at odds with the OSCE, because the OSCE is us. Belarus is a full member of the OSCE. So we can talk about certain differences within the OSCE.

Associated Press:

With other member countries.

Sergei Martynov:

With other member countries, but not between Belarus and the OSCE. And this is very important. This is not an esoteric statement, this is a very important political statement. We are OSCE.

Now, Belarus, being part of OSCE, does not plan to quit the organization, because we believe this is an important organization, which has an important mission and a unique composition and mandate. This is the only pan-European organization. So it has to continue. In our view, it has to be strengthened. We strongly believe that this organization should have its own charter, its own rules of procedures, and be a more meaningful organization than it is so far.

Now we quite often are critical of OSCE functioning as it is now. And there are several areas where we insist on OSCE reform. I would also mention that, I believe, Belarus is one of the players in OSCE with very strong views on that. And I would add our views, which we have been holding for a number of years already are more and more widely accepted within OSCE by our friendly countries, and neighboring countries, for that matter.

Now, areas where we would like OSCE to change itself.

First, OSCE needs to change geographic imbalance in its activities. Because if you would look at what OSCE does, obviously, part of its activities is concentrated almost wholly to the East of Vienna, which in our view is not right. Usually this is a mandate, which relates to political issues and human rights issues, etc. But we do believe that there are ample and important tasks in the same basket, which relate to the West of Vienna. So this has to be corrected.

The second imbalance which has to be remedied in OSCE is functional imbalance. In our view, way too important share is concentrated on issues, which I mentioned. And too little attention is devoted in OSCE to such issues of the overriding importance as economic and ecological issues, and military security issues. We do not stand for eliminating the importance of the so called "third basket", which is political issues, issues of protection of rights, etc. This is a very important basket. Our country pays a lot of importance to this basket. But there has to be a different balance in that, because economic and ecological issues relate to what is quite often termed as "new threats" in Europe. So there has to be much more balance in that.

And, finally, an important element of the OSCE everyday role is monitoring the electoral activities in different states. Right now we are hosting a very large OSCE monitoring mission in Belarus, which we have invited in an open and friendly manner. But we believe that methods which are employed in such activities are not only outdated, but they are not objective. They do not provide for an objective assessment of elections. Therefore we insist on reforming this part of OSCE activities too. We have stated a couple of years ago that without a deep reform OSCE as an organization will not have the important future we wish it to have.

Associated Press:

Could you expand on your criticism of specifically how the OSCE's election monitoring methods are outdated or not objective?

Sergei Martynov:

Well, they are not objective in many-many ways. I would give examples.

For example, forming OSCE observation missions. We never ever have in the long-term part of OSCE observation mission representatives of neighboring countries, who know our political system well, who understand it much better that representative of other countries. We deem this unnatural, strange and unacceptable.

Then, until very recently, the composition of missions, both long-term and short-term, was heavily dominated by several countries, by very few countries, which is also not right.

Now then the criteria of selection of observers. In our view, it is preposterous when selecting observers for Belarus to have as a prerequisite the knowledge of the English language. We don't speck English her in this country. We speak Belarusian and Russian. So how the criterion should be English speaking? It should be Russian or Belarusian speaking, probably.

And, then, another issue is who takes the decision which election has to be observed and which election has not to be observed? Why OSCE sends 25 monitors to the United States, where the election was heavily contested and criticized? And why OSCE sends 600 observers to Belarus, which is 50 times smaller than the United States? No answer to that. Who takes the decision on what should be the verdict on a particular election? Who discusses that? Nobody discusses that. And this is not right. So these kind of things need to be changed. We made our views known in the OSCE, and we will continue to insist on that, along with our allies.

Associated Press:

This point well taken in the United States, especially in light of the 2000 elections, when the candidate who had fewer votes won.

Sergei Martynov:

Exactly. One of the major criteria of the OSCE concerning elections is direct elections. The United States does not have direct elections, I mean presidential elections. This relates to what you have mentioned.

Associated Press:

Moving on. President Lukashenko a couple of weeks ago, when he was speaking to one of the military academies, made some statements about how Western countries are encouraging the young people of Belarus to be selfish, to value their own convenience and pleasure more than value patriotism and working for the development of Belarus. That's a criticism that is often made of Western countries from many different angles. But I wondered, do you think that there are somehow basic philosophical differences between how Western countries approach life philosophy, differences between Belarus and the West?

Sergei Martynov:

What President Lukashenko told the young audience you mentioned is actually exactly what President Kennedy once told a mass audience. He said, President Kennedy said, "Don't ask the country what it can do for you. Ask yourself what you can do for your country". That was exactly the message of President Lukashenko to young students of the military academy.

So this, in my view, reveals exactly, that there is no clash of fundamental philosophies between our two countries. There is no such thing as a "clash of civilizations" between Belarus and the West. The values, the principles are the same. Now, the application of those values and principles could be different and should be different. It ought to be different, because we are different countries and different nations. And one country should respect another country's right to apply those values in its own way.

Last year, when President Lukashenko spoke at the General Assembly of the United Nations, he proposed an initiative that the United Nations should recognize the principle of diversity of ways of progressive development. That means there is no one single recipe, which is applicable to each and every country in the world how it should evolve and develop. Every country, as long as it respects the basic United Nations Charter principles, is and should be entitled to its own particular way of progressive development, which corresponds to its history, its nature, its geography, its psychology, whatever, its economy. So our proposal is to recognize the diversity of ways of progressive development of states. And I believe this is an important element of pluralism internationally, political pluralism internationally.

Associated Press:

Regarding the Sunday's election, there has already been a great deal of criticism of the election preparations from the West. And judging by how the previous elections in CIS nations have gone over the past couple of years, there is probably going to be similar criticism after the election. What's Belarus' response to these complaints? Do you believe the West is prejudging the elections before they happen?

Sergei Martynov:

I will start with the latter part of your question. Obviously, and a matter of fact, the West prejudges the nature of elections, so to say. The election is not over yet. It is going to be held on Sunday. But the verdict is already on the red in Washington and Brussels. And this is wrong. We cannot agree to that. This is a clear prejudgment of an event.

Secondly, you mentioned that the elections in all CIS countries were not deemed as appropriate, whatever. But we believe that the instrument, the tool of measuring of those elections, as I mentioned to you in another question, is a flawed instrument so far. It has to be changed.

And, thirdly, concerning the upcoming elections, it's an open secret, and everybody knows, be it in Minsk, Washington, Brussels, Rome, that the current President, the incumbent President enjoys overwhelming support of the society in this country. And I believe one of your, at least one of your colleges in a United Kingdom newspaper put it right, when he said, "do you expect a President who increased real incomes in his country by 24 per cent in one year, who battled down inflation, who increased GNP several times over a five years, would you expect such a leader to lose an election? Never, ever, ever.

So this is the answer to the criticism.

Associated Press:

So, the 6 per cent economic growth that Belarus had last year, is certainly the envy of the United States and much of the West.

Sergei Martynov:

It was not 6, it was 9,5. And we had a consistent growth of these proportions for 8 years in a row. Belarus is the first country from among the former Soviet Union countries, which broke through the level of GNP of 1990, which is the pre-Soviet Union collapse level.

Associated Press:

Really, Belarus was the first?

Sergei Martynov:

It was the first. We are the first who went to do that. Belarus, even though we don't have oil or gas with skyrocketing prices, we have the highest pensions in CIS. We have the highest students' stipend in CIS. We have the highest GNP ratio spent for education and health services. The real income of the population grows by at least 15 per cent annually in the last five years.

So, the Government and the President work for the people. The people see that, they feel it and they appreciate it. And that's the answer to your question.

Associated Press:

My next question I think actually goes back to some extent what we were talking about earlier. The United States and some other Western countries are threatening vague unspecified punitive actions against Belarus, if the election comes under question. Does Belarus worry that such actions might leave it isolated or economically weakened, or is the importance of Belarus economically to its neighboring countries such that these punitive actions would not have much effect?

Sergei Martynov:

First of all, we strongly believe that sanctions as such and economic sanctions in particular do not solve problems. And there is ample evidence to that, worldwide.

Secondly, we don't believe that economic sanctions, which are applied for achieving political goals, have a nice kind of "smell". They don't.

Thirdly, it's a double-edge sward. I mentioned to you that neighboring countries are very closely linked with the Belarusian economy. Probably they may suffer more than we will suffer.

Also, specific business people, companies, firms, societies will also suffer losing trade with Belarus, because our trade with countries in Europe is more than 10 bln dollars. So this is 10 bln dollars, which someone is going to lose. They'll make nobody happy, neither here, nor there.

Next, of course, the European Union accounts for 44 per cent in our exports. 44 per cent. That means if sanctions come, then each and every Belarusian family will lose part of its income. Will they say "thank you" to Brussels and Washington for that? They surely will not. They will say other things about that. Are the European Union and the United States interested in that?
I don't think so. I hope they are not interested in that.

And, finally, what we sell to the European Union and to the West as a whole is things which are competitive. Otherwise they would not have been bought. So if they are competitive in Europe and in the United States, you will believe me, that they are competitive anywhere in the world.

Associated Press:

So you are saying that Belarus can seek other markets for the same goods?

Sergei Martynov:

Western Europe is a highly competitive market. If they are successful there, we can be successful anywhere. So, the logic and the road of sanctions and punitive action is a dead-end road. It's a dead alley.

Associated Press:

One last question. I have asked you enough about the elections and democracy questions. I'd be interested in knowing a broader view about what is Belarus' general foreign policy goals, and what you see as Belarus' place in the world, as you are a comparatively small country, what role do you see Belarus is playing?

Sergei Martynov:

The role we see for Belarus' foreign policy and for Belarus at large is basically same for foreign policy of any country. First and above all we have to secure through diplomatic means the security of the country.

Secondly, we have to create favorable external conditions for our trade and development. Now in looking after those goals we of course are guided by how we perceive the role of Belarus. Belarus is a medium-size European country with an important economic potential. We are a manufacturing country, and we are a country which is dependent on foreign trade. And we are a very open economy. Our ratio between the volume of foreign trade and GNP, which is an indicator of openness of an economy, is one of the top 10 ratios in Europe. We are a very open economy. Therefore we are interested in making sure that there is an unhindered access of and flow of goods throughout Europe and other countries worldwide.

We are not a country with global ambitions politically. But we are a country which would like to protect its economic interests worldwide, to be present in the world markets everywhere, in as much as we can. And we are working for that in markets not only like European market, but also in markets like China, South-East Asia, South of Africa, Latin America, and other markets. This is our goal and this is what we do. And, eventually, even though we are not a player with global ambitions, being a mid-size country we are interested in an international set-up, which will be able to protect the interests of countries like us. And that means we are interested in a multi-polar world. The unipolar world does not protect countries like ours. So in that sense we are also playing with other like-minded countries worldwide to achieve that goal of a multipolar world.

And, coming back to your first question, of course, good neighborliness is one of our top priorities in foreign policies.



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Belarus incumbent president wins re-election

www.chinaview.cn 2006-03-20 10:58:12

MINSK, March 20 (Xinhua) -- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko won re-election in Sunday's presidential vote, the Central Election Commission said early Monday.

"Alexander Lukashenko has won the election," with 82.6 percent of the vote, Lidia Yermoshina, chairwoman of the commission, told a press conference.
His main rival Alexander Milinkevich, who is supported by the opposition, got 6 percent. The other two candidates, Liberal Democratic Party leader Sergei Gaidukevich and Social Democratic Party leader Alexander Kozulin, received 3.5 percent and 2.3 percent respectively.

The election commission put the turnout at 92.6 percent in the country, where about 7 million people were eligible to vote.

More than 1,200 international observers monitored the vote. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) sent the largest groups of election observers.

Both the OSCE and CIS observer missions are expected to announce their assessment of the Belarus vote later in the day.

Shortly after polls closed on Sunday night, thousands of opposition supporters gathered at Minsk's main square for a rally. Police stood watching nearby.

Earlier, Milinkevich had called for a peaceful gathering after voting ended despite a government ban on election-day rallies.

The European Union has asked the Belarussian authorities to ensure a free and fair vote and threatened to adopt "restrictive measures" against individuals responsible for fraudulence.

But Lukashenko played down Western pressure on Belarus. "We haveto work rather than pay attention to these babblers," he said,quoted by the official BelTA news agency, on the eve of the election.

Lukashenko, 51, was first elected in 1994, got the go-ahead torun for a third term through a constitutional referendum in 2004.His current term ends in September.



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Mysterious ailment in Chechnya is blamed on mass hysteria- Not everyone buys regime's explanation linking illness to effects of war on children.

Kim Murphy
Los Angeles Times

Most doctors now believe the whole episode was sparked by the extreme and chronic levels of stress among children who have experienced a war with Moscow that lasted more than 10 years.
SHELKOVSKAYA, Russia -- It started just after the midafternoon recess. As they lined up to return to class, Zareta Chimiyeva saw a girl in front of her collapse and begin convulsing wildly. Only a few minutes later, Zareta was at her desk when she said she smelled "a bad smell," and started feeling ill.

She rushed out of the classroom but made it only as far as the stairs. "Darkness surrounded me, and there was darkness in my eyes, and I fell," said the 12-year-old from this small town in eastern Chechnya.

When Zareta woke up in a hospital, it took three adults to hold her down. She was thrashing and clutching her throat, unable to get a breath, screaming in terror. She wasn't alone. Thirteen other girls were in nearby hospital rooms, also claiming they were unable to breathe, with many of them shrieking and crying.

The next day, 23 students and seven teachers in a neighboring village fell ill with similar symptoms. About the same time, four dozen children in two towns a little farther away began clutching their throats, screaming and convulsing.

The suffering continues

They have yet to heal. Although the outbreak began Dec. 16, doctors and parents say the children are still suffering fits day and night. The list of victims has grown to 93, including several teachers and janitors, with a few cases reported as far away as the Chechen capital, Grozny, and Urus-Martan, 60 miles to the southwest.

With the diagnosis caught up in the suspicion, politics and fear that surround most of what happens in this fractured separatist republic, the answer to what happened to Shelkovskaya's children might never be known fully.

What is clear, officials say, is that a new generation has fallen victim to the unexpected and devastating effects of a war that began before many of them were born.

Poison is ruled out

After exhaustive chemical and radiation tests, authorities with the Moscow-backed government announced that the culprit was not poison, but a form of mass hysteria. The whole episode was triggered, most doctors now believe, by the extreme and chronic levels of stress among children who have experienced a war with Moscow that lasted more than 10 years and its devastating economic aftermath.

While public health officials are at a loss to explain why after months of treatment the children are getting worse, parents -- and some local physicians -- are not ready to accept the official diagnosis. Very few are willing to send their children back to the schools where they were first afflicted.

"The fact is that the children are getting worse. No treatment helps them," said Khazman Bachayeva, principal at School No. 2 here, where only 30 of 998 students showed up for school recently. "And as of today, nobody has given us a concrete explanation. All they say is, it's psychological stress. Well, the parents don't buy that, and I don't buy it either."

'A state of panic' is cited

Sultan Alimkhadzhiyev, Chechnya's deputy health minister, said it was difficult to explain to parents that their children had become living specimens of what it means to grow up with the constant threat of violence and chronic joblessness and poverty.

"Our children have seen bombings, artillery attacks, large-caliber bombardment. They saw houses, schools and hospitals burning. They lost parents, brothers, sisters, neighbors," he said. "And they still see tanks and armored vehicles every day in the street.

"In this case, what we have seen are not symptoms of poisoning ... but of psychosis. A state of panic. Children are feeling constant fear, a premonition of tragedy."

The ability of the human mind to convert psychological stress to genuine physical symptoms, officially known as "mass sociogenic illness" or "conversion disorder," is well documented but not completely understood. Why, for example, are chiefly girls affected? Only four of the Chechen victims were boys. And why were there families in which one girl was afflicted, but a sister who was in the same room with her showed no symptoms?

Three teachers fell ill

On Feb. 22, just when parents were beginning to feel confident enough to send their children back to School No. 2, three teachers fell ill with symptoms slightly resembling those of the original victims. The school quickly emptied again, and 11 new people showed up at a hospital with breathing difficulties.

Three were admitted.

"If it was merely stress, this case would be the starting point for a massive spread of the illness, creating a chain reaction. But it's not spreading to those outside the schools," said Ruslan Kokanayev, regional head of administration. "I think the government doesn't want to get to the bottom of this, because if they do, they know they will be facing a level of public indignation that they're not prepared to handle."

Complicating the psychology diagnosis are blood tests showing the presence in five victims -- three in Shelkovskaya, two in a neighboring village -- of ethylene glycol, a highly toxic substance used in antifreeze, glass sterilization and a variety of industrial processes.

Doctors can't explain how the children might have been exposed to the chemical. Health officials believe the traces were so small that they could not have been a factor.



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Revolution? No thanks, say France's young protesters

John Leicester
Associated Press
19 Mar 06

PARIS -- Tear gas. Students clashing with police around the famed Sorbonne university in Paris. Barricades in the capital's streets. Is March 2006 proving to be May 1968 all over again?

So far, no. While comparisons between the student protests of then and now are tempting, they are also misleading.
The young protesters of '68 wanted to turn French society upside down. "Break the old molds" was one of their many slogans.

Their children want not revolution but status quo: the same access to pensions, jobs, prosperity and generous welfare systems their parents enjoyed. In short, a comfortable European lifestyle that many feel is under grave threat.

It's a sign of Europe's malaise that French students have trouble seeing a rosy future. While they dance, whistle and bang drums on their boisterous marches through Paris' Left Bank, idealism, hope and answers seem sadly lacking.

With nearly 1-in-4 French youths and young adults unemployed, many fret about how they will find work, make their first down payment on an apartment, afford to start a family.

They study, earn diplomas, but often are resigned to finding nothing more rewarding after graduation than unpaid internships. The most disenfranchised -- immigrant youths in depressed neighborhoods that went up in flames during riots last fall -- don't even expect those.

In '68, France was still riding the wave of fast growth and almost full employment that followed World War II, the so-called "Thirty Glorious" years until the 1973 oil crisis when the economy grew at an annualized 5 percent clip.

Those days are long gone.

This week, students turned the '68 slogan "the boss needs you, you don't need him" on its head, hollering: "Give us an indefinite job contract!"

The catalyst for all this angst was a new type of contract that loosens France's highly protective -- critics say rigid -- labor law, the hallowed "Code du Travail."

The contract will let companies fire workers under 26 years old without giving a reason during their first two years in a job. President Jacques Chirac's conservative government argues that the new degree of flexibility will prompt employers to hire thousands of youths, knowing they will be able to get rid of them if things don't work out.

For British or American workers used to more open labor markets and fewer protections, the notion that their first job might not last long -- and definitely won't last for life -- may not seem strange.

But French youths are aghast that the protections afforded to their parents -- however unaffordable in today's ultra-competitive global economy -- are slipping out of reach.

They see jobs and economic growth shifting to rising powers like China, with its legions of cheap laborers and a Communist Party that forbids them from unionizing, and wonder how they will survive. For many, globalization is a threat, not an opportunity.

Chirac's government says it is precisely because of the challenge of globalization that France must reform. But the youths -- who fear becoming as disposable as tissue paper -- aren't buying it.



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Latin America Fights Back


Blair calls for Guantanamo to close

By Colin Brown
Deputy Political Editor
The Independent
17 Mar 06

Tony Blair joined the growing calls for the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay to be closed after he was questioned about the claims of torture by two British residents held there.

Mr Blair was challenged at his regular monthly press conference at 10 Downing Street yesterday over the graphic and shocking claims by two men who lived in Britain that they were handed over to the CIA by the security service MI5 for torture in the notorious "dark prison" in Kabul, Afghanistan, before being taken to Guantanamo.
Nine Britons were released, but Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna are still in the detention camp in Cuba after more than three years. They are demanding their freedom with another man, Omar Deghayes. They won permission to seek a High Court order requiring the UK to petition for their release.

Mr al-Rawi and Mr el-Banna claim they were asked by MI5 to work for them, but were later handed to the CIA for "rendition". Neither of the men were picked up in Afghanistan, but were associates of the Muslim cleric Abu Qatada in London.

Their lawyer, George B Mickum, a partner in a respected Washington law firm who had access to classified evidence, reported in The Independent yesterday that they were arrested in the African state of Gambia in November 2002. They were flown by the CIA to Afghanistan, where they were manacled, interrogated and imprisoned underground before being transferred to Guantanamo.

They claimed that while in Kabul they were beaten, kicked and hit with blunt objects, as well as being held in solitary confinement and kept in freezing conditions to induce hypothermia.

The Prime Minister in the past has said holding the detainees in the camp in Cuba outside the normal rules of war or criminal courts was an "anomaly" which had to be ended.

Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, recently went further by calling for the camp to be closed, but Mr Blair had been reluctant to do so to avoid allowing a diplomatic breach with the US President, George Bush, over Guantanamo

But, questioned yesterday about the claims, Mr Blair said: "I can't comment on individual cases. I think they are the subject of a court action. I have said that I think it would be better if it [Guantanamo] was closed for all the reasons that we have given over a long period of time."

He added: "The only thing I always do to balance it out is remind people that it arose out of the circumstances of 9/11. In fairness to the Americans, they dispute many of these claims that are made. And there are things, certainly, that I have read about the circumstances of some of the British who were in Guantanamo that are strongly disputed in certain quarters."

The Prime Minister's call for Guantanamo to be closed was welcomed last night by Andrew MacKinlay, a Labour member of the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which is conducting an inquiry into the war on terrorism.

But he said Mr Blair had been a "wimp" in failing to make stronger protests to President Bush in the past after a UN report last month found that some of the treatment of prisoners amounted to torture.

"Guantanamo Bay is wholly unacceptable and its legal status makes it even more dreadful," he said. "The injustice of holding these people without charge for so long, contrary to Western norms, is compounded by each day they spend in custody. They should either be brought to trial or they should be freed," he said.

The judge who gave Mr al-Rawi, Mr el-Banna and Mr Deghayes leave to apply for a High Court order to demand their release, Mr Justice Collins, said during their hearing that America's idea of torture "doesn't appear to coincide with that of most civilised countries".

In an earlier report, the Foreign Affairs Committee said: "We find that the Government's position on the detentions at Guantanamo Bay does not sit easily with its pledge to 'respect, and urge others to respect, those human rights laid down in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that can never be compromised, even in states of emergency'."

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited



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Look at the latins: In resisting the abuse of US power the Middle East has a lot to learn from Latin America

Rumy Hassan
Al-Ahram Weekly
16_22 March 2006
Issue No. 786

Though one might hesitate to use such unfashionable terms in polite society, it remains the case that we are living in the age not only of US imperialism but of resistance to it. In The Great Transformation, a seminal work on 19th century imperialism, political economist Karl Polanyi described how the expansion of the market by imperial powers generated a "countermovement" -- or resistance. We are witnessing a modern variant of this, with the epicentre of the countermovement residing in the Middle East, above all in resistance to US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to the perennial oppression of the Palestinians by US's client, Israel -- the victory of Hamas can be seen as part of this countermovement -- and, more recently, to threats against Iran.
Less noticeably, strong resistance has also taken root in Latin America, and since the election of Hugo Chavez as president in 1998, above all in Venezuela. Chavez's anti-US stance is not only having a measurable affect in other Latin American countries -- the victory of Evo Morales in Bolivia being the most notable -- but also among poor, ethnic minority communities in the US itself. For example, the black actor and political campaigner Harry Belafonte, member of a delegation of Americans that met Chavez in January of this year, made the following astonishing assault upon George Bush: "No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W Bush says, we're here to tell you not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people ... support your revolution. We respect you, admire you, and we are expressing our full solidarity with the Venezuelan people and your revolution."

Outside the confines of Muslim communities in the West no such brave -- some might say reckless -- support has been proffered by anyone to any Middle Eastern regime or resistance movement. The reason for this seems clear: that the kind resistance, ideology, and political nous offered by Chavez is far more appealing to the American poor and oppressed -- and will doubtless soon be to the dispossessed in other parts of the globe -- than that of his Middle Eastern counterparts.

A key plank to Chavez's politics is the attempt to use Venezuela's oil exports for the benefit of the poor and the avowed rejection of IMF-style neo-liberal structural adjustment programmes. In an extremely astute move, Chavez devised a programme to provide discounted oil to poor Americans. Under the plan Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), and its Houston-based affiliate Citgo, will set aside up to 10 per cent of refined oil products to be sold directly to poor communities and institutions. Note that this initiative coincides with the making of record profits by US oil giants and Bush-supporters such as Exxon.

This is the root of Chavez's popularity -- he seems to be putting into practice what he preaches. Like Middle East regimes Hugo Chavez is not part of the West but his ideology, integrity and commitment to social justice -- particularly the use of burgeoning oil revenues for social programmes -- is being adopted now by, in the words of Belafonte, perhaps millions of poor urban Americans. This is one reason why the Bush government is so hostile to the Chavez regime and fervently hopes for its removal.

In stark contrast, the politics, ideology and means of resistance of the Middle Eastern countermovement attract very little support beyond Muslim circles in the West. On the country they -- and their supporters residing in the West -- have increasingly become part of the 'Other'. Rather than viewing this as a manifestation of 'Islamophobia', it should be seen in the context of the effective curtailing of rights and liberties to which the resistance continues to pay lip service.

The resistance in Afghanistan and Iraq -- though entirely explicable and expected -- contains deeply reactionary elements. For example, many of the bombings -- including suicide bombings -- in Iraq have been directed explicitly against civilians on sectarian grounds, explicitly so in recent weeks. In contrast, sectarianism and the systematic targeting of civilians was never the policy of, say, the resistance to US troops in Vietnam.

And what of Arab leaders? Whereas Chavez denounces Bush and Blair in the most unrelenting of terms Arab leaders offer barely a whisper of criticism. In practice these leaders have been ineffectual in giving real solidarity to their fellow Arabs or Muslims. Take, for example, the threat by the US and the EU to withdraw funding from the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, and by Israel to withhold customs duties. A Chavez equivalent in the Middle East, or the wider Islamic world, would immediately have stepped in to offer replacement aid; yet there has been silence and pusillanimity though the Iranian regime has now promised some funds. There has certainly not been any action on the part of oil- rich Gulf states to offer help to the Arab poor -- let alone to the poor of the US.

So, though we have in formation a countermovement to the abuse of US power and Washington's myriad breaches of international law and convention, resistance in the Middle East can learn much from the resistance now emanating from Latin America, above all from Venezuela -- not least because it is based on a vision of liberation in its full sense of the word, and not solely from the yoke of US imperialism.

* The writer is a senior lecturer at the University of Sussex, UK.



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Chavez pours oil on troubled waters - to many Americans actions speak louder than words.

By Jonathan Beale
BBC News, New England

There is little love lost between the presidents of the United States and Venezuela. Hugo Chavez calls George W Bush a terrorist - the US president accuses him of being a left-wing dictator.

But they have one thing in common: oil. And now Hugo Chavez has come up with a way of using his oil to spread his revolution.

He is offering poor Americans hundreds of thousands of gallons of cut price fuel to help them heat their homes - Venezuela's response, he says, to the events of Hurricane Katrina.

So how is the US responding to this offer of help from a country viewed as a threat by President Bush?
Mr Chavez, a man with his own signature tune and six-hour weekly television show, is a figure of fear and loathing in Washington.

He is a left-wing leader who has declared war on American imperialism, and his views in turn have prompted an extreme response among some Republicans, including the television evangelist Pat Robertson who said: "We have the ability to take him out and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability."

That war of words is now being fought out here in New England.

'Pumping goodwill'

There is snow on the ground in Maine and the temperatures are plummeting. This is where Mr Chavez is launching his latest front in his cold war against the president of the United States.

An oil tanker reverses into the driveway of a modest clapperboard home, a sign that the Hugo Chavez road show has arrived in New England.

It is delivering cut-price heating fuel from Citgo, a company wholly owned by the Venezuelan government.

Mr Chavez is pumping goodwill as well as the oil into the homes of thousands of needy Americans.

And he has even enlisted the help of US politicians like Maine's Democratic Governor John Baldacci, whose own involvement is proving controversial.

This testy exchange illustrates the point:

Me: "Do you admire Hugo Chavez for what he's done?"

John Baldacci: "I don't get into the politics, you know..."

Me: "But it's his decision. I mean, you have got into the politics whether you like it or not."

John Baldacci: "Well, I haven't."

Me: "But he has given this oil to the people of Maine, the poor people..."

John Baldacci: "That's right. And we appreciate and thank him for that very much and we thank Citgo Venezuela for that."

'Anti-democratic'

Among those people who are directly benefiting - like pensioners Malcolm and Mary Lyons - there is no doubting their appreciation for President Chavez.

Without his help, Mary Lyons says they simply would not be able to afford to heat their home.

"It's very comforting," she says. "I think it's a wonderful gesture. Thanks to the Venezuelan people to make this all happen to us."

But it's a very public gesture being witnessed by the world's media, raising the question: is this a programme genuinely designed to help the poor or more for the publicity?

Ricardo Hausman, a former minister in the Venezuelan government, is a professor at Harvard University.

"I think that from the point of view of his cash flow it is peanuts. From the point of view of his political agenda, it is gold.

"It is an incredible investment in political visibility out of something that doesn't really make much sense except in the context of that political agenda."

It is President Chavez's agenda that worries Washington. He is seen as an increasingly anti-democratic and destabilising force throughout Latin America. But it is proving hard to bite the hand that feeds.

Public relations war

Venezuelan oil helps keep the American economy running and Citgo operates 15,000 gas stations right across the country.

Overall, Venezuela is the fifth largest exporter of oil to the United States, selling 1.5 million barrels of oil every day.

But President Bush can do little to halt the Chavez road show which has now moved on to Rhode Island. Here he's getting the support from the Kennedy clan.

Former Democratic Congressman Joe Kennedy says the Bush administration should be backing, not criticising the Venezuelan president.

"Why isn't anybody criticising the Kuwaitis or the Saudis or any of the others who are out there raking it in and not providing any assistance to anybody?

"And here's one guy who provides a little bit of help and assistance to the poor and he's under unbelievable criticism. It's politics, it's not the reality of what he's doing - it's the politics of it."

Here in New England it is President Chavez not President Bush who appears to be winning this public relations war.

And whatever Hugo Chavez's motives are for providing cheap heating fuel for the poor - to many Americans actions speak louder than words.



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Secessionists threaten Venezuela's unity

W. T. Whitney Jr.
People's Weekly World
16 Mar 06

"It's new evidence for a destabilization plan that North American imperialism, through the fascist government of George W. Bush, is carrying out in our country to torpedo and sabotage the revolutionary process."

Oscar Figuera, general secretary of the Venezuelan Communist Party and a National Assembly delegate, was referring to a new secessionist movement in Zulia, the northwestern Venezuelan state where 40 percent of the nation's oil reserves are located.
It's the latest in a series of extraordinary counterrevolutionary actions spanning several years that includes a coup attempt, a strike against the state-owned oil company and a boycott of parliamentary elections.

On March 5 the Caracas daily El Nacional reported on plans of the Zulian group Our Own Path to initiate a plebiscite there on Oct. 24. Voters would vote on a "statute on autonomy" to "guarantee their individual rights and their own free enterprise economic system."

Responding within hours on television, President Hugo Chávez accused the U.S. government of plotting "to take control of the great oil wealth there … and break the country into pieces."

"North American imperialists are reverting to old ways with a lunatic, proxy fifth column with a mentality that is programmed, colonized and traitorous," he said.

The separatists reportedly have ties with paramilitaries in Colombia, adjacent to Zulia.

Chávez recalled that separatism is a recurring theme in Zulian politics, beginning with the era of Simon Bolivar. A British observer noted that secessionists and their U.S. backers devised plans in 1935 to convert Zulia into a U.S. dependency.

Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez reported on a criminal investigation of the secessionist movement but admitted that his department lacks hard evidence of U.S. involvement. Homeland for All, a left political party, organized demonstrations outside Rodriguez's office on March 7 in favor of stepped-up investigations. Rodriguez later announced the appointment of a judge and hinted at "other action in addition to a criminal investigation."

Freddy Bernal, president of the Association of Bolivarian Mayors of Venezuela, has called for a national mobilization against the separatists. On March 7, National Assembly President Nicolas Maduro complained to reporters of "the conspiratorial silence of the Venezuelan opposition [to Chávez]. … With this silence, they are confirming their complicity."

Zulian Gov. Manuel Rosales is one of only two state governors who oppose Chávez. Giancarlo di Martino, mayor of Maracaibo, the state capital, accuses Rosales of secessionist leanings. William Lara, national coordinator of Chávez's political party, claims that Rosales is a confidant of U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield, the two of them meeting 17 times last year, according to one source. Reportedly Rosales crosses the border to meet with Colombian paramilitaries.

A multimillion-dollar publicity campaign for the separatist plebiscite is under way, its onset timed with the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Maracaibo after years of inactivity.

According to one report, NATO and U.S. commanders staged a war game invasion of Venezuela in Madrid five years ago. "Operation Balboa," as it was called, was situated in Zulia.

Spokespersons for Our Own Path call for Zulian autonomy and "liberal capitalism." They envision a president and senate instead of governor and state legislature. Their model for Venezuela and Zulia is China and Hong Kong: "one country, two systems." They look admiringly upon Taiwan and Singapore.

The parallel situation of separatist agitation riling the eastern Bolivian state of Santa Cruz, rich in natural gas, comes to mind.

Alberto Mansueti, one of the secessionist leaders, explains, "What we want is a statute ... that will allow us to move from socialism to free market norms." Secessionist ideologue Néstor Suárez argues that Zulians "instinctively reject and resist against socialism" of any variety.

Meanwhile, 500,000 civilian reservists in Venezuela will soon embark upon a four-month weekend training course that emphasizes tactics for "asymmetric war," the term military planners apply to defense against a powerful foreign force. Chávez predicted on March 5 that "If someday a group of invaders comes looking for me, they will never take me alive."

Communist leader Figuera condemned attempts "to split the country, converting this region into a beachhead for fratricidal confrontations among Venezuelans, to create international conditions that provide justification for the gringo invasion plan for Venezuela." His party calls for "the broadest possible national mobilization. … The Venezuelan people are not disposed to accept any action that threatens the integrity of the national territory."

atwhit@megalink.net



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Latin America Unchained

Mark Engler
TomPaine
March 16, 2006

For decades the International Monetary Fund (IMF) served as one of the key pillars of the "Washington Consensus." Dominated by the White House, the Fund allowed successive administrations to control the economic policy of poorer countries in this hemisphere and beyond. Those nations wishing to buck a U.S. agenda of corporate globalization risked having their access to international loans cut off. The brutish IMF not only handled its own funds but also played gatekeeper for money from other creditors, such as the regional development banks. This power made the institution as hated throughout the global South as it was celebrated inside the Beltway.
Maybe it's not surprising, then, that an increasingly progressive Latin America is starting to say good riddance.

In recent months, major countries in the region have moved to pay off their loans to the IMF ahead of schedule and free themselves of direct oversight from the Fund. Announcements in December from Argentina and Brazil, which are paying off $9.8 billion and $15.5 billion respectively, inaugurated the trend in the region. In addition, Bolivia was relieved of its outstanding obligations to the IMF by last year's debt relief agreement at the G8. The country's newly elected president, Evo Morales, has indicated that he may let his standby agreement with the IMF expire at the end of the month.

The motivation for cutting ties has been explicitly political. The Latin American electorate is fed up with policies like privatization and curtailed social spending; these policies, hallmarks of IMF "neoliberalism," have hit the countries' poor majorities hardest.

It would be one thing if the Fund's prescriptions worked in creating economies that served their people. But in country after country, neoliberal economic mandates have produced lackluster growth at best and often have resulted in catastrophe. Argentina was once a poster child of IMF economics; that is, until its economy collapsed in 2001 under neoliberal guidance. As voters throughout the region demand change and put left-of-center governments into power, leaders like Argentinean President Néstor Kirchner proclaim that throwing off the chains of IMF debt constitutes an overdue victory-a move toward "political sovereignty and economic independence."

Interestingly, within the domestic political debates of Argentina and Brazil, the left has been critical of the decision to repay. Social movement activists argue that the debts, some of which had been accumulated by past military governments, were unjust and should be renounced outright. In Argentina, critics contend that the IMF should have to pay for a crisis it was largely responsible for creating. Instead, billions of dollars that could have been used for needed social programs are going back into the Fund's coffers.

The activists may have had a solid argument. But now that the deals are going forward, it's time to assess their impact: Will freedom from the IMF lead to a truly independent economic path?

On the face of it, distance from the IMF will provide poor and middle-income countries with room to chart a more autonomous course. Still, there are complicating factors. Remaining debts to institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank can be used to leverage governments to impose neoliberal policies. In Brazil, where Lula da Silva's ostensibly progressive government has mostly adhered to the orthodox economic prescriptions of corporate globalization, political will to change may be lacking. Finally, the IMF will be able to continue giving its recommendations to other creditors.

The power of such advice, however, is not what it once was. The IMF has lost a lot of clout in recent years, due in no small part to Argentina. Since taking power in the wake of the country's economic crisis, Kirchner has played hardball in negotiations with the IMF and private creditors. The strategy worked, allowing his government to negotiate a very favorable restructuring of its loans. Argentina standing up to the IMF was like an underdog knocking down the schoolyard bully. The aura of invincibility surrounding the Fund was dispelled, and the institution will likely never again inspire the same begrudging awe. Furthermore, as the failures of neoliberalism grow increasingly evident, creditors like the World Bank have been compelled to moderate their once-stringent conditions on loans.

In a final critical development, the oil-rich government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela has stepped forward to provide other Latin American leaders with financing they might otherwise have needed to beg from Washington. Venezuela already bought up $2.4 billion worth of Argentina's debt to help the country break free of the IMF, and Chávez has expressed a willingness to do more. This source of backup funds makes the governments of the Latin American New Left considerably less susceptible than before to threats of capital flight.

Cutting ties with the IMF is not just a regional phenomenon. Russia and Thailand have pursued strategies of early debt repayment, and Indonesia and Pakistan are among those now contemplating the move. Asian countries that were burned by the region's neoliberal financial crisis in 1997 are building up large cash reserves so that they will not have to go back to the Fund in times of economic downturn.

These policy trends are producing funding shortfalls for the IMF. Since Argentina, Brazil, and Indonesia represent three of the Fund's four largest clients, a lack of interest payments from these countries will make a serious dent in the institution's operating budget. Currently, the IMF expects to be $116 million short in fiscal 2006. Not that the Fund is going broke. Among other assets, the institution sits on more than $56 billion worth of gold. Nevertheless, Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato has initiated a strategic review of the IMF's activity, and the institution is contemplating a future of reduced global influence.

The bigger trial may be for the United States. As the administration's command over its Southern neighbors declines, its rhetoric will be put to the test. The White House has long proclaimed that promoting democracy and reducing poverty are key foreign policy goals, even while it has limited its support to governments willing to toe the neoliberal line. Democratically elected leaders in Latin America are calling the bluff. They are refusing to defer to self-serving U.S. prerogatives, and instead they are seeking economic policies that can reverse the failures of corporate globalization.

Washington now has a choice: It can redefine its sense of national interest, cheer democratic renewal in the region, and acknowledge that the rigid economic program once forced into place by the IMF cannot fit all countries. Or it can become an ever-more-despised adversary for citizens throughout the Americas.

Mark Engler, an analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus, can be reached via the web site http://www.DemocracyUprising.com. Research assistance for this article provided by Kate Griffiths.



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Cuba Demands America Return Guantanamo Bay

BY Miguel Angel Alvarez
Special for Granma International
March 15, 2006

Guantanamo Bay has been in America's possession since 1901, after Washington intervened in the Spanish-Cuban war. According to this op-ed article from Cuba's state-controlled Granma, the Cuban people consider the pact ceding the Bay to Washington as null and void, since it was signed 'against the will of our people.'
ON February 7, 1901, [Cuban] President Tomás Estrada Palma signed the agreement ceding Cuban territory to the United States in order for it to construct a naval base in Guantanamo.

Guantanamo Bay is one of the country's deepest and largest bays. Christopher Columbus discovered it during his second voyage to the New World on April 30, 1494. It has some very special natural characteristics: it is extremely deep, it is secure and it has the capacity to receive large ships.

For centuries, it was virtually abandoned, as the Spanish colonizers were incapable of appreciating its virtues.

After an attempt by the British to occupy the Bay in July, 1741, in the hope of establishing a base of operations there, the colonial government finally understood the site's strategic importance.

U.S. REFOCUSSES ON CUBA

In the early 19th century, when it realized the value of the island's geographic location, natural resources, its historical, economic and social characteristics, as well as those of its population, the United States publicly expressed its interest in taking over Cuba.

Attempts to buy the island from Spain were made in 1805, 1807 and 1808, but according to the Central Report of the First Congress of the Communist Party, "if Spanish obstinacy ever served Cuba's cause, it was in its systematic refusal to agree to the buying and selling that the United States had repeatedly proposed during the last century."

In 1823, John Quincy Adams, the U.S. secretary of state, articulated the "ripe fruit" thesis, holding that Cuba would inevitably fall into U.S. hands as soon as it was no longer a Spanish colony. And that same year, President James Monroe developed the doctrine that bears his name, warning the European powers that America was reserved solely and exclusively "for the Americans." At the same time, for years his country obstructed and discouraged attempts by the Cuban people to achieve independence.

In 1895, U.S. investments on the island totaled some 50 million pesos, particularly in the sugar and tobacco industries, along with iron, chrome and manganese deposits.

Thus, in 1898, the Americans understood that the imminent end of Spanish colonial rule and before the unstoppable advance of the Liberation Army was a propitious time to intervene in the Spanish-Cuban war.

Taking advantage of the growing sympathy among North Americans for Cuba's cause, the U.S. Congress in April 1898 approved a Joint Resolution that brought about the Northern giant's intervention in the conflict.

The Spanish-Cuban-U.S. War, described as the first imperialist war of pillage, was centered primarily in the eastern provinces of Cuba and the Guantanamo region. On July 16, 1898, the terms of surrender were signed, and on December 10 of that same year, the Treaty of Paris was signed. The United States took control of Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam; Cuba remained as "special territory," from which the Americans were to withdraw after the "appeasement."

The administrative government, with General Leonard Wood at the head, convened a Constituent Assembly charged with drawing up the Constitution for the future republic. But in order to firmly establish relations between Cuba and the United States, the occupying forces brought heavy pressure to bear and imposed the notorious Platt Amendment, with two clauses that atrociously encroached on Cuba's national sovereignty and which had serious implications for the nascent republic's self-determination.

Clause 3 of the Amendment reserved the right of the United States to intervene for the preservation of Cuba's independence and the support of a government appropriate to its interests, while Clause 7 forced Cuba to cede part of its territory for the establishment of naval bases or coaling stations [for the loading of coal into rail cars].

Historian Miguel D'Estéfano Pissani, in his book Derecho de Tratados (Treaty Law), explains: "The Platt Amendment became a Sword of Damocles, whose edges were the naval and coaling concessions. The strength of the Constitutional appendix was based, precisely, on the military base clause."

On November 8, 1902, the U.S. government asked for a permanent lease of land in the bays of Nipe, Honda, Cienfuegos and Guantanamo. But due to the violent reaction of the people, it was limited to the Honda and Guantanamo Bays.

One of the most outstanding individuals of our independence struggle, Juan Gualberto Gómez, made his voice heard, warning that Articles 3 and 7 of the Platt Amendment "... were the same as handing the keys of our house over to the Americans, so that they could come in at any hour ... day or night, with good or bad intentions ..." and that "... its purpose is none other than to reduce the power of future Cuban governments and the sovereignty of our Republic."

Finally, after a series of negotiations, on December 10, 1903, the United States took possession of the territory for its naval base in Guantanamo. Via a supplementary agreement signed on July 2, 1903, the U.S. government promised to pay 2,000 pesos per year in U.S. gold (about $4,085 at today's prices), a laughable sum that Washington would continue to deposit, but which Cuba has refused to accept or cash since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.

According to Doctor Fernando Alvarez Tabío, in his article "La Base Naval de Guantanamo y el derecho Internacional" (The Guantanamo Naval Base and International Law"), the leasing contract for the naval base lacks legality and juridical validity because it is marred in its essential elements: ... due to the inability of the Cuban government to cede a piece of its national territory in perpetuity ... and because the consent was snatched via irresistible and unjust moral violence...

Rejecting Honda Bay, the United States concentrated on Guantanamo. That choice was due to a strategic objective. Because of its exceptional value and geographic characteristics, it made it possible to assure military predominance in the Caribbean and fix its eyes on Panama's inter-ocean canal, for which it had obtained the construction rights that year as well, in 1903.

During its century of existence, the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo has been the scene of shameful episodes and events.

Once the base was established, U.S. capital investment rose, first with the construction of the base's vital water supply, and then in the sugar industry, railroads and electrical power. Gambling, prostitution and contraband proliferated with the arrival of the Marines, and became lucrative businesses for the national bourgeoisie.

The enclave's presence also had repercussions on the region's political life. In 1917, 1919 and 1922, the Marines were sent out from the base to "protect" the sugar mills and other U.S. economic interests in response to the revolt by the Partido Independiente de Color (Colored Independence Party), the Chambelona uprising and that of the liberals against the Menocal government.

During the final liberation war led by Fidel and the Rebel Army, the base was used as a supply point for the Batista dictatorship's air force, which indiscriminately bombed and fired on farmers and other civilians in the liberated zones. The base was also a launching point for U.S. troops invading other countries, like Haiti in 1915 and the Dominican Republic in 1918.

After the revolutionary triumph in January 1959, the base became a refuge for the old regime's murderers and torturers, and has been used as a platform for aggression against Cuba, including infiltration by enemy agents; the protection of counterrevolutionary bands; pretexts for justifying direct aggression against the island; a center of radio-electronic espionage and a point of concentration for ships and planes enabling sudden naval blockades to be imposed on the island.

Throughout these years, the military enclave has been the center of provocations and violations of our nation, and against the Border Guards responsible for patrolling the outer perimeter. According to official figures, from 1962 to August 1992, more than 13,000 such incidents have been registered, including shots fired with rifles and pistols (taking the lives of two Cuban Border Guards); aiming with machine guns, tanks and cannons; the throwing of objects; obscene gestures; breaking through the border fence and violating air and maritime space with ships, planes and helicopters.

The most recent ugly episode in the base's history is its use as a prison, where more than 500 detainees accused of being terrorists or having links to terrorism have been held and subject to physical and psychological torture, without the right to legal assistance or a decent trial. The world has been shaken by the spine-chilling images of chained men being subject to extreme degradation and force fed after waging a hunger strike to protest conditions in the prison, where they are denied access to their lawyers, humanitarian organizations or the United Nations.

The Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, approved by the people on February 24, 1976, says in Article 11 that our country "... rejects and considers null and void the treaties, pacts or concessions agreed to under unequal or unknown conditions or that diminish its sovereignty or territorial integrity."

Thus, Cuba demands the return of that territory because, as Fidel affirmed, "... That base is in their possession against the will of our people ... it is a dagger thrust into the heart of Cuba's land ..."



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Chavez blasts Bush as "donkey" and "drunkard"

Reuters
Sun Mar 19, 2006 3:58 PM ET

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday lobbed a litany of insults at U.S. President George W. Bush ranging from "donkey" to "drunkard" in response to a White House report branding the left-wing leader a demagogue.

Chavez is one of Bush's fiercest critics and has repeatedly accused the U.S. government of seeking to oust him from the presidency of Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter and a supplier of around 15 percent of U.S. crude imports.

"You are a donkey, Mr. Bush," said Chavez, speaking in English on his weekly Sunday broadcast.

"You're an alcoholic Mr. Danger, or rather, you're a drunkard," Chavez said, referring to Bush by a nickname he frequently uses to describe the U.S. president.
A White House report released last week on pre-emptive force in national security described Chavez as a "demagogue" who uses Venezuela's oil wealth to destabilize democracy in the region.

Washington is increasingly at odds with the former soldier over his close alliance with Cuba and Iran. U.S. officials dismiss his anti-U.S. tirades as rhetoric meant to stir nationalism before presidential elections in December.

Chavez's remarks also came after Venezuela's El Universal newspaper printed an interview with U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield, who reiterated his government's concern over growing ties between Venezuela and Iran.

Tensions between the Washington and Caracas rose in January after Venezuela expelled a U.S. naval attache on espionage charges and the U.S. State Department responded by removing a top Venezuelan diplomat from Washington.

Chavez was elected in 1998 on an anti-poverty platform, and has used billions of dollars in oil revenues to finance development programs for the poor as part of his self-styled socialist revolution.

He won a overwhelming victory in a recall referendum in 2004, but his critics at home and in Washington say he is centralizing power in an increasingly authoritarian system and cracking down on political opponents.



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Iran: How Many Years To Come?


War Pimp US accuses Iran of "unhelpful activities" in Iraq

Reuters
17 Mar 06

BAGHDAD - U.S. officials in Iraq accused Iran again on Friday of meddling in its neighbor's internal affairs, saying the Islamic Republic was carrying out "unhelpful activities" there.

The charge came a day after Iran said it accepted a proposal by a leading Iraqi Shi'ite leader to open a dialogue with the United States on Iraq.

A U.S. embassy statement said Washington was "concerned about unhelpful Iranian activities in Iraq. These concerns are well known and we have talked about them."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday she believed U.S. talks with Iran on stabilizing Iraq would be "useful." Washington and Tehran have long had hostile relations.

Last November, President George W. Bush authorized his ambassador in Iraq to have talks with Iran in what would be unusual contact between the countries.

Ashraf Qazi, U.N. special representative for Iraq, said both Iran and the United States had an interest in the outcome in Iraq.

"This is an initiative that has been in the works for some time and I'm very glad to see that Iran has responded positively because both the United States and Iran ... have a stake in the outcome of the processes that are underway," he said after giving a speech at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.

"Always it's a good thing for people to talk about issues even if they have their differences. But this is a very positive development."

Iranian officials had previously said Tehran was not interested in discussions before U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq.

The United States, which is leading diplomatic efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear ambitions, accuses Iran of contributing to instability in Iraq. Iran denies the charges.

Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said Tehran accepted "the proposal to help resolve the problems in Iraq and establish an independent government there."

But the embassy statement responding to his comments said: "The future of Iraq will not be decided by the United States, Iran or any other country. Iraqis will decide the future of Iraq.

It noted U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had been authorized by the White House to enter into talks with Iran on the issue.

Larijani reiterated on Friday that Iran favored an end to Iraq's occupation by U.S.-led forces as a step toward Iraq's full sovereignty.

"Iran's motivation is to help establishment of permanent security in Iraq and get out of suppression by the occupiers," the official IRNA news agency quoted Larijani as saying.

"We insist to have transparent talks (with Washington) and reiterate once again that we would do whatever needed to aid the sovereign Iraqi government."



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China requires IAEA report on Iran at Security Council

IRNA
18 Mar 06

China on Friday offered a plan to ask the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency to report to the UN Security Council on Iran's compliance.

China backed by Russia have argued that the IAEA chief should first report to his 35-nation board, which would diminish the role of the UN Security Council.
Chinese ambassador to UN, Wang Guangya, told reporters before all 15 council members met on the Iran crisis, the report should be given to "both the IAEA and the Security Council" simultaneously.

Wang said Russia and China still had differences with a draft statement backed by the United States, Britain and France that expresses "serious concern" about Iran's nuclear program and asks the IAEA to report on whether Tehran had complied with its demands.

"We need to send a message that the Security Council is supporting reinforcing the role of the IAEA, not to replace or take it over from IAEA," Wang said.

The resolution suggests that a report from IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei on Iran's progress to be sent to Security Council within two weeks. But China, Russia and others say this is too short.

"I think at least four weeks to six weeks," Wang said.

Russian ambassador to UN, Andrei Denisov, told reporters: "The crux of the idea is that the leading agency is the IAEA."
"It must pilot the whole process," while the Security Council should remain "informed," he said.

A statement needs the approval of all 15 council members while a resolution requires a minimum of nine votes and no veto from the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

Both China and Russia have expressed fears that council involvement could result in a cut-off by Iran of IAEA inspections.

No decision is expected until next week, after senior foreign affairs officials from the five powers and Germany meet in New York on Monday to discuss future strategy on Iran.



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Do You Feel Safe With This Man's Finger on the Button? The Bush Doctrine of Nuclear Preemption

By GREG MOSES
Peacefile
17 Mar 06

As our ears prick to the drumbeat of Bush v. Iran, a highly respected researcher from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) warns that Washington is edging toward a policy of nuclear preemption, and Teheran knows it.

Although the post 9/11 doctrine of USA military strategy known as "Global Strike" is often promoted as a post nuclear plan, Hans M. Kristensen finds documentary evidence that a "nuclear option" is included.
In a timeline released by FAS on March 15, and so far reported only by long-time disarmament activist Sanford Gottlieb's op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, Kristensen concedes that the USA may be reducing the size of its huge nuclear-weapon stockpile.

However, writes Kristensen, "Global Strike is first and foremost offensive and preemptive in nature and deeply rooted in the expectation that deterrence "will" fail sooner or later. Rather than waiting for the mushroom cloud to appear, a phrase used several times by the Bush administration, the Global Strike mission is focused on defeating the threat before it is unleashed."

So while the USA stockpile is down to about 5,000 or 10,000 nuclear warheads, Kristensen argues that planners of the new regime in military strategy, "simultaneously have created a new mission that reaffirms the importance and broadens the role of nuclear weapons further by changing or lowering the perceived threshold or timing for when nuclear weapons may be used in a conflict. That threshold must be different than in the past, otherwise why include a nuclear option in CONPLAN 8022?"

CONPLAN 8022 is the Pentagon's contingency strike plan that Kristensen is tracking through freedom of information requests. He calls CONPLAN 8022, "a new strike plan developed by STRATCOM [the Pentagon's Strategic Command, tasked with taking the lead in matters of weapons of mass destruction] in coordination with the Air Force and Navy to provide a prompt global strike options to the President with nuclear, conventional, space, and information warfare capabilities."

Kristensen could have also mentioned that the language and logic of CONPLAN looks very much like the thing suggested in 1997 by a blue-ribbon National Defense Panel (NDP) that included top-level military brass and the now recently departed Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

"Rogue states and terrorists, perhaps armed with weapons of mass destruction, may attempt different kinds of attacks, not only on our forces abroad, but in our homeland, in urban areas and perhaps space," warned the first paragraph of the NDP press release on Dec. 1, 1997. While the NDP report encouraged nuclear disarmament agreements such as SALT III, the framework of diplomacy was presented as a stratagem that would have to make do until the USA achieved technological superiority:

"Given the evolving threat and continued improvement of our missile defense technology, a hedging strategy, rather than immediate deployment of a missile defense system, is a sensible approach," said the NDP report. "But, it is important that we proceed in a way that permits rapid deployment if threats should develop and our technologies mature."

The NDP report encouraged the military to "experiment" with solutions to the "power projection challenge" that would be faced in tough cases of threat by missile, when the USA would not have, in the words of one panelist, "access to forward bases, ports, airfields, facilities." Of course, that was years before 9/11.

Kristensen's timeline marks June 2004 as the point where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld orders its implementation so that the president of the USA could be enabled with, "a prompt, global strike capability." Rumsfeld's order was issued approximately one year before release of the Downing Street Memo alleged that the president of the USA had been fixing his facts to meet the needs of his trigger finger.

Six weeks after Rumsfeld gave the order, writes Kristensen, "on August 17, STRATCOM published Global Strike Interim Capability Operations Order (OPORD) which changed the nature of CONPLAN 8022 from a concept plan to a contingency plan. In response, selected bombers, ICBMs, SSBNs, and information warfare units were tasked against specific high-value targets in adversary countries. Finally, on November 18, 2005, Joint Functional Component Command Space and Global Strike achieved Initial Operational capability after being thoroughly tested in the nuclear strike exercise Global Lightning 06."

What this alphabet soup spells out is a process that brings "Global Strike" into operation through military exercises that confirm the readiness of nuclear missiles launched from land, sea, and air. The next "war game" in this series is scheduled for April.

The release of Kristensen's timeline coincided with a scheduled hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. But the hearing was postponed at the last minute.

Says Kristensen, "Because the question of the scope of and assumptions about nuclear weapons use in the Global Strike mission has profound implications for U.S. military strategy and international affairs, it is vital that the Congress, the media, and the public in general get better answers."

Thanks to the din of Bush v. Iran, however, Kristensen's plea for sunlight has not yet been answered. Meanwhile, a contract for the infrastructure for CONPLAN 8022 is scheduled to be awarded in December.

Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime's Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: gmosesx@prodigy.nett



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Iran links Britain to shooting of 21 officials

Robert Tait in Tehran
Saturday March 18, 2006
The Guardian

Iran accused Britain of trying to stir religious and ethnic unrest in its eastern border region yesterday after armed rebels ambushed a party of government officials and killed 21.

Police said the victims, who included security officials, were ordered out of their vehicles and shot in cold blood. The fleet of cars was then set ablaze. Seven others, including the governor of the provincial capital, Zahidan, were wounded in Thursday night's incident, which happened after gunmen, disguised in military uniforms, set up a roadblock to intercept the convoy as it travelled along a remote spot in the south-eastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan.
The convoy had been returning from a function honouring religious martyrs and war dead. Reports suggested that as many as 12 others had been kidnapped by the gunmen, who were said to have fled across the border into Afghanistan or Pakistan after a brief armed exchange with Iranian security forces.

Sistan-Baluchestan, one of Iran's poorest provinces, has a large ethnic Baluchi Sunni population, which has long complained of religious discrimination at the hands of the Shia majority.

All the victims of Thursday's incident, the most serious in a spate of recent violent clashes in the province, were Sistani and Shia, official Iranian media reported. There was no claim of responsibility but government officials wasted little time in linking the incident with British and US forces stationed in neighbouring Afghanistan.

"We have information that the bandits had meetings with British intelligence services," Iran's national police chief, Esmaeel Ahmadi Moqaddam, a relative of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told state television. "It appears that a plan to create instability and religious hatred similar to the bombing of the Shia shrine in Samarra [in Iraq] is being pursued here."

Iranian officials have publicly blamed America for last month's attack on Samarra's golden mosque, accusing it of trying to foment chaos in Iraq.

The foreign ministry in Tehran has summoned the Afghan and Pakistani ambassadors to complain that rebels are using their countries, both US allies, as sanctuaries from which to strike Iran.

"We do not consider this to be a limited regional incident. It is related to the plans that the enemy [code for America and Britain] is launching in the bandits' area," an unnamed interior ministry source told the semi-official ILNA news agency.

The accusation echoed similar claims over a spate of bombings in another Iranian province, Khuzestan, bordering Iraq, which has killed more than 20 people in the last year. Iran has accused British forces in Iraq of training ethnic Arab militants to carry out the attacks in the heavily Arab-speaking province. Britain has vigorously denied the allegations.

The latest violence and resulting war of words come amid a backdrop of impending talks between Iran and the US aimed at bringing stability to Iraq.

Addressing Friday prayer worshippers at Tehran University Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said the talks - breaking what is a taboo for many Iranian hardliners opposed to ties with the US -would be limited to Iraq and would not include Iran's nuclear programme or other issues.

Comment: Everyone needs to understand that this has been the modus operandi of Britain, the U.S., Israel and most other western intelligence agencies for many years, yet the US, Britain, and most specifically Israel lead the field in such illegal and immoral acts. Behind the facade of the spreading of freedom and democracy, America, Israel and Britain are currently engaged in a criminal and covert war of aggression against Iran.

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Iran to invest one billion dollars in Iraq's industrial sector

Iaonnis Solomou
Posted on 18 Mar 2006 # ANI

Iran appears prepared to give a helping hand to its erstwhile foe Iraq by investing about one billion dollars in Iraq's ravaged industrial sector.

A team of Iranian experts is expected to visit Baghdad in the coming weeks to identify business opportunities. Iran's Exports Promotion Bank has already earmarked some 400 million dollars for the first projects to materialise under the plan.
Usama al-Najafi, the Iraqi Minister of Industry and Minerals, has said that about one billion dollars will be invested in a number of projects, namely a car assembly plant, steel and glass industries and the manufacturing of electrical appliances and transformers.

Although Iran will put down all the money for the investments, it will own only one third of the projects and the rest will be owned by Iraq, which will start paying 10 years after the completion of the projects. Interest will be extremely low, reportedly one percent, so as to really help Iraqi businessmen who will be involved in the projects with their Iranian counterparts.

Last year, Tehran pledged to extend to Iraq a credit facility of the order of one billion dollars which will be used to encourage Iraqis buy more Iranian products.




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Britain breaks with the US over Iran

By Patrick Seale
The News
18 Mar 06

DUBAI: Britain has told the United States that it will not take part in any armed action against Iran's nuclear sites, according to diplomatic sources in London. Already facing huge public criticism for his participation in the Iraq war, Prime Minister Tony Blair is seeking to distance himself from America's belligerent rhetoric towards Iran.

Blair knows he would probably not survive the political storm if Britain joined in an attack on Iran. The concern in Whitehall, however, is that the Bush administration, egged on by Israel and its powerful friends in the United States, risks developing an unstoppable momentum towards war a war in which Britain clearly wants no part.
There is a real fear that if Iran refuses to yield to pressure either by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or by the UN Security Council to which Iran was formally referred on March 8 then the US would be left with no other option than to strike. The US may indeed have boxed itself into a corner by its threats, which Iran has scornfully rejected.

The view in Whitehall is that if America attacks Iran, it will have to do so alone or with Israel. In private discussions, British officials have made clear that any sort of military campaign against Iran would be "madness".

Despite its close alliance with the US, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has departed publicly from aggressive statements by senior US officials. He has ruled out military action by Britain against Iran as "inconceivable".

Last week, Britain announced it was pulling 800 men out of Iraq one tenth of its force there. This is seen as a signal that Britain is seeking to limit its involvement in America's wars, rather than take on additional commitments.

Carefully monitoring opinion in Washington, British officials have noted with alarm that the advocates of confrontation with Iran, both inside and outside the administration, have triumphed over the few brave souls who dared argue in favour of dialogue and engagement.

Analysts in London are now convinced that Washington's real aim is "regime change" in Tehran, an ambition which goes far beyond merely delaying or halting Iran's nuclear programme.

The Washington Post reported this week that Iran had moved to the top of America's national security agenda. Quite apart from the large teams devoted to the Iran problem in the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies, 10 people are now working full time on the Iran desk at the State Department, and an American outpost of Tehran-watchers has been established in the Gulf.

Earlier this month US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared: "We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran whose policies are directed at developing a Middle East that would be 180 degrees different from the Middle East that we would like to see develop." In a bid to undermine the mullahs, she is planning to spend $85 million expanding American radio and TV broadcasts to Iran and promote internal opposition.

In a widely reported speech on March 7 to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the main pro-Israeli lobby, Vice-President Dick Cheney declared: "The United States is keeping all options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the [Iranian] regime? We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."

On the same day, General Moshe Ya'alon, a former Israeli chief of staff, told a Washington audience that Israel could launch an attack on Iran in several different ways, not just from the air. This was seen as a reference to Israel's Dolphin class submarines, armed with American Harpoon nuclear missiles, which are thought to be targeted at Iran.

As with the invasion of Iraq, the campaign against Iran seems to be driven by neocons and other pro-Israeli activists. Richard Perle one of the most eager advocates of the Iraq war has been beating the drums of war against Iran, as has the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Even Ze'ev Schiff, a usually sober Israeli defence analyst, wrote last week in Haaretz that intelligence services in the West were convinced that Iran was covertly developing nuclear weapons. "There is a secondary, smaller covert channel that is making steady progress towards creating a nuclear weapon," he claimed.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported on March 10 that "in recent months, IDF officers have visited Washington to offer their support for a military strike should the diplomatic channels fail to bring Iran to heel".

American war fever against Iran seem largely to do with Israel. It includes Iran's support for anti-Israeli militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's remarks about "wiping Israel off the map", which most independent observers dismiss as an angry response to Israel's brutal oppression of the Palestinians and not in any sense a realistic threat.

President George W. Bush and his Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have accused Iran of smuggling sophisticated road-side bombs and military personnel into Iraq, but General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted this week that the US had no proof of such activity.

In claiming that Iran is developing nuclear weapons the US seems in danger of repeating the mistake it made in Iraq. The evidence against Iran is as flimsy and as unproven as was the charge that Iraq's WMD posed an "imminent threat" to America and the world.

There is no sign, however, that Washington is ready to heed the advice of IAEA chief Mohammad Al Baradei, who urged the US to end the "war of words" with Tehran and "engage in a dialogue".

Russia, too, is anxious to avert the danger of war not least to protect its substantial interests in Iran.

Russia is supplying Iran with an advanced air defence system and has almost finished building Iran's first nuclear power station at Bushehr on the Arabian Gulf at a reported cost of $800 million. Moscow is keen to win more nuclear power contracts in Iran where Energy Minister Parviz Fattah this week announced plans to start building a second nuclear power station within six months.

Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, described Iran's referral to the Security Council as "too hasty".

"This move is detrimental," he said on Russian state TV. "Not one real problem can be decided with such a move? We don't want to be the ones to remind [everyone] who was right and who was not in Iraq, although the answer is obvious."

A Russian compromise proposal to produce nuclear fuel for Iranian power stations in Russia, while allowing Iran to enrich a small amount of uranium on its own soil, was shot down by the US. "Enrichment and reprocessing on Iranian soil is not acceptable," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

In confronting Iran, the US may not have fully weighed the possible consequences: the extreme danger to US forces in Iraq; soaring oil prices; and encouragement for the world-wide jihadi movement which is bound to result in terror attacks against US and Israeli interests. It looks as if the US has no coherent policy towards Iran only bluster.

Iran has an "inalienable right" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to acquire atomic knowledge for peaceful purposes. It has the ability to hit back hard against any aggressor. And, even were it to acquire nuclear weapons a remote possibility several years in the future it could surely be contained and deterred by the immensely greater nuclear arsenals of the US and Israel.

The inescapable conclusion would seem to be that the US should start direct talks with Iran as soon as possible. It may be the only way to defuse the threat of war, to provide the US with an exit strategy from Iraq and to build bridges to an inflamed Muslim public opinion.

(Patrick Seale is a commentator and author of several books on Middle East affairs)



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Mother Nature's Revenge


Super cyclone hits northeastern Australia

AFP
March 19, 2006

BRISBANE, Australia - A super cyclone smashed into tropical northeastern Australia, with winds of up to 290 kilometres an hour (180 mph) causing casualties and ripping homes apart, officials said.

Tropical Cyclone Larry hit land near Innisfail in the far north of Queensland state as a top category five, but had since been downgraded to a category four, the Queensland weather bureau said.

It is the strongest cyclone to strike Australia in more than 30 years and was seen as potentially more dangerous than Cyclone Tracy, which devastated the northern city of Darwin in 1974, killing 71 people and leaving 20,000 homeless.
Innisfail police said they had been inundated with calls from terrified residents whose "homes are literally crumbling around them".

"We have roofs flying off in Fly Fish Point, Silkwood and in the city centre," an Innisfail police spokeswoman said. "And we have trees across roads."

Police had been unable to leave the station despite hundreds of calls for help, she said.

"We've had reports of some casualties at Cairns hospital, some 20 or so," weather bureau forecaster Jonty Hall said. "There's also some reports of a few people missing as well."

Queensland state Premier Peter Beattie declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm's landfall late Sunday, opening the way for mandatory evacuations in several coastal areas, where tidal surges of up to two metres (6.6 feet) were expected.

Hundreds of people evacuated coastal towns in the area and major airlines cancelled all flights into Cairns and Townsville, the two biggest cities in the region.

The weather bureau describes a category five cyclone as "extremely dangerous with widespread destruction". It said Larry posed a very serious threat to life and property.

Forecaster Jonty Hall said conditions around Innisfail were "extremely dangerous".

"We're starting to see a very dangerous storm surge come to shore anywhere pretty south of Innisfail down towards Cardwell," he said. "It doesn't get much worse than this."

Local officials said on national radio that Larry's winds had knocked out power in some areas and was toppling trees.

Amanda Fitzpatrick, owner of the Barrier Reef Motel outside Innisfail, told ABC radio under the eye of the storm: "It was so terrifying, we were all crying.

"It's just like a bomb has gone off, like something went through and just bombed it."

Innisfail resident Wayne said: "Whatever trees aren't uprooted have snapped off or have no leaves on them. It's just unbelievable."

Garage roller doors had been "shredded, just shredded. It's really scary stuff".

Innisfail resident Des Hensler said the cyclone was the most frightening storm he had seen in the 35 to 40 years he had lived in far north Queensland.

He said he was sheltering alone in a church with water up to his ankles, "just standing in a place where I'm not going to get killed".

"A tree has just fallen on a house (and there's a) street light actually touching the ground, that's how strong the wind is," he told Seven Network television.

Reflecting the rough and tough attitude of many residents of Australia's tropical far north, he added: "It's just frightening. I don't get scared much but this is something to make any man tremble in his boots.

"There's a grey sheet of water, horizontal to the ground, and just taking everything in its path.

"And believe me, it's taking everything ... it is totally scary."



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Severe Storms Develop in Texas

By WEATHER UNDERGROUND
The Associated Press
March 19, 2006

A late-winter storm dumped up to a foot of snow in South Dakota on Sunday, while severe thunderstorms developed in Texas, and scattered rain fell across the nation's midsection.

Heavy snow closed highways and canceled weekend events across much of South Dakota. Eight to 9 inches had fallen in the community of Bonesteel and up to a foot in other areas.
Rain and snow also fell across portions of the central Plains and mid-Mississippi Valley. In Texas, a few storms became severe, bringing lightning, strong winds, hail and heavy downpours. The rain caused flooding that prompted some evacuations, and a few people required rescue from high water, authorities said.

In the West, rain and snow fell across the Rockies. Helena, Mont., and Yellowstone National Park reported 4 inches of snow. Scattered rain also fell across portions of the Southwest. The remainder of the region enjoyed clear to partly cloudy skies and dry conditions.

Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Sunday ranged from a low of minus 4 degrees at Cook, Minn., and Crane Lake, Minn., to a high of 88 degrees at Harlingen, Texas.



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Ottawa Scientist Says Cosmic Rays, Not Greenhouse Gases, Cause Global Warming

March 16, 2006
Tom Spears
The Ottawa Citizen

With trepidation, Jan Veizer suggests the accepted view of climate change is wrong.

A prominent University of Ottawa science professor says what we know about global warming is wrong -- that stars, not greenhouse gases, are changing Earth's climate.

Jan Veizer says high-energy rays from distant parts of space are smashing into our atmosphere in ways that make our planet go through warm and cool cycles.

The recently retired professor (he still holds a research chair and supervises grad students and postdoctoral fellows) knows that to challenge the accepted climate change theory can lead to a nasty fight.

It's a politically and economically loaded topic, and as polarized as an election campaign.

Yet he is speaking out -- a bit nervously -- about his published research.

"Look, maybe I'm wrong," he said in an interview. "But I'm saying, at least let's look at this and discuss it.

"Every" part of the theory "has its problems," Mr. Veizer adds. "But so does every other model" of how Earth's climate behaves.

Cosmic rays are hitting us all the time. Hold up a penny, and one such particle will hit it, on average, once a minute. The high-energy particle from a distant star has likely been shooting through space for hundreds or thousands of years.
This has been known for a long time. What's new is that a variety of researchers are asking what cosmic rays do to our world and its weather.

Last year, the Proceedings of the Royal Society (a major science journal in Britain) published a theory that cosmic rays "unambiguously" form clouds and affect our climate.

Florida Tech and the University of Florida are jointly investigating whether cosmic rays are the trigger that makes a charged thundercloud let rip with lightning.

In 2003, scientists from NASA and the University of Kansas suggested that cosmic rays "influence cloud formation, can affect climate and harm live organisms directly via increase of radiation dose," an effect they claim to trace over millions of years of fossil history.

A native of Bratislava in Slovakia, Mr. Veizer left because Russian troops entered Czechoslovakia in 1968. He's been building up honours ever since in the field of geochemistry -- learning about Earth's past by the chemistry preserved in rocks and sediments.
The Royal Society of Canada called him "one of the most creative, innovative and productive geoscientists of our times," and added: "He has generated entirely new concepts that have proven key in our understanding the geochemical history of Earth."

He was the director of the Earth System Evolution Program of the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research. He held a special research chair at the University of Ottawa.

He won the 1992 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, worth $2.2 million, and representing the German government's highest prize for research in any field. The judges said he "has in front of his eyes the overall picture of the Earth during its entire 4.5 billion years of evolution," and he is "one of the most creative ... geologists of his time."

Yet for years he held back on his climate doubts. "I was scared," he says.

He still is.

Questioning the fundamentals of climate change -- the theory that man-made gases such as carbon dioxide are building up and warming our climate -- is a fast way to start a nasty, personal fight in the science world. The weight of scientific opinion is overwhelmingly pro-greenhouse-gas, which means anti-Veizer. Doubters tend to be written off as paid mouthpieces for the oil industry.

Still, he has published his theory in Geoscience Canada, the journal of the Geological Association of Canada. The article is called "Celestial Climate Driver: A Perspective from Four Billion Years of the Carbon Cycle."

In his paper, Mr. Veizer concludes: "Empirical observations on all time scales point to celestial phenomena as the principal driver of climate, with greenhouse gases acting only as potential amplifiers."

The majority of climate scientists still firmly believe that greenhouse gases are to blame.

It's fine to use natural events to explain climates of the distant past, says Gordon McBean of the University of Western Ontario, but it falls apart in explaining the recent warming -- since 1970 or so.

"If you don't include the greenhouse gases, all these projections show that if anything we should have been cooling for the past few decades. But it's the greenhouse gas signal over the past 30 years that has made the difference."

This is reflected in a series of reports by the International Panel on Climate Change -- hundreds of scientists examining this single issue. Mr. McBean was one of them.

In 1990, the panel members weren't sure whether to blame human pollution, so they offered no opinion. In 1995, they said the balance of evidence "suggests" human-caused gases were responsible. In 2001, they made the case more strongly.

Mr. Veizer felt uncomfortable with the idea that high levels of carbon dioxide alone are causing hot spells. For one thing, he says, Earth would have needed vastly more carbon dioxide than today to change temperatures so much. For another, his reading of the graphs shows that some rises in carbon dioxide came after increases in temperature, not before. And in one case at least, we appear to have had very high carbon dioxide at a cold time -- an "icehouse," not greenhouse.

He wondered: What if something else makes the temperature go up and down?

The $2.2-million German prize ended up financing his research. The professor says he would never have found financial support any other way; the prize gave him "absolute freedom."

He looked to geology. As environmental conditions change, different "isotopes" of some chemicals form. These are slightly different forms of any element -- carbon or oxygen, or less common substances such as beryllium. And these remain frozen in time in ancient rocks, or lake and ocean sediments, or glaciers. (Samples drilled from Antarctic ice go back more than 700,000 years, layer by layer.)

For Mr. Veizer, the idea is that cosmic rays hit gas molecules in the atmosphere and form the nucleus of what becomes a water vapour droplet. These in turn form clouds, reflecting some of the sun's energy back to space and cooling the Earth. Yet the numbers of cosmic rays vary.

"The question is therefore, Where do we have lots of cosmic rays?"

Most rays come from younger stars, which are clustered at some regions in the galaxy through which our solar system has passed its its 4.5-billion-year history. As well, our own sun deflects some of these rays away, but the sun's activity grows stronger and weaker. All these factors can change the number of cosmic rays that hit us




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Australian Cyclone Worst in Decades

By Meraiah Foley
Associated Press
20 March 2006

CAIRNS, Australia -The most powerful storm to hit Australia in decades laid waste to its northeastern coast on Monday, mowing down sugar and banana plantations and leaving possibly thousands of people homeless.

But there were no reports of serious injuries, reflecting the preparedness of residents in the storm-prone region.
About a dozen people were treated at regional hospitals for minor cuts and abrasions, said Jim Guthrie, a spokesman for the state of Queensland's health department. Many people had taken shelter before the storm, or hunkered down in their homes.

"This is far north Queensland and most people live with cyclones year in, year out. They do take precautions," he said. "We've come out of it extremely well."

Cyclone Larry crashed ashore about 60 miles south of Cairns as a Category 5 storm, packing winds of up to 180 mph.

Cairns is a popular jumping-off point for visits to the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral system which runs parallel to the coast for more than 1,400 miles. Authorities said it was too early to assess possible damage to the reef, visited by nearly two million tourists each year.

In Innisfail, a farming town of 8,500 that was hardest hit, Mayor Neil Clarke estimated that thousands were left homeless. He told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. the airport was being cleared to house people in tents. More than 50,000 people were without power.

"It looks like an atomic bomb hit the place," he said.

The storm was so bad at its height overnight that police were unable to venture out and help terrified residents who called to say the winds had ripped roofs off buildings and destroyed their homes. As emergency services fanned out across the region later to assess the damage, they encountered scenes of devastation.

"The damage to dwellings is very extensive," Prime Minister John Howard told the Nine Network from Melbourne. "Thank heavens it does not appear as though there have been any very serious injuries."

Howard said he would visit the stricken region in coming days and the government would provide aid to homeless families. He said he was confident the cyclone would not cause the kind of chaos seen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina last year.

"Australians are very good at responding to these things because everybody pitches in without restraint," he told reporters.

The main street of Innisfail was littered with the mangled remains of corrugated tin and iron roofs and shredded fronds from beach side palm trees. Queensland state leader Peter Beattie said more than half the homes in the town were damaged.

"Some have been flattened, roofs have been taken off," he told Macquarie Radio. "The property damage has been immense."

The storm also devastated banana and sugar cane plantations, the region's economic mainstay. Officials said damage would run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Des Hensler, an Innisfail resident, took shelter by himself in a church, with water up to his ankles. "I don't get scared much, but this is something to make any man tremble in his boots," he told the Seven television network.

Australia's military said it would send a medical team to the region. Helicopters would conduct low-level damage assessment flights.

State Disaster Coordination Center spokesman Peter Rekers warned residents to stay on their guard for deadly animals stirred up by the storm.

"Most of the casualties and deaths resulting from cyclones happen after the storm has passed," he warned. "Keep your kids away from flooded drains, be aware of snakes and crocodiles. Those guys will have had a bad night too."

The storm was the most powerful to hit Australia since Christmas Eve in 1974, when Cyclone Tracy destroyed the northern city of Darwin, killing 65 people.



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Worker Inspecting Volcano that Erupts Feared Dead

By The Associated Press
18 March 2006

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -A young conservation worker who was checking a volcano's crater lake when it unexpectedly burst to life, spewing mounds of ash and soot, most likely died in the eruption in the remote nature reserve, a conservation official said Saturday.
The eruption in one of Raoul Island's three main craters-the first there since 1964-threw rocks and boulders into the air and buried the area around the lake in mud and ash up to 16 feet deep.

A rescue team was expected to set sail from New Zealand on Sunday to inspect the remote island and assess prospects for recovering the missing worker, who was part of a small team monitoring the nature reserve. By opting for a three-day sea trip, rather than flying, officials virtually ruled out finding the worker alive.

"He was at the exact epicenter of the massive destruction,'' said Conservation Minister Chris Carter after speaking to a rescue worker who had witnessed the devastation.

Carter said the rescuer estimated the worker, who left an hour before the eruption for the crater lake for a routine check of the water temperature, had only a "1 to 2 percent chance'' of surviving.

Two of the five surviving conservationists went in search of their missing colleague but could not get past a twisted mess of trees and mud and the erupting volcano forced them back. All five-three men and two women-were evacuated by helicopter to Auckland.

"They were very traumatized as one would expect. There has been only the six of them on the island since last October,'' Carter said. "They are like family members.''

A member of the helicopter rescue mission said the group was distraught at leaving their workmate behind.

"They are clearly upset. The guy is a good friend and they're a fairly close group,'' senior Constable Barry Shepherd, a search and rescue expert, told reporters. The conservation workers did not immediately speak to the media.

An aerial search for the missing man, in his early 30s, was hampered by fading light and clouds of steam and ash. The man's name was not released.

John Funnel, the helicopter pilot who flew the rescue mission, said the eruption ripped up trees and dumped ash over half the 72-acre island. He said the dense clouds of ash would have brought the helicopter down if he had flown into them.

The rescue team would have had to "get right into the vent of the volcano which was still active in order to search for the missing party,'' he said. "Hovering in a crater lake when it has just been erupting is not where you want to be unless you absolutely have to.''

A group of police, conservation officials and one vulcanologist was likely to set sail Sunday, but will only land if they decide it is safe based on visual checks and updates on seismic activity, said Rolien Elliot, the Conservation Department's area manager.

The volcano spewed steam and ash hundreds of yards into the air on Friday, and moderate earthquakes of magnitude 3 to 4 shook the island, but no lava or molten rock was reported flowing from the vent.

Vulcanologist Michael Rosenberg said the eruption was of a "moderate size'' and looked similar to the one in 1964.

Friday's explosion "seems to have occurred with no immediate warning,'' New Zealand's main geological group, GNS Science said in a statement.

On Saturday, there were only clusters of small earthquakes and no obvious volcanic activity on the partly bush-covered island, GNS Science reported.

The last known eruption on Raoul Island, about 625 miles northeast of the New Zealand city of Auckland, was on Nov. 21, 1964, from a vent close to Green Lake. There were no casualties.

The chain to which it belongs-New Zealand's Kermadec Islands-was formed by a string of volcanoes that rose up to 26,000 feet from the ocean floor.



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Warmer Seas Creating Stronger Hurricanes, Study Confirms

By Ker Than
LiveScience Staff Writer
16 March 2006

A rise in the world's sea surface temperatures was the primary contributor to the formation of stronger hurricanes since 1970, a new study reports.

While the question of what role, if any, humans have had in all this is still a matter of intense debate, most scientists agree that stronger storms are likely to be the norm in future hurricane seasons.

The study is detailed in the March 17 issue of the journal Science.
An alarming trend

In the 1970s, the average number of intense Category 4 and 5 hurricanes occurring globally was about 10 per year. Since 1990, that number has nearly doubled, averaging about 18 a year.

Category 4 hurricanes have sustained winds from 131 to 155 mph. Category 5 systems, such as Hurricane Katrina at its peak, feature winds of 156 mph or more. Wilma last year set a record as the most intense hurricane on record with winds of 175 mph.

While some scientists believe this trend is just part of natural ocean and atmospheric cycles, others argue that rising sea surface temperatures as a side effect of global warming is the primary culprit.

According to this scenario, warming temperatures heat up the surface of the oceans, increasing evaporation and putting more water vapor into the atmosphere. This in turn provides added fuel for storms as they travel over open oceans.

Other factors less important

The researchers used statistical models and techniques from a field of mathematics called information theory to determine factors contributing to hurricane strength from 1970 to 2004 in six of the world's ocean basins, including the North Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

They looked at four factors that are known to affect hurricane intensity:

* Humidity in the troposphere-the part of the atmosphere stretching from surface of the Earth to about 6 miles up
* Wind shear that can throttle storm formation
* Rising sea-surface temperatures
* Large-scale air circulation patterns known as "zonal stretching deformations"

Of these factors, only rising sea surface temperatures was found to influence hurricane intensity in a statistically significant way over a long-term basis. The other factors affected hurricane activity on short time scales only.

"We found no long-term trend in things like wind shear," said study team member Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology. "There's a lot of year to year variability but there's no global trend. In any given year, it's different for each ocean."

An answer for the critics

The new study potentially addresses one major criticism leveled by scientists skeptical of any strong link between sea surface temperatures and hurricane strength, said Kerry Emanuel, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was not involved in the study.

Last year, Emanuel published a study correlating the documented increase in hurricane duration and intensity in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans since the 1970s to rises in sea surface temperatures over the same time period.

"We were criticized by the seasonal forecasters for not including the other environmental factors, like wind shear, in our analysis," Emanuel said in an email. "[We didn't do so] because on time scales longer than 2-3 years, these do not seem to matter very much. This paper more or less proves this point."

Kevin Trenberth, the head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), believes the new study's main finding is accurate but thinks the effects of some of the environmental factors on hurricane intensity might have been underestimated.

"The reason is they're covering a period from 1970 to 2004. 1979 is the year when satellites were introduced into the [NCEP/NCAR] Reanalysis. The quality of the analysis prior to 1979 is simply nowhere near as good," said Trenberth, who also was not involved in the study.

The NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis is the database the researchers drew upon for information about the effects of troposphere humidity, wind shear and zonal stretching deformation on hurricane intensity; sea surface temperature data came from a different database.

Curry acknowledged that reanalysis data prior to 1979 is of slightly lower quality than more recent data but believes this doesn't substantially change the study's main finding. Trenberth agreed: "I suspect they may well have gotten the right answer anyway," he told LiveScience.

Natural cycles?

Some scientists have explained the rising strength of hurricanes as being part of natural weather cycles in the world's oceans.

In the North Atlantic, this cycle is called the Atlantic multi-decadal mode. Every 20 to 40 years, Atlantic Ocean and atmospheric conditions conspire to produce just the right conditions to cause increased storm and hurricane activity.

The Atlantic Ocean is currently going through an active period of hurricane activity that began in 1995 and which has continued to the present. The previous active cycle lasted from the late 1920's to 1970, and peaked around 1950.

These cycles definitely do influence hurricane intensity, but they can't be the whole story, Curry said.

While scientists expect stronger hurricanes based on natural cycles alone, the researchers suspect other contributing factors, since current hurricanes are even stronger than natural cycles predict.

"We're not even at the peak of current cycle, we're only halfway up and already we're seeing activity in the North Atlantic that's 50 percent worse than what we saw during the last peak in 1950," Curry said.

Some scientists still think it's too premature to make any definitive links between sea surface temperatures and hurricane intensity.

"We simply don't have enough data yet," said Thomas Huntington in of the U.S. Geological Survey. "Category 5 hurricanes don't come around very often, so you need the benefit of a much longer time series to look back and say 'Yup, there has been an increase.'"

Huntington is the author of a recent review of more than 100 peer-reviewed studies showing that although many aspects of the global water cycle-including precipitation, evaporation and sea surface temperatures-have increased or risen, the trend cannot be consistently correlated with increases in the frequency or intensity of storms or floods over the past century. Huntington's study was announced this week and is published in the current issue of the Journal of Hydrology.

Brace yourselves

Whatever the underlying cause, most scientists agree that people will need to brace themselves for stronger hurricanes and typhoons in the coming years and decades.

However, most regions around the world will not experience more storms. The only exception to this is the North Atlantic, where hurricanes have become both more numerous and longer-lasting in recent years, especially since 1995. The reasons for this regional disparity are still unclear.

The team's findings are controversial because they draw a connection between stronger hurricanes and rising sea surface temperatures-a phenomenon that has itself already been linked to human-induced global warming.

The study by Curry and her colleagues therefore raises the frightening possibility that humans have inadvertently boosted the destructive power of one of Nature's most devastating and feared storms.

"If humans are increasing sea surface temperatures and if you buy this link between increases rising sea surface temperatures and increases in hurricane intensity, that's the conclusion you come to," Curry said.



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Getting Down and Dirty


OZ PM denies lying about kickbacks

Gerard McManus
18mar06

PRIME Minister John Howard has denied lying to the Australian people about his Government's knowledge that kickbacks had been paid to Saddam Hussein.

Mr Howard failed to explain why the nation's top spy agencies never passed on the explosive intelligence about Australian companies breaking United Nations sanctions in Iraq as long as eight years ago.
Mr Howard said the intelligence did not surface because it was buried in a pile of other spy material, while Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said the agencies at the time did not think the allegations were serious.

Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, repeated his accusation that Mr Howard "lied to the Australian people" when he told them this month that all documents had been provided to the Cole Commission.

In fact, a damning bundle of intelligence reports from agencies such as ASIO, the Office of National Assessments, Defence Intelligence Organisation and others surfaced on Tuesday.

A summary of the documents produced two days later showed that Australia's spies were fully aware of illegal payments to Saddam via the sham Jordanian trucking company, Alia.

Though AWB was not named, the spies suspected that "Australian companies" were using Alia to get around UN sanctions designed to stop the Iraqi president from getting any cash from the West.

AWB was later found by the UN to be the chief sanctions-busting culprit, paying the dictatorship $300 million in kickbacks.

The spy documents also suggest the Government's intelligence arm was concerned the kickbacks were being used to buy military goods or parts abroad.

Lawyers at the Cole Commission yesterday demanded that they be permitted to see the entire intelligence dossier, which Commissioner Terence Cole, QC, has so far kept secret.

A battery of silks representing AWB and its executives called on Commissioner Cole to let them see the secret files, with one barrister describing the commission as a charade.

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley yesterday urged the Howard Government to apologise to the US for "funding the enemy".



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GOP gives only lip service to fiscal discipline - Senate approves billions in election-year deficit spending

Joel Havemann and Richard Simon
Los Angeles Times
18 Mar 06

WASHINGTON -- For two days they marched past the huge marble fountain and upstairs to the terra cotta and creamy gold splendor of the grand ballroom at the historic Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tenn. There, flanked by the flags of more than two dozen states, four U.S. senators who hope to carry the Republican banner in the 2008 presidential election pledged allegiance to one of the GOP's most revered principles: fiscal responsibility -- never spend taxpayers' money you don't have.

Less than a week later, the Senate's Republican majority overwhelmingly approved billions of dollars in deficit spending. And despite cries of outrage from conservative groups that helped build the GOP majorities in both houses of Congress, the Republican spenders were undeterred for one simple reason:

They're convinced that voters care less about big deficits than they do about the things that increased federal spending will buy.

"Senators are betting that pandering to the public with billions in election-year promises will pay off more than they lose by cutting the fiscal conservatives in their own party off at the knees," said Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

That political calculation lay behind congressional Republicans' support for creation of the new Medicare prescription drug entitlement in 2003. And it drove Thursday's votes to raise the debt ceiling and approve more deficit spending.

There was another reason many congressional Republicans have turned away from old-fashioned fiscal discipline. Two other elements in the conservative credo, support for greater spending on national security and determination to cut taxes, have left budget makers with so little room to maneuver that significant budget cuts have become extremely hard to make.

Some Republicans warned that the GOP could pay a heavy price for yielding to spending pressures.

Former Rep. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., who now heads the free-market-oriented Club for Growth, warned that, "Republican voters are going to ask themselves, 'Why bother having Republicans in office?' " Senate Republicans not only have shown "absolutely no semblance of discipline on spending," said Toomey, but they have failed to extend President Bush's expiring tax cuts.

"If they can't do either taxes or spending right, how do they expect Republicans to turn out in the fall to re-elect Republican majorities?" Toomey said. "I think they're in ... for a very rude awakening in November."

"It's a suicide mission," agreed Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. "All this spending has us on a collision course with fiscal disaster." he said. Nonetheless, while he voted consistently against spending proposals this week, in the end he also voted for the final Senate budget with all its added billions.

Democrats, long vilified by their opponents as the tax-and-spend party, think they can turn the tables by calling the Republicans the party of borrow and spend. The federal budget, in surplus when Bush took office in 2001, immediately ran deficits that assumed record proportions.

Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn., told the House Wednesday that he grew up with three principles: "Live within your means, pay your debts and invest in the future. This government under this leadership is doing none of those."

He noted that on Thursday the House approved a $92 billion so-called "emergency" spending bill that provided $68 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and $19 billion for communities struck by Hurricane Katrina. The bill passed handily, 348 to 71, with only 19 Republicans joining 52 Democrats in opposition.

The Senate meanwhile added about $16 billion for a host of domestic programs, including health, education and heating assistance for the poor, to the $2.8 trillion budget for fiscal year 2007 that its Budget Committee had recommended. The budget passed by a scant 51 to 49, with a lone Democrat -- Mary Landrieu of Louisiana -- joining 50 Republicans to form the majority and five Republicans voting no, mostly to protest the budget's call for legislation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

"When it comes to fiscal discipline," said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a budget watchdog group, "the gap between rhetoric and reality on Capitol Hill is as wide as the deficit."

Spending has grown more in Bush's five years in office than it had in President Clinton's eight, even excluding the boom in defense spending under Bush. Altogether, spending rose about 4 percent a year under Clinton and 9 percent a year under Bush.

Despite those numbers, some Republicans think the Democrats will have a hard time persuading the public that they are the party of spending restraint. "It would be even worse under the Democrats," said former House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas.

And restraint might have lost some of its political appeal. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, in its annual survey in January of what issues weigh on the public, said just 36 percent of conservative Republicans rated the deficit as a "top priority," placing it well below eduction, jobs, terrorism and illegal immigration.

"The deficit," said Carroll Doherty of the Pew center, "does not have the same resonance that it did through much of the 1990s."

Paying homage to fiscal responsibility is apparently still mandatory for Republican politicians who aspire to higher office. Among politicians who vowed to curb spending last week when they addressed a combined meeting of the Southern and Midwestern Republican Leadership Conference in Memphis were four of the party's leading presidential hopefuls: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Sen. George Allen of Virginia and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.

All four, however, supported the final budget bill.

Some fiscal conservatives in the House were so furious at the absence of spending cuts to compensate for the extra hurricane relief that they voted against the entire spending bill, including money for the wars.

"I strongly support our troops," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. "Successfully fighting the war on terror is our most important national priority, but another national priority is saving our children from a mountain of debt or unconscionable tax increases," he said.

For other conservative members of Congress, local interests trumped ideology. Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., issued a statement Friday praising the Senate vote to make room for another $235 million for rural health care.

"While it is important to identify and eliminate wasteful and inefficient programs," Thomas said, "I also believe that we must support policies that work."



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Animal Farm: House GOP leader well traveled - Boehner has spent nearly six months on privately funded trips since 2000

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
The Washington Post
March 17, 2006

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio), who rose to power in the wake of a congressional lobbying scandal, spent the equivalent of nearly six months on privately funded trips over the past six years, according to a new study by a nonpartisan research group.

The Center for Public Integrity said that Boehner accepted 42 privately sponsored trips from January 2000 to December 2005. That put him on the road to other countries and "golfing hotspots," often with his wife, Debbie, for about half a year, "only nine days of which he listed as being 'at personal expense,' " the center said.
Boehner also flew at least 45 times on corporate jets owned by companies "with a financial stake in congressional affairs" from June 2001 through September 2005, the center reported. The corporations on whose planes Boehner flew included tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco (15 times), UST Inc. (seven times) and Swisher International Inc. (seven times).

"Boehner is one of Congress' most frequent corporate fliers," Roberta Baskin, executive director of the center, said, based on a review of other lawmakers' disclosure forms.

Political, business ties criticized


The report is the most detailed and comprehensive look at the new majority leader. Boehner, who was elected to the post last month, had been criticized by lawmakers who opposed his elevation for being too close to lobbyists.

Boehner rejected that characterization and offered himself as an agent of change, especially on the issue of congressional ethics. The center concluded, however, that Boehner built "a network of political and business relationships" with corporations and other interests "not unlike" his predecessor, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), whose tenure in the job was controversial in large part because of his close ties to lobbyists and lobbying groups. DeLay stepped down last year after he was indicted in Texas on charges of political money laundering.

In the early debate over how to crack down on lobbyists -- a byproduct of the guilty plea in January of former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- Boehner had been a leading opponent of a ban on privately paid travel. One of his first public pronouncements after winning the second-ranking position in the House leadership was to declare his disagreement with Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who wanted to end travel paid for by private interests.

Boehner pushed instead for enhanced disclosure of privately provided benefits including travel, meals and gifts -- the direction the House now appears to be taking in pending legislation. In the meantime, he has accepted a compromise that would ban privately paid travel this year until the House ethics committee devises new rules.

Trips called legal, proper, educational
Kevin A. Madden, a Boehner spokesman, defended the lawmaker's trips as legal, proper and educational. He said Boehner's initial enmity toward a ban on privately paid trips was not because he has taken so many of them.

Rather, Madden pointed to the center's report as proof that disclosure works well. Madden said the study was possible because of the thorough disclosures Boehner made through the years and which he now advocates expanding. The center was able to detail Boehner's activities because his trips, "in each and every instance, were promptly and publicly disclosed according to law," Madden said.

"The fact that this report uses publicly available documents underscores Mr. Boehner's commitment to transparency and full disclosure," Madden said. "The entire approach of transparency and disclosure is so that groups like this one [the center] aren't the ultimate judge. The voters are."

Among the places Boehner traveled on privately financed trips were Edinburgh, Scotland; Venice; Brussels; and Barcelona, the center said. Two of his domestic destinations, which the center pointed out are famous for their golf courses, were Boca Raton, Fla., and Scottsdale, Ariz.

Thousands spent to 'wine and dine'

The report said Boehner received more than $160,000 in food, lodging, transportation and other expenditures on his privately paid journeys. His benefactors included the Chicago Board of Trade, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, CSX Corp. and the Sallie Mae Foundation.

The congressman also "hosted many high-end fundraisers to wine and dine potential donors and Republican colleagues," the center said. Boehner's Freedom Project political action committee, which he used to help fellow Republicans get elected to Congress, paid more than $119,000 for golf-outing fundraisers from March 2003 through the end of 2005, the center said. It also paid $25,000 to Duck Soup, the "unofficial band of the PGA Tour."

The same leadership PAC spent more than $87,000 on food, beverages and fund-raising costs at Sam & Harry's, a D.C. steakhouse popular with lobbyists, from 2001 through August 2005. It also paid more than $40,000 over two nights at Washington's Hard Rock Cafe, the center reported.

Boehner's spokesman said that those kinds of expenditures were commonplace for fundraising events.

Boehner's staff has benefited from corporate-paid travel. The congressman approved trips taken by dozens of his aides from his personal office and the staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which he chaired starting in 2001. Over the past five years, the center said, his staff aides took more than 150 privately paid trips worth more than $200,000 to locations as far-flung as Japan and Europe.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company



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Congressmen get in fight, spew racial epithets

RAW STORY
March 17, 2006

Congressional debate about immigration has gotten ugly, according to Thursday's edition of Roll Call.

Excerpts from the Roll Call story follow...
We knew immigration was a contentious issue and all, but wait until you hear the epithets that Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) hurled at Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), Congress' chief immigration critic, after a live debate they had on CNBC Wednesday. Sneak preview: They include "bigot," "racist" and "KKK."

After the lunchtime show in the Cannon Rotunda ended, Gutierrez made a joke about how the "immigrant" (him, though he was born in Chicago) showed up on time while the "Gringo" (Tancredo) was late. Gutierrez told Tancredo that he had a "really ugly policy."

The way Gutierrez's office tells the story, Tancredo and the two aides who accompanied him followed Gutierrez to his office. Tancredo kept "following him, touching him, following him, touching him," Gutierrez spokesman Scott Frotman said.

At that point, Gutierrez pretty much snapped. "Have you ever eaten in a restaurant?" he asked Tancredo, adding with feigned disgust, "How could you eat from the plates touched by those nasty illegal immigrants?"



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Industry decries clean-air ruling

MICHAEL JANOFSKY
New York Times News Service
18 Mar 06

WASHINGTON - A federal appeals court on Friday overturned a clean-air regulation issued by the Bush administration that would have let many power plants, refineries and factories avoid installing costly new pollution controls when they modernize.

Ruling in favor of a coalition of states and environmental advocacy groups, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declared the "plain language" of the act required a stricter approach.

The ruling by a three-judge panel was the court's second decision in less than a year in a pair of closely related cases involving the administration's interpretations of a complex section of the Clean Air Act.
Last summer, the court largely upheld the EPA's approach against multipronged challenges from industry, state governments and environmental groups. Friday's ruling was a defeat for the agency and for industry, and a victory for the states and their environmentalist allies.

In the earlier case, a panel including two of the three judges in Friday's decision found that EPA had acted reasonably in 2002 when it issued a rule changing how pollution would be measured. Effectively, that rule loosened the strictures on companies making changes to their equipment and operations.

But Friday, the court said the EPA went too far in 2003 when it issued a separate new regulation that opponents said would exempt most equipment changes from environmental reviews, even changes that would result in higher emissions.

With a wry footnote to Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass," the court said that "only in a Humpty-Dumpty world" could the law be read otherwise.

"We decline such a world view," said their unanimous decision, written by Judge Judith W. Rogers, an appointee of President Clinton. She was joined by Judge David Tatel, another Clinton appointee, and Judge Janice Rogers Brown, appointed last year by President Bush.

States deemed winners:

The winners this time were more than a dozen states, including New York and California, and a large group of environmental organizations. They hailed the decision as one of their most important gains in years of litigation, regulation and legal challenges under the Clean Air Act.

"This is an enormous victory over the concerted efforts by the Bush administration to dismantle the Clean Air Act," said Eliot Spitzer, the New York attorney general whose office led the opposition from the states. Spitzer, who is running for governor of New York, said the ruling "shows that the administration's effort to misinterpret and undermine the statute is illegal."

Five Alabama Power Co. plants were among 32 facilities nationwide that the U.S. Department of Justice was pursuing, claiming they did not fully comply with the modern Clean Air Act. After the Bush administration relaxed the rules, the cases languished.

A company spokesman said Friday it was unclear if the ruling would affect Alabama Power. The utility is in mediation with the Justice Department to resolve the lawsuit.

National environmental groups have blamed the Southern Co., Alabama Power's parent company, for the changes, arguing it has been the leader in an aggressive campaign to roll back the Clean Air Act.

Stability at stake:

"This is a terrible decision," said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a trade organization, arguing the "any physical change" definition creates financial instability for plant operators who spend as much as $800 million for a new boiler.

The EPA issued only a brief statement, saying: "We are disappointed that the court did not find in favor of the United States. We are reviewing and analyzing the opinion."

The decision is unlikely to be the last word. Several circuit courts or appeals courts have considered or decided related cases, and the issue may eventually land, by one path or another, at the Supreme Court.

Some in Congress say the uncertainty demands an overhaul of the Clean Air Act itself, but there has been no real movement in that direction in recent years.



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The star-spangled fantasyland of the fake and home of the bogus - US politicians aim for rugged, macho images because insecure voters want to feel that real men are in charge

Linda Colley
Saturday March 18, 2006
The Guardian


In America, the excitement about Dick Cheney's shooting accident is over. There are no more talkshow debates about why he took so long to make a statement, and no more news reports about his 78-year-old victim. Even the delicious contrast between the vicepresident's bravery in the face of small birds and the deferments he took to keep from going to Vietnam no longer raises eyebrows. Yet the shrewdest comment I heard on the incident was rarely touched on. What did the vice-president think he was doing, inquired a serious hunter? Real men got up early and went into the countryside hunting wild quail alone with their dog. Going in groups to a farm to shoot specially bred birds was for sissies. It wasn't Cheney's involvement in masculine pursuits that was noteworthy; it was that the mode of masculinity on show was bogus.
Bogus masculine posturing seems to be the style of the current US administration. Its most conspicuous expression was perhaps Bush's "Mission Accomplished" photo opportunity after the invasion of Iraq. There he was, this veteran of the home guard, clad in a snug-fitting flight suit, strutting the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln among real warriors, and claiming victory. It was, wrote one commentator, "a masculine drag performance". Similar posturing went on in the Republican convention before the last presidential election: politicians whose own warlike masculinity was nonexistent strove very effectively to effeminise John Kerry, who really had been a hero. So we had Cheney, rather obscenely, accusing the Democratic candidate of wanting to show al-Qaida a "softer side", and muscle-bound Arnold Schwarzenegger making his famous reference to "girlie-men".

Why do current US political officeholders feel the need for such a transparent strategy, and why does it seem to work? To be sure, political power and shows of masculinity have traditionally gone closely together. In the past, rulers led their troops into battle and, even in peacetime, called themselves fathers of their people. And modern politics retains abundant masculine rituals. Prime minister's question time in Britain, for instance, is a stylised duel and tournament redolent of testosterone. By way of voice lessons, wearing severe suits and her own aggression, Margaret Thatcher mastered it (the verb seems appropriate).

Yet the historic fact that power has usually been male scarcely explains why American politicians now appear to feel an obligation to try so very hard. Nor does it explain why Kerry's Purple Heart and Silver Star, won in combat, didn't win greater electoral dividends. As far as the latter's failure with the voters was concerned, I suspect that his allusions to his own heroism in the Democratic convention ("reporting for duty") struck a false note. Anyone who has spoken to experienced combat troops knows that they rarely brag about their exploits. Strong and silent is the preferred style.

The fact that Kerry was encouraged by his advisers to deviate from this mode, rather than maintaining a dignified reticence about his Vietnam record and letting it speak for itself, was yet another aspect of the Democrats' ineptitude in the last presidential election. None the less, the tendency of some US voters to dismiss Kerry, despite all his medals, as "French" - which for Americans, as for Britons, is often a euphemism for effeminate - and to be impressed by George Bush's bluster, his wearing of a Stetson, a leather jacket and cowboy boots on his ranch, and images of him chain-sawing trees, suggests at the very least a degree of confusion about what does constitute masculinity.

This is surely one reason why the Republicans - and, indeed, some Democrats (think of Bill Clinton's busy sexual adventurism) - have been tempted in recent times to use postures of masculinity to such a crass degree. They are not acting this way because Americans possess a strong and confident cult of the masculine virtues, but rather because many are anxiously uncertain about just what these virtues are. These uncertainties stem in part from America's own domestic situation. In some respects, female emancipation has progressed further there than in Europe. At present both the Republican and Democratic parties possess powerful female figures who may well come into play in 2008, in Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. By contrast, in Britain female MPs were nowhere in the recent Conservative and Lib Dem leadership contests - just as they will be nowhere in the race to lead the Labour party when Tony Blair stands down.

Partly because women in the US are better represented in the hierarchies, the culture wars over gender there have been particularly fierce. This can be seen in the ferocity of the debates over gay marriage, but also over far less serious things. It should, for instance, have come as no surprise that Brokeback Mountain, with its deconstruction of one of the most iconic American male heroes - the cowboy - did rather better at the Baftas in London than at the Oscars in Hollywood. For some Americans, I suspect, this movie was too uncomfortable, even heretical. It scratched at issues that were already irritating.

One way of understanding the bogus masculine posturing of the likes of Bush and Cheney is to view it as a kind of comfort blanket being knowingly extended to troubled American voters (of both sexes) who feel deeply worried that conventional gender roles in their country are unravelling. Male blue-collar workers, who have witnessed the disappearance in recent years of large numbers of conventional masculine jobs in heavy industry, and evangelical Christians concerned about the sanctity and survival of the family are particularly susceptible to such strategies on the part of knowing politicians, however crude and artificial they may seem to non-believers.

There is, however, another factor in play. In Britain, as in the rest of Europe, politics remains overwhelmingly a male pursuit, but it is no longer necessary to try too hard. David Cameron could get away with simply patting his pregnant wife's bump, a New Man gesture that was also, of course, a gesture of proprietorship and potency. But Blair and he do not need to strut upon battleships, however much they might enjoy doing so. Britain, like other European states, is not and never will again be in the topworld- power league, so its male leaders can afford to play subtler, more variegated roles. Leaders of the US don't have that option. They preside over an empire, over the biggest military power the world has ever seen, which is now at war. The pressure on them to be seen to be conventionally masculine is therefore enormous. Just how Hillary Clinton in particular will cope with this in 2008 is not clear.

· Linda Colley is the author of Captives: Britain, Empire and the World, and professor of history at Princeton University lcolley@princeton.edu



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Science, "Science", and Conscience


Video game therapy - a new frontier

By Lisa Baertlein
Reuters
Fri Mar 17, 6:48 PM ET

LOS ANGELES - Doctors pronounced Ethan Myers brain dead after a car accident dealt the 9-year-old a severe brain injury in 2002. After he miraculously awoke from a nearly month-long coma, doctors declared he would never again eat on his own, walk or talk.

Yet, thanks partly to a video game system, Myers has caught up with his peers in school and even read a speech to a large group of students.
"I'm doing the exact same things as them. I'm getting buddies and stuff," said Myers, who had relearned to walk and was reading at a second-grade level before his video game therapy began in May 2004.

"I couldn't remember where I put stuff and now I can. I remember school stuff and people's names," he said in a telephone interview from his family's home in Colorado.

More fundamentally, Myers can now fully open his right hand, which paralysis had curled closed. His brother and sister, who were in the car with him during the accident and each suffered mild brain injuries, have also shown improvement in their memory and other functions.

Ethan and his parents attribute his most recent progress to neuro-feedback training on the CyberLearning Technology LLC system, which is often used to play car racing video games.

"In the last year, we've seen the Ethan we knew before the accident," said Howard Myers, the teenager's father.

A NEW FRONTIER

Neuro-feedback is a form of conditioning that rewards people for producing specific brain waves, such as those that appear when a person is relaxed or paying attention.

While this form of treatment has been around for decades, incorporating video games marks a new frontier that taps young people's fascination with animation and electronics to sweeten often frightening, lengthy and tedious medical treatments.

Video games are being used, for instance, to help sick children manage pain and anxiety during hospital stays.

A young leukemia patient inspired "Ben's Game," which let him fight the cancer cells invading his body. A private island called Brigadoon in Linden Lab's "Second Life" virtual world is open only to people with Asperger's syndrome and autism.

West Virginia's public schools are battling obesity by making "Dance Dance Revolution" -- a step-to-the-beat video game -- part of their curriculum, while Nintendo Co. Ltd. has made a splash with its new "Brain Age" mind-exercising game.

NASA TECHNOLOGY

CyberLearning's SMART BrainGames system, which Myers still uses, targets symptoms arising from brain injuries, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities.

Priced at $584, the system is built on NASA technology that used video games and neuro-feedback to train pilots to stay alert during long flights and calm during emergencies. It is compatible with Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 1 and 2 consoles as well as Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox, which video game-crazed kids are quite familiar with.

Users wear a helmet with built-in sensors to measure brain waves. That data is relayed to a neuro-feedback system that affects the game controller.

Car racing games work best with the system, which rewards users by telling the controller to allow them to go fast and steer with control, doctors said. When patients' brain waves aren't in "the zone" the controller makes it harder to accelerate and steer.

Families generally pay $2,000 to $2,500 for a six-month supervised program with one of CyberLearning's 55 licensed health professionals trained on the SMART BrainGames system.

SKEPTICS, COST REMAIN HURDLES


Despite demonstrated benefits of neuro-feedback, one pediatrician said better-designed studies are needed to help parents of children with ADHD make informed decisions.

"We have some very effective treatments for kids with ADHD," said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park, New York. "I'd be concerned about parents pursuing expensive and not very established treatments in lieu of more proven therapies."


Traditional treatments, such as prescribing the stimulant
Ritalin, behavioral therapy and education, are often covered by health insurance, while neuro-feedback usually is not.

Despite such hurdles, some medical practitioners are advocating the new approach.

Last year, Margaret MacDonald, a San Jose, California doctor, focused her practice on neuro-feedback after her son's attention-deficit symptoms improved within three months of using CyberLearning's system.

She starts patients with 20- to 25-minute sessions at least two times per week and recommends that they work with a trained professional to ensure they are reinforcing the right brain wave activity to produce the desired result.

"This isn't something you can just play with .... You could train the wrong thing and cause someone to become more anxious and irritable," she said.

Steven Stockdale, the licensed psychologist in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who treats Ethan Myers, said he has seen some nice changes come about from the video game therapy.

"Kids can become less agitated, more calm and less angry," he said. "It's much more engaging."

Comment: Well, isn't that great news?! Now, if your child has ADHD, you don't have to put him on Ritalin - you can send him to Video Game Therapy!

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Alien particles found in 'comet rain' put under microscope at Welsh university

Mar 20 2006
Tryst Williams, Western Mail

WELSH scientists have been spearheading the hunt for alien life that may have fallen to Earth in a shower of "red rain".

Astrobiologists will today continue to examine traces of matter that poured its blood-red deluge over the Indian state of Kerala for two whole months in 2001.
Chandra Wickramasinghe, of Cardiff University, is investigating claims made by one Indian researcher that the phenomenon may have been caused by a passing comet depositing extraterrestrial organisms over our planet.

Prof Wickramasinghe, head of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, said, "I think this is potentially extremely important.

"My own personal interest is that for the past 30 years I have worked on the theory that life didn't start on Earth but on comets some 4,000 million years ago and there's an increasing body of evidence to support that point of view.

"We are intercepting cometary material and would expect microorganisms to come to Earth on a semi-regular basis."

The latest research started after red rain fell on the southwestern state of Kerala in August 2001.

Initial speculation suggested the rain's colour was the result of dust swept up by winds across Arabia.

But Godfrey Louis, a physicist at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, believes the particles that rained down contain types of cell-like organisms markedly different from anything else found on our planet.

Dr Louis said, "The red particles, which were part of the red rain, are possibly of extra-terrestrial origin.

"Under an optical microscope they appear like biological cells and the transmission electron microscopy shows a clear cell structure and their organic nature is indicated by the major presence of carbon and oxygen.

"But despite these biological indications the cells do not show the presence of any DNA.

"The genetic molecule DNA is present in all living organisms found on Earth. So the absence of DNA indicates that they are extraterrestrial."

There were several reports of a sonic boom in the region at the time the rains started, which may be consistent with meteors.



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Is this a bleeding miracle?

By JOE SPAGNOLO
The Sunday Times
19mar06

THE Catholic Church claims a modern-day miracle is unfolding in Rockingham.

It says that a 50-year-old father of three, whose identity is being kept secret, is displaying stigmata on his hands and feet – wounds that appear to be similar to those on the crucified body of Christ.

The Rev Father Finbarr Walsh told The Sunday Times this week that he had witnessed the phenomena, which lasted 24 hours and included visions of and messages from the Virgin Mary.
He said he had never seen such a thing in his 50 years as a priest, with the wounds appearing to be covered in blood.

He believed the stigmata was real, saying he had no reason to think the man was a fraud.

"I haven't come across anything like this before," Father Walsh said.

"I have seen the wounds. They are not fake. He is getting the wounds of Jesus on his hands and feet.

"You see them bleeding. When he has them, he is in great pain. But they disappear within 24 hours. It has to be a miracle.

"Who knows how it happens. You ask God how he does it."

There have been 500 reported stigmatics who have displayed wounds similar to those inflicted upon Jesus.

The first case was that of Archbishop Stephen Langton, of England, recorded in 1222.

St Francis of Assisi suffered wounds in La Verna, Italy, in 1224.

Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey refused to speak to The Sunday Times this week about the incident. He said through a spokesman that he was aware of what was happening in Rockingham.

"He won't talk with anyone about it," spokesman Hugh Ryan said.

The Sunday Times contacted the man this week.

Identifying himself only as Ian, he said he had been asked by the Catholic Church not to speak to the media.

"I can't answer your questions. It's a humility thing and I have to be obedient to those who have said I can't talk about it," he said.

"Different things happen to people and they happen for a reason.

"Why they happen, we don't understand."

Asked if he was frightened by what was happening to him, he said: "No, why should I be?"

Father Walsh said the man had received hundreds of messages from the Virgin Mary.

She appeared to him on the eighth day of every month and sometimes more often.

"I have been there when he says he has seen Our Lady," Father Walsh said. "He is the only one who sees her. The only evidence is his word.

"I don't think he (is lying). He is a holy person."



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The Spell-Breaker - Daniel Dennett on why faith should be investigated scientifically, and why he's coming out of the closet as a nonbeliever.

Interview by Rebecca Phillips
BeliefNet

Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett is accustomed to creating media firestorms. His 2003 op-ed in the New York Times launched a heated debate over the use of the term "Bright" to describe nonbelievers. His latest contribution to the discussion of belief and nonbelief, is no different: the controversial book "Breaking the Spell" has been continuously hailed and criticized in newspapers and weblogs since its release in February 2006. Dennett suggests that many religious adherents are more loyal to "faith" than to God. He spoke recently with Beliefnet about why he has taken on the role of 'village atheist,' and why, though he thinks belief in God is irrational, he thinks religion can occasionally do good.

Your book calls for a scientific investigation into religion. Why is now the right time for this?

Since religions influence people's lives so much, since their loyalties to their religions play such a role in how they respond to every issue, we need to understand it. If you go in with the best of intentions to solve the problem of poverty or the problem of injustice, and you trample over people's religious practices in the process, you're just going to make matters worse.

In your book, you write that loyalty to religion often trumps what people might really believe. What is the difference between believing in God and believing in belief?


Every successful religion has managed to create a sense of obligation. [People think:] "Gosh, it would be terrible if I stopped believing in God. My whole life would lose meaning."
People are anxious about this, and so they say they believe even when they don't, and they work to regenerate the belief if it ever flags.

The name of your book implies that religious believers are under a spell, that they don't have a choice about what they believe. If this is the case, how can you get people to change their minds?

First, I want to point out that many religious people insist on that. They say, "I am completely helpless in the face of my faith; it's much stronger than I am. It's not like deciding what car to buy. It's not a rational choice--it's something that overwhelms me."

How do you deal with someone in that state? First of all, you take what they say seriously, and ask them, "Are you really disabled by this, or not? Let's explore and see if you can actually be reasonable." Some people can and some people can't. Let's find out which are which.

Is it possible to be both religious and rational?


That's what I'm trying to find out. I've tried to write a book that reasonable, rational people, however religious, can read. They might be uncomfortable, they will be upset at times, they may be offended, though I'm not trying to offend or insult them.

You write that loyalty to religion is a bit like falling in love, and that's why people take such great offense when you try to counter their views. How are they similar?

The emotional passion with which people declare their love for their religion should be taken very seriously. Whenever there is a love object, whether it is another person, or a nation or a religious creed or the Boston Red Sox, there is a built-in, outraged response to anything that threatens or demeans or is even skeptical [of that love object]. If you start saying something skeptical of my loved one, my dukes are up. That's a response which I'm quite sure is genetically favored in our species, in the same way it's favored in mammals in general to protect their young.

Your book implies that many people believe in God or at least believe in "belief" because they don't know how else to lead meaningful lives. How can you explain to someone how life can be meaningful without God?

Well, by leading a meaningful life. As I look around the world, I see all sorts of heroes in every walk of life. But there is a prejudice against this because a lot of [atheists] are reluctant to point it [their lack of belief] out. Nobody wants to spend their life going around being the 'village atheist.' They're much more interested in just leading a good and normal life.

So a lot of people, I find, are surprised to see me so candidly and cheerfully acknowledging my atheism. Not because they're not atheists, but because they don't go around mentioning it. I think that's unfortunate.

You helped promote the term "Bright" a few years ago, as a way to describe nonbelievers. What does that term mean?

The term was coined by Mynga Futrell and Paul Geisert in California. What they saw was that the homosexual community did something politically wonderful by essentially kidnapping the word "gay," which had its own meaning before, and turning it into a word that meant homosexual. It was a positive, happy word. Similarly, Bright is a positive word. I suggest that just as if you're not gay, you're straight, we could say if you're not Bright, you're Super. After all, they believe in the supernatural and we don't. That's the difference. Brights are those people who don't believe in anything supernatural.

You mentioned that nobody wants to be the village atheist. Do you feel that atheists today need one?

The fact that I have written this book shows that I do think that. I'm not relishing the role. I think there are much more interesting things that I could be working on--my life work on consciousness, wrinkles in evolutionary theory. But this is a job that somebody's got to do, so I guess I'm going to do it.

Have you had an experience of converting from belief to nonbelief?

When I was a child I was confirmed in the Congregational church. I went to Sunday school. I took it all quite seriously.

There was no big conversion moment for me. I just gradually realized I didn't believe any of it. I loved the stories, I loved the music, I loved religious art, and the King James version of the Bible. But I don't believe any of it.

Do you believe science and religion must be in conflict, or are they ever compatible?

I think there is quite a conflict. I've never been persuaded by those self-appointed moderates in science who keep insisting there's no real conflict between science and religion if they keep to their proper bailiwicks. If you look at what the proper bailiwick for religion turns out to be, it's pretty darn narrow. If you think that religion is a path to any kind of factual truth, on any matter--like the creation of the biosphere, the age of the earth--if you think that religion has anything at all to say about that, or if you think that religion has anything to say about the truths of the stories in its own sacred texts, then you're just wrong.

Where would you start with your suggested investigation of religion?

Religion is a fairly recent phenomenon by biological standards, and organized religion is younger still. So if you want to understand the roots of religion, you have to go back into prehistory and look at what might have laid the groundwork, in our ecology and our psychology and in our biology for the attitudes and the habits that permitted and encouraged religion to flourish.

You mention the validity of intercessory prayer as one aspect of religion that could be studied.

I talk about some of the ongoing research. The [Herbert] Benson study from Harvard Medical School on the effects, if any, of intercessory prayer is one that people have been waiting for some time to see the results of. It's heavily funded and presumably very effectively done. This is carefully controlled science. The study is now several years overdue. People are wondering, Is that because they didn't get any effect, and they don't like that result? Nobody quite knows, but it will sure be interesting when that report comes out.

What will happen if that report does come out and shows that intercessory prayer has no effect?

Well, it will certainly irritate a lot of people. That's the trouble with science. If you disconfirm your pet theory, then what do you do? You do another study and another study. If all the studies show the same thing, then you have to say, Look, you were just wrong. Recently in the papers there was the result of a multiyear study on whether a low-fat diet was really all that wonderful for women. The results are negative. And a lot of people are deeply embarrassed. But there have been articles in the scientific press for a number of years that have suggested the low-fat bandwagon was based on bad science in the first place, and that it was largely maintained and propelled by the low-fat food industry.

If the negative studies mount, then I think religions are going to have to face the same things that the pharmaceutical companies face. You can't say that these prayers perform miracles. It's false advertising.

You said that you're willing--although reluctant--to be the Village Atheist for now. Who would you draft to do it with you?

I'm sure hoping a lot of people will join hands with me. I'm coming out of the closet--I'm a Bright. I would love to see the day when people in other parts of the country can be as calm as I am. I'm living in Massachusetts, and this is the land of the Brights. But I get mail from people in the Bible Belt, in the Midwest, and in the South, people who say "If I made that declaration, I'd lose my job, I'd be driven out of town, nobody would do any business with me."

Are you anti-religion?

I'm actually not anti-religion. I'm certainly opposed to the presumption that religion is wonderful and a necessary part of human life. I feel about religion the way I feel about music, about art, and about smoking. There are wonderful things about all of them. I don't smoke anymore. I'm really glad I don't, and I hope other people don't smoke, but if they do, that's fine. It's not that bad, and some people may really need it. Music and art are better, but people can be addicted to those too.

What would your ideal vision for the role of religion in society?

I think the organizational genius of religion, its capacity to muster wonderful throngs of devoted and selfless actors in major moral efforts is something quite wonderful. It played a huge role in the Civil Rights movement, it played a huge role in upsetting apartheid in South Africa, and it played a role in overthrowing the Shah of Iran (though I feel a little differently about that).

Religious teams have done a lot of excellent moral work. On the other hand, religious teams have done a lot of harm. This is a very powerful force that is very hard to control. And I have not been able to figure out myself whether we can have the power without too much risk.



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Earth may have 'infected' Titan with life

By Chris Williams
Published Monday 20th March 2006 11:36 GMT

The various meteoric slappings sustained by Earth over the millenia may have seeded other parts of the solar system with life, if calculations by Canadian scientists are to be believed.

Planetary scientist Brett Gladman and colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver worked out that for material to be thrown up with enough force to exit Earth's atmosphere, it would take an impact from a meteor 10 to 50km across. They reckon such impacts, which include the famous 'dinosaur-killer' that formed the Chicxulub crater, send about 600m potenitally life-bearing rock fragments into solar orbit.
The team looked at whether the fragments' microbial passengers might find a home on one of the solar system's potentially sustaining worlds. Speaking at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in League City, Texas, Gladman said in the course of five million years Jupiter's moon Europa would get 100 hits and Saturn's Titan be seeded 30 times.

Despite its lower hit rate, the researchers think Titan more likely to have been fertilised. They calculated that Jupiter's gravity would pile the fragments into frozen Europa too fast. Titan's thick atmosphere whould split the fragments and slow the descent meanwhile.

Gladman was asked if he thought Earthly microbes would be able to endure Titan's freezing temperatures. He said: "That's for you people to decide, I'm just the pizza delivery boy."

The finding tips the panspermia theory on its head, and makes it a more interesting proposition. This once-fashionable idea of how life got started on Earth postulates that it was brought here by rocks from other worlds. While an undeniably diverting speculation, a cosmic common ancestry seems unprovable. Advocates cling to the apparently short time it took from Earth's formation to the emergence of life - around half a billion years. However, with a sample size of precisely one we cannot know the likelihood of life.

More crucially, panspermia contributes nothing to the quest for a complete theory of how life can emerge spontaneously - an important missing piece in the evolutionary jigsaw. The idea simply shifts the problem to another world.



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Depopulating the Planet


Avian flu confirmed in two more locations in south

By Amiram Cohen, Assaf Uni and Michal Greenberg
Haaretz
13:16 20/03/2006

The Agriculture Ministry confirmed Monday afternoon that avian flu has been detected in two more locations in Israel, bringing the number of sites at which the disease has been found to six.

Suspicions that the virus had reached Kibbutz Nir Oz and Moshav Amei Oz, both in southern Israel, were raised when dead turkeys were found at both locations, and the presence of the virus was confirmed Monday.
Turkeys from Amei Oz hazd been sent Sunday for slaughter, the media reported, and Agriculture Ministry officials were trying to locate and stop the trucks carrying them.

Meanwhile, the poultry growers' association demanded Monday that the government declare the outbreak of avian flu strain in Israel a natural disaster.

The demand came as the Agriculture Ministry's veterinary service ordered the culling of poultry transported to the "Off Kor" slaughterhouse in the southern town of Sderot, as the birds had come from one of the communities infected with the strain.

The association's secretary-general, Ya'akov Cohen, warned Monday that many farmers may not cooperate with the authorities unless the avian flu outbreak is recognized as a natural disaster, for fear of losing livestock without receiving proper compensation.

Lethal strain officially confirmed


The veterinary service confirmed Sunday that the bird flu virus that has hit turkeys in southern Israel is the lethal H5N1 strain, which may pose a danger to people who come into regular contact with the fowl.

The strain was isolated and identified in the turkey coops at the Ein Hashlosha and Holit kibbutzim and at Moshav Sdeh Moshe. The strain of virus that attacked the fowl at Kibbutz Nachshon has not been isolated yet, but ministry sources think it will also be H5N1.

The initial culling of birds in infected coops was completed Sunday at Holit, Ein Hashlosha and Sdeh Moshe. The operation moves Tuesday to Nachshon and Kibbutz Harel, and to the Tekoa and Tzalfon moshavim nearby, where Agriculture Ministry teams will be aided by personnel working for Defense Ministry contractors. In these communities there are very large numbers of chickens, so the damage there will be enormous. In the western Negev, culling of the fowl will begin Monday at Kibbutz Sufa near Holit, and at the Kissufim and Nirim kibbutzim near Ein Hashlosha.

Farmers, veterinarians: Ministry moving too slowly

The Agriculture Ministry estimates the culling operation will be completed by week's end. Officials were hopeful Sunday that the measures taken thus far - such as culling all fowl within a 3-kilometer radius of the infected coops, and imposing a quarantine on communities within a 10-kilometer radius - will prevent the virus from spreading.

However, farmers and veterinarians in the infected areas say the Agriculture Ministry is moving too slowly. So far, the culling has been done to only half of all birds at Holit and a third of those at Ein Hashlosha. The culling at Nachshon began only last night - more than 48 hours after the deadly virus was discovered.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting that there is no evidence of the avian flu spreading to humans, and added that the government is taking every precaution to ensure that this does not happen.

The cabinet approved the creation of an interministerial team to formulate a compensation plan for poultry farmers who are being forced to destroy tens of thousands of fowl.

The Agriculture Ministry's deputy director general, Itzik Ben David, told Haaretz on Sunday that the culling process could affect a total of 900,000 birds. He estimated that the financial compensation to farmers will total between NIS 15 and 20 million, assuming no additional communities are affected.

Ministry officials on Sunday denied a report in the media claiming the ministry was concerned that infected poultry had been slaughtered in Kiryat Malakhi and sold to stores and markets. The ministry also denied rumors that the slaughterhouse in question had been identified as the source of contamination of turkeys with avian flu.

Agriculture Minister Ze'ev Boim and Health Minister Yaakov Edri briefed the cabinet on the measures being taken to contain the flu outbreak. Boim said that a shipment of four million doses of vaccine will be arriving from the Netherlands in the next few days. He explained that this vaccine will be used only if the quarantine imposed on infected areas proves ineffective.

Health Ministry director general Prof. Avi Yisraeli told the cabinet that 30 senior ministry officials were dispatched to oversee the culling process and to ensure that everything possible is done to prevent human infection.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry is continuing to administer Tamiflu pills to several dozen workers who handled turkeys in the moshavim and kibbutzim that had the virus, as well as to Agriculture Ministry employees involved in the culling operation there.

The Health Ministry has sent blood samples from several dozen workers to the laboratory to check whether they have been infected.

According to Health Ministry figures, emergency warehouses have a stockpile of six million Tamiflu pills manufactured by Roche Pharmaceuticals, which are supposed to be enough, should the need arise, to treat 7 percent of the country's population. (This medication is administered at a dose of one pill per day for a week to 10 days.)

Tamiflu is administered as a preventive measure against the disease, and is the only substance that has been proved to be somewhat effective against avian flu in humans. According to the Health Ministry, another shipment of five million pills is due to arrive in Israel by the end of May, along with a syrup version for children.

Half a year ago, the government approved a special budget of NIS 150 million for the purchase of the drug, and the Health Ministry has only spent about half of that amount so far. Ministry officials are currently discussing from which company to purchase the rest of the supply.



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Second Human Bird Flu Case Found in Egypt

By OMAR SINAN
Associated Press Writer
Mar 20 12:57 AM US/Eastern

CAIRO, Egypt - Egypt reported its second human case of avian flu Sunday, and Israel continued its slaughter of hundreds of thousands of birds while waiting to learn if the disease had spread to poultry there.

A 30-year-old Egyptian who worked on a chicken farm in the province of Qalyoubiya was the second person infected by the virus in Egypt, the Health Ministry said Sunday.
The man, identified as Mohammed Bahaaeddin Abdel-Menem, was recovering in the hospital after being admitted Thursday with a fever, Deputy Health Minister Nasser el-Sayyed said.

Ibrahim al-Gazzar, a cousin of the latest victim, said he doubted that other villagers were educated enough to seek medical treatment. "They would think it was a normal flu - that will be a disaster."

Um Mohammed, a 35-year-old widow and mother of two, complained that although she had told authorities that her birds were dying, "They did nothing to help me."

"Day after day, I watched my chickens die. I felt as though I was handcuffed," she said.

The country's first known human case, a woman who died Friday, was from the same province, north of Cairo. The two victims had not had any contact and were from different villages, el-Sayyed told The Associated Press.

The Egypt-based U.S. Naval Medical Research was conducting additional tests to confirm whether the illnesses were caused by the H5N1 strain, the Health Ministry said in a statement run by the state Middle East News Agency.

Egypt discovered its first cases of the virus in birds last month.

Turkey and Iraq are the only other Middle Eastern countries where humans have died of the virus.

Israeli veterinary officials on Sunday proceeded with the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of birds.

Agriculture Ministry spokeswoman Dafna Varisca said "it's very close to 100 percent" sure that the virus has spread to birds in Israel.

The H5N1 virus has killed at least 98 people - most in Asia - since 2003.



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Renowned Bird Flu Expert Warns 50% Could Die

ABC News
By JIM AVILA and MEREDITH RAMSEY
14/03/2006

"Society just can't accept the idea that 50 percent of the population could die. And I think we have to face that possibility," Webster said. "I'm sorry if I'm making people a little frightened, but I feel it's my role.
Robert G. Webster is one of the few bird flu experts confident enough to answer the key question: Will the avian flu switch from posing a terrible hazard to birds to becoming a real threat to humans?

There are "about even odds at this time for the virus to learn how to transmit human to human," he told ABC's "World News Tonight." Webster, the Rosemary Thomas Chair at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., is credited as the first scientist to find the link between human flu and bird flu.

Webster and his team of scientists are working to find a way to beat the virus if it morphs. He has even been dubbed the Flu Hunter.

Right now, H5N1, a type of avian influenza virus, has confined itself to birds. It can be transmitted from bird to human but only by direct contact with the droppings and excretions of infected birds.

But viruses mutate, and the big fear among the world's scientists is that the bird flu virus will join the human flu virus, change its genetic code and emerge as a new and deadly flu that can spread through the air from human to human.

If the virus does mutate, it does not necessarily mean it will be as deadly to people as it is to birds. But experts such as Webster say they must prepare for the worst.

"I personally believe it will happen and make personal preparations," said Webster, who has stored a three-month supply of food and water at his home in case of an outbreak.

Frightening Warning

"Society just can't accept the idea that 50 percent of the population could die. And I think we have to face that possibility," Webster said. "I'm sorry if I'm making people a little frightened, but I feel it's my role."

Most scientists won't put it that bluntly, but many acknowledge that Webster could be right about the flu becoming transmissible among humans, even though they believe the 50 percent figure could be too high.

Researcher Dr. Anne Moscona at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center said that a human form may not mutate this year or next - or ever - but it would be foolish to ignore the dire consequences if it did.

"If bird flu becomes not bird flu but mutates into a form that can be transmitted between humans, we could then have a spread like wildfire across the globe," Moscona said.



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Blame 'Big Chicken' for Bird Flu

By Wendy Orent
March 19, 2006

Chicken never has been cheaper. A whole one can be bought for little more than the price of a cup of coffee from Starbucks. But the industrial farming methods that make ever-cheaper chicken possible also may have created the lethal strain of bird flu virus, H5N1, that threatens to set off a global pandemic.

According to University of Ottawa flu virologist Earl Brown, lethal bird flu is entirely man-made, first evolving in commercially produced poultry in Italy in 1878. The highly pathogenic H5N1 is descended from a strain that first appeared in Scotland in 1959.
People have been living with backyard flocks of poultry since the dawn of civilization. But it wasn't until poultry production became modernized and birds were raised in much larger numbers and concentrations that a virulent bird flu evolved. Somehow, the virus that arose in Scotland found its way to China, where, as H5N1, it has been raging for more than a decade.

Industrial poultry-raising moved from the West to Asia in the last few decades and has begun to supplant backyard flocks there.

Poultry may represent a family's greatest wealth. The birds often are not eaten until they die of old age or illness. The cost of the virus to people who have raised birds for months or years is incalculable and the compensation risible: In Thailand, farmers have been offered one-third of their birds' value since the outbreak of bird flu.

Some researchers still blame migratory birds for the relentless spread of the bird flu virus. But Martin Williams, a conservationist and bird expert in Hong Kong, contends that wild birds are more often victims than carriers.

Researchers concede that the global poultry trade, much of which is illicit, plays a far larger role in spreading the virus.

The Nigerian government traced its outbreak to the illegal importation of day-old chicks. Illegal trading in fighting cocks brought the virus from Thailand to Malaysia in fall 2005. And it is probable that H5N1 first spread from Qinghai to Russia and Kazakhstan last summer through the sale of contaminated poultry.

But an increasingly hysterical world targets migratory birds.

In early February, a flock of geese, too cold and tired to fly, rested on the frozen waters of the Danube Delta in Romania. A group of 15 men set upon them, tossed some into the air, tore off others' heads and used still-living birds as soccer balls. They said they did this because they feared the bird flu would enter their village through the geese. Many conservationists worry that what happened in Romania is a foreshadowing of the mass destruction of wild birds.

Meanwhile, deadly H5N1 is washing up on the shores of Europe.

Brown, the virologist, says the commercial poultry industry, which caused the catastrophe in the first place, stands to benefit most. The conglomerates will more and more dominate the poultry-rearing business. Some experts insist that will be better for us.

For instance, epidemiologist Michael Osterholm at the University of Minnesota contends that the "single greatest risk to the amplification of the H5N1 virus, should it arrive in the U.S. through migratory birds, will be in free-range birds ... often sold as a healthier food, which is a great ruse on the American public."

The truly great ruse is that industrial poultry farms are the best way to produce chickens -- that they are keeping the world safe from backyard poultry and migratory birds. But what's going to be on our tables isn't the biggest problem.

The real tragedy is what's happened in Asia to people who can't afford cheap, industrial chicken. And the real victims of industrially produced, lethal H5N1 have been wild birds, an ancient way of life and the poor of the Earth, for whom a backyard flock has always represented a measure of autonomy and a bulwark against starvation.

Wendy Orent is the author of "Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease."



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Blood, White, and Blue


To bleed and to die

By Charles Sullivan
Information Clearing House
18 Mar 06

Social change of the kind that is needed in this country has always been precipitated by organized labor. Part of the problem we face as a nation is the decline of strong labor unions. Labor has often been the driving force behind social justice movements in America. Without a strong labor presence social justice will be a very difficult proposition.
Labor unions have always been under assault by the company bosses and their cohorts in government. This connection reveals that the government does not serve the people; it serves business interests, the elite. It is thus evidence not of democracy, but of Plutocracy. Organized labor has long been at the center of the vortex of class warfare that has always plagued America. On numerous occasions in our nation's long struggle for social justice, the state and federal militia were called forth to shoot dead striking workers while protecting the assets of businesses that often brutalized and murdered union organizers and workers alike.

So much of what we believe about America is based upon falsehoods and distortions-a viewpoint that lacks historical perspective. This way of thinking allows us to see only small segments of isolated events, out of context from the great matrix of the historical whole. Our situation is akin to catching a glimpse of a person's fingernail and being required to describe that person's religious philosophy. It is a difficult proposition that is unlikely to provide accuracy or useful results. Historical perspective is all important to understanding current events.

The demise of strong unions occurred for several reasons. Unionism has been under assault by corporate America since their inception. Keeping ordinary people apart has always worked in the interest of Plutocracy. Unions have fallen victim to widespread campaigns of propaganda as orchestrated by their business adversaries. Keeping workers isolated prevents insurrection. Isolated workers are without power and at the mercy of their employers. They are virtually without voice and have no legal redress of their grievances.

The unions themselves also played a role in their own demise by selling out to their adversaries in business. Union officials are all too often corrupt and easily bribed. Workers instinctively know when they have been betrayed. When unions lost their militant edge and became bureaucracies, they lost their effectiveness and their clout with the workers they represent.

There was a period in American history when companies feared unions. In the past, unions wielded considerable power. They had honor and integrity and understood that they were embroiled in class warfare. The Wobblies sought not only to democratize the world place-their objective was to end capitalism and remake society in a democratic image, rather than the existing Plutocracy. Eugene Debs referred to this kind of organizing as 'Revolutionary Unionism.' Debs and others recognized that justice could never be had in a system that was inherently unjust. It is a shame that the relatively weak and ineffectual unions of today no longer have this perspective.

I do not mean to say that there are not good and strong unions today-there are. But they are few in number and becoming increasingly rare. The work place and society at large are intimately connected. If there is inequality in one, how can there by justice in the other? The Industrial Workers of the World, like the Wobblies of old, is perhaps the only extant union that retains this radical and revolutionary perspective. This is the kind of unionism that we need-one that represents workers without crawling in bed with the employers, while simultaneously seeking to end capitalism. In these times of severe decline in union membership, it is no accident that the IWW is actually growing.

The working class people of today must relearn the lessons of history. We must understand, like the workers of old, that the working class and the employing class have nothing in common. Keeping workers isolated assures the continuation of the present system that exploits labor, while concentrating and privatizing wealth; which in turn creates socioeconomic class divisions known as Plutocracy. Unions unite workers, employers divide and conquer; they keep the profits of labor to themselves by compensating workers minimally in wages and benefits. The end of strong unions assures low wages, poor benefits, and harsh working conditions for the workers; higher profits for the corporations and obscene wealth for their CEOs. We see this in the Wal-Mart model that is driving down wages on a global scale.

By busting unions and preventing their reformation, employers have created a work place that in essence is a master-slave relationship. 'At will' employees have few rights in the work place, and they have no legal redress of their grievances. It is a situation that gives extraordinary power to the employer by usurping it from the employee. Since the same situation prevails throughout the country, it is of little benefit to the worker to migrate from one work place to another-they are virtually all the same. The problem is rooted in capitalism. This is industrial slavery in its purest form. Let us recognize it for what it is and call it by its rightful name.

The visionary union leadership of the past, like that embodied by Eugene Debs, realized that the workplace and the country could not be separated-they were one and the same. Debs understood that a free and democratic society could not be achieved without first creating a free and democratic work place. The key to creating democracy within the construct of the existing Plutocracy lay in democratizing the work place. That is still the problem, but we rarely see the issue framed in this way. We lack historical perspective.

Debs also recognized that allowing the private ownership of the means of livelihood would assure the continuance of Plutocratic rule, rather than promoting democracy. And this is the crux of the problem today. Private ownership of livelihood creates what is essentially a system of wage slavery. It gives rise to the class system and the concentration of wealth and power at the top of the socioeconomic ladder, by taking from all of those below the top. It robs workers of their freedom and their dignity. It reduces them to being the property of their employers and often subjects them to tyranny.

Eugene Debs understood that if a man owns the means by which you live, that man is not your employer-he is your master; and you are his slave. One's livelihood, like the genetic blueprint for life itself, should not be privately owned. The genetic library-life's blueprint-belongs to the world; being non-man created, it cannot be privately owned. The same is true of the people's right of livelihood-it is public property. Nevertheless, we see corporations that are applying for patents for the private ownership of genetic codes they did not and cannot create. This demonstrates the absurdity of capitalism.

As the history of labor makes clear, working class people have always been exploited and abused by the ruling elite. Wealthy capitalists have long fomented the wars in which working class people serve and die. War generates enormous wealth, and guaranteed profits without risk for those who wage them. Witness the obscene profits that are being generated by America's defense contractors. Dick Cheney's Halliburton and the Bush and Bin Laden Family's Carlyle Group are raking in billions, while our sons and daughters sacrifice their lives at the altar of greed, believing it is for democracy.

The generation of corporate wealth through the sacrifice of the blood of our youth, has nothing to do with democracy or liberation. It has everything to do with class warfare; the rich preying upon the poor whom they hold in bitter contempt. What are the lives of a few thousand working stiffs to the ruling Plutocrats? War is never fought for noble purposes-it is about lining the pockets of the already wealthy. It is tainted money, stained with the blood of our children and our loved ones.

While our babies are dying by the thousands in places like Iraq, and are killing our Iraqi brethren, rich white men are realizing obscene profits. Our lives, our hopes and fears, mean nothing to these people. They do not see us as their equals; they see us as their servants, as cheap disposable and replaceable property. Few of us are willing to face this awful truth, but history bears me out. War produces wealth for the rich; it produces misery and suffering for the rest of us. Let us see it for what it is.

The enemy attacks us from within, not from foreign borders, as we are lead to believe. The enemies of democracy, the foes of freedom, are those who profit from the misery and suffering of others. They do not wear turbans and speak in foreign tongues. You will find them in the White House and roaming the halls of Congress. They masquerade as servants of the people; but they are servants of class and privilege. They are the masters of war, purveyors of Plutocracy. They are the enemies of the people. See them for what they are; judge them by what they do, not what they say.

Once again, as it always has, it boils down to the fact that working class people have nothing in common with the ruling class. The wealthy have always been our tormentors and our oppressors. They believe that they are superior to the rest of us, as evidenced by the policies they enact against us.

Safe in their luxurious mansions, the masters of war send their servants to bleed and to die in the dust. They tell them they are serving their country. They tell them they are fighting for democracy, which makes the enterprise sound noble and humane. But that is not what they are fighting for. They are fighting for the continued enslavement of the poor by the rich-Plutocratic rule through coercion and brute force.

America will know no peace at home or abroad until we resolve the slavery issue. We live in a class society in which the rich prey upon and subjugate the poor of this and all nations. There are but two classes-rich and poor, employers and workers; rulers and servants. Do not take my word for it. Look around you. Weigh the evidence and make up your own mind.

Ask yourself: Does the president behave like a servant of the people; or does he resemble an emperor? Ask the same question of Bill Frist, Hillary Clinton, and all of our so called public servants. Who do their policies benefit? Who is working for whom? Do they live like you? What kind of health insurance do they have? How do their benefits compare to your own? Do they have money worries? Are their children getting killed in Iraq? How do their retirement pensions compare to your own?

This is not a democrat versus republican issue. Nor is it a conservative versus liberal issue, as it is so often portrayed. It is a class issue and it needs to be addressed as such.

The first step toward emancipation is recognition of the fact that more than ninety percent of us are slaves in a society that is deeply and irreconcilably divided by class inequities. This is a system of government in which the top one percent owns as much as the combined total of the lower ninety percent of the population. If this is not Plutocracy; if it is not elitism, what is?

Let us recognize that this is what we are fighting for in Iraq and 135 of the world's 192 nations-extending Plutocratic rule and industrial slavery (capitalism). The noble cause we are so foolishly sending our youth to die for is not democracy-it is to line the pockets of the Carlyle Group and Halliburton. Waged under the auspices of noble purpose, war is in fact class warfare packaged as democracy in order to sell it to the public. War is the natural outgrowth of capitalism and Plutocratic rule. Examine the historical record and follow the money trail. To the Plutocrats, our youth are nothing more than property; cheap, disposable and easily replaceable property-slave labor used to procure wealth for the richest one percent of the population.

One way out of the morass is through organizing the work force on a massive scale, through the creation of revolutionary unions, as envisioned by Eugene Debs and others. This union must represent all workers and it must proceed on a global scale. It can begin today. Otherwise, worker is forced to compete against worker in a race to the lowest common denominator. The times demand strong leadership and iron clad worker solidarity. Unity is our only hope. United, the people cannot lose. We outnumber our adversaries ninety-nine to one. We must make them respect and even fear us, as in days of yore. Divided we haven't got a prayer. Democratize the work place and we democratize the nation while also ending Plutocratic rule.

Charles Sullivan is a photographer, social activist and free lance writer living in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. He can be reached at earthdog@highstream.net.



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Consequences of a War State

By Charley Reese
18 Mar 06

War consists of killing people and destroying property. That's all there is to war. Any honest soldier will tell you the same thing: His job is to kill people and destroy property. That's true of all branches of the service.

The difficult question is, When is a nation justified in making the decision to kill other people and destroy their property? I think the rule is the same as it is for individuals. You are justified in killing only in defense of your own life or the lives of others for whom you are responsible.
By that definition, the U.S. has fought only one justified war in this and the past century. That was World War II. Putting aside the fact that the U.S. government provoked Japan into attacking, attack it did, and the U.S. had a right to respond. We were not attacked, however, in Korea, Vietnam, Libya, Lebanon, Panama, Grenada, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan or Iraq.

In Korea and Vietnam, we intervened in a civil war as two sides of a divided country fought for supremacy. We bombed Libya in a reprisal raid for a terrorist attack in Germany. Reprisals, in World War II, were considered war crimes. We weren't attacked by Lebanon. In Panama, we attacked to change the government. I don't really know why we attacked Grenada. The pretense was that it was building an airport that could handle Soviet airplanes. I suspect it was really a political ploy designed for domestic consumption.

I don't know why we decided to bomb Yugoslavia. That, again, was a civil war that should not have concerned us. The now-late Slobodan Milosevic was only trying to do what Abraham Lincoln did – prevent the secession of states from Yugoslavia.

Our problem in Afghanistan was not the Taliban government. It was al-Qaeda. We overthrew the Taliban government but failed to destroy al-Qaeda. Only God and George Bush know why we attacked Iraq. That was clearly a war of aggression, no different from the German invasion of Poland in the 1930s.

It's ironic that the president likes to claim to be promoting peace, when we are the most warlike nation on Earth and the one with the largest war-department budget. We are also the biggest arms peddler in the world. It seems there is no country on Earth that's immune to U.S. officials telling it how to run its internal affairs.

The problem is that war, except in self-defense, is a total waste. Human lives are wasted. Accumulated wealth is wasted. The results of war are debt, taxation, human sorrow and human bitterness. The billions of dollars we spend killing other people and destroying their property are billions that can't be spent on improving education, America's infrastructure, the health of our people and preserving our land, water and air.

Wars also destroy truth and trust with their secrecy and propaganda. Instead of patriotism, which is a love of the land and the people, the war state substitutes jingoism, which is a love of the government and support of war. In America today, both liberals and neoconservatives have been corrupted by the imperialist war state. The liberals are too cowardly to oppose unjustified wars, and the neoconservatives instigate and applaud them.

It is a triumph of imperial war-state propaganda that people are afraid they will be called unpatriotic if they oppose their government's foreign wars and their domestic consequences.

Well, a continuation of the present policy will eventually destroy America. We are already $8 trillion in debt. Most of the world views us as a rogue nation. Our manufacturing base is being depleted, not to mention our natural resources. Our education system is sick. Our culture is decadent. Our government is corrupt.

It's no longer a question of supporting or not supporting any particular administration. It's a question of survival. Those who value liberty and the rule of law and believe that foreign policy should be based on the Golden Rule had better assert themselves now.

Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.



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Man Dies in 3rd Shooting at Calif. Denny's

Saturday March 18, 2006
AP

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - A gunman opened fire at a Denny's restaurant, killing one man and seriously wounding another, police said. It was the third fatal shooting in as many days at a Denny's in Southern California.
The latest shooting happened at about 2:45 a.m. Friday at a Denny's near Angel Stadium after a fight broke out between two large groups of people in the restaurant, said Sgt. Rick Martinez of the Anaheim Police Department.

One victim re-entered the restaurant after being shot and died inside, Martinez said. The other victim was taken to a nearby hospital and is expected to survive.

A gun was found near the scene, but officers were not sure if it was the weapon used in the shooting. The gunman was being sought by authorities.

The shooting was the third in a Southern California Denny's in as days.

In a Pismo Beach shooting Wednesday, a transient with two guns walked in to the restaurant at lunchtime, shot two men dead and wounded a husband and wife. He then committed suicide.

A 37-year-old Pomona man was fatally shot in the parking lot of a Denny's restaurant in Ontario on Thursday after getting into an altercation with a group of people. The gunman was still being sought.



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Living in Illusion: A Powerful New Voting Block Emerges - The Anti-War Movement Becoming a Political Force That Cannot Be Ignored

by Kevin Zeese

A new national poll shows that a near majority of voters either strongly or somewhat agree with a pledge not to vote for pro-war candidates. This makes the anti-war movement's potential impact on elections larger than pro-gun, anti-abortion, or anti-gay marriage voters. Politicians will have to pay heed to this new political force.
The pledge states:

"I will not vote for or support any candidate for Congress or President who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq, and preventing any future war of aggression a public position in his or her campaign."

The national poll found that 45.9% of US voters agree - 20.1% strongly agree and 25.8% somewhat agree. Among Democrats 67.1% agreed - 33.3% strongly, 59.2% of Independents - 25.3% strongly and even 25.7% of Republicans agreed - 5.5% strongly. The poll was conducted by ICR Survey Research of Media, Pa., which also polls for ABC News, The Washington Post and many corporations and research organizations.

This poll demonstrates that anti-war voters are significant enough in size to effect the outcome of elections - if they become organized. Just like pro-gun groups have organized, pro-choice and pro-life groups have organized - now the anti-war constituency has been identified and the peace movement is ready to organize them. This will ensure that the anti-war movement will no longer be one that can be ignored.

A new group, VotersForPeace, has as its mission to educate, organize and activate voters who oppose the war. The group begins with grants totaling $1 million for 2006 and will organize voters not only to sign the pledge (you can do so at www.VotersForPeace.US), but also to influence Congress and provide voters with the information they need to understand the issues and be effective advocates.

Already many of the leading anti-war groups in the United States among them United for Peace and Justice, Peace Action, Not In Our Name, Democracy Rising, Code Pink, AfterDowningStreet and Peace Majority are participating in the effort. The anti-war movement seems poised to focus their efforts on organizing peace voters into an effective political power.

VotersFor Peace will educate voters through an ongoing web-based and print advertising campaign. In this effort the group is working across the political spectrum from the American Conservative to the Nation Magazine. The organization's goal is to organize two million voters in 2006 and five million by 2008.

Organized anti-war voters who pledge not to vote for pro-war candidates may force the Democrats in particular to develop a stronger position against the war. The Democrats may now realize that if they fail to represent the anti-war community voters will stay home or vote for alternative party and independent candidates.

Republicans are not free to ignore the anti-war constituency either. Not only do more that 25 percent of Republican voters oppose candidates who support the war, but the fastest growing group of voters - independents - overwhelmingly support the pledge. So, that all important swing voter can cause Republicans to lose elections - and could become a new source of support for Democrats - or if both parties fail to support voters wishes then candidates running independent of the two parties may find a new foundation on which to build an independent political movement.

This new politically focused effort comes at a time when the occupation of Iraq is losing public support. Only 37% of Americans believe the invasion of Iraq was worth it, 54% believe we should withdraw within a year, and only 22% believe the U.S. is sure to win (down from 79% in 2003) according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll. A CBS poll found 70 per cent of Americans think the result of the war with Iraq was not worth the loss of American life and other costs. More and more Americans agree the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a mistake. The anti-war voting block poll comes on the heels of poll by Le Moyne College and Zogby of veterans showing 72 percent favor withdrawal from Iraq within a year. And, a poll by the University of Maryland on January 31 that shows Iraqis want the U.S. to leave and 67% believe they will be better off when the U.S. leaves.

Polls show the Iraq occupation is not wanted by Iraqis or U.S. citizens, nor is it wanted by U.S. soldiers in Iraq or the foreign policy establishment in Washington, DC. This is the war nobody wants and now anti-war voters know they have the political power to end the war - as well as end the careers of politicians who support the occupation. Politicians who don't see this new electoral power coming may find themselves out of office. And, the military-industrial complex may find themselves overwhelmed by voters taking back their government and saying "no" to the permanent war economy.



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Patently Absurd


Oil shortage threatens military

By Marianne Lavelle
US News and World Report
15 Mar 06

A grim view of the nation's energy future, and its implications for the military, emerges in a just released report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"The days of inexpensive, convenient, abundant energy sources are quickly drawing to a close," says the report, titled "Energy Trends and Their Implications for U.S. Army Installations." It concludes that at the current rate of consumption and production decline, the lifetime of proven domestic oil reserves is only 3.4 years. It projects the lifetime of proven worldwide oil reserves at 41 years, but with declining availability, noting that Saudi Arabia – home to the bulk of those reserves – has not increased production in three years.
The report was completed in September but was not released publicly until a request was made earlier this week by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Maryland Republican who has made several speeches in recent months warning that the world is in the grip of "peak oil" – a time of declining production and rapidly escalating prices. The theory is highly controversial, and the oil industry maintains that there are abundant untapped resources, although admittedly more expensive to develop than has historically been the case. In a speech on the House floor Tuesday night, Bartlett quoted extensively from the report.

"The Army operates in a domestic and world energy situation that is highly uncertain," the report says. Even its outlook on nuclear energy, a key component of Bush administration policy, is not positive. "Our current throwaway nuclear cycle will consume the world reserve of low-cost uranium in about 20 years," the report says.

The researchers conclude that the military needs to take major steps to increase energy efficiency, make a "massive expansion" in renewable energy purchases, and move toward a vast increase in renewable distributed generation, including photovoltaic, solar thermal, microturbines, and biomass energy sources.



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Violence by girls uncool

CBC News Viewpoint | March 17, 2006
GEORGIE BINKS

Last week, five Manitoba girls attacked a teacher's aide, beating her with a flashlight. A school principal and teachers were punched and hit as they tried to intervene.

Teachers and the community have been shocked by the attack. It's not the first time we've heard about girls turning violent. There was the terrible murder of Reena Virk, 14, beaten and drowned in 1997 on Vancouver Island. The attack was committed by a group that included teenaged girls.
Is there actually an increase in violent acts committed by teenaged girls these days? And if so, what are the reasons, and are we dealing with it?

In the 10 years leading up to 1998, there was a steady and significant increase in girl violence – it jumped by nearly 130 per cent. Then, according to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, from 1999-2004 the total number of violent attacks (murder, assault, robbery) by girls stabilized at approximately 5-000 to 6,000 a year. The numbers are one-third of what they are for boys. Still, they are disturbing.

It's not surprising in a world whose mantra has been "Girl Power" ever since the Spice Girls popularized it, that young females are taking matters into their own hands.

Simon Fraser psychology professor, Marlene Moretti, lead investigator on the Gender and Aggression Project for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research cautions that: "There are programs aimed at teaching girls to be assertive, to believe in themselves, have a sense of self-esteem and not allow themselves to be pushed around or intimidated or drawn into a peer group.

"That's great if it's done appropriately. However, some families don't understand the difference between aggression and assertiveness."

There's no simple reason girls become aggressive and violent. Moretti says, "One size doesn't fit all. There are marginalized girls with low self-esteem who fall into the wrong crowd and become aggressive. They are girls who are both victimized and bullied by others. Then there are girls who are popular and are very oppressive – those girls often grow out of it."

Rebecca Godfrey, author of Under the Bridge: The True Story of the Murder of Reena Virk, learned a lot about violent girls when covering the trials of those charged in Virk's murder.

She says, "A lot of these girls came from violent environments. The fathers of two of the girls had been murdered and they were in very violent situations. There was nobody who came through for them, like a social worker or a program. The pop culture they were interested in was glorified violence, which influenced their sense of what was glamourous and powerful."

The media definitely plays its part in glamourizing tough girls. Think of the women in the Charlie's Angels movies taking down their opponents or Kill Bill's Uma Thurman meting out justice. Tough girls kick ass, right?

Moretti says if a girl doesn't have a lot to hang onto, images like these convey the message that this is a great way to be respected.

Of course, with female violence, as with just about everything else female these days, it's become sexualized. Think of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry drooled over thoughts of a "catfight."

When you combine these images with girls who already are dealing with the pressures of puberty you can easily create a ticking time bomb.

"Girls are already under pressure as they enter adolescence. They're competing for social status, and trying to be attractive. Wanting to feel part of a group, they can drift into groups of girls where they feel they can compete. Often that means being involved in aggressive behaviour with each other," Moretti says.

In his book See Jane Fight James Garbarino praises the physical outlet that sports has given girls for their energy and aggression, which he views as a positive thing. However, sports cultivates physicality that could translate into physical aggression, he says.

Still, the benefits outweigh the risks. Girls feeling good about themselves on a soccer field usually aren't the same girls angrily beating up another girl in the playground.

The other day I spoke with a teenaged girl who had fans cheering in the bleachers last year as she stood her ground in a fist fight with a male hockey player. However, a five-minute penalty for both players is certainly not what would happen in real life. Last week, when confronted with a female who wanted to settle things physically over a guy, the reality of possible assault charges and a fight with no hockey gear convinced that same girl that walking away was the best solution.

Boys are taught how to fight fair and are also cautioned about the implications. Godfrey says girls aren't that familiar with the rules of fighting.

"Boys know you only do one on one, and girls simply go wild. With the Reena Virk case, these same girls had attacked another girl several weeks before in a similar way, setting her hair on fire. In this attack, one of the girls was a kickboxer. You wouldn't have seen that 20 years ago."

Right now, the first step is to take the issue seriously. Godfrey maintains that, "Anything about teenaged girls seems to be trivialized and sexualized, and it shouldn't be."

Violence among teenage girls isn't sexy or funny or cool. But until society starts seeing that, it's going to be pretty difficult to deal with it.



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Book argues prehistoric boys doodled in caves to prove themselves

By DAN JOLING
The Associated Press
March 18, 2006

R. Dale Guthrie, natural historian, sculptor and professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, sees Paleolithic art lifted from cave walls and makes a connection to 21st century walls -- the stalls of a junior high boys' bathroom.
Some social anthropologists and art historians focus on the most detailed examples of prehistoric art and see symbols of religion or mysticism. Guthrie looked at thousands of more rudimentary drawings that never make it into coffee table art books. He saw themes that have always seized young boys' brains, and stimulated them to draw -- large animals, bloody spears, male sex organs, voluptuous women.

"They're all naked, their boobs are exaggerated, their hips are exaggerated," he says of the female forms.

He contends that a large fraction of Pleistocene art is the work of boys learning to find their way in their world, and evolving into the people who make up our world.

He lays out his contentions in a new book, "The Nature of Paleolithic Art," published by the University of Chicago Press.

The theory has plenty of detractors.

French prehistorian Jean Clottes, co-author of "The Shamans of Prehistory," is a friend of Guthrie's and wrote a blurb for his book jacket but acknowledged that his theory is not likely to be accepted by other scholars.

Clottes said in an e-mail that the presence of children of all ages in caves has long been established by their footprints.

He also noted that next to elaborate cave drawings made by experts, often at heights that indicate they were made by adults, there are quite a number of doodles, marks on the walls and even crude drawings that children could do. But that they did so at play or for fun is an entirely different proposition, he said.

As for the subject matter, Clottes said, an interest in large animals, hunting and sex would not be confined to boys.

"Does it mean that adult men are not interested in these subjects?" he said.

The drawings and carvings are humans' earliest preserved art, pieces produced late in the Pleistocene Era, 10,000 to 40,000 years ago, across Europe and Asia.

It's a world before villages, churches, crops, dogs, houses and war, when people lived in bands of 20 to 40 and women valued men for their protection and their hunting prowess, because a good hunter meant survival and a lousy one meant starvation.

Most books on Pleistocene art focus on the best of the era, images produced by highly skilled hands. The Mammoth Steppe, the portion of the Northern Hemisphere that stayed ice-free while much of the Earth was covered by ice age glaciation, was rich in deposits of earth pigments, such as red, orange and yellow iron oxides. Paleolithic artists sometimes applied them by brush, sometimes by chewing and spitting in a fine, dry spray, producing a stipple.

"Most prehistorians think of adults doing all these things," Guthrie said. Many scholars also contend that most of the art was done by shamans for religious purposes -- pictures to please the gods, or bless a hunt or dramatize a shaman's vision.

Overlooked, Guthrie said, are thousands of less sophisticated drawings that he believes have a more mundane origin. More than half the population was teenage or younger. With artists' tools available, Guthrie said, it's highly likely youngsters were artists too, and their work just as likely to be preserved as works by experienced painters.

Instead of photographs, Guthrie illustrated his book with his own line drawings of Pleistocene art. His renderings allow comparisons between paintings, carving and etchings and focus the eye away from artistic qualities toward content, he said.

Guthrie says he didn't intend to focus on children as possible artists but was forced into the conclusion.

He was struck by the consistency of images across thousands of years and square miles. Mammoths, cave bears, lions, bison and wild cattle abound. Hunting scenes show animals stuck with spears, flowing blood, and sometimes attacking the hunters.

It's not graffiti, but boys playing, drawing for fun, using pictures to learn how to become men, across prehistoric cultures stretching from what's now Spain to Russia.

"You see the same things coming up over and over again, for a reason," he said. "It's their life."

There are also renditions of the female form, with sexual parts emphasized.

"People doing the art," he said, "were thinking of girls."

Many of the images are the kind of coarse, faceless pictures still drawn by 12-year-olds, not particularly erotic except to the young artist, Guthrie said.

"We're the same creature," he said. "Evolution hasn't given us a clean slate."

The artists probably were boys, the subgroup most likely to take risks, who left drawings deep in caves. People didn't live deep in caves and there was nothing back there they wanted, he said.

Guthrie contends it was a group most likely to engage in high-risk behavior who would take a burning pine bough deep into a cave and leave a picture behind: a testosterone-laden boy trying to prove himself to peers, girls and potential in-laws.

"Older women don't do that," he said. "Older men don't. It's a time in your life when you gain status by being risk-prone, not risk-averse. Everyone else is risk-averse."

He bolsters his contentions with forensic evidence. He digitized hand prints from 700 schoolchildren in Fairbanks, looking for characteristics of sex and age, and judged them against 200 hand prints found in 20 caves. He concluded that most hand prints he analyzed were male.

The book is biased toward art produced by males, he said. Boys weren't the only ones doing art, but they picked a medium that lasted. Paleolithic art likely included furs, leather, lace, braiding, weaving fiber and wood utensils lost to the ravages of time.

"They don't fossilize," he said. "What fossilizes are things of violence: antlers, ivory, bone."

Clottes said he does not believe the drawings were made by children:

"It runs counter both to the evidence of the caves -- the sophisticated panels made by 'professionals' in places where people did not live -- and to what we know from the ways of thinking of hunter-gatherers and, more generally, of traditional cultures: For them, the underground is a liminal or supernatural place, where one may go to access supernatural power or have ceremonies."

Caves were not a place for children to play or to make drawings as their whims moved them, he said.



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This Essay Breaks the Law

By MICHAEL CRICHTON
Published: March 19, 2006

The Earth revolves around the Sun.

• The speed of light is a constant.

• Apples fall to earth because of gravity.

• Elevated blood sugar is linked to diabetes.

• Elevated uric acid is linked to gout.

• Elevated homocysteine is linked to heart disease.

• Elevated homocysteine is linked to B-12 deficiency, so doctors should test homocysteine levels to see whether the patient needs vitamins.

ACTUALLY, I can't make that last statement. A corporation has patented that fact, and demands a royalty for its use.
Anyone who makes the fact public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient's test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent.

All this may sound absurd, but it is the heart of a case that will be argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. In 1986 researchers filed a patent application for a method of testing the levels of homocysteine, an amino acid, in the blood. They went one step further and asked for a patent on the basic biological relationship between homocysteine and vitamin deficiency. A patent was granted that covered both the test and the scientific fact. Eventually, a company called Metabolite took over the license for the patent.

Although Metabolite does not have a monopoly on test methods - other companies make homocysteine tests, too - they assert licensing rights on the correlation of elevated homocysteine with vitamin deficiency. A company called LabCorp used a different test but published an article mentioning the patented fact. Metabolite sued on a number of grounds, and has won in court so far.

But what the Supreme Court will focus on is the nature of the claimed correlation. On the one hand, courts have repeatedly held that basic bodily processes and "products of nature" are not patentable. That's why no one owns gravity, or the speed of light. But at the same time, courts have granted so-called correlation patents for many years. Powerful forces are arrayed on both sides of the issue.

In addition, there is the rather bizarre question of whether simply thinking about a patented fact infringes the patent. The idea smacks of thought control, to say nothing of unenforceability. It seems like something out of a novel by Philip K. Dick - or Kafka. But it highlights the uncomfortable truth that the Patent Office and the courts have in recent decades ruled themselves into a corner from which they must somehow extricate themselves.

For example, the human genome exists in every one of us, and is therefore our shared heritage and an undoubted fact of nature. Nevertheless 20 percent of the genome is now privately owned. The gene for diabetes is owned, and its owner has something to say about any research you do, and what it will cost you. The entire genome of the hepatitis C virus is owned by a biotech company. Royalty costs now influence the direction of research in basic diseases, and often even the testing for diseases. Such barriers to medical testing and research are not in the public interest. Do you want to be told by your doctor, "Oh, nobody studies your disease any more because the owner of the gene/enzyme/correlation has made it too expensive to do research?"

The question of whether basic truths of nature can be owned ought not to be confused with concerns about how we pay for biotech development, whether we will have drugs in the future, and so on. If you invent a new test, you may patent it and sell it for as much as you can, if that's your goal. Companies can certainly own a test they have invented. But they should not own the disease itself, or the gene that causes the disease, or essential underlying facts about the disease. The distinction is not difficult, even though patent lawyers attempt to blur it. And even if correlation patents have been granted, the overwhelming majority of medical correlations, including those listed above, are not owned. And shouldn't be.

Unfortunately for the public, the Metabolite case is only one example of a much broader patent problem in this country. We grant patents at a level of abstraction that is unwise, and it's gotten us into trouble in the past. Some years back, doctors were allowed to patent surgical procedures and sue other doctors who used their methods without paying a fee. A blizzard of lawsuits followed. This unhealthy circumstance was halted in 1996 by the American Medical Association and Congress, which decided that doctors couldn't sue other doctors for using patented surgical procedures. But the beat goes on.

Companies have patented their method of hiring, and real estate agents have patented the way they sell houses. Lawyers now advise athletes to patent their sports moves, and screenwriters to patent their movie plots. (My screenplay for "Jurassic Park" was cited as a good candidate.)

Where does all this lead? It means that if a real estate agent lists a house for sale, he can be sued because an existing patent for selling houses includes item No. 7, "List the house." It means that Kobe Bryant may serve as an inspiration but not a model, because nobody can imitate him without fines. It means nobody can write a dinosaur story because my patent includes 257 items covering all aspects of behavior, like item No. 13, "Dinosaurs attack humans and other dinosaurs."

Such a situation is idiotic, of course. Yet elements of it already exist. And unless we begin to turn this around, there will be worse to come.

I wanted to end this essay by telling a story about how current rulings hurt us, but the patent for "ending an essay with an anecdote" is owned. So I thought to end with a quotation from a famous person, but that strategy is patented, too. I then decided to end abruptly, but "abrupt ending for dramatic effect" is also patented. Finally, I decided to pay the "end with summary" patent fee, since it was the least expensive.

The Supreme Court should rule against Metabolite, and the Patent Office should begin to reverse its strategy of patenting strategies. Basic truths of nature can't be owned.

Oh, and by the way: I own the patent for "essay or letter criticizing a previous publication." So anyone who criticizes what I have said here had better pay a royalty first, or I'll see you in court.



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