- Signs of the Times for Wed, 22 Mar 2006 -

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Editorial: The New Iron Curtain

By John Kaminski

What's that shadow in your mind, and how long has it been there?

The Iron Curtain was a phrase commonly used in the 1950s to describe the post-World War Two partitioning of Europe. The sinister label was used to convey the lockstep conformity of thought and action demanded by the old Soviet Union of the hapless Eastern European nations it controlled.

Today, the Iron Curtain is electronic, and engulfs the whole world. Its totalitarian terror apparatus is entirely conceptual, and has been implanted in the minds of every person on this planet by what at first seems to be a totally by chance arrangement of a seemingly infinite variety of commercial media. But upon deeper inspection, a chilling pattern emerges, that is perhaps best reflected by the overall loss of intellectual capacity in the United States during the past half century.

Once a vibrant and intelligent society, the USA is now a lockstep fascist state that justifies torture and preemptive war because it inadvertently robotized itself using the combination of political manipulation backed by the raw power of movies, television and newspapers. The unending search for profit at any cost turned the beacon of liberty into the mad master of horror in search of a twisted comfort it can never achieve, and as a consequence, America continues to turn the world into rubble on a daily basis.

But perhaps the robotizing has not been inadvertent. In the bevy of recent media revelations from Harvard about Israel's control of the U.S. as well as an increased mainstream media presence about the obvious inside job crimes connected to 9/11, the majority of the American people continue to prove they will willingly ignore the horrible crimes being committed by their so-called leaders at the expense of not only the rest of the world - but also themselves.

And for what? Security? All honest and decent humans have always known you can't have real security without faith in some higher hope. Yet the men who control these activities in today's world do not lead us toward real security. They lead us toward false hope and terrible deeds questing for plunder and power. Some may say this is the way it has always been, but the healthier among us - who are all currently running for our lives - know that the way to permanent peace lies through an understanding of the other, and that security has never been established through the use of raw power, but only through mutual understanding and empathy.

The actual use of raw power guarantees only hatred and incessant revolution to follow.

We may not live this life for ourselves. Both Jesus and Milton Friedman have uttered these words. It is obvious to real human beings.

But it is not obvious to mass media, nor to neocon politicians, who play on our fears and reward us with graft. And blood. Lots of blood. It is a profitable substance. Just ask the pharmaceutical industry. And while you're at it, before you slip into that final coma from which you may not emerge, ask yourself what impact the stuff doctors are putting into your veins has had on your life, the disintegration of your formerly happy country, and the condition of the whole world.

A lot like the impact mass media have had, wouldn't you say?

Then other pieces of the puzzle begin to coalesce.

1. The Soviet Union and its horrific gulags (60 million dead) were originally a Jewish enterprise, funded by bankers from New York and executed by Jews from Brooklyn. Somewhere there's a famous quote that "Communism is Judaism."

2. The creation of the so-called Jewish homeland in Israel was a subtext (if not the real reason) of both World Wars One and Two. The USA was taken over by international Jewish financiers in 1913, and has not regained its financial freedom since. The Balfour Declaration during WW1 committed Britain to the establishment of a Jewish Palestine. The state of Israel was formed out of the rubble of WW2, although the actual Jewish Holocaust religion would not be established until the middle-1960s, after the Kennedy assassination was engineered by a Jewish mobster working closely with the Mossad.

3. The ideological guides for the current Bush adminstration, Perle and Wolfowitz, who wrote PNAC, are high-level Israeli agents. So is U.S. Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff. As was Pentagon finance chief Rabbi Dov Zakheim. I trust I do not need to go on to you about principal 9/11 players, from Larry Silverstein to Tommy Franks, who are also Jewish.

4. The foundation of Western capitalism, ostensibly when William Paterson founded the Bank of England in 1694, rests on the abilities and formulas of Jewish bankers from Holland. The actual rise of the worldwide British Empire coincides with when Jews took over the finances and made the City of London the power center of the world. Rothschild banks have handled the coffers of the Catholic church for many years. The flag of Israel, as you may now, is based on the Rothschild model. A story is circulating that the mother of a recent former pope, the Polish one, was Jewish.

5. Media ownership in the United States and throughout the Western corporatized world are EXCLUSIVELY Jewish. And so with the the biggest media power center of all, Hollywood. The impact of movies on the world throughout the 20th century has defined the social aspects of ALL of human civilization. People you thought were good Americans, like Judy Garland and Billy Graham, were Jewish. And participating in something so huge, some experiment so audacious, that I won't even attempt to explain to you because you wouldn't believe it if you heard it.

Anyway, these are just five things. Try to compile a list of shadowy traits to match this for any other group. Then explain to me how a certain people can cohere for 5,000 years without their own state, yet survive and prosper century after century while the countries they live in decay and die.

Explain that to me, please.

You won't be able to, of course. One of the reasons you can't is because you were brought up in an educational system that concealed these facts, that presented you with a history of the world that doesn't talk about these things, that doesn't give you the real history.

Try to understand what's going on through psychiatry, and you will discover it is a Jewish science. The National Education Association, to which all public school teachers must belong, is a Jewish organization.

WW1 President Woodrow Wilson's involvement in the robbery of Germany and creation of a two-tiered educational system in the United States, one for the privileged rich, and the other for us worker bees, for example. And people wonder how today's torture-happy USA rooters devolved into lesser beings from their formerly happy pioneer spirit? Wilson's top advisor, Colonel House, was Jewish. WW2 President Roosevelt's top advisor, Bernard Baruch, was Jewish.

Currently, the Jewish state known as Israel gets $3 billion per year it has never been required to repay (although $15 billion including commercial tangents is more accurate) from U.S. citizens. This is both robbery and slavery. Israel is putting up a wall around its enslaved indiginents and calling them terrorists. The practice seems destined for the United States as well.

As one commentator described it: "Israel is not a country. Israel is the crime syndicate for the people who run the world."

A life built on blood inevitably means a horribly bloody death awaits those who choose to travel that path.

And this is the current fate all Americans face, provided to us not so free of charge by that same shadowy, no longer hard to identify group that has done the same things to other people in other countries in other times.

See the shadow in the sky sometime soon before you die. Identify it clearly before it's too late. It is the only hope any of us has.

It's the new Iron Curtain.

Comment: For more information, don't miss our Bush Is Real Crazy section on yesterday's Signs page.

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Editorial: Deranged, Disconnected, and Dangerous

by Paul Craig Roberts
21 Mar 06

"LewRockwell" -- -- On March 17 William Rivers Pitt wrote that Bush is "deranged, disconnected, and dangerous." In his March 20 Cleveland speech, Bush proved Pitt right.

Bush gave a delusional speech that shows he is detached from reality. "We’re going to help the Iraqis build a strong democracy that will be an inspiration throughout the Middle East, a democracy that’ll be a partner in the global war against the terrorists."

Has no one told Bush that the Iraqis cannot even agree to form a government?

The day before Bush’s delusional Cleveland speech, Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister of one of our make-believe Iraqi governments, said that in Iraq the casualty rate from the sectarian strife is so high that "if this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

The day of Bush’s delusional speech, Patrick Cockburn, present on the scene in Irbil, Iraq, gave a much more truthful account of the situation. Writing in CounterPunch, he reported: "Iraq is a country convulsed by fear. It is at its worst in Baghdad. Sectarian killings are commonplace. . . . The scale of the violence is such that most of it is unreported. . . . Unseen by the outside world, silent populations are on the move, frightened people fleeing neighborhoods where their community is in a minority for safer districts. There is also a growing reliance on militias because of fears that police patrols or checkpoints are in reality death squads hunting for victims."

Not a word of this reality from our delusional president.

The fantasy Iraq that Bush painted was only his warm-up. He went on to tell his Cleveland audience that American could not be safe unless Iraq was a democracy. What a weak, pitiful, vulnerable place Bush’s America must be. Unless a small, devastated Middle Eastern country is a democracy, America cannot be safe. Who in the Cleveland audience could possibly have believed this utter nonsense.

Bush told his audience that "the security of our country is directly linked to the liberty of the Iraqi people, and we will settle for nothing less than victory." What victory is he talking about? Despite the huge sums of dollars paid by the Bush regime to all the leaders of all the factions, Iraq cannot form a government.

Without victory, Iraq will be "a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks against our nation." Alas, there were no terrorists in Iraq until Bush invaded the country and drew them in. The problem our troops face in Iraq is not terrorists, but resistance fighters, "insurgents" in the Bush regimes parlance. Democracies lack the dictatorial, extra-legal powers to suppress terrorists. That is why Bush is destroying civil liberties in the US. Under Saddam Hussein, there were no terrorists and no insurgents. Bush is modeling his no habeas corpus, torture prone, all intrusive government on Saddam Hussein.

The security of Americans has nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq. Iraq cannot overthrow the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the separation of powers, and American civil liberties. Iraq cannot illegally spy on American citizens, declare them to be "suspects" and detain them forever without warrant or charges. Iraq cannot put American critics of the Bush regime on "no-fly" lists.

The real dangers to Americans reside in the neocon Bush administration. This delusional warmonger administration believes it has the power and the right to dictate to Muslim countries their political and social institutions. This extraordinary arrogance and hubris breeds opposition where there was none. The world is not going to obey Bush and a handful of stupid neocons.

In his speech Bush told Cleveland that "the decision to remove Saddam Hussein was a difficult decision." That is a lie. Bush’s Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, and a number of others have reported that Bush came into office intending to remove Hussein. The head of British intelligence told the British Cabinet that Bush first decided to go to war and then created the reasons to justify his aggression against Iraq.

"Before we acted," Bush told his audience, Hussein’s "regime was defying U.N. resolutions calling for it to disarm. It was violating cease-fire agreements, was firing on American and British pilots which were enforcing no-fly zones." Gentle reader, think what Bush is saying. As Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, a fact that Bush has acknowledged, how could Iraq possibly have been violating U.N. resolutions calling on it to disarm?

What cease-fire agreements are Bush talking about? It was US and UK planes that continued to fly over Iraqi territory and bomb Iraqis.

Do you know what Bush means by no-fly zones? He means that US and UK jet fighters could fly all over Iraq, but if Iraqi planes flew over Iraqi territory, we would shoot them down.

Where did the US get the right to tell countries that they dare not try to control their own air space?

Americans need to understand that terrorists are responding to America’s behavior, or misbehavior. The only successful way to stop terrorism is to alter our behavior. America is not God. It has no right, and it certainly lacks the power, to impose its will on the world.

The Bush regime cannot lead the world to democracy by tearing democracy down at home. Not since Abraham Lincoln have American civil liberties been so threatened as by the Bush regime. America even has an Attorney General, a Vice President, and a Secretary of Defense who believe in torture. How do they differ from officials in the Third Reich or Stalin’s KGB? Anyone who believes in torture is not an American. That person is outside our tradition. Yet, it is people who believe in torture who occupy our highest offices.

When we get the mote out of our own eye, then we can instruct the Middle East.

Dr. Roberts [send him mail] is Chairman of the Institute for Political Economy and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He is a former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, former contributing editor for National Review, and a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

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Editorial: Iraqi Police

Baghdad Dweller

Iraqi police report on US war crime


In the name of God, the most merciful

This is the morning and afternoon events of 15/3/2006

1. Interior Ministry Operations:

All forces belonging to the Interior Ministry will go on 100 percent alert status starting Wednesday 15/3/2006 until 1000 hours Friday 17/3/2006.

2. Coordination Center of Beji

At 810 gunmen in a white vehicle, duck type (a reference to the local name for a Toyota model) kidnapped the child Mohamed (Badei Khaled) from Samaha school in Beji (map coordinates 617667).

3. Coordination Center of Dujail

At 730 a benzene truck burned near Gassem al Queisy fuel station after one of its tires caught fire. The incident burned the driver (Hamed Abdalilah) and he was transported to the hospital (map coordinates 263519).

4. Coordination Center of Balad

At 230 of 15/3/2006, according to the telegram (report) of the Ishaqi police directorate, American forces used helicopters to drop troops on the house of Faiz Harat Khalaf situated in the Abu Sifa village of the Ishaqi district. The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 people, including 5 children, 4 women and 2 men, then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals (map coordinates 098702).

They were:

Turkiya Muhammed Ali, 75 years

Faiza Harat Khalaf, 30 years

Faiz Harat Khalaf, 28 years

Um Ahmad, 23 years

Sumaya Abdulrazak, 22 years

Aziz Khalil Jarmoot, 22 years

Hawra Harat Khalaf, 5 years

Asma Yousef Maruf, 5 years

Osama Yousef Maruf, 3 years

Aisha Harat Khalaf, 3 years

Husam Harat Khalaf, 6 months


Staff Colonel

Fadhil Muhammed Khalaf

Assistant Chief of the Joint Coordination Center

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Onward Christian Soldiers

Bush still believes victory possible in Iraq

Last Updated Tue, 21 Mar 2006 14:27:00 EST
CBC News

U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday denied claims that Iraq has slipped into civil war, but he warned that American soldiers in Iraq face "more tough fighting ahead."
In his second full news conference of the year, Bush confronted growing doubts about his administration's military strategy in Iraq.

He acknowledged public concern, saying weeks of sectarian violence since the Feb. 22 attack on a Shia shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra has been "horrific." Hundreds of Iraqis have been killed.

"The terrorists haven't given up. They're tough-minded. They like to kill," said Bush, who spoke days after the third anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. "There will be more tough fighting ahead."

He said he disagreed with comments made on the weekend by former Iraqi interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, who on Sunday told the British Broadcasting Corporation: "If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

Bush said the fact that the Iraqi army has not "busted up into sectarian divisions," and that top Iraqi religious and political leaders are calling for unity is proof that the country is not in a civil war.

"This is a chance the Iraqis had to fall apart and they didn't," he said.

Bush called on Iraqi political leaders to "put aside their differences and reach across sectarian lines" to form a unified government as quickly as possible.

Secular divisions have stalled attempts to form an Iraqi government since the Dec. 2005 national elections.

Bush defended the continuing American military presence in Iraq, saying he has a plan for victory.

"If I didn't believe we could succeed, I wouldn't be there. I wouldn't put those kids there," he said, responding to questions on when U.S. troops would be brought home.

Bush said he can't let Iraq become a place for terrorists to plan future attacks on the U.S.

"If we left too early, Iraq would become a place of instability, a place to plot, plan and attack," he said.

The U.S. president bristled when asked why he went into Iraq in the first place, saying he tried to address the threat in Iraq through diplomatic means.

"I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong. No president wants war."

Comment: Bush sounds like an eight year old talking in the school yard to his chums.

Unfortunately, real people are dying because this dry drunk and his cronies have been able to steal two presidential elections and kill 3,000 people to get their agenda moving.

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Bush Defends Decisions on Iraq War

Mar 21, 1:06 PM (ET)

WASHINGTON - President Bush said Tuesday the decision about when to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq will fall to future presidents and Iraqi leaders, suggesting that U.S. involvement will continue at least through 2008.

Acknowledging the public's growing unease with the war - and election-year skittishness among fellow Republicans - the president nonetheless vowed to keep U.S. soldiers in the fight.

"If I didn't believe we could succeed, I wouldn't be there. I wouldn't put those kids there," Bush declared.

He also stood by embattled Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"I don't believe he should resign. He's done a fine job. Every war plan looks good on paper until you meet the enemy," he said.
In his second full-blown news conference of the year, Bush sought to ease his political problems by addressing them directly.

"Nobody likes war. It creates a sense of uncertainty in the country," he said. "War creates trauma." He acknowledged that Republicans are worried about their political standing in November.

"There's a certain unease as you head into an election year," Bush told a wide-ranging news conference that lasted nearly an hour.

More than 2,300 Americans have died in three years of war in Iraq. Polls show the public's support of the war and Bush himself have dramatically declined in recent months, jeopardizing the political goodwill he carried out of the 2004 re-election victory.

"I'd say I'm spending that capital on the war," Bush quipped.

When asked about his failed Social Security plan, he simply said: "It didn't get done." But the president defiantly defended his warrantless eavesdropping program, and baited Democrats who suggest that he broke the law.

Calling a censure resolution "needless partisanship," Bush challenged Democrats to go into the November midterm elections in opposition to eavesdropping on suspected terrorists. "They ought to stand up and say, 'The tools we're using to protect the American people should not be used,'" Bush said.

The news conference marked a new push by Bush to confront doubts about his strategy in Iraq. A day earlier, he acknowledged to a sometimes skeptical audience that there was dwindling support for his Iraq policy and that he understood why people were disheartened.

"The terrorists haven't given up. They're tough-minded. They like to kill," he said Tuesday. "There will be more tough fighting ahead."

Later in the news conference, Bush was asked whether there would come a day when no U.S. forces are in Iraq.

"That, of course, is an objective. And that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq," he said.

Asked if that meant it won't happen on his watch, the president said, "You mean a complete withdrawal? That's a timetable. I can only tell you that I will make decisions on force levels based upon what the commanders on the ground say."

The president said he did not agree with former interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who told the British Broadcasting Corporation Sunday, "If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

Bush said others inside and outside Iraq think the nation has stopped short of civil war. "There are other voices coming out of Iraq, by the way, other than Mr. Allawi, who I know by the way - like. A good fellow."

"We all recognized that there is violence, that there is sectarian violence. But the way I look at the situation is, the Iraqis looked and decided not to go into civil war."

Nearly four out of five Americans, including 70 percent of Republicans, believe civil war will break out in Iraq, according to a recent AP-Ipsos poll.

Bush said he's confident of victory in Iraq. "I'm optimistic we'll succeed. If not, I'd pull our troops out," he said, warning that abandoning the nation would be a dangerous mistake.

"So failure in Iraq, which isn't going to happen, would send all kinds of terrible signals to an enemy that wants to hurt us and people who are desperate to change the condition in the broader Middle East," Bush said.

He said he agreed to U.S. talks with Iran to underscore his point that Tehran's attempts to spread sectarian violence or provide support to Iraqi insurgents was unacceptable to the United States.

His opening remarks were designed to steel Americans for more fighting in Iraq and put an optimistic spin on the state of the U.S. economy.

"Productivity is strong. Inflation is contained. Household net worth is at an all-time high," Bush said, crediting his administration's policies.

Comment: "Household net worth" in the US is at an all time high, and yet so is personal and public debt?!

On Iraq, Bush bristled at a suggestion that he had wanted to wage war against that country since early in his presidency.

"I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong ... with all due respect," he told a reporter. "No president wants war." To those who say otherwise, "it's simply not true," Bush said.

Asked about former supporters who now oppose him and the war, Bush said he's trying to win them over by "talking realistically to people" about the war and its importance to the nation.

"I can understand how Americans are worried about whether or not we can win," Bush said, adding that most Americans want victory "but they're concerned about whether or not we can win."

Bush scoffed at a question suggesting he should reshuffle or shake up his White House staff to help raise his sagging poll standings. But he did hint that he might bring in an experienced Washington insider to work with a disgruntled Congress.

"I'm not going to announce it right now," Bush said, adding that he's satisfied with the staff he's surrounded himself with.

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Elaborate U.S. bases raise long-term questions

By Charles J. Hanley
Associated Press
March 21, 2006

EDITOR'S NOTE - This report is based on interviews with U.S. military engineers and others before and during the writer's two weeks as an embedded reporter at major U.S. bases in Iraq.

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq - The concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that's now the home of up to 120 U.S. helicopters, a "heli-park" as good as any back in the States.

At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq's western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.

At a third hub down south, Tallil, they're planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldiers for chow.

Are the Americans here to stay?
Air Force mechanic Josh Remy is sure of it as he looks around Balad.
"I think we'll be here forever," the 19-year-old airman from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., told a visitor to his base.

The Iraqi people suspect the same. Strong majorities tell pollsters they'd like to see a timetable for U.S. troops to leave, but believe Washington plans to keep military bases in their country.

The question of America's future in Iraq looms larger as the U.S. military enters the fourth year of its war here, waged first to oust President Saddam Hussein, and now to crush an Iraqi insurgency.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, interim prime minister, has said he opposes permanent foreign bases. A wide range of American opinion is against them as well. Such bases would be a "stupid" provocation, says Gen. Anthony Zinni, former U.S. Mideast commander and a critic of the original U.S. invasion.

But events, in explosive situations like Iraq's, can turn "no" into "maybe" and even "yes."

The Shiite Muslims, ascendant in Baghdad, might decide they need long-term U.S. protection against insurgent Sunni Muslims. Washington might take the political risks to gain a strategic edge - in its confrontation with next-door Iran, for example.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and other U.S. officials disavow any desire for permanent bases. But long-term access, as at other U.S. bases abroad, is different from "permanent," and the official U.S. position is carefully worded.

Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman on international security, told The Associated Press it would be "inappropriate" to discuss future basing until a new Iraqi government is in place, expected in the coming weeks.

Less formally, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked about "permanent duty stations" by a Marine during an Iraq visit in December, allowed that it was "an interesting question." He said it would have to be raised by the incoming Baghdad government, if "they have an interest in our assisting them for some period over time."

In Washington, Iraq scholar Phebe Marr finds the language intriguing. "If they aren't planning for bases, they ought to say so," she said. "I would expect to hear 'No bases."'

Right now what is heard is the pouring of concrete.

In 2005-06, Washington has authorized or proposed almost $1 billion for U.S. military construction in Iraq, as American forces consolidate at Balad, known as Anaconda, and a handful of other installations, big bases under the old regime.

They have already pulled out of 34 of the 110 bases they were holding last March, said Maj. Lee English of the U.S. command's Base Working Group, planning the consolidation.

"The coalition forces are moving outside the cities while continuing to provide security support to the Iraqi security forces," English said.

The move away from cities, perhaps eventually accompanied by U.S. force reductions, will lower the profile of U.S. troops, frequent targets of roadside bombs on city streets. Officers at Al-Asad Air Base, 10 desert miles from the nearest town, say it hasn't been hit by insurgent mortar or rocket fire since October.

Al-Asad will become even more isolated. The proposed 2006 supplemental budget for Iraq operations would provide $7.4 million to extend the no-man's-land and build new security fencing around the base, which at 19 square miles is so large that many assigned there take the Yellow or Blue bus routes to get around the base, or buy bicycles at a PX jammed with customers.

The latest budget also allots $39 million for new airfield lighting, air traffic control systems and upgrades allowing al-Asad to plug into the Iraqi electricity grid - a typical sign of a long-term base.

At Tallil, besides the new $14 million dining facility, Ali Air Base is to get, for $22 million, a double perimeter security fence with high-tech gate controls, guard towers and a moat - in military parlance, a "vehicle entrapment ditch with berm."

Here at Balad, the former Iraqi air force academy 40 miles north of Baghdad, the two 12,000-foot runways have become the logistics hub for all U.S. military operations in Iraq, and major upgrades began last year.

Army engineers say 31,000 truckloads of sand and gravel fed nine concrete-mixing plants on Balad, as contractors laid a $16 million ramp to park the Air Force's huge C-5 cargo planes; an $18 million ramp for workhorse C-130 transports; and the vast, $28 million main helicopter ramp, the length of 13 football fields, filled with attack, transport and reconnaissance helicopters.

Turkish builders are pouring tons more concrete for a fourth ramp beside the runways, for medical-evacuation and other aircraft on alert. And $25 million was approved for other "pavement projects," from a special road for munitions trucks to a compound for special forces.

The chief Air Force engineer here, Lt. Col. Scott Hoover, is also overseeing two crucial projects to add to Balad's longevity: equipping the two runways with new permanent lighting, and replacing a weak 3,500-foot section of one runway.

Once that's fixed, "we're good for as long as we need to run it," Hoover said. Ten years? he was asked. "I'd say so."

Away from the flight lines, among traffic jams and freshly planted palms, life improves on 14-square-mile Balad for its estimated 25,000 personnel, including several thousand American and other civilians.

They've inherited an Olympic-sized pool and a chandeliered cinema from the Iraqis. They can order their favorite Baskin-Robbins flavor at ice cream counters in five dining halls, and cut-rate Fords, Chevys or Harley-Davidsons, for delivery at home, at a PX-run "dealership." On one recent evening, not far from a big 24-hour gym, airmen hustled up and down two full-length, lighted outdoor basketball courts as F-16 fighters thundered home overhead.

"Balad's a fantastic base," Brig. Gen. Frank Gorenc, the Air Force's tactical commander in Iraq, said in an interview at his headquarters here.

Could it host a long-term U.S. presence?

"Eventually it could," said Gorenc, commander of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. "But there's no commitment to any of the bases we operate, until somebody tells me that."

In the counterinsurgency fight, Balad's central location enables strike aircraft to reach targets in minutes. And in the broader context of reinforcing the U.S. presence in the oil-rich Mideast, Iraq bases are preferable to aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, said a longtime defense analyst.

"Carriers don't have the punch," said Gordon Adams of Washington's George Washington University. "There's a huge advantage to land-based infrastructure. At the level of strategy it makes total sense to have Iraq bases."

A U.S. congressional study cited another, less discussed use for possible Iraq bases: to install anti-ballistic defenses in case Iran fires missiles.

American bases next door could either deter or provoke Iran, noted Paul D. Hughes, a key planner in the early U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Overall, however, this retired Army colonel says American troops are unwanted in the Middle East. With long-term bases in Iraq, "We'd be inviting trouble," Hughes said.

"It's a stupid idea and clearly politically unacceptable," Zinni, a former Central Command chief, said in a Washington interview. "It would damage our image in the region, where people would decide that this" - seizing bases - "was our original intent."

Among Iraqis, the subject is almost too sensitive to discuss.

"People don't like bases," veteran politician Adnan Pachachi, a member of the new Parliament, told the AP. "If bases are absolutely necessary, if there's a perceived threat ... but I don't think even Iran will be a threat."

If long-term basing is, indeed, on the horizon, "the politics back here and the politics in the region say, 'Don't announce it,"' Adams said in Washington. That's what's done elsewhere, as with the quiet U.S. basing of spy planes and other aircraft in the United Arab Emirates.

Army and Air Force engineers, with little notice, have worked to give U.S. commanders solid installations in Iraq, and to give policymakers options. From the start, in 2003, the first Army engineers rolling into Balad took the long view, laying out a 10-year plan envisioning a move from tents to today's living quarters in air-conditioned trailers, to concrete-and-brick barracks by 2008.

In early 2006, no one's confirming such next steps, but a Balad "master plan," details undisclosed, is nearing completion, a possible model for al-Asad, Tallil and a fourth major base, al-Qayyarah in Iraq's north.

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Bush suggests US troops will still be in Iraq into 2009

March 22, 2006

WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush hinted at a years-long US deployment in Iraq, saying that future US presidents and Iraqi governments would decide when the last US soldiers leave that war-torn country.
But Bush, who leaves office in January 2009, used a wide-ranging press conference to assure a US public unhappy with the war effort that he would call US troops home if he thought victory was impossible.

Asked whether all US forces would someday come home, the embattled US president said: "That, of course, is an objective. And that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq."

Bush also hinted at rifts in the diplomatic approach to
Iran's nuclear program, saying that Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the United States would meet later this week "to make sure that the message remains unified and concerted."

"It's important for our citizens to understand that we've got to deal with this issue diplomatically now," he said. "If the Iranians were to have a nuclear weapon, they could blackmail the world."

Russia and China, both veto-wielding permanent UN Security Council members, have resisted calls for the council to pressure Iran over its nuclear power program. Tehran denies US charges it secretly seeks atomic weapons.

Bush also said that the United States would make clear, in any talks with Iran about the situation in Iraq, that Washington viewed efforts to stoke sectarian violence and help arm insurgents as "unacceptable."

"This is a way for us to make it clear to them about what's right or wrong in their activities inside of Iraq," said the president, who denied that the strife-torn country had slipped into civil war.

"There's going to be more tough fighting ahead," he said, but "the Iraqis took a look and decided not to go to civil war" after the attack on a revered Shiite Muslim shrine.

"I'm optimistic we'll succeed. If not, I'd pull our troops out. If I didn't believe we had a plan for victory, I wouldn't leave our people in harm's way," he said. "I wouldn't put those kids there."

Some 2,300 US soldiers have been killed and many more wounded since the war in Iraq began almost exactly three years ago, and the open-ended conflict has dragged Bush's poll numbers to some of their lowest levels ever.

In the latest violence the commander of an Iraqi public order battalion and three other soldiers were killed Wednesday when rebels mortared their base south of Baghdad, an interior ministry official said.

Fourteen shells rained down on the barracks of the Al Salam brigade in Madain, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of the capital, in a pre-dawn attack on Wednesday. Three soldiers were also wounded.

Not far away, in the town of Latifiyah, 40 kilometres (24 miles) south of Baghdad, a joint US-Iraqi patrol clashed with insurgents also on Wednesday morning, killing one and detaining 11 suspects.

Bush's press conference came as some in his Republican party have worried that his unpopularity may drag down their prospects to retain control over the US Senate and House of Representatives in November mid-term elections.

For the second straight day, Bush took on critics who say his sunny forecasts for Iraq are out of touch with the bloody daily reality, insisting he was "realistic" and warning against a hasty US withdrawal.

And for what may have been the first time, the president said he knew things in Iraq were difficult because "I hear it from our troops" -- not only the media he has accused of focusing on violence rather than progress.

Bush, who has repeatedly said that US soldiers will come home only as Iraq's fledgling security forces can replace them, warned that a hasty withdrawal would embolden terrorists and discourage reformers in the Muslim world.

"If people in Iran, for example, who desire to have an Iranian-style democracy, Iranian-style freedom, if they see us lose our nerve, it's likely to undermine their boldness and their desire," he said.

"A democracy in Iraq is going to affect the neighborhood. A democracy in Iraq is going to inspire reformers in a part of the world that is desperate for reformation," he said.

Amid mounting calls for a staff shake up at the White House, the president also rejected calls for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's removal, saying "I don't believe he should resign. I think he's done a fine job."

But Bush suggested that he might make a change, saying: "I'm not going to announce it right now."

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Abu Ghraib Dog Handler Found Guilty

21 Mar 06

FORT MEADE, Md. A jury found an Army dog handler guilty Tuesday of abusing detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison by terrifying them with a military dog, allegedly for his own amusement.

Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 24, was found guilty of six of 13 counts.
He had faced the stiffest potential sentence of any soldier charged so far in the Abu Ghraib scandal - up to 24 1/2 years in prison if convicted on all counts. The court planned an afternoon sentencing hearing.

The military jury deliberated for about 18 hours over three days before announcing its verdict.

The government contended that Smith, of the 523rd Military Police Detachment, Fort Riley, Kan., used his black Belgian shepherd to intimidate five prisoners for fun and competed with another canine handler trying to make detainees soil themselves.

The prison, which currently holds more than 4,500 detainees, came to symbolize American mishandling of some prisoners captured in Iraq, both during the U.S.-led invasion three years ago and in the fight to subdue the largely Sunni Muslim insurgency since then.

Widely publicized photographs of prisoner abuse by American military guards and interrogators at the led to intense global criticism of the U.S. war in Iraq and fueled the insurgency.

Earlier this month, the American military said that its new lockup near the Baghdad airport to house security prisoners now held at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison should be ready within three months, at which time it would close Abu Ghraib and turn it back over to the Iraqis.

In closing arguments Friday, a prosecutor said Smith had violated two tenets of his training: treat prisoners humanely and use the minimum amount of force needed to ensure compliance.

The defense argued that Smith was a good soldier who had done what he was supposed to do by having his dog bark at prisoners in a dangerous, chaotic environment where policies were so fuzzy that even the general who supervised interrogations testified he felt confused.

Smith, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with five counts of maltreatment of detainees, four counts of assault, two counts of conspiracy to maltreat detainees, one count of dereliction of duty and one count of indecency.

The other dog handler, Sgt. Santos A. Cardona, 31, of Fullerton, Calif., is to stand trial May 22.

Nine other soldiers have been convicted of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib. Among them, former Cpl. Charles Graner Jr. received the stiffest sentence - 10 years in prison.

(© 2006 The Associated Press.

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Northern Iraq Ruled by Force and Fear

By Foreign News Desk, Istanbul
Published: Monday, March 20, 2006

The weekly news magazine, Time, wrote two parties ruling the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq restrict freedoms and the democratic process.

The magazine focusing on the region reported corruption and repression prevail in the region ruled by the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The two parties' despotic tendencies repress their opponents, it was underlined, and that the KDP and PUK rule the region by "force and fear."
The parties led by Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani function almost as a police state and views that, "Instead of one big Saddam, we have a hundred small Saddams in Kurdistan," Time reported.

Access to education, jobs and career advancement is often determined by party affiliation and there is no independent media in the region, Time wrote.

The weekly news magazine handled the problems in northern Iraq in the story titled "Trouble in Kurdistan." The frustration at this "dual monopoly" appear to have been behind a violent outburst last week at Halabja, the town on which Saddam Hussein inflicted a barbaric chemical attack in 1988, killing 5,000 people.

Time defended Kurdistan is a veritable police state, where the Asayeesh, the military security, has a house in each neighborhood, and where the Parastin "secret police" monitor phone conversations and keep tabs on who attends Friday prayers.

While these security measures are intended to prevent resistance cells from forming within its borders, they are often used by the ruling parties as an excuse to crack down on independent civil organizations. "Our members are regularly thrown into jail for seven or eight months at a time without cause. When they get out I tell them that they are lucky to be alive and to keep quiet," said Hadi Ali, the Minister of Justice, the token Kurdistan Islamic Union minister in the KDP-dominated Erbil administration.

According to the Minister of Justice, the courts in the region are almost completely politicized, with judges often rubber-stamping party decisions.

Hadi Ali said the secret police even have their own judges and during the last three Iraqi elections, schools, hospitals and other government buildings displayed portraits of the respective party leaders.

Access to education, jobs and career advancement is often determined by party affiliation. "The presidents of universities, the university council, deans and heads of the departments should all be members of one of the main parties, KDP or PUK," said Rebwar Ali, head of the Kurdistan Student's Development Organization.

Ali also stressed that admissions are not based on merit, but on membership to one of the two parties. Ali also asserted that student scholarships are only available for party members. Big business contracts depend on connections and political affiliations as well, leading to a pandemic of corruption, according to local businessmen.

'There are hundreds of Saddams in Kurdistan'

Demonstrations that are not supported by parties are outlawed, told Time Magazine, highlighting the small-scale parties constituting local coalitions.

The magazine asserted that these parties are bought or formed by the two major parties to create an image that these parties have wide public support and share in the administration.

Though religious marginal groups are treated with tolerance, these two parties use the Foundations Ministry to keep Muslims under strict control, Time noted. Although outlawed in 2003 by the Iraqi constitution, the Ministry, established by the British in the 1920s to control Muslims and later utilized by Baath officials, is still regarded as a source of pressure on the Kurdistan region, Time underlined. "We have hundreds of Saddams in Kurdistan instead of just one big Saddam," said Ahmad Vahab, head imam at Erbil Mosque, and a Kurdistan Iraqi Union deputy in the Iraqi parliament.

While emphasizing the news media in and around Kurdistan, Time referred to the absence of private satellite channels as an important factor for media to be run as the perfect tool for party propaganda.

The region is not suitable for a free news media at all, and some small-scale radio stations can only survive with financial support from the United States.

Kemal Said Kadir, a journalist and a professor of law, was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment when he was arrested for criticizing Barzani and his family in one of his articles.

Time evaluated the imprisonment of Mr. Kadir as an example of the politicization of courts as well as freedom of expression.

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Files show Sadam's frustration over WMD hunt


Exasperated, besieged by global pressure, Saddam Hussein and top aides searched for ways in the 1990s to prove to the world they had given up banned weapons, according to newly-released documents.

"We don't have anything hidden!" a frustrated Iraqi president interjected at one meeting, transcripts show.

At another, in 1996, he wondered whether United Nations inspectors would "roam Iraq for 50 years" in a pointless hunt for weapons of mass destruction.

"When is this going to end?" he asked.
It ended in 2004, when US experts, after an exhaustive investigation, concluded that the men in those meetings were telling the truth, that Iraq had eliminated its weapons of mass destruction long ago, a finding that discredited the Bush administration's stated rationale for invading Iraq in 2003 – to find WMD.

The documents are among US government translations of audiotapes or Arabic-language transcripts from top-level Iraqi meetings – dating from around 1996-97 back to the period soon after the 1991 Gulf War, when the UN Security Council sent inspectors to disarm Iraq.

Even as the documents make clear that Saddam's regime had given up banned weapons, they also attest to its continued secretiveness: A 1997 document from Iraqi intelligence instructed agencies to keep confidential files away from UN teams, and to remove "any forbidden equipment".

Since it is now acknowledged the Iraqis had ended the arms programmes by then, the directive may have been aimed at securing stray pieces of equipment, and preserving some secrets from Iraq's 1980s work on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Saddam's inner circle entertained notions of reviving the programmes some day, the documents show.

"The factories will remain in our brains," one unidentified participant told Saddam at a meeting, apparently in the early 1990s.

At the same meeting, however, the ex-president, who is now on trial for crimes against humanity, led a discussion about converting chemical-weapons factories to beneficial uses.

When a subordinate complained that UN inspectors had seized equipment at the plants useful for pharmaceutical and insecticide production, Saddam jumped in, saying they had "no right" to deny the Iraqis the equipment, since "they have ascertained that we have no intention to produce in this field (chemical weapons)".

The dozen transcribed discussions about weapons inspections largely dealt with Iraq'sdiplomatic strategies for getting the Security Council to confirm it had disarmed.

Scores of Iraqi documents, seized after the 2003 invasion, are being released at the request of the US House Intelligence Committee chairman, Representative Peter Hoekstra (Republican, Michigan), who has suggested that evidence might turn up that the Iraqis hid their weapons or sent them to neighbouring Syria. No such evidence has emerged.

Repeatedly in the transcripts, Saddam and his lieutenants remind each other that Iraq destroyed its chemical and biological weapons in the early 1990s, and shut down those programmes and the nuclear-bomb programme, which had never produced a weapon.

"We played by the rules of the game," Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said at a session in the mid-1990s.

"In 1991, our weapons were destroyed."

Amer Mohammed Rashid, a top weapons programme official, told a 1996 presidential meeting he laid out the facts to the UN chief inspector.

"We don't have anything to hide, so we're giving you all the details," he said he told Rolf Ekeus.

In his final report in October 2004, Charles Duelfer, head of a post-invasion US team of weapons hunters, concluded that Iraq and the UN inspectors had, indeed, dismantled the nuclear programme and destroyed the chemical and biological weapons stockpiles by 1992, and the Iraqis never resumed production.

Saddam's goal in the 1990s was to have the Security Council lift the economic sanctions strangling the Iraqi economy, by convincing council members that Iraq had eliminated its WMD. But he was thwarted at every turn by what he and aides viewed as US hard-liners blocking council action.

The inspectors "destroyed everything and said, 'Iraq completed 95% of their commitment'," Saddam said at one meeting.

"We co-operated with the resolutions 100 per cent and you all know that, and the 5% they claim we have not executed could take them 10 years to (verify).

"Don't think for a minute that we still have WMD," he told his deputies. "We have nothing."

Comment: This is yet more evidence that the American government knew for a fact that Saddam had no WMDs, yet they deliberately and consciously LIED to the world in order to justify and invasion of Iraq. When are people going to wake up to the fact that the American government is the primary source of terrorism in the world today?

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US book on Iraq war takes aim at Rumsfeld

March 22, 2006

WASHINGTON - US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld comes under fire for his handling of the invasion of
Iraq and its bloody aftermath in a new book by a retired general and a New York Times reporter.

The book, "COBRA II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq", accuses Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks, who commanded US troops at the war's outset, of adopting an overly optimistic plan that ignored the threat of insurgency and the political landscape of Iraq.
"In the Iraq War, Rumsfeld and Franks dominated the planning," wrote the authors, Michael Gordon, military reporter for the New York Times, and retired general Bernard Trainor.

Vice President Dick Cheney "had the authority to serve as a counterweight to the Pentagon's optimism on postwar planning. But the vice president never once challenged the realism of Rumsfeld's expectations," they wrote.

According to the book, which was released to coincide with the third anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, both Rumsfeld and Franks failed to recognize signs of a coming insurrection.

"There were indications from the first days of the invasion of the insurgency and guerrilla tactics to come, but they were ignored at the highest levels in Washington and at the Central command," it said.

Citing classified documents and interviews with US military officers on the ground in Iraq, the two authors sharply criticize Rumsfeld and Franks for faulty assumptions about how the war would unfold and how many troops would be required after the 2003 invasion.

"Just as Rumsfeld and Franks failed to understand the enemy, they also did not understand the actual structure of political power in Iraq. Rumsfeld and Franks believed that their victory would be sealed with the seizing of Baghdad, which was identified as Iraq's 'center of gravity'.

"But from the first day of the invasion the United States was not fighting a purely conventional war, one that would be suddenly brought to an end when the regime's ministries were seized and its leader toppled," the authors wrote.

Rumsfeld had placed too much confidence in US military technology and special operations forces while underestimating how many troops would be needed to occupy the country after toppling Saddam Hussein's regime, they said.

"Yet Rumsfeld was so confident of the validity of the prewar plan that he questioned the need to deploy the 1st Cavalry before Baghdad fell," they wrote.

"Just a week after Baghdad was seized, the White House, Defense Department, and CENTCOM (Central Command) were focused on withdrawing troops and replacing them with less-capable foreign troops instead of deploying the assets that would be needed to hedge against new threats," the book said.

The third anniversary of the US-led invasion has prompted a flood of criticism of the US administration's management of the war, including a commentary from a retired army general who was in charge of training Iraqi security forces in 2003 and 2004.

Retired major general Paul Eaton laid the blame for failures in Iraq on Rumsfeld, portraying him as a bullying micromanager who alienated allies and ignored military advice.

"In sum, he has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically, and is far more than anyone else responsible for what has happened to our important mission in Iraq," he wrote in the New York Times on Sunday.

"Mr. Rumsfeld must step down," Eaton said.

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Sacrifices to Yahweh

Pro-Israel lobby in U.S. under attack.

March 20 2006

WASHINGTON, -- Two of America's top scholars have published a searing attack on the role and power of Washington's pro-Israel lobby in a British journal, warning that its "decisive" role in fomenting the Iraq war is now being repeated with the threat of action against Iran. And they say that the Lobby is so strong that they doubt their article would be accepted in any U.S.-based publication.

Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, author of "The Tragedy of Great Power Politics" and Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kenney School, and author of "Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy," are leading figures American in academic life.

They claim that the Israel lobby has distorted American policy and operates against American interests, that it has organized the funneling of more than $140 billion dollars to Israel and "has a stranglehold" on the U.S. Congress, and its ability to raise large campaign funds gives its vast influence over Republican and Democratic administrations, while its role in Washington think tanks on the Middle East dominates the policy debate.
And they say that the Lobby works ruthlessly to suppress questioning of its role, to blacken its critics and to crush serious debate about the wisdom of supporting Israel in U.S. public life.

"Silencing skeptics by organizing blacklists and boycotts -- or by suggesting that critics are anti-Semites -- violates the principle of open debate on which democracy depends," Walt and Mearsheimer write.

"The inability of Congress to conduct a genuine debate on these important issues paralyses the entire process of democratic deliberation. Israel's backers should be free to make their case and to challenge those who disagree with them, but efforts to stifle debate by intimidation must be roundly condemned," they add, in the 12,800-word article published in the latest issue of The London Review of Books.

The article focuses strongly on the role of the "neo-conservatives" within the Bush administration in driving the decision to launch the war on Iraq.

"The main driving force behind the war was a small band of neo-conservatives, many with ties to the Likud," Mearsheimer and Walt argue." 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."

"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 (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) or WINEP (Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy), 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," Walt and Mearsheimer write.

The article, which is already stirring furious debate in U.S. academic and intellectual circles, also explores the historical role of the Lobby.

"For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel," the article says.

"The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread 'democracy' throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only U.S. security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the U.S. been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?" Professors Walt and Mearsheimer add.

"The thrust of U.S. 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 U.S. interests and those of the other country - in this case, Israel -- are essentially identical," they add.

They argue that far from being a strategic asset to the United States, Israel "is becoming a strategic burden" and "does not behave like a loyal ally." They also suggest that Israel is also now "a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states.

"Saying that Israel and the U.S. 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," they add. "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."

They question the argument that Israel deserves support as the only democracy in the Middle East, claiming that "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."

The most powerful force in the Lobby is AIPAC, the American-Israel Public affairs Committee, which Walt and Mearsheimer call "a de facto agent for a foreign government," and which they say has now forged an important alliance with evangelical Christian groups.

The bulk of the article is a detailed analysis of the way they claim the Lobby managed to change the Bush administration's policy from "halting Israel's expansionist policies in the Occupied Territories and advocating the creation of a Palestinian state" and divert it to the war on Iraq instead. They write "Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was critical."

"Thanks to the lobby, the United States has become the de facto enabler of Israeli expansion in the Occupied Territories, making it complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians," and conclude that "Israel itself would probably be better off if the Lobby were less powerful and U.S. policy more even-handed."

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Why Orthodox Jews are opposed to the Zionist "State"

Jews United Against Zionism

The People of Israel oppose the so-called "State of Israel" for four reasons:
FIRST -- Because this is diametrically opposed and completely contradictory to the true essence and foundation of the people of Israel, as is explained above. Because the only time that the people of Israel were permitted to have a state was two thousand years ago when the glory of the creator was upon us. And likewise in the future when the glory of the creator will once more be revealed, and the whole world will serve Him. Then He Himself (without any human effort or force of arms) will grant us a kingdom founded on divine Service. However, a worldly state, like those possessed by other peoples, is contradictory to the true essence of the People of Israel. Whoever calls this the salvation of Israel shows that he denies the essence of the People of Israel, and substitutes another nature, a worldly materialistic nature, and therefore sets before them, a worldly materialistic "salvation." And the means of achieving this "salvation" is also worldly and materialistic i.e. to organize a land and army. However, the true salvation of the People of Israel is to draw close to the Creator And this is not done by organization and force of arms. Rather it is done by occupation to Torah and good deeds.

SECOND -- Because of all of this and other reason's the Torah forbids us to end the exile and establish a state and army until the Holy One, blessed He, in His Glory and Essence redeem us. This is forbidden even if the state is conducted according to the law of the Torah. Because arising from the exile itself is forbidden, and we are required to remain under the rule of the nations of the world, as is explained in the book VAYOEL MOSHE. And transgress this injunction, He will bring upon us (may we be spared) terrible punishment.

THIRD Aside from arising from exile, all the deeds of the Zionists are diametrically opposed to the Faith and the Torah. Because the foundation of the Faith and Torah of Israel, is that the Torah was revealed from heaven, and there is reward for those who obey it and punishment for those who transgress it. The entire People of Israel is required to obey the Torah, and whoever doesn't want to, ceases to be part of the congregation of Israel.

FOURTH -- Aside from the fact that they themselves do not obey the Torah they do everything they can to prevent anyone they get under their power from fulfilling the commands of the Torah, the claims to freedom of religion are lies. They fight with all of their strength to destroy the Faith of Israel.

The Zionists claim that they are the saviors of Israel, but this is refuted by twelve things:

FIRST -- If one contemplates the two thousand years of our exile, take any hundred years even the hardest, one will not find as much suffering, bloodshed, and catastrophes for the People of Israel s in the period of the Zionists. And it is known that most of the suffering of this century was caused by the Zionists, as our Rabbis warned us would be the case.
SECOND -- It is openly stated in books written by the founders of Zionism that the means by which they panned to establish a state was by instigating anti-Semitism, and undermining the security of the Jews in all the lands of the world, until they would be forced to flee to their state. And thus they did - They intentionally infuriated the German people and fanned the flames of Nazi hatred, and they helped the Nazis, with trickery and deceit, to take whole Jewish communities off to the concentration camps, and the Zionists themselves admit this. (See the books Perfidy, Min Ha Meitsor, etc.). The Zionists continue to practice this strategy today ,they incite anti-Semitism and then they present themselves as the "saviors". Here are two replies given y Leaders of the Zionists during World War II, when they were asked for money to help ransom Jews from the Nazis. Greenbaum said "One cow in Palestine is worth more than all the Jews in Poland." (G-d forbid).
Weitzman said, The most important part of the Jewish people is already in the land (of Israel) and those who are left, are unimportant (May we be spared).
THIRD -- We see that most of world Jewry, Lives in security and under good physical conditions, and have no desire to go live in the Zionist state. Whereas many people have left the Zionist state to live under better conditions in other lands.
FOURTH -- The Zionists make a great deal of propaganda to induce people to immigrate to their state. If their state is so beneficial why do they have to make so much propaganda.
FIFTH -- Because nobody wants the Zionists to "save" them. The only way they can get immigrants is by promising poor people material benefits. And even then very few people respond.
SIXTH -- The Zionists State is always threatened by the dangers of war. Whereas the rest of world Jewry lives in peace and security, (Except in a few places where the Zionists have undermined their security and fanned the flames of hatred)
SEVENTH -- The Zionists state could not continue to exist without economic support from Jews living outside of the Zionist state.
EIGHTH -- The Zionist state is on the verge of economic collapse, and their money is nearly worthless.
NINTH -- The Zionists state persecute all Jews who are loyal to their faith.
TENTH -- They start wars that endanger the Jewish People, for the sake of their own political interests.
ELEVENTH - According to the Torah the path of safety is following ways of peace not starting fights with other nations, as the Zionists do.
TWELFTH -- Even if the Zionists could and would provide physical security it would be at the expense of our Faith and Our Torah. And the true People of Israel prefer death rather than life at such a cost.
It is therefore clear that Zionism is not the savior of the people of Israel. Rather it is their greatest misfortune.

Even though there are some observant Jews and rabbis, who approve of the Zionists, this is not the opinion of the Torah.

* The Zionists have enough control over the American news media to make sure that only their side of the story is heard.
* They make it look like all Jewry and their rabbis are Zionists, but this is false propaganda.
* The most important Rabbis and the majority of religious Jewry are opposed to Zionism, but their voice is not heard because of Zionist control of American news media.
* The Zionist terrorize everyone who speaks out against them.
* That part of the Jewish masses which is fooled by Zionist propaganda puts pressure on their Rabbis not to speak out.
* Between the terror and the pressure of the masses most of the Rabbis are prevented from speaking out.

We bring three testimonies of the true opinion of the Torah.
1) In the past two thousand years of the dangers and sufferings of exile not once did any of the Sages of Israel suggest that we make a state to protect ourselves. And in every generation we had thousands of Sages well versed in the Torah.
2) We have thousands of legal work of Torah law that have been handed down to us by the Sages of all generations. Not once do we see a word suggesting the establishment of a state. What we do find is warnings against it.
3) The founders of Zionism were all atheists who denied the Torah. And all the Torah Sages of that time opposed them and opposed Zionism, saying that Zionism would lead only to destruction.

However the true People of Israel will never change their nature or give up their faith because of the strength the Creator gives them.

* Zionism is a foreign growth in the body of the Jewish People. The end will be that it will rid itself of this foreign growth and remain pure.
* Zionism has overcome the Jewish people by force. With fraud and terror, but none of this will help them because the truth will always remain with the help of the Creator.
* Zionism will not replace the Jewish People. The Jewish People will remain strong in their faith and the Zionist state will cease to exist.
* It is therefore, our demand that the State that calls itself ISRAEL, should cease to exist. Since this won't be done, we demand that they cease to call themselves "Israel", because their entire being is in complete opposition to the true People of Israel. The true People of Israel deny them permission to call themselves by that name. The Zionist leaders have no right to set themselves up as the representatives and spokesmen of the true People of ISRAEL.
* Since we know they will not fulfill this demand either we feel that at least we cry out the truth. And the truth will always remain the truth, by no means or force can the truth be changed. Even if all the world would say that one and one are three, the truth will remain that one and one is two.
* Let the truth be declared. The use of the Name "ISRAEL" by that state is a complete falsification. The People of Israel have nothing to do with that state. Zionism and its state have no share and no part in the true ISRAEL.

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Anti-Israel rabbis vow Hamas support

22 March 2006

A group of anti-Zionist rabbis has visited the Palestinian parliament to pledge their support for the prospective Hamas-led government.

The rabbis from the small ultra-Orthodox movement Neturei Karta, which this month sent a delegation to Iran, travelled to the West Bank town of Ram Allah to express their support for the Islamic group.
The group rejects the existence of the state of Israel as contrary to Jewish law and believes the land should be returned to Palestinians.

Neturei Karta believe that no Jewish state should be created before the coming of the messiah.

"We are true Jews who have come to the Palestinian Legislative Council today to proclaim our allegiance to the new Hamas regime," said a spokesman for the group.

"We came to express our complete support for the Palestinian people. We consider ourselves Palestinians and, like them, we regard ourselves as under Zionist occupation."

Parliament Speaker Aziz Dweik called an adjournment of parliament, controlled by Hamas since its January election victory, so that the 14 rabbis, led by spiritual leader Moshe Hirsh, could be welcomed by legislators.

The anti-Zionist movement once represented a stronger current within ultra-Orthodox Judaism, but its membership has dropped to about 400 families in Israel, with supporters in Britain and the US.

Hirsh, proclaiming himself a Palestinian Jew, served as Jewish affairs adviser to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

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Israel accuses West Bank Palestinians of al-Qaida link

22/03/2006 - 09:41:44

Israel linked West Bank Palestinians with the al-Qaida network for the first time today when a military court charged two youths with receiving funds from the jihad group to carry out a co-ordinated double bombing in Jerusalem.

The Palestinians, from the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, met with al-Qaida operatives in Jordan, arranged for secret email communication, opened a bank account and received 3,000 Jordanian dinars (€3,470) from al-Qaida to carry out the Jerusalem attack, according to the indictment, released yesterday.
The indictment comes just weeks after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said al-Qaida was trying to recruit West Bank and Gaza Palestinians.

Abbas said his security forces "are trying with all means to prevent their (al-Qaida's) arrival here, or their carrying out any acts in this region."

Israeli security officials, including Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, have confirmed that al-Qaida has been trying to infiltrate the Palestinian territories, and Israel was considered a prime target for such attacks.

The indictment gives a detailed look at how the Palestinians met the al-Qaida operatives and how the international terror network went about recruiting and financing them.

Azzam Abu Aladas, 19, and Balal Hafnai, 19, were arrested by Israeli security forces in December last year while crossing the Allenby Bridge from Jordan into the West Bank, according to the indictment.

The military said the two missed their original October 30 date for the Jerusalem attack, and their arrest in December prevented them from carrying it out later.

The two visited Jordan at least three times, together and separately, to meet their al-Qaida handlers, named Abdullah and Abu Talha, the indictment said.

Abu Aladas made the first contact with Abdullah in May 2005, according to the indictment.

A month later, Abdullah and Abu Talha gave Abu Aladas a security briefing that included telling him how to behave, how to identify if he was being followed, how to follow others, how to secretly form cells and draft people without them knowing one another and what to do if a member of the cell was caught.

In June 2005, during a visit to the Jordanian city of Irbid, Abu Aladas introduced Hafnai to Abdullah.

When they returned to Nablus, Abu Aladas and Hafnai met at their homes in Balata and at a cemetery in the refugee camp.

At these meetings, Abu Aladas and Hafnai drafted other people into the group and planned their double bombing.

The pair planned to carry out a suicide attack at a pizzeria in the French Hill neighbourhood of Jerusalem, and then detonate a car bomb on a nearby street when curious onlookers arrived to see the blown up pizzeria, according to the indictment.

They found a bomb-maker in the West Bank town of Tulkarem who would install a bomb in a car stolen from Israel and smuggle it into Jerusalem.

Sometime around September 2005, Abu Aladas travelled to the Jordanian city of Irbid, to meet Abdullah, the al-Qaida operative.

Abdullah gave Abu Aladas cash to begin planning the attack, according to the indictment.

Abdullah told Abu Aladas he was responsible for the attack's success and that al-Qaida wanted it carried out on the 27th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, or October 30, the indictment said, but they were unable to do it then.

Sometime later, Abdullah gave Abu Aladas more money to finance the attack.

The arrest of Abu Aladas and Balal foiled the attack plans, the indictment said.

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Israel kills Palestinian militant

Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 11:08 GMT

Israeli soldiers have shot and killed a Palestinian militant in the West Bank town of Jericho.
The man, a member of Islamic Jihad, died when the soldiers opened fire on a house in a refugee camp after he refused to surrender, the army said.

The Israelis arrested two other Islamic Jihad activists during the raid.

It came a day after 10 Palestinians were arrested in a van near Jerusalem with explosives thought to be destined for use in a suicide bomb attack.

Israel has been on high alert for possible suicide bombings ahead of next week's elections.

On Tuesday, it temporarily reopened the main cargo crossing into the Gaza Strip, because of concerns about a looming food crisis.

The Israeli army had opened the crossing - which had been closed for most of this year - briefly on Monday, but closed it again because of security concerns ahead of next week's Israeli election.

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Israel barrier 'hurting farmers'

Tuesday, 21 March 2006, 19:03 GMT

A UN report into the humanitarian impact of Israel's West Bank barrier says it has caused widespread losses to Palestinian farmers.
About 5,000 Palestinians currently live in the areas between the barrier and Israel's pre-1967 boundary and they need permits to get in and out.

The UN says farmers are not being allowed access to farmland, causing unemployment and loss of income.

Israel says the barrier is justified to counter bomb attacks by Palestinians.

About half of the 700km-long barrier's system of electric fences and high concrete walls has been built so far.

The focus of the latest UN report is access to farmland in the closed areas.

UN official Allegra Pacheco says the barrier is having a worrying economic impact on people who live close to it.

"Our biggest concern is that farmers are increasingly not being allowed access to their farmland located west of the barrier.

"Either through the very complicated permit system that requires proof of land ownership - and that's at this point quite difficult - and also because of the operation of the gates."

Ms Pacheco says many of the gates provided by the Israeli army to allow the passage of farm workers are either kept closed or only open for limited times.

The UN is worried that if the land is not cultivated it may eventually be confiscated.

An Israeli spokesman said any problems the barrier might cause Palestinians were not comparable to the benefits it brought in terms of Israeli lives it is saving.

The UN says its report would not have been necessary if the barrier had been built along the Green Line, the boundary between Israel and the West Bank before the 1967 war.

Nearly 75% of the barrier lies on territory occupied by Israel in 1967.

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Hamas leader says won't renounce "armed resistance"

Wed Mar 22, 2006 05:28 AM ET
By Inal Ersan

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal said on Wednesday the Palestinian militant group will continue to fight Israel and told the United States that its Middle East policy would fuel terrorism.

"Israel cannot have stability with occupation. It has to choose. This is the message Israel should understand," he told Reuters in an interview in Abu Dhabi.
"Armed resistance is legitimate. All resistance options are open to the Palestinian people and Palestinian factions including Hamas," said Meshaal, who is touring Arab and Muslim countries to solicit financial and political support.

He said that he informed Arab leaders that the government his group will head needs $1.75 billion per year to make ends meet and that he was confident that they would help.

Israel says it will not negotiate with a government led by Hamas, which is sworn to destroy the Jewish state and has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since a Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000.

Since its victory in Palestinian elections in January, Hamas has been under pressure from the United States, the European Union and Israel to give up violence and recognize Israel or lose crucial financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.

"So long as there is an Israeli occupation in Palestine and so long as U.S. policy is biased, the so-called terrorism that the United States fears will escalate because the mistakes of U.S. foreign policy are pouring oil on fire," Meshaal said.

He said his message to U.S. President George W. Bush was "that he should not worsen his mistakes."

Meshaal said Middle East peace required Washington to adopt an "even-handed policy that maintains the same distance from all sides" involved in the conflict.

He said Hamas would reject international pressure to recognize Israel until Israel was compelled to change its position on Palestinian rights.

"It is illogical for the victim to be pressed to recognize its murderer and occupier," Meshaal said. "What is required is a fundamental change in the Israeli position."

Meshaal said he had secured pledges for financial support during his tour and that Arab countries would agree to beef up allocations to Palestinians in a summit in Sudan next week.

"I believe that the Arab countries will agree in the Khartoum summit the level of (financial) aid they will offer the Palestinian people," he said.

"So far there has been good commitment that needs to be translated into figures... I am sure that Arab and Islamic support will cover a large part of the Palestinians' needs. No matter what Israel does and how much pressure the United States applies, I do not think Arabs and Muslims will cave."

Iran has said it will meet any gap in official funding for a new government once it is formed by Hamas in coming weeks.

But Meshaal said the Palestinian people could face a "catastrophe" if fellow Arabs did not also chip in.

Israel has already cut off monthly payments of tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

Meshaal said Hamas would not be bowed by the pressure.

"We are not isolated. We are a movement that enjoys the confidence of its people and has the capability to meet all its obligations," he said. "We have succeeded in the past and we will succeed in the present and the future, God willing. Those who bet that we will lose are deluded."

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Palestinians 'in al-Qaeda plot'

Tuesday, 21 March 2006, 23:52 GMT

An Israeli military tribunal has charged two West Bank Palestinians with plotting bomb attacks for al-Qaeda.
It is the first time Israel has formally charged Palestinians with membership of the militant network.

The two men were arrested in December after allegedly meeting al-Qaeda operatives in Jordan to receive funding and training to carry out attacks.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas warned recently that al-Qaeda was trying to recruit in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israeli security officials have also confirmed al-Qaeda has been seeking members in the Palestinian territories, and that Israel is considered a prime target for attack.

'Pizzeria target'

The Israeli military says Azzam Abu Aladas and Balal Hafnai, both 19 and from the West Bank city of Nablus, met al-Qaeda operatives in Jordan at least three times between May and December last year.

They are accused of plotting a suicide bombing at a pizzeria in the Jewish French Hill neighbourhood of Jerusalem.

It was to be followed shortly afterwards by a car bomb in a nearby street targeting people who came to the scene.

The pair are suspected of recruiting potential suicide bombers to carry out the attacks.

The charge sheet presented to the Israeli military tribunal also alleges the two men received $4,240 (£2,424) from al-Qaeda to carry out the attacks.

Both have been charged with conspiring to commit murder, membership of an illegal group, illegal possession of weapons and carrying out military training with al-Qaeda.

They were arrested while crossing from Jordan to the West Bank in December.

It was not immediately clear how the two men would plead or whether a lawyer had been appointed to represent them.

Earlier this month, the Palestinian militant group Hamas rejected a message in which al-Qaeda urged it never to make peace with Israel.

Hamas' exiled political leader Khaled Meshaal said the group had "its own vision" and did not need al-Qaeda's advice.

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War on the Common People

Daytime TV tied to poorer mental scores in elderly

By Amy Norton
Reuters Health
Mon Mar 20, 10:41 AM ET

NEW YORK - Older women who say talk shows and soap operas are their favorite TV programs tend to score more poorly on tests of memory, attention and other cognitive skills, researchers reported Monday.

That doesn't mean that daytime television is a brain drain, they say, since it's not clear that there's a direct relationship between the two.
But the findings do point to some association between TV choices and intellectual function, and that could prove useful in evaluating older people for cognitive decline, according lead investigator Dr. Joshua Fogel of Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

A study of 289 older women without dementia found that those who rated talk shows and soaps as their favorite programs performed more poorly on tests of memory, attention and mental quickness than their peers who cited other types of shows.

What's more, they were at greater risk of showing signs of clinical impairment. For example, compared with women who preferred to watch news programs, those who favored soaps were more than seven times more likely to show signs of impairment on one of the tests, while talk show fans were more than 13 times more likely to demonstrate impairment.

"Those findings are quite robust," Fogel told Reuters Health.

He said it's not possible to tell whether the programs somehow contribute to cognitive decline or whether women in the early stages of decline gravitate toward those shows. Preferences for daytime TV could also be a marker of a sedentary, homebound lifestyle, and research suggests that staying physically and socially active can help stave off mental decline.

But regardless of the reasons, a preference for talk shows and soaps "is a marker of something suspicious," Fogel said.

He believes that doctors could ask older patients about their favorite TV shows as one way of spotting those who might need more screening for cognitive decline.

"It's really a simple, friendly question to ask," Fogel said.

The findings, which are published in the Southern Medical Journal, are based on questionnaires and standard cognitive tests completed by 289 women ages 70 to 79. None had dementia or physical disabilities and the researchers factored in variables such as education, race, depression and history of heart attack, high blood pressure or diabetes.

Even with those factors considered, TV habits were related to cognitive performance.

According to Fogel, a potential explanation rests in the fact that talk shows and soap operas involve so-called "parasocial relationships," where viewers feel a connection to a show's characters or host. Such shows may, for instance, be better able to hold the attention of older women with some cognitive impairment.

"This doesn't mean 'Oprah' is bad for you," Fogel said. However, an older woman's fondness for the show could signal a possible problem, according to the researcher.

Asking patients about TV viewing and other daily activities could be "very useful" in assessing their cognitive health, according to Dr. Joe Verghese of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

But it's not time to toss the remote control, he writes in an accompanying editorial. Some programs, Verghese notes, might actually benefit intellectual functioning, and TV watching can help some people manage their stress levels.

Comment: Yeah, by all means, don't stop watching television! Getting away from all the mindless entertainment and news media brainwashing might actually allow you to think for yourself, and that could be dangerous!

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Police: Man Killed Boy For Walking Across Yard

7:04 am EST March 21, 2006

BATAVIA, Ohio -- An Ohio man who neighbors say was devoted to his meticulously kept lawn has been charged with murder in the shooting of a 15-year-old boy who apparently walked across his yard.

A 911 tape recorded 66-year-old Charles Martin as saying, "I just killed a kid." Martin also told a dispatcher, "I've been harassed by him and his parents for five years. Today just blew it up."
The child, Larry Mugrage, was Martin's neighbor.

According to police, Martin and Mugrage had a history of arguments about Martin's yard. The two argued again Sunday, police said, and when Mugrage returned, Martin was waiting outside and shot him twice.
Click here to find out more!

He then called 911, officials said.

Martin: "I just killed a kid."

911 Operator: "You just killed a kid?"

Martin: "Yes, ma'am."

Later, the operator asked Martin to explain what happened.

Martin: "Kids just been giving me a bunch of (expletive), making other kids harass me in my place, tearing things up."
911 Operator: "OK, so what'd you do?"

Martin: "I shot him with a (expletive) 4-10 shotgun twice."

911 Operator: "You shot him with a shotgun? Where is he?"

Martin: "He's laying in his yard."

Neighbors said Martin lived alone quietly, often sitting in front of his one-story home with its neat lawn, well-trimmed shrubbery and flagpole with U.S. and Navy flags flying.

Another neighbor described the victim as "a good kid."

Mugrage, a student at Glen Este High School, was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Authorities said Martin has no prior criminal record, but he does have a history of complaints about neighbors allegedly damaging his property. Other teens from the neighborhood said Martin was obsessive about his lawn.

Martin is scheduled to be back in a Clermont County court Thursday.

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Death raises concern at police tactics

By Matthew Davis
BBC News, Washington
March 21, 2006

The recent killing of an unarmed Virginia doctor has raised concerns about what some say is an explosion in the use of military-style police Swat teams in the United States.

Armed with assault rifles, stun grenades - even armoured personnel carriers - units once used only in highly volatile situations are increasingly being deployed on more routine police missions.

Dr Salvatore Culosi Jr had come out of his townhouse to meet an undercover policeman when he was shot through the chest by a Special Weapons and Tactics force.
It was about 2135 on a chilly January evening. The 37-year-old optometrist was unarmed, he had no history of violence and displayed no threatening behaviour.

But he had been under investigation for illegal gambling and in line with a local police policy on "organised crime" raids, the heavily armed team was there to serve a search warrant.

As officers approached with their weapons drawn, tragedy struck. A handgun was accidentally discharged, fatally wounding Dr Culosi.

Two months on, investigations into the incident are still continuing, a delay which Dr Culosi's family says is compounding the "horror and burden of it all".

Salvatore Culosi Sr, the dead man's father, told the BBC: "I never knew him to carry so much as a pocket knife so it bewilders me how a detective could spend three months investigating my son and not know he is a pussy cat.

"If anything comes out of this it must be that another family does not experience this pain and anguish for absolutely no reason.

"Policy needs to change so these kinds of accidents never occur again."

'Excessive force'

Professor Peter Kraska, an expert on police militarisation from Eastern Kentucky University, says that in the 1980s there were about 3,000 Swat team deployments annually across the US, but says now there are at least 40,000 per year.

"I have no problem with using these paramilitary style squads to go after known violent, armed criminals, but it is an extreme tactic to use against other sorts of suspects," he said.

Comment: Yup, it IS an extreme tactic. That's what police states do to their subjects.

Dr Kraska believes there has been an explosion of units in smaller towns and cities, where training and operational standards may not be as high as large cities - a growth he attributes to "the hysteria" of the country's war on drugs.

"I get several calls a month from people asking about local incidents - wrong address raids, excessive use of force, wrongful shootings - this stuff is happening all the time," he adds.

Every wrongful death of a civilian, or criminal killing of a police officer, fuels the complex and emotive argument over the way the United States is policed.

Those who reject criticism of the use of Swat teams argue that the presence of the units actually prevents violence through the credible threat of overwhelming force.

John Gnagey, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, told the BBC: "What we find is that when Swat teams go out, shootings go down."

Comment: That's an interesting choice of words. "Shootings go down" can mean that the rate of shootings declines, or that shootings happen - as in "something's going down tonight".

"We don't see it as escalating anything. We see it as reducing violence."

Comment: Please, dear readers, try to understand: Killing an increasing number of innocent Americans is reducing violence.

The NTOA rejects Dr Kraska's figures and says the actual number of deployments is far lower, but says there is a need for national training standards.

An NTOA study of 759 Swat team deployments across the US, found half were for warrant service and a third for incidents where suspects had barricaded themselves in a building - 50 were for hostage situations.

When criminology professor David Klinger looked at 12 years of data on Swat teams in 1998, he also found the most common reason for calling out teams was serving warrants, but that the units used deadly force during warrant service only 0.4% of the time.

Recruitment video

Last year the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) commissioned music video director JC Barros to make them a 10-minute film - To Protect and Serve - that would "get young men and women excited" about a career with the force.

More action film than recruitment video, it follows two LAPD officers who - in one day - capture a robbery suspect, are first on the scene when a gun-toting man takes a woman hostage, mediate a fight, and help to find a young kidnap victim.

Along the way they are supported by colleagues from bike patrol, K-9 dog teams, air support and, of course, the Swat team.

But Dr Kraska sees such initiatives as reflecting a changing culture of police work.

"These elite units are highly culturally appealing to certain sections of the police community. They like it, they enjoy it," he says.

"The chance to strap on a vest, grab a semi-automatic weapon and go out on a mission is for some people an exciting reason to join - even if policing as a profession can - and should - be boring for much of the time.

"The problem is that when you talk about the war on this and the war on that, and police officers see themselves as soldiers, then the civilian becomes the enemy."

"The problem is that when you talk about the war on this and the war on that, and police officers see themselves as soldiers, then the civilian becomes the enemy."
And that is exactly what is happening. See the comments in the article text.

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FBI Agent Slams Bush Government at Moussaoui Trial

Monday March 20, 2006
Associated Press Writer

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - The FBI agent who arrested Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001 testified Monday he spent almost four weeks trying to warn U.S. officials about the radical Islamic student pilot but "criminal negligence" by superiors in Washington thwarted a chance to stop the 9/11 attacks.

FBI agent Harry Samit of Minneapolis originally testified as a government witness, on March 9, but his daylong cross examination by defense attorney Edward MacMahon was the strongest moment so far for the court-appointed lawyers defending Moussaoui. The 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent is the only person charged in this country in connection with al-Qaida's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

MacMahon displayed a communication addressed to Samit and FBI headquarters agent Mike Maltbie from a bureau agent in Paris relaying word from French intelligence that Moussaoui was ''very dangerous,'' had been indoctrinated in radical Islamic Fundamentalism at London's Finnsbury Park mosque, was ''completely devoted'' to a variety of radical fundamentalism that Osama bin Laden espoused, and had been to Afghanistan.

Based on what he already knew, Samit suspected that meant Moussaoui had been to training camps there, although the communication did not say that.

The communication arrived Aug. 30, 2001. The Sept. 11 Commission reported that British intelligence told U.S. officials on Sept 13, 2001, that Moussaoui had attended an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan. ''Had this information been available in late August 2001, the Moussaoui case would almost certainly have received intense, high-level attention,'' the commission concluded.

But Samit told MacMahon he couldn't persuade FBI headquarters or the Justice Department to take his fears seriously. No one from Washington called Samit to say this intelligence altered the picture the agent had been painting since Aug. 18 in a running battle with Maltbie and Maltbie's boss, David Frasca, chief of the radical fundamentalist unit at headquarters.

They fought over Samit's desire for a warrant to search Moussaoui's computer and belongings. Maltbie and Frasca said Samit had not established a link between Moussaoui and terrorists.

Samit testified that on Aug. 22 he had learned from the French that Moussaoui had recruited someone to go to Chechnya in 2000 to fight with Islamic radicals under Emir Ibn al-Khattab. He said a CIA official told him on Aug. 22 or 23 that al-Khattab had fought alongside bin Laden in the past. This, too, failed to sway Maltbie or Frasca.

Under questioning from MacMahon, Samit acknowledged that he had told the Justice Department inspector general that ''obstructionism, criminal negligence and careerism'' on the part of FBI headquarters officials had prevented him from getting a warrant that would have revealed more about Moussaoui's associates. He said that opposition blocked ''a serious opportunity to stop the 9/11 attacks.''

The FBI's actions between Moussaoui's arrest, in Minnesota on immigration violations on Aug. 16, 2001, and Sept. 11, 2001, are crucial to his trial because prosecutors allege that Moussaoui's lies prevented the FBI from discovering the identities of 9/11 hijackers and the Federal Aviation Administration from taking airport security steps.

But MacMahon made clear the Moussaoui's lies never fooled Samit. The agent sent a memo to FBI headquarters on Aug. 18 accusing Moussaoui of plotting international terrorism and air piracy over the United States, two of the six crimes he pleaded guilty to in 2005.

To obtain a death penalty, prosecutors must prove that Moussaoui's actions led directly to the death of at least one person on 9/11.

Moussaoui pleaded guilty last April to conspiring with al-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings. But he says he had nothing to do with 9/11 and was training to fly a 747 jetliner into the White House as part of a possible later attack.

Samit's complaints echoed those raised in 2002 by Coleen Rowley, the bureau's agent-lawyer in the Minneapolis office, who tried to help get a warrant. Rowley went public with her frustrations, was named a Time magazine person of the year for whistleblowing and is now running for Congress.

Samit revealed far more than Rowley of the details of the investigation.

MacMahon walked Samit through e-mails and letters the agent sent seeking help from the FBI's London, Paris and Oklahoma City offices, FBI headquarters files, the CIA's counterterrorism center, the Secret Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, an intelligence agency not identified publicly by name in court (possibly the National Security Agency), and the FBI's Iran, Osama bin Laden, radical fundamentalist, and national security law units at headquarters.

Samit described useful information from French intelligence and the CIA before 9/11 but said he was not told that CIA Director George Tenet was briefed on the Moussaoui threat on Aug. 23 and never saw until after 9/11 a memo from an FBI agent in Phoenix about radical Islamists taking flight training there.

For each nugget of information, MacMahon asked Samit if Washington officials called to assess the implications. Time after time, Samit said no.

MacMahon introduced an Aug. 31 letter Samit drafted ''to advise the FAA of a potential threat to security of commercial aircraft'' from whomever Moussaoui was conspiring with.

But Maltbie barred him from sending it to FAA headquarters, saying he would handle that, Samit testified. The agent added that he did tell FAA officials in Minneapolis of his suspicions.

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Orwell's Internal Revenue Service

By Stephen Pizzo, News for Real. Posted March 22, 2006.

The IRS's proposed rule change will allow tax preparers to sell -- uh, 'safeguard' -- your data.

Someday, not long from now, we will tell our grandkids about the good old days, when if someone used a word you didn't understand, you just had to crack open your Webster's dictionary to nail it down. For example, what would we have thought it meant if someone had issued a notice with the following headline:

"IRS Issues Proposed Regulations to Safeguard Taxpayer Information."

The word "safeguard" is the key. Webster's says it means:

Safeguard: a precautionary measure, stipulation, or device; a technical contrivance to prevent accident.

Well, I'm for that! Unfortunately, the Bush administration has not only shoved aside the U.S. Constitution, but Webster's as well. The words sound the same. They are spelled the same, but their meanings are now, well, flexible.

The headline noted above was atop a Treasury Department December press release announcing that your tax return and mine will soon be up for sale to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

The Internal Revenue Service is quietly moving to loosen the once-inviolable privacy of federal income-tax returns. … If it succeeds, accountants and other tax-return preparers for the first time would be able to sell information from individual returns -- or even entire returns -- to marketers and data brokers. … The change is in a set of proposed rules the Treasury Department and the IRS published in the Dec. 8 Federal Register, where the official notice labeled them "not a significant regulatory action."

Like the Dubai ports deal, the administration tried to slip this little gem by with as little advance warning or fanfare as possible. The press release was issued the same day the 30-day comment period began. The entirely misleading headline was designed to throw off newsroom editors who routinely toss out reams of government agency press releases because 99.9998 percent of them are no more interesting or noteworthy than a 5th grader's "What I did on vacation," report.

But someone noticed, and now the administration is in full Sgt. Shultz mode again: "I don't know nutting, I didn't see nutting." Suddenly, no one of any rank seems to know anything about the genesis of this rule. (This new proposed "safeguard" awkwardly made headlines the week after corporate tax preparer H&R Block was indicted for screwing taxpayers by selling them bogus savings accounts.)

IRS spokesman William M. Cressman was left to try to explain the contradictions between the actual rule and the headline of his agency's own press release. He explained that the "safeguard" referred to in the headline referred to a new rule requiring that, before tax preparers can sell a customer's tax return to someone they need to have the customer's signature authorizing them to do so.

But wait, there's already a real safeguard against that. Tax preparers are prohibited from selling (or even telling) anyone else the information on your tax returns -- period, signature or no signature. Besides, how often do you read all the fine print before you sign on that stack of forms your accountant shoves in front of you on noon April 15? Case closed.

Poor Cressman was completely lost when he tried to explain where this new rule came from. It's the IRS's "effort to update regulations that date back to the 1970s and predate the electronic era," was his best attempt at clarification.

Imagine all those hungry tax preparers out there who have, for the past five years or so, watched nervously as programs like Turbo Tax cut into their annual take. Now imagine they could make more money selling your tax return data to interested parties than they could preparing taxes. And speaking of Turbo Tax, imagine that its owners, the same company that produces the Quicken accounting programs, could sell all that hot data from the growing number of taxpayers using their service to file their taxes electronically.

No one, except the handful of companies itching to profit it, will find anything to like about this new rule.

Also remember this the next time this administration talks big about combating identity theft. Being able to purchase tens of thousands of Americans' tax returns would be the motherlode for ID thieves around the world. We might as well simply publish all our online banking usernames and passwords and ATM PIN numbers while we're at it.

Even this late in the game I continue to be amazed by the brazen, naked chutzpah of this administration and its corporate backers. Talk about the fleecing of America; this would be the fleecing of Americans themselves.

Anyway, for at least the next three years, you might want to put your Webster's dictionary on the shelf. It's an unreliable tool for understanding what this administration is talking about. This is particularly true whenever they use the word, "safeguard." If these guys say they are about to safeguard something for us, hide it, if you can.

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Instasmear indeed

David NeiwertTuesday, March 21, 2006

Scott Lemieux of Lawyers, Guns and Money catches Glenn Reynolds indulging in yet another easy smear:
As predictably as the tides, via Greenwald I see that Glenn Reynolds has flat-out compared Mearsheimer and Walt to David Duke. Obviously, comparing scholars to a Grand Wizard of the Klan solely for publishing a paper whose conclusions you disagree with--with absolutely no evidence that either of them remotely share Duke's fascist worldview--is beneath contempt, but par for the course where Reynolds is concerned.

This is part of a recurring pattern with Reynolds. You'll recall that Reynolds a couple of years ago also repeatedly smeared MEChA as a racist organization, despite the fact that this was almost entirely a groundless charge. Reynolds compared MEChA to Jim Crow, and also labeled them "fascist hatemongers," and accused them of being both racist and homophobic.

The latter was especially egregious, since Reynolds was forced to correct the post factually: the link he gave was in fact to an anti-Semitic Latino group that has no connection to MEChA. And while he rather mutedly explained this fact, he utterly failed to explain that the charge they were homophobic racists was completely groundless; he also failed to apologize for the smear. But then, Reynolds rarely apologizes even in circumstances that obviously warrant it.

And yet, according to Reynolds, I'm the fellow in the blogosphere with a "tendency to hurl unsubstantiated charges of racism." All because I make it a habit of pointing out right-wingers' blind spots when it comes to domestic terrorism.

And I'm wagering he will neither correct nor apologize for this latest foray. That, too, is part of his pattern. I guess when your ego is as big as all Tennessee and your ethics as big as Bell Buckle, that's how the world works.

In any event, I have a question for the Perfesser:

David Duke also endorsed George W. Bush in the 2000 election. Does that mean the White House "has David Duke"?

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Oprah Exposes America's Dirty Little Secret: 37 million Americans live in grinding poverty

Oprah Winfrey Show
Invisible Lives

When Hurricane Katrina blew across the Gulf Coast, it also blew the lid off America's dirty little secret. For years, the poor people in the United States have been virtually invisible. But now there is no denying the truth-37 million Americans live in poverty. Oprah drove 70 miles from her home in Chicago to the township of Pembroke, Illinois, to see the reality firsthand.

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Mysterious Photographers of Nothing- Life in the Shadows of the Empire


"It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

Sandra Day O'Connor, March 9, 2006

I help publish a small, nonprofit, independent newspaper in western North Carolina called the Asheville Global Report. We print under-reported news that casts an often-critical eye on the doings of our government at home and abroad, in the hope that our fellow citizens will find the inspiration and motivation to hold our government accountable. In doing so, our explicitly nonpartisan goal has always been to fulfill the traditional role of the press in a democratic society.
Since we began our project seven years ago, members of our staff have encountered a few unmistakable incidents of surveillance --by whom, we cannot say for certain. Although one episode back in 2000, when the retired local field director of the FBI came by the used bookstore where I worked at the time, leaves me with some suspicions. It had been two months since I'd been arrested in Seattle during the WTO demonstrations, and one month since my step-brother had died from a heroin overdose in New Jersey. I was ringing up some books for this older man --who I later discovered was named John Quigley -- when he casually uncorked the shocking comment: "Oh, Eamon...did I read somewhere that your brother was sick? You're a writer, right?"

I'd never met this man before and was stunned, speechless. He'd blind-sided me. After a quick and intensely strange interaction in which I explained that my brother had in fact suddenly died recently, and the sheer impossibility of his having read anything about my brother anywhere, he disingenuously apologized and left. He would continue to shop at the store regularly, almost always parting with a "be careful" farewell. Then of course, there was the time almost three years ago when I'd confronted two men videotaping my fellow editor and I outside of the cafe where she had been working that Sunday afternoon. A few months later, one of these gentlemen had the audacity to appear at one of our benefits, merely to hang out by the club entrance, not speak with anyone and enjoy several cups of water. For some reason, this man who had been our very first patron that night, suddenly lost interest in the show and quickly disappeared after I approached him to chat a little.

But last week was special. There are moments in time when historic change emerges from its sublimated status in the mundane and crystallizes itself into personal consciousness and awareness. These are what I call "WAKE UP" moments. It is in these jolting moments when one discovers that what they are experiencing is endemic of something larger and much greater than themselves. Last week I experienced one of those "WAKE UP" calls. On a whim, I'd decided to drive to a favorite cafe to get breakfast. After I'd finished eating, I went outside to small-talk with a friend of mine. After a few minutes, my friend pointed out to me that somebody up the street was taking our picture.

Perhaps realizing he'd "been made," our mysterious photographer immediately put his elephantine zoom-lens camera down and made haste to walk away. I followed him.

He seemed surprised when he soon discovered I was silently standing right behind him at an intersection. Abruptly he attempted to cross the street in front of oncoming traffic. Giving him about a yard of distance, I continued to follow him anyway. Halfway across the street, he turned his head back and noticed me on his heels, and then instantly started walking diagonally back in the direction we'd came. What followed next can only be described as a scene that was equal parts Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock and Monty Python.

After a few minutes of this sort of preposterous, zigzagging pursuit back and forth across the street in bizarre paces alternately shifting between a fast trot and a sluggish lurch, I decided to give the man some space and sat down on a portico stoop next to a closed restaurant He stopped walking too, and then, while standing right next to me, proceeded to place his zoom lens camera up against the window of the pitch-black, lifeless restaurant and take pictures of ... nothing. At this point, it's more than obvious that I've been following him, but his behavior never shifts from feigned oblivion and muted, but comic, confusion.

A few seconds pass and he starts to walk away. I duck behind a car and watch him through the vehicle's large windows. A minute later he turns around, looks in my direction and attempts to take my picture through the glass. I squat and hide, which begins an absurd round of "peek-a-boo" with me popping up and down, into and out of his view, frustrating his attempts to catch me again on film. Suddenly it maybe dawned on him that we were now fully engaged -- still, without having any open, verbal acknowledgment of such--and he abruptly quits the game and keeps walking.

A moment later he turns around again and looks back, but I've disappeared. Briskly, he marches back in the direction he came and I continue to discreetly follow him. Not much later, as we near what will be his final destination -- a parking garage blocks away from the restaurant where this escapade began, and right near our office -- a healthy-looking man in "homeless" garb suddenly crosses my path, saying intently to me, "are you still following him?" Undistracted, I keep on the first stranger and follow him to the garage. As he pays his fee to leave, I make no attempt to hide the fact that I'm copying down his license plate number. He looks at me, and without a word, takes off.

The creepiest part about all of this is that I'd driven to the restaurant. He obviously had not and was perhaps informed about my location? Of course, one must always hold out the possibility that this man was just a garden-variety Asheville wing-nut. Not only does our city have our fair share, but it has become a well-established facet of our local culture such that it has earned us national notoriety. Like I said before, we
cannot say for sure who these strangers are, or what exactly they represent. But their appearance in our lives would seem to dovetail with current events, the likes of which, we've made it our duty to report. And our website seems to be a big hit with employees of the US Department of Defense. The following day, with little media fanfare, President Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act into permanence. The lack of media attention to this historic event was all the more glaring in that Bush was in effect signing the death certificate of the Fourth Amendment -- which protects US citizens from unwarranted spying -- at the precise moment that his administration was fending off controversy about abusing that very right. Also attracting little media attention that day were the staggering remarks made by recently retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor who'd made the astonishing admission that she feared the US republic was edging towards a dictatorship.

Indeed, days before on the Senate floor, resident constitutional expert Sen. Robert Byrd issued a stark warning about the PATRIOT Act that demands to be quoted at length: "This new proposal would erase too many of our freedoms guaranteed to the American people. In essence, this legislation says that the Bill of Rights is right no more... There is no doubt that constitutional freedoms will never be abolished in one fell swoop, for the American people cherish their freedoms, and would not tolerate such a loss if they could perceive it. But the erosion of freedom rarely comes as an all-out frontal assault but rather as a gradual, noxious creeping, cloaked in secrecy, and glossed over by reassurances of greater security."

Now this week it was revealed that a local college freshman and former Eagle Scout had his computer confiscated by the Secret Service. Why? He'd made the grave mistake of quoting some lyrics by the band The Misfits on his Myspace.com web page, in which he had replaced some of the words describing the assassination of JFK to portray a Bush version of the theme. Our local Gannett monopoly franchise newspaper, the Asheville Citizen-Times would reflectively opine that "it pays to be cautious online."

No doubt. It was also reported this past week that the FBI has listed Indymedia -- an open source newswire born out of the WTO protests which disseminates news very similar to our newspaper -- as one of the current, top ten domestic terrorist threats in the US. Did you catch that? The FBI now considers disseminating news an act of terrorism.

As I entered our office this morning, I passed two guys who recently moved into our building. They're media producers of some sort, and they were intensely discussing a new ad campaign they're working on for the military. The one fellow looked very much like Verizon's trendoid posterboy --horn-rimmed glasses, vintage bowling shirt, elaborate arm tattoos -- and he reeked of the musk of "X-treme sports" and that "I think capitalism is killer, dude," ethic that seems more and more common in our gentrifying city.

"We'll have the soldiers marching down the street together in formation...the main theme of these ads is unity," this guy was instructing his friend. "It's all about unity. Maybe use the image of a man who is lonely and sad (gestures with arms over his head) and then cut to 'No man should have to be alone.' Then the Navy logo will come in, and it'll build up, cut with images of power and masculinity... I really like the idea of using imagery of thunder and lightening...we want to stress unity and masculinity, power, the warrior spirit -- all that man was meant to be, all that man was born to be." Famous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels often said similar things.

However seemingly unrelated, for me, all of these events knit together into a social mosaic of "WAKE UP" moments. As each of us individually struggle to make our way through this competitive world, it can be easy to lose sight, let alone recognize the fabric deterioration of our ostensibly "democratic" social compact. Who knows who walks among us, what their intentions are and what greater purpose they may ultimately serve? You may not care and perhaps you may only register bafflement about what any of this paranoid portrait of contemporary life may indicate. But I for one, Senator Byrd, Justice O'Connor, am hearing you loud and clear.

Eamon Martin is an editor of Asheville Global Report.

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Mother Nature's Revenge

Spring Snow Storm Buries Ohio Valley

Associated Press
March 21, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS - The spring snow storm that buried parts of Nebraska under more than 2 feet of snow swept through the Ohio Valley on Tuesday, shutting down schools and making travel tough for voters headed for the polls for the Illinois' primary election.

As much as two inches of snow an hour fell in some areas of Illinois and Indiana, and wind gusted to 40 mph, weather officials said.

"Our weather's terrible. The highways are terrible. It's not the highway department's fault, they just can't keep up with it," said Morgan County, Ill., Sheriff's Deputy Trevor Lahey.
He answered more than 50 calls Tuesday morning about cars in ditches west of Springfield.

In Colorado, Interstate 70 reopened early Tuesday after its eastbound lanes between Denver and the Kansas line were shut down for nearly 18 hours because of heavy snow. Interstate 80 remained closed across central Nebraska but was expected to reopen during the day.

The storm dumped as much as 28 inches of snow on central Nebraska on Monday, 20 inches in parts of South Dakota and half a foot in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Wind piled the snow into drifts 7 feet high in parts of South Dakota and Nebraska. Farther south, heavy rain caused flooding in the Dallas area.

By midmorning Tuesday, more than 7 inches of snow had fallen on parts of western Indiana, and wind up to 25 mph created whiteout conditions in some areas, the
National Weather Service said.

Indiana State Police reported dozens of accidents. School districts across central Illinois and western and central Indiana closed for the day.

The weather was expected to contribute to low voter turnout for Illinois' primary election, which includes gubernatorial and congressional races.

It hit after an unseasonably warm winter in which snowfall was 30 percent to 50 percent below normal in Indiana. Through mid-March, Indianapolis had used only about two-thirds of its $4.6 million snow-removal budget, officials said.

Indiana state climatologist Dev Niyogi said the erratic weather will likely continue, in part because of the impact of La Nina, the mild cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean that often coincides with stronger and more frequent hurricanes, a wetter Pacific Northwest and a drier South.

"I think the important feature of the upcoming season is not just going to be a really cold or really warm season ahead, but the swings we are going have," he said. "Some days will really feel like winter again and some days we'll start thinking that maybe that summer is already here."

Schools also remained closed for a second day Tuesday in parts of the Plains states. The Nebraska Legislature canceled its Tuesday meeting, and the South Dakota Legislature rescheduled Monday's meetings.

At least five deaths were blamed on the storm in Colorado, Nebraska and Texas.

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Radiohead Singer Turns Down Tony Blair on Climate Change Talks, Says Blair Has "No Environmental Credentials"

Mar 21 12:40 PM US/Eastern

LONDON - Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke says he turned down the chance to discuss climate change with Tony Blair because the British prime minister has "no environmental credentials."

The charity Friends of the Earth, for which the singer is an ambassador, asked him to meet Blair.

But Yorke said Blair had no record of championing the environment and added that dealing with the governing Labour Party's "spin doctors" made him feel ill.
"I got so stressed out and so freaked out about it. Initially when it came up I tried to be pragmatic," Yorke told New Music Express magazine in an issue out Tuesday. "But Blair has no environmental credentials as far as I'm concerned."

"It was like talking to Blair's spin doctors. It was all getting weird. It was just obvious there was no point in meeting him anyway, and I didn't want to," he said.

Yorke says the experience has soured him on political activism.

"I came out of that whole period just thinking, I don't want to get involved directly, it's poison. I'll just shout my mouth off from the sidelines."

Yorke is backing Friends of the Earth's Big Ask campaign, which is calling for international cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Radiohead will play a benefit concert for the campaign at London's Koko Club on May 1. The band recently announced a club tour in England.

They have been working on new material for the follow up to their politically-themed 2003 disc, "Hail to the Thief."

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Australia's Cyclone Larry Much Stronger Than Katrina

March 21 (Bloomberg)

Cyclone Larry, the strongest storm to hit Australia in 30 years, smashed into the Queensland coast today with about 40 percent more force than Hurricane Katrina at landfall.
The highest recorded winds for Cyclone Larry, a category 5 storm, were about 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour), compared with 125 mile per hour winds for the Category 3 Katrina when it struck land, said James Vasilj, a spokesman with the National Weather Service in New Orleans.

''If a Category 5 hurricane like Larry hit any populated area of the United States, the damage would be absolutely catastrophic,'' said Frank Lepore, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

''You're talking major wall failure on high-rise buildings. A Category 5 hurricane could lift a 2000-pound car and deposit it on a 4-foot-high wall,'' Lepore said in an interview. ''A 150-160 pound person wouldn't stand a chance.''

More than half the buildings in Innisfail, Queensland, a town of 8,000 people, were damaged by Larry, and about 30 people suffered minor injuries, according to Queensland's Department of Emergency Services.

''It looks like an atomic bomb hit the place,'' Innisfail Mayor Neil Clarke said on Australian television, the Associated Press reported. ''This is more than a local disaster, this is a national disaster.''

Hurricane Katrina caused the evacuation of 1.5 million people, according to the Hurricane Insurance Information Center. More than 1,300 people died and more than $87 billion so far has been earmarked for the rebuilding and recovery efforts.

Hurricane Andrew, which struck Florida in 1992 and caused 23 deaths and $26.5 billion in damage, is the last Category 5 storm to hit the U.S., according to the National Hurricane Center.

Category 5 storms must have winds of at least 155 miles per hour. The storms are known as typhoons in the Pacific Ocean and hurricanes in the Atlantic.

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Earthquake shakes East San Francisco Bay

Associated Press

MORAGA, Calif. - An earthquake with a preliminary-magnitude of 3.7 struck Contra Costa County on Tuesday afternoon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The quake, which struck at 1:41 p.m., was centered about 4 miles southeast of Moraga and 19 miles east of San Francisco, the USGS said.

Two smaller earthquakes - one with a magnitude of 2.7 and another with a magnitude of 1.4 - struck minutes afterward in the same area.

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4.5 Earthquake Jolts Serbia

22 March 2006
FOCUS News Agency

Belgrade. Earthquake with magnitude of 4.5 on the Richter scale was registered in Serbia in 12.26 p.m. local time in the region of Mionica, Serbian agency BETA informs.

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Warbling Whales Speak A Language All Their Own

by Staff Writers
Mar 22, 2006

Cambridge, MA - The songs of the humpback whale are among the most complex in the animal kingdom. Researchers have now mathematically confirmed that whales have their own syntax that uses sound units to build phrases that can be combined to form songs that last for hours.

Until now, only humans have demonstrated the ability to use such a hierarchical structure of communication. The research, published online in the March 2006 issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, offers a new approach to studying animal communication, although the authors do not claim that humpback whale songs meet the linguistic rigor necessary for a true language.
"Humpback songs are not like human language, but elements of language are seen in their songs," said Ryuji Suzuki, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) predoctoral fellow in neuroscience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and first author of the paper.

With limited sight and sense of smell in water, marine mammals are more dependent on sound-which travels four times faster in water than air-to communicate. For six months each year, all male humpback whales in a population sing the same song during mating season. Thought to attract females, the song evolves over time.

Suzuki and co-authors John Buck and Peter Tyack applied the tools of information theory - a mathematical study of data encoding and transmission - to analyze the complex patterns of moans, cries, and chirps in the whales' songs for clues to the information being conveyed. Buck is an electrical engineer who specializes in signal processing and underwater acoustics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and Tyack is a biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

Suzuki, who began the project as an electrical engineering undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, worked with Buck and Tyack to develop a computer program to break down the elements of the whale's song and assign an abstract symbol to each of those elements. Suzuki wanted to see if he could design a computer program that enabled scientists to classify the structure of the whales' songs.

He used the program to analyze structural characteristics of the humpback songs recorded in Hawaii. To measure a song's complexity, Suzuki analyzed the average amount of information conveyed per symbol. He then asked human observers who had no previous knowledge of the structure of the whale songs to classify them in terms of complexity, redundancy, and predictability. The computer-generated model and the human observers agreed that the songs are hierarchical, confirming a theory first proposed by biologists Roger Payne and Scott McVay in 1971.

Suzuki said that information theory also enabled the researchers to determine how much information can be conveyed in a whale song. Despite the "human-like" use of hierarchical syntax to communicate, Suzuki and his colleagues found that whale songs convey less than one bit of information per second. By comparison, humans speaking English generate 10 bits of information for each word spoken. "Although whale song is nothing like human language, I wouldn't be surprised if some marine mammals have the ability to communicate in a complex way," said Suzuki. "Given that the underwater environment is very different from our world, it is not surprising that they would communicate in rather a different way from land mammals."

The structure of the humpback whale song is repetitive and rigid. The whales repeat unique phrases made up of short and long segments to craft a song. There are multiple layers, or scales, of repetition, denoted as periodicities. One scale is made up of six units, while a longer one consists of 180-400 units. The combined periodicities give the song its hierarchical structure.

Suzuki compared his new technique for animal communication research with more traditional models, such as the first order Markov model that is used to analyze bird songs, which are often shorter and simpler in structure than humpback whale songs. The Markov model proved inadequate for the whale song's complex structure.

Information theory, in contrast, proved perfect for analyzing humpback whale songs because it provided a quantitative analysis of the complexity and structure of the songs. "Information theory was the right choice because it allows one to study the structure of humpback songs without knowing what they mean," said Suzuki.

"I hope that knowing the hierarchical structure in humpback songs will inform research in other fields, such as evolutionary biology," said Suzuki. The technique he developed is already being used by a postdoctoral fellow in Buck's laboratory to analyze recently recorded songs of humpback whales from Australia.

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Arctic, Antarctic Melting May Raise Sea Levels Faster Than Expected

Mar 21, 2006

Boulder, CO - Ice sheets across both the Arctic and Antarctic could melt more quickly than expected this century, according to two studies that blend computer modeling with paleoclimate records.

The studies, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Arizona, show that Arctic summers by 2100 may be as warm as they were nearly 130,000 years ago, when sea levels eventually rose up to 20 feet (6 meters) higher than today.
Bette Otto-Bliesner (NCAR) and Jonathan Overpeck (University of Arizona) report on their new work in two papers appearing in the March 24 issue of Science. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's primary sponsor. The study also involved researchers from the universities of Calgary and Colorado, the U.S. Geological Survey, and The Pennsylvania State University.

Otto-Bliesner and Overpeck base their findings on data from ancient coral reefs, ice cores, and other natural climate records, as well as output from the NCAR-based Community Climate System Model (CCSM), a powerful tool for simulating past, present, and future climates.

"Although the focus of our work is polar, the implications are global," says Otto-Bliesner. "These ice sheets have melted before and sea levels rose. The warmth needed isn't that much above present conditions."

The two studies show that greenhouse gas increases over the next century could warm the Arctic by 5-8 degrees Fahrenheit (3-5 degrees Celsius) in summertime. This is roughly as warm as it was 130,000 years ago, between the most recent ice age and the previous one. The warm Arctic summers during the last interglacial period were caused by changes in Earth's tilt and orbit. The CCSM accurately captured that warming, which is mirrored in data from paleoclimate records.

Although simulation results depend on the assumptions and conditions within different models, estimates of warming from the CCSM are within the range projected by other climate models, according to the authors.

"Getting the past climate change correct in these models gives us more confidence in their ability to predict future climate change," says Otto-Bliesner.

The CCSM suggests that during the interglacial period, meltwater from Greenland and other Arctic sources raised sea level by as much as 11 feet (3.5 meters), says Otto-Bliesner. However, coral records indicate that the sea level actually rose 13 to 20 feet (4-6 meters) or more. Overpeck concludes that Antarctic melting must have produced the remainder of the sea-level rise.

These studies are the first to link Arctic and Antarctic melting in the last interglacial period. Marine diatoms and beryllium isotopes found beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet indicate that parts of the ice disappeared at some point over the last several hundred thousand years.

Overpeck theorizes that the rise in sea levels produced by Arctic warming and melting could have helped destabilize ice shelves at the edge of the Antarctic ice sheet and led to their collapse. If such a process occurred today, it would be accelerated by global-scale greenhouse-induced warming year round, Overpeck says. In the Arctic, melting would likely be hastened by pollution that darkens snow and enables it to absorb more sunlight.

In the last few years sea level has begun rising more rapidly, now at a rate of about an inch per decade, says Overpeck. Recent studies have also found accelerated rates of glacial retreat along the margins of both the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.

NCAR's primary sponsor is the National Science Foundation. Opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations contained herein are not necessarily those of NSF.

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Follies of King George

Audio: Colonel Larry Wilkerson Condemns US 'Ineptitude'

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Lateline Broadcast
21 Mar 2006

Within 24 months, we're going to have to withdraw from Iraq, whether the situation there, politically, economically and so forth, is adequate or not because we've stretched our ground forces to the point of breaking. We have officers who are leaving the Army and the Marine Corps now because they don't want to do a third and possibly a fourth tour in Afghanistan or Iraq.

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Carlos Santana Speaks Out Against Bush

By Associated Press
March 21, 2006

LIMA, Peru -- Carlos Santana quoted his old friend Jimi Hendrix in an anti-war message here Monday and said his philosophy is the antithesis of President George W. Bush's.

"I have wisdom. I feel love. I live in the present and I try to present a dimension that brings harmony and healing," the 58-year-old rock icon said. "My concept is the opposite of George W. Bush."
Santana, speaking to Peruvian journalists ahead of a Tuesday concert, said young people's opposition to the war in Iraq is reaching the dimensions of the anti-Vietnam war sentiment in the 1970s.

"There is more value in placing a flower in a rifle barrel than making war," he said. "As Jimi Hendrix used to say, musical notes have more importance than bullets."

In 1971, Santana was prevented from performing in Peru by the military dictatorship, which deemed his music an "alienating" force. Santana returned to perform in 1995.

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The US Budget and the Damage Done

By Rose Aguilar, AlterNet. Posted March 22, 2006.

The 2006 budget clipped the wings of many organizations that provide basic services to the poor. Bush's 2007 budget could ground them permanently.

Every month, 80-year-old Sally Shaver pays someone to drive her to the Harvest Hope Food Bank in Columbia, S.C., to pick up a box of fresh produce, baked goods, dry cereals, juice, canned goods and cheese. "It really helps me out because after paying for my rent, phone bill and medication, I barely have enough for food," she says. "If I could work, I would, but I have an artificial knee and a pacemaker, and I can't get around."

Shaver, who worked as a nurse's aide for most of her life, brings in $451 a month in social security. Her fixed income qualifies her for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which is designed to improve the health and nutrition of low-income senior citizens, pregnant women, postpartum mothers, infants and children.

Last year, CSFP provided 536,196 people with a monthly box of food. Bush's proposed budget for 2007 calls for a nationwide elimination of the entire program.

"As a food bank, we are very concerned about this program. When you have a growing population of elderly in this state, how are we going to find other resources to replace it?" asks Denise Holland, executive director of the Harvest Hope Food Bank. "We have already been serving these seniors for two years, and they have gotten accustomed to this. I can't turn people away in wheelchairs. My heart won't let me do it."

Holland says if the program is cut entirely, she'll seek food and financial donations to ensure the neediest recipients continue to receive their monthly box of food. "Because they are on a fixed income, this box makes the difference between them not having enough to eat for the month to really being able to spread it out over the month," she says. "When they experience hunger, their health is going to decline, which is going to cost us more to help them in other ways."

The Harvest Food Bank serves 56,000 people per week in 18 South Carolina counties, but is only able to offer the CSFP in two counties because of funding constraints. Bush's 2006 budget cuts forced the program to cut the number of boxes it offers from 1,400 to 1,200 per month and that's just in two counties. More than 350 low-income senior citizens are on the program's waiting list.

South Carolina ranks second nationwide for the highest percentage of hungry people and fifth for the highest percentage of individuals with food insecurity, according to the Center on Hunger and Poverty.

Childcare's ugly death

Because kindergarten isn't required in Indiana, affordable child care is crucial for low-income single mothers like 25-year-old Shalaywa Murphy. Her $9.95 an hour job as a sterile processor qualifies her for voucher assistance at Imagination Station Child Development Center in Michigan City, one of only two licensed day care centers in the area.

Murphy's 6-year-old son attended kindergarten at the center until she went on a six-week maternity leave. "If you're on maternity leave, your child can't continue daycare unless you pay for it," she says. "Because I don't get paid maternity leave, I can't afford it, so my son is now home with me, and I worry about his education."

Because Murphy is low on cash and wants her son back in school, she plans to ask her doctor if she can go back to work a week early. The problem is, her newborn is on a waiting list with 150 other families who are also eligible for voucher assistance. "You have no idea when your name will come up," she says. "I'll probably have to pay $120 a week, and it'll be hard to make ends meet."

The 2007 budget cuts would result in an even longer waiting list, says Deborah Chubb, executive director of Imagination Station.

"We have people that come in here every day who can't get on the list and can't get a job because they can't afford child care," she says. "We've also had a lot of problems where people get in and then get a raise and no longer qualify. That creates a revolving door because they can't afford to pay $140 a week and end up losing their jobs. It's an ugly death."

Imagination Station cares for 123 children ranging in ages from 6 weeks to 12 years and is open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. to accommodate working parents. "We work really hard to try to get low-income families in here because the kindergarten that is offered is only half a day. It's insane that you have to pick up your kid at 11:15 and take them to a child care provider," Chubb says. "Imagine if you work at McDonald's. No one is going to let you run over and pick up your kid. I've offered one mom to pick up her kid because she can't do it."

At least 400,000 children nationwide will lose childcare under Bush's budget, according to the National Women's Law Center. This is in addition to the 250,000 children who have lost child care assistance since 2000. The budget predicts 1.8 million children will receive childcare in 2011, compared with 2.45 million in 2000.

AIDS patients' waiting list

In June 1997, a few months after Richard Williams dropped out of college due to a bad case of meningitis and pneumonia, he found out he was HIV positive. Williams, now 32, was living with mother at the time, but she couldn't afford his medical needs, so he sought assistance from AIDS Alabama, an organization in Birmingham that helps people with case management, transportation, substance abuse, housing and education. Williams was accepted into the program and has been living in its housing program since August 2005.

"This program is a blessing," says Williams. "If I didn't have this program, I would probably be dead by now. When I got here, I was slowly dying. They provided me with a doctor, and everything turned around."

Williams is on a fixed income of $631 a month and pays $181 a month for rent and three meals per day. He's in the process of reapplying to college and plans to become a social worker.

AIDS Alabama manages two housing apartment complexes and serves 7,000 people who are HIV positive. Last year, the group had a $5 million budget; this year, its budget is $4.4 million. With even more cuts expected to hit Medicaid and Section 8 housing, the organization is bracing for the worst.

"All the cuts boggle my imagination," says Kathie Hiers, CEO of AIDS Alabama. "I have a moral dilemma when I have to tell somebody, 'I'm sorry, you're HIV positive, and you have to get on a waiting list to get the medicines you need to save your life.'"

AIDS Alabama, which hasn't received any new funds over the past five years, currently has 300 people on its medication waiting list. "Even people who are lucky enough to get on the list won't have access to all the drugs," says Hiers. "The amount of services we're able to provide is just pitiful. We went through a period when the state couldn't give us any money to provide transportation to our rural clients."

Half of the organization's clients live in rural areas and have no access to transportation. The average income for AIDS patients in Alabama is $7,950. "Unfortunately most budget cuts are directed at low-income people," says Hiers. "We're overburdened, and I don't know what's going to happen. It's sad that the richest country in the world will not prioritize health care in America."

The Senate recently passed a proposal that would add billions of dollars to Bush's proposed budget; the House is expected to release its budget after this week's recess. "We can't just talk dollars when you talk about these cuts. These are impacting real people," says Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition for Human Needs, a group that advocates for low-income and vulnerable people. "Bush's budget makes cuts in services that people need, while continuing tax breaks worth trillions of dollars that go overwhelmingly to the wealthiest among us."

A coalition of 1,200 organizations in all 50 states recently sent a letter (PDF) to politicians, urging them to rethink their priorities. But regardless of what happens to the upcoming budget, advocates say, the damage has already been done.

Rose Aguilar is a San Francisco-based journalist who recently returned from a six-month road trip through the so-called "red states." She is writing a book about her journey.

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Bush Reignites the Arms Race

By Michael Klare, The Nation. Posted March 22, 2006.

President Bush's dangerous deal to deliver nuclear technology to India makes nuclear war all the more likely.
During the early cold war era, both superpowers provided nuclear technology to selected Third World countries -- the United States to South Korea and Iran (under the Shah), the Soviet Union to China and North Korea -- as a way of cementing ties with favored allies and shifting the global balance of power in their favor. Later, as concern over the spread of nuclear weapons intensified, the superpowers agreed to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and to cease transferring weapons-related nuclear technology to nonweapons states.

For thirty-five years nuclear nonproliferation was a major priority of U.S. foreign policy. But now, in a throwback to early cold war power politics, President Bush has agreed to supply nuclear technology to India in blatant violation of the NPT.

Under the deal with India, announced by Bush on March 2 during a state visit to New Delhi, the United States will provide technology, equipment and nuclear fuel to India's civilian nuclear industry, which will be separated from the military establishment and placed under some form of international inspection.

This arrangement was described by Nicholas Burns, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, as a "major win" for nonproliferation because it will place approximately 65 percent of India's nuclear capacity (as measured in megawatts) under inspection. What he failed to acknowledge is that 35 percent of India's capacity will remain exempt, and thus usable for making weapons.

The deal invalidates decades of effort by U.S. policy-makers to persuade India to abandon its nuclear weapons program and sign the NPT; it also confers de facto recognition of India as a nuclear weapons state. But it does far more harm than this: By allowing the sale of nuclear fuel to India's civilian reactors, it will enable India to divert more of its own fuel to military use.

According to Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, this will allow India to manufacture several dozen bombs a year, compared with six to ten now. India will also be able to apply technology acquired for civilian use to military purposes.

Under these circumstances, any U.S. deliveries of nuclear technology to India will constitute a significant breach of Article 1 of the NPT, which prohibits participating states from transferring such technology to another state if the transfers would assist or encourage the recipient's nuclear weapons endeavors. "If this nuclear deal stands," Cirincione declared, "the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is going to fall."

By undermining the NPT in this way, moreover, the deal provides a perfect excuse for other countries, including Iran and North Korea, to defy the treaty as well. "America cannot credibly preach nuclear temperance from a barstool," said Representative Edward Markey of the transaction.

What could inspire Administration officials to undermine U.S. nonproliferation objectives so severely? One key motive is a desire to enlist India in a global campaign to contain China, widely viewed as the most potent future threat to permanent U.S. global supremacy. Although overshadowed for a time by the exigency of defeating terrorism, this goal has recently gained renewed vigor.

Thus, a military alliance with India (which has its own quarrels with China) makes eminent sense, and establishing a nuclear relationship with New Delhi is seen as the sine qua non of any such alliance. The other key motive is a desire to revitalize the moribund U.S. nuclear industry. The Administration is determined to promote nuclear power, and technology sales to India will provide cash for the industry and help legitimize its resurgence at home.

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Bush Actually Takes a Question from Helen Thomas, Gives Nonsensical Response

Drudge Flash
March 21, 2006

Helen Thomas, who in January grumbled that President Bush was a "coward" for not calling on her at a press conference, today was granted a question for the first time in several years. The doyenne of the White House press corps, who once called Bush the worst president in U.S. history, seized her chance with gusto, essentially debating Bush instead of questioning him. Here's the transcript:
THE PRESIDENT: Helen. After that brilliant performance at the Grid Iron, I am -- (laughter.)

Q You're going to be sorry. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, then, let me take it back. (Laughter.)

Q I'd like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is, why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, from your Cabinet -- your Cabinet officers, intelligence people, and so forth -- what was your real reason? You have said it wasn't oil -- quest for oil, it hasn't been Israel, or anything else. What was it?

THE PRESIDENT: I think your premise -- in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist -- is that -- I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect --

Comment: Good answer, George! No wonder you refused to take a question from Helen Thomas for several years...

Q Everything --

THE PRESIDENT: Hold on for a second, please.

Q -- everything I've heard --

THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, excuse me. No President wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true. My attitude about the defense of this country changed on September the 11th. We -- when we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people. Our foreign policy changed on that day, Helen. You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life. And I'm never going to forget it. And I'm never going to forget the vow I made to the American people that we will do everything in our power to protect our people.

Part of that meant to make sure that we didn't allow people to provide safe haven to an enemy. And that's why I went into Iraq -- hold on for a second --

Q They didn't do anything to you, or to our country.

Look -- excuse me for a second, please. Excuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That's where al Qaeda trained --

Q I'm talking about Iraq --

THE PRESIDENT: Helen, excuse me. That's where -- Afghanistan provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That's where they trained. That's where they plotted. That's where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans.

I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the Security Council; that's why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said, disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences --

Q -- go to war --

THE PRESIDENT: -- and therefore, we worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did, and the world is safer for it.

Q Thank you, sir. Secretary Rumsfeld -- (laughter.)

Q Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: You're welcome. (Laughter.) I didn't really regret it. I kind of semi-regretted it. (Laughter.)

Q -- have a debate.

THE PRESIDENT: That's right. Anyway, your performance at the Grid Iron was just brilliant -- unlike Holland's, was a little weak, but -- (laughter.)

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Those Lies, Again

By Robert Parry
March 22, 2006

In a nationally televised press conference, George W. Bush repeated some of his favorite lies about the Iraq War, including the canard that he was forced to invade because Saddam Hussein blocked the work of United Nations weapons inspectors in 2003.
Bush has uttered this lie in a variety of forms over more than 2 ½ years, yet the Washington press corps has never challenged the President directly about the falsehood. He got away with it again on March 21 when no journalist followed up the question from Helen Thomas that elicited Bush's response.

Some TV commentary about the Thomas-Bush exchange even suggested that Bush had scored points with the American public for calling on – and then slapping down – the senior White House correspondent who is known for her irreverent and acerbic questions. But Bush's truthfulness wasn't questioned.

Bush reasserted his false claim about the U.N. inspectors after Thomas noted that Bush's pre-war rationales had turned out to be false, an apparent reference to Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein's supposed links to al-Qaeda.

"Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime," Thomas said. "Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true.

"My question is: Why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, your Cabinet officers, former Cabinet officers, intelligence people and so forth -- but what's your real reason? You have said it wasn't oil, the quest for oil. It hasn't been Israel or anything else. What was it?"

Bristling at the question, Bush said, "I think your premise, in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist – that I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect. …

"No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true."

Bush then launched into his revisionist history, saying that before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, "we used to think we were secure because of oceans" that surrounded the United States. (But no one living during the Cold War thought that the Atlantic and Pacific protected the United States from thermonuclear attack launched by Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles.)

"I also saw a threat in Iraq," Bush said. "I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the Security Council. That's why it was important to pass (Resolution) 1441, which was unanimously passed.

"And the world said, 'Disarm, disclose or face serious consequences.' And therefore, we worked with the world. We worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny the inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did. And the world is safer for it."

Iraq's Compliance

But Bush's statement is false both in suggesting that Resolution 1441 authorized the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq – when it actually demanded that Iraq submit to arms inspections – and in claiming that Hussein "chose to deny the inspectors."

In reality, Hussein accepted the U.N. inspectors in November 2002, granted them unrestricted access to suspected sites and announced – accurately as it turned out – that Iraq had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction.

U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix reported that Iraq was cooperating with his team and the U.N. Security Council thus refused to endorse Bush's insistence on war in March 2003. Bush then rebuffed the U.N. Security Council, forced the inspectors to leave and invaded Iraq in violation of the U.N. Charter.

Yet, Bush has been presenting his bogus pre-war history since July 2003, three months after Baghdad fell, when the absence of WMD was becoming obvious and an Iraqi insurgency was beginning to kill scores of American soldiers.

In his first version of this revisionist history, Bush said about Hussein, "we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power."

When the U.S. news media failed to object to Bush's rewritten history, he continued to spin out this lie in various forms, including at the Republican National Convention and during the presidential debates. [For more on this longstanding falsehood, see Consortiumnews.com's "President Bush, With the Candlestick…"]

Peaceful Democracies?

Bush also repeated another pleasing – but false – bromide about democracies being intrinsically peaceful.

At the March 21 press conference, Bush said: "History has proven that democracies don't war. And so, part of the issue is to lay peace, is to give people a chance to live in a peaceful world where mothers can raise their children without fear of violence."

But the history is far more complicated. Even in ancient times, democracies often were the instigators of war. Democratic Athens broke the Peace of Nicias in 418 B.C. by attacking undemocratic Sparta. The Roman Republic waged war on its neighbors for generations before it became an empire.

Even in American history, the democratic government of the United States has waged war against Native Americans, Spaniards, Mexicans and even against other Americans in the Civil War. In modern times, the United States also has gone to war without direct provocation, most notably in Vietnam in the 1960s and in Iraq now.

European democracies have a similarly spotty record. Great Britain fought to maintain its empire even after the monarchy had given way to democratic institutions. The same was true for France, which fought colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria in the years after World War II.

In Germany, Adolf Hitler exploited opportunities created by democracy in his rise to power, as his nationalist socialism resonated with voters suffering economic deprivation and harboring anti-Semitic prejudices. After winning the largest number of seats in parliament, Hitler engineered his fateful appointment as chancellor in 1933.

History also teaches that democracy is no guarantee of justice. Consider the oppression of African-Americans in the United States, first through slavery and then segregation.

Nor is moderation an inevitable byproduct. Democratic elections in some Muslim countries have boosted Islamic fundamentalists, not secular moderates, as happened during the 1990s in Algeria where fundamentalist electoral gains were so strong that the army intervened to prevent an Islamist victory.

In Iraq, too, U.S.-imposed "democratic institutions" have not been a cure-all. Indeed, they have strengthened Shiite fundamentalists and further divided the country along sectarian lines, rather than elevate moderate leaders and unite the rival religious factions.

But this mixed reality – like the real history of the Iraq arms inspections – was missing in Bush's televised news conference. The White House press corps also continued to avert its eyes from Bush's falsehoods. After Helen Thomas's question and Bush's deceptive answers, her colleagues did nothing to call the President to account.

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Bush staffers ejected 3 at speech - Because of anti-Bush Bumper Stickers

By Howard Pankratz
Denver Post Staff Writer

A White House staff member was responsible for asking three people to leave President Bush's town-hall meeting in Denver a year ago, a U.S. Secret Service agent said during an internal investigation of the event.

The Secret Service was investigating the complaints of the three people, who said they were ousted from the Bush event last March because their car's bumper sticker criticized his foreign policy.
According to a Secret Service report obtained by the Denver Post under a Freedom of Information Act request, the agents present said it was "staff" who asked the individuals to leave, not them. When the trio - Les lie Weise, Alex Young and Karen Bauer - asked the agents why they had to leave, the agents said they had no control over the situation.

A Secret Service agent told them "there was nothing they could do because the event was hosted by the staff and was a private event."

The three were asked to leave because the staffers had identified them as "potential protesters," the report said.

The report quoted one agent as saying he was told "by a White House staff member that three individuals had been asked to leave the event, and they did so without incident or protest."

A second agent posted in the parking lot said he saw the three "being asked to leave by the staff. The staff had identified the three individuals as potential protesters and asked them to leave."

Weise and Young have filed a lawsuit alleging that their First Amendment rights were violated. They said they were removed from the town-hall discussion last March 21 because of a "No more blood for oil" bumper sticker on their car.

In their lawsuit, Weise and Young claim that White House event staffers Michael Casper and Jay Bob Klinkerman detained them and ejected them from the event at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum. However, Casper and Klinkerman say they don't need to reveal whom they worked for because of a "qualified immunity."

Although Weise and Young had tickets to the event, which focused on Social Security reform, they said they had no intention of disrupting it. They were ejected, they said, because the White House had a policy of not letting people attend such events if their views differed from the president's.

Bauer is not part of the lawsuit.

All three had obtained tickets through the office of U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, who supported Bush's plan for private Social Security accounts.

The Secret Service launched the investigation to determine whether someone at the event had impersonated a Secret Service agent and concluded that no one had.

In dozens of pages of documents, the investigation points to "the staff" as being the entity responsible for deciding who saw the president and who didn't. The report also said there are two kinds of White House staff - local and Washington-based.

Although the Secret Service agents told Weise, Young and Bauer that they couldn't help them, the agents did warn the trio that they had to leave or be arrested. When the three said they had received the tickets from Beauprez's office, the agents advised them to contact Beauprez.

Staff writer Howard Pankratz can be reached at 303-820-1939 or hpankratz@denverpost.com.

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Splintering America

Chertoff Calls for Chemical Plant Security

Associated Press
March 21, 2006

WASHINGTON - Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called for government regulation of chemical plant security on Tuesday but said the industry should come up with its own protective measures, to be verified by private auditors.

Speaking at a forum hosted by the chemical industry, Chertoff said Congress needs to quickly give his department regulatory authority to bolster facilities that are attractive targets for terrorists. But he said federal regulations must be flexible to prevent harsh burdens on business.
"We ought to say to the industry, 'Look, here's where we need to go,'" Chertoff said. "'Now, there are a lot of different roads to get there. And you can choose the road that best fits your particular kind of chemical, or your particular type of operation. We're not going to micromanage. What we do insist, though, is that you get to the place you need to be.'"

Chertoff said he envisioned performance standards, set by the Homeland Security Department, for chemical companies to follow. Those standards would not require specific safeguards, such as gates and guards, but would force the industry to develop adequate security plans at all manufacturing and storage facilities.

Those standards could be validated by private auditors contracted with Homeland Security, Chertoff said.

Congress is considering legislation for federal regulation of the nation's 15,000 privately operated chemical facilities, which counterterror experts have warned are at the top of the list of likely terror targets. Congressional investigators have revealed spotty results in how well the chemical industry is prepared to respond in the event of an attack.

The leading bill, by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., would give Homeland Security authority to shut down plants that fail to submit acceptable security plans.

Large chemical corporations quickly applauded Chertoff's plans, which were mostly aimed at small firms that have resisted installing security because of high costs.

"What we're doing at Dow falls very much in line with what the secretary was talking about," said Tim Scott, chief security officer at Dow Chemical. "We approach security from a risk management perspective, and we try to identify the right level of risk and the right approach to reduce that risk at all of our sites."

Chertoff said he did not think any regulation should require the chemical industry to use certain kinds of substances that would be less dangerous to the public in an attack or accidental release, as environmentalists have demanded.

"We have to be careful not to move from what is a security-based focus, as far as the type of regulation I'm describing, into one that tries to broaden into achieving environmental ends that are unrelated to security," he said.

But with one-fifth of the nation's chemical plants located close to cities and other heavily populated areas, "there isn't any security that would be good enough" against the threat of a hazardous toxic release, said Greenpeace legislative director Rick Hind said Monday. "A small plane or a high powered weapon would bypass any gate or fence."

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Democracy: What A Concept

By Molly Ivins, AlterNet. Posted March 22, 2006.

Finally, there's a dandy way to abolish the Electoral College and elect the president by popular vote.
Good news: The Bush people have put out a new "strategy." The bad news is it's the same as the old one.

The Pentagon's strategic review plan again commits us to promoting democracy hither and yon through such effective means as pre-emptive war, bombing and other good stuff.

This is the same plan we've been working from, with mixed results so far. In the Middle East, the Palestinians had an election and put Hamas in charge. That didn't seem to make anyone happy. Lebanon had an election and put Hezbollah in charge. The theory that democracy would solve all problems is especially dicey in Iraq. The Iraqis have now elected an entire government, but they don't seem to be able to get it to gel. Meanwhile, we are committed to forcing democracies into existence as though they were so many slow spring bulbs.

I do like the idea of supporting democracy, however, and think we should try it -- especially here in the U.S. of A. To this end, a couple of dandy ideas are now circulating, and I think they're worth your support and excitement. For ages, all good reformers have wanted to get rid of the Electoral College and have direct popular election of presidents, instead. The disastrous election in 2000 finally culminated in Bush v. Gore, a Supreme Court decision so bad even the court disowned it at the time.

Every nightmare scenario about just how screwed up things could get with the Electoral College all came true. What a giant mess: a textbook case of why the Electoral College is toxic piffle. But the desire to Do Something about the mess in 2000 burned itself out. The Republicans who took over Congress are just not natural reformers. Trouble is, the system has just about "ruint" presidential elections, which now turn on a handful of swing states, while everyone else is ignored. While millions of dollars, hours of political ads and hordes of politicians descend every four years on the swing states, you can barely tell there's an election going on in the rest of the country. Should you live safely tucked into a solidly red or blue state, your vote is unsought, uncounted and unnecessary -- we know how your state's votes will be cast whether you vote or not.

There is a new move promoted by the Campaign for a National Popular Vote to end-run all the problems normally associated with abolishing the Electoral College. This is a state-by-state effort to instruct each state's electors to vote for whichever candidate gets the most popular votes nationwide. Look at 2004: A switch of 60,000 votes in Ohio would have thrown the entire election to John Kerry, despite the fact that George Bush was 3 million votes ahead nationwide.

National Popular Vote has a dandy new approach. Instead of trying to amend the Constitution through a long, difficult process that can and will be stalled by small sates, the campaign proposes a simpler, elegant solution. According to the Constitution, each state legislature can instruct its own electors to cast their votes however the state decides, usually as winner-take-all for whichever candidate carries the state. But there is no reason a state legislature cannot instruct its electors to vote for whomever wins the popular vote.

Democracy! What a concept! The states can do this one-by-one, subscribing to an interstate compact that would take effect when enough states join to elect the actual winner -- a majority of the 538 electoral votes.

Wouldn't it be fun? Candidates campaigning everywhere -- everyone's vote wanted? Democrats in Texas, Republicans in New York, all sought after, cared about as though we actually matter. Yes, this would make campaigns harder on candidates and probably more expensive, as well. And that in turn makes public campaign financing all the more likely. Yea!

Another potentially hopeful development lurks in the Texas redistricting case. True, if the Supreme Curt reverses the appalling Texas plan, the guy most likely to benefit is Rep. Tom DeLay (he would get back a slew of Republican voters he gave away), but sest la vye. Gerrymandering congressional districts -- an art form long practiced by both parties -- may have an aged pedigree, but like money in politics, it has gone so far that it is destroying democracy. With computers, districts can be drawn to such perfect political one-sidedness that there is, in fact, no point in holding elections at all. The Supreme Court is highly unlikely to stop this process entirely, but even a check on it would be useful.

There is another simple, elegant solution for this problem. Iowa already uses it -- a nonpartisan redistricting commission. The result is that three of Iowa's four congressional seats are competitive. Politicians actually have to go out and listen to voters in order to get elected.

In most districts, re-election is so automatic it might as well be a hereditary right. When at least 98 percent of Congress gets re-elected every year, one really has to question whether democracy exists at all in this country. Now's our chance -- sign us up for the Pentagon democracy plan.

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Brad Blog
21 March 2006

As The BRAD BLOG broke yesterday, a lawsuit has today been filed in San Francisco Superior Court demanding that California Sec. of State Bruce McPherson follow state and federal law in regards to his recent re-certification of Diebold voting machines in the state.
McPherson is named, along with 18 California county registrars, as defendants in the suit which calls for a ban on the use an new purchase of Diebold voting machines in the state. The suit was filed by VoterAction.org on behalf of 25 California voter/plaintiffs.

-- Here is a complete copy of the lawsuit file today [PDF]

Reuters originally reported on the story an hour or so ago as "Diebold Inc. sued over California voting systems". That headline is, in fact, incorrect. They have now reissued the story with the more accurate headline "California sued over Diebold voting systems".

The lawsuit against Diebold, we imagine, will come later after California is ready to admit how they've been screwed by the company and they try to recover the millions they've lost in betting on the wrong horse.

VoterAction is the non-profit organization who brought the actions that led to both the decertification of Diebold in California in 2004 and, more recently, the ban on the purchase of Sequoia voting machines in New Mexico (which led to a new law in the state requiring a paper ballot for every vote cast.)

We're short on time today, and haven't even been able to review the complete suit yet, so we'll let State Sen. Debra Bowen's press release in regard to the lawsuit, do the reporting for us since she's generally nailed all the factual basis for the complaint and explains exactly how McPherson's certification of Diebold is in violation of several state and federal laws.

Bowen, who is running herself for Sec. of State this year, also presents a very useful timeline in the release, explaining how we got here in the first place, and how it is that McPherson seems to have simply disregarded the law in favor of his good friends at Diebold.

Remember, as goes California (or as Diebold likes to call it, "America's largest voting market") goes, so goes the country...In other words, this suit is much bigger than just California...

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Antiwar views grow, but war protests don't

By Linda Feldmann | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

WASHINGTON – The American public's reaction to the Iraq war appears to hold a paradox: As opinion goes increasingly sour, the numbers of people attending protests seem to be declining.

Last weekend marked the three-year anniversary of the war's start, and according to press reports, tens of thousands of people around the world took to the streets to protest. In New York's Times Square, the number was estimated at 1,000. In Chicago, 7,000 people turned out.
It's difficult to get a nationwide total because the protest groups made a conscious decision this year to decentralize the anniversary events - to take the protests into local communities and congressional districts, as the fall elections approach. But, war opponents acknowledge, overall turnout was probably smaller than during the last two anniversaries, at least in the United States. Still, say political scientists and antiwar activists, there is a logic to how polls and protest turnout intersect, and each war has its own trajectory in terms of public opinion.

"It's not as paradoxical as it seems," says war opponent Norman Solomon, author of the book "War Made Easy." "Antiwar sentiment has mainstreamed a lot more quickly [with Iraq] than during the Vietnam War."

With the Iraq war, the numbers of visible protesters were large even before the war. On Feb. 15, 2003, between 375,000 and 500,000 people jammed 40 blocks of Manhattan to protest impending war. With Vietnam, the US had been engaged there for years before the big protests began.

Once the Iraq war started, it took less time for a majority of Americans to turn negative than it did in the two previous major wars the US has fought since World War II: Korea and Vietnam.

Poll questions on Iraq illuminate different angles of the war - and provide a varying view of whether the war has been worth it. In a mid-March poll for Fox News, 59 percent of US voters agreed that the Iraqi people are "better off today because of the military action taken in Iraq by the US-led coalition." And 74 percent agreed that the US and the world are "safer today without Saddam Hussein in power."

But when the questions relate directly to President Bush, the numbers go south. In a mid-March Newsweek poll, Bush's approval rating for his handling of the situation in Iraq has sunk to an all-time low of 29 percent. And looking ahead to the fall congressional elections, 50 percent of voters say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq in the next 12 months, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Thirty-five percent say they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate.

Bush's overall job approval ratings remain at record lows for his presidency; some polls put him as low as 33 percent.

"Bush would be much happier if his poll approvals were higher and the numbers in the streets were higher," as his party heads into the midterms, says Mr. Solomon.

Street protests don't necessarily sway public opinion, says John Mueller, an expert on war and public opinion at Ohio State University. What changes minds is what's happening in Iraq, not what protesters are saying. "There weren't many protests on Korea, and public opinion declined on that as well," he says. "I never thought the Vietnam protests were effective in changing public opinion or policy. They may have been counterproductive ... because, unlike protests now, they were associated with tearing down American values."

The president's low job approval and the American public's growing impatience with the war mean that big public protests may be less necessary, at least as a tool to demonstrate the intensity of public feeling to the administration, says Alexander Bloom, a historian at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. "Going into the streets can be a sign that people feel there's no other way to be heard," he says. But in this war, he adds, the polls speak loudly.

Comment: Perhaps if the folks organizing the anti-war protests didn't try to piggy-back all their favourite issues, issues that have nothing to do with Iraq, onto the anti-war movement, they'd attract more crowds. Not that the other issues may not be important, but they will only splinter the anti-war movement.

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Change of heartland

By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff | March 19, 2006

On the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, many Indianians are no longer strongly behind the war
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The third anniversary of the Iraq invasion unleashed a surge of pessimism at a local farmers' market here, where stalwart Republicans, standing amid aisles of produce and miracle cures, said President Bush has messed up a war that looks more like Vietnam every day.

''It's chaos," said Roger Madaras, who voted twice for Bush. ''How many more people are going to be killed? We were going in to free the people of Iraq, but as far as I'm concerned, a lot of them are worse off today than they were under the dictatorship."

Madaras, the owner of a plumbing company, said he believed Bush when the president declared major combat to be over in May 2003, and is ''disgusted" that Bush's rhetoric was hollow. And he is far from alone.

Support for Bush and his handling of Iraq is sharply eroding across the American heartland, where the overcast skies and the muddy fields of late winter matched a sense of gloom about Bush and the war.

This month, the Indianapolis Star released poll findings that Bush's approval rating among Indiana voters stood at 37 percent -- a drop of 18 points over the past year. The numbers echoed national polls, but were particularly shocking in a state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, and where Democratic presidential contenders often do not bother to campaign.

''A 37 percent approval rating in Indiana for a Republican president is unheard of," said Brian Howey, who runs a newsletter for Indiana state political insiders. ''Those are Bill Clinton or John Kerry numbers in Indiana. So there is something seriously awry going on right now."

In scattered rural diners and small-town restaurants adorned with 9/11-vintage American flag posters, support for the troops remains high. But many in Indiana also say the war has not turned out the way they thought it would three years ago, and they question whether Bush has what it takes to lead the troops into a happy ending.

Standing behind the counter where she sells bird houses and seed at the farmers' market, Beverly Beisel said she is increasingly fearful that Iraq will inevitably fall apart as soon as US soldiers leave -- making a mockery of the deaths sustained until then.

''It's not going well, that's for sure," Beisel said. ''I don't like that fact that we started it. I thought Bush was actually going after the terrorists, wherever they were. We thought they had weapons that they were hiding."

Beisel said she doesn't blame Bush because ''he can only deal with the intelligence he was given" and still supports him because she opposes abortion. But she added that plenty of her friends think ''we should get out of there and they're probably sorry they voted for him."

Drinking coffee at Louie's Café in LaPorte, Ken Schreiber, who commands respect among the regulars because he coached the local high school baseball team to seven state championships, said he doesn't understand why the administration never sent enough troops in to stabilize Iraq's security.

Schreiber said he primarily blames the ''liberal media" and ''partisan politics" for the president's free-falling poll numbers. But he also blames Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for giving Bush ''some bad advice" about how Iraqis would ''kiss our feet" for ridding them of Hussein.

''I'm frustrated like everyone else is frustrated," he said. ''It's a lingering war like Vietnam. But I still don't think it was a mistake to go in."

As more and more Hoosiers find themselves making the comparison that only liberals and antiwar protesters made a year ago -- Iraq is like Vietnam -- some say they are also starting to doubt Bush's competence to protect America from terrorism on the home front.

John Lackman, a retired manager at an aircraft wheels and brakes factory who was eating breakfast at a table near Schreiber, said the slow federal response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster last year gave many pause.

''That New Orleans situation just piled it on top of the Iraq War," Lackman said. ''The security issue is paramount in everyone's mind. If they couldn't respond adequately to that situation, how are they going to respond if there's a dirty bomb?"

Others sharply disagreed, saying local officials were primarily to blame for the New Orleans disaster. But there was nearly unanimous incredulity across Indiana at Bush's support for a deal that would have put a Dubai company in charge of six US ports.

Many connected the Dubai ports row to a state controversy -- Republican Governor Mitch Daniels's efforts to lease the Indiana Toll Road to a foreign firm for the next 75 years. Support for Daniels, a former top aide to Bush, is just as low as it is for the president.

''People don't think Indiana should sell its toll road to foreigners, and they don't want someone with a turban running our ports," said Denny Thomas, a retired trucker sitting near video poker machines at the back of a smoke-filled tobacco bar in LaPorte.

Daniels, who ran in 2004 on the slogan ''My Man Mitch," as Bush once referred to him, has also drawn fire for ramming through a law requiring Indiana to join the rest of the country on daylight saving time. The measure is wildly unpopular in rural areas.

Pouring coffee behind the bar of Allie's Café in South Bend, restaurant owner Chuck Sulok -- a self-declared ''partisan supporter" of both Bush and Daniels -- said he fears what the ''double whammy" of Bush's and Daniels's unpopularity could do in the coming election.

If Democrats can pick up 15 seats, they can retake control of the US House of Representatives for the first time since the Republican tidal wave of 1994, when the GOP picked up 54 seats. Sulok says today's atmosphere in Indiana reminds him of 1994 in reverse.

''The mid-term elections are coming and it scares me to death, speaking as a partisan Republican," he said. ''There's a difference between regular dissatisfaction and a dissent that will move an election. There's that feeling in the air."

Joe Donnelly hopes Sulok's fears are well-founded. Donnelly, a local lawyer, is running for Congress against a Republican incumbent, Chris Chocola, in a rematch from 2004. He lost last time by 9 points -- but that was when the Iraq War was still young.

Donnelly said the drop in support for Bush and his handling of the war could swing the election his way, accusing Chocola of being a ''rubber stamp" for the administration. Chocola, whose campaign netted $600,000 in a Bush-headlined fund-raiser in February, did not respond to an interview request.

''Truly, everyone out here wants the Iraq mission to succeed," Donnelly said. ''But everyone is becoming more concerned and uncomfortable. What we need are Congress people who will ask President Bush tough questions, not be rubber stamps."

John Roos, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame, said the dissatisfaction with Bush's record in Iraq might hand the 2006 election to Democrats by persuading disgruntled Republicans across the American heartland to stay home.

''It's not that they have become Democrats, and it's not that they have decided the war on Iraq and especially the war on terrorism is wrong," Roos said. ''The people of Indiana just think [Bush] is not very good at being president."

Waiting to be seated at Allie's Café, Lee Connett, a retired automotive engineer, said he wondered about the Iraq War from the beginning. He thought it seemed like a diversion from the hunt for the Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden.

But he voted for Bush anyway because he couldn't stand Kerry, the Democratic nominee. Now, he said, as it becomes ever more clear that ''Bush doesn't have a plan" for Iraq, he doesn't know what he should do.

''I voted for Bush in 2000 and in 2004 . . . because he seemed like the lesser of two evils as I saw it at the time," Connett said. ''How could anyone know he was going to do what he's done? He's not settled anything in Iraq and we're getting no clue as to what the outcome is going to be."

All the talk lately about Bush and the problems with Iraq bemuses Susan Grimes, a waitress at the South Junction Café, a lonely outpost at the intersection of state roads 6 and 35. Grimes said listening to her customers complain has turned her off politics.

''I hear all these people come in and say: 'That President Bush, we got to get that guy out of there.' But you ask them who they voted for, and they hush up because they were the ones who voted him in. He's their boy."

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McCain Takes on DeLay Accomplice - cozying up to the Republican establishment,

By Paul Kiel
March 20, 2006

There have been a number of signs lately that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), eyeing 2008, is cozying up to the Republican establishment, but this just might be the surest one yet.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that McCain had hired Terry Nelson to be a senior advisor to his political committee, the Straight Talk America PAC. Who is Terry Nelson? George W. Bush's national political director in 2004, for one. It's just the latest example of McCain's strategy of taking what he can of Bush's money infrastructure - as the Post reports, he's been busily recruiting Pioneers, Rangers and Super Rangers from '04.

But there's one crucial, telling detail about Terry Nelson that the Post leaves out. And that's his role in the money laundering scheme for which Tom DeLay is being prosecuted down in Texas.

Nelson was the deputy chief of staff of the Republican National Committee in 2002 when the alleged crime occurred. His role was crucial, although he hasn't been charged. He's named right there in the indictment.

DeLay and his money men, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, are accused of trying to get around a Texas law against using corporate money to fund candidates. To do that, they wrote a check to the RNC and had the RNC bounce the money back to the Texas candidates they wanted to fund. According to the indictment, the scheme was laid out to Terry Nelson, and he made sure the RNC carried it out.

So what gives? Sen. McCain, Mr. Campaign Finance Reform, has just hired a man who (allegedly) played a key role in breaking a campaign finance law to advise him on how to spend his PAC's money. Anything to win in '08?

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Speed voting: House flies through $91.9 billion spending bill

March 20, 2006

By unanimous consent, the House Thursday used two-minute vote times to get through an emergency spending bill, according to Roll Call.
Excerpts from the Roll Call piece follow:

Seeking to consolidate time as House Members slogged through dozens of proposed amendments to the $91.9 billion emergency spending bill Thursday, Republican leaders resurrected a tactic that hadn't been used in nearly 20 years: speed voting.

House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) revived the strategy Thursday afternoon, seeking a "more efficient" way of dealing with the numerous back-to-back votes expected on the spending bill designating funds for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as hurricane relief to the Gulf Coast, a spokesman said.

"This way [Members] are not consumed with standing around on the floor and waiting, and they can get back to the bulk of the work they do here in Washington," said Boehner spokesman Kevin Madden.

Under House rules, the Speaker may reduce the minimum time allotted to any successive votes to five minutes, as long as the first vote in the series is held open for 15 minutes...

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Quantum Chaos

France PM says would consider changes over job law

Tue Mar 21, 2:31 PM ET

PARIS - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said on Tuesday there could be flexibility over a key element of a controversial youth job law by cutting the length of a trial period from 2 years.

"Social partners have the complete freedom to reduce this (trial) period in those sectors where it would be most relevant," he said in the text of a speech to deputies of his ruling UMP party.

Under the law employers can fire people under 26 at any time during a two-year trial period without giving a reason but hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest, saying the law would increase job insecurity.

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UAE, Saudi considering to move reserves out of dollar

Middle East Forex
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

WASHINGTON - A number of Middle Eastern central banks said on Tuesday they would seek to switch reserves from the US greenback to euros.

The United Arab Emirates said it was considering moving one-tenth of its dollar reserves to the euro, while the governor of the Saudi Arabian central bank condemned the decision by the United States to force Dubai Ports World to transfer its ownership to a 'US entity,' the UK Independent reported.

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

The head of the United Arab Emirates central bank, Sultan Nasser Al Suweidi, said the bank was considering converting 10 per cent of its reserves from dollars to euros.

"They are contravening their own principles," said Al Suweidi. "Investors are going to take this into consideration (and) will look at investment opportunities through new binoculars."

The Commercial Bank of Syria has already switched the state's foreign currency transactions from dollars to euros, Duraid Durgham head of the state-owned bank said. The decision by the bank of Syria follows the announcement by the White House calling on all US financial institutions to end correspondent accounts with Syria due to money-laundering concerns.

Syria's Finance Minister Mohammad Al Hussein said: "Syria affirms that this decision and its timing are fundamentally political."-Khaleej Times Online

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Eta 'announce permanent cease-fire' - report

IOL News

The Basque separatist group Eta today announced a permanent cease-fire.

It apparently brings a dramatic end to nearly four decades of violence in Spain that claimed more than 800 lives, Basque TV reported.

The authenticity of the announcement could not immediately be verified, but Eta often uses local Basque media outlets to issue statements.

The group said the cease-fire would start on Friday, and that it would be "permanent".

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Pakistani Taliban take control of unruly tribal belt

Declan Walsh in Peshawar
Tuesday March 21, 2006
The Guardian

A powerful new militia dubbed "the Pakistani Taliban" has effectively seized control of swaths of the country's northern tribal areas in recent months, triggering alarm in Islamabad and marking a big setback in America's "war on terror".
The militants are strongest in North and South Waziristan, two of seven tribal agencies on the border with Afghanistan. Strict social edicts have been handed down: shopkeepers may not sell music or films; barbers are instructed not to shave beards. Yesterday a bomb blew up a radio transmitter in Wana, taking the state radio off the air.

Article continues
Militants collect taxes from passing vehicles at new checkpoints, and last week an Islamic court was established in Wana to replace the traditional jirga, or council of elders. Rough justice has already been dispensed elsewhere. A gang of seven alleged bandits were executed in Miran Shah in December and their bodies were hung from a post in the town centre.

The violent puritanism is spreading. On Sunday a remote-controlled bomb ripped through a police vehicle in Dera Ismail Khan, near South Waziristan, killing seven people. More than 100 pro-government elders and politicians have been killed in the past nine months, said a diplomat.

The Pakistani military deployed 70,000 troops to Waziristan two years ago to rein in the militants. But the campaign is faltering. An army assault against an alleged al-Qaida training camp outside Miran Shah on March 1 left more than 100 dead.

Fareed Ullah Khan, a resident, said he cowered inside his home for three days as shells whistled overhead and the air rattled with gunfire. As the fighting intensified, his family scurried from room to room in search of safety.

"We were afraid the bullets might land where we were hiding," said Mr Khan, who has since fled to Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier province. President Pervez Musharraf has vowed to quell the revolt. Since declaring a curfew in Miran Shah, government troops have regained control. But some people are worried. "The so-called war on terror is going badly," said one diplomat.

Comparisons to the emergence of the Afghan Taliban in the early 1990s are increasing. Although they have distinct identities, the groups are strongly linked - both are ethnic Pashtun - and Afghans use Waziristan as a rear base.

Analysts say the Pakistani Taliban is a loose alliance of tribal militia operating under radical clerics such as Sadiq Noor and Abdul Khaliq. Many are angered by heavy-handed Pakistani military attacks against suspected al-Qaida hideouts, which are thought to have killed hundreds of civilians over the last two years.

The tribesmen are allied with al-Qaida fugitives, mostly from Uzbekistan and Chechnya. The foreigners have blended into the tribal structures, buying loyalties and marrying local women.

Foreign reporters are banned from the area and most local journalists have fled. One, Hayatullah Khan, 32, was abducted in December and is still missing.

The US is impatient to catch more senior al-Qaida figures. Unmanned Predator drones, now armed with Hellfire missiles, sweep over the tribal areas on surveillance missions so often that villagers now recognise their engine noise.

In January American forces destroyed a house in Bajaur tribal agency where it thought al-Qaida's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was hiding. Thirteen villagers were killed. The US has carried out several strikes, said a well-placed diplomat, but it has let Pakistan claim responsibility.

Such attacks have won the militants much support. "These are not the proper Taliban," said the refugee Mr Khan. "They are the common people who have revolted against the [Pakistani] government and targeted killings by Americans."

The Taliban presence in northern Pakistan also concerns Britain, which is deploying more than 3,300 troops in the southern Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.

British intelligence contributed "heavily" to a list of about some 150 Pakistan-based Taliban suspects that the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, brought to Islamabad last month, the diplomat said.

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Chavez Lashes Out at Free-Trade Pacts

Associated Press
20 Mar 06

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuela agreed Monday to sell fuel under preferential terms to an El Salvador association created by a group of leftist mayors.

Details of the amount of fuel that will be sold to the Intermunicipal Energy Association for El Salvador were not immediately available but shipments were to begin "as soon as possible," said Violeta Menjivar, mayor-elect of San Salvador.
It was not immediately clear what kind of fuel was covered by the agreement, but local Salvadoran officials said they hoped for diesel and gasoline.

The Venezuelan state oil firm subsidiary PDV Caribe reached the agreement with the El Salvador association, formed by mayors belonging to the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front party.

Under the agreement, cities headed by the FMLN will pay 60 percent of their oil bill within 90 days while paying for the rest in-kind through agricultural products and locally made goods, said Soyapango Mayor Carlos Ruiz.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose country is a major world oil producer, has broadened his influence with generous oil deals to countries across Latin America and the Caribbean. The program has also extended to the United States where the leftist leader has shipped cheaper heating oil to low-income people in New York and Massachusetts via its company Citgo Petroleum Corp.

Chavez, a frequent critic of U.S. policy, used Monday's signing occasion to criticize U.S.-backed free trade agreements such as the one El Salvador joined March 1.

"They're making deals with the devil, the devil himself," Chavez said.

Salvadoran President Tony Saca criticized the oil deal and urged the FMLN not to try to generate "false hopes" among Salvadorans.

The FMLN, once backed by Cuba and the Soviet Union, battled conservative U.S.-backed governments until a peace treaty in 1992, when the FMLN transformed itself into a political party.

© 2006 The Associated Press.

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Venezuela Wants Terrorist out of US

Prensa Latina
20 Mar 06

Caracas, Venezuela ratified this Monday its deportation demand from the US of Cuban-born terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, mastermind of the mid-air explosion of a Cubana airplane with 73 passengers in 1976.
Venezuelan ambassador to Washington Bernardo Alvarez stated that during a meeting with US Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon on February, he ratified in writing his country"s extradition request.

In a TV program "En Confianza de Venezuela de Television," Alvarez said this case could not only be discussed as a migratory issue.

"There can not be terrorism "a la carte," he said, "Posada Carriles is Latin America"s Osama Bin Laden," and recalled that two former Venezuelan lieutenants from the National Guard are currently living in United States.

Alvarez stated that the northern country also denied asylum for those former soldiers, but they have not been deported as Venezuela requests, in agreement with bilateral accords signed that also include the Posada Carriles case.

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Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams detained in US 'terror watch'

18 Mar 06

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was detained at a Washington airport yesterday after attending a meeting of Irish leaders with US President George Bush, causing him to miss a scheduled St. Patrick's Day appearance in Buffalo, a congressman said.

Adams' name, and that of a travelling companion, appeared on a terror watch list at Reagan National Airport, triggering a lengthy inspection, said Congressman Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat who had invited Adams to speak at the Buffalo Irish Centre.
"When I spoke with his assistant a little while ago, their luggage was still being, let's just say, inspected," Higgins told a crowd of several hundred people awaiting Adams' 7.15pm address.

Adams himself "was detained physically for over an hour," Higgins said. He had had been booked on a 5.30pm flight from Washington to Buffalo.

"Gerry Adams should not have been on a terror watch list," said Higgins, who quickly placed calls to State Department and other officials seeking an explanation.

Neither the White House nor the State Department immediately confirmed Adams' detainment.

Earlier yesterday, Adams joined Bush and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern at a White House St. Patrick's Day ceremony also attended by Mark Durkan, whose Social Democratic and Labour Party represents moderate Catholic opinion in Northern Island.

Bush last year barred all Northern Ireland leaders from the event.

"Gerry Adams has done more than anyone else in northern Ireland to promote the peace process there," Higgins said.

It was unclear if Adams would make it to Buffalo for several events Saturday.

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Business as Usual

Italian Co. Designs Jeans for Muslims

Associated Press
Tue Mar 21, 2:50 PM ET

ROME - They're high around the waist, wide around the leg and have lots of pockets for holding watches, bracelets, glasses and other knickknacks.

A new line of jeans designed by a small company in northern Italy caters to Muslims seeking to stay comfortable while they pray.

"As far as we know we're the first, at least in Italy," said Luca Corradi, who designed Al Quds jeans.
The bagginess is to ensure the wearer avoids stiffness while bending down repeatedly during prayers. The pockets are for holding all the accessories Muslims have to take off while they worship. And the jeans have green seams - because green is the sacred color of Islam.

Al Quds representatives said a year of research and testing went into the product, with models being asked to try different versions of the jeans while they prayed.

Abdel Hamid Shaari, president of the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, said low-priced jeans specifically designed to keep Muslims comfortable could open up a big market in Islamic countries and countries with large Muslim populations.

"This could be a good idea, thinking of the comfort," said Shaari, who used to be a production manager for Italy's Carrera jeans.

"About 90 percent of Muslims, aside from a niche that wants Armani and other top designer-jeans, generally seek jeans that are both resistant and comfortable and not expensive," he said.

Shaari, who is originally from Libya, said Muslims in Tunisia and other North African countries generally wear established brands of jeans or imitations. He said "normal jeans indeed can be slightly stiff to pray and kneel in."

Al Quds - the Arabic name for Jerusalem - has produced an initial 9,500 pairs that it sold to the French retailer Carrefour SA. The retailer has sold an initial batch of about 50 pairs of jeans at a low promotional price of $22.53 in its centers in Italy, company officials said. Corradi said the regular price would be $30.44.

Officials at Carrefour and Al Quds said there was no way to know whether Muslims had bought the jeans.

Al Quds, based in Udine, hopes to make an impact first among Italy's 1.1 million Muslims. If successful, it will reach out to the estimated 18 million Muslims living in Europe.

The company's Web site advertises the jeans as "a new expression for an old tradition."

Corradi said officials from Carrefour had met with representatives from Al Quds and had "reacted with enthusiasm" to the new line. However, it was too soon to tell whether the French company would buy more.

"Let's say we're on the right path," Corradi said.

Carrefour said they did not intend to market the jeans exclusively to Muslims.

"We thought the (model) had an excellent quality-price ratio," said Sonia Augenti, a spokeswoman for Carrefour in Italy. "We target everyone. We do not have a political or religious connotation."

Corradi said the idea for the jeans first came to his friend Giorgio Lotta - a businessman who had never worked in fashion - about a year ago, when he spotted a picture in a newspaper of a sea of jeans-clad Muslims bent down in prayer.

Lotta, now president of Al Quds, studied the market for about a month and concluded there were no jeans designed to keep Muslims comfortable while they pray.

Corradi said the jeans are manufactured at a plant near Karachi, Pakistan that employs about 15,000 people.

"I wanted to respect (the fact) that if these are the first jeans for Islam, they should be built by Muslim hands," he said.

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Apple says proposed French law smacks of piracy

Tue Mar 21, 2006 8:58 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO - Apple Computer Inc. said on Tuesday a proposed French law that would force Apple to make sure that songs bought on its iTunes music store can work on any portable player would result in "state-sponsored piracy."
"The French implementation of the EU Copyright Directive will result in state-sponsored piracy," said Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris. "If this happens, legal music sales will plummet just when legitimate alternatives to piracy are winning over customers."

The National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament, passed the law on Tuesday, which French officials said is aimed at preventing any one company from building a grip on the digital online music retail market.

The new legislation would require that online music retailers provide the digital rights management software that protects copyright material to allow the conversion of music in one format to another.

But Apple said the law, which it opposes, would likely actually increase its sales of iPod music players. "iPod sales will likely increase as users freely upload their iPods with 'interoperable' music which cannot be adequately protected," Kerris said. "Free movies for iPods should not be far behind."

"The new legislation would require that online music retailers provide the digital rights management software that protects copyright material to allow the conversion of music in one format to another."
If the music is converted from Apple's digital rights management (DRM) format to the DRM format of another non-iPod MP3 player, then what's the big deal??

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Patently Ridiculous

Published: March 22, 2006

Something has gone very wrong with the United States patent system.

Americans think of the granting of patents as a benevolent process that lets inventors enjoy the fruits of their hard work and innovations. But times have changed. The definition of what is patentable has slowly evolved to include business practices and broad ideas. The fact that the Smucker's company went to court over patents on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches might have provoked chuckles. But it became a symbol of a system gone awry.
Technological advances raise new questions with each passing year. Should genes be patentable? What about life forms? The high-tech and pharmaceutical industries find themselves at odds on reform because patents affect their businesses so differently. The understaffed Patent and Trademark Office needs to draw the line between a real innovation and an obvious concept that should be freely available as a building block for future generations of creative thinkers.

Meanwhile, profiteers, including lawyers and hedge funds, have turned the very purpose of patent rights - to encourage people to invent and produce - on its head, using them to tax, blackmail and even shut down productive companies unless they pay high enough ransoms. These so-called patent trolls have emerged as the villains in this intellectual property debate.

The possibility of this sort of abuse is inherent in the concept of patents, which in this country allow no one to produce or sell a patented product for up to 20 years without a license from the patent holder. Our nation's founders considered intellectual property important enough to include in the Constitution, but did not establish the system for the sake of the inventor. It exists for the sake of society, or, as it says in the Constitution, "to promote the progress of science and the useful arts."

Now the pendulum has swung so far in the direction of the patent holder that many experts say we are not only restricting competition, but discouraging research and innovation as well. More patents are slipping through that are not new, like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or that should be obvious, like the migration of a simple business practice onto the Internet or a mobile device.

The problem lies not just with the short-staffed patent office, but also with the courts. The ease with which patent holders can get an injunction to shut down a thriving business means that many companies are quietly paying rather than fighting.

The recent threat that BlackBerry service might be shut down by an injunction caught everyone's attention. The patent office found that the three disputed patents should not have been granted in the case of the BlackBerry, a popular wireless communications device. Yet Research in Motion, the company that makes it, settled for a staggering $612.5 million to avoid an injunction.

The Supreme Court now appears ready to weigh in and - we hope - restore some sanity to the system. Yesterday the court heard arguments on whether the patent for a blood test for a vitamin deficiency was so broadly construed that it included a natural process of the human body and the idea of how to interpret it. Such a patent could prevent other inventors from developing new and better tests. The court will also hear arguments next week in a case attacking eBay, the global marketplace.

The court will not be able to solve the problem by itself, no matter how wise its ultimate rulings. The patent office, which handles three times as many applications as it did in 1985, has to be upgraded to meet the 21st century. There is legislation in the House to address that issue, and it needs to be taken up. By giving other people or companies the right to submit documentation before patents are granted and to challenge decisions, patents' quality could be improved and the courthouse avoided.

Comment: In a pathocracy, this is the norm. The corruption of basic institutions is part of the process. The patent foolishness is in complete harmony with everything else that is going on in that country.

See Laura's article "Official Culture" for more details.

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Bolivia: Water is a human right

21 March 2006

Bolivia is refusing to sign an international declaration on the importance of clean water because it falls short of calling access to it a human right.

The Bolivian water minister said on Monday that La Paz wanted to call supplies of clean water a human right in a document to be signed at the meeting this week.
"It's very clear that we all have a right to life and health," Abel Mamani said. "The right to life and right to health without water is contradictory."

South America's poorest country, increasingly vocal on the world stage since the election of Evo Morales as president, is resisting other nations and international bodies at the World Water Forum being held in Mexico City.

A draft of the declaration calls water important to the poor and to people's health, but does not describe it as a human right.

Morales created a water ministry after taking power in January and appointed Mamani, an activist in recent years who was chasing foreign water companies, such as French utility Suez, out of Bolivia.

Survival necessity

Mamani said privatisation of water services in Bolivia led to soaring prices that left clean water out of the reach of the poorest people.

"You can't use a thing as important as water, which is synonymous with life, to make money," Mamani said.

"We're talking about something that unfortunately is necessary for survival."

The World Water Forum's ruling body is made up of members from governments, international organisations such as the World Bank, scientists and business people.

About 1.1 billion people, mostly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, lack easy access to safe drinking water.

Delegates at the meeting have said new ideas and investments are needed to meet a UN goal of halving the number of people without safe drinking water by 2015.

Mamani complained that the entry fee to the forum, at $120 a day, effectively excluded the poor from taking part.

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Investors flock to Indian stocks

By Sunil Jagtiani
The Christian Science Monitor
March 22, 2006

BOMBAY – India may lag behind China economically, but the reverse holds true for their stock markets. India's has soared to a record high this week, driven by foreign investors pouring billions into the market.

Figures show the stock market here is up 200 percent over the past five years, compared with 65 percent in China and 11 percent in the US.
India's edge, experts say, lies in the contrast between its large contingent of private, profitable firms that operate free of substantial government involvement, and the many listed Chinese companies over which Chinese authorities exert considerable control.

"When Chinese companies - which were previously state-owned - were listed on the stock market, the government believed it was best to retain majority control," says Peter Alexander, a former Wall Street banker who now runs the Shanghai-based financial consultancy Z-Ben Advisors. "So around two-thirds of a firm's shares were held back by the Chinese state and couldn't be traded. Theoretically, these shares could swamp the market one day and push prices down, which worried investors."

The large role played by the Chinese state in these firms also leads to concerns that they are run inefficiently and many are thought to be of poor quality, Mr. Alexander adds.

In contrast, several of India's privately run, stock market listed companies, though forced to battle bureaucracy and red tape, are viewed as well managed.

"The efficiency of Indian companies and the transparency of our stock market are much higher," says Bombay-based private investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, who has turned $100 into an estimated fortune of $250 million by investing in Indian shares. "People like investing in our free and democratic country, where everything is open and known."

In Bombay, India's financial capital, concerns about the sustainability of the boom often play second fiddle to heady talk about India's economic potential. "I don't rule out a correction, but I rule out a reversal," says Mr. Jhunjhunwala.

Jhunjhunwala argues Chinese companies tend to be concerned with grabbing market share rather than making as much money as possible, whereas Indian firms are well regulated and focused on profits, which boosts their share prices.

Maya Bhandari, an economist at Lombard Street Research in London, contends India offers "a more solid economic foundation compared with China" and that the rise in India's stock market is justified.

"I think if you have a strong economy it's reflected in your equity market," Ms. Bhandari says. "We're forecasting a major slowdown in China from the middle of the year and India may gain from that."

Yet previous Indian market booms during the 1990s failed to last. One was notoriously scarred by scandal and corruption, leaving ordinary private investors out of pocket.

Most Indian private investors are still wary, fearful that unseen market manipulation will reveal the current stock market surge to be chimerical. They are skeptical that India's securities markets are free of corruption and fraud.

Analysts say the Indian government still plays a large role in many areas of the economy, leading to inefficiency. Some are now cautious about the Indian boom. "I wouldn't buy the Indian stock market today," says Marc Faber, an investment expert and the author of the Gloom, Boom and Doom report. "It is not a bargain. If it goes too much higher, it could easily halve. Chinese shares, which were very expensive, are now more reasonable."

Mr. Faber points out that research shows "economic growth and stock market performance can diverge very significantly" over periods of a few years, meaning that a bet on India's stock market could lose money even if the economy performs well.

Nor has the Indian stock market boom created widely spread wealth, since it has "directly benefited a very narrow group of around 50 million people," according to Faber.

Meanwhile the Chinese government, which compared with India has attracted far more foreign investment directly into its economy if not into shares, has begun to loosen its grip on the stock market.

Analysts say the pressure on Chinese businesses to become more profitable is steadily rising, too. "The important thing about the Chinese stock market is not where it's been, but where it's going," says Alexander. "China's government wants Shanghai to usurp Hong Kong, the former British colony, as the country's primary stock market. The reforms will allow larger companies to float their shares in Shanghai."

So far, the stock market has been among the few business areas where India can boast a lead over China. Many experts continue to see good long term prospects. "But this year," says Faber, "I think China will beat India."

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Oil, Energy, and Blood

Holding the energy card, Putin calls for broader trade with China

March 22, 2006

BEIJING - Russian President Vladimir Putin called on China to broaden bilateral trade, saying excessive focus by Beijing on securing Russia's abundant natural resources could trigger "instabilities".

"Despite significant advances in Russian-Chinese links, it must be recognized openly that we still have here more than a few serious problems," Putin said in a speech to a business forum with Chinese President
Hu Jintao sitting alongside him on stage.

"Chief among them are unfavourable structural changes in Russian-Chinese trade and the 'raw materials' character of Russian exports to China."
Despite booming sales of Russian oil, gas and other natural resources to China, Russian exports of machinery and equipment plunged last year to around half of 2004 levels, he said.

This was against the background of "marked growth" in Chinese exports to Russia of the same products.

Russian-Chinese economic relations were too dependant on fluctuations in raw materials prices, Putin said in the speech, which inaugurated the new Sino-Russian Industrial and Commercial Forum grouping the two country's top business leaders.

"This presents the danger of instabilities in bilateral trade," Putin said, arguing that more trade in technology and industrial goods was required to offset these risks.

Russia, the world's second largest exporter of oil and by far the largest provider of natural gas, is already rapidly accumulating wealth through global sales of these and other natural resources amid high commodity prices.

But with China's fast-expanding economy anxious to lock in new sources of energy and raw materials to keep the momentum going, Putin's comments reflected a Kremlin strategy to link development of its coveted natural resources to investment in other sectors of its economy.

Putin tantalizingly evoked the possibility that Russia, already moving ahead with plans to build a major oil pipeline from western Siberia to the Pacific coast, was also pondering construction of a branch from it directly into China.

But hopes among Chinese officials -- increasingly frustrated by Moscow's perceived prevarication on the project -- that he would use his two-day visit here to announce the go-ahead for the pipeline branch were dashed.

"If this project were to be implemented, it would bring about a significant increase in the volume of oil shipments from Russia to China," Putin said.

Despite disappointing China on the pipeline, the Russian state oil firm Rosneft did sign an agreement with the China National Petroleum Corp. to create two joint ventures by the end of this year for development of Russian oil resources and their refining and sale in China.

"The joint venture in Russia will be for licensincg, exploration and extraction," Rosneft chief Sergei Bogdanchikov told AFP.

"The one in China will take care of refining and sales of petroleum products. The joint ventures are to be established by the end of this year."

On Tuesday, the two sides signed an agreement to pursue an ambitious project for construction of two separate pipelines for shipment of natural gas to China with a combined capacity of up to 80 billion cubic meters (2.8 trillion cubic feet) of gas annually.

Speaking to reporters at the end of Putin's trip, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that, from Moscow's point of view at least, the visit had been a success.

"The main importance of the visit was that it confirmed the forward motion of our strategic partnership," Lavrov said.

Putin departed Beijing on Wednesday afternoon for the central province of Henan, where he was due to become the first sitting world leader to visit the famous Shaolin Temple.

The temple is an ancient site in the Song Shan Mountains known to most westerners as the home of Kung-Fu martial arts.

A Kremlin spokesman confirmed that Putin, himself a black belt expert in judo, planned to witness a demonstration by martial arts experts there and meet Shi Yongxing, the abbot of the temple that is also known as the birthplace of Zen Buddhism.

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The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century

Kevin Phillips
Democracy Now

Excerpt: The Bush electorate is probably 50 to 55% people who believe in Armageddon and probably more or less the same numbers who believe that the Antichrist is already on earth.

AMY GOODMAN: In a minute we will be joined by Kevin Phillips here in our Firehouse studio, but first I want to turn to President Bush. On Monday, he spoke about the war in Iraq in Ohio. After his address, he took questions from the crowd. The first question addressed Phillips's book American Theocracy.
Q: My question is that author and former Nixon administration official Kevin Phillips, in his latest book, American Theocracy, discusses what has been called radical Christianity and its growing involvement into government and politics. He makes the point that members of your administration have reached out to prophetic Christians who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the apocalypse. Do you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the apocalypse? And if not, why not?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The answer is -- I haven't really thought of it that way. Here's how I think of it. The first I've heard of that, by the way. I guess I'm more of a practical fellow. I vowed after September the 11th, that I would do everything I could to protect the American people. And my attitude, of course, was affected by the attacks. I knew we were at war. I knew that the enemy, obviously, had to be sophisticated and lethal to fly hijacked airplanes into facilities that would be killing thousands of people, innocent people, doing nothing, just sitting there going to work.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Bush addressing the Cleveland City Club in Ohio. Kevin Phillips, longtime Republican strategist, joins us now. His new book American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. Welcome to Democracy Now!

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Happy to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Quite way to launch a book. The President of the United States questioned about it in the first Q&A at this historic City Club in Cleveland.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: It's really an appalling thing, because I -- in the course of the last couple of days, as my book tour started, I've talked with a number of conservatives, people running conservative publications, old aides from the Republican campaigns back in the 1960s and 1970s, and everybody agrees, and some are even starting to say it semi-publicly: this man is a national embarrassment.

AMY GOODMAN: Conservatives?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Conservatives.

AMY GOODMAN: On what grounds?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, some just because they know him and don't think anybody with his lack of qualifications should be president, others that think that the country has a black eye, others that think that conservatism is now being threatened as much as liberalism was in the late 1960s by the Johnson administration. This is just a convergence of the ineptitude of one man, of the complicity of a number of other senior people in the administration -- I don't know their exact motives -- and a horrible situation for the Pentagon, because the Pentagon realizes that the American soldiery in Iraq is being brutalized in a way that then casts disrespect on the American army, that interferes with recruitment. I, two years ago, gave a talk near Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and already dozens of people from the military were saying that this was going to be a black eye. And it's worse than a black eye. And you really have to say, and I have to say, that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld, if we had a parliamentary system, they would be there before the bar of the Congress, having to defend this. And that's where they should be.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Phillips, you talk about radical religion, about debt, and about oil, about this being an oil war. You also talk about peak oil. That's not talked about very much in the mainstream. Explain.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: The peak oil idea is that just as the United States oil production peaked in 1971, that we have a limited amount of oil globally, and that it's something that can't be re-created. It's running out. And the expectation of some is that the oil production of the non-OPEC countries will peak at some point during the 2010s, and that then the production of OPEC itself will peak in the 2020s or 2030s. Now, some people think that Saudi production has already peaked.

Now, if you believe this, and it's possible, then we face an enormous convergence, again under specific oil-related circumstances, of a global struggle for natural resources as the price of oil climbs, as we turn the armed services into a global oil protection service, which has been happening, and as we see the administration refuse to grapple with the need to really curb oil consumption in the United States, which is mostly through transportation and especially motor vehicles.

And I just have a sense, as many others on the conservative side do, this administration has no strategy to deal with these converging problems, be they foreign policy, military, oil, debt. They are like the three little monkeys on the old jade thing – the one sees no evil, one speaks no evil, and one hears no evil. Do they know anything? You know, that's an open question.

AMY GOODMAN: We see in Washington an oiligarchy. I mean, you have President Bush, who is a failed oil man himself; Cheney, former head of the largest oil services corporation in the world, Halliburton; Condoleezza Rice was on the board of Chevron for more than a decade. And you can go on from there. But what is the significance of this for this country and the world?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, what I would like to do is broaden that, because you're absolutely right, and the Republicans are the principal vehicle of this. But they are by no means the only vehicle, when Lloyd Bentsen was the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democrats. He was somebody very closely connected to the oil industry. It turns out that Al Gore's father was closely connected to the oil industry, and he continued the relationship with Armand Hammer of Occidental, and as a result, David Ignatius of the Washington Post wrote a big piece back several years ago saying we really had almost everybody in the 2000 election was oil-connected. It wasn't just the two Republicans. It was Al Gore, too.

It is such a power center in the United States, especially now that the South and Sunbelt have become most important, because that's where the bulk of the oil is, that they're into both parties, enormously powerful in Congress. There is an oil and petroleum culture in the United States that extends back 150-200 years into probably half of our states. This is no criminal conspiracy or anything. This is just a major resource, having evolved as something that's part and parcel of the American economy and American supremacy. And you can't just wish it away. It's a vested interest of the first order.

AMY GOODMAN: The war in Iraq was over oil?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: I think it was principally over oil. If you – and let me qualify that by saying I think a certain amount of the reason for the war in Iraq was a larger geo-strategic situation in which we were going to have to leave Saudi Arabia. And the way to develop an alternative oil supply and base was to aim at Iraq. Now, that went beyond purely oil as a consideration.

Another facet of the invasion of Iraq, in 2002, George W. Bush gave a speech in Texas, in which he talked about how Saddam Hussein had tried to assassinate his father. So there you have sort of the family aspect. And lastly, the Middle East is a battleground of biblical Armageddon and everything. And that's swimming into play. A number of the religious right people talked about Saddam Hussein as the anti-Christ, and the Left Behind series, which is the Tim LaHaye 60 million sold context of the end times and Armageddon, while the Antichrist comes from New Babylon and Iraq, and the attempt was to portray Baghdad, Babylon, as the focal point of the end times, so that a whole lot of supporters of the administration, they didn't care about weapons of mass destruction. This was part of the unfolding biblical epic of the end times and the war between good and evil. And this is something that I get into in the book; it's hard to explain it just in a short conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we've got some time.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, this is very central to the whole Republican constituency. What you've got is that 45% of American Christians believe in Armageddon, and the more religious ones, the fundamentalists and evangelicals more than anybody else. So, my assumption is that the Bush electorate is probably 50 to 55% people who believe in Armageddon and probably more or less the same numbers who believe that the Antichrist is already on earth. And when you have this backdrop and you have a president who got his start in national politics as his father's liaison with the religious right back in 1987 and '88, you just have an enormous exposure to this whole psychological context and an awareness on the part of people in the White House that this huge constituency interprets the Middle East in this very unusual way.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, let's go back to Reagan's time. And, of course, Reagan's vice president was George Bush, Sr. He also embraced evangelicals; for example, I mean, in Central America, Rios Montt in Guatemala. What's the difference now?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, there's an enormous difference, because Ronald Reagan was in many ways an easygoing guy. He could make a reference to Armageddon. He could pursue a rightwing type of politics like you're describing. But, personally, he wasn't all that intense, shall we say? I mean, here was a man who was the first divorced president in American history, married to two different Hollywood actresses. He was not the incarnation of a religious right political outlook. Bush is.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet the right embraced him.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: The right embraced him, because that was at point in time -- and here I go back more to my Republican antecedents -- where, in my opinion, during the 1960s and 1970s, the left had pushed much too hard against religion in an attempt to create a more secular society. And this just grossly mis-underestimated the role that religion plays in the United States, and it created this huge backlash. So the balance was beginning to be restored in the 1980s, and now the pendulum has swung, so the abuse is on the part of the religious right, the people who were complaining about being abused 30 or 40 years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain where George Bush fits into this picture, George W. Bush, his own religion, how he embraces the right -- the religious right.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Let me pretend that we're talking about painting in French impressionism, and I'm going to give you four or five impressionist scenes. We can't do this very academically. Back in 1999 and 2000, as George W. was preparing to run, it's been reported or acknowledged that he told three or four different groups of preachers, conservative organizations, that he felt that God had called him to run for president. Well, he gets in the White House, and he's not doing terribly well, but 9/11 comes along, and this is a massive revitalization of his politics in the sense of a chance to create a conflict between good and evil and, in essence, rally his flock. And at that point in time, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reported he did a survey of religious right leaders, and they agreed that God had chosen Bush for this moment. And he concluded the piece for the Post by saying this was the first time in history that the leader of the religious right nationally was the President of the United States. And I believe that's how they felt.

And then we go -- more impressionist paintings on the wall here -- we go to reports from the Middle East. This came in several Israeli newspapers and others, that Bush at one point commented, although the White House denies it, that he said God told him to invade Afghanistan, God told him to invade Iraq. And then we get 2004, and when he was campaigning in several places, again he played the religious card. And the Lancaster New Era in Pennsylvania, the Old Order Amish country, reported that Bush talked to a group of Amish, the Plain People, and he said that he trusted that God spoke through him, and if that weren't true he wouldn't be able to do his job. Now, they reported this conversation, but their reporter had not been there, so he couldn't substantiate it.

But this thread -- and I come back to my impressionism -- from a whole lot of people, many of them Republicans and people acquainted with the Republican Party -- this has been in there -- it's this sense that he is the prophet and he's telling us what God wants. And this, to me, is an enormously important backdrop to this mess in what is, after all, the Bible lands for Christians, the Middle East.

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Audio: Former GOP Strategist Kevin Phillips on American Theocracy- The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century

Democracy Now!
21 Mar 06

Kevin Phillips, longtime Republican strategist and author of several books. His newest work, "American Theocracy," comes out today. A review in Sunday's New York Times said the book may be "the most alarming analysis of where we are and where we may be going to have appeared in many years."

AMY GOODMAN: In a minute we will be joined by Kevin Phillips here in our Firehouse studio, but first I want to turn to President Bush. On Monday, he spoke about the war in Iraq in Ohio. After his address, he took questions from the crowd. The first question addressed Phillips's book American Theocracy.

Q: My question is that author and former Nixon administration official Kevin Phillips, in his latest book, American Theocracy, discusses what has been called radical Christianity and its growing involvement into government and politics. He makes the point that members of your administration have reached out to prophetic Christians who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the apocalypse. Do you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the apocalypse? And if not, why not?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The answer is -- I haven't really thought of it that way. Here's how I think of it. The first I've heard of that, by the way. I guess I'm more of a practical fellow. I vowed after September the 11th, that I would do everything I could to protect the American people. And my attitude, of course, was affected by the attacks. I knew we were at war. I knew that the enemy, obviously, had to be sophisticated and lethal to fly hijacked airplanes into facilities that would be killing thousands of people, innocent people, doing nothing, just sitting there going to work.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Bush addressing the Cleveland City Club in Ohio. Kevin Phillips, longtime Republican strategist, joins us now. His new book American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. Welcome to Democracy Now!

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Happy to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Quite way to launch a book. The President of the United States questioned about it in the first Q&A at this historic City Club in Cleveland.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: It's really an appalling thing, because I -- in the course of the last couple of days, as my book tour started, I've talked with a number of conservatives, people running conservative publications, old aides from the Republican campaigns back in the 1960s and 1970s, and everybody agrees, and some are even starting to say it semi-publicly: this man is a national embarrassment.

AMY GOODMAN: Conservatives?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Conservatives.

AMY GOODMAN: On what grounds?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, some just because they know him and don't think anybody with his lack of qualifications should be president, others that think that the country has a black eye, others that think that conservatism is now being threatened as much as liberalism was in the late 1960s by the Johnson administration. This is just a convergence of the ineptitude of one man, of the complicity of a number of other senior people in the administration -- I don't know their exact motives -- and a horrible situation for the Pentagon, because the Pentagon realizes that the American soldiery in Iraq is being brutalized in a way that then casts disrespect on the American army, that interferes with recruitment. I, two years ago, gave a talk near Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and already dozens of people from the military were saying that this was going to be a black eye. And it's worse than a black eye. And you really have to say, and I have to say, that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld, if we had a parliamentary system, they would be there before the bar of the Congress, having to defend this. And that's where they should be.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Phillips, you talk about radical religion, about debt, and about oil, about this being an oil war. You also talk about peak oil. That's not talked about very much in the mainstream. Explain.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: The peak oil idea is that just as the United States oil production peaked in 1971, that we have a limited amount of oil globally, and that it's something that can't be re-created. It's running out. And the expectation of some is that the oil production of the non-OPEC countries will peak at some point during the 2010s, and that then the production of OPEC itself will peak in the 2020s or 2030s. Now, some people think that Saudi production has already peaked.

Now, if you believe this, and it's possible, then we face an enormous convergence, again under specific oil-related circumstances, of a global struggle for natural resources as the price of oil climbs, as we turn the armed services into a global oil protection service, which has been happening, and as we see the administration refuse to grapple with the need to really curb oil consumption in the United States, which is mostly through transportation and especially motor vehicles.

And I just have a sense, as many others on the conservative side do, this administration has no strategy to deal with these converging problems, be they foreign policy, military, oil, debt. They are like the three little monkeys on the old jade thing – the one sees no evil, one speaks no evil, and one hears no evil. Do they know anything? You know, that's an open question.

AMY GOODMAN: We see in Washington an oiligarchy. I mean, you have President Bush, who is a failed oil man himself; Cheney, former head of the largest oil services corporation in the world, Halliburton; Condoleezza Rice was on the board of Chevron for more than a decade. And you can go on from there. But what is the significance of this for this country and the world?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, what I would like to do is broaden that, because you're absolutely right, and the Republicans are the principal vehicle of this. But they are by no means the only vehicle, when Lloyd Bentsen was the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democrats. He was somebody very closely connected to the oil industry. It turns out that Al Gore's father was closely connected to the oil industry, and he continued the relationship with Armand Hammer of Occidental, and as a result, David Ignatius of the Washington Post wrote a big piece back several years ago saying we really had almost everybody in the 2000 election was oil-connected. It wasn't just the two Republicans. It was Al Gore, too.

It is such a power center in the United States, especially now that the South and Sunbelt have become most important, because that's where the bulk of the oil is, that they're into both parties, enormously powerful in Congress. There is an oil and petroleum culture in the United States that extends back 150-200 years into probably half of our states. This is no criminal conspiracy or anything. This is just a major resource, having evolved as something that's part and parcel of the American economy and American supremacy. And you can't just wish it away. It's a vested interest of the first order.

AMY GOODMAN: The war in Iraq was over oil?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: I think it was principally over oil. If you – and let me qualify that by saying I think a certain amount of the reason for the war in Iraq was a larger geo-strategic situation in which we were going to have to leave Saudi Arabia. And the way to develop an alternative oil supply and base was to aim at Iraq. Now, that went beyond purely oil as a consideration.

Another facet of the invasion of Iraq, in 2002, George W. Bush gave a speech in Texas, in which he talked about how Saddam Hussein had tried to assassinate his father. So there you have sort of the family aspect. And lastly, the Middle East is a battleground of biblical Armageddon and everything. And that's swimming into play. A number of the religious right people talked about Saddam Hussein as the anti-Christ, and the Left Behind series, which is the Tim LaHaye 60 million sold context of the end times and Armageddon, while the Antichrist comes from New Babylon and Iraq, and the attempt was to portray Baghdad, Babylon, as the focal point of the end times, so that a whole lot of supporters of the administration, they didn't care about weapons of mass destruction. This was part of the unfolding biblical epic of the end times and the war between good and evil. And this is something that I get into in the book; it's hard to explain it just in a short conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we've got some time.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, this is very central to the whole Republican constituency. What you've got is that 45% of American Christians believe in Armageddon, and the more religious ones, the fundamentalists and evangelicals more than anybody else. So, my assumption is that the Bush electorate is probably 50 to 55% people who believe in Armageddon and probably more or less the same numbers who believe that the Antichrist is already on earth. And when you have this backdrop and you have a president who got his start in national politics as his father's liaison with the religious right back in 1987 and '88, you just have an enormous exposure to this whole psychological context and an awareness on the part of people in the White House that this huge constituency interprets the Middle East in this very unusual way.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, let's go back to Reagan's time. And, of course, Reagan's vice president was George Bush, Sr. He also embraced evangelicals; for example, I mean, in Central America, Rios Montt in Guatemala. What's the difference now?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, there's an enormous difference, because Ronald Reagan was in many ways an easygoing guy. He could make a reference to Armageddon. He could pursue a rightwing type of politics like you're describing. But, personally, he wasn't all that intense, shall we say? I mean, here was a man who was the first divorced president in American history, married to two different Hollywood actresses. He was not the incarnation of a religious right political outlook. Bush is.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet the right embraced him.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: The right embraced him, because that was at point in time -- and here I go back more to my Republican antecedents -- where, in my opinion, during the 1960s and 1970s, the left had pushed much too hard against religion in an attempt to create a more secular society. And this just grossly mis-underestimated the role that religion plays in the United States, and it created this huge backlash. So the balance was beginning to be restored in the 1980s, and now the pendulum has swung, so the abuse is on the part of the religious right, the people who were complaining about being abused 30 or 40 years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain where George Bush fits into this picture, George W. Bush, his own religion, how he embraces the right -- the religious right.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Let me pretend that we're talking about painting in French impressionism, and I'm going to give you four or five impressionist scenes. We can't do this very academically. Back in 1999 and 2000, as George W. was preparing to run, it's been reported or acknowledged that he told three or four different groups of preachers, conservative organizations, that he felt that God had called him to run for president. Well, he gets in the White House, and he's not doing terribly well, but 9/11 comes along, and this is a massive revitalization of his politics in the sense of a chance to create a conflict between good and evil and, in essence, rally his flock. And at that point in time, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reported he did a survey of religious right leaders, and they agreed that God had chosen Bush for this moment. And he concluded the piece for the Post by saying this was the first time in history that the leader of the religious right nationally was the President of the United States. And I believe that's how they felt.

And then we go -- more impressionist paintings on the wall here -- we go to reports from the Middle East. This came in several Israeli newspapers and others, that Bush at one point commented, although the White House denies it, that he said God told him to invade Afghanistan, God told him to invade Iraq. And then we get 2004, and when he was campaigning in several places, again he played the religious card. And the Lancaster New Era in Pennsylvania, the Old Order Amish country, reported that Bush talked to a group of Amish, the Plain People, and he said that he trusted that God spoke through him, and if that weren't true he wouldn't be able to do his job. Now, they reported this conversation, but their reporter had not been there, so he couldn't substantiate it.

But this thread -- and I come back to my impressionism -- from a whole lot of people, many of them Republicans and people acquainted with the Republican Party -- this has been in there -- it's this sense that he is the prophet and he's telling us what God wants. And this, to me, is an enormously important backdrop to this mess in what is, after all, the Bible lands for Christians, the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Kevin Phillips, a former Republican strategist. His latest book is called American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. We'll be back with him in a minute.

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By Cynthia Tucker
Atlanta Journal Constitution

Conservatives have denounced the thriller "Syriana," a film that explores the Machiavellian politics of Mideast oil. Pundit Charles Krauthammer, for example, says the movie exports "the most vicious and pernicious mendacities about America to a receptive world."
The film, for which George Clooney won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, is definitely a Hollywood version of international politics, complete with caricatures of U.S. political and business leaders and an unbelievably pure oil sheik. But the movie's essence is merely a recounting of recent U.S. history: Consecutive administrations -- Democrat and Republican -- have done whatever was necessary to assure a continuous supply of cheap petroleum. That's the overriding reason that President Bush invaded Iraq.

While most American presidents have been smart enough to avoid an outright war, using U.S. muscle to guarantee the oil supply has been policy for decades, according to Andrew Bacevich, Boston University professor and author of "The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War."

"The clear preference was for a low profile and a hidden hand. ... Washington preferred covert action to the direct use of force," Bacevich, a West Point graduate, wrote in a chapter titled "Blood for Oil." But in March 2003, President Bush radically changed tactics, sending the world's most powerful military to topple
Saddam Hussein.

In the months after the invasion, any skeptic who questioned the war -- or tied it to petroleum -- was derided as a traitor or a fool or both. (I know, since I did.) But now that Bush has careened through a series of justifications for this unnecessary war, none of which bear close scrutiny -- ties to al-Qaida, weapons of mass destruction, weapons-of-mass-destruction-related programs, democracy, etc. -- perhaps it's time for a reasoned look at what the Bush administration hoped to get out of invasion.

Supporters of the Bush Doctrine are quick to suggest the idiocy of an invasion to gain access to Iraqi oil fields. They're right. Instead, the White House wanted to guarantee a military staging ground to replace our bases in Saudi Arabia; the House of Saud is increasingly worried about the backlash from Islamist extremists agitated over the U.S. presence there.
Osama bin Laden specifically denounced the Sauds for allowing "infidels" to tread so closely to Mecca and Medina.

So why not set up shop in Iraq, which gives us access to the entire Persian Gulf region?

While Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has said that the United States has no plans for permanent bases in Iraq, the
Pentagon has already spent $1 billion on base reconstruction in and around Iraq and
Afghanistan and wants to spend $1 billion more. Bush administration officials have refused to specifically rule out U.S. bases on Iraqi soil, although doing so might help quell the insurgency -- or at least clarify our intentions. That's because we always intended to stay.

Oil wasn't the only factor, of course. Multiple agendas converged to drive the war wagon to Baghdad: Donald Rumsfeld wanted to try out his theories of a faster, lighter military; neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz genuinely believed they could implant Jeffersonian democracy in the stony soil of Mesopotamia; Darth, ah,
Dick Cheney just enjoys exerting raw power. But Iraq became the centerpiece of their various schemes because they believed it would achieve the higher purpose of preserving access to the oil supply.

The invasion hasn't done that, of course. It hasn't done any of the things they said it would. And it's much too late to do anything about that. Successive U.S. presidents will be dealing with the fallout from our foolhardy Iraqi enterprise for a long, long time.

But it's not too late to start to curb America's huge appetite for oil before we end up at war with China in 10 or 20 years over dwindling reserves. The political moment when it would have been easy to change consumption habits has already passed: President Bush could have sought and received a stiff increase in the federal gas tax -- as much as a dollar a gallon -- just after 9/11. Americans were ready, then, to make sacrifices.

It would be harder now but hardly impossible. Polls show that more than half of Americans would accept a higher gas tax if it led to less reliance on foreign oil. While the price hike would ripple through the economy, we would adjust -- with more public transit, more carpooling and fewer discretionary car trips.

If Americans don't like the portrait of their country they saw in "Syriana," there's one smart way to respond: Change it. Stop using raw power to guarantee cheap oil.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She can be reached by e-mail: cynthia@ajc.com.

Comment: Oil is the "back-up" reason that has been prepared and promulgated by Mike Ruppert to excuse the Neocons for their bad behavior. The truth is more hideous: Iraq was invaded purely and simply to commit genocide on behalf of Israel.

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Smoke at nuclear power plant facility in Japan injures workers

07:14:31 EST Mar 22, 2006

TOKYO (AP) - Smoke poured out of a nuclear power plant facility in western Japan, but no radiation leakage was reported, an official said. Two workers were injured after inhaling smoke.
The incident occurred at a waste disposal facility between the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at Oi power plant in Fukui at around 6:40 p.m. (0940 GMT), according to local government official Hiroaki Fujiuchi.

Firefighters were having difficulty approaching the facility because of thick smoke, and it wasn't clear what was causing it, according to Takafumi Tanaka of the plant operator, Kansai Electric Power Co.

Two workers were rushed to a hospital after inhaling smoke at the facility, but they were not in critical condition and were not exposed to radiation, local fire official Nobuyuki Matsuyoshi quoted paramedics at the scene as saying.

All four boiling water reactors at Oi were operating normally, and there was no radiation leakage, according to Tanaka.

Kyodo News agency earlier reported a fire at the plant, but later said only smoke had been detected.

Oi is in Fukui prefecture (state), about 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Tokyo.

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Nuking Iran

Will Iran Help Bush Preserve His Republican Majority?

By Samih Saab
Translated By Nicolas Dagher
March 18, 2006

Could it be that 'Axis of Evil' Iran holds the electoral fortunes of the U.S. Republican Party and the fate of Iraq in the palm of its hands? According to this analysis from Lebanon's leading Arab-Language newspaper Annahar, Iran may be willing to help pull the White House's coals out of the Iraqi fire … for a price.
U.S. strategic planning for the Middle East comes out of the White House, which considers Iran to be America's biggest Middle East challenge.

Why Iran? Because there are two issues that worry America most: the Iranian nuclear program and Iran's influence in the region.

The Iranian nuclear program worries Washington because of Israeli fears. Israel is alarmed that Iran is nearing the bomb-making stage, an eventuality that would constitute a new balance of power in the region. It would also constitute a new deterrent against the Israeli bomb.

Iran's influence is a concern because of America's entanglement in Iraq. At one point, Iran and America had a common enemy called Saddam Hussein. But after getting rid of him, their opposing interests materialized in Iraq. The U.S. is unable to bring stability and launch the political process without the help of neighboring countries (it first tried a strategy of frightening neighboring countries, to prevent them from meddling in Iraqi affairs). But facts on the ground have been pointing to a major conflict between the U.S. and surrounding countries, each of which looks at what America is trying to establish in Iraq as harmful to its interests. This applies to all of Iraq's neighbors: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, Turkey and Jordan.

Every one of these countries has their eyes set on Iraq. Some of them fear the "Democratic Prototype" that America is trying to erect, and others fear being hit by the chaos and sectarian violence that the Americans insist has not yet reached the level of a civil war.

What's more, the popularity of this war is at its lowest level since the invasion, due to its high cost in both lives and soldiers. Moreover, the reasons for which the Americans went to war turned out to be merely "inventions," used by the administration to justify and "market" the war to Congress and the public. Perhaps if Americans had known that there were no WMDs, the American public and Congress wouldn't have supported Bush or allowed him to use force. Bush has at great length tried to explain to U.S. citizens that bringing democracy in the Middle East is linked to homeland security. But Americans haven't been convinced, and the proof is the plummeting support for the president and the war.

Facing deadlock in Iraq, Bush is again seeking the help of regional powers, which could help him stabilize and prevent Iraq from slipping into a civil war that would have devastating effects on neighboring countries. This explains Washington's reaching out to Iran for talks concerning Iraq. No matter what justifications Washington has given for contacting Iran, such contacts could have a positive impact on other issues, such as the nuclear file; because Iran is not going to give anything away in Iraq. Iran will compromise with the U.S. if, and only if, it is beneficial to Iran.

But Iraq is just one of the thorny issues between Iran and the United States. In addition to the issue of her nuclear file, Iran is a regional power with a sphere of influence that covers Iraq, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon.

Is the United States aware that there will be more challenges in the region because it is "falling down" in Iraq?

There are doubtless many pressures descending on Bush to create some measure of Iraqi stability before the midterm elections in November. If the situation in Iraq remains the same or deteriorates deeper into violence and chaos, it could end the Republican majority.

Therefore a truce with Iran seems more urgent than ever.

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America's options for Iran

By Scott Bohlinger

As the nuclear standoff between the US and Iran escalates, American leaders would do well to look at the range of options that exist for them. The options consist of sanctions, military strikes, and a change in policy. Sanctions and military strikes
would be counterproductive, but US support for an Iranian civilian nuclear capability could produce positive results for both the United States and Iran.

Sanctions have proved ineffective time and again and are not likely to obtain a different outcome in the case of Iran. Faced with shortages and economic privations, the Iranian populace will blame the West and cluster more closely around the current regime.

Sanctions are also unlikely because they would cut off Iranian oil. China would never tolerate this because of its dependency on Iranian oil, and the US economy could not bear the increase in the cost of oil. Iraq also taught us that sanctions could also serve as a fertile breeding ground for corruption and allow the government further leverage in exercising its power. Also, the US cannot leverage Iranian access to America's vast economy because it has already been closed to Iran for 27 years.

Military strikes would be a godsend for the regime in Iran, especially the hardliners that the United States most fears. Targeted strikes on several key installations might indeed disrupt the nuclear program, but again these would generate immense consequences for the US and its allies. Military strikes would create ill-will from ordinary Iranians and extend indefinitely the lifetime of the regime. Such strikes also would not be enough to topple the regime and no government now has the manpower or will for such an occupation.

To the degree that military strikes would be successful and would manage to destabilize the regime, US foreign policy would be faced with a vortex of anarchy stretching from Islamabad to Damascus. The internal chaos in Iran in the early 1980s showed how deep and virulent Iran's ideological divisions can be. All of these divisions could be strengthened or influenced by elements outside of Iran were the regime to collapse. This, coupled with the potential for ethnic unrest from the almost 50% of Iran that is not Persian, could lead the country into a long civil war. Furthermore, even if a stable regime were to emerge, there is no guarantee that it would be a more responsible international citizen.

Iran has far more power to cause harm and pain to the US and its allies than they can inflict on it. Iran has the ability to destabilize Afghanistan and Iraq decisively before it even nudges the valve on its huge energy supplies. US officials have acknowledged a heavy degree of Iranian infiltration in Iraq and independent analysts tend to think it is even greater than that. The Iranian presence in Iraq is not nefarious, but it is a major fact on the ground that the US and its allies cannot ignore.

The United States does not want a nuclear Iran, but it cannot bear failed states in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if Iran were to develop nuclear weapons, further destabilization would be a far more dangerous outcome. A nuclear weapon in Iran would be in the hands of a regime that is not losing its grip. Unlike the case of Pakistan, where the highest officials used proliferation to line their pockets, Iran has every interest in and ability to keep its technology under wraps and not let it slip into the hands of non-state actors.

Iran's underlying issues and need for unlimited access to its own fuel cycle are less psychological than the outcome of a rational cost-benefit analysis. It would be easy to ridicule Iran's vast reserve of conspiracy theories, if so many hadn't come true. Thanks to a combination of natural wealth and strategic location, Iran has been riven by international intrigue in a way that few other places have been.

The worst episode concerned the British- and US-backed toppling of the democratically elected nationalist prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953. After the shah's reinstatement, capitulations were granted to foreign personnel - a practice long abolished with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. Taken together, such policies have done wonders to promote a deep-seated and well-founded suspicion of policies that seek to limit Iran's strategic range. On the day the US Embassy was overrun in 1979, its ambassador was to be found in the office of the foreign minister of the provisional government; the purpose of that visit was to discuss a reinstatement of capitulations and special privileges for US personnel.

Despite the state of relations, the US generously allows Iranian diplomatic personnel in its country. Simultaneously, however, Iran understandably cannot risk having American diplomats on its soil. Added to this is the traumatic legacy of the Iran-Iraq War, with its hundreds of thousands dead and sense of victimization and isolation at the hands of the international community.

Iran's bottom line is complete control over the fuel-production cycle. The hope of much of the international community that Iran halt all nuclear activity is not producing any movement toward that outcome, nor is the Russian proposal to enrich uranium on its soil. The option is for the US to remain quiet and take as little action as possible.

Yet if US policymakers feel compelled to speak out, there is one counter-intuitive approach that could prove effective. This approach would involve far more than saying, "We understand your security concerns," it would entail actually understanding them and then taking measures in that direction, unilaterally, and without regard for Iran's reactions or the possibility of rapprochement with its government.

There are few ways for the US to get ahead without an outcome that mutually benefits Iran. A win-win strategy would be to be wholeheartedly to support Iran's access to the fuel cycle and the development its own civilian nuclear program under the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection regime. From a cynical point of view, this would call Iran's supposed bluff - that it only wants nuclear fuel for civilian purposes. After being given the same level of trust and responsibilities as any other state, denying access to the inspectors or playing games would ring hollow.

Such a move would show Iranians that the US is not their enemy. This idea is not without illusions. With a civilian nuclear program, Iran would be in a position to drop out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and weaponize in very short order. The US, however, has a unique ability to stop the process from ever reaching weaponization by taking away many of the concerns that drive that desire. Without the US threatening violence and regime change, Iran will lose the major threat to its existence.

For weaponization finally to occur, there are some hurdles that Iran must overcome. These two hurdles are the nature of support for the nuclear program and the religious establishment's views on the legality of such a program.

It is well known that the vast majority of Iranians favor their country having a domestic nuclear capability. What is far less certain is how many people really support nuclear weaponization. In all likelihood, the number is a small minority (though it could easily gain popular support if the US threatens military action, engages in covert activities, or plays ball with terrorist organizations such as the Mojahedin-e Khalq). The Iranian public is relatively intelligent, well informed, and very cognizant of the dangers of proliferation. The US could do a lot to support this attitude by openly encouraging Iran along the peaceful path and in doing so tacitly acknowledging that a world that is safe for Iran is also safe for the United States.

Policymakers and analysts frequently underestimate the degree of debate within Iran's conservative circles. Even if this debate is not proceeding under optimal conditions of transparency, accountability, and rule of law, it is still far-ranging. One factor in this debate is clerical rulings against nuclear weapons. One such ruling comes from none other than Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself. The strongest proponents of nuclear weaponization in Iran are not the highest-ranking members of the Shi'ite clergy. There is no reason to believe that the religious establishment would roll over and change tact just because its nominal allies say so.

The party line of Iran's regime is that it is only seeking energy for civilian nuclear purposes. Yet behind the scenes there is a detente that is delaying a potential political confrontation until a later date. Supporting a civilian nuclear program would highlight differences within segments of the ruling elite, some of whom would have to find new and clever ways to admit that Iran wants more than just nuclear energy. More open differences would then proffer more opportunities for political change within Iran.

By supporting Iran's domestic nuclear capability, the US could overcome fears held by even the most pro-Western Iranians that the United States is against their power and prestige. Such a change in policy would also separate the majority of the population, who still see the US as a land of good governance and opportunities, from the minority who view the US as an aggressor. Doing so would call the bluff of this minority who want nuclear weapons, by forcing them to adhere to their stated purpose of civilian capabilities.

This would be a radical shift in foreign policy, but it is the only available strategy that could prevail for the US. The other option is for US officials to sit back, take a deep breath, relax, and then do nothing. Either way, a beneficial outcome for US and Iranian interests is possible. The alternatives - belligerent statements, sanctions, and military strikes - all range their outcomes from unproductive to unthinkable.

Scott Bohlinger is a Washington, DC-based analyst specializing in the Middle East, most specifically Iran. He also currently works at Jane's Intelligence Group.

(Copyright 2006 Scott Bohlinger.)

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Iran Leader OKs Talks With U.S. on Iraq

Mar 21, 6:30 PM (ET)

TEHRAN, Iran - Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday that he approves of talks between U.S. and Iranian officials on Iraq, but warned that the United States must not try to "bully" Iran.

It was the first confirmation that Khamenei, who holds final say on all state matters in Iran, is in favor of the talks.

His comments came hours after President Bush spoke in favor of such a meeting, saying American officials would show Iran "what's right or wrong in their activities inside of Iraq."
Khamenei said that "if the Iranian officials can make the U.S. understand some issues about Iraq, there is no problem with the negotiations."

"But if the talks mean opening a venue for bullying and imposition by the deceitful party (the Americans), then it will be forbidden," he said in a speech in the northeastern city of Mashhad, aired on state television.

Both the United States and Iran have said the talks will focus solely on stabilizing Iraq and not deal with the heated issue of Iran's nuclear program. No time or place has yet been set for talks, though the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, who is to head the U.S. side, has proposed holding them in Baghdad.

Last week, a top Iranian official - Ali Larijani, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council - announced that Tehran was willing to enter talks with the United States. Khamenei voiced his approval Tuesday after some hard-liners in Iran's clerical government came out against any contacts with the United States.

Iran has considerable influence with Shiite political parties who dominate Iraq's parliament, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said U.S.-Iranian talks on Iraq could be "useful."

Bush on Tuesday told reporters that he had instructed Khalilzad to make Iran understand that "attempts to spread sectarian violence or to maybe move parts that could be used for (improvised explosive devices) is unacceptable to the United States."

The Bush administration has accused Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard of smuggling bomb-making parts across the border into Iraq, though Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged last week he has no evidence Iran's government is sponsoring such activity. Bomb attacks have mainly been carried out by Sunni insurgents attacking the Shiite-led Iraqi government.

Also in Tuesday's speech, Khamenei dismissed the threat of U.N. Security Council action over Iran's nuclear program, saying Tehran would reject any measures it considers against its interests.

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Between Iran and Israel, try a bomb for a bomb

By David Hirst
Commentary by
Tuesday, March 21, 2006

There is widespread international agreement that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons is an alarming prospect. But very little attention is paid to the most obvious reason why: There already is a Middle Eastern nuclear power, Israel, insistent on preserving its monopoly. So the crisis has been foreseeable for decades; it would be automatically triggered by the emergence of a second nuclear power, friendly or unfriendly to the West. Iran is the unfriendliest possible, encouraging a widespread assumption that it alone is responsible for creating the crisis - and settling it. But is it?
It certainly isn't blameless. First, its nuclear arming would deal a major blow to an already fraying international non-proliferation regime. Second, it would involve a huge deceit. Third, the United States broadly divides actual or potential nuclear powers into responsible and irresponsible ones. Iran would be irresponsible par excellence, being already the worst of "rogue states." Typically, a rogue state, as well as being domestically oppressive, ideologically repugnant and anti-American, unites an aggressive nature with disproportionate military strength, thereby posing a constant, exceptional threat to an established regional order. What could now more emphatically consign Iran to such company than President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with his calls to "wipe Israel off the map?"

Yet, in nuclear terms, Israel is the original sinner in the Middle East. Non-proliferation must be universal; if, in a zone of potential conflict, one party goes nuclear, its adversaries can't be expected not to either. No matter how long ago it was, by violating that principle, Israel must bear a heavy responsibility for what has since happened. Second, its deceit was no less than Iran's, though, there being no nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at the time, it was only America it deceived. Mindful of what Israel's mendacity portended, the Central Intelligence Agency warned in 1963 that, by greatly enhancing its sense of security, nuclear capacity would make Israel less, not more, conciliatory toward the Arabs; it would exploit its new "psychological advantages" to "intimidate" them.

Which - thirdly - points to the irresponsible use Israel has indeed made of its nuclear capability. Sure, it always justified it as its "Samson option," its last recourse against neighbors bent on destroying it. There is no such threat now; but if there was once, or will be again, the question is why.

A major part of the answer is that on most counts, except hostility to the U.S., Israel has always behaved like a rogue state. It came into being as a massive disrupter of the established Middle East order, through violence and ethnic cleansing. Such a settler-state could only achieve true legitimacy, true integration into a still-to-be-completed new order, by restoring the Palestinian rights it violated in its creation and growth.

That, at bottom, is what the everlasting "peace process" is about. The world has a broad definition of the settlement lying at the end of it. It doesn't involve that full emancipation of an indigenous people that had been the norm in European decolonization; only a compromise vastly more onerous for the defeated Palestinians than the victorious Israelis.

But the settlement never comes, because Israel resists even that degree of compromise. For it runs no ultimate risk in doing so. Its nuclear power, on top of its already overwhelming conventional superiority, ensures that. Such irresponsible use of it is what Shimon Peres, the father of Israel's nuclearization, was alluding to when he said that "acquiring a superior weapons system would mean the possibility of using it for compellent purposes - that is forcing the other side to accept Israeli political demands." Or what Moshe Sneh, a leading Israeli strategist, meant when he said: "I don't want the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to be held under the shadow of an Iranian nuclear bomb." As if the Arabs haven't had to negotiate under the shadow of an Israeli bomb these past four decades There are three ways the crisis can go. The first is that Israel insists on, and achieves, the unchallenged perpetuation of its "original sin." For it isn't so much "the world," as President George W. Bush keeps saying, that finds a nuclear Iran so intolerable, but the world on Israel's behalf; not the risk that Iran will attack Israel that makes the crisis so dangerous, but that Israel will attack Iran - or that the U.S. will take on the job itself. In effect, Israel's nukes, or the protection of them, have become a diplomatic instrument against its benefactor. It is legacy of America's own reluctant acquiescence in a nuclear Israel, which subsequently turned into uninhibited endorsement by ever more pro-Israeli administrations.

So here is a superpower, wrote American strategic analyst Mark Gaffney, so "blind and stupid" as to let "another state, Israel, control its foreign policy." And, in a brilliant study, he warned that a U.S. assault on Iran could end in a catastrophe comparable to the massacre of Roman legions at Cannae in 216 BC, by Hannibal's much inferior army. For in one field of military technology, anti-ship missiles, Russia is streets ahead of the U.S. And Iran's possession of the fearsome 3M-82 Moskit could turn the Persian Gulf into a death trap for the American fleet. And sure enough, from the Bush administration itself have been coming the first hints that, given the regional havoc Iran could indeed wreak, there may be nothing the U.S. can realistically do to stop it from going nuclear.

This points to a second way the crisis then could go, where Israel would be obliged to renounce its nuclear monopoly and the Middle East would enter into a Cold War-style balance of terror. It could be a stable one. Clearly, like Israel, Iran would make irresponsible, political use of its nukes. But, like Israel's too, Iran's nuclear quest is essentially defensive, even if not in quite the same "existential" sense. Nothing could have more convinced it of the need for an unconventional deterrent than the fate of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which the U.S. had no qualms about attacking because it didn't have one. But surely even the mullahs wouldn't be mad enough to make first-strike use of their deterrent against an Israel that could unleash such overwhelming second-strike capability against them The third way - Iran's abandonment of its nuclear ambitions - would stand its best chance of being accomplished if Israel were induced to do likewise; not just because reciprocity is the essence of disarmament, but because it would signify a fundamental change in the U.S. approach to the region.

And that might have beneficent effects way beyond the merely nuclear. Wrote veteran Israeli military analyst Zeev Schiff, "There is only one way to avoid a nuclear balance of terror: to use the time left, while we still have a monopoly in this field, to make peace. In the framework of peace, a nuclear-free zone can be established."

But that is the wrong way round. For making peace, as the CIA memo foresaw, Israel doesn't need the intransigence that absolute security brings, but the spirit of compromise a judicious dose of insecurity might bring. A utopian notion perhaps, with the world now so focused on the villainy of Iran - yet better than a U.S. onslaught which would add so thick a layer to an already mountainous deposit of anti-Western feeling, that Israel could barely even hope ever to win acceptance in the region.

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On the Bloody Ground

Iraqis Detail Deadly U.S. Marine Raid:

March 20, 2006

Shortly after a roadside bomb killed a U.S. Marine in a western Iraqi town, American troops went into nearby houses and shot dead 15 members of two families, including a 3-year-old-girl, residents say.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Residents gave new details Monday about the shootings of civilians in a western Iraqi town, where the U.S. military is investigating allegations of potential misconduct by American troops last November.

The residents said troops entered homes and shot and killed 15 members of two families, including a 3-year-old girl, after a roadside bomb killed a U.S. Marine.

The military, which announced Friday that a dozen Marines are under investigation for possible war crimes in the Nov. 19 incident, said in a statement Monday that a videotape of the aftermath of the shootings in Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, was presented in support of the allegations.

The charges against the Marines were first brought forward by Time magazine, which reported this week that it obtained a videotape two months ago taken by a Haditha journalism student that shows the dead still in their nightclothes.

The magazine report mirrored what was told independently to The Associated Press by residents who described what happened as "a massacre.'' However, Time said the available evidence did not prove conclusively that the Marines deliberately killed innocents.

A military spokeswoman said Monday the allegations were being taken "very seriously.''

Khaled Ahmed Rsayef, whose brother and six other relatives were killed, said the roadside bomb exploded at about 7:15 a.m. in the al-Subhani neighborhood, heavily damaging a U.S. Humvee.

A U.S. military statement in November described it as an ambush on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol that left 15 civilians, eight insurgents and a U.S. Marine dead in the bombing and a subsequent firefight. The statement said the 15 civilians were killed by the blast, a claim residents denied.

The residents said the only shooting done after the bombing was by U.S. forces.

"American troops immediately cordoned off the area and raided two nearby houses, shooting at everyone inside,'' said Rsayef, who did not witness the events but whose 15-year-old niece says she did. "It was a massacre in every sense of the word.''

Rsayef and another resident, former city councilman Imad Jawad Hamza, who spoke with hospital officials and residents, said the first house to be stormed was that of Abdul-Hamid Hassan Ali, which was near the scene of the bombing.

Ali, 76, whose left leg was amputated years ago because of diabetes, died after being shot in the stomach and chest. His wife, Khamisa, 66, was shot in the back. Ali's son, Jahid, 43, was hit in the head and chest. Son Walid, 37, was burned to death after a grenade was thrown into his room, and a third son, 28-year-old Rashid, died after he was shot in the head and chest, Rsayef and Hamza said.

Also among the dead were son Walid's wife, Asma, 32, who was shot in the head, and their son Abdullah, 4, who was shot in the chest, Rsayef and Hamza said.

Walid's 8-year-old daughter, Iman, and his 6-year-old son, Abdul-Rahman, were wounded and U.S. troops took them to Baghdad for treatment. The only person who escaped unharmed was Walid's 5-month-old daughter, Asia. The three children now live with their maternal grandparents, Rsayef and Hamza said.

Rsayef said those killed in the second house were his brother Younis, 43, who was shot in the stomach and chest, the brother's wife Aida, 40, who was shot in the neck and chest while still in bed where she was recuperating from bladder surgery. Their 8-year-old son Mohammed bled to death after being shot in the right arm, Rsayef said.

Also killed were Younis's daughters, Nour, 14, who was shot in the head; Seba, 10, who was hit in the chest; Zeinab, 5, shot in the chest and stomach; and Aisha, 3, who was shot in the chest. Hoda Yassin, a visiting relative, was also killed, Rsayef and Hamza said.

The only survivor from Younis's family was his 15-year-old daughter Safa, who pretended she was dead. She is living with her grandparents, Rsayef said.

The troops then shot and killed four brothers who were walking in the street, Rsayef and Hamza said, identifying them as the sons of Ayed Ahmed - Marwan, Qahtan, Jamal and Chaseb.

U.S. troops also shot dead five men who were in a car near the scene, Hamza and Rsayef said. They identified the five as Khaled Ayad al-Zawi and his brother Wajdi as well as Mohammed Battal Mahmoud, Akram Hamid Flayeh and Ahmad Fanni Mosleh.

It was not clear if the nine men were involved in the attack as the military statement said.

According to the Defense Department, the Marine who was killed near Haditha that day was Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, Texas. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force.

Dr. Walid al-Hadithi, chief physician at Haditha General Hospital, said that about midnight the day of the attack, two U.S. Humvees arrived at the hospital - one carrying the bodies of men and the other those of women and children.

"They (the Marines) told me the women and children were shot in their homes, and they added that the men were saboteurs,'' al-Hadithi said. He said he was given a total of 24 bodies. "All had bullet wounds.''

Time magazine said its investigation showed that walls and ceilings in both houses were pockmarked with shrapnel and bullet holes as well as sprays of blood. The video did not show any bullet holes on the outside of the houses - holes that might support the military report of a gunbattle.

The military, after being shown the videotape in January, concluded civilians were killed by Marines, Time said, victims of "collateral damage.''

A human rights group condemned the shooting of civilians in Haditha.

"Regrettably the American military goes too far in their strikes against civilians because they consider many civilian areas as targets,'' said Wail al-Tai of the Baghdad Center for Human Rights Studies.

Human Rights Minister Nirmeen Othman would not comment on the incident.

U.S. military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing issued a statement Monday in response to an e-mail query from the AP:

"We take these allegations very seriously, and I believe the fact that two additional investigations are ongoing concerning this incident clearly demonstrates that. The incident in question was the first in a series of engagements that day that began when the Marine patrol was ambushed in a residential neighborhood with an IED followed immediately by small arms fire from multiple directions.''

Saying Marines tracked insurgents for more than five hours, Martin-Hing said "the investigation will examine whether any rules of engagement were violated in the Marines' response to the insurgent attack. We are committed to thoroughly investigating this incident.''

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said about 12 Marines were under investigation for possible war crimes in the incident. He said the case was referred to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service; it was unclear which other ongoing investigation Martin-Hing was referring to in her statement.

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The march of folly, that has led to a bloodbath - The Iraq War: Three Years On

By Robert Fisk
The Independent
20 Mar 06

It is the march of folly. In 1914, the British, French, and Germans though they would be home by Christmas. On the 9th of April 2003, corporal David Breeze of the 3rd Battalion, 4th US Marine Regiment - the very first American to enter Baghdad - borrowed my satellite phone to call his home in Michigan. "Hi you guys, I'm in Baghdad," he told his mother. "I'm ringing to say 'Hi, I love you. I'm doing fine. I love you guys.' The war will be over in a few days. I'll see you all soon."
They were tough, those marines, big-boned men with muck on their faces and ferocity in their eyes - they had been fighting for days without sleep - but they too were on the same lonely journey of despair that the Old Contemptables and the Frenchpoilus and the Bavarian infantry embarked upon almost a century ago.

Was this because we no longer have leaders who have experienced war at first hand? When I grew up, Churchill and MacMillan were Prime Ministers, men who fought in the First World War and who led us through the Second World War. Eden had been in the wartime Cabinet with Churchill. Tito had been wounded by German shellfire in Yugoslavia, Jack Kennedy had commanded a torpedo boat in the Pacific, de Gaulle fought in the Great War, and later helped to liberate France from the Nazis, but Blair, however much he may claim to be a friend of God, has no such distinction; nor Bush, who dodged Vietnam; nor Cheney, who also dodged Vietnam; nor Gordon Brown, nor Condoleezza Rice; nor John Howard of Australia. Colin Powell was in Vietnam; but he has gone, trailing his ignominious February 2003 UN performance on weapons of mass destruction.

Instead, the little men dressed up in the clothes of dead titans. Bush and Blair thought they were Churchills or Roosevelts. They flaunted themselves along with Aznar of Spain as the Big Three: Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin; though I never discovered which of them was supposed to play the Soviet mass-murderer, as they conspired in the Azores for war. They claimed that Saddam was the Hitler of Baghdad. My old, messianic friend Tom Friedman, a New York Times columnist, got it right when he described Saddam as part Donald Duck and part Don Corleone, but this was not the kind of reality that Bush or Blair were interested in.

They were the quick-fix men, the instant statesmen, the guys who had handle on war. Post-war control and reconstruction? Forget it, the Iraqis will do as we tell them after they have greeted us with roses and songs. Winston Churchill set up a British cabinet committee to organise the administration of post-war occupied Germany in 1941: four years before the end of the Second World War, and at a time when we still expected aWehrmacht invasion of Britain. The Churchill frauds had not even bothered to create such a committee fordays before their invasion of Iraq.

For this was to be an ideological war. From its creation by the loonies of the American right - as a pro-Israeli policy to aid Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu - and then foisted on Bush, to the hell-disaster that Iraq now represents, the real war had to be turned into myth; nightmares into dreams; destruction into hope; terrible truths into profound mendacity.

Even today the occupation powers tell awesome lies. Democracy is taking hold when the "Iraqi" government controls only a few acres of Baghdad greensward. The insurgency is being crushed when 40,000 armed Iraqis are ripping into the greatest army on Earth; freedom is taking hold when thousands of Iraqis are dying each month. "Operation Swarmer" is now supposedly targeting those who want a civil war in Iraq. Some of the men who are trying to provoke civil war however, work for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, and are paid, ultimately, by us.

For the truth, we should turn to a well-known analyst who warned us that in Iraq, the British have been "led into a trap from which it shall be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told. Our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows ... We are today not far from a disaster." This is the most concise and accurate account I have yet read of our present folly.

It was written about the British occupation of Iraq in 1920 by Lawrence of Arabia. In the long nights of 2003, when the dangers of each day under US bombardment were replaced by the insomnia of bomb-blasts in the Baghdad darkness outside. I would curl up like an animal in my bed and thumb through the predictions of this present folly.

I read a fearful prophecy by the evangelical preacher Pat Buchanan written five months before we illegally invaded Iraq. "This invasion will not be the cakewalk neo-conservatives predict," he said. "Terrorist attacks in liberated Iraq seem as certain as in liberated Afghanistan. For a militant Islam ... will never accept George Bush dictating the destiny of the Islamic world ... Pax Americana will reach apogee but then the tide recedes; for the one endeavour at which Islamic peoples excel is expelling imperial powers by terror and guerrilla warfare." There were the dreary precedents. Muslims drove the Brits out of Palestine and Aden; the French out of Algeria; the Russians out of Afghanistan; the Americans out of Somalia; and Beirut, the Israelis out of Lebanon. As Buchanan wrote, "we have started up the road to empire, and over the next hill we will meet those who went before." However, we shall not count the bodies.

What was it Bush told us a few weeks ago? That 30,000 Iraqis had been killed since the invasion, his very words a racist admission; for what he actually said was: "30,000 more or less". More or less, give or take a few hundred. Would he have dared to say that US casualties were "2,000 more or less"? Of course not. Our dead are precious; they are individuals with widows and children. The Iraqis? Well, they are lesser beings whose casualties cannot be revealed to us by the Iraqi Ministry of Health, on orders from the Americans and British; creatures whose suffering, far greater than our own, must be submerged in the democracy and freedom in which we are drowning them; whose casualties "More or less" are probably nearer to 150,000. After all, if 1,000 Iraqis could die by violence last July - in Baghdad alone; and if they are being killed at 60 or 70 a day, then we have a near genocidal bloodbath on our hands. Iraqis, however, are now ourUntermenschen for whom, frankly, we do not greatly care.

Civil war? There never was a civil war? It is a tribal, not a sectarian society. Some organisation wants a civil war; oddly, it was an occupation force's spokesman, a certain Dan Senor, who first warned of civil war in Iraq at an Anglo-American press-conference in 2003. Why? We talk of civil war far more than the Iraqis do. Why? Repeatedly, we are told that Iraqis and Westerners are kidnapped by "Men wearing police uniforms" or by "Men wearing army uniforms".

What is this nonsense? Are we really to believe that there is a vast warehouse in Fallujah containing 8,000 made-to-measure police uniforms for potential insurgents? No! The truth is that many of the policemen and soldiers or Iraq, upon whose loyalty and courage our retreat, according to Bush, depends, are themselves insurgents. So deeply have the nationalists/Islamists forces infiltrated these men that the Bush-Blair promises of withdrawal are the very opposite of the truth. We are on our own. We may persuade our ex-spooks, like the former "interim prime minister" Iyad Alawi, who obediently claimed yesterday that therewas a civil war in progress, to try to frighten Iraqis. The reality is that our armed presence in Iraq is destroying an entire people.

So we proceed down the crumbling staircase. Let us forget the weapons of mass destruction; the 45-minute warning; the links between Saddam and 11 September 2001; the dossiers; and the lies; and our torture - yes, torture, at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay; and the ever-widening chasm between Blair's tomfoolery and the truth. Bush told us yesterday that "More sacrifices will be required". You bet they will be if we continue this march of folly.

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

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'Iraq was awash in cash. We played football with bricks of $100 bills'

Monday March 20, 2006
The Guardian
Callum Macrae and Ali Fadhil

At the beginning of the Iraq war, the UN entrusted $23bn of Iraqi money to the US-led coalition to redevelop the country. With the infrastructure of the country still in ruins, where has all that money gone? Callum Macrae and Ali Fadhil on one of the greatest financial scandals of all time
n a dilapidated maternity and paediatric hospital in Diwaniyah, 100 miles south of Baghdad, Zahara and Abbas, premature twins just two days old, lie desperately ill. The hospital has neither the equipment nor the drugs that could save their lives. On the other side of the world, in a federal courthouse in Virginia, US, two men - one a former CIA agent and Republican candidate for Congress, the other a former army ranger - are found guilty of fraudulently obtaining $3m (£1.7m) intended for the reconstruction of Iraq. These two events have no direct link, but they are none the less products of the same thing: a financial scandal that in terms of sheer scale must rank as one of the greatest in history.

At the start of the Iraq war, around $23bn-worth of Iraqi money was placed in the trusteeship of the US-led coalition by the UN. The money, known as the Development Fund for Iraq and consisting of the proceeds of oil sales, frozen Iraqi bank accounts and seized Iraqi assets, was to be used in a "transparent manner", specified the UN, for "purposes benefiting the people of Iraq".

For the past few months we have been working on a Guardian Films investigation into what happened to that money. What we discovered was that a great deal of it has been wasted, stolen or frittered away. For the coalition, it has been a catastrophe of its own making. For the Iraqi people, it has been a tragedy. But it is also a financial and political scandal that runs right to the heart of the nightmare that is engulfing Iraq today.

Diwaniyah is a sprawling and neglected city with just one small state paediatric and maternity hospital to serve its one million people. Years of war, corruption under Saddam and western sanctions have reduced the hospital to penury, so when last year the Americans promised total refurbishment, the staff were elated. But the renovation has been partial and the work often shoddy, and where it really matters - funding frontline health care - there appears to have been little change at all.

In the corridor, an anxious father who has been told his son may have meningitis is berating the staff. "I want a good hospital, not a terrible hospital that makes my child worse," he says. But then he calms down. "I'm not blaming you, we are the same class. I'm talking about important people. Those controlling all those millions and the oil. They didn't come here to save us from Saddam, they came here for the oil, and so now the oil is stolen and we got nothing from it." Beside him another parent, a woman, agrees: "If the people who run the country are stealing the money, what can we do?" For these ordinary Iraqis, it is clear that the country's wealth is being managed in much the same way as it ever was. How did it all go so wrong?

When the coalition troops arrived in Iraq, they were received with remarkable goodwill by significant sections of the population. The coalition had control up to a point and, perhaps more importantly, it had the money to consolidate that goodwill by rebuilding Iraq, or at least make a significant start. Best of all for the US and its allies, the money came from the Iraqis themselves.

Because the Iraqi banking system was in tatters, the funds were placed in an account with the Federal Reserve in New York. From there, most of the money was flown in cash to Baghdad. Over the first 14 months of the occupation, 363 tonnes of new $100 bills were shipped in - $12bn, in cash. And that is where it all began to go wrong.

"Iraq was awash in cash - in dollar bills. Piles and piles of money," says Frank Willis, a former senior official with the governing Coalition Provisional Authority. "We played football with some of the bricks of $100 bills before delivery. It was a wild-west crazy atmosphere, the likes of which none of us had ever experienced."

The environment created by the coalition positively encouraged corruption. "American law was suspended, Iraqi law was suspended, and Iraq basically became a free fraud zone," says Alan Grayson, a Florida-based attorney who represents whistleblowers now trying to expose the corruption. "In a free fire zone you can shoot at anybody you want. In a free fraud zone you can steal anything you like. And that was what they did."

A good example was the the Iraqi currency exchange programme (Ice). An early priority was to devote enormous resources to replacing every single Iraqi dinar showing Saddam's face with new ones that didn't. The contract to help distribute the new currency was won by Custer Battles, a small American security company set up by Scott Custer and former Republican Congressional candidate Mike Battles. Under the terms of the contract, they would invoice the coalition for their costs and charge 25% on top as profit. But Custer Battles also set up fake companies to produce inflated invoices, which were then passed on to the Americans. They might have got away with it, had they not left a copy of an internal spreadsheet behind after a meeting with coalition officials.

The spreadsheet showed the company's actual costs in one column and their invoiced costs in another; it revealed, in one instance, that it had charged $176,000 to build a helipad that actually cost $96,000. In fact, there was no end to Custer Battles' ingenuity. For example, when the firm found abandoned Iraqi Airways fork-lifts sitting in Baghdad airport, it resprayed them and rented them to the coalition for thousands of dollars. In total, in return for $3m of actual expenditure, Custer Battles invoiced for $10m. Perhaps more remarkable is that the US government, once it knew about the scam, took no legal action to recover the money. It has been left to private individuals to pursue the case, the first stage of which concluded two weeks ago when Custer Battles was ordered to pay more than $10m in damages and penalties.

But this is just one story among many. From one US controlled vault in a former Saddam palace, $750,000 was stolen. In another, a safe was left open. In one case, two American agents left Iraq without accounting for nearly $1.5m.

Perhaps most puzzling of all is what happened as the day approached for the handover of power (and the remaining funds) to the incoming Iraqi interim government. Instead of carefully conserving the Iraqi money for the new government, the Coalition Provisional Authority went on an extraordinary spending spree. Some $5bn was committed or spent in the last month alone, very little of it adequately accounted for.

One CPA official was given nearly $7m and told to spend it in seven days. "He told our auditors that he felt that there was more emphasis on the speed of spending the money than on the accountability for that money," says Ginger Cruz, the deputy inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction. Not all coalition officials were so honest. Last month Robert Stein Jr, employed as a CPA comptroller in south central Iraq, despite a previous conviction for fraud, pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal more than $2m and taking kickbacks in the form of cars, jewellery, cash and sexual favours. It seems certain he is only the tip of the iceberg. There are a further 50 criminal investigations under way.

Back in Diwaniyah it is a story about failure and incompetence, rather than fraud and corruption. Zahara and Abbas, born one and a half months premature, are suffering from respiratory distress syndrome and are desperately ill. The hospital has just 14 ancient incubators, held together by tape and wire.

Zahara is in a particularly bad way. She needs a ventilator and drugs to help her breathe, but the hospital has virtually nothing. Her father has gone into town to buy vitamin K on the black market, which he has been told his children will need. Zahara starts to deteriorate and in desperation the doctor holds a tube pumping unregulated oxygen against the child's nostrils. "This treatment is worse than primitive," he says. "It's not even medicine." Despite his efforts, the little girl dies; the next day her brother also dies. Yet with the right equipment and the right drugs, they could have survived.

How is it possible that after three years of occupation and billions of dollars of spending, hospitals are still short of basic supplies? Part of the cause is ideological tunnel-vision. For months before the war the US state department had been drawing up plans for the postwar reconstruction, but those plans were junked when the Pentagon took over.

To supervise the reconstruction of the Iraqi health service, the Pentagon appointed James Haveman, a former health administrator from Michigan. He was also a loyal Bush supporter, who had campaigned for Jeb Bush, and a committed evangelical Christian. But he had virtually no experience in international health work.

The coalition's health programme was by any standards a failure. Basic equipment and drugs should have been distributed within months - the coalition wouldn't even have had to pay for it. But they missed that chance, not just in health, but in every other area of life in Iraq. As disgruntled Iraqis will often point out, despite far greater devastation and crushing sanctions, Saddam did more to rebuild Iraq in six months after the first Gulf war than the coalition has managed in three years.

Kees Reitfield, a health professional with 20 years' experience in post-conflict health care from Kosovo to Somalia, was in Iraq from the very beginning of the war and looked on in astonishment at the US management in its aftermath. "Everybody in Iraq was ready for three months' chaos," he says. "They had water for three months, they had food for three months, they were ready to wait for three months. I said, we've got until early August to show an improvement, some drugs in the health centres, some improvement of electricity in the grid, some fuel prices going down. Failure to deliver will mean civil unrest." He was right.

Of course, no one can say that if the Americans had got the reconstruction right it would have been enough. There were too many other mistakes as well, such as a policy of crude "deBa'athification" that saw Iraqi expertise marginalised, the creation of a sectarian government and the Americans attempting to foster friendship with Iraqis who themselves had no friends among other Iraqis.

Another experienced health worker, Mary Patterson - who was eventually asked to leave Iraq by James Haveman - characterises the Coalition's approach thus: "I believe it had a lot to do with showing that the US was in control," she says. "I believe that it had to do with rewarding people that were politically loyal. So rather than being a technical agenda, I believe it was largely a politically motivated reward-and-punishment kind of agenda."

Which sounds like the way Saddam used to run the country. "If you were to interview Iraqis today about what they see day to day," she says, "I think they will tell you that they don't see a lot of difference".

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US Blasted For Creating Terrorism Quagmire On Anniversary Of Iraq War

by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) Mar 21, 2006

Asian newspapers Monday took the United States to task on the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, with one commentator saying it had created the ideal environment for terrorism to fester.

"Three years into the Iraq war, and with no end in sight, it looks as if the United States, in creating a quagmire for itself in the Middle East, has also created the ideal environment in which the terrorism bacillus can fester, and then infect the whole world," said the Sydney Morning Herald.
President George W. Bush planned to head to Cleveland, Ohio, Monday as part of his public relations campaign to defend his Iraq strategy as opinion polls showed approval of the war at a new low.

Bush said Sunday he had been informed by US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad "of the progress the Iraqis are making toward forming a unity government" three months after national elections were held.

But with a mounting death toll from bombs and assassinations and the failure to agree on forming a new Iraqi government, a top member of Bush's own Republican Party said US policy needs "some new thinking".

"It's important that we stop this talk about we're not going to leave until we achieve victory," said Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. "We need some new thinking here."

Thousands of demonstrators in Asia and across the world denounced the US-led war on Sunday.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post Monday said little apart from freedom of expression had been achieved three years after the invasion. "Civil conflict and rising sectarianism mean even that gain is under threat," it said in an editorial.

The Manila Times warned that US policymakers must take "a long hard look at Washington's role as Iraq's shepherd."

"Sooner rather than later, Iraq must be given a free hand to chart its destiny," an editorial said.

In Japan, which had deployed troops in Iraq, small demonstrations demanding a pullout were held over the weekend. However, the country's top spokesman said Tokyo's support for the war remains unchanged.

"Iraqi people have been progressing to build a new country by themselves with steady political steps based on the UN resolution," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told reporters.

Japan is expected to pull its troops from Iraq in the coming months but Abe declined to comment on the timeframe for the withdrawal.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's top-selling daily, called on the United States to remain engaged in the world despite the turmoil in Iraq.

"Although US President Bush dismissed isolationism and protectionism in his State of the Union address, there are signs that the US Congress is being tempted by these doctrines," the Yomiuri said.

The conservative daily cited the stiff opposition in Congress to an Dubai-based company's attempted takeover of six US ports.

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun business daily also said international cooperation remained crucial, particularly to fight nuclear proliferation.

The sharpest rebuke predictably came from communist North Korea, which Bush once labeled as part of the "axis of evil" along with Iran and pre-war Iraq.

"The US imperialists provoked wars in ... Afghanistan and Iraq in the 1990s and the new century, mercilessly destroying peaceful towns and villages and civilian establishments and cruelly killing countless innocent people," said Rodong Sinmun, the party newspaper.

"This clearly proves that the US is a war maniac, the ringleader of evils and the worst human rights abuser."

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Quirks & Quarks

UN warns of worst mass extinctions for 65m years

David Adam, environment correspondent
March 21, 2006

Humans have provoked the worst spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65m years ago, according to a UN report that calls for unprecedented worldwide efforts to address the slide.

The report paints a grim picture of life on earth, with declining numbers of plants, animals, insects and birds across the globe, and warns that the current extinction rate is up to 1,000 times faster than in the past. Some 844 animals and plants are known to have disappeared in the last 500 years.
Released yesterday to mark the start of a UN environment programme meeting in Curitiba, Brazil, the report says: "In effect, we are currently responsible for the sixth major extinction event in the history of earth." A rising human population of 6.5bn is wrecking the environment for thousands of other species, it adds, and undermining efforts agreed at a 2002 UN summit in Johannesburg to slow the rate of decline by 2010. The global demand for biological resources now exceeds the planet's capacity to renew them by 20%.

The report, Global Biodiversity Outlook 2 from the secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, says: "The direct causes of biodiversity loss - habitat change, over-exploitation, the introduction of invasive alien species, nutrient loading and climate change - show no sign of abating." It is bleaker than a first UN review of the diversity of life, issued in 2001, and says the 2010 goal can only be attained with "unprecedented additional efforts".

About 6m hectares (15m acres) of primary forest are felled each year and about a third of mangrove swamps have been lost since the 1980s. In the Caribbean, average hard coral cover has declined from 50% to 10% in the last three decades. Up to 52% of higher bird species studied are threatened with extinction and the number of large fish in the North Atlantic has declined by two-thirds in the last 50 years.

The report concludes: "Biodiversity is in decline at all levels and geographical scales," and international travel, trade and tourism are expected to introduce more alien species to fragile ecosystems.

On the positive side, the number and size of protected areas is increasing, though most types of natural environment fall short of the target to protect 10%. About 12% of the land surface is protected, against 0.6% of the oceans.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

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Hotel Charging Guests By The Pound

6:38 pm EST March 21, 2006

A hotel in Germany has started charging its guests by the pound for an overnight stay, according to a Local 6 News report.

The hotel owner in the town of Norden, Juergen Heckrodt, said he was continually getting overweight guests, so he decided to make them step on the scales to determine room costs.
The hotel requires guests to pay half a euro or 61 cents per 2.2 pounds, according to a Reuters report.

The report said that the move appears to be working with returning guests.

"Much to (Heckrodt's) surprise, the guests were thinner on their next visit," according to the report.

Heckrodt said he hopes his initiative will inspire others to lose weight too and live longer.

The hotel does not turn anyone away who refuses to step on the scales. If they do refuse, they are charged a regular room rate -- without a discount.

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IRS plans to allow preparers to sell data

By Jeff Gelles
Philadelphia Inquirer
March 21, 2006

Critics said the proposed regulation could lead to a loss of privacy for clients.

The IRS is quietly moving to loosen the once-inviolable privacy of federal income-tax returns. If it succeeds, accountants and other tax-return preparers will be able to sell information from individual returns - or even entire returns - to marketers and data brokers.

The change is raising alarm among consumer and privacy-rights advocates. It was included in a set of proposed rules that the Treasury Department and the IRS published in the Dec. 8 Federal Register, where the official notice labeled them "not a significant regulatory action."
IRS officials portray the changes as housecleaning to update outmoded regulations adopted before it began accepting returns electronically. The proposed rules, which would become effective 30 days after a final version is published, would require a tax preparer to obtain written consent before selling tax information.

Critics call the changes a dangerous breach in personal and financial privacy.
They say the requirement for signed consent would prove meaningless for many taxpayers, especially those hurriedly reviewing stacks of documents before a filing deadline.

"The normal interaction is that the taxpayer just signs what the tax preparer puts in front of them," said Jean Ann Fox of the Consumer Federation of America, one of several groups fighting the changes. "They think, 'This person is a tax professional, and I'm going to rely on them.' "

Criticism also came from U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.). In a letter last Tuesday to IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, Obama warned that once in the hands of third parties, tax information could be resold and handled under even looser rules than the IRS sets, increasing consumers' vulnerability to identity theft and other risks.

"There is no more sensitive information than a taxpayer's return, and the IRS's proposal to allow these returns to be sold to third-party marketers and database brokers is deeply troubling," Obama wrote.

The IRS first announced the proposal in a news release the day before the official notice was published, headlined: "IRS Issues Proposed Regulations to Safeguard Taxpayer Information."

The announcement did not mention potential sales of tax information. It said the proposed rules were guided by the principle "that tax return preparers may not disclose or use tax return information for purposes other than tax return preparation without the knowing, informed and voluntary consent of the taxpayer."

IRS spokesman William M. Cressman defended the proposal in similar terms.

"The heart of this proposed regulation is about the right of taxpayers to control their tax return information. The idea is to emphasize taxpayer consent and set clear boundaries on how tax return preparers can use or disclose tax return information," Cressman said in an e-mail response to questions.

Cressman said he was unable to explain "why this issue has come up at this time other than our effort to update regulations that date back to the 1970s and predate the electronic era."

Not all the changes have drawn opposition.

Beth A. McConnell, director of the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG), said she welcomed a requirement that a taxpayer would need to consent to overseas processing of any portion of a tax return.

"That's a positive development, but I don't think it's worth giving up our tax returns' privacy for," said McConnell, who plans to testify on behalf of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group at an April 4 IRS hearing in Washington on the rule changes.

McConnell accused the IRS of using the new limit on overseas processing to dress up changes that would chiefly benefit tax preparers, marketers and data brokers.

"That's a disturbing trend among Washington officials lately," McConnell said. "They'll offer a modest consumer protection in one area in exchange for dramatic weakening of consumer protections in another area, and then try to convince the public that it's all in our interests."

Critics of the proposal said it could do more than open up sales of tax information to data brokers and marketers, because it could undermine taxpayer confidence in the entire tax system.

"Privacy protections for tax information are especially critical given the largely voluntary nature of the U.S. tax system," said Chi Chi Wu, a tax-law specialist at Boston's National Consumer Law Center.

Wu and other critics said they were uncertain who or what was behind the proposed changes in IRS privacy rules, which currently prohibit tax preparers from selling returns to third parties for marketing purposes, and require written consent if they want to use it for marketing by companies under their own corporate umbrella.

Officials at H&R Block and Jackson-Hewitt, two of the nation's largest tax-preparation firms, did not respond to requests for comment. Cressman said the IRS had so far received only about a dozen comments on the proposal.

"I think this just flew under the radar screen for so many people," McConnell said.

Although the formal comment period ended March 8, Cressman said late comments "may receive consideration if they are sent to the IRS promptly." Consumer advocates are urging taxpayers who oppose the changes to contact the agency and Washington lawmakers.

Where to Write

It's too late to comment electronically, but the IRS may still consider written comments. Mail them to:

CC:PA:LPD:PR (REG-137243-02)
Room 5203
Internal Revenue Service, Box 7604
Ben Franklin Station, Washington, D.C. 20044.


Read the IRS's proposed new rule via:


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Ark's Quantum Quirks

Signs of the Times
March 22, 2006


Cold Fusion Breakthrough

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