- Signs of the Times for Thu, 23 Mar 2006 -

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Editorial: Signs of the Times Attacked by Abovetopsecret.com Psy-ops!

Laura Knight-Jadczyk
23 Mar 06

As many of our readers are probably aware, we had a little "to do" with a gang we consider to be agents of Pentagon psy-ops - abovetopsecret.com and friends - last night. We were up until 3 a.m. dealing with the backlash from this situation.

What is clear from this Stealth Attack that ran amok is that Signs of the Times is probably the most dangerous site on the internet from the perspective of the Powers That Be. For them to take the risk of exposure as they did (and did they get exposed!) only convinces us that the issues in question are of such importance that they will pull out all stops to defame, harass, stalk, and intimidate us with the ultimate goal of destruction. They want to see SOTT disappear from the Web, that is certainly clear and it is now becoming even clearer just WHO is behind it.

It was only this morning that we understood that this event was supposed to be a "stealth" attack. We were never supposed to see the letter from abovetopsecret.com's attorney, Wayne C. Jaeschke, Jr. of Morrison & Foerster LLP in McLean VA . It was sent to our host server, not to us. In fact, after the ridiculous letters claiming "copyright infringement" that I published on my blog back in January, it is clear why: ATS knew that such nonsense - even if written by an attorney - would not fly with us because they do not have a legal leg to stand on. Writing a critique of an article is NOT making a "derivative" work - and if journalists, scientists, scholars in all fields, are denied the ability to critique nonsense such as the article published by abovetopsecret.com - there is no future for any intellectual progress in our society. We might as well declare science, journalism, research of any kind, dead and buried.

In any event, this stealth attack intimidation letter was sent not to us, but to our site host. It was probably only because the tech's were so upset that they sent it to us. And of course, once I had it - the "smoking gun" so to say - you bet I published it!! Here was proof positive that Joe Quinn's article debunking the debunking of the Pentagon Strike was seen as a BIG THREAT! Within FIVE minutes, poor, pitiful Wayne knew that he had shot himself in the foot and was on the phone to the server screaming that he was now getting death threats because I published his contact details!! Well, hell's bells... it's public info on the internet! Click the link and visit Wayne - see his friendly face.

Possibly utilizing the "special psychological knowledge" of the psychopath that Andrew Lobaczewski describes in his work on Ponerology, good ole Wayne did such a number on those poor tech guys that they folded instantly. They took the site down again. So, we were back on the phone with them again pointing out that, when we chose their company, we explained the nature of our site and the nature of the likely attacks that would come out of the woodwork against us and they had declared that it was NO PROBLEMO. So, knowing that and seeing that Mr. Jaeschke still managed to intimidate the heck out of them really makes you wonder just what kinds of things he said to them on the phone? Geez! Didn't Hannibal Lecter convince a guy to swallow his own tongue? But I digress... what happened was that the server techs were so scared, they took the site down again. They told us we had to remove Wayne's letter from the forum where I had published it. We pointed out that there was no way we could do that without having access to the forum which we didn't because they had pulled the plug on our site. So, they agreed to put it back up so I could make the adjustments.

I was IN THE PROCESS of doing it, trying to upload the changes, when the site disappeared again!

Back on the phone. Apparently, poor Wayne was so frantic that a few minutes were going by with his connection to abovetopsecret.com exposed for all the world to see that I just wasn't doing it fast enough and he had to dial up those poor guys and terrorize them some more.

Well, we patiently explained that Wayne is just a cointelpro agent and internet psy-ops game player using his position as an attorney to intimidate them. They were REALLY scared! So, after they got calmed down a bit, the site went back up and they stayed on the phone until I gave them the signal that the letters had been removed from all three threads.

I actually felt sorry for those poor fellas! And that kind of terror is what psychopaths count on and that is why it is so important to study psychopathy, to know them fully and well so that you are not susceptible to their maneuvers and manipulations! In this day and time, a course about psychopaths ought to be required for anybody in a position to be intimidated or coerced by such blatant strong-mouth manipulation. But I digress again.

What is evident is that what Wayne was really upset about the publication of his close association with abovetopsecret.com - after all, as one of the posters to our forum points out: "MoFo is a heavyweight law firm. Sort of like the Mercedes-Benz of law firms. These aren't ambulance chasers. Their meat and potatos are IP law and other big corporation stuff. Intel retains them, among others. They don't usually bother with harassment suits, but as long as your coin is good (and plenty), they'll do whatever you want. Whoever is behind this has a lot of coins to throw around." Having said that, there are two Wayne Jaeschke's at MoFo (is that name symbolic?), most likely father and son, of which our Wayne is the son. It seems that while MoFo might be the 'Mercedes Benz' of law firms, Wayne junior isn't up to much other than intimidating customer support at server companies and trying to find new ways to build bigger and better speakers, probably so he can listen to a recording of his own voice telling himself what a big, powerful lawyer he is.

This brings me to something else most interesting, the whole so-called Project SERPO hoax that abovetopsecret.com - with the gleeful assistance of attorney Wayne Jaeschke - has been running on the internet since last fall. There is a discussion about that on our forum also, and on this page of that discussion you will see a very interesting image about half way down.

This is an image of an email that Bill Ryan of Project SERPO sent to me claiming that it had been sent to him by "friends" who were on the list of recipients. When I published it, I blacked out the name of the sender because I wasn't at all sure that a respectable attorney with a reputable law firm would actually be doing what this email suggests he is doing: creating disinformation to propagate via abovetopsecret.com. But now I can tell you who wrote that email because his involvement with ATS is now on the record: it was Wayne Jaeschke of Morrison & Foerster LLP in McLean VA.

Gee, isn't that right down the road from the CIA?

In short, this high-end corporate attorney is VERY thick in the whole Abovetopsecret gang activity. Funny, QFG only ever had ONE attorney member and he only lasted about a week.

Readers, if you want to know the deep, dark, nitty gritty details behind this abovetopsecret.com cointelpro operation, you will not want to miss a single one of my blog posts on that subject:

Is Is the Above Top Secret Forum COINTELPRO?

COINTELPRO Updates: Above Top Secret Forum

Abovetopsecret.com COINTELPRO Update

AboveTopSecret.com COINTELPRO Update 2

More Inside Scoops on Abovetopsecret.com!

The Spider and The Fly: SkepticOverlord and COINTELPRO

Abovetopsecret: Ethics and Google Bombs

as well as our related forum discussions.

Simon Grey: Christian Bailey: Abovetopsecret?

‘Project SERPO’ story: Needs Research

Now, we are no strangers to COINTELPRO. We have been targeted since I started investigating UFOs in 1993 and talking about it back in 1995. It seems that the reason we have been targeted for such constant and outrageous harassment for the past three years is because of our work on the "Pentagon Strike."

The subject of the Pentagon Strike was subjected to intense cointelpro activity from the very beginning so that now, even the so-called 911 truth seekers will nod their heads sagely and say "Yeah, it's just a set-up to make the whole 911 truth movement look silly."

I beg to differ.

I admit that I thought exactly the same thing in the beginning when our readers began to write to me and ask me about Theirry Meyssan's book. In fact, I even wrote comments to that effect and urged everyone to NOT touch this one with a mile long pole.

But even though I had made that initial assessment, I still put our researchers on it because I WAS curious. And as the info kept coming in, it looked more and more like the Pentagon was, indeed, the "smoking gun" of 911 - even moreso than the collapse of WTC building 7.

I wrote my article "Comments on the Pentagon Strike" based on what info we had collected, adding to it as time went by and as more info came to light.

The Pentagon Flash Video was based, in part, on this article. What really shocked us was the way the video "took off" on its own. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that it has been viewed by at LEAST 500 million people. Yeah, half a BILLION (and that was six months ago when we assembled the data for a count). It took down about five dedicated servers that were hosting it. It also triggered some VERY interesting reactions. But what I want to point out here is that the extraordinary popularity of this video says one thing: people know subconsciously that it is TRUE, that there was no Flight 77 at the Pentagon. Now notice carefully that I do not say that there was no PLANE, because there certainly was. It was just not Flight 77 nor anything like a Boeing 757.

This short little video did what no other work on 911 "Truth" had done up to that point: it triggered a whole lot of active "damage control" as we will see in a few moments.

What I noticed about the reactions to the Pentagon Strike that we have received is that they are overwhelmingly positive. Sensible people who can see through Bush and the Neocons have no problem seeing that there was no Flight 77 at the Pentagon. The negative reactions are also interesting; they fall into two categories: 1) honest, sincere people who have been influenced by the cointelpro/psy-ops who then, without even being aware, become de facto cointelpro agents; 2) the REAL cointelpro/psy-ops agents.

To give an example of what I think is the former type: not too long ago, Jeff Wells, on his Rigorous Intuition blog made the astonishing remark that

"I've posted a number of times on the blog about the mistake of constructing 9/11 "truth" upon the sand of physical evidence. The "no plane" hypothesis (more than a hypothesis for many; more like an unforgiving creed) is one of the most egregious missteps. One I believe encouraged, if not led, by COINTELPRO."

First of all notice that, like a robot, he is repeating "no plane," as though that is what is being said. It is not. What is being said is that it was NOT a Boeing 757. But this is the first clue that Jeff Wells is mechanically repeating something that has impressed itself on his mind in some way.

The second thing to note is this astonishing phrase: The "sand of physical evidence" ??? !!!!

Now, let me say right up front here that being accused of being cointelpro ourselves is truly bizarre, but not unexpected. After all, that's what cointelpro does: muddy the waters, create foodfights, and generally make it impossible for people to get together and actually make a difference. The very fact that Jeff Wells can say that (and I think he's a sincere guy) just proves my point about psy-ops and how it affects the mind. It literally begs the question as to how someone can be so mentally divided that, on the one hand, they can question why anyone can't see through Bush and the Neocons, and on the other hand, believe that "witness testimony" is more reliable than physical evidence. Isn't that something of a contradiction? That's the same kind of general hystericization that has taken over the minds of Americans and makes it almost impossible to show them facts about Bush and Gang and to get them to see the reality. That's the same kind of mindset that allows Americans to sit by complacently while Bush and the Neocons wage pre-emptive war, torture, divest Americans of their rights, engage in illegal spying, vote fraud, destroy the economy of America, and the whole host of criminal activities going on in this country. And if anybody thinks that this gang of criminal psychopaths can't run psy-ops to produce "innocent" witnesses to say anything they want them to say, or to even buy witnesses, think again! And if you still think you can vote the bastards out of office, you had better wake up before it is too late.

So, when somebody says: "the mistake of constructing 9/11 "truth" upon the sand of physical evidence" what he is really saying is that he MUST acknowledge that the physical evidence (or lack thereof) is compelling, but still - because somebody SAID something different, and because the cointelpro activity waged against this was so thorough from the start - he just has to go with the "witnesses." And many people will do that because the alternative is far too horrible to contemplate.

And that is the big problem with the whole 911 truth movement. COINTELPRO that produces such muddled thinking as is evidenced in Jeff Wells, a guy I used to read faithfully and really admired.

Moving along now... In Joe's Flying Fish article that abovetopsecret.com and Wayne Jaeschke and their bosses in the Pentagon are so desirous of making disappear from the internet, Joe Quinn wrote the following::

We notice that very few items of so-called "conspiracy theory" have rattled the "Bushes" quite like our Pentagon Strike Flash did. The Pentagon Strike video came out on August 23rd 2004. Probably nobody really noticed it at that point, but it hit a chord of response in the hearts of millions of people around the world. They began to madly download and forward it to their friends and relatives. Latest stats on how many people have viewed it to date are 500 million!

Apparently it even landed in the email box of the Editor of the Washington Post, which is why Carol Morello sent us an email asking for an interview. Or so she said. My suspicion was that the Post was instructed to do "damage control", albeit oh, so gently!

Now, look at this mini-timeline:

August 23rd 2004: Pentagon Strike Video which propagates wildly for a month.

September 11, 2004: CatHerder post to Above Top Secret forum.

September 21st 2004: First contact by Carol Morello of the Washington Post

October 7th 2004: Washington Post article

It was an interesting feeling to know that if they hadn't seen the Pentagon Strike before, certainly George and Dick, Karl and the gang were watching it after the Washington Post wrote an article about it.

October 19th 2004: George Bush visits New Port Richey - a previously unscheduled "whistle-stop" on his campaign trail. NPR is very small, not likely to be a major target of any presidential candidate, but it just happens to be Laura Knight-Jadczyk's hometown. It was our initial reaction that Dubya's visit to Laura's little home town - certainly of no importance on the campaign trail - was deliberately done to send a message to her. Fact is, her daughter's ex-boyfriend wrote to tell her that he had been among those selected to shake the hand of George W. himself! Now, how's that for a coincidence?

As to exactly what Carol Morello of the Washington Post wrote to Laura, here is the pertinent passage which is actually quite revealing:

A couple of editors here saw the video/film, and I was asked to find out what I could about it. As you can imagine, we continue to have an intense interest on the attack on the Pentagon and the people who were affected.

I've just begun reporting, so it would be premature to tell you what "perspective" my story would have.

My initial impressions are that the questions and theories expressed in the video got a spurt of attention in early 2002, after the publication of a best selling book in France, then the furor died down for a while, and now they have re-emerged with the extraordinarily wide dissemination of this video on the Internet.

The 911 Commission report appears to have done little to dampen the controversy. I hoped to speak to you about how and why you posted it on your web site, what kind of response you've received and what you think about it. […]

Notice that she attributes the resurgence of interest in the "Pentagate" problem to the Pentagon Strike video. Can we say "damage control"?

And if there is damage control, then that means there is damage.

Up to this point in time, the only acknowledgement the administration ever gave to such issues was to refer vaguely and dismissively to "conspiracy theories". Now, suddenly, it seems that dealing with the "conspiracy theories" in a direct manner was seen to be imperative. "9/11: Debunking the Myths" came out in Popular Mechanics Magazine in March of 2005, just five months after the Washington Post article. That's pretty fast work.

Under the tutelage of Editor in Chief Jim "Oh look, a tank!" Meigs, Popular Mechanics assembled a team of researchers, including "professional fact checkers" (impressive eh?) to debunk the 16 most common claims made by conspiracy theorists about 9/11. Unsurprisingly, the PM editors claim that, in the end:

"we were able to debunk each of these assertions with hard evidence and a healthy dose of common sense. We learned that a few theories are based on something as innocent as a reporting error on that chaotic day. Others are the byproducts of cynical imaginations that aim to inject suspicion and animosity into public debate."

In fact, a careful analysis of the article shows that at most, just three of the sixteen claims could have been the result of "reporting error", forcing us to assume that, in the razor-like, emotionally unclouded cerebrum of Jim Meigs, at least 13 of the conspiracy claims about 9/11 are the result of "cynical imaginations aiming to inject suspicion and animosity into public debate".

The sad fact is that, while Popular Mechanics claims to be interested in understanding what really happened that day, their rebuttal of sixteen of the most common claims by so-called "conspiracy theorists" about 9/11 isn't worth the $3.57 of server space that it has so far cost them to publish it.

If there is one glaring hole in the arguments put forward by 9/11 conspiracy "debunkers", it is the fact that such people have never come up with a reasonable argument to explain why, in the wake of 9/11, so many obviously intelligent citizens became gripped by the uncontrollable urge to continually waste their time recklessly and fecklessly "injecting suspicion and animosity into public debate" for no apparent reason. It really is a mystery. Maybe they're trying to take over the world or something.

On the other hand, it doesn't take a degree in psychology to understand the primary motivations of the conspiracy debunkers. You see, the very last thing that many Americans (and others) want to believe is that their government would attack its own people. For 9/11 "debunkers", logic and intellect have no part to play in investigating the question of what really happened on 9/11. It's pure emotion all the way. [...]

Most people think that "conspiracy theories" are made up by "conspiracy theorists", but the term "conspiracy theory" is most often used by those people who have most to gain from the ridicule of the allegations that are directed at them. The tactic has been used to such great effect over the years that certain high crimes committed by government have become the touchstone by which all other "conspiracies" are measured.

Take the folks at Popular Mechanics. In dealing with 9/11 they simply couldn't resist referencing that other most despicable crime committed by a US government - but of course, to them it's just another "theory":

"Don't get me wrong: Healthy skepticism is a good thing. Nobody should take everything they hear--from the government, the media or anybody else--at face value. But in a culture shaped by Oliver Stone movies and "X-Files" episodes, it is apparently getting harder for simple, hard facts to hold their own against elaborate, shadowy theorizing."

Did you catch it? The reference to Oliver Stone can mean only one thing: Jim's "fact checkers" contacted the CIA, and they told him straight up that some bullets really can do magic things.

So far, we have been generous to the people at Popular Mechanics. We have assumed that they are simply well-intentioned but misguided souls. However, it appears that there is a more sinister, and dare we say it, "conspiratorial" side to Popular Mechanics' "innocent" debunking of 9/11 conspiracy theories. You see, it turns out that one of the main contributors to the article is one Benjamin Chertoff, a cousin of the new Dept. of Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff.

American Free Press' Christopher Bollyn, who dug up the information, also claims that Ben Chertoff's mother was a Mossad agent. While there is, as of yet, no evidence of any working relationship between the two, it is certainly noteworthy that the cousin of the current Homeland Security Chief, (who, in his previous incarnation as head of the Justice Department's criminal division was instrumental in the release of obvious Israeli spies before and after 9/11), happens to be behind a high-profile attempt to debunk 9/11 conspiracy theories. [...]

According to another 9/11 researcher:

"The editors of Scientific American followed in the footsteps of Popular Mechanics in exploiting a trusted brand in order to protect the perpetrators of the mass murder of 9/11/01. The column by Michael Shermer in the June, 2005 issue of Scientific American, titled Fahrenheit 2777, is an attempt to deceive the magazine's readers into dismissing the overwhelming evidence that 9/11 was an inside job without ever looking at that evidence. More specifically, Shermer attempts to inoculate readers against looking at the decidedly scientific refutation of the official story… […]

According to another 9/11 researcher:

"The editors of Scientific American followed in the footsteps of Popular Mechanics in exploiting a trusted brand in order to protect the perpetrators of the mass murder of 9/11/01. The column by Michael Shermer in the June, 2005 issue of Scientific American, titled Fahrenheit 2777, is an attempt to deceive the magazine's readers into dismissing the overwhelming evidence that 9/11 was an inside job without ever looking at that evidence. More specifically, Shermer attempts to inoculate readers against looking at the decidedly scientific refutation of the official story… […]

Shermer's column exhibits many of the same propaganda techniques as the ambitious feature article in the March issue of Popular Mechanics by Benjamin Chertoff, for which Shermer professes admiration:

'The single best debunking of this conspiratorial codswallop is in the March issue of Popular Mechanics, which provides an exhaustive point-by-point analysis of the most prevalent claims.'

Comparing the two attack pieces is instructive. Both pieces mention a similar range of issues, with Shermer adding Jewish conspiracy rumors and UFOlogists to the mix...

This last is undoubtedly a direct reference to Signs of The Times, while avoiding giving a direct link to our website out of fear that the reader might be influenced.

Shermer uses an array of deceptive methods to persuade the reader that challenges to the official story of the 9/11 attack are worthy only of ridicule and should not be scrutinized. His primary technique is to use hoaxes and unscientific ideas to "bracket" the valid ideas that he seeks to shield the reader from.

That Shermer went to such great lengths to thoroughly misrepresent the painstaking, scientific, evidence-based work of many researchers is a testament to the success of the Pentagon Strike Video! It really stepped on a sore toe. And that tells us something important, the same thing Carol Morello of the Washington Post wrote:

"…the questions and theories expressed in the video got a spurt of attention in early 2002, after the publication of a best selling book in France, then the furor died down for a while, and now they have re-emerged with the extraordinarily wide dissemination of this video on the Internet."

We notice that never, in any of the two major "debunking" articles that followed fast on the heels of the Pentagon Strike video, was the video ever even mentioned by name, nor was our website mentioned. Other books, other researchers, other web sites were mentioned, but the deliberate avoidance of Signs of The Times - the origin of the Pentagon Strike, was conspicuous. We notice the same trend in the Above Top Secret forum.

Again we point out: debunkers are sent in only when damage control is needed. And damage control is only needed when it is thought that there might be damage. That means that the Pentagon Strike is understood clearly, in the minds of the perpetrators, to be the weak link in their chain of lies.

Debunkers are sent in not to give answers to the outstanding questions, but to push the emotional buttons of the public, to reassure people who really want "a reason to believe" that their government is not lying to them. [...]

As Laura Knight-Jadczyk notes in her book 9/11:The Ultimate Truth, the attack on the Pentagon is the Achilles Heel of the entire 9/11 coverup, and for one very good reason: while we all saw repeated footage of Flight 11 and Flight 175 crash into the WTC towers, and we all saw the wreckage of Flight 93 and have hundreds of eyewitness testimonies that a commercial airliner did indeed crash in Pennsylvania, there is no reliable evidence that a Boeing 757 hit the Pentagon on September 11th 2001. No one has seen any footage that shows Flight 77 hitting the Pentagon, and the tapes that actually exist that could easily and immediately prove what did hit that day, have been confiscated by the FBI and the U.S. government studiously refuses to release them.

The US government claims that a Boeing 757 impacted the Pentagon on 9/11, many people dispute this, yet the same American government refuses to release video tapes that would put the matter to rest and show once and for all what hit the Pentagon. Use your head and ask yourself, "why?"

There is one very obvious answer.

In other words, you can push the WTC building's collapse from now 'til doomsday and get nowhere... Even if you prove that it collapsed due to explosives, you can't ever prove that those planes that flew into the WTC buildings were not big passenger jets with Arab hijackers onboard. Even if you forced the government to admit that, yes, there were explosives that brought down the building, it could be attributed to "terrorists" in a big discovery and bait and switch. That's why they don't really worry too much about the WTC attacks. That's why all manner of conspiracy theories about the WTC are tolerated with disdainful amusement.

But notice that there is NO real amusement about the Pentagon Strike. Oh, sure, they work really hard to poke fun at it, but the fact is, the Pentagon Strike video baited the Beast from his lair and it was for THAT reason that special "agents" like The Washington Post, Popular Mechanics, Scientific American, abovetopsecret.com and Wayne Jaeschke have been employed to stop it! To STAMP it out! To get RID of it! At ALL costs! Heck, that's probably what was on Dick Cheney's mind when he shot his buddy... he was having a waking dream and thought he was pointing the gun at the SOTT team!

The fact is, there is NO defense against the facts on the ground at the Pentagon except the word of a small group of "special" witnesses against another small group who say that it was NOT Flight 77.

The truth is: NOBODY saw Flight 77 fly into the Pentagon. It didn't happen.

Joe Quinn's rebuttal of the Pentagon Strike rebuttal created and propagated by abovetopsecret.com is just too dangerous to be allowed to continue to be "out there."

Even if it is completely legal to write a critical analysis as Joe Quinn did - utilizing the original article for the critique (how else can you write an analysis?), covert intimidation and coercion from a fancy lawfirm in Virginia has been initiated to force the removal of this article from the internet after the pathetic efforts of the abovetopsecret.com 3 "Amigos" didn't do the job.

Discerning those whose intent is to deceive from those who are already deceived, but sincere, it is very difficult but it can be done if people will begin to educate themselves and deal with the FACTS.

Really and truly grokking COINTELPRO and the damage it does, and learning how to combat it, is a MUST if anything positive is ever to happen on this god-forsaken planet.

Now those of you that have read this far, let me mention that we removed our fundraiser, our fun little "Send Dick Cheney to the Moon" thing because, after a month, we raised less that 20% of our target - that is, double digits in thousands, not triple digits. Meanwhile, we know that the moveon.org people who haven't yet awakened to that fact that all their efforts and all their money is just going down the drain were able to raise several million dollars.

Do you see moveon.org getting attacked? Do you see their website being taken down? In fact, please try to think of any other website that has been so thoroughly subjected to defamation, repeated DOS attacks, personal harassment, stalking, and now outright assault and intimidation from people with obvious connections to the Bush Neocons.

You can't. There isn't another website that can demonstrate with hard evidence, documentation, the level of attack that SOTT has been subjected to for the past five years.

Think about it.

And think about how much you might want us to continue to be available to you for news, analysis, commentary, and just the TRUTH.

When we are gone, who will take our place?

From the 'Protocols of the Pathocrats':

[T]o sow discord in all parties, to dislocate all collective forces which are still unwilling to submit to us, and to discourage any kind of personal initiative which might in any degree hinder our affair. THERE IS NOTHING MORE DANGEROUS THAN PERSONAL INITIATIVE: if it has genius behind it, such initiative can do more than can be done by millions of people among whom we have sown discord.

So if you want us to be able to continue, you must show some personal initiative and stand behind us now, please. Give as generously as you can because we see a long and expensive fight coming. And if we don't get the funds to be able to fight this battle, then we will know that not enough people want what we are offering: just the Truth. If you want us to be here for you tomorrow and after tomorrow, give today! Please! And Thank all of you who have already given!

Comment on this Editorial

Editorial: Armageddon Anyone? The Truth Behind The War On Terror

Joe Quinn
Signs of the Times

When will it stop? Of all the questions I would like answered, this one is the most pressing. How much longer are we meant to endure the incessant lies from government and media about the nature of what is happening in our world? How much more unbelievable do these lies have to become before that '100th monkey' syndrome kicks in and all 6 billion of us spontaneously 'get it' and fall down on the floor laughing at just how ridiculous the official story is?

It is long past time when the entire BS phony Islamic terror network/threat story should have been exposed and ridiculed for what it is, yet here we are still waiting, still wondering just how momentous the porky pie needs to be to shock awake the sleeping masses and bring the whole scam crashing down. Even now, there is more than enough evidence for every sane, rational human being to easily conclude that the al-Qaeda threat is entirely bogus, yet the governments of Israel, America and Britain just keep on pushing the official line, keep on insisting that the fantastic fantasy of a global Muslim terror threat is real. Meanwhile, Joe-six pack stands there like a dummy, trying hard to make sense of it, half-believing, half-confused, half-wondering if there is some opt-out clause by which he can avoid being a part of any of it and slink back to 'normal life'. (In Joe six-pack, Bush-inspired fantasy land, three halves make a whole, in case your were wondering)

Anyway, today folks, you are in for a treat. Strap yourselves in, as I take you on a rip-roaring reality ride to the 'nexus of fantasy and reality', where Islamic terrorists are also MI5 agents, and good Israeli boys are in the pay of 'al-Qaeda'.

First of all, let's take a look at what provoked me to even begin to write these words. As usual, it was a story from the mainstream press that was, as they say, like a red rag to a bull:

Israel accuses West Bank Palestinians of al-Qaida link

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 coordinated 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.

Our suspicions are first aroused by the fact that the connecting of Palestinians to America's arch enemy and straw man, 'al-Qaeda', has long been a perverse yet unfulfilled wet dream of the Israeli government hardliners, simply because it would apply a veneer of 'legitimacy' (under the 'righteous' war on terror) to their decades-old massacring of innocent Palestinians. Any evidence presented by Israeli authorities pointing to such a connection therefore carries with it the distinct odor of cow excrement. But we need not depend solely on probable cause in making our case for this argument because, as we shall see, there is a wealth of publicly available evidence that agents of the state of Israel, along with their counterparts in British and American government agencies, have been manufacturing the 'reality' of Islamic terrorism and the organization known as 'al-Qaeda', for quite some time.

For starters, let's address the issue of the claimed al-Qaeda - Palestinian militants link. In December of 2002, the biggest Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz, ran the following story:

Ibrahim, the Shin Bet wants you to join Qaida

By Danny Rubinstein

PA unveils Israeli intelligence scheme, denies Gaza links to bin Laden

Early last week, Rashi Abu Sba, head of the preventive security apparatus in Gaza, the equivalent of the Shin Bet, accused the Israeli security service of tricking young Palestinians into conducting missions in the name of Al-Qaida. Last Tuesday, a young man named Ibrahim was presented to reporters in Gaza. Ibrahim hid his face behind a mask, and told what happened to him.

He said that a year ago he sent in a personal, with his photo and phone number, to East Jerusalem's Posta, a cultural-entertainment weekly with a personals section. Three months later, the Gazan received a phone call from an older man, who introduced himself as a merchant named Ahmed, who told Ibrahim that his photo reminded him of his son. They spoke on the phone a number of times, with Ahmed asking Ibrahim about the situation - and if he was a devout Muslim.

During one of the conversations, Ahmed told Ibrahim that he wanted to help Gazans in economic distress and began sending money - cash in dollars and Jordanian dinars - through the Nablus branch of the Cairo-Amman bank. Ibrahim told Ahmed that he had never been arrested nor involved in any political organization. Then, in one of the conversations, Ahmed said he was working for Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaida organization, and Ibrahim was meant to be one of its organizers in northern Gaza since the group already had an infrastructure in the south. Ahmed gave Ibrahim a list of people, mostly Hamas activists, and was told to collect information about them and follow them so they could also be drafted for the Al-Qaida cause.

The two never met, but at a certain point during their telephone contact, Ibrahim became suspicious. He contacted a preventive security officer in Gaza and told him the whole story. The officer looked into the matter and told Ibrahim that Ahmed was an Israeli Shin Bet agent, and Ibrahim should immediately cut off any contacts with him.

Palestinian sources said last week that the case was not unusual, and they reported it, as well as similar cases, during a security meeting with top-level U.S. security officials.

It should be noted that the proof that Israel was behind the phony al-Qaeda recruitment drive was that the calls received by the unwitting Palestinians all came from Israel. Palestinian authorities also said that there had been 8 other such incidences in the previous 9 months. The conclusion then is that, Shin Bet, the Israeli equivelent of the FBI, was caught attempting to set up innocent Palestinians as members of 'al-Qaeda'. Now why would they want to do a thing like that? Why would Israeli intelligence want to recruit young Palestinians to carry out 'suicide bombings' in Israel? Doesn't that seem kind of strange? How is Israeli meant to make peace with the Palestinians if the Israeli internal intelligence agency is actively recruiting Palestinians to carry out bombings in Israel? That would seem to preclude the chances of there ever being peace between Israelis and Palestinians. What does this mean for Israeli claims that they cannot find a partner for peace in the Palestinians? Does it mean that the Israeli government is being dishonest? Lying even? You're damn right it does.

Having established that the Israeli government is very probably involved in the creation of fake Islamic terrorism in Palestine and Israel and the murder of Israeli citizens, let's broaden our search to the other main members of the 'coalition of those willing to start a Middle Eastern conflagration using 'Islamic terrorism' as justification' (as I like to call them). In March 2004, the U. K. Times ran the following story:

Al-Qaeda cleric exposed as an MI5 double agent

By Daniel McGrory and Richard Ford

Allies say warnings were ignored

One of al-Qaeda’s most dangerous figures has been revealed as a double agent working for MI5, raising criticism from European governments, which repeatedly called for his arrest.

Britain ignored warnings — which began before the September 11 attacks — from half a dozen friendly governments about Abu Qatada’s links with terrorist groups and refused to arrest him.

Abu Qatada boasted to MI5 that he could prevent terrorist attacks and offered to expose dangerous extremists, while all along he was setting up a haven for his terror organisation in Britain.

Among the scores of young militants who came to visit him in London was the chief suspect in the Madrid train bombings. His followers also included people who wanted to be suicide bombers for al-Qaeda, such as Richard Reid, the shoe bomber.

A special tribunal that has investigated his operations in Britain described him as “a truly dangerous individual”. A ruling by the Special Immigrations Appeals Commission revealed yesterday that there was evidence to show that Abu Qatada “has been concerned in the instigation of acts of international terrorism”.

A security source in Madrid said yesterday: “Who knows how much violence and bloodshed could have been prevented if Britain had heeded the warnings about this man a long time ago.

Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the United States and Jordan all asked to question Abu Qatada about his links to al-Qaeda but were refused.

He pledged to MI5 that he would not “bite the hand that fed him”.

He also promised to “report anyone damaging the interests of this country”. Instead, he was recruiting for al-Qaeda training camps.

Instead, MI5 agents held three meetings with the cleric, who bragged of his influence among young Islamic militants and insisted that they were no risk to Britain’s national security.

His continued liberty for years after international demands for his arrest was an embarrassment for Britain. When David Blunkett introduced his controversial Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act, 2001, which allowed him to detain foreign suspects without trial, Abu Qatada claimed that the law “was enacted with him particularly in mind”.

He disappeared from his family home in West London just before the law came into force.

Indignant French officials accused MI5 of helping the cleric to abscond. While he remained on the run, one intelligence chief in Paris was quoted as saying: “British intelligence is saying they have no idea where he is, but we know where he is and, if we know, I’m quite sure they do.”

Almost a year later Abu Qatada was found hiding in a flat not far from Scotland Yard. (Scotland Yard is the HQ of the British Police Force)

What are the odds, eh? While Israeli Shin Bet are trying to recruit Palestinians as 'al-Qaeda terrorists', British MI5 are shielding real 'al-Qaeda' terrorists! It would appear then that the only difference between these two stories is the stage that each represents in the 'terrorist creation' operation. Shin Bet was caught at the very beginning of the process, while MI5 was exposed as it was handling a previously made specimen. Government panels that have been set up to investigate such matters have generally concluded that problem lies in the fact that the intelligence agencies that recruit informers from terrorist organizations can sometimes lose track of, or 'mishandle', them and, tragically, this often leads to the intelligence agencies being helpless to do anything but sit back and watch as their former informer carries out a terror attack. Of course, such a claim is nothing more than a trailer load of horse hockey and is the very same tactic used by the Bush government when they claimed that 'intelligence failure" was to blame for the success of the 9/11 attacks. In the case where a government agency was actually involved in planning and carrying out a terror attack itself, yet was also attempting to publicly frame a group of likely Islamic suspects for the attack (which involves close contact with those suspects), it is not hard to see how, when the attack is successfully carried out and revelations about government contact with the patsy attackers is revealed, the government would be forced to publicly cry incompetence over its inability to stop the attack. For sure this is a plausible explanation, but only in the absence of the information pointing to the government being involved in the attack itself. With that information, the whole dirty affair starts to make real sense.

In terms of the 'mishandling' of alleged terrorist double agents that leads to terror attacks actually being successfully carried out; another excuse put forward by the intelligence agencies is that they will sometimes allow a planned terror attack to go ahead in order to ensure their agent's cover is not blown and can continue to provide them with 'inside information'. In case it hasn't hit you yet, yes, this explanation is just about the most blatant and incomprehensible line of BS that you are likely to come across. The idea being expressed is that, allowing an attack to succeed can sometimes be acceptable if it ensures that your man on the inside remains safe and undetected. Many people buy this line without wondering what point there is in having a counter-terrorism agency that recruits terrorists and then facilitates them to carry out terror attacks that the agency is tasked with preventing in the first place. Clearly, this is just more hubris and confusing nonsense which seeks to throw sand in the eyes of the public who otherwise might soon stumble on the truth - that most Islamic terrorism is planned, financed and carried out by people indirectly employed by the governments of America, Israel and Britain.

Just to give you an idea of the scope of this phony terrorism, consider the following report from June 2004 about a nice Israeli boy who somehow got caught by the Philippine authorities planning an 'al-Qaeda terror attack'

In Baguio City: Israeli terror suspect falls; cops eye link to al-Qaeda

Philippine National Police (PNP) operatives apprehended an Israeli suspected to be a member of the al-Qaeda terror network in in Baguio City on June 7.

Arrested was Mera Doutvsky.

Reports reaching the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City, disclosed that Mera was nabbed at about 2 p.m., by joint elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit and the Bureau of Immigration at the vicinity of the Department of Social Welfare Development in Baguio City.

Authorities also said that Doutvsky was also found to be an undocumented and overstaying alien.

Police said the information they received from the Bureau of Immigration revealed that Doutvsky is asuspected member of the al-Qaeda terrorist cell, an information still unconfirmed by other intelligence agencies.

Doutvsky was turned over to the office of Alipio Fernandez Jr., BI commissioner, in Manila for proper disposition.

Of course, we should also include the now infamous story about one American citizen named Michael Meiring, who was apprehended when the bomb he was assembling blew up in his apartment in Manila, taking both his legs with it. From his hospital bed, and before he could be interrogated by Philippine authorities, Meiring was evacuated by the FBI back to the land of the free and home of the phony terrorist network.

To provide a broader and perhaps almost complete understanding of the origin of the epiphenomenon that is 'Islamic terrorism', we need to look at where it all started:

The CIA's "Operation Cyclone" - Stirring the Hornet's Nest of Islamic Unrest

Oct 27 2002

[Zbigniew] Brzezinski not long ago revealed that on July 3, 1979, unknown to the American public and Congress, President Jimmy Carter secretly authorised $500million to create an international terrorist movement that would spread Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia and "destabilise" the Soviet Union...

The CIA called this Operation Cyclone and in the following years poured $4billion into setting up Islamic training schools in Pakistan (Taliban means "student").

Young zealots were sent to the CIA's spy training camp in Virginia, where future members of al-Qaeda were taught "sabotage skills" - terrorism.

Others were recruited at an Islamic school in Brooklyn, New York, within sight of the fated Twin Towers.

In Pakistan, they were directed by British MI6 officers and trained by the SAS.

The result, quipped Brzezinski, was "a few stirred up Muslims" - meaning the Taliban.

The Wall Street Journal declared: "The Taliban are the players most capable of achieving peace. Moreover, they were crucial to secure the country as a prime trans-shipment route for the export of Central Asia's vast oil, gas and other natural resources."

No American newspaper dares suggest that the prisoners in Camp X-Ray are the product of this policy, nor that it was one of the factors that led to the attacks of September 11.

Nor do they ask: who were the real winners of September 11?

The day the Wall Street stockmarket opened after the destruction of the Twin Towers, the few companies showing increased value were the giant military contractors Alliant Tech Systems, Northrop Gruman, Raytheon (a contributor to New Labour) and Lockheed Martin.

As the US military's biggest supplier, Lockheed Martin's share value rose by a staggering 30 per cent.

Within six weeks of September 11, the company (with its main plant in Texas, George Bush's home state) had secured the biggest military order in history: a $200billion contract to develop a new fighter aircraft. The greatest taboo of all, which Orwell would surely recognise, is the record of the United States as a terrorist state and haven for terrorists.

This truth is virtually unknown by the American public and makes a mockery of Bush's (and Blair's) statements about "tracking down terrorists wherever they are."

They don't have to look far.

The most important point here is that the seeds of what today is the 'global Islamic terrorist threat' were sown over 30 years ago in Afghanistan. At that time, the US government established for itself a personal fundamentalist Islamic army that was used to give the invading Russian army its very own Vietnam-style quagmire in Afghanistan. With the Russians defeated, all that was left was a rag tag bunch of ruthless money-grabbing hired guns with a fundie Islamic bent. Over the years this group was nurtured and put to good use by the CIA in creating 'ethnic strife' in the former Yugoslavia that allowed NATO (read the U.S. military) to intervene in the 1990's and accomplish the break up of a large part of Eastern Europe into easily politically-manipulatable chunks. The same group of highly-paid mercenaries have also been used by the U.S. to rankle the Russian bear in the ongoing conflict in Chechnya. It is a matter of public record that:

Members of the Moroccan terror group Salafi Jihadi fought for the CIA in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Dagestan, Bosnia and Kosovo

USS Cole Bomber Jamal al-Badawi fought for the CIA in Bosnia (see here for more on the Cole Bombing)

Zacarias Moussaoui (currently on trial in the U.S.) fought for the CIA in Chechnya

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (alleged 9/11 mastermind) fought for the CIA in Afghanistan

Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman fought for the CIA in Afghanistan

Ayman al Zawahiri (alleged bespeckled side-kick of Osama bin Laden) fought for the CIA in Bosnia

His brother Ayman al-Zawahiri fought for the CIA in Kosovo

Abdullah Azzam, "one of the ideological founders of Hamas" fought for the CIA in Afghanistan

At this point you may be wondering about the 600 or so unfortunates currently residing at the pleasure of Donald Rumsfeld in the sunny resort of Guantanamo Bay Prison Camp, Cuba, not to mention the unknown number of people that have been 'rendered' to similar U.S. torture camps around the world. Who are these people? Why, if they are 'terrorists' as the US government would have us believe, have no charges been brought against them? To answer this question, we need to have first accepted the reality of state-sponsored terrorism, a reality that is clearly visible in the evidence that I have presented so far. Once we have accepted this we can understand that, in order to perpetuate the illusion of a global Islamic terror threat, Mossad, MI5 and the CIA must actively recruit likely suspects to act as the fall guys for terror attacks and provide 'proof' that the illusion is real. They are also extremely interested in 'extracting' from such people information on existing Islamic groups that can then be infiltrated, manipulated and used to further the goal of creating the appearance of a global Islamic terrorist threat. Have you ever wondered why, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government was able to immediately identify and publish photos and information about the alleged 'Islamic terrorist' masterminds, yet, to date, they have been unable, or unwilling, to bring even one conviction? The reason is that if such people were to be brought to public trial, they would expose the truth of everything that I have said above. The purpose of Guantanamo bay and the many other secret CIA camps around the world is, in a word, "recruits". But not recruits for the war on terror but recruits for the Israeli, American and British-led war ofterror.

The fact is folks, this stuff is happening every day of our lives, and right under our noses. Stories that confirm everything I am saying here are popping up all over the place. Take yesterday's report about a twin bomb blasts that ripped through two budget hotels overnight in La Paz, Bolivia, killing two people. Bolivian authorities said yesterday that they were questioning two foreigners arrested after the explosions, one of them an American citizen. President Evo Morales said the bombings seemed politically motivated and decried that one of the suspects appeared to be from the United States. "The United States claims to fight terrorism, yet Americans come to put bombs in our hotels," Morales said in speech in the eastern city of Santa Cruz. Indeed.

Getting back to the original story, the Israeli government now seems determined to prove that Israel and/or the Palestinian territories will be the next 'al-qaeda' battleground, and it seems likely that this will involve a major attack on Israel, which, we can safely say, will be carried out by agents of the very same state of Israel. Such an attack would of course provide Israel with the justification to take whatever action it desires against whatever Arab population on which it chooses to lay the blame. Undoubtedly Hamas (created by Israel incidentally) and other Palestinian militant groups would be targetted, but as has always been the case with any Israeli army operations against Palestinian 'terrorists', the civilians of the occupied Palestine territories are 'collectively punished' (a war crime) and suffer most in the wholesale slaughter than ensues. Today, the Palestinian people are being treated in much the same way as the Nazis treated the Jews in the Warsaw ghettos. The Gaza strip and West Bank are virtual prisons with only very few Palestinian being allowed to leave for any reason.

According to a United Nations report presented to the Donors Conference last December, “37% of the estimated 3.7 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip had trouble getting food in 2004. Another 27% were at risk of running into such difficulties,” Nearly half the “Palestinian population was poor, with poverty rate in the Gaza Strip reaching a staggering 65%,” the report continued. “Up to 16% of Palestinians—550,000—were living on $1.5 a day, with the likelihood that the figure will rise to 35%.

What is Israel's response to this humanitarian crisis that they have deliberately created?

For the past two months, Israeli forces have essentially closed down the major border crossings into Gaza and are refusing to allow essential food and supplies to get through. The excuse that there is a "security threat" is laughable, especially since just a few weeks ago at an Israeli cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Ministerial advisor Dov Weisglass said that Palestinians would be put on a diet but not starved to death. "It's like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won't die," Weisglass was reported as saying, also reported was that the assembled Israeli politicians had a good laugh at this comment. It is not hard to image a group of Nazi party members 60 years ago sitting around a table and having a very similar conversation about the Jews.
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Editorial: Haditha and My Lai: Same Killer Dynamic

Kurt Nimmo
Wednesday March 22nd 2006

In late November, 1969, Time, Life and Newsweek magazines reported extensively on the My Lai massacre, the premeditated murder of 500 civilians in the Quang Ngai Province of South Vietnam. In early 1970, as a young antiwar activist, I remember how this single event more than any other contributed significantly to turning millions of fence-sitting Americans against Nixon's illegal war and subsequently swelled the ranks of the antiwar movement.

If not for investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reporting on the revelations of the soldier Ronald Ridenhour-and the willingness of the media at the time to publish the story-chances are the My Lai Massacre would slipped under the wire and never made it on the public radar screen. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird wanted to "sweep under the rug the atrocity photographs" and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger agreed, but since the newspapers had the photos and planned run them, Kissinger and Laird decided to blame a "low-level officer, who must have been insane" (The Kissinger Telcons, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 123). The "low-level officer" was William Calley and on March 31, 1971, he was sentenced to life in prison. Calley served three and a half years of house arrest in his quarters at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Fast-forward nearly four decades: "The US military is investigating two incidents in which American soldiers killed at least 26 Iraqi civilians and then claimed that they were either guerrillas or had died in cross fire," writes Patrick Cockburn for the UK Independent. "The growing evidence of retaliatory killings of unarmed Iraqi families, often including children, by US soldiers seemingly bent on punishing Iraqis after an attack, will spark comparisons with the massacre of Vietnamese villagers." In fact, reports of the attack on civilians in Haditha sound disturbingly similar to the My Lai Massacre.

"According to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past 10 weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines … who went on a rampage in the village after [an IED attack on Kilo Company], killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children. Human-rights activists say that if the accusations are true, the incident ranks as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. service members since the war began," writes Tim Mcgirk for the Media Channel.

Bassem Mroue, writing for the Associated Press, describes a videotape of the aftermath of the revenge killings. "A videotape taken by an Iraqi shows the aftermath of an alleged attack by U.S. troops on civilians in their homes in a western town last November: a blood-smeared bedroom floor and bits of what appear to be human flesh and bullet holes on the walls…. The video, obtained by Time magazine and repeatedly aired by Arab televisions throughout the day, also showed bodies of women and children in plastic bags on the floor of what appeared to be a morgue. Men were seen standing in the middle of bodies, some of which were covered with blankets before being placed in a pickup truck."

Of course, there is a big difference between 26 dead Iraqi civilians and the 500 slaughtered Vietnamese peasants at My Lai. However, the incident in Iraq demonstrates the same grisly dynamic at work-once normal young men, thrown into the chaotic environment created in Iraq by the Straussian neocon dominated Pentagon, are turning into psychotic revenge killers in short order. Moreover, there are numerous incidents of U.S. soldiers killing innocent Iraqis for fun (we know this because "trophy" videos have emerged showing both soldiers and contractors engaged in the disgusting practice).

In America, few people seem to care about all of this (the above link points to a video of a soldier killing an Iraqi-down on the ground and apparently unarmed-a video taped by CNN and presumably run on the news network and thus viewed by thousands, possibly millions of Americans). If the dismal turn out at last week's antiwar demonstrations across the country means anything, it is that less and less people care about the illegal and immoral-it is a war crime to kill civilians, "trophy" or otherwise-Iraqi invasion and occupation. It appears the longer the occupation continues, the more apathetic people become, even though polls show clear majorities of people are opposed to the war.

Of course, when these boy next door psychopathic killers return home and become police officers-veterans receive preferential treatment at police departments around the country-average Americans will be alarmed and outraged when these former soldiers abuse citizens the same way they abused Iraqi civilians. Some may even wish they did something a lot sooner after their cars are shot up at the local "screening point" (as recommended by Bush's whitewash commission)-that is if they live to tell the story.
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America - One Step From Dictatorship

Pulled over in Kansas? Get ready to show your license, registration - and fingerprints

The Kansas City Star

If you are stopped by police in Kansas, don't be surprised if the officer pulls out a little black box and takes your fingerprints.

The gadget allows officers to identify people by fingerprints without hauling them to the police station.

Over the next year the Kansas Bureau of Investigation will test 60 of the devices with law enforcement agencies around the state. State officials said similar tests are being planned for New York, Milwaukee and Hawaii.

"This is definitely new," said Gary Page, Overland Park Police Department crime lab. "It's been talked about, but as far as I know they are not in use anywhere in the metro."

The tests in Kansas are part of a bigger $3.6 million upgrade to the KBI's statewide fingerprint database, unveiled Tuesday by the KBI and Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline.

â–  The system:

Called the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System, it is a statewide database of more than 10 million fingerprints taken from people arrested in Kansas. The Missouri Highway Patrol maintains a similar database. Both systems link to the FBI fingerprint database.

â–  How it works:

In Kansas, 54 law enforcement agencies have traded the ink-and-paper fingerprinting method for biometric imaging, which electronically scans a digital image of the print. Sixty Missouri agencies use biometric scanning. Police also can scan the fingers of corpses and people they arrest to match them against prints in the system. Results are obtained in seconds instead of hours. The inked cards still used by some smaller departments are also scanned into the statewide systems.

â–  Why upgrade?

Kansas could no longer locate replacement parts or anyone to service the old system, which was launched in 1990 and upgraded in 1998. The first phase was funded with a $752,000 homeland security grant. The KBI is applying for similar grants to pay the balance. All upgrades should be completed by January 2007.

â–  The portable devices:

Police place a person's two index fingers on a screen. Wireless technology sends the image to the database for comparison. Prints scanned in the field will not be stored.

â–  What else is new:

The system will analyze palm prints, which were stored but could not be read before. The system also will store mug shots and pictures of scars, tattoos and other identifying marks.

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N.Y.C.'s crime fight to get more eyes


New Yorkers, get ready for your closeup.

The NYPD is installing 505 surveillance cameras around the city - and pushing to safeguard lower Manhattan with a "ring of steel" that could track hundreds of thousands of people and cars a day, authorities revealed yesterday.
The police cameras will constantly keep watch over neighborhoods plagued by crime and monitor potential terror targets as the city moves to put another 1,200 cops on the street, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

The exact locations of the cameras were not revealed, but the electronic eyes will be set up in 253 spots, including many Operation Impact zones - high-crime areas already targeted by teams of cops.

"They'll serve to reinforce safety already stabilized by Operation Impact, and serve as a high-visibility deterrent and investigative tool in other outdoor, public places," Kelly said.

Recording high-quality images, the electronic sentinels will help the city's Finest track down criminals and terrorists as well as provide valuable evidence to convict them.

Most of the cameras will be clearly marked so crooks know that their every move is being recorded by the cops.

The NYPD is also testing audio sensors that would allow the cameras to point in the direction of gunshots, sources said. The cameras will be put up in Brooklyn first before spreading to other boroughs.

City Hall is paying for the cameras using $9.1million in homeland security funds.

The NYPD also has applied for $81.5 million in federal aid to install surveillance cameras, computerized license plate readers and vehicle barriers around lower Manhattan, Kelly said.

The security measures would be similar to London's "ring of steel," which gained worldwide recognition after that city's terror attacks of last July, when police cameras provided images of the suspected bombers.

The NYPD has no comprehensive system to monitor the Financial District - considered the nation's No. 1 terror target - and a team of five NYPD experts visited London in September to get a look at the "ring of steel."

Aboveground, London has cameras posted at 16 entry points and 12 exits from the City of London, an enclave that includes that city's financial district and landmarks such as St. Paul's Cathedral.

The cameras capture images of license plates and drivers' faces. Officials then run the license plates through a database of stolen cars and terrorism suspects. Last year, the system read 37 million cars and got 91,000 hits, leading to 550 arrests.

The NYPD will find out by the end of May whether it will receive the federal money. New York officials have also discussed the possibility of creating a similar surveillance system for midtown Manhattan.

Law enforcement and transportation agencies already have about 1,000 cameras in the subways, with 2,100 scheduled to be in place by 2008. An additional 3,100 cameras are monitoring city housing projects.

Thousands of other cameras at private buildings and apartment towers also train lenses on New Yorkers and often provide valuable clues to cops.

But don't expect the NYPD to install its cameras without battling the New York Civil Liberties Union. The watchdog group's associate legal director, Chris Dunn, questioned the plan.

"Commissioner Kelly may be ready to launch us all into a surveillance society, but we believe cameras are not a cure-all for crime and terrorism," Dunn said. "It is far from clear that cameras deter crime."

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Strategery trumps principle

Wednesday, March 22, 2006
David Neiwert

You can get a good look at just what's wrong with the Democratic Party by perusing Joan Vennochi's latest offering, which takes Russ Feingold to task for his proposed censure of President Bush:
Bush will never again be on an election ballot. Republicans in Congress will, as will a crop of presidential candidates whose last name is not Bush. Shouldn't they be the Democrats' focus? Those in Congress can be held accountable in 2006 and 2008. At this point, Bush answers to history.

One would gather from this line of reasoning that, once he wins his second term, any president is immune from accountability. Why, he can run amok if he chooses.

Sure. Just ask Dick Nixon and Bill Clinton if that's the case.

But Vennochi -- after the obligatory sniff at "lefty bloggers" -- continues:
Current polls and surveys show people think as little of Bush as they do of Congress. Democrats should be thinking of ways to change that. They need to increase their own favorability ratings at the expense of the opposition. Handing the opposition a weapon to use against Democrats is counterproductive. But censure, even impeachment, are seductive.

At this point, Democrats appear to understand the danger of pouring kerosene on the politics of Iraq and national security. Democrats thinking about running for president are another story. In the Senate, Feingold has been on his own.

You would gather from this that the Boston Globe columnist has been living in a cave for the past decade, or else has been viewing the world through a Rove-A-Scope.

Or perhaps she just failed to notice that no matter what Democrats do, Republicans will use it as a weapon. Meanwhile, inaction simply plays into their hands.

When will Democrats figure out that simply sticking to their guns and principles is the only way to deal with this?

Pearl-clutching, salt-sniffing liberals like Vennochi are all about strategy -- which is, frankly, the chief cause for their disempowerment.

Voters do care about principles. Democrats for the past two decades have been about strategy. Republicans, for better or worse, have been clear about at least creating and sustaining the image that they are about principles. Conservative principles may be utter horseshit, but they are principles nonetheless. Republicans thus at least appear to stand for something.

Democrats, well ... they can't even seem to recognize that the president nakedly and defiantly breaking the law regarding the wiretapping of American citizens actually is a principle most voters care about.

When they turn their backs on the Russ Feingolds, they demonstrate all too clearly that deep constitutional principles are really just talking points for them.

Which is why their strategies are doomed to failure. All the strategy in the world can't overcome an empty core. Democrats will not begin winning again until they can demonstrate that they actually stand for something.

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Chalmers Johnson on Our Fading Republic

A Tomdispatch Interview with Chalmers Johnson(Part 2)

Tomdispatch: You were discussing the lunacy of the 2007 Pentagon budget…

Chalmers Johnson:What I don't understand is that the current defense budget and the recent Quadrennial Defense Review (which has no strategy in it at all) are just continuations of everything we did before. Make sure that the couple of hundred military golf courses around the world are well groomed, that the Lear jets are ready to fly the admirals and generals to the Armed Forces ski resort in Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps or the military's two luxury hotels in downtown Seoul and Tokyo.

What I can't explain is what has happened to Congress. Is it just that they're corrupt? That's certainly part of it. I'm sitting here in California's 50th district. This past December, our congressman Randy Cunningham confessed to the largest single bribery case in the history of the U.S. Congress: $2.4 million in trinkets -- a Rolls Royce, some French antiques -- went to him, thanks to his ability as a member of the military subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee to add things secretly to the budget. He was doing this for pals of his running small companies. He was adding things even the Department of Defense said it didn't want.

This is bribery and, as somebody said the other day, Congress comes extremely cheap. For $2.4 million, these guys got about $175 million in contracts. It was an easy deal.

The military is out of control. As part of the executive branch, it's expanded under cover of the national security state. Back when I was a kid, the Pentagon was called the Department of War. Now, it's the Department of Defense, though it palpably has nothing to do with defense. Hasn't for a long time. We even have another department of the government today that's concerned with "homeland security." You wonder what on Earth do we have that for -- and a Dept of Defense, too!

The government isn't working right. There's no proper supervision. The founders, the authors of the Constitution, regarded the supreme organ to be Congress. The mystery to me -- more than the huge expansion of executive branch powers we've seen since the neoconservatives and George Bush came to power -- is: Why has Congress failed us so completely? Why are they no longer interested in the way the money is spent? Why does a Pentagon budget like this one produce so little interest? Is it that people have a vested interest in it, that it's going to produce more jobs for them?

I wrote an article well before Cunningham confessed called The Military-Industrial Man in which I identified a lot of what he was doing, but said unfortunately I didn't know how to get rid of him in such a safe district. After it appeared on the Los Angeles Times op-ed page, the paper got a couple of letters to the editor from the 34th district in downtown LA saying, I wish he was my congressman. If he'd bring good jobs here, I wouldn't mind making something that just gets blown up or sunk in the ground like missile defense in Alaska. I mean, we've already spent $100 billion on what amounts to a massive high-tech scarecrow. It couldn't hit a thing. The aiming devices aren't there. The tests fail. It doesn't work. It's certainly a cover for something much more ominous -- the expansion of the Air Force into outer space or "full spectrum dominance," as they like to put it.

We need to concentrate on this, and not from a partisan point of view either. There's no reason to believe the Democrats would do a better job. They never have. They've expanded the armed forces just as fast as the Republicans.

This is the beast we're trying to analyze, to understand, and it seems to me today unstoppable. Put it this way: James Madison, the author of our Constitution, said the right that controls all other rights is the right to get information. If you don't have this, the others don't matter. The Bill of Rights doesn't work if you can't find out what's going on. Secrecy has been going crazy in this country for a long time, but it's become worse by orders of magnitude under the present administration. When John Ashcroft became attorney general, he issued orders that access to the Freedom of Information Act should be made as difficult as possible.

The size of the black budget in the Pentagon has been growing ever larger during this administration. These are projects no one gets to see. To me, one of the most interesting spectacles in our society is watching uniformed military officers like General Michael Hayden, former head of the National Security Agency, sitting in front of Congress, testifying. It happened the other day. Hillary Clinton asked him: Tell us at least approximately how many [NSA warrantless spying] interventions have you made? "I'm not going to tell you" was his answer. Admiral Jacoby, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was asked directly about a year ago, are we still paying Ahmed Chalabi $340,000 a month? And his reply was, "I'm not going to say."

At this point, should the senator stand up and say: "I want the U.S. Marshall to arrest that man." I mean, this is contempt of Congress.

TD: You're also saying, of course, that there's a reason to have contempt for Congress.

Johnson: There is indeed. You can understand why these guys do it. Richard Helms, the Director of the CIA back in 1977, was convicted of a felony for lying to Congress. He said, no, we had nothing to do with the overthrow of [Chilean President] Salvador Allende when we had everything to do with it. He gets a suspended sentence, pays a small fine, walks into the CIA building at Langley, Virginia and is met by a cheering crowd. Our hero! He's proudly maintained the principles of the secret intelligence service, which is the private army of the president and we have no idea what he's doing with it. Everything they do is secret. Every item in their budget is secret.

TD: And the military, too, has become something of a private army…

Johnson: Exactly. I dislike conscription because it's so easily manipulated, but I do believe in the principle of the obligation of citizens to defend the country in times of crisis. Now, how we do that is still an open question, but at least the citizens' army was a check on militarism. People in the armed forces knew they were there involuntarily. They were extremely interested in whether their officers were competent, whether the strategy made sense, whether the war they might have to fight was justified, and if they began to believe that they were being deeply lied to, as in Vietnam, the American military would start to come apart. The troops then were fragging their officers so seriously that General Creighton Abrams said, we've got to get them out of there. And call it Vietnamization or anything else, that's what they did.

I fear that we're heading that way in Iraq. You open the morning paper and discover that they're now going to start recruiting down to level four, people with serious mental handicaps. The terrible thing is that they'll just be cannon fodder.

It's not rocket science to say that we're talking about a tragedy in the works here. Americans aren't that rich. We had a trade deficit in 2005 of $725.8 billion. That's a record. It went up almost 25% in just over a year. You can't go on not making things, fighting these kinds of wars, and building weapons that are useless. Herb Stein, when he was chairman of the council of economic advisers in a Republican administration very famously said, "Things that can't go on forever don't."

TD:: So put our problems in a nutshell.

Johnson: From George Bush's point of view, his administration has achieved everything ideologically that he wanted to achieve. Militarism has been advanced powerfully. In the minds of a great many people, the military is now the only American institution that appears to work. He's enriched the ruling classes. He's destroyed the separation of powers as thoroughly as was possible. These are the problems that face us right now. The only way you could begin to rebuild the separation of powers would be to reinvigorate the Congress and I don't know what could shock the American public into doing that. They're the only ones who could do it. The courts can't. The President obviously won't.

The only thing I can think of that might do it would be bankruptcy. Like what happened to Argentina in 2001. The richest country in Latin America became one of the poorest. It collapsed. It lost the ability to borrow money and lost control of its affairs, but a great many Argentines did think about what corrupt presidents had listened to what corrupt advice and done what stupid things during the 1990s. And right now, the country is on its way back.

TD: But superpower bankruptcy? It's a concept nobody's really explored. When the British empire finally went, we were behind them. Is there somebody behind us?

Johnson: No.

TD: So what would it mean for us to go bankrupt?. After all, we're not Argentina.

Johnson: It would mean losing control over things. All of a sudden, we would be dependent on the kindness of strangers. looking for handouts. We already have a $725 billion trade deficit; the largest fiscal deficit in our history, now well over 6% of GDP. The defense budgets are off the charts and don't make any sense, and don't forget that $500 billion we've already spent on the Iraq war -- every nickel of it borrowed from people in China and Japan who saved and invested because they would like to have access to this market. Any time they decide they don't want to lend to us, interest rates will go crazy and the stock exchange will collapse.

We pour about $2 billion a day just into servicing the amounts we borrow. The moment people quit lending us that money, we have to get it out of domestic savings and right now we have a negative savings rate in this country. To get Americans to save 20% of their income, you'd have to pay them at least a 20% interest rate and that would produce a truly howling recession. We'd be back to the state of things in the 1930s that my mother used to describe to me -- we lived in the Arizona countryside then -- when someone would tap on the rear door and say, "Have you got any work? I don't want to be paid, I just want to eat." And she'd say, "Sure, we'll find something for you to do and give you eggs and potatoes."

A depression like that would go on in this country for quite a while. The rest of the world would also have a severe recession, but would probably get over it a lot faster.

TD: So you can imagine the Chinese, Japanese, and European economies going on without us, not going down with us.

Johnson: Absolutely. I think they could.

TD: Don't you imagine, for example, that the Chinese bubble economy, the part that's based on export to the United States might collapse, setting off chaos there too?

Johnson: It might, but the Chinese would not blame their government for it. And there is no reason the Chinese economy shouldn't, in the end, run off domestic consumption. When you've got that many people interested in having better lives, they needn't depend forever on selling sweaters and pajamas in North America. The American economy is big, but there's no reason to believe it's so big the rest of the world couldn't do without us. Moreover, we're kidding ourselves because we already manufacture so little today -- except for weapons.

We could pay a terrible price for not having been more prudent. To have been stupid enough to give up on infrastructure, health care, and education in order to put 8 missiles in the ground at Fort Greeley, Alaska that can't hit anything. In fact, when tested, sometimes they don't even get out of their silos.

TD: How long do you see the dollar remaining the international currency? I noticed recently that Iran was threatening to switch to Euros.

Johnson: Yes, they're trying to create an oil bourse based on the Euro. Any number of countries might do that. Econ 1A as taught in any American university is going to tell you that a country that runs the biggest trade deficits in economic history must pay a penalty if the global system is to be brought back into equilibrium. What this would mean is a currency so depreciated no American could afford a Lexus automobile. A vacation in Italy would cost Americans a wheelbarrow full of dollars.

TD: At least it might stop the CIA from kidnapping people off the streets of Italy in the style to which they've grown accustomed.

Johnson: [Laughs.] Their kidnappers would no longer be staying in the Principe di Savoia [a five-star hotel] in Milano, that's for sure.

The high-growth economies of East Asia now hold huge amounts in American treasury certificates. If the dollar loses its value, the last person to get out of dollars loses everything, so you naturally want to be first. But the person first making the move causes everyone else to panic. So it's a very cautious, yet edgy situation.

A year ago, the head of the Korean Central Bank, which has a couple of hundred billion of our dollars, came out and said: I think we're a little heavily invested in dollars, suggesting that maybe Dubai's currency would be better right now, not to mention the Euro. Instantaneous panic. People started to sell; presidents got on the telephone asking: What in the world are you people up to? And the Koreans backed down -- and so it continues.

There are smart young American PhDs in economics today inventing theories about why this will go on forever. One is that there's a global savings glut. People have too much money and nothing to do with it, so they loan it to us. Even so, as the very considerable economics correspondent for the Nation magazine, William Greider, has written several times, it's extremely unwise for the world's largest debtor to go around insulting his bankers. We're going to send four aircraft-carrier task forces to the Pacific this summer to intimidate the Chinese, sail around, fly our airplanes, shoot off a few cruise missiles. Why shouldn't the Chinese say, let's get out of dollars. Okay, they don't want a domestic panic of their own, so the truth is they would do it as subtly as they could, causing as little fuss as possible.

What does this administration think it's doing, reducing taxes when it needs to be reducing huge deficits? As far as I can see, its policies have nothing to do with Republican or Democratic ideology, except that its opposite would be traditional, old Republican conservatism, in the sense of being fiscally responsible, not wasting our money on aircraft carriers or other nonproductive things.

But the officials of this administration are radicals. They're crazies. We all speculate on why they do it. Why has the President broken the Constitution, let the military spin virtually out of control, making it the only institution he would turn to for anything -- another Katrina disaster, a bird flu epidemic? The whole thing seems farcical, but what it does remind you of is ancient Rome.

If a bankruptcy situation doesn't shake us up, then I fear we will, as an author I admire wrote the other day, be "crying for the coup." We could end the way the Roman Republic ended. When the chaos, the instability become too great, you turn it over to a single man. After about the same length of time our republic has been in existence, the Roman Republic got itself in that hole by inadvertently, thoughtlessly acquiring an empire they didn't need and weren't able to administer, that kept them at war all the time. Ultimately, it caught up with them. I can't see how we would be immune to a Julius Caesar, to a militarist who acts the populist.

TD: Do you think that our all-volunteer military will turn out to be the janissaries of our failed empire?

Johnson: They might very well be. I'm already amazed at the degree to which they tolerate this incompetent government. I mean the officers know that their precious army, which they worked so hard to rebuild after the Vietnam War, is coming apart again, that it's going to be ever harder to get people to enlist, that even the military academies are in trouble. I don't know how long they'll take it. Tommy Franks, the general in charge of the attack on Baghdad, did say that if there were another terrorist attack in the United States comparable to 9/11, the military might have no choice but to take over. In other words: If we're going to do the work, why listen to incompetents like George Bush? Why take orders from an outdated character like Donald Rumsfeld? Why listen to a Congress in which, other than John McCain, virtually no Republican has served in the armed forces?

I don't see the obvious way out of our problems. The political system has failed. You could elect the opposition party, but it can't bring the CIA under control; it can't bring the military-industrial complex under control; it can't reinvigorate the Congress. It would be just another holding operation as conditions got worse.

Now, I'll grant you, I could be wrong. If I am, you're going to be so glad, you'll forgive me. [He laughs.] In the past, we've had clear excesses of executive power. There was Lincoln and the suspension of habeas corpus. Theodore Roosevelt virtually invented the executive order. Until then, most presidents didn't issue executive orders. Roosevelt issued well over a thousand. It was the equivalent of today's presidential signing statement. Then you go on to the mad Presbyterian Woodrow Wilson, whom the neocons are now so in love with, and Franklin Roosevelt and his pogrom against Americans of Japanese ancestry. But there was always a tendency afterwards for the pendulum to swing back, for the American public to become concerned about what had been done in its name and correct it. What's worrying me is: Can we expect a pendulum swing back this time?

TD: Maybe there is no pendulum.

Johnson: Today, Cheney tells us that presidential powers have been curtailed by the War Powers Act [of 1973], congressional oversight of the intelligence agencies, and so on. This strikes me as absurd, since these modest reforms were made to deal with the grossest violations of the Constitution in the Nixon administration. Moreover, most of them were stillborn. There's not a president yet who has acknowledged the War Powers Act as legitimate. They regard themselves as not bound by it, even though it was an act of Congress and, by our theory of government, unless openly unconstitutional, that's the bottom line. A nation of laws? No, we are not. Not anymore.

TD: Usually we believe that the Cold War ended with the Soviet Union's collapse and, in essence, our victory. A friend of mine put it another way. The United States, he suggested, was so much more powerful than the USSR that we had a greater capacity to shift our debts elsewhere. The Soviets didn't and so imploded. My question is this: Are we now seeing the delayed end of the Cold War? Perhaps both superpowers were headed for the proverbial trash bin of history, simply at different rates of speed?

Johnson: I've always believed that they went first because they were poorer and that the terrible, hubristic conclusion we drew -- that we were victorious, that we won -- was off the mark. I always felt that we both lost the Cold War for the same reasons -- imperial overstretch, excessive militarism, things that have been identified by students of empires since Babylonia. We've never given Mikhail Gorbachev credit. Most historians would say that no empire ever gave up voluntarily. The only one I can think of that tried was the Soviet Union under him.

TD: Any last words?

Johnson: I'm still working on them. My first effort was Blowback. That was well before I anticipated anything like massive terrorist attacks in the United States. It was a statement that the foreign-policy problems -- I still just saw them as that -- of the first part of the 21st century were going to be left over from the previous century, from our rapacious activities in Latin America, from our failure to truly learn the lessons of Vietnam. The Sorrows of Empire was an attempt to come to grips with our militarism. Now, I'm considering how we've managed to alienate so many rich, smart allies -- every one of them, in fact. How we've come to be so truly hated. This, in a Talleyrand sense, is the sort of mistake from which you can't recover. That's why I'm planning on calling the third volume of what I now think of as "The Blowback Trilogy," Nemesis. Nemesis was the Greek goddess of vengeance. She also went after people who became too arrogant, who were so taken with themselves that they lost all prudence. She was always portrayed as a fierce figure with a scale in one hand -- think, Judgment Day – and a whip in the other…

TD: And you believe she's coming after us?

Johnson: Oh, I believe she's arrived. I think she's sitting around waiting for her moment, the one we're coming up on right now.

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The Joy of Being Blameless

Published: March 23, 2006
NYT Editorial

The contrast could not have been more stark, nor the message more clear. On the day that a court-martial imposed justice on a 24-year-old Army sergeant for tormenting detainees at Abu Ghraib with his dog, President Bush said once again that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose benighted policies and managerial incompetence led to the prisoner abuse scandal, was doing a "fine job" and should stay at his post.

We've seen this sorry pattern for nearly two years now, since the Abu Ghraib horrors first shocked the world: President Bush has clung to the fiction that the abuse of prisoners was just the work of a few rotten apples, despite report after report after report demonstrating that it was organized and systematic, and flowed from policies written by top officials in his administration.
Just this week, Eric Schmitt and Carolyn Marshall provided a bloodcurdling account in the Times of how a Special Operations unit converted an Iraqi military base into a torture chamber, even using prisoners as paintball targets, in its frenzy to counter a widely predicted insurgency for which Mr. Rumsfeld had refused to prepare. In early 2004, an 18-year-old man suspected of selling cars to members of a terrorist network was arrested and beaten repeatedly. Another man said he had been forced to strip, punched in the spine until he fainted, put in front of an air-conditioner while cold water was poured on him and kicked in the stomach until he vomited. His crime? His father had worked for Saddam Hussein.

These accounts are tragically familiar. The names and dates change, but the basic pattern is the same, including the fact that this bestiality produced little or no useful intelligence. The Bush administration decided to go outside the law to deal with prisoners, and soldiers carried out that policy. Those who committed these atrocities deserve the punishment they are getting, but virtually all high-ranking soldiers have escaped unscathed. And not a single policy maker has been called to account.

Col. Thomas Pappas, the former intelligence chief at Abu Ghraib, testified at the dog handler's trial that the use of dogs had grown out of conversations he had had with military jailers from Guantánamo Bay led by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who had been sent to Iraq to instruct soldiers there in the interrogation techniques refined at Gitmo under Mr. Rumsfeld's torture-is-legal policy. Colonel Pappas said General Miller had explained how to use the "Arab fear of dogs" to set up interrogations.

What of General Miller? He invoked his right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying, and Time magazine reported this week that he was exonerated by an Army whitewash. Apparently he was not responsible for the actions of soldiers operating under rules he put in place.

About the only high-ranking officer whose career has suffered over Abu Ghraib is Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was the commander in Iraq at the time. General Sanchez should certainly take responsibility, but he was also a victim of administration blunders.

General Sanchez was vaulted inappropriately from head of the First Armored Division to overall commander because Mr. Bush declared "mission accomplished": the war's over. He was then denied the staff, soldiers and equipment he needed to deal with the insurgency that quickly broke out and produced thousands of prisoners.

Mr. Bush has refused to hold himself or any of his top political appointees accountable for those catastrophic errors. Indeed, he has promoted many of them. And this is not an isolated problem. It's just one example, among many, of how this president's men run no risk of being blamed for anything that happens, not matter how egregious.

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Roberts Dissent Reveals Strain Beneath Court's Placid Surface

Published: March 23, 2006

WASHINGTON, March 22 - A Supreme Court decision on Wednesday in an uncelebrated criminal case did more than resolve a dispute over whether the police can search a home without a warrant when one occupant gives consent but another objects.
More than any other case so far, the decision, which answered that question in the negative by a vote of 5 to 3, drew back the curtain to reveal the strains behind the surface placidity and collegiality of the young Roberts court.

It was not only that this case, out of 32 decided since the term began in October, provoked Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to write his first dissenting opinion. He had cast two earlier dissenting votes, and had to write a dissenting opinion eventually. And although there has been much commentary on the court's unusually high proportion of unanimous opinions, 22 so far compared with only 27 in all of the last term, few people expected that rate to continue as the court disposed of its easiest cases and moved into the heart of the term.

Rather, what was striking about the decision in Georgia v. Randolph, No. 04-1067, was the pointed, personal and acerbic tone in which the justices expressed their disagreement over whether the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches was violated when the police in Americus, Ga., arriving at a house to investigate a domestic dispute, accepted the wife's invitation to look for evidence of her husband's cocaine use.

The dueling opinions themselves were relatively straightforward; as has often been the case in the court's recent past, although not so far this term, the justices revealed their real feelings in the footnotes.

Writing for the majority, Justice David H. Souter said the search was unreasonable, given the vocal objection of the husband, Scott Randolph. True, Justice Souter said, the court had long permitted one party to give consent to a search of shared premises under what is known as the "co-occupant consent rule." But he said that rule should be limited to the context in which it was first applied, the absence of the person who later objected.

The presence of the objecting person changed everything, Justice Souter said, noting that it defied "widely shared social expectations" for someone to come to the door of a dwelling and to cross the threshold at one occupant's invitation if another objected.

"Without some very good reason, no sensible person would go inside under those conditions," he said.

"We have, after all, lived our whole national history with an understanding of the ancient adage that a man's home is his castle," Justice Souter said. "Disputed permission is thus no match for this central value of the Fourth Amendment."

Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony M. Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the majority opinion, as did Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who explained himself in a concurring opinion notable for its ambivalent tone. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. did not vote, as he was not a member of the court when the case was argued.

The dissenters, in addition to Chief Justice Roberts, were Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. In his opinion, the chief justice took aim at the majority's description of social custom, as well as its reliance on that description to reshape "a great deal of established Fourth Amendment law."

Every lower federal court to have considered the issue, as well as most state courts, had concluded that one party's consent was sufficient. The Georgia Supreme Court, in its 2004 decision that the justices affirmed, was in the minority, ruling in this case that the evidence of Mr. Randolph's cocaine use was inadmissible.

"The fact is that a wide variety of differing social situations can readily be imagined, giving rise to quite different social expectations," Chief Justice Roberts said. For example, he continued, "a guest who came to celebrate an occupant's birthday, or one who had traveled some distance for a particular reason, might not readily turn away simply because of a roommate's objection."

Noting that "the possible scenarios are limitless," he said, "Such shifting expectations are not a promising foundation on which to ground a constitutional rule, particularly because the majority has no support for its basic assumption - that an invited guest encountering two disagreeing co-occupants would flee - beyond a hunch about how people would typically act in an atypical situation."

The majority missed the point, the chief justice said; the fact is that someone choosing to share space has also, already, chosen to share privacy.

"Our common social expectations may well be that the other person will not, in turn, share what we have shared with them with another - including the police," he said, "but that is the risk we take in sharing."

That was the analysis, and then came the footnotes.

Justice Souter, usually mild-mannered to a fault, said in Footnote 4 that "in the dissent's view, the centuries of special protection for the privacy of the home are over." By invoking a "false equation" between inviting the police into the home and reporting a secret, he said, the chief justice "suggests a deliberate intent to devalue the importance of the privacy of a dwelling place."

Chief Justice Roberts responded in turn. The majority had mischaracterized his position on privacy and "seems a bit overwrought," he said in a footnote.

In a concluding paragraph of his dissent, he said: "The majority reminds us, in high tones, that a man's home is his castle, but even under the majority's rule, it is not his castle if he happens to be absent, asleep in the keep or otherwise engaged when the constable arrives at the gate. Then it is his co-owner's castle."

Justice Souter also attacked as a "red herring" a warning by Chief Justice Roberts that the rule the court was adopting would hamper the ability of the police to protect victims of domestic violence.

Justice Souter said the law was clear on the right of the police, despite any objection, to enter a home to protect a crime victim. But that issue "has nothing to do with the question in this case," he said.

The discussion by Chief Justice Roberts of the implications for domestic violence cases might have been an effort to win, or a failed effort to hold, the vote of Justice Breyer.

When the case was argued on Nov. 8, Justice Breyer raised the issue of domestic abuse. Addressing Mr. Randolph's lawyer, Thomas C. Goldstein, he said, "I haven't seen anything on your side that wouldn't prevent many cases of domestic spousal abuse from being investigated." He added, "Quite frankly, it bothers me a lot."

In his concurring opinion on Wednesday, Justice Breyer noted that in this case, the police were searching "solely for evidence," and domestic abuse was not at issue. While he pronounced himself satisfied by "the case-specific nature of the court's holding," he said the outcome might well be different in the context of domestic abuse, in which police entry even over one spouse's objection could be reasonable.

This case was the oldest undecided case on the court's docket, and it is likely that Justice Breyer's vote was in play until the final stages. One indication was Chief Justice Roberts's reference in his opinion to Justice Breyer's having joined "what becomes the majority opinion," an odd present-tense locution suggesting that the outcome had once been otherwise.

The case also produced dueling opinions by Justice Stevens, concurring, and Justice Scalia, in dissent, over how a true believer in interpreting the Constitution in light of the framers' original understanding would have resolved the issue. There was a tone more of banter than anger to this exchange between the old adversaries, as if after some months of forced and unaccustomed unanimity, they were now free once again to acknowledge their differences.

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New mental health detention plans

Thursday, 23 March 2006, 13:35 GMT

Plans to extend powers of compulsory detention to mental health patients deemed a risk to themselves or others have been unveiled by ministers
The proposals also include measures to force patients to comply with community treatment orders or face detention.

Anyone detained under the laws who has a problem with being held will be able to appeal against it after 14 days.

The plans come in an amendment to mental health laws after ministers had to abandon plans for a new bill.

The controversial draft Mental Health Bill was dropped after eight years of planning and consultations because of criticism from mental health charities and civil rights groups.

It was also thought unlikely ministers would be able to get the plans, which included allowing the detention of patients for 28 days without appeal, through Parliament.

Launching the revised plans on Thursday, health Minister Rosie Winterton said: "The introduction of supervised treatment in the community will make a very real difference to patients and carers and will make sure that what has been the revolving door syndrome is dealt with."

If the new proposals do become law, someone who had been detained or sectioned under the Mental Health Act, who medics believed was at risk of causing harm to themselves or others, could be forced to comply with supervised community treatment orders.

If they refused they would be taken to a clinical setting and given the treatment against their will.

The other change involves widening the definition of who is treatable.


Currently, anyone deemed a risk to themselves or others cannot be detained in hospital for treatment unless they pass a "treatability test" - ie their condition has to be one that can be treated.

This was the problem the authorities faced in the case of dangerous psychopath Michael Stone, who was convicted for the brutal murders of Lin and Megan Russell.

Under the new plans, anyone for whom an "appropriate treatment" is available could be held for treatment purposes if they doctors feel pose a risk to themselves or others.

Mental health tsar Professor Louis Appleby said that treatments which could lessen the symptoms of the condition, such as behavioural or cognitive therapies, were available and could be used - even though they may take a long time to work.

This would hold true for someone who was at risk of suicide as much as someone who was deemed a risk to others.

'Uncharted waters'

But many other mental health experts disagree and believe personality disorders are simply untreatable.

Chairman of the Mental Health Alliance Paul Farmer warned: "The decision to abolish the treatability test risks increasing compulsory powers unnecessarily for people who will have no therapeutic benefit from being deprived of their liberty."

He added: "We are now in uncharted waters. The government's plans to bolt-on these amendments to an outdated Mental Health Act will need careful consideration and full consultation."

'Better protection'

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity Sane, said she was disappointed that the changes do not include more positive rights for patients.

"We believe it has been the failure to respond to disturbed people in crisis which has been a major cause of the rare tragedies which appear to have driven the government's agenda."

But she welcomed the removal of the treatability test saying it had been "an obstacle to better protection and management of people with severe anti-social personality disorders".

The BBC's Home Editor Mark Easton added that the bill foundered because the proposal to allow everyone held to appeal to a tribunal within 28 days, alongside a likely increase in the number of people detained, suggested a vast bureaucracy would be needed to process appeals.

The new Bill, which ministers hope will be introduced into Parliament this session, would amend the Mental Health Act 1983 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

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Naturally Fluoridated Water May Harm Teeth

Associated Press
Thursday, March 23, 2006; Page A09

The high levels of fluoride that occur naturally in some drinking water can cause tooth and bone damage and should be reduced, the National Research Council said yesterday.

The study did not analyze the benefits or risks of adding fluoride to drinking water. Instead, it looked at the current maximum limit of 4 milligrams per liter. Approximately 200,000 people live in communities where that level occurs naturally in water.
The council suggested further studies to establish a new maximum level, but noted that the problems associated with exposure to fluoride are very small at 2 milligrams per liter and less. Approximately 1.4 million people have drinking water with natural fluoride levels of 2.0 to 3.9 milligrams per liter, said the council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

More than 160 million Americans live in communities with artificially fluoridated water, which contains between 0.7 and 1.2 milligrams of fluoride per liter.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it will give serious consideration to the recommendation. "Any change in the fluoride standard will be considered after the agency has completed reviewing all the data, of which the NRC report is a significant addition," EPA said in a statement.

Fluoride is added to water to help strengthen the teeth.

Drinking water with levels above the maximum can cause tooth discoloration and weaken the enamel, and long-term accumulation in the bones can result in an increase in fractures, the council reported.

The National Academy of Sciences is an independent organization chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters. The study was requested by the EPA.

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Podhoretz said Democrats calling Bush "incompetent" would turn off voters, ignored polls that say many voters already think Bush is "incompetent"

Wed, Mar 22, 2006 1:36pm EST
Media Matters

New York Post columnist John Podhoretz described Democrats' use of the term "incompetent" to describe President Bush as "an act of political cowardice," adding, "voters can smell that kind of cowardice a mile off." But a poll by the Pew Research Center reported that "incompetent" was the most frequently cited one-word description for Bush, and that, overall, negative impressions of Bush -- measured by respondents' selection of words such as "incompetent," "idiot" or "liar" to describe Bush -- outweighed positive ones, 48 percent to 28 percent.
In his March 21 New York Post opinion piece, columnist John Podhoretz described Democrats' use of the term "incompetent" to describe President Bush as "an act of political cowardice," adding, "voters can smell that kind of cowardice a mile off." But in a poll conducted March 8-12, the Pew Research Center reported that "incompetent" was the one-word description for Bush most frequently cited by respondents, and that, overall, negative impressions of Bush -- measured by respondents' selection of words such as "incompetent," "idiot" or "liar" to describe Bush -- outweighed positive ones, 48 percent to 28 percent.

In addition, a March 10-13 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll asked, "[H]ow competent would you say the Bush administration is in its role of managing the federal government?" Fourteen percent replied, "Very competent"; 39 percent, "Somewhat competent"; 22 percent, "Not too competent"; and 24 percent, "Not competent at all." So, 53 percent described him as either "very competent" or "somewhat competent," while 46 percent described him as "not too competent" or "not competent at all."

From Podhoretz's March 21 column, titled "The Censure Flap":

The real story is that, for the first time in a long time, Democrats have found themselves a workable, poll-tested, focus-grouped sound bite that they are confident will help them in their quest to wrest control of the House of Representatives and the Senate away from Republicans in November. That sound bite is the word "incompetent."

If you've listened closely to Democratic politicians over the past 10 days, you've heard it spoken about a million times. George Bush is incompetent. His White House staff is incompetent. His war-fighting strategy is incompetent. His handling of Katrina was incompetent. The implementation of the Medicare prescription-drug benefit has been incompetent.

Incompetent, incompetent, incompetent.

This unified and very simple message represents a nimble change of course the canniest Democrats effected at the start of 2005. They've been relentless and effective in knocking down the president's primary strength with the American people -- the popular sense that Bush is a strong leader with real convictions. They have, instead, painted him as a hapless bumbler who can't possibly believe the happy talk he offers on Iraq.

It has worked, to some degree.

The "incompetence" meme is the default position for Democrats. It's a unifying criticism; anyone can play. You can throw the term around no matter how you voted on the war resolution. It's entirely negative, but it doesn't smack of character assassination the way other anti-Bush arguments do. Calling Bush and the Republicans incompetent is a way of offering a critique. As an act of name-calling, it's far less incendiary than words like "liar" and "fascist" and "torturer."

But there are two major problems with it -- problems that aren't solved by running away from Feingold's censure resolution.


Problem No. 2: The "incompetence" attack is an act of political cowardice, and voters can smell that kind of cowardice a mile off. Partisan Democrats don't think Bush is incompetent. They think he's a bad guy and a worse president. But they don't quite think they can make the case well enough to carry the day with voters passionate enough to hit the polls for a midterm election in November.

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Pentagon mulls torture rule on Guantanamo evidence

Wed Mar 22, 2006 04:17 PM ET
By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In what would be a key change in U.S. policy, the Pentagon may formally require military prosecutors to observe a U.N. convention against torture in their use of evidence during tribunals at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
Such a move would represent a formal bar on the use of any evidence obtained by torture in prisoner tribunals at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, where the United States has held hundreds of foreign terrorism suspects since early 2002.

Washington has faced steady criticism over the Guantanamo camp from the United Nations, rights groups and some foreign governments. Former detainees have charged U.S. authorities use torture at the camp, which the Pentagon denies.

Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said on Wednesday the administration up to now has relied on prosecutors to ensure that their cases before tribunals, known as military commissions, reflect President George W. Bush's stated policy that the United States not condone torture.

"Up to this point, it's not believed to have been necessary because of the way in which prosecutors and the commission members have been able to proceed in their trials," Whitman told reporters.

"But it is something that is being looked at as a possible way to eliminate any doubt that the Convention Against Torture, Article 15, is understood and is applicable to these prosecutions," he said. "The department is taking a look at it and may issue a separate instruction on it."

Article 15 of the U.N Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment requires states to ensure that evidence invoked in proceedings not be the result of torture.

But Air Force Maj. Jane Boomer, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told reporters at Guantanamo earlier this month that current tribunal rules hypothetically could allow the use of evidence obtained through torture because such evidence was not explicitly banned.

"It is not specified in the rulebook, period," she said at a March 2 news conference at the camp.

However, she said such evidence could not be admitted if it would deny the accused a fair trial.

Bush authorized the military tribunals after the September 11 attacks, but the system has come under fire from human rights activists and some military lawyers as fundamentally unfair to defendants.

U.S. officials have vigorously and repeatedly denied any claim that they engage in torture.

But word of the possible policy change, which some officials expect soon, comes a month after five United Nations special envoys called for closing the Guantanamo prison in a report that accused the United States of violating bans on torture, arbitrary detention and the right to fair trial.

Most of the roughly 500 inmates at Guantanamo have been held for four years without trial.

Ten Guantanamo prisoners have been charged with war crimes and six have undergone pretrial hearings. But no case has yet reached the trial stage before a military commission.

Guantanamo inmates have challenged their detention in more than 180 cases filed in federal district court.

Next Tuesday, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in an important legal challenge to the tribunal system by Guantanamo prisoner Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the first inmate to face a military tribunal.

Hamdan, a Yemeni accused of being Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and driver, is challenging Bush's authority to use military tribunals to try Guantanamo prisoners for war crimes.

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America - Nowhere Left To Go But Down

State after State Repudiates Bush

By Sam Parry
March 23, 2006

George W. Bush's admission that he expects to leave the Iraq War mess behind for his successor to clean up underscores why he is facing a historic collapse in polls across the country, with tracking surveys now showing him with net negatives exceeding 20 percentage points in more than half the states.
According to SurveyUSA.com, which tracks Bush's approval ratings in all 50 states, Bush's support in the March readings plunged to double-digit net negative numbers even in some staunchly Republican states: -12% in South Carolina, -17% in Indiana, -18% in Virginia, and -19% in Tennessee. In Bush's home state of Texas, public disapproval topped approval by 14 percentage points.

All told, Bush – dragged down by the Iraq War, his inept Katrina response and the exploding federal debt – has higher disapproval than approval numbers in 43 states. Bush is at -10% or worse in 37 states; -20% or worse in 26 states; -30% or worse in 13 states; and a staggering -40% or worse in six states.

The March readings show Bush with positive numbers in only seven states (and then by mostly narrow margins): Nebraska +1%, Mississippi +2%, Oklahoma +2%, Idaho +3%, Alabama +5%, Wyoming +7%, and Utah +13%.

While SurveyUSA.com's averaging of the numbers for the 50 states fits with recent national surveys showing Bush with about 35% approval and 60% disapproval – a net negative of 25 points – the state-by-state numbers highlight the pervasiveness of Bush's political troubles.

Electoral Fears

The dismal numbers also help explain why some Republicans, facing elections this November, are shying away from Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who suffers even lower ratings than Bush.

Plus, over the past half year, Bush has shown little ability to rebound. His national numbers have been low since last summer's Katrina debacle reinforced doubts about his administration's competence, which already had taken a beating over the Iraq War. Those concerns now have mixed with growing suspicions about his honesty.

Still, despite last year's post-Katrina slump, Bush retained favorable numbers in many "red states" that he carried in 2004. In most months, he was even or in positive numbers in at least 10 states, though in November 2005 the number of plus or break-even states slid to six.

Even then, however, Bush enjoyed robust numbers in the reddest "red states" – with a +21% bulge in Utah and +20% in Idaho. There were also fewer extremely negative numbers in November, with Bush at -10% or worse in only 15 states, compared to 37 such states now.

By March 2006, Bush's public support had crumbled across the country. Even among his seven favorable states, his edge was within the polling "margin of error" in four of them, meaning that Bush might be down to as few as three states still favoring him. In Election 2004, Bush carried those same seven states by margins ranging from +20% to +46%.

The seven remaining pro-Bush states also are lightly populated, accounting for only 16.5 million people or less than 6% of the U.S. population in the 2000 census. They have just 39 electoral votes.

Bush's plunge in the polls has been perhaps most dramatic in the swing states of Florida and Ohio, where Bush claimed his controversial victories in Election 2000 and Election 2004, respectively. Bush now gets a net approval rating in Ohio of -30% and in Florida -22%.

In other swing states of Election 2004, Bush's net ratings are -23% in Nevada and New Mexico; -24% in Missouri; -25% in Colorado; -27% in Iowa; and -28% in Arkansas.

Narrowed Options

Given the depth and breadth of this political collapse, it's hard to envision how Bush can rebuild his standing between now and November, short of some major external event, such as the death or capture of Osama bin-Laden, or a breakthrough in the Iraq War, or the nation rallying around him because of some new military or terrorist crisis.

Across the Internet, there has been open speculation by Bush critics that he might cynically launch a new war against Iran to bolster his numbers – or that Republicans will resort to widespread electoral fraud to keep control of Congress.

But the realistic options for Bush turning his predicament around seem to be narrowing as he loses support even in his strongest political strongholds. Plus, the likely course of events in the Middle East and domestically do not seem to favor Bush.

At his press conference on March 21, Bush acknowledged that the continuing bloodshed in Iraq had drained his political capital. He then blurted out that the issue of whether to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq would be decided by "future presidents and future governments of Iraq."

This comment marked one of the few times Bush has given a clue about how long he expects the war to continue.

But the suggestion that his successors will have to make the hard decisions on extricating U.S. troops reinforces Bush's image as a feckless son of privilege who rushes into projects, flounders and then gets bailed out by others. [See Consortiumnews.com's "The Bush Family 'Oiligarchy'" or Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]

Bush's critics also are sure to accuse him of dragging out the war – and getting thousands of more Americans and Iraqis killed – in part to avoid having to take responsibility for his own mistakes. By extending the war until 2009, Bush's supporters also may be hoping to blame whoever succeeds Bush for "losing Iraq."

While this strategy of palming off the Iraq disaster on a future President might make some sense for the political legacies of Bush and his neoconservative allies, it's unlikely to help Republicans in this November's elections.

GOP candidates will face a choice of either distancing themselves from the President (and risking alienating Bush's hard-core backers) or tying themselves to Bush (and having voters opt for a more independent candidate).

Still, even with Bush's low poll numbers, the chances for a Democratic sweep of the House and Senate don't appear high, given the limited number of "competitive" seats. But political analysts can't rule out an electoral tidal wave, like the one in 1994 that overwhelmed the Democrats and carried the Republicans to majorities in both chambers.

Whatever the outcome in November, however, Bush's personal reversal of fortune over the past several months has been extraordinary.

For a "wartime" President who celebrated his Second Inaugural with high-blown rhetoric only 14 months ago – and who once enjoyed 90% approval ratings – to be clinging to positive ratings in only seven states represents a political flameout not seen in Washington since the Watergate scandal drove Richard Nixon from office more than three decades ago.

Plus, Bush's supporters can't just point to their man's unpopularity among "liberal elites" in Hollywood or Manhattan.

With another new poll showing more and more Americans judging him an "incompetent" and a "liar," Bush also is losing the backing of millions of Middle Americans in states like Texas, Ohio and South Dakota.

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Running From Roe

By Paul Waldman, TomPaine.com. Posted March 23, 2006.

South Dakota's extreme new law is making even Republicans squirm; now is the time for Democrats to reclaim the abortion debate.
Pro-choice Americans everywhere are becoming unsettled about the future of reproductive rights. The Supreme Court is one vacancy away from overturning Roe v. Wade and at least one state, South Dakota, has already outlawed abortion in the hope of bringing the Court a case to challenge Roe. But the ones who are really nervous? The Republicans.  

That's because the South Dakota law -- which criminalizes abortion except to save a woman's life -- has pulled the abortion issue back to a fundamental question: whether Roe should be overturned and abortion made illegal in large parts of the country. This is just the debate Republicans don't want to have. For years, they've used a strategy of chipping away at reproductive rights by finding side issues like parental consent, "partial-birth" and the newest, "fetal pain," on which they can obtain broad public support.  

These interim steps were never supposed to be ends in themselves. Nor were they designed merely to keep the pro-choice side on the defensive. Their real purpose was to make the ground of public opinion more fertile for the ultimate goal of overturning Roe.  

But for all the apparent success the pro-life side had with parental consent and "partial birth" laws, they never got any closer to their ultimate goal. Opinions on abortion vary dramatically depending on how you ask the question, but when we look over time, we see that opinions on a given question have remained essentially locked in place since the 1970s.

For instance, since 1975, Gallup has asked whether abortion should be legal in all circumstances, legal in only certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances. In April of that year, 21 percent said it should always be legal, 54 percent said it should be legal in only certain circumstances, and 22 percent said it should always be illegal. The numbers 30 years later, in 2005, after elections, Supreme Court cases, and endless political wrangling: a near-identical 26 percent, 56 percent, and 16 percent, respectively. Opinions on abortion have hardly budged in decades.  

The pro-life strategy failed, and the American people remain committed to abortion rights. But by turning attention away from Roe, their strategy enabled Republicans to avoid answering fundamental questions on the issue. In what has to be one of the most remarkable achievements of weaselly evasion in American political history, George W. Bush ran for president twice, and has served five years in office, without ever stating precisely where he stands on the most contentious legal and social issue of our time. Although we know he's "pro-life" and favors a "culture of life" (i.e., abortion -- bad, stem cell research -- bad, death penalty and wars with tens of thousands of civilian casualties -- hunky dory), he has never said whether or not he wants Roe v. Wade to be overturned.  

Characteristically, the White House has refused to say whether the president supports or opposes the South Dakota law, protesting that it's a state matter, and therefore Bush won't take a position. "Look at the president's record when it comes to defending the sanctity of life," Scott McLellan said, bobbing and weaving desperately. "That is a very strong record. His views when it comes to pro-life issues are very clearly spelled out. We also have stated repeatedly that state legislatures, when they pass laws, those are state matters." As is so often the case with McClellan, you could smell the fear.

And it isn't just Bush. The rhetoric of Republicans thinking about running for president in 2008 -- with the notable exception of Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback (whose slogan may end up being "Building a Bridge to the 14th Century") -- reveals how terrified they are of the role abortion could play in that campaign.  

Consider John McCain, he of the straight talk, firm principle and vaunted authenticity. McCain had a spokesman issue a statement saying he "would have signed the [South Dakota] legislation, but would also take the appropriate steps under state law -- in whatever state -- to ensure that the exceptions of rape, incest or life of the mother were included." Of course, there were no exceptions for rape and incest in the South Dakota law, making McCain's position essentially that he would favor banning nearly all abortions as long as it didn't involve banning nearly all abortions. That's the waffling of a man caught between fervently anti-choice Republican primary voters and a pro-choice general election majority.  

Or take Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who, when asked on ABC's "This Week" if he would sign the South Dakota law, hemmed and hawed about exceptions for rape and incest, then said, "I'm opposed to abortion. I'm not the governor myself -- didn't have to vote on it but if I ever did have to vote on a situation like that, it would be around that feeling, opposition to abortion with those exceptions." Yes indeed, it would be "around that feeling."

When pressed by George Stephanopoulos to explain whether he would or wouldn't sign the South Dakota law, Frist dodged again, saying, "Well, again, I'm not going to put myself in that situation. I can tell you what my feelings are, my beliefs are and my philosophy is about it, and that's how I would vote and vote accordingly." Not exactly a model of moral clarity.  

But the most revealing statements may have been those of Virginia Sen. George Allen, the Washington insiders' choice for the 2008 Republican nomination. When asked by Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" whether he wanted to see Roe overturned, Allen retreated to the safe ground of parental notification laws, which he supports, in case you were wondering. By the time Russert asked him for the third time whether he supports overturning Roe, a visibly uncomfortable Allen, unable to say the words directly, finally sidled up to his long-held position with:

The point is, rather than arguing on a legal term, the point of the matter is the people in the states ought to be making these decisions. And if that's contrary to the dictates of Roe v. Wade, so be it. Because the way that Roe v. Wade has been interpreted is taking away the rights of the people in the states to make these decisions.

This bit of courageous straight talk comes from a senator with a perfect 100 percent rating from the National Right-to-Life Committee.  

The Republicans are embarrassed because they know their position on whether Roe should be overturned is a minority one -- embraced by only around one-third of the American people, according to recent polls.

Yet the Democrats are, if anything, even less courageous when talking about the issue. It's one thing for Democrats to be timid when it comes to issues on which their position is in the minority (like, say, flag burning) -- not politically wise, but somewhat understandable. But this is an issue on which two-thirds of the public agrees with them, and they still act as though their position is something they need to be embarrassed about.  

Instead, they should go on the offensive. Make every Republican answer this one, simple question: Yes or no, do you support overturning Roe v. Wade? "I believe in a culture of life" is not an answer. "I'm pro-life" is not an answer. "We need parental consent laws" is not an answer. Yes or no, do you support overturning Roe v. Wade? With each evasion -- as long as Democrats respond with, you're evading, now answer the damn question -- Republicans look more scared, more equivocal, more waffly, less willing to stand up for their beliefs, and less principled. Democrats could even make signs reading simply, "YES OR NO?" and hold them up at Republican rallies.  

Besides making Republican politicians nervous, focusing on this debate has the side benefit of driving wedges into the conservative coalition. One of the remarkable achievements of that coalition has been the willingness of its various parts to adopt each other's goals. So the religious conservatives became anti-tax zealots, the business groups paid lip service to the NRA's agenda, and everyone on the right proclaimed themselves pro-life.

This was easy to do when the questions involved parental consent or "partial birth." But, because of the focus on Roe, the business interests and the libertarians that are essential elements of that coalition find themselves having to go all the way on abortion, something they don't want to do.  

And when the abortion debate turns away from the ancillary issues and back to women's fundamental right to control their own reproductive lives, the right's uglier side emerges. Republicans have no interest in being associated with campaigns against contraception or the likes of South Dakota state Senator Bill Napoli.

Napoli, the enlightened soul who told PBS that the only abortion that should be legal "would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated."

In other words, virgin Christian rape victims can have abortions, but if you don't fall in that category, you must be a dirty slut, so you're out of luck. The blogger Digby aptly termed this the Sodomized Virgin Exception.  

If that kind of rhetoric becomes associated with the Republican Party, voters will turn away in disgust. But it won't happen unless Democrats make Republicans take responsibility for their own agenda.

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The Measure of Meritocracy

By Rebecca Parrish, Dollars and Sense. Posted March 23, 2006.

Lani Guinier became a household name in 1993 when Bill Clinton appointed her to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and then, under pressure from conservatives, withdrew her nomination without a confirmation hearing. Guinier is currently the Bennett Boskey Professor of Law at Harvard University where, in 1998, she became the first black woman to be tenured at the law school. Her latest book, "Meritocracy Inc.: How Wealth Became Merit, Class Became Race, and College Education Became a Gift from the Poor to the Rich," will be published in 2007. This past summer, she offered a glimpse of her upcoming book.

Rebecca Parrish: What is meritocracy? What is the difference between the conventional understanding and the way you are using the term in "Meritocracy Inc."?

Lani Guinier: The conventional understanding of meritocracy is that it is a system for awarding or allocating scarce resources to those who most deserve them. The idea behind meritocracy is that people should achieve status or realize the promise of upward mobility based on their individual talent or individual effort. It is conceived as a repudiation of systems like aristocracy where individuals inherit their social status.

I am arguing that many of the criteria we associate with individual talent and effort do not measure the individual in isolation but rather parallel the phenomena associated with aristocracy; what we're calling individual talent is actually a function of that individual's social position or opportunities gained by virtue of family and ancestry. So, although the system we call "meritocracy" is presumed to be more democratic and egalitarian than aristocracy, it is in fact reproducing that which it was intended to dislodge.

Michael Young, a British sociologist, created the term in 1958 when he wrote a science-fiction novel called "The Rise of Meritocracy." The book was a satire in which he depicted a society where people in power could legitimate their status using "merit" as the justificatory terminology and in which others could be determined not simply to have been poor or left out but to be deservingly disenfranchised.

RP: How did you become interested in studying meritocracy in the first place?

LG: I became interested in the 1990s as a result of looking at the performance of women in law school. A student and I became interested in the disparity between the grades that men and women at an Ivy League law school were receiving. Working with Michelle Fein and Jean Belan, we found that male and female students were coming in with basically the same credentials. The minor difference was that the women tended to have entered with slightly higher undergraduate grades and the men with higher LSATs.

The assumption at that time was that incoming credentials predicted how you would perform. Relying on things like the LSAT allowed law school officials to say they were determining admission based on merit. So several colleagues told me to look at the LSAT scores because they were confident that I might find something to explain the significant differences in performance. But we found that, surprisingly, the LSAT was actually a very poor predictor of performance for both men and women, that this "objective" marker which determined who could even gain access was actually not accomplishing its ostensible mandate.

I then became interested in studying meritocracy because of the attacks poor and working class whites were waging against affirmative action. People were arguing that they were rejected from positions because less qualified people of color were taking their spots. I began to question what determines who is qualified. Then, the more research I did, the more I discovered that these so-called markers of merit did not actually correlate with future performance in college but rather correlated more with an applicant's parents' and even grandparents' wealth. Schools were substituting markers of wealth for merit.

RP: As a theorist of democracy, how do you approach issues of educational equity and achievement differently from other scholars? Are current educational institutions democratic?

LG: My approach builds on and borrows from work of many other scholars. It perhaps expands on it or shifts emphasis. For example, many people defend affirmative action on grounds that there are multiple measures of merit and that bringing diverse students to the school would benefit the learning environment.

The problem with this argument is that it pits diversity as a counterpoint to merit. And the argument is not strong enough to counter the belief in "merit" as an egalitarian and democratic way to allocate scarce resources. I am arguing that there are fundamental flaws in the over-reliance on these supposedly objective indicators of merit. This approach positions poor people and people of color as the problem rather than problematizing the ways we measure merit in the first place.

RP: Can you talk about the Harvard and Michigan studies?

LG: Harvard University did a study based on 30 Harvard graduates over a 30-year period. They wanted to know which students were most likely to exemplify the things that Harvard values most: doing well financially, having a satisfying career and contributing to society (especially in the form of donating to Harvard). The two variables that most predicted which students would achieve these criteria were low SAT scores and a blue-collar background.

That study was followed by one at the University of Michigan Law School that found that those most likely to do well financially, maintain a satisfying career and contribute to society were black and Latino students who were admitted pursuant to affirmative action. Conversely, those with the highest LSAT scores were the least likely to mentor younger attorneys, do pro-bono work, sit on community boards, etc. So, the use of these so called "measures of merit" like standardized tests is backfiring on our institutions of higher learning and blocking the road to a more democratic society.

RP: You refer to college education as a gift from poor to rich.

LG: Anthony Carnevaly made that statement when he was the vice president of the Educational Testing Service. He did a study of 146 of the most selective colleges and universities and found that 74 percent of students came from the top 25 percent of the socioeconomic spectrum. Only three percent came from the lowest quartile and 10 percent (which is three percent plus seven percent) came from the bottom half. So that means that 50 percent of people in the country are providing substantial state and federal taxes to both public and private institutions even though they are among those least well off and are being excluded from the opportunity.

RP: In Meritocracy Inc., you'll be exploring the relationship between class and race in structuring U.S. society. What insights can you offer into their relationship? How can we think about class and race in our efforts to democratize higher education?

LG: The argument I'm making is that in many ways race is being used as a stand-in for class. I am not saying that race and class are coterminous, but that people look at race and see race because it is highly visible, but they don't see class.

RP: Can you give some examples?

LG: In Arkansas in 1957 whites rioted as Central High School in Little Rock was desegregated by nine carefully chosen middle-class black students. The rage and hate on people's faces was broadcast on national television, and President Eisenhower had to send in the National Guard to ensure that blacks could get an education. What most people don't know is that, at the same time as the leaders of the city of Little Rock planned the desegregation of Central High, they built and opened a new high school located in an area where the sons and daughters of the doctors and lawyers lived.

Blacks were coming in at the same time that upper-class whites were exiting, and this was part of what provoked the intense backlash; there was the sense among the working-class whites who remained that their chances for upward mobility were lost because they could no longer fraternize with the middle and upper class. Previously, there were only two high schools in Little Rock, one white and one black. So Central High was segregated by race and integrated by class. Now Central was integrated by race and segregated by class.

Beth Roy did interviews with white graduates of Central High 30 years later [for her book "Bitters in the Honey"] and determined that many of them still blame blacks for the failure of themselves and their children to gain a secure toehold in a middle-class lifestyle. They think that the American Dream owed them individual opportunity through its promise that if you work hard and play by the rules you will succeed.

The problem with the American Dream is that it offers no explanation for failure other than that you deserve your lot in life, and that if you fail there must be something wrong with you. Many people are perfectly willing to believe that success is individual but don't want to think about failure as individual, and no one wants to believe that they deserve to fail. So they find a scapegoat, and blacks were an easy scapegoat in this case.

Even 30 years later, the white graduates of Central High claimed that blacks stole the American Dream. While the integration of Central was hypervisible, the building of Hall High was kept under wraps -- most people still don't know about it. Wealthier whites were able to get away with building Hall High because blacks were used as a scapegoat.

RP: You and Gerald Torres wrote about the Texas Ten Percent Plan in "The Miner's Canary." How does that relate to this?

LG: Sheryl Hopwood was a white working-class woman who applied to the University of Texas Law School and was denied admission. In 1996, she sued the university for racial discrimination, arguing that less-qualified blacks and Latinos had taken her spot. Thirty-nine years after Central, she sued in the district court and then in the Fifth Circuit and won, but the problem with the court's analysis was that they did not look behind the school's claim that all slots, except for those bestowed through affirmative action, were distributed based on merit.

It actually turns out that the school's own formula for determining merit disadvantaged Sheryl Hopwood. She went to a community college and the University of Texas Law weighted her LSAT scores with those of other applicants from her school and graduating year. Because her community college drew from a working-class population, Hopwood's own LSAT score was negatively weighted. So Hopwood's chance of attending the University of Texas was diminished because of class status not because of her race.

After the ruling in Hopwood's favor, a group of legislators and concerned citizens determined that the University of Texas would not return to its segregationist roots. They started investigating the population of the University of Texas graduate school and found that 75 percent students admitted according to "merit" were coming from only 10 percent of high schools in the state.

These schools tended to be suburban, white and middle- or upper-class. Their logic was that if the University of Texas is supposed to be a flagship school and a place from which the state's leaders would be drawn, then 10 percent of students from each high school in the state should be automatically eligible for access. So the Texas Ten Percent Plan was passed by the legislature and Gov. Bush signed it into law.

It all started with concern about racial diversity, but it was discovered that class was also at the core. The law ultimately passed because a conservative Republican legislator voted for the law when he learned that not one of his constituents, who were white and poor or working class, had been admitted in the previous cycle.

So, "meritocratic" standards were keeping out poor and working-class whites, especially the rural poor. Many people worried that if SAT scores were eliminated as a marker, then grades would go down. However, those who've come in based on the Ten Percent plan have had higher freshman year grades.

RP: You've said before that race is being used as a decoy.

LG: Race was being used as a decoy for class, leading working-class and poor whites to challenge affirmative action, and to challenge the integration of Central High School. In fact, meritocratic standards, which favor the wealthy, have kept them out. Too often, poor and working-class whites are willing to throw their lot in with upper-class and middle-class whites because class is obscured while race is quite visible. People think that if anyone can succeed, if these other whites can succeed, then they can too because merit claims to be about the individual operating without regard to background conditions.

RP: So what are the background conditions of students of color attending elite universities?

LG: Many students admitted through affirmative action are not that different from those admitted through conventional standards of merit because schools are so committed to the annual issue of U.S. News and World Report that ranks educational institutions according to the their students' standardized test scores.

In Ivy League schools, a large percentage of Latinos and blacks are foreign-born and don't identify with communities of color who are born in the United States. I'm not arguing that international students should not have access to U.S. institutions. It is significant, however, that in the '70s and '80s, blacks and Latinos entering through affirmative action were coming in from poor U.S. communities and were passionate about returning to those communities and lifting as they climbed.

Currently, schools are more concerned about admitting people who have high SAT scores who will boost their status than recruiting leaders. Education is changing from an opportunity for students to explore and grow to institutions that are consumed with rankings. Education is becoming about providing credentials to obtain high-paying jobs rather than training people for a thriving democracy.

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The Patriot Act and Attention Deficit Democracy

by James Bovard

The American political system failed when Congress and the media recently rolled over in favor of extending the most onerous provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. Despite stark evidence of both the law's abuses and widespread popular opposition, Bush got a rubber-stamp extension of a law that has come to symbolize boundless government intrusions since 9/11.
The reenactment of the Patriot Act symbolizes how America is becoming an "attention deficit democracy" – characterized by pervasive negligence and ignorance throughout society and much of the government. Most Americans appear to no longer care whether there is any leash on government power.

Many Americans did try to stop this juggernaut. More than 400 cities and communities have passed resolutions condemning or opposing the Patriot Act. Yet Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), an opponent of the bill, perfectly captured what Congress did: "What we are seeing is quite simply a capitulation to the intransigent and misleading rhetoric of a White House that sees any effort to protect civil liberties as a sign of weakness."

The Founding Fathers intended Congress to be a vigorous check on and balance to executive power. But Congress has never done anything more than concoct fig leafs for itself in response to public outrage over the Patriot Act. In late 2004, Congress mandated the creation of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. But the board is totally controlled by the branch of government committing the abuses. The president appoints all five board members, and the board is located in the White House. Bush dallied before announcing his picks, and then appointed as chairman the former co-chair of Lawyers for Bush-Cheney. The board never bothered to hold a single meeting.

With the Patriot Act renewal, Congress made what Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) described as "cosmetic changes" – and then congratulated themselves for defending civil liberties.

With the revised Patriot Act, it will be more difficult for the feds to seize public library records with a Section 215 search warrant (approved by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court). But the feds will still be able to seize library records by invoking other provisions in the law.

Businesses, nonprofit groups, and other organizations hit by Section 215 search warrants are prohibited from disclosing that they have been compelled to surrender customers' information and other data to the feds. The new, improved Patriot Act will allow individuals and organizations hit by such searches to publicly complain about the intrusion – but only after they wait a year after they have been searched, and only if they can persuade a federal judge that the G-men acted in bad faith. A 365-day waiting period is Congress's notion of due process and fair play for American citizens.

The biggest Patriot Act bombshell of recent times detonated last November when the Washington Post revealed that the FBI is issuing 30,000 National Security Letters (NSLs) a year. The Patriot Act made it far easier for the FBI to use NSLs to compel private citizens, banks, nonprofits, and other entities to surrender information upon demand. These subpoenas, like Section 215 searches, are accompanied by a gag order: Anyone who discloses receiving such a "letter" can be sent to prison. FBI field offices issue NSLs on their own in cases that they claim involve international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.

NSLs empower the FBI to seize records on people's earning, spending, travels, web searches, emails, and telephone calls. Each NSL can lasso the records of thousands of people. Federal judge Victor Marrero ruled that the Patriot Act's NSL provision "has the effect of authorizing coercive searches effectively immune from any judicial process." (The Bush administration is appealing the ruling).

The White House hyped the Patriot Act renewal as a political triumph. The Associated Press reported, "Republicans declared victory as they sought to polish their national security credentials this midterm election year." Republicans prattled on about how the revised Patriot Act provides "safeguards." Apparently, a "safeguard" is anything that a government official can mention when asked about possible abuses of federal powers.

If enough Americans comprehend this "patriot" charade, it will become far more difficult for the White House and Congress to pull off similar infringements on freedom in the future. At the very least, citizens can still make it hot for anyone in Washington who betrays his oath to uphold the Constitution.

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The Untied States of America

By Jurriaan Kamp, Ode. Posted March 23, 2006.

Author Juan Enriquez warns that the most fundamental myths that hold America together are in jeopardy.
Looking a half-century into the future, a maverick businessman warns that America may fall apart as a nation. He believes the U.S. can avoid this fate -- but that it will require some radical steps right now.

In 1950 the United Nations had 50 members. Today there are 191 U.N. member states. The vast majority of these new countries came from Africa, Asia and Europe. Only three countries (Surinam, Guyana and Belize) out of the 141 new ones came from the North and South American continents.

These are interesting facts to Juan Enriquez, an American businessman, bestselling author and former Harvard academic. In his new book, "The Untied States of America" (Crown, 2005), Enriquez warns of the coming disintegration of the United States and explores how that will affect the nation's status as the unparalleled superpower.

This is a challenging, controversial subject at a time in history when American power around the world appears supreme. The Soviet Union no longer stands as a military, political or economic rival now that capitalism has triumphed over communism. While America is increasingly affected by the fast economic rise of China, this challenge doesn't appear to threaten America's leadership in global politics. Americans dominate the world community today in the same way as the British did a century ago. But that comparison also contains a warning.

In the beginning of his book, Enriquez presents readers with an experiment. Imagine you're a member of the British cabinet in 1905. A world map hangs on the wall of the elegant conference room in Number 10 Downing Street delineating the greatest empire that has ever existed: an area encompassing nearly 30 million square kilometres (11.5 million square miles), 20 percent of the world's land and nearly one-quarter of the total human population. The question is: How will the world look in 50 years -- in 1955?

What would you have thought? Would Britain's territory expand? Stay the same size? Would there have been someone who could have conceived that the British Empire would completely fall apart between 1905 and 1955? That British territory would only comprise some 250,000 square kilometres (97,000 square miles) in 1955?

Imagine asking George W. Bush the same question now, in 2006. How will the United States look in 50 years? How many stars will the American flag have? Still 50? The chances of finding a prominent politician in Washington today who could imagine the disintegration of the United States seem miniscule. But readers of Enriquez's book realize it is in fact quite probable that America in 2056 will not be the same powerful country it is today. Based on a great deal of historical, financial, political and cultural data, Enriquez convincingly demonstrates that the future does not augur well for the unity of the United States.

While the title and the subject of his new book don't immediately indicate it, Enriquez is driven by his love of science. Enriquez set up the Life Sciences Project at the Harvard Business School, is chairman of Biotechonomy, a venture-capital fund specializing in biotechnology, and author of an earlier book on the same general subject, "As The Future Catches You."

That short biography explains why Enriquez was in attendance at the conference, "Celebrating a Decade of Genome Sequencing." This international summit on DNA research, genetics, biochemistry and biology took place in December at the University of California, San Diego, which heads global research in this area. Even the casual visitor quickly becomes aware that this is where the future of energy, food, health and computer science, and therefore of society itself, is generated, largely separate from politics, the media and ordinary citizens. The conference illustrates the crucial role prominent scientific research plays in a country's future success and its economic wealth. In the numerous PowerPoint presentations given by authorities in many fields, it becomes clear that technology offers enormous opportunities for the future, and that it is easy for some societies to miss the boat.

Enriquez knows that countries that emphasize the importance of science will be the future leaders. And he sees that the United States -- despite, for example, the leading position of the University of California, San Diego -- is increasingly losing ground. He believes this is a sign of America's waning strength. "The future depends on how you treat people today," he says, noting that the performance of the U.S. in this regard is not particularly great.

The U.S. national debt, topping $8 trillion, is a troubling illustration of the fact that the United States is squandering its future. "From time immemorial the last thing a government does is drive the country to bankruptcy," Enriquez observes. "You cannot spend five to six percent more than the country earns every year without serious consequences. It is not inconceivable that the U.S. will be running out of money."

It can be said that the U.S.'s per capita debt level, at around $27,500, is acceptable relative to that of other leading industrial nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But the U.S. appears far different than other Western OECD nations when you look at other economic and social statistics. Enriquez mentions a few: The minimum wage has fallen by 37 percent since 1968 in terms of real dollars; 11 percent of Americans don't have enough to eat; in 2000 the federal government spent $2,106 on each American child while spending $21,120 on each person over age 65. Enriquez cites research indicating that if the U.S. government maintains its current policies, nearly half the budget will be spent on senior citizens by 2016. Hence his question: Do you invest in the future or in the past?

Within two generations, 40 percent of the American population will be comprised of African-Americans and Hispanics. Both groups continue to lag far behind whites and Asian-Americans in the educational system. Few graduate from college and even fewer get advanced degrees or become scientists. Countries like Finland, Iceland, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Singapore are already surpassing the U.S. when it comes to scientific research. This causes Enriquez to say that without making significant investments in education for African-Americans and Hispanics, who will make up almost half the population by mid-century, America cannot maintain its current prominence in the sciences.

Not only is the U.S. failing to make vital national investments, it is allowing the national debt to increase as the Bush administration believes it can lower taxes at the same time as spending $200 million a day on the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Enriquez warns: "They spend everything trying to protect what they have today."

Enriquez is also seriously concerned about the conceit that characterizes current American politics. A lot of what the government does, he says, speaks of its conviction that "our way is the only way." This attitude goes hand in hand with an unhealthy blending of science and religion. "Religious beliefs are being manipulated to win elections," he observes.

A sound balance between science, religion and ethics forms an essential foundation for the healthy development of any society, Enriquez believes. And he is convinced that within this balance, attention to science determines a country's future level of wealth. He mentions that the British discovered DNA back in the 1950s and that British scientists laid the foundation for cloning. "But they failed to translate that science into business. They considered it inappropriate, unethical, to earn money on science. Just look where British science is now. Societies that make their football stars rich and their scientists poor are doomed."

A lot of large companies have broken into smaller units since the 1960s because they could no longer prove to their shareholders that the whole was worth more than the independent parts. Juan Enriquez predicts minorities will soon be asking nations the same questions. What is the benefit of this structure? Does this country represent our interests in the best way? "And those are questions that are hard to answer."

Borders are extremely abstract. You can't see them from space. Only islands have clear geographical boundaries. Countries are not natural structures and they are therefore kept together by flags and national anthems. Or -- in Enriquez's view -- by "myths." And the power of those myths goes as far as the next generation wants to believe in them. In other words: If the American dream comes true for ever-fewer Americans, the unity of the United States will come under increasing pressure. This is the point at which questions will naturally arise about whether there are other possible configurations that would give citizens a better shot at fulfilling their dreams.

But isn't America a stable country? Wasn't it founded based on one language and a clear set of principles? Enriquez delicately points out that the same was true for the United Kingdom, which is increasingly devolving into the separate nations of England, Scotland and Wales; and for Spain, where Basques and Catalans are hacking away at national unity. And, pointing to the history of the United States, he adds: "If the parents can split, the kids can split."

The early signs of American disintegration are already apparent, according to Enriquez. In the state of Vermont there is a small but serious separatist movement and a declaration of independence is being drawn up. States in the northeastern U.S. have formed an alliance to carry out the Kyoto climate agreement, which the Bush administration refuses to sign. And guess what's been the motto on Texas license plates since 2004? "It's like a whole other country." Texas earlier announced that all the state's schoolchildren would not only be saying their pledge of allegiance to the American flag, but to the flag of Texas. Finally, in an opinion poll, 42 percent of Texans came out in favour of more political autonomy for Texas as long as it could be arranged within the confederation of the United States.

Then there's California, the seventh-largest economy in the world, where a large part of the population -- including many Republican supporters of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger -- are extremely displeased with Washington's current conservative politics. California's independence is the subject of frequent jokes at parties and gatherings of the intelligentsia.

Native Americans are also stepping up demands for attention to the historical injustice that caused them to lose their land. Several current court cases are ongoing, for example, involving native peoples' claim to one-third of the land in the state of New York. Over the past 20 years, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have seen discussions about returning seized lands to native peoples as well as adjustments of the Terra nullius principle (that European pioneers appropriated no man's land). It's hard to imagine the United States will be spared a revisit of its history regarding Indian peoples. During his presidency, Bill Clinton already made excuses for the "illegal occupation" of Hawaii.

Enriquez adds another ticking time bomb in a P.S. to his book: "If slaves performed $40 million worth of unpaid labour between 1790 and 1860, reparations would be around $1.4 trillion."

In support of his thesis about American disintegration, Enriquez points to the example of the European Union. The economic umbrella of the EU makes it much easier for smaller entities to be independent. Broader trends of globalization also offer small countries advantages they didn't have. Despite their diminutive sizes, Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as Luxembourg and Switzerland, have been able to develop into extremely successful economic entities.

After making this sharp -- and when it comes to the United States, gloomy -- analysis, it is remarkable that Juan Enriquez writes at the end of his book that he doesn't want to be a preacher of doom. "My desire is simply that citizens ... realize what they have, what they are doing and what they might do differently if they wish to avoid what so many have already gone through," he writes.

Throughout "The Untied States of America," Enriquez offers suggestions for policy reforms which continually emphasize focusing on science and education for minorities as well as special-needs groups. Why should the Netherlands, for instance, be a leading global flower grower and trader when the climate is more suitable in other parts of the world? Dutch success stems from knowledge -- from specific, constant attention to science, and research and development. Enriquez points to Finland, which grew to become a digital superpower in the space of a single generation. And Iceland, which has expanded into a leading technological power thanks to massive investments in education. "You can build a great country when you change education and surf the waves of technology. You can make and unmake countries in months."

His most creative -- and most politically unfeasible -- solution for the United States involves a change in voting rights. In order to rectify the imbalance between the older and younger generations, Enriquez suggests giving parents voting rights on behalf of their underage children. This would mean that a family with four children and two adults would have six votes. The change would put an end to current policies that appropriate the most money to older people because they have the most votes. "If the votes of underage children counted, it would lead to investments in their interests. In good schools. The question is how much support there would be for going to war when the children would be sent off as soldiers."

That last suggestion embodies the bold message of "The Untied States of America." The future success of a country begins by paying attention to how we fulfill the long-term wishes and interests of its citizens today. These citizens of today determine the economic power of tomorrow. Economic power lies at the roots of the current superpower status of the U.S. Juan Enriquez points out that this economic superiority is swiftly being consumed with a policy of arrogant international politics and decadent consumerism. Such a policy has destroyed superpowers throughout history, Enriquez warns as the proverbial voice crying in the wilderness. But the information and ideas he outlines here do offer a pragmatic alternative to the Disunited States of the future.

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Bush Troubled by Afghan Convert's Case

Associated Press Writer

President Bush said Wednesday that he is "deeply troubled" that an Afghan man is being tried for converting to Christianity.

Abdul Rahman, 41, faces a possible death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago. He has been charged with rejecting Islam, a crime under this country's Islamic laws. Bush said in a speech that a young democracy is growing in Afghanistan, but he's concerned about the case.
"We expect them to honor the universal principle of freedom," Bush said. "I'm troubled when I hear, deeply troubled when I hear, the fact that a person who converted away from Islam may be held to account. That's not the universal application of the values that I talked about. I look forward to working with the government of that country to make sure that people are protected in their capacity to worship."

Rahman's trial started last week, but a state prosecutor said Wednesday that he may be mentally unfit to stand trial. Moayuddin Baluch, a religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, said Rahman would undergo a psychological examination and the case will be dropped if he's found mentally unfit.

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NYC's crime fight to get more eyes

March 21, 2006

New Yorkers, get ready for your closeup.

The NYPD is installing 505 surveillance cameras around the city - and pushing to safeguard lower Manhattan with a "ring of steel" that could track hundreds of thousands of people and cars a day, authorities revealed yesterday.

The police cameras will constantly keep watch over neighborhoods plagued by crime and monitor potential terror targets as the city moves to put another 1,200 cops on the street, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
The exact locations of the cameras were not revealed, but the electronic eyes will be set up in 253 spots, including many Operation Impact zones - high-crime areas already targeted by teams of cops.

"They'll serve to reinforce safety already stabilized by Operation Impact, and serve as a high-visibility deterrent and investigative tool in other outdoor, public places," Kelly said.

Recording high-quality images, the electronic sentinels will help the city's Finest track down criminals and terrorists as well as provide valuable evidence to convict them.

Most of the cameras will be clearly marked so crooks [and ordinary Americans] know that their every move is being recorded by the cops.

The NYPD is also testing audio sensors that would allow the cameras to point in the direction of gunshots, sources said. The cameras will be put up in Brooklyn first before spreading to other boroughs.

City Hall is paying for the cameras using $9.1 million in homeland security funds.

The NYPD also has applied for $81.5 million in federal aid to install surveillance cameras, computerized license plate readers and vehicle barriers around lower Manhattan, Kelly said.

The security measures would be similar to London's "ring of steel," which gained worldwide recognition after that city's terror attacks of last July, when police cameras provided images of the suspected bombers.

The NYPD has no comprehensive system to monitor the Financial District - considered the nation's No. 1 terror target - and a team of five NYPD experts visited London in September to get a look at the "ring of steel."

Aboveground, London has cameras posted at 16 entry points and 12 exits from the City of London, an enclave that includes that city's financial district and landmarks such as St. Paul's Cathedral.

The cameras capture images of license plates and drivers' faces. Officials then run the license plates through a database of stolen cars and terrorism suspects. Last year, the system read 37 million cars and got 91,000 hits, leading to 550 arrests.

Comment: Let's see: 550 arrests out of 91,000 "hits" makes a 0.6% success rate. Yup, that's well worth several million dollars of taxpayers' money...

The NYPD will find out by the end of May whether it will receive the federal money. New York officials have also discussed the possibility of creating a similar surveillance system for midtown Manhattan.

Law enforcement and transportation agencies already have about 1,000 cameras in the subways, with 2,100 scheduled to be in place by 2008. An additional 3,100 cameras are monitoring city housing projects.

Thousands of other cameras at private buildings and apartment towers also train lenses on New Yorkers and often provide valuable clues to cops.

But don't expect the NYPD to install its cameras without battling the New York Civil Liberties Union. The watchdog group's associate legal director, Chris Dunn, questioned the plan.

"Commissioner Kelly may be ready to launch us all into a surveillance society, but we believe cameras are not a cure-all for crime and terrorism," Dunn said. "It is far from clear that cameras deter crime."

Comment: "It is far from clear that cameras deter crime." They sure didn't prevent a nice false flag operation in London, did they??

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State Dept. Warns Americans Visiting Italy

Wed Mar 22, 4:50 PM ET

WASHINGTON - The State Department warned Americans on Wednesday to take precautions this spring when traveling in Italy, saying next month's parliamentary elections are likely to bring demonstrations in parts of the country.

"Demonstrations may be large, but even peaceful demonstrations have the potential to escalate into violence," the announcement said.

The department said Americans should avoid areas where crowds are expected to gather, take common sense precautions and closely follow media reports.

The U.S. considers Italy to be under a heightened threat by al-Qaida and other Islamic extremists for its participation in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Comment: In all sincerity, the State Department was wise to issue this warning about Americans traveling in Italy. After all, Americans these days seem to have absolutely no idea of the magnitude and scope of protests in other countries, and so they might be shocked if they were to see people so openly excercising their democratic rights. Then again, perhaps the State Department knows something we don't about Italy's upcoming elections...

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California Town Is Latest Site Of U.S. Terrorism Prosecution

By Sonya Geis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 23, 2006; Page A03

LODI, Calif. -- Naseem Khan blended right into the Pakistani community when he moved to this quiet farming area south of Sacramento. An immigrant who spoke Pashto and Urdu, he had lived there briefly once before, made friends easily and attended the local mosque.

Today, Khan's anonymity is long gone. The convenience store clerk-turned-FBI informant is the star prosecution witness in the trial of Umer and Hamid Hayat, a father and son accused, respectively, of supporting terrorism and lying about it to the government.
Hamid Hayat, 23, faces charges of providing material support to terrorists for allegedly attending an al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan, as well as for lying to investigators during an interrogation. In a joint trial, Umer Hayat, 48, an ice cream vendor, is accused of making false statements to the FBI to protect his son. Hamid Hayat faces as much as 39 years in prison; his father, 16.

The case is built on Khan's infiltration of Lodi's small Pakistani community from 2002 to 2005. Earlier this month, prosecutors put Khan, 32, on the stand, where he told jurors that Hamid Hayat had talked about attending a training camp. Jurors also saw videotapes of both defendants first denying and then admitting to investigators that Hamid Hayat had attended the camp.

But last week, Khan shocked observers of the trial by asserting that al-Qaeda's second-in-command had passed through Lodi in 1998 or 1999, raising doubts about his credibility that the defense has begun to exploit.

The Lodi case is the latest in a string of prosecutions brought since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks under a law that criminalizes providing "material support" to terrorists.

The government's success with the previously obscure statute has been mixed. It has won convictions in high-profile cases in Northern Virginia, in Lackawanna, N.Y., and in the New York City trial of radical lawyer Lynne Stewart. It has lost prosecutions in Detroit, Idaho and Tampa.

The Lodi case provides a rare, detailed look at how one FBI informant functioned and raises questions about the effectiveness of the government's strategy of infiltrating the community with an outsider.

Defense lawyers say their clients' arrests were made in desperation because there wasn't any real terrorist activity to find in Lodi. They contend that Hamid Hayat was given to grandiose exaggerations. At trial, they played hours of the videotaped FBI interrogation, which appears to show the two men, whose English was limited, agreeing with FBI agents instead of offering information.

"They were after big fish," Umer Hayat's attorney, Johnny L. Griffin III, said of investigators. "They couldn't get the big fish, and they had to get someone."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Ferris declined to comment.

The FBI paid Khan more than $200,000 to move to Lodi, a city of 56,000, according to court testimony. He took an apartment near the Lodi Muslim Mosque and befriended Hamid Hayat, a lean young man with a black goatee, imperfect English skills and few friends. Hayat had a sixth-grade education and followed Pakistani politics, including the movements of radicals, court testimony has shown.

Khan visited the Hayat home at least a dozen times and had lengthy phone conversations with Hamid Hayat, which he secretly recorded. Transcripts of those calls reveal that Khan talked with Hayat about girls, cricket and, over time, politics and terrorism. Khan feigned a radical streak and an interest in jihad.

In 2003, Hamid Hayat went to Pakistan but kept in touch with Khan. In transcripts of their phone calls, he told Khan that he planned to attend a militant training camp but sheepishly admitted he had not yet done so. Khan encouraged him, saying, "Be a man" and "You're wasting time."

In a courtroom sketch, defense lawyer Johnny L. Griffin III is shown delivering his opening statement.
In a courtroom sketch, defense lawyer Johnny L. Griffin III is shown delivering his opening statement. "They were after big fish. They couldn't get the big fish, and they had to get someone," Griffin said of federal investigators.

"I was just making conversation with him," Khan told Hamid Hayat's lawyer at the trial this month. Under further questioning, Khan acknowledged that Hayat never told him he had attended the camp -- only that he would go in the future.

Under FBI interrogation, Hayat first denied, then acknowledged, that he had spent months at a training camp near Rawalpindi, Pakistan, that he said was run by al-Qaeda.

In June 2005, Hayat returned to the United States and was brought in for questioning. His father accompanied him, and both were arrested. They have been in jail ever since.

While Hamid Hayat was in Pakistan, Khan befriended two imams of the Lodi mosque, according to court testimony. They soon became suspicious and warned others to avoid him.

Several days after the Hayats were arrested, the two imams and one of their sons were detained on immigration violations. They were deported but not criminally charged.

One of the imams had been in conflict with another over the construction of a Muslim religious school. Some in Lodi suspect that political opponents reported the imams to the FBI.

Across the street from the Lodi mosque on a recent afternoon, children played basketball while men in traditional Pakistani dress watched over them or milled around the entrance to the mosque, a low-slung yellow building in a ramshackle neighborhood of single-family houses.

Taj Khan, a local activist and a 25-year resident of Lodi, said the investigation and prosecutions have wreaked havoc on the community. "People are scared. People are having nightmares, I'm being told," said Khan, who is not related to the FBI informant.

Taj Khan was part of a cross-cultural effort that sought to build bridges between Christians, Jews and Muslims in a town in which the Pakistani community dates to the 1930s. "This event has put a big lid on all that," he said. "This thing has set us back quite a few years."

Naseem Khan's credibility suffered a blow last week when he maintained he had seen al-Qaeda's second-ranking leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, at the mosque in 1998 or 1999 -- a statement that Brian Jenkins, an authority on terrorism at Rand Corp., calls "far-fetched."

FBI documents released last week show that Khan first made the assertion when agents approached him in 2001. At that time, Khan also told the FBI that he had seen Abdelkarim Hussein Mohamed al-Nasser, a suspect in a 1996 Saudi Arabia bombing, in Lodi, and Ahmed Mohammed Hamed Ali, a suspect in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, in Stockton, Calif., in 1999.

Terrorism experts believe that none of those suspects was in the United States at that time, though al-Zawahiri is known to have passed through the country on a fundraising trip in 1993.

The misstep for the prosecution shows one of the possible pitfalls of using confidential informants in terrorism cases, said Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

"The FBI has been correctly critiqued for not having agents from these communities," he said. "Since they don't have them, they're going to informants . . . and with informants you often have credibility problems."

Chesney cautioned that "having an unexpected but clearly wrong thing being said doesn't help, but it's not dispositive, either." The videotaped confessions are still strong evidence, he said.

"I'm not a betting man, but if I was, I certainly wouldn't bet on the jury discounting confessions unless they've got some fairly specific facts that show their wills were overcome," he said.

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Iraq - A Country In Ruins

Bush uncle benefits from war spending

By WALTER F. ROCHE JR. , Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON - As President Bush embarks on a new effort to shore up public support for the war in Iraq, an uncle of the chief executive is collecting $2.7 million in cash and stock from the recent sale of a company that profited from the war.
A report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission shows that William H.T. Bush collected a little less than $1.9 million in cash plus stock valued at more than $800,000 as a result of the sale of Engineered Support Systems Inc. to DRS Technologies of New Jersey.

The $1.7 billion deal closed Jan. 31. Both businesses have extensive military contracts.

The elder Bush was a director of Engineered Support Systems. Recent SEC filings show he was paid cash and DRS stock in exchange for shares and options he obtained as a director.

Missouri-based ESSI experienced record growth prior to its purchase by DRS through expanded U.S. military contracts - many to supply current U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan - and an aggressive buyout strategy targeted at other defense contractors. The military contracts, some awarded on a sole-source basis, include a $77 million pact to refit military vehicles used in Iraq with armor.

Other ESSI products used in the war include radar and detection services, field medical stations and field electrical generator units.
SEC filings show there are two ongoing federal investigations of ESSI - one involving a stop order issued by the federal government on the ESSI contract to supply field generators. The order was issued because of operational problems with the units.

The field-generator contract was a major source of revenue, but SEC files show ESSI did not inform stockholders of the stop order until last June, about seven months after it was issued.

During the interim, several ESSI executives, including Bush's uncle, cashed in stock and stock options worth millions of dollars, SEC filings show.

According to one recent filing, both the SEC and the U.S. attorney in St. Louis are investigating the delayed disclosure and other matters. Unnamed members of the ESSI board and corporate officers have been subpoenaed, according to documents filed with the SEC.

William Bush, 67, SEC filings show, exercised options on 8,348 shares of ESSI stock Jan. 18, 2005, about two months after the stop order was issued. He collected about $450,000 in cash.

Bush, known in the president's family as "Uncle Bucky," joined ESSI's board in 2000, several months before his nephew became president.

The Bush uncle heads a St. Louis investment firm and is a younger brother of former President Bush.

William Bush declined to comment yesterday. However, in an interview last year, he said he played no role in ESSI getting federal contracts.

"I don't make any calls to the 202 (Washington, D.C.) area code," he said.
Patricia Williamson, a spokeswoman for DRS, would not comment on the status of the federal investigations. The company has disclosed that it is cooperating in the investigations, which also involve an inquiry into an ESSI insurance contract.

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Video The Aftermath Of A Massacre


This is the account of a nine year old survivor. " watched them shoot my grandfather First in the chest then in the head, then they killed my granny."

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US targets Iraqi deaths "misinformation"

Wed Mar 22, 2006 04:31 PM ET
By Michael Georgy

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. military hit back on Wednesday at what it called a "pattern of misinformation" following Iraqi police accusations that its troops shot dead a family of 11 in their home last week.
Responding to comments by police and residents in the town of Ishaqi, north of Baghdad, that U.S. officers had failed to attend a meeting on Wednesday about the incident, Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, a senior spokesman, told Reuters:

"There was no meeting scheduled with any Coalition investigators today. There appears to be a distinct pattern of misinformation surrounding this entire incident.

"This is another clear sign of that happening, making allegations for the sake of prompting media reporting and attempting to discredit Coalition operations. This is a pattern we've seen the terrorist-backed insurgency use repeatedly."

Relations between the U.S. military and Iraqi police in the mainly Sunni area north of Baghdad -- where many including police are sympathetic to the insurgency -- are strained, with police accusing U.S. troops of killing civilians and the military questioning the credibility of the police.

The military has launched an investigation into a raid last Wednesday by U.S. forces, in which an al Qaeda suspect was arrested, because of discrepancies between the police account and that of troops, who said only four people were killed.

The Ishaqi inquiry was announced days after the launch of a criminal investigation into events in the western town of Haditha in November, when U.S. Marines shot dead 15 civilians.

In Ishaqi, police said 11 people including five children under school age were found bound and shot in their home after the U.S. raid. The military said at the time that four people, including a guerrilla fighter, were killed.

Local journalists filmed the bodies of five young children, four women and two men who police said were killed in the raid.

Johnson said: "We have said repeatedly we know of four people killed after Coalition forces came under direct fire from the house, resulting in a heavy engagement to suppress it.

"The loss of life included two women and a child."


A week later, residents were still expressing anger.

"We heard a barrage of shooting for 20 minutes and then we heard bombs," said Thiya Hussein, who said his cousin was killed. "After the Americans left we went to the house and found 11 people lying in blood together in one room. Five of them were children. They were bound in plastic handcuffs and shot."

"The baby, Husam, who was six-months-old, was shot dead. A 75-year-old woman was shot in the head," he told Reuters.

Another neighbor, Abbas Abid, said: "The house was damaged and the family was shot and lying in one room.

"Three cars were burned and four cows were shot also."

Accusations American soldiers have killed innocent people has fueled anger at the occupation among Iraqis, who complain that little disciplinary action has resulted from inquiries.

Near Ishaqi, at Duluiya, police accused U.S. troops of killing a 13-year-old boy and his parents in their home on Sunday, as well as five other people. The military said soldiers killed seven "terrorists" who attacked a patrol with grenades.

In July, an investigation was launched into the killing of a cousin of Iraq's U.N. envoy at Haditha. The results are unknown.

Military spokesman Johnson said: We do not target non-combatants in our operations, although we repeatedly find insurgents occupying homes that place innocent people in harm's way ... However ... if any misconduct is found, those responsible will be held fully accountable."

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Desire to 'Serve My Country' Cited by Volunteers for Duty in Iraq

Thursday, March 23, 2006; Page A21

Almost 1,000 members of the U.S. Foreign Service have volunteered for duty in Iraq since 2003. The Foreign Service Journal, the magazine of the American Foreign Service Association, recently surveyed active-duty Foreign Service officers (FSOs) about their tour there. Fifty-seven who replied served or currently serve in Iraq either at the embassy in Baghdad or elsewhere in the country. Here are some of their responses, as excerpted from an article in the March issue by Shawn Dorman, titled "Iraq Service and Beyond."

What motivated you to volunteer for Iraq service?

The most frequently stated response was, in various iterations, "to serve my country." Many spoke of a desire to serve where they are most needed. Some respondents mentioned an additional hope that Iraq service would be career-enhancing, while others pointed to the financial incentives.

How does the way you work in Iraq differ from the way you worked at other posts?

The three top ways working in Iraq differs from other places, according to the respondents, are: the level of danger, the extreme work hours and the non-integrated command structure between the embassy, the military and the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office.

Another factor raised by many survey respondents was the impact of having so many appointees and contractors at the mission, many of whom have never served in an embassy or overseas before.

One officer notes the difference by describing a trip to the Red Zone he had just taken the day before to meet with an Iraqi contact. (The Red Zone is all of Iraq outside the protected central-Baghdad area known unofficially as the Green Zone and officially as the International Zone.)

"I traveled to the meeting with three armored vehicles and 14 fully-armed contractors in assault gear as my personal security escort. I was met by six more of the same at the site who had secured the building before my arrival. As we entered Check Point One on our return to the International Zone, a car bomb detonated at Check Point Two, killing two and injuring many more. Timing is everything."

Many respondents commented on the "extreme" work hours. It is clear that the pace in Baghdad is frenetic and the flow of incoming taskings is relentless.

"The day begins at 8 a.m. or before, with meetings scheduled as late as 8 p.m.," explains an FSO serving in Baghdad. "People routinely work until 11 p.m., and there never seems to be a break. It creates a kind of Vegas casino atmosphere where you don't know if it's night or day outside because the activity level is constant. We have Friday 'off' but since Washington works on Friday, we need to be here then as well."

Are you able to do your job effectively, as one might expect at another post if you had the same portfolio? Can you see or talk to the people you need to? Can you communicate effectively with them (i.e., in Arabic, English)?

The most common response to the question about effectiveness was a conditional yes. The security situation is by far the most limiting factor. This includes both the difficulty of arranging meetings outside the Green Zone and the restrictions resulting from traveling to those meetings with armed guards.

"Extreme perseverance, determination and stubbornness are required to overcome the myriad of difficulties of performing diplomatic duties," writes an FSO serving in Baghdad. "However, often security restrictions keep us overly locked down and in a bubble, where we cannot accurately track or influence events."

Do security precautions limit your ability to do your job, and if so, how?

"It is not possible to leave the Green Zone without bodyguards," says an FSO serving in Baghdad, "and it is necessary to request them at least two days prior to any trip out. Many times security conditions will make it necessary to cancel or postpone a planned trip. The heavy security presence that accompanies us into the Red Zone also puts a damper on meetings. These security precautions are, however, absolutely necessary. This is a war zone and there are people out there who are actively trying to kill us. Anyone who doubts the need for the security precautions in place should be immediately removed from the mission."

"Security limits my ability to work," writes one officer serving in Baghdad. "Iraqis don't want me to visit their ministry with my personal security detail in town because that makes them a target. At the same time it is such a hassle to put in for and be approved for a Personal Security Detail and to coordinate the movement. There is very little flexibility, so no spontaneous action is ever possible."

Is housing adequate and sufficiently secure?

Housing security is described by respondents as a significant problem for Foreign Service personnel serving in Baghdad who are not with USAID. Without being specific (though respondents were very specific) about the security problems, suffice it to say that most respondents feel that the trailers -- informally referred to as "hooches" -- are unsafe.

"Not only is housing inadequate," writes an FSO serving in Baghdad, "[but] basic privacy is not respected. The housing contractor, KBR, regularly goes into private housing for inspections without notice. Three such recent 'inspections' to my hooch did not result in needed repairs. When there is indirect mortar or rocket fire (a fairly common occurrence), the announcement tells us to seek cover under our beds (eight-inch clearance) or under our flimsy desks. I certainly do not feel safe when the entire hooch shakes violently from a nearby hit (five occurrences during four months so far)."

Many positions in Iraq have been and continue to be filled by non-career appointees, contractors and detailees from outside the Foreign Service. What has been the impact of this?

Out of some 2,000-plus people working on the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, fewer than 200 are career Foreign Service. Of course, at many embassies, State and the other foreign affairs agencies are a minority compared to the other federal agencies represented, but there is no other embassy in the world that is host to so many non-Foreign Service employees, political appointees and contractors.

"Frankly, I think a lot of the political appointees were disasters," writes an officer who served in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. "They seemed to be ideologues rather than diplomats. A lot of the contractors and other detailees I met seemed quite capable."

Do you believe that Iraq service has helped or not helped your career? How?

Service in Iraq may give a boost for employees when they come up for review for promotion, but no conclusion could be drawn from the input we received on this question. For many people it is too early to tell what Iraq service will do for their career.

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Pace Wants Review of Iraq Media Program

By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 4 minutes ago

ANKARA, Turkey - The top U.S. military commander called Thursday for a formal
Pentagon review of the policies that led to defense officials paying the Iraqi media to place favorable stories in their newspapers.
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for more transparency in the system and said people need to know whether they are reading an article by an independent reporter or one written by someone who was paid by the government.

"They need to know that, so they can make their own judgment about what they believe and don't believe in the article," said Pace in an interview on board a military aircraft heading for Turkey. "The worst thing you can have is people feeling like somehow they've been snookered."

Pace did not have details of how this review should be structured. But he said he would push for a full review by Pentagon staff.

Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. military commander in
Iraq, ordered an initial review of the program which found that the Lincoln Group - which was handling the program in Iraq - did not violate its contract with the military.

But left unanswered was the broader question of whether the Pentagon should be actively paying journalists or media outlets to publish positive stories.

Pentagon officials have defended the program as a necessary tool in the war on terror, saying it is critical to get the accurate message out to the Iraqis about what the U.S. is doing in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said the military must use "nontraditional means" to get its message out in the face of widespread disinformation campaigns by the insurgency in Iraq.

But Pace said the policy should be reviewed because, "at the end of the day we want the United States to be seen for what it is, an open society that supports free press not only at home but overseas. To the extent that our operations bring that into question, we should review how we're doing it."

On Thursday, as he left Riyadh, Pace said in his meetings with them Saudi King Abdulla and others in the royal family made it clear that they "want our long-term commitment to the region and welcome it - not in large numbers of forces but in our commitment to the stability of the region."

He said the Saudi royals are looking to modernize their military equipment, including helicopters and fighter jets. He would not be specific, saying the two governments have not yet decided on what they are going to buy or sell.

Rachel Bronson, a Saudi Arabia expert at the Commission on Foreign Relations, said the Saudis want to understand what the U.S. plans are in Iraq, and whether the U.S. plans to establish any bases there. Saudis are worried, she said, that the sectarian violence in Iraq will seep into Saudi Arabia.

The U.S., meanwhile, wants to see the Saudis continue to try to shut down the flow of funding to extremists - money that is ultimately ending up in Iraq terror cells, she said. The Saudis helped during the Iraq war by allowing the U.S. to launch aircraft from their country.

Pace also said the Saudis talked about their concerns about
Iran, but he would not detail the conversation.

"Their real concern is Iran in Iraq," said Bronson, who has just written a book on the Saudi-U.S. relationship. "They're very worried about the nuclear program. It's important because there has always been a nuclear-free Middle East."

Pace, who visited Pakistan and Saudi Arabia earlier this week, is scheduled to meet with military and civilian leaders in Turkey.

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Civil War? What Civil War? Cole in Salon

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Readers have repeatedly asked me for a criterion by which we might fairly objectively decide if Iraq is in a Civil War (contrary to Bush's and Rumsfeld's denials). I have attempted such an argument at Salon.com. Excerpt:

' That there should be a political controversy over whether there is a civil war in Iraq is a tribute to the Bush administration's Orwellian attention to political rhetoric. By the most widely accepted social science measure, Iraq is incontestably in a civil war.

J. David Singer and his collaborators at the University of Michigan (where I also teach) have studied dozens of such conflicts and have offered a thorough and widely adopted definition of civil war. It is:

"Sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central government forces against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance, determined by the latter's ability to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain." (Errol A. Henderson and J. David Singer, "Civil War in the Post-Colonial World, 1946-92," Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 37, No. 3, May 2000.) '

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3 Western Aid Workers in Iraq Rescued in Military Operation

The New York Times
March 23, 2006

Three Western peace workers who were held hostage in Iraq for four months were freed in a military operation today, two weeks after their American colleague was killed in captivity.

The three men - James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, both from Canada; and Norman Kember, 74, of Britain - had been kidnapped last November along with the American man, Tom Fox, in Baghdad.
Mr. Fox's body was found this month. He had apparently been tortured by his captors before being shot multiple times in the head and dumped on a trash heap next to a railway line in western Baghdad.

"Our hearts are filled with joy today as we heard that Harmeet Singh Sooden, Jim Loney and Norman Kember have been safely released in Baghdad," said a statement from the group they were working with, the Christian Peacemaker Teams. "Together we have endured uncertainty, hope, fear, grief and now joy during the four months since they were abducted in Baghdad."

The delegation coordinator for the group, Claire Evans, said by telephone from Chicago that Mr. Loney, a 41-year old Canadian, had contacted his family this morning from the Green Zone, the fortified compound in Baghdad where some American military forces, Iraqi government offices and the American embassy are located.

"He said that they were all in reasonable health," she said, adding that the three men were undergoing medical checks.

The men were freed by multinational forces in a military operation. In London, the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said that the mission included British forces.

"It follows weeks and weeks of very careful work by military and coalition personnel in Iraq and many civilians as well," Mr. Straw said, adding that it involved a number of countries, including Canadian personnel.

He said that he had spoken with Mr. Kember's wife. "Of course, it goes without saying that she is absolutely delighted, elated, with this news," Mr. Straw said.

He said that Mr. Kember was in "reasonable" condition and the two Canadians had to have hospital treatment.

The Loney family declined to be interviewed this morning, according to the group's office in Canada. But the family released a statement saying that Mr. Loney had been released unharmed with his two companions.

"What a joyful day this is," the family's statement said. "We have just learned that James is coming home."

It also expressed sympathy for Mr. Fox's family.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry said it was believed the captives were freed in a town north of Baghdad, although there were conflicting reports on the location of the operation, according to an Associated Press report.

The Christian Peacemaker Teams organization promotes peace and human rights in conflict zones.

On March 7, all but Mr. Fox appeared on a tape shown by the Arab television network Al Jazeera. The tape was dated Feb. 28 and showed the three men talking, though the video was silent. Before that, the hostages, including Mr. Fox, were seen on a video released Jan. 28.

The Swords of Righteousness Brigade, an insurgent group, has said it was holding the men and threatened to kill them if all Iraqi prisoners were not released.

Kidnappers in Iraq have taken both foreigners and Iraqis hostage to press their demands for ransom, or often portraying the hostages on videotape pleading for foreign troops to withdraw from Iraq or for Iraqi prisoners to be freed. Jill Carroll, a freelance writer for The Christian Science Monitor who was kidnapped Jan. 7 in Baghdad, is still missing. Since her abduction, she has appeared in three videotapes accompanied with message that convey her kidnappers demands.

Comment: And it only took FOUR MONTHS to free them!

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Iraq war veteran wins her first political battle

By Amanda Paulson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Tammy Duckworth will vie for a House seat in the fall. She prevailed Tuesday in Illinois's Democratic primary.
CHICAGO – Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth edged out opponents in the Democratic primary Tuesday, setting up an intriguing congressional contest. The upbeat vet - who didn't begin her campaign until mid-December - will face Republican Peter Roskam in November in a bid to replace retiring Rep. Henry Hyde (R), who has represented Illinois's Sixth District since 1975.

Ms. Duckworth is the most visible of seven Democratic Iraq war vets running for Congress this year. Her candidacy has attracted much national attention due to her compelling personal story - she lost both legs and partial use of one arm when her helicopter was shot down in November 2004 - and the district in which she's running. Located in Chicago's western suburbs, the Sixth District has long been overwhelmingly Republican but is changing, and Democrats are now eyeing it.

George W. Bush won the district with just 53 percent of the vote in 2000 and 2004, and in the last House contest Democrat Christine Cegelis took an impressive 44 percent of the vote against Mr. Hyde.

Despite Duckworth's high profile - and backing from party leaders such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. John Kerry, and Illinois Sens. Barack Obama and Richard Durbin - taking the seat from the GOP will be tough, most analysts agree.

"The thing she'll have going for her is the publicity, and it appears she can raise the requisite amount of money from national sources," says Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois in Chicago and a former Chicago alderman. But in a district that is still largely Republican, he says, Duckworth will have to win over both the Democrats who backed her primary opponents as well as independents and some Republicans. Among GOP voters, "she'll be helped most by her status as a veteran," he says.

Duckworth barely bested Ms. Cegelis on Tuesday, winning by a margin of less than 4 percent. She was criticized during the campaign as being a candidate recruited by outside politicians who lives three miles outside the district and who lacks grass-roots support.

But Duckworth's backers see the victory and her impressive fundraising as signs that she can wage a tough campaign. Even in traditionally GOP districts, "someone who's an Iraq war veteran or a military veteran will make them stop and listen," says Mike Lyon, director of the Band of Brothers political action committee, which is working on behalf of 57 war veterans running for Congress as Democrats.

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White House downplays Bush remark on Iraq troop pullout

Thu Mar 23, 3:18 AM ET

WASHINGTON - The White House downplayed President George W. Bush's suggestion that US troops would still be in Iraq when his term ends in January 2009. [...]

"The question was ... when will there be zero or no American troops in Iraq," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "So he was referring to that specific question."

The president did not mean that a strong military presence would be remain nearly six years after the US-led invasion, but merely was addressing a theoretical question about when the troops will be withdrawn, McClellan told reporters. [...]

Comment: Riiiight. So the question was when will there be no troops in Iraq, and Bush's "theoretical" answer of 2009 was supposed to mean that troops will be gone by next month - which means they will still be gone in 2009. Now do you understand? Ya know, these political leaders have such complex minds that it is often difficult for us, the little people, to understand what they are saying...

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Israel - On the Brink of Genocide

Poll: 68% of Jews would refuse to live in same building as an Arab

By Eli Ashkenazi and Jack Khoury, Haaretz Correspondents

Sixty-eight percent of Israeli Jews would refuse to live in the same apartment building as an Israeli Arab, according to the results of an annual poll released Wednesday by the Center for the Struggle Against Racism.
The "Index of Racism Towards Arab Palestinian Citizens of the State of Israel," conducted by Geocartographia, revealed on 26 percent of Jews in Israel would agree to live with Arab neighbors in the same building.

Forty-six percent of Jews would refuse to allow an Arab to visit their home while 50 percent would welcome an Arab visitor. Forty-one percent of Jewish support the segregation of Jews and Arabs in places of recreation and 52 percent of such Jews would oppose such a move.

The inclination toward segregation rises as the income level of the poll respondent drops and also as the level of religious observance rises. Support for segregation between Jews and Arabs is also higher among Jews of Middle Eastern origin as opposed to those of European origin.

"Racism is becoming mainstream. When people talk about transfer or about Arabs as a demographic time-bomb, no one raises their voice against such statements. This is a worrisome phenomenon," Bachar Ouda, director of the Center for the Struggle Against Racism, said on Tuesday. The report covered the year 2005 and the center will, in the future, present monthly and bi-annual polls.

The index, edited by Ouda and attorney Ala Khaider, surveys racially-motivated incidents that took place during 2005 and examines the attitudes of Israeli Jews toward Israeli Arabs.

During the course of 2005, 225 racially-motivated incidents directed at Arab citizens were reported to the center or in the media. The center believes that less than 20 percent of attacks or other incidents are ever reported.

Seventy-fire percent of the reports on racist incidents came from institutional sources such as government ministries, government companies or publicly-elected officials.

The poll further revealed that 63 percent of Jewish Israelis agree with the statement, "Arabs are a security and demographic threat to the state." Thirty-one percent of Jews did not agree. Agreement with the statement was strongest among Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews and low-income earners.

Forty percent of Jews believe "the state needs to support the emigration of Arab citizens" and just 52 percent don't agree with the statement.

Thirty-four percent also agreed with the statement that "Arab culture is inferior to Israeli culture." Fifty-seven percent did not agree with the statement.

Half of Israeli Jews express fear or discomfort when hearing people speaking Arabic. Eighteen percent of Jews said they feel hate when hearing Arabic speakers.

Responding to the report, Hadash Chairman MK Mohammed Barakeh said racism against Israeli Arabs "is a direct result of official racist and discriminatory policies" dictated by the government.

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Israel/Occupied Territories: Legal concern/ incommunicado detention: Hundreds of detainees

PUBLIC AI Index: MDE 15/023/2006
17 March 2006

The Israeli government is seeking to rush a new law through parliament before the forthcoming elections on 28 March, which would empower the General Security Service (GSS) to detain anyone classified as a non-resident of Israel without access to legal counsel for up to 50 days after arrest. The law would also deny such detainees the right to attend court hearings held to consider the extension of their detention. Amnesty International is concerned that permitting detainees to be cut off from the outside world for this length of time would increase their risk of being tortured or ill-treated.
The new law, entitled the "Criminal Procedure (Enforcement Powers - Special Provisions for Investigating Security Offences of Non-Residents) (Temporary Provision) Law, 5765 – 2005", would be fundamentally discriminatory as it would apply only to non-residents of Israel suspected of "security" offences. The law would extend the initial period for which security forces could hold detainees incommunicado from a maximum of 48 hours to 96 hours. It also allows for two additional periods of incommunicado detention, meaning that detainees could be held incommunicado for up to 50 days. The law currently in force in Israel allows detainees to be held incommunicado for a total maximum period of 30 days. The new law would also extend the time during which a detainee being interrogated by the security forces may be denied access to a lawyer from 21 days to 50 days.

The law would deny detainees the right to be present at court hearings held to consider an extension of their incommunicado detention, except for the first hearing (96 hours after arrest) and the hearing on expiry of the first period of incommunicado detention, as well as any appeal hearing against an extension. The law would therefore allow for detained suspects to be virtually cut off from the outside world for up to 50 days, with the exception of two appearances before a judge.

It is during incommunicado detention, when detainees are deprived of contact with families and lawyers, that they are most at risk of torture and ill-treatment. The majority of reports of torture or ill-treatment of detainees in Israel received by Amnesty International concern the period during which detainees are held incommunicado under interrogation.

The proposed extension of the already prolonged period of incommunicado detention permitted under the law currently in force in Israel is inconsistent with Israel's obligations under international human rights law. The UN Human Rights Committee stated in 2003 that the use of prolonged detention without any access to a lawyer or other persons of the outside world violates articles the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and called on Israel to: "…ensure that no one is held for more than 48 hours without access to a lawyer."

The Israeli Knesset (parliament) is currently in pre-election recess in preparation for the elections on 28 March, but efforts have been stepped up to get this draft law passed before the elections take place. In a most unusual move during a pre-election recess, the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee convened a special session on 16 March to discuss the government-sponsored law. A further meeting of the Committee is scheduled for 20 March and if the proponents of the law succeed to re-call the Knesset by 27 March the draft law will be put to the vote.

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Two killed near Gaza border fence

Thursday, 23 March 2006, 09:03 GMT

Two Palestinian militants have been killed by the Israeli army near the Kissufim checkpoint on the boundary between Gaza and Israel, officials say.
The Israeli military said soldiers saw the men planting a bomb and ordered tank and aircraft to open fire on them.

The militant group, Islamic Jihad, said two members of its armed wing, the al-Quds Brigades, had been killed during a "mission of jihad".

A third Palestinian spotted by Israeli troops reportedly escaped.

Senior Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh told Israel's Haaretz newspaper: "The only choice for the Palestinian people is to continue with the armed struggle and resistance until forcing the occupiers of our land to leave".

Palestinian medical sources named the men as Mohammed Ayyad and Sufian Abu Gharaba.

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Bird flu confirmed in West Bank

Thursday, 23 March 2006, 10:51 GMT

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu virus has been found in poultry in a Jewish settlement the West Bank, the Israeli agriculture ministry has said.
Initial tests found dozens of birds had died of the virus on Wednesday in the Bekaot settlement in the Jordan Valley.

A 10km (six-mile) quarantine has been imposed around the farm and veterinary officials have begun to cull poultry.

Last week, thousands of birds died of the virus in two Israeli farms in the western Negev, near the Gaza Strip.

Bird flu was also found on Wednesday in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, on the border with Egypt.

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has instructed Israeli officials to offer the Palestinian Authority assistance in order to prevent the spread of the virus in Palestinian areas.

On Tuesday, neighbouring Egypt reported its fourth suspected case of bird flu in humans. Earlier this month, Egyptian state TV said a woman had died from the H5N1 virus.

The H5N1 strain of the virus has killed more than 100 people worldwide.

It does not pose a large-scale threat to humans, as it cannot pass easily from one person to another.

However, experts fear the virus could mutate to gain this ability, and in its new form trigger a flu pandemic, potentially putting millions of human lives at risk.

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Bird flu discovered in Gaza Strip

Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 16:09 GMT

Initial tests on dead chickens suggest the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has spread to the Gaza Strip, Israeli and Palestinian officials have said.
The tests were conducted after some 200 chickens died in the southern town of Rafah, on the border with Egypt.

Israel has been culling hundreds of thousands of birds after an H5N1 outbreak was confirmed on farms next to the Gaza Strip last week.

Egypt on Tuesday reported its fourth suspected case of bird flu in humans.

Earlier this month, Egyptian state TV said a woman had died from the H5N1 virus.

The world's human death toll has reached 103 since late 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday. The latest five deaths were confirmed by the WHO in Azerbaijan.

The virus cannot pass easily from one person to another but there are fears it could mutate, triggering a pandemic.

US scientists have confirmed the H5N1 virus has evolved into two genetically distinct strains, potentially increasing the risk to humans.

'Highly likely'

The tests were carried out after the chickens were found dead in a coop in Rafah, Israeli Agricultural Ministry's spokeswoman Dafna Yarisca said.

The tests had only confirmed the presence of the H5 part of the strain, but Ms Yarisca said "it was highly likely" that the birds had died from H5N1.

Israel conducts all tests on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which does not have the technology.

The PA declared a state of emergency on Tuesday in an attempt to curb the spread of the disease.

Palestinian and Israeli officials were expected to meet later on Wednesday to discuss further measures.

Israel has culled some 400,000 infected turkeys and chickens since the H5N1 was found in two farms in Ein Hashlosha and Holit last week.

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Congratulations and Well-Wishes to Hamas from Neturei Karta International, Diaspora

27 January 2006
Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss
Neturei Karta International, USA
Rabbi Ahron Cohen
Neturei Karta, UK

With the help of the Almighty
Asaloom Aleikem

We are Neturei Karta International, representatives of the Torah abiding Jews throughout the world who stand true in their Torah observance and stand strong in their opposition to Zionism and the state of "Israel".

As you may well know, we Torah Jews, have always stood in complete solidarity with the Palestinian people.
True to the precepts of the Torah, we have always acknowledged and accepted the Palestinian rule over the entire Palestine. Further, in accord with the Jewish teachings, whichever party and whichever system of government that the Palestinian people choose, was and is completely respected and accepted by us, the Jewish people.

Now, on the occasion of the recent elections that have taken place in Palestine, we join our brethren in Palestine, in humbly offering our blessings and congratulations to you leaders, followers, and supporters of the Hamas organization upon your success.

Torah true Jews have always been deeply pained by the suffering of the Palestinian people which has come about through the creation of the Zionist state – the state of "Israel" - the so-called "Jewish" state. This horrendous development is to the Torah Jews an unequaled tragedy and an extreme embarrassment, to say the least.

The Jewish people have been sent into exile close to two thousand years ago by a divine decree of the Almighty. In conjunction with this exile, He has commanded us, the Jewish people, to be loyal, law abiding, compassionate and peace-loving citizens, in every land wherein we reside.

Furthermore, we are to await patiently in exile, the revelation of the Almighty, when all mankind will recognize and serve Him together in harmony and joy. Any attempts to create our own state, in this our Heavenly decreed exile, is expressly forbidden. This prohibition is regardless of whether the land in which the state is to be created, is inhabited or desolate.

The subjugation, oppression and ultimate expulsion of a people in order to accomplish the goal of creating a state, only compounds the crime and sin, is expressly forbidden and is antithetical to all the concepts of Judaism.

The Zionists have ignored all the aforementioned. They, with brazen chutzpah rebelled against the Almighty and the laws of His Torah with the conception of the Zionist ideolegy and by creating and operating the state of "Israel." They have expelled large numbers of Palestinian people and relentlessly and unremittingly subjugated and oppressed the remaining Palestinians and religious Jews throughout Palestine for nearly an entire century.

Therefore we declare our total opposition to Zionism and the state of "Israel". We furthermore declare our total support and solidarity with you, the Palestinian people.

Leaders of Hamas, upon your elevation to the position of official representatives of the entire Palestinian people, we offer our blessing and a prayer to the Almighty:

MAY the Almighty guide you and bestow upon you His wisdom to enable you to lead the Palestinian nation according to His will.

MAY the Almighty unite the hearts of the Palestinian people to accept and embrace your leadership with love and good will.

MAY it be the will of the Almighty that we should merit to see the peaceful and speedy dismantlement of the Zionist entity - the state of "Israel" and the transformation of rule over the entire Holy Land, including of course Al-Quds, to its proper rulers, the Palestinian people. Then we can once again live according to the will of the Almighty, Arab and Jew as neighbors, as we have been doing for so many hundreds of years up until the inception of Zionism.

ULTIMATELY, MAY it be the will of the Almighty that the entire world merit in the near future, to behold the revelation of His glory, when all mankind will serve Him in joy and harmony, AMEN.

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The Orthodox Jewish response to the criticism of the Iranian President

28 October 2005
Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss
Neturei Karta International
Jews United Against Zionism

With the help of the Almighty.

Orthodox Jews the world over, are saddened by the hysteria which has greeted the recent stated desire of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to see a world free of Zionism. This desire is nothing more than a yearning for a better, more peaceful world. It is a hope that with the elimination of Zionism, Jews and Muslims will live in harmony as they have throughout the ages, in Palestine and throughout the world.
It is a dangerous distortion, to see the President's words, as indicative of anti-Jewish sentiments. The President was simply re-stating the beliefs and statements of Ayatollah Khomeini, who always emphasized and practiced the respect and protection of Jews and Judaism. The political ideology of Zionism alone was rejected. President Ahmadinejad stressed this distinction by referring only to Zionism, not Judaism or the Jewish people, regardless of whether they reside in Palestine or else were.

We concur!!… Orthodox Jews have always prayed and till today, continually pray for the speedy and peaceful dismantling of the Zionist state. As per the teachings of the Torah, the Jewish law, the Jewish people are required to be loyal, upstanding citizens, in all of the countries where-in they reside. They are expressly forbidden to have their own entity or state in any form or configuration, in this Heavenly decreed exile. Furthermore, the exemplification of one-self, with acts of compassion and goodness, is of the essence of Judaism. To subjugate and oppress a people, to steal their land, homes and orchards etc. is of the cardinal sins, of the basics crimes, forbidden by the Torah.

We have long stood together with the suffering Palestinian people in their struggle for self determination and respect. Based on our religious teachings, we believe it is impossible that any lasting peace can be achieved, for so long as the state of Israel exists. It is towards this goal of true reconciliation that religious Jews strive; via Palestinian statehood, so that we can once again reside in harmony and brotherhood.

May we merit to see the fruition of our prayers. Ultimately we pray for the day when all mankind will recognize the One G-g and serve Him in harmony. May this come upon us in the near future. Amen.

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Earth on the Edge

Clue to slow human bird flu jump

Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 21:36 GMT

Scientists believe they may have discovered a reason why the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus cannot yet jump easily between humans.
Flu viruses which target man tend to attach to cells further up the airway - maximising their chances of being passed on by coughing or sneezing.

Researchers found the bird flu virus attached itself to cells deep down in the human airways.

The University of Wisconsin research is published in the journal Nature.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has spread across Europe, Africa and parts of Asia, has killed more than 100 people worldwide and infected about 180 since it re-emerged in 2003.

But it still cannot jump easily from human to human.

Scientists fear that if it gains that ability and mutates it could result in a human flu pandemic, with millions of deaths world-wide.

Target molecule

The Wisconsin team investigated why the virus could not spread easily between humans despite the fact that it could replicate efficiently in human lungs.

Flu viruses infecting humans and birds are known to home in on slightly different versions of the same molecule, found on the surface of cells which line the respiratory tract.

The latest study found the version of the molecule targeted by human viruses was more prevalent on cells higher up in the airway.

The molecule targeted by bird viruses, on the other hand, tended to be found on cells deep within the lungs, in structures called alveoli.

Thus the bird flu virus tended to be buried so deep in the lungs that was unlikely to be spread by coughing or sneezing.

If the virus was to acquire the ability to infect cells higher up in the airway, it could take a crucial step towards causing a human pandemic, researchers believe.

Victims 'unlucky'

Professor Ian Jones, of the University of Reading, said the study provided some explanation of why people, particularly children, had caught the virus and died and yet it had remained "bird flu".

"It seems they were just really unlucky and transmitted enough virus to their mouths for it to gain access to the lower lung, a distance shorter in children than adults.

"Casual contact with the virus may therefore not be as dangerous as initially thought."

However, Professor Jones said it was possible that the virus could mutate to gain the potential to attach to cells in the upper airway.

"It remains the case therefore that planning for that eventuality makes a great deal of sense."

Dr Laurence Tiley, a lecturer in molecular virology at the University of Cambridge, said: "This may at least in part explain why H5N1 is inefficient at transmitting person to person, although I doubt that it is the complete answer."

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Bulusan volcano spews ash

First posted 03:09am (Mla time) Mar 23, 2006
By Bobby Labalan, Blanche S. Rivera, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

SORSOGON CITY -- After being quiet for 11 years, Mount Bulusan in Sorsogon province, southeast of Manila, erupted late Tuesday night, spewing ash clouds as high as 1.5 kilometers into the sky and prompting government warnings to residents not to go near the volcano.

The Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) reported a steam-driven explosion from the summit of the 1,559-meter volcano at 10:58 p.m. on Tuesday. It lasted 20 minutes and was accompanied by an earthquake.
Resident volcanologist Bella Tubianosa said that because of the westward direction of winds, only the villages of Cogon, Tinampo, Gulang and Bolos in Irosin town and the villages of Bacolod, Sapa, Sangkayon and Biriran in Juban town were covered by the ash fall.

More explosions

"Phivolcs expects more explosions to occur in view of the volcano's recent reactivation," the agency said in its bulletin issued at 8 a.m. yesterday.

accompanied the explosion at 10:58 p.m., but three more earthquakes followed at 11:30 p.m., 11:32 p.m. and 11:37 p.m.

"Technically, it's an eruption, although it's only an ash explosion since the materials spewed were mostly ash and not pyroclastic ones," Ed Laguerta, Mount Mayon resident volcanologist who is based in Legazpi City in Albay, said late yesterday afternoon.
Laguerta, who went to Bulusan to assist in monitoring activities, said there was not much hazard or threat to life at present but only inconvenience to local residents, except for those near the crater.

He said no succeeding activity had yet taken place after Tuesday's ash explosion.

Bulusan usually exhibits a "one-shot deal" -- meaning, once it explodes, it will take days before another activity occurs, he said.

Laguerta noted the reactivation of certain fissures down the slopes, as manifested by smoke emissions.

Tubianosa said the ash ejection was preceded by at least 63 volcanic quakes and a loud grumbling.

Phivolcs warned people to stay away from areas within 4 km of the crater that has been designated as a permanent danger zone (PDZ). The zone, which covers portions of Juban, Barcelona, Bulusan and Irosin towns, is off-limits to the public because this will be affected by sudden explosions.

Nearby communities near the zone have been warned against more ash explosions that could generate life-threatening volcanic flows.

At 6 a.m. yesterday, the Phivolcs' seismic network around Bulusan recorded 18 low-frequency volcanic earthquakes, 41 high-frequency ones, and four explosion-type earthquakes.

High-frequency earthquakes are caused by the breaking of rocks. Low-frequency earthquakes are those caused by the movement of fluid or gas.

24-hour vigil

"What we are warning against are the more dangerous kinds of explosion," Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum said.

Hazardous eruption is characterized by tall eruption columns, pyroclastic flows moving down the slope, and lava flows.

Tubianosa said she could not yet tell if the volcano's situation would still worsen but her office was keeping a 24-hour vigil.

Aerial survey

Arnel Capili, regional director of the Office of Civil Defense, said an aerial survey of the volcano would be conducted today.

On Sunday, the Phivolcs raised Alert Level 1 in Bulusan after recording 73 high-frequency volcanic earthquakes, much higher than the usual five volcanic quakes in 24 hours. The next day, its seismic network recorded 58 volcanic earthquakes, compelling the agency to issue a warning on a possible explosion, which occurred Tuesday night.

"These are phreatic explosions, which are a precursor to an eruption ... These indicate volcanic unrest," Phivolcs volcanology officer-in-charge Jaime Sincioco said in a phone interview.

Sincioco said his office was treating the explosion as phreatic. This type of explosion occurs when water impounded in the crater flows into the cracks and meets the hot rocks, converting it to steam.

Disaster council

Yesterday, Gov. Raul Lee of Sorsogon immediately called the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council to a meeting to assess the situation and prepare for any eventualities.

Lee asked the Department of Education to make available its classrooms in the affected areas and even in towns that might be hit by ash fall for possible evacuation.

He mobilized the Philippine Army, Philippine National Police and the Bureau of Fire Protection to clean up the national highway.

Bulusan, 43 kilometers south of the capital city Sorsogon, is one of the country's 22 active volcanoes. The Phivolcs defines "active" as volcanoes that have erupted in the past 500 years.

Before Tuesday's ash explosion, Bulusan's last activities were recorded from Nov. 27, 1994 to January 1995. It only caused ash fall in villages in Bulusan, Barcelona, Casiguran, Juban, Irosin and Gubat towns and was accompanied by at least 14 minutes of weak tremor.

The Philippines lies in an area in the Pacific basin that is vulnerable to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Mount Pinatubo in Central Luzon, north of Manila, erupted in 1991 in the century's biggest blast, burying dozens of villages under tons of mud after lying dormant for 600 years.

More than 800 people died in the wake of Pinatubo's eruption, mostly from diseases in overcrowded evacuation camps.

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Minor earthquake shakes Eureka area

By The Associated Press

EUREKA -- A minor earthquake shook parts of northwestern Montana Wednesday morning, but apparently caused no damage.

People reported pictures falling off walls, said Chrystal Stacy, a Eureka-area emergency services dispatcher. There were no injuries.
It was just so unbelievable when it happened, because it's something you don't expect up here," Stacy said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 3.9 and hit at 10:24 a.m. It was centered about 12 miles west of Eureka.

Law enforcement officers said the quake was felt in Libby, Eureka and the Yaak Valley.

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Light quake strikes Quebec's Far North


MONTREAL (CP) - A light earthquake struck northern Quebec Wednesday afternoon.
The quake measured 4.0 on the Richter scale. The epicentre was about four kilometres southwest of the Inuit village of Puvirnituq, in the province's far north.

According to the Geological Survey of Canada, residents felt vibrations in their homes. Those near the epicentre said it sounded like an explosion when it struck after 5 p.m. ET.

Cathy Woodgold, a spokeswoman for the federal agency, said there were no reports of injuries or damage.

Four or five quakes of similar intensity typically strike eastern Canada each year.

Last month, a 4.5-magnitude quake struck the Thurso region, about 45 kilometres east-northeast of Ottawa.

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2006 March 23 03:25:26 UTC

Magnitude 5.1 (Moderate)
# Date-Time Thursday, March 23, 2006 at 03:25:26 (UTC)
= Coordinated Universal Time
# Thursday, March 23, 2006 at 3:25:26 PM

= local time at epicenter
Time of Earthquake in other Time Zones
Location 30.051°S, 177.995°W
Depth 53.7 km (33.4 miles) set by location program
Distances 90 km (55 miles) S of Raoul Island, Kermadec Islands
175 km (110 miles) NNE of L'Esperance Rock, Kermadec Islands
1005 km (630 miles) NE of Auckland, New Zealand
1410 km (870 miles) NNE of WELLINGTON, New Zealand
Location Uncertainty horizontal +/- 8.5 km (5.3 miles); depth fixed by location program
Parameters Nst= 67, Nph= 67, Dmin=89 km, Rmss=0.83 sec, Gp= 79°,
M-type=body magnitude (Mb), Version=Q
Event ID uskqad

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Nah. It couldn't have been a meteorite. Could it?

Mar, 23 2006

BURNABY/CKNW(AM980) - A loud explosion in Burnaby late last night has authorities scratching their heads.

About 11:05 the blast rattled windows and awakened neighbours near the Chaffey Burke Elementary School on Abbey Avenue.

Police responded with officers and a dog but came up empty handed. All they could find was a small hole in the ground.

No damage has been reported and there were no injuries.

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Fewer birds spotted in UK gardens

Thursday, 23 March 2006, 11:44 GMT

The number of birds visiting British gardens is on the decline, according to a survey involving 470,000 people.
Although the house sparrow continued to be the most common garden bird, its numbers have dropped from an average of 10 per garden in 1979 to 4.4 in 2006.

The starling, once the most common, is down to a quarter of those in 1979.

Some 86,000 children were among those who watched gardens and parks in the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds's January Big Garden Birdwatch.

The numbers involved broke the previous record set in 2004 of 419,000 participants.

The house sparrow was the most common bird seen over the two days - although the blackbird, recorded in 94% of all 270,000 gardens involved, was the most widespread - and 8.1m birds of 80 species were seen.

Blue tits. Image: Mike Read/rspb-images.com
Blackbird - 94.71%
Blue tit - 84.44%
Robin - 84.19%
House sparrow - 67.71%
Chaffinch - 58.99%
Collared dove - 58.54%
Woodpigeon - 57.28%
Great tit - 57.10%
Starling - 50.95%
Greenfinch - 45.25%
(Numbers are the percentage of gardens the species were seen in)

Co-ordinator Richard Bashford told BBC Radio 4's Today programme "a lack of food for the chicks" was causing the fall in the number of house sparrow sightings.

Bird-lovers should leave food out and allow their garden grass to grow to create a better environment for birds to catch insects, he added.

However, some bird species have increased, with the greenfinch population growing 67% in the past 27 years and the wren jumping 140%.

Many people spotted more blackbirds and song thrushes, and other less common species.

There had been an "amazing rise in small finches", Mr Bashford told Today.

"The number of siskins, which are super colourful birds, was up by 483% from last year, and bramblings were up by 371%.

"This highlights the importance of our gardens to birds coming to the UK in search of food and shelter and escaping the harsh winter weather on the continent."

The survey had been "extremely well supported... even in the most built-up areas where you might not expect people to watch birds," Mr Bashford added.

"In Greater London, nearly 30,000 people spotted 400,000 birds this year.

"It is fantastic there is so much interest in the wildlife around us with more people then ever enjoying the birds in their gardens."

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US Economy - Teetering on the Brink

Rabobank urges global central banks to prevent possible dollar plunge

03.21.2006, 11:20 AM
Forbes Europe

AMSTERDAM (AFX) - Economists at Rabobank have called on the world's central banks to undertake action to prevent the US dollar from plunging against the euro and other currencies.
Citing current 'instabilities' such as the US trade deficit and the US national debt in the bank's quarterly economic review released today, Rabobank economists are urging central banks to 'undertake a coordinated effort to bring down the value of the US dollar to a more sustainable level' vis-a-vis the euro.

The bank's economists point to the fact that the Chinese central bank has thus far been buying US dollars on a large scale, thus effectively supporting current currency trading levels, but the researchers said that several factors may force the Chinese central bank to stop buying dollars, which could result in a worldwide sell-off of US dollars by currency traders as confidence in the currency would fade.

Some of the factors mentioned could be protectionism of the US domestic market by lawmakers, or an oil-exporting country like Iran deciding to switch to the euro instead of the dollar for oil trading purposes as a result of political tensions, the economists said.

The Rabobank economists also argue that the US needs to start reducing its national debt and budget deficit, and decrease the country's trade deficit to prevent a possible loss of confidence in the dollar by currency markets.

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Historic Union Deal Will Pare Down GM

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 23, 2006; Page A01

General Motors Corp.'s offer of buyouts to tens of thousands of older, high-wage factory workers yesterday is the latest effort to transform an outmoded U.S. auto giant besieged by more nimble global rivals.
The landmark agreement among GM, the United Auto Workers union and parts maker Delphi Corp. -- a former GM subsidiary now in bankruptcy protection -- offers employees $35,000 to $140,000, based on seniority and age.

Ed Wolff works at Delphi Corp.'s plant in Dayton, Ohio. About 13,000 Delphi workers are eligible for the buyouts.
Ed Wolff works at Delphi Corp.'s plant in Dayton, Ohio. About 13,000 Delphi workers are eligible for the buyouts. (By David Kohl -- Associated Press)
What's Being Offered
As part of the deal with the United Auto Workers, 105,000 hourly GM workers and 13,000 Delphi workers will be eligible for voluntary early retirement buyouts of between $35,000 and $140,000. What's being offered:
Buyouts Only A Partial Solution For Delphi
The plan yesterday to offer buyouts to thousands of hourly union workers at beleaguered Delphi Corp. may not end the company's troubles as the auto parts giant struggles to cut costs and emerge from bankruptcy protection.

* 2005 Loss For GM To Jump $2 Billion
* GM to Cut White-Collar Retirement Costs
* Delphi Puts Off Court Action
* Delphi Rescinds Plan To Slash Union Pay

GM sells 78 percent of GMAC Commercial Holding
NEW YORK (Reuters) - General Motors Corp. on Thursday said an investor group has completed the acquisition of a majority interest in GMAC Commercial Holding Corp. from GM's financing arm, General Motors Acceptance Corp.
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It is unclear how many of the auto goliath's 105,000 hourly workers will take the buyouts, though a significant portion are expected to. About 13,000 workers at Delphi -- GM's largest parts supplier -- will also be eligible for the buyouts.

Once the cornerstone of American manufacturing and cultural might, GM is laden with massive pension and health-care costs for its hundreds of thousands of retirees and their families. Meanwhile, vehicle sales have been hammered by high fuel costs while increasing waves of foreign rivals hit U.S. shores, shrinking GM's once-dominant market share from more than 50 percent to about 26 percent.

"GM invented the modern corporation, and it worked really well, but now it's over," said Sean McAlinden, the chief economist at the Center for Automotive Studies. "This is the end of 20th-century industrial America and hopefully the beginning of 21st-century industrial America and a globalized auto industry."

Under the new deal, GM and Delphi hourly employees -- mostly factory workers -- have a range of options to leave the two companies. For instance, workers with 10 or more years of seniority can take a one-time payment of $140,000 to sever all ties to GM and Delphi. The workers would keep their accrued pensions but lose health-care and other post-retirement benefits. Employees with less than 10 years can chose a one-time payment of $70,000 to walk away under similar circumstances. As many as 5,000 Delphi workers could move back to GM jobs based on a condition of GM's 1999 spinoff of Delphi.

Workers over 50 years old with at least 10 years on the job can retire immediately with full health-care and pension benefits. GM said it didn't know the full costs associated with the buyout. The deal requires approval of the bankruptcy court judge in the Delphi case.

If a large number of workers take the buyouts, yesterday's agreement will slash company payroll costs and may help quell troubles extending beyond GM. At Delphi, UAW members had threatened a strike, as management demanded hourly wage cuts of more than one-half. Yesterday's deal somewhat reduces the likelihood of a costly Delphi strike that would have further destabilized cash-strapped GM and potentially engulfed the industry.

But some industry experts said the deal only temporarily relieves the burden of pension and health-care costs without fixing the problem.

GM pioneered generous benefits for workers, mainly the so-called "30 years and out" paradigm that guaranteed lifetime employment and retirement. But now, because of skyrocketing health-care expenses and intense global competition, GM says it can no longer afford the bills.

Worker reaction to yesterday's news was mixed. Some UAW members who posted to online forums complained that the union had sold out its membership.

Todd Jordan, a 27-year-old machine operator at a Delphi plant in Kokomo, Ind., said he will encourage co-workers not to take the offers. He said more focus needs to be placed on mismanagement at GM and Delphi as the source of the companies' woes.

"I just don't think that getting rid of autoworkers in America is the answer," Jordan said in an interview. "Downsizing our labor force will hurt our economy and hurt our quality in the factory."

Jordan said he fears an exodus of more senior workers who know the facilities' operations best. Another fear is that incoming workers at lower wages would feel sold out by other people in the plant. "How's it going to work if I'm working beside somebody who makes $14 an hour and I make $27," he asked.

Ed Wolff works at Delphi Corp.'s plant in Dayton, Ohio. About 13,000 Delphi workers are eligible for the buyouts.
Ed Wolff works at Delphi Corp.'s plant in Dayton, Ohio. About 13,000 Delphi workers are eligible for the buyouts. (By David Kohl -- Associated Press)
What's Being Offered
As part of the deal with the United Auto Workers, 105,000 hourly GM workers and 13,000 Delphi workers will be eligible for voluntary early retirement buyouts of between $35,000 and $140,000. What's being offered:
Buyouts Only A Partial Solution For Delphi
The plan yesterday to offer buyouts to thousands of hourly union workers at beleaguered Delphi Corp. may not end the company's troubles as the auto parts giant struggles to cut costs and emerge from bankruptcy protection.

* 2005 Loss For GM To Jump $2 Billion
* GM to Cut White-Collar Retirement Costs
* Delphi Puts Off Court Action
* Delphi Rescinds Plan To Slash Union Pay

GM sells 78 percent of GMAC Commercial Holding
NEW YORK (Reuters) - General Motors Corp. on Thursday said an investor group has completed the acquisition of a majority interest in GMAC Commercial Holding Corp. from GM's financing arm, General Motors Acceptance Corp.

But Melvin Davis, vice president of UAW Local 2164 in Bowling Green, Ky., and a 30-year veteran of GM, said workers have been enthusiastic about what they've heard so far. He said he is unsure if he will take a buyout until he sees the details. Also, industrial jobs in the area are hard to find, he said.

"The main thing everyone is looking at is the dollar sign," Davis said. "Overall, it seems to be a pretty good offer."

Meanwhile, Larry Jones, 52, a 28-year veteran of a GM plant in Romulus, Mich., said his acceptance of the buyout would depend on the details, which he has not seen, including whether health-care and other benefits are guaranteed.

If he takes it, he plans to become a blackjack dealer in a nearby casino. "I'd love to see a person with 30 years take the retirement so young people can get a job and get a decent income," he said, sipping a Bud Light in a Romulus bar last night.

Delphi called the deal "a critical milestone in its restructuring." The agreement could open the door to lower pay, plant closings and divestitures that will affect Delphi's remaining workers. These are all thorny areas for labor. Delphi had threatened to slash union workers' salaries to as little as $9.50 per hour from the current rate of $27 per hour. The proposal galvanized labor opposition, forcing Delphi to back off. GM was drawn into the talks because of legal and financial ties to its former subsidiary Delphi and the prospect of a strike.

Delphi said it will continue talks with GM and the UAW to resolve remaining issues. The deal outlined yesterday does not specify what Delphi workers will be paid once the supplier emerges from bankruptcy protection, a key issue for labor. Delphi said it will continue talks with the union to work for a comprehensive agreement, including the wage issue, by March 30.

If the company cannot settle with the union, it can extend the deadline for talks or ask a bankruptcy judge to throw out the existing high-wage contract and impose lower wages.

According to the Center for Automotive Research, the average age of a GM worker is 50, and many are within a few years of hitting the 30-year retirement point, if they haven't already surpassed it.

In a statement, GM chairman and chief executive Rick Wagoner said he is pleased with the deal. Wagoner has cited the resolution of the Delphi situation as a major corporate objective.

Wagoner and his team at GM have lots of other problems to untangle. GM lost $10.6 billion last year and is in the midst of a vast overhaul of its North American manufacturing operation. GM is wrestling with an ongoing government accounting investigation, important new-vehicle launches and the complicated sale of its GMAC financing subsidiary.

GM has been hounded by financial analysts and investors who are pressing for faster change at the automaker. Some have predicted bankruptcy for GM if its many problems aren't solved.

GM is heavily dependent on Delphi parts. For example, Delphi supplies heating and air-conditioning units for GM's full-size sport-utility vehicles, the success of which are key to GM's ability to reverse steep financial losses. In recent years, GM executives working closely with UAW leaders have defused problems that could have blown up into strikes.

Charles Craver, professor of labor and employment law at George Washington University, called yesterday's deal a temporary slowdown in a "rush to the bottom" for the cheapest labor. He said that in the long run, GM and Delphi will have to start laying people off.

Craver said U.S. industrial companies are in dire straits because health-care and retirement costs in the U.S. are so high. "We have to do something that will help fill that gap and alleviate the huge amount of pressure on private employers," Craver said.

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Credit derivatives rocked by loss at GM finance arm

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
The Telegraph

The discovery of huge hidden losses at General Motors's finance arm have raised fresh fears of bankruptcy at the world's biggest carmaker, sending tremors through the credit derivatives markets.

The struggling group asked for a filing delay after admitting to an extra $2bn (£1.1bn) in accounting errors at its finance arm GMAC, raising total losses last year to $10.6bn. The news triggered a sharp spike in the cost of default insurance on GMAC's bonds, rising 75 basis points overnight.
Car-parts supplier Dana Corporation defaulted last week on $2.5bn of debt, following Delphi and Tower Automotive last year.

Concern that General Motors may now be sliding towards the brink - linked to an estimated $200bn in credit derivatives - has renewed fears that the over-heated credit swap market could seize up in a crisis.

Global investors are already jittery after the crash of the Icelandic krona, which sparked flight from hot assets as far afield as Hungary, Turkey and New Zealand.

There is concern that monetary tightening in Europe, Japan, and America in unison might drain much of the excess liquidity fuelling the global asset boom.

Timothy Geithner, president of the New York Federal Reserve, warned in a recent speech that the $300,000bn derivatives market had raced ahead of the infrastructure needed to support it.

He said the plethora of new instruments may have led to a more dangerous concentration of risk.

"They have not ended the tendency of markets to occasional periods of mania and panic. They have not eliminated the possibility of failure of a major financial intermediary. And they cannot fully insulate the broader financial community from the effects of such a failure."

"There are aspects of the latest changes in financial innovation that could increase systemic risk in some circumstances, by amplifying rather than dampening the movement in asset prices," he said.

The New York Fed was caught off guard in 1998 when the Russian default caused global bond spreads to widen further than computer models had programmed.

Long Term Capital Management - a hedge fund with two Nobel laureates on its team - was left on the wrong side of almost $100bn in trades on Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese bonds, among others, until it was rescued by the emergency rate cuts. The Fed said at the time the meltdown had put the entire global financial system at risk.

This time Mr Geithner is demanding that the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) clean up it act before - not after - any credit crunch. He said the "most conspicuous" problems were in the $12,400bn market for credit derivatives, which has doubled in size every year for the last decade. A "significant" proportion of total trades do not even match up, he said.

Credit derivatives are an easy way to bet on credit quality without having to buy actual bonds, which are less liquid. Mr Geithner said the risk was very heavily concentrated, with America's ten biggest banks holding $600bn in potential credit exposure (on $95,000bn of notional trades), equal to 175pc of their financial reserves.

"The same names show up in multiple types of positions. These create the potential for squeezes in cash markets, magnifying the risk of adverse market dynamics," he said.

Market traders are scathing about such warnings, accusing the watchdogs of basic ignorance. "Regulators have been going on like this for five years now," said one veteran.

Unconvinced by such blithe assurances, the investor Warren Buffett has been warning since 2003 that derivatives are a ticking "time bomb", although his new metaphor is New Orleans' burst levee.

This month, he was explaining it has cost Berkshire Hathaway $404m to extract itself from derivatives inherited through General Re, the reinsurance group.

He said: "We are a canary in this business coal mine. Our experience should be particularly sobering because we were a better-than-average candidate to exit gracefully.

"General Re has had the good fortune to unwind its supposedly liquid positions in a benign market. It could be a different story for others in the future," Mr Buffett said.

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GM to cut engineering staff in US, Europe: report

March 23, 2006

DETROIT - General Motors Corp. will announce job cuts at its engineering operations in the United States and Europe next week, the Detroit Free Press reported on Thursday.

The newspaper quoted unidentified engineers and a GM executive in reporting that the coming job cuts would be announced on Tuesday.

It was not clear how many white-collar positions would be eliminated, the newspaper said. A GM representative could not be immediately reached for comment.
"There will be a right-sizing of the U.S. and European vehicle engineering groups," the newspaper quoted a GM executive as saying. "Where there's duplication of engineering among North America, Europe and South America, you can eliminate it and reduce the number of people involved."

The report comes a day after GM announced a sweeping program of buyouts intended to coax tens of thousands of its production workers to accept early retirement in a bid to cut its payroll and pension costs.

GM has set a goal of cutting 30,000 blue-collar jobs by the end of 2008 as it closes factories to adjust to a long-running decline in its U.S. market share.

The company has also set a goal of cutting its U.S. salaried levels this year, but it was not immediately clear if the reported engineering job cuts were part of that previously announced cost-cutting.

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Trusting the Marketplace

March 20, 2006
Billmon's Whisky Bar

Confronting critics of the Bush administration's economic record, Treasury Secretary John Snow said the widening gap between high-paid and low-paid Americans reflects a labor market efficiently rewarding more productive people . . . Mr. Snow said the same phenominon explains why compensation for corporate chief executives has climbed so sharply.

"In an aggregate sense, it reflects the marginal productivity of CEOs. Do I trust the market for CEOs to work efficiently? Yes. Until we can find a better way to compensate CEOs, I'm going to trust the marketplace."

Wall Street Journal
Snow Defends President's Handling of Economy
March 20, 2006

Before coming to Treasury [in February 2003] Snow was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CSX Corporation, where he successfully guided the global transportation company through a period of tremendous change.

Treasury Department
Official Biography of John Snow

Price change, 10 years ending Jan. 2003
CSX common stock: -3.89%
S&P 500 Index: 92.49%

Earnings per share growth, 10 years ending Jan. 2003
CSX: 18.90%
S&P 500 Index: 33.43%

Revenue growth, 10 years ending Jan. 2003
CSX: -6.75%
S&P 500 Index: 43.12%

Cumulative return, 10 years ending Dec. 2002
CSX: 5%
Dow Transportation Average: 62.7%
S&P 500 Index: 144.3%

Total compensation paid to John Snow by CSX shareholders, 10 years ending Dec. 2002:
$56 million

Total compensation paid to John Snow by CSX shareholders, including the then-present value of his stock option awards:
$112.2 million

And he's not done. As the company's most recent proxy reads: "Mr. Snow will be provided with certain employee benefits and perquisites including office space and secretarial support, maintenance of country club memberships, executive physicals, discounts at The Greenbrier, and use of private aircraft for the remainder of his life."

Snow Job
December 10, 2002

If had the scummy old bastard's track record, I guess I'd trust the marketplace, too.

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EU's 'big three' in crisis, says third way guru

Nicholas Watt, European editor
Thursday March 23, 2006

France, Germany and Italy are facing an economic crisis with worrying levels of unemployment, Tony Blair's intellectual guru has declared on the eve of an EU summit which starts in Brussels this afternoon.
In a rare insight into the prime minister's private thoughts about some of Britain's closest European partners, Anthony Giddens warned of further trouble unless the three countries reform.

"Is there enough shock in France and Germany and Italy to produce ... changes because a great deal of Europe's unemployment is concentrated in those three countries?" the academic asked in an interview with Guardian Unlimited.

"There manifestly is a kind of crisis in France, Germany and Italy."

Lord Giddens' remarks came as the EU's 25 leaders prepare to descend on Brussels this afternoon for their annual spring summit, which is traditionally devoted to jobs and economic growth, known in EU parlance as the "Lisbon agenda". The meeting, which was meant to show voters that European leaders are concentrating on bread and butter issues after the rejection last year of the EU constitution, is being held amid an increasingly gloomy economic climate.

Violent street protests have erupted in France as students battle against a key reform designed to lower France's chronic youth unemployment which, at 23%, is among the worst in Europe. The "first employment contract" (CPE) is meant to encourage companies to hire young people by making it easier to fire workers under the age of 26.

With the French government destabilised by the street protests, Paris is spearheading a wave of protectionism that has alarmed more liberal countries like Britain. Dominique de Villepin, the embattled French prime minister who is championing "economic patriotism", has named 11 "strategic" French business sectors which should be shielded from foreign bidders.

More underhand methods are reportedly being used to protect other areas which should be open. Italy is accusing France of engineering a merger of Gaz de France and Suez, the Franco-Belgian energy giant, to undermine a bid for Suez by its Italian rival, Enel.

France's behaviour prompted an extraordinary series of attacks from liberals who believe that the EU's historic "four freedoms" - free movement of people, capital, services and goods - are under threat.

Giulio Tremonti, the Italian finance minister, likened the wave of economic nationalism to the mood of "August 1914". Charlie McCreevy, Ireland's arch free market European commissioner, said it was useless building "political Maginot lines" around a country's economy, a barbed reference to France's famously useless defences in the second world war.

Amid this atmosphere the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is said to be spoiling for a fight at the summit. Under severe pressure in the Italian general election campaign, Mr Berlusconi is planning to criticise the French president, Jacques Chirac.

But Mr Berlusconi is in such a weak position back home that he is struggling to win support. Italy was forced to withdraw a plan to publish a letter condemning protectionism after liberal countries, such as Britain and Sweden, refused to sign up.

Britain is wary of siding too closely with Mr Berlusconi because Downing Street is calculating that he may well be out of office within weeks. No 10 is understood to have dispatched emissaries to mend fences with his challenger, Romano Prodi, after Mr Blair fell out with him during his time as European commission president.

In his Guardian Unlimited interview Lord Giddens made clear that Blairites regard Mr Berlusconi as a failure. "Italy's got virtually zero growth rate," the former director of the London School of Economics said.

"Berlusconi ... [is] a businessman and [was] supposed to apply his special skills to pull the economy round. That hasn't happened at all. The economy is in a worse condition than it was when he got into power."

Lord Giddens said that Italy, France and Germany should follow the example of Britain, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries which have reformed their labour markets. "The Netherlands and the UK were two of the weakest economies in Europe for at least 20 years. It was consciousness of that in the end which prompted enough motivation for reform."

His remarks were echoed by Peter Mandelson, Britain's European commissioner, who accused many European countries of failing to wake up to the challenge of globalisation. In a recent interview with the Guardian, he said: "I don't know whether we're witnessing the death throes or the birth pangs of protectionism ... People are coming to terms with new forces in the global economy.

"We're not going to come to terms with that by trying to shelter ourselves from the global economy and what is changing in it. Sometimes you listen to people and wonder if they just imagine that if they bring a comfort blanket over their heads far enough and firmly enough all that is happening in the world will pass them by and they can reemerge and carry on business as usual as if nothing has changed in due course. That, to put it mildly, is an unrealistic assumption."

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EU markets row overshadows summit

Thursday, 23 March 2006, 11:27 GMT

A dispute over economic barriers in Europe is set to dominate a summit of EU leaders starting on Thursday.
The two-day meeting was supposed to focus on economic co-operation and reform but is likely to be overshadowed by a simmering row over protectionism.

France and Italy have clashed over a deal to merge two French energy firms, which critics say thwarts competition.

Italy has failed to persuade EU leaders to issue a declaration condemning so-called "economic nationalism".

Takeover battles

But Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is still expected to call for countries to uphold the rules of the single market and not protect firms from foreign takeover - putting him on a possible collision course with French President Jacques Chirac.

Analysis: Modest summit goals

President Chirac is expected to mount a staunch defence of France's policy of giving firms in key sectors of the economy - such as defence and energy - extra legal protection from takeover.

This policy - dubbed "economic nationalism" - has been criticised by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso among others.

He has called on EU governments - several of which have openly opposed foreign takeover deals in the steel, banking and energy sectors - to tone down nationalist rhetoric.

EU leaders had been hoping to push the dispute to one side, focusing instead on issues such as energy co-operation and measures to increase youth employment.

French students protesting about new employment contracts
French labour market reforms have sparked widespread protests

An Italian plan which would have seen all 25 EU members sign a letter condemning protectionism was dropped on Wednesday.

Rome was forced to back down after a number of other countries - including Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden - refused to support the move.

But observers believe that Mr Berlusconi - who is trailing in the polls ahead of next month's general election in Italy - is unlikely to let the matter rest.

"I think it is almost certain that he will use the summit to launch an attack against French protectionism and reaffirm his liberal values," said Gianni Bonvicini, director of the Italian Institute of International Affairs.

Jobs focus

Mr Berlusconi could win backing from the United Kingdom, as Prime Minister Tony Blair is a strong supporter of moves to open Europe's state-dominated energy markets to more competition.

The Austrian Presidency wants the summit to focus on job creation, cutting bureaucracy and investment in skills and scientific research.

Despite the outlook for many EU economies starting to improve, France and Germany are still suffering from high unemployment.

The EU's record of job creation since it launched the Lisbon Agenda - a 2000 plan aimed at transforming Europe into the world's largest economy - has been poor.

French efforts to reform its labour market by giving employers more flexibility to hire and fire workers have provoked widespread protests in recent weeks.

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Global Newsbites

Rats Overrun Neighborhood In Orange County

March 23, 2006

Homeowners in an Orange County, Fla., neighborhood claim their community has been overrun by rats big enough to pick fights with small dogs, according to a Local 6 News report.

Residents in the Conway Acres neighborhood in Orange County said the rats are scurrying around their neighborhood 24 hours a day.

Homeowners said they have seen the rats running on power lines into homes.
"The rats are running off that power line and that telephone pole into this line and into the house," homeowner Andy Price said.

"They say some of these rats are so big that if they wanted to, they could pick a fight with a small dog," Local 6 reporter Todd Jurkowski said.

Neighbors said a home that was left in deplorable condition after Hurricane Charley provided a structure for the rats to multiply unnoticed. The rats then apparently spread throughout the neighborhood, according to the report.

Orange County code enforcement has ordered the homeowner to get a pest control company to assess the damage and kill the rats.

Local 6 News was not able to contact the owner of the home.

A town meeting will be held next week with experts from the health department offering tips on how to end the infestation.

Comment: Well, with a rat for governor, what did they expect??

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Bring the Sixties Out of the Closet

By Don Hazen, AlterNet. Posted March 23, 2006.

We need to resurrect the good '60s -- a time when acting, despite being messy and imperfect, made a lot of good things happen.

Late into Dana Spiotta's brilliant new novel, "Eat the Document," the protagonist, a woman who has lived "underground" for years, hiding from the consequences of a 1960s political protest gone badly awry, flashes back to the moment of choice:

"The question is, do we want to leave action to the brutes of the world? … There are some inherent problems built into acting. It lacks perfection. But I believe we must fight back, or we will feel shame all our lives. We, the privileged, are more obligated. It is a moral duty to do something, however imperfect. … If we don't do something, all our lives we will feel regret."

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the '60s (actually the period from '67 to '73) -- that political era so filled with possibility, so much a part of the blood and souls of millions of aging baby boomers like myself. The period was profoundly effective in the changes it provoked, yet is so persistently pilloried for its exaggerated excesses. One reason I find myself looking back is the pervasive feeling of political impotence so many of us feel at this moment in history, and our seeming inability to act -- to be noticed, to make a difference.

There are some present-day chilling parallels to the repression of the Nixon era -- and of course many differences -- but there is a feeling in the air that smells like the '60s, that sends paranoid vibes through the body politic. The events taking place -- warrantless wiretapping, political corruption, torture, the war in Iraq with its disgusting profiteering while tens of thousands of people die -- demand a response equal to the situation, Yet we sit without a clear path showing us our step.

A short time ago, in a funding appeal to the AlterNet community, I wrote: "I haven't felt this angry, frightened or radical in a long time. We can no longer just do what we have been doing. In my several decades working in politics and media, the present feels dire."

Those were my emotions; however, I didn't offer an action plan. The best I could do was ask for support so AlterNet could continue being a thorn in the side of the Bush administration. Important, but not sufficient.

In the first draft of my appeal letter, I had also written: "Not since John Mitchell was attorney general and a paranoid, anti-Semitic Richard Nixon at the helm, have we been under an assault close to what we have today. And we don't have a Watergate to get Bush out of office." My editor suggested I take those sentences out -- "No need to go back to the past, and younger readers probably won't relate to this piece of history," she said. So I did.

But my memory of that time is still so powerful, because many of us did act -- sometimes wildly, sometimes irresponsibly -- and we couldn't be ignored. And who can say that the Bush administration isn't shockingly irresponsible every day?

I remember so clearly the May Day 1971 protests in Washington, D.C., glaring at Attorney General John Mitchell as he stood on the roof of the Justice Department, puffing his ever-present pipe and pretending to ignore the thousands of screaming, chanting masses in the street. The WikiPedia describes May 3, 1971, as "one of the most disruptive actions of the Vietnam War era."

The threat caused by the May Day Protests forced the Nixon administration to create a virtual state of siege in the nation's capital. Thousands of federal and National Guard troops, along with local police, suppressed the disorder, and by the time it was over several days later, over 10,000 would be arrested. It would be the largest mass arrest in U.S. history.

That's not a typo: More than 10,000 people were arrested, jammed into jails that resembled crowded elevators and bused out to RFK Stadium. It was crazy, anarchistic and perhaps politically naive, but it was action. It made an impression. We were noticed. And it was exhilarating to bond with so many in a cause that felt so just. Critics may suggest that the protest made things worse, that it played into the hands of the Republicans. But I don't think so. Resistance is important. (There is a parallel today, with some critics charging that talk of impeaching Bush and Sen. Russ Feingold's motion to censure are also counterproductive.)

The '60s era was a profoundly energetic mix of culture and politics. That decade has been distorted, caricatured and turned into a black-and-white cartoon -- when not appropriated to sell cars with Jimmy Hendrix music and pricey clothing like the Miss Sixty line.

It is time to resurrect the good '60s and help many people understand much of what has been hidden. It was an era when millions of people were clear about their values -- especially nonmaterial aspirations, and sharing, and ways of living simply that have long since been steamrollered by the nonstop tsunami of global consumer culture. Today, with the looming threat of diminishing oil supply (often referred to as peak oil), some people are already revisiting and experimenting with the best of the "back to the land movement," in anticipation of harder times down the road.

One example of yanking '60s history out of the closet is the new film, "Sir! No Sir!," by David Zeiger. This documentary, which opens April 7, tells the powerful story of how soldiers rebelled within the ranks of the U.S. military in reaction to the insanity of the Vietnam War. It portrays the culture of the GI coffeehouses and the barnstorming actors and musicians led by Jane Fonda, who nurtured the resistance. In the end, the film makes a convincing case that Nixon and Kissinger had no choice but to get the hell out of Vietnam. Toward the end of the war, thousands of GIs were refusing to do battle -- some fragging officers who attempted to force them into hopeless and treacherous situations.

When I saw the film recently in Mill Valley, Calif., both Jane Fonda and Cindy Sheehan were present to honor many of the courageous vets who fought the war from the inside. Fonda made one crucial point that night that stuck with me. She said that everyone associated with the successful soldier rebellion and the powerful themes of the '60s had to be demonized by the government and the media or else our military might would be called into question -- the illusion of power we need to maintain empire. The result is that soldiers who had the best of intentions and told the truth about what was really happening in Vietnam would be forever labeled as unpatriotic.

At no time were the consequences of this tarring effort more profound than the "Swift Boat Veterans'" spurious attack on John Kerry during the 2004 election, and the corporate media's inability or refusal to stop its effect. Kerry was a war hero who came back from Vietnam and bravely spoke out against the war. Ultimately, his honesty probably cost him the presidency -- to a phony soldier who escaped service only to lead us into the brutal quagmire of Iraq.

Corporate America, conservative politicians and even erstwhile '60s radicals have worked hard to seal off the decade as an artifact of Charles Manson, free love excess, bad acid trips and political mayhem. The generations that followed the boomers grew sick and tired of hearing about their exploits, while some suffered the consequences of bad parenting and backlash. But the younger generations, often the offspring of the boomers, are much more eager to examine the unfinished business of that era; at least it seems that way from conversations I have had.

Today, many of us feel a deep political malaise. It is hard to figure out how to act. There are two traditional paths to social change, and many of us participate in both. The first is protest. On the brink of the invasion of Iraq, demonstrations whose size went far beyond our expectations filled the streets of cities across the globe. Tens of millions marched. We knew then precisely what we know now: that the war was based on pretense and that it was wrong -- and we have been profoundly proven correct. Yet our protests failed to stop it and continue to fail three years later. When you do your best and fail, it is hard to bounce back.

Then came the election, our second path to change. Again many thousands jumped in to participate in new ways, feeling sure we could give Bush the boot. Again, shockingly to many, we didn't succeed and have been in the dumps ever since. The extra kicker is the unspeakable fear that, with corrupt politics and electronic voting machines, maybe elections aren't winnable at all.

In the face of this semiparalysis, '60s values need to be liberated to give us some inspiration and updated to fit our present day. These values don't belong to just one generation, but rather to a historical river of ideas and ideals that stretch back into history. They are ready to be claimed by new generations and reclaimed by those who remember what it was like the first time around.

I also wrote in my letter to AlterNet readers: "We forget sometimes that the values we treasure -- equality, fairness, justice, dignity, and ultimately kindness and love -- inspired the greatest moral and political achievements of the 20th century: civil rights, women's equality, the right to organize and the growth of the environmental movement. These values make our society strong and appealing to the rest of the world. They are what we are fighting for."

It is not going to be easy to pull ourselves out of this political purgatory. There is evidence that history is on our side, but it requires that we act -- not wish, or watch or wax nostalgic, but do something concrete. Having tens of thousands of us run around Washington trying to shut down the government is probably not quite the right idea. What is necessary is something that meets the demands of the time, that will catch people by surprise and give us a way to climb out of the doldrums.

We need to show that we are not down and out, that we are able to act. Cindy Sheehan has shown us how standing up and speaking from the heart can have a big impact. In preparation, let's resurrect some of the hidden history of the '60s and get some inspiration from a time when acting, despite being messy and imperfect, made a lot of good things happen.

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Nature mag cooked Wikipedia study

By Andrew Orlowski in San Francisco
Published Thursday 23rd March 2006 03:33 GMT

Nature magazine has some tough questions to answer after it let its Wikipedia fetish get the better of its responsibilities to reporting science. The Encyclopedia Britannica has published a devastating response to Nature's December comparison of Wikipedia and Britannica, and accuses the journal of misrepresenting its own evidence.

Where the evidence didn't fit, says Britannica, Nature's news team just made it up. Britannica has called on the journal to repudiate the report, which was put together by its news team.
Independent experts were sent 50 unattributed articles from both Wikipedia and Britannica, and the journal claimed that Britannica turned up 123 "errors" to Wikipedia's 162.

But Nature sent only misleading fragments of some Britannica articles to the reviewers, sent extracts of the children's version and Britannica's "book of the year" to others, and in one case, simply stitched together bits from different articles and inserted its own material, passing it off as a single Britannica entry.

Nice "Mash-Up" - but bad science.

"Almost everything about the journal's investigation, from the criteria for identifying inaccuracies to the discrepancy between the article text and its headline, was wrong and misleading," says Britannica.

"Dozens of inaccuracies attributed to the Britannica were not inaccuracies at all, and a number of the articles Nature examined were not even in the Encyclopedia Britannica. The study was so poorly carried out and its findings so error-laden that it was completely without merit."

In one case, for example. Nature's peer reviewer was sent only the 350 word introduction to a 6,000 word Britannica article on lipids - which was criticized for containing omissions.

A pattern also emerges which raises questions about the choice of the domain experts picked by Nature's journalists.

Several got their facts wrong, and in many other cases, simply offered differences of opinion.

"Dozens of the so-called inaccuracies they attributed to us were nothing of the kind; they were the result of reviewers expressing opinions that differed from ours about what should be included in an encyclopedia article. In these cases Britannica's coverage was actually sound."

Nature only published a summary of the errors its experts found some time after the initial story, and has yet to disclose all the reviewer's notes.

So how could a respected science publication make such a grave series of errors?

When Nature published the news story in December, it followed weeks of bad publicity for Wikipedia, and was a gift for the project's beleaguered supporters.

In October, a co-founder had agreed that several entries were "horrific crap". A former newspaper editor and Kennedy aide John Siegenthaler Snr then wrote an article explaining how libellous modifications had lain unchecked for months. By early December, Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales was becoming a regular feature on CNN cable news, explaining away the site's deficiencies.

"Nature's investigation suggests that Britannica's advantage may not be great," wrote news editor Jim Giles.

Nature accompanied this favorable news report with a cheerful, spin-heavy editorial that owed more to an evangelical recruitment drive than it did a rational analysis of empirical evidence. It urged readers to "push forward the grand experiment that is Wikipedia."

(Former Britannica editor Robert McHenry dubbed Wikipedia the "Faith based encyclopedia", and the project certainly reflects the religious zeal of some of its keenest supporters. Regular Register readers will be familiar with the rhetoric. See "Wikipedia 'to make universities obsolete').

Hundreds of publications pounced on the Nature story, and echoed the spin that Wikipedia was as good as Britannica - downplaying or omitting to mention the quality gap. The press loves an upbeat story, and what can be more uplifting than the utopian idea that we're all experts - at whatever subject we choose?

The journal didn't, however, disclose the evidence for these conclusions until some days later, when journalists had retired for their annual Christmas holiday break.

And this evidence raised troubling questions, as Nicholas Carr noted last month. Many publications had assumed Nature's Wikipedia story was objectively reporting the work of scientists - Nature's staple - rather than a news report assembled by journalists pretending to be scientists.

And now we know it was anything but scientific.

Carr noted that Nature's reviewers considered trivial errors and serious mistakes as roughly equal.

So why did Nature risk its reputation in such a way?

Perhaps the clue lies not in the news report, but in the evangelism of the accompanying editorial. Nature's news and features editor Jim Giles, who was responsible for the Wikipedia story, has a fondness for "collective intelligence", one critical website suggets.

"As long as enough scientists with relevant knowledge played the market, the price should reflect the latest developments in climate research," Giles concluded of one market experiment in 2002.

The idea became notorious two years ago when DARPA, under retired Admiral Poindexter, invested in an online "terror casino" to predict world events such as assassinations. The public didn't quite share the sunny view of this utopian experiment, and Poindexter was invited to resign.

What do these seemingly disparate projects have in common? The idea that you can vote for the truth.

We thought it pretty odd, back in December, to discover a popular science journal recommending readers support less accurate information. It's even stranger to find this institution apparently violating fundamental principles of empiricism.

But these are strange times - and high summer for supporters of junk science.

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Chile Bus Crash Kills 12 American Tourists

Mar 23, 3:53 AM (ET)

SANTIAGO, Chile - A bus carrying cruise ship tourists plunged off a highway in northern Chile and tumbled 300 feet down a mountainside Wednesday, killing 12 Americans, U.S. and Chilean officials said.

Two other U.S. tourists and two Chileans - the driver and the tour guide - were hospitalized in serious condition, said Juan Carlos Poli, a city hall spokesman in the Pacific port city of Arica.

The tourists were returning to Celebrity Cruises' ship Millennium from an excursion to Lauca National Park when the driver swerved to avoid an approaching truck on a rugged highway near Arica, 1,250 miles north of Santiago, he said.
The bus went off the narrow highway and tumbled down a steep mountainside. Poli said the bus, which had a capacity of 16 passengers, "was totally destroyed."

"We have confirmed that all the victims were American citizens," Poli told the Associated Press by telephone from the hospital.

U.S. Embassy spokesman John Vance also confirmed the 12 U.S. deaths and said the embassy was sending consular officers to Arica.

The victims were all in their 60s and 70s, but authorities would not immediately confirm their identities.

The Millennium was docked in Arica, and the cruise line said the ship will remain there until further notice. It had been scheduled to leave for Peru early Thursday. The ship was carrying approximately 1,500 guests and 920 crew members.

The accident occurred 25 miles northeast of Arica on the road leading deep into the high Andes Mountains, connecting the coast with the Bolivian capital of La Paz.

The cruise line said it was flying family members of victims to Chile and sending a special assistance team to the ship to help its guests and crew.

"We continue to work with Chilean authorities and the U.S. Consulate in Santiago to assist our injured guests and the family members of those who died in this tragic accident," said Dan Hanrahan, president of Celebrity Cruises.

The ship is on a 14-night South American cruise. It departed Valparaiso, Chile, on March 19 and was scheduled to conclude in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on April 2.

Poli said autopsies will be conducted during the night so the bodies can be sent home as soon as possible.

Celebrity Cruises, which is owned by Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises, said the private tour was not affiliated with the cruise line.

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Argentina to open secret archives

Thursday, 23 March 2006, 10:23 GMT

Argentina has decided to make public all secret archives of the armed forces to help uncover human rights violations committed under military rule.

The decision was announced by Defence Minister Nilda Garre.

It comes on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the coup, by which the military seized power in 1976.

Human rights groups say up to 30,000 political opponents of the regime were kidnapped, detained and later executed during seven years of military rule.

The government issued a decree to guarantee unrestricted access to information on what it said were grave acts committed during the so-called Dirty War.

It ordered all the branches of the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence to provide access their secret files when required.

Recovered documents will be kept at the National Memory Archive, an institution created by President Nestor Kirchner three years ago.

Correspondents say the secret files could play a key role in trials against former military officers accused of human rights abuses, after the Argentine Congress voted to scrap laws protecting them from prosecution in 2003.

Some high-ranking officers such as Gen Rafael Videla - who seized power in 1976 - are under house arrest over the illegal adoption of children born to political prisoners during military rule.

On Friday, President Kirchner is expected to lead an official ceremony to mark the anniversary of the coup.

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Forgotten Cold War chamber is found in Brooklyn Bridge

By David Usborne in New York
Published: 23 March 2006

When it comes to matters archaeological, New York can't compete with Egypt or Greece for buried temples or hidden tombs. So forgive the city its ripple of excitement this week when a long forgotten chamber deep inside the foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge gave up its secret trove of Cold War crackers.
The room, in footings near the Manhattan side of the span, has offered Gotham an unexpected glimpse back to an era when the US was at daggers-drawn with the Soviet Union and propaganda films told Americans to "duck and cover" if the nuclear bomb dropped.

When Joseph Vaccaro, a carpentry supervisor with the city's Department of Transportation, pushed open a door he had found he discovered a room full of supplies meant to sustain citizens in such an event.

In one corner, there were boxes of airtight cans with labels reading: "Civil Defense All Purpose Survival Crackers". There were about 352,000 of the biscuits in all - tasteless, but still edible.

That wasn't all. Littering the vaulted and darkened room were 17.5-gallon metal drums apparently once filled with drinking water. Their labels also revealed their secondary purpose: "Reuse as a commode". Cardboard boxes yielded folded blankets made of paper, marked: "For Use Only After Enemy Attack".

Mr Vaccaro also found medical kits, an intravenous drip and drugs for the treatment of shock.

"This is a treasure of modern history," Iris Weinshall, the Transport Commissioner and Mr Vaccaro's boss, said. "People were worried, they thought we were going to go to nuclear war."

The Cold War echoes are reinforced by dates stamped on some of the items. The crackers were manufactured in 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile crisis. Other boxes were dated 1957, when Russia put the Sputnik satellite into orbit.
Through those years, civil defence officials all across the US were under orders to build emergency fallout shelters for use in case nuclear war broke out. However, very few of those shelters still remain today, or if they do, they have been emptied of their contents.

"Most of these have been dismantled, the crackers got mouldy a very long time ago," confirmed John Lewis Gaddis, an expert in Cold War history at Yale University. "It's unusual to find one fully intact; one that is rediscovered, almost in an archaeological sense."

Exactly what these supplies were doing in the foundations of such an important New York landmark no one can say. If it wasn't a fallout shelter itself, presumably the room was considered a safe hiding place at the time. It is conceivable that the stash was put there for a few very important people.

"It's hard to believe that the space was meant to be a fallout shelter, because it is not underground and light and air does get inside it," Kay Sarlin, a spokeswoman for the city, said. "Could it have been a bunker for the mayor? We don't know."

Ms Weinshall, who declared that the crackers were as tasty as "cardboard", shared in the city's surprise. "We find stuff all the time, but what's sort of eerie about this is that this is a bridge that thousands of people go over each day," she said. "They walk over it, cars go over it, and this stuff was just sitting there."

What some might find not only eerie but also unsettling is that Mr Vaccaro found the room during a "routine" engineering inspection. It seemed fair to wonder how thorough these checks are given how long it has taken the bridge to yield its Cold War cache.

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Clash of Civilisations?

China Repeats Agreement with Russia on Iran

Mar 23, 4:20 AM (ET)

BEIJING - China said on Thursday, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin left Beijing, that Beijing and Moscow are in accord on Iran's nuclear standoff with the West.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday criticized a draft U.N. Security Council statement aimed at pressuring Iran to stop enriching uranium, despite a new offer of amendments by Western powers. [...]

A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, Qin Gang, said President Hu Jintao and Putin discussed Iran during Putin's two-day visit.

"China and Russia exchanged views and both sides agreed the Iran nuclear issue should be resolved through diplomatic means," Qin told reporters.
Hu and Putin agreed that "all the related parties should display flexibility and patience," Qin added. "China supports Russia's active efforts to appropriately resolve the Iran nuclear issue."

Russia, backed by China, wants to delete large sections of the draft statement the Security Council has been studying for nearly two weeks as a first reaction to Iran's nuclear research, which the West believes is a cover for bomb-making. Iran insists it wants only to produce electric power.

Both nations fear that involvement by the 15-member council, which can impose sanctions, could escalate and lead to punitive measures including possibly military action.

Asked whether China and Russia would block the proposed U.N. statement on Iran, Qin said: "In making any actions or decisions the concerned parties should be focused on whether they truly help to reach a lasting resolution of the Iran nuclear issue, and whether they help the peace and stability of the region ... That is why we should give diplomacy more time and more space."

Qin said on Tuesday China supported a Russian compromise proposal that would allow Iran to use nuclear fuel enriched in an internationally monitored plant on Russian soil, easing fears that Tehran could divert atomic material to develop weapons.

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Afghan judiciary says won't bow to convert pressure

Thu Mar 23, 2006 04:08 AM ET
By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's judiciary will not bow to outside pressure over the fate of a man who faces the death penalty for converting to Christianity, a judge dealing with the case said on Thursday.
U.S. President George W. Bush said he was deeply troubled by the case of Abdur Rahman, who an Afghan judge said this week had been jailed for converting from Islam to Christianity and could face death if he refused to become a Muslim again.

Death is one of the punishments stipulated by sharia, or Islamic law, for apostasy. The Afghan legal system is based on a mix of civil and sharia law.

"Afghanistan is an Islamic country and its judiciary will act independently and neutrally," Supreme Court judge Ansarullah Mawlavizada told Reuters.

"No other policy will be accepted apart from Islamic orders and what our constitution says," Mawlavizada said, adding he was saddened by the international outcry.

The case is sensitive for President Hamid Karzai who depends on foreign troops to battle Taliban and al Qaeda militants, and aid to support the economy, but also has to take into consideration views of conservative proponents of Islamic law.

Several countries supporting Afghanistan with troops and aid, including the United States, Canada, Italy and Germany, as well as the United Nations, have raised concern about Rahman's fate and called for freedom of religion.

Rahman, 40, has yet to be formally charged.

A prosecutor has raised questions about his mental state and a cabinet minister said he would not be executed if he were found to be unstable.

Rahman told a preliminary hearing last week he became a Christian while working for an aid group helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan 15 years ago.

"I'm not an apostate. I'm obedient to God but I'm a Christian, that's my choice," Rahman told the hearing. He also said he was not mentally ill and would defend himself.

Analysts say the case could hinge on interpretations of the country's new constitution, which says "no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam and the values of the constitution."

It also says Afghanistan will abide by international agreements, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines freedom of religion, including the freedom to change one's religion.


The United States, which counts Karzai as a key ally, has raised the case with Afghanistan.

"It is deeply troubling that a country we helped liberate would hold a person to account because they chose a particular religion over another," Bush said on Wednesday.

"We have got influence in Afghanistan and we are going to use it to remind them that there are universal values," he said.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Karzai assured him in a telephone call "that respect for human and religious rights will be fully upheld." Canada has 2,500 troops in the southern city of Kandahar and commands a NATO mission there.

Mawlavizada, who presided over the preliminary hearing, said proceedings against Rahman would begin in the next few days.

"We will try to see if he converts to Islam, for Islam is the religion of compassion. But if he does not, Islamic law will be enforced," he said, adding that Karzai would have the final say.

Death sentences have to be upheld by the president in the past.

The controversy comes weeks after 11 Afghans were killed in riots over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad published in European newspapers.

Riots erupted last year after a U.S. magazine reported that U.S. military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had desecrated the Koran. The magazine retracted the report but the U.S. military later confirmed several cases of "mishandling" of the holy book.

Afghanistan is a conservative Islamic country and 99 per cent of its more than 25 million people are Muslim. A court sentenced two Afghan journalists to death for blasphemy three years ago but they escaped and sought asylum abroad.

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Somali warlords battle Islamists

Thursday, 23 March 2006, 12:00 GMT

Heavy fighting is continuing in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, between warlords and an armed Islamist group.
Hospital officials say at least 60 people have been killed in two days of clashes in the north of the city. Residents say mortars are being used.

The warlords accuse the Islamists of sheltering foreign fighters and assassinating moderate Muslims.

Somalia has been without an effective central government for 15 years and has been carved up by rival militas.

A transitional parliament met recently for the first time on home soil since it was formed in Kenya more than a year ago as part of attempts to restore peace and stability.

The BBC's Hassan Barise in Mogadishu says residents fear that with such a strong ideological divide between the two sides, it may prove difficult to negotiate an end to the fighting.

The dispute started near the port area, which is currently controlled by powerful businessmen.

Much of the fighting has been in residential areas and the latest clashes are reportely closer to the city centre.

More than 50 wounded have been taken to hospitals.

Four days of fighting last month between the two sides was some of the heaviest fighting seen in the Somali capital for several years.

At least five warlords-cum-ministers in the transitional government are behind the new Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, opposed to the Islamic courts' militia.

The courts have set up Mogadishu's only judicial system in parts of the capital but have been accused of links to al-Qaeda.

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Reheating the Cold War

By M K Bhadrakumar Mar 24, 2006

Three assaults on the Kremlin within the month must be extraordinary even by Cold War standards. They prompted Anatol Lieven, a prominent American scholar on Russia, to pose a rhetorical question: "Why are we trying to reheat the Cold War?"
It all began with a 94-page report released by the influential think-tank the Council on Foreign Relations on March 5 titled "Russia's Wrong Direction: What the United States Can and Should Do". It concluded that Russia's foreign and domestic policies had taken directions that hurt US global interests; that a US-Russian partnership was no longer feasible; and that the US should lead a coordinated Western policy of "selective cooperation" with Russia, a variant of the policy of detente during the Cold War years.

Then appeared, hardly a week later, the annual human-rights report issued by the US State Department, which roundly criticized the Russian leadership of President Vladimir Putin for authoritarianism by "virtually stripping parliament of power ... continuing media restrictions and self-censorship ... continuing corruption and selectivity in enforcement of law, political pressure on the judiciary, and harassment of some non-governmental organizations", all of which has resulted in an "erosion of the accountability of government leaders to the people".

This was followed within a week on March 16 by the White House blueprint called the National Security Strategy, which in a distinct hardening of tone toward Moscow not only called on Russia to respect freedom at home, but specifically warned that the Kremlin's "efforts to prevent democratic development at home and abroad will hamper the development of Russia's relations with the US, Europe and its neighbors".

The same day, while on a visit to Australia, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed concern over the "centralization of power in the Kremlin" and spoke about the danger that "by its very existence, a presidency that is strong without countervailing institutions can be subverted, can subvert democracy".

Rice, speaking to a town-hall audience in Sydney, saw "a very difficult and shaky path" right now for Russian democracy, and expressed the hope that the Russian people "will find their voice to demand accountable, transparent institutions and to demand the ability to organize themselves to petition their government and, if necessary, to change their government".

A "regime change" in Russia! Lieven wrote in his article featured in the Los Angeles Times of March 18 that historians of the future would look back with amazement that "hardliners within the Bush administration, and especially in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, are arguing for a new line against Moscow along the lines of a scaled-down Cold War" and that they advocate forming "anti-Moscow military alliances" and giving "overt support" to Putin's domestic political opponents.

Lieven took apart the different facets of the "unrealistic, aggressive and dangerous" US policies toward Russia now being urged, especially the tirade on democracy, given the United States' support of former president Boris Yeltsin's "pseudo-democracy ruled over by corrupt and brutal oligarchical clans".

These assaults may appear untimely. Post-Soviet Russia has eschewed any confrontation with the US in the international arena - even in the face of the eastward expansion by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the specter of an unprecedented and provocative military encirclement by the US in its "near abroad".

Besides, if Putin himself is at the peak of his presidential power, that is also largely due to his immense popularity among Russia's population based on a successful track record of his presidency that brought the country economic prosperity, much-needed political stability and foreign-policy achievements.

To be sure, the Russian economy has significantly recovered in recent years, registering budgetary surpluses for five consecutive years; Russia has built up foreign-currency reserves of US$180 billion; it has been able to make its debt repayments ahead of schedule; the Russian economy has begun integrating into the world economy.

But Russia today is not a superpower, and is nobody's enemy. Besides, it still has to address a host of internal problems, some of which, such as the decline in population or the misgovernance in its North Caucasus regions, are very profound and do not lend themselves to easy solutions.

So what is the casus belli of the Cold War-like rhetoric against post-Soviet Russia? One problem in finding an answer will be that the sources of the Cold War still lie obscure in many ways.

Alleged "communist expansion" in the post-World War II years apparently led to the initiation of confrontation in British-American policies toward the Soviet Union, but scholars chronicling the war, including the late George Keenan, have admitted that the slide toward the Cold War was at the very least a two-way process. Many today are willing to admit that the US and Britain bore much of the blame. But the role played by the incessant Anglo-American determination to exercise control over the world's oil resources remains largely overlooked.

Global fault lines
The current fault lines in the international system came to the surface at the meeting of energy ministers that Russia convened in Moscow on March 13-14 with its partners among the Group of Eight as a prelude to the G8 summit meeting in St Petersburg this July, where Russia has tabled energy security as the No 1 agenda item for discussion.

In a nutshell, the G8 energy ministers' meet showed that Russia saw its energy sector as a national-security asset, while the US lamented that energy security had become the "albatross" of its national security.

The Kremlin is not willing to loosen its grip on Russia's oil-and-gas industry, while the European Union on the other hand calls on Russia to liberalize Western access to its gas-pipeline network (calling on Russia to ratify the Energy Charter, which aims at setting ground rules and treaty obligations regarding third-party pipeline access and transit obligations). And both the EU and the US argue that market-based solutions are more reliable and flexible, while demanding that the Kremlin should preferably revert to the privatization of its oil industry, as in the early years of post-Soviet Russia under Yeltsin, or at least allow participation by the Western oil companies on more liberal terms.

The EU and the US view energy security in terms of guaranteed supplies of energy through vicissitudes of politics, while Russia says the paradigm of energy security also includes ensuring "security of demand", which means allowing its oil and gas companies to invest in the vast distribution networks in Europe and the US at the wholesale and retail marketing levels as well and in acquiring properties in the energy sector. This would require the EU and the US to liberalize their own energy markets.

In an overarching philosophical sense, the EU and Russia visualize a dialectic involving the interests of the energy-consuming and transit countries and those of oil-exporting countries, whereas Russia refuses to be drawn into stereotyped modes of behavior in the era of globalization.

Underlying these differences lies the US perception that Russia is increasingly using energy as the primary lever of the country's foreign policy, and that Russia's growing role in the world energy markets is determining its geopolitical influence.

In other words, the Western perception is that energy is being refined by the Kremlin as a far cheaper and far more effective way of expanding global influence than the tanks and missiles that the Soviet Union amassed at enormous cost, which drained resources and ultimately led to the weakening of the Soviet state structure.

Beyond these factors, the US, as the sole superpower, also has a psychological problem of having to deal with a resurgent Russia. As a respected Russian political observer, Vitaliy Tretyakov, editor-in-chief of Politichiskii Klass, recently wrote, "Russia today is not a world superpower like the Soviet Union was, but it has preserved its many qualities of a superpower: gigantic territory, huge natural resources, nuclear weapons, space technology, scientific potential, atomic technology and energy resources, a defense industry that is actively working for export ... and the permanent membership at the United Nations Security Council."

But Russia sees the situation differently. It has threat perceptions of its own, as spelled out in its National Security Concept of 2000 (dubbed by the West the "Putin doctrine"): appearance of foreign military bases and contingents in Russia's neighborhood; overall decline in post-Soviet Russia's political, economic and military influence; NATO's eastward expansion; and weakening of the integration processes within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In addressing these threat perceptions, Russia sees energy as a trump card of great potential, if astutely played.

The big energy question thus began accumulating in recent years on the plate of Russia-US relations.

A defining moment came in September, when Russia concluded a $5.7 billion deal with Germany in laying a 1,200-kilometer gas pipeline with an annual capacity of 55 billion cubic meters connecting Russia's Black Sea coast, through international waters offshore Poland and the Baltic states, with Greifswald on Germany's coast.

The pipeline indeed has the potential to alter Europe's political landscape. In the words of a leading research fellow at the Economics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Igor Tomberg, "Stable supply of energy to Europe in the next few decades will depend on relations with Russia."

In September, again, Russia's Gazprom shortlisted five oil majors for the development of the huge Shtokman natural-gas field in the Barents Sea, with an estimated reserve of 3.2053 trillion cubic meters of natural gas and 30.98 million tonnes of gas condensate. The shortlisted firms include Chevron and ConocoPhilips from the US, Hydro and Statoil from Norway, and Total from France.

The US would like progress on the $15 billion Shtokman project. Twenty-five percent of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) produced at Shtokman may be exported to the US and the rest to Europe. But Russia is taking its own time deciding, and may accord priority to the European market, unless the US reciprocally allows Russian oil companies to enter its highly lucrative retail marketing network as well as facilitate investment and the technology upgradation of Russia's aging oil industry.

Another bone of contention appeared as Russia began further improving in the recent period its monopoly on the transit routs to consumer countries from the Caspian and Central Asian region. This meant that Europe incrementally would have a dual dependence on Russia for Russian supplies as well as Russian-mediated supplies.

Some major decisions are now in the offing. Kashgan oilfield in Kazakhstan, which is the biggest offshore discovery anywhere in the past 30 years, is due on-stream by the end of the decade. The export routes for Kashgan are to be determined soon. There are two choices. One will be to reinforce Russia's monopoly further, while the second is to use the US-favored Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. The US is trying to persuade Kazakhstan to opt for the Baku-Ceyhan, which runs from the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, passing through Georgia. The US energy secretary visited Kazakhstan in this connection this month. President George W Bush is also expected to visit Kazakhstan this year.

The US is also impatiently awaiting legislation by Russia clarifying new rules for investment for US oil companies in natural resources in Russia. In his speech at the conclave of G8 energy ministers in Moscow last week, Putin assured that "comfortable, transparent and predictable" conditions of foreign investment would be created.

But as Russia would see it, why should enabling laws be specially legislated for the US? Russia does not intend to remain the United States' energy appendage. Russian energy certainly would like to promote its technological potential and integrate it with Western potential, but as Putin stressed in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, "energy egotism is a road to nowhere".

At any rate, Russia is conscious of the immense attraction of its energy sector for the world community. Holding 20% of the world's natural-gas reserves, producing 85% of Russia's total gas at the moment (which is 16% of the entire world output of natural gas), supplying already a quarter of the entire Western European market and, most important, accounting for up to 25% of Russia's federal tax receipts on its current accounts, Gazprom's market capitalization alone is currently estimated to be in the region of $300 billion. Russia knows that foreign investors know these ground realities only too well.

Yet another aspect of the paradigm is that the "world energy order" itself is changing dramatically. The two huge Asian energy guzzlers, China and India, have ambitious plans to buy stakes in Russian oil producers. They want access to resources in Siberia, the Far East and Sakhalin. This is happening at a time when the West, too, is seeking to increase its presence in Russia's energy sector. Putin in his article in the Journal underlined that Russia would pursue an energy policy that was first of all beneficial to itself.

"It is our strong belief that energy distribution guided wholly by the priorities of a small group of the most developed countries does not serve the goals and purposes of global development. We will strive to create an energy-security system sensitive to the interests of the whole international community," Putin wrote.

An Asia threat?
The West takes the "Asian threat" altogether differently. Dick Lugar, the powerful chairman of the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, in a major speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington on March 13, unveiled an Energy and Diplomacy Act to be introduced into the US Congress.

He criticized the lack of "full appreciation of our [US] vulnerability" to the growing competition in the energy market, and underlined that "Chinese and Indians, with one-third of the world's people between them, know that their economic future is directly tied to finding energy resources to sustain their rapid economic growth. They are willing to negotiate with anyone willing to sell them an energy lifeline ... The demand for energy from these industrializing giants is creating unprecedented competition for oil and natural gas."

Therefore, Lugar said, "a particular priority" of the proposed legislation would be to "offer a formal coordination agreement with China and India as they develop strategic petroleum reserves. This will help draw them into the international system, providing supply reassurance, and thereby reducing potential for conflict."

Curiously, not by coincidence by any means, Lugar's idea was echoed in an article titled "Why Europe must act collectively on energy" in the Financial Times on March 9, authored by the EU's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana. With the added subtlety of European thinking, Solana argued, "We have to find the right balance between a market-driven and a more strategic approach."

Solana said the EU ("as Europeans"), the US and China and India must collectively conduct their energy dialogue with energy producers. "What we need is an orderly combination of markets, law and consensual negotiations ... The role of politics is to balance different considerations ... The time has come to forge a European energy diplomacy, based on common interests and shared principles."

What explains this sense of Western urgency for assembling a collective of major oil-importing countries? There was a time until very recently when Western commentators freely speculated about the inevitability of Sino-Indian rivalries erupting over issues of energy security. This thesis has now been summarily abandoned in the haste to argue that a convergence of interests exists among China, India, and the EU and the US.

Three new likely dimensions of Russia's energy diplomacy in the coming period worry the West. First, certain important decisions that Russia is called on to take on a trunk energy pipeline to China will become known in the near future, although the indications are that Russia will add a spur to the proposed pipeline to the Pacific. Japan is hotly contesting any preferential treatment of China by the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, speaking in Beijing this week, Putin said a new gas-pipeline system, called the Altai, could be built to deliver gas from western Siberia to China. Another system would deliver gas from eastern Siberia, for a total of up to 80 billion cubic meters per year.

As for the US, any long-term Russian commitment with the potential to augment China's rise on the global stage is a matter of utmost concern. Much grandstanding by the various protagonists is, therefore, going on. Energy is at the top of the Sino-Russian agenda, as seen by Putin's visit this week to China, with another expected later in the year.

India, too, is wooing Russia for a qualitatively new level of energy cooperation stretching to pipeline diplomacy. During the recent visit of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to Delhi, the Indian side proposed Russia's involvement in the Iran gas-pipeline project to Pakistan and then India (which faces continued US opposition). Any intensification of Russia's role in ensuring the energy security of China and India in the medium and long terms is bound to have profound implications for a truly multipolar world order.

Second, following up on the North Sea gas pipeline diplomacy with Germany and Western Europe in September, Russian energy diplomacy is tiptoeing into "New Europe", the region that separates Russia from Western Europe, which the US has painstakingly created as a beachhead of geopolitical influence in the past 15 years.

Central and southeastern Europe have become a highly strategic region for US global policy. Turkey is already bound by extensive energy cooperation with Russia - a key factor, among others, that is serving to give a new-found autonomy to Ankara's strategic objectives in the Black Sea, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Turkey can no longer be counted as a flag carrier of US regional policies. Nuances are appearing in Turkey's strategic thinking and it is showing reluctance to allow the Black Sea to be made into a NATO theater flanking Russia (though Turkey remains an important NATO member country). Turkey prefers the Black Sea to remain what it used to be through centuries of history - a Russo-Turkish preserve, where the interests of the two historic powers may have rubbed at times on nitty-gritty issues, but increasingly converge in strategic terms.

Thus the main purpose of Putin's visit to Hungary and the Czech Republic this month was energy politics. Against the backdrop of Hungary sourcing more than 80% of its gas needs from Russia, Putin suggested the construction of a second section of the Blue Stream pipeline (connecting Russia and Turkey) to proceed to Hungary as well and to the entire southeastern region of Europe. This comes at a time when the US is encouraging the EU to hasten with the Nabucco pipeline project linking Austria to potential Iranian, Turkmen, Azeribaijani and Kazakh gas supplies as an alternative to Russian gas supplies.

On similar lines, Putin invited Prague to use the North European gas pipeline connecting Germany. Clearly, Russia not only wants to consolidate its position on the central and southeastern European market, but the Russian proposals to Hungary and the Czech Republic involve pipelines bypassing Ukraine, the thorn that the US planted on Russia's sensitive western flanks after the "regime change" in Kiev early last year.

Putin also reiterated Russia's keenness for the expansion of its private and state capital into the properties and assets in the energy sector in Eastern Europe. Russia has had some success in purchasing assets, such as oil refineries in Bulgaria and Romania, and in a fairly large network of fuel retail outlets in the Balkans, as well as in holding shares in Slovakia's gas-pipeline company, apart from currently negotiating more acquisitions in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzogovina. But Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have held out over geopolitical considerations and in terms of the overlaps of their shared history with the Soviet Union.

The implications for US regional policy of such Russian diplomacy are obvious. Washington senses creeping ambiguities in the reactions of Eastern European countries to repeated Russian overtures. As a Russian commentator wryly observed, "Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania and the former Yugoslav republics are more or less benevolent, while Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary are more cautious."

Surveying these worrisome tendencies, Lugar in his speech at the Brookings Institution warned that they "might require NATO to review what alliance obligations would be in such cases".

Russian energy diplomacy is undoubtedly exasperating the US by undermining the visions of its global dominance. If carried further, Russian diplomacy may hold implications for the United States' leadership of the Euro-Atlantic alliance itself. The secretary of Germany's Ministry of Economics and Technology, Georg Adamowitsch, who attended the Moscow conference of energy ministers on March 13-14, admitted, "The winter was very cold in Germany, but no one froze, as we have good natural-gas reserves owing to supplies from Russia."

However, another vector of Russia's recent energy diplomacy that would arguably have the greatest potential impact on great-power politics appeared when Putin wound up his tour of central Europe and headed for Algeria. This visit serves as one of those rare moments in diplomacy when various strands of international politics converge as a microcosm. It took place against the backdrop of Russia's new Middle East policy - Russia's observer status within the Organization of Islamic Conferences, revival of its Soviet-era ties with Syria, its pursuit of an independent course toward Iran (while coordinating with China and avoiding any open discord with the US), its open dealings with Hamas in Palestine, and so on.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov outlined the parameters of this policy in an important article in Moskoviye Novosti on March 3 titled "Russia in global politics". Taking exception to the United States' "transformational diplomacy" in the Middle East, Lavrov said any settlement of the Iran nuclear issue was possible only on the "conditions of engagement" of Iran, rather than isolation.

"There is only one choice: either a further buildup of tension towards a 'clash of civilizations' or the achievement of a compromise, which, out of all international factors, is going to require a renunciation of outdated prejudices and oversimplified, unilateralist world views that in no way square with the emerging reality of multilaterality as the optimal means of conducting world affairs," he wrote.

Lavrov said Russia couldn't take the "position of a detached onlooker" on the United States' approach toward the Middle East. He spoke of Russia's willingness to play the role of a "cultural and civilizational bridge" between the West and the Middle East, and its determination not to allow any power "to set it at loggerheads with the Islamic world".

He concluded that the "increased significance of the energy factor" challenged the "equation formula of strategic stability" in the international system, and made irrelevant the past assumptions of geopolitics. "Professionals concerned with Russia studies and policymaking cannot but see that it is naive to expect of us a readiness to be content in the world with the role of one being led," Lavrov wrote.

In another article three days later, titled "60 years of Fulton: Lessons of the Cold War and our time", in Rossiskaya Gazeta, Lavrov reverted to the same theme of the "liberation of Russia's energies and its resources".

These articles turned out to be curtain-raisers of one of the most important diplomatic missions of presidential diplomacy undertaken by Putin - the visit to Algeria, during which Russia concluded a $7.5 billion arms deal with the North African country for the supply of a fleet of multi-role fighter aircraft, missiles and radar systems. A striking aspect of the massive arms deal is that it will be financed under a payment scheme woven into deep collaboration between the two countries in the energy sector that provides for Russian participation in Algeria's upstream and downstream operations in the oil-and-gas sector.

Thus Russian companies have been given monopoly rights for oil production in the Sahara Desert; Russia's Gazprom will participate in the development and production of Algeria's gas sector; and Algeria will share with Russia its sophisticated Western technologies in gas liquefaction.

Most important, Russia and Algeria decided to work together in the European market. Algeria is Europe's only viable alternative source of gas at present, ranking fourth in the world as a gas-exporting country. Algeria's gas pipelines connect Italy, Spain, Portugal and Slovenia. It exports LNG to France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and the US.

The Russian-Algerian collaboration in the gas market is in line with overall Russian energy diplomacy in recent years in creating a matrix of new dependencies and geopolitical groupings, production and cooperation chains and price cartels at regional or subregional levels that are incrementally poised to impact on a global plane.

Moscow's strategy to enhance gas cooperation with Central Asia has already met with considerable success. In early 2002, Putin had called for a cartel of gas producers in the CIS. Since then, Moscow has successfully concluded agreements with Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Gazprom is increasing its purchases of Central Asian gas in the coming three years. Russia's monopoly control of all existing routes for Central Asian gas implies that Moscow now virtually holds all the ropes of all the gas flows in the post-Soviet space.

The implications of this are beginning to extend beyond CIS boundaries. As Russian diplomacy crosses the Mediterranean to engage Algeria, an entirely new ball game begins in the world energy order. (Indeed, an unspoken theme in the war of pantomimes over the Iran nuclear issue is also that any Russian-Iranian concord in the energy sector at this juncture will mean the virtual completion of an arc of the most important gas-producing regions of the world in the nature of a "gas cartel".)

The EU and the US are indeed very concerned that "Russia has acquired a freedom to behave ... at the critical stage of formation of a new architecture of international relations" - to quote from Lavrov's article in Rossiskaya Gazeta. The irony and paradox consist in the fact that Russia is turning out to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the phenomenon of globalization in the post-Soviet era.

The "victor" ending up as a dependant of the "vanquished" - it is a rare occurrence in history. It creates profound psychological problems. It can be the stuff of cold wars.

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Clinton vows to block bill criminalizing illegal immigrants

AP Political Writer
March 22, 2006, 2:51 PM EST

NEW YORK -- Invoking Biblical themes, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton joined immigration advocates Wednesday to vow and block legislation seeking to criminalize undocumented immigrants.

Clinton, a potential 2008 presidential candidate and relative latecomer to the immigration debate, made her remarks as the Senate prepares to take up the matter next week.

Clinton renewed her pledge to oppose a bill passed in December by the House that would make unlawful presence in the United States - currently a civil offense - a felony. The Senate is set to consider a version of that legislation, as well as several other bills seeking to address the seemingly intractable issue of immigration reform.

Surrounded by a multicultural coalition of New York immigration advocates, Clinton blasted the House bill as "mean-spirited" and said it flew in the face of Republicans' stated support for faith and values.

"It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scriptures," Clinton said, "because this bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself."
Clinton did not specifically endorse any competing legislation, including a bill co-authored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and another by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), saying she hoped the Senate Judiciary Committee would produce a compromise incorporating the best elements of all the bills and would remove the harsh penalties contained in the House measure.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has said the Senate will take up his proposal to tighten borders and punish employers who hire illegal immigrants if the Judiciary Committee doesn't complete a broader bill by next week.

Among other things, Clinton said she would support legislation that would strengthen U.S. borders, boost technology to secure the borders, and seek greater cross-border cooperation with Mexico and other neighboring countries.

She also called for new enforcement laws, including penalties for employers who exploit illegal immigrants, as well as a system to allow the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States to earn their citizenship.

Clinton expressed sympathy to representatives of communities along the U.S.-Mexico border that are frustrated by the stress of providing social services to large numbers of undocumented immigrants. But she also said she hoped to send a message that supporters of punitive immigration policy faced significant political risk for doing so.

"We want the outcome to be that they're on the wrong side of the politics as well as the wrong side of history and American values," she said.

President Bush has argued for a guest worker program that would allow undocumented immigrants already in the United States to keep their jobs for up to six years. The effort hasn't gained much momentum, partly due to fierce resistance from others within the GOP.

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