- Signs of the Times for Wed, 05 Apr 2006 -

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Editorial: Saddam's Crimes Pale in Comparison to those of the Neocons

Tuesday April 04th 2006, 9:07 pm
Kurt Nimmo
Another Day in the Empire

It would seem the only case the Iraqis and the United States have against Saddam Hussein, or the man they claim is Saddam Hussein, is the alleged mass extermination of the Kurds in the 1980s. However, in the case of the Halabja massacre, as I wrote on September 20, 2003 (Colin Powell in Iraq: Exploiting the Dead of Halabja), it appears Saddam is innocent of gassing Kurds and his innocence was proclaimed by none other than the State Department. Stephen C. Pelletiere stated in early 2003: "We cannot say with any certainty that Iraqi chemical weapons killed the Kurds. I am in a position to know because, as the Central Intelligence Agency's senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and as a professor at the Army War College from 1988 to 2000, I was privy to much of the classified material that flowed through Washington having to do with the Persian Gulf. In addition, I headed a 1991 Army investigation into how the Iraqis would fight a war against the United States; the classified version of the report went into great detail on the Halabja affair."

In fact, the United States sold chemical and biological agents to Saddam Hussein. "Reports by the US Senate's committee on banking, housing and urban affairs-which oversees American exports policy-reveal that the US, under the successive administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr, sold materials including anthrax, VX nerve gas, West Nile fever germs and botulism to Iraq right up until March 1992, as well as germs similar to tuberculosis and pneumonia. Other bacteria sold included brucella melitensis, which damages major organs, and clostridium perfringens, which causes gas gangrene," write Neil Mackay and Felicity Arbuthnotfor the Sunday Herald. "The shipments to Iraq went on even after Saddam Hussein ordered the gassing of the Kurdish town of Halabja, in which at least 5000 men, women and children died. The atrocity, which shocked the world, took place in March 1988, but a month later the components and materials of weapons of mass destruction were continuing to arrive in Baghdad from the US." Again, as Pelletiere documents, Saddam did not gas the Kurds, not that the United States would have particularly cared at the time. As I wrote in the above cited article, "when the Halabja massacre came to light a few years later, the Reagan administration opposed congressional efforts to respond by imposing economic sanctions, arguing that they would be contrary to US interests," in other words sanctions would have interfered with the killing fest between the two rival nations.

As Elson E. Boles, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan, notes, "US policy makers, financiers, arms-suppliers and makers, made massive profits from sales to Iraq of myriad chemical, biological, conventional weapons, and the equipment to make nuclear weapons." Moreover, the U.S. was interested in having the Iranians and Iraqis kill each other off in large numbers (1.5 million people eventually died in the war), as this served their foreign policy objectives. Boles continues:

Bear in mind the attitude of the US policy makers not only regarding Iraq's use of gas against Iranians, but in general. Richard Armatige, then Asst. Sec. of Defense for International Security Affairs and now Deputy Secretary of State, said with a hint of pride in his voice that the US "was playing one wolf off another wolf" in pursuing our so-called national interest. This kind of cool machismo resembled the pride that Oliver North verbalized with a grin during the Iran-Contra hearings as "a right idea" with regard to using the Ayatollah's money to fund the Contras. The setting up of Iraq thus would be very consistent with the goals and the character of US foreign policy in the Middle East: to control the region's states either for US oil companies or as bargaining chips in deals with other strong countries, and to profit by selling massive quantities of weapons to states that will war with or deter those states that oppose US "interests."

"Iraqi authorities charged Saddam Hussein with genocide Tuesday, accusing him of trying to exterminate the Kurds in a 1980s campaign that killed an estimated 100,000 the first move to prosecute him for the major human rights violations which the U.S. cited to help justify its invasion," reports ABC News. "The latest charges involve Saddam's alleged role in Operation Anfal, the 1988 military campaign launched in the final months of the war with Iran to crush independence-minded Kurdish militias and clear Kurds from the sensitive Iranian border area of northern Iraq."

Operation Anfal, an extension of Saddam's Termination of Traitors campaign, may indeed be characterized as genocide. However, if not for the United States and the CIA, Saddam Hussein would not have gained power. "Roger Morris, a former State Department foreign service officer who was on the NSC staff during the Johnson and Nixon administrations, says the CIA had a hand in two coups in Iraq during the darkest days of the Cold War, including a 1968 putsch that set Saddam Hussein firmly on the path to power," writes David Morgan for Reuters. "Morris says that in 1963, two years after the ill-fated U.S. attempt at overthrow in Cuba known as the Bay of Pigs, the CIA helped organize a bloody coup in Iraq that deposed the Soviet-leaning government of Gen. Abdel-Karim Kassem."

In this former coup, the CIA provided the Ba'athists with lists of people to be rounded up, tortured, and executed. Demonstrators were mowed down with tanks, 10,000 people imprisoned, and opponents buried alive in mass graves. "New evidence ... published reveals that the agency not only engineered the putsch but also supplied the list of people to be eliminated once power was secured-a monstrous stratagem that led to the decimation of Iraq's professional class [doctors, lawyers, teachers and professors]," writes Richard Sanders. "The overthrow of president Abdul Karim Kassim on February 8, 1963 was not, of course, the first intervention in the region by the agency, but it was the bloodiest-far bloodier than the coup it orchestrated in 1953 to restore the shah of Iran to power." Ali Saleh, the minister of interior of the regime which replaced Kassim, said: "We came to power on a CIA train."

Saddam's alleged massacre of 100,000 Kurds is small when compared to the number of Iraqis killed over the last decade and a half by the United States, the United Nations, and Britain. According to Beth Daponte, a demographer at the Commerce Department in 1992, Bush's Senior's invasion of Iraq killed 158,000 Iraqis (Daponte was subsequently fired for releasing this information), but this figure pales in comparison to the numbers who perished in the following decade under sanctions. Numbers vary, but it is commonly believed between 500,000 and 750,000 (the government of Iraq claimed over a million) children died from malnutrition and disease under the sanctions and 1.5 million Iraqis in total lost their lives (see this chart on the Virginia Tech website). According to a study reaching "conservative assumptions" conducted by the Lancet Medical Journal, more than 100,000 Iraqis have died since Bush Junior's invasion and occupation. The Lancet "estimate excludes Falluja, a hotspot for violence. If the data from this town is included, the compiled studies point to about 250,000 excess deaths since the outbreak of the U.S.-led war," John Stokes concludes.

In short, the United States, United Nations, Britain, and the "coalition of the killing" are responsible for the death of well over two million people in Iraq (and an incalculable number of others are certain to die in the Middle East and elsewhere from the use of depleted uranium and other toxins).

Saddam's crimes are minute in this context and he is little more than a piker when compared to Bush Senior, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Bush Junior, and the perfidious Straussian neocons. One day we may be fortunate enough to witness the trial, conviction, and imprisonment of the above war criminals. However, the way things are going-engineered "civil war" in Iraq and rumblings of a terrible shock and awe campaign launched against Iran, ultimately resulting in possibly a few million more dead people-I am not holding my breath.

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Securitizing America

US readying new counterterror plan

Tue Apr 4, 2006 10:37 PM ET
By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four and a half years after the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration is nearing completion of a government-wide strategic plan for the war on terror that would assign counterterrorism tasks to specific federal agencies and departments, officials said on Tuesday.
The plan is part of the administration's effort to bring greater integration and coordination to the counterterrorism activities of different agencies and departments including the CIA, FBI, Treasury Department, Pentagon and State Department.

Planning began late last summer under the direction of the National Counterterrorism Center, or NCTC, an entity created by the congressionally mandated intelligence reforms.

"This process is not a unilateral drafting exercise by NCTC. Instead, it is an interagency effort, involving hundreds of departmental planners working under our leadership," NCTC Director John Redd told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

A counterterrorism official who asked not to be identified said the plan was expected to be completed by June 30.

Redd told the House hearing the plan would involve setting "discrete tasks" for agencies and departments, which would then take on lead or support roles for different counterterrorism operations. Currently, the war on terror is being fought by different government agencies according to their own varied mandates for safeguarding the nation's security.

The planning comes as the post-September 11 priorities of the FBI and Pentagon have led those agencies to expand into overseas intelligence roles once filled solely by the CIA.

The Pentagon said last month it was placing special operations troops in U.S. embassies in about two dozen countries to gather information on potential terror threats.

A new strategic operational plan for the war on terror could mean a change of traditional U.S. government practices in noncombat zones overseas, where resident ambassadors have been viewed as wielding primary authority over all U.S. activities.

In combat zones such as Iraq, primary authority over counterterrorism operations rests with the Pentagon.

"There are gray areas," said Thomas O'Connell, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. "It would be quite a different issue if you were operating, let's say, in a Jordan -- how you might deal with that particular government -- as opposed to the problems that might be posed in a Somalia where there is no viable government," he told the House panel.

But a senior State Department official said diplomats should continue to pull together counterterrorism operations in countries where U.S. troops are not deployed in combat.

"When you look at all instruments of statecraft and how that's pulled together, I think the ambassadors are uniquely poised," Henry Crumpton, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, told the committee.

He later told Reuters the planning discussion was "more about integration and coordination in the field than it is about basic authorities."

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Flashback: 'Dirty Bombs' Crossed U.S. Borders in Test

Associated Press
Mar 27 7:21 PM US/Eastern

WASHINGTON - Undercover investigators slipped radioactive material - enough to make two small "dirty bombs" - across U.S. borders in Texas and Washington state in a test last year of security at American points of entry.

Radiation alarms at the unidentified sites detected the small amounts of cesium-137, a nuclear material used in industrial gauges. But U.S. customs agents permitted the investigators to enter the United States because they were tricked with counterfeit documents.
The Bush administration said Monday that within 45 days it will give U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents the tools they need to verify such documents in the future.

The Government Accountability Office's report, the subject of a Senate hearing Tuesday, said detection equipment used by U.S. customs agents to screen people, vehicles and cargo for radioactive substances appeared to work as designed.

But the investigation, carried out simultaneously at both border crossings in December 2005, also identified potential security holes terrorists might be able to exploit to sneak nuclear materials into the United States.

"This operation demonstrated that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is stuck in a pre-9/11 mind-set in a post-9/11 world and must modernize its procedures," Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said Monday in a statement.

The NRC, in charge of overseeing nuclear reactor and nuclear substance safety, challenged that notion.

"Security has been of prime importance for us on the materials front and the power plant front since 9/11," commission spokesman David McIntyre said in an interview.

The head of the Homeland Security Department's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, Vayl Oxford, said the substance could have been used in a radiological weapon with limited effects.

A Senate Homeland Security subcommittee, which Coleman leads, released details of the investigation and two GAO reports on radiation detectors and port security before hearings on the issues this week.

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, also found that installation of radiation detectors is taking too long and costing more money than the U.S. expected. It said the Homeland Security Department's goal of installing 3,034 detectors by September 2009 across the United States _ at border crossings, seaports, airports and mail facilities _ was "unlikely" to be met and said the government probably will spend $342 million more than it expects.

Between October 2000 and October 2005, the GAO said, the government spent about $286 million installing radiation monitors inside the United States.

To test security at U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada, GAO investigators represented themselves as employees of a fake company. When stopped, they presented counterfeit shipping papers and NRC documents that allegedly permitted them to receive, acquire, possess and transfer radioactive substances.

Investigators found that customs agents weren't able to check whether a person caught with radioactive materials was permitted to possess the materials under a government-issued license.

"Unless nuclear smugglers in possession of faked license documents raised suspicions in some other way, CBP officers could follow agency guidelines yet unwittingly allow them to enter the country with their illegal nuclear cargo," a report said. It described this problem as "a significant gap" in the nation's safety procedures.

Jayson Ahern, the assistant customs commissioner for field operations, said a system for customs agents to confirm the authenticity of government licenses will be in place within 45 days. Ahern noted the radiation detectors had sounded alarms.

"We're pleased when a test like this is able to demonstrate the efficacy of our technology," Ahern said.

False radiation alarms are common - sometimes occurring more than 100 times a day - although the GAO said inspectors generally do a good job distinguishing nuisance alarms from actual ones. False alarms can be caused by ceramics, fertilizers, bananas and even patients who have recently undergone some types of medical procedures.

At one port - which investigators did not identify - a director frustrated over false alarms was worried that backed-up trains might block the entrance to a nearby military base until an alarm was checked out. The director's solution: simply turn off the radiation detector.

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Flashback: Denver Airport Screener Roughs Up Woman, 83, in Wheelchair

April 2, 2006

'I don't know if she thought my mom had a bomb in her Depends or what'

An infuriated Denver woman has filed a complaint with the Transportation Security Administration after a security screener forced her 83-year-old mother to get out of her wheelchair and walk to a pre-flight screening area, despite doctor's orders not to stand and an orthopedic card saying she had a metal plate in her hip.

The incident at Denver International Airport occurred eight days ago when Sally Moon, her sister and a Frontier Airlines employee were transporting Bernice "Bea" Bogart to a special security screening area. Moon's sister, who did not have concourse clearance and the Frontier employee were left behind as Moon pushed her mother to the screening site.
Bogart, wheelchair bound since a 1999 fall that broke her hip and further disabled by breast cancer surgery in 1997 and a major stroke in 2004 that caused dementia, was under strict doctor's orders not to stand without assistance or her walker. She carried a special orthopedic card to alert airport security she had a metal plate in her hip.

Moon had been told by Frontier and TSA staff that screeners would not require Bogart to leave her chair for the security check, so she turned to put her mother's carry-on luggage through the x-ray device. When she turned back, she discovered her mother had been picked out for further screening and was out of her chair, "hobbling" through a glass-walled corridor.

"There were no grab bars," Moon told the Rocky Mountain News. "What I could see really was her fingers trying to hang onto a little ledge."

Moon says she instinctively reached out to assist her mother, fearing another fall and another broken hip.

"Don't touch her!" Moon says the screener warned.

Moon attempted to tell the young screener, a woman in her mid-to-late 20s, that her mother was under doctor's orders not to stand without her four-wheeled walker, but the screener shot back, "You'd better change your attitude. Or do you want me to make it so you don't fly today?"

Bogart, who is also hard of hearing, was allowed to sit briefly, but the screener soon instructed her to stand again and lift her arms, according to Moon. She then reportedly lifted Bogart's arms because the elderly woman couldn't, due to her earlier breast cancer surgery.

Moon says she was told to sit across the room "or else" when she continued to protest.

After the "prolonged search," the pair was cleared to continue to their gate and Moon put her "shocked" mother on the flight to Tennessee for a month's visit with Bogart's youngest daughter.

An angry Moon attempted to complain to Denver's TSA management, but was told to make her complaint to the national office. Supervisors would not tell her the name of the screener who had made boarding her mother so difficult.

"I don't know if she thought my mom had a bomb in her Depends or what," Moon said.

While Moon is still angry and cynical that TSA will do anything about her complaint, a Denver TSA spokeswoman said the agency expects a high degree of professionalism from screeners and Moon's complaint would be investigated. TSA's Office of Civil Rights will soon issue a response, she said.

"When we receive complaints, we take them very seriously, we investigate them and we address any personnel issues as appropriate," she said.

Bogart, now in Nashville, says she doesn't want to see anyone get in trouble.

"They were all kind except for that one girl. I thought she was a little harsh," she said. "She wouldn't let my daughter help me. And I have a hard time standing very long at a time at all."

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Homeland Deputy Arrested in Seduction Case

Associated Press
Wed Apr 5, 2:48 AM ET

MIAMI - The deputy press secretary for the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security was arrested Tuesday for using the Internet to seduce what he thought was a teenage girl, authorities said.

Brian J. Doyle, 55, was arrested at his residence in Maryland on charges of use of a computer to seduce a child and transmission of harmful material to a minor. The charges were issued out of Polk County, Fla.
Doyle, of Silver Spring, Md., had a sexually explicit conversation with what he believed was a 14-year-old girl whose profile he saw on the Internet on March 14, the Polk County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

The girl was really an undercover Polk County Sheriff's Computer Crimes detective, the sheriff's office said.

Doyle sent pornographic movie clips and had sexually explicit conversations via the Internet, the statement said.

During other online conversations, Doyle revealed his name, that he worked for the Homeland Security Department, and offered his office and government issued cell phone numbers, the sheriff's office said.

Doyle also sent photos of himself that were not sexually explicit, authorities said. One photo, which authorities released to the news media, shows Doyle in what appears to be homeland security headquarters. He is wearing a homeland security pin on his lapel and a lanyard that says "TSA."

The Transportation Security Administration is part of the Homeland Security Department.

On several occasions, Doyle instructed the girl to perform a sexual act while thinking of him and described explicit activities he wanted to have with her, investigators said.

Doyle later had a telephone conversation with an undercover deputy posing as the teenager and encouraged her to purchase a Web camera to send graphic images of herself to him, the sheriff's office said.

He was booked into Maryland's Montgomery County jail where he was waiting to be extradited to Florida, the sheriff's office said.

There was no immediate response to messages left on Doyle's government-issued cell phone and his e-mail, and he could not be reached by phone at the jail for comment.

Homeland Security press secretary Russ Knocke in Washington said he could not comment on the details of the investigation. "We take these allegations very seriously, and we will cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation," Knocke said.

Washington television stations showed footage of police escorting Doyle from his home in handcuffs. One arresting officer carried a large box. Doyle was bent over in the front seat of the police vehicle in an apparent attempt to hide his face.

Doyle, who is the fourth-ranking official in the department's public affairs office, was expected to be placed on administrative leave Wednesday morning.

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9/11 Commissioner Eyes More Anti-Terror

Associated Press
Tue Apr 4, 8:59 PM ET

NEWARK, N.J. - The country is less vulnerable to terrorists since the 2001 attacks, but billions more must be spent to be prepared for another assault, Sept. 11 commissioner Bob Kerrey said Tuesday.

"I still don't believe that Congress and the Bush administration are giving enough to thwart a terror attack here or to train first responders in (the New York) region," said Kerrey, a former U.S. senator from Nebraska, during a lecture at Rutgers University's campus in Newark.
More money must be spent to upgrade emergency communications systems, he said.

"We're $5 billion or $6 billion short of getting people trained to a level that would make me comfortable," said Kerrey who led the independent commission that investigated the attacks on the World Trade Center.

The commissioner also said the Bush administration reduced the terrorism risk by invading Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden enjoyed sanctuary from 1991 to 2001. During that time, the U.S. government mistakenly viewed al-Qaida's bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 and the
USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 as "one-off incidents," he said.

"One of the big mistakes was that we kept the secret of Osama bin Laden from the people of the United States. ... After Sept. 11 we realized we were in a war," Kerrey said.

Kerrey said another terrorism attack would likely be carried out by a lone entrepreneur with strong financial backing, rather than an elaborate network. The New York region would be a likely target because it is the nation's financial and media hub, he said.

Barry Zelman, 51, who lost a brother on Sept. 11, asked Kerrey why the federal government didn't act on warnings of a possible terrorist attack contained in a 2001 White House briefing.

It was the federal government's failing in not taking bin Laden's threat seriously, Kerrey said.

"We had every reason to believe there was going to be an attack in the U.S.," he said. "You could have hauled an AK-47 onto a plane on 9/11."

"You could have hauled an AK-47 onto a plane on 9/11."
So what? If we are to believe the official story, a ragtag bunch of "A-rab terrorists" used boxcutters to carry out one of the most heinous attacks of all time. Recently, undercover agents were able to smuggle dirty bomb materials through airport security, while little old incapacitated 83-year-old ladies are being roughed up when they try to board flights to visit family (see articles below).

Somehow, we doubt that dumping another several billion dollars into the pot is going to improve matters any if the real goal is to "securitize" the US.

On the other hand, the psychopaths in power would certainly profit nicely from such an investment while at the same time turning the US into an even better police state.

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Moussaoui curses as jury backs death

By Mark Coultan
April 5, 2006

THE only man to stand trial over the September 11 attacks on America appears headed for execution after a jury found that he was eligible for the death penalty - based largely on his own testimony.
Zacarias Moussaoui shouted "you will never get my blood" and "God curse you all" when the jury affirmed that he met the legal standards for capital punishment.

The possible death sentence has set off a debate, even among relatives of those killed: will executing Moussaoui make him a martyr? Is life in jail a worse punishment?

The result was a relief for the prosecution, which was having a disastrous trial until Moussaoui took the stand. Many prosecution witnesses were ruled out after they were deemed to have been coached.

Even statements from captured senior al-Qaeda figures said Moussaoui had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks. The judge in the case had said he could not be sentenced to death without direct evidence of his involvement.

But Moussaoui testified that he knew about the plot when he was arrested a month before the attacks and had lied to FBI agents. He also said he had planned to hijack a fifth plane and fly it into the White House.

The jury must now decide if the crime justifies the death penalty. Given the toll - almost 3000 - most observers believe that is a given. The jury will hear from more than 40 relatives of victims.

But the case is likely to be tied up in court for years. An appeal is certain.

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Amnesty report claims CIA used private flights to hide terror rendition

Published: Tuesday April 4, 2006

Amnesty International has released a report claiming that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used private aircraft operators and front companies to hide CIA rendition flights and "black site" detention facilities in foreign countries.
The report includes a lengthy account drawn upon the only public testimony of detainees held at "black sites," that of three Yemeni nationals who "disappeared" in U.S. custody for more than eighteen months but were never charged with any terrorism-related offences.

"During their "disappearance", the three men were kept in at least four different secret facilities, likely to have been in at least three different countries, judging by the length of their transfer flights and other information they have been able to provide," the report states. "Although not conclusive, the evidence suggests that they were held at various times in Djibouti, Afghanistan and Eastern Europe."

While imprisoned in Afghanistan, the men were kept in "complete isolation, in cells measuring about 2m x 3m," and "permanently shackled to a ring fixed in the floor."

Some time in April of 2004, the men were transferred to a facility that is believed to be somewhere in Europe, specifically Eastern Europe. According to one of the men, at this "new or refurbished" facility "all of the guards and officials were Americans."

At this last destination, "the men were never allowed outside, or even to look through a window," and the "temperatures were colder than any they had ever known."

Finally, they were returned to Yemen where "after more than nine months in arbitrary detention" the men pleaded guilty to forging travel documents, even though no evidence was presented in court, then sentenced to two year prison sentences. Since the men had spent up to 18 months in secret U.S. custody and 9 months in Yemen, they were ordered released by the judge.

"Under suspicion by any potential employers, and harassed by the security and intelligence service, they fear they will never be able to lead normal lives or take care of their families," the report states. "All three men have suffered emotional and physical trauma - Salah Qaru and Muhammad Bashmilah have described severe torture during their detention in Jordan and are in urgent need of medical attention for problems caused or exacerbated by the long months in isolation and secret detention."

The report also details dozens of destinations around the world where planes associated with rendition flights landed and took off. In addition, the report lists the private airlines with permission to land at U.S. military bases worldwide.

Below the Radar: Secret flights to Torture and 'Disappearance', reveals how the CIA exploited aviation practices to hide behind the identity of private plane operators and circumvent authorities. Countries that allow CIA planes to cross their airspace and use their airports often cite the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention. These states claim that they do not have the authority to question the reasons for the flight because there is a clause in the Convention that allows private, non-commercial flights to fly over a country, or make technical stops there, without prior authorization or notification.

According to the Chicago Convention, states do not have the authority to question the reasons for the private, non-commercial flights flying over a country, or making technical stops there.

Amnesty claims that the United States may have transferred hundreds of individuals for the purposes of interrogation by nations with "dubious human rights records." They further claim that "rendition is part of an elaborate clandestine detention regime that includes the use of 'black sites' and 'disappearances,' as well as torture and inhuman treatment."

They report fingers companies suspected of or able to have taken part in the program.

The full report (which is a very large file) has been made available here.

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Raytheon Offers New Multi-Purpose Loitering Missile System Concept

Apr 05, 2006

Tucson AZ - Raytheon Company is funding and developing a Multi-Purpose Loitering Missile (MPLM) System that will fill the joint fires capability gaps and meet the long war requirements engendered by the global war on terrorism.
The system's airframe was successfully vertically launched in December 2005 at the Naval Air Warfare Center, Weapons Division Land Range, China Lake, Calif.

"We are extremely pleased with this development effort and the highly successful first vertical launch demonstration of our MPLM missile concept that is being developed to address joint fires capability gaps," said Harry Schulte, vice president, Raytheon Missile Systems Strike product line.

"This success is a credit to the dedication and outstanding cooperation of the joint Raytheon, China Lake, Aerojet and PacSci team pursuing and developing this capability."

The MPLM system concept includes the use of the field operational Army Field Artillery Tactical Data System command and control system, which bridges the joint force and uses a state of the art composite airframe.

The Raytheon-funded concept will incorporate the use of a two way satellite data link to allow designation to targets of greater priority while in flight and the use of a seeker to reduce target location error.

The system will be capable of being launched from both vertical launch systems (VLS) and self-contained canister launch systems. Raytheon brings ship platform integration to the forefront with a design that will be insensitive munition compliant, with plug and play options, including more capable seekers and multiple payloads.

The Raytheon approach also places complete emphasis on all aspects of cost in order to minimize financial impacts to the government if a multi-purpose loitering missile program goes forward.

The Dec. 5, 2005, launch featured an MPLM airframe fired from a MK-14 ground launch canister. The Raytheon MPLM airframe was successfully launched in a VLS configuration, demonstrating its ability to survive launch shock and be boosted to a cruise altitude. This non-powered event also displayed successful booster separation and aerodynamic descent with wings deployed.

The MPLM system is being developed at Raytheon's Missile Systems business in Tucson, Ariz.

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Ohio Official Invested in Vote Machine Co.

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS Associated Press Writer
© 2006 The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The state's top elections official said Monday he accidentally invested in a company that makes voting machines.
Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, said he discovered the shares for Diebold Inc. while preparing a required filing for the Ohio Ethics Commission.

"While I was unaware of this stock in my portfolio, its mere presence may be viewed as a conflict and is therefore not acceptable," he said in a letter included in his filing.

Blackwell said his investments are directed by an accountant and financial adviser without his knowledge or help, "similar to a blind trust."

He said a manager of his investments account at Credit Suisse First Boston bought 178 shares of Diebold stock at $53.67 per share in January 2005. Blackwell said the manager did not follow instructions to avoid such investments.

He said 95 shares were later sold at a loss but he still held 83 shares until discovering them and liquidating them Monday, also at a loss.

The state negotiated a deal with Diebold last year for $2,700 per touch-screen machine. In a statement given in May as part of a lawsuit, Judith Grady, who oversees the secretary of state's compliance with the 2002 federal voting act, said Blackwell was not involved with price negotiations.

What had been a mundane political duty took on new meaning last year after Gov. Bob Taft's failure to report several golf outings led to his no contest plea to ethics violations. He was fined the maximum $4,000.

Bob Paduchik, a spokesman for Attorney General Jim Petro, Blackwell's rival in the GOP primary, called for further investigation.

Democrats weren't buying Blackwell's explanation.

"If he can't manage to know what's in his checkbook, why would the people of Ohio want to trust this man with the state's checkbook?" said Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party.

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Big Gain for Rich Seen in Tax Cuts for Investments

The New York Times
April 5, 2006

The first data to document the effect of President Bush's tax cuts for investment income show that they have significantly lowered the tax burden on the richest Americans, reducing taxes on incomes of more than $10 million by an average of about $500,000.

An analysis of Internal Revenue Service data by The New York Times found that the benefit of the lower taxes on investments was far more concentrated on the very wealthiest Americans than the benefits of Mr. Bush's two previous tax cuts: on wages and other noninvestment income.
When Congress cut investment taxes three years ago, it was clear that the highest-income Americans would gain the most, because they had the most money in investments. But the size of the cuts and what share goes to each income group have not been known.

As Congress debates whether to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, The Times analyzed I.R.S. figures for 2003, the latest year available and the first that reflected the tax cuts for income from dividends and from the sale of stock and other assets, known as capital gains.

The analysis found the following:

- Among taxpayers with incomes greater than $10 million, the amount by which their investment tax bill was reduced averaged about $500,000 in 2003, and total tax savings, which included the two Bush tax cuts on compensation, nearly doubled, to slightly more than $1 million.

- These taxpayers, whose average income was $26 million, paid about the same share of their income in income taxes as those making $200,000 to $500,000 because of the lowered rates on investment income.

- Americans with annual incomes of $1 million or more, about one-tenth of 1 percent of all taxpayers, reaped 43 percent of all the savings on investment taxes in 2003. The savings for these taxpayers averaged about $41,400 each. By comparison, these same Americans received less than 10 percent of the savings from the other Bush tax cuts, which applied primarily to wages, though that share is expected to grow in coming years.

- The savings from the investment tax cuts are expected to be larger in subsequent years because of gains in the stock market.

The Times showed the new numbers to people on various sides of the debate over tax cuts. Stephen J. Entin, president of the Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation, a Washington organization, and other supporters of the cuts said they did not go far enough because the more money the wealthiest had to invest, the more would go to investments that produce jobs. For investment income, Mr. Entin said, "the proper tax rate would be zero."

Opponents say the cuts are too generous to those who already have plenty. Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said after seeing the new figures that "these tax cuts are beyond irresponsible" when "we're in a war; we haven't fixed Social Security or Medicare; we've got record deficits."

Because of the tax cuts, even the merely rich, making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, are falling behind the very wealthiest, particularly because another provision, the alternative minimum tax, now costs many of them thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars a year in lost deductions.

About 3.5 million taxpayers filing their returns for last year are being hit by the alternative tax. But that figure will balloon this year to at least 19 million taxpayers, making as little as about $30,000, unless Congress restores a law that limited its effects until now, according to the Tax Policy Center in Washington, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, whose estimates the White House has declared reasonable.

The tax cut analysis was based on estimates from a computer model developed by Citizens for Tax Justice, which asserts that the tax system unfairly favors the rich. The group's estimates are considered reliable by advocates on differing sides of the tax debate. The Times, which also did its own analysis, asked the group to use the model to produce additional data on the effect of the investment tax cuts on various income groups. The analyses show that more than 70 percent of the tax savings on investment income went to the top 2 percent, about 2.6 million taxpayers.

By contrast, few taxpayers with modest incomes benefited because most of them who own stocks held them in retirement accounts, which are not eligible for the investment income tax cuts. Money in these accounts is not taxed until withdrawal, when the higher rates on wages apply.

Those making less than $50,000 saved an average of $10 more because of the investment tax cuts, for a total of $435 in total income tax cuts, according to the computer model.

During last week's debate on whether to restore limits on the alternative minimum tax or make permanent the cuts in investment income taxes, House leaders chose as their spokesman Representative David L. Camp, a Michigan Republican. He said Republicans favored continuing investment tax cuts because that would help more people and would especially benefit those making less than $100,000.

"Nearly 60 percent of the taxpayers with incomes less than $100,000 had income from capital gains and dividends," he said on the House floor.

But I.R.S. data show that among the 90 percent of all taxpayers who made less than $100,000, dividend tax reductions benefited just one in seven and capital gains reductions one in 20.

Mr. Camp, who had said in an interview that his figures were correct, said Monday through a spokesman that he had been misinformed by the staff of the House Ways and Means Committee. But his office said he supported making the investment tax cuts permanent because cutting these rates was "good policy and good for our economy."

President Bush, in his budget, urged Congress to make permanent the reduced taxes on investment income. He also proposed limiting the effects of the alternative minimum tax through next year, saying a permanent solution "is best addressed within the context of fundamental tax reform."

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that making the investment tax cuts permanent would cost the government $197 billion over 10 years. But advocates of eliminating taxes on investments say there is no cost to the government because lowering taxes on such income encourages more investment, which should lead to more and higher-paying jobs. Taxes on wages from those jobs should more than offset the tax savings to investors, said Mr. Entin, an advocate of eliminating taxes on most investment income as a way of promoting economic growth.

However, the Congressional Research Service, an arm of Congress that analyzes issues, concluded in a January report that lower taxes on investment income may translate into lower savings because people need fewer investments to earn the same after-tax income. In another report, the research service showed how lower taxes on investment income can encourage investment outside the United States, creating jobs, but not for Americans.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for the poor, and several mainstream policy research organizations say the investment tax cuts will have insignificant positive effects and may even damage long-term economic growth by contributing to soaring budget deficits. In an era of budget deficits, "the net effect is a wash or may even be negative," said Robert Greenstein, the executive director of the center.

There have been three tax cuts for individuals under President Bush. The top tax rate on compensation was trimmed twice and is now 35 percent, from 39.6 percent when President Bush took office. Most compensation also faces a 1.45 percent Medicare tax, which is matched by the employer, making the effective federal tax rate on high earners 37.9 percent.

Then, the top rate for most investment income was reduced to 15 percent in 2003, from the 39.6 percent for dividends and 20 percent for profits on asset sales that were in effect when Mr. Bush took office.

A result is that the wealthiest Americans now pay much higher direct taxes on money they work for than on money that works for them.

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Maxtor to cut 900 jobs

April 4, 2006

LOS ANGELES - Maxtor Corp, the computer disk drive maker being acquired by competitor Seagate Technology, on Tuesday said it will cut about 900 jobs in Singapore, and cut its outlook due to the pending acquisition.

The Milpitas, California-based company said it expects to post a net loss of $100 million to $104 million, or 39 cents to 40 cents per share, on revenue ranging from $875 million to $885 million.
Maxtor in late January had forecast a loss of 17 cents to 21 cents per share and revenue of $950 million to $975 million for the first quarter.

Maxtor cited lower-than-expected unit volume growth, which when combined with merger-related market share losses, placed pressure on its cost structure. It also said it did not realize some component cost improvements as had been expected.

Because of the decrease in volume, Maxtor said it significantly cut its production schedule in the first quarter and plans to eliminate 900 jobs at its Singapore manufacturing facility over the next several weeks. As a result, it will take a $6 million reserve in the first quarter for severance-related expenses.

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Those lazy Mexicans

Tuesday, April 04, 2006
David Neiwart

Rush Limbaugh, on his March 27 radio show:

I mean if -- if you had a -- a -- a renegade, potential criminal element that was poor and unwilling to work, and you had a chance to get rid of 500,000 every year, would you do it?

The first time I encountered Mexican workers was in 1975, when I came home to Idaho Falls from college in Moscow, Idaho, looking for work for the summer. The first place I could find that would hire me was a potato warehouse out on Lindsey Boulevard, next to the rail tracks.

Most of my co-workers were from Mexico, were likely illegal immigrants, and most of them spoke only Spanish. But they were friendly and tried to help me and my friend Scott, who had also gotten a job there. We both towered over them, and we were both in pretty good shape; I was 18 at the time, and had spent the previous summers hauling pipe in potato fields, so I knew what hard work was about. But we weren't quite prepared for this work.

Basically, the job entailed loading 100- and 50-pound gunny sacks of potatoes into rail cars: stacking them onto a dolly, rolling them into the car, and stacking them up. This is a reasonable job when the stack is less than chest high, but loading them over our heads was a real test.

After two weeks, I failed it. I was completely exhausted and broken down by the end of that time. I called in, said thanks for the opportunity, and quit. (So did Scott.) I wound up setting up my own house-painting business that summer and making my tuition that way.

But I'm sure that most of those Latino co-workers not only stayed on, they probably worked at the warehouse year-round. Because they were simply unfazed by it all. They could load, stack, and load some more, all of it far more efficiently than I ever could. And at the end of every day, as I collapsed in a heap, they were still in good spirits.

Not only were they the hardest-working people I ever met, they also had the best work ethic I ever saw. That is, not only did they work hard, they worked smart. I muscled those 100-pound sacks of spuds up to the top row, while they simply tossed them up with a little leverage and technique.

Oh, and my old boss back at the potato farm where I hauled pipe? Within a couple of years after I left that farm, he went to an all-Latino crew, and he admitted to me that they were mostly illegals. But, he said, they worked harder and better and far more reliably than any crew of teenagers ever had for him. Having been one of those teenagers, I knew exactly what he meant.

Since then, I have had many other encounters with immigrant Latino workers -- as well as many working-class people living in Mexico -- and my experience has been uniform. These are hard-working, decent people. America can use more people like them.

Yes, they are often poor, and poverty does spawn crime. But the notion that they are innately criminal is absurd.

And the notion that they are lazy? On what planet?

But reading Limbaugh's rant, the big question that lingers is: How does he propose "getting rid" of 500,000 illegal immigrants annually?

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Mass. Lawmakers OK Mandatory Health Bill

By STEVE LeBLANC, Associated Press Writer
Wed Apr 5, 4:13 AM ET

Lawmakers have approved a sweeping health care reform package that dramatically expands coverage for the state's uninsured, a bill that backers hope will become a model for the rest of the nation.

The plan would use a combination of financial incentives and penalties to expand access to health care over the next three years and extend coverage to the state's estimated 500,000 uninsured.
"It's only fitting that Massachusetts would set forward and produce the most comprehensive, all-encompassing health care reform bill in the country," said House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, a Democrat.

If all goes as planned, poor people will be offered free or heavily subsidized coverage; those who can afford insurance but refuse to get it will face increasing tax penalties until they obtain coverage; and those already insured will see a modest drop in their premiums.

On Tuesday, the House approved the bill on a 154-2 vote and the Senate endorsed it 37-0. A final procedural vote is needed in both chambers of the Democratic-controlled legislature before the bill can head to the desk of Gov. Mitt Romney.

Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said the governor, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2008, would sign the bill but would make some changes that wouldn't "affect the main purpose."

The only other state to come close to the Massachusetts plan is Maine, which passed a law in 2003 to dramatically expand health care. That plan relies largely on voluntary compliance.

"What Massachusetts is doing, who they are covering, how they're crafting it, especially the individual requirement, that's all unique," said Laura Tobler, a health policy analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The measure does not call for new taxes but would require businesses that do not offer insurance to pay a $295 annual fee per employee.

The cost was put at $316 million in the first year, and more than a $1 billion by the third year, with much of that money coming from federal reimbursements and existing state spending, officials said.

The bill requires all residents to be insured beginning July 1, 2007, either by purchasing insurance directly or obtaining it through their employer.

The plan hinges in part on two key sections: the $295-per-employee business assessment and a so-called "individual mandate," requiring every citizen who can afford it to obtain health insurance or face increasing tax penalties.

Liberals typically support employer mandates, while conservatives generally back individual responsibility.

"The novelty of what's happened in this building is that instead of saying, 'Let's do neither,' leaders are saying, 'Let's do both,'" said John McDonough of Health Care for All. "This will have a ripple effect across the country."

The state's poorest - single adults making $9,500 or less a year - will have access to health coverage with no premiums or deductibles.

Those living at up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $48,000 for a family of three, will be able to get health coverage on a sliding scale, also with no deductibles.

The vast majority of Massachusetts residents who are already insured could see a modest easing of their premiums.

Individuals deemed able but unwilling to purchase health care could face fines of more than $1,000 a year by the state if they don't get insurance.

Romney pushed vigorously for the individual mandate and called the legislation "something historic, truly landmark, a once-in-a-generation opportunity."

John McDonough of Health Care for All called the bill "promising."

"If it can be achieved as outlined, it would be an enormous step forward for Massachusetts," he said.

One goal of the bill is to protect $385 million pledged by the federal government over each of the next two years if the state can show it is on a path to reducing its number of uninsured.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has threatened to withhold the money if the state does not have a plan up and running by July 1.

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US looks to increase Palestinian humanitarian aid

By Saul Hudson
Tue Apr 4, 10:31 PM ET

WASHINGTON - The United States wants to increase humanitarian assistance to Palestinians and help them control an outbreak of bird flu even though it will not give aid to a Hamas-led government, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday.

Rice is close to concluding a review of U.S. aid to Palestinians as she seeks to balance efforts to prevent suffering among Palestinians while avoiding any U.S. dealings with Hamas, which Washington considers a terrorist group despite having won a parliamentary election in January.
"One thing we are reviewing is how we can even increase our humanitarian assistance because we don't want to send a negative message to the Palestinian people about their humanitarian needs," Rice told a congressional budget hearing.

The United States hopes to isolate Hamas and pressure it to recognize American ally Israel, renounce violence and abide by peace accords. So far the Islamic militant group has refused, although its leaders have said they would continue to observe a ceasefire with Israel.

The United States has banned its officials and contractors from having contact with Palestinian ministries after a Hamas-led government was sworn in late last month facing a budget crisis.

The order could complicate Rice's plan to help Palestinians combat the deadly bird flu virus, which has spread from Asia to the Middle East, Europe and Africa in recent months.

It was not immediately clear if Rice would make an exception to allow some U.S. coordination over bird flu with Palestinian officials in a Hamas-led government.

"I can assure you that we are doing everything that we can to avoid any assistance to the Palestinian government that is Hamas-led," she said. "I might note that the only time that emergency situations -- for instance we are dealing right now with an avian flu outbreak in the Palestinian territories. I think we will want to do whatever is necessary to deal with that avian flu outbreak."

In Israel, which has taken the same no-contact policy with Hamas as the United States, health and agriculture officials initially had coordinated over bird flu with low-level Palestinian officials. But this week Israel decided such coordination should be done only through U.N. agencies or nongovernmental groups.

Mostly through such groups, the United States has given $1.5 billion in aid to the Palestinians in the last decade. The Bush administration has also given some financial assistance directly to the Palestinian Authority.

Before Hamas won the January election, the Bush administration had decided to request $150 million from Congress for this year's budget for the Palestinians, to be given in direct aid to the government and humanitarian assistance.

But after the election, Rice said the administration would review its plans.

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Venezuela takes back oil fields

Monday, 3 April 2006, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK

Venezuela has taken control of two oil fields operated by French firm Total and Italy's Eni.
The government said it had taken the step after failing to agree a deal with the two firms which would give it a majority stake in new ventures.

President Hugo Chavez has been working to strengthen state control over oil production in the country.

So far, 16 oil firms have agreed to change their operations into joint ventures with state oil firm PDVSA.

US based Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and Spain's Repsol are among the companies that signed the agreement on Friday.

Chavez rules out cheap oil

In an interview on state television, Minister Rafael Ramirez said the government took over the fields operated by Total and Eni on Saturday.

"We are waiting for a resolution with these operators after they exhausted the possibility of entering into the mixed companies," Mr Ramirez added.

Legal action?

Total's Jusepin field produces about 30,000 barrels of oil a day, while Eni's Dacion field produces almost 60,000 barrels per day (bpd).

Eni has vowed to fight the takeover which it declared illegal.

"Eni believes that this action by PDVSA is a violation of Eni's contractual rights," it said in a statement.

The company added it was considering possible legal action and would be seeking compensation.

Total confirmed its oil field had been taken over, but declined further comment.

Tighter controls

Last year, Mr Chavez declared 32 oil exploration deals in the country illegal - prompting the change to the contracts.

PDVSA officials had voiced fears that the previous agreements were disguised attempts to privatise the country's oil industry.

However, some oil firms have refused to sign new deals, arguing that they have pumped millions into operations in Venezuela, and now may not see any return on their investment.

Venezuela is currently the world's number five crude oil exporter.

The government has been tightening its grip on the oil sector to raise additional funds to fight poverty in the country.

As well as demanding firms give up majority control of their Venezuelan oil ventures, the government is also demanding firms pay more taxes.

Last month, BP was slapped with a back tax bill of $61.4m (£35m) covering 2001 to 2004.

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China offers aid package to Pacific Islands

April 5, 2006

NADI - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced a new package of aid to Pacific countries as he sought to deepen China's influence over the island nations and contain Taiwan's diplomatic clout.

Wen offered new loans and aid and promised that the world's most populous country was committed to long-term engagement with some of the world's smallest and least populated nations.

On the first-ever visit by a Chinese premier to the Pacific Islands, Wen told island leaders and ministers at the opening of an economic and development conference that China was in the region to stay.
"As far as China is concerned, to foster friendship and cooperation with the Pacific island countries is not a diplomatic expediency," Wen told the opening of the China-Pacific Islands Countries Economic Development and Cooperation conference.

"Rather it is a strategic decision. China has proved and will continue to prove itself a sincere, trustworthy and reliable friend and partner of the Pacific island countries forever."

China and Taiwan have been vying for diplomatic recognition in the Pacific, and six island states which recognise Taipei did not attend the meetings at the luxury resort island of Denarau, near the Fiji capital Nadi.

Wen has not referred to the Taiwan issue in speeches during his 23-hour visit but emphasised the prospect of growing economic links between China and the Pacific Islands.

"Our respective economies are mutually complementary. China has funding and technical expertise. The island countries are rich in natural resources," he said.

Wen announced China would provide three billion yuan (375 million dollars) in preferential loans in the next three years to increase cooperation in resources development, agriculture, fisheries and other key industries.

It would also offer tariff concessions for exports from the least developed countries in the region which recognise Beijing.

He also announced free anti-malaria medicines would be provided to affected Pacific countries over the next three years and training for 2,000 government officials and technical staff.

The visit saw dark-suited Chinese and Pacific officials mixing with a horde of security officers and tourists wearing shorts and T-shirts in the lobbies of the hotels used as meeting venues.

Pacific leaders welcomed the visit as an historic event and Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said it reflected shifting diplomacy and political realignments in the region.

He said China had emerged as a major presence in international affairs and a powerful and vital force in the Pacific.

"For the island countries, traditional trade and diplomatic ties with bigger nations remain; some are still strong, some are weakened as strategic interests and priorities change," he said.

"China defines a new and compelling reality, politically and economically."

Qarase said Pacific Island countries wanted to limit or remove their dependency on aid and this could only happen through increased international trade.

"This is what we would like to engage on with China as we increasingly look north for the answers to our trade and investment aspirations."

A regional framework agreement for economic cooperation between China and the tiny nations was also signed.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare said island countries hoped the agreement would help them close the trade gap with China, with expected trade this year of over one billion dollars expected to be dominated by Chinese exports.

Wen left Fiji late in the afternoon for New Zealand where he will spend two nights on his tour of the region.

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Nine face charges over NHS 'price cartel' allegations

Press Association
Wednesday April 5, 2006

The Serious Fraud Office today said nine pharmaceutical executives are to be charged over an alleged pricing cartel that defrauded the NHS of millions of pounds.

It also named five companies in connection with the alleged scam, which involved inflating the price of commonly-prescribed antibiotics and the blood-thinning drug warfarin, which is used to treat stroke victims.
The charges follow an investigation - Operation Hobein - into pricing and market sharing by suppliers of the drugs between 1996 and 2000.

The SFO named the nine people who will be charged with conspiracy to defraud when they surrender their bail over the next three days.

They are Denis O'Neill and John Clark, both of Kent Pharmaceuticals Limited, Jonathan Close and Nicholas Foster, both formerly of Norton Healthcare Limited, Luma Auchi, formerly of Regent-GM Laboratories Limited (now in liquidation), Michael Sparrow, formerly of Generics (UK) Limited, Anil Sharma, formerly of Ranbaxy (UK) Limited, and Ajit Patel and Kirti Patel, both of Goldshield Group plc.

The drugs involved were warfarin, the branded drug Marevan and the penicillin-based antibiotics amoxicillin, ampicillin, flucloxacillin and phenoxymethylpenicillin.

Summonses issued by Bow Street magistrates on Monday were being served on five companies - Kent Pharmaceuticals Limited, Norton Healthcare Limited, Generics (UK) Limited; Ranbaxy (UK) Limited and Goldshield Group plc (formerly Goldshield Pharmaceuticals (Europe) Limited).

The nine individuals will be bailed to attend Bow Street Magistrates' Court on April 27, when the companies are also required to be represented.

"This important case, involving an allegation of dishonest price-fixing by companies, is likely to have a significant impact upon the business culture of this country," the case controller, assistant director Philip Lewis, said.

The SFO has been investigating allegations of a drugs cartel set up to swindle the NHS for a number of years.

In April 2002, police raided six drug companies as part of a probe into an alleged multimillion-pound scam.

The case was referred to the fraud office after initial inquiries carried out by the counter-fraud directorate of the Department of Health. The department has been suing over alleged agreements between companies to restrict the supply of warfarin and fix its price.

Three companies have since offered multi-million pound, no-liability compensation deals, totalling around £30m, to the NHS over the issue.

Civil claims were made in connection with the alleged price-fxing of drugs delivered to Britain's 28 strategic health authorities between 1996 and 2000.

All the firms involved have denied any wrongdoing.

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Wild Planet

Death toll rises to 28 in storms

April 4, 2006

NASHVILLE, Tennessee - Tornadoes that ravaged the central United States claimed another victim in Tennessee, raising the death toll in the region to 28, state officials said on Tuesday.
Searchers in Dyer County found the body Monday evening, bringing to 16 the number of people killed in the northwestern county, according to Kurt Pickering, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

Another eight died in neighboring Gibson County in Sunday night's storms, and there were four other fatalities in Missouri and Illinois.

Pickering said no one was now missing in the region, though 17 survivors suffered critical injuries.

The tornado outbreak -- which produced 64 unconfirmed reports of twisters across the central United States -- was the deadliest since November, when 23 people died in southern Indiana.

The Tennessee storms left a 25-mile path of destruction, demolishing houses, stripping the bark off trees and hurling people into the air.

Survivors told of desperately trying to hold onto one another as the storms sucked them into swirling debris. One family of four -- the parents in their 20s and two sons age 5 and 3 -- were killed, their bodies found later in fields near what had been their home.

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Calif. Levees Break, Flooding Trailer Park

April 4, 2006

MERCED, Calif. - Two levees broke Tuesday in California's chief agricultural region, flooding a trailer park and threatening other homes in Merced and inundating farmland near Sacramento.

There were no immediate reports of any injuries across the Central Valley.

Rain has saturated Northern California for the past month and more is expected over the next several days.
Water breached a 30-foot section of levee along a creek in Merced, sending water pouring through a mobile home park, said Michael Miller, a spokesman for the Department of Water Resources.

South of Sacramento, a Consumnes River levee gave way, swamping pastures but not threatening any homes. The same area broke in January during heavy storms. The amount of land under water not immediately known.

San Francisco had a record 25 days of rain in March. Oakland, San Rafael and Santa Rosa also broke rainy-day records in March. Sacramento received 5.29 inches of rain in March, nearly 2 1/2 inches more than average, according to the National Weather Service.

The rain also is melting snow in the mountains, swelling streams in the Central Valley.

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Red River Threatens to Flood N.D., Minn.

Associated Press
April 4, 2006

FARGO, N.D. - Farm land sat under water and city residents stacked sandbags Tuesday as the Red River, swollen with melting snow and heavy rain, spread across its broad valley.

The river, which runs north along the North Dakota-Minnesota line, was already at 36.9 feet in Fargo late Tuesday morning, well above the 18-foot flood stage. It was expected to crest Tuesday night around 37.5 feet, just two feet shy of the 1997 flood, the city's worst in a century.
"Right now, it's a lake," Gov. John Hoeven said after flying over the Red River Valley. "I mean, it just spread out. There's a lot of water."

Even after all the levee construction and property buyouts following the 1997 flood, city officials estimated about 75 homes in the Fargo area were still in danger.

In the surrounding rural area, officials sent out boats to check on residents whose homes were no longer accessible. They had already shut down dozens of roads, said Cass County Commissioner Vern Bennett.

"We had to rent about 50 road closing signs because we ran out," he said.

Just across the Red River, near Moorhead, Minn., about a dozen homes were surrounded by water, and residents were using boats to get supplies, Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said. Moorhead officials built a dike in a park on the city's south side, where about 100 homes were at risk.

Weather forecasters had some unwelcome news Tuesday, as well: More rain is expected in the area later in the week, and it could extend the flooding in some areas, said
National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Gust.

Thirty miles north of Moorhead, in Hendrum, Minn., volunteers rescued more than two dozen cows from a flooded pasture.

The Wild Rice River was expected to crest there Wednesday about 13 feet above flood stage, though a levee and temporary dike were expected to keep the city dry, said Kevin Ruud, environmental services director for the county.

Rudd said the Army Corps of Engineers reinforced the existing levee at Hendrum and prepared to close U.S. Highway 75 with a dike of clay that should keep the city dry. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty also authorized 135 National Guard troops assist with dike patrols, security and traffic control in the area.

In Grand Forks, Mayor Mike Brown declared an emergency although officials said they expected no major problems.

The Grand Forks area is protected by a levee system that was built after the 1997 flood. Still, two of the three bridges between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Minn., have been closed. The National Weather Service expects the Red River to crest at Grand Forks at about 47.7 feet on Thursday, about 20 feet above flood stage.

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Forecasters see busy hurricane season

By Michael Christie
Tue Apr 4, 11:54 AM ET

MIAMI - The 2006 hurricane season will not be as ferocious as last year when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and other storms slammed Florida and Texas, but will still be unusually busy, a noted U.S. forecasting team said on Tuesday.
The Colorado State University team led by Dr. William Gray, a pioneer in forecasting storm probabilities, said it expected 17 named storms to form in the Atlantic basin during the six-month season, which officially begins on June 1.

Nine of the storms will strengthen into hurricanes, with winds of at least 74 mph, the team said, reaffirming an early prediction made in December and updated to include current trends like the La Nina weather phenomenon, cool Pacific waters and an abnormally warm Atlantic.

The Colorado State forecasters said five of the hurricanes were likely to be major storms, reaching at least Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity, and boasting winds of at least 111 mph. Storms of Category 3 strength and above cause the most destruction.

But they also said there were likely to be fewer major storms making landfall in the United States compared to 2005, when virtually every hurricane record was broken, and also 2004, when Florida was bashed by four consecutive hurricanes.

"Even though we expect to see the current active period of Atlantic major hurricane activity to continue for another 15-20 years, it is statistically unlikely that the coming 2006-2007 hurricane seasons, or the seasons that follow, will have the number of major hurricane U.S. landfall events as we have seen in 2004-2005," Gray said in a statement.


Gray's predictions are valued by companies but their accuracy can be difficult to gauge because they are revised regularly as a season progresses.

The Colorado State team, for example, initially predicted 13 storms for 2005 and raised the forecast in May last year to 15. It wasn't until August 5 -- almost halfway through the season-- that Gray increased the prediction to 20 storms. In the event, 2005 saw a record 27 named storms, of which 15 became hurricanes.

Last year was the costliest and most destructive season ever, with $80 billion in damages from Katrina alone.

Hurricane Rita hammered Texas and Hurricane Wilma became the most intense Atlantic hurricane observed before slamming into the Mexican resort of Cancun and then curving back over South Florida, where it caused $10 billion in damage.

Hurricane Stan, meanwhile, killed up to 2,000 people across Central America.

The long-term statistical average is for around 10 named storms per season, of which six become hurricanes.

Gray is a leading skeptic about human-induced global warming and believes that heightened Atlantic hurricane activity since 1995 reflects a natural variation in water temperatures and atmospheric conditions that may last for up to 20 more years.

Climatologists have found few indications that global warming could be linked to the increasing number of Atlantic storms.

But there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that warmer sea surface temperatures are already causing hurricanes in the Atlantic, and typhoons and cyclones in the Pacific, to become more powerful.

Gray and CSU team will update their forecast on May 31, August 3, September 1 and October 3.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issues its hurricane season forecast on May 22.

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Hungary in battle with raging floods

www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-05 13:27:11

BUDAPEST, April 4 (Xinhua) -- Hungary mobilized thousands of troops and set up a 1.5-million U.S. dollar cash fund to bolster the country's flood defenses on Tuesday as the Danube climbed to record levels in Budapest.
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany dispatched 6,000 soldiers, 5,000 police, 1,000 firemen and 815 border guards to some of the worst-hit areas in the country.

Before the reinforcements were announced, some 25,000 people, half of them volunteers, were busily engaged.

Under an emergency plan, a 1.5-million dollar cash fund has been set up for emergency aid and the upper limit of the budget allocation for flood protection has been lifted, Gyurcsany added.

"If need be, the total general reserves of the budget can be utilized for flood control," Hungarian Finance Minister Janos Veres told reporters on Tuesday.

In the Hungarian capital, where a state of emergency was declared on Monday, the Danube reached a record 8.48 meters on Tuesday and was expected to crest at 8.65 meters by Wednesday morning.

The river's rise has so far exceeded the level reached during the catastrophic 2002 floods.

No shipping is allowed on the Danube except for ferries serving communities cut off by the floods. Some schools were shut and a few inaccessible polling stations had to be moved ahead of Sunday's general elections.

Recovery will be slow and there could be more flood surges on the Danube and the more unpredictable offshoot Tisza, Gyurcsany warned.

Budapest is safe up to a river level of 10 meters, Mayor Gabor Demszky said. "No reason for panic, the city is not in danger," said Demszky.

Authorities said Tuesday that river levels appeared to be easing in the north of the country, where a state of emergency also applies, together with one in the center of the country.

A 15-km section of Route 6, a main traffic artery running near the flooding Danube south of Budapest, was closed, so that wild animals trapped in the flooded plain could safely cross to the other side and head for higher ground.

President Laszlo Solyom on Tuesday visited the affected towns in northern Hungary.

He inspected schools, hospitals and local flood protection operations, and was briefed on the current accommodation and rescue efforts.

"According to the latest estimates, the total damage will exceed 10 billion forints (about 50 million dollars) and it will probably not be more than 30 billion (140 million dollars), but that is assuming no major dams bursting anywhere," Prime Minister Gyurcsany said.

The floods also hit other countries in Central Europe. At least a dozen people have lost their lives in floods and some were still missing.

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12 killed by floods, lightning in Yemen

April 4, 2006

SANAA - At least 12 people were killed in Yemen in floods and lightning brought on by torrential rains, witnesses and official sources said.
Flooding killed three people Monday in Dhamar, 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of Sanaa, witnesses said. Three more people, including two young girls, died in the province of Hodeida, some 270 kilometers (170 miles) west of the capital.

Another six people were struck dead by lightning Monday in Manakhah, which lies midway between Hodeida and Sanaa, and in the southwest of the country, the official Saba news agency reported.

At least five people were killed by floods that swept through Dhamar at the start of Yemen's rainy season in February.

Ten people were killed in similar flooding in April last year.

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Severe Ethiopian Drought Claims Thousands Of Livestock Threatens Life

by Lea-Lisa Westerhoff
Apr 05, 2006

Goraye, Ethiopia - Putrefying cattle carcasses line either side of the wind swept road leading to the lone watering hole in the extinct Goraye volcano in the southern Ethiopian region of Borena, where animals have succumbed to a scathing drought that is also threatening people with starvation.

For the last five years, the region has only been receiving scanty rains and this has caused the drying up of hand-dug wells and underground water reservoirs.
"It is a real massacre, we cannot any more count the number of animals that we have lost in the past weeks," said Diide Tadi, head of Dire district, which is among the worst affected areas in Borena region.

At least 100,000 animals have died in the last two months in Borena, home to nearly 100,000 pastoralists, while some 250,000 people out of about one million residents in the larger Oromo region currently depend on relief aid, officials said.

But according to United Nations predictions, the number of those needing relief assistance is likely to double next month.

At least 5,000 people depend on the Goraye watering hole, which was recently repaired by the UN agency for children (UNICEF) and also serves herders from Kenya who travel for about 100 kilometres (60 miles from the south of Ethiopia.

With the fast dying animals, international relief group CARE hurriedly put up an abbatoir to buy dying stock from the herders and then distribute the meat to the hunger-stricken locals.

"Because of the drought, we slaugter up to 100 cattle a day because they are too weak to walk," said Gilma Liben, an official with CARE.

In addition to Ethiopia, a severe drought that has gripped the east African nations of Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti has put some 11 million people on the brink of starvation according to the UN.

The situation is mainly affecting children of the pastoralist communities as they depend on milk from the cattle now falling in the wake of the scorching drought.

Meanwhile according to Dejene Benti of the US Medical Corps International, infant malnutrition is hovering near 20 percent which he warned is critical, resulting in about 30 children being hospitalised at a health centre in Goraye due to drought-sparked malnutrition.

"When animals die, it is the children who are directly affected because in this pastoral society, 60 percent of food is from milk," said Marc Rubin, an official with UNICEF.

However, with the light rains that have fallen in the region recently, the situation remains critical and worse still, the showers risk sparking infection as run off washing rotting carcasses drains into open pans and other water holes that are used by local communities.

"With all the carcasses lying along the roads, the rain will collect all the dirt and contaminate the ponds and the wells where people drink, this will be problematic as it could cause a lot of disease," Dejene warned.

Residents here say the current drought is the most severe in recent times with some 1.5 million people in the country's eastern and southern regions having no access to potable water since January.

"I cannot remember ever having seen such a severe drought in at least the last five years," said Gaarso Lema, a 25-year-old herder who said he has to, on certain days, trek for between 10 and 15 kilometres in search of pasture.

"Three years ago, I lost 14 animals, but this time I have lost 25. I only remain with five and I fear that they will all die," he added.

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Bird flu kills 12-year-old in Cambodia

Wed Apr 5, 2006 05:42 AM ET

PHNOM PENH - Bird flu has killed a 12-year-old boy in Cambodia, the impoverished Southeast Asian nation's sixth victim, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

The boy, from the southeastern province of Prey Veng, abutting Vietnam, died on Tuesday night, said Michael O'Leary, the WHO representative in Phnom Penh.
He said a laboratory in the capital confirmed the boy was infected with the H5N1 avian flu virus.

Six Cambodians have died of bird flu since the H5N1 virus first emerged in Southeast Asia in late 2003. The 12-year-old's death is the second this year.

Last month, a 3-year-old girl died of the disease. The girl lived in a village in Kampong Speu province about 40 miles (60 km) west of Phnom Penh.

Most Cambodian outbreaks have occurred in provinces abutting Vietnam, which remains the hardest hit country in terms of human deaths, but Kampong Speu is in the middle of the country, showing the virus was spreading.

Before the latest death, 191 people were known to have been infected with H5N1 worldwide since 2003, of whom 108 had died, the WHO has said.

Last week, a government minister said tests confirmed the H5N1 virus in dead ducks near Cambodia's border with Vietnam.

"This makes us worried that the virus will spread to other areas because of our poor health system and bad communications," Deputy Agriculture Minister Yim Vanthoeun told Reuters last Thursday.

The H5N1 virus remains mainly a disease of poultry, but could spark a pandemic in which millions could die if it mutates into a form that spreads easily from person to person, the WHO says.

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War Pimps

Former Republican boss DeLay bows out

April 5, 2006

WASHINGTON - US lawmaker Tom DeLay, the Republican former strongman largely responsible for transforming his party into a juggernaut that dominates US politics, announced his resignation, as a criminal corruption probe looms.

The flamboyant ex-House of Representatives leader -- whose strong-arm politics earned him the nickname "The Hammer" for his ability to push through President George W. Bush's legislative agenda in Congress -- announced that he will give up his US Congress seat and end his bid for reelection in November's mid-term congressional elections.
"It's time for me to go and do something else," he told Fox News Channel on Tuesday.

The former pest control expert had become one of the most polarizing figures in US politics in recent years, but he has also been wildly successful in instilling lock-step party discipline among Republicans and delivering votes on legislation critical to his party.

He was also valued for formidable skills raising funds from legions of well-heeled Washington partisans, and counted among his close associates disgraced former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is now cooperating with prosecutors in several Capitol Hill corruption cases -- including against DeLay himself.

Bush told reporters Tuesday that after being informed late Monday of DeLay's decision, he wished him well and said he was sure that the party would prove resilient in the face of the setback.

"My reaction was, it had to be a very difficult decision for someone who loved representing his district in the state of Texas. I wished him all the very best and I know he's looking to the future," the president said.

"My own judgement is that our party will continue to succeed because we're the party of ideas," said Bush.

DeLay, 58, resigned his House leadership post in January after a Texas grand jury indicted him for alleged campaign finance violations and his legal troubles mounted.

A pivotal figure in the Republican Party for a dozen years, he came into office when Republicans seized control of Congress in the historic mid-term elections of 1994.

But his legal and ethical problems had begun to drag down his party, leaving it vulnerable to Democrats' charges that Republicans are plagued by a "culture of corruption."

Though he handily won a March 7 primary election in his home state with 62 percent of the vote, observers noted that the criminal probe was drawing closer to him with the plea deal reached last week by Tony Rudy, a close former aide.

DeLay said that despite his recent legal woes he believed he had a good chance of holding onto his seat representing a Texas district, but did not want the criminal case against him to become a dominant election-year issue nationally.

He repeated his assertions of his innocence, telling Fox that he has served in Congress "honorably and ethically."

"I've never broken a law nor the spirit of the law nor a House rule. In fact, I'm the most investigated man in Washington, and they still have not been able to charge me with anything because there is nothing there," he said.

DeLay later Tuesday rejected accusations that Abramoff was behind an all-expenses paid golfing junket to England and Scotland he took in 2000, saying the trip was to help rebuild the conservative movement in England with former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

"Those were vital trips," he told CNN. "She asked me to come over and work with conservatives in England because they had just lost an election and they wanted my advice."

"I worked very very hard on that trip. And yes, at the end of the trip, I went and played golf. I love golf," he said.

DeLay said that while he is leaving electoral politics, he still plans to work feverishly behind the scenes supporting Republican causes as an adviser and activist.

"People that know me know that I'm passionate about what I believe in. I'm passionate about the conservative movement in this country. And I'm passionate about the Republican Party," he told Fox.

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The Big Lie Persists

by Mark A. Goldman
April 4, 2006

The Big Lie Persists. I am talking here about the first lie out of Bush's mouth immediately following 911 when he said that the reason we were attacked was because the terrorists hate our freedoms and our Democracy. This is the big lie and it persists and he hasn't stopped lying since.

In fact, the reason we were attacked was explained very clearly by Osama bin Laden in an interview that he had with Peter Arnett of CNN news in March of 1997.

The aggression and war crimes committed by the US to which bin Laden refers in that interview is confirmed by many reporters, historians, and commentators but the list of crimes committed by the US goes far beyond those to which bin Laden alludes.
911 was what Chalmers Johnson refers to as "Blowback." "Blowback" is the response of other nations or organizations to the crimes that the US 'secretly' commits against their people. I call these crimes 'secret' because they are routinely obfuscated from public view by propaganda, lies, and disinformation perpetrated by our government with help from mainstream media. Of course the crimes can't be hidden from the people who are its victims or from foreign media sources, so the truth eventually comes out, although sometimes it can take years to become common knowledge in American society.

"Blowback" specifically refers to attacks against the US for which citizens have no reference point or logical framework for understanding them. Citizens are therefore easily misled by US propaganda and nonsensical reasoning like that offered by Bush immediately after the attack on the twin towers.

We were not attacked because we are a free, wonderful and loving people as Bush would have us believe. We were attacked because the United States is addicted to war, addicted to committing crimes of international terror against peoples of other lands in order to get them to hand over to US interests, their resources, their cheap labor, or their sovereignty.

And now that someone decided to strike back against US treachery on behalf of some of the victims... we are told that the evil doers are at our doorstep. Well my goodness, what a surprise.

It is a sad commentary on the state of American statesmanship that none of our elected officials or mainstream news agencies has the courage, or the integrity to name this great lie for what it is. We would have nothing to fear from so called 'terrorists' if We the People, acting through our elected officials, would conduct ourselves - which is to say, conduct our foreign affairs - as decent human beings.

The truth is, that our foreign policy, contrary to popular belief, probably has never been the pursuit of world peace; and today our purpose clearly seems to be the domination or control of the world's key resources no matter what the cost in human carnage might be.

It is simply wrong to say that the United States is a free country if the truth is too unseemly for consumption by ordinary citizens. In my view, you are only really free if it is safe for you to tell the truth and hear the truth... all the time... in whatever company you are with. This administration considers telling the truth to be an act of treason. Someone should explain to members of Congress that it's just the opposite. If you are happy to live in a box of lies and never seek to venture outside its perimeter, you can, of course, blindly claim that you are free, but that kind of freedom is really an unhappy illusion.

If you want to know why the treatment of depression is such a major industry in this country, perhaps it's because it's our society that is sick, and not so much the people who exhibit the symptoms. Maybe it's the hypocrisy, the systemic infidelity, and the lies that we hear and live with every day that makes people sick.

Our kids are coming home from Iraq with severe mental illness. It's not the people of Iraqi who made them sick. It's the folks who sent them there with their lies and their treason that made them sick.

If five years after 911, Americans still believe that we were attacked or are in danger because we love freedom and democracy, then Americans are living in a dream world... or should I say an unfolding nightmare. We need to start telling the truth. If we want to be safe, we will need to do our homework. We will need to learn and then tell the truth about our own history. We need to identify the lies and myths we blindly accept and help propagate. And we will have to ask ourselves if we have the courage to face the truth and deal with it honorably and decently for the good of our country, our community, and our immediate and extended human family.

So far, these lies have put our dignity, our wealth, and our honor on the line. We are living on borrowed capital and borrowed time. Many of our children have paid the price with their lives, their limbs and their mental well-being. And it is not mainly even our own children who have suffered. Look around... outside your little box... what do we look like to all those people in far off places who have been cheated, murdered, tortured, and defiled in our name?

Now the future of all children hangs in the balance.

We have seen the enemy and he is us. We need to make peace with ourselves. The only way to do that is to start telling the truth.

Comment: "We have seen the enemy and he is us." Unfortunately, the author doesn't seem to fully grasp just how true that statement is. You see, the Bush administration knew that 9/11 would work, because if the "they hate us because of our freedoms" crap didn't work, people would still believe that evil Arabs were behind the attacks because of how they have been wronged by the US for so many years. But the truth seems to be even more insidious than that. See 9/11: The Ultimate Truth for more.

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Bush's Unprecedented Arrogance

By John Dean, FindLaw.com. Posted April 5, 2006.

President George Bush continues to openly and defiantly ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) -- the 1978 statute prohibiting electronic inspection of Americans' telephone and email communications with people outside the United States without a court-authorized warrant. (According to U.S. News & World Report, the President may also have authorized warrantless break-ins and other physical surveillance, such as opening regular mail, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.)

Bush's position is that he does not need Congressional approval for his measures. Even he does not claim that Congress gave him express power to undertake them, but he does claim that Congress indirectly approved such measures when it authorized the use of force to go after those involved in the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States. He also argues that, in any event, approval was not necessary -- for he argues that he has such authority under Article II of the Constitution, as the chief executive, and Commander in Chief, charged with faithfully executing the laws of the land and protecting the Constitution.

These arguments are hauntingly familiar to this observer.

The Nixon Precedent

No one can question President Bush's goal: Protecting Americans from further terror attacks. But every American should question his means: Openly defying a longstanding statute that prohibits the very actions he insists on undertaking, when done in the very manner he insists upon doing them. In some two hundred and seventeen years of the American presidency, there has been only one President who provides a precedent for Bush's stunning, in-your-face, conduct: Richard Nixon. Like Bush, Nixon claimed he was acting to protect the nation's security. Like Bush, Nixon broke the law -- authorizing, among other things, illegal wiretaps.

Ironically, a stronger case might be made for Nixon's warrantless wiretaps, than for Bush's. Nixon's were installed to track leaks of national security information relating to the war in Vietnam. (He never found the leaker.) He pursued domestic intelligence by illegal means because he believed -- based on information from President Lyndon Johnson -- that communists had infiltrated the anti-war movement. (No such evidence was ever found.) In addition, he believed that extreme measures were necessary to deal with domestic terrorists, who were responsible for hundreds of deadly bombings. (This is the same argument Bush makes today.)

Nixon also claimed he was only doing what his predecessors had done. That was not untrue -- but what had, in the past, been the exception to the rule became standard operating procedure under Nixon. Bush, however, can only claim one predecessor for his actions: Nixon. And, of course, he has not made this claim -- for Nixon was forced from office because of his defiance of the law.

Prior Presidents Have Always Gone To Congress

Bush has admitted he is ignoring FISA. His Attorney General has offered lame and loose legal justifications that he ought not to dare attempt in any court of law. Only blind partisan followers buy the president's bogus legal arguments. The U.S. Supreme Court's prescient discussion of presidential powers reveals how weak these arguments really are.

In May 1952, President Truman directed his Secretary of Commerce, Charles Sawyer, to take charge of the nation's steel mills, rather than permit a strike by steelworkers -- and intransigent management -- from hampering national security. The nation was at war in Korea, and without steel, the war effort would be in jeopardy. Truman informed Congress of his actions, but rather than asked for emergency legislation, he proceeded by executive order.

The owners of the steel mills immediately sought an injunction, which was granted by a federal district court judge, and the government appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 6-3 ruling, the Court, in Youngstown Co. v. Sawyer, held that Truman's attempted takeover of the steel mills was unconstitutional. Truman then asked Congress for emergency legislation, but Congress turned him down too.

As the strong dissent in Youngstown notes, the "diversity of views expressed in the six opinions of the majority, the lack of reference to authoritative precedent, the repeated reliance upon prior dissenting opinions, the complete disregard of the uncontroverted facts showing the gravity of the emergency and the temporary nature of the taking all serve to demonstrate how far afield one must go to" deny Truman this power. It seems Bush believes he can ride on that dissent. But in the end, the dissent not only is not the law; it is not persuasive.

Truman's actions were not unprecedented: President Lincoln had seized rail and telegraph lines during the Civil War; President Theodore Roosevelt was ready to seize Pennsylvania coal mines if a strike created shortages; President Wilson seized industrial plants and railroads during World War I; and six months before Peal Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt seized a California aviation plant when a strike occurred. These presidents, however, went to Congress -- as Truman also eventually did. Only Bush (like Nixon) refuses to do so.

As Donald McCoy's study of the Truman presidency (for the University Press of Kansas) points out, "Truman had sought not only to resolve the steel crisis but also substantially to expand the president's power in a single action that matched his sense of gravity of the emergency that was confronting the nation. He had gambled badly, and he had lost badly." The same could be said of Nixon, who lost even worse because he -- like Bush, and unlike Truman -- was acting secretly.

Bush, once it was learned what he was doing, could have asked Congress to grant him the authority that he believed he needed. Instead, he has taken the Nixon approach, and wants to do what he wants to do -- the Congress be damned. Will he succeed? What if he does? What if he doesn't?

Bush's Gambling With Presidential Powers

Like Nixon, Bush has wrapped himself in the American flag, national security, his high office, and a claim to be the defender of America -- the man who can show terrorists not to mess with the U.S.A. His critics are attacked as being soft on fighting terrorism, or being knee-jerk partisans, when all they want is for their president to stay within the law.

If the issue stays out of court -- and continues to be debated by many as if it were purely a policy issue, and FISA does not exist -- Bush may prevail; it will be up to the voters in this Fall's election to judge him, and to decide whether to sweep out of office those legislators who are preventing a full investigation of this matter. But if this issue goes to court, Bush should worry. Even Republican-appointed judges would have to comprise their judicial integrity to rule in his favor. One reason it may stay out of court, though, is the difficulty of finding a plaintiff with proper standing: someone who has been illegally harmed by reason of Bush's surveillance. The ACLU has looked for such plaintiffs and then filed a lawsuit but its chances are not strong.

Another reason it might stay out of court is if legislation moots the issue. Senators Dewine, Graham, Hagel and Snowe have sponsored legislation, S. 2455, that would retroactively (as well as prospectively) legalize the president's refusal to seek FISA warrants. The bill provides for nominal oversight by the Senate and House Select Intelligence Committees. And this approach, which has in the past, usually been requested by presidents, rather than simply granted by Congress, has been a satisfactory remedy.

But Bush does not want this retroactive approval by Congress. Instead, he wants to keep on breaking the law to try to set a precedent -- enlarging his presidential powers (and those of subsequent presidents) permanently, to the detriment of Congress. Another possible solution, and probably the most thoughtful and intelligent to be offered, is the legislation proposed by Senator Arlen Specter, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Specter -- who was once considered by Nixon for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, even before he had been elected to the Senate -- is now one of the Senate's best legal minds. But I suspect the Bush White House will fight Senator Specter's proposal because under it, they may lose.

Senator Specter's Proposed "National Security Surveillance Act of 2006"

On March 16, Senator Specter introduced his proposed legislation, following hearings in which his Judiciary Committee quizzed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for seven hours about the legality of the president's action. Neither Gonzales nor anyone on the panel of legal experts that followed, made anything approaching a compelling case that this was legal activity, although several were highly persuasive that it was transparently illegal.

Implicit in Chairman Specter's proposal, S. 2453, is the fact that the president's actions are, indeed, not legal. Although Specter does not so state, his bill would appropriately place the question of the legality of Bush's actions before the FISA Court, where that court could judge it. No doubt he knows how, in fact, they would judge the matter: They would likely find that the President's bypassing their statutorily-granted authority was, and continues to be, illegal.

Specter recognizes the seriousness of the dilemma here: We are a nation at war, yet also a nation that believes in the rule of law. To have it both ways, he has drawn from a recommendation made decades ago by former Attorney General Edward Levi -- a staunch defender of the executive powers: Turn the matter over the FISA Court, where it can, if the Administration presents a solid case (of need balanced against the invasion of civil liberties), rule in the President's favor, but can also reject the President's actions if the balance cuts the other way.

Specter's is a great solution. It preserves secrecy: The FISA Court has shown itself capable of keeping secrets, and while the bill requires bi-annual reports to Congress, they would not reveal secrets. Most importantly, whereas the President claims he is protecting liberties by reviewing the program every forty-five days, Specter's bill imposes a similar requirement.

No doubt the Bush Administration will fight Specter's bill -- for the simple reason that it does not want to be tested by a court, for it wants neither checks nor balances, but simple the unilateral exercise of executive power. And even if Specter can get the bill through the Senate, Bush's soldiers in the monocratic House will kill it.

Feingold's Motion For Censure

While Specter's bill may be the best idea yet as to how to deal with Bush's behavior, the approach that has received the most media attention is Senator Russ Feingold's resolution calling for censure of President Bush. The resolution condemns Bush's actions in authorizing the illegal wiretapping program of Americans as part of his war on terror, and then misleading the country about the existence and legality of the program.

Even though nearly half of Americans favor censure, it too is a long shot. Yet is probably the most damning of the documents before Congress. Feingold's preamble points out that Bush openly lied to Americans about his secret wiretapping, on repeated occasions: On April 20, 2004, Bush said, "When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so.''; on July 14, 2004, he claimed that "the government can't move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order"; and on June 9, 2005, he said, "Law enforcement officers need a federal judge's permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist's phone, a federal judge's permission to track his calls, or a federal judge's permission to search his property. Officers must meet strict standards to use any of these tools."

All this was untrue. Bush had authorized these very law enforcement officials to bypass federal judges, and proceed without warrants. Why he engaged in such bald-faced lies, in circumstances where it was not necessary, is unclear. Senator Feingold's proposal has no chance of being adopted in a GOP-controlled Senate -- one that includes, as well, more than a few spineless Democrats. Still, he has made his point. As Feingold told the New York Observer, "What [the Republicans had] succeeded in doing, [since this issue has arisen] was to sweep the illegality under the rug." Feingold added, "I decided it was time to include that on the record and came up with the censure proposal, to bring accountability back into the discussion. And I succeeded in doing that. That's been achieved."

Election 2006 Is The Key

In the end, this issue is going to be resolved by the 2006 midterm election. If Republicans lose control of either the House or Senate, the investigations of the Bush/Cheney White House will begin. It won't be pretty. It will make dealing with lying about sex look like High School hazing. It will even make Richard Nixon look like a piker when it comes to staying within the law.

If the early polls are half correct, independent swing voters have had it with Bush. Democrats want no part of him. Moderate Republicans are keeping their distance; they are no longer willing to hold their noses and vote for him. The big question is whether there will be an "October Surprise" -- a dramatic event that will bump up Bush's currently dismal polling numbers, and help his party. Right now, Republican friends tell me they are doing all they can to keep the mid-terms from being a referendum on Bush. They know they have a better chance if they focus on local races -- absent an October Surprise. If you have any knowledge of how White Houses operate, you can be sure they are working night and day to pull off such a surprise.

If they do it, Bush will get away with his lawlessness. If not, he and Cheney are in for two very bad years. They have earned them.

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Comment: Audacity and Mendacity

March 2006 Issue
Matthew Rothschild
The Progressive

The audacity and mendacity of the Bush Administration mount by the day. This Presidency has become an increasing menace to our constitutional system.
Days after the Katrina disaster, and minutes after he woke up to it, Bush promised to cooperate fully with any Congressional inquiry. "Congress is preparing an investigation, and I will work with members of both parties to make sure this effort is thorough," he said.

But that was then. Now Bush is buttoning the lips of the entire Administration.

Even Senator Joe Lieberman, who usually is so eager to sit on the President's lap, has registered his displeasure.
"Almost every question our staff has asked federal agency witnesses regarding conversations with or involvement of the White House has been met with a response that they could not answer on direction of the White House," said Lieberman, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

FEMA lawyers advised Heckofajob Brownie "not to say whether he spoke to the President or the Vice President, or comment on the substance of conversations he had with any other high-level White House officials," Lieberman said.
The White House gag order on Katrina is "completely inappropriate."-Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine
No, that would require accountability, and that's the last thing this White House wants. It views itself as accountable to no one.

And so it doesn't hand over documents to Congress to let our elected officials properly investigate the NSA scandal. And it defends warrantless domestic spying with pure chutzpah and imperious assertions.

But before I get into those, let me just point out that the President straight up lied about warrantless spying when he was running for reelection.

"Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires-a wiretap requires a court order," he said on the campaign trail. "Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was no more forthcoming. At his confirmation hearings in January 2005, Senator Russ Feingold asked Gonzales: "Does the President, in your opinion, have the authority, acting as commander in chief, to authorize warrantless searches of Americans' homes and wiretaps of their conversations in violation of the criminal and foreign intelligence surveillance statutes of this country?"

Gonzales dodged that the first time, and when Feingold followed up in a more general way-whether "the President has the constitutional authority, at least in theory, to authorize violations of criminal law"-Gonzales said, "Senator, in my judgment, you have phrased sort of a hypothetical situation."

But there was nothing hypothetical about it, though at his February 6 testimony, under grilling from Feingold, Gonzales maintained the illusion.

After The New York Times finally exposed the NSA program, the Bush Administration aggressively pushed some specious-and dangerous-arguments in support of warrantless domestic spying.

Bush said at a January press conference that the program is "designed to protect civil liberties." If the press corps had a proper sense of humor, it would have met that comment with riotous guffaws.
""Mr. Gonzales misled me and the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath about whether the President could spy on Americans without a warrant."-Senator Russ Feingold
The Justice Department laid out its rationale for the spying in a document entitled "Legal Authorities Supporting the Activities of the National Security Agency." Unlike Bush, it acknowledged that "individual privacy issues at stake may be substantial."

But those "substantial" interests pale in comparison to the need to fight Al Qaeda, it argued.

"The Government's overwhelming interest in detecting and thwarting further Al Qaeda attacks is easily sufficient to make reasonable the intrusion into privacy," says the Justice Department document.

The gist of the Justice Department's argument, which Gonzales kept repeating, is that the President's "inherent constitutional authority as commander in chief" and the Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) right after 9/11 give him all the power he needs to eavesdrop in the United States without a warrant.

It's not an easy argument to make, since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act stipulates that getting a warrant from the FISA court is the "exclusive means" by which the NSA may engage in domestic surveillance. FISA requires a warrant except in the first fifteen days of an emergency or in the first seventy-two hours of an exigent search, after which the Administration must apply retroactively for the warrant.

But the Justice Department says "FISA expressly contemplates that the Executive Branch may conduct electronic surveillance outside FISA's express procedures if and when a subsequent statute authorizes such surveillance."

That "subsequent statute," the Justice Department says, is the Congressional authorization of force. But that authorization doesn't mention amending FISA. And, in fact, the Administration tried to get language into that authorization that would have permitted such warrantless eavesdropping, but the Senate didn't go along, as then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has noted.

"Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the Administration sought to add the words 'in the United States and' after 'appropriate force' in the agreed-upon text," Daschle wrote in The Washington Post on December 23. "I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused."

Yet this is the very authority that the Justice Department now claims for the spying.

In the Youngstown Steel case during the Truman Administration, a precedent-setting case on Presidential overreaching, Justice Felix Frankfurter demolished a similiar argument: "It is one thing to draw an intention of Congress from general language and to say that Congress would have explicitly written what is inferred. It is quite impossible, however, when Congress did specifically address itself to a problem . . . to find secreted in the interstices of legislation the very grant of power which Congress consciously withheld. To find authority so explicitly withheld is . . . to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between President and Congress."

Nor has the Administration sought to amend FISA to reflect its current interpretation. It considered it, though.

"We had discussions with Congress in the past-certain members of Congress-as to whether or not FISA could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible," Gonzales said at a December 19 press briefing.

This is a telling confession. "The Administration cannot argue on the one hand that Congress authorized the NSA program in the AUMF, and at the same time that it did not ask Congress for such authorization because it feared Congress would say no," fourteen distinguished constitutional lawyers wrote in a letter to Congress published in The New York Review of Books.

But when the Justice Department feels it may be losing, it pulls out this trump card: Even "if FISA could not be read to allow the President to authorize the NSA activities during the current Congressionally authorized armed conflict with Al Qaeda, FISA would be unconstitutional."

Why? Because it interferes with the President's power as commander in chief.

Here the Justice Department shows just how unlimited it believes that power is.

"The President has inherent constitutional authority to conduct warrantless searches and surveillance within the United States for foreign intelligence purposes," the Justice Department asserts. It says there is a "serious constitutional" question as to whether such spying "is such a core exercise of commander in chief control over the Armed Forces during armed conflict that Congress cannot interfere with it at all."

Clearly, the Justice Department believes that to be the case. "The NSA activities lie at the very core of the commander in chief power," it states. This is especially true in wartime, it argues.

But get this: The Justice Department thinks the President may be able to spy on us without warrants even when there is no war!

"Even outside the context of wartime surveillance of the enemy, the source and scope of Congress's power to restrict the President's inherent authority to conduct foreign intelligence is unclear," it states. "The President's role as sole organ for the Nation in foreign affairs has long been recognized as carrying with it preeminent authority in the field of national security and foreign intelligence . . . . It is clear that some Presidential authorities in this context are beyond Congress's ability to regulate."

In any event, Bush argues that Congress already wrote him a blank check. As the President put it in a speech in January in Kansas, "Congress gave me the authority to use necessary force to protect the American people, but it didn't prescribe the tactics."

And he evidently believes there is nothing-neither the Constitution, nor statutes, nor Congress, nor the courts-that can now limit his choice of tactics.

With these two rationales, Bush could send F-16s to attack a residential area in, say, Indianapolis, if he thought there was someone with an Al Qaeda link there.

The Justice Department also willfully and repeatedly misreads the Supreme Court's 2004 decision in the Hamdi case. Writing for the majority, Sandra Day O'Connor asserted, "A state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens."

The Justice Department's document notes this comment but amazingly claims it doesn't apply. Gonzales's lawyers contend that the Hamdi decision affirms that the Congressional authorization of force "gave its express approval to the military conflict against Al Qaeda and its allies and thereby to the President's use of all traditional accepted incidents of force in this current military conflict-including warrantless electronic surveillance to intercept enemy communications both at home and abroad."

But the Court did not, even by inference, endorse such surveillance. Hamdi was captured on the battlefield while opposing the United States, and the Court stressed that in this "limited category," the detention of such a person "is so fundamental and accepted an incident to war as to be an exercise of the 'necessary and appropriate force' Congress has authorized the President to use."

It's quite a stretch from holding a battlefield combatant to eavesdropping without a warrant on U.S. citizens who may be linked to Al Qaeda or may be linked to someone else who may be linked to Al Qaeda.

The Court in Hamdi intentionally sidestepped questions about the reach of the President's commander in chief powers. But it did affirm the role of the judiciary, a role that Bush wants to cut out as far as NSA spying goes. "We necessarily reject the Government's assertion that separation of powers principles mandate a heavily circumscribed role for the courts," O'Connor wrote. And she explicitly warned about an executive branch approach that "serves only to condense power into a single branch of government." (The italics are hers.)

In his State of the Union speech, Bush regurgitated the two main chunks of the Justice Department's argument. But, as he likes to do, he framed it in a dishonest manner.

He said: "If there are people inside our country who are talking with Al Qaeda, we want to know about it because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again."

But no one is suggesting that the United States "sit back."
""The President cannot simply violate criminal laws behind closed doors because he deems them obsolete or impracticable."-Letter to Congress signed by 14 constitutional scholars
All critics want is for Bush to follow the law and go to the FISA court to get a warrant to wiretap that call. The FISA court has granted 99.97 percent of Bush's requests for such warrants. What's so hard about asking for a warrant? The fact that the Bush Administration chose to bypass the court suggests that it was engaging in a vast spying enterprise without probable cause.

Bush pretended in his State of the Union address, just as he has in his actions, that the FISA law doesn't even exist. He didn't mention it at all, even as he tried to defend the warrantless spying. He added that "appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed," but the Congressional Research Service studied this and concluded that Bush did not fully inform the intelligence committees and thus acted in a way "inconsistent with the law."

That is the trademark of this Administration: "inconsistent with the law." Or, more accurately, scornful of the law.

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The president's war madness

Derrick Z. Jackson, a syndicated columnist based in Boston: Washington Post Writers Group
Published April 3, 2006

President Bush said he invaded Iraq to rid the world of a madman. It is ever-more clear Bush went mad to start it.
This week, The New York Times reported on a confidential memo about a meeting between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Jan. 31, 2003. It was just before Secretary of State Colin Powell would go before the United Nations to convince the world of the planetary threat of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and ask for a second UN resolution to condemn him.

In his Feb. 5 presentation, Powell used excerpts of conversations and satellite photographs to paint a picture of an Iraq where Hussein was concealing weapons of mass destruction. Powell, whose credibility lay in his image as one of the few members of the Bush team to have actually fought in war, said, "We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails." He said Iraq's "sophisticated facilities" could produce enough biological agents in a single month "to kill thousands upon thousands of people."

Powell's punch line was, "Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions."

But Bush already had realized the sources were not panning out. According to a Times review of the entire Jan. 31 memo, written by Blair's foreign policy adviser, David Manning, it showed that "the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq."

With no weapons, Bush talked about provoking Hussein. "The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colors," the Times quotes the memo as saying. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

Bush had come up with an official start date of March 10 that, according to the memo, "was when the bombing would begin." The war actually began March 19. The memo summarized the president as assuming, "The air campaign would probably last four days, during which some 1,500 targets would be hit. Great care would be taken to avoid hitting innocent civilians."

Bush thought the air onslaught would ensure the early collapse of Hussein's regime. Bush thought the air strikes "would destroy Hussein's command and control quickly," Iraq's army would "fold very quickly," and Hussein's Republican Guard would be "decimated by the bombing." Bush also assumed in the rebuilding of Iraq that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups."

Even though his growing fears about finding no weapons of mass destruction had reached the incredible point of considering fakery to make it look like Hussein started the war, Bush had the gall to go before the press on Jan. 31 after his meeting with Blair and show no doubt. A reporter asked Bush, "Mr. President, is Secretary Powell going to provide the undeniable proof of Iraq's guilt that so many critics are calling for?"

Bush responded, "Well, all due in modesty, I thought I did a pretty good job myself of making it clear that he's not disarming and why he should disarm. Secretary Powell will make a strong case about the danger of an armed Saddam Hussein. He will make it clear that Saddam Hussein is fooling the world, or trying to fool the world. He will make it clear that Saddam is a menace to peace in his own neighborhood. He will also talk about Al Qaeda links, links that really do portend a danger for America and for Great Britain, anybody else who loves freedom."

Powell would deliver on Bush's boast five days later, saying: "There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more. ... With this track record, Iraqi denials of supporting terrorism take their place alongside the other Iraqi denials of weapons of mass destruction. It is all a web of lies."

The web spun by Bush has now cost the lives of 2,300 U.S. soldiers, another 200 British and coalition soldiers, and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Iraq is closer to civil war than stability. Three years later, it is the United States that is not disarming, with Bush admitting last week that our troops will be needed there past his presidency. We took out a madman with madness. At a minimum, there should be hearings, with Bush under oath. With any more details like this, the next step is impeachment.

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When War Crimes Are Impossible

By Norman Solomon, AlterNet. Posted April 4, 2006.

Is President Bush guilty of war crimes?

To even ask the question is to go far beyond the boundaries of mainstream U.S. media.

A few weeks ago, when a class of seniors at Parsippany High School in New Jersey prepared for a mock trial to assess whether Bush has committed war crimes, a media tempest ensued.

Typical was the response from MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, who found the very idea of such accusations against Bush to be unfathomable. The classroom exercise "implies people are accusing him of a crime against humanity," Carlson said. "It's ludicrous."

In Tennessee, the Chattanooga Times Free Press thundered in an editorial: "That some American 'educators' would have students 'try' our American president for 'war crimes' during time of war tells us that our problems are not only with terrorists abroad."

The standard way for media to refer to Bush and war crimes in the same breath is along the lines of this lead-in to a news report on CNN's "American Morning" in late March: "The Supreme Court's about to consider a landmark case and one that could have far-reaching implications. At issue is President Bush's powers to create war crimes tribunals for Guantanamo prisoners."

In medialand, when the subject is war crimes, the president of the United States points the finger at others. Any suggestion that Bush should face such a charge is assumed to be oxymoronic.

But a few journalists, outside the corporate media structures, are seriously probing Bush's culpability for war crimes. One of them is Robert Parry.

During the 1980s, Parry covered U.S. foreign policy for Associated Press and Newsweek; in the process he broke many stories related to the Iran-Contra scandal. Now he's the editor of the 10-year-old website Consortiumnews.com, an outlet he founded that has little use for the narrow journalistic path along Pennsylvania Avenue.

"In a world where might did not make right," Parry wrote in a recent piece, "George W. Bush, Tony Blair and their key enablers would be in shackles before a war crimes tribunal at the Hague, rather than sitting in the White House, 10 Downing Street or some other comfortable environs in Washington and London."

Over the top? I don't think so. In fact, Parry's evidence and analysis seem much more cogent -- and relevant to our true situation -- than the prodigious output of countless liberal-minded pundits who won't go beyond complaining about Bush's deceptions, miscalculations and tactical errors in connection with the Iraq war.

Is Congress ready to consider the possibility that the commander in chief has committed war crimes during the past few years? Of course not. But the role of journalists shouldn't be to snuggle within the mental confines of Capitol Hill. We need the news media to fearlessly address matters of truth, not cravenly adhere to limits of expediency.

When top officials in Lyndon Johnson's administration said that North Vietnam had launched two unprovoked attacks on U.S. vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin, the press corps took their word for it. When top officials in George W. Bush's administration said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the press corps took their word for it.

We haven't yet seen any noticeable part of the Washington press corps raise the matter of war crimes by the president. Very few dare to come near the terrain that Parry explored in his March 28 article "Time to Talk War Crimes."

That article cites key statements by the U.S. representative to the Nuremberg Tribunal immediately after the Second World War. "Our position," declared Robert Jackson, a U.S. Supreme Court justice, "is that whatever grievances a nation may have, however objectionable it finds the status quo, aggressive warfare is an illegal means for settling those grievances or for altering those conditions."

During a March 26 appearance on the NBC program "Meet the Press," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to justify the invasion of Iraq this way: "We faced the outcome of an ideology of hatred throughout the Middle East that had to be dealt with. Saddam Hussein was a part of that old Middle East. The new Iraq will be a part of the new Middle East, and we will all be safer."

But, in a new essay on April 3, Parry points out that "this doctrine -- that the Bush administration has the right to invade other nations for reasons as vague as social engineering -- represents a repudiation of the Nuremberg Principles and the United Nations Charter's ban on aggressive war, both formulated largely by American leaders six decades ago."

Parry flags the core of the administration's maneuver: "Gradually, Rice and other senior Bush aides shifted their rationale from Hussein's WMD to a strategic justification, that is, politically transforming the Middle East." He concludes that "implicit in the U.S. news media's non-coverage of Rice's new rationale for war is that there is nothing objectionable or alarming about the Bush administration turning its back on principles of civilized behavior promulgated by U.S. statesmen at the Nuremberg Tribunal six decades ago."

Although the evidence is ample that President Bush led the way to aggressive warfare against Iraq, the mainstream U.S. news media keep proceeding on the assumption that -- when the subject is war crimes -- he's well cast as an accuser but should never be viewed as an appropriate defendant.

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The Neocon Imaginary Middle East: Again

Saturday, April 01, 2006
Juan Cole

Speaking of political frauds, the Web site Newshog has nailed Kenneth R. Timmerman for falsely alleging that Iran has bought nuclear warheads from North Korea. In fact, Jane's Defense Weekly reported that Iran bought some ancient missile from Pyongyang, and there was never any question of a warhead. Timmerman is taken seriously by the White House, Congress, and the US press but in fact has no credibility as an Iran expert (at IC we like our Iran experts to know Persian, the way you'd expect an expert on France to know French; we're funny that way). Even the usually canny Jon Stewart gave Timmerman a respectful hearing.
French philosopher Michel Foucault defined "representation" as a process whereby a culture creates a stereotype of something and then substitutes the stereotype for the reality forever after. Once a "representation" is established, the reality can never challenge it, since any further information is filtered through the represenation. The "representation" of Iran as a nuclear power, when it just has a couple hundred centrifuges (you need thousands) and is not proven even to have a weapons program, is becoming powerful and unchallengeable in the US media.

What does the International Atomic Energy Agency say about it all? Mohammaed Elbaradei says that there is no imminent threat from Tehran, and that there is a lot of hype.

Elbaradei has seen it all before, having contested Bush's false allegations about the imaginary Iraqi nuclear weapons program of 2003.

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Science and Quirks

What's Behind the Solar System's Biggest Light Shows

By Ker Than
04 April 2006

New studies of auroras on Jupiter and Saturn are changing how scientists think the biggest light shows in the solar system are formed. Like auroras on Earth, the Sun plays an important role.
Auroras are eerie, undulating bands and sheets of light that, on Earth, are formed from interactions between charged particles streaming out from the Sun, called the solar wind, and atoms and molecules in the upper layers of the planet's atmosphere where the magnetosphere is weak.

In the Northern Hemisphere, these light displays are known as aurora borealises or northern lights; in the south, they're called aurora australises.

The magnetosphere is an invisible shield that protects Earth from the solar wind and other types of radiation that could otherwise fry satellites and sensitive electronics. The shield is made up of magnetic field lines that radiate out from the poles and is shaped like a donut, with Earth in the middle.

Auroras on Jupiter are up to a hundred times brighter than those on Earth, but until now, scientists had thought the solar wind had very little to do with these Jovian light shows. Instead, it was believed that they were created from material spewed by Jupiter's volcanic moon Io being churned about by the planet's rapidly spinning magnetosphere.

Another way to make auroras

Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system. The moon expels a stream of sulfur and sulfur dioxide into space at the rate of about one ton per second, forming a large gas cloud that trails behind the moon as it orbits Jupiter.

The inner portions of Jupiter's rotating magnetosphere contain a hot gas-like mixture of charged particles and electrons called plasma. When Io's ejected material interacts with this plasma, it gets ionized and becomes plasma itself.

"As soon as the material gets turned into plasma, it suddenly feels Jupiter's magnetic field which is spinning a lot faster," explained Jonathan Nichols at the University of Leicester.

This process is responsible for some of the luminous auroras seen on Jupiter, but not all. Nichols and colleagues recently compared ultraviolet images of Jupiter's auroras taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope with simultaneous measurements collected by Cassini of the solar wind during the spacecraft's flyby of the giant planet in December 2000 and January 2001.

They found a strong correlation between the strength of the solar wind and the behavior of auroras at Jupiter's poles. This suggests that Earth-like processes are responsible for some of the planet's auroras, Nichols said.

Nichols will present the team's findings at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting on April 4.

At the same meeting, Sarah Badman, also from the University of Leicester, will present results showing that the solar wind also plays a role in the light shows on Saturn. Using a similar combination of Hubble and Cassini information as Nichols' team, Badman found that Saturnian auroras are caused by the explosive release of solar wind energy collected over time and stored in the planet's magnetic field.

Solving an old mystery

The new results from Nichols' team could help explain why Jupiter is significantly warmer than it should be, a mystery that has puzzled scientists for decades.

"We know that the Earth is the temperature it is because of its distance from the Sun, and Mars is colder and Jupiter should be even colder," Nichols told SPACE.com. "But Jupiter is a bit warmer than predicted. It gives out more energy than it receives in terms of solar radiation."

Nichols thinks the energy imparted to the planet by the solar wind is partly responsible for this imbalance.

"That's an energy source which hasn't been taken into account by people when they're trying to calculate what Jupiter's temperature should be," he said.

The findings help explain one mystery, but they also raise another one. Jupiter's auroras appear as concentric ovals near the planet's poles. The researchers found that Jupiter's outer oval auroras - which shouldn't be affected by the solar wind - got brighter the stronger the solar wind blew, which is completely opposite from what is predicted by theory.

"The main aurora oval on Jupiter we think should dim when the solar wind blows harder, but what we see is that actually gets brighter, which is totally counter intuitive and we still don't know why," Nichols said.

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Europe Sets Next Phase In Asteroid Deflection Project

Apr 05, 2006

Paris - The European Space Agency (ESA) said it had shortlisted three European consortia to submit proposals for its Don Quijote project, which seeks to deflect any future asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
The teams are respectively led by Alcatel Alenia Space, Qinetiq of Britain and EADS Astrium, each of which has long experience in European space projects, ESA said in a press release on Monday.

ESA, helped by an independent panel of experts, will assess their submissions in October, and the outcome will be made public in 2007.

The Don Quijote mission will comprise two spacecraft.

One of them, called Hidalgo, will smash into the asteroid at relatively high speed, while a second one, Sancho, will arrive earlier at the same asteroid to measure the variation on the asteroid's orbital parameters after the impact.

The risk of an asteroid collision with Earth is extremely remote.

But if such an event were to occur, and the rock were big, the immediate devastation could be continent-wide and there could be lasting changes to the planet's weather system.

The long reign of the dinosaurs is believed to have come to an abrupt end 65 million years ago when an asteroid or comet smashed into modern-day Mexico.

The collision kicked up so much dust that heat and light from the Sun were diminished, destroying much of Earth's vegetation and the larger species of land animals that depended on it.

Deflection is considered a safer bet than blowing up a dangerous asteroid with nuclear bombs. An explosion would break the asteroid into chunks, with the risk these pieces could hit Earth in turn.

"The risk of an asteroid collision with Earth is extremely remote."
If the risk is so remote, why all the running around and preparing for asteroid deflecting missions? Why bother?

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Mystery boom rattles region

North County Times

NORTH COUNTY - A mysterious booming sound rocked the region Tuesday morning, causing a flurry of phone calls to authorities who couldn't explain the cause.

"It sounded like someone was dropping a 500-pound bomb," said Sgt. J.T. Faulkner at the Poway Sheriff's Station.

Officials said there was no definite evidence to link the blast about 8:55 a.m. to atmospheric conditions, earthquakes, sonic booms or explosions from artillery training at Camp Pendleton.

"We really don't have anything to confirm the cause," said Stephen Rea, emergency services coordinator for San Diego County's Office of Emergency Services. "There was no damage throughout the county."
The U.S. Geological Survey didn't register anything in the immediate area.

"We felt something shake our building," said Lt. Jim Bolwerk at the sheriff's communication center in Kearny Mesa, where dispatchers immediately fielded phone calls from concerned residents.

Cpl. K.T. Tran, spokesman for Camp Pendleton north of Oceanside, said he didn't feel any shaking in his building. The base started training at 6 a.m. with 81mm mortars that can sometimes be heard up to 50 miles away.

"I felt it at my home, University City," said forecaster Philip Gonsalves of the National Weather Service. "All that happened was that my windows rattled. There's a lot of speculation (about the cause), but that's all it is."

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Birdsong Sounds Sweeter Because Throats Filter Out Messy Overtones

Apr 05, 2006

Bloomington, IN - The purity of birdsong is owed in large part to rapid, controlled changes in the shape of the birds' upper vocal tracts, according to a new study of Northern Cardinals by scientists at Indiana University Bloomington, Purdue University and Australian National University. Their report will appear in next week's (April 4) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We show that songbirds adjust the size and shape of their vocal tract to 'fit' the changing frequency of their song," IU neurobiologist Roderick Suthers said. "This enables the bird to produce a more whistle-like, pure-tone song."
The finding supports a growing consensus that birds and humans make sound in much the same way -- although it is presumed these processes evolved independently of each other in birds and hominids.

In 2004, Suthers reported in the journal Current Biology that monk parakeets use their tongues to shape sound. Other studies have implicated beaks, especially beak gape, in shaping the sound that birds produce. Similarly, humans move their tongues, alter the shape of their upper vocal tracts, and change the shape of their mouths when they sing, laugh, talk and groan.

"The bird's vocal tract, like the human vocal tract in speech, acts as a resonance filter that can control the sound coming from the mouth," Suthers said. "Beak movements during song also contribute to this filter, but are not as important as changes in the size of the internal vocal tract. Human sopranos use the same technique as the cardinal to increase the loudness of very high notes so they can be heard above the orchestra."

That birds' throats vibrate when they sing will come as no surprise to birdwatchers. The effect of these oscillations on the birds' sound production, however, was unknown.

The acoustics of sound-making are complicated. Most tones produced in nature are accompanied by a complex series of higher-pitched, quieter tones called overtones. When the loudness of these overtones is high, the tone sounds more complex. Birds can control the loudness of overtones to increase the tonal purity of their song. Humans use a similar technique to produce different vowel sounds of speech by altering the shapes of their throats, the positions of their tongues and the wideness of their mouths. The PNAS study reveals yet another parallel between birdsong production and human speech.

"At low frequencies, the bird increases the volume of its oropharyngeal cavity and even expands the top of its esophagus," Suthers said. "These air-filled structures form a single cavity with a resonant frequency that matches the main frequency of the song. This amplifies the fundamental frequency and suppresses overtones."

Suthers, biologist Tobias Riede, who is now at the National Center for Voice and Speech (Colorado), Purdue University veterinary scientist William Blevins, and Australian National University acoustic physicist Neville Fletcher used X-ray cinematography to observe and measure the shape and total volume (three-dimensional space, not loudness) of a cardinal's throat as it spontaneously sang. Explanatory video can be downloaded here - small file size or full size.:

The scientists determined that note changes in birdsong are accompanied by controlled changes in the volume of the upper esophagus as well as the positions of the bird's larynx and hyoid skeleton (a U-shaped bone formation in the bird's throat). They also found that the volume of the upper esophagus goes up whenever the main tone produced by the bird goes down, and vice versa. These alterations of shape have the effect of increasing the main tone and suppressing the loudness of overtones.

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Children and men lead the way as Americans get fatter: survey

Last Updated Tue, 04 Apr 2006 16:25:23 EDT
CBC News

More Americans are overweight than ever before, and the proportion of fat men and children is growing, according to a national survey published this week.
The percentage of American men, teens and children who are overweight increased significantly between 1999 and 2004, the study found.

However, the percentage of women in the U.S. who are overweight remained steady over the same time period.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported the new findings in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The data, from the CDC's national health and nutrition examination survey, consists of height and weight measurements from nearly 4,000 children, aged two to 19, and about 4,400 adults aged 20 and older.

The study's lead author, epidemiologist Cynthia Ogden, said actual measurements are much better than telephone surveys for this kind of data, as men tend to overestimate their height while heavy people underestimate their weight.

The survey found that the percentage of men who are overweight rose to 71 per cent in 2003-04 from 67 per cent in 1999-2000. The proportion of men who are obese rose from 27.5 per cent to 31 per cent.

For women, the proportion of the population who are overweight and obese remained steady over the same time period, at 62 per cent and 33 per cent respectively.

Among adults, the CDC says a person is overweight if his body mass index (BMI) is 25 or higher, and obese if it is 30 or higher.

The percentage of boys aged two to 19 who were obese rose to more than 18 per cent from 14 per cent in 1999-2000. For girls, the percentage rose to 16 per cent from 14 per cent.

For children, obesity was defined as having a BMI higher than 95 per cent of children the same age and sex, based on benchmark data collected between 1963 and 1994.

A similar Canadian survey recently showed that the proportion of obese Canadians is also on the rise.

Dr. William Dietz, of the CDC's divison of nutrition and physical activity, said it is good news that the proportion of overweight women is levelling off, saying it shows that women are recognizing obesity as a health threat.

However, Kelly Brownell of the Center for Eating and Weight Disorders at Yale University said the bad news about obesity in children in the survey outweighs the good.

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Paperweight Severs Calif. Teacher's Hand

April 4, 2006

VENTURA, Calif. - A teacher who kept a 40 mm shell on his desk as a paperweight blew off part of his hand when he apparently used the object to try to squash a bug, authorities say.
The 5-inch-long shell exploded Monday while Robert Colla was teaching 20 to 25 students at an adult education class.

Part of Colla's right hand was severed and he suffered severe burns and minor shrapnel wounds to his forearms and torso, fire Capt. Tom Weinell said. No one else was injured. He was reported in stable condition at a hospital.

The teacher slammed the shell down in an attempt to kill something that was buzzing or crawling across the desk, said Fire Marshal Glen Albright.

Colla found the 40 mm round while hunting years ago and "obviously he didn't think the round was live," said Dennis Huston, who teaches computer design alongside Colla.

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Ark's Quantum Quirks

Signs of the Times
April 5, 2006


Newton's First Law

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Gangs clash with French riot police after jobs protests

April 4, 2006

PARIS - Gangs of youths clashed with riot police who responded with tear gas as violence erupted in Paris and other French cities after more than a million people protested against an unpopular youth jobs plan.

Police said they had arrested 312 people across the country after a series of skirmishes as the day's marches -- which had been peaceful -- wrapped up, with unions claiming up to three million on the streets.
In the south of the capital, dozens of trouble-makers hurled paving stones and bottles at riot police, who fired tear gas. At least nine police officers were slightly injured.

More serious incidents broke out in Lille, in the north, where hundreds of youths hurled missiles at the riot police, smashed shop windows and vandalised cars, although the situation was calmer by around 8:00 pm (1800 GMT).

A female television reporter was assaulted while filming the violence and a young man suffered burn injuries from the shell of a tear gas grenade.

Police in Rennes, in the northwest, also fired tear gas at protestors after they were targeted with bottles and stones as youths set garbage cans on fire and smashed bus shelters and windows.

Firefighters said they had evacuated at least three people, including one hit with a rubber bullet.

In the northern city of Caen, a photographer was injured in clashes between police and demonstrators who had set up a roadblock on the ring road.

Tuesday's marches, accompanied by strikes, came despite concessions wrung from President Jacques Chirac as well as the prospect of imminent talks to end the two-month crisis over the First Employment Contract (CPE).

The CGT union said three million people took part in nearly 200 rallies -- roughly the same number it claimed had turned out on the last day of action a week ago. The government figure was just over one million.

Tens of thousands of students and workers marched to the Place de l'Italie in the south of Paris.

"We have to keep up the fight. My parents did May 1968, so they're hardly going to stop me!" said 19-year-old student Elodie Desrues, referring to the landmark student revolts.

"It is obvious the government is on the retreat so we have to keep pushing to the end," said Francois Chereque of the CFDT union.

Union leaders vowed they would attend talks Wednesday with ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), but only to push for the CPE's complete abrogation.

"If there is a chance to convince UMP deputies that they are at a dead end, we shall go and once again ask for the withdrawal of the CPE. But we refuse to negotiate mere adjustments," the CGT's Thibault said.

As well as the escalating protests, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's botched attempt to reform labour laws has also caused anguished soul-searching about the survival of France's social model against globalisation.

Conceived as a tool against youth unemployment which runs at 22 percent in France, the CPE is a contract for under 26-year-olds that can be terminated by the employer without explanation during a two-year trial period.

Opponents accuse the premier of trampling on hard-won labour rights and of railroading it through parliament without proper consultation with unions and employers.

Chirac offered an elaborate compromise last Friday -- ratifying the CPE but immediately suspending it pending a new law to amend its most hotly contested provisions.

But leaders of the student-union alliance were confident that more can be won, and want all trace of the hated contract written out of the new law.

In a sign of a shifting balance of power in the government, responsibility for organising the new legislation was taken from Villepin and handed to his powerful rival, Interior Minister and UMP chief Nicolas Sarkozy.

An opinion poll to be published this week in L'Express magazine shows that 45 percent of the public think Villepin should resign.

Tuesday's protests were accompanied by strikes in the transport sector, but disruption was limited, with all Paris metro trains running and 70 percent of TGV fast trains. Scores of domestic and European flights were cancelled because of action by air-traffic controllers.

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France's political crisis grows as 3 million take to streets

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Wednesday April 5, 2006
The Guardian

Police fought running battles with rioters in central Paris last night as youths attacked officers with bangers, bottles and concrete at the end of a mass demonstration against a youth employment law that has caused a political crisis for Jacques Chirac's ruling party.

Trade unionists and student leaders said up to three million people took to the streets across France yesterday - the second time in eight days that the country has seen its biggest street demonstrations in almost 40 years. The protests, including one by hundreds of thousands of students and scholars who marched through central Paris, were mainly peaceful.

They were marked by a carnival atmosphere somewhere between a victory parade for the demonstrators and a funeral march for the "first employment law" as the ruling party prepared to begin negotiating its way out of the crisis.

Police fired teargas in Paris's Place d'Italie last night after groups of students and youths, some from the suburbs, attacked police lines. At Saint-Lazare station, riot police pulled over people disembarking from the suburbs, searching bags and checking identities. At the universities, students vowed to maintain the barricades over the Easter holidays, which begin this weekend.

Demonstrators marched in around 280 French towns and cities. In Rennes, where one university faculty has been blockaded for two months, students blocked railway tracks closing the station for almost an hour and police clashed with demonstrators who had gathered outside the ruling UMP party offices. About 60 students lobbed eggs and other objects at police in the northern city of Lille.

The "easy hire-easy fire" measure at the heart of the protests was pushed through parliament last month, in an attempt by the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, to address France's crippling youth unemployment of 23%. Paradoxically, the law made it easier for businesses to sack workers aged under 26 after two years without explanation. The government believed employers would be quicker to take young workers on if they were spared rigid employment rules that make it difficult to get rid of staff.

After two months of protests in which hundreds of schools and universities have been blockaded, closed or occupied and workers joined in a national strike, Mr Chirac signed the law on Sunday but asked for changes: the probation period for workers would be only one year and employers must give a reason for dismissal. He also ordered talks with unions.

Because the amended law will not come into operation until May, this allows a window in which trade unionists insist the law must be shelved and rewritten.

The measure has become a political battlefield for the potential candidates in next year's presidential election. Mr De Villepin, Mr Chirac's favoured successor, told the national assembly yesterday that he would not "throw in the towel". But a poll to be published in L'Express news weekly tomorrow shows his approval rating has slumped to 28%, one of the steepest monthly falls on record according to the polling company BVA. His approval rating was 48% in January

His rival, the interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, has emerged as a possible broker to end the conflict, charged with bringing unions to the negotiating table. His allies have briefed the press this week that the law is dead and buried, or at least suspended, damaging Mr De Villepin.

France's main unions agreed to talks last night but insisted that they wanted the law withdrawn.

"There is new blood in this movement," the CGT union chief, Bernard Thibault, said yesterday. "I hope these rallies will help us deal the fatal blow."

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Italy's contenders trade insults in TV debate

April 5, 2006

WITH only days to go before Italy's general election, the second televised debate between Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his challenger, Romano Prodi, came off as a serenade to the undecided electorate.
But the discussion was unquestionably discordant. The two politicians traded insults and statistics during the tense 90-minute debate, each blaming the other for Italy's current economic slump and warning that worse was to come should his opponent be elected.

Mr Berlusconi, Italy's longest-standing prime minister, is lagging in the polls and fighting for political survival. He came out swinging, raising the spectre that a centre-left government would work to redistribute wealth, hurting the middle class.

"It's because they hate private property," Mr Berlusconi said, "because they see savings as something that should be taxed." He also warned that the centre-left alliance, which includes communists, would reintroduce inheritance taxes.

Looking irritated, Mr Prodi - a former prime minister and until 2004 the president of the European Commission - said he was tired of having words and programs put in his mouth.

"This is the mystification of truth," he said, adding that he specified that inheritance taxes would be applied only to estates worth "many millions" of euros.

The debate touched on issues including family life, women's role in society and the war in Iraq - but the economy was the topic returned to repeatedly.

Mr Berlusconi checked off his Government's claimed successes: record employment, job flexibility, higher pension payments and lower income taxes.

Mr Prodi, who once taught economics, never lost his professorial cool, accusing the Prime Minister of leaning "on numbers like alcoholics lean on lamp-posts - not to be enlightened but for support".

The crux of Mr Berlusconi's message was that continuity is better than change. "We have the force of a dream, to change Italy," he said.

Mr Berlusconi, 69, a media tycoon who performs well on television when he is allowed to call the shots, is considered to have lost the first televised debate on March 14, frustrated by the strict format that limited answers to 2½ minutes.

He regularly exceeded his time limit again on Monday and sometimes testily interrupted Mr Prodi. But at the end of the 90-minute confrontation, many commentators said it was a draw.

Mr Berlusconi suffered another setback this week after his television group was ordered to pay a €250,000 ($A422,000) fine for repeatedly favouring its proprietor in the election campaign.

It was the fourth time this year that the Prime Minister's television empire, Mediaset, has been penalised for bias. The campaign alone has cost it €500,000. However, an opposition representative on the board of public broadcaster RAI compared the fines to "a packet of cigarettes" for Mr Berlusconi, who was last year ranked by Forbes magazine as the 25th richest person in the world.

Since the last TV match, Mr Berlusconi has regained political initiative by accusing his rival of planning tax hikes that would devastate Italy's middle class.

Mr Prodi, 66, denied such plans, but said that if he won the election his government would inherit a financial mess.

"Public spending is out of control ... this is a real crisis," said Mr Prodi, the only man to have beaten Mr Berlusconi in a general election when he triumphed in 1996.

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Berlusconi under fire over vulgar word

By Philip Pullella and Robin Pomeroy
Tue Apr 4, 2:49 PM ET

ROME - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's use of an obscenity, "coglioni," to denigrate his adversaries raised the heat of campaigning on Tuesday five days ahead of a general election.

Berlusconi, during an address to a shopkeepers' group, used a slang word for testicles to describe center-left voters but the term is commonly used as a crude insult to describe someone of little intelligence.
Common translations of "coglioni" in British and American dictionaries range from "idiot," "cretin," "fool" and "moron" to "prick" and "asshole."

"I have too much esteem for the intelligence of Italians to think that they could be such 'coglioni' to vote against their own interests," Berlusconi told the group. "Excuse my rough but efficient language."

The incident rocketed to the top of the national news and center-left politicians led by former European Commission President Romano Prodi criticized Berlusconi, who is behind in the latest opinion polls.

"With all the respect I have for (Berlusconi's) voters I would never use that anatomical term we heard today used about us," Prodi said.

"Berlusconi is no longer fit to lead our country."

Comment: Um, the psychopathic Berlusconi was NEVER fit to lead the country.


Berlusconi, who has repeatedly accused his opponents of showering him with insults during the election campaign, later defended himself, saying his comments were intended to be "ironic" and were being "manipulated." His spokesman said an opposition politician had used the same word recently.

The Democrats of the Left (DS), the largest party in the center left, said Berlusconi owed an apology to the more than 16 million Italians who did not vote for him in the 2001 elections.

"We are looking at a desperate man who understands that he is losing power," said DS president Massimo D'Alema.

The last surveys released before a polling ban came into force 10 days ago put Prodi's bloc between 3.5 and 5.0 percentage points ahead.

Even before the "coglioni" episode, the opposition was criticizing Berlusconi for an announcement he made on Monday night in which he vowed to eliminate property taxes.

Speaking during a nationally televised debate against Prodi, he promised that Italians will no longer have to pay a tax on their primary residences.

The tax on primary residences takes in 2.3 billion euros ($2.8 billion), which goes to towns to finance public services.

"He made the tax cut promise in such a demagogic way," said DS secretary Piero Fassino.

"But today, Berlusconi owes an explanation to 8,000 mayors who want to know where money will come from for public services -- day care, the elderly, road works -- everything now financed by the property tax," Fassino said.

Berlusconi, responding to the criticism, told reporters he did not know what all the fuss was about. "It would be 2.3-2.5 billion euros. That's small change. We can easily find other sources of revenue (to fill the gap)," he said.

Antonio Di Pietro, a former graft-busting magistrate who is a center-left politician, said Berlusconi was "desperately trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat."

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British Channel 4 paints President Chavez as a Dictator -- Hugo to go?

Published: Thursday, March 30, 2006
Bylined to: John Pilger

A special report by Jonathan Rugman on Venezuela's extraordinary President Chavez -- friend of the poor, enemy of the gringo. But is he coming off the rails? Broadcast 03/27/06 Channel 4 UK
On March 27, Channel 4 News broadcast a relatively long piece on Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela. On Channel 4's website you get a flavor: "He is in danger of joining a rogue's gallery of dictators and despots -- Washington's latest Latin nightmare."

This was a piece seemingly written by the US State Department, although Channel 4's Washington correspondent, Jonathan Rugman, appeared on screen. It was one of the worst, most distorted pieces of journalism I have ever seen, qualifying as crude propaganda.

I have been in Venezuela lately and almost nothing in Rugman's rant coincides with reality. Factories are like "Soviet collectives"; a dictatorship is on the rise; Chavez is like Hitler (Rumsfeld); and the media is under government attack. The inversion of the truth throughout this travesty is demonstrated in the "coverage" of a cowed media.

Venezuela is a country in which 95% of the press and TV and radio are owned by the far-right who mount unrelenting daily attacks on the government unhindered. The Latin American Murdoch, Cisneros, unfettered, controls much of it. Indeed, it is probably the most concentrated, reactionary media on earth ... but that was not worthy of a single word from Rugman.

The dishonesty of interviewing Maria Corina Machado and calling her a "human rights activist" was breathtaking. She is a leader of Sumate ('Join up'), an extreme right organization that was deeply involved in the 2002 coup.

She met Bush in the White House shortly before the coup ... there was no mention of this. Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, is dismissed as a Chavez protege," a puppet, a ludicrous description of a man who has been in politics longer than Chavez and has just won a landslide election. No mention of this.

Chavez himself is portrayed by Rugman as a comical dictator, with his folksy Latin way (one reason ordinary people love him) taken out of any context. In fact, this highly intelligent, accessible man has overseen victory in nine democratic elections in less than eight years -- a world record. In crude Soviet-flick style, he is shown with the likes of Saddam Hussein and Khadaffi when these brief encounters only had to do with OPEC and oil. (He met Saddam literally in a day-long stopover).

Chavez is said to have "torn up contracts" with foreign oil companies ... the contracts were barely legal, based on loopholes which Chavez's predecessor Rafael Caldera exploited to give away much of Venezuela's oil, in effect; billions of dollars went into the pockets of Venezuela's wealthy minority. No mention of this.

Utter BS about Venezuela helping Iran develop a nuclear capability is sourced to "press reports" (discredited in the United States) peddled by axe-grinding outsiders, in league with Washington, along with other half-baked hearsay.

There was little, apart from tokens, about the way the Chavez government has changed millions of people's lives for the better. Rugman whined that he was "held for 30 hours" by police in Caracas. Oh, how dramatic for him.

This is a country threatened day and night by the United States; there was nothing from our Channel 4 hero about "Operation Bilbao," to which serious US analysts like William Arkin have given credibility and which is about overthrowing the elected government of Venezuela.

In his brief captivity, Rugman would have learned that this is a country, although under constant military threat, and threats from within, has not a single political prisoner.

While Chavez was offered up as a clown, Condoleezza Rice was given true gravitas. I could go on ... but that's enough.

This was a disgrace from beginning to end ... worse, it joined the kind of hysteria in the US that is following the Bush administration's agenda of "positioning" Venezuela as a "rogue state" and a threat to US interests: in other words, softening it up for attack.

If and when it comes, the Rugmans will share some of the responsibility.

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Ulster thrown into crisis by murder of Sinn Féin spy

Owen Bowcott, Ireland correspondent
Wednesday April 5, 2006
The Guardian

Denis Donaldson, the senior Sinn Féin administrator who had admitted being a British agent for 20 years, was yesterday found shot dead inside the isolated cottage to which he had retreated in Co Donegal. Reports last night suggested his body had been mutilated and his right hand almost severed.
Suspicions that he had been murdered by dissident republicans cast a shadow over the government's hopes of reviving the stalled political process. Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister, are due to meet tomorrow in the hope of restoring devolved government to the province. Downing Street insisted Mr Blair's visit would go ahead. Mr Donaldson had been one of the key figures charged in connection with the so-called Stormont spy ring, an affair which brought down the last devolved assembly in 2002.

The case against him and two others eventually collapsed when it emerged last December that he had been spying for British intelligence since the 1980s.

Irish police found his body after a tip-off from a local resident. Shotgun cartridges were found at the scene and Ireland's justice minister, Michael McDowell, said: "He was shot in the head and there was mutilation done to his body. We can conclude it was a murder. The Gardai are searching the area and have sealed off roads."

The killing immediately prompted an official statement from the IRA denying responsibility for the murder. In a brief statement, the IRA insisted that it had "no involvement whatsoever" in the killing. It was signed, as with all statements, from the leadership, P O'Neill.

While suspicion will inevitably fall on former republican colleagues, Mr Donaldson had so many potential enemies it may never be known who carried out his murder. Acting at the heart of the republican movement and working for more than 20 years for British intelligence, he carried a heavy burden of secrets from both. The shock of his recruitment when he revealed it last year stunned his former colleagues. He had spent time in jail for the republican cause, some of that with Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, and the pair had a close working relationship.

His death was condemned last night, with Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland secretary, saying he was "completely appalled by this barbaric act".

Mr Ahern added: "We hope that whoever was responsible for this callous act will be brought to justice as soon as possible."

Mr Adams said he condemned anyone who had killed Mr Donaldson. Martin McGuinness, Sinn Féin's chief negotiator, said last night: "I'm very angry. I see this not just as an attack on Denis Donaldson, but on the peace process. I condemn the murder and I want to give my sympathy to the Donaldson family who are not involved in this. We disassociate ourselves from this brutal murder."

The Democratic Unionist leader, Ian Paisley, told Channel 4 News: "We don't know who has done this but the finger must be pointed towards those who were angry at what this man had done."

The Ulster Unionist leader, Sir Reg Empey, said the authorities might never uncover the perpetrators. "There was an inevitability about this. A lot of people in the republican movement and other organisations will sleep better knowing he is out of the way. Some people will see it as tidying up loose ends."

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Odds n Ends

Explosion in Indonesian police compound kills two

April 5, 2006

MEDAN, Indonesia - An explosion rocked a police compound in the western Indonesian city of Medan on Wednesday, killing two policemen and injuring several others, police and media reports said.

The cause of the blast was not immediately known and police have sealed off the area.
Jakarta-based Radio Elshinta reported at least 10 policemen were sent to nearby hospitals, and a police spokesman said two of them later died.

A large crowd gathered outside the compound, which houses an elite Mobile Brigade.

Indonesia has been on heightened alert since the United States and Australia warned last week of possible attacks on Westerners in the country.

Militants linked to al Qaeda have carried out several major bomb attacks on Western targets in Indonesia in the past few years.

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Five militants, 3 troops killed in Pakistan

April 5, 2006

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan - Five pro-Taliban militants and three paramilitary troops were killed in a fierce clash in a mountain valley in Pakistan's restive tribal region, officials said on Wednesday.

Military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan said the firefight erupted in the Shawal area of the North Waziristan tribal region after militants attacked a paramilitary post late on Tuesday night.

Tensions have been running high in North Waziristan since clashes last month in which around 200 tribesmen were killed. The tribesmen were answering a call to arms by militant Muslim clerics following a special forces attack on an al Qaeda camp.
"So far, five deaths are confirmed from the miscreants' side. It may be higher than this," Sultan told Reuters of Tuesday's violence. He said 15 militants also surrendered.

Sultan said fierce fighting was going on to drive out militants holed up in fortress-like compounds.

"Helicopter gunships have been flying in and out of Miranshah toward Shawal since morning," a resident of Miranshah said.

Shawal, an upland valley with forests and meadows, is about 50 km (30 miles) west of Miranshah. Officials say the area is used as a safe haven by militants who escaped military operations in neighboring South Waziristan region in 2004. Hundreds of security forces and militants were killed in those battles.

Intelligence officials said three troopers were injured in a separate attack in the nearby Datta Kheil area.

On Monday, five people were killed in a land mine explosion and two militants died in a clash with security forces in the area.

President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, last month warned foreign militants hiding in the tribal region to leave Pakistan or face annihilation.

A large number of al Qaeda remnants and Taliban fled to Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt after U.S.-led forces toppled the radical Taliban regime in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York.

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Nepal's king cracks down ahead of strike, protests

By Gopal Sharma
April 5, 2006

KATHMANDU - Nepal's royalist government detained dozens of activists and politicians in Kathmandu on Wednesday in a crackdown ahead of a general strike and protests planned against King Gyanendra's seizure of power last year.

Nepal's seven main political parties have joined with Maoist insurgents to call for a four-day nationwide strike from Thursday and a day of protest on Saturday, April 8, the day multi-party democracy was established 16 years ago in the Himalayan nation.
The government of King Gyanendra has banned rallies in Kathmandu, the center of the campaign, and vowed to crush any protests, saying that it had evidence Maoist rebels would use the occasion to infiltrate the capital.

Witnesses said about two dozen lawyers, journalists and doctors were detained when they defied the ban and staged a small protest on Wednesday morning.

Police also raided the homes of several political leaders and activists in a pre-dawn crackdown and detained many of them, party officials said.

"I have been handed over a detention order saying I am being detained for 90 days under the Public Security Act," Minendra Rijal, a senior member of the Nepali Congress (Democratic) party, told Reuters by telephone as he was pulled from bed and taken away by police.

Although anti-monarchy protests have become a regular feature in the country since the king's coup in February 2005, the latest rallies are expected to be the biggest so far.

The campaign has also gained weight as it comes after the political parties and Maoist rebels ironed out their differences and reaffirmed their commitment to a loose alliance struck last November that seeks to end the king's absolute rule.

On Monday the Maoists, who have fighting since 1996 to establish a communist republic, responded to an appeal by political parties by ordering a unilateral cease-fire in Kathmandu Valley. They have urged people to support the protests but said they would not attend themselves.

Political parties have vowed to defy the ban, and have urged schools, businesses and factories to close, and public transport and private cars to stay off the streets.

"The end of autocracy and the establishment of full-fledged democracy are our goals," said Girija Prasad Koirala, president of the biggest political party, Nepali Congress.

"We want peace and prosperity in Nepal. Our protest movement will not end until we achieve them."

Many trade union and professional groups said they would join the strike, while schools and businesses are likely to close, either in support of the strike or for fear of attacks by activists.


Last November's unprecedented alliance between Maoist rebels and the country's seven main political parties has left King Gyanendra looking even more isolated, analysts say.

Under the deal, struck after months of secret negotiations, the Maoists have promised to eventually rejoin the political mainstream.

Parties and rebels promised to work together to end what they call "the autocratic monarchy," without explaining how they would do so. But the two sides continue to have divergent visions on the political system they would like to see replace royal rule.

The rebels have a strong presence in the countryside where they run their own administrations. They enjoy some support among the rural poor, but also enforce their rule through fear and intimidation.

The revolt, which has claimed 13,000 lives since 1996, has scared away tourists as well as investors from the cash-strapped nation and undermined its aid dependent economy.

The Manila-based Asian Development Bank, a key aid donor, says economic growth slowed to 2.0 percent in the year ending July 2005, from 3.5 in the previous year and 4.8 in 2001.

King Gyanendra says he took over only after the parties failed to quell the revolt, and has refused to budge.

In February, he held municipal elections which were boycotted by the parties and opposed by the Maoists, and turnout was low. He has also laid out "a roadmap for democracy" under which national elections are expected to be held by April 2007.

But a recent opinion poll conducted by Himal, a popular magazine, showed 65 percent of those surveyed did not approve of the king's direct rule. Many Nepalis are tired of the stalemate and want the king, the political parties and the Maoists to end their fighting and join together for peace.

"I don't think it can be resolved otherwise. The crisis is spreading like cancer," said 33-year-old taxi driver, Manjil Maharjan. "I want nothing else but peace so that I can work and make a living without any trouble."

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Parties go into strategy huddle after Thai PM's resignation

April 5, 2006

BANGKOK - Thailand faced weeks of political uncertainty after the prime minister's sudden resignation, with leading parties huddled in talks to try and chart a way forward after months of turmoil.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stunned both his rivals and his own party late Tuesday when he said he would not seek the premiership after a new parliament convenes.

The surprise resignation followed weekend polls boycotted by the opposition that would have likely seen Thaksin returned to office, but with significantly less support than when voters gave him a landslide victory a year ago.
While the move was applauded by Thaksin's critics who have tried to oust him since February, his imminent departure leaves political players scrambling for a strategy.

"We are meeting in order to map out the party's standpoint because of the current political situation," said opposition Democrat party spokesman Ong-art Klampaiboon ahead of talks later Wednesday.

It is still unclear when Thaksin will actually leave the post he has held since 2001. Parliament cannot convene until by-elections for 39 districts are held on April 23 and all 500 seats are filled.

Until then Thaksin will remain as caretaker and a new prime minister cannot be confirmed, promising weeks of political limbo.

"The next big step is how (to resolve) what happened with the results of the current election," said John Brandon, director of international relations at the Asia Foundation.

Democrat party secretary Sutsep Thuagsuban praised Thaksin for stepping down and said the opposition would likely cooperate with the premier's Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party to find a way out of the political crisis.

The Democrats will "assess the political situation to decide what the party can do in order to create a conciliatory climate," said party secretary Suthep Thuagsuban Wednesday.

Thaksin had come under increasing pressure to quit since January, when public anger erupted over his family's 1.9-billion-dollar tax-free sale of its stock in Shin Corp., the telecom giant Thaksin founded before entering office.

His critics staged weeks of street protests demanding he resign for alleged corruption and abuse of power, while his political rivals -- led by the Democrats -- boycotted the elections that were seen as a referendum on the premier's leadership.

Thaksin's decision to resign is expected to usher in a months-long process of constitutional reform, with an interim government running the country until new elections can be organized.

Although he did not mention any plans for the future in his address Tuesday night, both Thaksin and the political opposition have spoken of creating a special assembly that would amend the constitution -- essentially to weaken the powers of the prime minister.

Once the new parliament convenes, Thaksin has said the reform process could take up to 15 months before new elections, which the opposition will contest.

Even a lengthy period of political reforms under a caretaker government was preferable to the standoff that had gripped Thailand for two months, said Kiatphong Noijaiboon, a vice chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries.

"After the parliament convenes, political reforms can move forward," Kiatphong said.

"It will be much easier for the opposition parties to run in the new election to make sure Thai democracy works properly."

The former telecoms tycoon said in his 10-minute televised live statement late Tuesday that he would step down out of respect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Thaksin mentioned the king several times in his remarks, suggesting a possible royal intervention to halt the spiralling political crisis as the monarch prepares to celebrate his 60th year on the throne.

The premier Wednesday bid farewell to thousands of supporters at his party headquarters, thanking them for their support and promising not to disappear from politics.

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Four Children Die in Ohio Apartment Fire

Associated Press
April 4, 2006

CLEVELAND - Four young brothers and sisters died in an apartment fire early Tuesday while their mother and her boyfriend waited for firefighters to bring a truck with a ladder long enough to reach the children.

The victims - a 7-year-old girl, twin 5-year-old boys and a 3-year-old girl - were found dead in the third-floor bedroom where they were trapped, fire department spokesman Larry Gray said.
Firefighters were responding to a car fire down the street before dawn when they saw smoke coming out of the three-story brick building, Assistant Fire Chief Mike Darnell said. A second fire truck had to be called to reach the top floor because the truck responding to the car fire did not have a long enough ladder.

Carl Bell, the boyfriend of the victims' mother, said the children were crying for him to help them. He said he tried to rescue them but was driven back by intense heat.

Eight people were in the building at the time of the fire. Three adults, including the children's mother, and an infant were taken to a hospital, Gray said. He did not know their conditions.

The cause of the fire was not immediately clear, but arson investigators could be seen through the broken windows. Gray said the fire appeared to have started on the second floor, where there were apartments.

Patricia Evans, the children's grandmother, could barely speak as she sobbed outside the hospital where their bodies were taken.

"It hurts so bad. I'm empty," she told television station WKYC. "We have no money to bury them. I want the city of Cleveland to pray for me and my family."

Autopsy results were expected Wednesday.

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Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Iraq much worse off than before we "liberated" it

April 4, 2006

In 1980, Ronald Reagan's chances to unseat Jimmy Carter improved dramatically when he asked one simple question of Americans during a debate: "Are you better off now then you were four years ago?"

With inflation running rampant, Americans held hostage in Iran and mortgage rates at 18 percent, the answer from the masses came back a resounding: "No!."

Today, if you asked the average Iraqi the same question you would get the same answer.

Four years ago, Iraqis enjoyed electricity in most of their homes, walked the streets of Baghdad without fear and, as long as they stayed out of the crosshairs of Saddam Hussein's campaign of terror, led relatively normal lives. More Americans, per capita, died from crime on our streets than from crime in Iraq.

Not so today.
Fewer homes in Iraq have electrical power now than before the U.S. invasion in 2003. Iraqi civilians die on city streets daily, victims of a growing war between the occupying forces of the United States and the insurgents who are much better at waging war than American soldiers.

Instead of liberating Iraq we have driven it deeper into poverty, despair and danger. Instead of bringing freedom to the nation we have brought anarchy, death and disruption. Polls of Iraqi citizens show they are angry at the United States for what they see as the destruction of their nation.

I talked recently with a National Guardsman home on leave. He says Americans are hated, despised and feared by those they were supposed to have liberated.

"We worked with an interpreter, an Iraqi who faces retaliation from the insurgents for helping the military, and he told the recently that Iraq would be better off today is we had never invaded their country and had left Saddam Hussein in power," said the guardsman, who asked that his name not be used because he fear retaliation by his commanding officers if he speaks out. "If what he says is true, then why are we there? Why have friends of mine died?"

Why indeed? With a majority of Americans now believing President George W. Bush lied to justify his invasion of Iraq and an even larger majority saying the invasion was a mistake, the question should be: How many more must die, Iraqi and American, before this country admits it was wrong.

Saddam Hussein was a dictator and despot. There's no doubt about that. He killed thousands upon thousands of his own people in periodic purges.

But Americans have proven themselves capable of atrocities. On March 15, near Balad, Iraqi police reported:

"American forces used helicopters to drop troops on the house of Faiz Harat Khalaf situated in the Abu Sifa village of the Ishaqi district. The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 people, including five children, four women and two men, then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals."

The report continued: "autopsies revealed that all the victims had bullet shots in the head and all bodies were handcuffed."

In Haditha late last year, on November 15, Marines carried out revenge after an insurgent bomb attack on a U.S. force. A nine-year-old survivor of that massacre told Time magazine: "First, they went into my father's room, where he was reading the Koran, and we heard shots. I couldn't see their faces very well, only their guns sticking into the doorway. I watched them shoot my grandfather first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny." The Marines killed 15 Iraqis, including women and children. The Pentagon said they were insurgents but no connection with the insurgency was ever established.

Because of incidents like this, many Iraqis feel America, as an occupying force, is no better than Saddam or other butchers in history. Illinois Congressman Richard Durbin recently compared American fighters to "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime--Pol Pot or others--that had no concern for human beings." Durbin later apologized for the remarks but it is easy to understand his frustration at our behavior in Iraq.

In March, Iraqi civilians died at the rate of 75 day. While most of these deaths came at the hands of insurgents, it is clear that too many Iraqis also die from American atrocities. In war, where victory is measured by perception and attrition, America may have already lost.

"I think the calculation on the part of the insurgency now is that if this gets into a war of attrition and significant civil conflict, they've defeated the U.S. anyhow," said Anthony Cordesman, an expert on the Iraq conflict at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The world has always had its dictators and many still exist today in places like North Korea and China. Even our so-called "allies" in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia or Dubai, are nowhere near the kind of Western-style democracies the U.S. is trying to ram down Iraq's throats.

Iraq posed no immediate threat to the U.S. We know that now. I suspect our elected leaders knew it before the invasion but chose to withhold that information from the American people, Congress and our allies. Such conduct is considered criminal in most civilized societies but America ceased to be a civilized place a long time ago. A civilized society does not torture civilians or massacre women and children.

America is a bully, an international thug that uses fear, lies and deceit to advance the personal agendas of its leaders. Bullies do not deserve respect. Bullies do not deserve the benefit of the doubt. Bullies are beneath contempt.

Unfortunately, as long as Americans tolerate the despotic rule of George W. Bush, we share responsibility for the shame our leadership has brought upon a once-great nation called the United States of America.

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Iraq shelves political talks despite US pressure

Tue Apr 4, 2:54 PM ET

BAGHDAD - Iraqi leaders shelved talks on forming a government despite a warning from the United States and Britain against any further delay, as at least 23 were killed in violence across the country.
In another key development, Saddam Hussein was charged for genocide for the first time over his Anfal military campaign against Kurds from 1987-1988 that left around 180,000 people dead.

Talks on forming a national unity government were shelved despite stern warnings from US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and her British counterpart Jack Straw who left Iraq Monday after an unprecedented two-day visit.

The formation of the first permanent post-Saddam government has been delayed due to bitter wrangling over key ministerial posts and the premiership, with non-Shiite factions opposing the candidacy of incumbent prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari.

The political vacuum saw Rice and Straw earlier this week voice their frustration at the lack of political progress, although the two refrained from any direct reference as to who should lead the cabinet.

Splits have appeared in the dominant conservative Shiite grouping, the United Iraqi Alliance, over the key sticking point of whether Jaafari should lead the new government.

"The ball is in the court of the alliance who have to take a final decision on Jaafari," a lawmaker from one of the key partners in the alliance, Mohammed Ismail Khazali of the Fadhila party, told AFP.

"I call upon a parliament session to decide on this issue as the alliance has been unable to decide till now."

Though the reason for Tuesday's shelving of talks were not announced, sources closes to negotiations said the Shiite alliance was holding intense internal talks to decide on the issue of Jaafari.

It was also not clear whether the talks will commence again Wednesday.

Kurdish, secular and Sunni politicians from other blocs involved in government negotiations have indicated their dissatisfaction with Jaafari, blaming him for not being able to stem the violence or rein in sectarian tendencies of several ministers.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, has supported the anti-Jaafari campaign.

"Our attitude towards Jaafari does not reflect that we are against his Dawa party of the Shiite alliance," Talabani told reporters Tuesday.

Expressing optimism over the talks to form the national unity government, he said "all political blocs were keen for an early resolution and ready to make compromises."

He said the political deliberations will not take more than two weeks.

For the United States, a national unity government is essential to their plans for an eventual withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi High Tribunal said that Saddam and six others would be tried on genocide charges over the Anfal campaign against Kurds that left an estimated 180,000 people dead.

Saddam's six co-defendants include Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali and notorious for ordering the gassing of Halabja in 1988 which killed 5,000 people, chief investigating judge Raed al-Juhi told reporters.

"The investigation has been completed for the Anfal campaign and the seven accused have been referred to the court for genocide," he said.

The announcement came as the trial of Saddam and seven others for the massacre of 141 Shiite villagers from Dujail resumes Wednesday.

Aside from Saddam and Majid, others in the dock will include former minister of defense Sultan Hashem Ahmed and high ranking Baathists Saber Abdel Aziz, Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, Taher Mohammed al-Ani and Farhan al-Juburi.

Meanwhile, the violence on the ground escalated with dozens of US and Iraqi casualties.

At least 23 people died Tuesday in violence around the country, including a car bomb that struck eastern Baghdad.

Ten people were killed and around 25 wounded in the explosion of a car bomb parked in the al-Habibiyah neighborhood, a security source said.

Police found 18 bodies around Baghdad, many of them tortured and riddled with bullets. Dozens of bodies have been dumped in the capital in wake of the outbreak of sectarian strife since the February 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

The US military has also experienced one of its deadliest periods over the past few days, with at least 15 servicemen reported to have lost their lives in rebel violence and a flash flood.

Late Tuesday the military said it found one of the bodies of marines missing after a deadly road accident caused by the flash flood in Iraq's western Al-Anbar province Sunday. It had earlier declared five marines dead in the accident.

The bodies of a marine and a sailor remain missing from the accident near Haditha when a truck in a convoy rolled over.

About 2,340 US servicemen have died since the March 2003 invasion in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi cabinet said three insurgents were killed, including one known as the "Prince of Princes", in an operation in Tarmiya, just north Baghdad. The release gave no further detail about the "prince".

A court in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region sentenced to death 12 members of militant group Ansar al-Islam for numerous killings and explosions, an Arbil judiciary official said.

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Wisc. Communities Vote on Iraq Withdrawal

Associated Press
Tue Apr 4, 11:49 PM ET

MILWAUKEE - Eighteen Wisconsin communities approved referendums Tuesday calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, while six others voted against such measures in early returns from 32 communities weighing in on the war.

People in communities large and small gathered signatures on petitions that put the referendums on the spring election ballot, urging President Bush to bring home the troops. Though the referendums carry no weight - municipal governments can't dictate the federal government's actions - organizers hoped to send a message.
Terri Librizzi, 78, of the Milwaukee suburbs of Shorewood, was among the 70 percent of voters in the village to approve the measure. "Maybe if George Bush's daughters would have to go into the service, the war would end tomorrow," Librizzi said.

But Sister Bay resident Peter Trenchard said he wasn't surprised voters in his village voted down the measure. He said many people there did not approve of the war in the first place, but they don't see pulling troops out as a solution.

"Logic tells you you can't pull out of there. It would be a mess," said Trenchard, 67.

Most of the referendums asked whether the voters supported withdrawing the troops immediately, and Evansville also had one urging support of President Bush.

In the Columbia County town of Newport, voters rejected a referendum asking whether the United States should hand operational command of Iraq's national security over to the Iraqi government before the end of 2006.

Bush has refused to set a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Fifty-one soldiers from Wisconsin have died in Iraq since the invasion three years ago.

Geralyn Lu, 50, of Madison, voted to withdraw the troops in that city's referendum. "So many lives lost in a futile war. I didn't want them there in the first place," she said.

But Katy Hampton, 53, of Monona, said if the soldiers leave Iraq, the country will descend into chaos. That's why she voted against bringing the soldiers back, she said.

"There's still not a firm government in place," Hampton said. "I don't want it to be a mess. They should follow it through."

"Logic tells you you can't pull out of there. It would be a mess," said Trenchard, 67.
Logic also tells us that, based on the available evidence, Bush lied about the reasons for invading Iraq. Logic also tells us that Bush, who claims the terrorists "hate our freedoms", has done more than any president in history to destroy those liberties - and is therefore unfit to lead the nation. Finally, logic tells us that using "logic" as an excuse to not do anything in the face of such blatant crimes is entirely against the values for which America supposedly stands.

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Rice Dismisses Talk of U.S. Bases in Iraq

By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press WriterTue Apr 4, 7:15 PM ET

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday brushed aside suggestions that the United States wants an indefinite troop presence and permanent military bases in Iraq.

"The presence in Iraq is for a very clear purpose, and that's to enable Iraqis to be able to govern themselves and to create security forces that can help them do that," Rice told the House Appropriations Committee's foreign operations panel.

"I don't think that anybody believes that we really want to be there longer than we have to," the chief U.S. diplomat added.
However, Rice did not say when all U.S. forces would return home and did not directly answer Rep. Steven Rothman, D-N.J., when he asked, "Will the bases be permanent or not?"

"I would think that people would tell you, we're not seeking permanent bases really pretty much anywhere in the world these days. We are, in fact, in the process of removing base structure from a lot of places," Rice replied.

"I can't foresee the future of whether or not there will be some need for American forces for some period of time," she added. "But I can tell you that our discussions with the Iraqis are about getting them capable to defend, not just against their internal insurgency and internal enemies, but also to be able to be a responsible and defensible state within the region."

Earlier Tuesday, President Bush urged Iraq to move quickly to form a unity government, calling on elected leaders "to stand up and do their job." He said the formation of a new government would give Iraqis confidence in their future.

Bush's statement, during a brief question-and-answer session with reporters at the White House, came on the heels of a similar admonition by Rice during a visit to Iraq. She had spoken of a "sense of drift" nearly four months after Iraqis held parliamentary elections.

Bush said insurgents were using violence to prevent democracy from taking hold. "One way to help bring confidence to the Iraqi people that those few will not be able to determine the future of that country is for there to be unity government that steps up and says, 'I'm willing to lead.'"

On Captiol Hill, Rice testified before the House panel just hours after returning to the United States from a weeklong trip to Europe that included a surprise detour to Iraq. She and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw met with nearly all of Iraq's squabbling factions for two days of diplomatic talks.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers increasingly are questioning just how long U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, especially given what appear to be construction projects at military bases Iraq and polls that show Iraqis believe the United States plans to keep permanent bases in their country.

Iraq's interim prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, has said he opposes permanent foreign bases. American public opinion is against them as well.

Last month, Bush said that American forces will remain in Iraq for years and it will be up to a future president to decide when to bring them all home.

Appearing before the House subcommittee, Rice defended U.S. efforts to rebuild Iraq's essential services, such as electricity, even though progress has been hampered by security problems. She said the United States has made important investments in rebuilding the structures to provide such services.

"We believe that they will pay off," she said.

However, Rice acknowledged problems with security as well as "some corruption problems in some of the ministries." She said the United States is urging Iraqi officials to correct the issues so that reconstruction can proceed unhampered.

Rice also:

_Defended the United States' efforts to help Afghanistan eradicate poppy crops and the Bush administration's public plan to invest $75 million into U.S. democracy programs aimed at strengthening ties with the Iranian people.

"On this one I don't think speaking softly about the democracy problem in Iran is really the appropriate course. I think we do have to be very public about it," Rice said.

_Said it would be helpful for the African Union to "put its full weight" behind putting together a U.N. peacekeeping force in the war-ravaged Darfur region.

"There are sometimes mixed signals from the African Union about how they view this. There are sometimes mixed signals out of the Arab League about how they view this," Rice said.

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Middle East

Israel fires missiles into Palestinian presidential compound

Last Updated Tue, 04 Apr 2006 10:52:28 EDT
CBC News

Israeli aircraft fired three missiles Tuesday into the Gaza Strip compound of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, injuring two people.

Abbas was not in the compound during the attack, which left deep craters in the ground.
The Israeli army said it fired on a site used by militants to launch rockets into Israel earlier Tuesday. There were no reports of injuries in that attack.

Militants regularly fire missiles into Israel from Gaza, which Israel withdrew from last year after 38 years of occupation. While the homemade explosives rarely cause casualties, Israel has stepped up counterattacks in recent weeks.

Media reports said it was unclear why the president's compound was targeted. Abbas has criticized rocket attacks against Israel and has urged the Palestinian Authority's newly elected government to try to make peace with its neighbour.

The missiles landed at a mostly deserted base of the presidential guard, located about 100 metres from Abbas's office. The base had been used by Palestinian security forces to store equipment, but had been abandoned after previous Israeli strikes.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh urged the United States and other Western countries to intervene.

"This escalation will lead the area to more violence and instability," he told the Associated Press.

The Palestinian Interior Ministry, which oversees some of the territory's security forces, condemned the Israeli "aggression" and threatened retaliation.

"For every action, there's a reaction," ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal told AP. "The occupation must understand that our people have the ability to be steadfast in confronting acts of occupation."

Palestinian security sources said the air strike was the first targeting one of its security compound in two years.

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Germany urges direct US-Iran talks on nuclear dispute

April 5, 2006

WASHINGTON - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged the US government to address Iran's disputed nuclear program in mooted bilateral talks with Tehran on Iraq.

Steinmeier said ahead of a meeting with US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice that direct negotiations between Washington and Tehran held the potential to break a deadlock over the protracted nuclear crisis.

However, the chief German diplomat told reporters after his meeting with Rice that "there were no signals in that direction", suggesting Washington would not comply with Berlin's urgings.
Steinmeier met with Rice for about two hours of talks, during which the two top diplomats debated the Iran issue. Rice also briefed Steinmeier on her weekend trip to Iraq with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Steinmeier earlier Tuesday had pressed the Iran issue with White House national security advisor Stephen Hadley after he arrived in Washington Monday for a two-day visit.

"Based on reports that there are apparently talks taking place arranged by the American ambassador in Baghdad with the Iranian leadership about the situation in Iraq, I advised that the topics should not be limited just to Iraq but expanded to include one of the most urgent problems confronting us all: the suspicion that Iran, the Iranian leadership, is pursuing secret atomic weapons programs," he told reporters.

Steinmeier said a debate had begun in the United States about direct US-Iranian negotiations on the nuclear issue, which he and his British counterpart Jack Straw backed, but noted the US government appeared reluctant.

"We are oversimplifying the situation if we say that there is European pressure on the United States, on the American administration -- this is above all an internal American discussion," he said.

"But at the moment, I cannot see any signs that they are prepared to take part in such discussions."

Until now, the United States has limited its diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear program to two forums: the UN Security Council and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran's charge d'affaires in Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Gomi, said Tuesday that talks between Iran and the United States on the situation in Iraq would take place in Baghdad with Iraqi participation. No date was set.

Any direct meeting would mark a break in a near three-decade pause in direct contacts between US and Iranian officials following the country's 1979 Islamic revolution and the subsequent US hostage drama.

Rice was in Berlin last Thursday for a meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany on the Iranian nuclear program.

Ministers of the six countries discussed the road ahead one day after the council adopted a non-binding statement urging Iran to halt within 30 days all uranium enrichment activities, which Western leaders fear are part of an effort to build an atomic bomb.

Steinmeier said that recent Iranian tests of a new land-to-sea missile in the Gulf were damaging to the negotiations, particularly in light of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's open calls for "Israel to be wiped off the map".

Apart from Iran, Steinmeier brought up with Washington the case of a German-Turkish citizen, Murat Kurnaz, held at the US prison camp in Guantanamo since 2002, and developments in the Middle East and Afghanistan, where Berlin has a major peacekeeping contingent.

Steinmeier said there were "no further decisions" on Kurnaz after his talks with Rice, but said he would stay in close contact with Washington over the case.

They also addressed last month's landmark US-Indian nuclear deal in which the United States agreed to provide nuclear technology in exchange for India separating its civil and military atomic programs and agreeing to inspections.

Steinmeier earlier renewed his criticism that the timing of the accord was "not helpful" in light of the Iranian nuclear dispute, but said Germany could come to support it if it were the "start of a process" that eventually integrated India into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it has refused to sign.

The German diplomat left Washington late Tuesday on a flight back to Berlin.

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Syria Imposing Stronger Curbs on Opposition

Published: April 5, 2006

DAMASCUS, Syria, April 4 - Just months ago, under intense international pressure to ease its stranglehold on neighboring Lebanon, the Syrian government was talking about ending the ruling Baath Party's grip on Syrian power and paving the way for a multiparty system.
But things have moved in the opposite direction. Syrian officials are aggressively silencing domestic political opposition while accommodating religious conservatives to shore up support across the country.

Comment: Gee, sounds like the US.

Security forces have detained human rights workers and political leaders, and in some cases their family members as well. They have barred travel abroad for political conferences and shut down a human rights center financed by the European Union. And the government has delivered a stern message to the national news media demanding that they promote - not challenge - the official agenda.

Comment: Gee, sounds like the US.

The leadership's actions were described in interviews with top officials as well as dissidents and human rights activists. They reflect at least in part a growing sense of confidence because of shifts in the Middle East in recent months, especially the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections, political paralysis in Lebanon and the intense difficulties facing the United States in trying to stabilize Iraq and stymie Iran's drive toward nuclear power.

The detentions, the press crackdown, the restrictions on travel and the overall effort to crush dissent are also a response to a fragile domestic political climate and concern over a growing opposition movement abroad.

Comment: Gee, sounds like the US.

"I may not be keen on early morning arrests, but this regime was being threatened," Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Dardari, a London educated technocrat charged with steering Syria's economic overhaul, said in an interview. "The survival of this regime and the stability of this country was threatened out loud and openly. There were invitations for foreign armies to come and invade Syria. So you could expect sometimes an overreaction, or a reaction, to something that is really happening."

On Tuesday, Amnesty International condemned the Syrian crackdown and called on Damascus to release "all of those arrested due to their beliefs." Human Rights Watch said it was sending a letter to the government protesting the arrests.

Comment: Gee, sounds like the US.

The government has also sought to fortify its position with a nod to a reality sweeping not just Syria, but the region: a surge in religious identification and a growing desire to empower religious political movements like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. The latter group recently won 88 seats in the Egyptian Parliament in spite of government efforts to block its supporters from voting.

The Syrian government has gone further to accommodate religious conservatives than in the past, officials and religious scholars said.

Comment: Gee, sounds like the US.

It has appointed a sheik, as opposed to a secular Baathist, to head the Religious Affairs Ministry; allowed, for the first time, religious activities in the stadium at Damascus University; and permitted a speech emphasizing religious practices and identity to be given to a military audience. President Bashar al-Assad has increasingly inserted references to religious identity and culture into his speeches.

Most striking was the government's recent decision to reverse itself one month after trying to limit activities taking place in mosques. The Religious Affairs Ministry effectively ordered mosques closed for all activities but prayers, but a few weeks later the decision was deemed a greater threat to a government controlled by the Alawites, a minority religious sect, than the potential for political organizing among the majority Sunni Muslims.

"Before, religion for the regime was like a ball of fire, " said Abdul Qader al-Kittani, a professor of Islamic studies at Fattah Islamic University here. "Now they deal with it like it could be a ball of light."

He added: "Two factors pushed the regime toward this direction. The first is the beat of the street. The second is external pressures on the regime."

Damascus has a very different feel from that of a few months ago, when investigators for the United Nations Security Council issued a report suggesting that the Syrian state - not just individuals - was behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, in February 2005 and that the authorities here had defied the United Nations Security Council by refusing to cooperate with its investigation.

The new investigator heading the inquiry, Serge Brammertz of Belgium, has kept a far lower profile and taken a less confrontational approach than his predecessor, Detlev Mehlis of Germany. Syrian officials have responded by agreeing to allow President Assad to be interviewed.

With the pressure off, the arrests have been stacking up since January, according to local human rights groups and individuals who say they were picked up by the authorities.

In Damascus, Ammar Qurabi, the former spokesman for the Arab Organization for Human Rights-Syria, was held for four days after returning from political conferences in Washington and Paris. In Aleppo, Samir Nashar, a businessman and opposition leader, was detained for three days after returning from attending political conferences abroad.

The goal was to deliver a message, some of those arrested said: the government will not tolerate any contact between internal opposition figures and a growing opposition movement abroad that is being encouraged by former Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, who recently forged an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed here.

"This time they wanted to relay a message or a warning: the Muslim Brotherhood, Khaddam and street protests are prohibited," said Hussein al-Odat, an opposition leader in Damascus who said he was detained last week by security forces for two hours. "They said, 'It is clear, and we will not be merciful.' "

Ibrahim Hamidi, the Damascus bureau chief for the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat, and the first to report on the new prohibitions, said the government was operating this way because of the changing regional situation. "Now they believe they can get away with it," he said.

Ayman Abdel Nour, a Baath Party member who promoted the idea of reforming the party from inside, said he had grown so disillusioned that he planned to move his business - a Web site that gives voice to calls for reform - from Damascus to the United Arab Emirates.

He said he had been told that the party planned to purge all those with reform agendas from its ranks. "They say they have a fixed time period to crack down and finish off the opposition," Mr. Abdel Nour said.

Human Rights Watch and several Syrian-based human rights organizations say that at least 30 people involved in politics or human rights work have been detained since January, and that several have not been heard from since. Human rights leaders in Damascus say the numbers are likely to be higher because most families are too afraid to report the arrests to their organizations.

Sami al-Abbas, a novelist, and Farouk Hamad, a poet, were arrested Monday for meeting with opposition leaders, said Razan Zaytouneh of the Syrian Human Rights Information Link, a local organization.

Muhammad al-Habash, a member of Parliament and general manager of the Islamic Studies Center in Damascus, says that in spite of the restrictions, Syria is far more relaxed than it was five years ago when, he said, he would not have been allowed to meet with a foreign reporter.

He also praised the government's recent accommodations to religion, saying, "They realize we need Islamic power, especially at this time," and he endorsed the ban on allowing travel to attend political conferences abroad.

"It is not a suitable time to allow people to travel abroad to participate in opposition conferences," he said. "We have to be real."

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