Sections on today's Signs Page:
Editorial: The Real Reason Tom DeLay Quit
Mathew K. Kiel
6 April 2006
Tom DeLay's having "won" his party's primary uncovered some very damaging voting "problems" and seriously questionable vote counts in the elections machinery of numerous Texas counties. The primary's balloting was done on ES&S machines, an electronic voting company started and owned by Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, upon which company's iVotronic machines being first used throughout Nebraska he won his own first "election" to the Senate in 1996, of course. He won by a "stunning upset victory" when he'd been more than 17 points behind in statewide polls the night before.
The Texas Republican primary's "irregularities" have been gaining more, and more widespread, indy, alternative and Texas press coverage for the past several weeks thanks specifically to Tom DeLay's "unexpected" victory over both his young and highly popular "new school" Republican opponent and an older moderate. Both of DeLay's opponents had been out-polling him by healthy margins, but, come that night, after the polls closed, there was DeLay being pronounced the "winner" again, as always. Since no one got more than 50% of the total vote, however, DeLay now must face the run-off election against the opponent who came in "second" in the March voting.
In short, DeLay had to quit now in an attempt to keep the "secret" of the totally rigged elections in Texas, and thus across the nation, from getting too well covered and too widely known. The PTB are trying to put the "genii" back into the bottle, but it may be a bit too late for that. TOM DELAY WAS TOO POLITICALLY "HOT" AND TOO "TOXIC" TO THE VOTERS TO GET AWAY WITH IT THIS TIME. He did NOT "win" his primary, and there were all kinds of things wrong with the vote counts, and the machines counting the votes. The complaints were coming in long before the polls closed, and in large numbers, from all those counties mentioned in the article below.
The worst mistake they made was that this time the opposition to DeLay from all the traditionally Republican Right voting blocks was very active and obviously a clear cut majority of even his most formerly visible and loyal consitutents had decided they wanted him out. The impossibility of his "victory" in the March primary was made so obvious that none of the old lies and "justifications" were accepted this time, and the facts of voting "problems" galore at last carried more weight with the public than the standardized "explanatory" propaganda and lies typically used to account for all of the neocons' "stunning upset victories." No amounts of the party bosses and pundits of Texas citing and tallying up various combinations of bizarre interest groups, alleged to make up the aggregate legion of mythical voters who loved DeLay enough to put him up for re-election no matter what, kept the public from immediately raising a loud and ongoing ruckus about the vote counts being way off. This time, the public knew there was NO WAY DELAY HAD WON ANY FAIR PRIMARY.
He is OUT now in order to try to keep the massive, nationwide elections fraud IN for this year. The best way to get the average, mildly brain damaged American to figure out that the US government is totally crooked, and a far more believable, graspable and do-able issue to their limited capacities, IS INFORMING THEM OF THE SYSTEMATIZED ELECTIONS FRAUD FOR THE PAST 10 ELECTIONS (at least) UNTIL THEY FINALLY "GET IT." They get scammed out of an average of 18% to 20% of their money by the computerized price "scanners" in grocery stores and Wal-Mart's every day, and the vote scamming is something they can relate to. They have a simpler, localized, known reference frame to compare it to and use in understanding it.
The whole set of proofs that there was no jumbo jet at the Pentagon on 9/11/2001 is simply beyond the limited cognitive abilities of most Americans. (Read the article, "Word Control, Thought Control, World Control, Part 2" that I sent to you a while back for the facts on the serious, induced cognitive deficits now present in at least a full 70% of the American populace.) Asking them to "grok" the facts of 9/11, even just at the Pentagon, is too much for them. They cannot be awakened by concepts that are literally beyond their cognitive grasp. The proofs of 9/11's manifest and multiple crimes are so far beyond their functional capacities and life experiences that it is like asking them to understand a foreign language that they simply cannot learn now and have never heard before. They lack the very abilities to "grok" the core concepts essential to comprehension.
The difference between awakening the American public to the FACTS of nationwide vote fraud, in regard to bringing BushCo down, rather than trying to do the same with the 9/11 FACTS, is, IMHO, the difference between telling people on the decks of a sinking ship where the lifeboats are, how to launch them and how to use the oars in them, or telling them how the life boats were built and mounted, bolt by bolt, including all of the engineering knowledge involved, in preparation for their then putting all of those facts together for themselves in order to figure out on their own how to use the boats to get off the ship before it sinks and they drown. I did not know, consciously, exactly why I was so certain of this until I learned, in doing the second "Word Control..." article, just exactly how bad and how widespread ARE the American public's induced cognitive deficits, at all levels of society and in all regards.
Computerized scammers, whether for votes or grocery money, are a subject simple enough that they CAN get it. It is something they deal with every day. Stolen votes they actually get, and they get mad enough about it to take real action, even in Texas, even in small, rural counties in Texas. It IS working that way, and if that is the case, there, in Texas, a most totally "red" painted state, then it is equally true of even the most thoroughly "dumbed down" of average American voters nationwide.
And, right now, in Texas, they're getting ready to use old fashioned paper ballots in the run off election coming up. DeLay, after his bogus "win" in the first Republican primary, did not dare to stay in for the run off, not with real, paper, recountable, certifiable ballots being used. Think about it.
Texas Counties at Mercy of ES&S
By Veronica L. Castro,
Texas Coalition for Voting Integrity
April 01, 2006
The elections drama that unfolded this week in Jefferson County, TX is an example of what can happen when an extraordinary amount of power is placed in the hands of a few. Democratic and Republican primary elections were being 'held hostage' by iVotronic manufacturer ES&S. Jefferson county purchased iVotronic machines in order to comply with federal law by the first primary election of the year. On March 7, the iVotronics were in place, but the system was not. Database components were missing. The programming was flawed. There were equipment failures.
County Clerk Carolyn Guidry stated tabulation errors led to votes being counted twice. She added that the ES&S personnel were ill-informed. The Jefferson County Commissioner's Court reviewed what happened on March 7 and concluded that ES&S was not fulfilling its contractual obligations. They decided to withhold payment until ES&S held up their end of the bargain. This is a standard practice; when homeowners or businesses hire a contractor, they do not pay the entire sum in advance but pay a portion when work begins. The remainder is paid when work is satisfactorily completed. Even though the March 7th election was problematic and far from satisfactory, ES&S demanded payment. The company stated that they would not provide programming and technical support for the run-off election until they were paid $1.95 million.
County officials knew they could not conduct the run-off election on iVotronics unless they had ES&S support. Assistant District Attorney Tom Rugg told the Beaumont Enterprise, "They are refusing to do things only they can do. Without ES&S programming, "the system they say they've sold to us is essentially worthless."
Unable to put the voting machines to use, the County planned to use paper ballots for early voting, which begins Monday. "We're cutting and pasting from sample ballots," stated Chief Deputy County Clerk Theresa Goodness. County officials expressed concern about accessibility, but said if they did not reach an agreement with ES&S they would have to use paper ballots. The Secretary of State's office reminded Jefferson county officials that they risked losing federal money and sanctions from the Justice Department if they did not meet handicapped-accessibility requirements.
Although the county has reached an agreement with ES&S late Wednesday afternoon, it appears they had no choice. The county was between a rock and a hard place. The rock: they could pay ES&S for sloppy and incomplete work. The hard place: use paper ballots and face possible sanctions for violating federal law. County commissioners chose the former. They will pay ES&S, but the iVotronics will not be ready for early voting, and the county will have to use optical-scan ballots. The touch-screens will be added whenever programming and testing has been completed. Hopefully that will be before the end of early voting.
Jefferson County is not alone. Several Texas counties who use the iVotronic are at the mercy of ES&S. Angelina, Brewster, Briscoe, Caldwell, Jefferson, Navarro, and Webb counties are among those. None have received ballot programs, some have not received training or software, and all are hoping that someone from ES&S shows up on Friday. Otherwise, they will not be ready for Monday. As one County Clerk put it, "We are going to use whatever we have." Election officials must rely on the expertise of software programmers provided by the company and cannot program their own ballots. Without ES&S ballot programs, the iVotronic is as useless as a door-less refrigerator.
State Director of Elections Ann McGeehan has received numerous complaints. Although the Elections Office could not specify how many and which counties are affected by poor service, they know the problems are widespread. Ms. McGeehan's office issued a memorandum today giving counties permission to "create emergency ballots. If you do not receive your ballots in time to properly prepare for early voting, you may create your own paper ballots or, if you received a proof from your vendor, you may use PDF format to print copies of the ballot. ... If you do not receive your ballot programming in time to conduct your required Logic and Accuracy tests, you will have no option [emphasis added] but to begin early voting using the emergency paper ballots."
Assistant D.A. Rugg knows about not having options. "Right now, they're [ES&S] my only shot at being ... compliant, and I really need to be that way so the federal government doesn't start asking embarrassing questions."
Ms. McGeehan acknowledged, "We recognize that this kind of service from our certified voting systems vendors is completely unacceptable and disturbing." Indeed, it is disturbing when elections cannot go forward without the help of a small number of people from a handful of companies.
The link back for the above article is:
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Middle East Madness
Iran claims third missile test
4/5/2006 1:53 PM
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran said Wednesday it has successfully test-fired a "top secret" missile, the third in a week, state-run television reported.
The report called the missile an "ultra-horizon" weapon and said it could be fired from all military helicopters and jet fighters.
The tests came amid war games being held since Friday by the elite Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea at a time of increased tension with the United States over Tehran's nuclear program.
Iranian television called it a "turning point" in its missile tests but gave no other details.
At the same time, the head of the Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, said the United States must recognize Iran as a "big, regional power."
Speaking on state television, Safavi said Iran could use the Straits of Hormuz to apply pressure on foreign powers. About two-fifths of the world's oil supplies pass through the 34-mile-wide entrance to the Gulf.
"The Straits of Hormuz are a point of control and economic pressure on the energy transfer route for those foreign powers that might want to undermine regional security," Safavi said.
He reiterated that Iran could defend itself against any invasion and added: "I advise Americans not to move toward a military strike against Iran."
On Tuesday, Safavi called for foreign forces to leave the region. The U.S. 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain.
That same day, Iran tested a new surface-to-sea radar-avoiding missile equipped with remote-control and searching systems, state TV reported. It said the new missile, called Kowsar, was a medium-range weapon that Iran could mass-produce.
It also said the Kowsar's guidance system could not be scrambled, and it had been designed to sink ships.
On Friday, Iran tested the Fajr-3, a missile that it said can avoid radar and hit several targets simultaneously using multiple warheads. Iran also has tested what it calls two new torpedoes.
One of the torpedoes, unveiled Monday, was tested in the Straits of Hormuz. That seemed to be a clear warning to the United States that Iran believes it has the capability to disable oil tankers moving through the Gulf.
The Revolutionary Guards have been holding their maneuvers - code-named the "Great Prophet" - since Friday.
Some military analysts in Moscow said it appears the high-speed torpedoes likely were Russian-built weapons that may have been acquired from China or Kyrgyzstan.
Others have questioned their capabilities of evading advanced radar systems such as those in Israel.
The United States said Monday that while Iran may have made "some strides" in its military, it likely is exaggerating its capabilities.
"We know that the Iranians are always trying to improve their weapons system by both foreign and indigenous measures," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. "It's possible that they are increasing their capability and making strides in radar-absorbing materials and technology."
But "the Iranians have also been known to boast and exaggerate their statements about greater technical and tactical capabilities," he said.
Safavi on Wednesday rejected the U.S. claims that Iran had exaggerated its capabilities.
"They tried to say what is related to our equipment was just a bluff. But we announce that the advanced equipment were based on a real and domestic industry," he said.
The U.N. Security Council has demanded Iran give up uranium enrichment, a crucial part of the nuclear process. Washington is pressing for sanctions if Tehran continues its refusal to do so, though U.S. officials have not ruled out military action as an eventual option, insisting they will not allow Iran to gain a nuclear arsenal.
On Tuesday, state TV also said the Revolutionary Guards had tested what it called a "super-modern flying boat" capable of evading radar.
The report showed the boat, looking like an aircraft, taking off from the sea and flying low over the water.
Iran has held war games for two decades to improve its combat readiness and test locally made equipment.
Iran launched an arms development program during its 1980-88 war with Iraq to compensate for a U.S. weapons embargo. Since 1992, Iran has produced its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, missiles and a fighter plane.
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Video Claims to Show U.S. Pilot Dragged
By ROBERT H. REID
Apr 5, 2:39 PM (ET)
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A video posted Wednesday on the Internet in the name of an extremist group claimed to show Iraqi insurgents dragging the burning body of a U.S. pilot on the ground after the crash of an Apache helicopter.
Parts of the video were blurry, and the face of the man was not shown. His clothes were so tattered it was impossible to tell if he was wearing an American military uniform, but he appeared to be wearing military fatigues.
The U.S. military condemned the posting and said that although reports of a Web site video "suggest that terrorists removed part of a body from the crash site, the authenticity of the video cannot be confirmed."
The U.S. military said an AH-64D Apache Longbow crashed about 5:30 p.m. Saturday due to possible hostile fire west of Youssifiyah, about 10 miles southwest of Baghdad, while conducting a combat air patrol.
The time and date stamp on the video was Sunday, April 2, and runs from 4:03 p.m. to 4:08 p.m. The stamp shows the minutes and seconds do not run sequentially and the scenes appear disjointed, suggesting the tape was altered.
"We are outraged that anyone would create and publish such a despicable video for public exposure," U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington said.
On Sunday, the military said the pilots were "presumed dead" and that recovery efforts were under way, indicating they had not fully secured the site or retrieved the bodies. The military later identified the pilots killed as Capt. Timothy J. Moshier, 25, of Albany, N.Y., and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael L. Hartwick, of Orrick, Mo.
The video, posted by a group calling itself the Shura Council of Mujahedeen, claimed its military wing had shot down the aircraft.
According to statements on Islamist Web sites, the Mujahedeen Shura Council was organized in January to consolidate al-Qaida in Iraq and other insurgent groups. The move was seen as a bid by insurgents to lower the profile of al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, whose mass attacks against Shiite civilians have tarnished the image of the insurgents among many Iraqis.
The video was blurry but the burning helicopter could be seen clearly. It showed the outlines of its destroyed blades and blood on various jagged pieces of wreckage spread over a field. It was not possible, however, to see if it had U.S. markings.
The video also clearly showed the bloodied, burning body of a man being dragged by other men through a field. Before the body was moved, the camera zoomed in on what appeared to be his waistline, which showed a scrap of underwear with the brand name "Hanes" on it. The man also appeared to be wearing camouflage fatigues.
The U.S. military said it had recovered "all available remains found on the scene, given the catastrophic nature of the crash."
In political developments, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said he won't abandon his bid for a second term to break the deadlock over a new government, and more than 1,000 of his supporters rallied in the holy city of Karbala, urging an end to "U.S. interference" in Iraqi politics.
Although parliament may have to decide al-Jaafari's future, Shiite officials said they are reluctant until there is a deal among all ethnic- and religious-based parties, including an agreement on who will be the new president.
U.S. officials believe a broad-based government of Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds offers the only hope for reversing Iraq's slide into anarchy. Without such a government, the Americans cannot begin withdrawing troops.
Talks on a unity government stalled after Sunni Arab and Kurdish officials said they would not accept al-Jaafari, who won the nomination of the dominant Shiite bloc in balloting among Shiite lawmakers in February.
Al-Jaafari told The Guardian newspaper he was rejecting calls to give up the nomination of his Shiite bloc "to protect democracy in Iraq." He added that the Iraqi people "will react if they see the rules of democracy being disobeyed. Everyone should stick to democratic mechanisms no matter whether they disagree with the person."
During an interview Tuesday with the BBC, Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi said he met with al-Jaafari and urged him to give up the nomination to break the logjam, but al-Jaafari refused.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd and an al-Jaafari opponent, referred to the parliamentary option in an interview published Wednesday by the Saudi daily Al Madina.
"Consultations are taking place quickly," Talabani said. "We hope they will not take much longer than this, and if the (Shiites) stick by their stand on nominating Ibrahim al-Jaafari, then we will resort to parliament."
Its unclear how parliament will resolve the standoff. The constitution says the president must nominate the candidate of the largest bloc - the Shiites. The prime minister-designate then presents his Cabinet for approval by a majority of all 275 members.
Under the constitution, however, parliament must first elect a new president and two vice presidents by a two-thirds vote. With Talabani's term also ending, it is unclear whether he would have the authority to appoint a prime minister, and the Shiites could block his re-election.
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Rumsfeld Challenges Rice on 'Tactical Errors' in Iraq
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 6, 2006; Page A21
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he did not know what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was talking about when she said last week that the United States had made thousands of "tactical errors" in handling the war in Iraq, a statement she later said was meant figuratively.
Speaking during a radio interview on WDAY in Fargo, N.D., on Tuesday, Rumsfeld said calling changes in military tactics during the war "errors" reflects a lack of understanding of warfare. Rumsfeld defended his war plan for Iraq but added that such plans inevitably do not survive first contact with the enemy.
"Why? Because the enemy's got a brain; the enemy watches what you do and then adjusts to that, so you have to constantly adjust and change your tactics, your techniques and your procedures," Rumsfeld told interviewer Scott Hennen, according to a Defense Department transcript. "If someone says, well, that's a tactical mistake, then I guess it's a lack of understanding, at least my understanding, of what warfare is about."
Rumsfeld's questioning of Rice's comment came amid long-standing tensions between their departments over the war in Iraq and other issues. Rumsfeld and the Pentagon have been criticized by members of Congress and even some retired generals for missteps in Iraq, such as failing to anticipate the insurgency.
On a trip to Britain, Rice told reporters Friday that "I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them I'm sure," but that the strategic decisions will be the ones historians judge.
When asked about the comment the next day, Rice said she "wasn't sitting around counting" U.S. tactical errors and instead meant her remark figuratively. "The point I was making . . . is that, of course, if you've ever made decisions, you've undoubtedly made mistakes in the decisions that you've made, but that the important thing is to get the big strategic decisions right and that I am confident that the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and give the Iraqi people an opportunity for peace and democracy is the right decision."
In the radio interview, Hennen said Rice had "figuratively suggested recently we've made thousands of tactical errors" and "also suggested that the important test was making the right strategic decisions and that would be the test of history."
Hennen asked Rumsfeld: "Do you agree with that? Have we made thousands of tactical errors? And does that concern you?"
Rumsfeld replied: "I don't know what she was talking about, to be perfectly honest."
Rumsfeld pointed to the nature of the Iraq war -- unpredictable from the start -- as the reason the United States has had to change tactics over the past three years.
"If you had a static situation and you made a mistake in how you addressed the static situation, that would be one thing," he said. "What you have here is not a static situation, you have a dynamic situation with an enemy that thinks, uses their brain, constantly adjusts, and therefore our commanders have to constantly make tactical adjustments."
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Democracy In Iraq Not A Priority in U.S. Budget
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 5, 2006; Page A01
While President Bush vows to transform Iraq into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, his administration has been scaling back funding for the main organizations trying to carry out his vision by building democratic institutions such as political parties and civil society groups.
The administration has included limited new money for traditional democracy promotion in budget requests to Congress. Some organizations face funding cutoffs this month, while others struggle to stretch resources through the summer. The shortfall threatens projects that teach Iraqis how to create and sustain political parties, think tanks, human rights groups, independent media outlets, trade unions and other elements of democratic society.
The shift in funding priorities comes as security costs are eating up an enormous share of U.S. funds for Iraq and the administration has already ratcheted back ambitions for reconstructing the country's battered infrastructure. While acknowledging that they are investing less in party-building and other such activities, administration officials argue that bringing more order and helping Iraqis run effective ministries contribute to democracy as well.
Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, an advocacy group that hosted a Bush speech last week, called the situation "a travesty" and said she is "appalled" that more is not being done. "This is the time to show that democracy promotion is more than holding an election. If the U.S. can't see fit to fund follow-up democracy promotion at this time," then it is making a mistake, she said.
"The commitment to what the president of the United States will say every single day of the week is his number one priority in Iraq, when it's translated into action, looks very tiny," said Les Campbell, who runs programs in the Middle East for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, known as NDI.
NDI and its sister, the International Republican Institute (IRI), will see their grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development dry up at the end of this month, according to a government document, leaving them only special funds earmarked by Congress last year. Similarly, the U.S. Institute of Peace has had its funding for Iraq democracy promotion cut by 60 percent. And the National Endowment for Democracy expects to run out of money for Iraqi programs by September.
"Money keeps getting transferred away to security training. Democracy's one of the things that's been transferred," said Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's project on democracy and the rule of law. "Without that, all the other stuff looks like just background work."
Among the projects facing closure is the Iraq Civil Society and Media Program, funded by USAID and run by America's Development Foundation and the International Research & Exchanges Board. The program has established four civil society resource centers around the country, conducted hundreds of workshops and forums, and trained thousands of government officials in transparency and accountability. It also helped Iraqis set up the National Iraqi News Agency, the first independent news agency in the Arab world.
The program was supposed to run at least through June 2007 but without $15 million more, it will have to close this summer.
Officials at the White House, the State Department, the Office of Management and Budget and USAID were contacted for comment in recent days, but none would speak on the record. In response to a request for comment, USAID sent promotional documents hailing past accomplishments in Iraq, such as sponsoring town hall meetings, training election monitors, and distributing pamphlets, posters and publications explaining voting and the new constitution.
The president's supplemental Iraq spending request includes just $10 million for democracy promotion, and his proposed budget for fiscal 2007 asks for $63 million, a fraction of the tens of billions of dollars spent each year on Iraq. But officials argue that other funds in effect further the same goal. For instance, the administration targeted $254 million for enhancing the rule of law by creating a fair judiciary and a humane prison system.
For Bush, developing democracy in Iraq has become perhaps the signature of his presidency, and he takes special pride in the three elections held since sovereignty was transferred by U.S. authorities. Veterans of past democracy-building efforts, however, have complained that having elections is not enough -- an argument the president has embraced lately, both in his speeches and in his newly released National Security Strategy.
"Elections start the process. They're not the end of the process," Bush told Freedom House last week. "And one of the reasons I respect the Freedom House is because you understand that you follow elections with institution-building and the creation of civil society."
Money flowed to such programs in the beginning of the Iraq enterprise. The National Endowment for Democracy, which supported projects in the Kurdish north of Iraq even before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, found itself soon after Baghdad fell with $25 million to expand elsewhere in the country and eventually received a total of $71 million. It distributed some to IRI and NDI and some to groups such as the Iraqi National Association for Human Rights in Babylon and the Organization for a Model Iraqi Society.
Last month the endowment received the final $3 million owed on past allocations, with no further funding identified. "It does feel like everybody's getting squeezed in this area," said Barbara Haig, the endowment's vice president. "There probably is a commitment to these programs in principle. I don't know how much commitment there is in specificity."
IRI and NDI, which are affiliated with the two U.S. political parties, will lose USAID financing April 30. The two party institutes led a coalition to educate Iraqis before last year's elections. An evaluation commissioned by USAID in December called it "essential" that the program "be continued for at least another 24 months."
The party institutes will be able to continue some programs for now only because of a special earmark inserted into legislation last year with $56 million for the two groups. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) sponsored the earmark with support from Sens. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) after it appeared that NDI and IRI would run out of money last year.
"The solution to Iraq lies in the political process, and it's reckless for the White House to cut funds to strengthen democracy in Iraq at this time," Kennedy said yesterday.
At current spending rates, the earmark will run out this year. After that, the Bush administration has included just $15 million for the two party institutes as part of the $63 million for Iraqi democracy in next year's budget, which would require most programs to be cut.
The U.S. Institute of Peace faces similar cutbacks to its program. "It's just vital," said Daniel P. Serwer, an institute vice president. All the democracy programs in Iraq combined, he noted, cost less than one day of the U.S. military mission. "Am I absolutely sure that we will shorten the deployment time of American troops enough to justify the cost of the program? Yes," he said.
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US Attitude To Hamas: The Disturbing Parallel With Nicaragua
By Ramzy Baroud
What is currently transpiring in the Occupied Territories is by far a worst-case scenario, ironically one made possible with the direct help of many Palestinians themselves. The democratically elected Palestinian government is now officially isolated, as many Palestinians cannot see beyond their own narrow - and frankly irrelevant - ideological differences and immaterial factionalism.
Others cannot resist their total reliance on foreign, mostly European funds to run their mostly self-exalting NGOs, whose tangible contribution to Palestinian life is still disputed.
The final outcome is that turning Palestine into another Nicaragua is working. That was the intent from the moment Hamas was declared victorious in the Parliamentary Elections last January. US mainstream media conveyed the over-all feeling that an utter miscalculation in US foreign policy took place. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice charged back, leading a campaign of defamation and coercion aimed at politically and financially isolating the democratically elected Palestinian legislators, further solidifying with the former corrupt political elite.
Similarly, Nicaragua of the 1960s and 70s seemed of little concern as long as our formidable man, Somoza, ruled with an iron fist. His elites robbed the country senseless until the Sandinistas vigorously emerged, toppling him and eventually his US-armed National Guard. Predictably, the US took on the new Sandinista government, which was described then by the international development organization Oxfam as "exceptional..(in its) commitment to improve the conditions of the people and encourage their active participation in the development process." On the other hand, it was obvious that Somoza had fled with his country's entire movable assets.
For obvious reasons that have more to do with US strategic reasons than the welfare of the people of Nicaragua, the Sandinistas were labeled a 'cancer' that had to be extracted. To do so, Nicaragua was completely cut off, denied any form of aid and was forced to squander its resources to fight off Somoza's former National Guard, renamed the Contras. The rest, of course, is history. Bullied, isolated and terrified, the people of Nicaragua couldn't withstand the US-led multifaceted pressures, and were forced into submission, ditching the Sandinista government in a rare democratic election, orchestrated by the Sandinistas themselves. The human cost for such American adventurism was of course unbearable to ordinary Nicaraguans, though it constituted a mere continuation of US foreign policy in Central America and all over the world.
The Palestinian case is, more or less, being handled the same way: the multi-faceted internal and external pressures, the unreasonable demands, the boycott and the collective punishment. All elements are indeed falling into place to remanufacture that same nightmarish scenario which is hoped to eventually lead to diplomatic deadlock, regional and international isolation and further deterioration in the already unstable (read non-existing) Palestinian economy. On the external front, the new Palestinian government was met almost immediately with unfair demands of unilateral renunciation of violence and the unconditional recognition of Israel. The fact that Israel was not urged to reciprocate was an obvious indication of the objective of such demands. The intent was of course discrediting the new Palestinian government, knowing fully that it was unlikely to succumb to such pressure.
Similarly, a regional isolation campaign was underway, one that resulted in denying the Palestinian government an invitation to the Sudan Arab League Summit, a sign that Arabs are too adhering to the assigned task. The real mockery is that various Palestinian factions too have opted to steer away from what they sense might be a challenging and perhaps costly period in their history. Rather than solidifying in the face of danger, Fatah intentionally impeded Hamas' attempt to join the new government and the socialists failed to see through their ideological constrictions.
Unfortunately, Hamas was forced to form a government and to seek its legislative approval alone. The ground is now prepared for the US to unabashedly cement its international boycott of the 'terrorist', democratically elected Palestinian government, and for Israel, to finish off demarcating its border as it pleases, turning the scattered leftovers of the Occupied Territories into South African-style Bantustans.
In fact, the escalation of the US-Israeli war is already underway as US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters on March 27 that his government rejects Hamas' call for dialogue, once again outlining Washington's incongruous conditions as a stipulation to precede any talks. Israel on the other hand, according to the Sunday Times, is preparing a massive military campaign in the West Bank that would continue 'until the last of the terrorists are dead or under arrest.' Considering that Hamas has unilaterally refrained from counter violence for over a year, Israel's anticipated campaign, which will reportedly see the reoccupation of most population centers, is an act of collective punishment against the Palestinian people for electing a parliament that refuses to unconditionally concede to Israel's egotistical definition of peace.
The bottom line is that the stage is set for Palestinians to pay, for Israel's illegal settlements policy to be officiated as part of the country's permanent borders and for the US to prolong its international campaign of economic and political suffocation. Even if Palestinians stubbornly resist the pressure, as they most certainly will, Israel will be allowed to dictate its own 'solution' to the conflict unhindered, for reprimanding Israel is now equal to siding with a terrorist group.
For some Palestinian groups to completely succumb to the role of abetting such a scenario is most troubling. It's this thoughtlessness that has indeed continued to expose the vulnerability of Palestinians before Israeli and American schemes. While, in my opinion, a religious ideology is not the most helpful formula for any Palestinian polity and that suicide bombings were the single most tainting act employed by Palestinians in recent years, I believe that all Palestinians must recognize that the impending fight is of greater consequence than the dialectics of religion and politics. Israel is clearly reaching the final stretch in its fight to deny Palestinians every single legitimate demand for freedom, sovereignty and true peace and justice. Failing to see that is tantamount to partaking in the Israeli plot to deny Palestinians any say in the shaping of their future, which is sadly growing dimmer by the day.
-Veteran Arab American journalist Ramzy Baroud teaches mass communication at Australia's Curtin University of Technology, Malaysia Campus. His most recent book is entitled, Writings on the Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London.) He is also the editor-in-chief of the Palestine Chronicle online newspaper
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Hamas cabinet minister arrested by Israeli police
www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-06 16:55:11
JERUSALEM, April 6 (Xinhua) -- A Palestinian cabinet minister from the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) was arrested by Israeli police near East Jerusalem on Thursday, local Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported.
Khaled Abu A'rafa, Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, was detained along with his bodyguard by Israeli border police while on his way to Azzariyeh near East Jerusalem, where he planned to inaugurate a new office, said the report.
But the Israeli border police said they had no knowledge of the reported arrest.
If confirmed, it will be the first time that Israel has arrested a Palestinian minister since the Hamas-led cabinet was sworn last week.
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Palestinian PM Says Hamas Gov't Is Broke
Wednesday April 5, 2006 7:46 PM
AP Photo JRL119
By IBRAHIM BARZAK
Associated Press Writer
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - The coffers of the new Hamas government are empty, the Palestinian prime minister told his Cabinet Wednesday in the first public acknowledgment by the Islamic militants that they will have difficulty running the West Bank and Gaza without massive foreign aid.
Ismail Haniyeh suggested the Palestinian Authority will find it hard to meet its monthly payroll of 140,000 employees - salaries that sustain about one-third of the Palestinians. He appealed to the Arab world for more aid, saying pledges of $55 million a month are insufficient.
The prime minister spoke at the first meeting of his Cabinet, a week after Hamas took power. The new ministers need to find ways to make up for tens of millions of dollars in foreign aid the international community is expected to withhold because of Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence.
Israel also has frozen the transfer of tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians since shortly after Hamas' January election victory.
Until recently, Hamas leaders claimed they would be able to cover the payroll with help from Arab and Muslim countries. However, Haniyeh said Wednesday that the Arab pledges are insufficient and that his ministers would soon embark on a tour of the Arab world to drum up more support.
''The Palestinian Finance Ministry has received an entirely empty treasury, in addition to the debt of the government in general,'' Haniyeh said. ''We are going to do our utmost as a government to pay the salaries of the Palestinian Authority employees despite the cash crisis that we are facing.''
Earlier Wednesday, Haniyeh said the Cabinet members would not be paid until the financial crisis is solved.
''We are not going to receive our salaries until everyone from the Palestinian Authority is paid,'' he told families of prisoners held by Israel.
But he said the families would receive their monthly support payment within two days.
Hamas' first Cabinet meeting was held via videoconference, with simultaneous sessions taking place in Gaza and the West Bank because Israel does not permit Hamas ministers to travel between the two territories. The Palestinian legislature also meets this way.
Hamas has softened its statements since taking power last week but stopped short of meeting the international community's demands.
Sending such a mixed message, Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday that the new Hamas government believes its struggle against Israel's military occupation is just, but that it wants to live side-by-side and in peace with its neighbors.
Zahar's letter also referred to Israel's ''illegal colonial policies,'' which he said ''will ultimately diminish any hopes for the achievement of settlement and peace based on a two-state solution.'' Diplomats said the reference to a two-state solution by Hamas, which calls for Israel's destruction, could be a sign it is moderating.
However, Zahar denied that he in any way recognized Israel's right to exist or a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An official in Zahar's office said there was ''not even a hint'' of such a statement in the letter.
The English translation of Zahar's letter to Annan, including the reference to a possible two-state solution, was sent to The Associated Press by the Palestinian Observer Mission to the United Nations.
Hamas' most immediate problem is to find enough money to pay 140,000 government employees, including teachers, health care workers and members of the security forces.
In the past, the money came in part from foreign aid and tax transfers Israel collected on behalf of the Palestinians.
Israel halted the transfers, and the United States and Canada have announced they are severing ties with the new government. The European Union is to decide on its aid program next week.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told the European Parliament Wednesday that until Hamas renounces violence and recognizes Israel, ''talking about business as usual simply isn't possible.''
In Israel, President Moshe Katsav is to ask acting Ehud Olmert to form the next government, tapping him to be the next prime minister and putting him in a position to implement his plan to withdraw from parts of the West Bank and draw Israel's final borders by 2010.
Katsav and Olmert, the acting prime minister, will meet Thursday, said the president's spokeswoman, Hagit Cohen. Olmert's centrist Kadima Party won an election last week, but does not have enough power in parliament to rule alone.
Olmert said Tuesday he considers the center-left Labor Party a senior partner in any future ruling coalition, giving Olmert the momentum he needs to carry out his withdrawal plan.
However, Olmert is also reaching out to the right-wing Israel Beitenu party, which advocates drawing Israel's borders by excluding Israeli Arab communities and bringing in West Bank settlers. Olmert has said he would only sign up parties that support his West Bank plan.
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Bellydancing out, cinema in, says Hamas
Chris McGreal in Gaza City
Thursday April 6, 2006
Attallah Abu al-Sibbah is keen to demonstrate that Hamas is not the Taliban. As the new Palestinian culture minister, he will not be ordering the dynamiting of statues nor forbidding prayers to anyone but Allah. But there are limits - and bellydancing is one of them.
"Bellydancing is naked women. This is not Islamic. The Egyptians come here and do it. And there are a lot of Russian bellydancers in Egypt and they come here too," said Mr Sibbah, 58, an Islamic scholar who joined the cabinet of the Hamas government installed last week.
"People do it indoors, in secret. There's lots of it," he said.
"If the phenomenon of bellydancing spreads our people might react against it by killing people. We don't want our people to become like the Taliban."
While foreign governments are exercised over Hamas's views on Israel, the Islamist party says its primary agenda is domestic reform. It was elected amid a backlash against corruption and maladministration, and is committed to cleaning up government.
But it also says it intends to clean up society, and that is Mr Sibbah's job. For a start he will ban casinos and see if there is a way to ban the sale of alcohol. He also wants segregation of men and women in places of public entertainment and an end to what he sees as rampant "nakedness".
"There was an Egyptian singer who came and there was big trouble because she was not properly dressed, and some people wanted her and some people didn't," he said.
"There's moral corruption. The blue films Israel sends us are quite corrupting. We have to resist them.
"And we're not going to allow books with any pictures of Madonna in bed."
The Gaza strip's three big cinemas closed at the beginning of the first intifada in 1987, and never reopened. Mr Sibbah thinks they should start showing films again but he is concerned about what the viewers will see.
"I would open cinemas. It could be an education and help people live better. Hollywood is not all bad. Titanic was a good film, a human film," he said, apparently having cast from his mind the scenes of Kate Winslet disrobed.
But he is less sure about the Oscar-nominated Palestinian film, Paradise Now, which shows the preparation of suicide bombers for an attack on Israelis.
The film's questioning of suicide attacks does not sit well with a party that glorifies such deaths.
"There are problems, there are some scenes, some observations, some pictures. We can negotiate. I will see it first. If I need to cut it I will cut. This is normal. Every country has censors. But we have no problem showing it," he said.
Mr Sibbah sees moral purification as central to the struggle against Israel, a conflict that has dominated his life. He was just six weeks old when the Israeli army arrived in his village near Ashkelon.
"I have been back several times. All of our village was bulldozed. There is only a petrol station there now," he said.
His family settled in Rafah refugee camp, on the southern tip of the Gaza strip where Mr Sibbah grew up to teach in a United Nations school for some 15 years and then lecture in law at the Islamic university.
Mr Sibbah was jailed five times by the Israelis, for a total of three years, as a result of his Hamas activities.
But he is keen to demonstrate that Hamas respects all religions.
"We're not the Taliban. We love Jesus. We love Moses," he said, before summoning a Christian worker at the ministry to demonstrate his good intentions.
Abuline Darsi duly arrived, head uncovered and a silver crucifix dangling from her neck.
"She's our sister," said Mr Sibbah. "She's our employee here. We're not going to do anything bad to her."
Ms Darsi shuffled awkwardly. Was she concerned when Hamas came to power? "A little bit, as a Christian. Now it's changed. Now I've met the minister," she said, and darted off.
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Damage Control: Noam Chomsky and the Israel-Palestine Conflict
April 3, 2006
Despite his low-key demeanor and monotone delivery, Chomsky has been anything
but reluctant. On closer examination, however, it appears that he has gained
his elevated position less from scholarship than from the sheer body of his
work that includes books by the dozens
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Saudi ambassador salutes Israeli strike
Turki al-Faisal, speaking in San Francisco, says Israel's 1981 strike on Iraqi nuclear reactor was 'certainly a positive move'
Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States Turki al-Faisal expressed support for Israel's strike on the Iraqi Osirak nuclear facility in 1981.
Al-Faisal said that the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor by Israel was certainly a positive step, during a speech on foreign relations in San Francisco.
The prince said that a region clear of nuclear weapons would also serve Israel and increase its security. He said that it was known that Israel had nuclear weapons, and that that Arab world felt threatened by Israel, rather than the other way around.
Faisal added that Israel possessed the best army, air force, and navy in the Middle East, and that these have been well used in the past.
After becoming aware that Iraq was planning to construct nuclear weapons, Israel launched a surprise aerial attack on June 7 1981 on the Osirak facility near Baghdad, and destroyed the Iraqi reactor.
The move was initially widely condemned, but was widely supported in subsequent years.
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War of Terror
Canadian teenager faces US 'war on terror' tribunal
Apr 05 10:31 AM US/Eastern
A Canadian-born teenager accused of planting bombs for Al-Qaeda and killing a US soldier in Afghanistan faced a US military tribunal in Guantanamo as defense lawyers raised fresh concerns about the fairness of the proceedings.
Omar Ahmed Khadr was captured in Afghanistan by US forces in July 2002, when he was 15, and his lawyers say he is too young to be charged with war crimes.
Khadr, now 19, appeared for a pre-trial hearing before one of the special "war on terror" tribunals set up by President George W. Bush's administration to try inmates held in Guantanamo.
Only 10 of some 490 inmates held at the prison at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been charged in the more than four years since the camp was opened.
Khadr, whose lawyer alleges he has been tortured and abused at Guantanamo, is accused of killing a US medic during a battle with American troops near Khost in Afghanistan.
Prosecutors allege that he comes from a family with close links to Al-Qaeda and that his father, an Egyptian-born Canadian, was a financier of the terror network's operations.
The father, Ahmed Said Khadr, was killed in a firefight in October 2003, and his other children have also been accused of terrorist ties.
Lawyers for Khadr argue that their client has been denied due process and have demanded that the court order the prosecution to share relevant information in the case.
At issue is whether the tribunals are subject to US legal standards and the civil rights enshrined in the Constitution, said Colonel Dwight Sullivan, chief defense counsel for the detainees facing the tribunals.
"That is one of the most fundamental issues that's going to get resolved here," Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday. "In my mind, it is not a resolved question."
The Bush administration maintains that the tribunals, or commissions, are necessary because members of Al-Qaeda cannot be treated as US citizens or as conventional prisoners of war from a regular army.
Rejecting criticism from human rights groups and foreign governments, the Bush administration has refused to shut down the Guantanamo camp and is pressing ahead with pre-trial hearings despite a case pending before the US Supreme Court that could determine the fate of the tribunals.
Khadr's civilian lawyers have filed a petition in federal court asking that the proceedings in Guantanamo be suspended until the high court issues its decision on the legitimacy of the tribunals. The court is expected to rule by July.
On Tuesday, Abdul Zahir, an Afghan accused of plotting with Al-Qaeda and attacking foreign journalists in 2002, appeared before the tribunal and deferred entering a plea. The prosecution had failed to provide a written translation of the charges in his native Farsi.
"On Tuesday, Abdul Zahir, an Afghan accused of plotting with Al-Qaeda and attacking foreign journalists in 2002, appeared before the tribunal and deferred entering a plea. The prosecution had failed to provide a written translation of the charges in his native Farsi."There, you see? Bush's tribunals are perfectly just and in line with his idea of what democracy should be!
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Moussaoui Judge OKs Playing Plane Tapes
By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press WriterWed Apr 5, 7:28 PM ET
The cockpit recording from the hijacked jetliner that passengers tried to retake on Sept. 11 will be played in public for the first time - at the sentencing trial of al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui - the judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said the jury considering whether to execute Moussaoui could hear the recording from United Airlines Flight 93 and see a transcript of it.
The flight is best known for one passenger's rallying cry to other passengers, "Let's roll," which was overheard over a cell phone connection between a passenger and a family member on the ground.
This cockpit tape was played privately April 18, 2002, for the families of Flight 93 victims, but it has never been played in public. Family members told reporters afterward they heard "yelling and screaming" and muffled voices that were hard to identify.
"Listening to the tape confirmed for me that there was a heroic teamwork effort," said Alice Hoglan of Los Gatos, Calif., whose son, Mark Bingham, called from the air before the plane crashed into an empty field - the only one of four jets hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, that did not kill anyone on the ground.
There has been debate over whether the hijackers intended to crash it into the U.S. Capitol or the White House. But last week the Moussaoui jury heard a government-approved summary of statements made during interrogation of the captured mastermind of Sept. 11, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who said it was to hit the Capitol.
Prosecutors asked the judge to order the tape and transcript kept sealed from the general public after it is played in open court, but Brinkema did not decide that question immediately.
Noting that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered trial evidence made public, she said relatives of Flight 93 victims would have until next Tuesday to advise her whether they object to general release of the material.
She said if no family members object, she will release the material to the general public the day after it is submitted into evidence. No date was set for that.
The sentencing trial of Moussaoui resumes Thursday morning. In the first phase, the jury unanimously found the 37-year-old Frenchman eligible for the death penalty on counts of conspiracy to commit international terrorism, to commit air piracy and to use weapons of mass destruction. The second phase will examine aggravating and mitigating evidence about his crimes, and the jury will decide whether he deserves to be executed or imprisoned for life for his role in the Sept. 11 attacks.
In an order describing a closed hearing Wednesday morning, Brinkema said the government's policy reason for wanting to keep the tape and transcript sealed from general release was "to protect the National Traffic Safety Board against premature public speculation regarding the cause of any airline crash so it may 'conduct a full and fair investigation.'" Brinkema said even prosecutors admitted in court that that reason "is not implicated in this sentencing proceeding."
Much of what happened aboard Flight 93 is known because passengers used cell phones in flight to call their loved ones. Earlier in the trial, prosecutor David Raskin transfixed the jury by reading accounts of the last moments of several of the Sept. 11 planes based on cell phone calls by passengers and flight attendants to family members and ground controllers.
A Hollywood movie re-enacting Flight 93 is to be released later this month.
Discussing general public release of the tape and transcript, Brinkema wrote, "The court is also mindful that family members of the flight crew or passengers on Flight 93 may object to the voices of their loved ones being publicly revealed in this manner."
Prosecutors began calling relatives of the victims Wednesday afternoon to advise them of the judge's decision.
Thursday is the only trial day this week. The sentencing's second phase begins then, with opening statements from both sides before any testimony is heard. The jury will return next week to its Monday-Thursday schedule. Phase 2 could last two weeks to two months.
The government will bring in testimony in an effort to prove that Moussaoui's victims suffered cruel physical abuse; that his acts resulted in "serious physical and emotional injuries, including maiming, disfigurement and permanent disability" for numerous survivors; and that his acts injured or harmed not only the victims but also their families, friends and co-workers.
Prosecutors intend to identify for the jury, by name and photograph, each of 2,972 victims and to call witnesses to tell the stories of about 45 victims. This sample will include victims from each of the four hijacked jetliners, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And it will cover the diversity of race, religion, economic status and occupations of victims as well as the range of people affected, including spouses, parents, children, siblings and friends.
Prosecutors also intend to show the harm the attacks did to New York's economy and public employees and to the Pentagon.
To make a case for life in prison, the court-appointed defense team wants to call a doctor to testify that Moussaoui is schizophrenic and to call sociologists to describe his impoverished childhood in France and the racism he encountered in France and England because of his Moroccan ancestry. They have yet to outline all the mitigating factors they hope to show.
To obtain a death penalty, the prosecution must prove at least one of three aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt: Moussaoui knowingly created a grave risk of death to one or more innocent bystanders; he subjected victims to serious physical abuse in a heinous and cruel way or relished the killing; or he acted to cause death or terrorism after substantial planning or premeditation.
That plus any other damage they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt would have to outweigh any mitigating evidence submitted on Moussaoui's behalf.
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'Playing The Clash made me a terror suspect'
by ANNE CAMPBELL
5th April 2006
A mobile phone salesman was hauled off a plane and questioned for three hours as a terror suspect - because he listened to songs by The Clash and Led Zeppelin.
Harraj Mann, 24, played the punk anthem London Calling and classic rock track Immigrant Song in a taxi before a flight to London.
The lyrics to both tracks made the driver fear his passenger was a terrorist.
The words of the Clash track begin: "London calling to the faraway towns, now war is declared and battle come down." And Led Zep's Immigrant Song goes: "The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands, to fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla, I am coming!"
Mr Mann, of Hartlepool, Teesside, had boarded the plane at Durham Tees Valley Airport when the flight to Heathrow was stopped and he was arrested by police.
He said he was told he was being questioned under the Terrorism Act and his choice of music had aroused suspicions.
Mr Mann said yesterday: 'The taxi had one of those tape deck things that plugs into your digital music player.
"I played Procol Harum's Whiter Shade Of Pale first, which the taxi man liked. I figured he liked the classics so put on a bit of Led Zeppelin - Immigrant Song - which he didn't like. Then, since I was going to London, I played the song by The Clash and finished up with Nowhere Man by The Beatles."
Mr Mann said he was 'frog-marched off the plane in front of everyone, had my bags searched and was asked 'every question you can think of'.
He added: "It turned out the taxi driver alerted someone when I arrived at the airport and had spoken about my music. He didn't like Led Zep or The Clash but there was no need to tell the police."
Durham Police said the action was taken 'as a result of information received' and the flight was stopped before take-off.
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Grannies Helen and Sylvia: The New Face of Terrorism
By Nigel Morris and Jonathan Brown
06 April 2006
Two grandmothers from Yorkshire face up to a year in prison after becoming the first people to be arrested under the Government's latest anti-terror legislation.
Helen John, 68, and Sylvia Boyes, 62, both veterans of the Greenham Common protests 25 years ago, were arrested on Saturday after deliberately setting out to highlight a change in the law which civil liberties groups say will criminalise free speech and further undermine the right to peaceful demonstration.
Under the little-noticed legislation, which came into effect last week, protesters who breach any one of 10 military bases across Britain will be treated as potential terrorists and face up to a year in jail or £5,000 fine. The protests are curtailed under the Home Secretary's Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.
Campaigners expressed their outrage yesterday at Charles Clarke's new law, which they say is yet another draconian attempt to crack down on legitimate protest under the guise of the war on terror. In October last year a protester in Whitehall was convicted for merely reading out the names of British soldiers killed in Iraq. And at the Labour Party conference in September the Government suffered severe embarrassment when Walter Wolfgang, a veteran peace activist who survived the Nazis, was detained for heckling Jack Straw.
Mrs John and Mrs Boyes, who have 10 grandchildren between them, were held by Ministry of Defence police after walking 15ft across the sentry line at the United States military base at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire. They were held for 12 hours before being released on police bail. They will learn whether they are to face prosecution when they return to Harrogate police station on 15 April.
"We thought this was a really important issue and we just had to challenge it," said Mrs John, who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize last year. Mrs Boyes, who was cleared by a jury at Manchester Crown Court in 1999 of causing criminal damage to a British nuclear submarine, said: " I am quite willing to break the law and prepared to be charged and to go to prison. The Government thinks it can do whatever it wants and that it has a passive public which accepts whatever it throws at it. I find it very worrying."
The women, who have been arrested more than a dozen times between them, went equipped with a hammer and a small pair of bolt cutters as well as placards declaring their opposition to the new law. They had prepared statements denouncing United States military policy and expressing their support for the people of Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands, who were evicted from their homes to make way for US military bases.
As well as Menwith Hill, the sites covered under the new law include Fylingdales, the early warning station on the North York Moors and the US air bases at Mildenhall and Lakenheath in East Anglia. From next week the powers will also cover three nuclear sites - Aldermaston in Berkshire, its research facility at neighbouring Burghfield and the Devonport naval base at Plymouth. The Government's decision suggests it is already preparing for the protests that would follow the expected decision to replace Trident with a new generation of nuclear weaponry.
Similar restrictions will be announced soon on selected non-military sites such as royal palaces and government buildings. The Ministry of Defence said the sites had been chosen because they had been the scene of regular protests. A spokeswoman said: "Persistent activity by protesters places them at risk of being mistaken for terrorists. It also unnecessarily diverts police resources ... People will still be allowed to protest outside sites. This legislation is about keeping police focused on the job they are paid to do."
Kate Hudson, who chairs the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: " The Government has a responsibility to safeguard its citizens - we would be the first to argue that. But there is a very fine line between protecting people and introducing legislation that is an infringement of civil liberties. In recent legislation the Government has got on the wrong side of that fine line."
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: "When does a peaceful protester become a trespasser? In a free society, when does he become a criminal? In Britain in 2006, only one man - the Home Secretary - will now decide instead of Parliament and the court. Just when our politicians lament the demise of participatory democracy they increasingly criminalise both free speech and protest."
Mrs John described the new law as a "kick in the teeth for the Magna Carta" and said the need for opponents of the Government to take direct action was greater now than ever. "We have seen two million people standing in Hyde Park and Tony Blair had no compunction in ignoring them. Even though there are huge numbers of people who oppose what the Government is doing, the only effective protests have been where direct action is taken. We have to demonstrate at the bases where the killing capacity exists - we have to attack it at source. These are the eyes and ears of the US war fighting machine and they are on our soil."
Before Mr Clarke's announcement military police only had the power to escort protesters off the military sites and prosecute them for civil trespass.
CRIME?: Wearing an anti-Blair T-shirt in Brighton during the Labour conference.
WHAT HAPPENED: He was stopped under section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act as he walked towards the seafront for an anti-war demonstration outside the conference. His T-shirt accused Mr Blair and George Bush of war crimes. He was released after signing a form confirming he had been questioned. The police record said the purpose of the stop and search was "terrorism" and the official grounds for intervention were "carrying plackard + T-shirt with anti-Blair info" (sic).
CRIME?: Heckling Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, during his speech to the Labour Party conference.
WHAT HAPPENED: The veteran peace activist shouted "That's a lie" as Mr Straw justified keeping British troops in Iraq. He was manhandled by stewards out of his seat and ejected from the Brighton Centre. When he tried to re-enter he was briefly detained under Section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act. Amid the disastrous publicity, senior ministers, from Tony Blair down, apologised.
CRIME?: Protesting over British casualties in Iraq.
WHAT HAPPENED: Standing on the Cenotaph in Whitehall, she read out a list of soldiers killed in Iraq. She was arrested under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which requires police permission to make a protest within one kilometre of Parliament. She was given a conditional discharge after being found guilty. Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, later denied that the prosecution was an "undue infringement" of individual liberties.
Flt Lt Malcolm Kendall-Smith
CRIME?: Refusing to serve in Iraq.
WHAT HAPPENED: The RAF doctor served in Iraq twice, but refused to return for a third spell of duty last June. He argued that the military action was not justified as Iraq had not attacked the UK or one of its allies. He is being court-martialled, facing five charges of refusing to comply with an order. After a pre-trial hearing rejected his argument that the orders were unlawful, the court martial will open at Aldershot next week.
CRIME?: Maintaining an anti-war vigil outside Parliament.
WHAT HAPPENED: Mr Haw has become a permanent fixture in Parliament Square since June 2001, when he erected a series of placards berating Tony Blair and President George Bush. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, was designed mainly with his vigil in mind. But the High Court ruled that the legislation did not cover his protest as it could not be applied retrospectively. The Government is appealing against that decision.
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Airline passengers face lie detector tests
By Adrian Blomfield in Moscow
Millions of airline passengers travelling through Russia will soon have to take a lie detector test as part of new security measures.
The technology, to be introduced at Moscow's Domodedovo airport as early as July, is intended to identify terrorists and drug smugglers. If successful, it could revolutionise check-ins.
Passengers going through security At first, only passengers deemed suspicious will take the test
Passengers will pick up the handset of a "truth verifier" machine while they are asked questions. Apparently the machine, developed by an Israeli company, can even establish whether answers come from the memory or the imagination.
The technology is being used by some insurance companies in Britain to screen telephone claims for fraud.
"We know that this could be uncomfortable for some passengers but it is a necessary step," said Vladimir Kornilov, the IT director for East Line, which operates the airport.
At first, only passengers deemed suspicious by the FSB, the security service that succeeded the KGB, will take the test. But it will eventually encompass all passengers.
"If a person fails, he is accompanied by a guard to a cubicle where he is asked questions in a more intense atmosphere," Mr Kornilov said.
The machine asks four questions. The first is for full identity, while the second, unnerving in its Soviet-style abruptness, demands: "Have you ever lied to the authorities?" It then asks if the passenger is carrying weapons or narcotics.
To cut delays to a minimum, passengers will take the test after putting their shoes and baggage through the X-ray machines and before retrieving them. Officials insist that it will take between 30 seconds and a minute.
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U.S. security plans could lead to 'invisible barrier' at border, says Wilson
20:14:02 EDT Apr 5, 2006
WASHINGTON (CP) - Canadians want a smart border, not a "thick one," and new U.S. security plans risk erecting an "invisible barrier," Michael Wilson said in his first speech Wednesday as ambassador to the United States.
Canada has doubts a new high-technology ID system for cross-border travellers will be finished by the end of 2007 and officials want an economic impact study on how much damage it might do to tourism and commerce, he said. If Canadian officials don't like the answers and think there will be implementation problems, they'll lobby Congress to delay plans to require a new card or passport from everyone entering the United States, he told a cross-border forum at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, speaking earlier in the day, called the security system a "work in progress" as he heralded a new era in Canada-U.S. relations under the Conservatives.
"I'm very optimistic about a new beginning," said Wilkins, who noted the government's throne speech reference this week to the United States as Canada's "best friend."
Wilkins said he is upbeat about potential negotiations on softwood lumber. Wilson agreed Wednesday it's time to get back to the bargaining table.
Nevertheless, it's clear there are still some other major challenges to smooth cross-border ties.
Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned Canadians they better get used to the idea of carrying passports after President George W. Bush wouldn't back down from the plan adopted by Congress in light of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day will be holding meetings on the details of the U.S. plan with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
"It's very important that we get the answers and get them on a timely basis," said Wilson.
"Let's ensure that our border continues to bring us together rather than drive us apart."
It's possible, said Wilson, that Canada will devise a security card similar to the one U.S. officials are working on to incorporate proof of nationality.
"It could be identical. It could have the same information. It's too early to be precise."
That's certainly what U.S. officials are hoping will happen.
"That would really harmonize things at the border," said Jim Williams, director of the U.S.-VISIT program at Homeland Security.
Officials have also started to talk about sharing databases of information to check the identity of each other's residents, although they're concerned about privacy issues.
There's a lot of concern, said Williams, that there's so much misinformation and many people think they need passports right now.
"They probably won't need a passport or not for a long time," he said, adding so-called PASS cards may be a quicker way to clear border checks.
Other forms of ID already in place like Nexus cards will probably be acceptable, said Williams, who acknowledged it will be a tall order to have everything in place by Jan. 1, 2008.
"It is a very aggressive time frame. But I'm not planning for a delay."
Legislators and interest groups on both sides of the border have been intensely anxious about the plan, saying it will cost billions in lost revenue and enhanced driver's licences should do the trick.
Several U.S. legislators are proposing amendments to the U.S. plan.
North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan has been blocked so far from pushing changes that would exempt children 17 and younger, cap the cost of cards at $20 and provide for free day passes at border crossings when travellers haven't been able to obtain their ID in time.
"He's trying to put a common-sense package together," said spokesman Barry Piatt, "but he hasn't been able to get it introduced yet."
Wilkins was unapologetic about the measure.
"We're in a post 9-11 world. You can't have prosperity without security," he said.
"This is going to happen. Canada needs to get ready."
But without a study to understand the costs, it's like "standing in a dark room and throwing darts against the wall hoping we're successful," said Shirley-Ann George, a vice-president at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
And if the system doesn't work, "we're going to have trucks lined up at the border for miles."
Canada has another security concern: proposed U.S. legislation tightening security for cargo companies.
Wilson called the plan "worrisome."
"We don't think those decisions were taken with a full understanding of the amount of security that is in place now in Canada," he said.
"We have done a lot to track containers from the point of origin."
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Pentagon says improper data in security database
By Will DunhamWed Apr 5, 2006 4:37 PM ET173
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Wednesday a review launched after revelations that it had collected data on U.S. peace activists found that roughly 260 entries in a classified database of possible terrorist threats should not have been kept there.
But the review reaffirmed the value of the so-called Talon reporting system on potential threats to Pentagon personnel or facilities by international terrorists, said Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman. He said the Pentagon was putting in place new safeguards and oversight intended to prevent improper information from going in the database.
Whitman said "less than 2 percent" of the more than 13,000 database entries provided through the Talon system "should not have been there or should have been removed at a certain point in time."
Whitman disputed critics' assertions that the program amounted to Pentagon domestic spying, although he declined to state the nature of these entries or the people they involved, saying the database's contents are classified. Whitman stressed that to be properly placed in the database, a threat must have a suspected link to international terrorism.
Under the Talon system, Defense Department civilian and military personnel are asked to report on activities they deem suspicious. These reports go in the Cornerstone database, handled by a Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA.
The review was ordered in December by Stephen Cambone, under secretary of defense for intelligence, after revelations that the database included information on U.S. citizens including peace activists and others who did not represent a genuine security threat.
NBC News and defense analyst William Arkin disclosed at the time a sample of the database containing reports of 1,519 "suspicious incidents" between July 2004 and May 2005, including activities by antiwar and anti-military protesters.
This included a military intelligence unit monitoring a Quaker meeting in Lake Worth, Florida, on plans to protest military recruiting in high schools.
The Pentagon is legally restricted in the types of information it can gather about activities and individuals inside the United States.
A memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said the Talon system "has detected international terrorist interest in specific military bases and has led to and supported counterterrorism investigations." It called the data "unfiltered and non-validated potential threat information."
Whitman said data reported through Talon could be turned over the FBI or local law enforcement.
The Pentagon said it will conduct annual oversight reviews of the Talon program, designate supervisors to review each Talon report before submission to the database, and direct CIFA to review submissions to ensure they are proper.
Whitman said he did not know if the Pentagon had disciplined anyone for putting improper information in the database, but was "not aware of any malicious or deliberate attempts" to use the Talon system against a specific person or group.
Some critics have noted similarities in the Pentagon's activities during the Iraq War and those of the Vietnam War period, when it spied on antiwar activists.
"If the Pentagon has been collecting information improperly on Americans, it should provide a full accounting of what kind of information it collected, on whom and why, subject only perhaps to protecting the privacy of individuals," said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, a civil liberties group interested in government surveillance.
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AT&T whistleblower claims to document illegal NSA surveillance
CNET Politics Blog
April 6, 2006 12:26 AM PDT
Evidence provided by a former AT&T technician proves that the telecommunications company secretly and unlawfully opened its networks to government eavesdroppers, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said Thursday.
Alert readers may remember that EFF sued AT&T in January, alleging it illegally cooperated with the National Security Agency's secret eavesdropping program. Then, in an odd twist last week, the Bush administration objected to EFF including some internal AT&T documents in court (the Feds claimed they might be classified).
Now EFF seems to have cleared that up and has filed them in court, although they're still under seal.
EFF claims that it has a sworn statement by Mark Klein, a retired AT&T telecommunications technician -- and several internal AT&T documents -- that show a "dragnet surveillance" has been put into place to facilitate the NSA's controversial surveillance scheme. (Here's our survey of telecom companies regarding NSA cooperation.)
Alas, we likely won't know details until the judge decides to release them.
Even if the documents prove everything that EFF claims, it's not a slam dunk for the group.
The state secrets privilege, outlined by the Supreme Court in a 1953 case, permits the government to derail a lawsuit that might otherwise lead to the disclosure of military secrets.
In 1998, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals elaborated on the state secret privilege in a case where former workers at the Air Force's classified Groom Lake, Nev., facility alleged hazardous waste violations. When requested by the workers' lawyers to turn over information, the Air Force refused.
The 9th Circuit upheld a summary judgment on behalf of the Air Force, saying that once the state secrets "privilege is properly invoked and the court is satisfied as to the danger of divulging state secrets, the privilege is absolute" and the case will generally be dismissed.
That "absolute privilege" case is still good law and is binding on the judge that will hear EFF's case.
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U.S. Rolls Out Nuclear Plan
By Ralph Vartabedian
LA Times Staff Writer
April 6, 2006
The Bush administration Wednesday unveiled a blueprint for rebuilding the nation's decrepit nuclear weapons complex, including restoration of a large-scale bomb manufacturing capacity.
The plan calls for the most sweeping realignment and modernization of the nation's massive system of laboratories and factories for nuclear bombs since the end of the Cold War.
Until now, the nation has depended on carefully maintaining aging bombs produced during the Cold War arms race, some several decades old. The administration, however, wants the capability to turn out 125 new nuclear bombs per year by 2022, as the Pentagon retires older bombs that it says will no longer be reliable or safe.
Under the plan, all of the nation's plutonium would be consolidated into a single facility that could be more effectively and cheaply defended against possible terrorist attacks. The plan would remove the plutonium kept at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory by 2014, though transfers of the material could start sooner. In recent years, concern has grown that Livermore, surrounded by residential neighborhoods in the Bay Area, could not repel a terrorist attack.
But the administration blueprint is facing sharp criticism, both from those who say it does not move fast enough to consolidate plutonium stores and from those who say restarting bomb production would encourage aspiring nuclear powers across the globe to develop weapons.
The plan was outlined to Congress on Wednesday by Thomas D'Agostino, head of nuclear weapons programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration, a part of the Energy Department. Though the weapons proposal would restore the capacity to make new bombs, D'Agostino said it was part of a larger effort to accelerate the dismantling of aging bombs left from the Cold War.
D'Agostino acknowledged in an interview that the administration was walking a fine line by modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons program while assuring other nations that it was not seeking a new arms race. The credibility of the contention rests on the U.S. intent to sharply reduce its inventory of weapons.
The administration is also quickly moving ahead with a new nuclear bomb program known as the "reliable replacement warhead," which began last year. Originally described as an effort to update existing weapons and make them more reliable, it has been broadened and now includes the potential for new bomb designs. Weapons labs currently are engaged in a design competition.
The U.S. built its last nuclear weapon in 1989 and last tested a weapon underground in 1992. Since the Cold War, the nation has had massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons to deter potential attacks. By contrast, it would increasingly rely on the capability to build future bombs for deterrence, D'Agostino said.
The blueprint calls for a modern complex to design a new nuclear bomb and have it ready in less than four years, allowing the nation to respond to changing military requirements. Similar proposals in the past, such as for a nuclear bomb to attack underground bunkers, provoked concern that they undermined U.S. policy to stop nuclear proliferation.
The impetus for the plan is a growing belief that efforts to maintain older nuclear bombs and keep up a large nuclear weapons industrial complex are technically and financially unsustainable. Last year, a task force led by San Diego physicist David Overskei recommended that the Energy Department consolidate the system of eight existing weapons complexes into one site.
Overskei said Wednesday that the cost of security alone for the current infrastructure of plants over the next two decades was roughly $25 billion. Security costs have grown, because the Sept. 11 attacks have led the Energy Department to believe terrorists could mount a larger and better armed strike force.
Peter Stockton, a former Energy Department security consultant who is now an investigator for the Project on Government Oversight, criticized the plutonium consolidation plan in House testimony, saying it would delay the difficult work too far into the future. Stockton added in an interview that the plutonium transfer at Livermore could be accomplished in a few months.
Until now, Livermore lab officials have sharply disagreed with the idea of removing plutonium from their site, saying it was essential to their work. On Wednesday, a lab spokesman said the issue was "far less controversial" and the "decision rests in Washington."
The Bush plan, described at a hearing of the strategic subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, would consolidate much of the weapons capacity, but not as completely or quickly as outside critics would like.
The overall plan would not be fully implemented until 2030.
A crucial part of restarting U.S. nuclear bomb production involves so-called plutonium pits, hollow spheres surrounded by high explosives. The pits start nuclear fission and trigger the nuclear fusion in a bomb.
The plutonium pits were built at the Energy Department's former Rocky Flats site near Denver until the weapons plant was shut down in 1989 after it was found to have violated environmental regulations.
In recent years, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico has tried to start limited production of plutonium pits and hopes to build a certified pit that will enter the so-called war reserve next year. Los Alamos would be producing about 30 to 50 pits per year by 2012, but the Energy Department said that was not enough to sustain the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
In his testimony, D'Agostino estimated plutonium pits would last 45 to 60 years, after which they would be unreliable and might result in an explosion smaller than intended. Critics outside the government sharply dispute that conclusion, saying there is no evidence that pits degrade over time and that the nation can keep an adequate nuclear deterrent by maintaining its existing weapons.
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Nasdaq, S&P 500 hit 5-year highs
By Caroline Valetkevitch
April 5, 2006
NEW YORK - U.S. stocks rose on Wednesday, with the Nasdaq and S&P 500 indexes closing at 5-year highs, as investors bought tech stocks after Apple Computer Inc. released software that could expand the number of users of its Mac computers.
Energy company stocks rose with a jump in U.S. crude oil futures prices above $67 a barrel. An index of oil companies' shares rose nearly 2 percent.
Apple's shares shot up nearly 10 percent, their biggest one-day percentage gain since November 2004. Apple's gains increased demand for the shares of other technology companies, including chip maker Intel Corp. , whose chips are used in Apple computers. Intel's stock rose about 1 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 35.70 points, or 0.32 percent, to end at 11,239.55. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 5.63 points, or 0.43 percent, to finish at 1,311.56. The Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 14.39 points, or 0.61 percent, to close at 2,359.75.
Wall Street got a dose of bad news after the closing bell when a New Jersey jury said drug maker Merck & Co., a Dow component, failed to warn two plaintiffs of increased cardiovascular risk with Merck's arthritis medicine Vioxx.
Merck's stock fell 1.9 percent to $35.32 on the Inet electronic brokerage network from a close at $35.99 on the
New York Stock Exchange. Its after-hours decline, and the reason for it, could weigh on the drug sector and on the Dow industrials when trading resumes on Thursday.
A bright spot after hours, though, was provided by home goods retailer Bed Bath & Beyond Inc., which reported earnings that beat expectations. Its shares rose more than 5 percent to $40.25 after the closing bell on Inet from a Nasdaq close at $38.32.
POLISHING THE APPLE
During the regular session, Apple shares surged 9.9 percent, or $6.04, to end at $67.21on Nasdaq.
Apple said it released software to enable Mac computers to run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system.
"Technology is taking its cue from Apple," said Tim Heekin, director of trading at Thomas Weisel Partners, a San Francisco investment bank.
Microsoft shares gained 0.4 percent, or 10 cents, to end at $27.74, while Intel shares added nearly 1 percent, or 18 cents, to $19.48, both in Nasdaq trading.
The Philadelphia Stock Exchange index of semiconductors rose 2.76 percent.
Providing the biggest lift to the Dow were shares of aluminum producer Alcoa Inc.. The stock rose 2.6 percent, or 81 cents, to $31.67 after Credit Suisse raised its price target on Alcoa to $37 from $35.
Alcoa will kick off the quarterly earnings reporting season next week.
OIL SECTOR PUMPS UP, ST. JUDE FALLS
In the energy sector, ConocoPhillips shares rose 2.2 percent, or $1.41, to $66.56 and helped lift the S&P 500. Valero Energy rose 4.4 percent, or $2.64, to $62.50, while Exxon Mobil Corp. gained 0.7 percent, or 41 cents, to $62.16.
U.S. crude oil for May delivery rose 84 cents to settle at $67.07 a barrel, after a report showed a big drop in gasoline supplies in the latest week.
"We continue to use energy, so the demand side of the equation looks very strong," said John Caldwell, chief investment strategist at McDonald Financial Group, part of KeyCorp.
The health-care sector was among the day's weakest. A drop in the shares of heart-device maker St. Jude Medical Inc. came a day after the company cut its revenue and earnings forecast. The stock fell 12.2 percent, or $5.05, to $36.25, and was among the biggest drags on the S&P 500 index.
U.S. Treasury Secretary
John Snow's comments suggesting strong U.S. payroll figures on Friday revived worries about higher interest rates, limiting the stock market's gains at midday. Snow said he expects U.S. payroll data for March to reflect strength in the economy.
Volume was fairly active on the Big Board, where about 1.61 billion shares changed hands, matching last year's daily average. On Nasdaq, about 2.04 billion shares traded, exceeding last year's daily average of 1.80 billion shares.
Advancers led decliners on the New York Stock Exchange by a ratio of 8 to 5, while on Nasdaq, about six stocks rose for every five that fell.
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Treasury's Snow sees strong jobs data
By David Lawder
Wed Apr 5, 2:32 PM ET
WASHINGTON - Treasury Secretary John Snow on Wednesday said he expects payroll data on Friday to reflect a strong economy that will increase federal tax revenues and help to shrink budget deficits.
Testifying before a House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee on the Treasury's proposed fiscal 2007 budget, Snow said he believed the U.S. economy would continue its growth path as long as Congress extends tax cuts.
"It's continuing to gain strength. I look forward to the jobs numbers that we'll be reporting on Friday. I think they'll be good numbers," Snow said.
The Labor Department is scheduled to issue non-farm payroll data for February at 8:30 a.m. EDT on Friday. Economists polled by Reuters forecast a March increase of 190,000 jobs versus a 243,000 gain in February, along with an unchanged unemployment rate of 4.8 percent.
Snow also said he is looking forward to strong figures for first quarter gross domestic product due later this month, noting that private sector economists forecast first quarter growth of 4 to 5 percent.
Snow described that as "strong growth and the sort of growth that will continue to see more jobs created, businesses continue to be profitable, (and) investment occur." He added that would boost government tax receipts that already were running at a rate about 10 percent above last year.
Despite setbacks like Hurricane Katrina, which is costing the government billions of dollars, Snow said maintaining current low tax rates will stimulate growth that will allow
President Bush to meet a goal of cutting federal budget deficit by half by the time he leaves office in 2009.
"I think the American economy today is on a very good path and I'm hopeful that Congress will extend the capital gains and dividend (tax) reductions," Snow told the subcommittee. "Those reductions in tax rates on investment have been at the center of the strong results we've seen."
Snow's upbeat comments on the economy come as Republicans close to the White House have said the administration is increasingly likely to replace him and is considering a number of Wall Street executives and former lawmakers as possible candidates.
These Republican sources have told Reuters the White House wants a more compelling figure than Snow to lead its effort to highlight the strength of the economy ahead of November's congressional elections.
Snow declined to answer reporters' questions about his future at Treasury following the hearing and quickly left the venue of the hearing on Capitol Hill.
Snow told the subcommittee China needed to be more flexible with it yuan currency to fulfill commitments made in July 2005 to make it be more market-driven. "They need to do more. They're being too cautious," Snow said.
However, he said he preferred "quiet diplomacy" to achieve this. He did not address a keenly awaited report due this spring from the Treasury that could declare China a currency manipulator and potentially lead to sanctions.
He said Bush would discuss the issue of opening up China's markets during an April 20 meeting with Chinese President
Hu Jintao in Washington.
Snow added that he expects the yuan later this year to "move more in a direction that has a higher valuation" but did not expect a major revaluation in "one fell swoop."
Comment: See? Everything's fine. No member of the Bush administration would ever omit important data, twist facts, and blatantly lie - right?
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NYC Welfare Rolls Falling Again, Amid Worries About Poverty
By SEWELL CHAN
The New York Times
April 6, 2006
The number of New York City residents receiving public assistance fell to 402,281 last month, the lowest number since December 1964, at the start of President Lyndon B. Johnson's war on poverty, and a decline of nearly two-thirds from its peak of nearly 1.2 million in March 1995, officials announced yesterday.
After falling sharply during the mayoralty of Rudolph W. Giuliani, when more than 600,000 people left the rolls, the city's caseload began to creep upward in September 2002, during Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's first year in office and on the tail of a national recession. The modest increases continued until October 2004, when the caseload figure again started to decline.
The recent drop in the number of welfare recipients in the city comes months before the 10th anniversary of the federal welfare overhaul that imposed a five-year limit on assistance, established work requirements and gave states discretion in setting welfare policy. Nationally, the caseload has fallen by more than half since the federal law was signed in August 1996.
The decline in the caseload is occurring amid concerns about income inequality, which has risen more sharply in the city than in the nation as a whole, and new signs that poor families are having a harder time meeting housing and food costs. Last month, Mr. Bloomberg appointed a 32-member Commission for Economic Opportunity to come up with public and private solutions to poverty in the city.
"When I came into office, we were going into an economic slump, and most people thought that the welfare rolls would go up," Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday. "The truth of the matter is, they have gone down."
But welfare recipients who do find work are often in low-paying jobs with limited opportunities for advancement. Of those who have left welfare for work in the city, 88 percent have kept their jobs after three months and 75 percent after six months.
Isabel V. Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a research organization in Washington, said the broad decline in welfare caseloads in the last decade could be attributed to three factors: an unusually strong economy in the late 1990's; the federal overhaul that encouraged recipients to find work and financially penalized those who did not; and policies that expanded access to food stamps, child-care subsidies and the earned-income tax credit.
The city's caseload decline since 2004 is surprising because the national caseload decline has slowed significantly, said Gordon L. Berlin, president of MDRC, formerly the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, a group in New York and Oakland, Calif., that evaluates social programs.
"The economy has begun to pick up," Mr. Berlin said, "and that's certainly part of the story in New York."
Welfare has been a less prominent issue under Mr. Bloomberg than under Mr. Giuliani, even though the city has maintained the welfare policies started in the mid-1990's. Mr. Giuliani imposed tough eligibility-verification reviews that removed many recipients from the rolls. He also converted welfare offices into job-search centers and required recipients to join the city's Work Experience Program, which placed them in jobs like raking leaves or answering phones. Welfare caseworkers are now called "job opportunity specialists."
"Giuliani gloried in opposing the activist groups and challenging the welfare culture," said Lawrence M. Mead III, a professor of politics at New York University. "The Bloomberg administration continued the Giuliani policies, although without the contentious rhetoric. The change under Bloomberg has been more atmospheric than substantive."
In February 2005, the city's Human Resources Administration began WeCare, which provides medical and psychological assessment and care for recipients who have been unable to find work.
Verna Eggleston, the commissioner of the agency, said it had "abandoned the 'one-size-fits-all' social service program model" in favor of an "individualized model."
WeCare has enrolled about 15,000 adults and is expected to serve 40,000 eventually, said Patricia M. Smith, who has worked for the welfare agency since 1974 and is now its first deputy commissioner.
"We've recognized the shift in the demographics and characteristics of the caseload since the early days of welfare reform," she said, adding that many current recipients have "multiple barriers to employment."
The mayor acknowledged the same problem. "I don't think it's realistic to think that everybody can go to work," he said, "but we are going in the right direction."
Gail B. Nayowith, executive director of the Citizens' Committee for Children of New York and a member of the mayor's commission, said the focus needed to shift to economic security from welfare reform. "Parents are working full time and still poor," she said. "There has to be a greater effort on making work pay."
City Councilman Bill de Blasio, a Brooklyn Democrat who is chairman of the Council's General Welfare Committee, said the decline in the caseload was "very good news" but added that "people who've exhausted their benefits have not necessarily found steady income." In 2004, 20.3 percent of residents and 17.4 percent of families in New York City lived below the poverty line.
Mr. de Blasio and advocates for the poor have estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of residents who are eligible for food stamps or for government earned-income tax credits but have not enrolled. Ms. Smith said the welfare agency was allowing people for the first time to apply for benefits through nonprofit groups and that enrollment in another program, Medicaid, had significantly risen.
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Risk of falling US home prices climbs: report
By Jim Christie
April 5, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO - All but two of the 50 largest local U.S. housing markets face an increased risk of falling home prices this quarter, but declines will be gradual, according to a report released on Wednesday.
A strong economy will allow the U.S. housing market, which has seen prices soar in recent years, to slow its rate of price appreciation, unless a shock slashes demand for homes, according to the report by PMI Mortgage Insurance Co., a Walnut Creek, California-based subsidiary of credit enhancement company The PMI Group Inc.
"The risk of price declines has increased somewhat, but the national and local economies remain strong, which should support a gradual return to an economic climate characterized by slow, steady appreciation," said Mark Milner, chief risk officer of PMI Mortgage Insurance.
"What we're anticipating is a soft landing nationally," Milner said, referring to home prices. "The markets will be coming back to their long-term average, which is a 4 percent to 6 percent (annual) appreciation rate."
Seven of the top ten markets most vulnerable to declining home prices are in California, which has routinely posted some of the strongest local housing markets as its economy rebounded from the long high-technology slump.
The San Diego regional market is at the top of PMI Mortgage Insurance's list. The region's home prices skyrocketed in recent years, making the market one of hottest in the nation.
Analysts have expected the San Diego market, where the California Association of Realtors pegged the median price of an existing single-family detached home at $608,770 in February, to run out of steam because home buyers can not keep up with both high prices and rising mortgage interest rates.
A similar affordability crunch is spreading as rates increase, raising the probability of declining home prices across the United States, according to PMI Mortgage's report.
On average the 50 biggest housing markets have a 28.7 percent chance of seeing home prices decline within the next two years, according to the report.
"The risks are going up nationally, but they're mitigated by a strong labor market and strong economy," Milner said.
San Diego is showing all the signs all the signs of slowing homes market, said Alan Gin, economist with the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate at the University of San Diego.
Homes for sale in San Diego are staying on the market longer and the pace of home sales is off from previous periods, Gin said. Additionally, he noted some home owners with adjustable-rate mortgages loans are struggling to make higher payments as interest rates rise.
"One of the reasons we had the housing market surging ahead was because of the low cost of borrowing money," Gin said. "With mortgage interests rates going up there is some concern some people will be priced out of the market, which in turn will reduce demand for housing ... That leads to lower prices."
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Retailers See Tepid Sales in March
By ANNE D'INNOCENZIO
AP Business Writer
April 6, 2006
NEW YORK - A moderating economy and cooler weather gave consumers little incentive to shop in March and left retailers with tepid sales for the second month in a row. The later arrival of Easter this year also hurt business.
As the nation's merchants reported their monthly results Thursday, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., J.C. Penney Co., Gap Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and Sharper Image Corp. were among the disappointments. Bright spots were wholesale club operator Costco Wholesale Corp. and Nordstrom Inc., both of which beat Wall Street expectations.
"We are seeing the economy slowing down, and that is affecting same-store sales," said Jharonne Martis, an analyst at Thomson Financial.
Martis noted that the downbeat results from teen retailers - their second straight disappointing month - show that even younger shoppers, who had been splurging on pricey jeans and other fashions, are not spending as much of their discretionary income.
The International Council of Shopping Centers-UBS sales tally of 60 retailers rose a slim 1.9 percent in March, less than the 3.0 percent gain originally expected for the month. It marked the weakest sales growth since November 2004, when the tally rose 1.8 percent.
The tally is based on same-store sales, or sales at stores opened at least a year. Same-store sales are considered the best indicator of a retailer's health.
The tempered sales reports followed a disappointing February, when the ICSC tally posted a 3.2 percent gain. January was a robust month as consumers, armed with holiday gift cards, shopped with gusto, resulting in a 5.0 percent increase.
While temporary factors like the lateness of Easter and cool weather helped limit spending, analysts also said consumers are contending with higher interest rates, which makes financing debt more expensive, and higher gasoline prices. A cooling housing market has also slowed the trend of people taking cash out of their appreciated homes through refinancings and home-equity loans.
One positive factor has been solid gains in the job market, which helped consumer confidence rebound in March to a near four-year high.
A report from The Labor Department released Thursday provided further evidence of a strong job market. The number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits fell for a third straight week. The government said that 299,000 laid-off workers applied for jobless benefits last week, down 5,000 from the previous week after declines of 8,000 and 7,000 in the two previous weeks.
Still, analysts say retailers were partly to blame for what is winding up to be a lackluster spring selling season. Stores are showing a great deal of beige and white clothing, a big difference from the bright colors dominating the selling floors a year ago. Teen retailers are doing well with cargo capris, but there isn't one fashion item that is exciting older consumers.
"There's not a lot of compelling fashion," said John Morris, retail analyst at Harris Nesbitt.
Wal-Mart posted a slim 1.4 percent gain in same-store sales, in line with the 1.2 percent estimate from analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial.
Wal-Mart blamed a late Easter, which falls on April 16 and is three weeks later than last year, for depressing results. The retailer said it expects same-store sales gains to improve to 4 percent to 6 percent in April.
Because of the calendar shift, retailers and analysts look at March and April results combined to assess sales trends.
Analysts estimate that the Easter factor depressed sales anywhere from 1 percent to 1.5 percent in March, while April results should be boosted by that amount.
Rival Target Corp. had a 2.2 percent gain in same-store sales, in line with the 2.1 percent increase analysts expected.
Costco Wholesale Corp.'s same-store sales rose 7 percent, beating the 5.9 percent estimate.
Upscale Nordstrom posted a solid 4.3 percent gain in same-store sales, better than the 3.4 percent forecast.
But moderate-priced department stores had more modest gains. Federated Department Stores, which acquired May Department Stores Co. last year, saw its same-store sales unchanged from a year ago. Analysts had expected a 0.6 percent increase. Same-store sales include only Macy's and Bloomingdale's locations. It also forecast a same-store sales decline of 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent in April, reflecting a late Mother's Day.
J.C. Penney, whose results typically please Wall Street, had a disappointing 1.0 percent decline in same-store sales in its department store business. Analysts expected a 2 percent gain.
Limited Brands Inc. had a modest 2 percent gain in same-store sales, below Wall Street's 2.7 percent estimate.
Gap, which continues to struggle to find the right merchandising formula, suffered a 13 percent drop in same-store sales last month, worse than the 7.3 percent decline Wall Street expected.
"Our March performance reflects the challenges we face to increase the frequency of customer visits to our stores," said Sabrina Simmons, senior vice president, treasury and investor relations, in a statement.
Sharper Image posted a 29 percent drop in same-store sales, worse than the 20.2 percent decline analysts expected.
Teen retailers, which have been on a winning streak, also saw business slow last month. Abercrombie & Fitch said same-stores sales were unchanged in March from a year ago. Analysts had expected a 3.6 percent increase.
On Wednesday, American Eagle Outfitters Inc. said same-store sales rose 3 percent, less than the 3.8 percent forecast.
Hot Topic Inc. also had disappointing results, posting a 12.7 percent decline in same-store sales. Analysts expected an 8.7 percent drop. As a result, the company reduced its earnings outlook for the first quarter.
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UK Economy hit by job losses and manufacturing decline
By Philip Thornton, Economics Correspondent
06 April 2006
The outlook for the UK business sector suffered a triple blow yesterday as a tyre maker announced it was shutting a factory with more than 600 job losses, manufacturing output fell and growth in services slowed.
The pound hit a 15-month low against the euro as traders bet the Bank of England would be forced to cut interest rates by the end of the year.
Goodyear Dunlop, the US tyre giant, is to end production at its plant in Washington, Tyne and Wear, with the loss of 585 jobs. A further 39 jobs are at risk at its Wolverhampton site. It said it had been unable to produce tyres at a competitive cost. Richard Johnson, its UK managing director, said: "The market for the type of tyres made in Washington is very competitive and is increasingly dominated by low-cost suppliers from Eastern Europe and the Far East."
The news came as the Office for National Statistics said factory output fell 0.2 per cent for the second month running in February, wrecking hopes of a 0.2 per cent rise. The ONS said the fall was driven by firms cutting production of paints - closely connected to the health of DIY - and drugs, which hit an all-time record in January. Computer makers reported a 5.5 per cent slump in output.
Together with a 1.3 per cent drop in oil, gas and coal production, total industrial production fell by 0.3 per cent.
Meanwhile, a snapshot survey of the services sector showed growth in both output and new orders slowed last month. The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply said its index eased to 57.4 from 58.9 in February, still well above the 50 threshold that separates growth from contraction.
Economists are unanimous that the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee will leave rates unchanged today but are increasingly looking for a cut this year.
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Opponents Set April 17 Deadline to Rescind French Labor Law
By CRAIG S. SMITH
Published: April 6, 2006
PARIS, April 5 - French union and student leaders said Wednesday that if the government did not, by April 17, rescind a labor law to which there have been widespread objections, more nationwide strikes and protests would occur.
President Jacques Chirac called again for "constructive talks" to defuse the crisis as union leaders began meeting with legislators from the governing Union for a Popular Movement Party. Several spoke Wednesday with Bernard Accoyer, who leads the party's bloc in the National Assembly.
A dozen student and union groups met Wednesday, a day after demonstrations brought at least a million people into the streets, and announced that if the government did not act by their deadline, the day after Easter, they would call for a new "day of action."
"The mobilization is not suspended nor canceled," the groups said in a joint statement after the meeting.
The new law, which would allow employers to fire people under age 26 during a trial period without cause, was intended to encourage companies to hire young people. It has tipped the country into a political crisis instead, battering the career of its sponsor, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.
Mr. Chirac ratified the law but asked Parliament, rather than his administration, to draft a new law amending the first. That gives Parliament the power to modify the law, according to Mr. Chirac's wishes, or to go further, by revising it in a way that would effectively kill it. Few expect the law to emerge as anything close to what Mr. de Villepin intended.
The main opposition Socialist Party introduced a bill on Wednesday in Parliament to repeal the law and called for it to be passed before the Easter holiday.
The unions, meanwhile, are playing out the dispute to the bitter end because it presents them with their best opportunity in decades to demonstrate their usefulness. Two of France's largest union syndicates, the General Confederation of Labor and the French Democratic Confederation of Labor, will have national conventions this year. Their leaders are under pressure to show results or risk losing their positions.
The dispute could also help expand moribund membership rolls; the rate of unionization in France has fallen by half in the past quarter century. Bernard Thibault, leader of the General Confederation of Labor, the country's largest union syndicate, said Wednesday that he would not give up until the youth contract was withdrawn in full.
"These guys aren't suddenly going to change their line," said Guy Groux, a union specialist at the Paris Center for the Study of French Political Life.
A student leader, Bruno Julliard, called for protests that have shut dozens of French universities and high schools to "intensify" in the coming days. Students blocked roads in various French cities on Wednesday and briefly occupied a train station in Chambéry and a postal sorting center in Toulouse.
The standoff over the law, pushed through by Mr. de Villepin in February, continued to pummel his popularity. In an opinion poll to be published this week in the magazine L'Express, 45 percent of those surveyed said he should resign.
"What use is Villepin?" read a headline in the newspaper Le Parisien. The prime minister is expected to defend his position at a news conference on Thursday.
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Around the World
At least 10 sickened after noxious spray released in Tokyo train station
04:11:16 EDT Apr 6, 2006
TOKYO (AP) - Three men being chased by police at a Tokyo train station released a noxious spray that sent 10 people to hospital with eye and throat pain Thursday, a fire department official and reports said.
Five men and five women were taken to a nearby hospital, said Tokyo Fire Department spokesman Keita Kaneko. All were conscious, he added. Three men who were part of a suspected pickpocketing group released the spray as the police officers who were chasing them closed in, Kyodo News agency said.
Police arrested one man suspected of releasing the spray, Kyodo and public broadcaster NHK said.
Tokyo Metropolitan Police refused to immediately comment on the reports.
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Ukraine Orange bloc 'to reunite'
Thursday, 6 April 2006, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's party plans to reunite with its estranged "Orange Revolution" partners to form a governing coalition.
A spokeswoman for Mr Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc said its political council had agreed to team up with ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko's party and the Socialists.
Mr Yushchenko sacked Ms Tymoshenko as prime minister last September.
Ms Tymoshenko's key demand was to return as prime minister. It is not yet clear if she will get the job again.
Mr Yushchenko's party came third in the general election held on 26 March, while Ms Tymoshenko's bloc came second.
The two pro-Western liberal leaders had stood together before huge crowds of supporters in Kiev during the 2004 "Orange Revolution" - the huge street protests which swept them into power.
But their alliance collapsed last year amid bitter rivalry between Ms Tymoshenko and some of Mr Yushchenko's top aides.
Talks will now be held to agree on an action plan for the new coalition.
The pro-Russian opposition party led by Viktor Yanukovych came first in last month's parliamentary election, but did not get enough votes for an outright victory.
Mr Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party ruled out including Mr Yanukovych's Party of the Regions in the new coalition.
Mr Yanukovych was declared the winner of the presidential election in November 2004, but allegations of widespread vote-rigging sent hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians out onto the streets to demand change.
In the Orange Revolution - named after Mr Yushchenko's campaign colour - the election result was overturned and Mr Yushchenko went on to win a re-run.
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US running out of patience over North Korea: envoy
Wednesday April 5, 10:42 PM
The United States is losing patience at North Korea's boycott of six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons ambitions, US ambassador to Seoul Alexander Vershbow said.
He urged the Stalinist North to revive the nuclear talks which have been stalled for five months.
"Everyone in Washington would like to reach a negotiated solution, but everyone in Washington is also running out of patience," Vershbow said in a message on a website run by the embassy.
The two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States have held talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program since 2003. In September 2005 the North agreed to abandon nuclear programs in return for receiving a US-led security guarantee and economic and diplomatic benefits.
But the talks are in limbo following the last meeting in November, after Washington accused Pyongyang of counterfeiting US dollars and laundering money.
The North denies the charge and demands the US lift financial sanctions before it returns to the talks.
Japanese officials said Tuesday a North Korean envoy would attend a private security conference in Tokyo from April 9 to 13 amid hopes that it could help jumpstart the six-way talks.
Academics and officials, including the top nuclear negotiators of the United States, South Korea and Japan, are to take part in the event.
North Korea has recently threatened to bolster its nuclear deterrent, citing US-South Korean joint military drills and media reports -- long denied by Seoul -- that South Korea plans to build a nuclear-powered submarine.
On Wednesday it maintained its tough stance.
"The US is cooperating with the South Korean authorities in nuclear armament against the DPRK (North Korea)," Rodong Sinmun, the ruling communist party newspaper, said in a commentary.
"This compels the DPRK to harden its resolution to further strengthen its self-defensive nuclear activities."
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22 Held in Apparent Human Smuggling Case
By TIM KLASS
Wed Apr 5, 6:27 PM ET
SEATTLE - Twenty-two Chinese nationals were in custody Wednesday after they apparently let themselves out of a 40-foot cargo container that had been used to smuggle them from China, officials said.
The 18 men and four women, all believed to be in their 20s and 30s, seemed to be in good physical condition after about two weeks in the container, said Michael Milne, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Port of Seattle security guards spotted the group about 1 a.m.
Milne said there was no evidence of "any real criminal or terrorist activity ... just an alien smuggling operation."
He said the stowaways were believed to be part of an organized smuggling ring, but he had no information about how much they paid for the voyage or who ran the operation.
Milne said it could take investigators several days to determine whether they people be deported, be held as material witnesses or face other proceedings, such as asylum hearings.
The shipping container, the second from the bottom in a stack of four, had been flagged for a special examination, but that had not been conducted before the group was caught, Milne said.
It had been loaded on the ship in Shanghai and had water bottles, food, blankets and toilet facilities.
"The conditions are certainly not deluxe, but everyone came off in apparently good health," Milne said.
The group apparently pried the container open early Wednesday and lowered themselves about seven feet to the ground, he said. About half were found within the terminal and the other half were spotted trying to get out through a gate, Milne said.
Once they were intercepted, "there was no attempt to flee or hide," he said. "They were cooperative."
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (news, bio, voting record), D-Wash., said the incident demonstrated the need for greater port security.
"This appears to have been a case of human smuggling, but that cargo container could have been filled with anything from a dirty bomb to a cell of terrorists," Murray said Wednesday in a speech on the Senate floor.
It was believed to be the first detection of a human smuggling attempt via cargo container in Seattle since a flurry along the U.S. and Canadian West Coast in 2000 and 2001. Almost all of those caught were deported. Three found in a shipping container had died before reaching Seattle in January 2000.
Milne said he didn't yet know who owned the ship, which was registered in Liberia.
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STRONG EARTHQUAKE EAST OF ZAKYNTHOS
Thessaloniki, 5 April 2006 (13:52 UTC+2)
Geodynamic Institute seismologist Gerasimos Houliaras appeared cautious when asked to comment on the progress of the seismic activity in the sea region east of the Ionian Sea island of Zakynthos after the strong earthquake measuring 5.7 on the Richter scale that was recorded at 01.05am and the 4.8 magnitude tremor recorded in the same region two days ago.
Mr. Houliaras stated that seismologists cannot say with certainty if this was the main earthquake and suggested local authorities and local residents to be extra careful, stressing that schools and public buildings, in general, should be inspected to determine if they can withstand a stronger earthquake. Mr. Houliaras said that the earthquake came from a small depth, only 10-15km from the surface of the earth, and that's why it was felt so much by the people.
The tremor caused panic in the regions of Achaia, Ilia and Zakynthos, southwest Greece, and many people left their homes to spend most of the night on the streets.
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Rising rivers flooding parts of central Europe
Last Updated Wed, 05 Apr 2006 11:13:54 EDT
Central Europe is fighting floods after heavy rain and melting snow pushed rivers over their banks in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
The Danube River in Budapest reached a 120-year peak late Tuesday night, and is expected to take more than a week to fall back from the 8.6 metres above its normal level.
The government sent more than 10,000 soldiers and police to help thousands of volunteers who were maintaining flood defences in the city.
The Hungarian government has also banned shipping on the Danube as waves caused by the vessels lapped over flood walls.
At least 12 people have died in the past week, including an 18-month-old child in Austria who was killed when a dam broke. An 86-year-old man drowned in Bavaria after being swept away by a flooded river.
Thousands of people have had to get out of low-lying areas and towns where flood defences are under pressure, although some were allowed to return home late on Tuesday.
The Czech government decided on Wednesday to spend more than $244 million Cdn to pay for damage caused by the floods.
Austria, which currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, has agreed to ask the European Commission for money for the flooded regions in the Czech Republic, said a spokesperson for Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek.
The flooding is expected to continue for a week as snow melts in the mountains. Officials are also worried about rain forecast for later this week.
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Red River flooding reaches high point in Fargo
Thursday, April 6, 2006
FARGO, North Dakota (AP) -- The Red River crested at Fargo and began receding, but many property owners were still struggling with overflowing tributaries and water-covered roads.
Flooding from the Sheyenne and Maple rivers cut off all road access to the farm where Matt Smith and his parents raise show horses. BNSF Railway came to the rescue, hauling in 20 bags of pine shavings to serve as bedding for 10 horses.
"The railroad is our only way in and out," Smith said Wednesday. "In the bad flood of 1997, we walked the railroad tracks into town and rented a condo for three months."
Melting snow and heavy rain pushed the Red River above its banks this spring, leaving farms under water and causing anxiety along the river that runs north along the Minnesota-North Dakota line.
The river crested Tuesday in Fargo at just over 37 feet, two feet shy of the 1997 flood, the city's worst in a century.
By Thursday morning, it had crested at Grand Forks, a city 75 miles to the north that had been devastated by the 1997 flood. The river's overnight crest there was 47.8 feet, about 20 feet above flood stage but not high enough to top the new levee, the National Weather Service said.
At least two houses in Fargo and one in nearby Moorhead, Minnesota, were lost to flooding this week, officials said. Water from the Sheyenne River was 3 to 4 inches deep on some parts of Interstate 29 north of Fargo. And in surrounding Cass County, the flooding had already caused an estimated $1 million in damage to roads and bridges.
The National Weather Service warned that the water would remain high into the coming week as it slowly recedes, and continuing rain could prolong flooding in some areas.
In Minnesota, the Red and Wild Rice rivers crept up on Hendrum, a small town about 30 miles north of Fargo. Workers pumped away water that seeped through the levee that forms a square around the town.
The Wild Rice River was expected to crest there at 32.6 feet Thursday morning. Hendrum's levee -- raised after the 1997 flood -- protects the town to 36.8 feet.
National weather outlook
A low-pressure system moving eastward through the Plains on Thursday could bring more severe thunderstorms and tornadoes to the region, forecasters said.
The central Plains and the upper Mississippi Valley were expected to receive rain, while Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas were at the highest risk for severe weather.
The heaviest rain was to progess gradually into the Ohio Valley in the late afternoon and early evening.
As the storm moves out into the Plains, westerly winds were expected to increase. Combined with low humidity, the winds were to create another day of high fire danger.
Light to moderate snow was forecast from the central to the northern Rockies.
The West Coast was expected to be dry Thursday, but another Pacific storm was to move into the region late Friday.
The warmest temperatures were forecast for the southern Plains and Southeast, with highs rising into the 70s, 80s and 90s. The Northeast was expected to be in the 40s and 50s, while the northern Rockies were to be in the 30s and 40s.
Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Wednesday ranged from a low of 10 degrees at Embarrass, Minnesota, to a high of 98 degrees at Laredo, Texas.
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Did MI5 Murder Former Agent Denis Donaldson?
We don't know who killed Denis Donaldson, and nor does anybody else at this stage - save for those who pulled the trigger and planned the murder. But to judge by what we've read and heard and seen in past 36 hours, you might be forgiven for thinking that we are the only people on this island who are not in full possession of the facts.
With wearying predictability, the usual suspects have rushed to point the finger of blame at mainstream republicans without the merest scintilla of evidence or fact. And in a bid to add substance to their threadbare accusations, the familiar old baseless nonsense is being churned out in industrial quantities. In the United States they call it 'Hamburger Helper' - cheap filler that's mixed with meat to disguise the absence of beef. The victim's right hand was hacked off in a macabre mafia-style message to the world; a crack IRA unit travelled from South Armagh to carry out the hit; a grisly effort was made to cut off the victim's legs; he was brutally tortured before he was shot. All this while the state pathologist was still examining the remains in a lonely corner of Donegal.
We do not rule out the possibility that the IRA killed Denis Donaldson - although we do say that republicans had by far the least to gain from this shocking act. We do say, however, that it's as likely, if not more so, that agents of the British state, Mr Donaldson's erstwhile employers, carried out this killing. It is a sign of what a good job the British have done of taming the Irish and British press that to suggest such a thing is to provoke incredulous gasps in newsrooms up and down the country. To posit, as we do, that the British intelligence agencies in their many baleful forms had as much if not more reason to want Denis Donaldson dead than republicans, mainstream or dissident, is to be condemned as a conspiracy theorist.
And yet we know that agents of the British state killed Pat Finucane in an attack every bit as brutal and pitiless as the one that claimed the life of Mr Donaldson. We know that the British blew up Dublin and Monaghan and to this day continue to refuse to help find the killers. We know that the British directed and armed loyalist killer gangs which slaughtered Catholics in their beds and butchered them up entries. We know how many people the IRA killed in their ruthless and ferocious 30-year campaign, but the number of people killed by the British in the conflict will never be known because they are so good at hiding their tracks and silencing the whistleblowers.
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Hain rubbishes claims of British link to Donaldson murder
April 6th 2006
Northern Secretary Peter Hain has rubbished suggestions that the British intelligence services may have murdered former Sinn Fein official Denis Donaldson.
The 55-year-old, who admitted last year that he had been a British spy for 20 years, was shot dead at his isolated cottage in Co Donegal on Tuesday evening.
The Gardai are officially keeping an open mind on who may be responsible, but are believed to be focusing on an assumption that dissident republicans or possibly a renegade Provisional IRA unit may have been involved.
Republicans, meanwhile, have suggested that elements within the British security forces who are hostile to the peace process are the prime suspects.
In a radio interview this morning, Mr Hain described such claims as fanciful and desperate, saying: "It is much more likely to have been a dissident republican of some description than anything else."
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Freedom and Democracy
Silence in class
By Gary Younge
Tuesday April 4, 2006
University professors denounced for anti-Americanism; schoolteachers suspended for their politics; students encouraged to report on their tutors. Are US campuses in the grip of a witch-hunt of progressives, or is academic life just too liberal?
After the screenwriter Walter Bernstein was placed on the blacklist during the McCarthyite era he said his life "seemed to move in ever-decreasing circles". "Few of my friends dropped away but the list of acquaintances diminished," he wrote in Inside Out, a memoir of the blacklist. "I appeared contaminated and they did not want to risk infection. They avoided me, not calling as they had in the past, not responding to my calls, being nervously distant if we met in public places."
As chair of African American studies in Yale, Paul Gilroy had a similar experience recently after he spoke at a university-sponsored teach-in on the Iraq war. "I think the morality of cluster bombs, of uranium-tipped bombs, [of] daisy cutters are shaped by an imperial double standard that values American lives more," he said. "[The war seems motivated by] a desire to enact revenge for the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon ... [It's important] to speculate about the relation between this war and the geopolitical interests of Israel."
"I thought I was being extremely mealy-mouthed, but I was accused of advocating conspiracy theories," says Gilroy, who is now the Anthony Giddens professor of Social Theory at the London School of Economics.
Scot Silverstein, who was once on the faculty at Yale, saw a piece in the student paper about Gilroy's contribution. He wrote to the Wall Street Journal comparing Gilroy to Hitler and claiming his words illustrated the "moral psychosis and perhaps psychological sadism that appears to have infected leftist academia". The Journal published the letter. Gilroy found himself posted on Discoverthenetworks.org, a website dedicated to exposing radical professors. The principle accusation was that he "believes the US fabricated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein".
Then the emails started coming to him and his colleagues, denouncing him. "Only one person said anything," says Gilroy. "Otherwise, nobody looked me in the eye. There was something about the way it never came up that made me realise how nervous and apprehensive they were."
Few would argue there are direct parallels between the current assaults on liberals in academe and McCarthyism. Unlike the McCarthy era, most threats to academic freedom - real or perceived - do not, yet, involve the state. Nor are they buttressed by widespread popular support, as anticommunism was during the 50s. But in other ways, argues Ellen Schrecker, author of Many Are the Crimes - McCarthyism in America, comparisons are apt.
"In some respects it's more dangerous," she says. "McCarthyism dealt mainly with off-campus political activities. Now they focus on what is going on in the classroom. It's very dangerous because it's reaching into the core academic functions of the university, particularly in Middle-Eastern studies."
Either way, a growing number of apparently isolated incidents suggests a mood which is, if nothing else, determined, relentless and aimed openly at progressives in academe.
Earlier this year, Fox news commentator Sean Hannity urged students to record "leftwing propaganda" by professors so he could broadcast it on his show. On the web there is Campus Watch, "monitoring Middle East studies on campus"; Edwatch, "Education for a free nation"; and Parents Against Bad Books in School.
In mid January, the Bruin Alumni association offered students $100 to tape leftwing professors at the University of California Los Angeles. The association effectively had one dedicated member, 24-year-old Republican Andrew Jones. It also had one dedicated aim: "Exposing UCLA's most radical professors" who "[proselytise] their extreme views in the classroom".
Shortly after the $100 offer was made, Jones mounted a website, uclaprofs.com, which compiled the Dirty 30 - a hit list of those he considered the most egregious, leftwing offenders. Top of the list was Peter McLaren, a professor at the UCLA's graduate school of education. Jones branded McLaren a "monster". "Everything that flows from Peter McLaren's mouth and pen is deeply, inextricably radical," wrote Jones. "In keeping with the left's identity politics he has been a friend to the gay community."
McLaren was shocked. "I was away when the story broke and when I came back there were 87 messages waiting for me. I was surprised a list like that could be created in these times. I thought, 'Wow, somebody's out there reading my work fairly carefully.'" The main impact, he says, was to try to insulate those close to him from the fallout. "I had to take down lots of things from my website - family pictures and contacts with other people. I didn't want other people to pay the price."
Also among the Dirty 30 was history professor Ellen DuBois. She was described as, "in every way the modern female academic: militant, impatient, accusatory and radical - very radical". DuBois told the Los Angeles Times, "This is a totally abhorrent invitation to students to participate in a witch hunt against their professors."
McLaren, who describes himself as a marxist-humanist, agrees. He believes the list was a McCarthyite attack on academe, with the aim of softening up public hostility for a more propitious moment: "This is a low-intensity campaign that can be ratcheted up at a time of crisis. When there is another crisis in this country and this country is in an ontological hysteria, an administration could use that to up the ante. I think it represents a tendency towards fascism."
Six weeks after Jones released his list, two Los Angeles county sheriffs arrived unannounced at Professor Miguel Tinker-Salas's office at Pomona College and started asking questions. Tinker-Salas, a Latin American history professor, was born in Venezuela and is a vocal critic of US policy in the region. The sheriffs, part of a federal anti-terrorism task force, told him that he was not the subject of an investigation. Then, for the next 25 minutes they quizzed him on whether he had been influenced in any way by or had contact with the Venezuelan government, on the leadership within the local Venezuelan community, the consulate and the embassy. Then they questioned his students about the content of his classes, examined the cartoons on his door. "They cast the Venezuelan community as a threat," says Tinker-Salas. "I think they were fishing to see if I had any information they could use."
Pomona's president, David Oxtoby, says he was "extremely concerned about the chilling effect this kind of intrusive government interest could have on free scholarly and political discourse."
Last year, some students at the Department of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University ran a campaign against alleged anti-Israeli bias among professors, criticising the university as a place where pro-Israeli students were intimidated and faculty members were prejudiced. A faculty committee appointed by Columbia concluded that there had been no serious misconduct.
These issues are not confined to university campuses: it is also happening in schools. Since February, the normally sleepy, wealthy district of Upper St Clair in Pennsylvania has been riven with arguments over its curriculum after the local school board banned the International Baccalaureate (IB), the global educational programme, for being an "un-American" marxist and anti-Christian. During their election campaign, the Republicans of Upper St Clair referred to the IB, which is offered in 122 countries and whose student intake has risen by 73% worldwide in the past five years, as though it was part of an international communist conspiracy, suspicious of a curriculum that had been "developed in a foreign country" (Switzerland). "Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values and we have to be careful about what values our children are taught," said one Republican board member. Similar campaigns have also sprung up recently at school boards in Minnesota and Virginia.
Meanwhile, in January in Aurora, Colorado, social studies teacher Jay Bennish answered questions in his world geography class about President George Bush's speech from his students at Overland High School. Caricaturing Bush's speech, Bennish said, "'It's our duty as Americans to use the military to go out into the world and make the world like us.'" He then continued: "Sounds a lot like the things Adolf Hitler used to say: 'We're the only ones who are right, everyone else is backwards and it's our job to conquer the world and make sure they all live just like we want them to.' Now I'm not saying that Bush and Hitler are exactly the same. Obviously they're not, OK? But there are some eerie similarities to the tones they use."
Unbeknown to him, one 16-year-old student, Sean Allen, recorded part of the class on his MP3 player. When his Republican father heard it he was so incensed that he shopped it around to local conservative radio stations, where it finally found a home with radio talk-show host Mike Rosen.
Later in Bennish's class, the teacher had told his students, "I am not in any way implying that you should agree with me. I don't even know if I'm necessarily taking a position. But what I'm trying to get you to do is to think, all right, about these issues more in depth, and not just take things from the surface. And I'm glad you asked all your questions because they're all very good, legitimate questions." Rosen only played the first part of the tape on his programme. He also put it on the internet.
The next day, the Cherry Creek school district suspended Bennish, arguing that he had at least breached a policy requiring teachers to be "as objective as possible and to present fairly the several sides of an issue" when dealing with religious, political, economic or social issues.
The suspension sparked rival demonstrations at school. Hundreds of students staged a walkout, a few wearing duct tape over their mouths while some chanted, "Freedom of speech, let him teach." A smaller demonstration was staged against Bennish, with students writing "Teach don't preach" on their shirts.
But it has primarily been universities that have been on the frontline. And on the other side of the trenches has been the rightwing firebrand David Horowitz. Horowitz, who had Jones on his payroll but fired him after the taping controversy, was raised by communist parents and was himself a marxist as a teenager. He is involved with Campus Watch, Jihad Watch, Professors Watch and Media Watch; he was also connected to discoverthenetworks.org, which targeted Gilroy. A few years ago he founded a group, Students for Academic Freedom, which boasts chapters promoting his agenda on more than 150 campuses. The movement monitors slights or insults that students say they have suffered and provides an online complaint form. Students are advised to write down "the date, class and name of the professor", get witnesses, "accumulate a list of incidents or quotes", and lodge a complaint. Over the past three years Horowitz has led the call for an academic bill of rights in several states. The bills would allow students to opt out of any part of a course they felt was "personally offensive" and force American universities to adopt quotas for conservative professors as well as monitor the political inclinations of their staff.
The bill has been debated in 23 states, including six this year. In July, Pennsylvania approved legislation calling on 14 state-affiliated colleges to free their campuses from the "imposition of ideological orthodoxy". Meanwhile, House Republicans have included a provision in the Higher Education Act which calls on publicly funded colleges to ensure a diversity of ideas in class - code for countering the alleged liberal bias in classrooms.
"The aim of the movement isn't really to achieve legislation," says Horowitz. "It's supposed to act as a cattle prod, to make legislators and universities aware. The ratio of leftwing professors in Berkeley and Stanford is seven to one and nine to one. You can't get hired if you're a conservative in American universities."
Reliable empirical, as opposed to anecdotal, evidence to back up Horowitz's claim of political imbalance is patchy but rarely contested. The most detailed study, conducted by California economist Daniel Klein and Swedish scientist Charlotta Stern, did reveal a significant Democratic bias which varied depending on the course they taught. It showed that 30 times as many anthropologists and sociologists voted Democrat as Republican, while for those teaching economics the ration plummeted to three to one.
But these results gave only a partial account of campus life. Limiting their research to the social sciences and the humanities excluded a substantial portion of the university experience. According to the Princeton Review, four of the top 10 most popular subjects - business administration and management, biology, nursing and computer science - are not in the social sciences or humanities. Republicans are probably more inclined to find a home in some of these disciplines. In any case, most academics do not deny that there is a progressive, liberal bias in academe. "Of course," says Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at the Columbia School of Journalism. "There's a lot of conservatives in oil. But there aren't a lot of conservatives planning on studying sociology."
And while liberals may be more numerous, argues Schrecker, a professor of history at Yeshiva University in New York, that does not necessarily mean they are more powerful. "Progressive academe is like the ninth ward of New Orleans before the levees break - neither secure nor particularly safe. It's one of the few areas left with some kind of progressive culture."
That, rather than protection of free expression on campus, is precisely why it remains a target for the right, they say.
In February, Horowitz published a book, The Professors: the 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, in which he lists, in alphabetical order, the radical academics whom he believes are polluting academe with leftwing propaganda. "Coming to a campus near you: terrorists, racists, and communists - you know them as The Professors," reads the blurb on the jacket. "Today's radical academics aren't the exception - they're legion. And far from being harmless, they spew violent anti-Americanism, preach anti-semitism and cheer on the killing of American soldiers and civilians - all the while collecting tax dollars and tuition fees to indoctrinate our children."
The book is a sloppy series of character assassinations, relying more heavily on insinuation, inference, suggestion and association than it does on fact. Take Todd Gitlin, a journalism and sociology professor at Columbia University. Gitlin was the leader of Students for Democratic Society, a radical anti-war movement in the 60s. Today, his politics could be described as mainstream liberal. He supported the war in Afghanistan but not in Iraq and hung out the Stars and Stripes after the terrorist attacks on September 11. He has recently written a book, The Intellectuals and the Flag, calling for progressives to embrace a patriotic culture that distinguishes between allegiance to one's country, which he supports, and loyalty to one's government, which he does not.
None the less, Horowitz slams him for participating in an anti-war teach-in in March 2003 at which his colleague Nicholas de Genova called for "a million Mogadishus" to be visited on American soldiers in Iraq - referring to the murder of US military in Somalia. But Gitlin has never met or spoken to Genova and was not participating in the teach-in when Genova spoke. Horowitz also slates Gitlin for "immersing students in the obscurantist texts of leftists icons like Jürgen Habermas", but omits to mention that Gitlin also teaches from the works of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, Burke, Adam Smith and the gospels.
"Horowitz's idea of research is cherry-picking," says Gitlin. "And he can't even be trusted to find cherries. He comes up with bitter prunes."
Victor Navasky, the Delacorte professor of journalism at Columbia University, is also on Horowitz's hit list. Navasky, publisher emeritus of the leftwing magazine The Nation and chairman of the Columbia Journalism Review, is accused of "bankrolling" the review and denounced for organising lectures by "prominent leftists" such as Michael Tomasky of American Prospect and Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker. Navasky points out that he has also hosted a lecture by Fox news anchor Bill O'Reilly and the editor of the rightwing Weekly Standard at Columbia, and that the only cheque he ever sent the Review was one he returned after the magazine paid him for an article.
"Were it not for all the inaccuracies I would say that I would be flattered to be on the list, but I don't think I earned it," says Navasky. "I don't think anyone seriously considers me a clear and present danger to the republic."
Horowitz accuses those who accuse him of McCarthyism of being McCarthyites themselves. "All they do is tar and feather me with slanders," he says. "It's the politics of Stalinism."
Evidence to back up his central argument - that these political leanings are at all related to a teacher's ability to be fair, balanced or competent in class - are non-existent. Most of the criticisms of lecturers on both the Dirty 30 list and in Horowitz's book are levelled at comments professors have made outside the classroom and rarely do they provide any evidence of the accused actually criticising or ridiculing students with rightwing ideas.
Nobody denies that bad leftwing lecturers exist. As Russell Jacoby argued in The Nation, "Higher education in America is a vast enterprise boasting roughly a million professors. A certain portion of these teachers are incompetents and frauds; some are rabid patriots and fundamentalists - and some are ham-fisted leftists. All should be upbraided if they violate scholarly or teaching norms. At the same time, a certain portion of the 15 million students they teach are fanatics and crusaders." It is not their work as professors Horowitz does not like; it is the ideologies they espouse, whether in or outside the classroom.
Political assaults on intellectuals are not new. Nor are they specific to the US. At the dawn of western civilisation, Socrates was executed for filling "young people's heads with the wrong ideas". Mao targeted professors for particular humiliation during the cultural revolution.
Mark Smith, the director of government relations for the professor's union, the American Association of University Professors, says that these broadsides vary according to the political climate. Shortly after world war one, the litmus test was those who opposed America's participation in the war or backed the fledgling Russian revolution; during the 50s, it was communists; during the 80s, it was leftwing professors in Latin American studies departments. During the early 90s, Lynne Cheney, the wife of the current vice-president, was chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, when she lead the bureaucratic charge against "political correctness". In many humanities faculties, she claimed, the common thinking is that "there is no truth. Everything we think is true is shaped by political interests ... Since there is no truth ... faculty members are perfectly justified in using the classroom to advance political agendas."
"These things go in cycles," says Smith. "Horowitz did not invent this. He's capitalising on an ongoing anti-intellectualism and fear of the other."
Many believe that this current cycle has intensified as a result of the official response to 9/11. Two months after the terrorist attacks, the conservative American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), founded by Lynne Cheney in 1995, branded colleges and universities the "weak link in America's response" to the terrorist attacks and called on lecturers and professors to defend western civilisation. In a report entitled Defending Civilization: how our universities are failing America and what can be done about it, ACTA president Jerry Martin and vice-president Anne D Neal, wrote: "While faculty should be passionately defended in their right to academic freedom, that does not exempt them from criticism. The fact is: academe is the only section of American society that is distinctly divided in its response to the attacks on America."
Regardless of their accuracy, integrity and provenance, some believe that these assaults do have an effect. "There is a cunning behind the battyness," says Gitlin. "It's not just the self-aggrandisement. It's an assault on one of the few social enclaves that the right doesn't control. There is a scattershot bellicosity whether the fortunes of the political right are up or down. They find it useful for fundraising if nothing else."
Others argue that while the individual accounts are troubling, their ultimate effect on academe can be exaggerated. The response to the recent article in the London Review of Books by two prominent American professors arguing that the pro-Israel lobby exerts a dominant and damaging influence on US foreign policy may be a case in point. Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer have been accused of being anti-semites and bigots, prompting accusations of a McCarthyite witch-hunt. Shortly after publication, it was announced that one of the authors, Walt, was stepping down from his job as academic dean at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and the school removed the piece from the front page of its website. But the Kennedy School and Walt's colleagues said that the move had long been planned. Meanwhile, the school explained the website change thus: "The only purpose of that removal was to end public confusion; it was not intended, contrary to some interpretations, to send any signal that the school was also 'distancing' itself from one of its senior professors."
"The University of Chicago and Harvard University have behaved admirably in difficult circumstances. We have had the full support of our respective institutions," Mearsheimer said. So all that is left are the accusations which, given the nature of the original article, not even the authors say surprised them. People have a right to be offended. It is when that offence is either based on flawed information or mobilised into an institutional or legislative clampdown that accusations of a witch-hunt truly come into play.
"Clearly these things are disturbing," says Jon Wiener, professor of history at UCLA. "But I don't think they are happening because students are demanding it. The Bruin Alumni Association [turned out] to be one ambitious, well-funded guy. There are some frightening moments, but then things seem to return to normal."
"It's not even clear this is much other than the ill-considered action of a handful, if that, of individuals," says DuBois.
But however many people are involved, the attacks do make a difference, claims Gilroy. "Of course it has an effect," he says. "There's a pre-written script you have to follow and if you chose not to follow it, then there are consequences, so you become very self-conscious about what you say. To call it self-censorship is much too crude. But everybody is looking over their shoulder".
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Schools Ban Patriotic Clothes, Flags
April 5, 2006
SAN DIEGO -- In the wake of last week's immigration-reform protests, one school district is taking drastic measures, banning all symbols of patriotism, both U.S. and Mexican.
Beginning Monday, the Oceanside Unified School District is banning all flags and patriotic clothing. According to school officials, some students are using the garments and flags to taunt classmates.
Some critics of the move are calling it a violation of free speech protections guaranteed by the Constitution.
The American Civil Liberties Union points to the landmark Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines. In that case, school officials attempted to stop students who were protesting the Viet Nam War from wearing black armbands.
"The school has to be able to show a strong likelihood that there is going to material and substantial disruption of school, and if they don't meet that standard, then they can't censor student speech," said Kevin Neenan of the ACLU.
School officials in Oceanside now say that flags -- whether they are U.S. or Mexican or any other country's -- have now become a divider on campuses, saying that some students are using them to taunt other students
Keith Brentlinger displays the U.S. flag outside Hatter, Williams and Purdy, his Oceanside business.
"To me, it's everything," said Brentlinger "I mean, like I said -- we truly live in the greatest country in the world."
Brentlinger said he was shocked on Tuesday when marching immigration-reform protesters tore down the flag outside his business.
"Some of them just grabbed the flag, and pulled it off its aluminum pole, and it got ripped," said Brentlinger.
Brentlinger told NBC 7/39 that he put up a new flag the next day.
"Some protesters drove up in their car and snagged the flag from our building and took off," said Brentlinger. "I was extremely, extremely upset. I mean, it was just ... insulting is the word."
School officials are saying that the ban is just temporary and that they were just trying to prevent violence. They would not say how long the ban would be in effect.
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Police Uncover New Duke Lacrosse E-Mail
By EMERY P. DALESIO
Associated Press Writer
Apr 05 3:15 PM US/Eastern
DURHAM, N.C. - Hours after an exotic dancer was allegedly raped by members of the Duke University lacrosse team, a player apparently sent an e-mail saying he wanted to invite more strippers to his dorm room, kill them and skin them. It was not clear whether the message was serious or a joke.
Investigators did not return calls seeking comment about the nature of the e-mail. But a lawyer for the player who purportedly wrote it said the content suggests his client is innocent.
"While the language of the e-mail is vile, the e-mail itself is perfectly consistent with the boys' unequivocal assertion that no sexual assault took place that evening," said attorney Robert Ekstrand. The e-mail "demonstrates that its writer is completely unaware that any act or event remotely similar to what has been alleged ever occurred."
No charges have been filed in the case, which has roiled the campus and the community and led the school to suspend the lacrosse team from play.
The e-mail, according to an application for a search warrant of the player's dorm room, was sent from his Duke e-mail account just before 2 a.m. on March 14. Police said investigators received a copy from a confidential source, though they later won a court order seeking access to the account.
In the e-mail, addressed "To whom it may concern," the player says he has "decided to have some strippers over" to his dorm room, "however there will be no nudity."
"I plan on killing the bitches as soon as the walk in and proceding to cut their skin off," the author of the e-mail says, adding in vulgar terms that he would find the act sexually satisfying.
The e-mail was signed with what police said is the player's jersey number.
The warrant for the player's room was made public on Wednesday. In it, police provide a detailed timeline of the alleged attack and some additional details of their investigation. The warrant also adds conspiracy to commit murder as one of the crimes police are investigating.
The dancer, a student at a nearby university, has told police she was raped at the party by three men who restrained and choked her in a bathroom.
Investigators have collected DNA from 46 of the 47 team members. The team's lone black member did not provide a sample because the dancer, who is black, said her attackers were white. A spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office said Wednesday the analysis has not been completed.
The lacrosse team's co-captains have denied that anyone was sexually assaulted at the party, as have attorneys for the players.
According to the warrant, the alleged victim told police she believes the players used false names and falsely claimed to be members of Duke's baseball and track teams. A team captain and resident of the house where the party took place told police he used an alias when hiring the dancers at the party, the warrant states.
District Attorney Mike Nifong has said that he is "pretty confident that a rape occurred," but that he does not expect to file charges until next week.
Comment: Only a lawyer would claim that his clients "joking" statement that he wants to kill and skin strippers is a good indication that he wouldn't rape someone.
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77 TV stations aired 'fake news reports'
Published: Wednesday April 5, 2006
A study by a group that monitors the media reveals that, over a ten month span, 77 television stations from all across the nation aired video news releases without informing their viewers even once that the reports were actually sponsored content, RAW STORY has found.
One "news report" that aired on three stations relied on a video news release (VNR) produced by a PR firm on behalf of General Motors which was even apparently based on a "false claim."
Center for Media and Democracy's Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed is "a multimedia report on television newsrooms' use of material provided by PR firms on behalf of paying clients," containing video footage of the 36 video news releases (VNRs) cited in the report, plus a map and spreadsheet of the stations cited.
General Motors, Intel, Pfizer and Capital One are among the companies who produced VNRs with the help of three PR firms, and "[m]ore than one-third of the time, stations aired the pre-packaged VNR in its entirety."
An Oklahoma City FOX station owned by Sinclair is pegged as the "report's top repeat offender," airing five VNRs in full on its news broadcasts, with "the publicist's original narration each time."
Three stations "not only aired entire VNRs without disclosure, but had local anchors and reporters read directly from the script prepared by the broadcast PR firm."
News broadcasts based on a General Motors VNR stand out in the report as a striking example of "fake news," not just because they were left largely unchanged when aired on stations in Louisiana and Pennsylvania.
"GM, who introduced the first manufacturer web site in 1996, has recently lowered prices, in some cases by thousands of dollars, on all of their models as a direct result of the customers' ability to comparison shop on the Internet," Medialink's Kate Brookes "reported" in all three broadcasts.
But the Center for Media and Democracy blasts GM's "historical claim" as "fake."
"A simple dated search for "automotive web site" in the Nexis news database revealed a press release from August 1995 in which Volkswagen heralded the launch of their web portal," the report states. "It wasn't until February 1996 that General Motors announced gm.com in their own press release."
A comparison between the General Motors VNR and one of the news broadcasts can be seen at this link.
Last year the New York Times published an article called "Under Bush, a new age of prepackaged TV news" - written by David Barstow and Robin Stein - which reported on the stealthy use of VNRs created by government agencies that crept into network news broadcasts.
The Times revealed that even though Radio-Television News Directors Association's "code of ethics" specifies to "clearly disclose the origin of information and label all material provided by outsiders," the Federal Communications Commission has "never disciplined a station for showing government-made news segments without disclosing their origin."
Last June, Chris Baker at the Washington Times reported that the Radio-Television News Directors Association "submitted a 13-page statement that said few TV stations air VNRs, and those that do almost always identify the source" to the Federal Communications Commission. The statement drew from an "informal survey of 100 members" because, as the president of the Association told the Washington Times, "concrete data" was "hard to come by."
An article in Thursday's Times by Barstow (New York Times registered link) indicates that the Center "presented its findings yesterday to F.C.C. officials, including Jonathan S. Adelstein, a commissioner who has criticized video news releases."
Impressed by the "scope of what they found," Adelstein told the Times that it was a "disgrace to American journalism," and proof of "potentially major violations" of F.C.C. rules.
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N.Y. Sen. Clinton says immigration bill would make her a criminal
By DEVLIN BARRETT
Associated Press Writer
April 5, 2006, 5:27 PM EDT
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton charged Wednesday that a House GOP immigration bill would make her and her Senate aides criminals, and warned of a "ticking time bomb" lurking in the U.S. economy.
Clinton's latest comments on the immigration debate in Congress follow earlier remarks in which she said the bill, written by Reps. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Peter King, R-N.Y., would probably criminalize "even Jesus himself."
Speaking to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, she claimed her work on behalf of New York constituents would run afoul of the House bill setting penalties for anyone who knowingly assists or encourages illegal immigrants to remain here.
"I realize I would be a criminal, too. My staff would be criminal. We help people with all kinds of problems," said Clinton, D-N.Y., prompting titters in the audience.
Democratic critics and the Catholic Church complain such language would make even humanitarian assistance to an illegal immigrant a crime; the bill's authors dismiss the claim as an absurd attempt to defeat the bill.
Clinton urged the Hispanic business leaders to help defeat such measures by resisting what she called misinformation in the emotionally charged immigration debate.
"We need to help educate the entire American public. We need to put the face of America and hardworking Americans on this debate," she said.
Rep. Peter King charged Clinton is the one spreading misinformation, saying the only way his bill would make her a criminal is if she was a "coyote," another term for an immigrant smuggler.
"I hope that Sen. Clinton is not suggesting that she and her staff are members of an alien smuggling gang, or that she is a coyote posing as a senator," said King.
The bill, he said, "has absolutely nothing to do with churches or social workers or senators assisting illegal immigrants. It is aimed entirely at alien smuggling gangs."
Clinton also spent much of her speech warning of perils she saw ahead for the U.S. economy - particularly rising government debt and a growing trade deficit.
"We have to worry about the deficit, it's not an irrelevant problem and then when we combine it with the trade deficit we have a real ticking time bomb in our economy," said Clinton. "I hope that we can prevent it going off and that we begin to act responsibly."
Congress last month raised the federal debt ceiling _ the amount the government can borrow _ to nearly $9 trillion.
The U.S. trade deficit soared to a record $724 billion last year, and the imbalance with China alone was $202 billion.
Rising government debt could lead to higher interest rates, which Clinton said could hurt many homeowners if they see their adjustable mortgage interest rates rise.
"When we spend money we do not have ... it begins to ripple through the economy and I think we're beginning to see some of those ripples now," said Clinton.
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Document fraud prompts U.S. big cities to take action
www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-06 13:29:02
LOS ANGELES, April 5 (Xinhua) -- The growing problem of fraud involving counterfeit identification documents and immigration prompted 10 U.S. cities to take urgent action to curb the scourge, federal officials said on Wednesday.
Los Angeles, along with nine other U.S. cities, will set up special task forces to target fraud involving the manufacturing, sale and use of counterfeit identity documents, such as driver's licenses, birth certificates, Social Security cards or passports for immigration fraud or other activity, said the officials quoted by the local media.
The task force also will combat "benefit fraud" involving the misrepresentation or omission of a material fact on an application to get immigration benefits such as U.S. citizenship, political asylum or a valid visa.
A similar task force was set up in the Washington D.C./Virginia area after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. Document fraud was believed to be one of the factors that led to the attacks.
At least seven of the 9/11 hijackers obtained genuine Virginia identity documents by submitting fraudulent Virginia residency certificates, with the ID cards allowing them to clear airport security and board the airplanes for the attacks.
Also benefited from such fraud was Ramzi Yousef, who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and engaged in asylum fraud to enter the United States, federal officials said.
"One of the lessons from 9/11 is that false identities and fraudulent documents present serious risks to national security," said U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff earlier.
"(U.S.) President (George W.) Bush has directed the creation of these task forces to play a vital role in the fight against terrorists, human traffickers and immigration violators," Chertoff said.
"We must deny criminals the identification tools they need to threaten our country, cross our borders illegally and violate our immigration laws without detection."
Participants in the task force will include U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Social Security Administration, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Secret Service and numerous federal, state and local agencies.
Besides Los Angeles, task forces will be located in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, New York, Newark, Philadelphia and St. Paul.
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Pregnant woman beaten at baby shower
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
SPRINGFIELD, Massachusetts (AP) -- An argument at a baby shower escalated into a brawl in which one man was shot and the pregnant guest of honor was beaten with a stick, police said.
Three people were arrested after the fight, described by police as a "baby shower gone bad."
Authorities said the shooting victim, Aristotle Garcia, got into a fight with a man who is dating his ex-girlfriend. The argument, over whether the woman let their 5-year-old daughter drink beer, escalated and drew in two other people -- Jazz Rivas and Juan Velazquez, said Police Lt. Cheryl C. Claprood.
When the baby shower's hostess tried to intervene, Rivas began hitting some of the guests, including the 22-year-old mother-to-be, with a large stick, she said.
Velazquez fired a gun in the air, then fired it into the crowd, hitting Garcia in the stomach, according to police. Garcia, 26, was in stable condition at Baystate Medical Center. The mother-to-be, who was seven months pregnant, was treated after the incident Saturday and released.
Velazquez, 19, was arrested Tuesday and charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and armed assault with intent to murder. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday and was ordered held on $100,000 bail.
The man Garcia was initially fighting with, Antonio Santiago, 25, pleaded not guilty to similar charges Tuesday and was ordered held on $50,000 bail.
Rivas, 22, pleaded not guilty to three counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and one count of assault and battery on a pregnant female. His bail was set at $10,000.
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Science and Quirks
Discovered: the missing link that solves a mystery of evolution
Alok Jha, science correspondent
Thursday April 6, 2006
Scientists have made one of the most important fossil finds in history: a missing link between fish and land animals, showing how creatures first walked out of the water and on to dry land more than 375m years ago.
Palaeontologists have said that the find, a crocodile-like animal called the Tiktaalik roseae and described today in the journal Nature, could become an icon of evolution in action - like Archaeopteryx, the famous fossil that bridged the gap between reptiles and birds.
As such, it will be a blow to proponents of intelligent design, who claim that the many gaps in the fossil record show evidence of some higher power.
Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, said: "Our emergence on to the land is one of the more significant rites of passage in our evolutionary history, and Tiktaalik is an important link in the story."
Tiktaalik - the name means "a large, shallow-water fish" in the Inuit language Inuktikuk - shows that the evolution of animals from living in water to living on land happened gradually, with fish first living in shallow water.
The animal lived in the Devonian era lasting from 417m to 354m years ago, and had a skull, neck, and ribs similar to early limbed animals (known as tetrapods), as well as a more primitive jaw, fins, and scales akin to fish.
The scientists who discovered it say the animal was a predator with sharp teeth, a crocodile-like head, and a body that grew up to 2.75 metres (9ft) long.
"It's very important for a number of reasons, one of which is simply the fact that it's so well-preserved and complete," said Jennifer Clack, a paleontologist at Cambridge University and author of an accompanying article in Nature.
Scientists have previously been able to trace the transition of fish into limbed animals only crudely over the millions of years they anticipate the process took place. They suspected that an animal which bridged the gap between fish and land-based tetrapods must have existed - but, until now, there had been scant evidence of one.
"Tiktaalik blurs the boundary between fish and land-living animal both in terms of its anatomy and its way of life," said Neil Shubin, a biologist at the University of Chicago, and a leader of the expedition which found Tiktaalik.
The near-pristine fossil was found on Ellesmere Island, Canada, which is 600 miles from the north pole in the Arctic Circle.
Scientists from the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University led several expeditions into the inhospitable icy desert to search for the fossils.
The find is the first complete evidence of an animal that was on the verge of the transition from water to land. "The find is a dream come true," said Ted Daeschler of the Academy of Natural Sciences.
"We knew that the rocks on Ellesmere Island offered a glimpse into the right time period and were formed in the right kinds of environments to provide the potential for finding fossils documenting this important evolutionary transition."
When Tiktaalik lived, the Canadian Arctic region was part of a land mass which straddled the equator. Like the Amazon basin today, it had a subtropical climate and the animal lived in small streams. The skeleton indicates that it could support its body under the force of gravity.
Farish Jenkins, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University said: "This represents a critical early phase in the evolution of all limbed animals, including humans - albeit a very ancient step." Tiktaalik also gives biologists a new understanding of how fins turned into limbs. Its fin contains bones that compare to the upper arm, forearm and primitive parts of the hand of land-living animals.
"Most of the major joints of the fin are functional in this fish," Professor Shubin said.
"The shoulder, elbow and even parts of the wrist are already there and working in ways similar to the earliest land-living animals."
Dr Clack said that, judging from the fossil, the first evolutionary transition from sea to land probably involved learning how to breathe air. "Tiktaalik has lost a series of bones that, in fishes, covers the gill region and helps to operate the gill-breathing mechanism," she said. "The air-breathing mechanism it had would have been elaborated and having lost the series of bones that lies between the head and the shoulder girdle means it's got a neck, it can raise its head more easily in order to gulp the air.
"The flexible robust limbs appear to be connected with pushing the head out of the water to breathe the air."
H Richard Lane, director of sedimentary geology and palaeobiology at the US National Science Foundation, said: "These exciting discoveries are providing fossil Rosetta stones for a deeper understanding of this evolutionary milestone - fish to land-roaming tetrapods."
A cast of the fossil goes on display at the Science Museum in South Kensington central London today.
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Ancient dentists drilled teeth 9,000 years ago, scientists say
Last Updated Wed, 05 Apr 2006 20:53:12 EDT
Ancient man used sophisticated drills to treat tooth decay, according to a French anthropologist who turned up evidence of fine dental work in ancient Pakistani cemeteries.
Writing in the respected British journal Nature, Roberto Macchiarelli of the University of Poitiers said Neolithic man used drills made of tiny pieces of flint up to 9,000 years ago.
That means dentistry is at least 4,000 years older than first thought and far older than modern anesthesia.
Macchiarelli came to his conclusion after finding nearly perfect holes that had been drilled into the back teeth of nine skulls in a Pakistani graveyard. He carbon-dated the skulls and found the patients lived between 5500 BC and 7000 BC.
What surprised Macchiarelli was the sophistication of the dental work. The ancient dentists managed to drill holes into the large molars at the back of their patients' mouths, a tricky job even with modern equipment.
Some holes were 3.5 millimetres deep.
"The holes were so perfect, so nice," said David Frayer, an anthropology professor at the University of Kansas who co-authored the study. "I showed the pictures to my dentist and he thought they were amazing holes."
He believes the ancient dentists learned their trade drilling ornamental beads, a technique that was in vogue at the time.
Researchers found drill bits that were fashioned out of tiny pieces of flint and used tiny bows to spin them. Macchiarelli tried the technique with a home-made bow and drilled through a human tooth in less than a minute.
"Definitely it had to be painful," Macchiarelli said.
Researchers were impressed by how advanced the society was at such an early period. One patient had a tooth that was drilled twice. Another patient had three teeth drilled, while other teeth showed signs of cavities around the drill holes.
Macchiarelli found no sign of fillings, but he told Nature that a soft, asphalt material could have been used.
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Ancient Pyramid Discovered in Mexico
By MARK STEVENSON
Associated Press Writer
Apr 5, 11:39 PM EDT
MEXICO CITY -- Archeologists announced on Wednesday they have discovered a massive 6th-century Indian pyramid beneath a centuries-old Catholic religious site.
Built on a hillside by the mysterious Teotihuacan culture, the pyramid was abandoned almost 1,000 years before Christians began re-enacting the Crucifixion there in the 1800s.
"When they first saw us digging there, the local people just couldn't believe there was a pyramid," said archaeologist Jesus Sanchez. "It was only when the slopes and shapes of the pyramid, the floors with altars were found, that the finally believed us."
Ceramic fragments and the presence of other ceremonial structures on the hill suggested the possibility there was a pyramid or temple somewhere nearby, but the theory wasn't proved until a member of Sanchez's team, Miriam Advincula, started a project to map the site in 2004. Exploratory trenches dug in 2005 and 2006 confirmed the find.
"Both the pre-Hispanic structure and the Holy Week rituals are part of our cultural legacy, so we have to look for a way to protect both cultural values," said Sanchez, who, along with archaeologist Miriam Advincula, has been exploring the site since 2004.
The people of Iztapalapa - now a low-income neighborhood plagued by squatter settlements - began re-enacting the Passion of Christ in 1833, to give thanks for divine protection during a cholera epidemic.
During the ritual, which draws as many as a million spectators every year, a wooden cross is raised just a few yards from the buried remains of the Teotihuacan temple, and a man chosen to portray Christ is tied to the cross.
Archeologists said they will fill in the excavation pits that revealed the pyramid to prevent the structure from being damaged by Good Friday spectators.
Measuring nearly 500 feet on each side, the 60-foot-tall pyramid was carved out on a natural hillside around 500 A.D., the scientists said. It was abandoned about 300 years later when the Teotihuacan culture collapsed.
Mexico abounds with cases in which Spanish conquerors literally built their Catholic faith atop the remains of older religions.
But the case of Iztapalapa hillside, known as the Hill of the Star, appears to be mere geographical coincidence, Sanchez said.
Pre-Hispanic cultures chose the hills that dot the otherwise flat, mountain-ringed Mexico Valley for their ceremonial sites, and postcolonial communities did the same.
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Asteroid Crash on Mercury Splattered Earth, Study Says
for National Geographic News
April 4, 2006
An asteroid collided with the still-forming Mercury some 4.5 billion years ago, sending chunks of the planet hurtling through space, scientists say.
What's more, the collision was big enough to send up to 16 million billion tons (16 quadrillion tons) of Mercury's rocky material tens of millions of miles to Earth, new computer simulations suggest.
Some scientists believe that Mercury was much larger as it was forming than it is today. It had a lighter, rockier outer layer, similar to that of Earth's, which was blasted away in the great crash, they say.
This would explain why Mercury is so different from its neighbors Venus and Earth. Mercury is very heavy for its size, due to an unusually large amount of iron, scientists believe.
All the planets are thought to have formed in much the same way, so how Mercury ended up being so different is not completely understood.
A team of scientists in Bern, Switzerland, decided to tackle the mystery. They ran a pair of extensive computer simulations to test the collision theory.
"You always try to prove an idea wrong. This work shows it could have happened in this way,'' said astronomer Jonti Horner, who will present his results tomorrow at a Royal Astronomical Society meeting in Leicester, England.
First, the scientists simulated the catastrophic collision of the young Mercury with a giant asteroid traveling at 16 miles (25 kilometers) a second.
The collision would have been so violent and energy-packed that it would have caused Mercury's outer layer to melt. Shock waves would have flung the material from the planet.
The rapidly escaping debris would have eventually cooled into particles 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) in diameter or smaller, Horner said.
At the end of this hours-long process, Mercury would have been left at 35 percent of its original size.
"You've lost more [of Mercury] than what is left,'' Horner said.
A second simulation followed Mercury's jettisoned particles through space. The bits, Horner says, would have traveled for millions of years.
"Mercury particles would've ended up on everything in the solar system," he said.
Some particles were swept up by Jupiter's gravity and flung from our solar system. Some landed on Earth.
Most would have gone to Venus. "It's the nearest stop,'' Horner said.
Exactly where they ended up was heavily influenced by where Mercury may have been at the time of the collision and exactly where the planet was hit, the simulations found.
The simulations determined that the particles wouldn't have fallen back to Mercury.
Because of the distance the particles would have been flung during the collision, it would have taken four million years for 50 percent of the particles to fall back to Mercury. By then, they would have already been carried away by solar radiation.
John Chambers, a research astronomer with the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., agreed that Mercury bits may have landed on Earth.
"If Mercury was hit, especially by something big, pieces could have escaped and hit other planets,'' he said.
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Floating Ice May Explain How Jesus Walked on Water, Researchers Say
By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 6, 2006; Page A03
Combining evidence of a cold snap 2,000 years ago with sophisticated mapping of the Sea of Galilee, Israeli and U.S. scientists have come up with a scientific explanation of how Jesus could have walked on water.
Their answer: It was actually floating ice.
The scientists acknowledge that the Sea of Galilee, in what is now northern Israel, has never frozen in modern times. But they say geological core samples suggest that average temperatures were lower in Jesus's day, and that there were at least two protracted cold spells in the region 1,500 to 2,500 years ago.
In addition to chilly weather, their explanation depends on a rare physical property of the Sea of Galilee, known to modern-day Israelis as Lake Kinneret. It is fed by salty springs along its western shore that produce plumes of dense water, thermally isolating areas that could freeze even if the entire lake did not, they assert.
"I don't know whether the story is based on someone seeing Jesus walk on ice," said Doron Nof, an Israel-born professor of oceanography at Florida State University. "All I know is that during that time, a freeze could have happened -- and it could have looked like someone was walking on water, particularly if it rained after the ice formed."
This is not the first time that Nof, 61, has attempted to debunk a biblical miracle. In 1992, he and Nathan Paldor, an atmospheric scientist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote a scientific article proposing that strong winds across the narrow, shallow Gulf of Suez could have lowered the Red Sea by 10 feet, allowing the Israelites to cross to safety and then swallowing up an Egyptian army within a few minutes when the wind stopped, just as the book of Exodus says.
Nof, who described himself as a nonreligious Jew, said he hopes that critics will realize that he is an "equal opportunity miracle buster" who has taken on both Moses and Jesus.
"This isn't going to convince a believer not to believe, and nobody's trying to do that. At least, I'm not trying to do that," he said. "I personally believe that all these biblical stories are based on some truth."
To develop their theory of what they call "springs ice" on the Sea of Galilee, Nof and Paldor teamed up with Ian McKeague, a statistician at Columbia University. Their 23-page paper appears in this month's edition of the Journal of Paleolimnology, a peer-reviewed publication on the history of lakes.
In recent years, possible scientific explanations have also been proposed for several other Bible stories, including Noah's flood (seawater surging from the Mediterranean into the Black Sea as glaciers melted at the end of the last Ice Age) and Joshua's destruction of the walls of Jericho (an earthquake).
The reaction yesterday among biblical scholars to Nof's theory ranged from bemused detachment to real irritation.
"When I look at those verses, I don't need a scientific explanation. I'm a religious man, and I believe that God can do whatever he wants to do, that Jesus could do whatever he wanted to do," said Stanley M. Burgess, professor of Christian history at Regent University, an evangelical Christian school founded by Pat Robertson in Virginia Beach.
But Burgess added that he has "no problem at all" with scientists propounding alternative explanations for miracles. Rather than undercutting religious belief, such explanations may strengthen the faith of people who accept the gospel message but have difficulty accepting "signs and wonders" at face value, he said.
"If you need miracles to prop up your faith, then maybe your faith is weak to begin with," he said.
Wendy Cotter, professor of scripture at Loyola University Chicago, a Roman Catholic school, wrote her doctoral dissertation 15 years ago on biblical accounts of Jesus's stilling the wind and walking on the sea. When she heard about Nof's theory, she said, her first thought was: "Anything's possible -- but that's not what the writer means."
To the Romans, she said, the sea was "the ultimate force of nature, which was why the Caesars always claimed control over it." Jews in the time of Jesus also feared the sea and, moreover, were familiar with the Book of Job, in which God is described as the one who can "walk on the sea," she said.
In attributing to Jesus the power to walk across the waves, "Christians were using the imagery that had previously been used by both the Romans and the Jews to show that a person has been given authority by God," Cotter said. "Water, or ice, is not the point."
Comment: People! The stories in the Bible are made up! You don't need to go finding "scientific" explanations that involve three "could haves" strung together. There is no historical evidence whatsoever that any of the events recounted about Jesus in the Bible actually happened as they are described! They're symbols!!!
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Ark's Quantum Quirks
Signs of the Times
April 6, 2006
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First H5N1 bird flu outbreak on German poultry farm
Apr 05 10:03 AM US/Eastern
The H5N1 bird flu virus has for the first time been detected on a poultry farm in Germany, the ministry for social affairs in the eastern state of Saxony said.
A spokeswoman for the ministry, Elke Reinking, said Wednesday that a special protection zone of three kilometres (1.9 miles) had been drawn around the poultry farm in Leipzig, where orders have been given to slaughter some 15,000 turkeys.
It was not yet clear whether the disease detected in dead turkeys on the farm on Tuesday was the highly pathogenic form of H5N1 which can prove fatal to humans, the ministry said.
This feared strain has since February been found in wild birds in seven of Germany's states, stretching from the Baltic Sea to Lake Constance on the Swiss border.
It reached Berlin late last month when a dead buzzard found on the balcony of an apartment block in the capital was confirmed to have had this form of the virus.
Three cats and a stone marten on the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen were also infected with the most dangerous form of H5N1, which has been responsible for more than 100 human deaths, mainly in Asia, since 2003.
The discovery of the disease in mammals sparked fears here that it could spread to humans more easily, but World Health Organisation experts have said this seemed unlikely.
The country's poultry industry complained last month that it has already lost millions of dollars because consumers were scared to eat poultry.
Reinking said the outbreak in Leipzig marked the first time that a poultry farm in Germany had been touched by a form of H5 bird flu since 1959, when the virus was registered.
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Bird flu confirmed in dead swan
Wednesday, 5 April 2006
Preliminary tests have confirmed the H5 avian flu virus in a sample from a swan found dead in Fife, health officials have revealed.
The exact virus strain is not known, but tests were continuing and further results were expected on Thursday.
The Scottish Executive said restrictions had been put in place around Cellardyke, east of Anstruther.
If the disease is confirmed as the deadly H5N1 strain there may be further restrictions set up.
The dead bird was found near the coast in an emaciated state. Samples were being sent for analysis at the EU's bird flu laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey.
An executive spokesman said: "In accordance with a recent EU decision the Scottish Executive is putting in place a protection zone of a minimum of three kilometres radius and a surveillance zone of 10 kilometres.
"Keepers of birds in the protection zone are being instructed to isolate their birds from wild birds, by taking them indoors where ever possible."
Measures to restrict the movement of poultry, eggs and poultry products from these zones will be brought into effect immediately.
Officials stressed that there was no reason for public health concern.
It is understood that the government's national emergency committee Cobra will meet on Thursday.
Representatives from Defra, the Scottish Executive, the Department of Health, the Cabinet Office and 10 Downing Street are expected to attend.
The H5N1 virus does not at present pose a large-scale threat to humans, as it cannot pass easily from one person to another.
However, experts fear the virus could mutate to gain this ability, and in its new form trigger a flu pandemic, potentially putting millions of human lives at risk.
According to the National Farmers Union Scotland, the Scottish poultry industry produces 127,000 tones of meat and 740 million eggs. However, there are thought to be no poultry farms in the immediate area of flu case.
Chief Veterinary Officer for Scotland Charles Milne said: "Whilst disease has yet to be confirmed, this is an important development.
"Bird keepers outside the protection zone should redouble their efforts to prepare for bringing their birds indoors if that becomes necessary.
"They must also review their biosecurity measures to ensure that all possible precautions have been taken."
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, in whose Fife North East constituency the bird was found, said he would follow the situation "very closely".
He said: "I have spoken directly to the (agriculture) minister, Ben Bradshaw, who has told me there cannot be final confirmation until tomorrow.
"I have his assurance that all necessary steps will be taken and that there is no health risk to humans."
First Minister Jack McConnell said he had spoken to other ministerial offices and was being kept informed of the situation.
Mr McConnell was notified whilst on an engagement in Washington as part of his involvement in Tartan Week.
BBC Scotland rural affairs correspondent Ken Rundle said that whilst the poultry industry would be on high alert, there would be relief that the virus had been found in a wild bird and not on a poultry farm.
BBC medical correspondent Fergus Walsh added that concerns over the case should not get out of proportion.
He said it could mean a potential crisis for the poultry industry, but not for humans.
Denmark recorded its first case of the potentially deadly H5N1 avian flu virus last month.
The strain has already been found in Europe in Switzerland, Poland, Serbia-Montenegro and Albania.
France recorded its first case in February.
Dr David Nabarro, the UN bird flu co-ordinator, told News 24: "Over the last few weeks we've seen swans and other birds dying in Western Europe and being found to have this virus, H5N1, on board.
"So, it's quite to be expected you have a case appearing in Scotland."
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Health experts worried about bird flu impact on Gaza diet
Wed Apr 5, 10:19 AM ET
JERUSALEM - An outbreak of the highly contagious H5N1 strain of bird flu in the Gaza Strip is "partially under control", health experts said, while voicing concern for its impact on the local diet.
"The situation is partially under control and that control should improve," local World Health Organisation chief Ambroglio Manenti told journalists.
Palestinian authorities have decided to cull 500,000 birds in a three-kilometre (two-mile) radius around infection sites, half of which have been killed with the rest to be done "in a few days", he said.
The H5N1 virus was detected last month in birds in the Gaza Strip, as well as on Israeli farms and Jewish settlements in the occupied
Israel has said it has contained its outbreak but fears a new wave of infections from the Gaza Strip and Jordan, where the virus has also been found.
No human cases have been reported in Israel or the Palestinian territories.
But Manenti and Food and Agriculture Organisation project manager Luigi Damiani both expressed concern about the cull's impact on the Gazan economy and Palestinians' diet, saying Israel should reopen the Karni goods crossing.
"One specific concern is the fact that poultry constitutes the primary source of protein in the Gaza Strip and with the Karni crossing closed we are concerned about the nutritional consequences on the population," said Manenti.
Israel has only opened the Karni goods crossing, the only such crossing between Gaza and Israel, intermittently since the start of the year, with the UN warning of a food shortages even without the bird cull.
Manenti said that 30,000 Gazan poultry farmers would be affected by the cull, meaning that, with their families, some 200,000 people inside the impoverished territory will be affected, or 15 percent of the population.
Damiani said the World Food Programme was planning to distribute tinned fish in Gaza to make up for the lack of protein while suggesting Israel lift the ban on Palestinians fishing more than six nautical miles (11 kilometres) from shore.
"It's sardine season now and they're cheap enough for the Gazan population to eat," he said.
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Benzene Levels in Soft Drinks Above Limit
By LIBBY QUAID
AP Food and Farm Writer
Apr 05 8:35 PM US/Eastern
WASHINGTON - Cancer-causing benzene has been found in soft drinks at levels above the limit considered safe for drinking water, the Food and Drug Administration acknowledged Wednesday.
Even so, the FDA still believes there are no safety concerns about benzene in soft drinks, or sodas, said Laura Tarantino, the agency's director of food additive safety.
"We haven't changed our view that right now, there is not a safety concern, not a public health concern," she said. "But what we need to do is understand how benzene forms and to ensure the industry is doing everything to avoid those circumstances."
The admission contradicted statements last week, when officials said FDA found insignificant levels of benzene.
In fact, a different study found benzene at four times the tap water limit, on average, in 19 of 24 samples of diet soda.
Tarantino said chemists may have overestimated the amount of benzene and that levels in diet soda were still relatively low compared with other sources of benzene exposure.
The samples were collected as part of the FDA's ongoing Total Diet Study, which looks for contaminants and nutrients in many foods and beverages.
FDA has been doing a separate study of benzene in soft drinks, but it is not ready to release the results, Tarantino said.
The Environmental Working Group has accused the FDA of suppressing information about benzene in soft drinks.
"If they're so confident the situation is not a safety risk, they need to release the data to prove it," said Richard Wiles, the group's senior vice president. "The only data available to the public contradict their claim."
Benzene, a cancer-causing chemical linked to leukemia, can form naturally and is found in forest fires, gasoline and cigarette smoke. It's widely used in industrial production to make plastics, rubber, detergents, drugs and pesticides.
Benzene can also form in soft drinks made with Vitamin C and sodium or potassium benzoate. Heat, light and shelf life can affect whether benzene will form, according to FDA.
A spokesman for the American Beverage Association said the amount of soft drinks people consume is far less than the amount of tap water they are exposed to.
"You can crunch the numbers any way you want; it's still adding up to safe products," said the spokesman, Kevin Keane. "We're going to continue to work with FDA to ensure the safety of our products."
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How many more lives will Chernobyl claim?
06 April 2006
From New Scientist Print Edition
THE cloud of radiation spewed out by the world's worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl 20 years ago could kill up to 60,000 people - 15 times as many as officially estimated. So say scientists who are accusing two UN organisations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), of downplaying the impact of the accident.
Chernobyl reactor number 4 in Ukraine was ripped apart by an explosion on 26 April 1986, and burned for 10 days. It disgorged a massive amount of radioactivity - up to 14 exabecquerels (14 × 1018 becquerels) - over Europe and the rest of the world.
Last September, the IAEA and the WHO released a report which claimed to reveal "the true scale of the accident". Its headline conclusion that radiation from the accident would kill a total of 4000 people was widely reported (New Scientist, 10 September 2005, p 14), but that figure is now being challenged. In a report this week for the Green group in the European Parliament, Ian Fairlie and David Sumner, two independent radiation scientists from the UK, say that the death toll from cancers caused by Chernobyl will in fact lie somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000.
They accuse the IAEA/WHO report of ignoring its own prediction of an extra 5000 cancer deaths in the less contaminated parts of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, and of failing to take account of many thousands more deaths in other countries, where more than half of Chernobyl's fallout ended up. "It is poor scientific practice to issue figures which only reflect part of the real situation," Fairlie says.
Zhanat Carr, a radiation scientist with the WHO in Geneva, says the 5000 deaths were omitted because the report was a "political communication tool". "Scientifically, it may not be the best approach," she admitted to New Scientist. She also accepts that the WHO estimates did not include predicted cancers outside Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. The health impact in other countries will be "negligible", she says, adding that there is no epidemiological research showing otherwise. The WHO "has no reasons to deliberately mislead anyone", she insists. "WHO's position is independent, free from political issues, and based on scientific evidence of the highest quality." The IAEA refused to comment.
Fairlie and Sumner's accusations are backed by other experts. The IAEA/WHO report "misrepresents reality by significantly underestimating the number of cancer deaths", says Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina in Columbia. A paper co-authored by Mousseau and published this week in Trends in Ecology and Evolution (DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2006.01.008) points to studies suggesting that fallout from Chernobyl has already caused germline mutations in animals and plants.
Elizabeth Cardis, a radiation specialist from the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, says that 30,000 to 60,000 cancer deaths is "the right order of magnitude". She is due to publish a study later this month that will estimate the number of excess cancers attributable to Chernobyl amongst 570 million Europeans. Though they will be difficult to detect, as they will only form a tiny proportion of the millions of cancer deaths from all causes, this doesn't mean that they should be ignored, Cardis says. "They are real people who suffer from the accident."
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