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Editorial: Is Doomsday Coming For U.S. Forces In Iraq?

March 27, 2006 Updated April 8, 2006

Having many cherished friends, from many walks of life, a good listener hears many different voices from many different sources. Let this listener share with you those things he has been told of late from many whom he dearly loves and does not want to lose. They, all those human beings who dare to Be and to Love, in this brief whirl of endless doubts we think of as life, are precious, and the Shadow now falling over far too many of them on the blood soaked sands of Iraq seems very dark and dire.

It is not yet possible to provide enough hard data to fully support the following speculations. It is all told by way of "scuttlebutt" from rank and file, military-on-the-job rumors, and old fashioned soldiers' and sailors' gossip and intuitions. It is offered in that "for what it's worth" category, in the hopes that it will make a few more folks think about the hell on Earth that is the day to day reality for U.S. "boots on the ground" in Iraq.

In general, my experiences over many years of close friendships with honorable, career military and National Guard members, from among both officers and non-commissioned personnel, have proven that the "scuttlebutt" is often more accurate than the official line being handed out from the current CentCom. That was certainly true in Vietnam, and the similarities between Iraq and "The Nam" are abundant.

Remember, however, this is only "scuttlebutt." Do not take it as fact but as food for thought, and perhaps as a warning.

In Iraq, many, perhaps most, of the American forces in the forward operations areas are essentially pinned down. They stay huddled for safety within their small, fortified (as best possible) bunkers and camps, both rural and urban, emerging only upon direct commands, to conduct their assigned patrols and sweeps while looking first and ever more exclusively to their own survival in all regards. They are literally stressed and terrified out of their minds, and most of them are also physically ill, many seriously so, from the effects of Depleted Uranium poisoning. Many of them, especially with their psychopathic "leaders" giving them almost carte blanche to do such, have taken on a "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" modus operendi, at all times and in all circumstances when they're outside of their bunkers.

The truth of this "scuttlebutt" is now being born out by numerous Iraqi eyewitnesses and by the latest statements and sworn testimony coming from members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and in a Canadian courtroom where an American army deserter is pleading for political asylum to keep from returning for another tour of duty in Iraq. Those soldiers who do still have empathy and conscience alive within themselves post Iraq War will suffer hell's own psychological and spiritual torments for the rest of their lives, as have a majority of Vietnam combat veterans. Their having either engaged in or witnessed daily massacres of civilians, including women and children, will leave them broken for life in the deepest parts of themselves. But, their having been driven to the point of unflinching barbarity in Iraq is also very understandable, just as it was among combat troops in Vietnam where the "kill 'em all" sobriquet originated.

These days, the areas they "patrol and sweep" are growing smaller, and their unit actions becoming shorter and more perilous, as they go about the impossible task of "clearing" each day's designated areas of IEDs and "insurgents." The conditions of their daily lives are deplorable. The rate of suicides among them is astronomical, setting an all time record for any U.S. military deployments, in any war or other combat action ever. Some of the oldest among National Guard members now in Iraq were forced back into active duty after having been retired for years. Their ages go up to and include some members who are in their fifties and even a few field medics and nurses in their early sixties. Thus some now in Iraq were there, in The Nam. They know of what they speak, and they say it is even worse in Iraq now than it was in Vietnam in the months before the end.

In many of the Forward Operations Bases or Camps, American soldiers do not dependably receive enough daily drinking water, let alone water enough for washing, and for many there are still no regular showers. For the most remote locations, there are no showers at all, not even with the foul, recycled and often unsafe "yellow water" that has become notorious among U.S. troops' Iraq war tales. Many bivouacs have no air conditioning and most are in areas where there is no electricity for most of the time, which is true throughout nearly all of Iraq outside of the Green Zone.

Having their own generators doesn't help them much when the fuel supplies can't and often don't get through the heavy fields of fire and explosives from the Iraqi resistence. Some U.S. troops in Iraq even lack for adequate supplies of MREs episodically, let alone of fresh foods. They are sometimes left hungry at the end of their long, desperate days, an awful insult added to all the other dangers and deprivations of their days and nights. They are often without laundry facilities, without real beds as opposed to cots, and even without flush toilets in some isolated camps.

They are supposedly rotated out of the grueling forward positions to the large, new bases already finished, (almost 8 of them now) every two to four weeks, but the operative phrase on that is always "if possible." Their successful rotation to more tolerable conditions largely depends on the current "heat" of the resistence around a particular forward base. Some units deployed, especially in the more remote and heavily resistence dominated areas, have now been virtual prisoners, out in the deserts, for several months.

Rumor has it that upwards of 5,500 U.S. combat troops have walked out of Iraq, into adjacent countries such as Turkey, Iran and Syria, and have kept on going from there to places in Europe and elsewhere. They were largely from among those units stuck in the farthest, most isolated positions, and the scuttlebutt says that the Iraqi resistence fighters have even helped some of them to get across the borders and have provided them with food, water, contacts and money for the journey. On several occassions, by the time the transport helicopters came in to take them out to one of the big new bases for a break, the entire unit was gone but for one or two die hards.

It was the U.S. occupation's own "back" that really got broken at Fallujah. Please note the steadily shrinking sizes and numbers of cleverly named U.S. military assaults and initiatives that have taken place since then. The annihilation of Fallujah, and the U.S.'s massive slaughter of innocent civilians there, increased support for the resistence to almost 100% among the Iraqi people. It is most accurate to say that the American combat forces in Iraq are now largely fighting a defensive war. Those with a knowledge of military tactics and history will recognize that to be the worst possible position an invading and then occupying army can get into. To have that be the case this long after the initial invasion, when neither the troops nor their equipment are able to operate at anywhere near to peak condition and efficiency, is even worse.

In addition to the other shortages the troops on the front lines face in these bases, they are also short on ammunition. Despite all of the Bush administration's propganda to the contrary, the resistence owns the highways and roads of Iraq, with the possible exceptions of a very few and very shaky stretches in and around the "Green Zone" and, maybe, maybe not, the main airport road out of Baghdad. The military's ability to resupply its forward troops is rapidly approaching nil. The remote troops are being kept alive by air drops delivering almost everything that does reach them now.

Unfortunately, the anti-aircraft fire from the resistence, always present and heavy, from at least small arms, surrounds the U.S. forward bases and is especially strong near the most remote and smallest ones. For that reason, the drops of supplies to forward combat units are not as precise as they need to be in order to keep supply levels adequate, and some things like diesel fuel, gasoline and ammunition cannot be air dropped regularly or at all. Again, despite the official reports, the recent increases in helicopter "crashes" shows the growing prowess of the Iraqi fighters in bringing them down.

Note too that, except for numerous and frequently fatal vehicular "accidents," there has been scant media or press mention lately of the U.S. military's huge convoys of transport trucks that were formerly hauling supplies to the U.S. troops from the depots and distribution centers in Kuwait and at the Baghdad airport and the new air bases. They have not been rolling very reliably since just after Fallujah. The U.S. troop and supply convoys cannot safely travel in Iraq these days, nor keep any kind of a regular schedule, partly due to the increasing resistence skills in stopping them by causing roll overs and other "accidents," and partly because the vehicles themselves are worn out beyond any safe usage.

The military's equipment is all used up, and there is not a steady stream of replacement materiels coming in, quite the contrary. While the mercenary companies have grown richer than Croesius, the National Guard, Reserves and regular military have gone broke. In person-power, weapons, vehicles, tanks, ammunition, body armor, ordinance, and all else, the U.S. military is drained dry and used up, even to being short on replacement uniforms for active duty combat troops. U.S. soldiers are often caught on camera these days in heavily patched uniforms. Close scrutiny of the next cable or network news clips of frontline soldiers may prove quite revealing.

Much of what is air-dropped in for the most remote U.S. troops is promptly grabbed up by the Iraqi resistance fighters surrounding their encampments. Thus, CentCom, which is well aware of this precarious situation, often does not dare to air drop ammunition, ordinance, replacement weapons or parts, and much else. The troops are being gradually deprived of even their most basic capacity for self-defence against the increasingly numerous, better armed, better organized and often cleaner and better fed "insurgency."

It is an intolerable situation for any soldier to live in, day after day, for weeks and months on end, and it is not going to get better. The conditions currently being denied by the brass and stoically, depressively endured, with no hope of a say in the matter, by the "grunts" in the forward operations zones, is not unlike that faced by soldiers in the trenches of WW I. In fact, if the U.S. does not soon withdraw its forces, it may have very few left to withdraw. Of course, this too may be far from coincidental. Only such a massive and "unforeseen" troop loss will avoid the full, horrible truth from eventually reaching the American public. Most of the U.S. military personnel who have done duty in Iraq are now so radioactive, from their constant and ultimately lethal exposures to the DU, Depleted Uranium, present in all of the U.S. munitions, and the heavy armored assault vehicles in use in Iraq and in Afghanistan as well, that they really cannot be safely returned to home soil in large numbers.

They themselves are literally toxic. The very cells of their bodies are heavily, permanently contaminated with ceramic uranium oxide gases and particulates that can and will spread from their own flesh into everything and everyone they touch, breathe upon or even stand near to, from other human beings to plants, soil, buildings, furnishings and onward. This is not a rumor but a tragic, brutal fact.

A strong and persistent rumor, told by Iraqi civilians and a few old Iraqi soldiers as well, has it that a comprehensive, post-invasion military strategy was designed and implemented well before the U.S. and "coalition" forces ever arrived. With years of advanced planning by the best military minds of Saddam Hussein's armed forces and intelligence services, the Iraqis were well prepared for Bush's war when it came. Remember that George W. Bush had openly stated his wishes, and his PNAC friends had widely published their "scholarly" position papers, which included plans to re-invade Iraq, well before the 2000 "election." From the December 12, 2000 appointment of Bush to the presidency until the Iraq invasion began, the planning and implementation went into high gear in both Iraq's career military and in its civilian high command. They made preparations for just such an invasion as did occur in March of 2003. In fact they planned for a much larger invasion force than was deployed, having anticipated some 300,000 to 500,000 U.S. troops.

Much of Iraq has been honeycombed with miles upon miles of fortified tunnels, virtual super highways and cities built deep underground, shielded against electronic and aerial detection, with hospitals, support staff, dormitories, kitchens, and several years worth of supplies. The plan, then and now, was to lure the American command, by using huge initial successes against token military resistence as bait, into spreading the U.S. troops throughout Iraq, and thereafter breaking them up into ever smaller, less unified groups, sub groups and so on over a period of several years.

Eventually, without their ever having noticed it was happening, by the artful use of an "insurgency" constantly stinging at the U.S. forces like wasps, they would gradually be drawn awry and herded, stationed here, there and everywhere, willy nilly, in Baghdad, at their brand new but largely unmanned military and air bases, around the oil fields and the pipelines, in their fortified city and rural bunkers, in a helter-skelter pattern of troop concentrations all widely separated from each other. And that is exactly how it now is with the positional deployments of the majority of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. They are now, worst of all, very far removed from the means to withdraw them quickly if they should become overwhelmed by a superior force. Just as the large transport helicopters and cargo planes cannot dependably get in to keep them well supplied, they cannot dependably get in to bring the troops out either.

This was the Iraqi strategy from the start. Once they got the U.S. forces sufficiently scattered and pinned down, they could, and will, at the time of their choosing, close the traps, bring the still unaccounted for majority of the pre-invasion Iraqi army out of hiding, and wipe out or capture the American forces in a very brief and total sweep.

Let us now consider some of the facts and matters of record closely related to this "hypothesis" of the pre-war Iraqi planning for the defeat of the U.S. invasion and occupation.

No post invasion censuses, nor any other registrations of Iraqis, were ever conducted, and such dared not to be conducted in order to hide the massive numbers of civilian deaths and wanton massacres. There was no orderly, immediate U.S. take over and no exercise at all of any necessary civil control. Any such would have stifled the rampant graft and pillaging planned and done by the Coalition Provisional Authority. There still is no broad and stable civil order in Iraq today, except in the delusions and propaganda of the Bush administration, and in the desperate attempts to keep up appearances being provided by the very carefully selected Iraqi "government" and its puppets. Not even the corporate media and press is, for the most part, any longer able to pretend that Iraq has a functional and effective civil control structure in place, not anywhere.

There is literally no record at all of where Iraq's huge, pre-war standing army, nor its equipment and materiels really went. Whatever truly did become of them, the U.S. command and the Bush government have no idea of it, not one way or the other. All they have ever had, told and sold as "facts," were their own irrational assumptions, fixed ideas, wishful thinking and deceitful PR, to put it bluntly, their own wild and not very bright guesses and stories for a gullible public and a compliant media and press. The possibilities shared here are based on a good deal more reason and fact than all of that, having at least good, solid "scuttlebutt" behind it.

Remember too that there were vast caches of UN-sealed conventional weapons that the U.S. troops opened and then left abandoned and unguarded when they went tearing through Iraq in a patently chaotic fashion, during and immediately after the invasion. All of those massive caches of arms, ordinance, tanks, missiles, aircraft yet unaccounted for, high yield conventional explosives, detonators and tons upon tons of ammunition, ALL of the munitions caches, got emptied out by the same unknown, faceless, trackless hoardes of Iraqi men who also stripped every last Iraqi military base bare, right down to the concrete blocks, the windows and frames, the electrical wiring, the lamps, the plumbing fixtures and even the pipes. To have been executed so quickly and thoroughly, that task alone had to have been well planned, in great detail and in advance. That the Bush administration called it "looting" is ludicrous. It was far too systematic and well organised to have been mere looting.

It is impossible to forget the bizarre scene that appeared on the televisions of the world, in the live, real time broadcasts coming from the Iraq war, on BBC, CNN, MSNBC, FOX, CBS, ABC, BBC, etc., et al, immediately after the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces. For three, entire, mind bending days the cameras revealed, from dawn until dark, the sight of thousands, upon tens of thousands, upon literally uncountable numbers of unarmed, unburdened Iraqi men, all able bodied and roughly of military age, all clean and in civilian clothing, all walking casually in an endless stream down the main highway of Iraq, from North to South.

They were many miles out in the middle of nowhere, without so much as a backpack on their shoulders or a hobo's bindlestiff in their hands, heading South. That is all we really ever knew for sure of their destination, just South, despite the speculations of reporters that they were going home to Baghdad, and all we ever really knew for sure of their origin was that they had mysteriously appeared from the North. They were miles from any town or city when the first TV camera crews spotted them. All we really heard about them was the speculation from the cable and network news reporters.

Not one U.S. military unit came to question them, nor did the media do so effectively. The few questions asked got smiling, friendly replies in suspiciously "broken" English, utterances of "going home" or "no more fighting now" which were devoid of real factual content, and skillfully so. No slightest attempt was made to stop or detain any of them, and it was obvious, at least to this viewer, that they were behaving in a planned and very orderly manner. Smiling and cheerful, as if on some kind of a grand, holiday lark of a walkabout, they walked on and on and on in their countless thousands, an endless stream. The oddest part of all was that no one detected any noticeable influx of tens of thousands of men, or more, into Baghdad during the 3 days that the march continued. Although network camera crews in Baghdad and other cities to the south of the march had been alerted to watch for their arrivals, and did so, they were never seen.

They just vanished into the sands of Iraq, somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, after staging a masssively distracting march down the main highway between Tikrit and Baghdad for three days, days in which that single distraction might well have hidden many another action from view. Countless Iraqi males of the right ages and fitness to have been soldiers simply disappeared at points unasked then and unknown still.

They vanished overnight. Come the dawn of day four, the highway was empty. Not so much as a scrap of paper marked their passing. Not so much as a shoe, or a rag, or a food wrapper had been left behind. Oddly, one reporter and camera crew, from CNN, briefly went into the desert for a few yards on either side of the highway that strange, silent, fourth dawn, and could find not one set of tracks leading away from the highway that had, as of dark the night before, been covered by an endless file of walking men.

Bear in mind that Iraq's standing army at the time of the Bush invasion was over 2.5 million strong. Make no mistake, they were not delighted to have the U.S. armed forces invade their country and take control of it away from Saddam Hussein. Let's face it, with males above the age of 10 in Iraq being allowed to own an unlimited number of guns of all kinds if they so chose, had the domestic opposition to Saddam ever been even so high as a full 50% of the Iraqi people, especially had it been so among the Iraqi military forces and men, then Saddam would have been long gone. He wasn't. That alone should have given any reasonable person the idea that there was much more to the political situation in Iraq than the extremely simplistic picture of an intolerably oppressive and despotic regime as was promoted by Bush Sr., the Clinton administration, Bush Jr., the neocons of the PNAC and the corporate media and press.

Now is that terrible circumstance and time when the U.S. troops themselves, somehow sensing that they have all been long since written off as expendable, must continue to hunker down in terror, abandoned by a government of, by and for their pathologically selfish, greedy, amoral, psychopathic rulers. A war that had no justifiable cause for its beginning may very possibly, and very soon, have a very well justified ending imposed upon it.

But, again, the true price will not be paid by those who created that war for their own selfish gains in power, prestige and wealth. The only ones who'll pay for it, in the highest measures of all, are those American soldiers who were either idealistic enough, foolish enough, obedient enough, or all three, to have gone to the faraway land of Iraq and fought in it, and those Iraqis who have either been killed by the U.S. invaders or forced to fight them to the death so that their nation and people could again live in freedom from occupation by foreign forces, and hopefully, someday, in peace.

The ultimate truth about all wars, on all sides, for all those who fight in them, for all those who love the fighters as friends and kin, and for all those civilians who are the innocent victims of "collateral damage" is that there are no real winners, and the losers are always the maimed, the dead, and the bereaved.
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Editorial: US Military Massacre In Haditha

By Nancy A. Youssef
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Apr. 08, 2006

HADITHA, Iraq - In the middle of methodically recalling the day his brother's family was killed, Yaseen's monotone voice and stream of tears suddenly stopped. He looked up, paused and pleaded: "Please don't let me say anything that will get me killed by the Americans. My family can't handle any more."

The story of what happened to Yaseen and his brother Younes' family has redefined Haditha's relationship with the Marines who patrol it. On Nov. 19, a roadside bomb struck a Humvee on Haditha's main road, killing one Marine and injuring two others.

The Marines say they took heavy gunfire afterwards and thought it was coming from the area around Younes' house. They went to investigate, and 23 people were killed.

Eight were from Younes' family. The only survivor, Younes' 13-year-old daughter, said her family wasn't shooting at Marines or harboring extremists that morning. They were sleeping when the bomb exploded. And when the Marines entered their house, she said, they shot at everyone inside.

The Navy Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) began an investigation in February after a Time Magazine reporter passed on accounts he had received about the incident. A second investigation was opened into how the Marines initially reported the killings - the Marines said that 15 people were killed by the roadside explosion and that eight insurgents were killed in subsequent combat.

On Friday, the Marines relieved of duty three leaders of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, which had responsibility for Haditha when the shooting occurred. They are Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, and two of his company commanders, Capt. James S. Kimber and Capt. Lucas M. McConnell. McConnell was commanding Kilo Company of the 3rd Battalion, the unit that struck the roadside bomb on Nov. 19 and led the subsequent search of the area.

The Marines' announcement didn't tie the disciplinary actions directly to Haditha, saying only that Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, had lost confidence in the officers' ability to command.

They were relieved because of "multiple incidents that occurred throughout their deployment," said Lt. Lawton King, a spokesman at the Marines' home base at Camp Pendleton, Calif., to which they recently returned. "This decision was made independent of the NCIS investigation."

The events of last November have clearly taken their toll on Yaseen and his niece, Safa, who trembles visibly as she listens to Yaseen recount what she told him of the attack. She cannot bring herself to tell the tale herself.

She fainted after the Marines burst through the door and began firing. When she regained consciousness, only her 3-year-old brother was still alive, but bleeding heavily. She comforted him in a room filled with dead family members until he died, too. And then she went to her Uncle Yaseen's house next door.

Neither Yaseen nor Safa have returned home since.

Indeed, many in this town, whose residents are stuck in the battle between extremists and the Americans, said now it is the U.S. military they fear most.

"The mujahadeen (holy warriors) will kill you if you stand against them or say anything against them. And the Americans will kill you if the mujahadeen attack them several kilometers away," said Mohammed al-Hadithi, 32, a barber who lives in neighboring Haqlania. With a cigarette between his fingers, he pointed at a Marine patrol as it passed in front of his shop. "I look at each of them, and I see killers."

Haditha, a town of about 100,000 people in Anbar province, undeniably is an insurgent bastion. Around the time of the attack, several storefronts were lined with posters and pictures supporting al-Qaida, although residents said they posted them to appease extremists.

[Ed: we wonder who these "extremists" are that want to force ordinary Iraqis to associate themselves with 'al-Qaeda']

Insurgents blend in with the residents, setting up their cells in homes next to those belonging to everyday citizens, some of them supportive.

There is no functioning police station and the government offices are largely vacant. The last man to call himself mayor relinquished the title earlier this year after scores of death threats from insurgents.

The military wouldn't release statistics, but attacks on U.S. troops are frequent.

Indeed, Haditha has been the site of some of the deadliest attacks against U.S. forces. On Aug. 1, six Marine reservists were killed in an ambush; two days later, a roadside bomb killed 14 Marines traveling in an amphibious assault vehicle just outside the town, the deadliest single attack ever on U.S. forces.

On Nov. 19, according to military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, the Marines were hit four separate times by roadside bombs and were fired on multiple times by gunmen they couldn't see. Three years after the war began, the U.S. military concedes it hasn't figured out how to tell a terrorist from an ordinary citizen in places like Haditha.

A newly poured spot of asphalt now marks the spot where the IED, or improvised explosive device, exploded. It was 7:15 a.m. and the blast was the first IED of the day. Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, Texas, died instantly. The armed fire attack started immediately, according to the Marines.

There is as yet no official public version of what took place next and U.S. officials familiar with the investigation would discuss the incident only if their names were not used.

According to these officials, a car approached the convoy at about the same time the shooting began. The Marines signaled it to stop and it did. But it was too close to the convoy and when four men jumped out of it, the Marines, suspecting the men had been involved in the IED attack, shot them dead.

Yaseen said he and his brother's family were asleep in their houses about 100 yards away when the explosion woke them. Minutes later, they heard the Marines blocking off the road.

Yaseen, citing Safa's account, said Younes started to prepare the family for the search they knew was coming, separating the men from the women and the children, as is custom during searches.

Younes moved his five children and sister-in-law into the bedroom, Yaseen said Safa told him. There, his wife was lying in bed, recovering from an appendectomy. They waited.

The Marines moved into another house first, according to U.S. officials. In that house, the Marines saw a line of closed doors and thought an ambush was coming. They shot, and seven people inside were killed, including one child. Two other children who stayed in the house survived. A woman who ran out with her baby also survived, military officials said.

Yaseen said Safa told him that her father heard something so he went to the front of the house. Seconds later, Safa said she heard several gunshots. She didn't know it at the time, but her father was dying. Four Marines then moved into the bedroom, where some of her sisters were standing at their mother's bedside, hugging her.

Yassen said Safa told him that one Marine started yelling at them in English, but that they didn't understand what he was saying. The women and children started screaming in fear, which Yaseen could hear from next door. This went on for several minutes, he said.

He said he never heard gunshots, only a long sudden silence.

Desperate, he tried to get next door and find out what happened, but Marines wouldn't let him pass.

"The waiting was killing me," Yaseen said. "We didn't know what happened."

Three hours later, someone knocked at Yaseen's door. He could hear a young voice wheezing and sobbing on the other side. It was Safa, covered in blood and dirt. Yaseen said he couldn't remember what she was wearing; he only saw the blood.

The family was dead, Safa told Yaseen.

Yaseen's wife cleaned Safa up while Yaseen prepared a white flag. Marines were still blocking the area. Carrying the flag, Yaseen, his wife, and Safa ran 200 yards to another relative's house where they have stayed since.

Safa trembled as Yaseen told the story to a visitor. She tried to tell it herself, but she couldn't. "My father told us to gather in one room, so the Americans could search," she said. And then she started to cry.

Yaseen said that Safa told him that four soldiers came into the bedroom, but only one did the yelling. Her mother, who had heard the shooting asked: "What did you do to my husband?" Her sisters, mother and aunt were crying. And then the one soldier who had been yelling started shooting.

Frightened, Safa fainted. She thought she had died. When she awoke, she remembered seeing her mother still lying in bed. Her head was blown open. She looked around and heard her 3-year-old brother, Mohammed, moan in pain. The blood was pouring out of his right arm.

"Come on, Mohammed. Get up so we can go to uncle's house," she told her brother. But he couldn't.

In the same room where her mother, aunt and sisters lay dead, Safa grabbed the toddler, sat down and leaned his head against her shoulder. She put his arm against her chest and held it to try to stop the bleeding. She kept holding and talking to him until, like everyone else in the room, he too was silent. And then she ran next door.

Yaseen didn't see the rest of his brother's family until he went to Haditha Hospital the next day to pick up the bodies. Dr. Waleed Abdul Khaliq al-Obeidi, the director of Haditha Hospital, said they arrived around midnight, about 12 hours after Safa left her house.

According to the death certificates, Younes died of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest. His wife, who was lying in bed, died of multiple gunshot wounds to the head. The daughters were all shot in the chest. Mohammed bled to death. Younes didn't have a weapon, military officials confirmed. [...]

Late last month, an IED exploded near the same spot where Terrazas was killed. Nearby shops started closing in the middle of the day, telling customers they feared being detained. Drivers suddenly stopped and pointed to the rising plume of smoke.

"That might have targeted the Americans," one driver said to another stopped and fearful about what to do next. "The Americans are coming."
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Editorial: Another Neocon Step to War ...this Time Against Iran

by Rodrigue Tremblay
April 10, 2006
The New American Empire

"When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war."

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), 34th president of the United States

When a country's leaders are bent for war, and they believe to have the means to do it, there is little that can stop them. This was amply demonstrated before World War I, when the German High Command under Army Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke had been preparing for war for a long time. The archduke's assassination, in the summer of 1914, provided the pretext for war. Germany then launched a ''preemptive'' war against France and Russia, and the rest is history. Adolf Hitler did the same thing to start World War II. He launched "preventive" attacks and invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938, and Poland in 1939, ostensibly to provoke "regime change" in these countries.

It was also imperial Japan's pretext when it made the "preventive" offensive and unprovoked attack against the United States at Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941. In many other cases-such as the invasion of Bulgaria by Greece in 1925, Manchuria by Japan in 1931, Ethiopia by Mussolini's fascist Italy in 1935, Greece by Mussolini again in 1940, or Hungary by the Soviet Union under Khrushchev in 1956, Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union under Bresznev in 1968, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979-all the invading countries, without exception, claimed to act in the name of their self-defined national interests.

The war that George W. Bush launched against Iraq, in March 2003, followed the same pattern. It was preceded, in September 2002, by the re-issuing of the old but illegal "preventive war" theory, and dubbed this time the "Bush Doctrine". This was a war that had been planned and prepared for more than a decade. The perfect pretext came with the 9/11 attacks in 2001. After some sideline manoeuvres at the United Nations, Bush went ahead with his war even though the U.N. Security Council refused to authorize the aggression. The real purpose of these manoeuvres was to gain public support in the U.S. through an intense propaganda campaign carried out with the help of the American corporate media (ACM). The purpose of this intense media campaign was to demonize Saddam Hussein and present him as a monster, armed with nuclear weapons and ready to use them against the United States.

The Bush administration had polls done months before the 2003 war of aggression against Iraq that indicated the American public would only support a conflict with Iraq if there was a danger that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons. That's the reason they had to invent the Iraqi nuclear threat, even though their own intelligence reports and those of the United Nations indicated otherwise.

You can be certain that if there is a war against Iran, it will follow the same pattern. The campaign of demagoguery and propaganda to picture Iran as a direct (nuclear) threat to the United States is going full speed. -Vice President Dick Cheney, the same one who was saying, every other day in 2002, that Iraq had "weapons of mass destruction" aimed at the United States, is all over the place again saying there would be "meaningful consequences" if Iran refuses to comply with demands to stop its nuclear program, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed that there is "no evidence of a nuclear weapons program or any diversion of nuclear material," in Iran. That this is also a program which is perfectly legal under the terms of the 1968 Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) or that the United States has just violated this treaty by signing a nuclear cooperation agreement with India, and has for years assisted Israel in building its stockpile of nuclear bombs, does not really matter. But we know that the Bush-Cheney administration is not preoccupied with legal matters. For his part, former U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix says Iran is at least five years from a nuclear bomb.

What matters is the propaganda results. And it works. Just as if it were freshly drawn from George Orwell's novel '1984' a recent Fox poll found that Iran has now replaced North Korea as the nation Americans believe to be America's greatest immediate threat. And a Washington Post poll found 56 percent of Americans back military action to ensure Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon. An important propaganda step was achieved on March 28 (2006), when the U. N. Security Conncil approved unanimously a statement, not legally binding, urging Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and limit its nuclear program to exclusively peaceful purposes, as requested by the International Atomic Energy Agency .

But, just as the U.S.-led war against Iraq had little to do with the 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States and a lot to do with Neocons' plans to subjugate the entire Middle East, the coming U.S.-led war against Iran has little to do with any Iranian nuclear threat against the United States.

The Neocons, who always put Israel first, have long lobbied for the U.S. to strike at Iran and Syria. The Bush-Cheney administration would merely be following the Neocons' line by overthrowing the mullahs in charge in Tehran. This would be done essentially for the same reasons the CIA overthrew the elected government of Muhammad Mossadeq, in 1953, after it had nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

The Neocon Bush-Cheney administration wants to establish a friendly government in Iran in order to control the oil development of the Caspian Sea and in order to remove another potential adversary to Israel. -There is also another geopolitical objective this time, and that is to prevent Iran from going ahead full speed with its electronic Iranian Oil Bourse. Initially scheduled to go into business last March, and to use the euro for international oil transactions rather than the US dollar, the Iranian Bourse's starting date has been postponed by at least several months and, possibly by more than a year. In any case, it would certainly not be fully operational before July 1st (2006).

In the longer term, however, the Iranian Oil Bourse could pose a challenge to the current system built around the U.S. dollar. Presently, the two international oil exchanges, the London-based International Petroleum Exchange (IPE) and the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), are both controlled by American interests (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, etc.) and both invoice sales solely in US dollars. You have to keep in mind that Iraq was the first country, in November 2000, to actually demand to be paid in euros for its oil. Now, the same scenario could unfold in the coming months with Iran. With one exception: this time, Great Britain has told George W. Bush that it will not take part in any armed action against Iran's nuclear sites. The same applies to Russia: it has signified that it will not support any attempts to use force to resolve the stand-off over Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Nevertheless, a military conflict with Iran could come earlier than most people expect, although some observers expect a fall U.S.-Iran showdown, just in time for the November American mid-term elections. Desperate people do desperate things, and Bush's illegal war in Iraq is not going well. It cannot be exploited, as in the beginning, for domestic partisan political reasons. Bush may thus be tempted to raise the ante and go after Iran to reclaim his "Commander-in-Chief" mantle. Keep in mind also that October is traditionally the month of big stock market corrections.-Stay tuned.

Original at The New American Empire
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Editorial: Neocon Plan to Wreck the Economy

Kurrt Nimmo
April 08th 2006

If we are to believe Sterling Seagrave, “co-author of Gold Warriors and an extremely well-connected financial source in both the US and China as well as Europe,” the White House, that is to say the Straussian neocons in control of the White House, have ordered the Federal Reserve to print a whopping two trillion in funny (or not so funny fiat) money. “The U.S. Treasury is allegedly running printing presses 24/7 to accommodate that order” and this “probably explains why the US Treasury Secretary resigned several months ago and was replaced by a Bush flunkey, and why Greenspan resigned from the Fed several weeks ago, not wanting to go down with the Titanic…. We have been predicting this over the past two or three years, as the inevitable consequence of the Bush administration’s bizarre policies, although we were not certain exactly when it would occur.”

If accurate, this will mean your already worthless money will be even more worthless and hyper-inflation will eventually decimate what remains of the so-called middle class. If Seagrave is correct, the neocons are engineering a New Serfdom for the vast majority of Americans, most who remain utterly clueless about what the Straussian neocons have in mind for them and their children.

“The war in Iraq, and other unwise decisions that caused Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neil to quit the Administration in protest over the lack of a sound policy process, have drained the piggy bank,” Seagrave continues. “Bush may well be printing money, and he is probably also selling off ‘futures’ like crazy. We could have a major crisis prior to 2008 that demands a restructuring of the government along with a very rapid re-appreciation of what our national strategy needs to be.”

Seagrave, however, does not provide an explanation why Bush would do such a thing, although he notes that the “White House apparently hoped that by the time anyone found out about the flooding of the market with dollars, they could stage an event, such as an air attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, that would distract the public entirely.” Of course, an attack on Iran (more details on this revealed by Seymour Hersh) will not be launched primarily as a distraction—it is a key objective of the Straussian neocon plan.

In addition to the obvious fact the government is now rife with criminal embezzlers and thieves (note the few trillion missing from the Pentagon), the criminal Straussian neocons plan to restructure American society and warp its once lofty ideals (already seriously eroded through neoliberal globalism) via economic strangulation and perpetual conflict, first in the Muslim Middle East and then, as promised, elsewhere (China and Russia are at the top of the list).

It should be remembered the core Straussians are basically Trotskyites and Leon Trotsky advocated “permanent revolution,” that is to say a radical change through Stagism, or the Theory of Stages (a crucial tenet of neoliberal globalism). Of course, Trotsky was a communist and supposedly believed in the proletariat taking power through violence and overthrowing the bourgeoisie. The Straussian neocons, however, are not interested in a revolution of the proletariat—they are interested in elevating themselves to the very pinnacle of state power and ruling as Machiavellian princes over the benighted masses.

“The ancient philosophers whom Strauss most cherished believed that the unwashed masses were not fit for either truth or liberty, and that giving them these sublime treasures would be like throwing pearls before swine,” Shadia Drury, a leading scholarly critic of Strauss, told Danny Postel. “In contrast to modern political thinkers, the ancients denied that there is any natural right to liberty. Human beings are born neither free nor equal. The natural human condition, they held, is not one of freedom, but of subordination—and in Strauss’s estimation they were right in thinking so.” As the Straussian would have it, the masses are “selfish, slothful, and indolent” and “can be inspired to rise above their brutish existence only by fear of impending death or catastrophe,” or for that matter an economic depression coupled with perpetual war, as Orwell envisaged (”Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia”). The attacks of September 11, 2001, a “new Pearl Harbor,” were the beginning of this Straussian revolution, an event many Straussians believe was squandered because “democracy” got in the way (and because people naturally avoid a perpetual state of war in favor of peace, even partial peace).

Strauss borrowed a lot from the “Marxist of the right,” Alexandre Kojève (a student of the Nazi lover Martin Heidegger), and the Nazi jurist and advocate of totalitarianism, Carl Schmitt. “Kojève lamented the animalization of man and Schmitt worried about the trivialization of life,” explains Drury. “All three of them were convinced that liberal economics would turn life into entertainment and destroy politics; all three understood politics as a conflict between mutually hostile groups willing to fight each other to the death. In short, they all thought that man’s humanity depended on his willingness to rush naked into battle and headlong to his death. Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project, with its emphasis on self-preservation and ‘creature comforts.’ Life can be politicized once more, and man’s humanity can be restored…. The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country.”

Drury continues:

If America fails to achieve her “national destiny”, and is mired in perpetual war, then all is well. Man’s humanity, defined in terms of struggle to the death, is rescued from extinction. But men like Heidegger, Schmitt, Kojève, and Strauss expect the worst. They expect that the universal spread of the spirit of commerce would soften manners and emasculate man. To my mind, this fascistic glorification of death and violence springs from a profound inability to celebrate life, joy, and the sheer thrill of existence.

Our current crop of Straussians, well ensconced in the White House and the Pentagon, are in the process overturning the “modern project” and a not so modern project, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This will be accomplished through economic catastrophe and engineered war. Deprived of opportunity, income, and even food—and for those unable to provide for themselves, consider the Super Dome in New Orleans as a grim reminder—the masses will do whatever is required, especially if darksome devils and frightful Islamic enemies are unrelentingly portrayed at the ready with dirty nukes. In dire straits, with the prospect of wheelbarrows of money to buy loaves of bread as inflation shoots skyward by the hour, people will do almost anything asked of them.

I don’t claim to be an economist. On the other hand, as a novice student of history, I understand how government manipulates people through economic manipulation and engineered crises. I believe the Straussian neocons are fascists masquerading as “conservatives” and even a cursory examination of their cobbled together philosophy—a large dose of Straussian “ethics,” a dash of Trotsky’s perpetual revolution, a pinch of Jacobin militancy and debauchery—and a general overview of history reveals what they have in mind for us. I believe they are capable, through their sock puppet Bush the Minor, a “dry alcoholic” and Manichean nihilist parading as a “conservative,” of looting the treasury, siphoning off trillions from the Pentagon, and engineering the crash of the economy in order to realize their vision of a Machiavellian hell on earth where they rule and the superstitious masses, infused with coarse nationalism and religion, are expected to follow.

Of course, they are insane and will ultimately destroy the planet.

However, one must ask, are we insane as well to let them get away with it? Click here to read the original
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Israel - Murderous Intent

Culture of Killing In Israeli Army

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News

The inquest into the death of a Briton shot dead by an Israeli soldier has ruled he was "intentionally killed". But the verdict is unlikely to quell the debate about who was to blame.

Tom Hurndall, a 22-year-old journalism and photography student, was one of a small group of westerners so opposed to the war in Iraq that they travelled to the Gulf in the spring of 2003 to act as human shields.

But the London-born activist quickly decided Saddam Hussein's regime was manipulating the shields to protect military installations.

He crossed the border into Jordan and from there entered the Gaza Strip, again to act as a human shield with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).

Days later he was hit in the forehead by a bullet, fell into a coma and died nine months afterwards in January 2004.

Haunting memory

His fellow human shields are still haunted by the moment on 11 April 2003 when he was shot.

Mohammed Qeshta, a Palestinian activist with ISM, said members of the group were on their way to erect a tent to hinder access by Israeli tanks to populated areas around the Rafah refugee camp.

"We were very clearly dressed in orange clothes and jackets and Tom was clearly visible," he said.

Three bullets were fired from the same watchtower about 150 or 200 metres away - we saw Tom falling on his knees
International Solidarity Movement activist Mohammed Qeshta

"Gunfire hit the street and the walls and the doors. Everyone took shelter except three children who were stuck not knowing where to go and were screaming.

"[Tom] ran to the children and grabbed a little boy and brought him to safety, but there were another two girls he had to bring.

"Three bullets were fired from the same watch tower about 150 or 200 metres away. We saw Tom falling on his knees.

"We ran to move him. There was a small hole in the front of his head and a really huge hole in the back of his head."

Mr Qeshta added: "It was very sunny and very light so there's no chance the soldier who shot Tom would have missed him or mistaken the target."

The Hurndall family feels the trial, in Castina military court in Ashkelon, has been about pinning all blame on Taysir Hayb, a Bedouin ex-sergeant in the Israeli Defence Force convicted of manslaughter charges last year.

Mr Hurndall's sister Sophie believes senior officers all the way up to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are responsible for a culture within the Israeli Defence Force that effectively allows the killing of civilians.

"We have got very mixed feelings. From one perspective there is the need to see justice done and for the soldiers to be forced to take responsibility," she said.

"But the soldier was Tom's age; he has been severely brainwashed by the army, by these commanders, encouraging them and actively covering up. It is a culture."
Ms Hurndall also believes the trial has only happened because of pressure from the family, and the fact the victim is a Westerner.

"We have forced the Israeli army to prosecute this soldier, but there are thousands of cases out there where people don't have the weight behind them that we have."

The Israeli authorities deny accusations they would have rather seen the matter drop, and say there is no policy of tolerating the shooting of civilians.

An Israeli embassy spokeswoman said: "The fact that there has been a soldier standing trial is the best example of the seriousness of the process of investigation.

"It makes no difference which nationality you are from, either Palestinian, Israeli, British, French or American - there is the same law for everyone."

Mr Hurndall's father Anthony has spent hours interviewing witnesses to the April 2003 shooting as well as experts in an effort to catch his son's killer.

His mother and sister also gave up work to drive their campaign for justice, establishing the Tom Hurndall Fund to raise money and awareness.


Hayb's defence tried to paint him as a scapegoat, pressured into giving a series of confessions by manipulative officers.

It said the prosecution was relying on these confessions, with the rest of its case sparse and lacking in ballistics or other corroborative evidence.

One of Hayb's advocates, Yariv Ronen, argued there was no line of sight between the tower where his client was stationed and the spot where Mr Hurndall was shot.

He believes the confessions were given by his client under duress.

"He has the minimum intelligence - you can push this guy around, you can make him confess," Mr Ronen said.

One of the key claims, that Hayb told colleagues and commanders that he had shot someone immediately after Tom Hurndall was hit, is dismissed by Mr Ronen.

"Saying to your colleague you shot someone is something you might say once a day. That is the tragic reality in Israel.

"You shoot one or two times a day, you don't know if [the target] was hurt. It is an apocalypse there."

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Israeli military stands by its policy on shelling populated areas

04:10:04 EDT Apr 11, 2006

JERUSALEM (AP) - The Israeli military said Tuesday that it stood by its new policy of firing artillery shells into populated Palestinian areas in an effort to stop rocket fire at Israel, even after a round killed an eight-year-old Palestinian girl.
"There has been no change in policy," an Israeli military spokesman said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. "We will continue to fight them (the rocket launchers) intensely, while trying to avoid hurting innocent civilians." Hadil Ghraben was killed and 13 other people were wounded when two shells blew huge holes in a concrete block house in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday afternoon.

Relatives and neighbours in private cars drove bleeding children to the small local hospital. Doctors feverishly bandaged a wailing infant on a blood-splattered hospital bed as others took away the dusty and bloody body of the dead girl.

The army confirmed it was shelling populated areas from which militants fire rockets - a policy adopted just last week.

Israel has stepped up its strikes against Palestinian rocket launchers since the new Palestinian government led by Hamas militants took power two weeks ago.

Palestinian militants have threatened revenge, but the Hamas government is quietly urging them to refrain from launching rockets at Israel without permission, officials from both sides confirmed.

Although the rocket attacks have not stopped and Hamas says it still supports armed resistance against Israel, halting the upsurge in violence would better able it to focus on other brewing crises.

Government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said Hamas, which has not been participating in the rocket attacks, would try to get control over the rocket fire by negotiating with other militant factions.

"We want resistance to be arranged and organized," Hamad said.

Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections in January on a platform pledging to end government corruption and improve public services. But since being sworn into office, the government has found itself facing international isolation, a financial crisis, Palestinian infighting and now growing violence with Israel.

An Israeli security official said it appears Hamas is trying to regulate the rocket fire because uncontrolled violence is against its interests. The official was not permitted to be identified under military rules.

Islamic Jihad, which has been behind much of the rocket fire, said it would continue the attacks.

"It is time to be united against the occupation aggression and not to talk about a new period of calm," Mohammed al-Hindi, an Islamic Jihad leader, said in a radio interview.

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Officer cites 82-year-old woman for being too slow to negotiate busy street

Dana Bartholomew
LA Daily News
04/10/2006 12:00 AM PDT

SUNLAND - Mayvis Coyle, 82, was shuffling with her cane across busy Foothill Boulevard while a traffic police officer watched and waited.

And watched and waited.

Even before Coyle finished crossing the intersection at Woodward Avenue, he had scribbled a $114 ticket for crossing against a don't-walk signal. "I entered the crosswalk, it was green," said Coyle, of Sunland, who is fighting the infraction issued Feb. 15. "It turned red before I could get over. There he was, waiting, the motorcycle cop.

"He said, 'You're obstructing the flow of traffic."'
Coyle and other seniors at Monte Vista Mobile Estates are up in arms over signals they say are too short to safely cross the five-lane boulevard.

They say signals turn red before they can reach the opposite curb on Sunland-Tujunga's busiest thoroughfare. They risk their lives each time they enter the crosswalk, they insist. At least one resident calls a cab just to cross the street.

"I can go halfway, then the light changes," said Edith Krause, 78, who uses an electric cart because she has difficulty walking. "I try my darndest to get to the other side without being killed."

So many seniors have complained about hasty intersections that Councilwoman Wendy Greuel asked transportation officials last week to study how to accommodate them.

The standard speed used for timing pedestrians is 4 feet per second.

The Coyle incident "has brought to bear an issue that is relatively common," Greuel said. "We should look at those areas with predominantly seniors and accommodate their needs in intersections."

The danger to pedestrians - particularly senior citizens - is acute, Los Angeles police say. Of the 94 pedestrians killed in the San Fernando Valley from 2003-05 while crossing the street, 31 were seniors.

Sgt. Mike Zaboski of the Valley Traffic Division said he couldn't comment on Coyle's ticket, that it was her word against the officer who cited her - identified only as Officer Kelly - as to whether she entered the crosswalk on the green.

"Right now, pedestrian accidents are above normal," he said Friday. "We're looking out for pedestrians - people who think they have carte blanche in crossing the street.

"I'd rather not have angry pedestrians," he said of those like Coyle. "But I'd rather have them be alive."

"It's a safety concern," added Jerry Baik, an assistant supervisor of trials for City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, whose office prosecutes traffic infractions like Coyle's.

"It's the officer's observation ... that she was acting in a dangerous way to herself as well as oncoming traffic."

Others besides Coyle, however, say signals on Foothill prompt a foot race to the other side.

On Friday, students ran - not walked - to make the lights, measured at 20 seconds from green to red.

"It sucks," said Sara Johnson, 14, of Sunland, who had just scampered with friends across the crosswalk at Woodward. "When the light turns red, you can't cross the street."

Chung Kim, manager of Jimmie Dean's Charbroiled Burgers at Foothill and Woodward, has seen close calls.

"Very hard to cross," he said, watching the intersection from his grill, "because signal's too short, the cars go so fast, every car over 45 miles per hour. It's crazy."

Coyle, a Cherokee medicine woman who splits her time between Sunland and the mountains above Sedalia, Colo., has done everything to fight her ticket, including send letters to Greuel's office.

The octogenarian, who has no phone or car, said she was simply hefting her groceries home when she not only got trapped in a busy intersection but got a ticket from a cop to boot.

"I think it's completely outrageous," said Coyle, wearing an Indian feather cap and homemade rock pendant. "I can't walk without a stick and I lose my balance.

"He treated me like a 6-year-old, like I don't know what I'm doing. I'm in shock that somebody's going to stop me on a green light while crossing the street."

Comment: Remember when police officers would actually HELP little old ladies to cross dangerous intersections? Instead of issuing the woman a ticket, why didn't Officer Friendly help her??

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Israeli army storms Nablus, detaining 10 Palestinians

www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-11 18:19:24

RAMALLAH, April 11 (Xinhua) -- Israeli troops, backed by 30 armored vehicles and jeeps, stormed the northern West Bank city of Nablus on Tuesday and detained 10 Palestinians, security sources said.
More than 30 armored vehicles marched into the city and then moved into a nearby refugee camp on the western outskirts of Nablus, where soldiers raided houses.

Witnesses said several Israeli soldiers broke into the main mosque in the refugee camp in the morning and forced prayers to take off their clothes and searched them.

Nablus has been subjected to the ongoing Israeli military operation, which began six days ago. Israeli soldiers raided houses, and detained young men, claiming they were militants and wanted by Israelis security forces.

Meanwhile, Israeli tanks continued shelling northern Gaza Strip, after Palestinian militant groups kept launching homemade rockets from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel. No injury was reported. On Monday, a 6-year-old girl was killed and some of her family members injured as an Israeli tank shell hit their home in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahya.

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No money for Palestinian government: EU ministers

Last Updated Mon, 10 Apr 2006 17:40:31 EDT
CBC News

European Union foreign ministers said Monday they have endorsed a freeze of direct financial aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government.
"There will be no aid to [Hamas] government organizations, but we will maintain humanitarian aid," said Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot.

"The Palestinian people have opted for this government, so they will have to bear the consequences."

The EU gives around $700 million a year to the Palestinians. But officials said aid could continue through humanitarian groups.

Hamas, which won a majority in Palestinian parliamentary elections in January, has refused to recognize Israel, renounce violence or abide by past agreements in the peace process.

Western countries have insisted that the Palestinian government continue to fulfill those conditions in order to receive financial aid.

Canada cut off its payments last month, and Israel has stopped turning over millions of dollars in taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians.

The U.S has also cut off payments.

But the International Red Cross said Monday that aid organizations do not have the capacity to fill in for the Palestinian government if it is unable to maintain services.

Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross, warned there could be a humanitarian and security crisis if the government cannot provide basic services.

The IRC said Israel, as the occupying power, is responsible under international law to provide services for the Palestinians.

EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that for aid to resume, Hamas must "renounce violence, recognize the existence of Israel and also stand by the agreements'' previous Palestinian governments have signed with Israel.

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Bank crisis pushes Hamas gov't to financial brink

By Adam Entous and Wafa Amr
Mon Apr 10, 2006 07:50 PM ET

JERUSALEM - The reluctance of banks to risk U.S. sanctions and lawsuits by dealing with a Hamas-led government has pushed the Palestinian Authority to the brink of financial collapse sooner than donors had expected, diplomats said.

The rapid onset of a banking crisis -- within days of Hamas's swearing-in on March 29 -- could further depress Palestinian incomes, fuel political unrest and speed the arrival of a humanitarian crisis with which donors are not yet prepared to cope, according to diplomats and Palestinian officials.
Western diplomats and private-sector experts said Hamas's troubles finding a bank has for now eclipsed Western aid cuts as the biggest immediate threat to the new government's viability.

"This is by far the biggest crisis facing the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian economy. It could have profound long-term consequences," said Gidi Grinstein, president of the Reut Institute, an independent Israeli think tank.

Hamas cabinet members and other Palestinian officials have accused the Bush administration of sparking the crisis by pressuring Amman-based Arab Bank to stop managing the Palestinian Authority's main treasury account.

Diplomats and Palestinian officials said the account was effectively shut down, jeopardizing Hamas's ability to carry out basic functions like securing foreign aid and paying vendors.

"Even if you get emergency money together, there's no way to bring it in," without banks to make the transfers and hold the money, said a Western diplomat monitoring the crisis.

Hamas is already more than a week late paying March salaries to 140,000 Palestinian Authority workers and it was unclear when the government will be able to secure the funds to meet payroll.

In addition to pressuring the Arab Bank, "the Americans informed (other) Palestinian banks that if they deal with the Hamas government they could risk legal and political measures against them," a senior Palestinian official said.

But Western diplomats said Washington's role was unclear.

The Arab Bank sent a letter to the U.S. Treasury Department shortly after Hamas won a January 25 parliamentary election, seeking assurances it would not face U.S. penalties under the Patriot Act and other anti-terrorism laws if it continued to manage the so-called "single treasury account," diplomats said.

The Treasury Department did not formally respond to the Arab Bank's letter, the diplomats said.

But Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said: "We're engaged in conversations with the Arab Bank on these and other issues through our embassy in Jordan."

A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Treasury did not tell the Arab Bank to freeze the Palestinian Authority's account. The official did not elaborate on what the embassy told the bank about its legal exposure.

Experts said the banks's legal concerns stemmed from provisions of the Patriot Act and other U.S. laws which give the Bush administration sweeping powers to crack down on individuals and companies that provide any "material support" to Hamas.

The Arab Bank is already under particular scrutiny from U.S. regulators. It was fined $24 million last year over alleged failures to comply with anti-money laundering laws aimed at blocking funding for banned "terrorist organisations."

The Arab Bank could also face new civil lawsuits for handling Palestinian accounts, said Gary Osen, an attorney who has sued the Arab Bank on behalf of Americans killed in suicide bombings, alleging it had a role in helping get funds to Hamas.

"In a day or a year when Hamas blows up a cafe or a commuter bus, the Arab Bank or any other bank that provides financial services to PA would risk substantial liability," said Osen.

The risk of running afoul of the Patriot Act was also a factor for Israel's largest bank, Hapoalim, in severing banking ties to the Palestinians, a bank official said.

Grinstein said: "The irony is that it is driven not by the state of Israel, but by the United States."

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Hamas: Israeli move "a declaration of war"

By Wafa Amr
Mon Apr 10, 2006

RAMALLAH - Hamas said it considered Israel's severing of contacts with the new Palestinian government "a declaration of war" and President Mahmoud Abbas accused the Jewish state of breaking international law.

In statements issued in quick succession on Monday, election rivals Hamas and Abbas denounced Israel for branding the Palestinian Authority a "hostile entity" and suspending security coordination.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement in Gaza that Israel's decision to sever contacts with the Palestinian Authority amounted to "a declaration of war and a failed attempt to cause internal divisions among Palestinians".
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas said Israel's position "completely violates the agreements we have signed with them and violates international law".

"We demand from this Israeli government to stop such measures", Abbas said.

With foreign ministers from the European Union poised to endorse a freeze in direct aid to the new government, thousands of Palestinians poured onto the streets of Gaza in protest.

Israel has stepped up strikes in Gaza since election victor Hamas took control of the Palestinian Authority in late March. The group, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, crushed Abbas's Fatah movement in an election in January.

A shell landed near a house in north Gaza on Monday, wounding two Palestinians, witnesses said.

Israel says the shelling is meant to combat rocket attacks by militants, and Avi Dichter, a top adviser to interim Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, told Israel radio that a ground assault of Gaza could not be ruled out.

"We have done it in the past and can do so in the present," said Dichter, who may be appointed to a senior security post in Olmert's new cabinet. [...]

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Israel closes Security Liaison Office

www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-11 09:40:44

A Palestinian takes articles out of the Palestinian-Israeli Joint Security Liaison Office in the West Bank city of Jericho April 10, 2006. Israel closed the Jericho-based Joint Security Liaison Office on April 10 and demanded the Palesitnians leave and shut the office by noon. The office had been in operation for 12 years.

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Another Brick in the Wall

Robert Fisk
The Independent

We have been conned again. The Israeli elections, we are told, mean that the dream of "Greater Israel" has finally been abandoned.

West Bank settlements will be closed down, just as the Jewish colonies were uprooted in Gaza last year. The Zionist claim to all of Biblical Israel has withered away.
Likud, the nightmare party of Menachem Begin and Benjamin Netanyahu, has been smashed by the Gaullist figure of the dying Ariel Sharon, whose Kadima Party now embraces Ehud Olmert and that decaying symbol of the Israeli left, Nobel prizewinner Shimon Peres.

This, at least, is the narrative laid down by so many of our journalists, "analysts" and "commentators". But it is a lie.

Only in paragraph two - or three or four - of the groveling news reports from the Middle East do we read that Olmert's not very impressive election victory will allow him to "redraw" the "frontiers" of Israel, a decision described as "controversial" - the usual get-out clause of newspapers that wish to avoid the truth: that Israel is about to grab more land and claim it to be part of the state of Israel.

Yes, true, the smaller and more vulnerable Jewish colonies illegally built on Palestinian-owned land may be abandoned - stand by for more of the grief and tears that we witnessed in Gaza. But the rest - the great semi-circle of concrete that runs around east Jerusalem, for example - will not be depopulated.

Let's start with the wall. It will soon run from top to bottom of the occupied Palestinian West Bank - and it is going to stay.

It is higher in the long sectors where it has been completed (east of Jerusalem, for example) than the Berlin Wall. Yet journalists go on calling it a "security barrier" or a "fence" - because the as-yet-uncompleted sectors of the wall are still coils of barbed wire.

This is part of the dream world that editors and reporters have constructed for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It exists in the same Potemkin landscape that allows journalists to call the occupied Palestinian territory "disputed territory" - after former US secretary of state Colin Powell ordered his diplomats in the region to use this mendacious phrase - and to call Jewish colonies illegally built on Arab land "settlements" or, my favorites now, "Jewish neighborhoods" or "outposts".

It is the same stage on which Israelis are killed by Palestinians, which they are, but on which Palestinians die in anonymous "clashes". (With whom - and killed by whom - exactly?)

And each of these little lies, of course, contains a kernel of truth. The occupied territories are "disputed" between Israelis and Palestinians, the first claiming that God gave them the land, the second producing land deeds to prove that the law entitles them to their own property.

If illegal colonies such as Maale Adumim are built adjacent to Jerusalem - itself illegally annexed by Israel - then of course they are "neighborhoods". And since the wall - which has gobbled up 10% more Palestinian land for the Israelis - is to prevent suicide bombers (and has been fairly successful in doing so), it is a "security barrier".

I seem to recall that the East Germans called the Berlin Wall - or "Berlin Fence" as I suppose we would have to call it if built by the Israelis - a "security barrier".

Forget the illegality of occupation, then, and the illegality of stealing someone else's home and land, and the illegality of building a wall that thieves yet more property from the 22% of mandate Palestine that the Palestinians are supposed to negotiate for.

Let me be frank. If I were an Israeli I, too, would have built a wall to prevent the suicide executioners of Islamic Jihad and, earlier, of Hamas.

But I would have built it along the international frontier of Israel - not used the wall as a cheap method of stealing more land.

Indeed, under UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is meant to be the foundation of any peace, the acquisition of land through war is stated to be illegal. The wall itself is illegal. The International Court also ruled it to be illegal. And Israel ignored this ruling. So, of course, did the US.

But now the burden of all this post-election theft is to be placed upon Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

This colourless, helpless man, who presided over the Palestinian Authority's continuing corruption, is supposed to persuade the new Hamas government to accept all of Israel's land-grabs, to pick up where the Oslo process left off (which still left Jerusalem exclusively in Israeli hands), and to abandon all violence - which means to surrender whenever Israeli troops raid refugee camps or cities in the West Bank.

The point is that Hamas members have been as assuredly elected representatives of the Palestinians as Olmert and his forthcoming allies in government are representatives of Israelis.

But this does not allow them to make any "controversial" plans to redraw their "border" with Israel, not even to insist that Israel withdraws - or redeploys - to its internationally recognized borders. (I'm talking about the pre-1967 frontier, not the 1948 one.)

They cannot demand fulfillment of UN Resolution 242 because President George W Bush has already made it clear that the vast Jewish colonies east of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem itself, will remain in Israeli hands.

Sure, 14 of the 24 Hamas ministers have been in Israeli prisons. But what are Palestinians supposed to think when they realize that 15 Israeli generals have been elected to the new Knesset, along with six secret service agents?

Yet even this is not the point. If the Israelis want Hamas to acknowledge the state of Israel, then Hamas should be expected to acknowledge the state of Israel that exists within its legal frontiers - not the illegal borders now being dreamt up by Olmert.

We will have to abandon the idea that Ariel Sharon - an unindicted war criminal after his involvement in the 1982 Sabra and Chatila massacres - was really going to give up the major Jewish colonies built illegally on Arab land or the illegal annexation of Jerusalem.

Certainly, Olmert is not going to do that.

He is going to create wider frontiers for Israel and steal - let's call a spade a spade - more Arab land in doing so.

The US will go along with this next illegal land-grab. But will the European Union? Will the UN? Will Russia? Will Tony Blair?

Israelis deserve peace and security as much as Palestinians. But "new" and expanded "controversial" Israeli frontiers will not bring peace or security to either.

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Israeli cabinet declares Sharon's tenure over

Last Updated Tue, 11 Apr 2006 05:20:55 EDT
CBC News

Ariel Sharon's five-year tenure as prime minister of Israel was brought to an end on Tuesday when the cabinet declared him permanently incapacitated.
The 78-year-old Sharon has been in a coma since early January, when he suffered a devastating stroke. Doctors in Israel believe he has little chance of recovery.

Under Israeli law, a prime minister can be temporarily replaced for up to 100 days before a permanent successor must be named.

It will have been 100 days on Friday since Ehud Olmert was named Sharon's temporary replacement. However, since the weeklong Jewish Passover holiday begins Wednesday, the declaration of permanent incapacitation was moved up to Tuesday.

The cabinet voted unanimously in a special session on Tuesday to designate Olmert acting prime minister. The appointment takes effect on Friday, Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon said.

Sharon suffered his stroke weeks after leaving the right-wing Likud party to form the centrist Kadima.

Olmert led the new party to a narrow election victory last month, running on a plan to withdraw from parts of the West Bank and draw Israel's final borders by 2010.

Sharon underwent a CT scan Monday to determine the progress of surgery performed last week that reattached a portion of his skull which had been removed in a previous operation.

Hospital officials said the scan revealed no change. Sharon is listed in "serious but stable" condition, so doctors do not believe his life is in immediate danger.

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Of Course There Is an Israel Lobby

April 6, 2006
Edward Peck

The London Review of Books recently published an article, by Professors John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, on the Israel lobby's negative impact on U.S. domestic and international interests. The expected tsunami of rabid responses condemned the report, vilified its authors, and denied there is such a lobby-validating both the lobby's existence and aggressive, pervasive presence and obliging Harvard to remove its name.

All democracies have lobbies. Shrill insistence that no groups promote Israel is ludicrous. Opinions differ on the long-term costs and benefits for both nations, but the lobby's views of Israel's interests have become the basis of U.S. Middle East policies. That this influence largely results from the efforts of people determined to exercise their democratic prerogatives is not open to question-or to challenge.

The dangerous, unacceptable result of that lobbying, however, is the stifling of public debate. Knowing the fiercely negative reactions to accurate, detailed reporting of controversies surrounding Israel, the media fail to cover Israel's violations of every principle for which the United States-and Israel-loudly proclaim they stand. There is only rare, skimpy coverage of the ongoing Israeli mass punishments, house demolitions, illegal settlements, assassinations, settler brutality, curfews and beatings. On the other hand, the blind Palestinian rage generated by decades of receiving humiliating, savage suppression in their homeland is reported in lurid, bloody detail.
The lobby's effectiveness at control was illustrated two years ago. Both government and media condemned China when it arrested, and accused of espionage, a Chinese citizen-Green Card holder visiting from the U.S. Neither the U.S. government nor media has ever protested-has never even mentioned-Israel's years-long multiple arrests and protracted detentions of American citizens, without charge or trial. In September 2000, CNN interviewed four Americans who had been tortured, the only report on this compelling story, and the network has since been forced to refuse selling recordings of that news segment, "Americans Mistreated in Israeli Jails." America would have been fully informed had any other country committed these acts.

The lobby also recently blocked the New York staging of a play, following its successful London run, based on the words of peace activist Rachel Corrie. She was crushed by an armored Caterpillar bulldozer while attempting to prevent demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza. The driver failed to notice her blaze orange vest, yellow hard hat and bullhorn.

No rational American wants anything bad to happen to Israelis or Palestinians or Americans.. But they have happened, are happening, will continue to happen. Israel's actions often involve violations of human rights, international law, and UN resolutions, undertaken at the expense of a helpless, brutalized Palestine, thus denying Israel peace, security, and international support. Worse, they also lead to violent reactions, which are often recognized under the UN Charter as legitimate resistance to occupation.

Israeli actions also generate anti-Semitism, the very label the lobby uses to bludgeon into silence anyone in America who questions relations with Israel and its expansionist policies. This effectively blocks broad public understanding that Israel's interests and America's, sometimes in agreement, are sometimes sharply divergent. Of greater and entirely justifiable concern, the lobby has succeeded in pressuring successive administrations into actions and statements blatantly contrary to announced American principles and the advancement of U.S. objectives.

As the only nation unstintingly providing Israel with vast amounts of money, arms and unhesitating political protection, the United States is perceived as the key facilitator of 40 years of occupation and oppression. The massive, growing political, economic and human costs of continuing that close relationship merit public knowledge, discussion and debate. The Israel lobby prevents it, as Mearsheimer and Walt have carefully documented.

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The Evils of Economic Excess

Gold speeds past $600; highest since December 1980

By Lewa Pardomuan
Mon Apr 10, 2006

SINGAPORE - Gold raced above its fabled $600-an-ounce level on Tuesday, the highest since December 1980, as investors poured money into the metal on worries about inflation, Middle East tensions and uncertainties over the dollar's outlook.

Silver tracked gold's gains and rose to another 23-year high before retreating, while platinum paused for breath after hitting a record high the previous day.
Soaring gold price briefly lifted shares of mining firms in Australia, the world's second-largest bullion producer after South Africa. Newcrest Mining Ltd, Australia's biggest gold miner, gained 1.5 percent before dipping.

"We're there mate, we've done it," said Darren Heathcote, head of trading at N M Rothschild in Sydney.

Spot gold hit a high of $602.40 an ounce before easing to $601.60/602.40 by 0304 GMT, higher than $598.80/599.60 an ounce late in New York on Monday.

Gold, considered a hedge against uncertainties during troubled times, has risen more than 16 percent this year, about 41 percent in the past 12 months, and 100 percent in four years.

The metal has also been rallying due to rising oil prices.

"The signals are still strong, people are still happy to buy in dips. Whilst we're below $600, the range is probably somewhere around $597.50 and $600. But if we break above $600, we're probably looking to test that $604.50 area," Heathcote said.

Investors have turned to surging commodities markets for investment alternatives to equities, bonds and foreign exchange, where returns have not been as good, said dealers.

Tensions in the Middle East over Iran's nuclear intentions, uncertainty about the dollar's outlook, worries about rising energy costs and speculation that central banks will diversify into metals have also boosted gold's appeal, they said.

U.S. crude oil futures headed toward $69 a barrel on Tuesday due to rising friction over Iran's nuclear program and continuing supply disruptions in Nigeria.

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Oil nears $69 as Iran tensions mount

By Chris Flood and Peter Garnham
The Financial Times
April 10 2006

Oil prices shot back towards record levels on Monday amid growing tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions after weekend press reports claimed that the US government was studying military options for action.

An article in the New Yorker magazine said US officials were considering the possibility of using nuclear bombs against Iran's suspected underground nuclear facilities.

Barclays Capital said that although the Bush administration insisted that it was seeking a diplomatic solution to its dispute with Iran, its statement fell short of an outright denial, leaving market fears free to grow.
"Geo-political tensions look capable of bringing about further tests of the $70 a barrel region in the weeks ahead," said Kevin Norrish, an oil analyst at Barclays Capital. In New York, Nymex West Texas Intermediate rose $1.35 to settle at $68.74 a barrel. IPE Brent for May hit an all-time peak of $68.90, up $1.61, before closing at $68.75, up $1.46.

Crude prices were also supported by aggressive rhetoric from militants in Nigeria who have threatened to kill workers who have returned to oil platforms that were shut by earlier attacks. About 0.5m barrels a day of Nigerian output has been lost because of attacks by militants.

Royal Dutch Shell, operator of about 90 per cent of the lost Nigerian output, said it aimed to restart production in Nigeria soon but the company has declined to return staff to the region until the violence abates.

The increase in global tensions in the oil market helped propel gold higher, with bullion rising to a fresh 25-year high of $598.10 a troy ounce before easing to $592.60/$593.40 by mid-afternoon in New York.

Traders said it appeared to be only a matter of time before gold breached the $600 a troy ounce level.

"Although the outlook remains positive, gold could pause in consolidation below $600, gathering sufficient momentum to break psychological resistance and resuming its inexorable march towards $625," said analysts at Standard Bank.

Continued speculation about the imminent launch of an exchange traded fund helped push silver to $12.50 a troy ounce, its highest level since August 1983. The metal eased back to settle at $12.38/$12.41 by late afternoon in New York.

Dealers reported that a fresh wave of buying by funds had pushed base metals prices higher. Copper moved to within a whisker of $6,000 a tonne, rising $215 to a record high of $5,940 a tonne after a further fall in LME inventories, which have fallen to critically low levels globally. Zinc jumped $104 to another record of $2,915 a tonne. Aluminium rose $58 to $2,598 a tonne.

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Bank of America to cut 1,900 jobs, 3 call centers

Mon Apr 10, 8:13 PM ET

NEW YORK - Bank of America Corp. on Monday said it will eliminate 1,900 jobs by closing three call centers by year end, as part of its integration of credit card issuer MBNA Corp.
The No. 2 U.S. bank will close a call center in Dover, Delaware, eliminating 630 jobs, spokeswoman Betsy Weinberger said. It will also close a center in Horsham, Pennsylvania, which employs 600 people, and one in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which employs 670, Weinberger said.

Bank of America has said it plans to cut about 6,000 jobs across both companies following its $34.2 billion purchase on January 1 of MBNA.

The purchase made Bank of America the largest U.S. credit card issuer. MBNA had been based in Wilmington, Delaware.

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CEO pay soars in 2005 as a select group break the $100 million mark

By Gary Strauss and Barbara Hansen
Mon Apr 10, 7:12 AM ET

Even after a decade of sharply rising CEO pay, 2005 proved a watershed for a select group of executives. Their paydays - or potential paydays - broke $100 million.

Led by Capital One Financial's Richard Fairbank, several corporate chieftains earned nine-figure sums or the prospect of that much.

HOW MUCH ARE CEOs PAID?: CEOs ranked by top pay | Alphabetical list of largest companies

Compensated only by stock options since 1997, Fairbank claimed one of the biggest windfalls among CEOs, exercising 3.6 million options for gains of nearly $250 million. His personal haul exceeded the annual profits of more than 550 Fortune 1000 companies, including Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Reebok and Pier 1.
Fairbank, 55, pulled in $56 million from options in 2004. Capital One says Fairbank had to exercise options last year because they were set to expire. The company also noted its 24.6% annual shareholder returns the past decade.

Lifted by Wall Street's three-year bull market, 14 consecutive quarters of rising corporate earnings, mergers and turnover in the corner office, scores of other CEOs enjoyed less stratospheric but still Olympian pay packages.

Median 2005 pay among chief executives running most of the nation's 100 largest companies soared 25% to $17.9 million, dwarfing the 3.1% average gain by typical American workers, USA TODAY found in its annual analysis of CEO pay.

"Overall, we're still seeing solid cash and bonus payouts," says Ian Singer of pay-tracker eComp Data Services, which compiled data from
Securities and Exchange Commission filings for USA TODAY's study. "I don't think that's ever going to change when you're at the jumbo level."

Compensation includes salary, bonus, incentives, stock, stock-option gains and potential returns from fresh option grants. Median gains were bolstered by larger stock grants, long-term incentive pay, supplemental retirement pay and options gains.

Failure also played a role: The golden parachutes for ousted CEOS and huge sign-on packages of their replacements lifted median CEO pay and promised to set benchmarks for future pay packages.

Coming off 2004's 25% jump in big-company CEO pay, the sharp rise in executive compensation perplexes corporate governance experts who expected temperance following scandals at Enron, WorldCom and Tyco, increasing scrutiny by regulators and shareholder activists, and starting this year, new accounting rules requiring expensing of stock options.

"Corporate boards are under more pressure to ensure there's a linkage to performance and shareholder returns, but they'll still be looking for ways to maximize pay packages to stay competitive," says Carol Bowie, head of governance research at proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services.

One of 2005's largest windfalls so far among those reported during this proxy season came not to a CEO, but to Omid Kordestani, head of global sales at Internet search engine Google. He exercised stock options for a $287.9 million gain. Neither Kordestani, 42, nor Google responded to calls.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt and co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page - who requested in 2004 that their salaries be reduced to $1 and refused 2006 raises - exercised no options. But they own big Google stakes; Brin and Page each own stock worth about $12.5 billion.

Another huge payout came to Analog Devices CEO Jerald Fishman, who cashed out $144.7 million from his deferred compensation plan and made another $4.3 million in salary, bonus and options gains.

Hires, fires = big $$$

Whatever the company size, rising turnover in the corner office could prompt higher pay benchmarks to attract new hires. Employment tracker Challenger Grey & Christmas says 2005 CEO departures doubled to 1,322, vs. 663 in 2004. Through the first quarter of 2006, 337 CEOs were replaced.

Among new CEOs with big pay packages:

- Broadcom's Scott McGregor, hired by the semiconductor maker in January 2005, received $7.7 million in pay and bonus, plus stock options with a potential value of $101.9 million. Broadcom says McGregor's compensation is "competitive, fair and reasonable," citing Broadcom's 46% stock price gain.

- 3M's James McNerney, who replaced Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher in June, received $25.3 million in Boeing stock to compensate him for losing potential payouts at 3M. His last six months at 3M proved lucrative, too. He got almost $41 million - $8.4 million in compensation and $32.4 million exercising 3M stock options. There was no golden parachute for Stonecipher, forced out after the revelation of an affair with a subordinate. But Stonecipher made $39.5 million, including $11 million in incentive pay and $26.9 million exercising stock options.

- John Mack, who replaced ousted Morgan Stanley chief Philip Purcell in June, pulled in more than $68 million, including $37.8 million in restricted stock and $30 million exercising stock options.

Purcell's golden parachute was valued at about $52 million, including a $44 million bonus.

Morgan Stanley co-president Stephen Crawford, who also left, received a settlement worth $36 million.

Such payouts - whose key provisions are largely negotiated as part of employment contracts - have become boilerplate as corporate boards agree to lucrative retention agreements designed to prevent CEO "flight risk," says Ira Kay of pay consultant Watson Wyatt and author of Myths and Realities of Executive Compensation, due out later this year.

"It's a seller's market, and executives have real market power," Kay says. "Most directors are as obsessed with retaining their CEOs as they are satisfying shareholders. Directors know if they have the right team in place, they have to do whatever they can to retain it."

Most compensation advisers and corporate governance experts doubt a Securities and Exchange Commission proposal requiring boards to provide more clarity, justification and disclosure about pay, perks and supplemental retirement will curb CEO pay. "You'll still see extraordinarily egregious deals going down," says Bowie.

New accounting rules that require companies to expense stock options beginning this year aren't likely to limit new option grants to CEOs, either.

"We'll see fewer options granted to lower and middle management employees, but there'll be no effect on option grants to CEOs," says John England, who advises directors for compensation consultant Towers Perrin. "Most directors still believe options are an important piece of senior management's compensation."

Boards are under more scrutiny from shareholders and regulators. Bowie says shareholders will vote on nearly 150 proposals aimed at making boards more accountable. Measures include director term limits, annual elections and provisions to remove directors receiving less than 50% of votes cast by shareholders.

There are about as many ballot measures regarding directors as are being floated to curb CEO pay. Yet, most resolutions are non-binding and ignored by directors, even those overwhelmingly approved by shareholders. Most companies oppose provisions such as annual director elections, which tend to make boards less insular and beholden to management.

Some reformers believe fundamental changes in the way CEOs are compensated won't occur until corporate directors are held more accountable. "They're not sufficiently dependent on shareholders, who lack real power to remove them from boards," says Harvard University professor Lucian Bebchuk, who decries the lack of connection between pay and performance and is pushing for bylaw changes at several firms.

Increased shareholder activism is putting more pressure on some boards to weigh compensation practices, such as covering CEOs' income taxes, more closely, says Temin & Co. pay consultant Bruce Ellig, author of The Complete Guide to Executive Compensation.

Moreover, some boards have begun acquiescing to investor pressure. Prompted by the Teamsters union, Coca-Cola said it would seek shareholder approval of future executive severance packages. The move comes after the soft-drink giant fitted former CEO Douglas Ivester with a golden parachute worth $119 million after four years and successor Douglas Daft, who lasted three, $36 million in severance.

Other companies are already providing more extensive compensation disclosure to shareholders, and board advisers say there's far more backroom discussion among directors about CEO pay.

"There's a change that outsiders wouldn't see - directors asking about the cost implications, disclosure implications, what could go wrong with a plan that pays too much for performance that isn't justified," says England. "Board members are saying they don't want their reputation besmirched."


For now, among many corporate boards, looking to enhance pay for already handsomely compensated CEOs remains the norm.

United Technologies' George David has made nearly $300 million in compensation since he became CEO in 1994, including about $40 million in salary and bonuses and more than $250 million from stock option gains, according to SEC filings. He holds exercisable options valued at $138 million. Directors boosted his salary 42% to $1.7 million in 2005, saying it was his first raise since 1998, and awarded fresh options valued at $24 million.

Directors cited his long tenure, leadership, an Institutional Investor magazine survey ranking him tops among his aerospace and defense electronics industry peers and the company's "exceptional" performance. Most longtime shareholders might not quibble: They've gained about 18% annually under David.

"We can all argue how we value CEOs and if their pay makes sense," says Alan Johnson, a principal in compensation consultant Johnson Associates. "But we chronically overvalue CEOs. Until that's addressed, higher pay will continue."

At poor-performing companies, some boards are ignoring performance guidelines to reward executives. Sun Microsystems, down more than 90% from its 2000 peak, gave CEO Scott McNealy a $1.1 million "discretionary" bonus last year, even though Sun failed to meet income or earnings targets. The board cited a "one-time need" to recognize McNealy's performance. McNealy gained $11.8 million exercising options. Already Sun's largest individual shareholder, McNealy also received fresh options worth $7.6 million.

"There's a point where a board should tell the CEO, 'You have enough to incentivize you,' " says Paul Hodgson, pay analyst for The Corporate Library, a governance watchdog group. "But it's still business as usual at most companies. It's all about keeping up with the Joneses. There's still a disconnect between paying for performance and actually delivering it. There's no shame factor."

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GAO Annual Report: U.S. Government Finances Are a Mess, Trillions Unaccounted For


What GAO Found

[...] More troubling still is the federal government's overall financial condition and long-term fiscal imbalance. While the fiscal year 2005 budget deficit was lower than 2004, it was still very high, especially given the impending retirement of the "baby boom" generation and rising health care costs. Importantly, as reported in the fiscal year 2005 Financial Report of the United States Government, the federal government's accrual-based net operating cost--the cost to operate the federal government--increased to $760 billion in fiscal year 2005 from $616 billion in fiscal year 2004. This represents an increase of about $144 billion or 23 percent. The federal government's gross debt was about $8 trillion as of September 30, 2005. This number excludes such items as the gap between the present value of future promised and funded Social Security and Medicare benefits, veterans' health care, and a range of other liabilities, commitments, and contingencies that the federal government has pledged to support.

Including these items, the federal government's fiscal exposures now total more than $46 trillion, representing close to four times gross domestic product (GDP) in fiscal year 2005 and up from about $20 trillion or two times GDP in 2000. Given these and other factors, a fundamental reexamination of major spending programs, tax policies, and government priorities will be important and necessary to put us on a prudent and sustainable fiscal path. This will likely require a national discussion about what Americans want from their government and how much they are willing to pay for those things.

We continue to have concerns about the identification of misstatements in federal agencies' prior year financial statements. Frequent restatements to correct errors can undermine public trust and confidence in both the entity and all responsible parties. The material internal control weaknesses discussed in this testimony serve to increase the risk that additional errors may occur and not be identified on a timely basis by agency management or their auditors, resulting in further restatements.

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'Absolutely innocent,' ex-CEO tells Enron trial

Last Updated Mon, 10 Apr 2006 13:50:50 EDT
CBC News

Former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling told a Texas court Monday that he is "absolutely innocent" of fraud charges related to the bankruptcy of the once mighty energy and communications giant.

Testifying in his own defence in Houston, Skilling said he would "fight these charges until the day I die."
Skilling faces 28 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors. Enron founder Kenneth Lay faces six counts of fraud and conspiracy. Both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In his testimony, Skilling told the court that he felt Enron was in "very good condition" when he resigned in August 2001.

Enron, once the seventh-largest company in the United States, went bankrupt in December 2001 following revelations that it had hidden huge losses by using fraudulent partnership deals. The losses were kept off the company's balance sheet.

After the losses were revealed, the company's stock plunged, wiping out billions of dollars of investors' money.

Former Enron chief financial officer Andrew Fastow testified earlier in the trial that he used the partnerships to buoy Enron's earnings with Skilling's knowledge.

Prosecutors will have their first opportunity to question Skilling during cross-examination, which is not expected to begin until the middle of the week, at the earliest.

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US economy's latest output: better high-paying jobs

By Mark Trumbull
The Christian Science Monitor
April 11, 2006

The US economy isn't just producing jobs these days, it's also producing good jobs. Alongside the ads for jobs handling a cash register or a spatula are these new opportunities:

- In St. Louis, AFB International is enlisting both technicians, paid $30,000 to $40,000, and PhD scientists, offered $80,000 to $100,000, in its quest for the perfect pet food.

- In Delaware, Honeywell plans to hire people at $40,000 to $100,000 to work in a data-storage center.

- In southern California, some of the latest openings involve working on the railroad, for $35,000 to $70,000 a year. Union Pacific plans to add 2,000 employees altogether.
These reports in the past month symbolize a welcome trend during an economic expansion that at first offered only tepid job gains, both in quantity and quality.

This good news about the breadth of job creation comes against a backdrop of labor-market anxiety that has persisted despite the economy's solid overall footing. Competition from imported goods, the threat of outsourcing services abroad, and a controversial influx of illegal laborers are just some of the forces that make many workers worried about their future.

Creating good jobs - the kinds that can keep American living standards rising - appears likely to remain a challenge. But the current employment picture at least indicates movement in a positive direction.

"We're creating lots of all kinds of jobs, across many industries, occupations, and pay scales," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com. But he adds: "If your skill sets are rusty, or at the low end of the skill range, you're going to have a tougher time."

The economy added 211,000 jobs in March, according to a Labor Department report Friday - a solid showing about on par with expectations. The unemployment rate fell a notch, to 4.7 percent.

The new jobs still include plenty at the low end: An analysis by Merrill Lynch finds that some 40 percent of the net gain in March came in two areas known for low pay: retail services and leisure/hospitality, which includes restaurants.

But this is just part of a broader tapestry. Management and professional occupations are employing 1.2 million more people this month than a year ago - or about 1 in 3 new jobs in America. This is the highest-paying of five broad categories tracked by the Labor Department. Not all of them are CEOs or engineers, but the median paycheck for full-time workers in this category is $937 a week, far above the US median of $651.

The construction industry continues to hammer out more than its share of new jobs. It accounts for about 6.4 percent of US jobs, but has provided 14.4 percent of the past year's job growth. The quality of construction jobs is mixed - often offering higher hourly pay than the US median but with lower benefits.

Even the manufacturing sector, which has long offered blue-collar workers a measure of middle-class prosperity, appears to be stabilizing after a period of heavy job losses. Despite downsizing in the automotive industry, 175,000 more people are employed in production occupations today than a year ago.

"As this recovery gets under way, professional services have begun adding jobs fairly broadly," says Jared Bernstein, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in Washington.

EPI tracks the weighting of higher- versus lower-paying jobs that are being added to the economy. For much of the current expansion, which began at the end of 2001, that indicator has been negative.

In the past year, however, it has turned positive, meaning that the new jobs in the economy are the kind that tend to pull average wages up, not down.

Beyond professional services, one example may be construction. The housing market is cooling, but commercial building is heating up.

"More of the work will be in nonresidential construction," predicts Michael Carliner, an economist at the National Association of Home Builders. That could mean demand for higher skills, such as equipment operation, that boost pay.

The question, however, is how much of today's strengthening labor market represents cyclical trends, rather than long-term gains.

At this point, perhaps midway into an expansion phase, it's not unusual to see the job mix improve and pay to rise in new and existing jobs alike. "I would expect wages and compensation to increase faster," says Rae Hederman of the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.

How long that pattern lasts will depend in some measure on the Federal Reserve, which is now trying to decide whether to raise interest rates further. Setting rates too high, some experts warn, could slow the economy and dampen job growth.

The labor market's gains are beginning to take on the shape of a barbell, with growth weighted heavily at the two ends of the pay scale. During the current expansion, the bulk of new jobs have come in either the highest-paid of five broad occupational categories - management and professional - or the lowest-paid, services. Together the two sectors now account for more than half of all jobs. (The other three major categories are sales and office work, construction and natural resources, and production/transportation.)

The economy's overall share of jobs with strong pay and benefits has failed to grow during the past quarter century, even though workers today have higher skills and more technology to make them productive, says John Schmitt, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal research institute in Washington. That's a break with the past, he says, when "wages typically tracked closely with productivity."

Comment: Don't have the skills to land one of these fancy shmancy jobs? Don't worry - low-paid jobs are also increasing! Nevermind that for most Americans, that means that they still can't get a job that let's them "put food on their families".

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Bridging the Dollar Gap: The Price of US Education

By Kim Clark
Us News and World Report
4/17/06 Edition

To help pay for her college education, Thanh Phuong Nguyen, a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, delivers sobering news about paying for college to applicants. On behalf of the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, she visits high schools to warn teenagers against expecting financial aid to cover all of their college costs. (In fact, only about half of students get any kind of grant or scholarship, and those average just $4,000 a year.) Most students shouldn't expect parents to cover the costs, either. (The average sticker price of about $67,000 for four years at a public university would more than wipe out the savings accounts of at least 80 percent of Americans.) And, Nguyen says, it is extremely difficult to work enough to pay for college and still succeed in class.

That means they'll have to do what Nguyen is doing--take out thousands of dollars of loans to fill the gap left after scholarships, savings, and earnings. "Most kids don't want to borrow. It is really hard to show them the reality," says the double major in psychology and finance.
The pinch. Next semester, Nguyen's financial-reality spiel will be even harder. Even as tuition is rising, forcing students to borrow more, Congress has doubled the financial whammy by raising interest rates on education loans. Students who take out a Stafford loan this September will have to pay a fixed 6.8 percent. That's up 1.5 percentage points from the variable rate charged this spring. And parents who borrow from the Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) program will most likely have to pay at least 8 percent, up about 2 percentage points. The combination of bigger debt loads and higher interest rates could easily raise students' repayment costs, which now average about $2,500 a year, by more than $400 annually.

But Nguyen does hold out hope. She and thousands of others have figured out clever ways to reduce or even eliminate their monthly loan payments. And no matter what stage your education is at--even if you graduated years ago--you might still be able to cut your repayment costs if you act soon.

Any student, graduate, or parent who has at least one federally insured education loan can prevent his or her payments from getting any worse by locking in the current low rates before they jump on July 1. Even those with just one loan can "consolidate" the debt, as the refinancing process is known. By consolidating loans, borrowers lock in a fixed rate of the average of whatever they are currently paying. Students who apply before July 1 can lock in rates of no more than 4.75 percent. Those who graduated more than six months ago can cap their rates at 5.375 percent. And parents with at least one unconsolidated loan can set a ceiling of 6.125 percent on their PLUS loans, saving themselves perhaps $1,000 in payments over the life of a $10,000 loan.

Shop around. Those who have borrowed from only one source must consolidate with their current lender. Anyone who has taken a federal educational loan from more than one lender can shop around for the best deal. Many lenders, for example, will knock a quarter point off the interest rate for those who agree to pay by automatic debit. And several offer other incentives. The College Loan Corp., for example, will subtract 2 percent from your balance after nine on-time payments. To seek the best consolidation deal, check with your financial aid office and visit websites like that of the Education Finance Council, a trade group that is posting many lenders' offers.

Students or parents planning to borrow next semester, unfortunately, have little choice but to absorb higher costs. For students, Staffords are still the best loan deal around, even at next school year's fixed 6.8 percent, advisers say.

Parents with good credit or home equity will have to do a little figuring, however. Many banks are offering home equity loans for as little as 7 percent, which could cut about $100 a year in interest off a $10,000 debt, compared with a PLUS loan. In addition, for families earning more than $135,000, the education debt would not be tax deductible, while the higher mortgage payments would probably reduce the family tax bill by several hundred dollars a year.

PLUS loans will be most attractive for parents who don't have sufficient home equity or good enough credit to get the best rates from banks, or those who want to preserve home equity for retirement or an emergency. Stephen Shapiro, a financial adviser with Tuition Solutions Now in Santa Cruz, Calif., also recommends PLUS loans for one other group: parents who are elderly or sick. PLUS loans offer forgiveness of the loan if the parent becomes disabled or if the parent or student dies. "If there's a chance they may not make it" through the repayment period, "they should take a PLUS loan," he says.

Of course, no one should count on a tragedy to save himself from burdensome educational debt. Luckily, a few government agencies and charities have started to respond with happier ways to reduce students' debt burdens. The federal government has launched programs to pay down some education debts of nurses, teachers, child-care workers, and federal employees with skills that are in demand. Many communities and lenders are forgiving the loans of social workers, police officers, soldiers, and other public servants, as well as the neediest students.

A few charities and lenders are also beefing up reduced-rate or even interest-free loans. The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, for example, will provide about $2.8 million in interest-free education loans to 600 students in parts of Missouri and Illinois next year, up about $200,000 from the current academic year. Nguyen is one of the lucky recipients. But even if you do end up having to pay high interest rates, a college degree is worth the financial pain, she says. "A lot of kids take out money for a car, but cars depreciate. An education has more value because when you get a job, you can move up" and earn more.

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Man Gets $218 Trillion Phone Bill

April 10, 2006

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - A Malaysian man said he nearly fainted when he recieved a $218 trillion phone bill and was ordered to pay up within 10 days or face prosecution, a newspaper reported Monday.
Yahaya Wahab said he disconnected his late father's phone line in January after he died and settled the 84 ringgit ($23) bill, the New Straits Times reported.

But Telekom Malaysia later sent him a 806,400,000,000,000.01 ringgit ($218 trillion) bill for recent telephone calls along with orders to settle within 10 days or face legal proceedings, the newspaper reported.

It wasn't clear whether the bill was a mistake, or if Yahaya's father's phone line was used illegally after after his death.

"If the company wants to seek legal action as mentioned in the letter, I'm ready to face it," the paper quoted Yahaya as saying. "In fact, I can't wait to face it," he said.

Yahaya, from northern Kedah state, received a notice from the company's debt-collection agency in early April, the paper said. Yahaya said he nearly fainted when he saw the new bill.

Government-linked Telekom Malaysia Bhd. is the country's largest telecommunications company.

A company official, who declined to be identified as she was not authorized to speak to the media, said Telekom Malaysia was aware of Yahaya's case and would address it. She did not provide further details.

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UN Appeals for $426M for Africa Drought

Associated Press
Fri Apr 7, 8:22 PM ET

NAIROBI, Kenya - The United Nations appealed for $426 million to help victims of drought in Horn of Africa, where more than 40 percent of people are undernourished and thousands have died because of complications due to hunger.

Jan Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, launched the appeal on Friday to help 8 million people at severe risk of starvation in Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti.
"Millions of people are threatened with starvation following the recent severe drought," he said. He estimated that "thousands, perhaps tens of thousands" had died already due to complications from hunger.

"We don't know, because these children dying of diarrhea, these women dying from preventable diseases, these elderly dying too early, die because they have been weakened by malnutrition, they have been weakened by lack of water, lack of sanitation and preventable disease kills them at intolerable levels," Egeland said.

Nomadic communities that depend on livestock for their survival have seen more than 80 percent of their animals die because of lack of water or fodder. Sporadic rains have been reported in the region, but experts said it was unlikely to be enough to reverse the drought and comes too late for most nomadic families.

Egeland said the U.N. appeal was for a comprehensive approach that would not only supply immediate emergency aid, but also take preventative and long-term steps to mitigate future droughts.

"It would be very, very immoral to save people this year and know that they could die again next year, or the year after," he said.

U.N. experts also have reported that the drought cycles have shortened, causing these kinds of problems more frequently, Egeland said. He added that long-term solutions must be found to help the nomads survive under the new climate conditions.

Egeland also emphasized a regional approach for the drought, centered where Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia all meet. Somalia has been an especially difficult area to provide aid since pirates began intercepting ships carrying U.N. food to the country last year and there is still no effective central government in the country.

In Washington, President Bush said Thursday that the United States would send $92 million in aid to prevent widespread famine in the Horn of Africa, in addition to more than $150 million in emergency humanitarian food and other assistance the United States already has provided to the region since October 2005.

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War Is Fun!

Bush Plans to Use Illegal B61-11

Sunday April 09th 2006, 7:05 pm
Kurt Nimmo
Another Day in the Empire

It's said Bush and his bevy of Straussian neocons will nuke Iran (according to research conducted by journalist Seymour Hersh) using nuclear-armed B61-11 "bunker-busters." Bush will do this "to prevent [Iran] acquiring its own atomic warheads," the UK Telegraph summarizes Hersh's conclusion. "Hersh claims that one of the plans, presented to the White House by the Pentagon, entails the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One alleged target is Iran's main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, 200 miles south of Teheran."
In Bushzarro world, as we know, up is down, right is left, and violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and international law is legal and within Bush's reading on the Constitution. In fact, under the NPT, Iran has the right to develop peaceful nuclear technology, although of course the neocons argue Iran is feverishly building nuclear weapons, an assertion made without any credible evidence (essentially a re-run of the weapons of mass destruction argument-lies and fabrications-made in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq). It is interesting to note that the very development of the B61-11 is a violation of the NPT, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and international law dating back to the Clinton administration, thus once again illustrating the fact the neocons don't have a monopoly on criminal renegade behavior.

"A central and expressed purpose of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has always been to arrest the further evolution of the world's nuclear arsenals," noted the Los Alamos Study Group on February 10, 1997, during the Clinton administration. "This modified weapon-certified without nuclear testing and deployed after signing the CTBT-undercuts that treaty and could provide political cover to countries which have their own unsatisfied nuclear ambitions."

So-called "earth-penetrating weapons" (more accurately described as weapons that release radiation into the earth and atmosphere) were "rejected for deployment by Presidents Carter, Reagan, and Bush," thus demonstrating there was at least a modicum of sanity-at least in regard to nuclear weapons-before Bubba and Bush Minor and his coven of Straussian neocons came on the scene.

"What is known about the B61-11 strongly suggests that its rushed development has been motivated by a desire to target one or more non-nuclear-weapon states." Iran is such a non-nuclear state. "Hersh says that within the Bush administration, there are concerns that even a pummelling by conventional strikes, may not sufficiently damage Iran's buried nuclear plants," reports the Independent. Naturally, the neocons realize there are no such "buried nuclear plants" and the purpose is simply to inflict on the Iranian people the sort of damage Bush and crew inflicted on Iraq's population of 24 million people (minus around 250,000 killed by the Straussian Mafia).

Clinton's Pentagon told a big lie about developing the B61-11 (and who knows what other secrecy-shrouded weapon systems) in "order to gain support for indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)." In April and May of 1995, the United States "repeatedly assured the world ... that it would not continue 'vertical proliferation.' Yet during these same months the Department of Energy (DOE) was seeking, and obtaining, approval for a weapon modification with significant new military utility." In order to keep the development secret, "this weapon was approved outside the regular budget process and without congressional debate, by means of secret letters to key committee chairmen, raising constitutional questions." Clinton-who is a more convincing liar than Bush-"and nuclear weapons laboratory spokespersons ... assured a skeptical public that no new nuclear weapons would be developed or built. At the very same time, secret development of this provocative weapon was being requested by the Department of Defense (DoD) and carried out by the DOE in complete secrecy."

As critics claimed before "everything changed" (or was changed by the neocons), "adding low-yield warheads to the world's nuclear inventory simply makes their eventual use more likely," according to Dr. Robert W. Nelson of the Federation of American Scientists. "Furthermore, a 1994 law currently prohibits the nuclear laboratories from undertaking research and development that could lead to a precision nuclear weapon of less than 5 kilotons (kt), because 'low-yield nuclear weapons blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional war,"" a blurring effect well under way within the Bush administration and over at the Council on Foreign Relations (see "The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy" by Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, an article actually arguing nukes should be used).

It is now obvious the criminal globalist elite plan to use nukes and believe they can contain this once unimaginable usage to the "third world" where "rogue regimes" with or without nukes or weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with in severe fashion-that is to say they must be irradiated and suffer horrible deaths.

"In addition to the immediate effects of blast, air shock, and thermal radiation, shallow nuclear explosions produce especially intense local radioactive fallout," explains Nelson of FAS. "The fireball breaks through the surface of the earth, carrying into the air large amounts of dirt and debris. This material has been exposed to the intense neutron flux from the nuclear detonation, which adds to the radioactivity from the fission products. The cloud typically consists of a narrow column and a broad base surge of air filled with radioactive dust which expands to a radius of over a mile for a 5 kiloton explosion."

Imagine such "intense local radioactive fallout" in Tehran, population approximately 12 million.

Obviously, if Bush indeed nukes Iran, as we are now told, we are dealing with a war criminal of Hitlerian proportions. Since it appears Bush and the neocon maniacs will be allowed to proceed and nuke Iran (and other countries on the neocon hit list), we can only hope in the catastrophic wake they will be rounded up and prosecuted. Fat chance of this happening before Bush and crew begin slinging nukes around.

Most American know little or nothing about Bush's desire to nuke Iran. Ignorance is bliss-until you wake up one morning and there are funny looking sunrises in the east, west, north, and south.

For far too many Americans, B61-11 might as well be tonight's lottery number.

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Iraqis struggle to cope with lower food rations

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Critics blast government's decision to slash subsidies in face of mounting deprivation

BAGHDAD: A government decision to cut food rations has hurt poor Iraqis who cannot afford high prices on the open market, say economists and Baghdad residents. Despite rising poverty in Iraq, the government has decided to cut the food ration budget from $4 billion to $3 billion in 2006, as the country shifts from a socialist to a free market economy.

The Iraqi government has provided subsidies on basic food items such as flour and sugar for decades. The United Nations expanded the program when the country was under crippling economic sanctions.

However, subsidies have now been cut on staples including salt, soap and beans.

Trade Ministry spokesman Faraj Daud said the government will continue to supply Iraqis with free rice, sugar, flour and cooking oil.

The ministry claims that items that were once scarce during sanctions are now widely available on the open market and therefore do not need to be distributed by the government.

Approximately 96 percent of Iraq's 28 million people receive food rations managed by 543 centers.

The UN World Food Program estimated in a 2004 report that one-quarter of the population is highly dependent on the rations, warning that without them "many lower-income households, particularly women and children, would not be able to meet their food requirements."
Daud, however, insists that the ministry has studied the impact of canceling the subsidies and found it would not hurt families economically.

For Qadiryia Mohammad, a mother of eight with a disabled husband who cannot work, the cuts are devastating.

"We have no income and totally depend on the rations," said Mohammad, 48, a resident of Baghdad's al-Karkh neighborhood. "The cut on some items and problems with food distribution might force us to beg."

The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry reported in January that more than 2 million Iraqi families are living below the poverty line and that poverty had risen by 30 percent since the U.S.-led invasion in April 2003.

Government figures show that food prices jumped 26 percent from December 2005 to January 2006, due in part to a general rise in inflation and high demand for meat and vegetables because of the bird flu outbreak.

Inflation has skyrocketed since 2003, and according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is expected to rise another 15 percent this year. The economy is expected to grow by 10 percent.

Baghdad-based economist Munthir Hadi predicted that the food ration cuts, combined with a spike in inflation, "will increase number of poor families."

"The Iraqi citizen still totally depends on the state," he said. "It's not easy to apply globalization theories. This requires more time."

The Iraqi government, backed by the United States and the IMF, is shifting to a free market economy after decades of Baathist socialist rule.

The country received a $685 million IMF loan in December 2005 and in return promised economic reforms, including raising the price of subsidized fuel - a decision that led to protests - and scrapping the food rations program, according to the Iraqi newspaper Azzaman.

The government and IMF did not make public details of the reforms.

Iraq's food rations have been problematic since last year. Their distribution by the Trade Ministry - which was recently charged with having the highest level of corruption of any ministry - has been poor. Last December, its inspector-general was fired.

The government has since allocated $490 million to compensate 5 million families for the shortfall.

However the payments are based on August 2005 prices and for some families that just isn't enough.

"I can't afford 25,000 Iraqi dinars [$14 dollars] for a canister of gas," said Mohammad.

"The economic situation is hard and food ration is insufficient," Mohammad added.

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How predictions for Iraq came true

By John Simpson
BBC World Affairs Editor

It was a few weeks before the invasion of Iraq, three years ago. I was interviewing the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in the ballroom of a big hotel in Cairo.
Shrewd, amusing, bulky in his superb white robes, he described to me all the disasters he was certain would follow the invasion.

The US and British troops would be bogged down in Iraq for years. There would be civil war between Sunnis and Shias. The real beneficiary would be the government in Iran.

"And what do the Americans say when you tell them this," I asked? "They don't even listen," he said.

Over the last three years, from a ringside seat here in Baghdad, I have watched his predictions come true, stage by stage.

Falluja fallout

The first stage was the looting.

As Saddam Hussein fled Baghdad, people started attacking every symbol of the old system, no matter how self-destructive that might be.

I saw crowds of people sacking a hospital, running out with bits of equipment which were useless to them, but essential to the running of the hospital.

At the information ministry, I watched them stripping the claddings from the walls and the underlay from the floors. The American soldiers outside did nothing to stop them. Sometimes they would fire in the air, but the looters scarcely even looked round.

Until then, most Iraqis had thought the US was all-powerful, and was there to help them. The perception started to change then and there.

For the next year, if you were careful, you could wander round Baghdad, and even drive to other parts of the country.

When we arrived for a tour of duty we travelled by road to Baghdad from Jordan, through places like Falluja, or else from Kuwait, past Nasiriya and Hilla. It was sometimes nerve-racking, but we always got through. Now there is no alternative to flying in.

The BBC, like most other news organisations, is based in the city centre, not inside the Green Zone. It still is, but now our bureau is protected like a fortress.

Everything in Iraq changed in April 2004, with the American onslaught on Falluja. The town is small, but it took a long time to subdue - and it never has been subdued entirely. The ferocity of the American attack angered a broad swathe of Iraqi opinion.

At the same time, against the advice of many Iraqi politicians, the Americans also took on the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

After that, the towns and cities of central Iraq became markedly more dangerous. We started hearing more of the American acronym IED, or improvised explosive device (it simply means a bomb).

Post-traumatic stress

The Coalition Provisional Authority under the leadership of Paul Bremer handed over to an interim Iraqi administration in July 2004.

It made little difference: the corruption had already started, and people now realised that neither the coalition nor the Iraqi administration could do anything about the failing water, power and fuel supplies.

The next key moment was the election of January 2005. The violence dropped noticeably, as the insurgents saw the size of the turnout and felt the general enthusiasm, and waited to see if they could do a deal with the new government.

But there was no new government for a full three months. The politicians squabbled among themselves, and the moment passed. The violence soon returned to its former level.

By July of last year there was already talk of civil war. A referendum and another election followed, and an effective administration was as far away as ever. Four months after the December election, Iraq still has no government.

'Easier targets'

The insurgency is fading a little now. Fewer American, British and Iraqi troops are dying, and there are less frequent attacks on the Iraqi police.

Instead, easier targets present themselves. There is an all-out effort to provoke a civil war. The bombings of Shia shrines are always followed by the murder of individual Sunnis: sometimes dozens at a time.

There is a quiet movement of population, as people leave mixed areas and head for places where others like them live. Marriages between Sunnis and Shias used to be frequent; now they've dropped away to almost nothing.

A psychiatrist at one of the main hospitals in Baghdad told me that serious mental illness in Iraq in the past had affected fewer than 3% of the population. Now, he said, the figure was 17%.

Another psychiatrist told me that in the days of Saddam Hussein, his patients had shown the effects of living under a ferocious dictatorship: stress levels were very high.

Now, he said, most of his patients suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. It's no longer the fear of violence and injury which troubles them, it's the daily reality of it.

While we were filming, someone fired a gun close by. I won't easily forget the terrified way some of the patients flinched.

Doing and undoing

Just over three years ago, when I interviewed the Saudi foreign minister, I asked him why he thought the US was determined to invade Iraq.

He said he had put the same question to Vice-President Dick Cheney. Mr Cheney had replied: "Because it's do-able."

It was. The trouble is, undoing the kind of damage the Saudi foreign minister foresaw is proving very hard indeed.

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'Searching for attackers lurking in the night'

By M K Bhadrakumar Apr 8, 2006

There is enormous political symbolism in the circuitous route that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took for visiting Baghdad on Monday. She headed first to the quiet British town of Blackburn for a weekend's bonding with her British allies, and then proceeded to Iraq, accompanied by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
Any limited perspective on the Rice-Straw mission in terms of cajoling Ibrahim al-Jaafari to give up his prime ministership in Baghdad overlooks that Iraq is the cornerstone of the United States' imperial venture in remaking the Middle East, with the objective of controlling the region - its flows of oil, weapons and money.

Two major powers traditionally active in the region are responding to the Anglo-American drive for a New Middle East - Russia and Turkey.

The Russian moves are impressive - strengthening ties with Saudi Arabia, gaining observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conferences (OIC), revival of ties with Syria and Egypt, contact with Hamas, networking with Iraqi Sunni tribal leaderships, institutional ties with the Arab League, and, arguably, the heavily nuanced line on Iran.

Germane to all this, Moscow perceives a likely replay of past Anglo-American attempts to pit the Muslim world against Russia. Given its history, geography and culture and the multinational and multi-faith character of its society, Russia has everything to lose in an "inter-civilizational" conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently wrote:

Russia will not let anybody set it at loggerheads with the Islamic world ... The increased significance of the energy factor in global politics is on the mind of many. Even those who have got used to thinking in terms of geopolitics appreciate that the equation formula of strategic stability has changed and the specific weight of nuclear deterrence itself has diminished ... At the same time, it is obvious that any sustained development of Russia's energy sector rules out for the foreseeable future any disregard of the Near and Middle East resources in a global energy balance.

In a lengthy message addressed to the Arab League summit meeting at Khartoum on March 28, Russian President Vladimir Putin said:

I am well aware that the heads of state and peoples of the Arab world, and in other Muslim states, share Russia's growing concern about the danger arising out of new divisions in the international community. It is our deep conviction that the time has come to act, and to act together, under the auspices of the United Nations as a key player.

As the events of the last few years in the Middle East have shown, unilateral actions do not resolve problems and they even aggravate them. Russia, a multi-confessional country with observer status within the Organization of Islamic Conference, has firm intentions to make a significant contribution to this teamwork.

Putin called for "consensual approaches" to the issues of social, economic and political transformation in the Arab world: "Events should not be rushed in an artificial way, nor should outside pressure be applied." Stressing that resolving the Palestinian problem within the framework of UN Resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515 should be the priority, Putin described Russia's "dialogue" with Hamas as an "approach to new realities in a constructive and pragmatic way".

Putin said Iraq's unity and territorial integrity could only be achieved through a national dialogue and by "ending the foreign military presence". He called for a lowering of "tensions around Lebanon and Syria" and opposed "any third-party" role.

It comes as no surprise that the countries of the Arab Middle East have warmed to the Russian overtures.

Moscow hosted on March 27-28 the first session of the so-called Russia-Islamic World Strategic Vision Group comprising Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt, etc. Putin greeted the foreign delegates attending the conference. Significantly, Yevgeni Primakov, former prime minister and renowned orientalist who played a key role in crafting the Soviet Union's ties with the Arab world through the Cold War years, chaired the Moscow meet.

Again, the head of the Saudi National Security Council, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, paid a "working visit" to Moscow on Tuesday. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the hugely influential Saudi prince's agenda included the Palestine issue, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and "conditions in Iraq", apart from "building up and deepening" Russia-Saudi relations.

Turkey, too, is seeking to revive its ties in the Middle East - a region that it turned its back on in 1923. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's presence at the Arab League summit in Khartoum as a "permanent guest" meshes with a series of Turkish moves in the past three years.

Turkey claims it is trying to act as a "bridge" between the Middle East region and the Western world. (Curiously, Russia also is staking claims for a similar role as a "civilizational bridge" between the Muslim world and the West.)

But the US may not accede to such a profound role for Turkey or Russia - and Ankara and Moscow cannot be unaware of that. The US simply ignored similar Turkish (and Russian) claims in the 1990s to act as a "bridge" in the Balkans during the crises in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Turkish-US relations (like Russian-US relations) have been increasingly bumpy. Yet Turkey couldn't sit on the fence. It has vital interests to safeguard - least of all in its eastern provinces.

Turkey also has a government with a ruling party of pronounced religious orientation, which is approaching an election and would have to grapple with a resurgence of nationalism that has overtones of political Islam, and is heavily laden with "anti-Americanism". And this at a juncture when the so-called Kemalist secular camp has atrophied (or fragmented) almost to the point of irrelevance in the country's party politics, and a drift in Turkey's search for European Union membership is visible.

More important, as in Moscow, few in Ankara are convinced that Washington is anywhere near being transparent in its Iraq policies. Both Russia and Turkey would suspect that Washington did not have an "exit strategy" in Iraq because no exit was (or is) intended. They fear that if push comes to shove, the US will not hesitate to turn Iraq, in fragments, into a de facto colony.

Few in Ankara today, therefore, share Washington's hostility toward Syria and Iran. Ankara, like Moscow, favors engagement of Syria and Iran and opposes the use of force or "regime changes" in these neighboring countries.

Equally so, Turkey is deeply skeptical (like Russia) about the United States' "transformational diplomacy" in the Middle East. "Democratization is a process, and it should be expected to proceed at a different pace in different countries," Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said in a written statement last month.

Ankara also hosted Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said, "At this stage, the international community should adopt a prejudice-free attitude and give the new Palestinian government the opportunity to fulfill its obligations."

Israel and the pro-Israeli lobby in the US went ballistic over the Hamas chief's visit to Turkey. But the Turkish leadership (like the Kremlin) held firm. Erdogan insisted Turkey was doing the "right thing at the right time".

Again, Jaafari visited Ankara when the US was working hard to get him to quit office. (Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said the visit took place without his knowledge, and he wouldn't "recognize" any agreements that the Iraqi prime minister entered into with the Turkish government.)

A visit by influential Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to Turkey is now talked about. Turkey is reaching out to different Iraqi constituencies - just in case.

Turkey's Sabah newspaper recently quoted a "high-level" US official voicing fears in Washington about "Turkey's metamorphosis into a new Malaysia". Indeed, Turkey sought and obtained the post of secretary general of the OIC. (Turkey was supportive of Russia's observer status in the body.)

Erdogan's presence at the Arab League summit in Khartoum last week signified the culmination of an initiative made during his visit to Cairo in January 2003. The Arab League initially had reservations on account of Turkey's close ties with Israel, but circumstances have changed dramatically since the Iraq war began. (Interestingly, on his return journey to Ankara from Khartoum, Erdogan made a detour to visit the OIC headquarters in Jeddah.)

Looking after interests

But Turkey does not cross swords with the US or Britain in the Middle East. Like Russia, Turkey is primarily taking precautions that at the very least a New Middle East, if one indeed shapes up under Anglo-American supervision, would not be pitted against Turkey's core interests. In uncertain times, it becomes prudent to hedge one's bets.

Having said that, both Moscow and Ankara will focus on Iraq in immediate terms. This course is Iraq's security. Moscow and Ankara would be justified to ask: "What was it that Straw could offer Rice?"

The answer lies in one of the most influential and enduring British strategic theories attributed to T E Lawrence. This strategy was distilled by Lawrence in the deserts of Arabia in the second decade of the 20th century (and to which Britain remained largely faithful even in Northern Ireland). In terms of this, Straw would tell Rice that in Iraq, to begin with, instead of being bogged down in a senseless trench war where armed clashes were turning into mass butchery, Washington should focus on a strategy of warfare that dispensed with battles.

Conceivably, Straw would counsel Rice that instead of attacking the Iraqi enemies, she should go around them, as Lawrence would have done, "immobilizing and isolating them, wearing them down as their sentries peer into the darkness searching for attackers who might or might not be lurking in the night" - to use the inimitable words of David Fromkin, author of the classic study on 1922 Middle East settlement, A Peace to End All Peace.

A problem remains, however. As Fromkin would point out, Lawrence's strategy has its limitations. It has no use for a country fighting for survival; a country that obstinately refuses to surrender and may need to be crushed by force; and an enemy that will not surrender even if tired, but chooses to fight to hold on to something it can't afford to give up.

Thus a paradox so typical of our times arises: the strategy attributed to Lawrence, the hero of British imperialism, is most effective against a great power that favors pitched, face-to face battles.

But Straw could as well have told that to Rice while strolling in the town center in Blackburn. A symbolic visit to Baghdad should not have been necessary.

M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for more than 29 years, with postings including ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-98) and to Turkey (1998-2001).

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The Five-Letter Word to End War--Draft

by Missy Comley Beattie
April 10, 2006

What are we going to do to stop the messianic president, George W. Bush, from blowing Iran to bits to further his and Mommy Dearest's belief that he was born to save the world? How are sane people going to stop an avalanche of obsession from smothering Democracy? What can we do to bring our troops home and ensure peace?

A draft. That's the answer. Only if we reinstate conscription will Americans march in the streets to protest war. That's when our electorate will be affected by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the plan for world domination that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice are forcefully peddling. Only then will soccer moms and T-ball dads awaken from their complacency and say, "Not my child."
For three years now, most Americans have expected someone else's children to fight this ill-conceived, unconstitutional war in Iraq - a war that is hidden from consciousness because the powers that rule refuse to show the flagged-draped coffins, arriving at Dover. But the bottom line, the distillate, is simple to understand: If you are unwilling to fight or send your own children to this war of choice, then, don't advocate that others volunteer. It's so simple. If you truly believe that the occupation of Iraq is a noble cause, then, go immediately to the nearest recruitment station and encourage your children to do the same. If you think our troops are fighting for your freedoms, enlist now. And if you are already in the service of this country, ask yourselves this question: Would I want my own children to choose the armed forces as a career at this time?

We need a strong military, one in which our soldiers receive higher compensation for putting themselves in danger, for time spent away from family, for honorable service to protect the rest of us from the threat of another country's aggression, and the most sophisticated protective equipment. For their duty, they should obtain comprehensive benefits including state of the art medical care. We must always respectfully acknowledge those who choose to serve by sending them to war only as a last resort when every other effort has failed. The truth is that military force is seldom necessary. Because most problems can be solved through negotiation. It's what we teach our children. Don't fight; use conflict resolution. But that's not what most of our elected officials value. And the reason they don't is because they are banking huge sums of money. It's called war profiteering. They are using our loved ones to increase their wealth. And they don't care. Senator Diane Feinstein's contractor husband had made enough money in Iraq that he's moved his wife into a 16 million dollar mansion. So, you see, it's not just the Republicans who are making out like banditos. Leaders from both parties are reaping rewards. When they gave Bush the authority to go to war, they sold our loved ones down the river so that they can shop on Rodeo Drive. How much money do they need to be happy? How many soldiers have to die so they can continue their excessive lifestyles?

It's time for all of us to say no to war. It's time for each American to say no to George Bush. It's time to march in the streets for peace. It's time for us to take our future from the control of those who want to exploit our troops and destroy other countries and the people of those countries in our names.

The George W. Bush scandal-plagued Administration has wreaked havoc on our conscience. The George W. Bush Administration is toxic. Cleaning up the pollution from the George W. Bush Administration will involve decades of effort. Restoring our image abroad will require years. This is an emergency. Our color-coded terror system should be RED to alert us to the dangers from George Bush who's made us all less safe with his immoral appetite for aggression and endless war.

Our children are at risk. Our country is in peril. We have a madman with his finger on the button, poised to destroy our lives because of an insatiable lust for power. We can't depend on Congress to stand up and act on our behalf. Most have capitulated.

We live in a climate of fear and that's what BushCo. requires to succeed. We have to stand up to this fear and demand peace before it's too late. It's almost too late now. Iraq is in civil war; our troops there are weary and without adequate armor. And George W. Bush is planning the bombing of Iran, because the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, reminds him of Adolf Hitler. Does George Bush remind anybody of this dictator? If your answer is yes, then join with me to insist that Bush and Cheney stand down and step down. Now. They are a danger to our military and to our liberties.

And demand a draft. Only, then, will our leaders be forced to stop playing Russian Roulette with our loved ones.

Missy Beattie lives in New York City. She's written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. An outspoken critic of the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq, she's a member of Gold Star Families for Peace. She completed a novel last year, but since the death of her nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Chase J. Comley, in Iraq on August 6,'05, she has been writing political articles.

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U.S. Military Secrets for Sale at Afghan Bazaar

By Paul Watson
LA Times
April 10, 2006

BAGRAM, Afghanistan - No more than 200 yards from the main gate of the sprawling U.S. base here, stolen computer drives containing classified military assessments of enemy targets, names of corrupt Afghan officials and descriptions of American defenses are on sale in the local bazaar.

Shop owners at the bazaar say Afghan cleaners, garbage collectors and other workers from the base arrive each day offering purloined goods, including knives, watches, refrigerators, packets of Viagra and flash memory drives taken from military laptops. The drives, smaller than a pack of chewing gum, are sold as used equipment.

The thefts of computer drives have the potential to expose military secrets as well as Social Security numbers and other identifying information of military personnel.
A reporter recently obtained several drives at the bazaar that contained documents marked "Secret." The contents included documents that were potentially embarrassing to Pakistan, a U.S. ally, presentations that named suspected militants targeted for "kill or capture" and discussions of U.S. efforts to "remove" or "marginalize" Afghan government officials whom the military considered "problem makers."

The drives also included deployment rosters and other documents that identified nearly 700 U.S. service members and their Social Security numbers, information that identity thieves could use to open credit card accounts in soldiers' names.

After choosing the name of an army captain at random, a reporter using the Internet was able to obtain detailed information on the woman, including her home address in Maryland and the license plate numbers of her 2003 Jeep Liberty sport utility vehicle and 1998 Harley Davidson XL883 Hugger motorcycle.

Troops serving overseas would be particularly vulnerable to attempts at identity theft because keeping track of their bank and credit records is difficult, said Jay Foley, co-executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego.

"It's absolutely absurd that this is happening in any way, shape or form," Foley said. "There's absolutely no reason for anyone in the military to have that kind of information on a flash drive and then have it out of their possession."

A flash drive also contained a classified briefing about the capabilities and limitations of a "man portable counter-mortar radar" used to find the source of guerrilla mortar rounds. A map pinpoints the U.S. camps and bases in Iraq where the sophisticated radar was deployed in March 2004.

Lt. Mike Cody, a spokesman for the U.S. forces here, declined to comment on the computer drives or their content.

"We do not discuss issues that involve or could affect operational security," he said.

Workers are supposed to be frisked as they leave the base, but they have various ways of deceiving guards, such as hiding computer drives behind photo IDs that they wear in holders around their necks, shop owners said. Others claim that U.S. soldiers illegally sell military property and help move it off the base, saying they need the money to pay bills back home.

Bagram base, the U.S. military's largest in Afghanistan and a hub for classified military activity, has suffered security lapses before, including an escape from a detention center where hundreds of Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects have been held and interrogated.

Last July, four Al Qaeda members, including the group's commander in Southeast Asia, Omar Faruq, escaped from Bagram by picking the lock on their cell. They then walked off the base, ditched their prison uniforms and fled through a muddy vineyard.

The men later boasted of their escape on a video and have not been captured. The military said it had tightened security at Bagram after the breakout.

One of the computer drives stolen from Bagram contained a series of slides prepared for a January 2005 briefing of American military officials that identified several Afghan governors and police chiefs as "problem makers" involved in kidnappings, the opium trade and attacks on allied troops with improvised bombs.

The chart showed the U.S. military's preferred methods of dealing with the men: "remove from office; if unable marginalize."

A chart dated Jan. 2, 2005, listed five Afghans as "Tier One Warlords." It identified Afghanistan's former defense minister Mohammed Qassim Fahim, current military chief of staff Abdul Rashid Dostum and counter-narcotics chief Gen. Mohammed Daoud as being involved in the narcotics trade. All three have denied committing crimes.

Another slide presentation identified 12 governors, police chiefs and lower-ranking officials that the U.S. military wanted removed from office. The men were involved in activities including drug trafficking, recruiting of Taliban fighters and active support for Taliban commanders, according to the presentation, which also named the military's preferred replacements.

The briefing said that efforts against Afghan officials were coordinated with U.S. special operations teams and must be approved by top commanders as well as military lawyers who apply unspecified criteria set by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The military also weighs any ties that any official has to President Hamid Karzai and members of his Cabinet or warlords, as well as the risk of destabilization when deciding which officials should be removed, the presentation said.

One of the men on the military's removal list, Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, was replaced in December as governor of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. After removing him from the governor's office, Karzai appointed Akhundzada to Afghanistan's Senate. The U.S. military believed the governor, who was caught with almost 20,000 pounds of opium in his office last summer, to be a heroin trafficker.

The provincial police chief in Helmand, Abdul Rahman Jan, whom U.S. forces suspect of providing security for narcotics shipments, kept his job.

Though U.S. officials continue to praise Pakistan as a loyal ally in the war on terrorism, several documents on the flash drives show the military has struggled to break militant command and supply lines traced to Pakistan. Some of the documents also accused Pakistan's security forces of helping militants launch cross-border attacks on U.S. and allied forces.

Militant attacks on U.S. and allied forces have escalated sharply over the last half year, and once-rare suicide bombings are now frequent, especially in southern Afghan provinces close to infiltration routes from Pakistan.

A document dated Oct. 11, 2004, said at least two of the Taliban's top five leaders were believed to be in Pakistan. That country's government and military repeatedly have denied that leaders of militants fighting U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan operate from bases in Pakistan.

The Taliban leaders in Pakistan were identified as Mullah Akhtar Osmani, described as a "major Taliban facilitator for southern Afghanistan" and a "rear commander from Quetta" in southwest Pakistan, and Mullah Obaidullah, said to be "responsible for planning operations in Kandahar."

At the time, fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, his second-in-command Mullah Berader, and three other top Taliban commanders were all suspected of being in southern or central Afghanistan, according to the military briefing.

Another document said the Taliban and an allied militant group were working with Arab Al Qaeda members in Pakistan to plan and launch attacks in Afghanistan. A map presented at a "targeting meeting" for U.S. military commanders here on Jan. 27, 2005, identified the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Quetta as planning and staging areas for terrorists heading to Afghanistan.

One of the terrorism groups is identified by the single name "Zawahiri," apparently a reference to Ayman Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy and chief strategist in Al Qaeda. The document said his attacks had been launched from a region south of Miram Shah, administrative capital of Pakistan's unruly North Waziristan tribal region.

In January, a CIA missile strike targeted Zawahiri in a village more than 100 miles to the northeast, but he was not among the 18 killed, who included women and children.

Other documents on the computer drives listed senior Taliban commanders and "facilitators" living in Pakistan. The Pakistani government strenuously denies allegations by the Afghan government that it is harboring Taliban and other guerrilla fighters.

An August 2004 computer slide presentation marked "Secret" outlined "obstacles to success" along the border and accused Pakistan of making "false and inaccurate reports of border incidents." It also complained of political and military inertia in Pakistan.

Half a year later, other documents indicated that little progress had been made. A classified document from early 2005 listing "Target Objectives" said U.S. forces must "interdict the supply of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) from Pakistan" and "interdict infiltration routes from Pakistan."

A special operations task force map highlighting militants' infiltration routes from Pakistan in early 2005 included this comment from a U.S. military commander: "Pakistani border forces [should] cease assisting cross border insurgent activities."

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Six children killed in rocket attack on Afghan school

Tue Apr 11, 3:52 AM ET

KABUL - A rocket slammed into a primary school in eastern Afghanistan, killing six children and wounding 14 others.

Two rockets were fired into Asadabad, the capital city of Kunar provice, and one hit a school in a mosque, killing six students aged between seven and 10 years, provincial deputy police chief Mohammad Hassan Farahi told AFP.
"The rocket attack at a school today martyred six students," Farahi said.

Another 14 were wounded, he said. They were taken to a hospital at a US-led military coalition base for treatment.

The children had been studying in an open area outside the Salar mosque because they did not have a proper school building. The rocket hit the yard and most of the casualties were caused by shrapnel, he said.

The second rocket did not cause casualties.

There were reports of another two rockets hitting an Afghan army base in the small city, but this was not immediately confirmed by the defence ministry.

Farahi blamed the attack on the "enemies of Afghanistan", a term Afghan officials often use to refer to remnants of Taliban regime ousted in late 2001 and their Al-Qaeda allies.

The Islamist Taliban movement have been waging an insurgency since they were toppled in a US-led invasion that followed the September 11 attacks on the United States, which were blamed on Al-Qaeda.

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International laws hinder UK troops - Reid

Richard Norton-Taylor and Clare Dyer
The Guardian
Tuesday April 4, 2006

Defence secretary calls for Geneva conventions to be redrawn

John Reid demanded sweeping changes to international law yesterday to free British soldiers from the restraints of the Geneva conventions and make it easier for the west to mount military actions against other states.

In his speech, the defence secretary addressed three key issues: the treatment of prisoners, when to mount a pre-emptive strikes, and when to intervene to stop a humanitarian crisis. In all these areas, he indicated that the UK and west was being hamstrung by existing inadequate law.
Mr Reid indicated he believed existing rules, including some of the conventions - a bedrock of international law - were out of date and inadequate to deal with the threat of international terrorists.

"We are finding an enemy which obeys no rules whatsoever", he said, referring to what he called "barbaric terrorism".

The conventions, he said, were created more than half century ago "when the world was almost unrecognisable". They dealt with how the sick and injured and how prisoners of war were treated, "and the obligations on states during their military occupation of another state", he said.

Given the big changes undertaken by the military over the past 50 years, he added, "serious questions" must be asked about whether "further changes in international law in this area are necessary".

Mr Reid declined to say whether he had come round to the US view that detainees at Guantánamo bay should not be allowed the protection of the conventions or the courts. Similarly, he would not say if he thought Britain should support the US practice of extraordinary rendition, the transferring of prisoners to secret camps where they risk being tortured. However, he said, it was not "sufficient just to say [Guantánamo] is wrong".

Mr Reid said yesterday that while domestic laws had been introduced to deal with new threats - he referred to the new offence of "glorifying terrorism" - international law had not changed.

He also spoke of the "concept of imminence" - the circumstances when a state could strike without waiting for an attack.

It was a principal issue during the debate over the invasion of Iraq and has clear implications for any possible future action against Iran.

Mr Reid noted that last year Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, advised that force could be used only against imminent attack, that it must only be used as a last resort, and that it must be proportionate.

"But what if another threat develops?", Mr Reid asked. "Not al-Qaida. Not Muslim extremism. Something none of us are thinking about at the moment." Terrorist groups were trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction, he said.

The Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, Nick Harvey, said: "After the disaster of Iraq, the idea that the doctrine of pre-emptive strike should be expanded will be met with incredulity in the west and alarm in the ministries of Tehran."

Sir Adam Roberts, professor of international relations at Oxford University, said: "Some of the biggest coalition problems in both Afghanistan and Iraq have come from failures of the coalition to observe basic norms on certain matters, especially with regard to treatment of prisoners.

"Dr Reid is certainly right to raise the question of whether we need new rules in face of imminent attack. This problem above all requires confidence in government and coalition decision-making processes - confidence that has sadly been undermined by Iraq."

Comment: Let's see if we have this straight: the UK has now joined the US in calling for the the Geneva Conventions - which exist to protect human rights - altered so that the two nations can violate human rights legally...

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Revealed: victims of UK's cold war torture camp

Ian Cobain
Monday April 3, 2006
The Guardian

Photographs of victims of a secret torture programme operated by British authorities during the early days of the cold war are published for the first time today after being concealed for almost 60 years.

The pictures show men who had suffered months of starvation, sleep deprivation, beatings and extreme cold at one of a number of interrogation centres run by the War Office in postwar Germany.

A few were starved or beaten to death, while British soldiers are alleged to have tortured some victims with thumb screws and shin screws recovered from a gestapo prison. The men in the photographs are not Nazis, however, but suspected communists, arrested in 1946 because they were thought to support the Soviet Union, an ally 18 months earlier.

Apparently believing that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable, the War Office was seeking information about Russian military and intelligence methods. Dozens of women were also detained and tortured, as were a number of genuine Soviet agents, scores of suspected Nazis, and former members of the SS.

Yesterday there were calls for the Ministry of Defence to acknowledge what had happened and apologise. Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrats' defence spokesman, said: "It's too late for anyone to be held personally responsible, or held politically to account, but it's not too late for the MoD to acknowledge what has happened."

Sherman Carroll, of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, said British authorities should also apologise and pay compensation to survivors. "The suggestion that Britain did not use torture during world war two and in the immediate aftermath, because it was regarded as 'ineffective', is a mythology that has been successfully propagated for decades," he said. "The fact that it took place should be acknowledged."

The MoD dismissed the calls, saying questions about the interrogation centres were a matter for the Foreign Office.

Declassified Whitehall papers show that members of the Labour government of the day went to great lengths to hide the ill-treatment, in part, as one minister wrote, to conceal "the fact that we are alleged to have treated internees in a manner reminiscent of the German concentration camps".

Almost six decades later the photographs were still being kept secret. Four months ago they were removed from a police report on the mistreatment of inmates at one of the interrogation centres, near Hanover, shortly before the document was released to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act.

Although the file was in the possession of the Foreign Office, the pictures were removed at the request of the Ministry of Defence. They have finally been released after an appeal by the Guardian. The photographs were taken in February 1947 by a Royal Navy officer who was determined to bring the torture programme to an end. Pictures of other victims, taken by the same officer, appear to have vanished from the Foreign Office files.

Meanwhile documents about a secret interrogation centre which the War Office operated in central London between 1945 and 1948, where large numbers of men are now known to have been badly mistreated, are still being withheld by the Ministry of Defence. Officials say the papers cannot yet be released because they have been contaminated with asbestos.

It is not clear whether the men in the photographs fully recovered from their mistreatment. It is also unclear, from examination of the War Office and Foreign Office documents now available, when the torture of prisoners in Germany came to an end.

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UK gets Bond-style gadget centre

Monday April 10 2006

Britain's secret service is getting a gadget centre like the one used by super spy James Bond.

In the Bond films, 007 gets a string of amazing tools from a team of expert inventors led by the character, Q.

The Ministry Of Defence has brought together the best scientists in the business to develop technology to help in the fight against terrorism.
The Counter-Terrorism Science and Technology Centre will make stuff to defuse bombs and sniff out explosives.

A team of 15 scientists will work on various projects at a top secret laboratory in Wiltshire.

Defence Secretary John Reid described the centre as a "world class hub" to keep Britain one step ahead of terrorist threats.

The centre will provide information to many government departments.

The James Bond films have shown the super spy using briefcases, cars and watches containing hi-tech gadgets, in his fight against the villains.

The latest movie, Casino Royale starring new Bond Daniel Craig, hits the big screen later this year.

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Homeland Hysteria

Phone-Jamming Records Point to White House

Associated Press
April 10, 2006

WASHINGTON - Key figures in a phone-jamming scheme designed to keep New Hampshire Democrats from voting in 2002 had regular contact with the White House and Republican Party as the plan was unfolding, phone records introduced in criminal court show.

The records show that Bush campaign operative James Tobin, who recently was convicted in the case, made two dozen calls to the White House within a three-day period around Election Day 2002 - as the phone jamming operation was finalized, carried out and then abruptly shut down.
The national Republican Party, which paid millions in legal bills to defend Tobin, says the contacts involved routine election business and that it was "preposterous" to suggest the calls involved phone jamming.

The Justice Department has secured three convictions in the case but hasn't accused any White House or national Republican officials of wrongdoing, nor made any allegations suggesting party officials outside New Hampshire were involved. The phone records of calls to the White House were exhibits in Tobin's trial but prosecutors did not make them part of their case.

Democrats plan to ask a federal judge Tuesday to order GOP and White House officials to answer questions about the phone jamming in a civil lawsuit alleging voter fraud.

Repeated hang-up calls that jammed telephone lines at a Democratic get-out-the-vote center occurred in a Senate race in which Republican John Sununu defeated Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, 51 percent to 46 percent, on Nov. 5, 2002.

Besides the conviction of Tobin, the Republicans' New England regional director, prosecutors negotiated two plea bargains: one with a New Hampshire Republican Party official and another with the owner of a telemarketing firm involved in the scheme. The owner of the subcontractor firm whose employees made the hang-up calls is under indictment.

The phone records show that most calls to the White House were from Tobin, who became President Bush's presidential campaign chairman for the New England region in 2004. Other calls from New Hampshire senatorial campaign offices to the White House could have been made by a number of people.

A GOP campaign consultant in 2002, Jayne Millerick, made a 17-minute call to the White House on Election Day, but said in an interview she did not recall the subject. Millerick, who later became the New Hampshire GOP chairwoman, said in an interview she did not learn of the jamming until after the election.

A Democratic analysis of phone records introduced at Tobin's criminal trial show he made 115 outgoing calls - mostly to the same number in the White House political affairs office - between Sept. 17 and Nov. 22, 2002. Two dozen of the calls were made from 9:28 a.m. the day before the election through 2:17 a.m. the night after the voting.

There also were other calls between Republican officials during the period that the scheme was hatched and canceled.

Prosecutors did not need the White House calls to convict Tobin and negotiate the two guilty pleas.

Whatever the reason for not using the White House records, prosecutors "tried a very narrow case," said Paul Twomey, who represented the Democratic Party in the criminal and civil cases. The Justice Department did not say why the White House records were not used.

The Democrats said in their civil case motion that they were entitled to know the purpose of the calls to government offices "at the time of the planning and implementation of the phone-jamming conspiracy ... and the timing of the phone calls made by Mr. Tobin on Election Day."

While national Republican officials have said they deplore such operations, the
Republican National Committee said it paid for Tobin's defense because he is a longtime supporter and told officials he had committed no crime.

By Nov. 4, 2002, the Monday before the election, an Idaho firm was hired to make the hang-up calls. The Republican state chairman at the time, John Dowd, said in an interview he learned of the scheme that day and tried to stop it.

Dowd, who blamed an aide for devising the scheme without his knowledge, contended that the jamming began on Election Day despite his efforts. A police report confirmed the Manchester Professional Fire Fighters Association reported the hang-up calls began about 7:15 a.m. and continued for about two hours. The association was offering rides to the polls.

Virtually all the calls to the White House went to the same number, which currently rings inside the political affairs office. In 2002, White House political affairs was led by now-RNC chairman Ken Mehlman. The White House declined to say which staffer was assigned that phone number in 2002.

"As policy, we don't discuss ongoing legal proceedings within the courts," White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said.

Robert Kelner, a Washington lawyer representing the Republican National Committee in the civil litigation, said there was no connection between the phone jamming operation and the calls to the White House and party officials.

"On Election Day, as anybody involved in politics knows, there's a tremendous volume of calls between political operatives in the field and political operatives in Washington," Kelner said.

"If all you're pointing out is calls between Republican National Committee regional political officials and the White House political office on Election Day, you're pointing out nothing that hasn't been true on every Election Day," he said.

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New database rejects eligible Calif. voters

Marc L. Songini
APRIL 07, 2006

The troubled system was built to comply with federal law

California's new voter registration database - whose creation the federal government once called a model for other states - may prevent thousands of eligible voters from casting ballots in a June 6 statewide election, officials fear.

Since the database was implemented last December, the voter registration process has been invalidating numerous registrations, mostly as a result of minor data-entry problems.

For example, 14,629 out of 34,064 voter registration forms - or 43% - were "kicked out," or rejected, in Los Angeles County between Jan. 1 and March 15. Such results have election officials statewide fearing that the new registration system will bump eligible voters from the voter rolls.

The problems could first affect a small number of local elections starting this month, including a special congressional election on Tuesday in San Diego County.

The registration database, run by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, was mandated by the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The law requires that each state establish a centralized voter registration database.

In an e-mail response to questions, a spokeswoman for McPherson wouldn't provide technical details of the system, nor would she talk about the nature of the problems. She did note that 74% of voter registrations are cleared on the first try. The rest, she said, require manual validation by county elections workers.

Elaine Ginnold, registrar of voters for Alameda County, said the rejection rate there hovers around 10%, a total that would be expected with any new system. However, she also noted that the new system could kick out eligible voters.

County election officials said the new registration system requires that potential voters provide a driver's license number or other identifying information to a county registrar. The data is keyed into a local database and periodically uploaded to the new centralized system, which matches it with information from the California Department of Motor Vehicles and other agencies to verify that it's authentic

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Schwarzenegger Declares Levee Emergency

Associated Press
Mon Apr 10, 11:04 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Monday in seven northern and central California counties, saying the region's rainiest March on record and more rain on the horizon put people and property in "extreme peril."

Many reservoirs in California's Central Valley are groaning at full capacity, and at least 10 more days of rain are forecast for the region.
Levee repairs are typically done in the summer, when water behind them is at its low point, but state water officials fear the heavy rain could weaken some levees to the point of failure. They took advantage of a weekend lull in the storms to patch some weak spots in the system but were still concerned.

"We saw in New Orleans the storm was coming in, it was known days ahead, and we're not sure they took all the steps that they could have," said Rodney Mayer, acting chief of the California division of flood management.

Schwarzenegger had already declared a state of emergency for California's levee system in February, a step that freed up about $103 million for repairs to 24 flood-prone sites.

His new declaration Monday didn't specify an amount of aid but directed "all agencies of the state" to dispatch staff, equipment and facilities.

In the declaration, Schwarzenegger wrote that "extreme peril to the safety of persons and property" afflicted the counties of Amador, Calaveras, Fresno, Merced, San Joaquin, San Mateo and Stanislaus.

The move will accelerate the flow of state dollars to local and county agencies that have been straining to cope with the flooding and storms, said Eric Lamoureux, spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services.

The levee work on Sunday had included reinforcing levees, building a berm and adding rocks to protect a river bank from eroding in San Joaquin County near the confluence of the San Joaquin and Stanislaus rivers. In Fresno County, crews worked on raising a levee that protects the town of Firebaugh, population 7,000.

The storms have triggered scattered levee breaks in recent weeks, washing out roads, depositing tons of debris and forcing hundreds of residents from their homes.

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Thousands rally against U.S. immigration bill

Last Updated Mon, 10 Apr 2006 19:33:26 EDT
CBC News

An estimated one million protesters took to the streets across the United States Monday as they objected to proposed federal laws that would crackdown on illegal immigrants.
They marched for hours in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and in at least 50 other cities across the continental United States, while in Washington an estimated 250,000 people surrounded the Capitol building, waving placards and chanting.

It was clearly one of the biggest protests in U.S. history.

"We are America," one poster said. "We love this country," said another, while some posters said "Immigrant values are family values" or "Legalize. Don't criminalize."

Most of the marchers were Hispanics who were marching for the right to become U.S. citizens and to remain in their adopted country.

The protest leaders claim there are 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Most of them entered the country without permission or overstayed their visas.

They are in the United States illegally, but say they serve a vital economic function. They work in low-wage, low-profile jobs in construction, farming and as domestics. They say they do the jobs that Americans don't want, at salaries that Americans won't take.

But Republican leaders say the millions of illegals should be deported under tough new laws because they pull down average wages for low-income Americans and they take away low-income jobs.

"We love this country," said Florentino Cruz, 32, an illegal worker from Mexico who has been in the United States since 1992. "This country was made by immigrants."

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Marchers Flood Mall With Passion, Pride

By Sue Anne Pressley, Karin Brulliard and Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 11, 2006

They swept onto the Mall by the tens of thousands, waving American flags and chanting, in Spanish, "Here we are, and we're not leaving."

With voices raised in protest, with placards in English and in the language of their homelands and with slogans scrawled across white T-shirts worn to symbolize their peaceful intent, the assembled mass delivered a simple message: We are Americans now, too.

"Immigrant nation," read one handwritten sign.
"I'm an immigrant, and I vote," read another.

"Brown and proud," one announced.

"Nigeria Present," on another, reminded the overwhelmingly Latino crowd that immigrants have arrived here from all over.

For many, the rally was their first political experience. Ranks of young men who listened in respectful silence, high-school students taking advantage of their spring break, immigrant mothers arriving with young children and day laborers who live in fear of deportation turned out in force.

"Every Hispanic has to stand up. Every person who believes in justice has to stand up," said Anna Torres, 38, a federal worker from Mount Pleasant in Northwest Washington who brought along her sons, Joseph, 6, and Jeremy, 8. They were waiting to be joined by their father, who came here from Guatemala 15 years ago and is still an illegal resident.

"I'm here for my friends and my neighbors -- and my husband," Torres said. "They are all very hardworking people."

And as the last traces of the late-day sun disappeared behind the Washington Monument, something of a battle cry was sounded to a crowd frustrated by Congress's failure to reshape immigration law to their liking.

"This is only the start!" Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA of Maryland, shouted to them. "We are just starting this movement."

The crowd erupted with an oft-repeated cheer: "Hoy, marchamos; mañana, votamos."

Today, we march; tomorrow, we vote.

As the rally dispersed, the loudspeakers blared what circumstance transformed into something of an anthem: a Spanish version of Gloria Estefan's "Coming Out of the Dark."

"This is just the beginning," said Elmer Palmer, 30, of Woodbridge, a real estate agent originally from El Salvador. "If we don't have a fair response to this, we'll continue, greater and greater."

Palmer pumped a sign above his head that read, in Spanish, "If you deport me, who will build the wall?" -- a reference to proposed legislation that calls for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Most of the construction work is done by immigrants. We do the hard work here," Palmer said. "If we get deported, who will build the houses?"

The crowd numbered in the tens of thousands, at least 100,000 by the estimate of one police official who spoke on condition that he not be named. Closer to 500,000, according to Germonique R. Jones, a spokeswoman for the organizers.

Along the route, as protesters marched from a staging area at Meridian Hill Park, spectator support seemed overwhelming. Office workers leaned out of windows and piled onto the sidewalks to shout encouragement. About 150 members of the National Education Association took administrative leave to cheer on the demonstrators, NEA President Reg Weaver said.

"This issue is of such magnitude to America that we can't stand by and watch from the sidelines," he said.

Only a few counter-demonstrators were visible. A handful appeared on the east side of Seventh Street NW, across from the back of the rally stage. One held a sign that read, "Protect Our Border." Another sign read "Back You Go to Mexico."

At 16th and Church streets NW, Erin Carrington accepted the boos from passersby as she held a sign that read, "Keep walking -- Just 1,800 miles till you're home." Carrington, a 22-year-old graduate student, said she is concerned that the taxes she pays will increase if immigrants receive benefits.

But the opponents' numbers were minuscule compared with the marchers', who arrived at the staging area from throughout the region in buses provided by the National Capital Immigration Coalition, the umbrella group coordinating the event. Vendors there sold small American, Salvadoran and Mexican flags for $5 and $10.

Charles Vela, a naturalized citizen from El Salvador who lives in Potomac, was among the first in line.

"I don't think it's fair that people who risk everything to come here live in fear that they're going to be sent back," said Vela, 54. "We have humanitarian policies for people in other countries -- why not here?"

Alan Coleman, a D.C. teacher, said he resents the fact that according to immigration reform proposals, "we could get in trouble if we help illegal immigrants, if we don't turn them in."

Coleman was in the thick of the demonstrators, holding a sign decorated with green shamrocks and reading, "We Were All Immigrants Once."

A 15-year-old from Northwest Washington said he joined the rally because he feels that he and his family are threatened.

His parents are illegal residents from El Salvador, and he worries that they could be deported. His mother, who is a custodian at FBI headquarters, and his father, a landscaper in Virginia, have always stressed the importance of getting good grades in school so he doesn't end up like them.

"My mom works from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.," he said. "She's like, 'Stay in school; you don't want to be like me. You're lucky to be born here.' "

Although the crowd was mostly Latino -- speakers' statements were routinely translated from English into Spanish -- people representing other ethnic groups also participated. At 16th and I streets, a coalition of Asian American groups posed for pictures and compared posters as they waited for marchers to reach them.

Many of them compared the present-day legislation they are battling to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the subsequent quotas that limited the number of immigrants allowed into the United States.

"It's something people still remember and think about," said Lisa Hasegawa, director of a D.C. Asian advocacy group whose office cleared out to attend the rally. "I think that history of being excluded and not welcome in the country -- those things resonate with us. We went through it."

Many in the group had worked furiously to prepare for the event. Anh Phan, with the Organization of Chinese Americans, kept rejecting possible slogans for signs until she came up with a winner -- a poster of panda celebrity Tai Shan with the caption "Butterstick is the son of immigrants!"

"Well, if we're being precise, it would be 'son of temporary guest workers,' since they're going back," Phan said.

The group Arabs for Immigrant Rights also participated. Rami El-Amine, an information technology worker for the federal government, formed the group two weeks ago to ensure that Arab Americans would be represented at the rally. Badia Albanna, 32, of Takoma Park brought her 4-month-old daughter, Sama Jahmila, who was wearing a pink shirt with a white peace sign.

"It's her third march of the year," Albanna said. "She's got to learn to stand up for stuff, you know? As Arab Americans, our community has been demonized since the terrorist attacks," she said.

"The Latino struggle is similar to ours. We need to stick together, support each other."

Laura Castro said she has begun to think that way, too.

An 18-year-old in stylish sunglasses, she wandered away from the stage, her sign held high above her head. Castro's reasons to be proud were listed on her homemade sign: "Current HS GPA: 4.13, Class Rank: 14 out of 386, Pres. of Spanish Club . . . National Honor Society . . . Am I a criminal?"

Castro is in the United States illegally. Having come from Colombia six years ago to live with her mother in Chesterfield, Va., she overstayed her visa and never returned home. That means she has no valid Virginia driver's license. She will start at Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall, studying toward her goal of becoming a doctor. She will pay out-of-state tuition, and she will not receive any scholarships or grants.

"Because of my status," she said.

But Castro also has had a realization: The issue of immigration has inspired her to speak out and unite her Latino friends, too.

"It used to be like, 'I'm Colombian' or 'I'm from Mexico,' " she said. "Now, it's like, 'I'm Hispanic, I'm Hispanic.' "

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100,000 protest immigration legislation in Phoenix

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX - At least 100,000 people -- and maybe as many as 200,000 -- marched through the streets of Phoenix Monday to demand federal immigration legislation to create a path to citizenship for the estimated 500,000 people not legally in Arizona.

The march turnout exceeded estimates by the Somos America organizers. Exact counts were difficult to get because some people began leaving the state Capitol even as more continued to arrive.

But Scott Phelps, an aide to Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, noted it took three hours for marchers to file past City Hall.
Organizers were mostly successful in their pleas to have marchers leave their Mexican flags at home and instead bring only the Stars and Stripes. A prior, less-planned march last month on the Phoenix offices if U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl drew some backlash with a flurry of red, white and green flags.
The central message, delivered in both English and Spanish, was that marchers consider those here illegally to be part of this country. Both in signs and speeches, the official theme of Somos America -- We are America -- showed up again and again.

As to the size of the march, Phoenix police said the only number that they, the mayor's office and organizers could agree on was more than 100,000. But Lydia Guzman, one of the Somos America organizers, said the numbers may have hit 200,000 or more.

Less clear is what percentage of those marching were in this country illegally. Elias Bermudez, one of the organizers, put the figure at upwards of 60 percent.

"Our message was that we wanted the undocumented to come out," he said. "We wanted them to show their faces, come out of the shadows."

But Alfredo Gutierrez who also was involved in planning the event said his impression was that it was no more than a third. Gutierrez, a former state senator and one-time gubernatorial contender, said most people without documents remain hesitant to come out of the shadows, even for a march like this.

While the stated purpose of the march, one of more than 100 nationwide, was focused on Congress, local politicians and activists used the opportunity to try to galvanize the Hispanic community with the goal of revamping politics in Arizona. And the method of achieving that goal was through a simultaneous voter registration drive.

"Today we march, tomorrow we vote," said Guzman.

"We shall arm ourselves," added Gutierrez.

"In America, the only weapon that counts is the vote," he continued. Gutierrez said those who are eligible to vote must do so to "defeat those who humiliate us and defend those who stand with us."

And Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, told the crowd that had gathered in front of the House of Representatives "we need your help to change the make-up of this political body in this building behind me."

Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, who was watching the marchers, said he's not concerned.

"That's fine," he said. "We'll call on our constituents to send lawmakers back to the legislature who don't want to give aid and comfort to illegal aliens."

The voter registration effort drew a raised eyebrow from state Sen. Barbara Leff, R-Paradise Valley, who crafted legislation designed to crack down on and arrest or deport those who entered this country illegally.

"Illegal immigration has created several industries that are really frightening and should be frightening to all the people," she said. And one of those, Leff said, is the "cottage industry" of fake documents.

"Who knows which documents are real and which are not real?" she asked, referring specifically to the "today we march, tomorrow we vote" call of march organizers. "They look real. They're very well done."

Organizers said Monday night they had no estimate of how many new voters were registered.

Guzman acknowledged that registration is only half the task. But she said people can be convinced to actually show up at the polls if they believe there are issues that affect them.

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Christian Coalition Shrinks as Debt Grows

By Alan Cooperman and Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, April 10, 2006; Page A01

In an era when conservative Christians enjoy access and influence throughout the federal government, the organization that fueled their rise has fallen on hard times.

The once-mighty Christian Coalition, founded 17 years ago by the Rev. Pat Robertson as the political fundraising and lobbying engine of the Christian right, is more than $2 million in debt, beset by creditors' lawsuits and struggling to hold on to some of its state chapters.
In March, one of its most effective chapters, the Christian Coalition of Iowa, cut ties with the national organization and reincorporated itself as the Iowa Christian Alliance, saying it "found it impossible to continue to carry a name that in any way associated us with this national organization."

"The credibility is just not there like it once was," said Stephen L. Scheffler, president of the Iowa affiliate since 2000. "The budget has shrunk from $26 million to $1 million. There's a trail of debt. . . . We believe, our board believes, any Christian organization has an obligation to pay its debts in a timely fashion."

At its peak a decade ago, the Christian Coalition deployed a dozen lobbyists on Capitol Hill. Today, it has a single Washington employee who works out of his home. Its phone number with a 202 area code is automatically forwarded to a small office in Charleston, S.C.

The Christian Coalition is still routinely included in meetings with White House officials and conservative leaders, and is still a household name. But financial problems and a long battle over its tax status have sapped its strength, allowing it to be eclipsed by other Christian groups, such as the Family Research Council and the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Although some of those groups have begun moving into the coalition's specialty -- grass-roots voter education and get-out-the-vote drives -- none is poised to distribute 70 million voter guides through churches, as the Christian Coalition did in 2000.

The coalition's decline is a story that can perhaps best be told along biblical lines: It is the narrative of a group that wandered after the departure of its early leaders, lost faith in some of its guiding principles and struggled to keep its identity after entering the promised land -- in this case, the land of political influence.

From its inception, the coalition was built around two individuals, Robertson and Ralph Reed. Both were big personalities with big followings.

"After the founders left, the Christian Coalition never fully recovered," said James L. Guth, an expert on politics and religion at Furman University in South Carolina. "The dependence on Robertson and Reed was really disastrous."

Reed left in 1997 to become a Republican political consultant and is now seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Georgia. Once a golden boy of GOP politics, he has recently had his reputation tarnished by his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Robertson resigned as the Christian Coalition's president in 2001 after defending China's one-child policy in a CNN interview that fellow conservatives viewed with horror. It was among the most damaging in a series of remarks that have hurt Robertson's standing among evangelical Christians -- and may have hurt the Christian Coalition as well.

"He kind of constantly makes people wonder whether the organizations he was involved with really are fringe organizations when he does things like explain Ariel Sharon's stroke as an act of God," Guth said, referring to a comment Robertson made about the Israeli prime minister earlier this year.

Roberta Combs, the South Carolina coordinator for Robertson's 1988 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, replaced him as head of the Christian Coalition five years ago. She says the organization was in worse financial shape then, with debts approaching $4 million. She cleaned house and, she says, made enemies.

"I had to let a lot of staff go, and they all got upset with me because they were close to Ralph [Reed]. Of course they said bad things about me. But we got a lot of that [debt] paid down over time," Combs said.

IRS records show that the Christian Coalition's red ink has remounted. Its debts exceeded its assets by $983,000 in 2001, $1.3 million in 2002, $2 million in 2003 and $2.28 million at the end of 2004, the most recent year for which it has filed a nonprofit tax return.

Lawsuits for unpaid bills have multiplied. The Christian Coalition's longtime law firm -- Huff, Poole & Mahoney PC of Virginia Beach -- says it is owed $69,729. Global Direct, a fundraising firm in Oklahoma, is suing for $87,000 in expenses. Reese & Sons Inc., a moving company in District Heights, is trying to recover $1,890 for packing up furniture when the Christian Coalition closed its Washington office in 2002. The list goes on.

Michele Combs, the Christian Coalition's spokeswoman and Roberta Combs's daughter, described the organization as "a victim of our own success."

Money flowed to the coalition in the mid-1990s, when Bill Clinton was president. But, Michele Combs said, with a conservative president and a conservative Congress, things are different. "It's harder to raise money when the agenda you've been working for all these years is moving forward and you have a place at the table," she said.

According to some former employees, however, the Christian Coalition stumbled because it lost touch with core conservative principles.

Despite Robertson's denials, fellow conservative Christians viewed his 2001 CNN interview as a defense of forced abortions. "The Christian Coalition was already on life support. Robertson's remarks probably mean its demise," former Christian Coalition lobbyist Marshall Wittmann predicted at the time.

In 2003, Roberta Combs defied conservative orthodoxy when she campaigned in Alabama in support of a state tax increase. Leaders of the Christian Coalition's Alabama chapter said the national organization had "dramatically departed from a 13-year traditional core values platform."

Combs also drew charges of nepotism by hiring her daughter and son-in-law, Tracy E. Ammons, a schoolteacher who became a $6,000-a-month Senate lobbyist. When the couple divorced two years ago, he claimed that the Christian Coalition owed him $130,000 in unpaid salary.

"On the financial end, I was privy to everything from counting money to going and talking to the landlord when we couldn't pay the rent," Ammons said in a recent interview. "Lots of times we wouldn't pay until someone sued. I did it to others. Then [the Christian Coalition] did it to me."

The group's identity is now tied to its voter guides, which are about to undergo a substantial change.

After years of battling the IRS, the Christian Coalition reached a settlement a year ago that secures its status as a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) lobbying and educational institution.

But the settlement requires the Christian Coalition to allow candidates to write up to 25 words of explanation on each issue in the voter guides. In the past, the guides listed topics such as "unrestricted abortion on demand" or "adoption of children by homosexuals" and described the candidates' positions simply as "supports" or "opposes."

In a letter to state chapters in February, Roberta Combs warned that they, too, must follow the 25-word rule when they publish voter guides for state elections, or else stop using the Christian Coalition's name and logo. The settlement has irritated some conservative activists, who think it will make the guides less effective.

Combs said that although some chapters are upset, it was vital to resolve the dispute with the IRS and that "it won't be hard to find new people" to form chapters in Iowa or any other state that balks. She also said the Christian Coalition needs a new face on television and is looking for an executive director who can play that role.

"People have been writing our obituary for years," she said. "But you go out in the hinterlands and talk to the grass roots, and it's a whole different story. People call us every day and want to be involved."

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Pharma Fascism

Drug firms 'inventing diseases'

Tuesday, 11 April 2006, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK

Pharmaceutical firms are inventing diseases to sell more drugs, researchers have warned.
Disease-mongering promotes non-existent diseases and exaggerates mild problems to boost profits, the Public Library of Science Medicine reported.

Researchers at Newcastle University in Australia said firms were putting healthy people at risk by medicalising conditions such as menopause.

But the pharmaceutical industry denied it invented diseases.

Report authors David Henry and Ray Moynihan criticised attempts to convince the public in the US that 43% of women live with sexual dysfunction.

They also said that risk factors like high cholesterol and osteoporosis were being presented as diseases - and rare conditions such as restless leg condition and mild problems of irritable bowel syndrome were exaggerated.

The report said: "Disease-mongering is the selling of sickness that widens the boundaries of illness and grows the markets for those who sell and deliver treatments.


"It is exemplified mostly explicitly by many pharmaceutical industry-funded disease awareness campaigns - more often designed to sell drugs than to illuminate or to inform or educate about the prevention of illness or the maintenance of health."

The researchers called on doctors, patients and support groups to be aware of the marketing tactics of the pharmaceutical industry and for more research into the way in which conditions are presented.

They added: "The motives of health professionals and health advocacy groups may well be the welfare of patients, rather than any direct self-interested financial benefit, but we believe that too often marketers are able to crudely manipulate those motivations.

"Disentangling the different motivations of the different actors in disease-mongering will be a key step towards a better understanding of this phenomenon."

But Richard Ley, of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said the research was centred on the US where the drugs industry had much more freedom to promote their products to the public.

"The way you can advertise is much more restricted in the UK so it is wrong to extrapolate it.

"Also, it is not right to say the industry invents diseases, we don't. It is up to doctors to decide what treatment to give people, we can't tell them."

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Bausch & Lomb Suspends Shipment of Contact Lens Solution

Associated Press
Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Inc. voluntarily suspended the shipment of a contact lens solution after federal officials linked it yesterday to a fungal eye infection that can cause temporary blindness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating 109 reports of Fusarium keratitis infection in patients in 17 states since June 2005.
Federal and state health officials have interviewed 30 of those patients. Of the 28 who wore soft contacts, 26 reported using Bausch & Lomb's ReNu brand contact lens solution or a generic type of solution also made by the company based in Rochester, N.Y.

Bausch & Lomb said it will temporarily suspend shipments of ReNu with MoistureLoc made at its Greenville, S.C., plant.

"The CDC data released today are both troubling and perplexing, as there is an apparent disproportionate representation of U.S.-manufactured ReNu with MoistureLoc in the underlying data. The source of these infections has not been determined," said Ronald L. Zarrella, the firm's chairman and chief executive.

Five of the 26 patients also reported using other types of solutions in addition to ReNu, Bausch & Lomb said. And nine said they wore their contacts overnight, which is known to increase the risk of infection, the CDC said.

Daniel G. Schultz, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said it is too early to tell if Bausch & Lomb's product was the cause of the infections. An estimated 30 million Americans wear soft contacts.

Without treatment, which can last two to three months, the infection can scar the cornea and blind its victims. Eight U.S. patients have required cornea transplants.

Soft contact lens users with eye redness or pain, tearing, increased light sensitivity, blurred vision or discharge should stop wearing them and contact a doctor immediately, said Malvina B. Eydelman, director of the FDA division that regulates contacts.

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Revealed: the secret No 10 plan to tackle bird flu food shortages

By Patrick Hennessy
UK Telegraph

Emergency plans to tackle widespread food shortages in the event of a bird flu pandemic are being drawn up by ministers, according to secret Cabinet documents.

Off-duty firemen and retired lorry drivers would be pressed into service to ensure that essential food and drink supplies were delivered. Laws that restrict the daily hours of drivers and other vital workers would be suspended.
An extract from the secret Cabinet documents

The confidential papers - seen by the Sunday Telegraph - show that a serious lack of long-distance- HGV drivers willing to go to infected areas is seen in Whitehall as a potential "pinch point" if avian flu takes a grip. The papers reveal government concern over a lack of preparation for a pandemic among the biggest food firms.

They also show how, in the event of a serious outbreak overseas, the Government will give preventive medicine to embassy and consular staff - but not to British holidaymakers or UK nationals who live in an infected country.

The Government fears that any pandemic could last more than six months. The documents say that Whitehall should be on alert for a pandemic on an "extended time-scale - certainly for six months ... and perhaps longer". They also suggest "more than one pandemic wave" of bird flu.

Senior vet Douglas Gray inspects a dead swan in Aberdeen
Senior vet Douglas Gray inspects a dead swan in Aberdeen

The documents were drawn up on March 22, a fortnight before a dead swan in a village in Fife was found to have the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease. The swan, which was washed ashore in the village of Cellardyke, had a strain similar to that contracted by 100 birds in Germany. Tests are continuing on hundreds of other dead birds, but none - apart from the swan - has tested positive for H5N1. Fourteen other birds that gave rise to concern tested negative.

The documents show a lack of preparedness in Whitehall that ministers and officials are working round the clock to combat. Their disclosure came as the Government was accused of "astonishing complacency" over planning, with farmers angry about confusing advice and the £1.2 billion poultry industry braced for a consumer backlash.

Industry leaders and poultry staff called for vaccinations to protect birds and farm workers, amid claims that the situation was becoming reminiscent of the foot and mouth crisis, which left thousands of animals on giant pyres.

The Government papers, which have been discussed by the "Cabinet Committee on Influenza Pandemic Planning", include a blueprint for "managing the response" to a pandemic. Whitehall would go into what officials call a full-scale "battle rhythm" with Tony Blair lined up to take personal charge at an as yet unspecified stage.

It is understood that two issues particularly concerning ministers are the difficulties of closing large numbers of schools and the provision of masks to large numbers of people, should the need arise.

A Government paper revealed last week suggested that families might have to wait up to four weeks to bury their dead. Ministers warned that up to 320,000 people could die in a pandemic.

The Cabinet documents reveal how the Environment Department fears that no large-scale plans to combat a pandemic have been lined up by big food companies apart from Marks & Spencer - suggesting a chronic lack of preparedness. They add: "HGV drivers had been identified as a potential pinch-point by some sectors. Various mitigation options were being discussed, including using retired drivers or off-duty fire service personnel, and lifting the requirements of the Working Time Directive."

An accompanying memo by Lord Triesman, the junior foreign office minister, puts forward an exhaustive plan for coping with a bird flu outbreak abroad. In the event of humans being infected, the document suggests, "we may come under pressure from the media and the British public at home to appear to be doing more for our nationals immediately affected by the virus. In particular we would hope to deal with the potential sensitivity of providing Tamilflu antiviral treatment for use by overseas mission staff and their dependents diagnosed with the flu virus under our duty of care obligations, but not to British nationals."

The document admits that France would supply preventive medicine to its overseas citizens while Britons will be told to fend for themselves.

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Prepared Minds Have More Aha Moments

Apr 06, 2006

Philadelphia PA - If you've experienced the highs and lows of creative thinking, you know that sometimes the creative well is dry, while at other times creativity is free flowing. It is during the latter times that people often experience so-called "Aha!" moments - those moments of clarity when the solution to a vexing problem falls into place with a sudden insight and you see connections that previously eluded you.

But why do "Aha!" moments sometimes come easily and sometimes not at all? A new study reveals that patterns of brain activity before people even see a problem predict whether they will solve it with or without such an insight, and these brain activity patterns are likely linked to distinct types of mental preparation.
John Kounios of Drexel University, Mark Jung-Beeman of Northwestern University, and their research team report their findings in a new paper to appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Previous research by this team demonstrated that the brain functions differently when a person arrives at "Aha!" solutions, compared to methodical solutions. The current study reveals that the distinct patterns of brain activity leading to "Aha!" moments of insight begin much earlier than the time a problem is solved.

The research suggests that people can mentally prepare to have an "Aha!" solution even before a problem is presented. Specifically, as people prepare for problems that they solve with insight, their pattern of brain activity suggests that they are focusing attention inwardly, are ready to switch to new trains of thought, and perhaps are actively silencing irrelevant thoughts.

These findings are important because they show that people can mentally prepare to solve problems with different thinking styles and that these different forms of preparation can be identified with specific patterns of brain activity. This study may eventually lead to an understanding of how to put people in the optimal "frame of mind" to deal with particular types of problems.

This research team's previous study revealed that just prior to an "Aha!" solution, after a person has been working on solving a problem, the brain momentarily reduces visual inputs, with an effect similar to a person shutting his or her eyes or looking away to facilitate the emergence into consciousness of the solution.

The new study extends these findings by suggesting that mental preparation involving inward focus of attention promotes insight even prior to the presentation of a problem. Therefore, it may be that how a person is thinking before problem solving begins is just as important as the kind of thinking involved in reaching the solution, and perhaps even determines whether the solution will be derived with a sudden insight.

Participants in the new study were presented with a series of word puzzles. Each problem consisted of three words (for example, tank, hill, secret), and participants had to think of a single word that could form a compound or common phrase with each of the three words.

People sometimes solve such problems with a sudden flash of insight - the solution suddenly pops into their heads and seems obviously correct - and other times solve such problems more methodically, perhaps "trying out" possible solutions until they hit on the correct one (in this case, top: tank top, hilltop, top secret).

In two parallel experiments, participants solved these problems while brain activity was monitored either with electroencephalograms (EEG), which provide precise timing information and approximate anatomical information, or with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which gives a more precise location of active brain areas, but with less precise timing. The researchers focused on neural activity that occurred during the period just before each problem was displayed.

The two brain imaging techniques yielded highly similar results and showed a different pattern of brain activity prior to problems that they subsequently solved with an "Aha!", compared to the pattern of brain activity prior to problems they solved more methodically.

According to David E. Meyer, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the research, "It's remarkable how similar the results were across the two experiments, using different methods, and these results nicely demonstrate that different types of mental preparation are conducive to different types of problem solving."

Mental preparation that led to insight solutions was generally characterized by increased brain activity in temporal lobe areas associated with conceptual processing, and with frontal lobe areas associated with cognitive control or "top-down" processing. Jung-Beeman noted that "Problem solvers could use cognitive control to switch their train of thought when stuck on a problem, or possibly to suppress irrelevant thoughts, such as those related to the previous problem."

In contrast, preparation that led to more methodical solutions involved increased neural activity in the visual cortex at the back of the brain -- suggesting that preparation for deliberate problem solving simply involved external focus of attention on the video monitor on which the problem would be displayed.

More than a century ago, the great scientist Louis Pasteur said "Chance favors only the prepared mind." By this, he meant that sudden flashes of insight don't just happen, but are the product of preparation. According to Kounios, "We have begun to understand how the brain prepares for creative insight. This will hopefully lead to techniques for facilitating it."

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Ark's Quantum Quirks

Signs of the Times
April 11, 2006


The Wave - It's not a Joke
The Wave - It's Not a Joke

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Sock Puppet Bush

Bush confirms intelligence leak

By William Douglas

WASHINGTON - President Bush acknowledged yesterday that he authorized the selective declassification of portions of a highly classified intelligence report in an effort to rebut critics who said the White House had manipulated intelligence to justify going to war against Iraq.

The president also called reports that the White House is weighing military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons "wild speculation."
The Washington Post and the New Yorker magazine reported over the weekend that such planning was under way. U.S. military, diplomatic and intelligence officials have told Knight Ridder that plans for possible air attacks are being updated because they might be needed if Russia and China prevent the United Nations from imposing tough sanctions on Iran.

"I know here in Washington prevention means force. It doesn't mean force necessarily. In this case, it means diplomacy," Bush told students at Johns Hopkins University. "I read the articles in the newspapers this weekend. What you're reading is wild speculation."

The president's comments were his first public remarks on assertions made last week by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that Bush had authorized I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, at the time Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide, to disclose selected portions of a classified National Intelligence Estimate to a New York Times reporter.

Bush didn't say whether he'd intended that the declassified information be shared with a reporter. But he said he thought that the information, much of which turned out to be inaccurate, needed to get out in public to battle critics who were suggesting that the White House had manipulated intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to help make its case for war against Iraq.

"I will say this, that after we liberated Iraq, there was questions in people's minds about the basis on which I made statements, in other words, going into Iraq," Bush told students at Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies. "And so I decided to declassify the NIE for a reason ... I thought it was important for people to get a better sense for why I was saying what I was saying in my speeches."

Bush authorized the release shortly after former Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote an article that appeared on July 6, 2003, in The New York Times charging that the administration's claim that Hussein was trying to obtain uranium from Niger was false.

In a court filing last week, Fitzgerald said Libby had told a federal grand jury that he had a conversation with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller on July 8, 2003, "only after the Vice President advised the defendant that the President specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the NIE."

Libby's conversation with Miller came under scrutiny as part of Fitzgerald's investigation into who leaked information that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was an undercover CIA officer after her name appeared in an article by syndicated columnist Robert Novak.

No one has been charged with revealing Plame's name. Libby is charged with five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI about the case. If convicted, he could face up to 30 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine.

The disclosure that Bush and Cheney had authorized Libby to talk about the intelligence estimate has raised new questions about the administration's candor about what it knew about Iraq's weapons programs.

By the time Libby disclosed portions of the estimate, the Niger allegation already had been largely discredited, and much of the other classified information that administration officials revealed about Iraq was wrong, exaggerated or disputed.

Bush also didn't directly address a question about the contention in Fitzgerald's filing that some documents the prosecution had given to Libby for Libby's defense "could be characterized as reflecting a plan to discredit, punish, or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson."

The contention appears at least twice in the 39-page filing.

Wilson has accused the White House of leaking Plame's identity to retaliate against him for criticizing the administration's Niger uranium claim.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said he couldn't comment on whether there was an effort to discredit Wilson and Plame, citing Fitzgerald's ongoing investigation.

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Ben Affleck: Bush 'Can Be Hung' for 'Probably' Leaking Plame's Name

Brent Baker
April 8, 2006

Reminiscent of Al Franken on the Late Show last October, on Friday's Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO, actor Ben Affleck charged that President Bush "probably also leaked" Valerie Plame's name and so "if he did, you can be hung for that! That's treason!" In full rant, an apoplectic Affleck asserted: "You could be killed. That's not a joking around Tom DeLay 'I'll do a year, I bribed the state officials with corporate money.' That's like they shoot you in the battlefield for doing that."

Affleck appeared on Maher's panel with Senator Joe Biden and Bill Sammon of the Washington Examiner. A couple of minutes later, after Sammon suggested Tom DeLay's resignation means the loss of a "poster boy for the left" so they can't use him anymore to raise funds, Affleck besmirched DeLay as a "criminal" while simultaneously demonstrating his political naivete. Though the Texas redistricting orchestrated by DeLay made his district less Republican, Affleck contended: "Tom DeLay personally gerrymandered that district so severely that it looks like a map of Italy....There won't be a Democrat elected in that seat for a thousand years. You can't say he's the poster boy for the left. He happens to be an incredibly powerful Republican who is a criminal and now you blame Democrats for pointing it out!"

A September 30, 2005 Washington Post story noted: "As part of a Texas redistricting that DeLay engineered and that led to Republicans gaining five seats in that state, DeLay's district lost some GOP voters."

(On Franken, an October 22 NewsBusters item, with video, recounted: "And so basically, what it looks like is going to happen is that Libby and Karl Rove are going to be executed" because "outing a CIA agent is treason," left-wing author and radio talk show host Al Franken asserted, to audience laughter, on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman. Franken qualified his hard-edged satire: "Yeah. And I don't know how I feel about it because I'm basically against the death penalty, but they are going to be executed it looks like." Franken later suggested that President Bush is at risk of receiving the same punishment, since Karl Rove likely told him what he did, but he added a caveat: "I think, by the way, that we should never ever, ever, ever execute a sitting President.")

Brief transcripts of the two portions of the April 7 Real Time with Bill Maher quoted above:

Bill Sammon, Washington Examiner: "A lot of critics are conflating the two and are saying that because Bush disclosed this piece of information, they're implying that Bush leaked the name."

Ben Affleck: "He probably also leaked the name. There's just no proof of that."

Sammon: "Even the prosecutor, even Fitzgerald is saying Bush didn't leak the name. So let's be clear, Bush didn't leak Valerie Plame's name -- not that we know of."

Affleck: "Because if he did, you can be hung for that! That's treason!"

Bill Maher: "That is treason."

Affleck: "You could be killed. That's not a joking around Tom DeLay 'I'll do a year, I bribed the state officials with corporate money.' That's like they shoot you in the battlefield for doing that. Don't you think we should find out who leaked that name?"

And moments later:

Maher proposed that Tom DeLay is "the poster boy for the kind of getting paid off, sludge fund, influence-peddling [said "petting"], crony capitalism that has turned America into something less than a first-rate power."

Sammon: "...You're right that he is the poster boy for the left. He's the guy the left loves to hate and his departure means you can't use his name to raise funds anymore. His departure means his seat will probably go to a Republican this time. His departure mean-"

Maher: "A Democrat, you mean?"

Sammon: "No, if he'd of stayed in the race he probably would have lost. By getting out, he actually makes it more likely for that to go to a Republican. "

Affleck: "Tom DeLay personally gerrymandered that district so severely that it looks like a map of Italy, you know what I mean?. There won't be a Democrat elected in that seat for a thousand years. You can't say he's the poster boy for the left. He happens to be an incredibly powerful Republican who is a criminal and now you blame Democrats for pointing it out!" (Loud applause)

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Largely ignoring alleged Bush disclosure authorization, Fox News devoted more than twice as much time to covering McKinney controversy

Fri, Apr 7, 2006 7:34pm EST
Media Matters for America

After the revelation that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former vice presidential chief of staff, testified that President Bush allegedly authorized him to disclose classified portions of an NIE pertaining to Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction, Fox News largely ignored the story, preferring instead to focus on the controversy surrounding Rep. Cynthia McKinney's alleged altercation with a Capitol Police officer.

After the revelation that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former vice presidential chief of staff, testified that President Bush allegedly authorized him to disclose classified portions of a 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) pertaining to Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction, Fox News largely ignored the story, preferring instead to focus on the controversy surrounding Rep. Cynthia McKinney's (D-GA) alleged altercation with a Capitol Police officer. A Media Matters for America review of Fox News coverage of these two events found that from noon to 10:00 p.m. ET on April 6, Fox News devoted more than twice as much time discussing McKinney's alleged altercation with the police officer (53 minutes) than to reporting on the revelation that Bush may have authorized Libby to reveal then-classified intelligence information to the media (25 minutes). Libby's revelation was drawn from court papers FBI special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald filed in the government's case against Libby, who has been charged with five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to the FBI, related to the leak of then-CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame's identity.

The New York Sun, which broke the story and posted the "Web Exclusive" to its website at 9:02 a.m. ET on April 6, reported that Libby "testified to a grand jury that he gave information from a closely-guarded 'National Intelligence Estimate' on Iraq to a New York Times reporter in 2003 with the specific permission of President Bush, according to a new court filing from the special prosecutor in the case." As an April 6 Associated Press report noted:

[T]he disclosure in documents filed Wednesday means that the president and the vice president put Libby in play as a secret provider of information to reporters about prewar intelligence on Iraq.

The authorization came as the Bush administration faced mounting criticism about its failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the main reason the president and his aides had given for going to war.

Both MSNBC and CNN first covered the story at the top of the noon hour, and spent significant time throughout the day reporting on the breaking news. By contrast, Fox News did not initially report on the findings until approximately 12:20 p.m. and then apparently decided, as conservative talk show host and columnist Larry Elder later stated during the April 6 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, to "get back to the real issue, here": Cynthia McKinney.

As illustrated by the graphs below, Fox News devoted twice the amount of coverage to the McKinney incident, her April 6 apology to Congress, and speculation over whether she would be indicted for the incident, as it devoted to covering the latest developments in the CIA leak investigation.

From noon to 10:00 p.m., Fox News anchors, commentators, reporters, and guests mentioned Bush's alleged authorization a mere 11 times as opposed to 21 mentions of the McKinney controversy. They spent approximately 25 minutes discussing the news of the alleged leak compared to 53 minutes spent on the latest development in the McKinney incident. In fact, while every Fox News program between noon and 10:00 p.m. featured at least one report on McKinney, several shows -- including Your World with Neil Cavuto and The O'Reilly Factor -- did not report on Libby at all.


During the 9 p.m. hour, Hannity & Colmes spent approximately 11 minutes covering McKinney, compared with about 1 minute discussing the CIA leak investigation. Except for a news brief, the program mentioned Libby only during a debate over the McKinney controversy, when co-host Alan Colmes asked Elder if it was correct that Republicans "would rather talk about Cynthia McKinney" than "about the leak information that came out today." Elder responded:

ELDER: Well, I guess that's why you brought it up. Bringing up the "Scooter" Libby thing because that's what you really want to talk about. Let's get back to the real issue, here [McKinney].

Further, according to her website, Fox News host Greta van Susteren admitted that her show, On the Record, which airs at 10:00 p.m. ET, also did not cover the Libby story. Van Susteren stated that she "pulled the plug on doing the segment after spending about two hours studying the pleadings" because "the more I studied it, the more I realized that it is complicated and I want to make sure I get it right."

Continuing, van Susteren suggested that Fox News had adequately covered the story and stated that she would cover it the following night only if she could figure out how to "do it differently from what has already been done" or if "some new information emerges today":

This is not to take from the many other news organizations -- and my own -- who covered the story, I just wanted to study it further. It is a very important story and since so many shows were doing it, I felt comfortable being a bit more cautious and pulling back.


If I can figure out how to advance the story, or do it differently from what has already been done, we will cover it on our show tonight. I also need to measure in my mind whether it has been done and done and done in the last 24 hours and if we are now too late (because I dragged my feet yesterday!) If some new information emerges today, then even if the story was done by everyone yesterday -- and it was -- it becomes a new story today.

Moreover, as TVNewser reported on April 7, Fox News failed to cover the White House briefing, where press secretary Scott McClellan "was quizzed about Bush's involvement in the leaks." Both CNN and MSNBC aired portions of McClellan's April 7 White House press briefing.

From the April 6 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

COLMES: Larry, you know, on a day when we find out, that according to "Scooter" Libby, that President Bush leaked information, leaked it for his own well-being, and Cheney was involved, as well, Republicans, I guess, would rather talk about Cynthia McKinney, who, in fact, did apologize. I guess that's easier, or better for the Republican agenda than to talk about the leak information that came out today. Right?

ELDER: Well, I guess that's why you brought it up. Bringing up the "Scooter" Libby thing because that's what you really want to talk about. Let's get back to the real issue, here.

COLMES: I think it's more important for the country.

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President's Final Jeopardy Question

Tom Dispatch
Tom Engelhardt
Elizabeth de la Vega

Words fail. As last week ended, the Vice President, we learned (in papers filed in federal court by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in the Plame-Niger-Uranium, sixteen-fateful-words, disagree-with-us-and-we'll-whack-you case), told his chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby, that the President "specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the NIE" -- in other words that George had authorized Scooter to leak parts of a highly-classified CIA National Intelligence Estimate to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in order to discredit former ambassador Joseph Wilson and, in effect, out his CIA agent wife Valerie Plame. The President is well known for having stated, in relation to this increasingly bizarre and twisted case: "I don't know of anyone in my administration who has leaked. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action" and for having taken the sternest positions on the very subject of leaking. ("Leaks of classified information are bad things. We've got too much leaking in Washington. I want to know who the leakers are.")
These are, of course, statements open to interpretation. How much, after all, do any of us really know ourselves? How much, many have asked, does this President really know himself. How much harder it will certainly be for him to know himself now that he has become the contortionist-in-chief, the human Pretzeldent. Given where they are, how could one of his hands be responsible for knowing what the other hand actually did. Perhaps the explanation for all this is simple enough: As our commander-in-chief in time of "war" (as defined and declared by him) and our all-powerful "unitary executive" (as defined and declared by a coterie of lawyers around the Vice President's office), he simply claimed the right to declassify not just top-secret documents, but himself whenever he wanted. After all, being President means, as George demonstrated only recently, never having to say you're sorry, even when you flip-flop on a significant issue.

On the other hand, perhaps the Vice-President was lying about the President. Maybe it was Dick who wielded the power of declassification and made that NIE available to his chief of staff -- or rather cherry-picked already discredited parts of an NIE already filled with cherry-picked factoids about oh-so-invadable Iraq. After all, we learned only a month and a half ago that the President had quietly issued Executive Order 13292 back in 2003, for the first time in history granting a Vice President the same right to declassify secret documents as the President. Increasingly, secret is as secret does.

Or maybe Libby is simply ratting on his former boss. Outing the guy who left him out to twist, twist in the wind. Or maybe...

But let me stop there. The Bush administration increasingly has all the charm -- and given its ever-sinking polling figures, all the popularity -- of a late Byzantine court. So let me turn the rest of this Toad's Wild Ride of an inside-the-Beltway Imax 3-D extravaganza over to former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega. Let her direct you to the right questions to ask to unravel our present magical mystery tour of this labyrinth of a case in which, it looks increasingly apparent, Bush and Co. have lost their way.

Internet journalist Jason Leopold, by the way, reports "that soon, new information will emerge from the special counsel's office that will prove President Bush had prior knowledge of the White House campaign to discredit Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson." Coming next week: The President and Vice President claim the right to impeach Congress. Tom

Final Jeopardy

Asking the Right Question About the President's Involvement in the CIA Leak Affair

By Elizabeth de la Vega

The latest in a parade of horrors emanating from the Bush administration appeared Thursday in the form of a revelation buried in papers filed in federal court by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in his investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, now under indictment on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, told the Grand Jury Fitzgerald convened that President Bush had -- via Vice President Cheney -- authorized him to disclose selected information from a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to New York Times reporter Judith Miller, which he did during a private breakfast meeting at the St. Regis Hotel on July 8, 2003.

On Friday, in a press conference that bore a striking similarity to Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine, President Bush's spokesman Scott McClellan dutifully responded to reporters' questions about the disclosure. No, the increasingly robotic McClellan said, the White House will not comment on an ongoing case. But, he assured the assembled journalists, the President can declassify whatever he wants, whenever he wants, however he wants. So, McClellan implied, it would have been perfectly legal for the President to have taken this action, which he could not, of course, comment on because this was an ongoing case (and so on).

Thus has begun a debate in our media whose starting questions usually run along the lines of: "Is what the President did legal?" or "Does the President have authority to declassify information at will?" (Given the President's failure to deny Libby's allegation, it has largely been accepted as true.) The answer to those questions has generally been: Yes, the President -- as chief executive -- has the authority to declassify information at will.

But it is not only in the TV game show world of Jeopardy! that the correct answer to a problem depends on the question asked. And, as it happens, those are simply not the right questions.

In order to decide what legal issues arise from a given set of facts -- in other words, in order to frame the right questions -- we first have to determine what the facts are. This is what we know, in summary, about the CIA leak case.

We know that Valerie Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson had been an extremely painful thorn in the side of the Bush administration long before he wrote the infamous July 6, 2003 New York Times op-ed that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald described as having been viewed "in the Office of the Vice President as a direct attack on the credibility of the Vice President (and the President) on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq."

In March of 2003, Wilson had become increasingly vocal in questioning the administration's reasons for war. In a Nation article and a March 2 appearance on CNN, as well as a March 4 panel on Ted Koppel's Nightline, Wilson argued that the White House wanted to invade Iraq, not because of weapons of mass destruction, but because it wanted to redraw the map of the Middle East. Wilson's criticisms coincided with those of David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, who was questioning the President's false and misleading arguments that aluminum tubes intercepted en route to Iraq had been meant for an Iraqi nuclear program.

Fueling the fire, on March 7, Mohammed El Baradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had flatly declared that there was no evidence the Iraqis were reconstituting a nuclear-weapons program, pointing out that neither the aluminum tubes claim nor the attempted-purchase-of-uranium-in-Niger claim were valid. Indeed, El Baradei explained, the documents relating to an attempted purchase of uranium were obvious forgeries. The next day, a "senior administration official" was quoted in the Washington Post as saying in response to El Baradei's statement, "We fell for it." Then Wilson appeared again on CNN and said, essentially, that the senior administration official was either lying or incompetent because analysts from several different intelligence agencies already knew of the forgeries.

Quite obviously, then, Joseph Wilson had the attention of the Bush administration as early as March 2003, long before he wrote the July 6 op-ed. And it was on March 23 that President Bush issued an amended executive order in which he claimed the right to expand Vice President Cheney's authority to declassify documents.

We also know that the President's glow from the "Mission Accomplished" spectacle had barely dimmed by May 6, 2003 when Joseph Wilson resurfaced in a Nicholas Kristof New York Times column which described "an unnamed former ambassador's" trip to Niger as casting doubt on the accuracy of the "sixteen words" relating to uranium procurements from Africa that had been in the President's State of the Union address that January. At this point, of course, Wilson would be seen as directly attacking both the President and the Vice President.

Moreover, throughout May and June, questions about the missing weapons of mass destruction increased in volume and intensity in the media and in press conferences. as did concerns about Joseph Wilson. Then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" on June 8 to rebut the charges, making her famous "maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency" comment about the CIA. By the end of June 2003, more than a dozen top administration officials, including Rice and Cheney, who were known to be the President's closest advisers, were intensely involved in dealing with the problem of Joseph Wilson and his allegations. Under the circumstances, it is impossible to believe that President Bush was either unaware of, or indifferent to, the issue. Clearly he was well aware of his slowly waning credibility, as evidenced by the surfacing of a new administration theme in June: the deriding of "revisionist historians" who were questioning the pre-war intelligence.

We also know that the debate about the Bush administration's grounds for war had been raging since before the war began. In fact, it had been raging since before Congress voted to authorize the war. We know now that the National Intelligence Estimate, which was prepared in early October 2002, contained numerous qualifiers and caveats that were omitted from the minimalist, unclassified "White Paper" version issued simultaneously. At the time, and up to the start of the war, numerous congresspersons and others had made public and private pleas to the administration to declassify the NIE so there could be a reasoned debate about the issues. But the administration had steadfastly refused, citing national security concerns, even though debate about the evidence for war -- the aluminum tubes, the Niger uranium, the existence of a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda -- continued both before and after the invasion.

What was different in June 2003 when the President evidently did decide to declassify bits of the NIE? The answer is: He was kicking off his reelection campaign. As Helen Thomas wrote on Friday, June 27, 2003, "President George W. Bush is trying to scoop up an historic $200 million at political fundraising events to kick off his reelection campaign." He had raised close to $10 million over the previous week and had more events "slated for San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and Tampa before the end of July."

A perfect storm looked to be forming: four months of criticism by Joseph Wilson, mounting questions and criticism about pre-war intelligence and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction -- and the kick off to Bush's historic $200 million reelection campaign. That was the state of affairs on July 6, 2003 when Joseph Wilson's op-ed appeared. And as Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald put it in the filing revealed last week, "The evidence will show that [it] was viewed in the Office of the Vice President as a direct attack on the credibility of the Vice President (and the President) on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq."

Can anyone doubt, under these circumstances, that President Bush did in fact authorize Cheney to tell Libby to leak previously classified parts of the October 2002 NIE to Judith Miller? Of course not -- especially when the White House's response has not been to deny it, but to say that the President can declassify whatever he wants at his whim.

There is, however, one remaining piece of the puzzle. Libby testified that he was specifically authorized to speak to Judith Miller by Cheney and to disclose "key judgments" from the NIE because the document was "pretty definitive" against what Wilson had said; and Cheney thought it was "very important" for the key judgments of the NIE to come out. Libby testified that he questioned Cheney about whether he could do this and the Vice President later came back and said the President had authorized it. According to Libby, Cheney told him to tell Miller that a "key judgment" of the NIE said that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium in Africa. Libby said he was also told by Cheney to disclose documents, including a brief abstract of the NIE's key judgments, which was one of the reasons the meeting was held at a hotel. Libby insisted that he not be named as a source: he wanted to be described as a "former Hill staffer." In addition, Libby testified, he discussed with Miller the contents of a still-classified CIA report -- which Libby told Miller had been written by Joseph Wilson -- that described a 1999 visit to Niger by a group of Iraqis who allegedly wanted to purchase uranium. Libby believed that only he, Cheney, and the President knew about the secret declassification; he did not reveal it to anyone during the formal declassification process that ensued.

Libby's account raises too many issues to address, not the least of which is that he had already spoken to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward about the still-classified NIE in June. Two other key issues, however, relate to the information Libby was instructed to disclose. First, the NIE Key Judgments did not say that the Iraqis were "vigorously trying to procure" uranium from Africa. They said nothing whatsoever about uranium procurements. The body of the NIE included some vague assertions about such procurement efforts, but even those had been repudiated by the CIA in October 2002. In addition, as President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Lewis Libby all knew, the documents supporting the assertions had been proved to be forgeries by both U.S. intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency. In other words, it is clear that this secret disclosure of unilaterally declassified material from the NIE. was at best seriously misleading, if not entirely false.

That the contents of another disclosed document had been written by Joseph Wilson, as Libby told Miller, was equally false and no less misleading, because Wilson did not write any report whatsoever after his trip to Niger. He orally reported his findings to the CIA.

Scott McClellan now says that this declassification and instantaneous disclosure was prompted by the public interest in contributing to the understanding of an ongoing debate. We know that is not true.

After all, before the war, the existence of a crucial debate about whether pre-war intelligence justified an invasion of Iraq was not considered sufficient cause to impel President Bush to decide to declassify the NIE. After the war, when no weapons of mass destruction were being found, the existence of debate about pre-war intelligence did not impel Bush to declassify the NIE. Even today, most of the NIE, including the one-page President's Summary, is not declassified.

We now have sufficient information to frame the Final Jeopardy! question. This is it:

Is a President, on the eve of his reelection campaign, legally entitled to ward off political embarrassment and conceal past failures in the exercise of his office by unilaterally and informally declassifying selected -- as well as false and misleading -- portions of a classified National Intelligence Estimate that he has previously refused to declassify, in order to cause such information to be secretly disclosed under false pretenses in the name of a "former Hill staffer" to a single reporter, intending that reporter to publish such false and misleading information in a prominent national newspaper?

The answer is obvious: No. Such a misuse of authority is the very essence of a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States. It is also precisely the abuse of executive power that led to the impeachment of Richard M. Nixon.

Elizabeth de la Vega is a former federal prosecutor with more than 20 years of experience. During her tenure, she was a member of the Organized Crime Strike Force and Chief of the San Jose Branch of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California. Her pieces have appeared in The Nation magazine, the L.A. Times, Salon, and Mother Jones. She writes regularly for TomDispatch. She may be contacted at ElizabethdelaVega@Verizon.net

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Poll Finds Bush Job Rating at New Low

By Richard Morin and Claudia Deane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 11, 2006; Page A01

Political reversals at home and continued bad news from Iraq have dragged President Bush's standing with the public to a new low, at the same time that Republican fortunes on Capitol Hill also are deteriorating, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey found that 38 percent of the public approve of the job Bush is doing, down three percentage points in the past month and his worst showing in Post-ABC polling since he became president. Sixty percent disapprove of his performance.
With less than seven months remaining before the midterm elections, Bush's political troubles already appear to be casting a long shadow over them. Barely a third of registered voters, 35 percent, approve of the way the Republican-led Congress is doing its job -- the lowest level of support in nine years.

The negative judgments about the president and the congressional majority reflect the breadth of the GOP's difficulties and suggest that the problems of each may be mutually reinforcing. Although the numbers do not represent a precipitous decline over recent surveys, the fact that they have stayed at low levels over recent months indicates that the GOP is confronting some fundamental obstacles with public opinion rather than a patch of bad luck.

A majority of registered voters, 55 percent, say they plan to vote for the Democratic candidate in their House district, while 40 percent support the Republican candidate. That is the largest share of the electorate favoring Democrats in Post-ABC polls since the mid-1980s.

This grim news for the GOP is offset somewhat by the finding that 59 percent of voters still say they approve of their own representative. But even these numbers are weaker than in recent off-year election cycles and identical to support of congressional incumbents in June 1994 -- five months before Democrats lost control of Congress to Republicans.

As Bush and the Republicans falter, Democrats have emerged as the party most Americans trust to deal with such issues as Iraq, the economy and health care. By 49 to 42 percent, Americans trust Democrats more than Republicans to do a better job of handling Iraq.

Democrats also hold a six-percentage-point advantage over the GOP (49 percent to 43 percent) as the party most trusted to handle the economy. Their lead swells to double digits on such as issues as immigration (12 points), prescription drug benefits for the elderly (28 points), health care (32 points) and dealing with corruption in Washington (25 points).

The public divides evenly on only one issue: terrorism, with 46 percent expressing more confidence in the Democrats and 45 percent trusting Republicans on a top voting concern that the GOP counts on dominating.

But there is plenty of time left before Election Day for Republicans to take back ground they have lost to Democrats -- or for Democrats to solidify their recent gains. In the past year, public attitudes toward Bush and the Republicans have been driven by the news. Bush's popularity rebounded at the end of last year in response to the democratic elections in Iraq and renewed optimism about the economy at home -- only to stumble as the deadly insurgency continued and scandals in Congress and the White House drove down perceptions of the president and his party.

A total of 1,027 randomly selected adults were interviewed April 6 to 9 for this survey. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points for the overall results.

Bush's job approval rating has remained below 50 percent for nearly a year. Perhaps more ominous for the president, 47 percent in the latest poll say they "strongly" disapprove of Bush's handling of the presidency -- more than double the 20 percent who strongly approve. It marked the second straight month that the proportion of Americans intensely critical of the president was larger than his overall job approval rating. In comparison, the percentage who strongly disapproved of President Bill Clinton on that measure never exceeded 33 percent in Post-ABC News polls.

The public is even more critical of Bush's performance in specific areas. On six of seven key issues, fewer than half of the respondents approve of the job Bush is doing, while majorities express dissatisfaction with him on Iraq (62 percent), health care (62 percent) and immigration (61 percent).

Four in 10 -- 40 percent -- say Bush is doing a good job with the economy, down eight percentage points in a month. One reason for the drop may be the recent sharp increase in fuel costs. Fewer than one in four approve of his handling of gasoline prices, virtually the same as last summer when gas prices topped $3 a gallon. Overall, 44 percent said the increases are causing "serious hardship" in their family, up significantly from August.

Half of the public now disapproves of the way Bush is handling the fight against terrorism, an issue on which majorities of Americans had typically given him high marks until last year.

The depth of public dissatisfaction with Bush and the highly partisan nature of the criticism are underscored by public attitudes toward efforts by some in Congress to censure him or impeach him for his actions as president.

Democratic and Republican congressional leaders view both scenarios as remote possibilities. Still, more than four in 10 Americans -- 45 percent -- favor censuring or formally reprimanding Bush for authorizing wiretaps of telephone calls and e-mails of terrorism suspects without court permission. Two-thirds of Democrats and half of all independents, but only one in six Republicans, support censuring Bush, the poll found.

Last month, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) introduced a resolution in the Senate to censure Bush. A majority of Americans, 56 percent, said his move was driven more by politics than by principle.

Calls to impeach Bush are not resonating beyond Democratic partisans. One-third of Americans, including a majority of Democrats (55 percent), favor impeaching Bush and removing him from office. But more than nine in 10 Republicans and two-thirds of independents oppose impeachment.

The ongoing bloodshed and political chaos in Iraq continue to drag down support for the war, the survey found. Barely four in 10 -- 41 percent -- say the war is worth fighting, down five percentage points since December. Although more than half of Americans think troop levels in Iraq should be decreased, only 15 percent are calling for an immediate withdrawal, a figure that has not varied much over the past year.

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European Disarray

Prodi claims victory in Italy poll

Staff and agencies
Tuesday April 11, 2006

Romano Prodi today claimed victory in Italy's general election as his centre-left coalition won control of the lower house of parliament.

The centre-left won the lower house with 49.8% of the vote, compared to 49.7% for Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right coalition. Voter turnout was about 84%.
The winning coalition is automatically awarded 55% of the seats under a new electoral law. Mr Berlusconi's coalition held a one-seat lead in the 315-seat upper house, according to exit polls, but results for six seats elected by Italians abroad were still being counted.

Since both chambers have equal powers, a split control of parliament could deadlock legislation and force the country back to the polls.

"We have won, and now we have to start working to implement our program and unify the country," Mr Prodi said at a rally in Rome. "I am grateful to all of you because it has been a very difficult battle. Until the very end we were left in suspense, but in the end victory has arrived."

But the claim was immediately contested by Mr Berlusconi's camp. Paolo Bonaiuti, a spokesman for the sitting prime minister, told reporters that the centre-right coalition would call for a "scrupulous" check of election ballots. He called for a vote recount in the lower house, noting that the difference in the Chamber amounted to less than 25,000 votes.

"Such a narrow difference demands that there be a careful verification of the vote count," he said.

Later, some of Mr Prodi's supporters, waving flags, moved to Mr Berlusconi's nearby residence and shouted slogans under the premier's windows.

The election has been balanced on a knife-edge with exit polls showing at times both Mr Berlusconi and Mr Prodi heading for victory. The Senate and lower chamber of parliament have equal powers and any coalition would have to control both to form a government. Some centre-left and centre-right leaders have said that if neither side controls both houses, new elections should be called.

Even if one coalition controls both chambers, it would find it extremely difficult to pass legislation with such a slim majority, returning Italy to instability after Mr Berlusconi's five years in power.

If parliament is split between the two coalitions, the president could try to name a government of technocrats until another election can be held. He could also seek to fashion a coalition of left and right, but given bitter divisions among Italy's political parties, that seems unlikely.

Some politicians said that a possible solution to a legislative deadlock might be a "grand-coalition" government to handle urgent economic matters and the election of a new president - whose mandate expires in mid-May - with new parliamentary elections later in the year.

"We have to immediately send a message to the markets, to whomever wants to invest in Italy, that the country is not going to fall apart," said the culture minister, Rocco Buttiglione.

Mr Berlusconi, a 69-year-old media mogul who is Italy's longest serving premier since the second world war, was aiming for his third premiership with an often-squabbling coalition of his Forza Italia party, the former neo-fascist National Alliance, pro-Vatican forces and the anti-immigrant Northern League.

The 66-year-old Mr Prodi, a former premier and EU chief, was making his comeback bid with a potentially unwieldy coalition of moderate Christian Democrats, Greens, liberals, communists and former communists.

Italian voters were mainly preoccupied with finances. Mr Berlusconi, a billionaire businessman whose empire includes TV networks, insurance and real estate, failed to jumpstart a flat economy during his tenure, but promised to abolish a homeowner's property tax. Mr Prodi said he would revive an inheritance tax abolished by Mr Berlusconi, but only for the richest; he also promised to cut payroll taxes to try to spur hiring.

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Europe and its leaders in turmoil

Richard Owen in Rome and Adam Sage in Paris
The Sunday Times
April 11, 2006

TWO of Europe's biggest countries faced turmoil last night after voters gave neither Left nor Right a decisive advantage in Italy's general election and President Chirac's Government was forced to abandon its bitterly contested labour reforms in France.
Italy faced chaos and confusion as early projections showed neither Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right alliance nor Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition had secured a clear victory.

The two blocs were neck and neck in both the Lower and Upper Houses, but Signor Berlusconi's bloc was gaining ground late last night. An Italian prime minister needs to win both to govern effectively. A split result could mean fresh elections.

Early exit polls proved to be wrong in predicting a clear victory for Signor Prodi, the former European Commission President, as Signor Berlusconi, whose five years in power have been dogged by economic stagnation and allegations of corruption, steadily gained ground during the count.

In both camps jubilation jostled with dismay. It was conceivable that the new government could be determined by the 12 MPs and six senators elected by a million Italians living overseas.

In France, M Chirac ordered Dominique de Villepin, his handpicked Prime Minister, to beat a humiliating retreat on his youth employment legislation after three months of strikes and huge street protests.

The upheavals in two of the European Union's four biggest countries will have repercussions far beyond their borders.

Signor Berlusconi has been pro-American, Eurosceptic, and an ally of President Bush and Tony Blair on Iraq and other issues. Under Signor Prodi Italy would favour Brussels over Washington and accelerate the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq. A sustained period of political paralysis would further postpone efforts to revive Italy's sick economy.

Most analysts agreed that M Chirac's capitulation marked the end of any serious attempts to reform France's restrictive labour laws before the presidential election in 2007.

It renders him a lame duck for the rest of his second term and seriously damages M de Villepin's chances of succeeding him, leaving the Prime Minister's old rival Nicolas Sarkozy the clear favourite to be the Centre Right's presidential candidate. However, the real victors were the socialists whose hopes of winning back the Elysée Palace have soared.

M de Villepin had gambled his political future on ramming through legislation designed to cut youth unemployment by allowing workers under 26 to be sacked without reason during a two-year trial period. Looking weary, he appeared on television to announce the scrapping of his First Employment Contract (CPE) in the face of massive protests by students, trade unions and the Left. "The necessary conditions of confidence and calm are not there," he said.

"I wanted to propose a strong solution to break with unemployment in our country. That was not understood by everyone. I regret it."

The Government said the CPE would be replaced by a more orthodox French measure to provide subsidies of 300 million euros (£200 million) a year to companies taking on young people.

Since the student riots of 1968, French governments have repeatedly capitulated in the face of sustained street protests. As recently as last week M de Villepin had insisted that his Government would stand firm, but his approval rating has slumped to just 25 per cent and after yesterday's U-turn the prospect of him resigning was being openly discussed.

M Chirac's standing is equally dismal. He has been unable to impose order on a troubled country, or even on a government split by internal conflicts. Twice before in his long career he has been defeated by street protests, and he had been reluctant to take on France's powerful student and workers' unions again. But he was convinced by M de Villepin, who said the 'easy hire, easy fire' contract was a tool in the fight against a youth employment rate of almost 23 per cent.

In the event opponents depicted the CPE as a symbol of Anglo-Saxon "ultra-liberalism" which threatened the very essence of French identity.

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Solana: EU Should Consider Iran Sanctions

Mon Apr 10, 5:40 AM ET

LUXEMBOURG - A top European Union official said Monday that the 25-nation bloc should consider sanctions against Iran, including a visa ban on nuclear officials, because Tehran refuses to cooperate with the United Nations on its nuclear program.

"We have to begin thinking about that possibility," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters outside an EU foreign ministers meeting.
The ministers debated if the EU should get tougher with Iran over its nuclear plan, which the West fears is geared toward building nuclear weapons.

Solana ruled out, however, that EU would back any military action.

"Any military action is definitely out of the question for us," he said.

Solana said that the EU would await Iran's response to a
U.N. Security Council call for a halt to uranium enrichment before considering any actions. Iran has so far rejected international demands for clarity over its nuclear intentions.

"Iran has to respond to the Security Council. We have to be prepared in case they fail," Solana said.

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Poland Set For Talks On Hosting US Missile Defence Site

Apr 10, 2006

Warsaw - Washington has proposed holding detailed talks with Warsaw on locating part of a US anti-missile defence system on Polish soil, Poland's deputy foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski said Friday.

"They asked us officially if we were still interested in discussing the issue. Of course we said 'yes' and we are awaiting details," Waszczykowski was quoted as saying by Poland's PAP news agency.

"If Poland is chosen as a partner in these discussions, they could begin in July," he added.
"Poland has not yet made any commitment. We are listening and analysing what the Americans are telling us."

The Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper reported in November that Poland had held talks with the United States about stationing part of its anti-missile defence system on Polish soil.

The same month, a senior US defence official said Washington was discussing with Poland and other countries possible sites in Europe for a missile interceptor base capable of guarding against long-range missile attack.

Such a site in central Europe would provide both the United States and Europe protection against long-range missiles fired from the Middle East or North Africa, the official said.

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Madrid bombing suspects charged

Tuesday, 11 April 2006, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK

A Spanish judge has charged 29 people over the Madrid train bombings of March 2004 which claimed 191 lives and left nearly 2,000 injured.

Most of those charged are Moroccan nationals, and the indictments run to almost 1,500 pages.
The trial is expected to go ahead early next year and to last 12 months.

So far, more than 100 people have been arrested in the course of the investigations into the attacks, which have been blamed on Islamic radicals.

Rush hour

Judge Juan del Olmo has accused five Moroccan men - Jamal Zougam, Abdelmajid Bouchar, Youssef Belhadj, Rabei Ousman Sayed Ahmed and Hassan el Haski - of 191 murders and 1,755 attempted murders.

Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a Spaniard suspected of providing the bombers with explosives, was charged with 192 murders - including the death of a policeman killed during a raid on suspected bombers after the attacks.

Spanish suspect Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras
Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras is accused of 192 murders

The others have been charged as accomplices over the 10 co-ordinated explosions on four trains during the busy morning rush hour.

Although the attack was claimed by al-Qaeda, the investigation has suggested the bombings were carried out by a local cell that was inspired by it, rather than directly ordered by the group's senior leadership.

Videotapes and internet postings by al-Qaeda leaders had urged Islamic radicals to target Spain and other countries with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The attacks led to the fall of the then pro-US government in Spain, which had initially blamed the bombings on the Basque separatist group, Eta.

The complexity of the case and the large number of accused mean the trial is unlikely to get under way before next year.

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Cosmic Conundrums

Hybrid comet-asteroid in mysterious break-up

09:30 11 April 2006
NewScientist.com news service
Jeff Hecht

Something substantial has broken off an icy 50-kilometre object beyond the orbit of Saturn, leaving puzzled astronomers trying to figure out why.

Comets have been seen breaking up before, but only after heating when passing close to the Sun or a gravitational disturbance following a close encounter with a planet.
However, at 1.9 billion kilometres, this object is very far from the Sun. Another mysterious feature is that much more gas and dust is escaping from the breakaway fragment than from the parent body. The disintegration has created a dust cloud more than 100,000 km across and which is several times brighter than the original object was before the event.

The object, called 60558 Echeclus, was discovered in 2000 and is a "centaur" - part rocky asteroid and part icy comet. Its new activity, revealed in images taken on 2 April, makes it look "really strange", says William Romanishen of the University of Oklahoma, US, one of the team that took the images. "The first thing that came to mind was a collision."

Earlier observations showed Echeclus rotates about once every 26 hours, so a fragment would need a push to escape its gravity, says Paul Weissman of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who spotted the original cloud of gas and dust around Echeclus on 30 December 2005.
Explosive sublimation

Such an impact on a comet-like body has not been observed before. But there are other possibilities, says Steve Tegler of Northern Arizona University, US, another team member. A likely one is that event was caused by explosive sublimation of volatile ices in Echeclus, resulting in material being blasted off, he says.

Tegler says the evaporating ice is probably carbon monoxide, with vaporises at about that distance from the Sun, where the object's temperature is about 80 degrees Kelvin, close to the sublimation temperature. No one has yet analysed the gas composition.

Another puzzle is the difference in activity between the main nucleus and the fragment. Freshly exposed ices normally sublimate, so "you'd expect equal activity from both pieces", Wiessman says. But the nucleus does not look very active.
Unstable orbits

Echeclus was discovered by the Spacewatch telescope in 2000, and at first looked like an asteroid. Then Weissman found it was surrounded by a coma, so astronomers also classed it as a periodic comet, 174P. The photos from 2 April show the coma has now spread out.

Echeclus belongs to a group of more than 100 centaurs with orbits well outside the main asteroid belt. Although originally from the distant Kuiper belt, they now orbit the Sun between Jupiter and Neptune, but will be ejected from those unstable orbits within tens of millions of years. Cometary clouds have bee reported around three other centaurs too.

Echeclus is currently moving towards the Sun on its 35-year orbit, and will pass closest to our star - about 880 million km - in April 2015. Other centaurs have become active as they moved inward, Tegler says. But none have shown such dramatic activity.

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Saturn's moon 'best bet for life'

By Richard Black
Environment Correspondent, BBC News website

Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus may be the best place to look for life elsewhere in the Solar System.
That is the view of a senior scientist working on the Cassini spacecraft, which has been studying Saturn and its moons for nearly two years.

Dr Bob Brown told a major conference in Vienna, Austria, Enceladus contains simple organic molecules, water and heat, the ingredients for life.

He raised the possibility of future missions to probe inside the moon.

Other research presented at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) annual meeting suggests that Enceladus may have a core of molten rock reaching temperatures of 1,400K (above 1,100C).

Jets and rings

In July 2005 Cassini completed a spectacularly close flyby of Enceladus, passing just 173km above its surface.

From this flyby came confirmation that the moon has an atmosphere, and strong evidence that the gases which make up the atmosphere are coming from cracks in the surface, nick-named "tiger stripes", near the south pole.

It appears that the gases are being forced through the surface, as they emerge in jets which shoot upwards for hundreds of kilometres before dispersing, eventually forming Saturn's E-ring.

Most of the gas is water vapour, suggesting strongly that liquid water lies under the moon's icy surface.

From his base at the University of Arizona, Tucson, Bob Brown leads the scientific team for Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (Vims) which analysed the chemical composition of Enceladus's atmosphere and mapped the distribution of various gases.

"We very clearly saw water; there's water everywhere on Enceladus, it's 99.9% water ice in general at the surface, and we've known that for years, so it wasn't a big surprise," he told the BBC News website.

"But when we started looking at our spectra we saw absorption bands from a compound that had to have carbon and hydrogen bonded together.

"And when we mapped the location, it was right in these 'tiger stripes' - right where the jets are coming out, and right where it's hot - and it's pretty hard to imagine it's getting there from anywhere but inside."

The organic molecules appear to be quite simple, he said, probably largely methane.

The jets also contain nitrogen; and putting all this together means, said Dr Brown, that Enceladus contains all the ingredients necessary for the development of life, or of precursors to it.

"What you need to put microbes together of the kind that we're familiar with is carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, and water to act as an intermediary for metabolism," he said.

"You've got a rock core that's hot as hell; you've got all the conditions that we think gave rise to the first self-replicating molecules and eventually to life on this planet.

"So Enceladus in a very real sense becomes a stronger candidate for life than [Jupiter's moon] Europa, for instance."

One of the puzzling facets of Enceladus is how and why it is hot enough that it can generate liquid water and spew vapour into space.

Most of its surface has a temperature of about 80 Kelvin (minus 193C). But in the "tiger stripes" it soars to 140 Kelvin (minus 123C), and the interior must be considerably hotter.

Computer models have been produced which try to explain just how hot the interior needs to be, and examine the processes which could produce and maintain the temperatures observed today.

Dr Dennis Matson from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) took EGU delegates through a model which envisages energy coming from two sources, radioactive decay and tidal heating, where differences in the gravitational forces exerted by a nearby body (in this case the giant planet Saturn) cause churning inside the moon, producing heat through friction.

"Down here [in the centre] we have molten magma," he said. "In this model, in the present day, it's entering a cooling phase which may go on for another billion years or so; but at depth you still have high temperatures."

Temperatures at the centre could reach 1,400 Kelvin, he said.

But there are still puzzles. Radioactive decay would have produced the vast majority of its heat shortly after the solar system's formation; somehow, Enceladus has retained some of that energy.

"We think there's a thermostatic mechanism going on in the magma," observed Dr Matson.

If the magma were to cool, he said, it would become more viscous, increasing friction from tidal churning and so producing more heat. But if temperatures veered higher, the magma would flow more easily, and tidal heat production would reduce accordingly.

Exceptional world

Along with all the other Cassini mission findings, the research presented here emphasises what an unexpected treasure trove of scientific novelty researchers have discovered on Enceladus.

Its tiger stripes amount to a "water volcano", the only one seen in the solar system other than on Earth.

Among our neighbours, it is the only known geophysically active world other than Jupiter's moon Io.

But as always with space missions, one set of answers leads to another set of questions.

The way to answer some is a further flyby in about two years' time, shortly before the end of Cassini's scheduled mission, which could take the $3.2bn craft just 25km above the tiger stripes and through their jets.

"There's a little bit of a danger, because observations suggest that the particles get larger as you get in closer," said Dr Brown.

"If they're only 20 or 30 microns [in diameter] they won't hurt the spacecraft; but if they're a millimetre or two, and hit the spacecraft in the wrong place, we're dead."

If there is enough fuel left on board Cassini and enough money in the coffers of its masters, the US, European and Italian space agencies (Nasa, Esa and Asi), the mission may gain an extension to its scheduled life, which could yield further flybys of the tiny moon.

But investigations aimed at looking for self-replicating molecules or even primitive forms of life would have to wait for a further mission.

For Europa, landers have been proposed which would burrow down through the top layer of ice into liquid water below, perhaps using heat from radioactive decay to penetrate the surface.

The same approach could potentially work on Enceladus; but Bob Brown believes there may be another, simpler way in.

"You could target the cracks; they clearly give you a way to get down inside, into the reservoir," he said.

"Now whether we can make something smart enough to do that robotically I don't know. But if there are bugs, they don't have to be in the ocean; they could live inside the vents, they just have to be somewhere where it's hot enough and they have enough energy to conduct metabolism.

"My guess is that if stuff has evolved in this ocean, it's figured out a way to work itself up into these vents; and maybe it's not completely crazy to think some of this stuff is sitting there near the surface."

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NASA Chooses New Spacecraft to Search for Water on Moon

Red Orbit
Monday, 10 April 2006

WASHINGTON -- NASA will send a second spacecraft to the moon with the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, scheduled for October 2008. The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite will travel independent of the orbiter to search for water ice.

The spacecraft, proposed by NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., will fly as a secondary payload on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle that will launch the orbiter from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
First, the craft will direct the upper stage used to leave Earth orbit to crash into a permanently-shadowed crater at the lunar south pole, creating a plume visible to Earth-based observatories. Next, the satellite will observe the plume and fly through it using several instruments to look for water. Then the satellite will itself become an impactor, creating a second plume visible to lunar-orbiting spacecraft and Earth-based observatories.

"This type of payload is not new to NASA," said Associate Administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Scott Horowitz, who made the selection. "We are taking advantage of the payload capability of the launch vehicle to conduct additional high risk/high payoff science to meet Vision for Space Exploration goals. It also signals to our workforce that innovative and competitive, low-cost approaches will be rewarded," he said.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is the first of many robotic missions NASA will conduct between 2008 and 2016 to study, map, and learn about the lunar surface to prepare for the return of astronauts to the moon. These early missions will help determine lunar landing sites and whether resources, such as oxygen, hydrogen, and metals, are available for use in NASA's long-term lunar exploration objectives.

NASA's requirements for the secondary payload were that it benefits the robotic lunar program, cost no more than $80 million and not exceed 2,205 pounds (1000 kilograms).

On January 10, 2006, NASA issued a request for information to industry to allow businesses to provide secondary payload concepts to NASA. NASA encouraged its field centers to team with industry to develop proposals. Each NASA center reviewed ideas from industry, as well as secondary payload concepts developed internally. Several proposers, such as the winning spacecraft, took advantage of a new secondary payload adapter developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Kirkland Air Force Base, N.M.

NASA asked that the concepts advance the Vision for Space Exploration by advancing lunar science, characterizing the lunar environment, and identifying of sites for future human missions NASA was also looking for missions that would advance commercial opportunities and collect engineering data to support the Constellation program, which is developing NASA's new spaceship, the Crew Exploration Vehicle.

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Second from the Sun: European Probe Enters Venus Orbit

By Peter B. de Selding
Space News Staff Writer
11 April 2006

DARMSTADT, Germany -- Europe's Venus Express probe entered orbit around Venus early Tuesday to begin a planned 16-month mission to study a planet on which the greenhouse effect has gone to hellish extremes.
The European Space Agency (ESA) probe fired its main engine today for a 50-minute braking maneuver to allow itself to be captured by the gravitational pull of Venus.

Venus Express managers at ESA's mission control center here had loaded the engine-firing commands to the satellite several days before, and had little more to do than watch their screens and hope the sequence went as planned.

It did. Using large ground antennas located in Australia and Spain, ground teams confirmed that the engine firing was a success. With the satellite 74 million miles (120 million kilometers) from Earth, it took seven minutes for the satellite's signal to reach ground teams, creating some tense moments here as the science and mission teams waited for the satellite's signal.

"It's a great day for ESA," said ESA director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain after Venus Express' successful orbital arrival. "It's a happy day for all of us."

Tense times

During the orbital insertion engine burn, Venus Express' trajectory took it behind its target planet, meaning that for 10 minutes there were no radio signals available to ground teams. The mission control center went silent as ground teams waited to hear the return of the weak S-band signal from the satellite.

"We were sweating for a few minutes," said Manfred Warhaut, Venus Express flight operations for the ESA, in a post-orbit arrival press conference.

Applause followed the confirmation that the signal had been acquired anew. But there were 12 more minutes of engine burn that were needed to further slow the satellite's speed and confirm its capture by Venus.

Mission controllers applauded when the signal confirmed that the engine had completed its burn and shut down, making Venus Express the first dedicated orbiter to study its cloudy target since NASA's Magellan mapping probe plunged into the planet's atmosphere in 1994.

"It's a fantastic moment," said Don McCoy, Venus Express project manager at ESA. "We're finally around Venus. The S-band signal tells us we are in orbit. If we didn't get at least 46 minutes of engine burn, we basically would just fly past the planet."

Venus Express' initial nine-day orbit is designed to be highly elliptical ranging from an altitude of between 248 miles (400 kilometers) and 217,479 miles (350,000 kilometers) above Venus' surface, and gives the probe its only view of the entire planet's disk during its mission, mission managers have said. Two more burns will be conducted in the coming days to bring the orbit into its operational altitude of between 155 miles (250 kilometers) and 41,010 miles (66,000 kilometers).

"This is really a fantastic experience to see that we ended up in exactly the position we wanted to be in," Venus Express project scientist Håkan Svedhem said in the press conference. "Now our work starts."

Launched in November 2005, the ESA's $264 million (220 million euros) Venus Express mission is not expected to begin full operations until mid-May, but mission managers will begin switching the probe's seven observing instruments by Wednesday with the first image to arrive on Thursday, ESA officials said.

A cloudy world

While Venus is about the same age and size as Earth, it is 30 percent closer to the Sun.

Evidence from past satellite missions - the United States and Russia have sent more than a dozen satellites to Venus since the 1960s - shows that Venus once featured surface water.

"We have many questions surrounding Venus," Svedhem said, adding that the planet appears to have shared much in common with Earth during its early days. "Why is Venus the way it is, why is it not like Earth?"

For reasons not yet understood, Venus' atmosphere built up huge amounts of carbon dioxide, which trapped the sun's heat and drive temperatures to around 890 degrees Fahrenheit (477 degrees Celsius). It is an extreme example of the same greenhouse effect that operates on Earth, and scientists want to learn lessons from Venus that might be of use on this planet.

"If you want to find out about things on our own little planet, you have to look out," said David Southwood, ESA's science director.

Venus Express was built by a European consortium led by EADS Astrium, using hardware that was initially designed for Europe's Mars Express satellite. Instruments built for Mars Express and for Europe's Rosetta comet-chaser satellite were reused on Venus Express as well.

Taking advantage of previously used hardware helped speed Venus Express development. It took just three years from the time the manufacturing contract was signed to the launch of the satellite.

Initially designed for a 243-Earth day - or two Venusian day - mission, Venus Express has enough fuel remaining to double its time at the second planet from the Sun thanks to a spot on launch from Earth, mission managers said.

"We have quite a good margin of fuel on board," McCoy said, adding that Venus Express could study its cloudy target for up to six years if its extended mission is approved. "Right from the very instance of separation from our launcher, we've had an excellent trajectory to Venus."

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Daytime Meteor Spotted In Colorado

Vail Daily

Steve Erickson and his boys have a pretty good view of the night sky. Tuesday, the daytime sky was pretty impressive, too.

As Erickson and his boys Colton, 11, and Cal, 9, were driving back to their home at Horse Mountain Ranch north of Wolcott Tuesday afternoon, they saw something - presumably a meteor - streak across the western sky.

"It was visible across probably a third of the sky, probably from Burns Hole to Muddy Pass," Steve said. "It looked like fireworks. When it separated, it had color to it."

The trail of smoke the meteor left then hung in the sky for several seconds after the thing had disintegrated.

"It was the biggest one I've ever seen," Colton said.

"It was better than seeing one at night," Cal said. "This didn't just streak across the sky and disappear." [...]

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Worldy Weirdness

For scientist, theory hurricanes will slow doesn't hold water

The Houston Chronicle
April 8, 2006, 2:57PM

As an increasing cadence of storms with names such as Opal, Mitch, Allison, Ivan and Katrina have battered the Americas during the past decade, hurricane scientists have patiently explained that this was to be expected.

The north Atlantic Ocean, they say, goes through decades-long warming and cooling cycles when it spawns more and fewer hurricanes. The current "active" period for hurricanes began in 1995.

Scientists have dubbed this natural cycle the "Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation," or AMO, and since ocean temperatures have been on the upswing for the past decade, so too has hurricane activity. The seas should settle down again in a decade or two, scientists say.

But what if they're wrong?
One of the world's most prominent hurricane researchers, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Kerry Emanuel, has proposed a stunning theory that suggests the AMO has a minor effect on hurricanes - and may not even exist at all.

"I'm worried about what the data is telling us," Emanuel said. "It's a pessimistic message, but barring a major (El Niño event), and barring a big volcanic eruption, there just isn't an objective basis for expecting a downturn in Atlantic hurricane activity."

During large El Niño events, when the Pacific Ocean warms, hurricane activity in the Atlantic generally diminishes. Volcanoes spew ash that reduces sunlight, lowering temperatures and likely also diminishing hurricane activity.

The recent upswing in storms is largely because of human-induced climate change, Emanuel contends. The unrelated, noncyclical events that reduce hurricane activity, including volcanic eruptions, have masked a progressive rise in sea temperatures because of global warming, he said.

Emanuel and a handful of other scientists previously have courted controversy with articles suggesting that climate change already is making hurricanes more forceful, with measurably stronger winds.

Global warming debate

This earlier work, especially after the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, has ignited a scientific debate about the effect of a warming world on hurricane activity. If there's a general consensus, however, it's that climate change is likely to have some yet unknown effect on tropical storms, and that such an effect would be too small to measure yet.

A majority of scientists think if climate change is affecting hurricanes around the globe, its effect on the North Atlantic basin is minor compared with the influence of the AMO. Indeed, near the end of the record 2005 season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released this statement:
"NOAA research shows that the tropical multi-decadal signal is causing the increased Atlantic hurricane activity since 1995, and is not related to greenhouse warming."
Emanuel first presented his new theory late last month at a hurricanes and climate change conference at Columbia University.

Among those in attendance was Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University who now does much of the research for Bill Gray's seasonal hurricane predictions, the oldest and best-known annual forecast. Klotzbach said he remains unconvinced.

"Dr. Gray and I believe that the AMO plays a large role in North Atlantic sea surface temperatures," he said.

Klotzbach said the data indicates a large increase in tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures in 1994 and 1995. This sudden spike, he said, does not fit well with a greenhouse warming theory that would likely exhibit a smoother trend.

Comment: What if the current greenhouse warming theory is incorrect? After all, it is only a theory.

Other climate scientists who viewed Emanuel's talk admitted, however, that uncertainty exists within the AMO theory. Most agree it's difficult to determine exactly what is driving late summer temperatures in the tropical Atlantic - be it natural climate variability, greenhouse gases or some other factor, such as volcanic eruptions.

Arriving at solid answers is difficult because of limited data. Although reliable sea surface temperature records exist back to the mid-1850s, hurricane records are less reliable. It is difficult for scientists to compare modern accounts of storm frequency and, more importantly, wind speeds with historical records because of vastly more measurements today from satellites, airplanes and sophisticated equipment in the seas.

A modern hurricane's windspeed is measured dozens if not hundreds of times before landfall. The great Galveston storm of 1900 has just one such measurement.

The AMO theory holds that an active period ended in 1900, followed by relative calm until 1930, high activity until about 1970, and calm again until the recent period of higher-than-normal storm activity began in 1995. The oscillation closely tracks the ups and downs in Atlantic sea temperatures.

About a decade ago, a hurricane researcher named Chris Landsea re-examined wind and pressure data for hurricanes from the last active period, between the 1930s and 1960s. He found that the intensity of storms from the era may have been slightly overestimated, and suggested a "bias correction."

Looking for an explanation

Emanuel has seized upon Landsea's correction and inserted it into his measure of a storm's intensity called the "power dissipation index," which estimates the overall destructive potential of a storm.

Emanuel's calculations show a rise in activity to about 1950, followed by a decline to about 1980, then a rapid increase. This does not conform to any AMO, he says. Rather, it follows the entire northern hemispheric temperature record, which shows a similar pattern.

The cooling between 1950 and 1980, he and some other climate scientists say, is a consequence of sulfate aerosols, which blacken the atmosphere and block some sun rays from reaching the Earth's surface.

Landsea, now a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center, and Emanuel have sparred about whether the bias correction should be employed in current theories without verification.

Although he says the AMO doesn't explain all of the cyclical nature of hurricanes in the Atlantic, Landsea still thinks the Americas will continue to experience active and inactive periods of storminess.

"I thought his analysis was interesting, but I think it's far from definitive," Landsea said of Emanuel's presentation.

Landsea is leading a collaborative work among hurricane scientists to reanalyze the storm record and try to reach consensus about the data.

For example, the study led to raising 1992's Hurricane Andrew to Category 5 status a decade after it struck land. With better data, Landsea said, perhaps scientists can achieve a final answer on the role of the AMO and hurricanes.

One problem with the AMO idea is that despite the apparent relationship between oscillating sea temperatures, atmospheric changes and hurricane activity, scientists have yet to find an explanation in nature for why such a cycle would exist. There's some thought that it may be because of large-scale circulations of water deep in the oceans, but no one's sure.

For this reason, Florida State University hurricane specialist James Elsner said he finds Emanuel's theory plausible.

But for now, most leading hurricane scientists will continue to adhere to the idea that at some point, storm activity will quiet down again.

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Large ice slab drops on Oakland

By William Brand and Ian Hoffman
STAFF WRITERS04/09/2006 6:43 AM PDT

OAKLAND - Did it come from outer space? Was it a transport vehicle for illegal aliens of the extraterrestrial kind? The tail of a comet grabbed by gravity?

Jokes were flying Saturday morning after a block of solid ice, measuring more than two feet on a side, crashed to earth with a tremendous bang, digging a three-foot hole in the grass at Bushrod Park, 5800 Shattuck Ave.
But when the laughing stopped, an expert theorized it probably fell from the wheel well of a plane landing at Oakland or San Francisco International airports. It also could be an unexplained "ice fall," one expert said. Big balls of ice sometimes fall from the sky without any real explanation.

Wherever it came from, it's arrival was heart-stopping and dramatic.

Brooks and Judith Mencher said they were standing on their back porch on 59th Street near the park when they heard a sound like a very loud rocket. "It kind of went 'whoosh!'" Brooks Mencher said.

The impact hole looked like it was created by a hand grenade, said Oakland Police Sgt. Ron Lighten. "It knocked turf 20 feet away."

Lt. Charles Glass of the Oakland Fire Hazardous Materials Team said the ice was pure water. " It didn't come from a toilet on a plane or anything like that."

Glass said the ice that firefighters pulled from the hole was about the size of the hole, three by three feet and two and a half feet deep. It also broke a ceramic irrigation pipe at the bottom of the hole.

At Oakland International, a spokeswoman said she had no idea if a plane might have been going overhead at that moment. "We'll have to wait until Monday, when that information is available," she said.

Web sites that track commercial flights show a spike in arrivals at Oakland International at about the time, 10:05 a.m., that the ice ball put a hole in Bushrod Park. Two runway approaches for San Francisco International also go almost directly overhead.

An operations manager at the Federal Aviation Administration in Los Angeles said he had never heard of such a thing.

"I've been here 15 years and what usually falls from planes is 'blue ice,' that's methylene glycol. They put it in airplane toilets. Sometimes there are leaks and it falls out," he said.

But Tony Hirsch, a Columbus, Ohio-based aviation expert, said ice falls of pure water are not uncommon: "Ice builds up on airplanes and falls off as they prepare to land."

But Hirsch said the airplane "would have to descend through what we call visible moisture, rain or clouds, for ice to build up." The skies were partly cloudy Saturday morning.

Hirsch said a large chunk of ice could build up on the vertical stabilizer or in a wheel well: "When they lower their landing gear, it falls off."

As bad as Bay Area weather has been, the National Weather Service said none of the storms has been violent enough to hatch a gigantic hailstone on its own. "There's nothing meteorological that would create a piece that big falling into Oakland," said weather service forecaster Diana Henderson.

Electrical engineer Richard Spalding thinks there must be another explanation. He tracks meteors as part of work on satellite instruments and became interested in balls of ice that smash down from time to time.

"Ice falls do happen fairly frequently," Spalding said. "Just about every year, there's a news item somewhere. I think it came from a natural process that we're ignorant of, where it can form at altitude and fall as a chunk," he said.

There's at least one recorded incident of ice from a plane hitting a house. It happened in 2004 in Kent, near Seattle. Homeowner Troy Halte said Saturday a chunk of ice made a basketball size hole in his roof and the ice landed in softball-size pieces on this daughter's bed.

"Fortunately, nobody was home," he said.

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Tokyo Shaken By Magnitude 5.1 Earthquake; No Reports of Damage

April 11 (Bloomberg)

A magnitude 5.1 earthquake shook central Japan around Tokyo at 5:46 p.m. local time, according to NHK television news. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries from the quake, which was centered near Miyakejima, an island south of the capital, NHK said.
The broadcaster said there is no danger of tsunami, powerful ocean waves caused by seismic activity.

Japan, one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, is located in a zone where the Eurasian, Pacific, Philippine and North American tectonic plates meet and occasionally shift, causing quakes. Quakes of magnitude 5 and more can cause considerable damage.

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Dozens die as accidents take their toll in India, China

Last Updated Mon, 10 Apr 2006 22:38:24 EDT
CBC News

Police say at least 51 people, many of them women and children, died Monday when a fire raged through tents at a consumer trade show in northern India.

And more than 50 more people died in two separate accidents in China.
In India, as many as 160 people were injured when three large cloth tents collapsed in flames on top of those gathered inside to view new stereos, TV sets, washing machines and other appliances.

The trade show was being held in Meerut, a city located in the state of Uttar Pradesh about 80 kilometres northeast of New Delhi.

"Dead bodies are strewn around, most of them are charred beyond recognition," witness Prakash Arya told the Associated Press.

"The bodies were dumped into trucks, jeeps and ambulances and taken away from the public glare."

Witnesses blamed a short circuit that ignited plastic sheeting hung over an air conditioner. They also said many people died because the first tent to catch fire had only one exit.

The late-afternoon blaze at a park in the centre of Meerut was extinguished quickly, authorities said.

Meanwhile, in China an explosion rocked a hospital parking garage, killing at least 27 people.

But the death toll could rise as rescuers remove the rubble of an underground garage, the official Xinhua news agency said .

The employer, Xuangang Coal and Electricity Co. Ltd. in Shanxi province, had "no idea how many people were missing" or what caused the explosion, the news agency said.

Most of the victims were hospital staff and their family members.

Further to the west, in Gansu province, a truck crashed into a minivan and a passenger bus after its brakes failed, killing at least 26 people and injuring 24, Xinhua said. Seven people were killed on the spot and 19 died later.

An additional six people, including a three-year-old child, were seriously injured.

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Stars attend Reeve widow service

Tuesday, 11 April 2006, 07:19 GMT 08:19 UK

Reeve, 44, cared for her husband after he was paralysed in an accident, and led his charity fund. She died of lung cancer in March.

Reeve, a non-smoker all her life, was a singer when she met her husband.
Personalities including Hillary Clinton have attended a memorial service for Dana Reeve, actress and widow of Superman actor Christopher Reeve.

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was among those at the New York service.

New York senator Mrs Clinton said Reeve was "one of the most exceptional people I have ever known".

Reeve, 44, cared for her husband after he was paralysed in an accident, and led his charity fund. She died of lung cancer in March.

Speaking after the service, Mrs Clinton - wife of former President Bill Clinton - said it had been "a very fitting tribute".

"She had a light within her that was captured by the way people talked about her today, especially her son and stepchildren," she said.

The Producers actor Matthew Broderick said the two-hour private service had been "beautiful but very, very sad".

CNN news presenter Paula Zahn, a long-time friend, said she had not resorted to self-pity after being diagnosed with cancer and "had a positive impact on everyone and everything she touched".

"She really expected to come home," said Zahn. "She truly believed she had more time."

Other celebrities attending included actor and comedian Robin Williams, cyclist Lance Armstrong and US TV presenter Barbara Walters.

Reeve, a non-smoker all her life, was a singer when she met her husband.

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