Sections on today's Signs Page:
Editorial: Signs Economic Commentary
Signs of the Times
April 17, 2006
Gold broke the $600 dollar mark for the week on Friday, closing at 602.10 dollars an ounce up 1.6% from $592.70 the week before. The dollar closed at 0.8258 euros on Friday, down 0.1% from 0.8269 at the previous week's close. That put the euro at 1.2110 dollars, compared to 1.2093 the week before. Gold in euros would be 497.19 euros an ounce, up 1.4% compared to 490.12 at the end of the previous week. Oil closed at 69.45 dollars a barrel, up 3.1% from $67.38 for the week. Oil in euros would be 57.35 euros a barrel, up 2.9% from 55.72 at the end of the previous week. The gold/oil ratio closed at 8.67, down 1.5% from 8.80 the Friday before. U.S. stock markets were closed on Friday, but the Dow closed the week at 11,137.65, up 0.2% from 11,120.04 for the week. The NASDAQ closed at 2,326.11, down 0.6% from 2,339.02 at the end of the previous week. The yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury note broke the 5% mark, closing at 5.04%, up six basis points from 4.98 the week before.
Gold, oil and U.S. interest rates continued rising last week, rises that do not bode well for the imperial economy. However, as we have been saying for the past year, the future of the economy has more to do with non-economic events than economic ones. Specifically, if the United States attacks Iran (as seems increasingly likely), it's all over. Economic self-interest no longer explains the actions of those driving world events right now. The Neocons worship power, not money. In spite of the official economic ideology of the U.S. empire, they have little use for neoliberalism, except insofar as it advances their ambitions for power and control. Here is Kurt Nimmo in "The Neocon Plan to Wreck the Economy" quoting Shadia Drury, an astute academic observer of the Neoconservative movement:
Strauss borrowed a lot from the "Marxist of the right," Alexandre Kojeve (a student of the Nazi lover Martin Heidegger), and the Nazi jurist and advocate of totalitarianism, Carl Schmitt. "Kojeve 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."
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, Kojeve, 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.
We have also noted the bizarre disconnect between economic news and political news lately. Many people who, if you press them, would admit to a great deal of fear about political events of the near future, seem capable of economic optimism. Recent news in the United States about corporate profits, supposedly low unemployment rates and rises in stock prices have given the financial optimists the upper hand. How that can be squared with the news that the U.S. military already has special forces in Iran identifying targets for a bombing campaign, bombing that may well be nuclear, is beyond me. It must have something to do with the cheerful voices on our televisions. Most likely, that is to ensure that we keep our money in their markets until they decide to pull the plug. However, it must be noted that fear is seeping into the financial news with the belated coverage of the rise in gold prices:
Gold's bull run could reach $850
By Chris Flood
April 12 2006
The current bull run for gold could push prices above the 1980 record high of $850 a troy ounce, according to the Gold Survey 2006 from GFMS, the precious metals consultancy.
"Levels safely over $600 are now in our sights and further hefty gains over the next year or two are quite possible - in the right circumstances, the 1980 high of $850 could even be taken out," said Philip Klapwijk of GFMS.
Gold is benefiting from a general rise in investor interest in commodities both for speculative purposes and as an alternative asset to equities, bonds and cash.
The success associated with investing in gold since 2001 is attracting new players, such as pension funds, and could bring a significant increase in new investment flows into a comparatively small market.
Investment flows are expected to be sustained by the the high probability of a sharp slowdown in US economic growth while greater global inflationary pressures and political tensions in the Middle East are also expected to be supportive factors.
The optimists, on the other hand, even spin the rise in U.S. interest rates positively. According to this view, the yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury note broke the 5% level because bond traders were worried about too much economic growth! No mention that interest rates on the U.S. dollar will need to rise sharply if there is any hope at all of avoiding a dollar crash, due to the massive triple deficits in the United States. Nor is there any mention of the disastrous effects that rise will have on the housing market. Sure, 5% is low by historical standards, but the level of personal debt is way beyond any historical comparison. With the risky interest only and adjustable rate mortgages people have taken out recently, small increases in already low rates can have a catastrophic effect.
U.S. 10-Year Note's Yield Rises to 5%, Highest Since June 2002
April 13 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. 10-year Treasury note yields rose to 5 percent for the first time since June 2002, a harbinger of higher borrowing costs for everything from home loans to corporate bonds.
Investors are pushing yields higher to compensate for the risk economic growth will cause inflation to accelerate, eroding the value of the notes' fixed payments and leading the Federal Reserve to add to 15 interest-rate increases. Lenders use 10-year yields in setting the rates they charge consumers, while investors use them to determine yields on debt sold by companies.
"Growth expectations are improving around the world," said Harry Harrison, global head of U.S. interest-rate products at Barclays Capital Inc. in New York, one of the 22 primary dealers of government securities that trade directly with the Fed. "There is further to go in this sell-off."
Yields extended their climb after a government report showed retail sales increased last month more than analysts forecast. The 10-year note's yield, which moves inversely to its price, rose 7 basis points, or 0.07 percentage point, to 5.05 percent at 4 p.m. in New York, according to Cantor Fitzgerald LP. The yield is up from 4.39 percent at the end of last year.
The price of the 4 1/2 percent note due February 2016 dropped more than 1/2, or $5 per $1,000 face amount, to 95 25/32.
"People are going to hear about it tonight on the TV, the highest yields in four years," said William Hornbarger, chief fixed-income strategist at St. Louis-based brokerage firm A.G. Edwards Inc., which manages about $331 billion. The yield may climb to 5.38 percent by mid-year, he said.
Yields also are rising on speculation higher short-term interest rates and improving economic growth prospects in Japan and Europe will entice people in those regions to invest domestically rather than in U.S. Treasuries. Japan, the biggest foreign owner of U.S. government debt, may increase borrowing costs from zero percent as soon as July.
"We underappreciated the force of foreign buying in anchoring down rates" for the past year, said John Ryding, chief economist at primary dealer Bear Stearns Cos. in New York. With Japanese and European yields rising, making them more appealing relative to U.S. Treasuries, "some of that foreign support is diminishing," he said in an interview.
Ten-year yields are up 14 basis points since April 6, the day before a Labor Department report fanned concern that a strengthening labor market, in combination with rising commodity prices, will lead to more Fed rate increases.
Economists have been lifting their 10-year-yield forecasts. The median estimate of 78 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News from April 3 to April 7 is for the yield to end this quarter at 5 percent, up from a 4.8 percent median forecast a month earlier.
..."Who's really complaining about interest rates?" said Mark Ficke, head of Treasury trading at primary dealer BNP Paribas Securities Corp. in New York. "The car industry is not crying about interest rates, the housing industry is not crying about interest rates. Corporate America continues to roll their debt. Historically these are still relatively low yields."
Before 1998, 10-year yields had not traded below 5 percent since 1967.
Traders since March 30 have been fully pricing in another rate increase to 5 percent at the Fed's next meeting on May 10, interest-rate futures show. The odds of a 17th straight increase on June 29, to 5.25 percent, today is 58 percent, up from zero as recently as two weeks ago.
Investors in Japan, including the Ministry of Finance, reduced the amount of U.S. government debt they held last year for the first time since 2000 as the dollar rose about 14 percent against the yen. The $668 billion they owned at the end of January was the least since June 2004, down from a peak of $699.4 billion in August 2004, Treasury Department data show.
Economic growth may slow during the current quarter as a result of the rise in yields, said Ashok Varadhan, head of U.S. dollar interest rate products trading at primary dealer Goldman, Sachs & Co. in New York. "Since 2003, sharp moves up in higher long-term yields have preceded periods of soft data," he said in an e-mailed response to a question.
The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage rose to 6.49 percent this week, the highest since 2002, according to McLean, Virginia-based Freddie Mac, the second-largest buyer of U.S. mortgages. The rate is up from last year's low of 5.53 percent in July.
The increase means a consumer taking out a $250,000 fixed- rate mortgage for 30 years will pay about $154 a month more in principal and interest.
In the corporate bond market, investment-grade rated companies pay an average of 5.92 percent in yield to sell debt, the highest since August 2002, according to Merrill Lynch & Co.
Notice how the chief economist of Bear Stearns glides quietly over the worst news, floating on clouds of understatement and euphemism:
"We underappreciated the force of foreign buying in anchoring down rates" for the past year, said John Ryding, chief economist at primary dealer Bear Stearns Cos. in New York. With Japanese and European yields rising, making them more appealing relative to U.S. Treasuries, "some of that foreign support is diminishing," he said in an interview.
That has been one of the great fears: that "foreigners" will not buy as much U.S. government debt. Who can blame them? Without that support, however, the dollar will plummet and interest rates will rise sharply.
This is the environment in which Bush, whose U.S. political support has completely collapsed, is planning to begin a third losing war in five years. Theories of behavior based on rational self-interest of well-meaning actors with souls and consciences cannot explain such madness. Luckily for us, at this crucial moment in history, a book many years in the making has appeared in print that can make sense of this madness, Political Ponerology by Andrew Lobaczewski. According to Lobaczewski, societies can be taken over by well-organized groups of psychopaths (people without consciences) who form a "pathocracy," rule by psychopaths. These pathocrats act in much the same way as the Neocons described by Nimmo and Drury. Here is Lobaczewski:
Psychopaths are conscious of being different from normal people. That is why
the "political system" inspired by their nature is able to conceal this
awareness of being different. They wear a personal mask of sanity and know
how to create a macrosocial mask of the same dissimulating nature. When we
observe the role of ideology in this macrosocial phenomenon, quite conscious
of the existence of this specific awareness of the psychopath, we can then
understand why ideology is relegated to a tool-like role: something useful
in dealing with those other naive people and nations. [...]
Pathocrats know that their real ideology is derived from their deviant
natures, and treat the "other" - the masking ideology - with barely
The names and official contents are kept, but another, completely different
content is insinuated underneath, thus giving rise to the well known double
talk phenomenon within which the same names have two meanings: one for
initiates, one for everyone else. The latter is derived from the original
ideology; the former has a specifically pathocratic meaning, something which
is known not only to the pathocrats themselves, but also is learned by those
people living under long-term subjection to their rule.
We need to keep that doubletalk technique in mind when the neocons talk about "democracy," "freedom," or "free-markets."
... This privileged class of deviants feels permanently threatened by the
"others", i.e. by the majority of normal people. Neither do the pathocrats
entertain any illusions about their personal fate should there be a return
to the system of normal man. ...
If the laws of normal man were to be reinstated, they and theirs could be
subjected to judgment, including a moralizing interpretation of their
psychological deviations; they would be threatened by a loss of freedom and
life, not merely a loss of position and privilege. Since they are incapable
of this kind of sacrifice, the survival of a system which is the best for
them becomes a moral imperative. Such a threat must be battled by means of
any and all psychological and political cunning implemented with a lack of
scruples with regard to those other "inferior-quality" people that can be
shocking in its depravity. ...
Pathocracy survives thanks to the feeling of being threatened by the society
of normal people, as well as by other countries wherein various forms of the
system of normal man persist. For the rulers, staying on the top is
therefore the classic problem of "to be or not to be"...
A ponerological perspective can help us understand the hostility of the Bush neocons to Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. Much more than just oil is at stake. What Chavez has done is use oil wealth to try to setup a "society of normal people." The pathocrats cannot let that stand. The pathocracy has sunk its claws so deeply into U.S. society that it is hard for us in the United States to even imagine what a society of normal people could be. That is no accident, but such imaginative impoverishment can only be maintained over the long run if no models (like France or Venezuela) exist.
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Editorial: Nine Eleven: A Response to Doubting Doug
Another Day in the Empire
Friday April 14th 2006, 5:56 pm
Doug Thompson, editor and publisher of Capitol Hill Blue, has slipped into warp drive. He believes you and I-those who believe the government was complicit or behind the attacks of nine eleven-are "fruitcakes, lemmings and scam artists." I'm not sure why Thompson has become so enraged at those of us who don't buy the official version (a fairy tale) and why he assumes we are either crazed tinfoil hatters or snake oil salesmen looking for a quick buck (and believe me, if you're interested in making a quick buck, you'd have more luck going door-to-door as a hawker of Amway products). His venom leads me to believe something is going on behind the scenes. I find it remarkably strange that Thompson believes his government is capable of setting up a police state, while on the other is unable to grasp the idea that very same government would kill its own citizens, as it has slaughtered thousands and thousands of Iraqis (and millions of Asians before the latest round of serial murder).
Let's take a look at Thompson's latest "rant" (as he dubs his column):
"Those who buy into such nutcase causes dishonor the memory of every man, woman and child who died on that horrible day. Even worse, they become willing pawns for the quick-buck scammers who use such events to line their own pockets."
No, Doug, you dishonor them with your inability to think beyond the official, government sanctioned version-a mostly flat wave version that would have never emerged if the families of the victims-in particular, the "Jersey Girls," Kristin Breitweiser, Patty Casazza, Lorie Van Auken, and Mindy Kleinberg-had not leaned on the Bushites. Is Lorie Van Auken a fruitcake? "At first, we widows didn't want to be seen with conspiracy people. But they kept showing up. They cared more than those supposedly doing the investigating. If you ask me, they're just Americans, looking for the truth, which is supposed to be our right," Van Auken told New York Magazine. But then maybe Ms. Van Auken is a scam artist like the rest of us determined to get at the truth-dedicated lemmings going over the edge. Dare I say, Doug, you dishonor "the memory of every man, woman and child who died on that horrible day" with your inability to consider the common sense fact nineteen Arab hijackers were unable to violate the laws of physics on nine eleven?
"You all too often find these wackos on web sites that also promote anti-Semitism and hate-the ones that claim the Holocaust didn't happen and blame everything bad that happens on some vast 'Zionist' conspiracy."
Okay, let's face it-Doug Thompson is a neocon, or at least he comes off sounding like one, regardless of his previous and admirable rants against the squashing of the Constitution and the emergent police state. Doug, check out the Scholars for 9/11 Truth, all respected professionals, and not an anti-Semite among them. Not all skeptics believe nine eleven was a "Zionist" conspiracy and it is remarkably unfair, even illogical and desperate, for you to claim such a thing. It's a bankrupt accusation and really doesn't stick anymore. You may want to consult your new friends, the neocons, for more effective talking points.
"Check out the web sites that promote the various, and ridiculous conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 and you will find that just about all of them ask for money. The same is true for the so-called 'news' sites that support these outlandish conspiracy fantasies."
I notice Capitol Hill Blue is teeming with banner ads for corporate interests such as Verizon, the Dish Network, Best Western, TiVo, and others. I bet you put those up for free. Let's face it, Doug. It costs money to run a website. Some of us write about other things besides nine eleven and as journalists we'd like to get paid for it. I have a donation button on my blog. I'd like to write political commentary and get paid for it like the hacks over at the Washington Post and the New York Times. I don't consider myself a scam artist for putting up a donation button. I wonder how much of that lucrative banner income works its way to your bank account, Mr. Thompson.
"All link to the same, discredited "sources" for their claims. All claim to have "evidence" that is nothing but flights of fancy. All, in my opinion, are scams. I've spent weeks searching through these web sites and read all the links to so-called "evidence" and I have yet to find one, single, shred of verifiable information that provides any proof that our government planned or executed the attacks."
And Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK all on his lonesome. You're really showing your ignorance here, Doug. Of course there is no direct evidence the government was complicit in nine eleven. It doesn't work that way. Speaking of JFK, maybe you saw Oliver Stone's film on the assassination. If you did, you may remember David Ferrie, played by Joe Pesci, telling Jim Garrison: "Who did the president, who killed Kennedy, f- man! It's a mystery! It's a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma! The f-in' shooters don't even know! Don't you get it?" Doug, you don't get it. Governments cover up their tracks and shift blame on patsies. I'd suggest you do a bit of history reading. Begin with Nicco Machiavelli. After you read Nicco, search for Operation Northwoods via Google.
"Our government failed on many levels to respond to information that might have prevented the attacks but incompetence does not prove a conspiracy. America has a long, tainted history of getting caught with its pants down."
A couple weeks ago, after I wrote about Thompson's first column dissing nine eleven truth seekers, I received an email assuring me that Thompson is a Republican. Indeed, he thinks and writes like a Republican-and a Democrat, since there ain't a lick of difference betwixt the two. It wasn't incompetence that made NORAD stand down or the towers collapse like a textbook demolition. Incompetence didn't "pull" Building Seven. Incompetence didn't make airline wreckage (including titanium) at the Pentagon vaporize in thin air while bodies were supposedly left intact enough to get DNA from. It didn't make Flight 93 disappear in a ten foot hole in Pennsylvania.
"A jury in Alexandria, Virginia, this week heard the cockpit voice tapes of United Flight 93, a hijacked airliner bound for the U.S. Capitol in Washington. The actions of passengers who knew they were going to die prevented the plane from reaching its destination. The passengers of Flight 93 are some of the true heroes of September 11."
Doug, is it inconceivable these tapes are forgeries, same as the cell phone calls made at 25,000 feet inside an airliner going 500 miles per hour? At the time, it was technically impossible to place a cell phone call-and these were said to be cell phone calls-from a speeding aircraft at that altitude. AT&T admits as much and calls the ten cell phone supposedly made from Flight 93 a "fluke" (more like a miracle). According to American Airline and Qualcomm, the technology for cell phone transmission at high altitude was first available this year, not 2001. How do you explain these cell phone calls? I have a few ideas, but you'd probably call me a nutcase, a fruitcake, a lemming and a scam artist.
"In another month, a film about Flight 93 opens around the country. It will serve as a painful reminder of what really happened on that day-a true story far different from the pitiful conspiracy theories advanced by those who wish the milk the tragedy for their own benefit."
Actually, it makes perfect sense for Hollywood to make a version of the fairy tale you believe as gospel truth. Meanwhile, those of us worried about the future of America will "milk the tragedy" for our "own benefit" while the stockholders at whatever movie corporation producing this Brothers Grimm fantasy will go penniless.
"Later this year, Oliver Stone, the top conspiracy-theorist in this country, releases his own film on the World Trade Center. But Stone, who could find a conspiracy in the rising of the sun, could not find one from that fateful day and his film will be, instead, a tribute to the first responders."
Ah, Oliver Stone. I figured we'd get around to him. Most Americans believe there was a conspiracy behind the assassination of JFK, a fact well portrayed in Stone's film. I don't recall Stone finding conspiracies "in the rising of the sun" or elsewhere. As for those first responders Stone will make his latest film about, a few of them have problems with the official version you embrace so adamantly. For instance, Louie Cacchioli, one of the first firefighters to enter the South Tower, reported hearing explosions. "On the last trip up a bomb went off. We think there were bombs set in the building," he said. In fact, FDNY fire fighters are under a gag order to not discuss the explosions they heard, felt and saw. But don't worry, Doug. I don't think Stone will include their stories in his "tribute" (and of course, unlike us scam artists, he will not make a cent off this epic).
"Those who prey on fear and paranoia to promote their kooky conspiracy theories dishonor those passengers on Flight 93. They dishonor the innocent victims who died on that day and the first responders who lost their lives trying to save those victims.... And they dishonor America."
Few of us are preying "on fear and paranoia" to promote "kooky conspiracy theories," unless you consider physics kooky science (jet fuel cannot melt steel-although it does in Bushzarro world, where Doug Thompson lives, a realm where the world is flat and cell phones work miles above cell phone towers). All we want is the truth, Doug-and what you and the Bushites are doling out is certainly not the truth. Dare I say, you should be ashamed of yourself for not only buying into the official fairy tale but dissing those of us out here asking questions as self-serving flim-flam artists.
Since we will not shut up and go away until we get the truth, I suggest you turn your attention to other subjects over at Capitol Hill Blue, subjects not likely to offend Verizon and Best Western.
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Editorial: The Judicial Hijacking Of The 9-11 Victim Lawsuits
American Free Press
While the media plays up the significance of the government show trial of the seemingly deranged "20th hijacker" Zacharias Moussaoui, not one 9-11 victim's lawsuit has been allowed to be heard in a trial by jury. Why have the 9-11 victims' families not been given the same right to have their cases heard in an open trial by a jury of their peers?
Ellen Mariani, who lost her husband Neil on United Air Lines (UAL) Flight 175, filed the first 9-11 wrongful death lawsuit against UAL on December 20, 2001. Interviewed on national television in May 2002 by Bill O'Reilly of FOX News, O'Reilly repeatedly questioned Mariani about why she had chosen to pursue litigation instead of accepting the government fund.
"I want justice," Mariani said. "I want accountability. Who is responsible? I want the truth."
Today, Mariani, like the other 9-11 plaintiffs, is under a legal gag order which prevents her from speaking about her on-going lawsuit. Likewise, thousands of employees of federal agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, have received secret gag orders in the mail preventing them from speaking about what they know about the events of 9-11.
After more than four years, however, Mariani's determined pursuit for the truth about 9-11 through the court system has failed to yield any answers or discovery about who is responsible for 9-11. Today, she is no closer to obtaining what she has clearly and repeatedly said she wanted from the beginning - a trial by jury.
Why have the many victims' cases like Mariani's, brought by relatives of loved ones lost on 9-11, not been heard in open trials with juries - a basic American right?
And why has the Israeli-owned airline security company involved in the shocking security lapses, which apparently enabled the attacks of 9-11, been granted complete immunity by the U.S. Congress?
All of the relatives' wrongful death lawsuits, i.e. criminal cases, against the airlines and their security companies were consolidated by the presiding judge into a negligence lawsuit, which, as a civil case, is much less likely to be argued or investigated in an open trial with a jury.
All the 9-11 wrongful death and personal injury cases against either American Air Lines (AA) or United Air Lines or any of the foreign-owned airport security companies, namely Argenbright Security (British), Globe Aviation Services Corp. (Swedish), and Huntleigh USA Corp. (Israeli) have been handled by United States District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York.
In the case of at least one of these security defendants, Huntleigh USA, there would seem to be a serious conflict of interest for the judge because the airline security company who is responsible for the shocking security lapses at both the Boston and Newark airports on 9-11 is a wholly-owned subsidiary of an Israeli company (ICTS) headed by Israelis with clear ties to Israel's military intelligence agency, the Mossad.
Judge Hellerstein, on the other hand, has deep and long-standing Zionist connections and close family ties to the state of Israel. A Zionist is a supporter of the Jewish state of Israel.
Judge Hellerstein's wife, for example, is a former senior vice president and current treasurer of a New York-based Zionist organization called AMIT. AMIT promotes Jewish immigration to Israel and stands for Americans for Israel and Torah. AMIT's motto is "Building Israel - One Child at a Time."
Judge Hellerstein, 73, is also a long-time member of The Jewish Center of New York and a former president of the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York.
This raises the obvious question about why, in the 9-11 terror case in which an Israeli security company is a key defendant and in which individuals from Israeli military intelligence are suspected of being involved, was Hellerstein chosen to preside over all 9-11 victim lawsuits - and who chose him?
Huntleigh USA is a wholly owned subsidiary of an Israeli company called International Consultants on Targeted Security (ICTS) International N.V., a Netherlands-based aviation and transportation security firm headed by "former [Israeli] military commanding officers and veterans of government intelligence and security agencies."
Menachem Atzmon, convicted in Israel in 1996 for campaign finance fraud, and his business partner Ezra Harel, took over management of security at the Boston and Newark airports when their company, ICTS, bought Huntleigh USA in 1999.
UAL Flight 175 and AA 11, which allegedly struck the twin towers, both originated in Boston, while UAL 93, which supposedly crashed in Pennsylvania, departed from the Newark airport.
ICTS also operates the German port of Rostock on the Baltic Sea. An Israeli company linked to the Mossad runs the port operations of a major German harbor. (Why would the Mossad want to run a German port? Imagine the possibilities.)
Some victims' families brought lawsuits against Huntleigh claiming the Israeli-owned airport security firm had been grossly negligent on 9-11. While these relatives have a right to discovery and to know what Huntleigh did or did not do to protect their loved ones on 9-11, Huntleigh was granted complete congressional protection in 2002 and will not be called to account for its actions on 9-11 in any U.S. court.
On July 26, 2002, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Homeland Security Bill and slipped in a last-minute provision which provided complete corporate immunity for the three foreign-owned security companies. Likewise, the Senate voted to shield the three security companies from corporate responsibility on November 19, 2002. These congressional votes effectively prevent any legal investigation or discovery into the security failures of these foreign companies on 9-11.
Hellerstein, however, is not the only player overseeing the 9-11 litigation process who has close ties to Israel. In fact, all of the key players and law firms involved are either active Zionists or do a great deal of business representing Israeli companies and/or the state of Israel.
Kenneth R. Feinberg, for example, the special master of the federally-funded Victims' Compensation Fund, is also a deeply dedicated Zionist. Feinberg single-handedly administered the $7 billion fund that paid out U.S. taxpayer money to some 97 percent of the families who could have otherwise used the courts to sue to recover tort damages for monetary loss and pain and suffering.
Those who accepted the Feinberg administrated federal fund signed away their right to litigate against the government, the airlines or the security companies. This federally funded pay-off to the families effectively prevented the possibility for nearly every relative to obtain justice or truth through the legal process, which would have brought legal discovery of facts and events of 9-11.
The Kenneth Feinberg Group is listed as one of the top ten supporters of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies for 2004-2005. The Jerusalem Institute is an Israel-based Zionist organization that supports the building of the illegal separation wall across Palestine, for example.
The Feinberg Group also lists as its clients major insurance and re-insurance companies such as Lloyd's of London. These are the companies who stood to lose billions of dollars if 9-11 victims' lawsuits had gone forward.
Feinberg was appointed special master by then Attorney General John Ashcroft. Ashcroft, a dedicated Christian Zionist and supporter of such groups as Stand for Israel, is today working as a lobbyist for Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), Israel's major military aerospace company, which hired the former U.S. Attorney General to help secure the U.S. government's approval to sell an Israeli weapons system to the South Korean Air Force.
The Israelis hired Ashcroft to improve their chances against an American-made system built by Chicago-based Boeing Co.
Ashcroft, who was born in Chicago, is the former head of the Dept. of Justice, where his Israeli-American assistant, Michael Chertoff, directed the FBI non-investigation of the events of 9-11. Ashcroft is now being paid (off) by the state of Israel to work against the interests of an American company - and the United States.
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Editorial: AIPAC's Complaint by Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman's take on the Mearsheimer-Walt article on The Israel Lobby (below) seems to be the way that liberals and some on the left have chosen to respond to its damning evidence of the the lobby's pernicious influence on US Middle East policy. They begin by praising the authors for raising the issue and then attempt to discredit key elements of M-W's thesis by creating straw men and arguments that don't stand up to scrutiny. What is important is that the discussion about the role of the Israel Lobby is now a subject of a long-overdue public debate, and more important, exposure, and can no longer be bottled up.
In this case, Alterman accuses the authors of treating the American Jewish community as monolithic. Not so. They are referring to the organized Jewish community which indeed, in its support for the war on Iraq was virtually monolithic. The fact that a handful of the scores of Jewish organizations were aggressively so, while others were relatively passive, does not change that fact. Again, in calling for a US confrontation with Iran, while not specifying the nature of that confrontation, one has found in recent months the same unanimity on most of the web sites of the more than 50 organizations that make up the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations. Those Jews who are passionately against the war with Iraq, against attacking Iran, and who with equal passion call for justice for the Palestinians can not be found in that grouping and indeed represent a minority among the majority of American Jews who are not represented by the Conference of Presidents.
Secondly, while Alterman acknowledges the "power of oil to determine the course of US foreign policy, like most things, is not what it once was," he fails to acknowledge that, despite their recent windfall profits, the oil companies did not support the war in Iraq for the simple reason that flow of oil from the Gulf requires the stability that no longer can be guaranteed and is threatened even further by the prospect of a US attack on Iran. Somehow, the critics of Mearsheimer and Walt overlook the fact that George Bush Senior, his Secretary of State James Baker, both with closer ties to the oil industry than anyone in the current administration, as wells as former General Brent Scrowcroft, Bush Sr.'s National Security Advisor, publicly opposed the war from the outset.
AIPAC did lose a battle with the Reagan administration over the sale of AWACs observation planes to the Saudis, but only after Reagan's own heavy arm twisting. In the final agreement, however, it would be US pilots flying those planes and not Saudis. With regard to the Saudi purchases of US fighter aircraft, two things need to be understood. First, the purchases of those aircraft, for which the Saudis pay top dollar, are what has kept US aircraft plants functioning, and second, the Saudis don't have nearly enough pilots to fly those planes as was evident in the first US Gulf War. Moreover, since the US guarantees that Israel will maintain superiority over the combined military forces of the Arab armies, sales to Saudi Arabia are usually followed by additional "sales" to Israel of US aircraft which comes at the expense of US taxpayers, not those of Israel. Why do the Saudis buy so many planes? The most logical conclusion is that this is part of the deal in which the US allows the Saudi government to sell its oil under US protection. In other words, "protection money.". What most people do not know is that the Saudis picked up the tab for most of the first Gulf War after which they told Bush Sr. that they could not afford an order of fighters from McDonnell Douglas. Without that order, the McDonnell Douglas plant in St. Louis would be forced to close. Under the circumstances, Bush told the Saudis that they couldn't back out of the deal but that he would arrange a workable payment schedule. When this was announced there was a wild celebration at the McDonnell Douglas plant in St. Louis.
Thirdly, Alterman's comparison of AIPAC with the National Rifle Association and the pharmaceutical industry lobbies is also out of place since one is lobbying in behalf of a foreign country while the other two are domestic lobbies. While the NRA is one of the few lobbies that, like AIPAC, maintains a potent grassroots operation spread across the country, the issues pushed by both of them, unconditional support of Israel vs. the right of Americans to bear arms, cannot be compared in scale. When, in recent years, the Israel lobby has gone head to head with the pharmaceutical lobby over Israel's right to export generic versions of the pharmaceutical industry's products to the US, the Israel lobby triumphed, even as it did 20 years ago when the agricultural lobby was unsuccessful in blocking a free trade agreement with Israel under the Reagan administration.
Finally, in his last paragraph, Alterman seems to contradict himself. While writing that "the weaknesses [of the Mearsheimer-Walt paper] will hinder the authors' attempt to pierce the wall of ignorance and intimidation erected around such policy debates by the very institutions upon which it seeks to shed light," he acknowledges that AIPAC is pushing for a war on Iran and that it apparently going to get its wish. "God help us," he writes. "It seems to be working--again." Since there is no other lobby advocating for an attack on Iran, one would think that this would ultimately vindicate Mearsheimer and Walt's thesis. Should it come to pass, the entire world will end up paying a heavy price for having allowed the problem of the Israel Lobby to have been buried for so long.
The liberal media by Eric Alterman
[from the May 1, 2006 issue]
The University of Chicago's John Mearsheimer is among America's most admired political scientists. Stephen Walt is the academic dean and a chaired professor at Harvard's Kennedy School. Neither man has ever made any remotely racist or anti-Semitic utterance in the public sphere. And yet because they recently published an essay in The London Review of Books and (with full scholarly apparatus) on the Kennedy School website that critically and--this is key--unsentimentally examines the role of the "Israel lobby" in the making of US foreign policy, these two scholars have been subjected to a relentless barrage of vituperative insults in which the accusation "anti-Semite" is merely the beginning. Just a few of the most colorful: "Crackpot" (Martin Peretz); "Could have been written by Pat Buchanan, by David Duke, Noam Chomsky, and some of the less intelligent members of Hamas" (Alan Dershowitz); "As scholarly as...Welch and McCarthy--and just as nutty" (Max Boot); "puts The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to shame" (Josef Joffe); "resembles nothing so much as Wilhelm Marr's 1879 pamphlet The Victory of Judaism Over Germandom" (Ruth Wisse); "dishonest so-called intellectuals...entitled to their stupidity" (New York Representative Eliot Engel).
One is tempted to point out that the authors themselves predicted the likelihood of such a reception, and by provoking it they have proved their point. They note--relying on research by yours truly--that pro-Israel voices dominate punditocracy discourse and add that the lobby almost always plays the "anti-Semite" card to stifle debate about Israel's behavior in general and its own actions in particular. Machers at official Jewish organizations--accurately characterized in the paper as far more belligerent than the Jewish community generally--have suggested in circulated e-mails that Israel supporters might want to threaten the Kennedy School's funding. The school's administration has distanced itself from the controversy by removing its imprimatur from the paper and posting Dershowitz's attack on it at the same web address. If any young scholars--without the protective armor that Walt and Mearsheimer's reputations afford, to say nothing of tenured professorships--are considering research into a similar topic, well, they won't need a weatherman to know which way this (idiot) wind blows.
One is also tempted to infer that what scares the character assassins into such self-revealing fits of ferocity is the fear that the authors have revealed the unhappy truths they'd rather suppress. We have an ex-New York Times executive editor admitting that he favored Israel in the paper's coverage, and it's not even Abe Rosenthal. They quote the longtime editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal saying, "Shamir, Sharon, Bibi--whatever those guys want is pretty much fine by me." They quote former AIPAC officials bragging about Jewish power and influence in Congress and the executive branch and supplement this with a variety of US officials complaining of the power of this network to get what it wants, regardless of the merits of a given argument. The authors also focus a laser beam on the lobby's take-no-prisoners attitude toward any politician who departs from the lobby's line--up to and including Howard Dean's innocuous pronouncement that the United States should play an "even-handed role" in the Middle East. Finally, they demonstrate that while it contains the word "American" in its name, AIPAC does Israel's bidding, pure and simple.
Still, nothing--particularly when it comes to Jews--is that simple. For authors whose work I have long admired--I've known Walt a long time, though casually, and not long ago I was the commentator on a paper Mearsheimer offered at the Council on Foreign Relations--their paper has surprising weaknesses. Perhaps because they are relatively new to the topic, the authors treat the "pro-Israel" American Jewish community as virtually monolithic. Yet while much of its power and influence rest with AIPAC and the neocons--who together with many others did do everything they could to drag America into this catastrophic war--it also contains many passionate opponents of just these tendencies. These are Jews who identify as both Jewish and pro-Israel but do so on the basis of a fundamentally different vision from the one that animates the likes of Peretz, Podhoretz, Perle and AIPAC's armies of the right.
Second, the authors offer up the lobby as virtually the only determinant of US Middle East policy, as if the oil states, oil companies and the vast wealth they represent count for bubkes. That's just silly. The power of oil to determine the course of US foreign policy, like most things, is not what it once was. But neither is it chopped liver. And while things have probably progressed to the point where the AIPAC team can best the Saudis and their minions most of the time, it's still a fight and sometimes requires retreat and compromise. Why the authors treat this factor so dismissively is a mystery. (It may, however, have something to do with the authors' acceptance of a narrative of Middle East history in which Israel plays no useful strategic role for the United States--another mystery to this reader and Realist sympathizer.)
Third, while it's fair to call AIPAC obnoxious and even anti-democratic, the same can often be said about, say, the NRA, Big Pharma and other powerful lobbies. The authors note this but often seem to forget it. This has the effect of making the Jews who read the paper feel unfairly singled out, and inspires much emotionally driven mishigas in reaction.
Do these problems justify the inference that the authors are anti-Semitic? Of course not. Raising the issue purely on the basis of intellectual disagreement is shameful--and actually helpful to genuine anti-Semites, as it diminishes the accusation's potency. While much of the paper is compelling, its weaknesses will hinder the authors' attempt to pierce the wall of ignorance and intimidation erected around such policy debates by the very institutions upon which it seeks to shed light. This is a damn shame, as AIPAC and its minions are pushing for an attack, possibly nuclear, on Iran, and, God help us, it seems to be working--again.
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: The U.S. Now Planning A Fourth Attempt To Oust Hugo Chavez
by Stephen Lendman
This essay has a duel purpose. I began it initially to explain how sophisticated and effective the dominant corporate media is in programming the public mind to believe whatever message they deliver regardless of whether it's true which it rarely is. I chose the title Reeducation 101 - Defogging and Reversing the Corporate Media's Programming of the Public Mind which I'm now using as the heading of my introductory section. Along with that discussion, I then planned a detailed case study example of how they're doing it by demonizing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias with a building and resonating drumbeat of invective in advance of the US government's fourth attempt to oust him. That discussion follows my introductory section.
Reeducation 101 - Defogging And Reversing The Corporate Media's Programming Of The Public Mind
Does any reader of online progressive web sites still watch, listen to or read anything from the corporate media? If so, how do you stand it without having a good supply of stomach soothers and strong headache relief handy. I thought most everyone with enough smarts and common sense understood that this collective institutional juggernaut's mission is to sedate and seduce us - a sort of one, two punch. They mostly do it with diverting and distracting entertainment. Is that what it's called? You 'coulda fooled me with what's on all my 300 + cable channels I don't watch except when I go to bed and need something mind numbing to make me sleepy. The only reason I have them all is I live in a building that subscribes to the cable service, and everyone gets them, like it or not.
Except for three classical music channels without talk or commercials I love, everything in their lineup is a vast wasteland, especially what passes for so-called "news and information" by the on-air names you know well and I needn't list. They're all an assault on our sensibilities in their all out effort to fog our minds with round the clock propaganda, lies, distortion and sanitizing. What they do isn't journalism, it's stenography. And what they don't report is usually more important than what they do. They know, as does our government, that if all or enough of us understood what's really happening, not the rot and mush they fill our heads with, there'd be a revolution in the streets. How could the public with full knowledge of what our government is up to ever go along since all of it only benefits the rich and powerful and does it at our expense.
The mind manipulation and thought control comes at us from all directions in print and on the airwaves. In the US (and really the world) the newspaper known as the "Gray Lady" and referred to as "the newspaper of record" leads the way - the New York Times. I call them a US "Pravda." They're the closest thing we have in this country to an official ministry of information and propaganda. They've been going at it for over 150 years, and nobody does it better or with more influence. Remember Judith Miller and her daily WMD scare reports.....straight from the White House and Pentagon in final copy printable form. The Times calls this "all the news that's fit to print." You don't not want to hear what I call it, but this newspaper has clout around the world. Whatever lead stories they report get picked up and are spread almost everywhere. Especially here on TV where the state of our news, information and trumpeting punditry assault our nerve endings. Those who run it and report on it never met a piece of state propaganda they didn't love and want to tell us about ad nauseam - in between frequent 5 minute long commercial breaks trying to sell us everything we don't need and never knew we wanted until they told us.
A noted US media critic once said about them "they have everything to sell and nothing to tell." And I heard noted British journalist Robert Fisk say on air to an interviewer commenting on the dismal state of our corporate media that "you really have a problem in this country." He meant the dominant media is so corrupted and complicit with US policies hostile to the public interest and welfare here and abroad that we have a desperate need for an effective antidote to their poison. Amen.
There's even a flood of material on TV called "video news releases" or VNRs. Now get this. These are all government agency produced propaganda releases or corporate commercials disguised as real news - but you're not supposed to know it. What they all are is "fake news." There's a ton of this stuff all over the airwaves. The TV networks and local stations love 'em because they all come pre-packaged and free of charge, saving all that production time and cost. Then combine that with all the rest of TV news, information and punditry and it's enough to drive a teetotaler to drink or worse. You have to get away from this stuff, and I'll tell you how. It's not that hard - just turn off your TV and cancel your corporate owned newspaper and magazine subscriptions. Call a friend instead, visit a neighbor, talk to your wife or husband, spend time with your kids. You'll discover a whole new world. You may even get to love it. Also, spend more time online in the right places, like the web site you're now reading this on, and start to read a little - most important, the right things.
The Right Path To Follow Is Straight Ahead
My purpose in writing this column is to provide an antidote to those of you still victimized by and under the spell of the scourge of corporate media mind control (too many I know). You're in their prison of your own mind. I've got the key, and if you want your freedom back, follow me into the light of day and fresh air with an unnamed case study example of one of the victims who wrote to the editor of another noted and superb web site I write commentaries for. The editor asked me to respond, and I did. What follows below is that response reworked to apply to all others with similar views to the letter writer.
For those of you who want to come along and happen to be ex-smokers like I am (for the last 31 years), remember how much sweeter life became once you kicked the habit and could go a whole day without coughing and wheezing. And you no longer got short of breath every time you walked up a flight of stairs either. For me it was like being reborn. For the many of you unafflicted by the poison of the media giants, read on just for the fun of it. I'll respond to my case study victim and others like him and try to save them from themselves. I'll also cover what he addressed in his letter response - what the US may be up to in the ongoing very real soap opera pitting this country against Hugo Chavez.
A Case Study - I'll Call My Subject Mr. X
This response is for Mr. X and all the others who think like him. This man wrote a critical letter about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to the web site editor I referred to above. In it he claimed he hadn't run across any reports about Chavez and Venezuela for a long time, but then went on to label him with a string of vicious and baseless epithets. In my response to him, I asked where was he getting his information other than from those reports he said he hadn't run across.
Of course, there's been a steady drumbeat of anti-Chavez rhetoric in the corporate media that even includes language comparing him to Hitler. When you hear that and lots more, you know things have gotten very serious and likely to be followed by big time mischief against the person named. I've quoted lots of anti-Chavez invective in other articles I've written from various high officials like Donald Rumsfeld. Now there's a credible source. Obviously Mr. X is getting this propaganda message and believes it. How else could he have become so opinionated about the man. But like all other victims of mind control he's got it all disturbingly wrong. The truth based on the facts, not propaganda and lies, is just the opposite of what he believes and is spouting. I suggested he listen up, and that truth really would set him free and all others who think like him.
Mr. X then went on to say Venezuela is insignificant to the US. I responded just like Iraq wasn't and Iran isn't? What does he think they do there? Just produce coffee and cocoa, have carnivals and hold parades? I asked him if he couldn't detect some common denominator among these three countries? Not that they're all non-English-speaking, are located on different continents from the US, are defenseless against a large-scale US military assault, and pose no military threat whatever to us or anyone else. All that's true I told him, and everyone with an unfogged mind knows it. I then asked if I really needed to spell out for him why they're important to us - I mean the most obvious reason (not the more complex ones) I literally heard a 10 year old explain right before our illegal aggression against Iraq -- IT'S THE CRUDE DUDE....O-I-L.....BLACK GOLD.....TEXAS "TEA".....THE VITAL OXYGEN THAT KEEPS THE COUNTRY AND WORLD RUNNING. Try driving to the market without it or taking the bus to work. Or growing all the food we eat either. These three countries are floating on an ocean of it, were and are governed by leaders who wouldn't and won't hand it all over to us so voila....... public enemies 1, 2 and 3.
I then explained that based on the best available estimates Venezuela ranks number one in the world in total oil reserves even ahead of Saudi Arabia if their extra-heavy reserves are added to their "light sweet" or conventional ones. The latter are easily refined while the former must be substantially upgraded before refining is possible. If both types are counted, the best estimates of total oil reserves in the world are: Venezuela - about 350 billion barrels (by some estimates it's much higher than that), Saudi Arabia - 262 billion, Canada - 179 billion (mostly extra-heavy), Iran - 126 billion (all "light sweet") and Iraq - 115 billion (also all the good stuff). I asked Mr. X if the fog was beginning to lift and if he really thought the US would ever settle for less than total control of those combined reserves and those of every other key oil producing country as well. It's called "resource wars", the stakes are very high, and we're playing for keeps including waging war on the world to get it. It's not about getting all the oil we need (as long as it lasts), it's about controlling it all to decide who else gets it, how much and at what price. Along with rising world tension, a big reason the price is high today (nearing $70 a barrel as I write) is because we want it to be high to enrich our big oil mafia buddies - you know, the Exxon-Mobils of the world. Unless you understand "the way things really are" you'll be victimized like Mr. X and believe everything you hear or read in the corporate media.
Mr. X Swallowed The Party Line Proving Again You Can Fool Some Of The People All Of The Time
Mr. X claimed Hugo Chavez is a "fearless, gutless little wimp of a dictator." And paranoid too. I informed him this FGWD paranoid was elected and reelected democratically by significant majorities and did it in the face of considerable US funding and support for the opposition and the fiercest, most vicious and hostile unrelenting dominant corporate media assault against him both times, beforehand, in between and still ongoing now and growing in intensity. It's so extreme in vitriol down there it makes our hostile corporate media almost look like pussy cats. It didn't work. Venezuelans aren't as uninformed as the somnambulant and mind-fogged US public. They support and voted for a man who promised them a better future and actually delivered it. Why would they ever want to give that up? Ever know a US politician who did that? A couple here or there who try, but NEVER one with any power or who could or did deliver.
There's a presidential election coming up in Venezuela at the end of this year. Now get this. A new poll was just conducted and here's how Chavez did against his potential or likely rivals. It was conducted by the Venezuelan Institute for Data Analysis (IVAD): the score was Chavez 82.7% and closest rival (at present) Julio Borges of the Primero Justicia (Justice First) party 8.9%. I used to do marketing research and some polling right out of graduate school 46 years ago as a newly minted MBA (before they got popular) and know something about it. Unless you do it properly, you can get some awfully unreliable results, so instead of the usual + or - 3 or 4% it could be two or three times that making the numbers worthless. But with these lopsided results, why bother with any poll. Anyone following what's happening in the country knows the people love Chavez and will never democratically elect someone else if he's running. Of course, the rich hate him because he's making them pay their fair share and is using the country's oil wealth to help his people instead of handing it over to the big US oil mafia, other giant US transnationals and the Venezuelan elite. That's why the US hates him too and feels that way even more so for a bigger reason. He represents the greatest of all threats we know - a good example that may spread like a heavenly virus liberating the oppressed people of other countries in the region and beyond whose leaders sold them out to the US and our giant corporations.
So with the opposition knowing they haven't a chance in December, they've begun their latest anti-Chavez demonization campaign. They're trying to blame him for the kidnappings and brutal murders of three children of a wealthy Venezuelan/Canadian family and other social disturbances being hyped in the corporate controlled media to stir up the public, scare them and try to make them want a change in government to protect them better. It's just a new version of the same dirty business they've pulled before that failed. It won't work this time either. Chavez supporters (Chavistas) at least must suspect the US is orchestrating this mischief and has no compunction about carrying out kidnappings and brutal murders themselves or finding lots of local takers at the right price to do it for them. This isolated violence on the Venezuelan streets is just a minuscule version of what's going on now in Iraq under the US led and directed "Salvador death squad option" using Iraqi proxies to carry out car bombings, mosque attacks and lots more to foment a civil war, try to divide the country and supposedly make it easier to rule. It won't work there either where the situation is out of control, the war is lost and we know it, and in British journalist Robert Fisk's words (who I quoted earlier above): the US "must leave, can't leave and will leave." Sooner or later, likely the latter after many tens of thousands more innocent Iraqi deaths and lives and families destroyed and the devastating physical and psychological toll on many or most of our demoralized and defeated forces there. I'm writing more about that in another article I'm now working on.
US authorities and the go-along corporate media in both countries also claim Chavez is responsible for the recent pelting of US ambassador William Brownfield's car with eggs and tomatoes. I wouldn't have wasted a rotten one of either on him even though the ambassador was provokingly and literally cruising for a bruising in a poor neighborhood he had no business being in. He may or may not have gotten it from US stooges sent in to do it. The poor there certainly had every reason to do it. This is a man who recognizes the opposition and not the legitimate Venezuelan government. Chavez has threatened to expel him from the country and has every right to do it if he keeps pulling these stunts. The ambassador has said he will (meaning deliberate provocation), so look for more fireworks ahead as things heat up more between Washington and Caracas. Of course, this unambassadorial man deserves whatever he gets and more, especially in light of the growing anti-Chavez vitriol coming from high level US officials as well as the current "military exercise" provocation ongoing close by offshore as well. Things are clearly coming to a head with a showdown possible and even likely before the year end election.
Let me spell out what's happening now as the US with 100% certainty is heading toward a fourth showdown confrontational attempt to oust Hugo Chavez and possibly try to assassinate him this time. For those of you, like Mr. X, who believe what they read in the (corporate) papers or see on the evening news, let me do a little defogging and lay the truth on you. I know the playbook very well. I should, I've seen it played out enough times before and watch it every day now in Iraq in its most extreme form. It's not Hugo Chavez or his supporters creating social unrest on the streets. This is classic CIA, National Endowment of Democracy (NED), USAID and IRI (International Republican Institute) mischief likely carried out by their complicit anti-Chavez Venezuelan proxies. These are the ones with the most to gain if Chavez is no longer president and one of their own is. I'm talking about the rich and well off, the same ones who tried it before and failed.
US attorney and author Eva Golinger closely monitors Bush administration activities to subvert the Chavez government. She uncovered top secret CIA documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests revealing US involvement through CIA, NED and USAID complicity to overthrow Hugo Chavez in the two day aborted 2002 coup. In an interview published by Ultimas Noticias on April 10 she revealed she now has documents proving the US bankrolls the Venezuelan opposition and has tried to work with Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Austria and Spain to form an anti-Chavez alliance. Her information comes from a report published April 5 by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, an agency of the US Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs. The report details US efforts to fund and build Venezuelan opposition political parties. Golinger noted different strategies being planned to oust Hugo Chavez including by possible US military invasion and mentioned the presence of US military bases in the region where 40,000 troops are now stationed. She also uncovered increased US financial support for "supposed NGOs" and communications with opposition politicians on subjects like assassination and torture. Finally, Golinger explained there's a link between the FBI and police officials in the Caracas municipalities of Chacao and Baruta, both run by mayors opposed to Hugo Chavez.
In addition to Golinger's reports, there's credible evidence of Colombian paramilitaries elicitly entering Venezuela in provinces bordering the two countries to promote or commit violence and destabilize the Chavez government. All of this is serious and escalating mischief that's likely to get worse as the US moves ahead in its fourth attempt to forcibly remove Hugo Chavez from office by whatever means planned. At this point, we don't know if it will even get further off the ground, let alone succeed, because of Chavez's strong support among the people, his government allies and the Venezuelan military. We do know the US orchestrated anti-Chavez demonization campaign will likely fail as have other past attempts against him. Why? Because the Venezuelan people overwhelmingly support and will fight to keep him as the president who gave them extraordinary social programs that have improved their lives and given them a direct say through participatory democracy in how the government is run. Why would they ever risk giving that up or not do all in their power to prevent anyone from taking them away. So when the anti-Chavez propaganda campaign fails again, look for the mischief-makers to go back to the drawing board and try "plan two."
It may be and there's now talk the main opposition parties will pull out of the election in December and let Chavez run unchallenged - that is, if the fireworks haven't culminated before then. If it happens, it will be a replay of the December, 2005 legislative elections when those same parties quit the race because they knew they'd be embarrassed by the heavy vote against them. If there's a repeat performance this year, they'll blame it on President Chavez as they did last time using whatever concocted reasons they can come up with. But just like last December, it will again be sore looser talk, a weak-kneed effort to demonize the victor and a line of baloney the Venezuelan people won't buy. I'll give them the real reason, but they'll never use it. Chavez will win because the great majority love him and the wonderful social programs and participatory democracy he's brought them. They won't give them or him up and will fight to keep them and him to avoid returning to the past policies of everything for the rich and powerful and nothing for the poor and desperate people. Hugo Chavez is their man, their savior, and they'll keep him as long as he wants the top job.
How'd You Like To Live In A Free Country With A Leader And Government Working For The People
The great majority of the Venezuelan people would and here's why. Any idea what it's like to be impoverished, not know where your next meal is coming from, live in a shack for a home or not even have that much, and have no access to even minimum medical care or education? These people do. Ask them, they'll explain it to you. Hugo Chavez has given them what they never had before. Think they won't fight to keep it and him? Wouldn't you in their place if the alternative was desperate poverty? That's what 80% of them had before, they're still poor and deprived, but everyone gets free: first rate health and dental care and education through as high a level as they can attain. They also get subsidized food, the legal right they never had before to own the land their homes were built on and lots more. The result is a significant improvement in the lives and welfare of the Venezuelan poor that comprise the great majority of the population and Chavez's base of support. The population is healthier, no one need go hungry, and Illiteracy in the country is almost nil. In the US it's around 20%, and millions more can barely read and write at a grammar school level.
Also in the US, our land of opportunity and richest country in the world, we have 46 million people with no health insurance, many millions more with too little and by conservative estimates 12 million American families, over 10% of all households, struggle to feed themselves and often go hungry. They can't afford the high price of insurance that keeps becoming more unaffordable or even to buy enough food for their families. They should be getting federal aid, but how can they when our government spends all it has and can borrow on imperial wars of conquest without end to enrich big corporations. The cupboard is bare for anything else, so we're all on our own, like it or not. If the country had a motto or slogan it might be you can have anything you want as long as you can pay for it. If not, you're on your own. It's called "the free market." Ask one of the millions of poor, single black mothers with young children how "free" it is and what it's like trying to figure out how to get the next meal on the table and pay the rent. She could only dream of the way things are in the land of the Bolivarian Revolution and a leader who really cares about all his people - if she knew about it.
I told Mr. X above and then reminded him again that the "US boggie man" he made light of has already tried three times and failed to oust President Chavez and is clearly now planning a fourth attempt that may include a military assault with depleted uranium (DU) weapons that would contaminate a vast area with toxic, deadly and irremediable radiation where they're used. They might even decide to up the ante and try out in real time their newest toy - so-called "bunker-buster mini nukes" that aren't mini but sure are nukes - anywhere from one third to two thirds as potent as a Hiroshima bomb. They've planning to test these new weapons in the Nevada desert shortly or are already doing it without telling us. When they do, I wouldn't want to be standing around in the next county or maybe even next state. And that's even without the devastating fallout that will contaminate a vast area beyond the test site. That's the kind of "boogie man" I'd be "paranoid" about. I'm already paranoid about it, and I live in the heart of the beast and am one of the privileged. I also live downwind in both directions - from those bomb test sites and all the horrendous policies coming out of the Capitol.
Here Come The Marines And Maybe A Little "Shock And Awe"
Want more evidence about what may be in the works. It's come to light that the US has plans called "Operation Bilbao" that look like, walk like and make sounds like a plan to forcibly overthrow the Chavez government. Want more? I briefly mentioned an ongoing close by US military exercise above. The US Navy sent an aircraft carrier strike group of four ships, 60 aircraft and 6,500 marines to the Caribbean and South American waters for a "major" training exercise. It's holding it now about 50 kilometers from Venezuelan territory (about 30 miles). All four ships are capable of launching cruise missiles that may be armed with nuclear warheads. I told Mr. X this is a deliberately provocative and hostile act and to imagine the reaction here if China or Russia were doing this 30 miles off the California coast. I added I could include more examples of how the US is stepping up its efforts against Hugo Chavez but hoped what I detailed above was enough. I also explained that I hope I've provided enough documented proof that once again the US government is improperly and illegally acting to subvert a foreign leader and his government and, in this case, doing it to a twice democratically elected leader loved by the great majority of his people.
It All Goes Back To The Power Of The Message
Now let me bring this full circle and go back to my opening salvo against the dominant US corporate media. I told Mr. X that if he or anyone else relies on them for their news and information, they're guaranteed not to get any. That's not their job. Their job is to set you up, play you for a fool and make you a patsy (and a pretty dumb one at that) to believe even the most outrageous rot they put out. Like those "now you see 'em, now you don't" WMD or Saddam being linked to al Queda (he and bin Laden are mortal enemies and hate each other). I knew there weren't any WMD in the mid-90s. How? It was reported in the news most people didn't listen to or forgot that Saddam's trusted son-in-law who was in charge of all his weapons, including those WMD, defected to the West, was debriefed and spilled the beans that they were all destroyed around the time of the Gulf war. It was a tactical decision since they were useless anyway against the overwhelming US force Saddam was helpless to defend against. What about Saddam knocking over the "twin towers." I like that one even more, but a legion of chumps called the gullible public will believe anything the corporate media feeds 'em - even the need to check under your bed every night 'cause Saddam (or Hugo) may be there ready to pounce as soon as you doze off. People will believe anything.
It Really Happened Once - A Real Life Case Study
Real life case in point. In 1938 a now famous science fiction radio program was broadcast in the US called War of the Worlds starring Orson Welles. There was no TV then so the effect it had was amazing even without the visuals the corporate media now know are so essential. It was about a Martian invasion of the earth that included a fake news bulletin that a "huge flaming object" landed on a farm near Grovers Mill, New Jersey. Orson Welles was a terrific actor and so weren't the others apparently. They were so good it created a mass panic among those listening who really believed the Martians had come and would do them in. People actually packed the roads, hid in cellars, got out their guns if they had any and even wrapped their heads in wet towels to protect themselves against "Martian poison gas." This now famous broadcast that also created a national scandal proved an important point. The very sophisticated folks who run the dominant media can even make a lot of seemingly intelligent people believe almost anything made up out of whole cloth. That media and its PR cousins have honed their craft and are now so expert at it that if the best of their past counterparts were still alive, like Nazi Joseph Goebbels, he and they would be aghast to see how amateurish they were compared to the "geniuses" now doing it -- to Mr. X and all the others like him out there with their minds thoroughly fogged and programmed. He and they are all victims of sinister mind control, and I've been trying to remove the spell, bring you all into the light and deliver you into the glorious world of knowing the truth and being free at last from the poisonous and hypnotic power of the dominant and complicit corporate media.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog address at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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Editorial: Immigration and eliminationism
Saturday, April 15, 2006
Those mass marches are having their effect: They're scaring the crap out of the nativists.
And they're fighting back in the usual, expected fashion ... by lying and making ugly but empty threats.
At least, we hope they're empty. Because what they're advocating, increasingly, is eliminating all 11 million illegal aliens in the United States. How they'll achieve that is something, however, they leave to our imaginations.
Recently a powerful Arizona legislator named Russell Pearce, a Republican from Mesa, recently uttered the following in response to the marches:
- They're illegal and they have no right to be marching down our streets. They have no constitutional rights. They don't have First-, Fourth-, Sixth amendment rights. They're here illegally and they chose to be here illegally.
Pearce heads the state's House appropriations panel, has served as a judge, and was for many years a law-enforcement officer. And he really believes this?
As Blogs for Arizona explains, illegal aliens in fact have all kinds of rights under the constitution, including due-process rights, free-speech rights, search-and-seizure rights, and criminal-justice rights.
Of course, we hear the word "illegal" all the time in the nativists' arguments. "What part of 'illegal' don't you understand?" is one of the Minutemen's favorite T-shirt slogans.
To which the appropriate response is: "What part of 'bad law' don't you understand?"
The bottom line in the immigration debate is that current immigration law -- as well as the proposals being floated by the Tancredo wing of the Republican Party (including James Sensenbrenner) -- is inadequate for dealing with the realities forced on us by economic forces which no amount of border fence and no mass expulsions will overcome. As I explained before, there are two forces driving the current wave of emigration: 1) a massive wage and standard-of-living gap between the United States and its immediate and most populous neighbor, and 2) the increasing demand for cheap labor in the United States.
Stressing that these immigrants' status as "illegal" begs the whole question of whether the laws on the books are adequate or just. They just create a whole class of criminals out of people who come here to work, and the latter has always been the driving force in immigration throughout our history.
But the nativists don't care. They like simple solutions. It's easier to blame the poverty-stricken pawns in this economic game, and take their anger out on them, than to deal with the core problems. What they're interested in is a scapegoat. After all, that's what they do.
Constantly shouting "illegals!" furthers the nativists' aims by separating these people from the rest of us: they're non-citizens, and thus by extension almost non-entities. Perhaps even non-human.
That certainly seems to be the line of thinking adopted by at least one right-wing blogger (wouldn't you know it, another of those "reformed liberals" who now claims that he and his "Red State" kind represent the real America). In a post decrying those "illegal aliens," he compared them to rats:
- We can learn from Buffalo, New York. Now in Buffalo the rat problem in the city was a huge one. Exterminators could not handle the problem. But then in 2001 the city mandated that everyone would have to begin using special anti-rat garbage totes that the rats could not open. With no way to get to the garbage, the rats left Buffalo. Now, they went to the suburbs and now the suburbs are fighting them. But it is no longer a problem for the people of Buffalo, New York. Here is how to do the same with our problem:
1) No services.
Absolutely no services of any kind for those who cannot prove they are in the country legally. Nothing but emergency medical care. Without all the social services, medical and other services provided for them, the illegals will find life here less attractive.
2) No schools.
Absolutely no schooling for anyone who cannot prove they belong here legally.
3) No easy birthright.
Change the law. Now, if you are born here, you are a citizen. I say, if you cannot prove that you were born here and that your mother was here legally at the time, then your citizenship is that of the mother and not of the USA.
4) No legal status. No drivers licenses. No bank accounts. No ability to sue a citizen. No legal standing for anyone who is in this country illegally.
5) No free lunch for "The Man".
Make it a criminal offense (and enforce it if it is already on the books) to hire an illegal alien, or to rent a dwelling place to him, or to sell him a home knowing that he intends to live there. Make employers provide documentation for all of their workers. You put the onus on "The Man" and it suddenly becomes less appealing to take advantage of the illegals.
THE RATS WILL GO SOMEWHERE ELSE
Anyone familiar with eliminationist rhetoric recognizes this motif: compare the object of elimination with vermin, and then describe the steps you need to take to "exterminate" them.
Indeed, the "rats" comparison has a particularly ugly history: it was, after all, one of the most effective pieces of imagery in film created by Nazi propagandists in drumming up hatred of Jews, as Richard Webster explained:
- The film Der Ewige Jude, which formed part of a propaganda programme designed to justify to the German people the deportations of Jews which were already taking place, included a powerful montage sequence in which Jews were compared to rats. In the words of the commentary, 'rats ... have followed men like parasites from the very beginning ... They are cunning, cowardly and fierce, and usually appear in large packs. In the animal world they represent the element of subterranean destruction.' Having noted that rats spread disease and destruction, the commentary suggested that they occupied a position 'not dissimilar to the place that Jews have among men'. At this point in the film, footage of rats squirming through sewers is followed first by the image of a rat crawling up through a drain-cover into the street and then by shots of Jewish people crowded together in ghettos.
In the Security Service report on the film, the comparison of the Jewish people to rats was held to be 'particularly impressive'.
There is, of course, nothing intrinsically anti-semitic (or racist) about the image of the rat. However, presenting images of Jews as unclean insects or rodents was perhaps the most effective way not only of arousing and confirming anti-semitic hatred but of directly inciting physical violence by stirring some of people's deepest fears and anxieties. The same idea was used in 'instant' propaganda exercises to prepare for mass murder. According to one account, peasants recruited by the Germans in occupied countries in order to help in mass murders were given an intensive training course which lasted only a few hours, and which consisted in the study of pictures representing Jews as small repulsive beasts (Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman, Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1949, p. 54)
It also has a history of use in America, particularly in immigration and race debates. Recall, for instance, that James Phelan, a U.S. Senator from California, made nearly identical attacks upon Japanese immigrants. Phelan was urging the passage of immigration restrictions and "alien land laws" that stripped immigrants of the right to own land, and whipping up fears that the West Coast would (thanks to those evil "picture brides" and their progeny) soon be overrun by "yellow people," when he explained it thus:
- The rats are in the granary. They have gotten in under the door and they are breeding with alarming rapidity. We must get rid of them or lose the granary.
It's also been used in recent years to demonize gays and lesbians.
Fortunately, the blogger in question seems to be extremely obscure, with limited influence. But it's interesting to see the "vermin" motif popping up increasingly in discussions of illegal immigration, particularly paired with discussions of rounding up and deporting all illegal aliens.
After all, it's not just obscure bloggers doing this. It includes guys like Michael Savage, who claims millions of listeners.
Likewise, you're hearing a lot of talk about rounding up and deporting all illegal aliens. But you don't hear any of them telling us how they intend to achieve this --despite the fact that we're talking about 11 million people and, without question, one of the pillars of an economy increasingly built on cheap labor.
You can hear this not just from organizations like VDare -- rated a "hate group" by the SPLC but endorsed by Michelle Malkin and many others -- but also from people with real influence and power, like Newt Gingrich and James Sensenbrenner.
Kinda puts that news a few weeks ago about Halliburton building mass detention centers to cope with an "immigration emergency" in perspective, doesn't it?
[ Original ]
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Yahweh's Chosen Ones
"If we have to, we will occupy Gaza"
By Alex Fishman
Yediot Ahronot Sabbath Supplement
14 April 2006
In the past few weeks we have been talking to Gaza with fire. There has been no dialogue since the Hamas government was sworn in. A complete cutoff, not only from the political leadership, but also from those in uniform. The two sides signal to each other with cannons and qassams. It looks like the third round of the conflict has already started. The artillery shells and air force rockets are not only pressing the Hamas regime to make decisions, but they are also starting to undermine the foundations on which it stands.
"This is not the third round," says deputy Chief of Staff Major-General Moshe Kaplinsky. "Our fire is not intended to shake the Hamas regime, but if that government does not take decisions, it is likely to be undermined. We have not hit facilities of the Palestinian Authority nor of Hamas. They are not the ones who are firing the qassams. We are using a lot of fire - and precise fire - against those who are executing the launchings."
Meanwhile the shelling around populated areas in the Gaza Strip is getting more tight. At first the shells landed a few hundred metres from the buildings, this week they are only a few dozen metres away. The open-fire orders are changing, the "safety range" is getting smaller.
"We are not yet at the climax. There remain steps to climb. We are firing into the cities, but we are not firing - nor will we fire - towards concentrations of population. True, it requires us to take risks, and accidents can happen, and to my regret civilians too have been harmed. But on the other hand we have to consider the price of the qassams. When the qassam firing reached such an extent - they fired a "grad" missile, they put new areas within the range of fire - we raised the response level.
"We must apply more pressure, and there are signs that the pressure is having an effect. Hamas is seriously flustered, and it is in a dilemma: it wants quiet, but without it looking like it is putting the brakes on the armed resistance."
How close are we to an incursion on the ground?
"I hope it will not come to that, but even if we activate ground forces, it will not happen tomorrow morning. We still have the ability to apply force from outside, and we will make the most of it: more shelling, more forces, more security systems have been dispatched to the sector.
"We will not reject any action that the Southern Command and the officers in the field request, and the moment we decide that the time has come to go into action on the ground - we will do it. I just want to mention, that even a ground incursion is not a definitive solution to the problem. After all, we were in Gaza, and even then they fired qassams. Even during the course of our operations."
We have reached the rate of a thousand qassams a year. To judge by results, the army is not providing security
"In a war like this decisive results do not come quickly. It took us a long time to learn how to deal with the suicide bombers, and we still do not have the complete answer. We are not dealing only with the individual rocket. In the totality of the war on the qassams we are dealing with production, expertise, transportation, launching and escape.
"Quality intelligence is needed, with a capacity for rapid activation of fire circuits, and we're working on it. Now they have the capacity to produce dozens of qassams a month. It's a long war."
It will not be an intifada
It costs a lot of money to deal with qassams. Tens of millions of shekels have been invested in a technological project that has been assigned high priority and that is supposed to enhance the capacity to destroy targets in the chain of production and launching of the qassams. The project combines the military industries and the operational personnel in the air, on the ground and in intelligence. The goal is, among other things, to improve the quality of the sensors that gather intelligence in real time. They, in combination with observation posts and other intelligence actors, are intended to create a faster capability to close fire circuits. This project reports to the desk of the Deputy Chief of Staff.
In the General Staff of Dan Halutz, the Deputy Chief of Staff is in practice the CEO of the vast concern called the IDF. All projects, big and small, are decided on by him. Not only is he the one who holds the purse-strings, who must decide what is more important and what is less so, but he is also charged with building the forces for many years. In his estimation the project against qassams will start to bear fruit within three or four months.
And what do you say in the meantime to the residents of Sderot and Zikim?
"Patience. We will do everything necessary to deal with this threat. If we have to escalate the response, we will escalate. If we have to send land forces into Gaza, we will send them."
The army is preparing for a third round against the PA. What will characterize that round? Will it be like the last intifada?
"I'm not sure that there will be another round. But if there is, it will not resemble the previous ones. The threats are different, the enemy is different. In Operation 'Defensive Wall' we dealt with terror cells. Today it may be that the hostilities will be against the Palestinian Authority and its government.
"I'm not talking about a military process aimed at changing the regime in the PA, but a situation of deteriorating security, with the Hamas government being involved in terrorism - as we expect that it will. Then, we will have to deal with those apparatuses of the regime as with a terrorist actor, with all that implies.
"Today, as we prepare for the possibility of deterioration, we have to plan the procedures in a much broader way. We have to consider unknowns such as the position of the PA apparatuses in the scenario - are they involved or not. We are also likely to get to a situation of an intolerable level of terror, to which we will have to respond strongly. So we have to be prepared for another violent, intensive round."
Have you changed the training schedule to prepare for possible conflict?
"Regarding the preparations for operational plans, we are defining the forces to be activated in every area. For some of the forces we are changing the training, and we are changing the sector of operations so that they will have a better knowledge of the terrain they will have to operate in. We are also accelerating some of the projects linked to the fight against terror."
When will the army be ready for the next round?
"There are several stages. The first is the immediate introduction of special forces into Gaza. We are ready for that now. The second is the entry of a larger force into the launching area, and we're also ready for that. Regarding a more extensive occupation of the Strip, I don't want to indicate a target date. It's a matter of months.
"We have to be ready, but of course the green light will come from the political leadership."
Tanks will be parked, aircraft will be grounded
This coming June a decision is to be made that will influence the structure of the IDF for the next five or even ten years. That month the IDF's multi-year work plan, "Rainbow" [keshet] will be submitted to the Chief of Staff for ratification. The plan, on which Gen. Kaplinsky had concentrated, outlines an army that is different not only organizationally, but also smaller, more technological, with an emphasis on precision combat and preference for smart fire. They are going for more unmanned systems - and not only in the air. Much more automation and robotics, with an emphasis on flexible special forces. And also a different kind of intelligence that is appropriate for dealing with the international terrorism that is knocking on our door and threats in the "Third Circle". Iran, for example.
In the security establishment there is a wall-to-wall consensus for a deep cut, of between two to four billion shekels, in the security budget. Regarding the structure of the military force, a cut of such magnitude is an earthquake. In fact, you can take your plan and throw it in the garbage.
"If those are the numbers, and like you, I read about them in the newspaper - it's definitely an earthquake. I really hope that the next cuts, if they come, will come as a result of analysis and with an understanding of the security implications. An immediate and deep cut will necessitate a new strategic assessment regarding the threats that we are supposed to respond to. They will have to tell us what threats we should "set aside" and we will explain the damage implications.
"The budgetary basis for the multi-year plan - that was ratified by the government - even now commits us to a significant reduction of the army. We are still asking ourselves difficult questions: how many tanks do we need and how many can we keep? How many aircraft can the budget maintain, will we have to lower the level of airworthiness of the aircraft in some branches of the air force. We will also have to reduce the number of units in the regular force and in the reserves.
"In the past four years we have reduced the permanent force by 6,000 people, and we will have to remove still more, so that the army can respond not only to the threats of tomorrow morning, but so that we will have the appropriate means of warfare in another 10 or 15 years.
"A significant cut without a multi-year plan would be a great blow to the IDF's ability to provide security. I remind you that we too, as officers in the General Staff, have responsibility for security."
Are you talking about shutting down air squadrons?
"Yes. We are also talking about adjusting our long-range branch to the limitations of the budget."
You have cut the reserves by 25%. Where is the red line? How low can you go?
"The corps of trained reservists is a necessity in the face of the threats. To my regret, their ranks have been seriously harmed in recent years by unplanned and unsystematic cuts to the military budget. For the next plan we are setting up a rigid budget that is not changeable, in order to preserve the reserves that we have.
"Also under the present plan we are supposed to part with another 20% of the reservists, and not to integrate [into the reserves] 10% - 20% of those released from regular service. I hope that the reduction in numbers will allow us to retain the level of preparedness of the people we need."
In June the decision is also supposed to be made on the dissolution of one district command, supposedly the Central Command. They are also talking about closing strategic production lines, such as the Merkava [main battle tank]. "There has not yet been a decision on shutting down production of the Merkava," says the Deputy Chief of Staff. "In any event, it is not a decision that can be implemented tomorrow morning. It is a long-range process, with long-term implications - but probably there will be no choice."
Of the 34 billion shekels of the security ["Defence"] budget, the IDF budget is only between 18 and 21 billion. Five billion, for example, goes to the Rehabilitation Department. 40% of the IDF budget itself is dedicated to the long-range strategic branch: the navy, the air force and intelligence. Some of the money is set aside for emergencies. Nothing can be done with it in ordinary times, but it is our insurance policy in the face of threats like Iran.
Everybody is talking about an attack on Iran. Are we too prepared in the protection of the home front?
"There is a program of several years to deal with the Iranian threat. The strengthening that you are talking about - building shelters, reinforcing roofs - is not the main subject of the plan. We are talking about active protection: the "Wall" system (Arrow missiles), an intelligence system that will give an accurate warning, and an attack system.
"But as far as we're concerned, Iran is not just weapons of mass destruction. Iran is already here. It is Hizbullah, and it is already here with us, next to the fence. It [Iran] was involved, through Hizbullah, in the suicide attack at Kedumim. It is involved in the guidance of Hamas. It is pressing the Islamic Jihad to carry out attacks.
"Iran's strategic goal is to acquire nuclear weapons, and under that umbrella to act in order to create regional instability. Ahmadinejad's vision is to erase Israel, and he means what he says."
Translated from Hebrew by Mark Marshall
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AJC Praises EU Policy on Hamas-led Government
April 11, 2006 – New York – The American Jewish Committee
April 11, 2006 - New York - The American Jewish Committee has praised the decision of the Council of the European Union to suspend assistance to the Hamas-led Palestinian government. At the same time, in a letter to Javier Solana, secretary general of the council, AJC welcomed the European body's decision to continue providing humanitarian assistance.
AJC has long supported a negotiated two-state solution. "We continue to hope that responsible Palestinian leadership will ultimately emerge, and that a peaceful coexistence will one day take root between Israel and the Palestinians," wrote AJC President E. Robert Goodkind and Executive Director David A. Harris.
The full text of the AJC letter to Javier Solana follows:
His Excellency Javier Solana
Secretary General/High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy
Council of the European Union
We are writing to express the American Jewish Committee's appreciation for the decision adopted yesterday by the Council of the European Union to suspend assistance to the Hamas-led Palestinian government. We thank you for your personal role in this important decision. We also welcome the Council's decision to continue the provision of humanitarian assistance to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian people through non-governmental channels.
Ursula Plassnik, President of the Council, said in a statement after the adoption of the decision that the European Union's "aim is to see all parties contribute to a positive development in the Middle East by peaceful means." We fully share this sentiment. As you know, we have long supported a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with two states living side by side in peace and security. Regrettably, the recent victory by Hamas in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections presents a major setback to the prospects of peace. We continue to hope, nevertheless, that responsible Palestinian leadership will ultimately emerge, and that a peaceful coexistence will one day take root between Israel and the Palestinians.
We firmly believe that the international community must remain consistent and united in its stance toward Hamas - dealing with it only if it agrees to recognize Israel's right to exist, to abandon terrorism, and to respect existing agreements and obligations. Any deviation from these principles, which have been set by the Quartet, would only strengthen the radicals who are opposed to peace, and further marginalize moderates. The European Union can - as it has since the Palestinian elections - play a crucial role in preventing any erosion in the international community's united stance on this issue.
We have always valued our relations with the European Union and with you personally. We fondly remember our meetings with you in the past, and look forward to our continued cooperation in advancing trans-Atlantic understanding and the cause of peace in the Middle East and around the world.
E. Robert Goodkind, President
David A. Harris, Executive Director
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At least 6 killed in Tel Aviv suicide blast
Monday, April 17, 2006
JERUSALEM (CNN) - A suicide bomber set off a blast Monday in a restaurant at the old central bus station in Tel Aviv, Israel, killing at least six people, police and ambulance services said.
Ambulance services said nine people were critically wounded and 12 others were in moderate condition.
The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.
In Ramallah, West Bank, Palestinian legislator Saeb Erakat said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the attack. Erakat said the attack is against the best interests of the Palestinian people.
Comment: As always, there exists the distinct possibility that today's attack was yet one more fake "suicide bombing" by agents of the state of Israel.
The attack occured just just two hours before a special session of Knesset to inaugurate the new parliament elected last month, and served very well to set the agenda and get the new government off on the "right" foot.
Interim Prime Minister Olmert said: "we will know what to do, we will know how to respond". Of course, the Israeli government and military know very well how to respond, they seem incapable however of understanding how to not provoke Palestinian militants into attacking Israelis. Just to provide a little perspective: in the 2 weeks leading up to today's murder of 7 Israelis, over 20 Palestinians have been murdered by the IDF and 2,000 deadly IDF shells have been fired into the Gaza strip killing many. In essence, Israel has bombed the Gaza strip 2,000 times in the last two and a half weeks. Sadly, little of this was reported by the mainstream press.
Immediately after the attack, the IDF entered the West Bank city of Nablus in large numbers. We can only wait to hear what carnage will be wrought as a result.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas denounced the attack, saying "it harmed Palestinian interests", which of course is absolutely true, but which begs the question: who are these so-called Palestinians militants who seem to be so determined to provide justifcation to the Israeli army to do what it does best - kill innocent Palestinians.
Correctly answer that question, and you solve many other riddles about why the Middle East in general seems to be headed towards some form of "Armageddon".
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The Israel Lobby Redux
Saturday 8th April 2006, by Ira Glunts
Two Israeli prominent journalists wrote that Colin Powell understood and feared the power of the lobby.
In an op-ed column critical of his Harvard colleagues, ludicrously titled "There Is No Israel 'Lobby'" the well-known political consultant David Gergen proclaimed, "Over the course of four tours in the White House, I never once saw a decision in the Oval Office to tilt U.S. foreign policy in favor of Israel at the expense of America's interest."  America's massive financial support of Israel's territorial expansion in the West Bank is very much contrary to its own interests, his two colleagues would respond. Gergen's blanket denial is one of the most preposterous statements in the ongoing media reporting that impugn the motivations of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, two academics who recently published the "Israel Lobby." Their essay described what the writers understand to be the many deleterious effects of pro-Israel activists upon the formulation of American foreign policy.  In his critique of the essay, Gergen displays a level of chutzpah which would astound even the most blindly loyal devotee of the Israeli cause, when he excoriates Walt and Mearsheimer for "impugn[ing] the unstinting service to America's national security by public figures like Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk ...."
The truth is that Ross and Indyk are two government officials that best illustrate the presence of pro-Israel advocates in the US government. Ross, who was the lead negotiator at the Camp David Peace talks, was publicly criticized for his lack of objectivity by his own deputy Aaron Miller. Miller in a Washington Post op-ed called "Israel's Lawyer" wrote that during the negotiations Ross and his team, instead of facilitating compromise, which would have been in America's best interest, chose to act as an advocate for the Israelis.  Dennis Ross is currently the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a pro-Israel think-tank which is funded by the American Israel Policy Action Committee (AIPAC). Martin Indyk, who founded WINEP and served as its first executive director, was later both US Ambassador to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. He is a long time uncritical supporter of Israeli government policy.
In their recent best-selling book, Boomerang: The Failure of Leadership In the Second Intifada, presently only available in Hebrew, Raviv Drucker and Ofer Shelah, two respected Israeli journalists, described a meeting between the then Secretary of State Colin Powell, who the lobby considered to be the "weak link" in the chain of more Israel-friendly Bush Administration officials, and Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith, who is a prominent member of what in Israel is called the Jewish lobby. The following selection indicates in a dramatic way that Gergen's view of the influence of the Israel lobby may not be shared by all ex-government officials.
In his [Powell's] own State Department there was a keen awareness of the strength of the Jewish lobbyists. Secretaries of State did not usually meet with lobbyists, but both Jewish officials and Jews that did not officially represent specific groups from Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League to Ronald Lauder, could meet with Powell on short notice.... At the State Department, Foxman had an aura of omnipotence. He was held responsible for the appointment of Indyk as Undersecretary of State under Clinton, and was thought to have played a role in the appointments of Secretaries of State Christopher and Albright. Powell related to Foxman almost as if he were someone to whom he must capitulate. Once Foxman told one of his deputies that Powell was the weak link. When the Secretary of State heard this he began to worry. He knew that in Washington a confrontation with the Jewish lobby would make his life difficult. Once he arranged a meeting with Foxman, but the busy Foxman postponed the meeting three times. When they eventually met, the head of the Anti-Defamation League apologized to the Secretary of State [for the postponements]. "You call, we come," replied Powell, paraphrasing a well known advertisement for a freight company. That statement had much more meaning than just a humorous polite reply. 
Unfortunately, the American press has thus far been largely complicit in the unwarranted attacks on two professors who have written a generally well-argued essay on the disadvantages of the current American/Israeli relationship. Most press accounts of the article feature the negative criticism, but tend to ignore or downplay positive comment. In the present political climate it is not a surprise that there is not a groundswell of support for the two embattled scholars. Abe Foxman called the essay "a classic conspiratorial anti-Semitic analysis invoking the canards of Jewish power and Jewish control."  I, as a Jew, agree with the Jewish editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers, who published the article. She feels, as paraphrased in The Observer, "that the most angry denunciations of anti-Semitism - while designed to serve the purpose of censorship by those attempting to forestall criticism of Israel - may actually encourage anti-Semitism in the long run." 
The American media does no favor to the many American Jews and Israelis who are critical of Israel's self-defeating expansionism and its suppression of the Palestinian right of self-determination. The Israel lobby in the United States does not represent the opinions of many American Jews. The pressure it exerts on government officials to blindly and unconditionally support present Israeli policies, in the end will help neither the United States nor Israel itself.
Ira Glunts first visited the Middle East in 1972, where he taught English and physical education in a small rural community in Israel. He was a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces in 1992. Mr. Glunts lives in Madison, New York where he operates a used and rare book business.
 New York Daily News
 Washington Post
 Drucker, Raviv and Shelah, Ofer, Boomerang..., Keter, 2005, pps. 132-133. Translation and text emphasized or enclosed in brackets, mine.
 Chicago Tribune
 The Observer
Comment: Amazing what gets published in Israel and in Hebrew that doesn't make the pages of the US press. It is obvious there is a Jewish lobby. It is obvious that it has tremendous influence in Washington.
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A tale of two Congress members and the Capitol Police
by Jeff Blankfort
Suppose Tom Lantos had been Black - like Cynthia McKinney
It's another tale of two members of Congress, of racism and hypocrisy, and it serves as a reminder, as if one was needed, that Washington, D.C., is in the heart of the old Confederacy.
Rep. Tom Lantos and Rep. Cynthia McKinney are members of the Democratic Party, but there the similarities end.
Lantos represents South San Francisco and San Mateo County. He is white, Jewish, Hungarian born and portrays himself as "the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress." He is an unabashed supporter of Israel. That makes him, of course, an "untouchable."
He is also the ranking Democrat on the powerful House International Relations Committee, which provides him with unusual opportunities to help Israel. He sponsors repressive legislation targeting the Palestinians and Israel's Middle East adversaries and, when called upon by Israel, he represents it in countries where Israel has no diplomatic relations, a questionable activity by a member of the U.S. Congress.
"He's true blue and white" - the colors of the Israeli flag - a former leader of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, Israel's official lobby, told the Jerusalem Post, referring to Lantos' devotion to Israel. Lantos made his first trip to the Jewish state in 1956 and has been there nearly 60 times since.
Rep. Tom Lantos speaks to media in Moscow, May 31, 2005. Lantos voiced strong support for a landmark nuclear energy deal with India and predicted the U.S. Congress would eventually approve the controversial accord.
Photo: Konstantin Koutsyllo, Reuters
And all along you thought his first concern was the voters in his district.
In 1991, in an effort to convince Congress and the world that Iraq needed to be forcibly removed from Kuwait, Lantos helped stage a hearing before his private Congressional Human Rights Caucus at which the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador, pretending she was a nurse who had been working in a Kuwaiti hospital at the time of Iraq's invasion, testified that she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers throwing babies out of scores of incubators on to the hospital floor in order to take the incubators back to Iraq.
The story was a total fabrication, but the outrage it engendered was enough to get reluctant members of Congress to change their minds and vote for the war. Despite articles about the fraud in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Harper's, Lantos was never criticized on the House floor, let alone censured.
But this story is not about Israel or Iraq. It's about the different treatment afforded Lantos as compared to that meted out by the Capitol Police to our second member of Congress, Cynthia McKinney, who represents the De Kalb district in Atlanta, Georgia.
McKinney, of course, is African-American, and one of the few members of the Congressional Black Caucus who has not been cowed into submission by the Democratic Party and the only one who has refused to genuflect to the Israel lobby. But, again, this story isn't about Israel, although its specter and that of its lobby seem ever present.
To make matters worse - for McKinney, not for the pursuit of truth and justice - she has refused to accept the official Bush administration explanation of the events of 9-11, and she has participated in events alongside of other critics of that narrative who have been marginalized not only by both political parties and the mainstream media but by the "gatekeepers" of the left led by Noam Chomsky.
She has also been outspoken - while the Democratic Party has been largely silent - about the disenfranchisement of Black voters in Florida in the last two presidential elections, which is the subject of a new film about her on that subject, "American Blackout," that opened in February at the Sundance Film Festival. In other words, she is considered a "trouble-maker" in a colony of "go-along-to-get-alongs."
The Democrat Party leadership was overjoyed when McKinney was defeated for re-election in 2002. After she had served five terms, AIPAC decided to make an example of her for having criticized Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. That led to a stream of money flowing to her opponent, Denise Majette, from wealthy out of town Jewish donors.
That, a steady drumbeat of attacks by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, plus an estimated 40,000 votes from Republicans who crossed over to vote in the Democratic primary were enough to turn the tide against her. The Democrats were, in turn, mortified two years later when, without their help, the plucky McKinney ran and was re-elected to her seat.
To show the party's displeasure, McKinney was denied the return of her seniority by a tight-lipped Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco congresswoman who serves as the Democrats' minority House whip.
And McKinney, it turns out, is "touchable" - as those who have been following her ordeal with the Capitol Police are well aware. Touchable by a white Southern cop in a Capitol Police uniform in a white dominated predominantly Black city in which the Black majority are second class citizens and reminded of it every day.
So when McKinney entered the halls of Congress over a week ago, one of a handful of Black congresswomen - who should have been recognized - and walked around the security barrier on her way to vote as members of Congress are allowed to do, a Capitol cop on duty reached out to stop her.
McKinney allegedly turned around and struck him in the chest with the cell phone she was carrying in her hand, and now, incredibly, the Capitol Police have taken this minor incident to a federal grand jury.
Now what about the "untouchable" Tom Lantos; how did he get into this story?
Six years ago this May, Lantos was driving his car in Washington, D.C., and ran over the left foot of 13-year-old Owen Sanderson. Sanderson and his eighth grade classmates from a school in Bolton, Mass., were crossing the plaza in front of the Capitol when the congressman drove over the boy's foot, sending him to the pavement screaming in pain, the boy and his teachers told the press. Lantos then left the scene without getting out of his car to see whether the boy had been hurt.
As the Boston Globe described it, "While several horrified teachers and the principal shouted at Lantos to stop, the California Democrat sat rigidly, staring straight ahead and refusing to get out of his white Ford Taurus, which carried U.S. Congress plates."
"The first thing I heard was Owen screaming," said Ken Tucker, principal of the Worcester-area school. "Owen's foot was pinned under the car."
Lantos, 72 at the time, finally reversed slightly, freeing Owen's foot and ankle, and drove off without checking on his condition, said Tucker and several teachers. Lantos said he had no idea the boy had been hurt. "I was driving to my office," he said. "There was a typical spring mob of tourists and kids and so on. ... One of the kids, horsing around, not looking or something, jumped in front of the car, stumbled, then got up and walked away."
Owen's teachers and principal were dismayed at what they saw as insensitivity and arrogance by a government official, the Boston Globe reported. "If he had stopped and spoken to us, we would have had a much different response to this," said Malin, the art teacher. "It's called human decency."
Youngsters "learn too often in life that if you have money and power, you're above the law," said Perkins, the school nurse. "That's not the way it's supposed to be."
The teachers, Tucker and the tour guide disputed Lantos' assertion that he did not know Owen was hurt. Lantos "was asked several times to get out of the car by myself and the teachers," Tucker said. "He was told, 'You hit a kid and you need to stop.'"
"He was trying to drive through a crowd of kids, was what he was doing. Why or how, I don't know," Tucker said. "He didn't roll down his window. He made no offer to get out of the car."
Laura Friend, an English teacher who was among those chaperoning the 68 students, said she raced toward the Taurus and screamed at Lantos through a half-open window. "I was saying, 'Stop, stop, stop! Back up, back up, back up!' He didn't look at me. He didn't even take his hands off the wheel or anything," Friend said.
When it appeared Lantos might not stop, Tucker said, he stepped in front of the car. A Capitol Police officer twice told the principal to move out of the way or he would be arrested, Tucker and several teachers recounted. "The officer said, 'Look at his license plates. He's a congressman. If we need to get in touch with him, we can find him if need be,'" Friend recalled.
The boy he hit said he did not harbor bad feelings toward Lantos or his wife, Annette, who was a passenger in the car. But "it's disappointing that they didn't get out and say, 'Are you OK?' I just feel bad he didn't call to apologize."
Lantos paid a $25 fine after being issued a ticket for "failure to pay full time and attention," said Lt. Dan Nichols, spokesman for the Capitol Police, adding that the investigation was closed.
Which brings us back to the Capitol Police and Cynthia McKinney and her accusations of racism on its part. One wonders what would have been the fate of McKinney or any member of the Congressional Black Caucus had they run over the foot of a white child, congressional plates and all.
As it was, when McKinney leveled the charge of racism against the cop over her encounter in the Capitol, not one Democrat, not one member of the Congressional Black Caucus, chose to stand with her and with Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover, who had flown out to be at her side, at a Monday morning press conference.
Her fellow Georgia congressman, John Lewis, one time civil rights hero but in the decades since a Democratic Party loyalist, had the audacity to tell her, "You need to come to a non-violence workshop." Compare that with the comment from Ohio Congresswoman Marci Kaptur who, in the same NY Times article, described her as "a modern day version of Sojourner Truth. The edge of her knowledge singes some people. Sometimes turmoil surrounds the truth."
On Wednesday, April 5, with the grand jury case hanging over her head, McKinney met with members of the CBC and, following that meeting, in an effort to defuse the situation, she offered a public apology to the officer and to the Capitol Police, saying, "I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all. I regret its escalation. And I apologize."
But was McKinney on target in charging racism against the white Capitol Police?
According to the evidence, most definitely so. When the Black officers in the U.S. Capitol Police filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the government in 2001, they expected to get justice, reported the Final Call newspaper in August 2003. What they say they've gotten is retaliation. At the time the article was published, they were threatening a second class action suit, the paper reported.
The officers took their case to Capitol Hill July 30, 2003, for a press conference alleging the Capitol Police Department's pattern of "filing excessive and unfounded disciplinary charges against prominent members of the class action, as well as a pattern of harassment, including exclusion of class members from the U.S. Capitol Complex and a series of auto tampering, break-ins and vandalism of class members' automobiles."
"We suspect that such conduct by the department smacks of retaliation against the class members and is designed to undermine the momentum of current settlement negotiations," class attorney Nathaniel D. Johnson told the Final Call. Officer Larry A. Ikard, a member of the class action, spoke on behalf of the 358 Black members of the Capitol force.
"When will someone become accountable for the blatant acts of discrimination the African American officers have had to endure throughout our tenure? How can we be responsible for egregious acts committed against us?" he asked. He told the audience about training opportunities he was denied and being subjected to a racially hostile work environment.
The Congressional Black Caucus responded to the officers' complaints with a letter June 26 to Chief Terrance W. Gainer and members of the U.S. Capitol Police Board. "We are incensed and embarrassed at having to deal with these same systemic issues of discrimination against African American officers in our own U.S. Capitol Police force, now in the 21st century," the letter stated.
"In these uncertain times of terrorism, concern over homeland security and crises abroad, these police officers are entrusted with the responsibility of guarding and protecting us as members of Congress, our staff and the Capitol buildings and grounds, as well as our constituents who visit the Capitol."
The letter, signed by the 39 members of the CBC, concluded by saying, "We strongly urge the Capitol Police Board to implement far-reaching non-monetary remedies and oversight measures to ensure that discrimination against the African American officers ceases, and we fully support the complete monetary settlement proposed in the letter to the U.S. Attorney's Office."
It was the same Chief Gainer who filed the complaint last week against McKinney. But it seemed to be a different CBC, one that not only failed McKinney, but apparently failed to defend itself against a racist remark directed at all its members by Texas' poster boy for sleaze, Rep. Tom De Lay, who recently announced he was not running for re-election.
"Cynthia McKinney is a racist," DeLay said on Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends," a day after abandoning his re-election campaign under a cloud of ethics violations and charges, the Associated Press reported. "She has a long history of racism. Everything is racism with her. This is incredible arrogance that sometimes hits these members of Congress, but especially Cynthia McKinney."
While McKinney was being slandered right and further right by other Fox commentaries and the same racist talk show hosts who raged at her re-election, she was sandbagged from the left by columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, who somehow thinks the Congressional Black Caucus is something other than what it currently is, a rather meek handmaiden to an even meeker Democratic Party.
"A big tip that the race squawk won't cut it in this case is the mute reaction of the Congressional Black Caucus and other Democrats," wrote Ofari in an article entitled "The Sad Saga of Cynthia McKinney," as if either group - and particularly the Democrats - was deserving of any credibility in this day and age.
"Not one Caucus member publicly charged to her defense," he went on, "and not one Democratic House member stood at her side at her initial press conference when she cried racism. In all likelihood, she apologized at the quiet urging of Caucus members. No, McKinney was wrong."
No, Ofari was wrong, and the refusal of the CBC to stand behind her at this time, along with their refusal to demand a return of her seniority when she was re-elected, will go down as shameful chapters in the caucus's history, while the betrayal of McKinney by the rest of her fellow Democrats and the party itself is consistent with their betrayal of the rest of America.
Jeff Blankfort is a radio program producer with KPOO in San Francisco, KZYX in Mendocino and KPFT/Pacifica in Houston. He is a journalist and Jewish-American and has been a pro-Palestinian human rights activist since 1970. He was formerly the editor of the Middle East Labor Bulletin and co-founder of the Labor Committee of the Middle East. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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Ingathering: The Israeli election and the 'demographic problem'
The London Review of Books
20 April 2006
From left to right, the manifestos of all the Zionist parties during the recent Israeli election campaign contained policies which they claimed would counter the 'demographic problem' posed by the Palestinian presence in Israel. Ariel Sharon proposed the pull-out from Gaza as the best solution to it; the leaders of the Labour Party endorsed the wall because they believed it was the best way of limiting the number of Palestinians inside Israel. Extra-parliamentary groups, too, such as the Geneva Accord movement, Peace Now, the Council for Peace and Security, Ami Ayalon's Census group and the Mizrachi Democratic Rainbow all claim to know how to tackle it.
Apart from the ten members of the Palestinian parties and two eccentric Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox Jews, all the members of the new Knesset (there are 120 in all) arrived promising that their magic formulae would solve the 'demographic problem'. The means varied from reducing Israeli control over the Occupied Territories - in fact, the plans put forward by Labour, Kadima, Shas (the Sephardic Orthodox party) and Gil (the pensioners' party) would involve Israeli withdrawal from only 50 per cent of these territories - to more drastic action. Right-wing parties such as Yisrael Beytenu, the Russian ethnic party of Avigdor Liberman, and the religious parties argued for a voluntary transfer of Palestinians to the West Bank. In short, the Zionist answer is to reduce the problem either by giving up territory or by shrinking the 'problematic' population group.
None of this is new. The population problem was identified as the major obstacle in the way of Zionist fulfilment in the late 19th century, and David Ben-Gurion said in December 1947 that 'there can be no stable and strong Jewish state so long as it has a Jewish majority of only 60 per cent.' Israel, he warned on the same occasion, would have to deal with this 'severe' problem with 'a new approach'. The following year, ethnic cleansing meant that the number of Palestinians dropped below 20 per cent of the Jewish state's overall population (in the area allocated to Israel by the UN plus the area it occupied in 1948, the Palestinians would originally have made up around 60 per cent of the population). Interestingly, but not surprisingly, in December 2003 Binyamin Netanyahu recycled Ben-Gurion's magic number - the undesirable 60 per cent. 'If the Arabs in Israel form 40 per cent of the population,' Netanyahu said, 'this is the end of the Jewish state.' 'But 20 per cent is also a problem,' he added. 'If the relationship with these 20 per cent is problematic, the state is entitled to employ extreme measures.' He did not elaborate.
Israel boosted its population with two massive Jewish immigrations, each of about a million people, in 1949 and in the 1980s. This kept the Palestinian proportion of the population down and today Palestinians account for nearly 20 per cent of the population of Israel (not counting the Occupied Territories). Ehud Olmert, the leader of Kadima and acting prime minister, thinks that if Israel stays in the Occupied Territories and its inhabitants are included in the Israeli population, Palestinians will outnumber Jews within 15 years. So he advocates hitkansut - meaning 'convergence' or, better, 'ingathering' - a policy that would leave several populous Palestinian areas outside direct Israeli control. But even if this consolidation takes place, there will still be a very large Palestinian population inside the 88 per cent of Palestine in which Olmert hopes to build the future, stable Jewish state. How large exactly we don't know: demographers in Israel belonging to the centre or the left provide a low estimate, which makes disengagement seem a reasonable solution, while those on the right tend to exaggerate the figure. But they all seem to agree that the demographic balance will not stay the same, given the higher birth-rate of Palestinians compared to Jews. Thus Olmert may well come to the conclusion that pull-outs are not the solution.
Once the 'Arabs' in Israel and the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories came to be thought of in the West as 'Muslims' it was easy to elicit support for Israel's demographic policies, at least where it counted: on Capitol Hill. But even in Europe there was no need, after 9/11, to explain why Israel has a 'demographic problem'. On 2 February 2003 the popular daily Maariv carried a typical headline: 'A quarter of the children in Israel are Muslims.' The piece went on to describe this fact as Israel's next 'ticking bomb'. The increase in the 'Muslim' population - 2.4 per cent a year - was not a problem anymore, but a 'danger'.
In the run-up to the election, pundits discussed this question using language akin to that employed in Europe and the United States in debates over immigration. Here, however, it is the immigrant community that decides the future of the indigenous population, not vice versa. On 7 February 1948, after driving to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and seeing the first villages that had been emptied of Palestinians on the western outskirts of Jerusalem, a jubilant Ben-Gurion reported to a gathering of Zionist leaders: 'When I come nowadays to Jerusalem I feel it is a Hebrew city. This was a feeling I only had in farms and in Tel Aviv. Not all Jerusalem is Hebraic but there is already a huge Hebraic bloc - no Arabs in it. One hundred per cent Jewish. If we can persevere,' Ben-Gurion added, this miracle will happen elsewhere.
But despite their perseverance, a sizable community of Palestinians remained. They are students at my university, where they attend lectures by professors who talk about the grave demographic problem. Palestinian law students - the lucky ones who constitute an informal quota - in the Hebrew University may well come across Ruth Gabison, a former head of the Association for Civil Rights and a candidate for the Supreme Court, who has come out recently with strong views on the subject, views that probably seem to her to reflect a consensus. 'Israel has the right to control Palestinian natural growth,' she has declared.
Away from the campuses, these students can't escape the knowledge that they are seen as a problem. Whether from the Zionist left or the hard right, they hear daily that Jewish society is longing to get rid of them. And they will worry, and rightly so, whenever they hear they have become a 'danger'. While still only a problem they are protected by a certain pretence to democracy and liberalism. Once they constitute a danger, however, they could be faced with emergency policies based on the British Mandate's emergency regulations. Houses could be demolished, newspapers shut down and people expelled under such a regime.
The 2006 elections have brought to the Knesset a solid coalition determined to deal with the demographic problem: first and foremost, by disengaging from more of the West Bank; and second, by completing the network of walls around the rest of the Palestinian areas. The border between Israel and the West Bank is 370 kilometres long, but the serpentine wall will be double that length, and will strangle large Palestinian communities. In the Palestinian areas within Israel, segregation is ensured by construction programmes approved when Sharon was minister of national infrastructures: Jewish settlements overlook and encircle large Palestinian areas such as Wadi Ara and Lower Galilee.
On 31 July 2003, the Knesset passed a law prohibiting Palestinians from obtaining citizenship, permanent residency or even temporary residency when they marry Israeli citizens. The initiator of the legislation was a liberal Zionist, Avraham Poraz of the centrist party Shinui. He described it as a 'defence measure'. Only 25 members of the Knesset opposed it and Poraz declared that those already married and with families 'will have to go to the West Bank', regardless of how long they had been living in Israel.
The Arab members of the Knesset were among those who appealed to the Supreme Court against this racist law. When the Supreme Court turned down the appeal, their energy petered out. The Arab members come from three parties: the Communist Party (Hadash), the National Party of Azmi Bishara (Balad) and the United Arab List drawn up by the more pragmatic branch of the Islamic movement. The Supreme Court ruling made clear their irrelevance, in the eyes of both the parliamentary and judicial systems. We're always told that Palestinians should be pleased to live in the only democracy in the region, to have the right to vote, but that vote brings no power.
In the dead of night on 24 January this year, an elite unit of the border police seized the Israeli Palestinian village of Jaljulya. The troops burst into houses, dragging out 36 women and eventually deporting eight of them. The women were ordered to go to their old homes in the West Bank. Some had been married for years to Palestinians in Jaljulya, some were pregnant, many had children, but the soldiers were demonstrating to the Israeli public that when a demographic problem becomes a danger, the state will act swiftly and without hesitation. One Palestinian member of the Knesset protested, but the action was backed by the government, the courts and the media.
The ten members of the new Knesset from Palestinian parties will not be included in any coalition and will probably be sidelined and forgotten, as they were in the previous parliament (there are two other Arab members and two Druze members from Labour and Kadima). Haaretz sent a journalist to live for a few days in the 'Arab areas' in order to write - as an anthropological tourist - on the Palestinians' reaction to the elections. Apart from this piece of reportage, the Israeli media had nothing to say about how the Palestinians voted. After all, they are the problem, not the solution. And if disengagement doesn't 'stop' the growth in their numbers the Jaljulya operation could show the future.
No wonder many Palestinians now want the international community to intervene. But Israel ignored the ruling of the international court on the wall, and is unlikely to be moved by what it will see as interference in its internal affairs. There is another call coming, still hesitant, although it will grow in volume: a call for the creation of an autonomous parliament for the Palestinians in Israel. In a world that has marginalised this community twice over - both in the overall Palestinian polity and within Jewish society - the 1,300,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel have very little to lose by shunning the Knesset and opting for autonomy. Who knows, they may even convince the Jewish majority that they are 'only' a problem, not a danger.
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Who is a terrorist?
By Gideon Levy
The scenes from Gaza are heartbreaking. Heartbreaking? That's not for certain. The sight of the Aben family from Beit Lahiya mourning its 12-year-old daughter Hadil last week did not stir any particular shock in Israel. Nor did anyone take to the streets and protest over the sight of her wounded mother and little brother lying in shock on the floor of their shanty in Gaza.
On the day Hadil Aben was killed, Yedioth Aharonoth carried a story about Nelly, the dog from Kibbutz Zikim that died of heart failure from the booming noise of the Israeli artillery firing into Gaza.
Instead of expressions of sorrow at the death of children, the upper echelons of the defense establishment came out with a stream of strident statements. The defense minister said that the only thing to do was step up the pressure on the Palestinians. The deputy chief of staff spoke about a possible invasion of Gaza and the head of army operations added, "what we've seen so far are only the previews." The IDF announced it would further reduce the "safety range" that is designed to avoid shells hitting the civilian population.
It was a chilling, united chorus. Israel is dropping thousands of bombs on towns and villages, on the "the launching pads" of the Qassams - another dubious term created by the defense establishment and blindly adopted by the press - and only the Palestinians, whose Qassam rockets haven't killed anyone since the disengagement, are called "terrorists."
Nor was there any substantive debate after a possible slip of the tongue by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in an interview to the BBC, in which she said that there was a difference between attacking civilians and attacking soldiers. Even though she did not resolutely stand by her own words in an interview with Channel 10, Livni dared to speak the truth: If harming civilians is a measure of terror, then Israel is a terror state. With 18 killed in Gaza alone in 12 days, three of them children, the absence of intent cannot suffice for us. Someone who uses artillery to shell population centers and says with horrific indifference that this is "just a preview," as if it were another reality show on TV, cannot claim that he does not intend to kill children.
Those responsible for such bombings around the world are rightfully considered war criminals. That's terror - just ask Livni. And when it is done in the name of a state, it is much worse than in those cases when the perpetrators are from rogue organizations.
Israel declares it is striving to apply pressure with its cannon on the Palestinian population, so that it will prevent the Qassam fire. That is a hollow argument. No Palestinian leader can promote a cease-fire while dozens of civilians are being hurt. No Palestinian, no matter how peaceable, can prevent with his body the launches from inside Palestinian Authority territory. Could Hadil Aben's parents have done something? What exactly was the crime of these poor people? And how, exactly, will killing their daughter lead to a halt in the Qassams?
The continuing imprisonment of besieged Gaza is precisely the opposite policy that should be applied to serve Israeli interests. The current policy only strengthens support for the Hamas, just like the terror attacks within Israel always strengthen the Israeli right. A nation under siege, its leadership boycotted, will have far more determination and resolve to fight to its last drop of blood. It is impossible to break the spirit of a desperate people. Only a nation that sees a light at the end of its desperation will change its ways.
What would happen if Israel were to turn to the world and call upon it to enlist in the cause of support for the residents of Gaza, to donate and invest money to help them out of their utter poverty? If an Israeli prime minister did such a thing and at the same time called for a meeting with his elected Palestinian counterpart, it would create far more effective and positive pressure than any cannon fire.
If the Palestinians only saw for the first time in their lives that Israel also had their well-being in mind, which is not necessarily bad for Israel, they would have a lot more to lose and they would expel the Qassam launchers themselves. Only the Palestinians can do that, and sowing the seeds of hope is the only way to do so. And if, in the current situation, the artillery fire were to end, and they were to stop the Qassams, would Israel ease the siege, enable freedom of movement from Gaza to the West Bank, allow Palestinians to work in Israel, agree to the construction of a seaport and airport in besieged Gaza? Israel's declarations prove that the answer to all these questions is an unequivocal no. Its current policy and the policies we have seen it adopt lead only to intensification of the violence on the part of the Palestinians.
No Qassam justifies the killing and terror that the shells sow in Gaza. Cannons are meant for war against an army. Using them against a helpless civilian population is supposed to be beyond the realm of the legitimate, without any ifs or buts about it. A state does not shell towns. Period. Just like in the war against crime that is also deadly and endangers state security, no end justifies all the means. Would it ever occur to the Israeli police to evacuate an entire neighborhood from which some murderers came? Would anyone decide to shell such a neighborhood, even if it would mean minimizing the crime coming out of it?
Those who really want to end the Qassam launches from Gaza, should turn Israeli policy upside down. To show restraint in the face of the Qassams, to lift the siege, to immediately meet with the elected Palestinian leadership and call on the world to stop withholding the funds from the Palestinian Authority. Only a free and secure and thriving Gaza will stop launching Qassams. Have we ever tried that?
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Lebanese PM to lobby Pres. Bush on Israeli withdrawal from Shaba
BEIRUT - Lebanon's prime minister said yesterday that he would be asking U.S. President George Bush to put pressure on Israel to pull out of a border strip and thus enable his government to extend its authority over all Lebanese land. Fouad Siniora, a member of Lebanon's anti-Syrian majority coalition, will meet Bush in Washington on Tuesday.
"We would expect the United States to extend its real support to Lebanon and this would help Lebanon to re-emphasize and reconfirm its sovereignty and its independence," Siniora said in an interview at his office in central Beirut.
"This would allow the government to maintain its role in the region as a beacon of democracy."
Lebanon says the Israeli-occupied border area of Shaba Farms is Lebanese territory and Israel's 2000 pullout from south Lebanon was incomplete. Israel and the United Nations say the area is Syrian.
"I'm going to present to President Bush our case... Israel has to withdraw from the Shaba Farms and has to stop violating our airspace and water," Siniora said.
This was essential if the Lebanese government was "to become the sole monopoly of holding weapons in the country" and would help Lebanese reach a consensus on how to defend their country, he added.
"Very important as well is to seek the support of President Bush so that Lebanon will not become in any way a ball in the courtyard of others or... a courtyard for the confrontations of others in the region," Siniora said.
Lebanon's rival leaders are engaged in a "national dialogue" aimed at resolving the country's political crisis, the worst since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. One key issue is the disarming of Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria and Iran. The Shi'ite Muslim group says its weapons are still required to liberate Shaba Farms and to defend Lebanon against any Israeli threats.
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Yahweh does Teheran
To Battle Stations! To Battle Stations!
WASHINGTON, Apr 13 (IPS) - Led by a familiar clutch of neo-conservative hawks, major right-wing publications are calling on the administration of Pres. George W. Bush to urgently plan for military strikes -- and possibly a wider war -- against Iran in the wake of its announcement this week that it has successfully enriched uranium to a purity necessary to fuel nuclear reactors.
In a veritable blitz of editorials and opinion pieces published Wednesday and Thursday, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard and the National Review warned that Tehran had passed a significant benchmark in what they declared was its quest for nuclear weapons and that the administration must now plan in earnest to destroy Iran's known nuclear facilities, as well as possible military targets to prevent it from retaliating.
Comparing Iran's alleged push to gain a nuclear weapon to Adolf Hitler's 1936 march on the Rhineland, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol called for undertaking "serious preparation for possible military action -- including real and urgent operational planning for bombing strikes and for the consequences of such strikes".
"(A) great nation has to be serious about its responsibilities," according to Kristol, a leading neo-conservative champion of the Iraq war and co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, "even if executing other responsibilities has been more difficult than one would have hoped."
The National Review, another prominent right-wing weekly, echoed the call. "Any air campaign should ...be coupled with aggressive and persistent efforts to topple the regime from within," advised its lead editorial, entitled "Iran, Now", and almost certainly written by Michael Ledeen of the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
"Accordingly, it should hit not just the nuclear facilities, but also the symbols of state oppression: the intelligence ministry, the headquarters of the Revolutionary Guard, the guard towers of the notorious Evin Prison."
The hawks' latest campaign appeared timed not only to the alarm created by Iran's nuclear achievement and by a spate of reports last weekend regarding the advanced state of U.S. war plans, but also to counter new appeals by a number of prominent and more mainstream former policy-makers for Washington to engage Iran in direct negotiations.
The Financial Times Wednesday published a column by Richard Haass, president of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations and a top adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell during Bush's first term, in which he called for Washington to make "a fair and generous diplomatic offer" to Iran that would permit it to retain a small uranium enrichment programme, if for no other reason than to rally international opinion behind the U.S. in the event rejects it.
Arguing that the "likely costs of carrying out such an attack substantially outweigh probable benefits", Haass noted that "the most dangerous delusion (among those who support military action) "is that a conflict would be either small or quick."
On Thursday, he was joined by Powell's deputy secretary of State, Richard Armitage, who, in an interview with the Financial Times, also called for direct talks.
"It merits talking to the Iranians about the full range of our relationship ...everything from energy to terrorism to weapons to Iraq," said Armitage, who is considered a strong candidate to take over the Pentagon if Donald Rumsfeld resigns or is forced out.
"We can be diplomatically astute enough to do it without giving anything away," he added, noting that Washington could be patient "for a while" given the estimated five to 10 years the U.S. intelligence community believes it will take before Tehran can obtain a nuclear weapon.
Such statements are anathema to the hawks, who have long depicted any move to engage Iran as equivalent to the appeasement policies toward Hitler of France and Britain in the run-up to World War II.
"Is the America of 2006 more willing to thwart the unacceptable than the France of 1936," asked the title of Kristol's editorial, which, despite the reports of advanced Pentagon planning that included even the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons against hardened Iranian targets, asserted that the administration's policy had been "all carrots and no sticks".
His view echoed that of the neo-conservative editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal, who said the administration's "alleged war fever is hard to credit, given that for three years the Bush Administration has deferred to Europe in pursuing a diplomatic track on Iran". The Journal said the government must give priority to developing "bunker buster" nuclear bombs.
While Kristol insisted that the "credible threat of force" should initially be used in support of diplomacy with Washington's European allies, he also called for "stepping up intelligence activities, covert operations, special operations, and the like", as well as "operational planning for possible military strikes".
What he had in mind was laid out in a companion article by ret. Air Force Lt. Gen Thomas McInerney, a member of the ultra-hawkish Iran Policy Committee (IPC), entitled "Target: Iran".
If Iran resists diplomatic pressure, according to McInerney, Washington should be prepared to carry out a "powerful air campaign" led by 60 stealth aircraft, and more than 400 non-stealth strike aircraft with roughly 150 refueling tankers and other support aircraft, 100 unmanned aerial vehicles, and 500 cruise missiles to take out some 1,500 nuclear-related and military targets.
Before or during such an attack, he wrote, "a major covert operation could be launched, utilising Iranian exiles and dissident forces trained during the period of diplomacy". The IPC has long advocated support for the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK), an Iraq-based paramilitary group listed as a terrorist organisation by the State Department.
In yet another op-ed published in Thursday's Washington Post, Mark Helprin, a novelist and Israeli military veteran, called for anticipating the possibility that U.S. forces in Iraq and its broader interests in the region could be imperiled by Iranian retaliation and popular outrage in the Arab Middle East.
To prepare for such an eventuality, "we would do well to strengthen -- in numbers and mass as well as quality -- the means with which we fight, to reinforce the fleet train with which to supply fighting lines, and to plan for a land route from the Mediterranean across Israel and Jordan to the Tigris and Euphrates."
Such concerns, counseled Reuel Marc Gerecht, a Gulf specialist at AEI, are overblown. In a lengthy analysis of the possible costs of a military attack that was also published in the Standard, he argued that Washington should "not be intimidated by threats of terrorism, oil-price spikes, or hostile world opinion".
"What we are dealing with is a politer, more refined, more cautious, vastly more mendacious version of bin Ladenism," according to the article, entitled "To Bomb, or Not to Bomb: That is the Iran Question". "It is best that such men not have nukes, and that we do everything in our power, including preventive military strikes, to stop this from happening."
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So how close is a showdown over Iran?
Sunday April 16, 2006
The Observer Paul Harris in Washington, Gaby Hinsliff in London and Robert Tait in Tehran
It would seem, to Middle Eastern eyes scanning the latest headlines online yesterday, yet further evidence of secret plans for the conflict that everyone is now dreading. Britain, it was suggested, had taken part in an American war game that simulated an invasion of Iran, in an apparent mockery of both countries' insistence that they want a diplomatic - not a military - solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis.
But in the overheated atmosphere of current debate over Iran, nothing is quite what it seems. The simulated battle, fought in 2004 and codenamed Hotspur, was in fact one of a series of 'paper exercises' that have been conducted every few weeks by senior military planners on both sides of the Atlantic since the Sixties to test strategic readiness. Each time, a different country is invaded.
To save inventing new topography every time, maps of real countries around the world are used in strict rotation. In July 2004 - before the current president came to power in Tehran - it happened to be Iran. A few weeks ago, it was Scotland. If Tehran is panicking as a result of the story, so too should Edinburgh.
For all that, the story on the front page of yesterday's Guardian is an indication, if not of imminent invasion, of an intense period of smoke and mirrors both in Washington and Tehran: of posturing, lobbying and hyperbole that is as much to do with the domestic politics of the US and Iran, as with the threat posed by either country.
The war talk comes as a new report will argue this week that George Bush's war on terror is itself to blame for the nuclear stand-off over Iran.
The regime in Tehran has concluded, says the Foreign Policy Centre think-tank, that the US is too bogged down fighting the insurgency in Iraq to try to stop the Iranians getting the bomb, making their defiance of the United Nations 'one of the little-noticed consequences of America's failure in Iraq'.
Controversially, it also argues that Iran 'cannot be entirely faulted' for seeking nuclear capability when it feels threatened by US troops in neighbouring countries and saw North Korea, a nuclear power, left untouched while the relatively undefended Iraq was invaded.
Which leaves a fundamental question to be answered. Amid the fanning of the flames by both sides, how real is the prospect of war?
Reading recent headlines, it would seem very real indeed, as they have warned of potential nuclear strikes by the US against Iran's nuclear facilities, floated by the veteran US investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and described by the Foreign Office as 'completely nuts'. The reality, however, is far more complex.
In truth the anonymous and warlike noises emanating from Washington reflect a debate about possible military action against Iran that has pitted hawks in the Bush administration - including such senior neo-conservatives as Vice- President Dick Cheney and the US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton - against large segments of the military, intelligence and political establishment.
In fact the debate in America is not over whether the US can or should stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, but on how best to stop them.
At the moment the overwhelming consensus centres on a diplomatic strategy. Yet it is also certain that military options are being studied, if only theoretically.
While insisting that the military option will still be considered, the White House itself has moved sharply to distance itself from reporting on the issue.
There is no doubt, however, that signs emerging from the administration are familiar to any of those following events in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq - not least the building up of the threat posed by Iran by senior administration officials.
To some, the parallels are convincing enough. 'I would expect an attack in the next six months,' says Larry Johnson, a former deputy director in the State Department's counter-terrorism office. 'This is not just planning for possible military contingencies. There is real planning under way for carrying out a military strike against Iran.'
But many point to the huge problems of carrying out any form of attack - not least that it would fail to destroy much of an Iranian nuclear research programme buried deep underground. Then there is the risk to the US military in Iraq after any attack on Iran. Iran's close links to the majority Shias would likely see a widespread uprising against the US forces.
Finally, such a move would be unlikely to have any international support, except possibly from Israel, which is nervous of the potential consequences from Iran's Hizbollah allies on its northern border.
Such enormous difficulties - and the belief that the US joint chiefs of staff are against an attack - could mean that the public pronouncement and behind-the-scenes leaks and hints are just part of a complex game designed to convince Iran that the threat is real enough to dissuade its nuclear ambitions.
Johnson believes that the key task for US intelligence is to understand the threat of a nuclear Iran. Does Tehran want the bomb to attack US interests and Israel, or is it for self-preservation? 'They have learned the lesson of North Korea. Once you have nuclear weapons, the US sabre-rattling becomes much less. After all, with North Korea you have a genuine madman in control of a country with the bomb and yet we don't hear very much about them at all,' Johnson said.
The real US policy, enunciated by a senior State Department official close to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, revolves around a belief that Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is weaker than his bellicose attitude might suggest and is vulnerable to the pressure of international sanctions.
It is the figure of Ahmadinejad who is at the centre of the conundrum of whether Iran and the US are slipping towards war.
On Friday Ahmadinejad was in Tehran at a conference on Palestinian aspirations for statehood. Such, however, was the international outcry surrounding his announcement three days earlier in the city of Mashhad that Iran had mastered the basics of uranium enrichment, that this subject seemed to be a mere sideshow to Iran's intensifying confrontation with the West.
With the President bearing the triumphal tidings in the presence of the country's atomic energy chief and an assortment of senior mullahs and military top brass, the outward impression was of a regime united in the face of intense pressure from the UN Security Council, which set a 30-day deadline last month for Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment activities.
Such unanimity, however, is by many accounts only superficial. Behind the scenes, a bitter war of words has taken place over Ahmadinejad's inflammatory rhetoric.
Hashemi Rafsanjani - the influential former president and a strong advocate of holding official talks with America - is a particular critic and is said to have denounced the President's tactics to his face. Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, has also warned about the international effects of the often-febrile remarks made by Ahmadinejad, who on Friday called yet again for Israel's destruction. Rafsanjani made his feelings clear by trumping the President's announcement in an interview with a Kuwaiti news agency, meaning the news was public hours in advance.
'There are some Iranian leaders, not least Rafsanjani, who think we should act more prudently and who don't approve of this radical trend,' said Dr Sadegh Zibakalam, a politics lecturer at Tehran University. 'They think we should buy friends in the international community by saying, for example, that we understand the anxiety about Iran's nuclear programme, but we can assure the West that it would in no way be intended to move towards an atomic weapon and that Iran is quite prepared to compromise.'
The deep divisions over tone are matched by differences over substance. Some analysts speculate that last week's announcement - having been sold as a historic national achievement - could presage a climbdown that would involve a return to negotiations.
'The main point for Iran throughout has been that voluntary suspension of nuclear activities could deprive it of the opportunity to complete the fuel cycle forever,' one analyst said. 'The West, especially the US, is pressing for a revision to the additional protocol of the NPT [nuclear non-proliferation treaty] that would bar non-fuel-producing countries from pursuing their own cycle. In that context, last week's move can be interpreted as a sign of Iran's willingness to compromise. Even those pushing for a tougher Iranian line agree that we could take several steps ahead before retreating, because then we would have something in our hands to bargain with.'
Zibakalam dismisses this as 'wishful thinking' and says Iran's leaders are determined to push ahead. They may, he says, eventually settle for a deal in which they agree to suspend industrial enrichment of uranium for two to five years while continuing laboratory work under international supervision.
If that is unacceptable to the West, then Iran is facing, at the very least, economic sanctions. Whether ordinary Iranians will take heed is far from certain.
'We have needs other than the nuclear programme from a President who gave many promises to the young people,' said Ali Reza Ghamsari, 36, an official in a shipbuilding company. 'They need jobs and security. It's better for Iran to negotiate and co-ordinate its actions with the international community. I think the majority of the nation asks for such a thing. Otherwise, there is a high probability of sanctions and the President won't be able to deliver his promises.'
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Iran's leader will meet Saddam's fate, says Peres
By Eric Silver in Jerusalem
17 April 2006
The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will come to the same end as Saddam Hussein, Shimon Peres predicted at the weekend amid growing Israeli impatience with the international community's failure to curb Tehran's march towards the nuclear club.
Israel's elder statesman, who was number two on the victorious Kadima list in last month's parliamentary elections, denounced the hard-line Iranian leader as a representative of Satan, not God. "History," he said, "has known how to ostracise the lunatics and those who brandish swords. Everyone who behaves like that ends the same way."
Mr Peres was speaking a day after Mr Ahmadinejad told a Palestinian solidarity conference in Tehran: "Like it or not, the Zionist regime is heading towards annihilation. The Zionist regime is a rotten, dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm. Our power is growing, while the Zionists' power of resistance is growing weaker. Israel is a danger, but that danger is about to end."
Last week, Mr Ahmadinejad announced that Iran had successfully enriched uranium and would soon be able to build an atomic bomb. It has already tested delivery systems that could reach Israel and other Middle Eastern states.
The Institute for Science and International Security, an American think-tank, published satellite photographs yesterday showing that Iran has built a new tunnel entrance to a uranium conversion laboratory in Isfahan and has reinforced two cascade halls - in which uranium is enriched in centrifuges - against aerial attack.
"This entrance is indicative of a new underground facility or further expansion of existing ones," said the ISIS. Its director, David Albright, a former UN arms inspector, added: "Iran is taking extraordinary precautions to try to protect its nuclear assets."
Richard Clarke, a former White House counter-terrorism chief, warned the Bush administration against a military strike on Iranian reactors. President George Bush has dismissed reports of such plans as "wild speculation". Mr Clarke, who has advised three presidents, wrote in The New York Times: "A conflict with Iran could be even more damaging to our interests than the current struggle in Iraq has been." He recalled that the Clinton administration had also considered a bombing campaign against Iran amid tensions in the 1990s, but "after a long debate, the highest levels of the military could not forecast a way in which things would end favourably for the United States". Although Israel has not excluded a rerun of its 1981 destruction of Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor at Osirak near Baghdad, it is rattling no sabres. It prefers to play a supporting role in efforts to isolate the Islamic republic.
Mr Peres cautioned: "Israel needs to let the United States and the international community lead the campaign to defend world peace from the Iranian leader. We must not let Israel stand at the head of the campaign, since then it will be perceived as an Israeli-Iranian issue and could lead to an end of international pressure." Nonetheless, senior Israeli military intelligence officers complain that the international response is too weak. "Iran spat in the world's face," one of them told The Jerusalem Post, "but the world hasn't done anything. The way it looks now, it is doubtful that the United Nations and the international efforts will succeed in stopping Iran."
* With infighting between the old and new regimes tearing Palestinian politics apart, Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Prime Minister, has appealed to rival parties to join a national unity coalition. "The door is open to Fatah," a spokesman said. But President Mahmoud Abbas's party, which declined to attend an emergency meeting in Gaza, is in no hurry to agree.
Speaking in a mosque on Friday, Mr Haniyeh accused the President of forging "an unholy alliance" with the international community, which is boycotting Hamas officials, to bring down his government. Fatah spokesmen blamed Hamas for destroying the Palestinian economy and urged the Islamic movement to endorse previous agreements with Israel.
Comment: Pot, Kettle, Black.
Interestingly, if the Iranian leader is to meet the same fate as Saddam as Peres claims, then he can expect to find himself holed up somewhere like Belorussia while some doped up lookalike stands trial on trumped up charges.
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Iran: Iraq replayed?
For those who think that Iraq is the worst that can happen in the region, wait till Iran retaliates against possible air strikes by Israel or the U.S. Wait till the Jewish state and America decide in return to launch an unprecedented retaliatory attack, inflicting an unexpected extent of damage upon the entire Middle East.
However, some experts expect that the current U.S.-Iran standoff over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program to end with a diplomatic settlement, given the struggle the U.S. Army is facing in post- Iraq war.
But, with recently published reports suggesting the opposite, many analysts are warning against an imminent U.S.-Iran war the coming weeks.
There will be an attack. According to an editorial on The New Statesman, as long as the madman (Bush) is in the White House, now considering bombing another country in the region, a Third World War is imminent.
A recent article by veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker suggested the same.
But the U.S. media seems less concerned than the British over the issue.
News headlines on the British media are mostly booked for the Iranian nuclear issue, which didn't even make the front pages of the Washington Post or New York Times.
Will there be a war on Iran or not?
War would be a surprise for the British people, who don't expect their leader, Prime Minister Tony Blair, to dare repeat Iraq mistake, but in the U.S., the situation is a bit different.
Many questions surround the issue of a possible U.S. war on Iran.
Will European allies support the U.S. this time? Will Bush's admin allow the use of nuclear weapons against the country to knock down its nuclear program?
Washington is already working from the assumption that the U.S. will attack Iran, possibly using nuclear weapons during this presidency. Also, like what happened in Iraq, the Bush administration is expected to have the support of Britain and Australia in this war.
Regarding the use of nuclear weapons against Iran, this has become an issue of a heated debate in Washington these days, with struggle under way between foreign-policy pragmatists and ideological zealots, the editorial adds.
The U.S. is divided between these two camps. Those two camps represent senior members of the Bush administration itself, the State Department, CIA, Pentagon and the powerful think-tanks.
Recently, it's been reported that the U.S. Secretary of Condoleezza Rice has fallen out with Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, and is on the verge of abandoning the ideological ship - just as the former Secretary of State Colin Powell did in private meeting over Iraq, and later on announced his resignation.
While the first faction agrees with the British, French and German view which prefers isolating Iran diplomatically rather than militarily, and supports imposing UN Security Council sanctions on Iran. The second faction includes all those who agree with the unwise policies of the American President which prefers using force to implement his agenda, no matter what.
While many officials, including those in the UN, believe the American President can and will press the nuclear button, many others in Washington believe that "an all-powerful establishment, from the might of the top brass at the Pentagon to the consensus wisdom of practically every senior politician, will prevail against even an out-of-control president."
With circulating media reports suggesting that the U.S. Department of Defense is actively considering to Iranian cities using nuclear weapons, it becomes clear that the U.S. current President, Mr. George W. Bush is a falling victim to the same lack of imagination that led John F. Kennedy imagine he could attack China to keep it from producing a nuclear bomb without igniting a major war.
What's also worrying is the catastrophic possibility that Bush will form another "coalition of the willing" by teaming up with Israel in a joint attack on the Islamic Republic.
Kennedy's failure 45 years ago to understand the consequence of his unwise plan to bomb China in circumstances remarkably like today's shows how easily Bush could fall into a major new war in the Middle East.
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Iran promises $50 million for Palestinians
Last Updated Sun, 16 Apr 2006 13:25:32 EDT
Iran has decided to give the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority $50 million US, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Sunday. Iranian television reported his statement, made at a conference held in Tehran, a day after Russia also offered to help bail out the Palestinian Authority.
The money will help the Palestinian Authority. It has has been in desperate financial trouble since Israel stopped turning over $55 million US per month in taxes it collects for the authority and since international donors froze hundreds of millions of dollars in annual funding.
The donors - including the United States, the European Union and Canada - say they will resume the cash flow if the newly elected Hamas government changes its policies by recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting peace plans endorsed by the previous Fatah government.
So far, Hamas has refused, even though some of the 140,000 Palestinian civil servants rioted Saturday to protest against their second week without pay.
Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal, who was at the Tehran meeting, again repeated that position on Saturday. "We never will recognize Israel," he said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.
Iran has long supported the Palestinians and been strongly anti-Israel.
"Cutting the West's financial aid to Palestine would not affect the will of the Palestinian people," the TV broadcast quoted Mottaki as saying.
The Palestinian Authority, which performs many of the functions of a government, is the largest employer in the West Bank and Gaza.
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New Worry Rises After Iran Claims Nuclear Steps
By WILLIAM J. BROAD and DAVID E. SANGER
The New York Times
April 17, 2006
Of all the claims that Iran made last week about its nuclear program, a one-sentence assertion by its president has provoked such surprise and concern among international nuclear inspectors they are planning to confront Tehran about it this week.
The assertion involves Iran's claim that even while it begins to enrich small amounts of uranium, it is pursuing a far more sophisticated way of making atomic fuel that American officials and inspectors say could speed Iran's path to developing a nuclear weapon.
Iran has consistently maintained that it abandoned work on this advanced technology, called the P-2 centrifuge, three years ago. Western analysts long suspected that Iran had a second, secret program - based on the black market offerings of the renegade Pakistani nuclear engineer Abdul Qadeer Khan - separate from the activity at its main nuclear facility at Natanz. But they had no proof.
Then on Thursday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Tehran was "presently conducting research" on the P-2 centrifuge, boasting that it would quadruple Iran's enrichment powers. The centrifuges are tall, thin machines that spin very fast to enrich, or concentrate, uranium's rare component, uranium 235, which can fuel nuclear reactors or atom bombs.
Mr. Ahmadinejad's statements, and those of other senior Iranian officials, are always viewed with suspicion by American and international nuclear experts, because Iran has, at various times, understated nuclear activities that were later discovered, and overstated its capabilities. Analysts and American intelligence officials, bruised by their experience in Iraq, say they are uncertain whether Mr. Ahmadinejad's claim represents a real technical advance that could accelerate Iran's nuclear agenda, or political rhetoric meant to convince the world of the unstoppability of its atomic program.
European diplomats said a delegation of Iranian officials is due to arrive on Tuesday in Vienna, where the International Atomic Energy Agency will press them to address the new enrichment claim, as well as other questions about Iran's program, including a crude bomb design found in the country.
"This is a much better machine," a European diplomat said of the advanced centrifuge, which was a centerpiece of Pakistan's efforts to build its nuclear weapons and was found in 2004 in Libya, when that country gave up its nuclear program. The diplomat added that the Iranians, among other questions, will now have to explain whether Mr. Ahmadinejad was right, and if so, whether they recently restarted the abandoned program or have been pursuing it in secret for years.
If Iran moved beyond research and actually began running the machines, it could force American intelligence agencies to revise their estimates of how long it would take for Iran to build an atom bomb - an event they now put somewhere between 2010 and 2015.
Robert Joseph, the Bush administration's under secretary of state for arms control and international security, who is known as one of the administration's hawks, said in an interview on Saturday that President Ahmadinejad's claim constituted "the first time I've ever heard the Iranians admit" to have a significant effort on the advanced technology. Iran, Mr. Joseph added, "has never come clean on this program, and now its president is talking about it."
The new claim focuses renewed attention on Iran's rocky relationship with Mr. Khan, who provided it with much of the enrichment technology it is exploiting today. If Mr. Ahmadinejad's claim is correct, it probably indicates that relationship went on longer and far deeper than previously acknowledged. Mr. Khan and his nuclear black market supplied Iran with blueprints for both the more elementary machine, known as P-1, and the more advanced P-2.
There are other indications that Mr. Khan may have been dealing with Iran as recently as six years ago. President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan disclosed recently that he fired Dr. Khan, a national hero credited with developing Pakistan's bomb, in 2001 after discovering that he was trying to arrange a secret flight to the Iranian city of Zahedan, known as a center of smuggling.
Dr. Khan refused to discuss the flight, saying it was important and very secret. "I said, 'What the hell do you mean? You want to keep a secret from me?' " Mr. Musharraf recalled in an interview with The New York Times for a Discovery Times television documentary, "Nuclear Jihad."
"So these are the things which led me to very concrete suspicions," Mr. Musharraf said, "and we removed him."
Last year, Pakistan said its investigation into the Khan network was closed. But the Iranian crisis has led to renewed questioning of Dr. Khan, American intelligence officials and European diplomats say.
So far his answers have been vague, investigators say. Iran, for its part, has said virtually nothing about its P-2 program. The International Institute for Strategic Studies, an arms analysis group in London, said in a report last year that Iran's failure to provide more information about its P-2 program led many analysts to suspect that the advanced centrifuges formed "the nucleus of a secret enrichment program."
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a private research group in Washington that monitors the Iranian program, said Mr. Ahmadinejad's declaration, whether political rhetoric or technical reality, now gave the world "something to further investigate and worry about."
Tehran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and meant for producing nuclear power.
But the Bush administration argues otherwise. "A. Q. Khan was not in the business of civil nuclear power development," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview for the documentary. "Why, if you only intended a civil nuclear program, would you have lied about activities at Natanz?" Later she added, "Why are they still unwilling to answer some of the questions that the I.A.E.A. has?"
The P-2 mystery began years ago when Iran told international inspectors that it had received plans for the advanced centrifuges around 1994 but had done nothing with them until 2002, when it hired an Iranian contractor to try to make the complex machines.
The P-2, a second-generation Pakistani model, was the most advanced centrifuge sold by Dr. Khan's network. With superstrong rotors, it could spin faster and enrich uranium faster.
Iran repeatedly denied receiving any P-2 centrifuges from Dr. Khan, which would greatly ease the making of duplicates. Moreover, it said it did no research on the production of the advanced centrifuges between 1995 and 2002 because of management changes in its nuclear program and a lack of skilled personnel.
In report after report, the I.A.E.A. has questioned that explanation. For instance, last September it said the Iranian contractor, who allegedly first saw the P-2 plans in 2002, made considerable research progress "within a short period," which seemed to undermine Iran's claim of doing no past research.
Iran said that the research failed to produce operating machines and that it ended the experimental P-2 work in 2003 and instead focused on the easier P-1 design.
But scraps of evidence gathered by the international agency and the accounts of some members of the Khan network have cast doubt on those denials. As recently as last Thursday, when the director general of the agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, visited Tehran, he insisted on detailed answers during a private meeting, diplomats briefed on the meeting said.
Suspicions arose because inspectors knew that Dr. Khan had supplied Libya and North Korea with actual P-2 centrifuges in the late 1990's, and they repeatedly heard that he had done likewise with Iran.
B. S .A. Tahir, the chief operating officer of the Khan network, now in prison in Malaysia, has reportedly said that Iran received far more P-2 technology than it has admitted and that some shipments took place after Dr. Khan and the Iranians supposedly ceased doing business around 1995.
Speaking to reporters in Washington on Thursday, just hours after Mr. Ahmadinejad's claim, senior intelligence officials said they had seen nothing yet that would lead them to revise their estimate that Iran is still five to 10 years away from making a weapon.
Kenneth C. Brill, the director of the National Counterproliferation Center, created to track programs like Iran's and North Korea's, cautioned against accepting at face value Tehran's recent claims about producing enriched uranium and plans to produce 54,000 centrifuges.
"It will take many years," he said, "to build that many."
At the same time, intelligence reports circulating inside the American government, according to several officials who were granted anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, have raised questions of whether the Iranian government's decision to boast about its progress is part of an effort to hide more significant activity.
They suspect that a clandestine program, if it exists, would concentrate on the P-2 because it can produce enriched uranium so fast.
I.A.E.A. officials say solving the mystery of the P-2 shipments has become one of the most critical issues on which they need answers in the next two weeks, before Mr. ElBaradei issues a report to the United Nations Security Council on April 28.
Other pressing questions include Iran's reluctance to discuss a document found by inspectors - one that the Iranians were not willing to let the inspectors take out of the country - that sketches out how to shape uranium into perfect spheres, the tell-tale shape for a primitive weapon. Investigators say that document, too, appears to have come from the Khan network.
It is also unclear whether Dr. Khan sold the Iranians a complete Chinese-made bomb design similar to the one Libya turned over to the United States when it gave up its weapons program. Questions about other copies of the bomb design have been met with silence, in Iran and in Pakistan.
"Frankly, I don't know whether he has passed these bomb designs to others," Mr. Musharraf said. Even under a loose form of house arrest for the past two years, he said, Dr. Khan "sometimes has been hiding the facts."
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Iran was not ordered to Stop Enrichment
By Mike Whitney
It's easy to get confused about developments in Iran because the media does everything in its power to obfuscate the facts and then spin the details in way that advances American policy objectives. But, let's be clear; the Security Council did NOT order Iran to stop enriching uranium. It may not even be in their power to do so since enrichment is guaranteed under the NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty). For the Security Council to forbid Iran to continue with enrichment activities would be tantamount to repealing the treaty itself. They didn't do that.
What they did was "request" that Iran suspend enrichment activities so that the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) could further prove that Iran's nuclear programs were entirely for peaceful purposes.
Iran, of course, did the only thing they could do; they graciously declined. After all, Iran followed every minute step that the Bush administration took in the long march to war with Iraq, so it is only natural that they would choose to take a different path.
Why would they invite more intrusive inspections allowing the UN to ferret through every inch of Iranian territory in an attempt to uncover every armory, radar station, and missile site before the inevitable US bombing? Why would they endure the humiliation of being singled out and scorned for complying with the NPT when nuclear cheaters like India are rewarded with praise and offered banned nuclear technology by Washington?
The Security Council is looking for a peaceful way out of the standoff, so they are bending as much as possible, but, make no mistake, there will be no sanctions, no Chapter 7 resolutions, and no outright ban on Iran enriching uranium.
It won’t happen.
In fact, as nuclear scientist Gordon Prather reports, the Security Council actually confirmed Iran’s right to enrich uranium in a terse Presidential Statement which they issued after two weeks of deliberation:
"The Security Council reaffirms its commitment to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and recalls the right of States Party, in conformity with articles I and II of that Treaty, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination”.
Should we be surprised that not one newspaper in the western press printed this astonishing vindication of Iran’s conduct under the terms of the NPT?
The media routinely characterizes Iran’s behavior as “defiance”, as if anyone who stands in the way of American foreign policy is inherently evil. In fact, there is an important principle involved in Iran’s response that is never adequately explored. The right to enrich uranium is the central tenet of the NPT. That is why in the language of the treaty, it is referred to as an “inalienable right”. This point is oftentimes overlooked but it is crucial to understanding the true spirit of the treaty. Every nation is entitled to the full benefits of nuclear technology as long as they comply with inspections that ensure their programs are strictly being used for peaceful purposes.
There’s no way to strip “enrichment” out of the NPT and still have a treaty that means anything. . Without the prospect of enrichment, there is no incentive for countries to join the NPT. The signatory would simply be accepting an apartheid system which rewards nuclear states without any practical benefits for the non-nuclear members. It is the right to utilize nuclear technology without developing nuclear weapons that makes the treaty attractive.
For the United States to say that they want Iran to forgo enrichment is the same as saying they want to unilaterally repeal the treaty.
For Iran, this is totally unacceptable. It is the equivalent of buying a car from a dealership only to discover that the steering wheel, engine, and transmission have been removed.
Iran has fully complied with the most rigorously monitored inspections in the history of the IAEA. They have willingly submitted to “additional protocols” negotiated with the EU-3 (Germany, France and England) as a way of allaying concerns about noncompliance and to build confidence among the members of the international community. Their eagerness to negotiate in good faith was intentionally subverted by the Bush administration which has stubbornly refused to provide any of the security guarantees that Iran sought in exchange for sacrificing its rights. Iran wants a non-aggression pact from the Bush administration, something that Washington is unprepared to offer.
At no point, have the inspections produced “any evidence” that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons or diverting nuclear material from its use in peaceful technology. This hasn’t stopped the administration from pursuing an aggressive media strategy to feed public hysteria.
Will it work?
Iran’s struggle represents a fundamental clash between the rights of individual sovereign states and an increasingly mettlesome superpower. No one disputes that the NPT allows its members to enrich uranium. The dispute is whether or not the United States can arbitrarily overturn international law and rescind a treaty for a nation it simply dislikes.
Treaties are the foundation blocks upon which the international order rests; without them we are doomed to an endless cycle of bloody conflicts. Iran’s demand that its rights be respected is in fact a defense of the basic principle which underscores civilization itself; that even the weakest among us can take refuge in the law. The Mullahs are right to think that that is a principle worth fighting for.
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US has been planning "Iran War" since 2003
www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-17 13:40:54
BEIJING, April 17 -- The United States began planning a full-scale military campaign against Iran that involves missile strikes, a land invasion and a naval operation to establish control over the Strait of Hormuz even before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, a former U.S. intelligence analyst disclosed.
William Arkin, who served as the U.S. Army's top intelligence mind on West Berlin in the 1970s and accurately predicted U.S. military operations against Iraq, said the plan is known in military circles as TIRANNT, an acronym for "Theater Iran Near Term."
It includes a scenario for a land invasion of the country led by the U.S. Marine Corps, a detailed analysis of the Iranian missile force and a global strike plan against any Iranian weapons of mass destruction, Arkin wrote in The Washington Post.
Meanwhile, Iran appears convinced it can deter or even win a military confrontation with the United States, with the Islamic regime buoyed by high oil prices, support from militants across the region and American woes in Iraq.
The regime gave fresh signals yesterday that it was in no mood for a compromise over its disputed nuclear programme, with officials openly flouting a UN Security Council demand for a freeze in uranium enrichment by April 28.
U.S. and British planners have already conducted a Caspian Sea war game as part of these preparations, the scholar said.
"According to military sources close to the planning process, this task was given to Army General John Abizaid, now commander of CENTCOM, in 2002," Arkin wrote, referring to the Florida-based U.S. Central Command.
But preparations under TIRANNT began in earnest in May 2003, when modelers and intelligence specialists pulled together the data needed for theater-level warfare analysis for Iran, he said.
This effort has never stopped. The plan has since been updated using information collected in Iraq, the analyst pointed out.
Air Force planners have modeled attacks against existing Iranian air defenses and targets, while Navy planners have evaluated coastal defenses and drawn up scenarios for keeping control of the Strait of Hormuz, the gateway to the oil-rich Gulf.
A follow-on TIRANNT analysis, which began in October 2003, calculated the results of different scenarios for action against Iran to provide options to U.S. commanders, Arkin wrote.
The Marines, meanwhile, have come up with their own document called "Concept of Operations" that explores the possibility of moving forces from ship to shore against a determined enemy without establishing a beachhead first.
"Though the Marine Corps enemy is described only as a deeply religious revolutionary country named Karona, it is, with its Revolutionary Guards, WMD and oil wealth, unmistakably meant to be Iran," Arkin said.
Various scenarios involving Iran's missile force have also been examined in another study, initiated in 2004 and known as BMD-I, which is short for "ballistic missile defense -- Iran", Arkin said.
In June 2004, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld alerted the U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Nebraska, to be prepared to implement CONPLAN 8022, a global strike plan that includes Iran.
"The new task force, sources have told me, mostly worries that if it were called upon to deliver 'prompt' global strikes against certain targets in Iran under some emergency circumstances, the president might have to be told that the only option is a nuclear one," Arkin said.
"But after long debate, the highest levels of the military could not forecast a way in which things would end favorably for the United States," the two experts wrote in Sunday's New York Times.
They warned Iran could retaliate against any U.S. military action by using its terrorist networks "that are far superior to anything Al-Qaeda was ever able to field."
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U.S. Program Is Directed at Altering Iran's Politics
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN
The New York Times
WASHINGTON - As the Bush administration confronts the Tehran government over its suspected nuclear weapons program and accusations that it supports terrorism, a newly created office of Iranian affairs in the State Department is poring over applications for a rapidly expanding program to change the political process inside Iran.
The project, which will spend $7 million in the current fiscal year, would become many times larger next year if Congress approves a broad request for $85 million that the Bush administration has requested for scholarships, exchange programs, radio and television broadcasts and other activities aimed at shaking up Iran's political system.
The effort, overseen by Elizabeth Cheney, a deputy assistant secretary of state who is a daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, has been denounced by Iran's leaders as meddling in their internal affairs.
It comes at a time of escalating confrontation between Iran and the United States over Iran's nuclear program, exacerbated by reports, which the administration has played down, that military contingency plans are being reviewed as well.
While the United States has marshaled international support for diplomatic pressure on Iran, some Asian and European allies have expressed misgivings about other avenues of pressure, which are seen as aimed at undermining the government in Tehran.
One Asian diplomat said the effort was reminiscent of the subsidies the United States provided to Iraqi exile groups in the 1990's. "They don't call it 'regime change,' but that is obviously what it is," he said. But he had to be promised anonymity before he would discuss it, not wanting to create a public rift between his country and the United States on a significant matter of foreign policy.
To find people to promote change in Iran, the State Department has opened a competition for grant applications. A Web site announcement says that applicants "must outline activities linked to reform and demonstrate how the proposed approach would achieve sustainable impact in Iran."
A State Department official said that numerous applications had come in and that the department would have little trouble spending the $25 million in the next year. But he acknowledged that various groups were squabbling over how best to promote reform and who would be most effective in doing so.
"Iran is governed by an unelected clerical elite not accountable to the people," the official said, speaking anonymously under ground rules imposed by the department. "But despite considerable personal risk, we are seeing some activists willing to step forward."
The biggest problem for the applicants is the amount of risk they might incur. There have been reports in Iran of advocates of change being arrested after having met with American officials at conferences, though some experts charge that Iran has exaggerated those reports in order to discourage contacts with the West.
Other experts said that some of the people who were stepping forward might not be the best ones to get the money.
"It sounds good to fund civil society groups, but not when you don't know who the groups are," said Vali R. Nasr, an Iranian-born professor of national affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "No real group wants a direct affiliation with the United States. It will just get them into trouble with the government."
Administration officials said a few top American officials had been traveling the country, particularly to Los Angeles, to meet with Iranian exile organizations, many of them supporters of the monarchy of Shah Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown in 1979. Some of the Los Angeles groups operate satellite radio and television stations that beam programs into Iran.
But State Department officials said they were not likely to enlist groups associated with the monarchy because, in their view, they do not seem to have much support in Iran.
Lorne W. Craner, president of the International Republican Institute, a foundation linked to the Republican Party, said, "There are plenty of people out there who have a checkered past who you would not want to work with."
The institute, which receives money from Congress and grants from the State Department, has in the last couple of years linked up with groups and individuals in Iran and offered them training at places outside the country. The groups cannot be identified for fear of their safety, he said.
State Department officials and various advocates for change consulted by the department said that for now the money would probably be concentrated on groups seeking to document human rights abuses and promote women's and labor rights, rather than groups seeking direct political change.
Recipients of such financing in the past said that in order to operate they had to avoid the perception that they are tools of "regime change."
"The administration has consulted many Iranians just to find out who to talk to," said Roya Boroumand, co-director of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, which seeks to document human rights abuses inside Iran. "We try not to be in touch with too many people inside Iran because we know it could be fatal."
The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, a new group based in New Haven, has received $1 million from the State Department and could receive more, officials said. But leaders of the group emphasize that while they have contacts with people in Iran, it is not for the purpose of overthrowing the government.
"We are pro-human rights, but we are not directly seeking regime change," said Maura Johnson, the center's executive director. "That's not our agenda. When you look at many other countries, improved human rights can occur without regime change, through reforms and stronger institutions."
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Iran suicide bombers 'ready to hit Britain'
By Marie Colvin, Michael Smith and Sarah Baxter
IRAN has formed battalions of suicide bombers to strike at British and American targets if the nation's nuclear sites are attacked. According to Iranian officials, 40,000 trained suicide bombers are ready for action.
The main force, named the Special Unit of Martyr Seekers in the Revolutionary Guards, was first seen last month when members marched in a military parade, dressed in olive-green uniforms with explosive packs around their waists and detonators held high.
Dr Hassan Abbasi, head of the Centre for Doctrinal Strategic Studies in the Revolutionary Guards, said in a speech that 29 western targets had been identified: "We are ready to attack American and British sensitive points if they attack Iran's nuclear facilities." He added that some of them were "quite close" to the Iranian border in Iraq.
In a tape recording heard by The Sunday Times, Abbasi warned the would-be martyrs to "pay close attention to wily England" and vowed that "Britain's demise is on our agenda".
At a recruiting station in Tehran recently, volunteers for the force had to show their birth certificates, give proof of their address and tick a box stating whether they would prefer to attack American targets in Iraq or Israeli targets.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned last Friday that Israel was heading towards "annihilation". He was speaking at a Tehran conference on Palestinian rights aimed at promoting Iran as a new Middle Eastern superpower.
According to western intelligence documents leaked to The Sunday Times, the Revolutionary Guards are in charge of a secret nuclear weapons programme designed to evade the scrutiny of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
One of the leaked reports, dating from February this year, confirms that President George W Bush is preparing to strike Iran. "If the problem is not resolved in some way, he intends to act before leaving office because it would be 'unfair' to leave the task of destroying Iran's nuclear facilities to a new president," the document says.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, a former spokesman for National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an opposition group, said a secret, parallel military programme was under way. According to sources inside Iran, the Revolutionary Guards were constructing underground sites that could be activated if Iran's known nuclear facilities were destroyed.
The NCRI is the political wing of the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq, which is deemed a terrorist organisation in Britain and America. However, much of its information is considered to be "absolutely credible" by western intelligence sources after Jafarzadeh revealed the existence of the Natanz plant in 2002.
Within the past year, 14 large and several smaller projects have been created, according to Jafarzadeh. Several are designed to be nuclear factories; others are for the storage of weapons, he claimed.
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The Big Blue Marble
Fragmented Comet Breaks Apart Even More
Apr 17, 2006
Boulder, CO - Astronomers tracking Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 report that the near-Earth object continues to break apart, with at least 20 fragments now approaching the planet for a close encounter next month.
In the process of breaking up, pieces of the comet actually have grown brighter as they approach Earth and the sun. In particular, astronomers report, fragment B has brightened by a factor of 15 just since the beginning of this month. This phenomenon signals a possible breakup of 73P-B into even more fragments.
At present, fragment B is glowing like a 9th magnitude star, making it an easy target for backyard telescopes and CCD cameras. Fragment G also has split. Fresh ice exposed by the disruption is vaporizing, causing this fragment also to brighten nearly fifteen-fold since April 2, reaching a brightness of magnitude 12.
Amateur astronomers with backyard telescopes and CCD cameras can monitor the ongoing disintegration. Spaceweather.com is providing sky maps, images and more information on its Web site.
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Red alert as massive volcano threatens eruption
Authorities are preparing for the possible evacuation of villagers living close to one of Indonesia's deadliest volcanos after warning that the rumbling mountain could blow its top anytime.
Increased activity at Mount Merapi on Java Island prompted volcanologists last week to raise its status to "Beware", one notch below the highest level that requires immediate evacuation of the thousands of villagers who farm its fertile slopes.
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New quake shakes Greek island of Zakynthos
Apr 17 8:44 AM US/Eastern
An undersea earthquake measuring 5.2 on the open-ended Richter scale has shaken the Greek tourist island of Zakynthos, the sixth such quake there in a week, the Athens Observatory's Geodynamic Institute said.
The earthquake, which the institute described as "strong", was recorded at 11:55 am (0855 GMT) off the south coast of Zakynthos, in the Ionian Sea, some 240 kilometres (150 miles) west of Athens.
"The most likely scenario is that this is an aftershock of earlier seismic activity," institute seismologist Alexandros Andreou told AFP, adding that there were no immediate reports of damage.
There has been a string of moderately strong quakes in the same undersea area since April 10, measuring between 5.4 and 5.9 on the Richter scale.
Tremors last week caused cracks to appear in buildings on the popular holiday island and led the authorities to temporarily close local schools as a safety measure.
They also dislodged earth around the island capital's Venetian fortress, threatening part of its wall with imminent collapse, according to the culture ministry.
At the local archaeological museum, an ancient statue fell and broke its base, the ministry added.
Greece is more affected by seismic activity than any other European country and bears the brunt of half of all earthquakes on the continent.
The Ionian Sea is one of the most earthquake-prone areas in the country.
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Bright lights, big quake?
By Michael Kanellos
April 15, 2006
Does the earth have its own early warning system for earthquakes?
Subtle changes in a regional magnetic field, the earth's ionosphere or other physical phenomena may portend a major earthquake, according to emerging research. The data isn't conclusive, and many experts are skeptical, but some researchers believe that monitoring these planetary stress symptoms--harvested in real time by sensors and magnetometers, which measure changes in magnetic fields--could someday help people prepare for earthquakes.
"We all agree it would be worthwhile to have from a loss of life standpoint. You certainly can't stop it from happening," said Tom Bleier, president of QuakeFinder, which is developing technology that could one day predict quakes hours or even days in advance. "This is a tough nut to crack. It's taking a lot of time, and everybody is trying to report what they (observe) to see if there is a trend here."
Quake prediction will be one of the topics this week at a seismology conference in San Francisco that coincides with the 100th anniversary of the massive San Francisco quake that took place on April 18, 1906.
Earthquakes tend to occur in regular cycles, and seismologists can somewhat accurately predict the probability of earthquakes along a given fault over an extended period of time. There is a 60 to 70 percent chance of a major quake hitting California's Bay Area within the next 30 years, for example.
Predicting that the giant rumbler might hit next Monday, however, has proved elusive. One area of research that appears promising comes in examining the behavior of rocks immediately before a quake.
After a major quake in the greater San Francisco Bay Area in 1989, scientists at Stanford University, looking retroactively at data from a magnetometer, noted that two weeks before the quake, electromagnetic readings for an area near one of the faults active in the quake jumped significantly. Three hours before the quake, the readings from an electromagnetic field rose to 60 times the normal level. Magnetic readings further stayed elevated weeks after the quake as the ground subsided.
Friedemann Freund, a researcher who works with NASA and the SETI Institute, has conducted experiments on rocks under stress. When subject to pressure, normally inert rocks produce positive charges, Freund found. The positive charges, which increase as pressure does, in turn generate an electric field, which generates a magnetic field.
"A rock, when you squeeze it, becomes a battery," he said.
Freund's research was conducted in a lab, but when extrapolated to large areas, the changes could account for the fluctuations in the electromagnetic field in the region around a fault, under the right conditions.
Earthquakes occur when two tectonic plates hit head on or slide against each other. The changes in the electromagnetic field could be generated when the rocks bordering the two plates begin to grind against each other.
Searching for clues
The positive charges emitted by the pressured rock could also explain other so-called earthquake precursors. When the earth becomes positively charged, the positively charged particles of the ionosphere, a layer of the atmosphere that sits about 90 kilometers (56 miles) above the earth's surface, will get pushed away and get replaced by negatively charged particles.
The sudden rush of negatively charged electrons in that portion of the ionosphere in turn should interfere with radio waves and reception. Radio interference, in fact, occurred in the days before the huge 1960 Chilean earthquake and the Good Friday earthquake in Alaska in 1964.
Rock stress may additionally explain surges of infrared energy, which manifests itself as luminescence, observed before some quakes. Eerie lights in the sky were seen before the earthquake swarm in Japan between 1965 and 1967, which could have been a manifestation of a burst of energy caused by an earthquake. Scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center have recorded data showing infrared blooms approximately 50 to 100 kilometers across occurring a few days before a quake. In experiments conducted by Freund, the positive charges generated by rock under pressure can convert to infrared energy.
"Lab experiments show two things. One, there is a current generated when you start to crack a rock before it crumbles and, two, there is infrared energy that comes out of the rock when the charged particles drop their energy," Bleier said. "The question now is, does the same happen when you are 15 kilometers underground? Do they generate big currents? Do they generate infrared blooms? What we've got to do is get more data from large earthquakes."
Strange animal behavior, conceivably, might be the reactions to these environmental changes, Freund and others have speculated.
Still, the data is far from conclusive, said Greg Beroza, a professor of geophysics at Stanford. After examining the magnetic readings from the San Francisco Bay Area 1989 quake, the same researchers examined magnetic field readings after a 1999 quake in Southern California. The readings didn't spike. Beroza further added that the pressures that Freund applied to rocks in the lab seem to exceed the pressures exerted in real earthquakes.
"I'm kind of skeptical," he said.
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Danube at century high
By Radu Marinas
Sat Apr 15, 12:21 PM ET
BUCHAREST - The Danube rose to its highest level in more than a century on Saturday, but the breaching of a dam in Romania eased pressure on towns and villages struggling to hold back the floods, officials said.
Rivers fed by heavy rain and melting snow crept higher across the Balkans for the fourth straight day, driving people from their homes and swamping low-lying farmland and ports.
Waters rose to an 111-year high in the Romanian town of Bazias, near the Serbian border, flooding around 5,000 hectares (12,355 acres) of farmland on the Danube's northern bank.
The river also flooded the small port of Bechet, while soldiers and civil defense workers scrambled to reinforce dykes and build sandbag barriers on both sides of the river.
Romania's government started controlled flooding to divert water, flowing near a record 15,800 cubic meters per second, away from low-lying villages and was helped by the collapse of a dam in southwestern Romania which flooded farmland.
"The water flow has fallen by 200 cubic meters per second. This is a success," Beatrice Popescu, of the Environment Ministry, told Reuters.
In all, Romania plans to submerge about 90,000 hectares of fertile soil on a 400-km (250 mile) stretch on the Danube's northern bank, a major area for wheat and maize farming.
The Balkans are still recovering from devastating floods last summer, which killed scores of people and caused hundreds of millions of euros in damage to farmland and infrastructure.
This time, floods have submerged hundreds of houses, leaving thousands homeless and leaving tens of thousands more at risk.
Officials said the Danube's level should remain high until Wednesday and Thursday, but the controlled flooding in Romania appeared to keep its level steady in many places, giving a reprieve to some towns that had been partially submerged.
In the Bulgarian port city of Lom, 120 soldiers came to reinforce civil defense workers, but water levels were unchanged at a record 9.45 meters (29 feet).
"There is no reason to panic," Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev told reporters. "We are ready to evacuate people if there's a need, but I hope it will not happen."
In Serbia, the floods killed their first victim in the village of Stari Kostolac on Friday where water reached the roofs of 200 houses. The Danube's level dropped in the city of Novi Sad, but authorities braced downstream in Belgrade for a eastern-moving floodwave, which originated in central Europe.
At the village of Mosorin on the Tisa river, 250 people worked to shore up dykes at critical spots. Agriculture Minister Ivana Dulic Markovic said the berms could fail and told officials to prepare for evacuation, Beta news agency reported.
"We are all mobilized and what is left now is for us to trust in God that all will end well," she was quoted as saying.
Hundreds of citizens and soldiers also worked overnight to build an embankment in the eastern town of Smederevo after water inundated its ancient fortress, port and train station.
The Agriculture Ministry said 223,000 hectares of farmland were under water but could not estimate damages until later.
Back in Romania's western county of Timis, the country's worst hit region in last year's floods, some who were displaced last year were again visited by disaster.
"If the government expected floods again this year, why did they move us here?" Ioan Subulescu, whose new house has been partially flooded, told the Evenimentul Zilei paper.
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Polar explorer Albert of Monaco warns on global warming
Mon Apr 17, 2:12 AM ET
MOSCOW - Prince Albert II of Monaco reached the North Pole after a four-day journey by huskies over the frozen land, warning that the Arctic exploration offered a grim view of the effects of global warming.
Speaking to AFP after his arrival, he described the effects of global warming as evident at the top of the world: near the pole some open channels were hardly frozen and the ice was retreating north.
"We must try to find solutions, with scientists obviously, but also at the individual level," Albert, 48, said.
Accompanied only by his personal physician, Michael MacNamara, British mountaineer Annabelle Bond, Russian explorer Matvei Shparo and four other people, the prince, 48, covered the distance from a Russian weather station with the aid of six husky-drawn sleds.
"When you see these landscapes, these landscapes of the sea of ice, it is astonishing to see how diverse our planet is," he told AFP by phone an hour and a half after reaching the top of the world, where at this time of the year the sun never sets.
Albert, the first head of state in office to reach the pole, undertook the trip to draw attention to global warming "accentuated by the impact of all human activity on nature."
He was also paying tribute to his great grandfather, Prince Albert I, one of the pioneers of modern oceanography, who made four trips to Spitzbergen in Norway between 1898 and 1907.
"I think everyone by their behaviour can make their small contribution to a global and extraordinary effort."
Albert II consulted the notes taken by his ancestor, who never reached the pole but explored the Arctic during the summer months.
"He used to say that he had come across ice very, very far south. The ice began much earlier, at the 81st or 82nd parallel.
"Now you see it at the 86th, I think. The cracking of the ice and the break up begin fairly early. For some years it has been noticed that spring arrives earlier and earlier," he told AFP.
The temperature never fell below minus 20 degrees Celsius (four degrees Fahrenheit).
From a wildlife point of view the trip was not especially rewarding. Albert spotted two birds and another member of the team saw a seal. But no polar bear was in sight.
Albert took notes and kept a diary but has not decided what to with them. The team left the Russian weather station at Barneo on Thursday with sleds each drawn by six dogs for the 91-kilometre (56-mile) journey across the ice.
In fact the distance covered was nearer 150 kilometres, he said, given the need to skirt outcrops of ice.
He arrived at the pole at 5:45 pm local time (1345 GMT) Sunday.
"It is a fantastic impression. It was a physically difficult journey because it isn't a straight line. When you have blocks of ice that crash into each other they make pretty impressive little hills to climb," he said.
Some were 10 metres (33 feet high).
"The team was great and the dogs extraordinary, everything happened in a very good atmosphere," said Albert, before being helicoptered off the ice. Sources in Monaco said he would be in Moscow Tuesday where he would meet President
The palace in Monaco said Albert's journey had been difficult, covering 20 kilometres (12 miles) on the first day, and the first three days had been especially hard because of cracks and compressions in the ice.
On the second day the team could only cover 17 kilometres because of reduced visibility and ice conditions.
On Saturday the weather improved and the expedition covered more than 35 kilometres. The final 20-kilometre assault on the pole began Sunday at 9:15 am local time (0515 GMT).
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Sand storm, pollution envelop Beijing
Mon Apr 17, 1:02 AM ET
BEIJING - A sand storm struck the Chinese capital on Monday, covering homes, streets and cars in brown dust and leaving the skies a murky yellow as it suffers its worst pollution in years ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Desertification of the country's west and Mongolian steppes has made the spring sand storms worse in recent years, reaching as far away as South Korea and Japan.
Cold, windy weather, a glut of construction sites and poor plant cover around Beijing have also contributed.
So far in 2006, Beijing has notched up days of the worst measure of pollution, more than last year's total and the highest in six years, state media said.
Only 53 "blue sky" days in Beijing had been recorded in 2006 by last Wednesday. The city sets a target of about 230 such clean days a year to help what it says will be a "Green Olympics."
Hospitals have also dealt with a sharp increase in patients with respiratory diseases, and on Monday local newspapers warned residents to wear masks outdoors.
"It took me quite a while to wipe off the sand on my car," said office clerk Chong Zi, who drove to work. "But there's no point in washing it -- who knows when the next storm will hit?"
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Brazil floods kill eight, leave 116,000 homeless
Sat Apr 15, 7:47 PM ET
RIO DE JANEIRO - Floods killed eight people and left 116,000 homeless after torrential rains in northern Brazil, officials said, declaring a state of emergency in some areas.
The national weather institute predicted rain through Monday in the northern state of Para. Civil defense said food for at least 8,000 families would be needed as well as drinking water.
Firefighters said that on Friday they had distributed food for 10,000 families supplied by the federal government.
Among the dead are a three-year-old boy, a 10-month-old baby and a man, 74.
Thousands of families were taken to shelters set up by the military for persons who had lost their homes.
The army moved troops into several areas likely to be flooded by Amazon tributaries, like the Tapajos, as rain continues to fall.
Residents are using boats for transportation in some areas, and are threatened by cobras and alligators swimming in the waters.
Area businesses have been flooded and milk production has been cut by half.
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South American Rodents Found in Seattle
Fri Apr 14, 10:08 PM ET
SEATTLE - A water-loving rodent native to South America that has destroyed thousands of acres of wetlands in the southeast has been spotted near Lake Washington.
Nutria are semi-aquatic, chocolate-colored rodents that can weigh more than 20 pounds and eat one-quarter of their weight a day in crops and plants of all varieties. Also called coypu, or swamp rats, they burrow through marshes and levies, and females can produce more than a dozen offspring a year.
A trapper recently caught nine along the shores of Lake Washington. Two University of Washington students are studying the rodents to determine where they may show up next.
"It's a pretty ominous picture when you bring nutria into an area where they didn't exist before," said Mike Davison, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. "There is no way of winning on this if nutria establish."
A statewide Invasive Species Council was recently created to track nutria and other invasive plant and animal species, and to find methods for removing them.
The council will include six state agencies and two counties and will work with federal and other government agencies, business, tribal and nonprofit groups. It plans to meet in coming months.
"Having an Invasive Species Council is a big step forward," said Joan Cabreza, invasive species coordinator with the Northwest regional office of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency.
Washington has lagged behind states like Oregon and Idaho that already have such councils that work to prevent introduction of invasive species. Without such a council, no single agency had the authority to act, Cabreza said.
"If you can get on these things early and get people to understand how important it is, the impact is really small," said Bill Brookreson, deputy director for the state Agriculture Department.
Nationally, nutria are found in at least 15 states, including Louisiana, Texas, the Carolinas, Florida, Maryland and Oregon.
In the 1930s and '40s, they were raised in Washington and elsewhere for their fur. They're vulnerable to cold and flooding, though, and it's believed they died out of the Puget Sound region over the years.
Populations have established in southwest Washington, near Vancouver, where they've turned local dikes to "Swiss cheese," said Davison.
Last summer, more than a dozen were caught in Skagit County in a state-led control effort.
Davison helped in the project in Skagit County, where agricultural and forestry industries and reliance on levies make the area vulnerable to the pests. Traps are still being laid and nutria caught are killed.
Milder weather could have helped the nutria spread into the Puget Sound area, as well as a lack of predators like caiman and alligators in their native environment.
Armed with large packs, camera gear and notebooks, UW students Phu Van and Filip Tkaczyk are documenting where the interlopers are living, how many there are and what they're eating. They're focusing on an area of fields and wetlands north of Husky Stadium.
Along the shoreline, the large rodents have flattened grass and cattails, creating "runways" as they travel from the water to dens to fields where they graze among the Canada geese.
Ed Cunningham, a Highline High School educator who also runs a trapping business, was called this winter by a Lake Washington resident who wanted the rodents removed.
He used bait and wire cages to trap nine of the rodents over a couple of weeks in February and March.
"What we need to do is get some sterile alligators that like cold water," joked Cunningham. "I'm not going to get them all."
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Oil up near $70 as funds flow in, Iran rumbles on
By Luke Pachymuthu
Mon Apr 17, 3:53 AM ET
SINGAPORE - Oil leapt to $70 a barrel for the first time in seven and a half months on Monday, extending strong gains made last week as tension mounted between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
U.S. May crude oil futures traded 53 cents up at $69.85 a barrel by 0742 GMT, having hit $70 earlier, its highest since Hurricane Katrina battered the U.S. Gulf Coast in late August last year to send U.S. prices to a record-high of $70.85.
London's Brent crude rose 43 cents to $71.00 after a new record-high of $71.40 on fears that lost Nigerian production and the threat to Iran's output would hit Europe harder than the United States.
"The drama over Iran's face-off with the West, the rise of insurgency in Nigeria and gasoline supply concerns in the U.S. ahead of the driving season are keeping a high floor under oil," said Victor Shum at consultancy Purvin & Gertz in Singapore.
Oil prices have risen more than 20 percent since mid-February, despite sizeable U.S. crude inventories, as geopolitical fears compound fundamental worries that refiners may struggle to make enough gasoline for the summer driving season.
Iran has expanded its uranium conversion facilities in Isfahan and reinforced its Nantanz enrichment plant, a U.S. think tank said over the weekend.
This comes just days after U.S. magazine The New Yorker reported that the United States was exploring the option of using tactical nuclear weapons to knock out Iran's underground sites. Western powers fear Iran may be planning to build an atomic bomb, which Tehran denies.
Worries over supply from Iran, which pumps about 5 percent of the world's oil, were compounded by Chad, which demanded that a U.S.-led oil consortium pay it at least $100 million by Tuesday, or it would halt its daily output of up to 170,000 barrels.
Oil Minister Mahamat Nasser Hassan told Reuters at the weekend that Chad had asked Exxon Mobil Corp., Malaysia's Petronas and Chevron Corp. to put the funds into a state account, circumventing the World Bank's escrow account that was meant to ensure revenues benefit the poor.
In West African producer Nigeria, there was no indication that output was resuming from Royal Dutch Shell's (RDSa.L) offshore EA field, which has been shut since February, despite hopes for a preparatory assessment last week.
A quarter of the OPEC member's output is shut in due to militant attacks, which many analysts fear could last up to the next presidential elections in a year's time.
And the cartel does not seem to be able to deal with the rocketing prices. "I think oil prices are too high but there is nothing we can do," Qatari Oil Minister Abdullah al-Attiyah said on Monday.
Asked if high prices were harming the global economy, he told Reuters on the sidelines of the Qatar Economic Forum. "When they get above $60 I start to worry.
A series of refinery outages in Asia and the United States added to worries of summer supplies after the U.S. government said last week that inventories fell by 3.9 million barrels, much deeper than earlier expected due to heavy refinery maintenance.
A ConocoPhillips refinery in Borger, Texas, reported an equipment malfunction at the weekend, said regulators, while Japan's Cosmo Oil Co. had to shut a crude unit at its Chiba plant after a fire, on the heels of recent unplanned closures at two other Japanese plants.
"Along with the continued hardline talk from Iran, we've had some refinery issues, which is not good at this time of year," said a New York-based futures broker.
May gasoline rose 0.53 percent to $2.1191 a gallon.
Analysts said the combination of bullish factors had also drawn a fresh infusion of investor funds, helping push open interest on New York Mercantile Exchange crude oil contracts to a record high above 1 million lots last week.
"The funds are back in the market, showing a strong commitment on long positions for crude," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates.
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Gold hits new 25-yr high over $604, silver surges
Monday April 17, 1:17 PM
TOKYO - Gold jumped to a new 25-year high above $604 per ounce on Monday as lingering concerns over Iran's nuclear aspirations and surges in the key U.S. crude price spurred active speculative buying.
Silver rose as high as to $13.33 per ounce, the highest since May 1983, as speculators continued to buy on hopes of an imminent launch of the first silver exchange-traded fund.
Surges of gold and silver futures on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange spilled to bolster dollar-based spot prices as both London and New York markets were closed for Easter holidays on Friday.
"We all know both gold and silver prices are too high, but no long holders are willing to sell, while short holders were getting heavily squeezed," said Takashi Ogura, risk management section manager at Kanetsu Asset Management.
"People don't want to go against the present bullish trend, so prices are surging," Ogura added.
Spot gold rose as high as $605.70 an ounce -- the highest since December 1980.
At 0314 GMT, gold was trading at $604.50/605.30, compared with Friday's late Asia level of around $599.30. It was at $596.10/596.90 in New York on Thursday.
New York metals futures markets will reopen on Monday, while London precious metals markets will be closed until Tuesday.
Key most-distant February contract on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange ended the morning session at 2,331 yen per gram, up 12 yen or 0.5 percent from Friday's close.
Gold was supported by bullish U.S. oil futures, which leapt to $70 a barrel for the first time in seven and a half months on Monday. Gold is considered a hedge against inflation.
Iran has expanded its uranium conversion facilities in Isfahan and reinforced its Nantanz enrichment plant, a U.S. think tank said over the weekend.
This comes just days after U.S. magazine The New Yorker reported that the U.S. was exploring the option of using tactical nuclear weapons to knock out Iran's underground sites. Western powers fear Tehran may be covertly planning to build an atomic bomb.
Still many traders were nervous about chasing gold and silver from current levels as they were unsure whether the current upward trend would be maintained even after participants fully return from the Easter holidays.
"Rises in TOCOM silver and gold boosted spot prices, while many foreigners are watching today's rises very cautiously," said a senior trader at a Japanese trading house said.
"Prices are sharply up but there are few players who are willing to take new positions from these high levels."
Key most-distant February TOCOM silver rose more than 3 percent on active speculative buying, which helped lift the spot silver price.
Silver was trading at $13.23/13.26, up from around $12.93 in late Asia on Friday and surpassing the previous 23-year high of $13.01 an ounce reached on April 11.
It was at $12.77/12.80 in New York on Thursday.
Both platinum and palladium rose in line with gains in silver and gold.
Platinum was trading to $1,090/1,095 an ounce from $1,080 in late Asia on Friday. It was at $1,075/1,080 in late New York on Thursday.
Palladium advanced to $350/357 an ounce from $344 in Asia on Friday. It was at $344/349 in New York on Thursday.
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Bushes Pay $187,768 in Taxes for 2005
By DEB RIECHMANN
Sat Apr 15, 1:38 AM ET
WASHINGTON - President Bush and the first lady paid about $187,000 in federal taxes this year on income of about $735,000. Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife made more than 10 times as much, overpaid the tax man and are looking for a $1.9 million refund.
According to the president's tax return released Friday by the White House, the Bushes had adjusted gross income of $735,180 - about $50,000 less than the year before.
The couple paid $187,768 in federal taxes for last year - about $19,500 less than they paid the Internal Revenue Service for 2004.
Their income included Bush's presidential salary - about $400,000 - and investment income from trusts that hold their assets.
The Bushes contributed $75,560 - about 10 percent of their income - to churches and charitable organizations. Those included the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army's funds for hurricane relief in the United States and earthquake aid in Pakistan. They also gave to Martha's Table, which provides food and services to the underprivileged in the Washington area, the Archdiocese of New Orleans Catholic Charities and the Mississippi Food Network.
The Bushes paid $26,172 in state property taxes on their ranch near Crawford, Texas, up about $4,000 from the year before.
The Cheneys reported adjusted gross income of nearly $8.82 million, a number largely padded with income they received by exercising stock options that had been set aside in 2001 for charity.
The Cheneys donated about $6.87 million to charity from the stock options and royalties earned on Mrs. Cheney's books: "America: A Patriotic Primer," "A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women" and "When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots."
Recipients of their charitable donations included: George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates for the benefit of the Cardiothoracic Institute, the University of Wyoming Foundation and Capital Partners for Education, to benefit low-income high school students in the Washington area.
After subtracting the charitable contributions, the Cheneys' income was $1.95 million on which they owed $529,636 in taxes, according to a statement released by the vice president's office.
Since the Cheneys paid $2.46 million in withholding and estimated taxes over the year, they were entitled to a refund of about $1.93 million.
The Cheneys' income included the vice president's $205,031 government salary and $211,465 in deferred compensation from Halliburton Co., the Dallas-based energy services firm he headed until Aug. 16, 2000.
Cheney elected in December 1998 to recoup over five years a portion of the money he made in 1999 as chief executive officer of Halliburton. This amount was to be paid in annual installments - with interest - after Cheney's retirement from Halliburton. The 2005 payment is the last.
The White House has said that the amount of deferred compensation received by the vice president is fixed and is not affected by Halliburton's current economic performance or earnings.
The Cheneys' tax return also reports Mrs. Cheney's royalty income from her book, "A Time for Freedom: What Happened When in America," salary income from the American Enterprise Institute and a retirement benefit from Reader's Digest. Mrs. Cheney served on the Reader's Digest board of directors until retiring in 2003.
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Poll: Most Americans Say Tax System Unjust
By WILL LESTER
Sat Apr 15, 4:15 AM ET
WASHINGTON - Almost as certain as death and taxes is the public's feeling that the U.S. income tax system is not fair. An Ipsos Poll released this week found almost six of 10 people, 58 percent, say the system is unjust, a number that is virtually unchanged from two decades ago.
People think the middle class, the self-employed and small businesses pay too much in taxes, the poll found. And they think those with high incomes and big businesses don't pay enough.
The survey was conducted in the days before the mid-April deadline for filing income tax returns.
Dissatisfaction with the tax system remains high after numerous changes in tax law since the late 1980s.
The Reagan administration led a tax overhaul two decades ago that significantly lowered tax rates and eliminated or reduced several deductions. The first President Bush abandoned his "read my lips, no new taxes pledge" in a 1990 budget deal that raised taxes.
The Clinton administration won passage in 1993 of a deficit-reduction measure that blended tax increases, budget cuts and rebates for the working poor.
And the second Bush administration pushed successfully for tax cuts that lowered the top income tax rate to 35 percent and slashed tax rates for individuals and manufacturers.
People were most likely to think the middle class is paying too much in taxes, according to the poll.
More than half, 58 percent, said middle-income families pay too much income tax and people were almost as likely, 54 percent, to say that about low-income families.
Six in 10 said high-income families were paying too little in taxes. But 20 years ago, almost eight in 10 said high income families were paying too little.
Tax cuts for the wealthy have been at the heart of a bitter partisan tax debate during much of this Bush administration.
The poll of 1,005 adults was conducted April 11-13 by Ipsos, an international polling firm, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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US media reacts to French protests with hatred and fear
By Jerry White
1 April 2006
The US media, not known for following the internal political developments of other countries too closely unless it has a direct impact upon the US, has provided an inordinate amount of ill-tempered commentary on the wave of protests and strikes in France against the introduction of a law that enables employers to fire young workers without cause.
The reaction of the media has been universally hostile, varying from denunciations by the right-wing press of "mob rule" to the more low-key perplexity expressed by the liberal media, which suggests that French are suffering from some type of collective dementia because they believe they have the right to such things as job security.
The headlines of several newspaper commentaries give a flavor of this contempt, from the Wall Street Journal's, "The Decline of France" (March 21) and "Casseurs" (or "Smashers," March 29); to the Washington Post's "French take to the Streets to Preserve their Economic Fantasy" (March 22) and "The French In Denial" (March 28); to the New York Times' "France's Misguided Protesters" (March 27).
In one way or another all of the commentaries suggest the protests are illegitimate. They declare that France's labor laws and social protections are outmoded and must be "reformed" if corporations are to thrive and create jobs. They suggest that "everyone" agrees with this, everyone, that is, except the millions of workers and young people marching on the streets of France. Echoing the infamous comments of British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the time of the invasion of Iraq, the US media suggests that the strength of a democracy is measured by the ability of political leaders to defy the will of the people and do "what's right."
As always, the Wall Street Journal leads the pack of reactionary voices. Having spared no provocative insult against Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin for refusing to line up behind the US invasion of Iraq, the Journal now declares the French president and prime minister the champions of democracy. The French government is facing down "Jihadist" students, who, the newspaper claims, are resorting to violence to defend their "religion of job security." Writer Nidra Poller declares, "Democracies run on elections and legislation; mobs rule by fire and the sword," suggesting that state repression is needed to crush the protests and uphold "democracy."
Like the Wall Street Journal, the premise of liberal newspapers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times is that France's high unemployment rate is due to the unfair burden placed on employers by the social protections fought for by the working class and put in place after World War II. If corporations are given the unrestricted right to fire workers and exploit them like American workers, the story goes, this will entice companies to create new jobs.
While "those of you brainwashed by Anglo-American market capitalism" see the need for this type of "market flexibility" to increase employment, Post writer Steven Pearlstein declares cynically, "viewed through the dark prism of the French imagination, these aren't real jobs - they're 'garbage jobs' and 'slave contracts' meant to undermine the birthright of all Frenchmen to be shielded from all economic risk. Give in on this, and who knows what could go next? The 35-hour workweek? The six weeks of paid vacation? State-mandated profit sharing? Retirement at age 60?"
Oh, what horrors!
Posing as a defender of the unemployed, Pearlstein claims that the reason immigrant youth and many university students cannot find jobs is because a "shrinking pool of older, middle-class workers" enjoy the "full panoply of worker protections" and are "sucking the innovation and vitality from the economy." Expressing dismay over the fact that young people are demanding the same rights their parents achieved, Pearlstein complains, "rather than supporting the reforms that might generate more jobs and more income, the outsiders have bought into the nostalgic fantasy of a France that once was, but can never be again, making common cause with the very 'insiders' whose selfishness and pigheaded socialism have left them out in the cold."
Indeed it is the continuing influence of socialism and egalitarian ideals in France - in spite of the betrayals of Stalinism and social democracy - that most outrages Pearlstein and his cohorts in the media. The Post reporter disparagingly notes the results of a recent poll by the University of Maryland on international policy attitudes showing that only 36 percent of French respondents felt that "the free enterprise system and free market economy" is the best system. This was the lowest percentage of any of the 22 countries polled and compared with 59 percent in Italy, 65 percent in Germany, 66 percent in Britain and 71 percent in the United States.
Complaining that France sported "only" 14 billionaires, as compared to 24 in similarly sized Britain, Pearlstein concludes his column: "Indeed, when you ask French university students who is the Bill Gates of France, they look at you blankly. It's not simply that they can't name one. The bigger problem is that they can't imagine why it matters, or why that has anything to do with why they can't find a good job."
Nowhere does Pearlstein explain how the hoarding of vast fortunes by the super-rich and the gaping levels of social inequality have improved the lot of American workers. Instead, he, along with the other well-heeled pundits in the corporate-controlled news media take as given that US employers should wield dictatorial powers in the workplace and retain the unquestioned "right" to destroy thousands of jobs and slash wages and benefits. After all, Dr. Pangloss, this is the best of all possible worlds.
Pearlstein's fellow columnist at the Post, Robert J. Samuelson, argues that the protests in France point a "larger predicament" for Europe. "Hardly anyone wants to surrender the benefits and protections of today's generous welfare state, but the fierce attachment to these costly and self-defeating programs prevents Europe from preparing for a future that, though it may be deplored, is inevitable."
Samuelson then lets the cat out of the bag, acknowledging that the media's take on the French protests is bound up with political situation in the US and concerns over how American workers will respond to the unprecedented attacks now on the agenda of corporate America and both of its political parties. "The dilemma of advanced democracies," he says, "including the United States, is that they've made more promises than they can keep. Their political commitments outstrip the economy's capacity to deliver...To disavow past promises incites public furor; not to disavow them worsens the country's future problems."
This anxiety over possible "public furor" in the US was spelled out even more clearly in a USA Today editorial, entitled, "Before you scoff at the French, consider the U.S. connection." It begins by warning that the French protests demonstrate the "lengths that people will go to preserve guarantees and benefits" despite "harming their own long-term prospects and those of their children."
While the US should consider itself "fortunate" that it does not "endow its workers with the right not to be fired," the editorial says, "one can see counterproductive sentiments similar to those of the French protesters in the workers at companies such as General Motors. They demand preservation of generous pensions and lifetime health coverage from employers that might be driven out of business...
"On a larger scale, it's possible to see the French in the intractability of the Medicare and Social Security debates," the editorial continues. Claiming that longer life spans, the coming retirement of baby boomers and exploding health costs, were pushing the government and economy toward a "fiscal abyss," the newspaper complains that "those who receive these benefits, or are about to, have shown scant interest in reforms needed to avert a looming crisis..."
The editorial concludes: "The USA rarely has the strikes and street protests that France is almost as famous for as its cheeses. But it does suffer from some of the same unwillingness to consider the future."
Thus, the media's sudden interest in France reveals itself to be a concern that working class resistance could spread to the US itself, where the reactionary agenda of free market policies was initiated in the first place, before it spread to Britain and the rest of the world. With unrelenting attacks on workers by GM, Delphi, Northwest Airlines and other US corporations, as well as plans by the Bush administration to slash "entitlement" programs to pay for further tax cuts to the rich and the burgeoning costs of America's worldwide military adventures, there is no doubt that at least some establishment figures who are not too blind to see are considering the possibility that if mass opposition could explode in France, it could happen here too.
The arguments that society simply cannot afford to provide for the basic needs of working people are becoming increasingly threadbare, not only for French workers but for their American counterparts as well. Despite their efforts to reassure themselves about popular support for the profit system, the reality is that there are growing numbers of workers and youth in America who realize that the real problem is that society cannot afford to allow a tiny minority of the population to monopolize the wealth created by working people. Despite the insistent claims over the years about the death of the class struggle and the working class, the explosive events in France, as they so often have done throughout history, are a sign of what is coming throughout the world, and within the US itself.
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Exxon Chairman Gets $400 Million Retirement Package Amid Soaring Gas Prices
April 14, 2006
Soaring gas prices are squeezing most Americans at the pump, but at least one man isn't complaining.
Last year, Exxon made the biggest profit of any company ever, $36 billion, and its retiring chairman appears to be reaping the benefits.
Exxon is giving Lee Raymond one of the most generous retirement packages in history, nearly $400 million, including pension, stock options and other perks, such as a $1 million consulting deal, two years of home security, personal security, a car and driver, and use of a corporate jet for professional purposes.
Last November, when he was still chairman of Exxon, Raymond told Congress that gas prices were high because of global supply and demand.
"We're all in this together, everywhere in the world," he testified.
Raymond, however, was confronted with caustic complaints about his compensation.
"In 2004, Mr. Raymond, your bonus was over $3.6 million," Sen. Barbara Boxer said.
That was before new corporate documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that revealed Raymond's retirement deal and his $51.1 million paycheck in 2005. That's equivalent to $141,000 a day, nearly $6,000 an hour. It's almost more than five times what the CEO of Chevron made.
"I think it will spark a lot of outrage," said Sarah Anderson, a fellow in the global economy program at the Institute for Policy Studies, an independent think tank. "Clearly much of his high-level pay is due to the high price of gas."
Exxon defends Raymond's compensation, pointing out that during the 12 years he ran the company, Exxon became the largest oil company in the world and that the stock price went up 500 percent.
A company spokesman said the compensation package reflected "a very long and distinguished career."
Some Exxon shareholders are now trying to pass resolutions criticizing the company's executive pay policies. The company is urging other shareholders to vote against those resolutions.
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Bush expected to approve dramatic pandemic flu response plan
BEIJING - U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to approve within days a national pandemic influenza response plan under which the government would expand the Internet and possibly permit foreign countries to print U.S. currency during a flu pandemic.
Washington Post reported on Sunday that the document is the first to spell out how the U.S. government would detect and respond to a flu outbreak and continue to function through what could be an 18-month crisis capable of killing up to 1.9 million Americans.
The U.S. Treasury Department is poised to sign agreements with other nations to produce currency if U.S. mints cannot operate, according to the report. The Pentagon is considering stockpiling millions of latex gloves and the Department of Veterans Affairs has developed a drive-through medical exam to quickly assess patients who suspect they have been infected.
The 240-page response plan identifies more than 300 specific tasks for federal agencies, including determining which frontline workers should be vaccinated first and expanding the Internet to accommodate a likely flood of people working from their home computers, according to the newspaper.
Bush was briefed on a draft of the plan on March 17. He is expected to approve the plan within the week, but it continues to evolve, said several administration officials who have been working on it.
The White House is eager to show it can manage the medical, security and economic fallout from a major outbreak following its widely criticized response to Hurricane Katrina, the Post said.
Concern about a possible pandemic has grown with the emergence of the H5N1 avian flu, the most dangerous strain in decades.
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Spy Chief: CIA Detainees Will Be Held Indefinitely
U.S. Director of National Intelligence says accused Al-Qaeda members will remain in secret prisons as long as 'war on terror continues.'
The U.S. Director of National Intelligence, John D. Negroponte, told TIME told that three dozen or so of the worst al-Qaeda terrorists held in secret CIA prisons are likely to remain in captivity as long as the "war on terror continues."
Negroponte's comments appear to be the first open acknowledgement of the secret U.S. detention system and the fact that captives such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammad may be held indefinitely.
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NYPD Deploys First of 500 Security Cameras
By TOM HAYS
Sun Apr 16, 1:52 PM ET
NEW YORK - Along a gritty stretch of street in Brooklyn, police this month quietly launched an ambitious plan to combat street crime and terrorism.
But instead of cops on the beat, wireless video cameras peer down from lamp posts about 30 feet above the sidewalk.
They were the first installment of a program to place 500 cameras throughout the city at a cost of $9 million. Hundreds of additional cameras could follow if the city receives $81.5 million in federal grants it has requested to safeguard Lower Manhattan and parts of midtown with a surveillance "ring of steel" modeled after security measures in London's financial district.
Officials of the New York Police Department - which considers itself at the forefront of counterterrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - claim the money would be well-spent, especially since the revelations that al-Qaida members once cased the New York Stock Exchange and other financial institutions.
"We have every reason to believe New York remains in the cross-hairs, so we have to do what it takes to protect the city," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said last week at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
The city already has about 1,000 cameras in the subways, with 2,100 scheduled to be in place by 2008. An additional 3,100 cameras monitor city housing projects.
Homeland Security officials in Washington plan to spend $9.8 million for surveillance cameras and sensors on a rail line near the Capitol. And Philadelphia has increasingly relied on video surveillance.
Privacy advocates say the NYPD's camera plan needs more study and safeguards to preserve privacy and guard against abuses like racial profiling and voyeurism.
The department "is installing cameras first and asking questions later," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Police officials insist that law-abiding New Yorkers have nothing to fear because the cameras will be restricted to public areas. The police commissioner recently established a panel of four corporate defense lawyers to advise the department on surveillance policies.
"The police department must be flexible to meet an ever changing threat," Kelly said. "We also have to ensure whatever measures we take are reasonable as the Constitution requires. That's the only way to retain public support and preserve individual freedoms."
Lieberman concedes cameras can help investigators identify suspects once a crime has been committed, but argues they can't prevent crime. She cited a 2002 study which concluded that surveillance cameras used in 14 British cities had little or no impact on crime rates - just as they didn't keep terrorists from bombing the London subway system last year.
"The London experience shouldn't be misconstrued that the 'ring of steel' prevents terrorism," she said. "But that's how it's being pitched."
Still, New York police were impressed that their British counterparts drew on 80,000 videotapes to identify and retrace the routes of the subway system suicide bombers and the suspects in a failed follow-up attack.
Timothy Horner, a specialist with the Kroll security firm and a former NYPD captain, said the measures make sense.
"It's not a cure-all, and the department is not thinking that way," he said. "But we really want law enforcement to use whatever tools they can to keep us safe."
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America wants to meet its foreign visitors eye to eye
By Abigail Townsend
16 April 2006
There was a distinct sense of rebellion in the air last week. At the annual Global Tourism and Travel Summit in Washington DC, the buzz was all about how the authorities had made it simply too difficult to get into the country, to the detriment of the entire US economy.
"Last year, 30 million Chinese travelled abroad," the revered hotelier JW Marriott Jnr told delegates. "They flocked to France, Germany, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong. But only 270,000 came to the US, and that's because it's so darn tough for Chinese visitors to get their visa."
Also speaking at the conference, the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to offer reassurance. "I know some of our initial security measures after 11 September have ... led some foreign citizens to believe that the United States is no longer welcoming to them," she said. "We're doing everything we can to improve our visa policy."
Delegates rose and applauded, but whether the system will become more acceptable to the industry and travellers alike is debatable. Controversially, the US authorities are now looking to increase their reliance on biometrics, or biological data.
For example, the US wants to introduce a 10-finger scan at Customs instead of the current index-finger requirement. All fingerprints go through a database of the FBI and Interpol's most-wanted, including known or suspected terrorists and child abusers. (Also targeted are those with previous immigration violations - for all the talk of terrorism, the US is very keen, too, on keeping out ordinary illegal immigrants.) Advocates of the 10-finger scan say it will make it harder for anyone to slip through this net.
Meanwhile, the authorities continue to take an interest in the use of iris-scanning technology, although costs are currently considered prohibitive. Each individual iris is unique, providing a fail-safe means of identification that cannot be burnt or scratched.
James Williams, director of the US-Visit programme at the Department of Homeland Security, argues that measures such as these - far from adding to the burden - will make entry procedures simpler.
"Other countries, like the UK and Japan, are looking at introducing biometrics," he says. "As we provide more information about that [person's] visa through biometrics, it gives more objective measures to the law officers."
All your visa data - fingerprints, date of birth, details of your spouse - are kept by the US authorities for 75 years. The information can be shared with the FBI, border protection officials, immigration authorities and the Department of State.
Critics remain uneasy about the vast amount of information the US demands. But while its immigration process may all seem "a bit Big Brother" - as even Mr Williams's deputy, Robert Mocny, concedes - talks continue between the US and other countries about establishing an "international standard" on biometrics and electronic passports. Indeed, the department is now looking to have a member of staff seconded to the UK.
"It's not just what the US wants to do," says Mr Williams. "We're all in the same global battle against terrorism. It's about moving towards a world where you guard the good people and make it hard for the bad people. I don't care if a fingerprint is in Bali, Madrid or London - if it's a bad guy, all countries should be saying, 'Let's stop him'."
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Blocked e-passports for US travel finally ready
April 13, 2006
PARIS - France is to issue its first electronic passports Friday, ending a months-long dispute that has caused a bottleneck for citizens travelling to the United States, the interior ministry said.
Initially available in the Hauts-de-Seine department west of Paris, the passports will be rolled out across the country by the end of June - ahead of a European Union deadline of August 28.
Under new US rules, visitors from 27 mainly European countries need to have biometric data encoded in a microchip in their passport, if it was issued after October 2005, to continue to enjoy visa-free travel to the country.
A French delay in producing the new documents - caused by a labour dispute at the state printing firm - had caused a visa logjam for thousands of French travellers heading to the United States.
Interior ministry secretary general Daniel Canepa said the first electronic passports would include a microchip with personal data and a digital photograph of the bearer.
Full biometric passports, also including a digital fingerprint, are to be introduced from 2009.
France's roll-out of e-passports was held up because of a dispute sparked by the interior ministry's decision to ask a private company to produce the new documents instead of the state printing firm.
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Northrop Grumman Delivers Sixth RQ-4 Global Hawk To US Air Force
Apr 17, 2006
San Diego, CA - The U.S. Air Force's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities have grown as Northrop Grumman Corporation delivered another RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to the service on April 5.
"The Northrop Grumman team worked vigilantly to help the Air Force deploy two Global Hawks this January," said Jerry Madigan, who leads Northrop Grumman's High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) systems.
"At the same time, we have worked hard to ensure the successful delivery of this Global Hawk. Now, we are looking forward to completing the final assembly and first flight of the next-generation, enhanced-version Global Hawk this year.
"This next-generation Global Hawk will be able to carry 1,000 pounds more payload than the current version, which fulfills one of our customer's most important requirements."
The seventh RQ-4 Global Hawk is scheduled for delivery to the Air Force this summer. The Navy acquired two RQ-4's for their Maritime Demonstration Program.
Global Hawk flies autonomously at an altitude of at least 60,000 feet, well above inclement weather and prevailing winds for more than 35 hours. During a single mission, it can travel more than 10,000 nautical miles from its take-off location, and it provides detailed image-based intelligence on 40,000 square miles, which is approximately the size of Illinois.
To date, deployed Global Hawks have flown more than 5,500 combat hours in more than 250 missions in support of the war on terrorism.
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Butts Out: N.J.'s Smoking Ban Takes Effect
By BRUCE SHIPKOWSKI
Sat Apr 15, 3:58 AM ET
LAKEWOOD, N.J. - As New Jersey ushered in its indoor smoking ban at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, there was no fanfare at the Green House Grill. Dance music played uninterrupted, and a couple of smokers at the bar snuffed out their last cigarettes.
Patron George Santos said he was resigned to the new reality.
"This won't stop me from smoking," he said. "It just means I'll have to take a few more breaks when I go out."
New Jersey's ban prohibits cigar, cigarette and pipe smoking in restaurants, bars, private office buildings and other indoor places, with fines of $250 to $1,000 for people who light up and the businesses that let them. Casino industry officials convinced lawmakers a ban would keep gamblers away and cut into profits earned by the casinos and shared by the state.
The state becomes the 11th to ban indoor smoking. There are similar bans in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Those who work around cigarette smoke were thankful.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Jennifer Williams, 25, a bartender at The Princeton in Avalon. "You go home smelling awful every night."
The law was passed to cut down on workers' exposure to secondhand smoke, which health officials say claims up to 1,800 lives a year in New Jersey alone.
But many bar owners and Atlantic City casino employees were still furious about the law because of the casino exemption. Casino employees say the law reduces them to second-class citizens whose health isn't as important as that of workers in places covered by the ban.
"I'm outraged that the men and women who work on the casino floor will be breathing smoke, while the rest of New Jersey's work force will not," said Al DeSimone, 44, a veteran dealer.
A coalition of bars, restaurants and bowling alley operators is suing over the ban. On Thursday, a judge rejected the group's bid to temporarily postpone the effective date of the ban, but the underlying lawsuit is still pending.
Comment: For an illuminating look at the anti-smoking campaign and how it relates to environmental pollution, don't miss Matthew Kiel's editorial An Environmental 9/11.
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The US Resistance?
Supporters rally around embattled Rumsfeld
April 17, 2006
More supporters rallied behind embattled US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose future at the Pentagon has been called into question by several prominent retired generals demanding his resignation.
Retired generals John Crosby, Thomas McInerney, Burton Moore and Paul Vallely said Rumsfeld was "arguably one of the most effective secretaries of defense our nation has ever had."
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, the four generals said that as long as Rumsfeld retains the confidence of
President George W. Bush, he will make the important calls at the top of the Department of Defense.
"That's the way America works," the general noted. "So let's all breathe into a bag and get on with winning the global war against radical Islam."
On Sunday, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers told ABC television that military officials -- even in retirement -- should keep their criticism to themselves.
"It's inappropriate, because it's not the military that judges our civilian bosses," said Myers, who left his post as senior US military adviser six months ago.
"There are professional standards that you have when you are in uniform that carry on when you retire," he told ABC's "This Week" program.
At least six former generals have called for Rumsfeld's ouster, some of whom held key combat commands and staff positions during the Iraq war.
They say the embattled defense secretary ignored military advice and deployed too few troops to pacify Iraq. Despite the outcry, President George W. Bush has declared his "full support" for Rumsfeld.
Among the defense secretary's detractors is retired major general John Batiste, who last week said that Rumsfeld showed too little regard for his uniformed advisers.
"When decisions are made without taking into account sound military recommendations, sound military decision-making, sound planning, then we're bound to make mistakes. When we violate the principles of war with mass and unity of command and unity of effort, we do that at our own peril," Batiste told US television last week.
The beleaguered Rumsfeld, for his part, characterized the critics as representing a minority opinion.
"Out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round," he told Al-Arabiya television last week.
However, US Senator Christopher Dodd said the few generals who have dared to speak out represent the just a small fraction of the far larger number of detractors.
"These are generals who are not only speaking for themselves but I suspect are speaking for a lot of senior military people who are in uniform today," the Democratic lawmaker said.
"Generals are not in the habit, even as retirees, to go around being critical of the civilian leadership. This is a very, very important event," he told the "Fox News Sunday" television program.
"Secretary Rumsfeld, with all due respect, is a past-tense man," he said.
Republican lawmakers defended the Republican president's choice.
Senator Mitch McConnell called Rumsfeld "a spectacular secretary of defense, one of the best in American history," also appearing on "Fox News Sunday."
Meanwhile, the late president Richard Nixon's secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, speaking on CNN television's "Late Edition" program, hailed Rumsfeld as "a distinguished public servant who has done an outstanding job as secretary of defense."
"The issue now is whether in order to deal with a decision made three years ago, one should undertake the blood-letting that these generals are asking for," he said.
But Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein told the same program that Rumsfeld has overstayed his welcome in the defense chief post.
"I think the president would be well served and the nation well served with a new team," she told CNN.
Comment: Wow, that's pretty sad. The best these four generals could come up with is a standard manipulative tactic that plays on the emotions of the masses: "So let's all breathe into a bag and get on with winning the global war against radical Islam." In other words, anyone who questions the Bush gang is "hyperventilating" and preventing the Land of the Free from defeating the "bad guys".
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Army report on al-Qaida accuses Rumsfeld
Julian Borger in Washington
Donald Rumsfeld was directly linked to prisoner abuse for the first time yesterday, when it emerged he had been "personally involved" in a Guantánamo Bay interrogation found by military investigators to have been "degrading and abusive".
Human Rights Watch last night called for a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate whether the defence secretary could be criminally liable for the treatment of Mohamed al-Qahtani, a Saudi al-Qaida suspect forced to wear women's underwear, stand naked in front of a woman interrogator, and to perform "dog tricks" on a leash, in late 2002 and early 2003. The US rights group said it had obtained a copy of the interrogation log, which showed he was also subjected to sleep deprivation and forced to maintain "stress" positions; it concluded that the treatment "amounted to torture".
However, military investigators decided the interrogation did not amount to torture but was "abusive and degrading". Those conclusions were made public last year but this is the first time Mr Rumsfeld's own involvement has emerged.
According to a December report by the army inspector general, obtained by Salon.com online magazine, the investigators did not accuse the defence secretary of specifically prescribing "creative" techniques, but they said he regularly monitored the progress of the al-Kahtani interrogation by telephone, and they argued he had helped create the conditions that allowed abuse to take place.
"Where is the throttle on this stuff?" asked Lt Gen Schmidt, an air force officer who said in sworn testimony to the inspector general that he had concerns about the duration and repetition of harsh interrogation techniques. He said that in his view: "There were no limits."
The revelation comes at a critical time for Mr Rumsfeld. He is under unprecedented scrutiny for his management of the Iraq war, after six former generals in quick succession called for his resignation.
The questions reached such a pitch by the end of the week that George Bush took the unusual step of issuing a personal note from Camp David in Mr Rumsfeld's defence. "I have seen first-hand how Don relies upon our military commanders in the field and at the Pentagon to make decisions about how best to complete these missions," the president wrote. "Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period. He has my full support and deepest appreciation."
And, responding to the generals, Mr Rumsfeld said in an al-Arabiya TV interview yesterday: "If every time two or three people disagreed we changed the secretary of defence, it would be like a merry-go-round." However, in the wake of the inspector general's report, Human Rights Watch said: "The question at this point is not whether secretary Rumsfeld should resign, it's whether he should be indicted. General Schmidt's sworn statement suggests Rumsfeld may have been perfectly aware of the abuses inflicted on Mr al-Qahtani."
The Pentagon also issued a statement in response to publication of the report. A spokeswoman said: "We've gone over this countless times, and yet some still choose to print fiction versus fact. Twelve reviews, to include one done by an independent panel, all confirm the department of defence did not have a policy that encouraged or condoned abuse. To suggest otherwise is simply false."
So far, only junior US officers have been charged and convicted for a string of prisoner abuse scandals since the Bush administration launched its "global war on terror", but rights activists have accused the administration of opening the way for the use of torture in 2002 by relaxing the constraints of the Geneva conventions.
Gen Bantz Craddock, head of Southern Command, overruled the investigators' recommendation that Maj Gen Geoffrey Miller, who ran the Guantánamo camp in 2002, be admonished for the techniques employed. Gen Miller was transferred to Abu Ghraib prison, and took with him his aggressive approach to interrogations.
The investigators found Mr Rumsfeld was "talking weekly" with Gen Miller about the al-Qahtani interrogation. In December 2002, the defence secretary approved 16 harsh interrogation techniques for use on Mr al-Qahtani, including forced nudity, and "stress positions". However approval was revoked in 2003.
Gen Miller insisted he was unaware of details of the interrogation, but Gen Schmidt said he found that"hard to believe" in view of Mr Rumsfeld's evident interest in its progress. Gen James Hill, former head of Southern Command, recalled Gen Miller recommending continuation of the interrogation, saying "We think we're right on the verge of making a breakthrough." Gen Hill then passed on the request to Mr Rumsfeld. "The secretary said, 'Fine,'" Gen Hill remembered.
The US defence secretary has faced many calls to resign over Guantánamo, the invasion of Iraq and abuses at Abu Ghraib prison - but the pressure he faces now comes from a weighty new quarter: six generals recently retired from the military he runs.
Retired general Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training Iraqi security forces, sparked the current round of condemnation in a New York Times article on March 19. On April 2, Anthony Zinni told a TV interviewer the US was "paying the price for the lack of credible planning" in Iraq. Seven days later, Lt Gen Gregory Newbold, a former member of the joint chiefs of staff, tore into the administration's "casualness and swagger... the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions".
On Wednesday, John Batiste, a former infantry commander, added his voice, and on Thursday his colleague John Riggs concurred. Charles Swannack, who commanded the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, brought the total to six yesterday, telling the New York Times Mr Rumsfeld had demonstrated "absolute failures in managing the war against Saddam".
Mr Rumsfeld is understood to have offered to resign at least twice while in charge at the Pentagon, but both times President George Bush turned him down.
Comment: Again, we find it rather interesting that the mainstream US media is not talking about this story - the real story. Instead, they are spreading the news of the war of words between the pro-Rummy and anti-Rummy military brass.
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Behind the Military Revolt
By Richard Holbrooke
Sunday, April 16, 2006; B07
The calls by a growing number of recently retired generals for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have created the most serious public confrontation between the military and an administration since President Harry S. Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1951. In that epic drama, Truman was unquestionably correct -- MacArthur, the commanding general in Korea and a towering World War II hero, publicly challenged Truman's authority and had to be removed. Most Americans rightly revere the principle that was at stake: civilian control over the military. But this situation is quite different.
First, it is clear that the retired generals -- six so far, with more likely to come -- surely are speaking for many of their former colleagues, friends and subordinates who are still inside. In the tight world of senior active and retired generals, there is constant private dialogue. Recent retirees stay in close touch with old friends, who were often their subordinates; they help each other, they know what is going on and a conventional wisdom is formed. Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, who was director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the planning period for the war in Iraq, made this clear in an extraordinary, at times emotional, article in Time magazine this past week when he said he was writing "with the encouragement of some still in positions of military leadership." He went on to "challenge those still in uniform . . . to give voice to those who can't -- or don't have the opportunity to -- speak."
These generals are not newly minted doves or covert Democrats. (In fact, one of the main reasons this public explosion did not happen earlier was probably concern by the generals that they would seem to be taking sides in domestic politics.) They are career men, each with more than 30 years in service, who swore after Vietnam that, as Colin Powell wrote in his memoirs, "when our turn came to call the shots, we would not quietly acquiesce in half-hearted warfare for half-baked reasons." Yet, as Newbold admits, it happened again. In the public comments of the retired generals one can hear a faint sense of guilt that, having been taught as young officers that the Vietnam-era generals failed to stand up to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and President Lyndon Johnson, they did the same thing.
Second, it is also clear that the target is not just Rumsfeld. Newbold hints at this; others are more explicit in private. But the only two people in the government higher than the secretary of defense are the president and vice president. They cannot be fired, of course, and the unspoken military code normally precludes direct public attacks on the commander in chief when troops are under fire. (There are exceptions to this rule, of course: In addition to MacArthur, there was Gen. George McClellan vs. Lincoln; and on a lesser note, Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, who was fired for attacking President Jimmy Carter over Korea policy. But such challenges are rare enough to be memorable, and none of these solo rebellions metastasized into a group, a movement that can fairly be described as a revolt.)
This has put President Bush and his administration in a hellish position at a time when security in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to be deteriorating. If Bush yields to the generals' revolt, he will appear to have caved in to pressure from what Rumsfeld disingenuously describes as "two or three retired generals out of thousands." But if he keeps Rumsfeld, he risks more resignations -- perhaps soon -- from generals who heed Newbold's stunning call that as officers they took an oath to the Constitution and should now speak out on behalf of the troops in harm's way and to save the institution that he feels is in danger of falling back into the disarray of the post-Vietnam era.
Facing this dilemma, Bush's first reaction was exactly what anyone who knows him would have expected: He issued strong affirmations of "full support" for Rumsfeld, even going out of his way to refer to the secretary of defense as "Don" several times in his statements. (This was in marked contrast to his tepid comments on the future of his other embattled Cabinet officer, Treasury Secretary John Snow. Washington got the point.)
In the end, the case for changing the secretary of defense seems to me to be overwhelming. I do not reach this conclusion simply because of past mistakes, simply because "someone must be held accountable." Many people besides Rumsfeld were deeply involved in the mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan; many of them remain in power, and some are in uniform.
The major reason the nation needs a new defense secretary is far more urgent. Put simply, the failed strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be fixed as long as Rumsfeld remains at the epicenter of the chain of command. Rumsfeld's famous "long screwdriver," with which he sometimes micromanages policy, now thwarts the top-to-bottom reexamination of strategy that is absolutely essential in both war zones. Lyndon Johnson understood this in 1968 when he eased another micromanaging secretary of defense, McNamara, out of the Pentagon and replaced him with Clark M. Clifford. Within weeks, Clifford had revisited every aspect of policy and begun the long, painful process of unwinding the commitment. Today, those decisions are still the subject of intense dispute, and there are many differences between the two situations. But one thing was clear then and is clear today: Unless the secretary of defense is replaced, the policy will not and cannot change.
That first White House reaction will not be the end of the story. If more angry generals emerge -- and they will -- if some of them are on active duty, as seems probable; if the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan does not turn around (and there is little reason to think it will, alas), then this storm will continue until finally it consumes not only Donald Rumsfeld. The only question is: Will it come so late that there is no longer any hope of salvaging something in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Richard Holbrooke, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, writes a monthly column for The Post.
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Key senator bucks Bush, urges US-Iran talks
By Jim Wolf
Sun Apr 16, 4:00 PM ET
WASHINGTON - The United States should hold direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program and go slow on pressing for sanctions, contrary to Bush administration strategy, the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman said on Sunday.
Breaking with President George W. Bush's insistence on a multilateral approach through the U.N. Security Council, Sen. Richard Lugar said direct U.S. talks with Iran would be useful as part of a broad dialogue on energy.
Lugar, on the ABC television program "This Week," said it was too soon to press hard for sanctions aimed at halting Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program even as the Bush administration prepares to do so at a meeting in Moscow Tuesday.
"I believe, for the moment, that we ought to cool this one, too," said Lugar, a Republican from Indiana. "We need to make more headway diplomatically."
Spokesmen for the White House and the State Department had no immediate comment.
Bush, wary of any Iranian effort to undo multilateral diplomacy, has ruled out direct U.S.-Iran talks on the nuclear issue, although he has opened a door to bilateral discussions on sectarian violence in neighboring
Iran announced last week it had enriched uranium for use in fueling power stations for the first time in defiance of a March 29 U.N. Security Council demand that it halt its enrichment program.
The announcement fanned Western fears of a covert atomic bomb program that has spurred reports of U.S. planning for the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons to knock out underground nuclear sites.
Iran says its nuclear program aims only to produce electricity. Bush dismissed reports of planning for a possible military strike as "wild speculation" and said he remained focused on diplomacy to defuse the issue.
Asked whether there should be direct talks with Iran now, Lugar said: "I think that would be useful ... the Iranians are a part of the energy picture.
"Clearly their ties with India and with China, quite apart from others, are really critical to (international energy issues)," he said.
"We need to talk about that. Maybe we need to focus our attention less right now on the centrifuges than on how power is going to come out ... to all of these countries in some more satisfying way," he said.
The United States will push its allies this week to consider punitive measures against Iran that include a freeze on assets, targeted sanctions and visa restrictions, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday.
Russia and China each hold veto power that could block U.N. Security Council-backed sanctions and each have strong economic ties with Iran. Each opposes sanctions or the use of force against Tehran.
Asked about sanctions, Lugar said: "I would hold off for the time being until we're certain that they're going to be effective."
"And they will not be effective without European friends who are in our negotiations quite apart from the Chinese, the Indians and the others," he said.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, the State Department's third-ranking official, said Friday that Iran's continued nuclear work was leaving it "no exit points" and isolating itself.
Burns, who will attend the Tuesday meeting in Moscow with senior officials from France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China, said he hoped sanctions could be imposed in a way that would "get the attention of the Iranian government" but not be too damaging to the Iranian people.
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More Americans feel US should mind its own business: poll
Fri Apr 14, 9:50 AM ET
WASHINGTON - Nearly half of Americans believe their government should mind its own business internationally and only one third approves of how US President George W. Bush is handling Iraq, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll said.
Bush's rating, which rose from 32 percent in September to 39 percent in the ensuing months, has fallen back to 32 percent in the latest survey, the USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll said.
Amid growing opposition to the US-led war in Iraq, the number of Americans who think the United States "should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along as best they can on their own," has risen from 33 percent to 46 percent over the past three years, the poll said.
The pollsters said their April 7-9 survey reflected similar results during the Vietnam War, when only 20 percent of Americans said their country should mind its own business in 1964, one year before the war began, compared to 40 percent who thought so in 1972, when the Vietnam War was in full swing.
And just as US president Lyndon Johnson failed to convince his countrymen between 1966 and 1968 that the Vietnam War was being won, Bush has been unable to turn the tide of opposition to the Iraq war since he began a series of speeches in September.
Johnson's war-handling ratings dropped from 57 percent to 39 percent in two years.
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Neil Young, Son of Famed Reporter, Records "Impeach the President" Song
By E&P Staff
April 14, 2006 11:40 AM ET
NEW YORK As an E&P "Pressing Issues" column recently noted, rock star Neil Young is the son of a famed Canadian journalist, so it should not surprise many that he recently recorded a song in California with a very reportorial -- or at least pundit -- feel to it.
It's called "Impeach the President," so there can be little question what it is about.
Apparently it was recorded with a 100-voice choir.
Rumors have circulated the past few days on the Web, but E&P has tracked down the strongest confirmation in a blog kept by Sherman Oaks, Ca. musician/singer Alicia Morgan.
Previous reports quoted hints by Young and Jonathan Demme (who directed the new documentary "Heart of Gold") that Neil was working on a hard-rocking political or "anti-Bush" CD.
Last Friday, Morgan wrote on her LastLeftB4Hooterville blog that she had been "summoned" to a local studio to sing on the new record with 99 others. "I'm not going to give the whole thing away, but the first line of one of the songs was 'Let's impeach the President for lyin'!' Turns out the whole thing is a classic beautiful protest record. The session was like being at a 12-hour peace rally. Every time new lyrics would come up on the screen, there were cheers, tears and applause. It was a spiritual experience. I can't believe my good fortune at being a part of this.
"We finished the session by singing an a capella version of 'America the Beautiful' and there was not a dry eye in the house.
"Neil said it should be out in 6 to 8 weeks."
Harp magazine reported on its Web site Thursday that Demme had confirmed in an e-mail, "Neil just finished writing and recording -- with no warning -- a new album called 'Living With War.' It all happened in three days... It is a brilliant electric assault, accompanied by a 100-voice choir, on Bush and the war in Iraq... Truly mind blowing. Will be in stores soon."
The magazine continued: "Details are pretty scarce, but the featured track, titled 'Impeach the President,' features a rap with Bush's voice set to the choir chanting 'flip/flop' and the like."
Young has always been a maverick politically as well as musically. Although he has recorded a few songs that drew cheers from liberals, such as "Ohio" and "Southern Man," he also drew criticism from the left for pro-Reagan comments many years ago.
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Chaos in Iraq
US plots "new liberation of Baghdad"
Sarah Baxter Washington
The American military is planning a "second liberation of Baghdad" to be carried out with the Iraqi army when a new government is installed.
Pacifying the lawless capital is regarded as essential to establishing the authority of the incoming government and preparing for a significant withdrawal of American troops.
Strategic and tactical plans are being laid by US commanders in Iraq and at the US army base in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, under Lieutenant- General David Petraeus. He is regarded as an innovative officer and was formerly responsible for training Iraqi troops.
The battle for Baghdad is expected to entail a "carrot-and-stick" approach, offering the beleaguered population protection from sectarian violence in exchange for rooting out insurgent groups and Al-Qaeda.
Sources close to the Pentagon said Iraqi forces would take the lead, supported by American air power, special operations, intelligence, embedded officers and back-up troops.
Helicopters suitable for urban warfare, such as the manoeuvrable AH-6 "Little Birds" used by the marines and special forces and armed with rocket launchers and machineguns, are likely to complement the ground attack.
The sources said American and Iraqi troops would move from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, leaving behind Sweat teams - an acronym for "sewage, water, electricity and trash" - to improve living conditions by upgrading clinics, schools, rubbish collection, water and electricity supplies.
Sunni insurgent strongholds are almost certain to be the first targets, although the Shi'ite militias such as the Mahdi army of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical cleric, and the Iranian-backed Badr Brigade would need to be contained.
President George W Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, are under intense pressure to prove to the American public that Iraq is not slipping into anarchy and civil war. An effective military campaign could provide the White House with a bounce in the polls before the mid-term congressional elections in November. With Bush's approval ratings below 40%, the vote is shaping up to be a Republican rout.
The Iraqi government, when it is finally formed, will also need to demonstrate that it is in charge of its own seat of government. "It will be the second liberation of Baghdad," said Daniel Gouré, a Pentagon adviser and vice-president of the Lexington Institute, a military think tank. "The new government will be able to claim it is taking back the streets."
Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell at the State Department, said a crackdown in Baghdad was one of the few ways in which a fresh Iraqi government could bind the new national army and prove its mettle.
"They have to show they can liberate their own capital," he said. "Baghdad is the key to stability in Iraq. It's a chance for the new government to stand up and say, 'Here we are'. They can't do that if they are hunkered down in bunkers."
The operation is likely to take place towards the end of the summer, giving the newly appointed government time to establish itself. If all goes to plan, US troop withdrawals could take place before the end of the year. In the absence of progress by then, the war may come to be seen by the American public as a lost cause.
There are 140,000 US troops in Iraq. Lieutenant-General John Vines, who stepped down as commander of ground forces in Iraq at the beginning of this year, said it was essential to reduce the numbers.
"There is an incredible amount of stress and I'm worried about it," said Vines. He added that soldiers were on their third or fourth tours of duty in Iraq: "The war has been going on nearly as long as the second world war and we're asking a lot of the forces."
Comment: Sadly, everyone appears to be committed to refusing to deal with the one issue that is the source of the problem and, if dealt with, would solve the entire Iraq problem: the illegal occupation of Iraq by a foreign enemy and the desire of the majority of the Iraqi people for US and British troops to leave as soon as possible.
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Ethnic cleansing grows in Iraq
The Shiite refugees have fled their predominantly Sunni neighborhoods where, before the U.S. occupation and subsequent terrorist activity, they lived in peace, the newspaper said.
Comment: It is strange, is it not, how two demoninations under the Muslim religion can live peacefully together and intermarry for hundreds of years and yet within a mere three years of US, British and Israeli occupation of their country they are suddenly intent on wiping each other out? It is unlikely in the extreme that such a scenario have evolved without the aid of a agent provocateur.
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Iraqi leaders cancel parliament session as government talks snarl
16:59:31 EDT Apr 16, 2006
BAGHDAD (AP) - Efforts to form a unity government suffered a new setback Sunday as Iraqi leaders postponed a parliament session after failing to agree on a prime minister. Bombs targeted Shiites near a mosque and on a bus as attacks countrywide killed at least 35 people.
Meanwhile, four U.S. marines were reported killed in fighting west of Baghdad.
U.S. officials believe the best way to stem the violence is for the Iraqis to establish a government comprising Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, paving the way for the United States to start withdrawing its 133,000 troops.
But progress has stalled over Sunni and Kurdish opposition to the Shiite choice of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to head the new government. With al-Jaafari refusing to step aside, acting speaker Adnan Pachachi called a parliament session for Monday, hoping the full legislature could agree on a new leadership after the politicians failed.
On the eve of the session, Pachachi announced a delay of "a few days" to give the religiously and ethnically based parties more time to agree on the new prime minister, president and five other top posts that require parliamentary approval.
Before the announcement, Shiite official Hussain al-Shahristani told Sunni and Kurdish leaders that his bloc, which controls 130 of the 275 parliament seats, would decide what to do about al-Jaafari "within the coming two days," Kurdish legislator Mahmoud Othman said.
Majority Shiites have been giving similar assurances for the past two weeks, and it was unclear how soon the issue could be settled.
Voters chose the new parliament Dec. 15, but the legislature met briefly only once last month.
The bitter fight over al-Jaafari has heightened friction among the rival parties, raising the spectre of deadlock over other top jobs. Some Shiite officials say that if they must change their nominee for prime minister, other parties may not win approval of their first choices for major posts either.
For example, the Shiites rejected the Sunni nominee for parliament speaker, Tariq al-Hashimi. Disputes also emerged Sunday over the two deputy speakers and two vice-presidents - jobs expected to go to Sunnis and Kurds.
"This delay will affect everything," Sunni legislator Naseer al-Ani said. "The Shiites did not tell us the reasons behind rejecting al-Hashimi like we did about al-Jaafari. We're still waiting to hear the reasons."
Pressure has been mounting on the Shiites to replace al-Jaafari, whom critics accuse of failing to curb sectarian tension that has soared since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, which triggered a wave of reprisal attacks against Sunnis.
Shiite politicians not affiliated with major parties have proposed that al-Jaafari step aside in favour of another candidate from his Dawa party. In return, the biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, would not push Vice-President Adil Abdul-Mahdi for the post.
However, Dawa leaders complained of interference by outsiders and insisted they should decide al-Jaafari's fate, according to several Shiite officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were at a sensitive stage.
In an interview Sunday on CNN's Late Edition, Iraq's ambassador to the U.S., Samir Sumaidaie, said Shiite legislatort Ali al-Adeeb had emerged as a possible prime minister candidate. Al-Adeeb is a member of al-Jaafari's party but spent many years in Shiite-dominated Iran - which could cause problems with the Sunnis.
Al-Jaafari won the nomination in a vote last February by Shiite legislators due to strong support from radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The mercurial young cleric, who heads the dreaded Mahdi Army militia, has vowed to stand behind the incumbent.
With little progress on the political front, Iraq's slide toward chaos continued.
Four marines - three from Regimental Combat Team Five and one from the 2/28 Brigade Combat Team - died Saturday in Anbar province, the U.S. command said Sunday.
Their deaths raised to at least 2,376 the number of U.S. military members who have died since the war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
At least 10 people died in a car bombing near a Shiite mosque in an outdoor market in Mahmoudiya, 30 kilometres south of Baghdad, police said. Three others were killed when a bomb exploded on a minibus in a Shiite area of eastern Baghdad, police said.
Earlier Sunday, six people were killed when U.S. troops stormed a house looking for an al-Qaida suspect in Youssifiyah, 20 kilometres south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. Six people, including the suspect, were arrested. The military didn't identify the suspect but said he worked with foreign fighters to plan bombings.
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Iraq's political crisis deepens
April 17, 2006
BAGHDAD - Iraq was thrown into deep political crisis after leaders cancelled a much-awaited parliament session following their failure to resolve a bitter dispute over the prime minister.
Four months after the landmark elections for the first permanent post-Saddam Hussein government, Iraqi leaders continued to squabble over who would lead the next cabinet and also hold key posts in the parliament.
Iraqi Sunni and Kurdish groups have rejected the choice for prime minister of the country's powerful Shiite majority, outgoing premier Ibrahim Jaafari, while in a tit-for-tat political move the Shiites are opposing Sunni candidates for other posts.
The Sunni and Kurdish minorities accuse Jaafari of failing to curb the raging sectarian violence that has left hundreds dead since the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra on February 22.
In turn, the Shiite parties suspect the country's Sunni parties of having one foot in the political establishment and the other in the camp of Iraq's three-year insurgency that has targeted Shiites with bombings and shootings.
"The political crisis has deepened," Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman told AFP.
"The issues are not resolved. There is no agreement on Jaafari yet and the other problem is that the Shiite list has opposed the Sunni candidate for the post of parliament speaker."
The Sunni-led National Concord Front, which has 44 seats in parliament, had proposed the name of Tareq al-Hashemi, the head of the popular Iraqi Islamic Party, to be the next parliament speaker.
Political factions had been expected to reach consensus on Sunday ahead of Monday's parliament session, but their quarreling led to the cancellation of the meeting. The 275-member parliament has met only once since Iraq's December 15 election.
"We decided to postpone for a few days the holding of the parliament," said MP Bassem Sharif, a member of the parliament's biggest bloc, the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, which has 128 seats.
The decision was taken "to give time to all the parliamentary blocs to finalise their candidates and reach an agreement on all the parliamentary posts," he added.
Baghdad's new ambassador to Washington, Samir Sumaidaie, told CNN Sunday that a replacement to Jaafari was likely to be decided upon in the coming days.
"A number of names have been mentioned. But leading amongst them is Ali al-Adib, who is from Jaafari's own party," Sumaidaie said, adding that he "would stand for the same things that Jaafari stands for."
The deadlock has coincided with a surge in violence that has raised fears the country is on the edge of an all out civil war, with its political leaders, bound by religious and ethnic loyalties, utterly incapable of forging ahead.
Sunnis believe the Shiite-led government has stocked the interior ministry with death squads that are killing members of their minority community, which enjoyed benefits under the rule of deposed president Saddam Hussein.
On Monday, Saddam's trial in Baghdad on charges of crimes against humanity resumed after a five-day break, but was quickly adjourned until April 19.
The prosecution was granted more time to prove the authenticity of the deposed Iraqi leader's signature on execution orders for Shiites from the village of Dujail who were killed after an assassination attempt on Saddam's life in 1982.
In violence, insurgents staged fresh attacks killing two people early Monday.
A civilian was killed in central Baghdad when a roadside bomb struck a passing Iraqi army patrol, while another Iraqi was killed in overnight clashes between insurgents and soldiers.
It was immediately unclear whether the dead man was a civilian or an insurgent.
On Sunday, at least 31 people were killed in a string of attacks in Iraq, including bombings and shootings against a market and two minibuses.
Fifteen Iraqis were kidnapped from two businesses in Baghdad by armed men, some of them dressed in police uniforms, and were driven away in police cars, security sources said.
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New U.S. "embassy" being built in Baghdad
The fortress-like compound rising beside the Tigris River here will be the largest of its kind in the world, the size of Vatican City, with the population of a small town, its own defense force, self-contained power and water, and a precarious perch at the heart of Iraq's turbulent future.
The embassy complex -- 21 buildings on 104 acres, according to a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report -- is taking shape on riverside parkland in the fortified "Green Zone."
"Embassy Baghdad" will dwarf new U.S. embassies elsewhere, projects that typically cover 10 acres. The embassy's 104 acres is six times larger than the United Nations compound in New York, and two-thirds the acreage of Washington's National Mall.
It will have its own water wells, electricity plant and wastewaster-treatment facility, "systems to allow 100 percent independence from city utilities," says the report, the most authoritative open source on the embassy plans.
Security, overseen by U.S. Marines, will be extraordinary: setbacks and perimeter no-go areas that will be especially deep, structures reinforced to 2.5-times the standard, and five high-security entrances, plus an emergency entrance-exit, the Senate report says.
Iraq's interim government transferred the land to U.S. ownership in October 2004, under an agreement whose terms were not disclosed.
Comment: The "Interim Iraqi government" that appointed this land to American forces itself just happened to be appointed by the US government. It doesn't get any more rotten than this folks. Freedom and Democracy? Give me a break.
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Around the World
Anatomy of a Statistical Flim-Flam
By KRISTOFFER LARSSONApril 15 / 16, 2006
On March 14, 2006, a report on anti-Semitism in Sweden was published with sensation findings. It claimed that a significant proportion of the Swedish public harbor "anti-Semitic views." As one could expect, this finding caught the attention of the Jewish world. The Israeli daily Ha'aretz warned, "41 percent of Swedes are prejudiced against Jews."
Anti-Semitism does exist in Sweden, but it has been strongly exaggerated in this report, most of whose conclusions are highly questionable. This is especially clear when the authors of the report explain that sometimes criticising the state of Israel could be regarded as anti-Semitism.
Similarly, Swedes are tarnished with the anti-Semitism brush for concurring with a statement about a Jewish conspiracy controlling the U.S. and that the Jews killed Jesus, without knowing what they are concurring to.
The results and interpretations of this report are dubious, and questions arise as to why it was commissioned and how it has been utilized in the press. The combination of questionable methodology, far-fetched interpretations and several references to old anti-Semitic stereotypes that barely are known these days, suggests that the report and most of its findings should be dismissed.
The study, "Antisemitic images and attitudes in Sweden," was conducted by Henrik Bachner and Jonas Ring and is a report on their finding from a postal questionnaire sent out to 3,000 Swedes. The research was funded and commissioned by Living History Forum and the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.
The Living History Forum (LHF) is a Swedish government body and research centre founded in 2003 with the expressed aim of fighting racism and the prevention of genocide by examining and teaching history. Göran Persson, the current Swedish Prime Minister and fervent pro-Israeli supporter, was the driving force behind its establishment. LHF's main activities include teaching high school students about the Nazi extermination of the Jews and the study of anti-Semitism. The Bachner and Ring report is a reflection of current LHF research priorities, where the study of anti-Semitism is a priority. Note that although there are many more Muslims (250,000-300,000) than Jews (18,000-20,000) in Sweden and although anti-Muslim hatred is more prevalent than anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred doesn't feature as a research priority.
What are Swedish attitudes toward Jews?
A basic result of the survey showed that only 1.4 per cent of the respondents disagreed with the assertion that "Most Jews are probably decent folks," and 1.6 per cent would not like to live next door to a law-abiding Jewish person (one fifth didn't know). Sadly, 2.2 per cent expressed that Jews should not be entitled to vote (13.8 per cent marked the "Hesitant/Don't know" box). Denying equal rights to Jews is a clearly anti-Semitic opinion, and it is likely that a few per cent of the Swedish population are in fact anti-Semitic, but is far lower than the 40 per cent which the media accounts chose to report.
While anti-Semitic attitudes may be prevalent in a tiny portion of the population, anti-Islamic attitudes were more pronounced. When asked if they agreed with the statement that "Most Muslims are probably decent folks," 7.3 per cent of the respondents disagreed (five times more than those who disagreed when asked the same question about Jews).
More than 7 per cent do not want a Muslim living next door, and almost every fourth person (24.1 per cent) agreed that "There are way too many Muslims in Sweden," something which only 2.9 per cent had to say about Jews. Close to ten per cent don't find Muslims reliable (16.8 per cent said they didn't know). As many as 4.5 per cent felt strongly that they shouldn't have the right to vote, with another 2.2 per cent finding the statement fairly correct, in addition to 18.2 per cent who didn't reject it (compared to 13.8 per cent when asked about Jews).
The survey clearly indicates that anti-Muslim prejudice is far more prevalent than prejudice against Jews. However, while Prime Minister Göran Persson stated that the findings about anti-Semitism were "surprising and terrifying," he didn't express a similar concern about anti-Muslim prejudice.
The findings and the curious interpretations
While the above basic findings are fairly clear, it is the other survey results and their interpretation that are open to question.
The sensationalist Ha'aretz headline, "41 percent of Swedes are prejudiced against Jews," derives from the report's conclusion: "A total of 59 per cent systematically rejects anti-Semitic prejudices." Ha'aretz interpreted the latter to mean that 41 per cent of Swedes are anti-Semitic, yet this is simply spurious. Suddenly, a respondent saying he "didn't know" if he had anti-Semitic prejudices, becomes translated into someone with anti-Semitic tendencies. In other words, if for whatever reason a respondent never has come into contact with Jews and states that he doesn't have an opinion on anti-Semitism, then the Ha'aretz interpretation of the report actually portrays the person as an anti-Semite.
The survey inquired about the possible dual loyalty of the Swedish Jews. The questionnaire asked for an opinion on the claim: "Swedish Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Sweden."
Apparently 3.9 per cent strongly agreed, while another 13.6 per cent thought the statement is close to the truth. Six out of ten didn't know, with close to 15 per cent saying that this probably isn't true and just above 7 per cent totally rejected it.
Bachner and Ring suggest that this "concurs to a historical stereotype" which insinuates that Jews aren't "real" Swedes and they exhibit a dual loyalty. Note that the survey question didn't allow the investigators to draw their stated interpretation -- a case of shoddy survey methodology. Dual loyalty is not an exclusively Jewish phenomenon. One can find it among many minorities, and it is generally not thought to be a problem or a case of treachery. Even if there were a perception that the Jewish community is a devoted defender of Israel, this does not imply that Swedish Jews aren't "real" Swedes. The report refers to polls carried out by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in other countries with similar findings. Both the current report and the ADL surveys suggest a strong connection between Jewish loyalty towards Israel and old views of the Jews as traitors, and the authors are simply jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions.
About Conspiracies and Cabals
The survey investigated popular perceptions of "Power, influence and conspiracies" by for instance asking: "The Jews rule the foreign policy of the USA."
4.3 per cent of the respondents stated that this is true, 13.2 per cent believed that it was somewhat true, and almost 40 per cent disagreed with the statement. What is surprising is that 43.6 per cent didn't know.
To the authors, there is a clear and obvious answer:
"The statement says that Jews or Jewish organisations not only--like other individuals, groups, categories and interests--can influence the American foreign policy, but that they 'rule' it. It implies that the real power over the foreign policy is not in the White House or Congress but with a specific ethnic-religious group, 'the Jews', which here is said to act as a collective. The statement further implies that the control of 'the Jews' does not just count for the American policy towards Israel or the Middle East, but that 'the Jews rule' America's foreign policy in a general sense."
Hence, if one thought that the influence of the neocons in the current Bush regime constituted undue influence on American foreign policy, then Bachner and Ring would interpret this as the acceptance of "anti-Semitic myths." It is deceptive to pose a question about Jews as a monolithic group, and when the respondents answered in the affirmative, they would unavoidably yield an "anti-Semitic" myth proposition.
It is not reasonable to think that American Jews are all working together and single-handedly control every aspect of American foreign policy (nor does any other group for that matter).
A total of 17 per cent fully or partly agreed to the statement. Along with the 44 per cent who didn't know how to relate to the statement, more than 60 per cent of the respondents failed to reject it.
The statement fools the participants into answering yes or no without being sure what they really are relating to.
The survey poses several ambiguous survey questions, and invariably the interpretation is tendentious because the authors suggest that there is more evidence of anti-Semitism. The assertion about conspiracy also doesn't allow for more nuanced answers. The current question only allows for a positive or negative answer about a great Jewish conspiracy. Strictly speaking, if one thought that the neocon influence was significant but not the only determinant of foreign policy, then he would have to reject the assertion in the question. Bachner and Ring force the respondents into answering in terms of 'the Jews'. Anyone who agrees to any of the questions including the term 'the Jews' is thus lured into making anti-Semitic generalisations.
The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) brags about its achievements in Washington. After visiting their website (www.aipac.org), one cannot escape the impression that this organisation, which calls itself "America's pro-Israel Lobby," has tremendous political influence. Washington insiders refer to AIPAC as "The Lobby" (with capital L), and due to its influence sometimes refer to the Congress as "Israeli occupied territory." However, according to the Bachner and Ring survey, if the Swedish public made similar assertions, these would be classified as anti-Semitic statements.
Then the respondents were asked to give their opinion about the following statement: "There are those who suggest that Israel was involved in the terrorist attacks against the USA on September 11, 2001. What do you think of this claim?" The questionnaire is, for a change, asking for potential Israeli involvement instead of what 'the Jews' may have done. However, this does not stop the authors from drawing parallels to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Jewish conspiracy myths. If one believes the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, was in any way involved, it is considered as equal to saying that 'the Jews' are involved. Anyhow, these are the summary findings:
7.2 per cent believed there might be something to it, with 40 per cent more repudiating it--and 45.6 per cent had no opinion!
The paper makes a point about only a minority rejecting it. Ostensibly, results would indicate more that respondents didn't understand the question clearly. If the question had been clearer, then most Swedes who may not have even been aware of an Israeli involvement in the terror attacks would have clearly answered no. It can be hard to relate to theories you aren't familiar with, and many have clearly had problem filling in the form.
About the Holocaust
Several questions in the questionnaire dealt with the Holocaust. One of the assertions was: "The Jews think they are the only ones who have suffered." This is, we are told by Bachner and Ring, something that "arose in the wake of the Holocaust" and
"These statements are not based on observable data, but on an aggressive fantasy about 'the Jews' as a collective. The statements are similar and likely related to the historically rooted accusation against the Jews for being haughty and superior."
Elie Wiesel, a professional Holocaust survivor, has sought to establish that Jewish suffering was sui generis, exceptional and that it cannot be explained. The extermination of Jews has definitely become the focus in teaching of World War II and is often used in Zionist propaganda. Only 31 per cent saw no truth at all in saying that some appear to believe that the Jews were the only ones who suffered, while 17 per cent agreed with it. More than half of the respondents (52 per cent) had no opinion. This does not imply that these people share "an aggressive fantasy about 'the Jews' as a collective" or consider them "haughty." Rather, respondents have simply reflected their personal perception of how some try to make the Holocaust all about extermination of Jews--neglecting the experiences of the Gypsies, Russians, Polish, Gays, et cetera.
It is also no wonder that 14 per cent fully or partly think that "The Jews are exploiting the Nazis' extermination of Jews (the Holocaust) for economic and political purposes," something the authors suggest "is central to contemporary anti-Semitism." They go on:
"The statement speaks of 'the Jews' who act as a collective in accordance with traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes. In this case it is foremost linked to the image of 'the Jews' as greedy, obsessed with money, hard-boiled extortionists, which here exploits the Holocaust for their own purpose, but also the notion of Jewish power and manipulations influences the thought of the political exploitation of the genocide by 'the Jews'."
Suggesting that the Jews as a collective are trying to exploit the Holocaust would be wrong. But this doesn't exclude the possibility that some (but not all) Jews are misusing it, which is the central thesis of Norman Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry. The questionnaire leaves no room for an informed opinion about the Zionist abuse of the Holocaust. The only available options: saying that all the Jews are colluding in targeting Swiss banks, or denying the existence of the Holocaust industry. Hence, the 14 per cent who said exploitation is going on don't necessary see the Jews as greedy, hook-nosed monsters who are trying to squeeze the last penny out of non-Jews; rather they merely recognise that a small organised group is exploiting the Holocaust for their own ends.
And now about Christ...
And the survey asked another loaded question about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The survey asked about the following statement: "The Jews crucified Christ and their suffering is a punishment for this crime."
This isn't true at all, said 59.5 per cent, including another 11.9 per cent who believed that this is somewhat incorrect. Only 1.7 per cent found this spot on, and 2 per cent regarded it as fairly correct. One fourth (24.9 per cent) wasn't sure.
Bachner and Ring engage in some more spurious interpretation by suggesting that the statement is based on the religious perception that the Jews are Christ-killers and their suffering since is God's punishment for this awful crime. Yet, it is doubtful if this was clear to every respondent. In order to "properly" answer that you agree with the statement, you should 1) be a Christian who believes Jesus existed and was crucified, 2) believe that the Jews crucified Christ or at least were morally responsible for it, and 3) believe that God himself punished the Jews for it. Only Christian extremists would be able to answer in the affirmative, or even simply not disagree. The high number of hesitant respondents suggests that they didn't perceive the question in the same way as the authors did.
Anti-Zionism implies anti-Semitism
A controversial part of the report discusses the perception of the state of Israel. The authors are eager to point out that "criticism against Israel's policy is not anti-Semitism," but this formality is dispensed with in the remainder of their analysis. Their definitions of anti-Semitism include a "denial of Israel's right to exist and self-defence," "projection of the Nazis' persecution of Jews on Israel's policy" and "the transformation of Israel into a symbol for the Jews as a collective." The state of Israel defines itself as "the state of the Jewish people," but this is presumably only racist if you don't support Israel. In suggesting that there are conditions under which anti-Zionism implies anti-Semitism, the authors are themselves equating dislike of Israel with that of 'the Jews'.
The survey findings indicate that about 3 per cent do think dismantling Israel would be a good idea, but a great majority (77 per cent) disagreed. The foundation of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state required the ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian population, and thus there are good reasons not to accept the nature of an apartheid state that required the dispossession of the Palestinians. However, Bachner and Ring equate such an objection to the nature of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism: "The denial of Israel's right to exist is anti-Jewish in the same regard as denying Finland's right to exist would be anti-Finnish." First, the questionnaire asks for people's view on Israel and not what they think of 'the Jews', a very different topic. Secondly, not everyone shares the authors' obsession with Jews. The authors believe that most anti-Zionists are driven by hatred towards Jews, without realising that it might actually be based on sympathy for the suffering Palestinians.
More than 25 per cent said that that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians reminds them of how the Nazis treated the Jews. A third disagreed (15.3 per cent strongly, 17.9 per cent to some extent) and 30 per cent didn't have an opinion. The authors feel that:
"the image of 'the Jew' as today's Nazi must be understood in relation to the ancient and deep historic tradition according to which Jews are portrayed as symbols for what is defined as the absolutely evil in different times (the Devil, the plague, capitalism, communism, and so on)."
Those surveyed were not asked if they saw the Jews as 'today's Nazis' but if they thought of what the Nazi crimes did when they see what Israel does to the Palestinians. If Israeli actions are Nazi-like, then it is legitimate to label them Nazi. Bachner and Ring, however, seem to preclude this option.
Lars Drake, a Swedish academic, highlighted a finding that is not mentioned in the report but found in a table of statistics. Of adults (aged 19-75) who indicated support for Israel in the conflict, 1.6 per cent suffers from what the authors regard as high intolerance of Jews, but among supporters of Palestine this was only 1.3 per cent. In other words, the study found that friends of Israel are more anti-Semitic than pro-Palestinians. The fact that pro-Israelis are classified as more anti-Semitic than those who support the Palestinians is surprising. The pro-Israelis are also in the lead when it comes to high intolerance towards Muslims--19.6 per cent of them belong to this category, compared to the 2.1 per cent of the pro-Palestinians harbouring high intolerance of Muslims, which makes both groups more intolerant of Muslims than of Jews.
An unreliable report
Europeans are becoming increasingly critical of Israel and Israeli policies, and there are concrete grounds for their apprehension and criticism. The old myths about Israel, e.g. "a land without a people," are no longer tenable, and manifestly ruthless Israeli behaviour has elicited criticism of Israel.
To Swedish friends of Palestine, Henrik Bachner (PhD) is not a new name. He claims for instance: "In delegitimizing the state of Israel, anti-Zionism attacks the legitimacy of the Jewish existence." Bachner seriously believes that old stereotypes of Jews as traitors, Christ-killers, and other myths are vital and quite common in today's society. This is what he has to say about Finkelstein's book on the Holocaust Industry:
"The controversy with this writing is not the claim that the Holocaust is being misused for political and commercial purposes--this is a truly existing problem which has been discussed for decades--but the thesis about 'the Holocaust industry': a global conspiracy that includes American-Jewish elites, the state of Israel, historians, authors and film-makers, with the purpose of sucking money from the German people and Swiss banks, partly to support the Israeli occupation policy. Leading historians in several countries quickly rebutted Finkelstein's thesis and pointed to the fact that the book in great parts was based on the myth of a Jewish world conspiracy. This didn't stop the European extreme-right from appointing Finkelstein their favourite Jew."
Jonas Ring (also PhD) is not as well-known. He carried out a study with similar questions among high school pupils in 2003. The findings then weren't very different, but the author argued that many pupils were unaware of the old stereotypes and therefore had a hard time relating to them. For example, 46 per cent could not say if the Jews are cheap or not. However, Ring appears not to have similar doubts when it comes to this very report, despite the similar response to similar questions.
Anti-Semitism has always been important to the Zionist project. In 2004 a woman complained about being the victim of an anti-Semitic act in France (although she wasn't Jewish). The story, which turned out to be a lie, was immediately embraced in Israel and Ariel Sharon encouraged the French Jews to "flee" to Israel. The more anti-Semitism, the greater is the possibility of playing the victim card.
When all is said and done, anti-Semitism is a relatively small problem in Sweden and the number of assaults with anti-Semitic motives is lower than what other minorities suffer from, and has even decreased during recent years. Trying to depict the country as on the verge of Nazism is pure fantasy.
A far more interesting report was issued in Israel just a week later. A 68 per cent majority of the Israeli Jews would refuse to live in the same building as an Arab Israeli, and 40 per cent think that the Israeli government should encourage them to leave the country. Instead of going on about anti-Semitism that doesn't exist, Bachner and Ring should be far more worried about what is happening in the Middle East. Israel welcomes reports about a widespread anti-Semitism in the world, and as the Arab Israeli MK Taleb el-Sana noted: "Yet when it happens at their home, they're quiet, and that's why this is a two-fold failure--they are racist, and they're also not attempting to address their own racism."
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US ambassador to Venezuela agrees to report activity plans
www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-17 11:12:41
CARACAS, April 16 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield has agreed to inform the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry of his public activity plans in Venezuela after experiencing repeated harassment here, a government official said on Sunday.
Information Minister William Lara said that Brownfield and Venezuela's Deputy Foreign Minister for North America Mari Pili Hernandez met on Wednesday to discuss plans for security coordination and that Hernandez had insisted that Brownfield give the foreign ministry a written notice of his public engagements in advance.
Lara explained that the purpose of the measure was to allow the nation to offer him security, whilst still allowing Venezuelans to demonstrate peacefully and democratically either in their support for or disapproval of Brownfield's presence.
"At last Mr Brownfield has understood that this is a sovereign nation, ... and that the aim of the government is to offer him the security to which he is entitled," Lara said.
He added that Brownfield had used Wednesday's meeting to give notice of his two public engagements.
There have been four incidents of harassment directed at Brownfield in recent weeks. The latest one came on last Friday, during which Browfield's car was pelted with eggs and tomatoes when he visited a Caracas neighborhood to deliver donated baseball equipment.
The incident intensified the diplomatic tension between the United States and Venezuela, with Washington censuring Venezuela for having failed to fulfill its obligations under international accords to provide protection for foreign diplomats.
The accusation was rejected by Venezuela, which said that it was willing to provide protection for Brownfield, but part of the problem was that the ambassador did not inform the government of his engagements, which made it difficult to provide prompt security measures.
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Nepal opposition declares economic war on king, food and fuel scarce
April 17, 2006
KATHMANDU - Nepal's capital faced more hardship as opposition parties declared economic war on King Gyanendra, prompting threats of a new government crackdown as food and fuel shortages grew.
Late Sunday, an alliance of seven major political parties called on citizens to halt tax and utility bill payments and avoid patronising businesses run by the royal family, ahead of a mass protest in Kathmandu set for Thursday.
The parties also asked countries to stop all aid to the kingdom and Nepalis working overseas to delay sending money home to their families -- an important source of income in a country where annual per capita income is 240 dollars.
A government spokesman responded Monday by threatening a new crackdown.
"There will come a time when the security situation will become untenable and we have our legal options," Shrish Shamshere Rana, minister for information and communication, told AFP.
One option would be to call a state of emergency, Rana said, that would "suspend some rights of the people."
The parties aim to cripple the economy, already reeling from 12 days of non-stop strikes and protests and a decade-old Maoist insurgency, to force the king to restore democracy after 14 months of absolute rule.
Private banks were closed Monday and a petrol and kerosene shortage loomed in the Kathmandu Valley, home to 1.7 million people.
"I haven't been riding my motorcycle but wanted to fill up because I heard there was a shortage," said Ravi Sharma, a 19-year-old student waiting in a long line at a petrol station in Kathmandu.
Most shops in the capital remained shut Monday and few vehicles travelled the streets.
The strike has the backing of Maoist rebels, who entered a loose alliance with the Himalayan country's sidelined political parties last November.
The rebels declared a ceasefire around the capital but have continued attacks on police and troops elsewhere. Their decade-long revolt has claimed 12,500 lives.
The latest crisis prompted the royal government to extend a ban on protests that had been enforced by heavily-armed riot police using rubber bullets, tear gas and truncheons to disperse demonstrators. Protests have been held throughout the capital, including the main tourist area of Thamel.
An editorial in the state-run Rising Nepal newspaper repeated a call for dialogue and national elections made by Gyanendra last week, along with a warning to the press.
"By crossing the ethics of journalism some media persons are working against democratic norms and values. This must not be the case, as they must inform people impartially and without any other vested interest," it said.
When Gyanendra took over in February 2005, a state of emergency was declared for three months. Media freedom was severely curtailed, with soldiers in newsrooms censoring stories and some FM news stations taken off the air.
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Soccer Bigots Worsen Racism in France
By JEROME PUGMIRE
Associated Press Writer
Apr 14 3:45 PM US/Eastern
PARIS - Warming up on the touchline, a black player jogs toward fans at the Parc des Princes soccer stadium. As he gets closer, a barrage of monkey chants explodes - "OOOH! OOOH! OOOH!" - and racist insults fill the air.
Such scenes are increasingly common at the home stadium of Paris Saint-Germain, or PSG, one of France's top soccer teams, and are finding expression in elite soccer leagues across Europe, raising fears that a global sport that calls itself "the Beautiful Game" is getting uglier.
Many of the fans yelling insults are members of hooligan gangs that prowl the stadium grounds on match day, looking for a rumble with black and Arab members of a multiethnic rival gang.
Yet interviews with gang members and repeated visits to PSG games found that racist hooligans operate openly and with almost total impunity at the 43,000-seat ground on the western outskirts of the French capital.
Soccer, with its many black stars, ought to be a showcase of multiracial harmony, especially in France, which draws heavily on talent from its former African colonies.
Instead, the brawling soccer fans have emerged as the extreme fringe of a deeply troubled France - one that is grappling with stiffening resistance to immigration, protests linked to youth unemployment and the perceived threat of globalization.
Now, after the riots that engulfed immigrant-filled French suburbs last fall, beer-fueled racism in soccer has taken on an even more menacing tinge.
Unlike soccer hooliganism elsewhere, in which the antagonists are fans of rival teams, the clashes outside Parc des Princes are largely between fans rooting for the same team - PSG.
On the bleachers of Parc des Princes, PSG supporters divide along racial lines in two opposing sections of stands - the Kop of Boulogne behind one goal and the Tribune d'Auteuil behind the other.
Boulogne is nearly entirely Caucasian; Auteuil is multiracial and includes whites.
Two all-white groups - the Independents and the Casual Firm - have fought with increasing ferocity in recent months with multiracial Tigris Mystic. (The English-language names reflect the influence English soccer hooliganism has had over Europe.)
The race issue comes out clearly in interviews with gang members on both sides, none of whom agree to be identified by name because they have records and fear more trouble with police.
One leading member of the Independents, dressed in a designer overcoat and proudly showing off a finger that got bent out of shape in a fan skirmish, said his gang was out to rid the suburbs of blacks and Arabs.
A high-ranking Tigris Mystic man said his group is fighting back against such "fascist" views.
"We've had enough of being knocked around," said the 23-year-old man of North African descent.
Tigris Mystic is based in the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, one of the centers of last fall's riots. Casual Firm hooligans wielding iron bars vandalized its headquarters in October, just days before the violence broke out.
On Feb. 25 Tigris Mystic members, some allegedly armed with machetes and nail-studded planks of wood, ambushed 20 Independents at a highway gas station on their way back from a match. Five people were injured.
PSG, where black players George Weah of Liberia and Ronaldinho of Brazil once displayed their magic, is not alone in suffering from racist outrages.
In Spain, Barcelona's Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o threatened to walk off the field after Zaragoza fans subjected him to monkey chants in February. In Italy, right-wing fans have displayed Nazi and fascist symbols and anti-Semitic banners at Rome's Stadio Olimpico.
But some black players say the atmosphere at Parc des Princes is becoming intolerable.
"I'd have to think twice before setting foot there again," Senegal- born Patrick Vieira, a midfielder for the French national team, told The Associated Press.
During one match, a fan yelled at PSG midfielder Vikash Dhorasoo, a France international midfielder of Indian origin, "go sell peanuts in the metro." It was only the least offensive shout in a tirade of vulgar epithets for blacks.
PSG insists that racists are a minority among its fans and that its powers to combat them are limited - even with 102 cameras inside its stadium.
"Understand one thing: PSG has no police authority or lawmaking power," the club's director of communications, Jean-Philippe d'Halliville, said in an interview. "You can't ask PSG to arrest and judge people. Things don't work that way in France."
Yet former hooligans have been hired as stadium ushers, and at a recent match, some on them were on first-name terms with known troublemakers and were letting them in without tickets or a search.
When told of this, D'Halliville appeared surprised and said only that he would "make some calls." However, he did not condemn the presence of former hooligans acting as ushers.
"Even if there are former hooligans who work in the security services, are you not allowed a second chance?" he said. "Should they bear a cross all their lives?"
"That's just passing the buck," said Piara Power, director of the British-based Kick It Out anti-racism campaign. "Denial is a big thing among football administrators. Unfortunately turning the other cheek is easier."
Ushers did just that before a PSG game against Sochaux on Jan. 4. Two Arab youths were punched and kicked by white fans outside the entrance to the Kop de Boulogne. Ushers, all white, stood chatting and did not intervene.
Interior Minister and presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy has promised to rid PSG of troublesome fans. He wants them banned from matches and championed anti-terrorism legislation that will boost video surveillance in sports grounds.
On March 7, a Paris court convicted three PSG supporters of unfurling a racist banner at a February 2005 match held in support of an anti-racism campaign.
The court banned the supporters from the stadium for three years, ordering them to report to police during matches, and fined them up to $1,200.
But these are minor successes. And now a fresh cloud looms - this summer's World Cup tournament in Germany, the pinnacle of the soccer world, which many fear will be a magnet for hooligans.
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Jose Bove arrested again at anti-GM protest
April 14, 2006
LUNEL, France - French anti-globalisation icon José Bové was arrested on Thursday on the sidelines of a protest targeting the US biotech group Monsanto, but was released a few hours later.
Around 100 members of Greenpeace and of Bové's Small Farmer's Confederation broke into a Monsanto site in Trèbes, near Carcassonne in southwestern France, where they suspect the company stocks genetically-modified (GM) seeds.
Bové was arrested along with a fellow activist after the protest wound up, in the centre of Trèbes, by four armed officers, his companion Ghislaine Dambrun told AFP.
He was brought to Lunel further east near Montpellier where he was released shortly before midnight. Some 50 supporters were waiting for him outside the police station.
"We discovered documents leading us to believe that Monsanto is stocking GM maize seeds on this site," Bové said earlier, accusing the French government of tolerating a "lack of transparency" from biotech firms.
The farmer-activist, who has campaigned fiercely against GM foods in Europe, has served jail terms for ripping out GM crops as well as for wrecking a McDonald's outlet in southern France in 1999.
Sixty percent of the French are hostile to GM crops, polls show, and 78 percent would back a temporary moratorium until their impact on health and the environment is fully understood.
Half of all open-field GM crop trials carried out in France in 2004 were ripped out by anti-GM campaigners, according to the Commission on Biomolecular Engineering (CGB).
Court decisions last year acquitting two groups of activists who destroyed GMO crops have further bolstered opposition to the experimental plantations.
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Odds n Ends
Russia dominates computer-programming contest
By Candace Lombardi
April 14, 2006
A team of Russian college students has captured a top programming prize.
Saratov State University placed first, with four other Russian schools in the top 10 in the 2006 Associate for Computer Machinery's International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM-ICPC).
Seven of the top 10 teams were from Europe, and just one from the United States: MIT placed 8th, managing to solve 5 of the 10 problems in less than 14 hours.
The poor U.S. showing could provide new fuel for the debate over whether U.S. computer programmers lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to talent.
World finals for the 30th annual AMC-ICPC were held in San Antonio, Texas. Competitors were given 10 complex problems to solve within an allotted time by using computer programming.
The 10 problems challenged programmers to create software for everything from data decompression to origami. One problem asked programmers to design a structurally sound sculpture, restricted by the physics of a specific set of materials and specifications. Another challenged them to write a program that could instruct on how to assemble a clock with minute and hour hands, given a specific shaft speed and collection of gears.
Winners were determined first by the number of problems solved within the allotted time, then by the time it took them to do it. The Saratov State University team completed six of the 10 problems in a little over 15 hours.
Each of the Saratov State University team members won $10,000 in scholarship, computer equipment from IBM, an event sponsor and the prestigious world title to put on their resume.
Other than six total slots taken by Russia and the U.S., three other countries made it to the top 10. Poland's Jagiellonian University placed second, and Warsaw University took seventh. A team from the Netherlands took fourth place and one from China took fifth.
Another American university, California Institute of Technology, shared 15th place with 39 other schools, solving only two problems. Other U.S. universities that participated have received honorable mentions for making it to the finals.
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School Makes Kids Use Buckets for Toilets
April 17, 2006
INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A principal trying to prevent walkouts during immigration rallies inadvertently introduced a lockdown so strict that children weren't allowed to go to the bathroom, and instead had to use buckets in the classroom, an official said.
Worthington Elementary School Principal Angie Marquez imposed the lockdown March 27 as nearly 40,000 students across Southern California left classes to attend immigrants' rights demonstrations.
Marquez apparently misread the district handbook and ordered a lockdown designed for nuclear attacks.
Tim Brown, the district's director of operations, confirmed some students used buckets but said the principal's order to impose the most severe type of lockdown was an "honest mistake."
"When there's a nuclear attack, that's when buckets are used," Brown told the Los Angeles Times. The principal "followed procedure. She made a decision to follow the handbook. She just misread it."
A message left by The Associated Press for the principal at the school before business hours Monday was not immediately returned, and Marquez did not return telephone calls from the Times.
Appalled parents have complained to the school board. Brown said the school district planned to update its emergency preparedness instructions to give more explicit directions.
Parents and community activists asked the school board at its April 5 meeting to explain the principal's decision. They also sought promises that the lockdown wouldn't be repeated.
"There was no violence at the protests, so this was based on what?" activist Diane Sambrano asked. "It was unsanitary, unnecessary and absolutely unacceptable."
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Are Robots The Answer To Immigration?
by Shihoko Goto
UPI Senior Business Correspondent
Apr 17, 2006
Washington - Can robots do the dirty work most Americans don't want to do and meet some of the low-wage labor shortage facing the United States? Or better still, could robotic technology be part of the solution to the immigration conundrum that is facing the nation?
For some companies, the answer is a perhaps maybe. For accomplishing basic tasks such as household cleaning and keeping an eye on the kids and the elderly, technology may indeed provide a partial answer to the many problems that come with domestic service, at least at first blush.
From gadgets that will sweep and mop floors to robots that will look after people, hi-tech products may well help buyers circumvent the headache of trying to find affordable and reliable domestic help that do not require government papers or tax filings, not to mention sick days and time off.
"We provide peace of mind," said Martin Spencer, chief executive of Atlanta-based GeckoSystems, which specializes in making domestic-use robots, most notably its Carebots. On sale for the past six years, Carebots have a built-in video camera with videoconferencing capabilities, in addition to having all the functions of a personal computer.
"You can train it and customize it to look out for the kids and grandma," Spencer told United Press International. For instance, the four-foot machine can be programmed to follow a child around the house while the mother is at the office, and she will be able to see through the robot's eyes what exactly her offspring is up to.
And if he's touching something he isn't suppose to, not only can the robot be taught to say "no," but the mother can boom her own voice out through the robot from her office desk.
It can be trained too to tell the child to do homework, pick up after itself, eat dinner, and all the other things a parent might do at appropriate times -- and it can even learn to sing and tell jokes too.
The single biggest potential for home robots, though, is in elderly care, Spencer argued.
"This can keep grandma out of the nursing home," he said, pointing out that half of the nursing homes in Florida are juggling with lawsuits as they provide sub-par care, even as it costs several thousand dollars to keep them there.
The problem with robots, though, is that they too aren't cheap. The price tag of a Carebot is $20,000, even though it does include a couple of days' training for the new owners so that they can make full use of their purchase. It is also probably not an easy tool to use for those who feel uncomfortable around computers and tech gadgets or otherwise don't see themselves in the category of technically advanced families.
That's certainly not the case when it comes to the mopping and sweeping machine.
The Scooba by iRobot is definitely affordable, even though it's far from cheap. The mopping machine costs $400, and its sister, Roomba, which vacuums the house, ranges from $150 to $300. Moreover, it's simple to use for even the most technologically disinclined.
All Scooba needs is a capful of special cleaning solution specifically designed for use in the robot mixed with warm water put into its tank, and with the press of one button, it can be left on its own to prep, wash, scrub and dry a tile, linoleum or sealed hardwood floor.
"It does what it's supposed to do very well," said Nancy Dussault, director of global marketing at iRobot.
That it certainly does, but the problem is, it doesn't do anything more than that. So while the kitchen and bathroom floor may be spick and span, it's still up to humans to wipe down counters, do the dishes and throw out the rubbish. So while a machine might come in handy between days that the cleaning lady doesn't show up, it will never act as her replacement.
And therein lies the problem with affordable robotic technology for households as it exists today. While knowledge from advance military defense capabilities may be used in developing the products, robots for the home are only able to accomplish basic, repetitive tasks. For those simple tasks, they are very good. But a seemingly menial task such as cleaning a house actually requires considerable dexterity and skill that is beyond a basic robot's ability. Meanwhile, if a machine is even slight programmable, the cost for the product becomes prohibitive to most people.
"There really aren't that many products available in the market that work at home at a low cost right now," said Jeff Burnstein, vice president of marketing and public relations at the Robotic Industries Association based in Ann Arbor, Mich. "So when it comes to talking about the impact (of robots) on immigration ... it just isn't there yet," he added.
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Ark's Quantum Quirks
Signs of the Times
April 17, 2006
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