Sections on today's Signs Page:
Editorial: More Thoughts on the French Demonstrations
Signs of the Times
April 18, 2006
With each day, more and more people living in the western democracies are awakening to the fact that their politicians and civil servants do not represent the real interests of the ordinary citizen, if so broad a generalisation may be permitted. In the photos taken in the halls of power, we see row after row of white men in suits. In the US, minorities are sorely underrepresented, and women, well, it is a joke to think women have made any progress. In France, the "leaders" are groomed in a series of elite schools where they learn the ropes and earn the privilege of addressing each other with the familiar "tu". In the US, the mere admittance into an Ivy league school, regardless of your academic achievements, assures the power-hungry are part of the club. The situation is the same no matter where you look.
Around the kitchen tables of these countries, people are asking "Are there any good politicians?". Without an overview of the situation, they think that things must be better in some other country. But you, the reader of these pages, know that the same situation exists everywhere. Democracy is just another label given to rule by an elite, where explicit shows of force have been superceded by a socially imposed order that is in the mind of the enslaved, a hypnotic transe of sorts that permits them to perceive the iron weight of their chains as the fruits of their credit cards.
They ask, "Who speaks for me?"
The millions of people who took to the streets recently in France to protest the new law changing hiring policy know this. They know that they have no voice in the eschelons of power. They know that the only means of being heard is to take to the streets in peaceful demonstations and to continue to press until changes are won.
What other choice do they have?
In May 2005, in spite of an orchestrated campaign in the French media and descriptions of the horrors that would befall France and all of Europe if the neo-liberal European constitution was defeated, France voted at almost 55% against it. The sky still has not fallen.
The attacks by the forces of capitalist globalisation have been proceeding for years. The propaganda campaign about the "inevitability" of global markets, the need of "deregulation" so that money can go where it wants, when it wants, with no impediments, picked up in earnest in the 1970s. Thatcher's Britain was the first casualty, although British miners fought the Iron Lady hard. At the same time in the United States, Reagan broke http://www.dickmeister.com/id89.html what little remained of the backs of long-compromised unions. In Canada, the media mouthpieces for unbridled capitalism softened the public over a period of ten years to prepare the conditions for the mid-nineties strike at Canada's social net. The excuse was the supposedly monstrous government debt, a debt we were told would take ten or more years to pay off. After the cuts in social services, the government's budget was back to a surplus in one and one-half years. The surplus was not used to rebuild the serices that had been slashed; it was siphoned off to business.
The result of this war on social services has been the stripping of the state of those services that aimed at shielding the poorer members from the attacks of the wealthy and the selling off of profitable sectors so that the profis would, again, go to a limited few.
In most of these countries, the battle was won without a fight. People had been convinced by the disinformation that these were hard, but necessary, choices, and there was no other way out.
In France, the neo-liberal discourse is not accepted as a fact; it is seen as an Anglo-Saxon assault on French values. The brainwashing that has been so successful elsewhere has not yet taken hold. When French workers and students are told that they must accept these changes in order to "modernize" the French economy, they want to know why. When they see that these "modernizations" are for the profit of only a few, they are unwilling to accept them, to do what other peoples have done and roll over give up.
In the United States, most people yawn and go back to sleep. It is not surprising, then, that the situation in the United States is many times worse than the situation in France, as Dave McGowan pointed out so powerfully in the editorial we recently ran.
The population of the US is five times that of France. If the French can take to the streets in the millions, how many could be in the streets of Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, L.A., and the other US cities if people fed up with the lies and crimes of the Bush administration, the desacration of the Constitution, and the slow but steady erosion of rights and economic security, were to turn out in comparable numbers? Five million? Ten million?
But we have grave doubts that such an event will occur, and because it hasn't occurred, not since the heyday of the movement against the war in Vietnam, US citizens are in the dire position of losing everything. In his book Political Ponerology, Andrew Lobaczewski writes about the pathocracy:
Thus, the biological, psychological, moral, and economic destruction of the majority of normal people becomes, for the pathocrats, a "biological" necessity. Many means serve this end, starting with concentration camps and including warfare with an obstinate, well-armed foe who will devastate and debilitate the human power thrown at him, namely the very power jeopardizing pathocrats rule: the sons of normal man sent out to fight for an illusionary "noble cause." Once safely dead, the soldiers will then be decreed heroes to be revered in paeans, useful for raising a new generation faithful to the pathocracy and ever willing to go to their deaths to protect it.
And this is indeed the future awaiting the United States, make no mistake about it. Its youth are already being shipped off to foreign wars to die "defending" nothing, not freedom, not democracy, not liberty. No, they are dying while trying to impose the pathocracy's hold over the Middle East and to annihilate the Islamic world.
The workers and students in France who took to the streets have shown that if we have no say in the places of power, we can raise our voices and make them heard. If policitians won't defend our interests, then we must do so ourselves, and, this, whether or not we think we can affect any change. The standing up for our rights and the defence of our lives in the face of the pathocracy is in itself a worthy cause. More than that, it is right and necessary; it is an unshakeable refusal to believe their lies. It lets them know that we don't buy into the illusory world as portrayed in their media. They don't believe it, why should we? They consider the ordinary citizen to be beneath contempt because he or she is so often willing to let them do the thinking "for us" rather than doing it for ourselves. Worse, until we take a stand and refuse their lies, we are unworthy, unworthy of our role as respresentatives of the creative force. To sit and take whatever they serve is to turn our backs on an unwritten and open future, on our power to give birth to something new and never before seen.
If the pathocrats fear anything, they fear this creative power into which the majority of normal people can tap, but which is out of touch to them.
We don't need to have a plan; we need nothing more than the next step. That step is to stand up and say "No!". That alone will unleash the creative force within us, and as long as we are guided by a need for the truth and remain sincerely open to passing through the unexpected and unforeseen door that will appear in response, we need not know more at the start. We must learn to allow the creative force to guide us and to create new opportunities where before there was only despair.
The caveat is that this can only happen socially if each of us are acting in this way in our individual lives.
While the above words may sound airy-fairy, especially to militants who have been active in the drive for social change for many years, I can only say, try to do it in your life. You'll see that it isn't so easy. Nor is it a call to "be in the present", as we hear from new age or Eastern philosophy. Living in the present can be nothing more than self-gratification of one loses sight of the future, that is, of the results and responsibility of one's actions.
The edifice of pathocracy cannot survive without the creative input of those it subjugates. When that energy is withdrawn, it will collapse. However, the pathocrats, backed into a corner by their own wishful thinking, their belief that they can create a sustainable world in their image, will not go peacefully. They are willing to rain down the flames of the Apocalpyse to preserve their rule. We cannot yet know what the appropriate response will be at that time. We have not yet arrived at their downfall. Until then, we can only refuse to play their games, to believe their lies, to accept their leadership, to internalize their values, to die for their greed. On the positive side, we must reach out and build a network of sincere individuals to share the knowledge of psychopathy and their pathocratic states so that more and more people can be armed with the knowledge that can protect them from the conscienceless. We must exchange and discuss and deepen our understanding of the pathocratic structures of power and the means by which it hypnotizes and sways the unprepared. We must immunize ourselves from its influence.
This will take time, perhaps more time than we have. With each day, the United States is more and more entrapped in the dark cloud of obscurantism. Even if we see signs of revolt against the Bush Reich, we must not assume that the situation is improving, for who among those waiting in the wings of power will be willing to uncover all of its crimes? How many in the wings are willing to look the true facts of neocon and Israeli involvement in 9/11 in the face? How many are implicated themselves?
No, Bush and his partners in war crime could well be tossed aside and fed to the wolves on network TV without the underlying corruption and pathocratic power being changed one iota. If the needs of the pathocrats demand such a "sacrifice", it will be provided, served up hot even on Fox News.
And millions of people in that sad country will be able to pat themselves on the back and say that, once again, the system worked.
Then, watch out.
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Editorial: Civilized Ways to the Geopolitical Future
April 17, 2006
by Rodrigue Tremblay
How to have peace and order among independent and sovereign nations in an economically globalized modern world, without having the hydra of imperialism and colonialism resurface from past centuries? That is the international challenge of the 21st Century. In fact, this has been the challenge since the Peace of Westphalia, signed after the 30-year long religious war, on October 24, 1648.
Sadly, the forces of political and economic disintegration are presently at work and threaten the very delicate fabric of international cooperation that has been built during the latter half of the 20th Century. Against all expectations, the United States for one, under the Bush Jr. administration, has reneged on its past and shortsightedly chosen the dead-end road of unilateralism, militarism, imperialism and colonialism.
Such a view of the future is not only a throwback to a chaotic past, but it is politically unacceptable and economically unworkable. It is politically unacceptable because it represents a duplication of the undemocratic and imperialistic 19th Century. It is economically unworkable because the free functioning of markets and the required movements of people, goods and capital between countries, which has been a source of wealth creation and economic progress for the world for more than half a century, cannot be preserved without a reinforcement and a commitment to the rule of international law. Regression toward imperialism and colonialism will inevitably bring revolt and resistance in all corners of the world, which will in turn translate into more chaos and instability in international relations. Indeed, such an unwise development could unravel the entire system of economic globalization.
We need a new vision and new commitments to international law and to international institutions in order to make them better adapted to a shrinking and more integrated world. But such a development requires new political leadership and new directions. Europe, the United States and other major nations such as Russia, China, India, Japan, Brazil, ... need to work out a consensus on how to inject more multilateralism, more democracy and more efficiency into international relations, not less. -Europe, in particular, should project its influence in a more coherent and a more cohesive way. The United States, on its part, would need to repudiate the extremist and illegal "Bush Doctrine" and its anarchic rule of force, while other countries must realize that prosperity for all requires compromises and domestic reforms.
Even if this may be politically popular domestically, the United States should understand that bombing foreign countries-besides being immoral-is not a viable policy and is no substitute for a more legal international system. On a practical level and in the immediate future, Europe, Canada and the United States should attempt to enlarge the very successful 1975 Helsinki Accords, to include countries of the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Disillusioned and frustrated Latin American countries would also have to be reassured that more economic integration does not threaten their independence and domestic autonomy, and does not represent a return to imperialism.
At the current juncture, economic interdependence cannot progress without solemnly proclaiming the principle of self-determination and independence of sovereign nations and without credible protection against whimsical foreign interventions. Nor can it progress if the richer countries do not assist the poorer ones in getting out of poverty and underdevelopment. More than ever, the world needs a "Marshall Plan-type effort" to help the poorer countries catch up with their economic development.
If the world does not accept to make the necessary compromises to establish a more peaceful and a more stable system of mutually profitable political and economic interrelations, it will inevitably regress toward more conflicts, more instability and more disintegration. Every nation will lose because the negative consequences will be worldwide.
Many economists, including myself, have long feared that the forces of disintegration which are at work within the long economic Kondratieff cycle will create a decade of political and economic regression. As a reminder, this approximately 54- to 60-year cycle in human affairs, from bottom to bottom, began in 1949, when price controls were lifted and when national economies resumed their free functioning after World War II. Some bottoming of the current Kondratieff cycle could therefore be expected to appear between 2003 and 2009, precisely at the time when many economists predict that a peak in world production of oil will occur.
If Arnold Toynbee's century-long cycle of war unfolds simultaneously, it is not a worldwide recession, along the lines of the 1981-82 recession, that we will witness, but a worldwide economic depression more analogous to the worldwide economic depression of the 1930's. All the ingredients for such a catastrophe are presently in place, i.e. huge international financial imbalances, huge debt build-ups and over consumption, unsustainable public deficits and monetary expansions, widespread financial and political scandals, mediocre and corrupt political leaderships in many key-countries, and a general climate of lawless wars with religious overtones. If the interaction of these geopolitical forces comes into play, a worldwide economic depression will likely ensue.
If, as some fear, the scramble for energy resources becomes more pronounced, the result will undoubtedly be more conflicts and more wars. The resulting international political chaos will only make it more difficult for numerous countries to embark upon the path of necessary economic adjustments. But who is going to rise above the tumult and show the ways to avoid the catastrophe? It is possible that the trough of the current long cycle cannot be postponed and that the only hope may be to have enough wisdom and vision, on the individual and collective levels, to take measures in order to mitigate its expected destructive effects.
Perhaps the Secretary General of the United Nations should exert some leadership and convene an international conference on the very subject of how to avoid wars and economic depressions. Alternatively, the G-8 could take such a leadership, but with the current political vacuum in Washington D.C., I would not hold my breath!
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Editorial: As Elections Loom, Venezuela's Opposition Won't Commit to Participation
By Eric Wingerter
Apr 14, 2006, 16:17
Last Thursday the New York Times ran a remarkable profile of the Venezuelan opposition. Titled "Rifts Plague Anti-Chavez Venezuelans,"  Times reporter Juan Forero details the chaos that marks Venezuelan opposition parties in the run-up to the this year's presidential elections. Significantly, these rifts are not ideological in nature -- precious little of the discussion centers on values, ideas or agendas. The split within the anti-Chavez faction involves whether or not they will participate in elections at all. Having controlled all aspects of Venezuelan political life for generations before President Chavez was elected in 1998, the traditional parties are fighting over whether they will commit to democracy.
The Times describes presidential candidate Julio Borges as a lonely voice within the mainstream opposition for encouraging participation in the elections. While other anti-Chavez leaders claim that despite repeated failures at the ballot box, they actually represent the hearts and minds of most Venezuelans, Borges seems to understand that a large majority of Venezuelans are happy with their president.
"We spent seven years trying to get Chávez out of Miraflores," Mr. Borges said, referring to the presidential palace. "What we have to do is get Chávez out of people's hearts."
In other political realities, this condescending statement might be seen as a negative way to frame a campaign, but within the often-bizarre psychology of Venezuelan opposition leaders, it represents a huge step toward facing reality. For the first time, a major anti-Chavez candidate recognizes the deep support of the President by his countrymen.
Attend any pro-Chavez rally in Venezuela, and you'll see T-shirts, signs and hats that read "Chavez los tiene locos." Loosely translated, the meaning is "Chavez has 'em going crazy," in reference to the opposition. The Chavistas have a good point. In the past six years, guttural hatred of the president and flat-out denial of his broad support have plagued the opposition, and led to catastrophic tactical choices.
In 2002, when rebel military officials conspired with Venezuelan business leaders and a corrupt labor federation to kidnap President Chavez, and then enlisted the help of national media outlets to spin the coup as a "democratic" move, Venezuelans came out to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to demand the return of their elected leader. Coup leaders were shaken when democracy was restored after two days, as many of them honestly believed that they had widespread popular support for the takeover.
Later that year, when oil executives tried forcing Chavez out of office through a three- month worker lockout that collapsed the Venezuelan economy, the opposition further alienated themselves from the Venezuelan electorate, many of whom suffered profoundly from shortages of food, cooking oil, gasoline and electricity.
During the 2004 recall referendum, opposition groups, led by the U.S.-funded NGO Sumate, publicized phony exit polls to undermine President Chavez's decisive 60-40 victory. International observers immediately condemned the move, and former President Jimmy Carter held a press conference to denounce Sumate who, in his words, "deliberately distributed this erroneous exit poll data in order to build up, not only the expectation of victory, but also to influence the people still standing in line." Anti-Chavez groups responded with a campaign of harassment against Carter, and many continue to deny the international observers' conclusion that the results were legitimate.
Last fall, the largest opposition parties pulled out just days before congressional elections were held, when polls showed they would lose by wide margins. A week earlier, they had gone to the Organization of American States (OAS) with a long list of demands to be met before they would participate. When the National Electoral Council met their demands, they walked away anyway, handing over every seat in the National Assembly to pro-Chavez candidates.
Democracy and the Venezuelan Character
Clearly, these tactics play better in the international press than among the average Venezuelan. The editorial writers at the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal can applaud the point being made against the president they love to hate, without directly suffering the short term hardship (job losses, food rationing, etc.) or the long term damage (dismantling of democracy, aggressive civic polarization) imposed on the Venezuelan people.
But on the home front, the opposition leaders are in disarray not because of the failure of these actions, but because of the nature of their tactics. Venezuelans like living in a democracy, and they are fiercely proud of their tradition of peaceful government transitions. While much of South America languished under military dictatorships in the 1970s and 80s, Venezuela remained free and democratic (albeit with an ever-widening gap between the rich and poor).
This democratic nature of the Venezuelan electorate was made evident last fall, when continent-wide poll results were made public by the Chilean polling firm Latinobarometro. While citizens of other Latin American countries expressed growing reservations about democracy as the best tool to address their problems, Venezuela, along with Uruguay, topped the list of nations that prefer democracy over all other forms of government. What's more, Venezuelans were more likely than citizens of any other Latin American country to describe their government as "totally democratic".
The Formation of an Un-Venezuelan Opposition
So how is it that the traditional ruling parties believed that strategies that violate the very character of their culture would ever be effective in Venezuela? And why have they clung to anti-democratic tactics after each one has blown up in their faces? A number of historic and cultural factors help shed light on the situation.
A Lazy System: the Punto Fijo Pact
In the late 1950's, Venezuela's dominant political leaders signed a power-sharing agreement that allowed two political parties, Accion Democratica (AD) and Social Cristiano Copei (Copei) to effectively shut out all other parties from participating in political life. In theory, the Punto Fijo pact was intended to prevent extremist social movements from taking power and destabilizing the young democracy, but in practice it led to decades of patronage, and created an enormous amount of political apathy in the majority of Venezuelans who believed, credibly, that their voice would never be represented by political leaders.
Another unintended consequence of the pact was that national political leaders were not required to spend a lot of time with the Venezuelan people in order to be successful. Certainly, they had to engage in a lot of politicking within the two political parties, but the party makeup represented a narrow slice of the Venezuelan public. Once an official had gained prominence within the party structure, he was virtually guaranteed a seat in office because voters simply had no other alternative.
President Chavez was the first Venezuelan since Punto Fijo to win the presidency as a third-party candidate. While he was boosted by a number of historical and cultural factors that came into alignment by 1998, Chavez's presidential campaign, out of necessity, was grounded in an enormous grassroots mobilization effort. For this reason, Chavez the President has his finger on the pulse of the Venezuelan electorate in a way the opposition never did.
Life in a Bubble
The Venezuelan upper classes, which make up the bulk of opposition leadership, truly live in a world apart from the rest of the country. Caracas's finer neighborhoods are made up of gated communities and high-end shopping malls. Many have never set foot the barrios and working class neighborhoods populated by the majority of Caraquenos. When a nicely dressed Venezuelan woman living in Caracas's tony Altamira neighborhood told me she didn't know a single person in the country who supported President Chavez, I don't think she was exaggerating.
What's more, this upper-class worldview is reflected in the majority of the Venezuelan media. Telenovelas and reality programs are teeming with rich and fashionable Venezuelans with expensive tastes. Today you have to turn on state television to see the diverse cultural makeup of Venezuelan society. Before Chavez, even on government TV it was rare to see, for example, an Afro-Venezuelan, even though afrodecendientes make up a significant share of the Venezuelan citizenry.
So when the returns from the recall referendum were broadcast, and Chavez had won by a sweeping margin, it is almost understandable that some people found it easier to believe in an elaborate conspiracy between Chavez, Carter, and the OAS, rather than concede that they may have misjudged the nature of their own country. For many wealthy Venezuelans, the slow understanding that they are in the minority is only now beginning to sink in.
Influence from abroad
Of course, there is well-documented evidence to suggest that many of the tactics used by the Venezuelan opposition are not -- to use a particularly chavista term -- endogenous. It makes sense that strategies that violate the Venezuelan character were never dreamed up by Venezuelans in the first place.
With regard to the 2002 coup, we know that at least two of the top military leaders were trained in the notorious School of the Americas in Columbus, Georgia. We also know that the Congressionally-financed National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the U.S Department of Defense provided training and financial support to the individuals and organizations involved in the bloody uprising.
In the run-up to the 2004 recall referendum, we know that Sumate, the very organization chastised by President Carter for attempting to undermine the results, received more than $50,000 from the NED, and that the Democratic Coordinator, the umbrella organization representing all of the organizations that led the effort, received training and strategy advice from the NED-financed Center for International Private Enterprise.
And last February, the Christian Science Monitor ran a jaw-dropping story on efforts by a little-known subsidiary of the U.S. Agency on International Development (USAID), known as the Office on Transition Initiatives (OTI), which distributed $4.5 million dollars to opposition parties in 2005 for "overtly political" work aligned with U.S. "foreign policy goals." If Venezuelans seem paranoid about U.S. intervention in their democracy, they have good reason to fear.
All this helps explain how the traditional Venezuelan opposition has become so disconnected from its countrymen, but also why candidates like Borges are beginning to buck the trend, rolling up their sleeves and actually interacting with the Venezuelan electorate.
Not that it will make much difference.
The Presidential Election
Barring extreme unforeseen circumstances, President Hugo Chavez will be elected to a second term this December. As described above, the opposition is in utter disarray. But more importantly, new data indicate that the extent of popular support for President Chavez appears deeper today than pundits on either side may have imagined.
Candidates like Julio Borges may be refashioning their tone and image in the wake of polling results, released in March, which surprised even the Chavez camp. The results came from the firm Consultores 21, an opposition-aligned polling firm with 20 years experience in Venezuela, confirms a large base of support for the President. Full results are available online at this link.
The poll results include some significant findings:
To start with, nearly a quarter of likely voters offer their "unconditional" support for the President, meaning virtually nothing will change their minds. Another 33% support Chavez "conditionally". In other words, if the opposition unveils a truly spectacular candidate, they might switch, but for the most part, they are casting their lot with the President. Combined, the total pro-Chavez vote is 56%.
The anti-Chavez vote is small, but also remarkably dispassionate. Only 8.5% of the Venezuelan voters are "unconditional" supporters of an opposition candidate. An additional 18% are "conditional" supporters of the opposition, meaning that they may be inclined to vote against Chavez, but would consider voting for him depending on whom the opposition selects as their candidate (So much for the press characterization of a Venezuela passionately divided over Chavez). Add the two opposition figures together, and you get just over a quarter of the electorate--barely surpassing the level of "unconditional" support that Chavez enjoys.
Before this poll was released, conventional political wisdom held that the undecided voters would make up the largest chunk of the electorate, but it turns out that even if every undecided voter chooses to go with the opposition candidate -- a near impossibility --Chavez would still win with 56% of the vote.
To get a sense of why Venezuelans have so little faith in the opposition, the survey asks an important question about the boycott of the congressional elections last December: "With whom do you agree most: with those who say that the [opposition] candidates boycotted to defend the right of the people to clean elections, or with those who say that they boycotted because they knew that they would lose since they did not have the support of the people?" A full, fifty-eight percent said it was because they were going to lose. Barely a third said it was a statement on clean elections.
On the positive side, the survey sheds light on why Chavez enjoys such wide support. When asked about the President's ability to achieve important benchmarks in the country's social development, Venezuelans give him high marks in improving:
Health Care (65.2%)
Road Construction (56.3%)
Purchasing Power (54%)
The President gets middling marks on two of Venezuela's oldest and most chronic problems: Security (49.8%), and the Struggle against corruption (49.3%).
In general, Venezuelans think the country is heading in the right direction. They are happy with President Chavez, and often disgusted with the opposition, who rarely seem to understand the average Venezuelan. These facts can't make the anti-Chavez factions happy.
The question remains: will opposition leaders make a commitment to democracy this year? To be sure, they have almost zero hope of winning the presidency this December. Yet time and again, each anti-democratic action they've undertaken has marginalized them in the eyes of Venezuelan voters. If they choose to boycott, as they did last year, they will further alienate themselves at home. Worse, over time their actions may cause a more chronic problem by undermining Venezuelans' faith in democracy itself.
Yet so far, Julio Borges is the only opposition candidate advocating widespread participation. Perhaps that explains why the relative newcomer is the surprise frontrunner for the anti-Chavistas. At 36 years old, Borges has a long political career ahead of him. He almost certainly realizes that a good faith campaign this year will position him well for future bids. He is counting on the fact that his countrymen will not look favorably on those willing to sacrifice Venezuelan democracy to score another political point against Chavez. The other potential candidates are nearing the end of their careers, and are not likely to run in 2012.
Here's hoping the others put the greater good of the country before their personal goals.
1. Forero, Juan, "Rifts Plague Anti-Chavez Venezuelan," New York Times, March 31, 2006
2. Jones, Bart, "Divisions Harden after Chavez Victory," National Catholic Reporter, September 8, 2004 3. Gott, Richard, "Democracy Under Threat," The Guardian, December 6, 2006
4. Follow this link.
5. "SOA/WHINSEC Grads in the News," School of the Americas Watch, October 24, 2004
6. United States Department of State, Office of Inspector General, "A Review of U.S. Policy Toward Venezuela: November 2001 - April 2002," Report Number 02-OIG-003, July 2002,
7. NED Grant Agreement No. 2003-548.0, September 12, 2003.
8. NED Grant 2002-021, 2/1/02 9/30/03, CIPE Quarterly Report, April, May, June 2003.
9. Gould, Jens Erik, "Democracy's 'Special Forces' Face Heat," Christian Science Monitor, February 6, 2006.
Eric Wingerter is Public Education Director,
Venezuela Information Office
NOTE: The Venezuela Information Office is dedicated to informing the American public about contemporary Venezuela, and receives its funding from the government of Venezuela. More information is available from the FARA office of the Department of Justice in Washington DC.
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Editorial: Capitol Hill Blue Bites Back
Sunday April 16th 2006, 6:57 pm
Another Day in the Empire
Teresa Hampton, editor of Capitol Hill Blue, has responded to my criticism of Doug Thompson for his characterization of people interested in nine eleven truth as fools, lemmings, scam artists, and other not so nice names (a link to this article no longer exists). Ms. Hampton seems to believe I am lining my pockets here via Pay Pal donation button (less obtrusive than numerous flashing banner ads courtesy of multinational corporations) while Thompson gives ad money to charity. I am roundly chastised for not reading the Capitol Hill Blue FAQ on such things. Ms. Hampton calls this shoddy journalism, or a "mouth" with a "modem."
It is interesting to note Ms. Hampton did not touch nine eleven with a ten foot pole. Instead she picked on insignificant details such as the purported anti-Semitism of a website going by the name HaloScan.com and the oopsy of Doug Herman getting a fact wrong about an Oscar and Charlie Sheen. She also considers scant few of us out here journalists-and considering the state of journalism these days, I shall take this as a compliment.
If Doug Thompson is a journalist, he is a journalist refusing to do sufficient research on the inconsistencies laced throughout the nine eleven fable. I find this lack of research far more egregious than my lack of foresight in checking the Capitol Hill Blue FAQ before posting. I am still irked and take personally the fact Thompson believes we are exploiting the dead of nine eleven. On the other hand, I can live with the idea I am considered a nut case-not a day passes I don't think all of us here in America are nut cases for accepting what the government does in our names.
Ms. Hampton, I'd like to know, now that Doug Thompson has admitted he went overboard, calling people cretins and scam artists (the column now removed, please excuse my poor journalistic research, I can't provide an exact quote), will he also reconsider his belief in the Grimm Brothers story known as the Keane-Hamilton whitewash commission report? Or does he stand by his statements and simply regret using strong language to describe those of us who demand the truth.
"It takes more than a modem and a mouth to be a journalist," Hampton concludes. "Research also requires more than running a quick Google search. It requires training and hard work, two items we find lacking in those who claim to know more than us about our chosen profession."
In other words, I am not a journalist because I don't have the "training," that is to say I didn't go to college and earn a degree, and then didn't work my way through a series of newsrooms, as Mr. Thompson did. Not doing such simply makes one a "mouth."
Moreover, I detect a bit of anti-blogger sentiment here-it really is getting tedious, reading "professional" journos dissing bloggers. I am tuned-in to the argument-the bloggers don't have the training or expertise to report or even comment on the news, they make too many mistakes, are shoddy, rely on questionable sources-sort of like Judith Miller of the New York Times.
A few months ago, I heard basically the same thing from a neocon, a Princeton grad now teaching economics in Israel and California. In addition to calling me illiterate, he basically said without an "education" (my daddy was too poor to send me to Princeton) my opinion was about as worthy as a pile of dirt, or likewise colored substance. I admit a high school diploma and a lifetime (at the ripe old age of 53) of factory work, culminating in a decent wage in the late 90s as a web designer in Alan Greenspan's dot-com bubble. It was short-lived and here I am, back where I began.
It's not all journos out here, Ms. Hampton. Some of us are normal people, sans fancy diplomas, and our opinions are as valid as a guy who has a degree, worked in a bevy of news departments, founded one of the web's first news sites, and now appears ready to throw in the towel following the receipt of one of those "national security" letters.
Excuse my mistake of not checking the CHB FAQ. However, I still want to know if Mr. Thompson believes we're scoundrels and ninnies for believing the nine eleven whitewash commission story with its hole you could fly a Boeing 747 through, pun intended.
In the meantime, while I wait, probably for hell to freeze over, I will take the meager donations I receive, pay for the server space and maybe a new computer, if I save for another year or so. I explained this to my readers, a few thousand a day-I remain a small fish in a big "journo" pond-and most of them don't seem to have a problem with it. Most of them choose to ignore the button. No obligation. No problem. I do this for pennies a day, far less than Mr. Thompson earned as a respectable journo at all those newspapers, regardless of the fact he now gives it all away to charity.
Of course, it's easier to ignore a little Pay Pal donation button than a big honking and flashing Cisco banner ad.
Read the original.
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Iran Madness Part 3629
Ahmadinejad warns Iran is ready to 'cut the hand of any aggressor'
05:07:19 EDT Apr 18, 2006
ALI AKBAR DAREINI
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran's hard line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned on Tuesday Iran would "cut the hand of any aggressor" and insisted the country's military had to be ready with the most modern technology.
"Today, you are among the world's most powerful armies because you rely on God," Ahmadinejad declared at a parade to commemorate Army Day. "Iran's enemies know your courage, faith and commitment to Islam and the land of Iran has created a powerful army that can powerfully defend the political borders and the integrity of the Iranian nation and cut the hand of any aggressor and place the sign of disgrace on their forehead," Ahmadinejad said.
The president issued his comments as tension between Iran and the international community escalate over Tehran's refusal to stop enriching uranium.
The United States, Britain, Japan, Israel and France have accused Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to produce nuclear weapons. Iran says it is only building nuclear facilities to generate electricity.
Ahmadinejad said Iran's army "has to be constantly ready, equipped and powerful. It has to be equipped with the latest technologies, recognize the enemy and constantly be vigilant." He spoke to military officers before a parade of the armed forces in southern Tehran.
While threatening possible aggressors, Ahmadinejad said Iran's army would "serve peace and security for mankind especially the region and its neighbours."
The "power of our army will be no threat to any country. Our army carries the message of peace and security. . . . It is humble toward friends and a shooting star toward enemies," he said.
The parade was another opportunity for Iran to show off its modern military equipment, which they say includes missiles that are difficult to track with radar, super-fast torpedoes recently tested in war games, and other domestically produced weapons.
The president's speech and the military parade were broadcast live on state-run Iranian television. Foreign military attaches were present.
The radar-avoiding missiles, 320-kilogram bombs, high-speed torpedoes, tanks and other armament were paraded on trucks.
During war games in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea earlier this month, Iran test-fired what it called a "top secret" missile, an "ultra-horizon" weapon that could be fired from military helicopters and jet fighters.
The missile does not use over the horizon targeting that other missiles require to hit targets at maximum range.
Two other new missiles and torpedoes were also tested. The United States said Iran may have made "some strides" in its military but was likely exaggerating its capabilities.
Among the weapons tested in the war games and displayed Tuesday was the Fajr-3, a missile that can avoid radar and hit several targets simultaneously using multiple warheads, and a high-speed torpedo designed to sink war ships.
Iran already possesses Shahab-3 missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometres and capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
Israel and the United States have jointly developed the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system in response to deployment of the Shahab-3.
Last year, former Defence Minister Ali Shamkhani said Tehran had successfully tested a solid fuel motor for the Shahab-3, a technological breakthrough in Iran's military.
Iran launched an arms development program during its 1980-88 war with Iraq to compensate for a U.S. weapons embargo. Since 1992, Iran has produced its own tanks, armoured personnel carriers, missiles and a fighter plane.
Iran's regular army is separate from the elite Revolutionary Guards that make up the backbone of the ruling Islamic establishment.
Ahmadinejad has engaged in a series of high-profile threatening statements since making the announcement last Tuesday that Iran has successfully enriched uranium using 164 centrifuges, a significant step toward the large-scale production of a material that can be used to fuel nuclear reactors for generating electricity - or to build atomic bombs.
Since that announcement, Ahmadinejad has also been even more defiant in defending Iran's decision to press ahead with its nuclear program over the UN Security Council's objections.
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U.S. senator says no plans to attack Iran: newspaper
www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-18 18:19:11
CAIRO, April 18 (Xinhua) -- A visiting U.S. senator has said that his country is not planning a military strike on Iran and Washington still prefers a diplomatic solution to Tehran's nuclear issue, the Egyptian Gazette daily reported on Tuesday.
Republican Sen. Richard Shelby made the remarks when meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Monday, along with two other congressmen, said the English daily report.
"Although I'm not authorized to talk on behalf of President George W. Bush, I know no U.S. plans to attack Iran and Washington still favors a diplomatic way to solve the problem," said Shelby.
Describing his meeting with Mubarak as "good and positive",Shelby said their talks covered ties between Egypt and the U.S. as well as issues of joint interest including the Mideast peace issue and the latest developments in the region in general.
Shelby, who led a visiting U.S. delegation of congressmen, is currently on a multi-leg foreign tour, which will also take them to Libya, Ethiopia, South Africa and Argentina.
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U.S. could attack Iran next year - Russian expert
17/ 04/ 2006
MOSCOW - The United States may attack Iran next year if it gains the support of the international community, a senior Russian international security expert said Monday.
"If [the U.S.] ventures a military operation, it will conduct it next year after thorough political, military and propaganda preparations," Alexei Arbatov, head of the International Security Center in Moscow, told RIA Novosti.
But he said unilateral American actions, including the invasion of Iraq, had undermined Washington's position on the Iranian issue.
"The Americans say Europe and Russia - with its proposal to enrich uranium for Iran - had an opportunity to reach and agreement with Iran. But these attempts have ended in failure, and therefore America will take another path," Arbatov said.
He also said the U.S. would try to reach agreements with China, the EU and Russia separately, and would make concessions to them and neighboring Arab countries to isolate the Islamic Republic, as preventing Iran from creating nuclear weapons is Washington's key aim.
Concessions to Russia could include non-opposition to Russia's dominance in the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose union of ex-Soviet republics, Arbatov said, adding that the U.S. could even start withdrawing troops from Iraq.
"The U.S. understands that Iran has strong regional positions while its troops are deployed in Iraq," Arbatov said, adding that Shiite Iran may become embroiled in conflict with neighboring Sunni countries as soon as U.S. troops leave Iraq.
"When Iran faces this chaos, the U.S. will be able to deliver air strikes against the country," he said.
Iran has been accused of pursuing a covert program to develop nuclear weapons, but has denied the accusations, insisting that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes and that it has the right to produce nuclear fuel on its own soil.
Last Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that Iran had joined the club of countries possessing nuclear technology by successfully enriching uranium to a level sufficient for use in nuclear power plants.
UN Security Council permanent members Russia and China held consultations Monday on the issue, and last week reiterated their opposition to any punitive measures against the country.
The other three permanent Security Council members - Britain, France and the United States - demanded that Tehran halt all enrichment activities immediately, and threatened to table a binding, militarily enforceable resolution if it fails to comply.
The three, plus Germany, will join Russia and China for talks in Moscow Tuesday.
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Iran: Bombs That Would Backfire
By RICHARD CLARKE and STEVEN SIMON
04/17/06 "New York Times"
WHITE HOUSE spokesmen have played down press reports that the Pentagon has accelerated planning to bomb Iran. We would like to believe that the administration is not intent on starting another war, because a conflict with Iran could be even more damaging to our interests than the current struggle in Iraq has been. A brief look at history shows why.
Reports by the journalist Seymour Hersh and others suggest that the United States is contemplating bombing a dozen or more nuclear sites, many of them buried, around Iran. In the event, scores of air bases, radar installations and land missiles would also be hit to suppress air defenses. Navy bases and coastal missile sites would be struck to prevent Iranian retaliation against the American fleet and Persian Gulf shipping. Iran's long-range missile installations could also be targets of the initial American air campaign.
These contingencies seem familiar to us because we faced a similar situation as National Security Council staff members in the mid-1990's. American frustrations with Iran were growing, and in early 1996 the House speaker, Newt Gingrich, publicly called for the overthrow of the Iranian government. He and the C.I.A. put together an $18 million package to undertake it.
The Iranian legislature responded with a $20 million initiative for its intelligence organizations to counter American influence in the region. Iranian agents began casing American embassies and other targets around the world. In June 1996, the Qods Force, the covert-action arm of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, arranged the bombing of an apartment building used by our Air Force in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 Americans.
At that point, the Clinton administration and the Pentagon considered a bombing campaign. 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.
While the full scope of what America did do remains classified, published reports suggest that the United States responded with a chilling threat to the Tehran government and conducted a global operation that immobilized Iran's intelligence service. Iranian terrorism against the United States ceased.
In essence, both sides looked down the road of conflict and chose to avoid further hostilities. And then the election of the reformist Mohammad Khatami as president of Iran in 1997 gave Washington and Tehran the cover they needed to walk back from the precipice.
Now, as in the mid-90's, any United States bombing campaign would simply begin a multi-move, escalatory process. Iran could respond three ways. First, it could attack Persian Gulf oil facilities and tankers - as it did in the mid-1980's - which could cause oil prices to spike above $80 dollars a barrel.
Second and more likely, Iran could use its terrorist network to strike American targets around the world, including inside the United States. Iran has forces at its command that are far superior to anything Al Qaeda was ever able to field. The Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah has a global reach, and has served in the past as an instrument of Iran. We might hope that Hezbollah, now a political party, would decide that it has too much to lose by joining a war against the United States. But this would be a dangerous bet.
Third, Iran is in a position to make our situation in Iraq far more difficult than it already is. The Badr Brigade and other Shiite militias in Iraq could launch a more deadly campaign against British and American troops. There is every reason to believe that Iran has such a retaliatory shock wave planned and ready.
No matter how Iran responded, the question that would face American planners would be, "What's our next move?" How do we achieve so-called escalation dominance, the condition in which the other side fears responding because they know that the next round of American attacks would be too lethal for the regime to survive?
Bloodied by Iranian retaliation, President Bush would most likely authorize wider and more intensive bombing. Non-military Iranian government targets would probably be struck in a vain hope that the Iranian people would seize the opportunity to overthrow the government. More likely, the American war against Iran would guarantee the regime decades more of control.
So how would bombing Iran serve American interests? In over a decade of looking at the question, no one has ever been able to provide a persuasive answer. The president assures us he will seek a diplomatic solution to the Iranian crisis. And there is a role for threats of force to back up diplomacy and help concentrate the minds of our allies. But the current level of activity in the Pentagon suggests more than just standard contingency planning or tactical saber-rattling.
The parallels to the run-up to to war with Iraq are all too striking: remember that in May 2002 President Bush declared that there was "no war plan on my desk" despite having actually spent months working on detailed plans for the Iraq invasion. Congress did not ask the hard questions then. It must not permit the administration to launch another war whose outcome cannot be known, or worse, known all too well.
Richard Clarke and Steven Simon were, respectively, national coordinator for security and counterterrorism and senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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A war of nerves
BY ERIC S. MARGOLIS
16 April 2006
THE war of words between Washington and Teheran over Iran's modest but growing nuclear programme has reached new and dangerous intensity. Respected investigative journalist Seymour Hersh even claimed the Bush administration was considering the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iran's underground nuclear facilities.
The celebrated journalist had reported last December that the US was preparing a massive air campaign against Iran and already probing Iranian air defences and mounting special forces ground missions to both target high-value nuclear and strategic targets, and to stir up domestic unrest among Iran's ethnic minorities.
On the list for possible US - and likely Israeli - air and missile strikes: more than twenty Iranian nuclear facilities, including the Busheher reactor; airfields, missile and naval bases; communications nodes; military and intelligence headquarters; military factories; power plants and oil terminals.
No major ground offensive by the US is planned, though its special forces will play an important role in any attack. The surest sign of an impending US attack will be the massing of US strike aircraft in the Gulf and possibly Pakistan and Central Asia, the arrival of additional US aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea, concentration of US Navy minesweepers and shallow-water vessels around the Strait of Hormuz, and heightened activity at US bases in Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, and, of course, Iraq.
Respected international experts say that if Iran wanted to produce nuclear warheads, it would take 5-10 years. UN nuclear inspection has report no signs that Iran is working on nuclear weapons.
But the Bush Administration has used Iran's gleeful announcement that it enriched uranium to 3.5 per cent (83 per cent is needed for nuclear weapons), to generate a major US-Iranian crisis seven months before national mid-term elections. The administration clearly hopes its lurid claims that Iran is a nuclear threat to the world will whip up gullible Americans back into war fever a la Iraq. A bombing campaign before elections would likely reverse the Republican's steep decline in the polls.
Much of the administration's anti-Iranian jihad has been orchestrated, like the attack on Iraq, by Vice-President Dick Cheney, who increasingly emerges as the Rasputin of the Bush presidency. Cheney is a long-term, ardent Christian Zionist who is very close to Israel's political far right. He is carrying out former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's command to the US that once it invaded Iraq, 'march immediately on Teheran.'
Cheney, and the coterie of pro-Israel neoconservatives around him, have long worked closely with Israel's far rightists, Mossad intelligence service, and Israel's strategic planners. All agree that Iran, not Iraq, was the greater enemy of Israel, and one that had at all costs to be crushed before it could develop nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them.
Much of the current anti-Iranian hysteria campaign that is now being trumpeted by the compliant US media and members of Congress is being orchestrated from Cheney's office. It is clear that in spite of the debacle in Iraq, the vice-president intends to pursue his personal jihad against all Muslims regimes that are uncooperative and hostile to Israel.
Cheney has persistently frustrated efforts by the US State Department and CIA to improve relations with Teheran. America's mighty Israel lobby has become Cheney's personal army in this struggle, and is mounting a high-powered campaign to generate war fever against Iran. Jewish Americans have been panicked by false claims that Israel is in the direst nuclear peril.
For its part, Iran has played right into the hands of the war party in Washington. President Ahmadinejad's calls for Israel to be wiped out, his denial of the Jewish Holocaust, and the lavish song and dance spectacular he produced over nuclear enrichment delighted many ordinary Iranians. But abroad, Ahmadinejad's fiery pronouncements created an international firestorm of condemnation and made Iran look precisely what Israel's supporters claim: a rogue nation with a dangerous, erratic leadership that absolutely cannot be trusted with nuclear arms. In short, a Middle East North Korea.
Iranians may be forgiven for over-reacting to nuclear Viagra - Indians and Pakistanis responded the same way. But Iran should have adopted a low key approach to enrichment and invited UN and European observers to attend. By flaunting its infant nuclear technology, Teheran provides the US and Israel with an excellent pretext to attack Iran. In such an event, Iran will have precious few sympathisers around the globe. Many will say, 'Iran got what it deserved.' So much so one really wonders if Iran's leaders - many battle-scarred veterans of the bloody Iran-Iraq war - are daring the US to attack.
The Iranian leadership and the Bush administration are feeding off one another, gaining domestic popularity with each new escalation but drawing their nations into a clash whose outcome could be dangerously unpredictable and would surely shake the entire Middle East and world oil markets.
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Ahmadinejad Did Not Say - "Wipe Israel Off The Map"
By Arzu Celalifer
10/30/05 "Turkish Weekly"
Let's fill in the Blanks in the Speech of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was addressing a conference in Tehran entitled "The World without Zionism", attended by around 3,000 students on Wednesday and the following day, we could find "Israel should be Wiped of the Map" title in nearly all of the news sources around the world. The remarks by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prompted a chorus of international condemnation. Sometimes it seems easier to copy paste some parts of a speech or article and create a noisy atmosphere. Hence, it will be better to analyze all dynamics of this event and try to find out the missing points.
At the beginning, it will be helpful to explain the aim of this conference. In 1979, the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini declared the last Friday of the Muslim month of Ramadan as an international day of struggle for the "liberation" of Jerusalem (in Arabic Al-Qods) and against occupier Zionist Regime. Henceforth, on "Al-Qods Day", Muslims all over the world were to demonstrate against the existence of the state of Israel. Annually, the Iranian regime organizes a big Al-Qods Rally in Tehran and prior to this rally there is always a conference related to the Palestine Problem. "The World without Zionism" conference is also one of these organizations and the speech made by Mr. Ahmedinejad was aimed the liberation of Al-Qods and Palestinians.
It would be wiser to have a look at full text of the speech rather than selecting some parts of it. Doubtless it would make sense and would give some clues about the reasons of such a speech.
But before discussing about the context it will be noteworthy to remind some points:
1. The main topic of the organization was "liberation of Al-Qods and anti-zionism"
2. The hostility among two countries is not a secret
3. Anti-zionism is a pillar policy of Islamic Republic of Iran since its existence
Now we can review the speech quickly. At first, he explained the real meaning of Palestine adventure from his point of view. "The Palestine problem is not a conflict among Jewish and Muslims, it is not a conflict between Jewish and other sects; it is neither a fight among two countries nor a fight between a country and the rest Arab world. The establishment of the occupier Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world" he said in his speech. Later on he talked about the historic fight among Muslim world and the world oppressor. "It dates back hundreds of years. Sometimes Islam has advanced. Sometimes nobody was winning. Unfortunately over the past 300 years, the world of Islam has been in retreat," he said and talked about history for a while.
Than he touched on the name of conference and continued his speech by giving some examples to prove that this name is not exaggerated and utopian. He expresses that many external bodies are trying to impose hopelessness in the conflict between Islamic world and the world oppressor.
He said "Lots of hopeless people ask whether a world without America or Zionism is possible or not"? And then, added that the answer to this question is absolutely positive as the same thing was happened in Iran Monarchy case, USSR case and Saddam dictatorship case. He pointed out that the famous iron curtain collapsed and it can be found only in history books nowadays. He told that "A recent similar case is Saddam, who assumed himself immortal and eternal, but today his legs and arms are chained and he is adjudicated by his former collaborators today" and following these examples he made a quotation from the Imam Khomeini's speech and said "As the Imam said, the Occupier regime of al-Qods must be wiped off the map". Than he continued to defend the Palestinians right of having their own territories and own government. The rest of his speech is about supporting Palestine in their justified case, confronting Zionist regime and warning other Islamic countries not to make cooperation with Israel.
After giving a brief of this speech it will be easier to interpret the meaning of words. First of all; the striking slogan does not belong to Mr. Ahmedinejad and it is a quotation from Imam Khomeini's speech. Second, it was used to say that no system is eternal and no unjust regime is undefeatable. Third; phrases can be interpreted in many ways and the result depends on the interpreter's intention and goodwill. And finally, the words saying that "the occupier regime of Al-Qods must wipe off the map" just mean the Zionist regime not Israeli and Jewish people. The Islamic Republic of Iran's anti-zionist and anti-american approach is not a new thing. The "death to America" and "death to Israel" slogans exist since the first days of the revolution. But these slogans aimed at American government and Zionist Regime not their nations and people. On the other hand, both America and Israel declares that the Islamic Regime in Iran shall collapse in every occasion. So what is the difference between both sides' intentions? Do we have to interpret that both Israel and America wish Iran to be wiped of the map, or do we have to understand that their problem is the current Islamic system in Iran? Hence, it will be useful to evaluate the events objectively.
But in the meantime it can be said that senior officials had avoided such a provocative language in the last decade, but Mr. Ahmadinejad appears to be taking a more confrontational tone than recent Iranian leaders. It shall not be a surprise again, because he comes from a more conservative wing and this fact was known even before his election. Thus, his strict and more sensitive attitude towards Palestinian Problem and anti-zionist approach shall not have a shock effect, as this policy was one of the main pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran since its foundation. It will be wiser for Iran to be careful and think of herself more than other nations especially in this period that she has lots of problems with international arena concerning her nuclear activities.
The second point to be analyzed is timing. President Ahmedinejad's comments, reported in world media, came at a time when Tehran is under pressure over its suspect nuclear programs.
Iran has an uranium enrichment program issue that has been criticized for a long time in international arena, but there is still no positive step taken except of threatening Iran to bring the matter to UN Security Council. Iran who is defending its rights as an NPT member, persistently says that she will enrich uranium to produce electricity and minimizing her foreign dependency. As China and Russia who are the most important economic partners of Iran, declared that they will not approve any sanction decision to be taken in Security Council against Iran, the situation is a little bit complex and do not serve to the aims of Western countries and Israel. This is why that timing is important.
Anti-zionist policy has always been the "sine qua non" of Iran's regime. Thus, using a part of Mr. Ahmedinejad's speech that had been quoted from Ayatollah Khomeini's declaration during the first years of revolution and introducing it as a new pronunciation is really worth thinking on it. At first United States, Israel and some European countries are looking for a gap and pretext to prove the dangerous character of Iran Policies to bring her file before the Security Council, prevent her uranium enrichment program and expose her to a plenty of sanctions. Thus; this was perceived as a chance to show that a country with such wishes will also produce nuclear bombs and will use these weapons to destroy Israel. But Even Mark Regev, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, said "Unfortunately this is not the first time that we've heard such an extremist message from the Iranian leadership. I think there is a growing understanding in the international community that the regime is not Israel's problem alone, but a problem the entire international community must grapple with." This means that these kinds of expressions are not new.
If it is the arguments, they were there since the beginning of the regime, but if it is to wipe out Iran's regime, it seems that even the wing flapping of a butterfly in Tehran is sufficient to find reasons to attack the regime.
Arzu Celalifer , JTW Middle East Correspondent and Researcher, ISRO Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
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Rafsanjani says Gulf countries will not assist U.S. if it attacks Iran
April 17, 2006
KUWAIT CITY (AP) - The former Iranian president said on Monday that talk of U.S. contingency planning for a military attack on Iran was overblown because such a move would be too dangerous.
"Reports about plans for an American attack on Iran are incorrect. We are certain that Americans will not attack Iran because the consequences would be too dangerous," former president Hashemi Rafsanjani said in an appearance in the Kuwait parliament.
Rafsanjani also said he was certain that Arab countries in the Persian Gulf would not join the United States.
"We are certain that Persian Gulf countries will not help the United States to attack Iran," Rafsanjani, said. Earlier Monday the former leader met with Kuwait's emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, who counseled caution.
The state-owned news agency quoted al Sabah as saying Kuwait was "cautious about nuclear matters" and hoped "what is happening in Iran was for peaceful not military purposes."
Rafsanjani, who was president in 1989-97, heads the Expediency Council, a powerful body that arbitrates between Iran's parliament and clerical hierarchy.
U.S. news reports have said the United States was developing contingency plans to use military force against Iran if it continued to challenge attempts by the West and the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency to force Tehran to abandon its uranium enrichment program.
Rafsanjani said Monday that Iran would not step back from enrichment, a process that makes uranium suitable for fuel in nuclear reactors or for use in nuclear bombs.
Iran "does not intend to suspend the enrichment of uranium," Rafsanjani said while visiting the Kuwait Science Center. He added that Iran saw nuclear power as not only an asset for itself but also for the developing world and the pan-Muslim nation.
Although U.S. President George W. Bush has said the military option against Iran was not on the table, the consequences of military action against Tehran's nuclear facilities remains a major concern here.
Venezuela's speaker of parliament, Nicholas Maduro, who is visiting Iran, said Sunday his government would oppose any political pressure or military action against Iran over its nuclear program.
Kuwaitis _ like other Arab states across the Gulf from Iran_ worry about pollution from any nuclear accident in Iran, especially at the reactor in Bushehr which is due to come on stream later this year.
This small oil-rich state has been a key ally of Washington since a U.S.-led international coalition fought the 1991 Gulf War that liberated it from a seven-month Iraqi occupation under Saddam Hussein. It was the launch pad for the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam.
The U.S. military also has bases in Qatar and Bahrain.
Kuwaiti lawmaker Mohammed al-Saqer told reporters that "Iranians are escalating every day and this is terrifying not only for the international community but for the region."
"We feel real concern although our ties with Iran are good and Iran is a brotherly country,." said Al-Saqer, who is head of parliament's foreign relations committee.
The United States and some European countries accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, an accusation Tehran denies, saying it intends only to generate electricity.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, is due to report to the Security Council on April 28 whether Iran has met its demand for a full halt to uranium enrichment. If Tehran has not complied, the council will consider the next step. The U.S. and Europe are pressing for sanctions against Iran, a step Russia and China have so far opposed.
"What we really fear is a (military) escalation with the United States that would ... mean a fierce war in the area," Islamist lawmaker Nasser al-Saneh, told reporters. He said Gulf countries should open "a direct dialogue with Iran" about their concerns, and Rafsanjani's visit was a good first step in that direction.
Speaker al-Kharafi said he "personally" was confident Iran's nuclear program was for peaceful purposes. However, he called on the Islamic republic to "reassure all those who have doubts about its intentions" because lack of transparency increases fears.
Shiite cleric and lawmaker Hussein al-Gallaf told reporters Gulf countries are seeking safety and don't want to be part of any struggle in the area.
"If there is anything to fear, we should fear Israel," he said. "(Iran) is an Islamic state which we don't fear."
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Russia opposes sanctions on Iran for nuclear issue
www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-18 19:33:24
MOSCOW, April 18 (Xinhua) -- Russia is against using sanctions to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said here on Tuesday prior to the opening of the six-party consultations on over the delicate issue.
"We are convinced that neither sanctions nor (the) use of force will lead to the solution of the problem," Kamynin was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying.
All the basic provisions of Russia's stance on this account "are well known and remain valid," the spokesman said, calling for a political settlement of the situation.
Taking part in the consultations in Moscow are high-level diplomats from Russia, China, the United States, Britain, France and Germany.
Kamynin said Moscow was concerned with the recent statement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Iran's creation of full nuclear cycle.
He described it as a step in the wrong direction that went against the will of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and was in defiance of a statement by the UN Security Council chairman.
"Russia is calling on Iran to take steps to implement the IAEA documents," Kamynin said.
The UN Security Council on March 29 adopted a presidential statement that urged Iran to fully restore the suspension of all activities related to uranium enrichment in 30 days.
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The Disintegration of Iran and the US
By Ahmad Zeydabadi
Posted Sunday, April 16, 2006
London, 17 Apr. (IPS) Some political activists and opponents of the Islamic Republic of Iran do not hide their fears that the United States may embark on a policy to disintegrate Iran. They suspect that the US intends to separate the oil rich province of Khouzestan from Iran and establish a small government in that region in its drive to control Middle-East oil. But is this fear realistic, or just part of the imagination of some Iranians?
As far as I know and read, there is no sign of even an implicit reference to such an idea in the official statements or among officials of the US. When I gave this reason to a leading politician in Iran, he responded by saying that "such an intention would not be publicly announced" by the US if they had such intentions. To which I responded then one may take this thought further and claim that the US might intend to destroy the whole planet!
The reality is that as the most powerful country on this globe, the US has specific interests which it pursues, some through legitimate and other through illegitimate means. If we grasp US interests, which are expressly proclaimed through the national interest strategy of the White House, we can learn of its policies towards other countries around the world.
US policy towards Iran is very clear. It considers the Islamic Republic to be an obstacle towards the full recognition of Israel as a member state of the Middle East. Furthermore, it views some of the policies of the ideology pursued by certain Iranian leaders to be destabilizing, extremist, and advocating terrorism and fundamentalism.
So from the perspective of the US, any military or technological tool that can help Iran advance the above-mentioned goals is viewed as contrary to US interests and thus obliges the White House to confront it. In the past, the US pursued the policy of changing the behavior of Iranian leaders. But with Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad's team in the presidential saddle in Iran, it seems to have concluded that the only way to change the behavior of Iran is through regime change.
The specific details of this US strategy or goal are not yet clear. Still what one can read from the reports in the American press is that the US is leaning on utilizing discontent among Iran's ethnic groups to oppose the government in Tehran.
In other words, certain US circles believe that because some Iranian minorities are deprived of their natural rights, they have a strong reason to rise against the Islamic Republic. So it may utilize this discontent by promoting the idea of some form of federalism in Iran.
This idea however does not tantamount to territorial disintegration of Iran as it is implausible to believe that the US is so ignorant of Iranian domestic affairs and dynamics as to believe that the country can be disintegrated without a major bloody upheaval.
It is clear to any thinker that the separation of even a small part of Iran would make the whole Middle East a deep unstable region for years ahead and would bring about millions of deaths. No reasons exist to believe that the US aspires to permanently destabilize the region and victimize millions of innocent lives in the process. The human tragedy of the Balkans following the disintegration of Yugoslavia has demonstrated to the big powers that breaking up states destabilizes the new states and the whole region so much that it requires them to stay involved in the region indefinitely.
To say that the US does not have a disintegration goal for Iran will most likely be displeasing to many ears in Iran. If so, I would not view this anger to arise from their belief in the territorial integrity of Iran because those who advocate such conspiratorial theories are in fact helping promote this idea. And it is clear how. Through their advocacy of the disintegration of Iran, those few individuals, who also believe that a major power such as the US would support them, are in fact inviting other ignorant people to join them in their quest.
So in the absence of any real evidence for such scenarios, it is not in the interests of Iran to talk of such ideas which stem from the pure imagination of certain figures, because by claiming that the US would or does support such a disintegration, they are in fact providing spiritual and moral support to those few who genuinely may be wishing for such a break-up.
Editor's note: Mr. Ahmad Zydabadi is an activist journalist and dissident associated with the outlawed, but tolerated nationalist-religious groups in Iran and as a prominent and influential reformist journalist, he had been arrested several times.
He contributed the above article to the independent internet daily "Rooz" (Day), posted on 10 April 2006.
Highlights and some editing are by IPS.
Contrary to what he says, news about some US "thinkers" are looking at the option of cutting the oil-rich Province of Khouzistan that borders with the Iraqi oil reservoir of Basra, now under the control of British forces and cutting all Iranian costal lines in the Persian Gulf from shipping is circulating.
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Israel weighs response to suicide attack
Last Updated Tue, 18 Apr 2006 07:23:18 EDT
Israel warned on Tuesday it holds the Hamas-led Palestinian government responsible for the deadly suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, as acting Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert considers the country's response.
Olmert was to meet with security chiefs and cabinet ministers Tuesday to decide whether to launch a military offensive against the Palestinian Authority.
Earlier Tuesday, Israeli army officials said planes attacked an empty warehouse in Gaza City. The building was being used to build rockets and no one was injured in the strike, the army said.
Even though the militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for Monday's attack outside a fast-food restaurant that killed nine people and wounded about 60 others, Israel says it blames the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
"Israel sees the Palestinian Authority as responsible for what happened yesterday," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Gideon Meir.
"We don't care whose work it was, whether it's Islamic Jihad or al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades or Hamas," he said. "From our point of view, they're all terror organizations. Now, maybe the hands are not the hands of Hamas, but the voice and the ideology is the ideology of Hamas."
In a United Nations Security Council debate on Monday, Israeli ambassador Dan Gillerman included the Hamas-led government in a new "axis of terror."
"A dark cloud is looming above our region, and it is metastasizing as a result of the statements and actions by leaders of Iran, Syria, and the newly elected government of the Palestinian Authority," Gillerman said.
Israel placed security forces on high alert and is considering declaring Hamas an "enemy entity," according to the Associated Press. That would allow Israel to carry out direct strikes against the Palestinian Authority.
Other measures could include tightening travel restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza, and targeted killings of Islamic Jihad members.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Fatah party, condemned the attack, but Hamas called it a justifiable response to Israeli "aggression and siege."
Washington warned Hamas against defending terror acts, while the European Union, Britain and Russia have called on Israel to show restraint in its response.
The last suicide attack to happen inside Israel on the Jewish holiday of Passover, in 2002, led to a three-week military offensive in the West Bank. Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who lies in a hospital in a coma, called the attack the Passover massacre.
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Israel Warns of New 'Axis of Terror'
By EDITH M. LEDERER
Associated Press Writer
Apr 17 11:16 PM US/Eastern
Israel warned Monday that a new "axis of terror" - Iran, Syria and the Hamas-run Palestinian government - is sowing the seeds of the first world war of the 21st century. The Palestinians accused Israel of an escalating military campaign using indiscriminate force to kill civilians and entrench its occupation.
The Israeli and Palestinian envoys traded charges at an open Security Council meeting held in response to the recent upsurge in Israeli attacks in Gaza. It took place on a day that a Palestinian suicide bomber struck a packed fast-food restaurant in Tel Aviv, killing nine people in the deadliest bombing in more than a year.
Recent statements by the Palestinian government, Iran and Syria, including one by Hamas on Monday defending the suicide bombing, "are clear declarations of war, and I urge each and every one of you to listen carefully and take them at face value," said Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman.
"A dark cloud is looming above our region, and it is metastasizing as a result of the statements and actions by leaders of Iran, Syria, and the newly elected government of the Palestinian Authority," Gillerman warned.
The Palestinian U.N. observer, Riyad Mansour, condemned Monday's suicide bombing and the loss of innocent civilians on both sides, but attacked Israel for trying to portray its latest military escalation - which killed 21 Palestinians from April 7-9 - as a response to violence from the Palestinian territories.
"Israel, the occupying power has been relentless in its grave breaches of international law, including the willful killing and injury of civilians and the practice of extrajudicial executions," he said. "What the Israeli government is doing and what it has been doing throughout its nearly 39-year-old military occupation is clearly intended to serve its clear political objectives of inflicting maximum pain, suffering and loss on the Palestinian people while it entrenches its occupation."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the escalating violence "very worrying" and urged both sides to avoid putting civilians at risk. He also announced that the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers - the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia - would meet in New York on May 9 to discuss how to move the stalled roadmap to peace forward.
Gillerman told the Security Council that Monday's "horrific act of terrorism as well as the ones that preceded it are the direct result of the new axis of terror" comprising Iran and Syria and the "terrorist organizations they have been harboring, nurturing, financing and supporting, namely Hamas and Hezbollah."
Recent statements by Hamas leaders refusing to recognize Israel, and by Iran's president who said Saturday that Israel is a "rotten, dried tree" that is "on the road to being eliminated," represent "the stated goal of this axis of terror."
Mansour urged the Security Council and the international community to condemn the Israeli attacks and take measures to halt the latest escalation.
Gillerman urged the international community and the Security Council "to take swift actions to try and prevent the next murder which is already on its way."
Since January, he said, 11 major suicide terrorist attacks have been prevented and 90 potential suicide bombers have been arrested.
While Israel regrets any loss of life, it will not sit idly by and allow "human bombs" or rockets to penetrate the country and kill Israelis _ and he asked whether every country wouldn't do the same to eliminate a similar danger.
"The danger I must add, not just to Israel but also to the whole free world, and to civilization as we know it, as this axis of evil and terror sows the seeds of the first world war of the 21st century," Gillerman said.
Comment: Ooo, a new axis to worry about: The Axis of Terror! What is most interesting is the "suicide" attack in Tel Aviv on the day of a Security Council meeting on the recent upsurge of Israeli attacks in Gaza. Once again, the Palestinians strangely shoot themselves in the foot!
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IDF accused of 'knowingly risking Palestinian lives'
By Yuval Yoaz, Amos Harel and Michal Greenberg
Six human rights organizations appealed the High Court on Sunday to cancel a regulation which allows Israel Defense Forces artillery to fire shells at targets up to 100 meters away from Palestinian houses.
Last week Defense Minister Shual Mofaz reduced the safety range down from 300 meters in an effort to put a stop to Qassam rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
Attorney Michael Sfard claimed on behalf of the human rights organizations that Mofaz's decision deliberately endangers Palestinian lives because the shells are known to land within a 100-meter spread from their targets.
IDF officers admitted that the new regulations put Palestinian lives at risk but insisted it would help strike back at Palestinian militants launching rockets at Israeli civilians.
Last week a 12-year-old Palestinian girl was killed and five of her family members were wounded when an IDF artillery shell struck their house in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya. In response, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz asked Mofaz to reinstate the previous safety regulations, but was turned down.
"We have no way of ensuring that civilians will not be hurt in the next shelling," an IDF officer recently told Haaretz. "But the bombardment [of targets in Gaza] disrupts the activities of Qassam rocket launching cells. They feel threatened and fire quickly, without taking aim, in order to get out of the area. That's why lots of the rockets fired lately landed in the sea. We cannot allow a situation in which our civilians, [who live] around the Strip, will be held hostage by terrorist organizations," the officer said.
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Is Hamas Being Forced to Collapse?
By SAM BAHOUR
April 18 , 2006
As many predicted, including myself, the newly elected Palestinian government led by Hamas has already started to show an impressive level of pragmatism, however, Israel and the U.S. seem to not be interested. As a matter of fact the U.S., in specific, is leading a global campaign to isolate the Palestinian government in such a haphazard way, that they are also causing a troubling level of despair among the average Palestinian citizen as well.
The Observer (UK) recently reported on Mr. Yihiyeh Musa, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who said Hamas had moved into a "new era" which did not require suicide attacks. He was quoted as saying, "The suicide bombings happened in an exceptional period and they have now stopped," he said. "They came to an end as a change of belief." (April 9, 2006).
One would think this is good news, especially after the death and destruction such bombing caused. This, one would imagine, should be even better news for Israel and the U.S. given they both have continuously linked such bombings to the reason that the never-ending peace process was unable to actually reach its destination, peace.
But cautious optimism was not the case. Instead, the U.S. wasted no time in dehumanizing the newly elected Palestinian parliamentarians and cabinet ministers. The war of words has been nearly non-stop since Hamas' victory with all levels of government in D.C. making the case that Hamas can't change and there is no reason to let them try. Next was a cessation of funding to the Palestinian government and a request for all other countries of the world to follow suit. Then Israel severed all Israeli bank ties with the Palestinian banking system, government related and non-government related.
Only last week came a U.S. Department of Treasury decree making it illegal for Americans to do business with the Palestinian government. We wait to see tomorrow's nooses.
All of this as Palestinians watch in dismay, trying to maintain a dignified life under an humiliating military occupation. The international community demanded Palestinians hold free and fair elections at all levels of government, so the Palestinians did just that, and superbly given their reality. But after voting a reflection of their bitter reality of being caged in open air prisons in their own homeland, the U.S. is now punishing them for not voting as the U.S. wanted.
Most Palestinians today are asking simple rhetorical questions, if the past government was, and it was, corrupt -- financially, politically and administratively -- and we voted them out of power, why can't the U.S. see this as a positive development?
What does the U.S. want, to bring back a proven corrupt government that made a mockery of international aid, including U.S. funds? Also, if Israel has blocked every attempt for Palestinians to solve their issues at the negotiating table, can't the U.S. understand that the voting Hamas in office was a simple non-violent way to tell the world, end this occupation or take some of your own medicine?
Conditions on the ground have never been so tense. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which has always been a political conflict, is being converted, thanks to the U.S. and Israel, into a humanitarian crisis. The fear is that hungry persons react in unpredictable ways.
The greater fear is that if the U.S. and Israel are successful in collapsing the Hamas government and Hamas in turn decides to abandoned democratic means to express itself, we will be back where we started from, suicide bombings killing innocents and setting the agenda from outside any known political framework. Does this serve U.S. and Israeli interests? We are all wondering!
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman living in the Israeli- occupied Palestinian city of El-Bireh, the sister city of Ramallah. He is co- author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994) and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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4 Hamas Lawmakers Can't Live in Jerusalem
April 18, 2006, 6:16AM
JERUSALEM - Israel decided Tuesday to revoke the Jerusalem residency rights of four Hamas lawmakers, a response to a suicide bombing that killed nine civilians in a Tel Aviv restaurant.
The bombing was carried out by the Islamic Jihad group, but the Palestinians' new Hamas government supported the attack as a justified response to Israeli military strikes.
Weighing their response, interim Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and key Cabinet ministers decided Tuesday that Hamas is to be held responsible for the attack.
In one of a list of measures, the Jerusalem residency rights of four Hamas lawmakers from Jerusalem are to be revoked, participants in the meeting said.
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Bosnia 1993- Palestine 2006
Written by Luc Roullet
Tuesday, 18 April 2006
Will the Europeans be deaf to the screams of Palestinians in 2006 as they were to the Bosnians in 1993? Will the lack of empathy for Europeans toward more Muslim populations produce the same lack of actions, and in the end lead to an unsustainable peace?
Most of the inhabitants of Sarajevo claim that their city, the "Jerusalem of Europe", will never be the same than before the 1993-1995 war: a multicultural vibrant city, where the different Christian churches, the synagogues and the mosques share the same streets, and the inhabitants the same cafés. After losing at the heart of Europe this symbol fitting so well the European motto of "Union in Diversity", will the Europeans remain completely passive as chances are vanishing for Jerusalem to ever be a shared capital between peoples, nations and religions?
When the old President Izetbegovic in Sarajevo in 1993 was demanding help from his European neighbors, most of them turned a deaf ear to him, preferring the siren songs of the Christian aggressors of his country (militias and armies supported by the government of the Catholic Tujman and the Orthodox Milosevic). More than a true European, Izetbegovic was perceived as a Muslim: to his own despair, he had to turn himself to the further Muslim countries who were quicker at sending money and some mudjahidins to defend Sarajevo and Bosnia. Being constrained to do so, the Bosnians were set further apart from the European public opinions, who were unable to even pay attention to the Orthodox Serb Bosnians defending the multicultural Sarajevo against the Milosevic-backed Serb army: they preferred to see a simple "clash of civilization" rather than a complex web of competing conceptions of identities and interests.
When the isolated president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah was demanding help from the international community to not freeze the international aid to his people, the divided EU preferred the easiest way: follow the American Hegemon in demonizing the Palestinian voters. More than somebody committed to the Road Map, Mahmoud Abbas was perceived as somebody unable to win an election with his so-called "moderate party". The West easily forgot that its asymmetric pressure on Israelis and Palestinians probably did a lot to promote the more radical forces in Palestine. Have we already forgotten that the newly elected Mahmoud Abbas (supported and pressured by the West) managed to secure in February 2005 a truce from all Palestinian armed factions in order to relaunch the Road Map process (at that time Hamas even started mentioning the possible acknowledgement of Israel in exchange of the 1967 borders). In exchange, the Israelis declined any commitment to the Road Map, and went on with the unilateral withdrawal of Gaza, one of the poorest areas in the region, to be managed by a destroyed administration. The Israelis were praised for the withdrawal, while they were continuing the construction of the settlements in the West Bank, as well as a methodic "land grab" around Jerusalem in beyond, as recently emphasized by The Economist.
In the current circumstances of demonisation of the Palestinian government, it seems that the only possibility for the Palestinian Authority will be to find money by knocking at the door of its most anti-American neighbors: the EU might be complicit to have reinforced an alliance between the Palestinian and the Iranian governments, at a time when Mahmoud Abbas, and even some Hamas leaders were ready to start off some negotiations.
This is the result of two missed opportunities: in addition to rightly putting pressure on the Palestinians, the EU and the rest of the West failed to 1. engaging the Palestinian leadership, at the right time, and at the right level (using track II diplomacy in order to prepare the grounds for official talks); 2. putting pressure on Israel to deliver its commitments on the Road Map. The EU or the US should not shy away from this pressure: they would just act as the relay of the always more numerous voices in Israel that demand for it. In the April 13th "Le Monde", the Tel-Aviv University professor of contemporary history, Shlomo Sand, asks: "Is the world too lenient with Israel?". He underlines the "historically imbalanced relationship of the US with Israelis and Arabs". Being even more explicit, another article from Haaretz, republished in the International Herald Tribune recently affirmed: "so pro-Israel that it hurts". Its author, Daniel Levy, served as a policy adviser in the Israeli prime minister's office in the government of Ehud Barak and was the lead Israeli drafter of the 2003 Geneva peace Initiative. His message is more addressed to Americans than to Europeans, but for whoever is interested to bring peace in the region, the words of a truly committed Israeli peacenik are clear: the mediator, be it the US, the Quartet or the EU, has to understand both parties, but also to be forceful with each of them.
If the Europeans do not apply their lessons from Bosnia in the case of Palestine, no peace will be possible in the Middle East. Besides the probable anger among the Muslims that will continue and grow worldwide, and especially in Berlin, London and Paris, the European leaders should also fear the lessons that historians will draw from this period, as they are already doing from the recent history in Bosnia.
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The Many Facets of War
Friendly fire a hazard of modern war: senior coalition commander
21:46:08 EDT Apr 17, 2006
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - Lightning quick, sometimes lethal, firefights between friendly forces are a reality of warfare that Canadians will have to accept, a senior British commander said Monday as coalition authorities launched another investigation into possible friendly-fire casualties.
"If you look at when Britain and America went into Iraq, this is a reality of complex operations," said Col. Chris Vernon, chief of staff to the Canadian commander of the multinational brigade.
"People need to understand that. We will try very, very hard in our training regimes to avoid this."
Both coalition officers and the government of Afghanistan began investigations Monday into allegations that some of the Afghan police officers who died in a bloody Good Friday battle with the Taliban may have been the victims of friendly fire.
As lightly armed Afghan police and army units stormed the village of Sanigsar southwest of Kandahar, Canadian troops provided a security cordon. In addition, American Apache attack helicopters and British Harrier jets were sent in as close air support.
Six police officers, including two senior commanders, were killed.
Villagers who witnessed the attack told The Canadian Press through a translator that as many as four of the police officers were mistakenly shot by their own side.
They claimed the officers died during coalition air strikes.
"When I saw the helicopters and heard the firing, I just ran into my house and hid in the back," said Hazi Haji Aqakran, 60, one of the few villagers who agreed to be interviewed.
"When I came out I heard that four officers had been shot by the Americans. When the helicopters started firing, everyone was running. It was terrifying."
Neither Vernon nor Canadian Brig.-Gen David Fraser would comment on which coalition force was under suspicion. Iinstead, they said Canadian troops, Royal Air Force flyers and American air crew will all be questioned.
"I think that Canadians would expect us to do the proper investigation with the Afghan authorities to figure out what happened out there," Fraser told reporters. "So, let's just let the investigation go its course."
The operation to sweep as many as 100 militants out of Sanigsar began following a Taliban ambush of a police checkpoint north of the community.
The ill-equipped, underpaid and loosely organized Afghan National Police planned and carried out the raid. The officers went into the village carrying only assault rifles and with no body armour.
The guts and tenacity of the Afghan cops in the face of the more heavily-armed Taliban drew praise and sorrow from Canada's battle group commander, Lt.-Col. Ian Hope, on the weekend. He said he wished they would have called on his troops sooner and perhaps some lives might have been saved.
But Vernon said combining the 21st-century training and technology of the U.S., Britain and Canada with a Third World country's ragtag, often tribal ways is fraught with potential disasters.
"When you're dealing with indigenous forces you don't have that level of training, (and the battle) even becomes more complex," he told reporters.
"I suppose one of you is going to say is, well don't work with the Afghan forces. That is not an option.
"We've got to have the Afghans doing this. There has to come a time when the Afghans stand up on their own and the coalition stands back."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, urged coalition forces to show restraint when attacking militants in residential areas.
"President Karzai was angered by the deaths . . . and demands the (coalition) military use more restraint in future attacks against terrorists not to harm civilians," said a statement released from the Afghan leader's office.
The question that coalition commanders need to grapple with is whether Sanigsar was the right time to let the Afghans take the lead. A review of procedures and co-ordination with local authorities was ordered on the weekend.
Since 2,200 Canadian troops deployed to southern Afghanistan, there have been three incidents of suspected friendly fire, including the latest one Friday.
The deaths of Canadian Pte. Robert Costall and U.S. National Guard medic Sgt. 1st Class John Stone are being investigated as possible friendly fire death. In addition, British troops and Afghan police mistakenly fired on each other in the middle of the night, also in Helmand province.
Meanwhile, a large blast rocked Kandahar city Monday in what was thought to be another attack by Taliban insurgents.
Witnesses said a huge bloom of brown smoke could be seen from the nearby Canadian provincial reconstruction base, which is located in an abandoned fruit-canning factory.
There were no reports of casualties.
A spokesman for the Canadian Forces at Kandahar airfield, the principle coalition base in southern Afghanistan, said initial reports indicated an improvised explosive device, or IED, was set off near an Afghan National Police checkpoint, although the blast may have been a suicide car bomb.
Comment: Put the idea that soldiers today have not only to worry about getting killed by enemy fire, but also by so-called "friendly fire", in the context of the following paragraph from Political Ponerology:
Thus, the biological, psychological, moral, and economic destruction of the majority of normal people becomes, for the pathocrats, a "biological" necessity. Many means serve this end, starting with concentration camps and including warfare with an obstinate, well-armed foe who will devastate and debilitate the human power thrown at him, namely the very power jeopardizing pathocrats rule: the sons of normal man sent out to fight for an illusionary "noble cause." Once safely dead, the soldiers will then be decreed heroes to be revered in paeans, useful for raising a new generation faithful to the pathocracy and ever willing to go to their deaths to protect it.
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Russia, US slipping into familiar 'chill'?
By Fred Weir | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
MOSCOW - Call it cold war II, the sequel.
An intensifying shouting match between the US and Russia has stirred fears that the two former adversaries could be drifting back to a familiar ideologically charged rivalry.
Most experts play down the new mood as a worrisome "chill," and some suggest that a change in leadership - slated for 2008 in both countries - might reverse the slide in mutual ties. But many Russians, who have watched as Western influence has thrust decisively into the former Soviet heartland since the USSR's 1991 demise, see it in darker, more visceral tones.
The US is bent on spreading its power by "buying leaders and organizing state coups" throughout the former USSR, says Yevgeny Ivanov, chief ideologist for the pro-Kremlin group Nashi, Russia's biggest political youth movement. He's referring to the recent wave of pro-democracy "colored revolutions" that wrenched Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan from Moscow's orbit. "Their type of globalization is aimed at having the right to decide the world's destiny," he says.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Fyodor Suvorov, a retired military officer, agrees. "What is the US doing [in the former USSR]? It's as if Russia went to 'protect its interests' in Mexico. While we give in to their pressure, the Americans have pushed NATO right to our doorstep," he says.
A January poll conducted by the independent Levada Center in Moscow found that 57 percent of Russians regard the US as a "threat to global security," while just 33 percent think it isn't.
As in the original cold war, which lasted from the end of World War II until the 1991 Soviet collapse, each of the two sides blames the other for the rift.
A report issued last month by the bipartisan US Council on Foreign Relations faulted "Russia's wrong direction" under President Vladimir Putin, and listed a catalog of alleged Muscovite sins that included growing authoritarianism, use of Russian energy supplies to bully neighbors such as Ukraine, and anti-American policies in areas such as Iran and former Soviet Central Asia.
A US State Department human rights report accuses the Kremlin of sidelining parliament, straitjacketing the media, pressuring the judiciary, and harassing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The White House National Security Strategy, a policy blueprint released in mid-March, warned that "efforts to prevent democratic development at home and abroad will hamper the development of Russia's relations with the US, Europe, and its neighbors."
"There is clearly a policy shift underway," says Masha Lipman, an analyst with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "We're talking about a bad trend; not just a cooling but a deterioration in relations."
The crunch could come in July, when Russia is set to host a Group of Eight wealthy democracies summit in St. Petersburg - a moment that experts say Mr. Putin sees as crucial to his efforts to gain Russia's acceptance into the club of Western nations. A growing number of US politicians, including Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, are urging President Bush to boycott the event. "The glimmerings of democracy are very faint in Russia today, so I would be very harsh," Mr. McCain told a TV interviewer recently.
Russia's 12-year-old bid to join the World Trade Organization, which awaits only US agreement to become official, has already fallen victim to the new chill, Russian officials complain. "The negotiation process is being artificially set back," Putin told Russian business leaders this month, citing US demands over issues "we thought had been settled long ago."
Experts say the Russian security establishment was stunned by a report in the current issue of the US journal Foreign Affairs which suggests that due to the post-Soviet decay of Russia's nuclear forces coupled with key advances in America's strategic weaponry Russia has "become vulnerable to a US disarming attack." Russian officials have attacked the article as a "provocation."
"There is no doubt that such articles influence security thinking in the opposite country," says Natalia Narochnitskaya, vice chair of the Duma's International Affairs Committee. "Inevitably, it makes us think about how to respond. That's a dangerous thing to start."
The first cold war erupted amid Western alarm over the march of Soviet power into Eastern Europe after WWII, as Moscow staged coups against democratic governments and encouraged local Communist Parties to turn their countries into Soviet "satellites." Ironically, Russians today report similar feelings of outrage at what they view as Western incursions into the post-Soviet region through pro-democracy revolts. "Russians feel that these [neighboring] countries are part of us, and they can't accept that someone else wants to control them," says Yevgeny Bazhanov, vice rector of the Diplomatic Academy, which trains Russian diplomats.
Mr. Bazhanov argues that Washington is misreading Russia's efforts to restore national pride as "some kind of reversion" to the USSR. "There is no doubt that under Putin, Russia is more stable and better organized," he says. "What we had in the 90s was chaos. When we hear US criticism of what's going on here, it sounds to Russians as if Americans want us to be weak. They want to provoke chaos - not to democratize, but to destroy."
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Another Raw Diehl: The Washington Post's Chief Anti-Chavez Cheerleader Is Primed for Elections
By Eric Wingerter
Apr 14, 2006, 16:31
Axis of Logic
Anyone looking to keep up to date with the current talking points for the Venezuelan opposition need only follow the writings of Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post. As deputy editorial page editor, Diehl drafts the un-bylined editorials about President Hugo Chavez.
When Diehl writes a particularly unsubstantiated column, the Post publishes his work on the right-hand side of the opinion page, effectively distancing his rants from the official opinion of the paper.
Over the years, progressive Venezuela watchers have come to regard Jackson Diehl Op-Eds as a sounding board for the urban legends and gossip promoted by Venezuela's well-connected opposition leaders--sort of a Page Six for anti-Chavez innuendo. His columns have given mainstream credence to the ideas that the democratically elected president is actually a dictator, that a media law banning explicit sex on television is an act of political censorship, and that important literacy and health care programs are nothing more than a cynical attempt to buy votes from Venezuela's unwashed masses.
The power of a Post editorial is significant, and it is partly due to the work of Mr. Diehl that the storylines above, although easily refuted, have framed the discussion of Venezuela in the U.S. press.
Diehl's propensity for not letting facts get in the way of an anti-Chavez rant often place him at the center of controversy:
- In the lead up to the 2004 recall referendum against Chavez, the Washington think tank Council On Hemispheric Affairs published a paper on the inaccuracies of Diehl's coverage of Venezuela. "Shame on such a senior Washington Post figure," COHA writes, "for dousing Chávez with such flammable fuel which, if ignited, could further seriously undermine the U.S.' professed intention to consolidate democracy throughout the hemisphere and destroy what little standing this country has today throughout the region;" 
- In December of last year, the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) took Diehl to task for publishing unsubstantiated rumors about President Chavez's
supposed funding of leftist movements in the hemisphere; 
- In April 2005, the Venezuela Ministry of Information and Communication was forced to respond to a series of Diehl's tirades, which painted an "incomplete, cartoonish, and malicious portrait of Venezuelan media and law." 
But for the Venezuelan elite, eager to promote the latest rumor about the president they despise, a visit to Mr. Diehl's office has become a cursory agenda item on their U.S. itinerary.
An Election Year Press Strategy
It's an election year in Venezuela. In other countries, this would be a time for parties and candidates to spend time with hometown crowds, explaining their platform and making optimistic stump speeches. But the Venezuelan opposition long ago abandoned the idea of winning over the hearts and minds of the Venezuelan public (polling results show the most popular opposition candidate unable to break through the 20% popularity mark). Unable to win in an up or down vote, the opposition strategy has been to promote the idea in the international press that the electoral system can't be trusted.
To this end, the latest storyline involves President Chavez using the courts to intimidate viable opposition candidates. The face of this sordid tale is former Caracas mayor Henrique Capriles Radonski, and the obvious spot to place the story is a Jackson Diehl column. On April 10th, the Post took this storyline for a test run in a piece whose title accuses Chavez of "Locking Up the Vote."  Described by Mr. Diehl, Capriles is "a slim, handsome and fast talking pol" who just happened to be "in Washington last month to drum up interest in his case." Diehl doesn't discuss why a sinister strongmen would let his political prisoner out of the country for a publicity tour.
According to the column, Capriles was an "energetic democrat," the mayor of an affluent Caracas borough during the 2002 coup d'etat against President Chavez. When opposition leaders stormed the Cuban embassy to attack Chavez's Vice President, whom the crowd believed had sought refuge there, Capriles was at the scene. Here the story gets murky: Capriles backers insist he was there in an unsuccessful attempt to diffuse a tense situation, while others claim that he encouraged the mob by keeping his police force at bay. Capriles was eventually charged with not enforcing the law that day and endangering the public, and his trial has gone through a series of appeals.
In Diehl's analysis, the Chavez administration is simply "toying with" Capriles out of political fear, because:
- Capriles "is one of the brightest stars in a new generation of Venezuelan politicians,"
- "He is popular, having won 80 percent of the vote in his district..." and, significantly
- "Unlike much of the rest of the opposition, he and his First Justice party are unambiguously committed to democracy." [my italics]
To his credit, Mr. Diehl has almost conceded a basic and important fact about the vast majority of the Venezuelan opposition. This is a fundamentally anti-democratic movement: they tried every possible illegal means of overthrowing the government, including a U.S.-backed military coup (April 2002) and several oil strikes (one that devastated the economy in 2003). Only after all of these efforts failed did they agree to use the ballot box, attempting to recall the President in August 2004. When they lost overwhelmingly, they refused to accept the results, claming the referendum was somehow stolen despite the certification of international observers from the OAS and the Carter Center. They then gave up on the ballot box again, boycotting the December 2005 national elections, once again despite the certification of international observers, this time from the OAS and the European Union.
So what about points one and two? To be sure, Capriles is popular within his sphere of influence. But as mayor of Caracas' smallest district, and one of the wealthiest, it's not as if he was cutting into Chavez's political base. A shining star of the opposition? Maybe one day, but in this campaign cycle the big cheese of the Justice First party is 36 year old Julio Borges, the unibrowed wunderkind who is actually running against Chavez for president. Any crafty caudillo running a campaign of intimidation would find better results going after the real competition.
In the end, the Venezuelan courts may indeed find Capriles innocent. But the fact is that the charges against him are serious, and involve one of the most complicated and ugly days in modern Venezuelan history. Jackson Diehl judges the case on the basis of an interview with the defendant, because it matches his preconceived thesis.
The same is true for this item:
Now, with a vote on his tenure coming up, the president's prosecutors are back. First up in court was the election-monitoring group Sumate, which has meticulously documented Chavez's manipulation of the electoral system. The caudillo ordered up the trial of its top leaders on treason charges during his weekly television show two years ago; Maria Corina Machado and Alejandro Plaz have been in and out of court every few months since.
Some corrections: first Sumate is not an election-monitoring group, but as even the anti-Chavez Miami Herald reports, an opposition group that, with funding from the United States, led the recall effort.  Second, Sumate did not "meticulously document Chavez' manipulation of the electoral system", but rather tried to discredit the referendum and the international observers by claiming, on the basis of fraudulent exit polls, that it was stolen.  They also encouraged a boycott in December on this basis.
Here is what Newsday reported about Maria Corina Machado and her alleged involvement in the military coup:
Asked why she was in the presidential palace hours after the coup, Machado insisted she was only accompanying her mother, who'd wanted to visit her "very good friend" - the wife of coup leader Pedro Carmona.
As for her signature on the decree suspending or dissolving the Supreme Court, National Assembly and Constitution, Machado claimed she innocently put her name and national identity number on a blank paper she assumed was a reception sheet. 
It may be that her story is completely true. It may also be true that she had no communications with the U.S. government, which funded her, that could be considered conspiring with a foreign power for the purpose of overthrowing the elected government of Venezuela. On the other hand, she may also have committed a serious crime. As with the Capriles case, this is a matter for the courts to decide.
Loading Up the Innuendo
The themes in a Jackson Diehl column are usually just a template for a laundry list of unsubstantiated asides, and "Locking Up" contains more than its fair share. The most outlandish include:
- The idea that "for years" Chavez "has been nursing along prosecutions of politicians, human rights activists, labor leaders, journalists and election monitors." The statement is unsupported by the reports of any human rights organization. We have already seen what Diehl means by prosecuting the "election monitor" Maria Corina Machado. No one has been prosecuted in Venezuela under Chavez for political offenses.
- The notion that Chavez "has never enjoyed overwhelming support in Venezuela; his ratings has mostly fluctuated a few points above and below 50 percent." Umkay...Chavez has three times won an election with 60 percent of the vote, a figure that holds steady with most current opposition polling.
- The implication that the president is "rooting" for an opposition boycott. Barring an extreme change in public perceptions, Chavez will handily win the presidency this December. It is clearly in the interests of the administration to have this victory be within the context of an open and competitive race.
- The suggestion that Chavez is immersed in "a tidal wave of corruption revelations." No specifics are given, of course, but perhaps Mr. Diehl is saving the juicy tidbits for an upcoming tell-all column.
While Jackson Diehl fashions himself as the confidant, crusader and voice of Venezuela's elite, the Chavistas have a country to run. Although the education and health missions have been a remarkable success, Venezuela's leaders must continue to work on the chronic problems of reducing poverty and combating crime. And yes, there will be prosecutors who bring charges against the participants of the 2002 coup d'etat. Amidst the gossip and innuendo, bringing these cases to the judicial system is crucial to promoting the rule of law. Even in an election year.
1. Birns, Larry, and Mike Scott, "The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl Strikes Out on Venezuela." The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, August 11, 2004.
2. Delacour, Justin, "The Op-Ed Assassination of Hugo Chavez." Extra! December 2005.
3. Izarra, Andres , Letter to Jackson Diehl, April 2, 2005.
4. Diehl, Jackson, "In Venezuela, Locking Up the Vote," The Washington Post, April 10, 2006.
5. Bachalet, Pablo, "Rice Bashes Venezuelan Leader, Politics," Miami Herald, February 17, 2006.
6. Jones, Bart, "Divisions Harden after Chavez Victory," National Catholic Reporter, September 8, 2004
7. Jones, Bart. "Venezuela: A Newsday Special Report," Newsday, May 1, 2005.
Eric Wingerter is Public Education Director,
Venezuela Information Office
NOTE: The Venezuela Information Office is dedicated to informing the American public about contemporary Venezuela, and receives its funding from the government of Venezuela. More information is available from the FARA office of the Department of Justice in Washington DC.
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Moussaoui's Mental Health Questioned
By MATTHEW BARAKAT
Tue Apr 18, 2:27 AM ET
ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Zacarias Moussaoui is convinced
President Bush will free him from prison and sometimes talks to himself in his jail cell, according to testimony at the death-penalty trial for the Sept. 11 conspirator.
The battle over Moussaoui's mental health has begun in earnest. A defense psychologist, Xavier Amador, testified Monday that Moussaoui is a paranoid schizophrenic who suffers from delusions. Amador's testimony continues Tuesday when the trial resumes.
Government experts have reached an opposite conclusion and are expected to testify later this week in rebuttal.
While prosecutors' experts have been able to examine Moussaoui, he refused to cooperate with Amador or any other defense expert.
Amador based his diagnosis largely on conclusions of other mental-health professionals and an analysis of Moussaoui's actions and writings, including numerous rambling, often insulting, legal motions he filed during an 18-month period in which he represented himself.
Moussaoui's defense lawyers, who are at odds with their client, say he is delusional and cite his testimony last week about a dream that Bush will free him prison before his lifetime sentence expires.
Jurors must decide whether Moussaoui should be executed or serve life in prison without parole, their only options since Moussaoui has already pleaded guilty to conspiring with al-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings.
One of Moussaoui's jail guards offered a few more details of Moussaoui's dream during testimony Monday. Deputy Vikas Ohri said Moussaoui has told him that after Bush frees him, he will "fly to London, write a book, make some money and go back to the mountains of Afghanistan and be al-Qaida."
He said he has also seen Moussaoui standing in front of a wall talking to himself. He asked Moussaoui about it once, and Moussaoui said he was practicing for court.
Moussaoui is the only person charged in this country in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. The jury deciding his fate has already declared him eligible for the death penalty by determining that his actions caused at least one death on 9/11.
Even though Moussaoui was in jail in Minnesota at the time of the attacks, the jury ruled that lies he told federal agents a month before the attacks kept authorities from identifying and stopping some of the hijackers.
Comment: Now the Bush Reich can use the excuse that those declared to have a psychological disorder are potential terrorists... Oh, the possibilities! The Neocons are no doubt cackling with fiendish delight.
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9/11 families to testify for Moussaoui
From Phil Hirschkorn
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia -- About a dozen relatives of September 11 attack victims were expected to begin testifying Tuesday as part of the defense effort to spare al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui's life.
Most of the family members lost loved ones in the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
One of the family members expected to appear for the defense is Alice Hoagland. She's the mother of Mark Bingham, 31, a passenger on United Flight 93, the hijacked plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Hoagland, who was in court observing the trial Monday, said in a recent interview with CNN that she hopes that the United States would show Moussaoui more mercy than his confederates showed September 11 victims.
Prosecutors have already called about 30 relatives of Trade Center victims to describe the impact of their losses in the second part of Moussaoui's death penalty trial.
Jurors have already determined that Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty, and now must decide whether that penalty should be imposed.
Defense attorneys also want the jury to hear from convicted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid.
Though Reid will not appear as a live witness, defense attorneys want to read into the record a written summary of what Reid would say if called as a witness.
Defense attorneys expect Reid to disavow any role in the conspiracy to hijack and crash planes into prominent American buildings.
Moussaoui, during two turns on the witness stand, said that al Qaeda tapped his "buddy" Reid to be part of his hijacking crew that would have commandeered a fifth jet liner on September 11, 2001, which Moussaoui said he intended to fly into the White House.
Moussaoui said he and Reid never discussed this plot, and Reid may have not known about it, because al Qaeda kept operational information compartmentalized on a "need to know basis."
Reid was arrested after he tried to set fire to his shoelaces to detonate explosives in his sneakers during an American Airlines flight from Paris, France, to Miami, Florida, in December 2001.
He pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in 2002 and is serving a life sentence at the top federal maximum security in Florence, Colorado.
The defense also plans to present more evidence that Moussaoui is mentally ill.
Xavier Amador, a clinical psychologist who has studied Moussaoui for four years, told the jury on Monday that he believes Moussaoui is a paranoid schizophrenic who suffers from delusions. The defense plans to call a second doctor, Michael First, who has made the same diagnosis.
To support its case, defense attorneys called Alexandria jail guard Vikas Ohri to the stand. Ohri told the jury Moussaoui has consistently insisted that President Bush will release him, and that he will then return to England and perhaps write his memoirs for a substantial sum.
"He tells me he will be set free," Ohri said. "He doesn't say when."
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Rights group challenges France over CIA flights
April 15, 2006
PARIS - A human rights organization Saturday called on a French prosecutor to open a judicial inquiry into the suspected stopover in France of secret CIA flights carrying alleged terrorist detainees.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) referred to an April 5 report by Amnesty International stating that several flights by the US Central Intelligence Agency agency were routed through France, as reported in the newspaper Le Monde in its Sunday-Monday edition.
"The report condemns the secret operations which consisted of stopping or picking up people to transfer them and detain them in a secret manner or to send them to countries where they were submitted to acts of torture and other maltreatment," said FIDH lawyer Patrick Baudoin in a letter dated April 11 to the prosecutor, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
The report also indicated "some of destinations and the owners of the aircraft used... for the illegal transport", he wrote.
It identified a Gulfstream IV plane "which stopped over four times at France's Le Bourget airport" outside Paris and another "Gulfstream III plane" which stopped there twice, the lawyer wrote to Francis Molins.
Molins, the prosecutor in the district where the airport is located, had opened a preliminary investigation following an earlier complaint alleging torture of detainees brought by the rights group in December.
That was strictly an airport police inquiry, while the FIDH is calling for an international judicial commission to investigate the United States and other countries where the planes took off from and landed, Baudoin told AFP.
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"Unbridled Capitalism Will Lead to Very Real Problems"
Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff discusses the dangers of unbridled capitalism, the greed of corporate CEOs and a fundamental problem with the United States economy.
SPIEGEL: Professor Rogoff, the US economy is surging forward, while President Bush celebrates high growth rates. But most Americans believe they are living in a recession. Who is right?
Rogoff: I too have asked myself whether people have gone crazy. But the fact is that the share of wages in total growth is shrinking.
SPIEGEL: In other words, most people are not benefiting from the recovery and are justifiably disappointed?
Rogoff: The working population's share of national income remained constant for 100 years. That's why Marx's theory that only capitalists benefit from capitalism and workers are exploited was completely wrong. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Workers earned more as economies grew.
SPIEGEL: Is this no longer true?
Rogoff: There has been a noticeable decline in the labor factor in all wealthy countries in the past 20 years. The rich are getting richer, but those at the lower end aren't moving ahead as quickly as the capitalists.
SPIEGEL: So Marx was right after all?
Rogoff: We're still a long way away from that. Workers are not being exploited. But if their share of growth doesn't increase, this could be a potential cause of social tension worldwide. The point is that so far attempts to reverse this trend in the US have failed. Boeing employees achieved barely anything by going on strike (editor's note: last autumn). Instead, the workers are now in a weaker position -- both in aviation and in other industries.
SPIEGEL: Meanwhile, corporate CEOs and Wall Street bankers are cashing in on record bonuses.
Rogoff: There has never been a better time to get rich. It's quite astonishing how much money people make in the hedge fund business and in the private equity field, and how well-off affluent families really are. Given these contradictions, it comes as no surprise that average Americans have a different perception of the economy than (US President) George W. Bush and his friends. They can play around with statistics as much as they want, but it's clear that we have an unfair distribution of wealth.
SPIEGEL: That hasn't seemed to bother anyone, as long as the dishwasher-to-millionaire dream still exists.
Rogoff: I tell my children that a man like Bill Gates has a personal fortune of $100 billion. They can't even comprehend that. Then I explain that he has more money than some countries. If we have these extremes, I can't understand why we should get rid of the inheritance tax. It hasn't harmed the economy, and it has evened out the distribution of income across generations.
SPIEGEL: Billion-dollar tax cuts for the super-rich -- such as eliminating the inheritance tax -- are meant to generate growth for all. Conservatives like to say that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Rogoff: The New Orleans disaster made it painfully clear what happens to people in deep poverty: they don't even have a boat. Even more tax cuts are the wrong approach, as long as we don't even have universal health insurance for children. I think that's outrageous.
SPIEGEL: Are these injustices the price for lower unemployment and strong growth in the United States?
Rogoff: This unbridled capitalism in the United States can't be sustained socially. It leads to tensions. If we experience another five years like the last five, we will start seeing greater social friction. After all, people aren't looking at how they're doing, but rather at how their neighbors are doing and at their own place in society. These huge inequalities are not a particularly desirable characteristic in our society.
SPIEGEL: Are Western corporate CEOs driven by globalization, or do they themselves use the situation to their advantage?
Rogoff: We react to market forces and we try to protect jobs -- that's the image many managers have of themselves. They have no idea why people are so furious with them. Look at corporate takeovers where outgoing CEOs get a $50 million settlements and 5,000 workers are let go. That kind of thing happens all the time. On the one hand, it shows that we have a flexible economic system and we permit change. On the other hand, it's completely naďve to think that this doesn't create tensions.
SPIEGEL: But don't companies and countries that oppose globalization end up hurting themselves?
Rogoff: There are no easy answers. Of course it would be suicidal to nationalize our industries, for example. But those who say the economy is growing and everything's just great are simply unwilling to acknowledge these cracks in the system. Incidentally, this gap is much bigger in China. It's the 21st century along the coastline, but if you travel to the interior, where two-thirds of all Chinese live, you'll experience the 18th century. These are incomprehensible inequities. They have an extremely raw form of capitalism.
SPIEGEL: According to the 19th century English economist David Ricardo, free trade is good for everyone. According to his theory, the wealthy industrialized nations would simply have to concentrate on becoming even more technologically advanced to make up for their outsourcing losses in certain industries.
Rogoff: Ricardo was never right. Sure, there are more winners than losers, and winners profit to a greater extent than the losers suffer. But the assertion that everyone benefits simultaneously from free trade is simply incorrect.
SPIEGEL: Protectionism ...
Rogoff: ... is not a solution. We can't turn back the clock. But unbridled capitalism will lead to some very real problems. We will see that ever-increasing deregulation can lose political support among the population in the long term.
SPIEGEL: If entire industries are shifted to the Far East, how can new jobs be created in the West?
Rogoff: Our high-tech industries are raking in tremendous profits, but for 50-year-old steelworkers or people in the aviation industries, it's difficult or impossible to improve their situations. The problem -- at least in the United States -- is not that people can't find jobs. The problem is that they're no longer finding jobs that provide them with dignity and decent social status. This tremendous downward pull for unskilled laborers has been around for a long time. But now outsourcing is also beginning to affect people in mid-level and higher-level jobs -- those who had felt secure in their positions.
SPIEGEL: Are you saying that not even a first-class education can protect against competition from the Chinese?
Rogoff: You know, I was a chess pro in my younger days. Back then, the best player in New York could earn a pretty good living. But now the Indians and Chinese have become brilliant chess professionals. They get on a plane and play all over the world. This has led to dramatic pressure on incomes. Nowadays, the best chess player in Argentina can no longer make a living playing chess.
SPIEGEL: What's Germany's place in the globalized world?
Rogoff: Even if your economy grows a little this year, the trend is pointing downward. You need reforms in the labor market, in the tax system, in the area of corporate governance and in the education sector. Your school system is very good compared with the US, but your universities are not competitive.
SPIEGEL: You've already written off one of the world's biggest economies?
Rogoff: Please don't misunderstand me. If Berlin would finally enact some decisive reforms, it could surpass the United States in growth for 20 years. Germany has such incredible wealth --with its culture, its education and its highly qualified population. It would just have to flex its muscles a little to achieve growth rates of four to five percent in the coming years and turn itself into an economic miracle, as it did in the 50s and 60s. But that won't happen as long as you have this political paralysis.
Interview conducted by Frank Hornig
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Uncertainty pushes oil - price gushes to over $70
David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Crude-oil prices on Monday crashed through another barrier in their three-year surge, closing above $70 per barrel in New York trading for the first time.
Driven by fears of war with Iran and unrest in Africa, oil prices have now entered territory not seen in a generation, after adjusting for inflation. Many analysts expect them to climb higher still, at least in the short-term, perhaps reaching $80.
As a result, gasoline is nearing $3 per gallon, its level for a brief period in autumn. This time, there aren't any hurricanes to blame.
Contracts to deliver crude oil in May closed at $70.40 Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up $1.08. Oil futures contracts flirted with that price in August, crossing $70 for a few hours the day Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Louisiana coast. By the end of that afternoon, the price dropped back to $67.20.
Only once have prices been higher. The 1979 Iranian revolution started oil on a two-year climb that, in January 1981, hit roughly $87 per barrel, when adjusted for inflation.
Now, Iran is once again driving the petroleum market. The reported possibility that America could attack nuclear facilities in Iran -- an Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries member that pumps roughly 3.9 million barrels of crude per day and abuts the Middle East's main shipping lane -- has given petroleum traders reason to bet that prices will climb higher.
They have, however, other reasons. Nigerian rebels pushing for a greater share in that country's oil wealth have blocked roughly 500,000 barrels from reaching the market each day. Chad's president, embroiled in a fight with the World Bank over oil revenue, has threatened to cut off his country's exports, about 160,000 barrels per day.
"The issue isn't just Iran," said Stephen Jones, a principal at the Purvin & Gertz energy consulting firm in Houston. "Iran's on top of the pile of all the issues around the world right now. So Iran gets the headlines, but the markets are looking at the whole stack of dominoes."
Although Saudi Arabia has pledged to increase its oil production, the amount it pumps has stayed relatively flat this year. The United States has ample amounts of crude oil in storage, but tight worldwide supplies continue to press on prices. And demand for petroleum remains high in China, India and the United States, regardless of the cost.
"As long as economic growth and demand remain vibrant, it's difficult to see much pressure taken off the oil price," said James Burkhard, director of global oil market research at Cambridge Energy Research Associates in Boston. "If you're looking at the next six months, we don't see the kind of (supply) growth that would make a difference in prices."
All of these forces, political and economic, have an effect at the gas pump.
A gallon of regular now costs, on average, $2.78 nationwide and $2.94 in California, according to the AAA auto club. Both have jumped about 30 cents in the past month and are still rising.
So far, those prices haven't seriously dented the economy. Gary Schlossberg, a senior economist at Wells Capital Management in San Francisco, said that last year, the steep increase in home values for many Americans compensated for rising energy costs. Consumers kept spending, bolstering the economy.
Should oil continue its rise this year, the economy could slow, especially if home prices stagnate.
"I would think that toward the end of the year, you'll see some cooling," Schlossberg said. "It won't throw us into a recession."
Analysts remain divided on how long the increase will continue, as well as whether oil prices will eventually drop as they did after 1981.
Long-term oil futures contracts remain above $60 for the next six years. Stanford University energy economist James Sweeney said many traders are taking out options betting that prices will actually climb much higher, perhaps above $90 per barrel. But a nearly equal number is betting prices will fall below $40, he said.
"What the financial markets are telling us is that there's not any confidence that it's going to go up, nor confidence that it's going to go down, nor confidence that it will stay the same," Sweeney said.
"Put me on either side of the debate and I can give you a compelling argument. But I think the argument is more compelling on the upside."
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Dollar Falls Sharply in Asian Trading
The dollar fell against the euro and yen in Asia Monday on a media report suggesting that China might reduce its purchases of U.S. Treasuries, and amid speculation that U.S. interest rates may have peaked.
The U.S. dollar fell as low as 118 yen at one point before trading at 118.28 yen in Tokyo midafternoon, down 0.36 yen from late Friday in New York. The euro rose to $1.2178 from $1.2108.
Cheng Siwei, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, was quoted in a Chinese state-owned newspaper Monday as saying that China should cut the amount of U.S. Treasury bonds it buys.
He said China should channel the money into buying more U.S. goods, which would cut its politically sensitive trade surplus, the China Securities Journal reported. Cheng made a similar remark earlier this month to a Hong Kong newspaper, prompting the central bank to say his comments didn't reflect its official position.
China has $875.1 billion in foreign currency reserves, much of that money invested in U.S. Treasuries. Reducing those purchases could undermine the dollar.
Sentiment toward the dollar also took a hit after an article in The Wall Street Journal said not all Federal Reserve officials are convinced that much more monetary tightening is required, traders said.
Some dealers say the euro could rise as high as $1.2240 in Asia on the dollar-selling momentum generated by the reports.
The reaction to the reports underlines sensitivity to U.S.-China relations especially ahead of a meeting in Washington between President Bush and Chinese leader Hu Jintao later in the week, traders said.s
The Federal Reserve boosted a key interest rate, the federal funds rate, to a five-year high of 4.75 percent, and many analysts expect another rate increase on May 10, the Fed's next meeting.
The European Central Bank has also been raising interest rates, most recently to 2.5 percent last month.
The Bank of Japan has said it will start to raise interest rates, although they remain at zero for now - a measure the central bank took to encourage lending during economic stagnation.
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US tourism industry on the decline
Saturday 15 April 2006
Stricter visa requirements after 9/11 has deterred tourists
Tourist operators in the United States say stringent visa requirements and criticism over the invasion of Iraq have discouraged international travellers from visiting the country.
The US market share of international tourism trade is at an all-time low and has dropped 35% since 1992, according to the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA).
At the 2006 summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council this week, managers of tourism firms looked into the reasons behind the slump which began with what they called "the disastrous impact" of the attacks of September 11, 2001 on New York and Washington.
The stricter US immigration policy introduced in the aftermath of the attacks, such as stringent visa requirements and demands that foreign countries issue biometric-enabled passports, has done little to encourage tourism, they said.
The US has also been routinely fingerprinting and face-scanning foreign visitors.
Thomas Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the American Chamber of Commerce, said the US must "get over the paranoia and start bringing people" to the country.
Arabs not welcome
"Because of US immigration laws, if you want to do business with the Arab world you have to go to London" because it is virtually impossible for Arabs to obtain a US visa, Donohue added.
"We have to get over the paranoia (of September 11) and start bringing people to the US"
Thomas Donohue, CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce
Disapproval of the US invasion of Iraq also translated into less tourism.
Jay Rasulo, the chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said: "Among Europeans, [the US] was the third favourite destination, now it's the sixth and declining."
Moreover, competition in the tourist market has become stiffer as the European Union expands its borders and emerging powers such as China become more attractive destinations.
For the United States, losing ground in the world tourist market is a costly proposition.
About $286 billion has been lost in tourism revenues since 1992, according to the TIA, and one out of eight jobs in the US is directly or indirectly dependent on tourism.
Industry leaders said it was vital to press ahead with promotional campaigns and urged the government to review its immigration policy.
"It needs a well funded marketing campaign, and it needs safe but welcoming borders," said Walt Disney's Rasulo.
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Faltering Peugeot Citroen to cut 2,300 jobs in UK
April 18, 2006
LONDON - The French car maker PSA Peugeot Citroën said on Tuesday that it planned to close a British car factory near Coventry in 2007 with the loss of 2,300 jobs.
The French group said that a study in the first quarter of this year had revealed that the plant suffered from high production and logistical costs at a time of falling demand and increasing competition in Europe.
"The group is unable to justify the investment needed for the production of future vehicules," the company said in a statement.
The factory is located in the West Midlands in central England, the traditional heart of British car manufacturing. The area has been hit hard by the demise of the
industry, particularly the collapse of MG Rover in April last year.
PSA said the closure of the factory, which is located in the town of Ryton near Coventry, would be carried out in two phases.
"In the first instance, the factory, which today operates two shifts, moves to a single shift in July 2006, with production not continuing beyond mid 2007," the group said.
"Having presented the proposal to its staff at the plant, the group will now enter into consultation with the trade unions."
In February, PSA Peugeot Citroën had posted a 37.5-percent fall in annual net profit for 2005 and had cited sluggish demand in western Europe and high raw material costs for the faltering performance.
Net profit in 2005 totalled EUR 1.029 billion, down from EUR 1.646 billion in 2004.
Peugeot chief executive Jean-Martin Folz had signalled that the French group intended to shift production to low-cost eastern and central European countries to increase profitability.
"We will need more production capacity in central Europe because we expect European sales to pick up in 2006," Folz had said after presenting the results for 2005.
In its statement on Tuesday, the group said that the "difficult conclusion" to close the plant in Ryton came after a decision to implement "reduced production at a number of other European sites at the end of 2005".
On the Paris stock exchange, shares in PSA were showing a gain of 0.60 percent at EUR 50.35 after showing a loss earlier in the day before the announcement. The CAC-40 index of leading French shares was down 0.25 percent.
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Black business owners on rise
By Elwin Green
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Black Americans are becoming entrepreneurs at a rapidly increasing rate and Pittsburgh is following the trend, a new report issued by the Census Bureau suggests.
The report, "Survey of Business Owners: Black-Owned Firms: 2002," says that between 1997 and 2002, the number of black-owned businesses in the United States rose 45 percent to 1.2 million, while the combined revenue increased 25 percent to $88.8 billion.
"It's encouraging to see not just the number but the sales and receipts of black-owned businesses are growing at such a robust rate, confirming that these firms are among the fastest growing segments of our economy," said Census Bureau Director Louis Kincannon.
Slated for release today, the report also shows a significant if not quite as dramatic increase in local black business ownership. It found 4,363 black-owned firms in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area as of 2002, up 38.8 percent from 3,142 in 1997. Revenue figures for the metro area, which includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties, were not available.
Doris Carson Williams, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania, found the Census Bureau figures encouraging but not surprising.
As blacks join the numbers of those being downsized by corporations, she said, "more and more have found that entrepreneurship is a viable option for them. They don't want to go through the corporate menagerie again."
Both local and national figures show the greatest numbers of black-owned businesses in the fields of health care and social assistance.
Other categories with a strong presence of black-owned businesses include retail; professional, scientific and technical services; and transportation and warehousing.
New York City had more black-owned firms than any other city at 98,076, followed by Chicago (39,424), Los Angeles (25,958), Houston (21,226), and Detroit (19,530).
Among states, New York had the greatest number of black-owned firms with 129,324, followed by California (112,873), Florida (102,079), Georgia (90,461) , and Texas (88,769). These five states accounted for about 44 percent of all black-owned businesses in the United States. Pennsylvania had 24,757.
Comment: We are anxiously awaiting Barbara Bush's response to this good news...
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The Dark Cloud Descending
'UK police to be cleared for fatal error'
Tuesday 18 April 2006, 3:15 Makka Time, 0:15 GMT
None of the police officers who took part in last year's London Underground shooting of a Brazilian man, wrongly identified as a terrorist suspect, will face charges, a British newspaper says.
Quoting a top lawyer reviewing the case for the Crown Prosecution Service, The Sun tabloid said there appeared to be insufficient evidence of criminal offences in the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes on July 22 last year.
As a result, no charges will be made against the officers who shot the electrician or the senior figures in charge of the operation, the daily said.
Its source, identified as "an authoritative legal" figure, told the newspaper: "Mistakes were made but they do not amount to criminal misconduct.
"The firearms officers were acting under orders. Those in charge of surveillance believed he was a suspect.
"There is no realistic prospect that they will be prosecuted."
The Sun noted, however, that such an outcome may put more pressure on Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police chief, to take responsibility for the fatal error.
Blair has faced calls to resign from friends and relatives of De Menezes.
The Brazilian was killed on a train in Stockwell Underground station in London a day after a failed attempt to mimic the July 7 suicide bombings in the British capital which left 56 people dead.
The 27-year-old was shot by mistake under a controversial shoot-to-kill policy for suspected suicide bombers. Police shot him eight times.
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Blair gets away with his assault on liberty, because we let him
Sunday April 16, 2006
Lord Steyn's attack on the Prime Minister is a wake-up call to those who think their own freedoms are unaffected
Lord Steyn's attack on the Prime Minister last week won headlines for his condemnation of Guantanamo and Britain's defiance of international law, but the former law lord opened a much more serious front against New Labour in the Attlee Foundation lecture. In the most measured tones, he threw down a challenge to ministers who have become used to wielding the vast power they claim is mandated by Labour's majority in the House of Commons.
It sounds like a rather academic argument - possibly not one for the bank holiday weekend - and yet Lord Steyn's case is really very important for our democracy. He said: 'Absolute power encourages authoritarianism which is a creeping phenomenon. Our government has been prone to it.'
The thing which defends us against what Lord Hailsham called the 'elected dictatorship' that has grown up with the vast parliamentary majorities for both Labour and Conservative in the last 25 years is an independent judiciary that has its eyes unwaveringly fixed on the rule of law and ministers' tendency to take arbitrary powers to themselves.
He's funny - as much as you can be - about the Home Secretary Charles Clarke who was recently quoted in the New Statesman expressing puzzlement and dismay at 'his inability to have general conversations of principle with the law lords'.
Clarke continued: 'I think some dialogue between the senior judiciary and executive would be beneficial.'
Like his predecessor, David Blunkett, Clarke regards the law lords as an infuriating obstruction and it is clear that he wants to nobble them. 'Mr Clarke apparently fails to understand,' Lord Steyn observed drily, 'that the law lords and cabinet ministers are not on the same side.' That must be right. While the House of Commons is increasingly unable to restrain ministers, politicised civil servants and teams of demonic special advisers, judges sometimes can, which is why they have become so important in our uneasy and shifting constitutional arrangements.
Even though Lord Steyn was born in South Africa, it's possible to hear the soft inland murmur of Britain's ancient democracy in what he says. Actually, it's the same reasonable voice that I've encountered in hundreds of emails sent to me over the past three weeks which express such intelligent concern about ID cards, Labour's attacks on civil liberties and the creep of the surveillance state.
I am beginning to wonder if opinion is on the move. Labour's climbdown last week on the wretched Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill may indicate that the Prime Minister feels exposed on an authoritarian record which is only now coming into public's focus.
The Leg and Reg Bill was cynically presented as a way of allowing ministers to lighten the load of business regulations without the bother of having to go through parliament. In reality, it gave them power to introduce, amend and axe legislation with only the faintest parliamentary scrutiny. As a group of Cambridge lawyers pointed out, it could have been used to abolish jury trial, increase control orders and re-write immigration laws.
But after considerable pressure from the media and opposition, Jim Murphy, the unresponsive cyborg piloting the legislation, has apparently agreed to back down 'so that it can no longer be misconstrued as an attempt by government to take wider constitutional power'.
There never was any misunderstanding. Labour was trying to bypass parliament, just as it did with the unnoticed Inquiries Act 2005, which gives ministers unprecedented control over government inquiries and, in effect, allows them to scrutinise their own behaviour. Under this law, they are able to appoint the members of the inquiry, set its terms, restrict public access, suppress evidence and shut it down without having to explain to anybody. God knows where MPs and the media were when this was being debated, but the crucial and also symbolic point is that inquiry reports are now presented to the minister and not, as they once were, to parliament.
These things are as profoundly significant to the future of our democracy as they are to gaining an idea of what's going on in the minds of those who govern us, even though sometimes it is difficult to know whether they are malign or merely incompetent. The new Terrorism Act 2006 came into force last week which now means that to glorify terrorism is an illegal act. That sounds perfectly reasonable until you understand that it will drive non-violent organisations underground and will have a grave impact on free speech; try praising the freedom fighters in a foreign war of liberation, for instance. These things need to be debated in a robust democracy, but as is clear in the score or more of acts passed by Tony Blair, the very last concern of this government is your freedoms.
The Prime Minister really is a puzzle, for what are we to make of a lawyer who disdains the rule of law at home and abroad, a missionary who preaches the spread of democracy on his foreign tours while removing the freedoms of his own people, a Labour Prime Minister whose policies penalise those least able to defend themselves?
On the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Stuart Mill, it is worth noting a sentence in John Skorupski's critical study of the great liberal philosopher: 'It could be that modern democracy chronically risks falling into a cycle of periods of cultural stagnation, interrupted by brief phases of undiscriminating assault on its vital traditions and institutions: dominated in both phases by the intellectually second-rate but socially and politically effective.'
This is spot on about Blair and us. The general passivity has made us complicit in his programme against freedoms. If the majority of us would care a little more that 24,000 innocent minors had been compelled to provide their DNA to the police data- base; that large numbers of juveniles are given custodial sentences for breaching antisocial behaviour orders when the original act which earned them an Asbo in the first place is rarely a criminal offence; that the DNA of 40 per cent of all black males is retained by the police, while just 10 per cent of white men have been required to provide theirs; that Asbo and terrorism laws are being used to suppress freedom of association and environmental and political protest; that the prison population rose last week to 77,141, which is 17,000 more than when Blair came into power - exactly the number of men now forced to share cells that were built for single occupancy for 22 hours day - then we might have some impact on the government's policies.
One cannot escape the fact that the intellectual and moral tone of British society enables Blair. The critical point in all this is that the common excuses which say: 'My civil liberties are not affected, so I don't need to care about other people's loss of rights' or: 'I've got nothing to hide, so I have nothing to fear' are entirely selfish and undemocratic.
For the true democrat must care not just about his own rights, but those of immigrants, prisoners, problem children and environmental and anti-war protesters, however distant he feels to their cause or condition. That is the essence of the rule of law and it will need more than Lord Steyn to protect it for us.
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Blood on Our Hands
By Craig Winters
The insightful Mr. K Gajendra Singh writes:
USA could slip into fascism, with its political leadership, corrupt to the core, as new scandals prove everyday, if not checked by its great US people. People around the world have started doubting if it were ever true.
This country, my country, has already become a fascist police state. Our government lies to the people, spies on citizens, kidnaps, imprisons without trial, engages in torture, and is leading the country to ruin. Incredibly, all of this is done with the support of its citizens. How is this possible? How can a democratic government abandon the people it serves and squander blood, treasure, and traditions in an irrational pursuit of global domination?
First, realize that the government no longer serves the people. It has been bought by the transnational corporate power structure and serves them, and is now simply the military arm of the corporations. Meanwhile, the corporate media fulfills the propaganda role - they control what the people experience as reality and therefore control how the people think. They have the public so filled with fear that they will agree to anything.
The ruling class knows, of course, that the USA is headed for ruin, but it does not care because it is transnational, by which I mean the corporate structure transcends the nation-state structure. The have no allegiance to any nation or people; their only allegiance is to profit and power. Gary Alan Scott notes, "a steady transformation from manufacturing to capital management," a significant observation because money is the most transnational of assets. He goes on to write
The disappearance of union jobs, outsourcing and downsizing has been the crowning achievement of American business relations over the past 30 years or so. The other factors contributing to what Bigioni calls "the fascist trajectory" includes low taxes, various forms of corporate welfare, the decimation of small businesses, and the ability of corporations to discharge obligations to employees, to the environment, and to the country as a whole.
By the prosecution of war the corporations plunder the riches of this nation while simultaneously intent on gaining control of the entire Middle East region's oil reserves so that they can continue to dominate the world for decades to come.
On the other side of this equation is an American population that resembles spoiled rich children. They are lazy, feel entitled to whatever they want, and have no sense of responsibility to the world community. They are not evil by their own design, but are willfully blind to evil so long as it does not interfere with their comfortable existence. They do not seek out truth, but accept as truth the corporate propaganda stream because it is easy and because it tells them what they want to hear which is that they are the victims, the righteous victims of a terrible outside evil. If they will just surrender their individual rights, their money, their children, their freedom, then the government will make them safe to go on with their empty lives of mass consumption.
I think it will take outside intervention to counter the force of the western corporate military machine, to contain and reverse their belligerent ambitions, to destroy their war making powers, and ultimately to hold them accountable for what they have done. My hope is that one day Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Pearle, Rice, Feith, Bolton, and the rest of the war making administration will be tried at the international court in the Hague, just as the Nazi war makers were tried in Nuremberg, and I hope that a good number of them will be hanged for what they have done. And we American people will see that we all have blood on our hands and will be shamed by what we have let happen. Our economy will sink and China will rise as the new economic leader, and the world will get on about its business.
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The Most Evil People in the World
By Doug Soderstrom, Ph.D.
I have come to the conclusion that the Christian fundamentalists, also known as the religious right, are the most evil people in the world. Others (such as those of various Islamic terrorist groups) were considered, but after due consideration, the Christians won....... hands down. In fact it was no contest.
However, in order to support my assertion that those of the religious right are such a nasty crew, it is necessary that I clarify what I believe it means to be evil. The minimal test of evil is, of course, one of awareness, an intent, an abject willingness to be malicious, a willingness to go out of one's way to harm others, a lack of concern for the welfare of another person, an unwillingness to place one's self into that of another's shoes, a grudging reluctance to acknowledge the pain one may have caused another. Such is bad, but not as bad as having slipped to the point of having become psychically blind, effectively unable to face up to what one has done. Such is more depraved since it represents a loss of integrity, an existential unwillingness to take responsibility for one's behavior. And, of course, worst of all are those who go to the extreme of regarding themselves to be shining examples, paragons of how to live a good and decent life, while having chosen to disregard the fact that they have lived life in such a despicable manner. And as we will see, the Christian fundamentalists seem to exemplify such folks at the apogee of evil, the nadir of civilized life, in that they preach to the world while yet living the life of a barbarian!
All of the great religions of the world indicate that we should strive to treat others as we would like for them to treat us, in essence suggesting that we follow the Golden Rule. However, considering this the gold standard for how we ought to live our lives, it is quite clear that Christian fundamentalists have missed the mark! Regardless of all the wonderful things they have claimed to have done for the world, it is apparent that the fundamentalists have been unable to live up to the most minimal standards for that of a decent life, almost as if they have gone out of their way to "cast a speck out of their neighbor's eye, while refusing to recognize the enormity of the plank in that of their own." With no apology, nor even a hint of remorse, they continue on their way running roughshod over others, with little or no concern for how their victims might feel. Rather than caring for others, disregard and disrespect has become that which defines them as a people.
However, in order to understand the Christian fundamentalist, we must first take a look at what they believe. What is it that these folks, as fundamentalists, hold to be fundamental? What is it that they insist one must do in order to be saved? The answer is threefold: First, in order to be a Christian, a person must believe that the Bible (the holy scriptures) is the one and only infallible, truly inerrant, source of truth, and that the holy books of all other religions are of demonic origin; Secondly, one must believe in an afterlife, that every human being will end up in either Heaven or Hell. And finally, it is essential that one understand that in order to go to Heaven he must accept Jesus Christ (the one and only Son of God) as his own personal savior, otherwise, and without exception, regardless of how good a life he may have lived, he will be sent to the agonizing fires of an eternally burning Hell. That is their doctrine...... that is what they believe to be The Truth of God.
Although not necessarily a fundamental, but as a result of their contention that the Bible indicates that all authority is given (and therefore inspired) by God, fundamentalists have been led to believe that it is unpatriotic, and therefore unchristian, to question the divine right of what our country has found it necessary to do....... regardless of how heinous. That is why Christian fundamentalists have, by choice, chosen to disregard the fact that "From 1945 to 2003, the United States attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements fighting against intolerable systems. In the process, the U.S. bombed some 25 countries, caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair." (William Blum, Killing Hope). Thus, there is little doubt that if a Christian fundamentalist was forced to face the fact of what her country has done, she would have little choice but to reject her faith in God. For how would it be possible for one to believe in a God that chose to bless a country that has done such terrible things? It is such that seems to account for the fundamentalist's tendency to have approached the world in such an indiscreet manner. While having regarded themselves as having been among the few who know the truth, they have broached the world with eyes, as well as a mind, that has been, out of necessity, "kept wide shut!"
Fundamentalist Christianity got its start in authority, that one the early years of the twentieth century by having rebelled against two competing historical movements, one a rather humanistic movement known as The Social Gospel (a belief that a Christian's primary responsibility is one of love, peace, and social justice), and the other a loosely coordinated group of scholastics known for their interest in that of Higher Criticism (a belief that the Bible can be understood only if allowed to undergo a process of rational examination, scientific investigation, and historical analysis). However, the spark that ignited the fire, that is burning yet to this day, was that of the John Scopes "Monkey Trial" in Dayton, Tennessee in which reason, in the form of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, was pitted against the faith of Christian fundamentalists who believed that "man," along with all other things, was created by God in six calendar days according to a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis in the Holy Bible. Thus, for the past one hundred years, fundamentalists have been locked in battle with those suggesting that faith in God can be a rational matter, that it is important for one's faith to make sense, that being a Christian involves nothing more than a sincere desire to live one's life like that of Jesus, that one live one's life honoring Jesus' mandate that we love God, our neighbor, as well as that of our enemy.
First on the fundamentalist's agenda was their use of the Bible to make the case for racial separation, that blacks and whites should remain "unto that of their own kind," that black folks and white folks should not mix, that people would be better off if they remained apart. And in looking back at how blacks were treated in earlier years, fundamentalists seemed to have had no problem with the fact that black people, as chattel, had been auctioned off as livestock. Then later on, in the 1950's and 1960's, Christian fundamentalists were at the forefront doing everything they could to prevent black people from achieving civil rights. There is little doubt that The Reverend Martin Luther King, who did so much to enable blacks to take their rightful place in American society, was among those most hated by the fundamentalists for, as it turns out, he was fighting for everything that they in fact were against, the right for black people to be treated as full-fledged human beings. In addition, and as one might expect, the fundamentalists were right there at the side of the Senator from Wisconsin (Joseph Raymond McCarthy) as he did so much to destroy the lives of so many innocent folks accused of being a communist.
Add to this an assortment of other misdeeds such as: an insistence that the United States of America has been blessed by God enabling fundamentalists to fully support our country's many wars of aggression (Viet Nam, a multitude of military intrusions into Latin American, the war in Kosovo, the Persian Gulf War of 1991, and, of course, the egregious invasion of Iraq in 2003); an acceptance of the idea that the United States has the right to overthrow any and all governments whose interests are in conflict with that of our nation's foreign policy; continued attempts to limit civil rights legislation; a desire that women remain in subjection to men; an absolute disdain for the women's liberation movement (even for a women's right to be paid the same as a man); a presumption that young people should not be allowed to think for themselves translated into contempt for public school efforts to teach students critical thinking skills (an expressed abhorrence for that of the values clarification program); a belief that corporal punishment, otherwise known as spanking, is a good thing (spare the rod and spoil the child); a belief in the moral virtues of capital punishment (legalized murder by the state); hatred of homosexuals; xenophobically-inspired efforts to keep Mexicans from entering the United States (unless, of course, needed as low wage/slave laborers); a propensity to support republican congressmen so often controlled by the corporate community; a belief that capitalism (an economic system based upon greed) is God's approved way of doing business; a love affair with guns (as represented by their support for the National Rifle Association); a belief that economic development trumps that of a clean and healthy environment; an ethnocentric tendency to reject anything and everything that is inconsistent with that of the American way of life (e.g., socialism, Islam, and love for one's enemy); a dogmatic insistence that anyone who happens to disagree with their particular version of truth is wrong...... and therefore in danger of going to Hell; and last, but certainly not least, an absolute reluctance to deal with the greatest problem with that of their faith, what I refer to as the vexation of vexations, an insane presumption that a "loving God," such as theirs, would allow such a huge majority, the bulk of the human race (as many as 94% according to the Southern Baptist Convention's Map of Lostness), to be condemned to the eternally burning fires of Hell.
So, as a psychologist, I am compelled to ask: what is it that seems to have motivated such people to have become so depraved, to have chosen a style of life so opposed to everything that Jesus taught? What is it that has led fundamentalists to become such a mean-spirited gathering of folks? What is it that such people have in common, that which might serve to explain why they have led such horrid lives?
The riddle of why such folks, who look upon themselves as being so very good while having behaved so terribly bad, can be understood by realizing that fundamentalists suffer from an axiomatic inability to face who they have, in fact, become. In having followed the dictum to be "in" the world, but certainly not "of" the world, they began to set themselves apart, to disengage from the rest of the world, effectively creating an inner sanctum, a world of their own, an imprisoned partition separating them from the rest of humanity. And, of course, all of such in order to protect themselves from being contaminated by an outer world of sin. Thus in having symbolically reached for the heavens, while yet remaining so deeply mired in a rather cognitively truncated, black and white, world of their own making, they have become unable to even touch the sky. In believing themselves to have become the true remnant of God, the special elect, the keepers of the keys to the kingdom of God, they allowed themselves to have been lulled into worshiping a deity who has turned out to be nothing more than a figment of their own imagination, an extension of their own rather neurotic needs, a red, white, and blue god willingly ready to allay their fears, fill their pockets with gold, and to destroy each and every one of their enemies. Falling right into line, they began to look upon the neo-conservative leadership of our nation (George Walker Bush, Richard Bruce Cheney, Donald Henry Rumsfeld, et al.) as men inspired by God, men, no doubt, appointed by God to take charge of the world, and to do whatever they might deem to be necessary in order to redeem the world. Consequently, the fundamentalists, supposing themselves to be at war with an, as yet, unsaved world, have become convinced that they can do no wrong as long as they continue to faithfully obey the commands of their hallowed leaders, each and every one a crusader, struggling to restore the once lost kingdom of God........ a people crying out for "the blood of the Lamb" to cleanse the world, in perfectly-pitched and four-part harmony, chanting "Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before! Christ the royal master, leads against the foe, forward into battle, see his banner go!"
Perhaps the foregoing has shed a bit of light on the mystery of how, and, perhaps even, why such a self-righteous group of folks has become so terribly evil........ why it is that the Christian fundamentalists have been led to believe they have been set free to do what they may, to live above and beyond the normal restraints of man (a law of the heart requiring that we respect the rights of others), that they, as the faithful followers of the Old Testament's readily rendered red in tooth and claw claim for the right to extract an "eye for an eye," have declared for themselves the divine authority to take charge of, to rule, to plunder and pillage, even, if necessary, to bring on Armageddon ....... and all of such in the name of a "thoroughly providential and loving God."
Doug Soderstrom, Ph.D.
Comment:Soderstrom mentions Fundamentalist Christians and Muslims, but there is a third group, the third force as it were, that also needs to be taken into account. We wonder whether the good Ph.D. considered the Zionists and extremists Jews, such as the illegal settlers who steal Palestinian land. It looks to us as if that group is playing the Christians and Muslims against one another in its own interests.
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The new breed of soldier: Robots with guns
By Steven Komarow, USA TODAY
Spurred by the risks from roadside bombs and terrorist ambushes, the military is aggressively seeking to replace troops with battlefield robots, including new versions armed with machine guns.
"There was a time just a few years ago when we almost had to beg people to try an unmanned ground vehicle," says Marine Col. Terry Griffin, manager of the Robotic Systems Joint Project Office in Huntsville, Ala. "We don't have to beg anymore."
Although the Pentagon initially focused on aircraft, such as the Predator drone, now new ground- and sea-based robots are being developed and tested, military records show. For example:
- The Mobile Detection Assessment Response System, an unmanned vehicle intended to patrol around domestic bases. The Army plans to start using it next year.
- Self-driving convoy trucks. Some variants follow preplanned routes or the vehicle in front. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has held a competition among advanced, satellite-guided versions that plan their own routes and maneuver around roadblocks. The Army is testing driverless versions of its Stryker armored personnel carrier.
- Robots that can enter a building, look for an enemy and send back a map of the interior are being tested for the Marine Corps.
Already in Iraq and Afghanistan are hundreds of small robots to help bomb squads examine or disarm explosives from a safe distance. That's because of the continuing toll caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have been become the largest killer of U.S. troops.
Ninety-five U.S. troops in Iraq have been killed by IEDs in 2006 through April 9, according to military records and the USA TODAY Iraq casualty database. That's 57% of the 167 U.S. fatalities in Iraq during that period.
Records kept by U.S. Central Command, which directs troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, show the number of IED attacks increased 89% in 2005 to 10,593, compared with 5,607 in 2004.
To better detect and stop IEDs, new sensors are being attached to those robots, says Dave Greene of the Army's Test and Evaluation Command, which evaluates the performance of robots and other technologies.
The military also is responding to some creative tinkering by the troops, who have modified their robots to carry grenades and other weapons into buildings or other potentially unsafe targets.
"Soldiers and Marines are very innovative and ... have figured out how to do that," Griffin says.
As a result, the Pentagon is testing a new version of the Talon robot that carries a remote-control M-240 machine gun.
Meanwhile, much larger and more ambitious robot weapons are in testing, including a tank-like, 1,600-pound vehicle called the Gladiator, which can fire a variety of guns, tear gas or almost anything else that fits. It also has loudspeakers to "shout" instructions, such as those to calm a mob.
Those armed robots are like the Predator, which fires only with a human command. The next step - robots that decide themselves when to fire - is much harder.
Robots will become more independent, but having them fight without human control is "not a technology issue, so much as it's a safety issue," says Scott Myers, president of General Dynamics Robotic Systems.
A robot can find a human with its sensors and kill the person, but "we don't want to shoot our own people or children," Myers says. It's hard enough for a human to distinguish between friend and foe, and for machines, "we're a long way from being there."
The goal now is helping troops in the field as quickly as possible, says Col. Gregory Tubbs, head of the Army's Rapid Equipping Force. In the long term, Tubbs says, the Gladiator and other robots will be transitional, as the military shifts to "game changing" robotic technologies that will revolutionize warfare.
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Indonesia's Mount Karangetang hit by a tectonic earthquake
A strong tectonic earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale has hit the Mount Karangetang area in the north of Indonesia.
The quake was centered 200 kilometers under the seabed of Siau island in the country's northernmost region but they've been no immediate reports of damage or casualties.
It comes as Indonesia prepares for the possible evacuation of nearly 30-thousand people living on the slopes of Java's simmering volcano Mount Merapi.
Vulcanologists have raised the alert to stage two, one level below ordering an evacuation from the country's second most active volcano.
All districts on the slopes of the two-thousand 900 metre volcano are preparing to coordinate relief and rescue efforts
Merapi's last eruption in 1994 produced heat clouds which killed more than 60 people and forced 6,000 others to evacuate.
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Hot temperatures cause spike in power demand, force blackouts in Texas
19:26:55 EDT Apr 17, 2006
HOUSTON (AP) - Unseasonably hot temperatures forced power utilities around Texas to conduct rolling blackouts Monday.
As temperatures climbed into the 30s for another day, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the state's electricity grid, declared an emergency situation and ordered the blackouts because of the lack of electricity around Texas.
ERCOT said it declared the emergency after concluding there was insufficient generating capacity in the region to reliably serve the public's electricity demand.
As much as 15 per cent of the state's power supply goes offline each spring so plants can perform seasonal maintenance before energy usage peaks in the summer, said Public Utility Commission spokesman Terry Hadley. He said maintenance is typically finished by mid-May.
But unusually high temperatures this spring have pushed demand for electricity, creating a shortage, he said.
The rollouts were limited to the ERCOT grid, which provides electricity to about 80 per cent of Texas.
Traffic backed up at intersections in Grand Prairie, just west of Dallas, during the afternoon rush hour.
CenterPoint Energy spokeswoman Emily Thompson said rolling blackouts every 15 minutes for the Houston area were ordered just after 4 p.m. Monday.
"We're hoping this will be taken care of very shortly," she said.
Austin Energy said it began its rotating blackouts about 4:20 p.m. to comply with its share of the load shedding requirement.
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Thousands flee Balkan floods
Monday 17 April 2006, 17:59 Makka Time, 14:59 GMT
Thousands of people living in the Balkans have been forced to leaves their homes as the river Danube reaches its highest levels in more than a century.
Swollen by heavy rain and spring melting of snow, the Danube, the second-longest river in Europe, hit its highest point for 111 years over the weekend in Romania and Bulgaria and reached record levels in Serbia.
Around 3,000 residents of the village of Rast in Romania were evacuated on Monday before the surging river entirely submerged their homes. Some 115 houses were destroyed and another 600 damaged.
The district chief, Nicolae Giugea, said 10,000 residents of four villages in the area were on standby for evacuation if the water continued to rise.
According to the Romanian environment and water management ministry, the Danube was flowing at double the average speed for this time of year - a record 15,800 cubic metres per second.
In the southern Romanian port of Calarasi on Monday, a recently opened riverside hotel was flooded causing major damage to the building. Dozens of tourists and personnel were evacuated.
Romanian authorities were using controlled flooding of agricultural land to reduce the pressure of the swollen river on dykes built to protect populated areas.
Several border crossings over the river separating Romania and Bulgaria were closed temporarily.
Authorities restricted traffic at the Giurgiu border crossing, with hundreds of cars waiting on the Romanian side of the border.
In Bulgaria, a state of emergency was being maintained along the Danube, with the government warning the water levels were expected to reach a peak of up to 990cm in the northwestern town of Vidin on Wednesday.
The situation was made worse in Serbia by the high level of water in swollen smaller rivers that join the Danube. These include the Tisa and Begej, which meet at the town of Titel, north of Belgrade.
Over the weekend, the river reached an all-time high of 9.41m near Veliko Gradiste, 100km east of Belgrade.
In the agriculture-rich northern province of Vojvodina, the flooding and heavy rains submerged some 10,000 hectares of farmland and turned another 200,000 into mud and slush.
In the eastern Serbian town of Smederevo, authorities dispatched all city workers to fight flooding as the waters submerged parts of the town's train station, bringing rail traffic to a halt.
In Belgrade, where the Danube meets the Sava, the situation was under control on Monday morning, although authorities there said they were working to maintain 250km of dykes.
"Our principal concern is the survival of the dykes," Nikola Marjanovic, of Serbia's water authority, told B92 radio.
Goran Kamcev, head of the Serbia flood prevention task force, told Reuters: "The situation is under control along the whole flow of the Danube through Serbia."
"We now have to watch out for the longstanding pressure on the barriers, with water expected to stay high for some 10 to 15 days. It could cause the dykes to leak or even break and our teams on the ground have to stay vigilant."
Much of the Balkans were hit by floods last year that drowned scores of people and caused damage to houses, farmland and infrastructure running into hundreds of millions of dollars.
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Far north Qld readies for cyclone Monica onslaught
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
The Lockhart River community in far north Queensland is bracing for the arrival of category 2 cyclone Monica.
Weather forecasters say the cyclone is heading towards Lockhart River and will probably gain strength and cross there sometime on Wednesday morning.
Chief executive officer of the Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council, Peter Buckland, says this time last year cyclone Ingrid, a category 4 cyclone, hit the community.
He says they will be drawing on that experience.
"With our run-in with cyclone Ingrid last year, this year we had three clean-ups, so we were well-prepared this year,'' he said.
"The counter disaster group has already met today.
"We've put in train all the necessary actions that we can do and know it's a waiting game."
He says some residents will probably choose to shelter in the community's lock-up tonight.
State Emergency Service crews from Brisbane are due to arrive in Cairns tonight.
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Baghdad street battle smacks of open civil war
Tue Apr 18, 2006 12:29 PM BST14
By Omar al-Ibadi
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Snipers held rooftop positions as masked Sunni Arab insurgents said they were gearing up for another open street battle with pro-government Shi'ite militiamen in Baghdad's Adhamiya district on Tuesday.
The Arab Sunni stronghold is still feeling ripples from overnight clashes on Monday that appeared to be the closest yet to all-out sectarian fighting.
It's a reality that has Washington scrambling to avert civil war as Iraqi politicians struggle to form a government four months after parliamentary elections.
A U.S. military spokesman said 50 insurgents attacked Iraqi forces in the middle of the night in a seven-hour battle that killed five rebels and wounded an Iraqi soldier.
Fighting was so fierce that U.S. reinforcements were brought in to the northern district, home to some of Iraq's most hardcore Sunni guerrillas and the Abu Hanifa mosque, near where Saddam Hussein was last seen in public before going into hiding.
Sporadic fighting continued on Tuesday.
"There are six people among our dead and wounded. Just half an hour ago a sniper killed Ali," said Mohammad, a 28-year-old Adhamiya resident, of his friend.
While the February bombing of a Shi'ite shrine pushed Iraq to the edge of civil war and left hundreds of bodies with bullet holes and torture marks on the streets, the scenario in Adhamiya is more alarming, despite fewer casualties.
It appeared to be the first example of a large-scale, open sectarian street battle in the capital, if not all of Iraq.
The boldness of the attack was a stark reminder of the security nightmare that will challenge the new government, which will face a Sunni insurgency that has killed many thousands of Shi'ite security forces and civilians.
"Today at noon a group of army soldiers came near the Abu Hanifa mosque and a sniper went on top of the roof. We managed to kill him with a grenade. I destroyed three of their vehicles with roadside bombs," said another rebel.
Insurgents setting up barricades said they saw Shi'ite fighters calling themselves The Army of Haidar closing in on the Abu Hanifa mosque from three directions.
"We expect them to come back again," said a man who only identified himself as Abu Bakr and said he was a former army officer under Saddam.
His description of the events of Monday night were even more dramatic than the U.S. military account.
"We saw about 100 to 150 men show up in cars. Some were wearing military uniforms and others were in civilian clothes," he said, as five gunmen stood guard over one of the main roads leading into Adhamiya.
Sunni leaders have accused the Shi'ite-led government of sanctioning militia death squads, a charge it denies.
"What happened in Adhamiya is an evil act by an armed militia backed by security and government operatives," Dhafer al-Ani, a member of the biggest Sunni Alliance, told a news conference.
As Abu Bakr and his men geared up for a new fight, the Sunni town of Ramadi, 110 km (68 miles) west of Baghdad, was recovering from the latest rebel assault.
The U.S. military said marines repelled insurgent attacks at several locations in central Ramadi on Monday, including the local government centre, which often comes under fire.
The multiple suicide car bombs, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns appeared to be closely coordinated, said the military.
On Tuesday, residents said they kept their children home because insurgents ordered schools closed. Streets were mostly empty.
Washington hopes training will improve the performance of Iraqi forces and enable U.S. troops to start heading home.
But as the confusing Adhamiya fighting illustrated, it's hard to tell who is wearing Iraqi military uniforms, complicating the task of stabilising the country.
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Zarqawi; the Pentagon's ongoing war of deception
By Mike Whitney
In more than 3 years of war, there has never been a positive citing of alleged terror mastermind Abu Musab al Zarqawi. This has led many to believe that he is merely a creation of Pentagon propagandists working with their agents in the western press. Colonel Derek Harvey strengthened those suspicions last week when he admitted in a Washington Post article that the military intentionally "enlarged Zarqawi's caricature" to create the impression that the ongoing struggle against occupation was really a fight against terrorism. But, that is not the case. As Harvey notes, "The long term threat is not Zarqawi or religious extremists, but former regime types and their friends".
The Pentagon has tried to discredit Col. Harvey, but the damage has already been done. The mask has been removed from the War Dept's rather ineffective black-op, and the American public has a great opportunity to see the amount of energy that goes into fabricating a narrative to support an unpopular war.
The Zarqawi-myth is strikingly different from other examples of Pentagon propaganda. The Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman stories both followed a familiar pattern of exaggerating American bravery to shore up support on the home-front. This type of propaganda is harmless and can be expected to appear in virtually any conflict. So too, there's nothing unusual about the Pentagon's attempts to distance itself from its actions which resulted in the needless (but predictable) deaths of innocent civilians, like the bombing of wedding parties or the recent rampage in Haditha where a number Iraqi noncombatants were killed. All this is par for the course.
The Zarqawi case is vastly different from these traditional forms of propaganda. It is information-warfare aimed exclusively at the American people with the intention of manipulating their perceptions. It builds the case for war out of whole cloth. Zarqawi has become the central justification for the ongoing occupation; a threatening, spectral figure who embodies the evils of terrorism. His image has overshadowed the obvious self-serving motives which led to the invasion and the subsequent destruction of Iraqi society.
Undoubtedly, many of the generals who are calling for Rumsfeld's resignation must be uncomfortable with this deliberate effort to deceive the American people. Not surprisingly, support for the war has eroded in direct proportion to the administration's loss of credibility. The lies simply haven't helped at all. The exposing of Zarqawi is bound to further erode whatever small amount of faith still remains in government's trustworthiness.
The influence of foreign fighters in Iraq has always been trivial. In the sieges of Falluja and Tel Afar less than 3% of those captured were non-Iraqis, and even those figures are in doubt. Never the less, a disproportionate number of articles appearing in the media have focused on uncorroborated claims of suicide bombings, beheadings, etc in an attempt to demonize an enemy that is mostly a Pentagon invention. The lesson we draw from this is powerful; nothing the military says can be trusted.
The civilian leadership, particularly Donald Rumsfeld, who we expect has authored many of these clever propaganda-schemes, should consider now whether the damage to their credibility has been worth the small gains they may have made in hoodwinking the public. It may be altruistic to think that "honesty is the best policy", but clearly, deception as policy has some glaring shortcomings as support for the war continues to diminish.
The media's role in facilitating the Zarqawi charade cannot be overstated. New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins has been singled out for running a dubious letter from Zarqawi "boasting of suicide attacks" on the front page of the Times. Filkins sheepishly admitted that he was "skeptical" about the letter but that didn't stop him (or 1,400 newspapers across the world) from using the piece to spread unsubstantiated claims about an imaginary Muslim terrorist.
Filkins, of course, is a very bright guy and knew that he was being used to promote the racist themes that have engendered greater suspicion of Muslims and fueled public hysteria. Still, Filkins is just one small cog in the mighty corporate propaganda-matrix which spews out anti-Arab hatred on a daily basis. Zarqawi is merely a way of vilifying the people who occupy the lands which possess the resources required to maintain western prosperity.
In my own research, I have spend a few evenings going over hundreds of articles on Zarqawi to find anything that might confirm his existence. As noted earlier, there are no reliable eyewitness accounts. What we find instead, is sometimes as many as 2,200 articles appearing on any given day pointing to Zarqawi's involvement in a bombing without any tangible proof of his authenticity.
The news has simply become another "faith based" operation like the Bush administration.
Zarqawi-related news is devoid of any factual content. The accepted policy of the news agencies (without exception) is to reiterate the same Pentagon talking points, suspicions, and baseless claims as their peers. This gives us some insight into the collaborative relationship between the corporate media and their allies in the defense establishment. The Pentagon's apparitions immediately become part of the national dialogue completely unchallenged by anyone in the news industry.
We should not expect that the Zarqawi myth will disappear anytime soon. The Bush administration has demonstrated a stubborn determination to cling to their fantasies no matter how threadbare they become. Besides, as Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt noted, "The Zarqawi PSYOP program is the most successful information campaign to date".
Indeed, it probably is.
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Coming home - disillusioned
By Christopher H. Sheppard
Special to The Times
Three years ago, I was a Marine Corps captain on the Iraqi/Kuwaiti border, participating in the invasion of Iraq. Awestruck, I heard our howitzers thunder and watched artillery rockets rise into the night sky and streak toward Iraq - their light bathing the desert moonscape like giant arc welders.
As I watched the Iraq war begin, I completely trusted the Bush administration. I thought we were going to prove all of the left-wing antiwar protesters and dissenters wrong. I thought we were going to make America safer. Regrettably, I acknowledge that it was I who was wrong.
I believed the Bush administration when it said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I believed its assertion that Iraq was trying to buy yellowcake uranium from Africa and refine it into weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear bomb. I believed its claim Iraq had vast quantities of biological and chemical agents. After years of thorough inspections, all of these claims have been disproved.
I believed the administration when it claimed there was overwhelming evidence Iraq was in cahoots with al-Qaida. In January 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted that there was no concrete evidence linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.
I believed the administration when it grandly proclaimed we were going to bring a stable, Western-style liberal democracy to Iraq, complete with religious tolerance and the rule of law. We never had enough troops in Iraq to restore civil order and the rule of law. The Iraqi elections have produced a ruling majority of Shiite fundamentalists and marginalized the seething Sunni minority. Iraq dangerously teeters on the brink of civil war. We have emboldened Iran and destabilized the entire Middle East.
I believed the administration when it claimed the war could be done quickly and cheaply. It said the war would cost only between $50 billion and $60 billion. It said that Iraqi oil revenue would fund the country's reconstruction. I believed President Bush when he landed on the USS Lincoln and said "major combat operations have ended."
The war has cost the American taxpayers $250 billion and counting. The vast majority - 94 percent - of the more than 2,300 United States service members killed in Iraq have occurred since Bush's "Top Gun" proclamation. The cost in men and materiel has been far beyond what we were led to believe.
I volunteered to go back to Iraq for the fall and winter of 2004-2005. I went back out of frustration and guilt; frustration from watching Iraq unravel on the news and guilt that I wasn't there trying to stop it. Many fine Marines from my reserve battalion felt the same and volunteered to go back. I buried my mounting suspicions and mustered enough trust and faith in my civilian leadership to go back.
I returned disillusioned by what I saw. I participated in the second battle of Fallujah in November 2004. We crushed the insurgents in the city, but we only ended up scattering them throughout the province. The dumb ones stayed and died. The smart ones left town before the battle, to garner more recruits and fight another day. We were simply the little Dutch boy with our finger in the dike. In retrospect, we never had enough troops to firmly control the region; we had just enough to maintain a tenuous equilibrium.
I now know I wrongfully placed my faith and trust in a presidential administration hopelessly mired in incompetence, hubris and a lack of accountability. It planned a war based on false intelligence and unrealistic assumptions. It has strategically surrendered the condition of victory in Iraq to people who do not share our vision, values or interests. The Bush administration has proven successful at only one thing in Iraq - painting us into a corner with no feasible exit.
I will never trust any of them again.
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Killing me softly with his tune
Tomgram: History Ambushes the Bush Administration
By Tom Engelhardt
You can count on one thing. All over Washington, Republicans are at least as capable as I am of watching and interpreting the polling version of the smash-up of the Bush administration. With each new poll, the numbers creep lower yet. Presidential approval in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll dropped another 3% in the last month and now sits at 38%, while disapproval of the President continues to strengthen -- 47% of Americans now "strongly disapprove" of the President's handling of the presidency, only 20% "strongly approve." (62%, by the way, disapprove of the President's handling of the war in Iraq.)
Behind these figures lurk worse ones. When asked, for instance, whether they would vote for a generic Democrat or Republican in the upcoming midterm elections, those polled chose the generic Democrat by a startling 55-40%, the largest such gap yet. In addition, Democrats have now become the default party Americans "trust" almost across the board on issues, even in this poll edging the Republicans out by a single percentage point on the handling of terrorism.
Commenting on a recent Ipsos-AP poll showing Democrats and Republicans in a tie on the question, "Who do you trust to do a better job of protecting the country," GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio said: "These numbers are scary. We've lost every advantage we've ever had. The good news is Democrats don't have much of a plan. The bad news is they may not need one." Surprisingly, despite the way Democrats have shied off the subject, a near-majority (45%) of those polled were also in favor of some kind of Feingold-like censure of the President for listening in on citizens without prior court approval.
The words connected to almost any new poll these days are "hit a new low." Other recent new lows were reached by that AP-Ipsos poll and by a Fox News poll where presidential approval was at 36%. Or take a recent state poll in California, where Bush has admittedly never been a popular figure. Still, a 32% approval rating? Or check out the trajectory of Bush polling approval numbers from September 11, 2001 to today. Despite various bumps and plateaus -- including a conveniently engineered, Karl Rovian bump just before election 2004 -- it's been a slow, ever-downward path that, in early 2005, dipped decisively under 50%; by the end of 2004 had crossed the 40% threshold; and is, at present, in the mid-30% range.
There's no reason to believe that the bottom has been reached. After all, these polls precede the recent disastrous flap over the Patrick Fitzgerald federal court filing on I. Lewis Libby and the various "declassification" admissions of the President and Vice-President (of which there is guaranteed to be more to come); these figures arrived before the (retired) generals revolt against Donald Rumsfeld, which is still spreading and to which the President's staunch defense can only contribute fuel ("Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period. He has my full support and deepest appreciation."); these figures precede by a couple of months the beginning of the next hurricane season along the never-reconstructed Gulf Coast; they precede any indictment of Karl Rove or of other Bush administration figures in the Plame case, and further even more contorted presidential (and vice- presidential) fall-back positions in the same case; these polls come before the predictable happens in Iraq and the sectarian war there worsens while the American position weakens as well as before the Iranian situation really kicks in; they arrive before summer gas prices head above $3 a gallon aiming for the stratosphere; before any real economic bad news comes down the pike; before other as yet unknown crises hit that the Bush administration predictably just won't be able to get its collective head or its waning governmental powers around.
This is the situation before some future round of hideous polling figures sets off a full-scale panic in the Republican Party, leading possibly to a spreading revolt of the pols that could put the present revolt of the generals in the shade. Given the last couple of years, and what we now know about the Bush administration's inability to operate within the "reality-based community" (as opposed to spinning it to death), there is no reason to believe that a polling bottom exists for this President, not even perhaps the Nixonian Age of Watergate nadir in the lower 20% range.
Toppling the Colossus of Washington
A revolt of the Republican pols, should it occur, would highlight the essential contradiction between the two halves of the Bush administration's long-term program, until recently imagined as indissolubly joined at the hip. Domestically, there was the DeLay-style implanting of the Republican Party (and the ready cash infusions from lobbyists that were to fuel it) at the heart of the American political system for at least a Rooseveltian generation, if not forever and a day. This country was to be transformed into a one-party Republican democracy, itself embedded in the confines of a Homeland Security State. Abroad, there was the neocon vision of a pacified planet whose oil heartlands would be nailed down militarily in an updated version of a Pax Romana until hell froze over (or the supplies ran out). If in 2002 or 2003, these seemed like two perfectly fitted sides of a single vision of dominance, it is now apparent that they were essentially always at odds with each other. Both now seem at the edge of collapse.
The dismantling of the domestic half of the Bush program is embodied in the tale of Tom DeLay. Not so long ago, "the Hammer" ("If you want to play in our revolution, you have to live by our rules...") was a Washington colossus in the process of creating a Republican political machine built in part "outside government, among Washington's thousands of trade associations and corporate offices, their tens of thousands of employees, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in political money at their disposal." With his K Street Project, he had transformed the generally "bipartisan" nature of money- and influence-peddling in Washington into a largely Republican funding machine. Meanwhile, with the gerrymandering scheme he rammed through the Texas legislature, which chased local Democrats all the way to Oklahoma and back, and added six seats to the Republican House majority in 2004, he seemed to be setting the course of the ship of state for the foreseeable future.
Astride the political world, DeLay then looked invulnerable, while the well-hammered Democrats seemed consigned to the status of a minority party for decades to come. Who could have imagined that, less than two years later, DeLay would be indicted for money-laundering in Texas and, faced with the unraveling Abramoff case, resign his House leadership position, then withdraw from the reelection campaign for his House seat, and finally, with his top staff aides going down, find himself possibly on the verge of indictment in Washington?
Delay's project was meant for life, not for a life sentence. And if you're honest with yourself, a couple of years back I'll bet you didn't expect anything like this either. You can certainly bet that, when they created those fabulous fictions about Iraq and then invaded, it never crossed the minds of George, Dick, Don, Condi, Paul, Stephen and the rest that anything like this might ever happen -- not just to DeLay or to the Republican Party, but to them. Think of it this way: They were never putting forward the "unitary executive theory" of government and launching a commander-in-chief state in order to turn it all over to a bunch of Democrats, no less the thoroughly loathed Hillary Clinton.
How time flies and how, to quote Donald Rumsfeld's infamous phrase about looters in Baghdad, "stuff happens." Looked at in the light of history, the incipient collapse of the Bush project seems to have occurred in hardly a blink. Its brevity is, in a sense, nearly inexplicable, as unexpected as water running uphill or an alien visitation. We are, after all, talking about the ruling officials of the globe's only "hyperpower" who have faced next to no opposition at home. In these years, the Democratic Party proved itself hardly a party at all, no less an oppositional one, and the active antiwar movement, gigantic before the invasion of Iraq, has remained, at best, modest-sized ever since. At the same time, in Iraq the administration faced not a unified national liberation movement backed by a superpower as in Vietnam, but a ragtag, if fierce, Sunni resistance and recalcitrant Shiite semi-allies, all now at each other's throats.
What makes the last few years so strange is that this administration has essentially been losing its campaigns, at home and abroad, to nobody. What comes to mind is the famous phrase of cartoonist Walt Kelly's character, Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us." Perhaps it's simply the case that -- in Rumsfeldian terms -- it's hard for people with the mentality of looters to create a permanent edifice, even when they set their minds to it.
And yet, it wasn't so long ago that every step the Bush people took on either "front" came up dazzling code orange, brilliantly staving off rising political problems. As a result, it took just short of five miserable years, which seemed a lifetime, to reach this moment -- years which, historically, added up to no time at all. Is there another example of the rulers of a dominant global power -- who fancied themselves the leaders of a New Rome -- crashing and burning quite so quickly? In less than five years, Bush and his top officials ran their project into the ground. In the process, they took a great imperial power over a cliff and down the falls, without safety vests, rubber dinghies, or anyone at the bottom to fish us all out.
This process, though hardly noticed at the time, began early indeed -- and at its corrosive heart was, of course, Iraq. How can you explain the way the leaders of the world's preeminent military power were chased through the night by Iraq's unexpected set of rebellions and its no-name resistance? How quickly -- though, unfortunately, not quickly enough -- their various elaborate tales and lies, their manipulated intelligence and cherry-picked stories of Iraqi WMD and Saddam's nefarious links to al-Qaeda were dismantled -- a process that has yet to end. Only last week, another little tale of fraud was done away with by the Washington Post.
On May 29, 2003, in a television interview, the President described two mobile trailers found in Iraq by U.S. and Kurdish soldiers as "biological laboratories" and said: "We have found the weapons of mass destruction." This claim would be cited by senior administration officials for months thereafter and yet, on May 27, a "Pentagon-appointed team of technical experts had strongly rejected the weapons claim in a field report sent to the Defense Intelligence Agency," as would other reports to come.
Most Americans are now aware that the administration's various pre-war tales have evaporated, including presidential howlers like the possibility that Saddam would place (nonexistent) unmanned aerial vehicles off our East coast (in some unexplained fashion) to spray (nonexistent) chemical and biological weaponry over Eastern cities. (Maybe this was just some sort of displaced Sunbelt wish-fulfillment fantasy.)
We think less, however, about the way another set of tales -- heroic yarns of battlefield derring-do and American-style shock-and-awe triumph -- dissolved almost as they were created. Just two weeks short of May 1st, it seems appropriate to glance back at a moment I'm sure no one has quite forgotten, though the Bush administration would undoubtedly prefer that we had. I'm thinking of May 1, 2003, which David Swanson of the After Downing Street website recently labeled M (for Mission Accomplished) Day, a holiday that, he points out, lasted not even a single year.
Let's return, then, to the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier whose planes had released over a third of the three million pounds of ordnance that had just hit Iraq. It had almost reached its homeport, San Diego, the previous day, but was held about 30 miles out in the Pacific because the President, as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd would point out, chose to co-pilot an S-3B Viking sub reconnaissance Naval jet onto its deck rather than far less dramatically climb stairs.
That day certainly seemed like the ultimate triumphalist political photo op as well as the launching pad for George Bush's 2004 reelection campaign. British journalist Matthew Engel referred to the President then as "the stuntman in the bomber jacket." It was actually a flight suit, but the phrase caught something of the moment. The Tom Cruise film Top Gun -- made, by the way, with copious help from the U.S. Navy -- was on everyone's mind in what Elizabeth Bumiller of the Times called "one of the most audacious moments of presidential theater in American history." It seemed to confirm that George Bush was a more skilled actor-president than Ronald Reagan had ever been.
Unlike his father, the younger Bush was visibly comfortable in the business of creating fabulous fiction. We know that Scott Sforza, a former ABC producer, "embedded" himself on that carrier days before the President hit the deck. Along with Bob DeServi, a former NBC cameraman and lighting specialist, and Greg Jenkins, a former Fox News television producer, he planned out every detail of the President's landing, as Bumiller put it, "even down to the members of the Lincoln crew arrayed in coordinated shirt colors over Mr. Bush's right shoulder and the 'Mission Accomplished' banner placed to perfectly capture the president and the celebratory two words in a single shot. The speech was specifically timed for what image makers call 'magic hour light,' which cast a golden glow on Mr. Bush."
So, on that thrilling day, the President landed on what was essentially a movie set. After carefully taking off his helmet in private - no goofy Michael Dukakis moments here -- he made a Top Gun victory speech, avoiding Vietnam as politicians had largely done for two decades. The speech had World War II on the brain right down to the cribs from Churchill. ("We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide...") The President cited "the character of our military through history -- the daring of Normandy, the fierce courage of Iwo Jima..." Given his frame of reference, he probably meant from The Sands of Iwo Jima to Saving Private Ryan. Then he spoke of "the decency and idealism that turned enemies into allies [and] is fully present in this generation."
He also delivered his now-infamous almost-victory line against the background of that Mission Accomplished banner, claiming that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
Give George Bush credit: When it came to not-quite-battle footage, he proved he could don a military uniform, get in a military vehicle, and carry it off with panache. His on-deck Tom Cruise "swagger" would be a staple of press coverage for weeks. And above all, he clearly loved landing on that deck, wearing that outfit, making that speech. He was having the time of his life.
But even as his advance men were bringing it off, even as he was glorying in his color-coded tale of battle triumph, something was beginning to devour that moment of presidential glory. A headline that went with the CNN account of his landing that day caught this well: "Bush calls end to 'major combat,'" it said, but there was also a subhead, little noted at the time: "U.S. Central Command: Seven [American soldiers] hurt in Fallujah grenade attack." Those two headlines would struggle for dominance for the next couple of years, a struggle now long over.
Let's consider the odd fate of the perfect fiction Bush's men put together on the Abraham Lincoln, because it was typical of what has happened to administration image-making and story-telling. Only six months later, Time magazine was already writing, "The perfect photo-op has flopped," and claiming that, shades of Vietnam, the President had a "growing credibility problem." By then, instead of preparing for a series of Top-Gun reelection ads, the President and his advance men were busy bobbing and weaving when it came to that fateful "Mission Accomplished" banner. By then, those Iraqi grenades had multiplied into a Sunni insurrection and Fallujah had morphed into a resistant enemy city that, in November 2004, would be largely destroyed by American firepower without ever being fully subdued; and the President was already pinning the idea for creating that banner on the sailors and airmen of the Abraham Lincoln; only to have the White House finally admit that it had produced the banner -- supposedly at the request of those same sailors and airmen; and then, well ... not. Long before May 1 rolled around again, "mission accomplished" would be a scarlet phrase of shame -- useful only to Bush critics and despised Democrats.
By July 2003, as we now all know, top Bush officials were in a panic, already sensing that the other part of their victory story -- their far-fetched set of explanations for why we had to invade Iraq -- was being gnawed away at. That was why, when Joseph Wilson, who had emerged as a potentially dangerous administration critic, published his famed op-ed on Niger uranium in the New York Times that July 6th, the administration gathered its forces to whack him and his wife, and so offer a warning to others -- with all the disastrous consequences for Bush and his key officials with which we now live.
By November 2003, George Bush's presidency was already beginning to be eaten alive by a growing, if chaotic, Iraqi rebellion; while the movie version of Bush's War was already guaranteed never to make it into DVD. All its mini-tales -- of the Jessica Lynch rescue, the tearing down of Saddam's statue in Firdos Square, Pat Tillman's last stand in Afghanistan -- would, like those missing weapons of mass destruction, like the American occupation of Iraq itself, crash and burn. In most cases, this happened almost as the stories were being created.
Take Private Lynch, who was "rescued" by American Special Forces arriving at the hospital where she was being treated by Iraqi doctors armed with night-vision cameras and a flag to drape over her. They shot their film of the rescue, and transmitted it in real time to Centcom headquarters in Doha, where it was edited and released. The result was a dreamy media frenzy of patriotism back home, complete with a wave of Jessica T-shirts and other paraphernalia and an NBC movie of the week. And yet Jessica Lynch's story, like the story of that toppled statue in Baghdad, like the story of Saddam's vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, was soon in tatters. An unheroic version that lacked gun or knife wounds, mistreatment, or even Iraqi captors from which to be rescued, practically galloped onto the scene. By the time Lynch herself more or less rejected the story told about her in a book, I Am a Soldier, Too, it was too late. It almost immediately hit not the bestseller lists but the remainder tables because her story had already evaporated.
Americans, of course, like victory. We prefer to be in a triumphalist culture and undoubtedly much of the turn of events of the last couple of years -- including the recent revolt of the generals along with those sagging presidential polling figures and the multiplying conversion experiences of all sorts of conservatives and even former neocons -- can simply be accounted for by the resulting not-victory in Iraq.
Undoubtedly, the Bush administration is not yet out of ammunition, either figuratively or literally. Even as they stand in the rubble of their world, top Bush officials remain quite capable of making decisions that will export ruins to, say, Iran and create further chaos in the oil heartlands of the planet as well as here at home. I don't sell them short, nor do I see a Democratic Party capable of taking the reins of the globe's last standing imperial power and doing a heck of a lot better. Still, there's something consoling in knowing that history remains filled with surprises and that the short, rubble-filled, disastrous career of the Bush administration looks likely to be one of them.
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Bush: 'I'm the decider'
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
President Bush on Tuesday emphasized once again his support for his defense secretary, saying Donald Rumsfeld "is doing a fine job."
At a Rose Garden ceremony announcing his nominees for budget director and trade representative, Bush referred to the controversy in which six retired generals recently have called for Rumsfeld's resignation.
"I hear the voices, and I read the front page and I know the speculation," the president said. "But I'm the decider, and I decide what's best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."
Also Tuesday, Rumsfeld planned to meet with a group of retired generals who regularly appear as analysts on television and in newspapers.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Donald Shepperd, a CNN military analyst who will attend the session, said more than a dozen similar meetings have been held in the past. But he said that Tuesday's meeting was called late last week, apparently in response to recent events.
Shepperd said such meetings give the generals an opportunity to ask tough questions and that they are not limited to those who agree with the Pentagon on every issue.
Recently, six retired generals -- including former commanders of two Army divisions that saw combat in Iraq -- have called for Rumsfeld to resign.
They accuse him of ignoring advice from senior officers about how to prosecute the war and sending too few troops into Iraq to manage the occupation after the March 2003 invasion.
In defense of Rumsfeld, four retired generals wrote an op-ed piece Monday in The Wall Street Journal suggesting that some of his critics don't understand the war on terrorism.
"Much of the acrimony expressed by Secretary Rumsfeld's military critics appears to stem from his efforts to 'transform' the military by moving to a joint expeditionary force that is lighter and more mobile in nature to meet the nation's current and future threats," the commentary said.
"Many senior officers and bureaucrats did not support his transformation goals -- preferring conventional weapons of the past ... which prove practically useless against lawless and uncivilized enemies engaged in asymmetric warfare," the writers continued. (Watch Rumsfeld fight fire with fire -- 2:18)
The op-ed piece was written by retired Lt. Gen. John Crosby, former deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command; retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, former assistant vice chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force; retired Maj. Gen. Buron Moore, U.S. Air Force, who was director of Central Command during Operation Desert Storm; and retired Maj. Gen Paul Vallely, former deputy commander of the U.S. Army, Pacific.
Of the two Rumsfeld critics the piece singled out, retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni is a former chief of U.S. Central Command and retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold is a former director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"It unfortunately appears that two of the retired generals (Messrs. Zinni and Newbold) do not understand the true nature of this radical ideology, Islamic extremism, and why we fight in Iraq. We suggest they listen to the tapes of United 93," the piece continued, referring to the hijacked plane that went down in Pennysylvania on 9/11.
The four retired generals also said it was inappropriate for senior military officers -- active or retired -- to criticize the civilian leadership during war.
At the White House briefing Monday, press secretary Scott McClellan pointed to the Wall Street Journal op-ed as evidence that retired generals stand behind the defense secretary.
Also Monday, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., a Tennessee Democrat running for his state's Senate seat, suggested replacing Rumsfeld with former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"Gen. Powell's experience resolving complicated and sensitive national security challenges is needed now more than ever," Ford said in a statement. "He will bring a respect for our military, a willingness to listen, a capacity to admit and correct mistakes and an attention to detail that is absent now in the top job at the Pentagon."
Comment: How do Americans feel about the fact that their President seems to lack even a rudimentary understanding of the English language and that he regularly displays this to the world? You see, there is no word "decider" that means "someone who decides". Then again, "put food on your families" doesn't make much sense either.
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Bush picks Portman for budget
By Steve Holland
April 18, 2006
WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush announced two new senior economic aides on Tuesday and signaled more changes are on the way but again strongly rejected criticism of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Bush named U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman as his budget director and the deputy trade representative, Susan Schwab, to replace Portman.
Both nominations require Senate confirmation.
In picking Portman and Schwab, Bush made clear he wanted to improve frayed relations with the U.S. Congress.
He said Portman, for example, has shown "an ability to work across the aisle and bring people together to get things done. And he's going to bring that same skill to his new post."
Bush, facing slumping poll numbers and a credibility gap with Americans over the Iraq war, is trying to breathe new life into his second term.
Answering questions at a Rose Garden ceremony, Bush said new White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten has broad authority to remold the president's team.
"With a new man will come some changes," Bush said.
But asked about Rumsfeld, subject of bitter attack from several retired generals, Bush was unyielding.
"I have strong confidence in Don Rumsfeld. I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation, but I'm the decider, and I decide what is best, and what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense," he said.
In fact he voiced strong confidence in his entire Cabinet -- which could be seen as a boost for Treasury Secretary
John Snow, who many believe is on his way out.
"I must tell you that I've got strong confidence in my Cabinet officials -- all of them -- and I appreciate the service they've rendered," he said.
Portman would inherit a difficult task of organizing a federal budget that is deep in deficit due largely to spending on the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina.
"I will work closely with the Congress on a bipartisan basis to prioritize essential spending that meets our national priorities, while reducing spending elsewhere," said Portman, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio who helped Bush in his 2004 re-election campaign.
Republicans in Congress are deeply divided over spending priorities for the fiscal year beginning October 1 and beyond. Conservatives want deeper cuts in domestic programs to pare out-of-control deficits. Republican moderates, facing difficult re-election prospects, think spending on health, education and other social programs already have been cut too severely.
Earlier this month, a budget blueprint for next year was yanked from the House floor after it was apparent there were not enough Republican votes to pass it.
Portman gave no sign of any major changes in the administration's budget philosophy, saying he would work against any attempt to roll back Bush's tax cuts and would focus instead on spending restraint.
Bush said Portman would have a leading role as part of his economic team and would be "a powerful voice for pro-growth policies and spending restraint."
"Rob is a man of deep integrity, he knows the priorities of my administration, he can get things done, and the Senate should confirm him promptly as director of the Office of Management and Budget," Bush said.
Bush said Schwab led U.S. trade policies in a number of vital areas such as intellectual property enforcement and would use her expertise to help conclude the Doha round of world trade talks.
In another staff move, White House spokesman Scott McClellan announced the resignation of James Towey, the director of the White House office that encourages federal funds to go to faith-based groups that help the underprivileged.
Towey will become president of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
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Odds 'n Ends
Ferry with 100 people sinks in east Indonesia
Tue Apr 18, 3:12 AM ET
JAKARTA - An Indonesian ferry carrying around 100 people has sunk in the eastern part of the country, but no deaths have been confirmed so far, rescue officials said on Tuesday.
The Indonesian navy has dispatched one ship and an airplane to search for the boat which sank late on Monday near Rote Island, 1,900 km (1,180 miles) east of the capital Jakarta.
"We believe more or less 100 people were on board ... But we don't know the real capacity of the ship nor the cause of the incident," Hidayat Surati from Indonesia's national rescue agency in Jakarta told Reuters.
Rescuers in Kupang, the closest city to the accident area, said a search was underway.
"We have rescued 19 people so far and that number should climb. We are still continuing rescue efforts with the navy and local residents," said Herry Sasongko, head of the national rescue agency's branch in Kupang on Timor island.
The Elshinta news radio, however, quoted an official as saying that the ferry had beached on an islet off the larger island of Rote and more than 50 passengers had been rescued.
The official said only about 60 people were on the ferry.
It is often difficult to determine how many passengers are on Indonesian ferries involved in accidents, since they frequently carry individuals who have not paid for their tickets or otherwise have not been listed on manifests.
A ferry sank in heavy seas in the same area less than three months ago, killing at least 10 people. More than 100 were rescued.
Ferries are a popular means of transport between the more than 17,000 islands of Indonesia, where sea connections are cheaper and more available than air routes.
But safety standards are not strictly enforced and many ferries are overcrowded.
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2 Duke Lacrosse Players Are Arrested
By TIM WHITMIRE
Associated Press Writer
April 18, 2006
DURHAM, N.C. -- Two Duke University lacrosse players were arrested early Tuesday on charges of raping and kidnapping a stripper hired to dance at an off-campus party, and the district attorney said he hopes to charge a third person soon.
The indictments, unsealed Tuesday, did not indicate what possible evidence or arguments led the grand jury Monday to indict Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, both 20. District Attorney Mike Nifong would not discuss the evidence.
"It had been my hope to charge all three of the assailants at the same time, but the evidence available to me at this moment does not permit that," Nifong said. "Investigation into the identity of the third assailant will continue in the hope that he can also be identified with certainty."
Seligmann posted a $400,000 bond shortly after his arrest, and his attorney waived his court appearance.
Finnerty, who was in the process posting the same amount, made a brief appearance in Superior Court shortly before 11 a.m. wearing a jacket and tie. The next court appearance for both players was set for May 15.
Both Seligmann, a 6-foot-1 sophomore from Essex Fells, N.J., and Finnerty, a 6-foot-3 sophomore from Garden City, N.Y., were in handcuffs when they stepped out of a police cruiser before dawn.
Seligmann is "absolutely innocent," said his attorney, Kirk Osborn. "He's doing great. That's all I have to say."
Asked what led to the indictments, Osborn said: "Apparently it was a photographic identification. And we all know how reliable that is."
Finnerty's attorney, Bill Cotter, said, "We're surprised that anybody got indicted, quite frankly."
"The next jury will hear the entire story, which includes our evidence, and we're confident that these young men will be found to be innocent," he said.
Calls to the Finnerty and Seligmann homes Tuesday morning were not immediately returned. No one answered the door at the Finnerty house, which sits in a cul-de-sac of million-dollar homes on Long Island. A lacrosse net and equipment could be seen in the yard, which abuts a golf course.
The alleged victim, a 27-year-old black woman and mother of two children, told police she was attacked March 13 by three white men in a bathroom at a party held by the lacrosse team.
The racially charged allegations have led to near daily protest rallies. The school canceled the highly ranked team's season and accepted the resignation of coach Mike Pressler after the release of a vulgar and graphic e-mail that was sent by a team member shortly after the alleged assault.
Defense attorneys have urged Nifong to drop the case, saying DNA tests failed to connect any of the 46 team members tested to the alleged victim.
But Nifong has argued that he has enough evidence to proceed. He has said 75 percent to 80 percent of rape prosecutions lack DNA evidence. According to court records, a medical examination of the woman found injuries consistent with rape.
Defense attorneys have said time-stamped photos taken the night of the party show that the alleged victim was injured and impaired before she arrived.
Nifong has declined to discuss the case. He was appointed to the job last year after nearly three decades as a lawyer in the district attorney's office and is up for election.
Brian Loftus, of Syossett, N.Y., the father of two players on the team, told ABC's "Good Morning America" in an interview broadcast Tuesday that he approached one of his sons and asked him about the alleged attack.
"I asked him ten times. I said, 'Did anything happen?' Both my sons ... all they ever told me was 'Dad, nothing happened. Nobody did anything,'" Loftus said.
School officials said Monday that the lacrosse coach was warned last year that his players had too many violations of the campus judicial code and he needed to "get them in line."
Duke athletic director Joe Alleva said the university's executive vice president reviewed the lacrosse team's disciplinary record last year, then discussed his findings with Alleva.
"He said there were too many incidents, but there's not enough incidents to make a drastic change in the program at this point in time," Alleva told The Herald-Sun of Durham. Alleva told the coach "his team was under the microscope, and he had to do everything he could to get them in line and to not have any more behavior problems."
The review by Duke's executive vice president was spurred by reports of "boorish behavior" by the lacrosse team, Alleva said.
Sue Wasiolek, Duke's dean of students and assistant vice president for student affairs, said the review showed the lacrosse team had a "disproportionate" number of violations of the campus judicial code. None was particularly serious, but administrators were concerned about the cumulative record and the fact that some players had several violations, she said.
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He sees ghosts
By Laura Castle
Published April 18, 2006
Walking through the dark third-floor storage room at Excalibur nightclub on a recent Sunday afternoon, visitors felt a sudden breeze chill the room.
Did a ghost just pass by?
After all, this room is supposed to be one of Chicago's most haunted places. To the RedEye reporter present, though, it was hard to say--nothing else weird happened.
But according to Chicago paranormal expert Chris Fleming, Excalibur is crawling with spirits and ghosts. The Tuesday episode (9 p.m.) of Fleming's Biography Channel show, "Dead Famous: Ghostly Encounters," is dedicated to Chicago haunts.
Fleming said Excalibur, located at 632 N. Dearborn, isn't the only Chicago spot where spirits hang out. The 38-year-old said he's come in contact with other ghosts and spirits in and around Chicago.
"I had my first experience with a ghost when I was 5 years old, and I was terrified," Fleming said. "But then I began communicating with them more, and I have really learned a lot. I learned not to be afraid of my gift."
Fleming, a "sensitive" who claims he can communicate with spirits, is in his third season of hosting "Dead Famous." The series attempts to make contact with celebrity spirits at the hangouts they frequented during their lifetimes.
In Tuesday's episode, Fleming and his skeptical co-host, Gail Porter, explore Chicago in search of the spirit of musician Nat King Cole. Fleming's team investigated the two spots Fleming later took RedEye to visit--Excalibur and Rico D's restaurant in Willow Springs--two Chicago spots where Cole hung out during his life.
The "Dead Famous" cameras also filmed at Cole's high school, Wendell Phillips High School in Bronzeville for the Chicago-based episode.
"When we were filming at Excalibur, I was walking through the storage room and a cup was thrown off the shelf behind me," Fleming said. "We watched the tape over again, and no one in the room had moved. It just came out of nowhere. When things like that happen, it's really exciting."
When RedEye visited the storage room, Fleming suggested that we stand near the door where he claimed to have just felt a ghostly presence. Aside from the breeze, nothing else happened.
"Some ghosts are friendly, and some want to be left alone," Fleming explained. "Spirits are those who haven't moved on yet. Some don't know that they're dead, and some just like being here. If they move on they'll be much happier."
Not everyone is convinced that people like Fleming have a sixth sense.
"I think people have hunches, and every once and a while those hunches are right, but a lot of times those feelings are wrong," said Mike Ragozzino, associate professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Fleming thinks that people who try to debunk paranormal activity "don't know what you're missing out on."
"There is a whole new spectrum of life that you don't see," he said. "Believing is one thing, knowing is another. I know there are incredible things out there that we can't comprehend or understand. I know ghosts are real and there's life after death. It's a beautiful thing."
Many ghost hunters rely on high-tech, night-vision cameras and tape recorders to catch paranormal activity to support their claims. By recording orbs, the illuminated shapes thought to be ghosts, or recording audio of spirits communicating through electronic voice phenomena, or EVPs, ghost hunters believe they can prove a ghost is present.
EVPs recorded by Fleming can be accessed on his Web site at unknownmaga zine.com.
Ghost hunters realize that not every creak in the floorboard or knock on the wall is a sign that a spirit is present, and they're careful to determine what is, or isn't, the real deal.
"I want more confirmation than a sound. If I can get a spirit to turn on a TV or can get them do something twice, then I can get more validation that they're responding to me," Fleming said.
Not every day in the world of ghost hunting is a home run for Fleming, who also is a mortgage consultant in Chicago. "Sometimes it's a hit-or-miss day, and it's frustrating when you know there are spirits present and they don't reciprocate."
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Ark's Quantum Quirks
Signs of the Times
April 18, 2006
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